Sunday, January 31, 2021

POETRY SPECIAL: Wayside Bundle - Constance Hargreaves (actually Frank Baker)


Here's an unusual post for Pretty Sinister Books and the second one inspired by a post I read at A Hot Cup of Pleasure, a book blog hosted and written by Neeru.  This is not unrelated to the content of my own blog for the book that Neeru wrote about in the inspirational post is the renowned Miss Hargreaves, a marvelous fantasy about a fictional character who comes to life.  I wrote about Miss Hargreaves and its author Frank Baker in this blog's inaugural year and it continues to attract the attention of people who rarely come here to read about murder, mayhem and horror. Miss Hargreaves is the antithesis of the kind of books I usually write about, but it still celebrates the human imagination and is, ultimately, a treatise on the power of creativity.  These are also aspects of genre fiction that I discuss in the many books of crime, adventure and supernatural that usually pop up here.

Wayside Bundle (1959) is a book of poetry by Constance Hargreaves, the title character of Baker's fantasy novel. She never existed but in the imagination of Norman Huntley, the protagonist of that novel. Baker, as a gift for his literary friends who had read the novel and fallen in love with the character, created this volume of her poetry alluded to over the course of the novel.  Features of her character's personality crop up in the subject matter of the poems which makes it all the more enjoyable for anyone who has read the novel Miss Hargreaves.  

THINGS I LEARNED: Many of the poems are written in doggerel verse, a feature of her writing mentioned in the novel, but there are also non-rhyming poems and more formal structures like a couple of sonnets and two poems that use the arcane form of a triolet, a short poem of eight lines with only two rhymes used throughout. I'd never heard of a "triolet" until I read these two examples.  I had to look up whether or not the form actually existed.  Here is a brief overview of a triolet according to the American Academy of Poetry: "French in origin, and likely dating to the thirteenth century, the triolet is a close cousin of the rondeau, another French verse form emphasizing repetition and rhyme. The earliest triolets were devotionals written by Patrick Carey, a seventeenth-century Benedictine monk. British poet Robert Bridges reintroduced the triolet to the English language, where it enjoyed a brief popularity among late-nineteenth-century British poets." For an example of the triolet devoted to a serious topic rather than the usual lighthearted verse, they cite Thomas Hardy's "How Great My Grief," a poem I did not know. In fact, I didn't know Hardy wrote anything other than bucolic and melodramatic family saga novels.

And so since I apparently am one of the lucky souls who has acquired one of the rare 350 copies of Wayside Bundle -- ostensibly by Constance Hargreaves, but really written by Frank Baker -- I offered to post some of the poems here.  Neeru mentioned in a comment on her post that some of the Hargreaves poems from this pamphlet (it's a mere 24 pages of handmade laid paper and stapled to a flimsy cardboard cover) are published in Bloomsbury's reprint of Miss Hargreaves.  This is the edition that nearly everyone in the book reviewing blogosphere has read since it was released in 2009 and why there is a mini cult surrounding the novel these days. Neeeru left a list of the poems in her comment and I've decided to post some of the poems that were not reprinted in that edition.

Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, the poetry of Miss Constance Hargreaves!

This is a footnote that appears at the bottom of "to the Reader"
Miss Hargreaves refers to her relative in the novel when first introduced to Norman's parents

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The Magic Grandfather - Doris Miles Disney

Something Special!  The exclamation mark in a circle on the bottom of the front flap of The Magic Grandfather's hardcover 1st edition dust jacket indicates that this Doris Miles Disney mystery defies simple subgenre categorization. I was excited to read it.  Would it deliver the goods like so many of L. P. Davies' similarly tagged and utterly unique crime novels? Would it too be a daring shake-up of crime fiction conventions? Well, yes and no.

Like most of Doris Miles Disney’s crime fiction The Magic Grandfather (1966) is one of her many books in Doubleday’s Crime Club. In the late 1950s and 1960s the editors devised a special marketing tactic with clever logos to indicate if a book has a Favorite Sleuth, is a Damsel in Distress story, a Chase and Adventure thriller, Classic Puzzler or fits into some other subgenre (see the chart with all the logos below). The “Something Special” tag and logo indicates a book not easy to stuff into any recognizable subgenre yet were always standouts for plotting and characters. The Something Special books almost always prove to be intriguingly constructed novels that play with detective fiction conventions, add modern touches to the plot, and still manage to surprise and bring a smile to my face. I have made a concerted effort to seek out as many of these books with the exclamation mark logo as I can find and read. More often than not these books are the cream of the crop of the Crime Club imprint. Only rarely do they disappoint with a final twist that was not a surprise at all.

The Magic Grandfather (1966) has a relatively simple plot: it’s revenge pure and simple. But there are secrets in the past that remain hidden until the final utterly bizarre chapter. In a nutshell – Etta Lane has been living happily as a widow for over 27 years until Dan Ferris, her ex-father-in-law, who has been hunting for her since 1925 finally finds her. Then he slowly makes her life hell blackmailing her for something criminal that happened in her past and extorting her lucrative dividends from wisely invested stocks. The secret in the past involves her dead husband Jim, Ferris’ son. Just what exactly happened we will not know until Part Two in the novel which takes place in 1925. We learn about Etta's life with Jim and his father in a vaudeville touring company that climaxes in a courtroom trial for the crime Ferris alludes to throughout Part One. The story wraps up in an 13 year flash forward to 1965 when Sarah Prince, who was a precocious and intrusive 5 year-old in 1952 back in Part One, comes of age and is in her first year of college. On her Thanksgiving holiday she visits Dan Ferris who now lives in Etta Lane’s house in order to deliver him some food for his lonely holiday. What she sees and hears is a nightmare come true and explains the various mysteries left hanging back in Parts One and Two.

So is this deceptively simple plot really Something Special? As you know I’ve seen every trick a writer can pull in detective and crime fiction since I first fell in love with the genre as a teen back in the 1970s. It’s a matter of being able to perform even the oldest trick in the book with finesse and panache that will make me stand up and cheer. I’ve also sampled more than my fair share of very weird books with bizarre endings like the one that appears in The Magic Grandfather. And sorry to report, my friends, I saw this trick coming pages before the shattering climax.

Oh yes! I figured out the entire book, all the twists, even the detailed and unusual vaudeville act that Dan Ferris alludes to repeatedly but never once describes to anyone, and of course the bizarre final scene was telegraphed all because of a simple few sentences that occur in Part One. And though I shouted aloud “I KNEW IT!” when I got to the end I was a bit let down that it was all so obvious.  At least to me. I enjoyed what Disney attempted to pull off. But she let the ace fall from her sleeve rather clumsily.  I really wanted this to be a winner for me like so many of the Crime Club's "Something Special" mystery novels. Simultaneously and ironically, I was rather astounded that I managed to get it all so accurately.

This may be a truly flipped out suspense thriller with genuine shocks for some of you. Granted it is well constructed and has genuinely suspenseful moments. The characters are well done and you are rooting for Etta from the outset and hoping Dan gets what's coming to him. But savvy readers who have seen a lot of horror movies and read a lot of Robert Bloch, John Keir Cross and seen a few specific Alfred Hitchcock episodes from his two TV series will most likely be able to figure it all out. And that's a disappointment.

As a concluding coda for any of you still interested in reading this book I offer a warning. By all means avoid buying the Zebra paperback which has as its cover illustration a massive spoiler that will fairly ruin the book before you even read the first sentence. I mean MASSIVE. Unbelievable!  I have chosen not to include that cover among the paperback reprint edition photos used here.  This title was one of Disney's most financially successful, if not artistically competent, books with at least six editions in English that I uncovered, two from the same publisher. But what editor or publisher would ever allow that kind of artwork on a mystery novel? The mind boggles. Also, one publicity blurb I found online says that Dan Ferris, the title character who survives to age 90+, is murdered. And that is utterly wrong. Caveat emptor! And Caveat lector, too.

Friday, January 22, 2021

MOONLIGHTERS: Herbert Best, A British Civil Servant in Africa

This may be the first, but not the last, Moonlighter who is also a one hit wonder mystery writer. And it may also be one of the best novels to read about pre-WW2 era Africa in these days of diversity programs dominating arts institutions, academia and municipal government as well as the anti-racism worldview. The Mystery of the Flaming Hut (1932) is a fine detective novel that not only enlightens about Colonial Britain in West Africa it sheds light on a culture of dignity, respect and humanity.

Though the book opens on Christmas Day this is far from a typical holiday detective novel. Gift giving and celebrations are mentioned only in passing as the story opens with the gruesome death of Culver, a mining company accountant who apparently through his own negligence dies in a fire that engulfs his home. The newly installed District Officer John Balance is put in charge as both an investigator and coroner due to the lack of British police in the Nigerian village of Mafun. The suspicious death of a white man automatically falls to British authority and the local African government can do nothing but stand by and assist with what little they can offer. In such a rural area lacking in police presence, modern equipment and modern techniques Balance is forced to resort to good old-fashioned common sense, observation and logic. Readers will be reminded of Holmes and other Victorian and Edwardian era fictional detectives as Balance examines the ash of the destroyed hut for clues, even to point of examining in detail some cigarettes and tobacco as Sherlock himself would do. Often Balance calls on the innate skills of villagers like Shamaki who is an excellent tracker, superb at reading the meaning of broken twigs and gnawed on leaves, but by his own confession at a loss to understand the importance of a white man clue like cigarette tobacco.

Ropp Tin Mines, Nigeria (circa 1930)
From the African elders Balance learns that Culver was a libertine, not at all the respectable man that make up most of the workers at the Mafun Mining Company. Though he was supposed to leave the village to travel south to meet his fiancĂ©e for a Christmas Day wedding Culver was known to frequent the brothels on the outskirts of Mafun. He was also seen beating his servants and a stray dog he supposedly adopted as a pet. Balance—once again like Holmes who he is surely modeled after – dons a disguise and infiltrates the brothel in order to slyly question Mariamu, the prostitute Culver was last seen with She provide some further insight into the truly dark character of Culver who more and more is looking like a person that several people wished dead -- both Africans and white men.

In one of the novels more original twists Best has provided John Balance with one the most unusual of Watsons – Hatasu, an orphaned teenage girl who acted as one of Culver’s servants but was viewed more like a foster daughter by most of those in the mining company and small set of wise observers among the native villagers. She offers some sharp observations of her own and fills in a character portrait of Culver that conflicts with what Balance hears from the men. Seems that Culver was a complicated man with many faces and personas.

Adding to the mystery of Culver’s strange death – he was possibly shot and then the house set on fire to cover up the murder – is the fact that Culver’s servant John of Asaba (aka Dan Boyi) has fled apparently with a large amount of money that was either given to him or stolen. When John is finally caught through some expert detective work the reader gets to see how African justice works in the most fascinating part of the book – a tribunal run by the village government headed by Al Kari, the overlord of Mafun.

The book is dominated by Balance and his interactions with mostly African characters, but there are two telling scenes with British characters. One is with Mrs. Winchester who came running to Culver’s hut while it was on fire shouting to save him. She undergoes an intriguing questioning in which she plays cat and mouse with Balance dropping hints but never giving away her secrets. The other scene is with Paige-Thomas, a tall, elegant “star prospector and mining engineer.” Both of these sequences are key to Balance proving murder did occur, the motive for the murder and the identity of the killer.

Best succeeds in modelling his novel on the finest Holmesian style of detection, but fails to hide his murderer from plain sight. A lengthy section in which one character delivers a heavy handed philosophical monologue on honor and discipline not only reveals the motive for Culver’s murder but gives away the ending of the entire mystery. I made a note that this had to be the solution and I was correct.

Best crushes myths about the noble savage and the subjugation of Black native peoples in a colonial government. The Nigerian characters in some respects are more complex and better delineated than some of the British characters, many of whom come off as stock characters and archetypes. Best, I think, is trying to dispel the romantic exoticism of Africa by showing these people to be human and flawed. Their culture comes through clearly without patronizing the people, their laws emphasize truth and justice, and he adds a variety of Hausa words translated within the text and dialogue to enhance the flavor of an authentic Nigeria of the 1930s.

Oswald Herbert Best (1894-1980) held a degree in arts and law from Queens’ College of Cambridge University. After serving in World War 1 he lived for twelve years in West Africa working in the British Civil Service. There he met his wife Alenna Champlin when she was working as a journalist. Prior to the publication of The Mystery of the Flaming Hut, his only detective novel aimed at an adult audience, he had written a children’s book Garram the Hunter: A Boy of the Hill Tribes (1931), about a boy living in Nigeria. For that book he was nominated for the Newberry Award. Urged on by his wife, a successful children's writer herself, Best continued writing for children often collaborating with Alenna who sometimes illustrated his books using her artist's pseudonym Erick Berry. Best wrote only three novels for adults and devoted most of career to children’s non-fiction and juvenile novels. He and his wife settled in upstate New York near Lake Champlain where they eventually ran a dairy farm and small apiary that produced honey. He ended his writing in the 1960s with a short series of four juvenile mysteries featuring Desmond the Dog Detective.

Monday, January 18, 2021

FIRST BOOKS: The Hanging Sword! – Andrew Soutar

A publicity blurb on the inside of my copy of The Hanging Sword! (1933) states: “Andrew Soutar … has said that he writes mystery stories as a relaxation from the strain of writing long and serious novels. He regards this ‘mystery’ work as a tonic!” Keep in mind this is a first novel for what turned out to be a series character. Though I've previously only read one of Soutar's mystery novels I expected it to be along the same lines of plotting.  True, this one is also sort of obsessed with outre plot elements and quasi-supernatural incidents but the outre part takes over and dominates the plot with increasingly preposterous incidents. When Soutar said it was a tonic for his apparently exhausting mainstream work he was indulging in a rare form of understatement. That exclamation mark at the end of the title should have been a warning for the kind of book I was about to experience.

This book introduces us to Phineas Spinnet, a private investigator of immense ego and vanity modeled on so many similar characters that were popular in the early days of the Golden Age and before more eccentric amateurs and professionals overshadowed them. Spinnet seems most closely related to pulp magazine heroes and adventure seeking crime fighters. He has hired an assortment of ex-cons to help him in his investigation agency and even has a former prisoner as his manservant and butler just like Albert Campion. In this first outing his ego is kept in check for about the first two thirds of the book but explodes into the insufferably opinionated and patronizing man he is in the last portion of the book. As a detective novel it also suffers from a schizoid identity issue for it owes more to weird thrillers of Sax Rohmer and works populated with sinister master criminals of the later Victorian/early Edwardian period than it does to the nascent detective novel of the Golden Age.

The essential premise is an intriguing one: Mrs. Latymer has apparently committed suicide in a locked room with bolted windows. She has shot herself in the head, the gun is found nearby and the only other occupant of the room is her pet cat. Yet her husband Seward Latymer suspects she was murdered; suicide is not at all consistent with her strong-willed personality. When the inquest verdict is returned as suicide Latymer hires Spinnet to investigate further, prove his wife’s death was murder and bring the killer to justice. First step is an order of exhumation and an autopsy. But when they go to retrieve the body it has been removed from the Latymer family vault.

[ASIDE: Anyone up for a blog post on bodies vanishing from coffins and criminal shenanigans involving family crypts and burial vaults? The Family Burial Murders, The Sleeping Sphinx, The Horror on the Loch, Seven Clues in Search of a Crime, and -- no real surprise -- Facing East by Andrew Soutar come to mind immediately.  I had no idea how common this plot motif is in GAD crime fiction until reading this book and then finding about two dozen of them after diligent internet searching.]

All hope for an intriguing detective novel is lost with the entrance of the mysterious Louise Du Sang. Her name alone gives her away as a bloody dangerous femme fatale. She has fiery temper, is madly in love with Seward Latymer and is pathologically jealous of any woman who comes near him. She will stop at nothing to possess him utterly. As the story progresses Mme. Du Sang is revealed to be a one of those characters old-fashioned writers liked to describe as deadlier than the male. The book ludicrously transforms itself into a surreal thriller with an entirely unexpected dash of the mad scientist genre. We are expected to believe that not only is Du Sang a financial wizard with holdings in South America mines and British industries, but also an amateur chemist and zoologist who has a private menagerie. When not tending to her businesses, wheel dealing with barons of industry she conducts bizarre experiments involving neurological chemical agents that trigger the savagery of the animals she keeps. In true pulp magazine style a feral baboon takes center stage for a terrifying attack on our hero and heroine, Ina Dearborn. This sideline in a sinister zoologically perverted aromatherapy will help Spinnet to explain the weird behavior of Mrs. Latymer’s manx Michael just prior to that poor cat’s demise.

As more deaths take place the idea of suicide by suggestion is contemplated and becomes a theme throughout the book. Spinnet is thoroughly convinced that Du Sang is a madwoman and has somehow managed to manipulate all the men in her life to do her bidding. When they fail to live up to her high standards or have served their purpose she eliminates them. Somehow, Spinnet surmises, she has found a way to drive people to suicide and he needs to find proof. However, once Du Sang has been tagged as the villain the detective novel elements cease to exist and the book morphs into a full blown thriller. The only real surprise comes in discovering a hidden relationship between Dr. Woodward, Spinnet’s Watson of sorts, and Ina Dearborn, Latymer’s secretary and the object of Du Sang’s scorn.

The real fun for me had nothing to do with the outlandish plot and odd pulp magazine flavor that pervades the story. It was reading the endless stream of cutting remarks and sarcastic barbs that come out of Spinnet’s mouth. Phineas Spinnet is sort of the Don Rickles of GAD sleuths.

Once they have disposed of a tragedy to their own satisfaction the police hate to have it resurrected lest it should be testimony to their own incompetency.

Woodward: Spinnet, you are a greater genius than even you think.
Spinnet: Thanks, for nothing.

Woodward: You are the most extraordinary fellow I’ve ever met, Spinnet. Do you never sleep?
Spinnet: Sometimes, but I generally close only one eye.

Spinnet: Do you mean to tell me that you allowed woman to disobey your instructions? You deserve to be married.
Chauffeur: I am married, sir.
Spinnet: Good. Then the next time I have a difficult job in hand, I’ll send for your wife to help, and you can stay at home and mind the kids.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Herald of Death - Max Dalman

THE STORY: Sound the bugle! Mount your horses! The fox hunt has begun. But this fox hunt ends with a decidedly different killing. Richard Marney is found stabbed with an ornate stiletto just short of an infamous hazard requiring skillful horse jumping maneuvers known as The Cliff. Suspicion falls first on Hugh Egmont, rival for the affection of Joan Marney, Richard’s cousin. Police investigation uncovers a history of other Marney family members having recently died in violent accidents. When Joan is attacked late one night the police begin to think that a killer is intent on murdering the entire Marney family.

THE CHARACTERS: Anonymous letters with cryptic statements using heraldry terms turn up a few days before Marney is murdered giving the book its title Herald of Death (1943). A letter sent to PC Retters seems to predict the death at the fox hunt though the message is worded nebulously, almost in riddle format. Luckily, there is an expert in heraldry in town who helps Retters make sense of the message which seems to hint at future deaths.

Egmont also receives a message telling him the hunt was cancelled the day of the murder, a tactic of reverse psychology that guarantees Egmont, known to be an avid hunter, would be sure to investigate. And so instead of not attending, Egmont makes sure he gets on his horse and rides the usual course. His timing couldn’t be worse, however. As soon as he shows up at the scene of the crime -- the perilous area known as The Cliff -- the police are there investigating what they think is a horse riding accident. Close inspection of Marney’s body reveals the oddly placed stab wound,

Charles Marney, Joan’s father who is in financial difficulty; Mrs. Handley, a mystery novelist; and Retters are the most interesting characters in the book. I vaguely remember an eccentric vicar in the mix, he appeared in only a few incidents at the start of the book, but since his name doesn’t appear in my notes I don’t think he had much to do with the story at all. Everyone else is a stock character of no real dimension – officious policemen, indignant heirs, several garrulous villagers, a pair of gossipy servants, and Joan as the requisite damsel in distress who anyone knows is completely innocent of anything and exists only for love interest and to have her life threatened once or twice.

Overall, the novel is intermittently engaging especially when PC Retters is on the scene. Rarely do we find police constables proving to be the smartest and most abstract thinker among the detectives in novels of the Golden Age. There are perhaps too many detectives in this book and I didn’t care much for the main sleuth Inspector Lyly. I wasn’t sure who I should be paying attention to – Lyly, Supt. Leyland or Retters who Dalman makes not only clever but slightly sinister. For a while I thought Retters had sent all the heraldry letters as an obfuscating distraction.

INNOVATIONS: Some well done scenes feature an eerie presence only heard and never seen. A horrid mournful screeching is heard in the night and at one point Joan is menaced and followed by this apparently invisible thing in the night. Cats are featured in the story and might appear as red herrings to all but the most astute reader. Dalman can be effective in creating atmosphere and chilling the bone in these quasi-supernatural sequences. He almost succeeds in making the reader believe some fantastical creature might be involved in the various deaths that occur. When the true explanation for the mysterious screeching comes in the final pages it fails to achieve the desired effect and comes almost as an anticlimax. Certainly nothing as chilling as what John Dickson Carr might have come up with.

This novel reminded so much of The List of Adrian Messenger by Philip Macdonald. Both feature a fox hunt and a family decimation plot similar to The Greene Murder Case, Israel Rank and other crime novels with rich families being murdered one by one. The difference with Dalman’s book is that the motive for murdering the Marneys is not made known in full until the final pages. There is an incident in the past mentioned two or three times over the course of the story that stuck out like a bloody thumbmark and made me think I knew exactly who the killer was and the motive for all the deaths. However, the actual “how” as applied to that character in relation to Richard Marney’s murder made no sense. As it turns out I was correct in my tagging the killer. Dalman is mostly good at misdirecting the reader over the course of the book until he overplays his hand with a monologue from the culprit that is intended to be a solution of the crime pointing the finger at another, but in effect turns out to be a confession. As such this is a clever way to attempt to trick the reader, but as it comes towards the end of the book it was too late for me. I had already seen through his flimsily veiled illusion several chapters before.

The overall narrative is also disjointed with no real flow of action. I found it to be repetitive and cyclical. The police revisit the scene of the crimes multiple times, suspects are re-interviewed, and the story is rehashed and repeated. Actual progress only comes in a rushing deluge in the final pages.

The unsurprising reveal of the murderer and a weak explanation of the eerie screech made this just a middling story. It falls well below the promise of what I discovered in Poison Unknown (1939), Dalman’s fifth mystery novel. Herald of Death is from the tail end of his writing career, the twelfth of a total of fifteen books. Maybe his first books are the ones to read. Are the later books lesser works? Had he lost his touch towards the end of his career? Three more Max Dalman mystery novels await me – one before this one in his chronological bibliography, and two right after. I’ll soon see if he’s a true discovery among the many neglected writers I write about here or if he is one of the many hit-or-miss writers who belong in the Hall of Ignominy in that ever growing annex of Forgotten Writers in the Golden Age of Detection.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

REAL LIFE: The Case of the Autographed Corpse

Gardner dictating one of his
many Perry Mason novels

Much has been written about mystery writers and their involvement in real life crime cases. Arthur Conan Doyle used his skills as an amateur sleuth and ophthalmologist to help clear the name of George Edjali accused of mutilating horses and other farm animals. A nurse who after reading Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse recognized the signs of thallium poisoning in that book and managed to get proper treatment for a misdiagnosed patient in time to save the patient’s life. But what of other mystery writers' adventures in real criminal cases? Who else might have turned detective in real life or had their books used to help solve a crime? An article in the recent Smithsonian magazine highlights Erle Stanley Gardner’s involvement in helping to resolve a case of a wrongfully accused and imprisoned Apache shaman.

Gardner never stopped practicing law and, in fact, spent much of his later life helping prisoners. This may have been mentioned in Gardner’s biography by Dorothy B. Hughes but I’ve never read it. Nevertheless it was fascinating to learn that Gardner was one of the first people to create a foundation that examined miscarriages of justice (The Court of Last Resort), reviewing cases of prisoners who wrote letters claiming innocence and of being wrongfully imprisoned. One such letter written in 1951 found its way to Gardner’s desk. The writer was Silas John Edwards, an Apache medicine man who had started his own religion. In 1933 he had been tried for the murder of his wife, was quickly found guilty on largely circumstantial evidence, and sent to prison. Gardner reviewed the court transcripts and interviewed others on the reservation where the murder took place. Many of those he interviewed were convinced of the Apache’s innocence. Some even claimed to know the name of the true killer. It was a piece of supposed evidence presented by the prosecution, however, that set Gardner off on his quest to save Edwards.

Silas John Edwards (left) and his father
©E.E. Guenther, from collection of
William Kessel as published in Smithsonian

Edward’s wife had been bludgeoned and strangled. Near her body were bloody rocks inscribed with the initials of the accused. Gardner found convincing physical evidence that was overlooked or paid little attention to during the trial like blood that was smeared on Edward's clothing rather than splattered which would have happened if he had actually bludgeoned his wife. But in a bold and outrageous move the Prosecution claimed that the initialed rocks were part of an Apache ritual. The D.A. told the court that an Apache murderer left initials at a crime scene to prevent the victim's soul from seeking vengeance. Gardner thought it a ludicrous claim, something not only counterintuitive but utterly lacking in common sense, and he had his surmise backed up by Apaches on the reservation. None of the Apaches he spoke with could corroborate such a fraudulent sounding ritual. Not one Indian had ever heard of such a practice neither in their own culture or in the odd religion that Edwards had created. Working with the court transcript and gathering witness testimony from Apaches who were never called to the stand back in 1933 Gardner worked tirelessly to prove the prosecution manipulated facts and in some cases invented them to get the conviction. There is a happy ending for Edwards even though he served almost all of his time in prison.

Rather than summarize the entire story which has more than its fair share of life’s irony and twists to rival any Perry Mason novel I point you to the full story as written by journalist Jack El-Hai. Luckily it’s one of the articles you can read in full at the online version of the December 2020 issue of Smithsonian magazine. It makes for eye opening reading.