Lawrence G. Blochman | Elisabeth Sanxay Holding | Joseph Gollomb | Karl W. Detzer | Allan Vaughan Elston | Earl Derr Biggers | Milton M. Propper | Clifford Knight | Elizabeth Daly | Dorothy Gardiner | Richard Starnes | Charles B. Child | H.T. Alfon | Hughes Allison | A.Z.H. Carr | Harry Miner | Allen Richards | Michael Scott Cain | Pulp Inverted Stories | Frederic Arnold Kummer | C. William Harrison | Robert Arthur | William Manners | David X Manners

A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection Home Page

Recommended Works:

American Realists

Lawrence G. Blochman

Bengal Fire (1937)

Red Snow at Darjeeling (1938) (Chapters 1 - 14)

O'Reilly Sahib stories

"Murder Walks in Marble Halls" (1942)

John Long stories

Finicky Flynn stories

Roderick Poplar / Abraxas Detective Agency stories

Rather Cool For Mayhem (1947 - 1948) (Chapters 1-7, 10, 18)

Diagnosis: Homicide

Clues For Dr. Coffee Recipe For Homicide (1952)

Uncollected Dr. Coffee stories

Faraday Keene

"The Little Dry Sticks" (1930)

Allan Vaughan Elston

Police Sergeant Dan Murphy stories Uncollected short stories Murder by Mandate (1943, 1945) (written with Maurice Beam)

Joseph Gollomb

Master Man Hunters (also known as Scotland Yard) (collected 1926)

Karl W. Detzer

True Tales of the D.C.I. (collected 1925) Uncollected short stories

Milton M. Propper

The Divorce Court Murder (1934) (Chapters 1-7, 10, 11, 19)

The Great Insurance Murders (1937)

Elizabeth Daly

Evidence of Things Seen (1943)

Any Shape or Form (1945) (Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, start of 7, 10, 17, 18)

Clifford Knight

Death of a Big Shot (1951) (Chapters 1 - 5)

Huntoon Rogers short stories

Hughes Allison

"Corollary" (1948)

H.T. Alfon

"Fourth Rule for Murderers" (1948)

Charles B. Child

The Sleuth of Baghdad: The Inspector Chafik Stories

Dorothy Gardiner

The Seventh Mourner (1958) (Prologue, Chapters 1-9, 11-12, 14 start, 18)

Richard Starnes

The Other Body in Grant's Tomb (1951)

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

Uncollected short stories

A.Z.H. Carr

Uncollected short stories

Harry Miner

"Due Process" (1954)

Allen Richards

To Market, To Market (1961) (Chapters 1 - 5)

Michael Scott Cain

"On Separate Tracks" (1981)

Pulp Inverted Stories

Anthony Clemens

"Ink's Jinx" (1934)

David X Manners

"Eye Witness" (1935)

"Death Debt" (1935)

"Killer's Keeper" (1940)

"Terror Panics the Crime Quiz" (1945) (available on-line, at, then go to Page 34)

William Manners

"Summer's End" (1940)

Frederic Arnold Kummer, Jr.

"Eight Bells" (1935)

"Cut Glass" (1937)

Alan Ritner Anderson

"Mrs. Belcourt Draws A Bier" (1948)

C. William Harrison

"Wish You Were Dead" (1945)

"Calling Dr. Death" (1949)

Robert Arthur

"Eye Witness" (1939)

Mystery and More Mystery

The Secret of Skeleton Island (1966) (Chapters 1, 2, 3, 13, 14, 16)

One tends to think of the Realist school of Freeman, Crofts, Sayers and other writers as being centered in Britain in the 1920's. This is certainly true, but the school influenced several later American writers. Each of these American writers seems to have been influenced separately and individually by the Realist tradition. These American writers do not form a "school" of American Realists. In other words, Blochman and Helen McCloy are not closely aligned with each other; they merely show signs of being individually influenced by Freeman and his followers. There is also a Realist influence visible on some American writers discussed in other articles, such as Lenore Glen Offord.

Lawrence G. Blochman

Where does Lawrence G. Blochman fit into mystery tradition? I would argue that he is an American representative of the "Realist" school founded by Freeman and Crofts. He shows a number of important similarities. His scientific detective, Dr. Coffee, seems in the tradition of that other medical detective, Freeman's Dr. Thorndyke. Also, Blochman's books seem constructed as "backgrounders" in the Crofts tradition, intended to provide a detailed, inside look at some country, industry or institution. Many of his early novels are set in India, where Blochman worked as a journalist, and are full of information about that country. The novella "Murder Walks in Marble Halls", takes us backstage at the New York City Public Library.

Blochman also shows signs of continuity with Arthur B. Reeve and the American Scientific School. Reeve's detective Craig Kennedy liked to travel in foreign countries, as in The Panama Plot (collected 1918). Blochman's detective Prike gathers the suspects together at the end of the tale for the revelation of the killer, just as in Reeve. Reeve typically wrote about the sort of industrial background later favored by Blochman. Both writers were fascinated by gems. The characters in both authors are often caught up in romantic tangles.

Blochman's fiction falls into two periods. From 1927 to 1940, Blochman mainly wrote tales of exotic adventure. These were often set in India, but he also wrote about Japan, Indonesia, Central America, and other places. These stories tend to mix mystery elements with spy, adventure and travel writing. From 1941 through the 1970's, Blochman's stories were largely mysteries set in the USA. They tend to be much closer to the paradigms of detective fiction, concentrating on a mystery solved by a detective. However, spy elements are still frequently present in this period. Blochman's two periods are the exact opposite of mystery trends of his era. During the 1920's and 1930's, many mystery writers stuck close to strict Golden Age traditions of mystery writing. After the 1940's, however, many mystery authors tried to bring other elements into mystery fiction, moving away from the pure detective story. This is completely different from Blochman's approach. High points of Blochman's first period include the Indian set novel Bengal Fire (1937); high points of his second, three books about pathologist detective Dr. Coffee.

The Fifty-Carat Jinx: a short story

Blochman was born in 1900. Blochman's first story, "Cholera at Bukit Batu" appeared in 1927, followed by his first mystery, "The Fifty-Carat Jinx" (1930). Already by this time he had been stationed in Calcutta as a foreign correspondent, and he is clearly most interested in the Indian background of several of his characters in this story. Unfortunately, he does not altogether avoid clichés in this early tale. His "Red Wine" (1930), set in Indonesia, is also a well known work. Both of these early mystery stories are pretty weak, but they show mild signs of the much better plotting skills and the much greater realism to come in Blochman's work. He was a friend at this early date of Charles G. Booth, who also combined mystery fiction with exotic foreign backgrounds.

"The Fifty-Carat Jinx" shows signs of Blochman's later plotting technique:

"The Fifty-Carat Jinx" is reprinted in the anthology Maiden Murders (1952).

A Perfect Target: a short story

Blochman's "A Perfect Target" (1932) is a little suspense thriller set in Japan. While it is not a mystery story, and is routine as a suspense plot, it shows that Blochman at this early stage has already developed his skills with backgrounds: the Japanese setting is richly described. Blochman is good at details of daily life. He especially takes us into his hero's home, and shows how he lives and eats. These same approaches will show up later in Bengal Fire.

This story deals in stolen netsuke; Blochman also liked tales about rare books, jewelry, and other valuable objects.

River Pick-Up: a short story

"River Pick-Up" (1932) is from the pulp magazine Adventure. It was reprinted as "Death on the River" in the November 1954 Saint Mystery Magazine, where I read it.

Adventure specialized in tales set in exotic countries. Some of the stories it published were mysteries, many were not, but all catered to the thirst for adventure in foreign lands. "River Pick-Up" is a mystery, set against a back-stage look at banana plantations on the coast of Guatemala. Blochman would return to banana plantations for his novel Blow-Down (1939). "River Pick-Up" shows Blochman's skill at painting tropical backgrounds, complete with non-stereotyped diverse characters.

Once again, a crime in the past plays a role in a murder in the present day. Blochman gives life histories for some of the suspects: also a Blochman tradition.

But "River Pick-Up" also has something new. It is a scientific detective story in which pathology helps solve the mystery: a kind of tale that will play a major role in Blochman's work. The science-based murder here is simple, hardly fair play, and not as developed as later Blochman. Still, it helps give the tale added interest.

Open All Night: a short story

"Open All Night" (1932) is from the pulp magazine Clues. It is an appealing pulp short story, with especially likable characters. It anticipates a number of Blochman approaches, which will be more fully developed in later works: Despite all these similarities, "Open All Night" seems refreshingly original in Blochman's writing, too. The tremendous emphasis on working class men is a different perspective from most of Blochman's work.

O'Reilly: a short story series set in India

Blochman would write a short story series about O'Reilly, a typical New York Cop who travels to India as the bodyguard of a Maharajah. These stories are comic adventure, full of mystery elements, with plenty of fish out of water humor about the tough but good natured flat foot experiencing exotic adventure. The portrait of India is less realistic and less serious than in Blochman's novels, emphasizing instead good natured fun and the glamour of India's traditional courts. The first story in the series is "The Zarapore Beat" (1936).

Blochman's Mystery Stories Set in India: The Inspector Prike Trilogy

Blochman wrote three novels set in 1930's India, featuring Inspector Leonidas Prike of the British C.I.D., the Criminal Investigation Department. The trilogy includes Bombay Mail, Bengal Fire and Red Snow at Darjeeling.

Bombay Mail

Bombay Mail (1933 - 1934), the first of the trilogy, is also apparently Blochman's first novel. It is readable, and creditable for a first book, but it is a pretty routine, by-the-numbers mystery thriller. Most of Blochman's energies go to describing a large group of suspects, all of whom are riding the same train as the victim, and all of whom have a motive to kill him, a motive usually based in the political and business life of British ruled India of the 1930's. The subplot involving suspect Beatrice Jones has some ingenuity, and most of the characters have some interest, but the book has little in the way of clever mystery plotting to recommend it. Nor is there much detection in any strict sense of the term. The opening four chapters have both the most plot, and the most Indian atmosphere.

Although most of the characters are either British or Indian, with a scattering of Europeans as well, Blochman's hero is a young American miner, prospecting in India for gems. Both his profession and his emotional generosity make him typical of Blochman's heroes in his later Indian books. Such American technical types having adventures around the globe remind one of Richard Harding Davis. Like most of Blochman's characters, he is a dynamic, high energy person, full of purposeful activity both in the pursuit of his profession, and his emotional life. Also scientific in orientation is Dr. Lenoir, a French doctor studying Indian snake poisons. Such medical types will play a major role in Blochman's later Dr. Coffee tales. In Blochman works, each character is marked out by his position in the social and technological network of the world of the story. He is more than that - each person also has both an individual personality, and often romantic relationships with the other characters. But usually each person also occupies an absolutely distinct position in the socio-technological matrix. This position tends to be linked to their job. It is also controlled by their politics. This position tends to be stable in the story: it rarely changes through the duration of the tale. People often tend to have a humorous self awareness of the arbitrariness of their position, a realization that others do not share their politics or beliefs. But they also tend to justify their actions and beliefs, and cling to them throughout the book.

Bombay Mail has a deductive finale, in which Prike one by one eliminates the suspects. This recalls the work of Ellery Queen. Prike's reasons are not always ironclad, unlike EQ's: he often merely establishes that a person's guilt is unlikely, not impossible the way EQ does.

The victim and killer in Bombay Mail have jobs and social positions that anticipate those in Blow-Down. In both books:

Bengal Fire

Among Blochman's mystery stories set in India, Bengal Fire (1937) is a gem. It has very vivid descriptions of the city of Calcutta. The 1940's paperback of the novel has a road map of Calcutta on the back, with over fifteen locations mentioned in the book marked out. You can follow Blochman's characters up and down streets as they go about their business. Most of Blochman's India mysteries are set in and around Calcutta; Bengal was probably the region of India that Blochman knew best.

Red Snow at Darjeeling

Red Snow at Darjeeling (1938) is not as good as its predecessor. There is too much emphasis on spy intrigue, which gets in the way of making a well constructed mystery plot. It is one of those hybrid works, such as Baynard Kendrick's The Odor of Violets (1940), which became popular in the days leading up to World War II, which attempt to combine the spy story and the fair play murder puzzle mystery.

However, the first half is pretty readable, with some excellent depictions of first Calcutta, where the story opens, and then the train ride to Darjeeling. This is reminiscent of Blochman's first two Prike novels, with the Calcutta sections recalling Bengal Fire, and the train ride Bombay Mail.

Red Snow at Darjeeling displays Blochman's interest in botany, with his detective Inspector Prike showing his expertise on orchids, as part of the plot. Blochman's depictions of the Indian scene in his novels always pick up most pleasantly on plants, trees and vegetation as well. The hero's father in Recipe for Homicide was a botanist, and there is a great deal about his garden, too. Blochman always displays a reverence for knowledge in his works. For all his adventurousness, he had a deep belief in civilization, an attitude that is badly needed today.

The first murder comes to light with the discovery of a crime scene. There are dramatic blood stains - but no corpse. Only a bit later in the book is the body discovered. Blochman will later use a similar discovery in Blow-Down.

Midnight Sailing

Blochman's poorest novels are three non-series books that combine spy-fiction, murder mystery plots, Third World settings and anti-Axis propaganda: Midnight Sailing (1938), Blow-Down (1939) and Wives to Burn (1940). The mystery story sub-plots in these books are not unpleasant reading, especially during their initial murder investigations, but their solutions are poorly crafted. Blochman's anti-Axis beliefs do him credit. Unfortunately, all three of the books express stereotypes about inhabitants of Third World countries. This forms a blot on Blochman's otherwise commendably anti-racist record.

Ships. Midnight Sailing has the structure of one of Blochman's train mysteries: a group of suspects all together on a vehicle, making a journey.

SPOILERS. One difference: A ship can change direction mid-ocean, unlike a train. Such changes in course previously occur in Murder by Latitude (1930), a ship mystery by Rufus King.

Medical Mystery. There are some simple medical aspects to the murder and its solution (end of Chapter 11, Chapter 33). This anticipates the more elaborate medical mysteries in later Blochman.

Foreign Correspondent. The hero of Midnight Sailing is a newspaperman, a reporter promoted to foreign correspondent: a prestigious position in that era. This is like the protagonist of Alfred Hitchcock's soon-to-be-made film Foreign Correspondent (1940). Blochman includes a brief bit about the reporter hero having to learn to accept and look good in formal clothes, demanded of foreign correspondents reporting from government venues (Chapter 1). Hitchcock includes more extensive comedy sequences showing his hero outfitted in such formal day wear.

Unfortunately, the "hero" of Midnight Sailing seems to have low ethical standards. His plan to get the heroine's story, is to make love to her under false pretenses (Chapter 2). By contrast Hitchcock's hero is an idealized newspaperman, vigorously trying to find out the truth.

The reporter hero of Blochman's Rather Cool For Mayhem will be much more idealistic.


The best of the three novels is Blow-Down, especially in its opening chapters (1 - 8).

Food Production. It is something of a breakthrough for Blochman. It is his first novel to deal with food production, the subject of his later Recipe for Homicide (1952), and several of his best Dr. Coffee short stories. These opening chapters contain a detailed Background look at a Central American banana plantation. Blochman compares the whole operation to that of a modern factory, and there is an emphasis on all the mechanical and technological infrastructure supporting it. This section has a personal feel. Here, Blochman is writing about the things that matter most to him as an artist.

Blochman also continues his interest in botany. In addition to the banana plants themselves, we get a scientifically accurate look at some of the other trees in the region, such as ceiba and bactris palms. One odd note: Blochman depicts nipa palms as growing along the rivers. Nipa is very common in the Asian tropics, such as Indonesia, the setting of Blochman's "Red Wine", but I don't think it grows wild in the New World.

Gourmet Cooking. The discussions of gourmet cooking (Chapter 18) also recall the Dr. Coffee tales to come. Blochman's characters especially like fancy dishes made in casseroles.

Anti-Nazi. Blochman deserves credit for his anti-Nazi stance. Many 1930's writers and Hollywood filmmakers avoided attacking the Nazis. A few others would make negative depictions of the Nazis, but avoid naming Germany, simply having an unnamed European dictatorship as a villain. By contrast, Blow-Down is full of explicit (and negative) references to Germany and the Third Reich. The German villain's first name is Adolf.

Influence: Caribbean Setting. During the early 1940's, the Good Neighbor policy encouraged Americans to look to Latin America for close ties. There was a huge outpouring of Hollywood films with Latin American settings, especially Argentina and Brazil. Mystery writers seemed to favor the Caribbean, instead. It was a place easily traveled to by ordinary Americans, and it was a place close to United States borders, making it a good setting for spy fiction. In addition to Blochman's Blow-Down, we get Richard Sale's "Cape Spectre" (1941), Helen McCloy's The Goblin Market (1943) and Charles G. Booth's Mr. Angel Comes Aboard (1944). Blochman and Booth were friends. There were also such mystery films as the Panama set Phantom Raiders (1940), directed by Jacques Tourneur, and based on a story by mystery writer Jonathan Latimer.

In addition to a Caribbean locale, several characters in Blow-Down anticipate those in Helen McCloy's The Goblin Market:

In addition to his anti-fascist politics, Comandante Jose Blanco is well characterized, with a sophisticated manner and suave, clever dialogue. Writing a character like Blanco who employs ingenious repartee is a challenge for a author.

Influence: Communication Technology. Blow-Down emphasizes radio, the telephone and the telegraph as means of communication: especially radio, a main subject of the story. Radio fascinated writers of the 1930's and 1940's, and was seen as the world's most advanced and high tech form of communication. Richard Sale's mysteries also emphasize radio. Helen McCloy's The Goblin Market has much about telegrams.

Pulp Magazines. There is a negative reference to pulp magazines (Chapter 3). They are depicted as the reading material of low-brow men - as opposed to intelligent men who read books. This attitude is a bit odd on Blochman's part: much of his early sales were in fact to pulp magazines.

Later authors will relentlessly stereotype comic books as the favorites of low-bow, stupid adults. This option was not much available to Blochman in 1939, when comic books had just exploded onto the scene the year before in 1938 with the first appearance of Superman.

Hero and Heroine. Like its predecessor among Blochman's novels Midnight Sailing, Blow-Down has much romance and intrigue involving its hero and heroine. I didn't find this endless romantic story thread very interesting. It can seem like an interruption to and distraction from the book's main mystery plot.

The hero of Blow-Down is mainly a generic Handsome Young Man. Still he is morally decent throughout: an improvement over the ethically second-rate protagonist of Midnight Sailing. He also is a young man who clearly has options, choosing a career in public service (see Chapter 7). This is admirable.

More importantly, the heroine of Blow-Down is a big step up over her predecessor in Midnight Sailing. SPOILERS. She is middle class, and a representative of the admirable Working Woman of the era, rather than the heiress of dubious morals in Midnight Sailing. She stands for the United States' business ability, acumen and organization (Chapter 1). And we gradually learn that she in fact is the main person running the entire banana planation, even though her job title depicts her as the secretary of a male boss (start of Chapter 3, Chapter ). This portrait of a "working woman as mainstay of American business" certainly has a feminist dimension.

Most of the non-German characters in Blow-Down are explicitly heterosexual. Comandante Jose Blanco has an especially beautiful wife.

Race. There are some positive treatments of racial minorities in Blow-Down. Unfortunately, there are some stereotyped ones as well, that make it impossible to recommend the book as a whole.

On the positive side, we've already noted the admiring treatment of Comandante Jose Blanco.

Also notable: the dignified depiction of the black Jamaican foreman Henry Morgan (end of Chapter 2). The hero treats him as an equal, surprising the foreman.

Negatives: the buffoonish character of the corrupt government official Manzana. While it is always sound to criticize corruption, Manzana's depiction crosses over into grotesque inanity. Blow-Down does note that "official corruption" in the 1938 United States was even bigger and worse than in this Central American country (Chapter 4).

Worst of all: The depiction of some members of a minority group as "dim-witted" (Chapter 9).

Mystery Plot. Blow-Down has a decent plot twist at the end, when the killer is revealed. SPOILERS. The choice of killer comes as a surprise, because it definitely looks as if this person's innocence has been established. A clever idea enables this person to be the culprit. Blochman's idea has predecessors in mystery fiction, and is not entirely original. Still, it is well done.

The solution also reveals a hidden criminal scheme secretly perpetrated by the villain. Such schemes are a mainstay of good mystery fiction. This one has some virtues:

BIG SPOILERS. The keys to the safe, and who has access to them, also form a good clue.

Wives to Burn

The Blochman books marking his transition from exotic adventure to American pure detection are among his least interesting works. Wives to Burn (1940) was his last novel set in India. Inspector Prike is not present. The novel shows a sense of disgust with the whole concept of exotic adventure, portraying it as a bunch of foolish romantic fantasies. This is Blochman's worst novel.

See You at the Morgue: The Transition to American Mystery Fiction

See You at the Morgue (1941) is Blochman's most conventional mystery novel. It is a detective story set in New York City, and involves a number of people moving around in a building before and after the murder. It lacks a Background, and there is only a brief element of the medical detection that Blochman will write about so skillfully from 1947 on. It's a readable and fairly enjoyable book, but without much inspiration. It does mark Blochman's transition to conventional mystery fiction, set in the USA and following the paradigms of the traditional detective story.

In later books such as Recipe for Homicide (1952), Blochman will write with brilliance and sympathy about business women, portraying them with a complete lack of sexism. Here the ideas about women in business are conventional.

See You at the Morgue shows continuity with Blochman's other fiction. It opens with a threat against the life of a character, a threat that is duly carried out after several chapters; in this it is like Bombay Mail. In both books, this threat stirs up the plot right away, prodding the characters into action. It also serves to introduce an element of mystery immediately, allowing Blochman to delay the actual murder for several chapters, while he introduces his characters and situations, without any loss of mystery emphasis to the book.

See You at the Morgue lacks fair play, in the sense that it would be hard for a reader to predict solutions based on clues in the tale. Instead, it eventually engulfs its characters in a maze of storytelling. The intricate patterns of plot that ensue give pleasure. This is similar to the form of construction Blochman used in Bengal Fire.

Blochman shows two apartments in the novel; one being the murder scene, and the other an unoccupied apartment next door. This rather oddly recalls the two household effects found in stories by writers of the pulp tradition, such as Raymond Chandler's "Goldfish" (1936) and Erle Stanley Gardner's The D.A. Draws a Circle (1939). (Please see the article on Gardner for a further discussion of this). Blochman's emphasis on his characters' motions around these locations recalls the intuitionist tradition, such writers as John Dickson Carr and Ellery Queen.

Blochman typically adds to the intrigue and plotting of his books by having several of his characters engaged in illegal activity. In the Indian books, these schemes, while illegal, were not necessarily immoral. His Indian characters were often engaged in working towards Indian independence, something that was illegal under British rule, but hardly seen by Blochman as an immoral activity. And the European characters are often engaged in activities, such as prospecting for gems, that while essentially moral, causes them to go up against the red tape of British Government regulations. By contrast, in See You at the Morgue, when his characters engage in illegal schemes, they are just plain crooks, pure and simple. This makes See You at the Morgue far less ambiguous and less complex than the early Indian novels. In all of Blochman's works, these illegal activities are used to give characters motives for murder. They also greatly add to the mystery of the plot. Typically we learn early on that the character is involved in some scheme, but we don't learn what the scheme is. We get some interesting clues, but the actual scheme itself is left as an intriguing mystery to be solved later. This increase of mystery is something that is always desirable in a detective novel: typically, the more mystery, the better in a detective tale.

See You at the Morgue has a structure similar to Blochman's later "Calendar Girl" (1952), in that its first half suggests the crime springs from its characters' romantic entanglements, and its second half gradually reveals its characters' involvement in money-making criminal schemes instead, schemes which lead to the murder. This is not fair play, because there are few real clues to these activities.

Blochman tried to give plenty of New York City atmosphere to this work, just as he depicted Calcutta in his Indian books. While he often succeeds at scene painting - the description of New York City in the autumn in Chapter 3 is especially good - he does not succeed in the sort of sociological detail he achieves in his early India books, or in his portrait of the modern United States in Recipe For Homicide (1952). See You at the Morgue shows the technological side of New York, just as Bombay Mail does of India. The many scenes set on the New York Subway system are the equivalent of the train chapters in Blochman's Indian thrillers. The look at a New York City phone answering system, and mystery plot ideas that emerge from it, is the equivalent of the stress paid to telegraphing and messengers in the Indian books.

Recipe For Homicide (1952) includes a detailed look at a soup canning factory, and several short stories of its period also look at industrial food production. Blochman includes a mild early predecessor of this in See You at the Morgue, by having two characters work for a liquor company, one as a biochemist, the other as a public relations man (Chapter 2).

Blochman's detective in See You at the Morgue is a policeman, Kenneth Kilkenny. He is closely associated with a medical man, the Assistant Medical Examiner, Dr. Joseph Rosenkohl. This anticipates the later set-up of the Dr. Coffee stories, with scientist Dr. Coffee working with policeman Max Ritter. However, here it is the policeman who is the central character, whereas in the Dr. Coffee stories it is the scientist who is the chief sleuth. Like the later Dr. Coffee, Dr. Rosenkohl is a pathologist. However, the pathology sections are brief, and compared to the later Coffee novels, short on medical substance and relevance to the plot. Like the later team of Coffee and Ritter, the two men are close personal friends, with a common fondness for food and eating together. The fact that the sympathetic Dr. Rosenkohl is Jewish is clearly Blochman's comment on Hitler era Anti-Semitism. Blochman had long included characters of many races and nationalities in his tales. Max Ritter is the later Dr. Coffee stories is also Jewish.

Murder Walks in Marble Halls: a novella

"Murder Walks in Marble Halls" (1942) is unique in several ways in Blochman's career. It is Blochman's only novella for The American Magazine; despite its high quality he unfortunately never produced another for that "slick".

It is set at the New York Public Library, and is one of the few Blochman stories in which the floor plan and architecture of the setting plays a crucial role: one can follow the movements of the characters all over the Library, and the architectural orientation gives pleasure in the way typical of Golden Age mysteries.

It is one of Blochman's few stories set among the intelligentsia, along with "The Swami of Northbank". The people in the story are all "knowledge workers": people who produce knowledge the way characters in other Blochman tales produce food or minerals. The characters in the story do not merely stand around and expound on their intellectual specialty. Each has a job, and each is busy producing something as part of it. This beehive of work is integrated into the mystery plot. Both the Library and the knowledge work are part out the main productive output of New York City, its work as an industrial center of the mind. The story continues Blochman's interest in the life of New York City started in See You at the Morgue. Blochman also views the Library as a window on the world: he emphasizes the Oriental Room, the Slavonic Room, and other centers of International scholarship in the Library. He also shows how the Library is the center of what we today call multi-media, including music, radio and dance. This makes the Library virtually the "brain center" of Blochman's universe, the central locale connecting up all of Blochman's interests.

Kenneth Kilkenny and Dr. Joseph Rosenkohl return in this story, and Blochman clearly hoped to make them series sleuths at this point of his career. However, the young hero and amateur sleuth who is the novella's Point of View character does most of the actual detection in the tale. As far as I know, this story marks the second and last appearance of Kilkenny and Rosenkohl in a Blochman tale.

The structure of the story has several Blochman trademarks:

The unfolding patterns of this tale make it a very satisfying reading experience. Blochman weaves them out of several different "colors": the personal relationships of the characters, their professions; their physical positions in the library architecture; and their relationship to the murder plot. There is a good deal of actual color imagery in the story, used to describe the clothes the characters wear, various books, and library materials. There are also many references to books and literary quotes in the story. Even apparently casual references often light up Blochman interests: a card catalogue beginning at the word Anaphylaxis recalls Blochman's interest in medical jurisprudence. The story as a whole has "flow": the events seem to flow together in logical, absorbing sequence, like a piece of classical music. Each detail plays a part in the over all structure and design; a word like Anaphylaxis serves as an anchor post as the body of the story flows around it, a detail holding down one part of Blochman's musical design.

Reprieve: a short story

Much of Blochman's short fiction is unavailable today. He appeared in both the slicks and the pulps, and in magazines that fell in between, like Adventure. His pulp short story, "Reprieve" (1943), while brief, startles with the immense freight of well done detective story machinery Blochman has managed to cram into it. There is a detailed financial background, quite realistic and complex, reminding one that Blochman is the author of that in-depth look at American business, Recipe For Homicide, and a member of the realist or Croftsian school of fiction, and believes in backgrounds. There is a private eye, and one whose intellectual attainments are emphasized, beyond the normal rule in pulps. There is a whole locked room mystery story, and a pulp adventure and intrigue tale. All of this is done with considerable grace and charm.

Rather Cool For Mayhem

It is unclear what year Blochman's Rather Cool For Mayhem was first published. It is copyright 1947, 1948 and 1950, the last date presumably being the year it was published in book form. One suspects it was either serialized in a magazine in 1947-1948, or is expanded from short stories published in those years. 1947 is the year the first Dr. Coffee short story appeared, so presumably this novel was written around the same time. The hero-narrator is a serviceman who has just returned from World War II, and it is apparently set in October 1945.

The novel is fairly minor. After a pretty good beginning many of the later chapters are inconsequential. These opening chapters and the finale together make up a decent short story.

Mystery Plot. The plot shows some similarities to events in Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (1939), although it lacks the mass killings of that novel.

The story suffers from a general lack of fair play - it is hard to see how anyone could deduce the outcome from the clues presented.

Pathologist. One of the characters in the tale is a pathologist, and the story is noteworthy for apparently being one of the first Blochman tales to incorporate medical detail as part of its plot. Unlike the later tales of the heroic Dr. Coffee, the pathologist in the story is not a sympathetic character. The medical detail in parts of the story are divorced from the rest of the plot, and are not well integrated with anything else. Furthermore, they never form a part of any puzzle plot in the strict sense. This is unlike the later Dr. Coffee stories, in which the medical aspects usually form part of an ingenious mystery. Still the medical ideas are not uninteresting, and form a prelude to Blochman's important Dr. Coffee series.

Hero: Wiseguy Patter. The hero, an ex-newspaperman, has a smart aleck mouth and a lot of attitude. He is rough, tough and given to wisecracks and adroit phrases, many of which show verbal cleverness. This sort of smart guy patter is rather startling in Blochman, whose Dr. Coffee tales are narrated with a serious earnestness. Even here, his narrator's hard-boiled cracks show unusual literacy, with many twists on standard phrases.

Military and Militarism. The novel has a Background describing what the characters did before, during and after World War II. Such a "through the war" perspective is found in a number of World War I novels, such as Donald McGibeny's 32 Caliber (1920).

One of the characters is a manufacturer, who grew rich from his factory making cotton shirts for GI uniforms. This focus on the intersection of manufacturing and politics will reoccur in the later Dr. Coffee stories. There Blochman will largely concentrate on food manufacturing plants.

Rather Cool For Mayhem has a good deal of idolization of the military ethos, with men in uniform being admired and civilians being regarded as second rate. This was a not uncommon attitude during World War II. It extends in the book to the detective, a state trooper named Captain Hugh McKay. McKay and his men are uniformed and very militaristic in their approach. McKay is tall, wears a tailored gray trooper's uniform and Stetson, and is ultra-tough and disciplined. He is always barking out commands and imposing his authority on the suspects. Everything he says is either a direct query demanding information, or an order. He also directs the flow of conversation among the suspects, controlling everything they say. He refuses to answer questions himself, and makes sure that everyone understands the flow of information will be strictly one way.

The military will return in Recipe For Homicide (1952), and in some of Blochman's Dr. Coffee short stories of the 1960's. They will be treated in a progressively more skeptical manner by Blochman as the years go by. Even in the World War II Mayhem Blochman expresses concern about civilian war profiteers, although the armed forces are treated with reverence. As time goes by, Blochman's skepticism will extend to members of the armed forces themselves, in such Dr. Coffee stories as "The Wolf and The Wayward Wac" (1963).

Recipe for Homicide

His Dr. Coffee novel, Recipe for Homicide (1952), offers a detailed portrait of a soup canning factory. It covers both the technological and the business sides of the factory, and is pretty interesting. This portrait is a full Background in the Crofts tradition.

Recipe for Homicide does more. Blochman saw India as a dynamic place, seething with intrigue and competing political factions. Recipe for Homicide offers a similar portrait of modern America. There are Communists, capitalists, representatives of labor unions, government agents. Each is presented as is, with an attempt to offer a sophisticated, realistic portrayal, not a stereotype common to a thriller (e.g., the dreadful Mickey Spillane).

Blochman's portrait of Communism is complex. He is definitely not a Communist sympathizer. Far from it. He shows US. Communists as a sinister group willing to sabotage the US military, a point of view that is perhaps extremely anti-Communist, but which gains reasonable credence in 1996 from all we know about the systematic willingness of Communist Party members in real life to engage in anti-US. espionage and anti-Trotskyist terrorism. Blochman shows Communists as willing to murder their own members, also a realistic portrayal. But Blochman also shows how idealistic Americans got caught up in Communism because of a desire to treat areas of US society in genuine need of reform, such as the treatment of the poor and racial discrimination. The fate of these idealists is portrayed as genuinely tragic, as their ideals are eventually betrayed by Communist realities.

Blochman's portrayal of capitalism is equally complex. He shows how many factory owners are genuinely concerned about the safety and welfare of their employees. He also shows that the ranks of capitalists include crooks and schemers willing to go to any lengths to achieve their swindles. It is a balanced portrayal, which is probably unsatisfactory to ideological extremists of either left or right, but which certainly can be defended as "realistic" and non-superficial.

Blochman's greatest deviations from realism come from the demands and conventions of the mystery genre. In a mystery novel, you must have a murder, and a large cast of suspects who can reasonably suspected of the murder. Probably this is not realistic, in the strictest sense. Neither US Communists or capitalists have typically engaged in Agatha Christie style murder schemes to further their goals. Nor have most other people, of course. The types of murders portrayed in mystery stories are largely a literary convention, designed to create entertaining, ingenious plots. Political ideologues of all stripes can reasonably claim that Blochman has exaggerated the willingness of their side to engage in murderous activities. Of course he has - otherwise he wouldn't be able to write a mystery novel about them.

The conventions of the mystery story aside, Blochman has created one of the most realistic portraits of American society in this novel. It is also a portrayal that is quite different from that of many modern mystery writers. Mysteries often portray daily life in the US as humdrum, routine, and commonplace. Blochman shows US daily life as the operating ground of many powerful forces, technological, scientific, economic, political. It comes across as a very interesting, dynamic place.

The Dr. Coffee Short Stories

In addition to the novel Recipe for Homicide, Dr. Coffee appears in two short story collections, Diagnosis: Homicide and Clues For Dr. Coffee. There are also some later stories not in these volumes. A review and bibliography of the Dr. Coffee short stories is at Ontos.

Blochman's Dr. Coffee short stories break down into a number of categories:

Many of these tales involve Impossible Crimes, either murders or clever fakes used as swindles. One might also note, that even the non-impossible crimes are often constructed on approaches that reflect traditional kinds of (non-medical) mysteries, such as lying witnesses exposed, or finding which one of a group of suspects are guilty. Blochman really runs the gamut of different kinds of traditional mystery fiction, that he can give a scientific or medical dimension.

There are other mystery aspects to some of these stories, aside from their core crime plot. Many of the tales involve Hidden Relationships ("But the Patient Died", "Catfish Story", "Rum for Dinner", "The Swami of Northbank", "The Square on the Hypotenuse", "The Half-Naked Truth").

Animals and their biology play a role in several stories, as a subplot ("Catfish Story", "Deadly Back-Fire", "But the Patient Died").

"But the Patient Died" (1947), is a straightforward Dr. Thorndyke imitation. The first tale in the Dr. Coffee series, it furnishes a good summary of both the daily hospital work and routine of Dr. Coffee, and of his and his police friend Max Ritter's personalities. It makes for pleasant reading, although quite mechanical in its approach to mystery. The best touches in the story deal with politics in Coffee's hometown of Northbank.

More creative, and with a better puzzle plot, is "Catfish Story". In "Catfish Story", Dr Coffee's medical deduction plays only a small part in the story. This lividity subplot is sound and clever. But most of the tale is taken up by two other complex plots. These are solved by policeman Max Ritter, who is the principal detective in the story. It is nice to see Ritter getting an outing. These two Ritter subplots do not involve medical mysteries - instead, they are well-done non-medical mysteries.

Similarly, in "Old Flame" (1959), Ritter is the one who actually solves howdunit, finds the criminal, and exposes the killer's motive. He does all this at the very end of the tale, and his detection takes up a smaller portion of the story than it does in "Catfish Story".

"Calendar Girl" is one of the less satisfying tales. Its main non-medical mystery uses an old plot idea, that previously appeared in such works as Dashiell Hammett's "One Hour" (1924) and Baynard Kendrick's Blood on Lake Louisa (1934).

"The Phantom Cry-Baby" concerns the heiress to the Barzac Cannery, later used as the setting of Recipe for Homicide. Its plot is alluded to in Chapter 6 of Recipe, and in some ways forms a prequel to that novel. The Cannery itself is hardly discussed in "Cry-Baby", however. It is one of the few Dr. Coffee stories to use mechanical, non-medical technology as part of the plot.

A locked room story is "Murder Behind Schedule". This is a very well done tale, brief but with a well constructed plot. It contains a gracious homage to John Dickson Carr. Carr in turn was a fan of Blochman's, and praised his stories in print. This is much shorter than Blochman's other Dr. Coffee tales, presumably because it appeared in This Week, a magazine that offered high prices for very short mystery stories - Ellery Queen's Q.B.I. also appeared there in the early 1950's. The characterization of Paul Monson in the story is interesting. It emphasizes his interior world, his attitudes and thoughts, as well as his talents. It also stresses the relationship between the character, and society, especially the sociology of modern life. Many of Blochman's characters seem to exist on such an interface. The plot of the tale, like many of Blochman's, interweaves a cat's cradle of relationships among the characters. The solution is also typical of Blochman, in that it involves the detective discovering new previously hidden relationships among the characters.

"Kiss of Kandahar" (1951) is set in the same world as Recipe for Homicide (1952), with its factories, its food processing, and its poisons. This tale, like its predecessor "The Swami of Northbank" (1950), is in the pure Freeman tradition of scientific detection. Both stories involve some interesting science.

The later "A Taste For Tea" (a.k.a. "The Man Who Lost His Taste") (1958) also recalls Recipe for Homicide, as such Blochman interests as botany, medical detection, and the world of industrial food preparation all intermix. Blochman's interest in industrial food preparation exposes a whole hidden side of modern American life. Despite the ubiquity of grocery stores and prepared food, most people have little consciousness of this. It underpins all of modern life on a daily basis. Blochman also enjoys the technology of gourmet cooking, and exotic foods. The Caribbean meal in "Rum For Dinner" is an example. I've seen the akee trees discussed in that story at Fairchild Tropical Garden in Miami.

"Death by Drowning?" (1965) is also set in the world of industrial food preparation. Despite its brevity, Blochman has crowded many of his other themes into the tale, too: scientific detection, characters representing corruption in the business world and a cross section of business practices, irregular romantic liaisons, timetables, unexpected perspectives in the solution that transform earlier events in the tale. The story is an example of Blochman's ability to construct complex plots.

In addition to his industry set stories, Blochman also wrote tales set among the criminal element. "Stacked Deck" (1959) is especially Freeman like. Its dubious death is a major Freeman theme, and the blood analysis recalls such Freeman tales as "The Old Lag" (1909) and "The Pathologist to the Rescue". Blochman includes complete life histories for his characters. Blochman is an especially people oriented writer. He notices his characters, their beliefs, their relationships, their histories, their physical appearance, and their medical conditions: much of the science in Blochman's tales revolves around this latter.

Of the two last stories in Clues For Dr. Coffee, "The Wolf and The Wayward Wac" (1963) is not bad, with some interesting business detail about the Army, while "Wrong-Way Tosca" (1964) is unpleasant. "Wrong-Way Tosca" suffers from a stereotyped, negatively depicted gay character, one of the few examples of prejudice anywhere in Blochman's work.

Uncollected Dr. Coffee short stories

Dr. Coffee also appeared in several later 1960's and 1970's stories published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, that have not yet been collected in book form. Most of the Dr. Coffee stories I've read from this period are fairly weak, however.

Blochman will develop a much more objective look at gay people in "Missing: One Stage Struck Hippie" (1970). The medical model of gayness here is typical of Blochman's medical orientation, but it seems oddly old fashioned, and recalls the 19th Century, when writing about gay people was often done by medical experts. Neither tale shows any consciousness of gay people as an often discriminated against minority. But "Missing" does depict gay people as deeply integrated into the fabric of American society, and making a positive contribution to public life.

"Missing: One Stage Struck Hippie" tries to cover a lot of ground. It is a full-scale look at the Counter Culture, left-wing protest (treated unsympathetically) and the darker side of heterosexual relations among protesting young people. It has color imagery, in its treatment of Mod clothes styles of the era.

Blochman is on surer ground with his dark portrait of heterosexuals in "Dr. Coffee and the Pardell Case" (1972). The sinister central character gets a full life history at the start of the tale, emphasizing his sexual and professional misconduct. This is extended at the end of the tale, deepening the life history. The other characters in the tale are also involved with Pardell's life history, getting their own life stories. While some Blochman tales take characters "through a war", this one takes them through the life of class conflict experienced by Pardell, and his rise from poor kid to millionaire. This central transition from wealth and poverty has a before, during and after, just like a war, and we see how the characters' life situations change during these stages. Life histories are a technique used by Hugh Pentecost in his stories, although Pentecost does not usually center them around some transitional event such as a war or change in class status, the way Blochman does.

One of the best is "Dr. Coffee and the Whiz Kid" (1972). Blochman kept up with the times in his later work. This story has a "through the Vietnam War" perspective similar to the "through World War II" approach of Rather Cool For Mayhem. Blochman is interested in depicting not just a current event, but how the aftermath of the event will impinge on people's lives. It is a whole historical process that Blochman writes about. This tale also has the richest look at Max Ritter's family background in the Dr. Coffee saga. The tale also has a semi-satiric look at Ritter's relatives in academia. Blochman has captured the feel of 1970's American academia well, half pretentiousness, half genuine scholarship and learning. These are among the few academic people in all of Blochman; it is a side of modern life in which he had previously displayed little interest. The cab-driving academic in "Dr. Coffee and the Pardell Case" is also a vivid character, another attempt by Blochman to make a portrait of the hippie era.

Girl in Trouble: Later Non-Series Short Fiction

Blochman's untitled novella appeared in EQMM (September 1956); it was the subject of a contest for readers to suggest a title. It also seems to be known as "Girl in Trouble".

This story is a complete change of pace for Blochman. It shows him taking on many of the features of the intuitionist school:

All in all, it is a pleasant invocation of intuitionist school traditions, traditions Blochman had otherwise ignored throughout his career.

The story does show some of Blochman's approaches:

This story makes pleasant reading. It is not quite fair play - it does not seem possible for someone to guess the whole solution based on clues in the story - but there is ingenuity in the tale.

Pete Potrero: short stories

Blochman's fiction has a wide variety of tone. He occasionally wrote short stories whose heroes are very hard-boiled detectives. These include "Deadly Error" (1958), about tough as nails Detective-sergeant Pete Potrero of San Francisco Homicide. Potrero is of Yaqui Indian descent, and deals with underworld crooks. Although he is an interesting hero, the story is less successful. Its exaggeratedly hard-boiled plotting approaches self-parody, and one wonders if Blochman was more comfortable with the more sensible, and common sensical, tone of the Dr. Coffee stories. "Deadly Error" appeared in the October 1958 Saint Mystery Magazine.

Portrero also appears in "The Spectre of Russian Hill" (1963), a short story in the January 1963 Saint Mystery Magazine. This is a routine tale, with a few good touches:

TV Show

In 1960, a summer replacement TV series was made of the Dr. Coffee stories. Diagnosis: Unknown preserved the characters and their scientific skills from the tales, but gave them somewhat different personalities. Dr. Coffee is now a cool, young sophisticate, with a short beard. Peter Gunn was a popular TV detective show of the day, with its super-cool, Jazz-loving hero. The TV Dr. Coffee seems like an attempt to mold a sleuth even cooler and hipper than Peter Gunn. Dr. Coffee is still a first rate scientist, and much of the show is set in his lab. The lab has an ultra-modern architecture, looking a bit more like a 1960 executive suite than the unpretentious hospital headquarters of the book.

Dr. Mookerji is still a first rate scientist from India. But now he too is played by a young, hip and very cool man. He no longer is the rotund and eccentric character from the books. This might be the first portrait of a continuing Indian character on American TV. It is astonishingly dignified, glamorous and non-stereotyped.

Doris the lab technician is now a comedy relief figure, with an unrequited love for Dr. Coffee, just like Nikki Porter and Ellery Queen. She is vaguely Brooklyn-esque in her speech and manner. But she is also depicted as an expert technician: her test for blood stains is deft, efficient, and one of the show-piece highlights of the first episode.

There is also a jazz-loving teenager who works in the lab, Link, who is somewhat comic and trying to "find himself". He completes the "hip" tone of the show. He has no counterpart in the books.

The show's first episode A Case of Radiant Wine has surfaced. While the characters and style click, the plotting and scientific detection are not as good as in Blochman's tales. Still, with its glamorized scientist characters and heroes of different races and genders, it gives a fascinating glimpse of an idealistic society, one already determined to put a man on the moon.

While the sophistication and coolness of the characters recall Peter Gunn, the first show's filming techniques instead recall the live TV dramas of the era. We see the same complex camera movements, motion of the actors within large sets, and odd camera angles designed to pick up unusual perspectives within those sets. Diagnosis: Unknown was reportedly shot in New York, like many of the live TV dramas. A Case of Radiant Wine was directed by live TV veteran Fielder Cook.

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding is a prestigious author of suspense novels. A bibliography can be found at the Golden Age of Detection Wiki.

Much of what she wrote is outside the scope of this Guide, which concentrates on detective fiction, defined as "mysterious situations, such as murder or theft, solved by detectives". But some of her works that approximate the true detective tale are discussed here.

Spy Short Stories

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's World War II spy tales show the same tough minded analysis of Nazism as Helen McCloy's works. She roots Nazism in hatred of women ("The Kiskadee Bird", 1944) and racism ("The Blue Envelope", 1944). These stories appeared in slick magazines (Cosmopolitan and Collier's, respectively) that had large woman readerships. "The Kiskadee Bird" is especially powerful in its feminist concerns. Both authors also look at the mass disturbance of civilian life churned up by the Nazis.

Holding later used the setting of "The Kiskadee Bird", the imaginary Caribbean island of Puerto Azul, for such EQMM stories as "People Do Fall Downstairs" (1947).

"The Unbelievable Baroness" (1945) is another spy story set on a Caribbean Island. It is a little lighter in tone and more escapist than "The Kiskadee Bird". It is a genuine mystery tale, and a good one. Instead of a single well defined event, such as murder that needs to be explained, the story focuses on a bewildering tangle of mysterious little events. None of these is as sinister as a murder, but they plunge the reader into a situation that is hard to understand or explain. Eventually, Holding comes up with logical explanations for everything. This approach of plunging the reader into a bewildering situation that reaches a satisfying explanation recalls Mary Roberts Rinehart. So do Holding's strong women characters.



Miasma (1929) is Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's first crime novel. Before that, she had been a mainstream novelist.

Miasma stars a young, penniless doctor who gets involved with mysterious events, when he goes to work for an older doctor as his assistant. The young doctor functions a bit as an amateur detective, trying to track down information and explanations about what is going on. However, Miasma is more a sinister thriller or tale of suspense, than any sort of pure detective novel.

I didn't like Miasma as a whole: it is morbid and downbeat, as well as more than a little "sick". But am including a review here for completeness.

The two halves of Miasma are different in approach. The first and better half is an exercise in suspense, where the young doctor deals with mysterious events that seem ominous and bewildering. The second half is full of action, and is quite inferior. The first half can make absorbing reading.

Society. The grinding poverty experienced by the hero seems to anticipate the Depression soon to come. However, a book published in 1929 must have been written before the stock market crash late in 1929. The USA was supposedly prosperous in this period.

The sinister drug sequences lead to delusions of grandeur: things seem perfect and the drugged victim begins to believe he is all-powerful. This anticipates Agatha Christie's "The Flock of Geryon" (1940) in The Labors of Hercules. which has an oddly similar treatment. In Christie the delusions of grandeur extend to politics, something not found in Holding.

The contrast between the young doctor, with his stern moral code, and the sybaritic older doctor, his advocacy of pleasure, and his morally compromised actions, oddly anticipates today's Culture Wars.

However, today it is the left which represents poor people with financially limited life styles, and the right which celebrates the rich, money and materialism. By contrast in Miasma, its is the young doctor with traditional Christian morals who has the poverty-driven austere life style, and the paganistic older doctor who enjoys wealth and luxury.

The poor young doctor-hero is under pressure to become a financial success: his fiancee expects it, and so does her family. The people he meets also condemn him for his poor clothes. This is definitely not a society in which genteel poverty is a respectable option.

SPOILER. The central subject of the novel, is a prominent flashpoint in today's culture wars. While this subject is treated as one of the book's mysteries, Holding does not try to hard to conceal it. Instead, an early speech by the older doctor clues the reader in at an early chapter, to suspect something like this is going on. Such an approach emphasizes suspense over mystery.

Ancestors. I don't know of close ancestors to Miasma, among other authors' books. The following suggestions are some works to which it has some broad or distant similarity.

Christopher Morley's The Haunted Bookshop (1919) is an earlier example of a thriller that fits into the same broad category as Miasma: ordinary people in middle class settings who become amateur investigators of strange events that just happen to surround them. The Haunted Bookshop has its characters trying to penetrate a mysterious house where they suspect sinister activities are occurring; the second half of Miasma has its hero go to a danger-filled house on a medical call. However, the tone of Miasma is much darker and more morally threatening than the cheerful, often comic The Haunted Bookshop. The resemblance between the two books is not close.

I've speculated that The Haunted Bookshop might be an influence on the pulp magazine stories of the 1920's. Some of suspense happenings in the sinister house in Miasma also have a bit of pulp feel. The presence of that favorite pulp character, a chauffeur, also gives a pulp aspect. But Miasma is far more middle class and small town in setting than most hard-boiled pulp tales, and completely remote from anything like the gangsters or the underworld that are prominent in the pulps. It would be difficult, maybe impossible, to use the word "hard-boiled" to describe Miasma.

R. Austin Freeman's "31 New Inn" (1911) begins with a young doctor asked to see a patient in a strange home, thus initiating a mystery. Other Freeman works also have medical backgrounds. The young doctor hero gives Miasma a bit of a Freeman-like feel, although the tone is quite different from Freeman. Miasma has other medical aspects in its plot, making it on the borderline of the "scientific detective story".

Joseph Gollomb

Master Man Hunters

Joseph Gollomb's Master Man Hunters (1926) is a non-fiction book about major European crime fighting organizations, such as Scotland Yard. I am not qualified to evaluate true crime non-fiction, and normally it is outside the scope of this Guide.

But, several of its chapters are written in the form of detective short stories. They show the police of various cities investigating and solving mysterious crimes. Some of these detective tales are solidly done, and will interest lovers of mystery fiction.

"A Case Without a Clew" and "Too Many Clews" are mysteries based in odd informational premises. The tales can have a feel that anticipates Borges'. This is especially true of the off-trail "Too Many Clews".

Karl W. Detzer

Karl W. Detzer (1891-1987) was a prolific writer who seems largely forgotten today. Detzer published a dozen stories in the mystery pulps; all have very simple, low key titles. Most of his magazine pieces (over 500 according to David C. Cooke!) apparently appeared either in the slicks, or in non-mystery pulp magazines.

True Tales of the D.C.I.

Karl W. Detzer's collection True Tales of the D.C.I. appeared in 1925. These short stories are set in post World War I era France, 1918-1919. They show the Division of Criminal Investigation (D.C.I.), part of the American military police, dealing with crimes that involve the numerous American soldiers stationed in France at that time.

The Division of Criminal Investigation was a real-life organization, founded in late 1918, shortly after the end of World War I. The DCI was dissolved in less than a year, in mid 1919. However, during its brief life, it was a large organization, handling over 4500 cases. This information is from a factual account (not by Detzer), available here.

Detzer's D.C.I. tales are compactly written. They are packed with detail about both French life and American troops. Such a in-depth look at the life of the era can be considered as a "background".

The tales look at the detective work by both local French policemen, and American military police, who often collaborate with the French. This means the stories can be considered as "police procedurals", broadly speaking.

True Tales of the D.C.I. anticipate a bit the stories of the talented contemporary writer Martin Limón. Limón's tales take place among American soldiers stationed in Korea after the Korean War. They are investigated by two US military policemen, George Sueño and Ernie Bascom. Limón's work thus recalls Detzer's, in having a background of US troops stationed post-war in another country, and being police procedurals focussing on military policemen.

"Through Bolted Doors" is one of Detzer's few known locked room stories. The solution is easily guessed, and the story lacks the dazzling ingenuity of G.K. Chesterton or John Dickson Carr. On the other hand, the solution is completely sound, workable and believable. It is also fairly clued, and allows the reader full opportunity to figure out how the crime was done: perhaps it is even too obvious, as noted above!

"Through Bolted Doors" shows the interest in architecture often found in Golden Age mysteries. The two French buildings are carefully described. The finale of the non-mystery crime story "Number 52 Rue Nationale" also has detailed architectural settings.

"Neglect of Duty" is a mystery about a theft. Detzer uses an unusual technique. He opens the tale with some cryptic remarks about its outcome, then flashes back and tells the story from the start. The opening remarks turn out to be accurate in a literal sense, but misleading in terms of what they suggest to the reader. This deceives the reader about the solution of the mystery.

Some of the tales describe a near complete breakdown in social order. Between the troop concentrations of idle soldiers, liquor, the local vice trade and other factors, one can see orderly life disintegrating. See such tales as "Number 52 Rue Nationale" and "The Guilty Party". "Number 52 Rue Nationale" is especially disturbing. The breakdown of society oddly recalls the stories Dashiell Hammett was writing in the 1920's. Hammett's works, which take place among regular civilian society, are more creative, though.

Neither "Number 52 Rue Nationale" or "The Guilty Party" are primarily mysteries in structure: they do not center on mysterious situations that have to be explained. Both occasionally do have surprise twists, and odd situations to be explained. The first of the three crime anecdotes in "The Guilty Party" does indeed open with a bizarre event that needs to be explained, at least in its motive.

Murder in the Movies

Ellery Queen reprinted Detzer's short story "Murder in the Movies" (1937) in his anthology The Female of the Species (1943). This is a pleasant whodunit, set on a Hollywood sound stage. According to the biography in David C. Cooke's Best Detective Stories of the Year - 1949, Detzer had worked as both a scriptwriter and as an assistant director in Hollywood; the story is full of authentic looking detail about the movies.

"Murder in the Movies" perhaps has some affinities to the realist school:

The story is not "fair play"; it does not cheat, but it does not give the reader all clues needed to solve the case. The reader just has to lie back and watch the detective solve the mystery - which she does very well.

The republication of this tale in Queen's anthology seemed to trigger a mild boom in mystery stories located on Hollywood sets: see Ray Bradbury's excellent "Yesterday I Lived!" (1944), Dorothy Dunn's "It Had To Be-" (1944), and A. Boyd Correll's "Press Agent For Murder" (1945).

Calling All Cars!

Cooke's Best Detective Stories of the Year - 1949 includes Detzer's "Calling All Cars!" (1948). This is a realistic police procedural short story about a man hunt, with no mystery or puzzle plot; it is pretty mild and routine. One odd coincidence: a police character is named Sgt. Dan Murphy, the same as Allan Vaughan Elston's series detective.

Its most interesting feature is its inside look at the police's communication grid. In his youth Detzer worked as a reporter and a news photographer; in his later years he was a newspaper publisher; he was clearly a man interested in all media. I bet he would have loved today's multimedia computer networks.

I also like its Michigan setting; I don't get to read many mysteries set in my home state. Detzer's "Bank Job" (1940) is a similar, mild but realistic tale of a manhunt conducted by the Michigan State Police.

Detzer is good at describing teams of people, such as a movie crew or the police, each with their own special skill. There is a flow of information through the group; this flow is an engine that moves the plot along. People in his tales are always breaking up into small groups, then rejoining the large central crowd. Detzer tracks this regrouping geographically, as his characters move from point to point; this movement also contributes to his plots.

Car 99

Detzer helped adapt his story "Hue and Cry", to make the movie Car 99 (1935). It too centers on the Michigan State Police. In addition to working on the screenplay, Detzer served as technical advisor.

The Water-Boy

Detzer wrote other kinds of fiction, in addition to mystery stories. The title "character" of Detzer's non-mystery short tale "The Water-Boy" is a fire fighting ship. This is a sort of "firefighter procedural", describing the ship's battle with a harbor fire. It contains Detzer's typical focus on a team of professionals.

Allan Vaughan Elston

Allan Vaughan Elston wrote quite a few mystery short stories, and one mystery novel.

Elston also wrote Western stories, some of which combine elements of crime and suspense. Elston wrote nearly 30 Western novels, from the 1940's to the 1960's. His Western short story "Triggers in Leash" shows his fondness for symmetry. This tale was dramatized on Alfred Hitchcock Presents on TV.

Mystery Short Stories

Allan Vaughan Elston's "Drawing Room B" (1930) was included by Carolyn Wells in her Best American Mystery Stories. It shows a startling symmetry in its plotting, with events ultimately finding their mirror images to each other. While not a puzzle plot in the strict sense, this sort of ingenious plotting is a hallmark of the Golden Age detective story. "Live Bait" builds up a similar kind of symmetry in its unusual plotting, as does "Eva? Caroline?" (1949). Elston was an engineer who wrote detective short stories on the side; his work is very hard to come by these days, although it used to be widely reprinted in 1940's anthologies. When "Eva? Caroline?" was reprinted in Ellery Queen's 1967 Anthology, EQ's introduction quotes Elston as saying he "plots stories from the logical, mathematical viewpoint of his ... professional ... background". The symmetry in several of Elston's tales does seem mathematical.

"Live Bait" and "Blackmail" also share plot imagery of people being pursued to the doors of their suburban homes. These two stories also share a similar plotting style, off trail, elegant variations on conventional detective formulae. One thing that is "off trail" about Elston's stories is that they tend not to follow the paradigm of murder, leading to investigation by a professional detective. Instead the protagonist tends to get involved with the crime in some unusual, unique way, then has to resolve the mystery. This detectival approach to solving the crime also tends to be something unusual dreamed up by Elston, which varies from story to story.

"Live Bait" is included in the anthology Murder for the Millions (1946) edited by Frank Owen.

A minor but pleasant Elston tale is "The Bookshop Mystery"; its plot recalls Christopher Morley's The Haunted Bookshop (1919).

The Dan Murphy cop short stories

The Dan Murphy tales are police detective stories that appeared in magazines around 1942. They include "The Unloaded Gun" and "The Blackout Murders". The Murphy tales are even more low key than the cop stories appearing in pulp magazines at the time. Their low key, evenly paced storytelling, their step by step investigation of a crime, with all facts and police theories continuously shared with the reader, and their emphasis on realism and plausibility, all point to an influence from Freeman Wills Crofts. So does the way in which the bad guy in "The Unloaded Gun" is identified fairly early on in, with the police spending the rest of the story trying to find ways of unraveling his plot and catching him.

Some of Elston's non-Murphy tales include settings that seem Croftsian: the use of trains in "Drawing Room B", the harbor and boat scenes in Murder by Mandate (1945).

In "The Unloaded Gun" Murphy is the viewpoint character; in "The Blackout Murders" he is not, the story being seen from the point of view of the main suspect; this switch is unusual in detective series, most of which establish a point of view, then stick with it consistently throughout.

A continuing "bad guy" in the Murphy series is the sensationalistic local newspaper editor, Clagle of the Daily Trumpet. A similar negative media presence haunts the non-Murphy tale "Live Bait"; this is apparently a persistent Elston theme. "Blackmail" also involves a newspaper of dubious ethics, the Clarion.

"The Unloaded Gun" is set in fictitious Citrus Valley in California, "The Blackout Murders" in Citrus City. Citrus fruit are a major crop in California.

"The Blackout Murders" takes place against a World War II blackout of an American city. The detailed portrait of the blackout can be considered as a Background in the Croftsian sense. The action is restricted to a single neighborhood, which gets an in-depth look. This anticipates a bit the island setting of Murder by Mandate: both are restricted to a well-defined location. (Despite the title, there is only one killing in "The Blackout Murders".)

"The Blackout Murders" is a full-fledged murder mystery. SPOILERS. Its puzzle includes alibi aspects. The many plot details that involve light and the darkness of the blackout are systematically developed.

"The Blackout Murders" has as its protagonist a widowed bank teller with three children. The story describes the hero as underpaid, and he also does not get much support from anyone in society. The tale sympathizes with this sort of very lower middle class character. There is a struggling young architect in "The Unloaded Gun", but he seems less marginalized than the teller in "The Blackout Murders".

"The Blackout Murders" is included in the anthology The Mystery Companion (1943) edited by A. L. Furman, and originally appeared in the pulp magazine Short Stories. "The Unloaded Gun" is included in the anthology Third Mystery Companion (1945) edited by A. L. Furman, and originally appeared in Collier's Weekly, September 5, 1942.

Murder by Mandate

Murder by Mandate (1945) is Elston's only mystery novel, at least in book form. It earlier appeared as a serial in the pulp magazine Short Stories, beginning with the January 10, 1943 issue. It was written with Maurice Beam, author of one other mystery novel, Murder in a Shell (1939), which Beam wrote in collaboration with Sumner Britton. Like Elston, Beam wrote short stories for the pulp magazines, nearly 40. The two men both published in Detective Fiction Weekly, among other pulp magazines, and one speculates that they met during their pulp days. Both men had stories in Detective Fiction Weekly for September 8, 1934, for example: Elston's "Three White Horses" and Beam's "Bird's Eye".

Murder by Mandate shows the Realist School's fondness for tropical settings during the W.W. II era. Unlike Lawrence Blochman and Helen McCloy, the book is set not in the Caribbean, but in an imaginary South Pacific island in French Polynesia. One can consider the island setting as a Background, but this is perhaps stretching it. Unlike Blochman, whose Blow Down (1939) offers a systematic look inside a banana plantation, Murder by Mandate does not attempt to offer a systematic depiction of any specific institutions of island life. Murder by Mandate does convey a vivid feel of island living however, and manages to look at a wide range of island denizens: planters, beach combers, harbor men, the police, government officials and the clergy.

Murder by Mandate is set very precisely in 1941, after France has been overrun by the Nazis, but before the United States has entered the war. Among other things, this allows the young American reporter hero to still be practicing his civilian profession. Had the book been set after America had entered the war, the hero would probably have been in uniform.

Like many detective novels of the war era, the story combines pure mystery with current wartime events. These current events can seem more in the tradition of spy fiction, than of Golden Age mystery fiction. Right in the first chapter, the reader and the hero learn that some mysterious scheme is taking place on the island. This scheme might have something to do with current wartime events - or it might not. Throughout the rest of the book, more and more information is uncovered about the scheme. Figuring out the nature of the scheme is as much the subject of the puzzle plot as whodunit. Finally, at the end of the story, all details of both the scheme and who did the murder are fully disclosed. The authors stick to unearthing the truth about their dual mystery, the scheme and the murder. The book has the Golden Age focus on solving a mystery, even if the mystery has an unusual double nature. One recalls that some of Freeman Wills Crofts' books concentrate on elucidating mysterious enterprises, for example, The Box Office Murders (1929).

Murder by Mandate is a beautiful book. The island setting is evoked with lyrical grace. The authors include a great deal of realistic detail, that makes the setting vivid and believable at all times. The book has an effortless "you are there" quality, that suggests that at least one of the authors knew French Polynesia at first hand. Wherever the book goes, whether rowing out to an incoming ship in the harbor, to a island hotel, to driving along inland roads, it is full of specific detail. The detail is often very lyrical. The book treats Polynesia as a sort of paradise on Earth.

Murder by Mandate has a huge cast of characters. Around twenty people recur throughout the book. The entrances and exits of the characters are handled with gracefulness. It is like watching a beautifully executed dance.

Western-Mystery Hybrids

"Mutiny on the Box Cross" (1940) is a Western novella by Elston. It is reprinted in the anthology A Western Bonanza (1969), edited by Todhunter Ballard. "Mutiny on the Box Cross" has elements of mystery. These involve not whodunit, but rather trying to figure out the mysterious details of a criminal scheme, taking place at the Box Cross ranch. This sort of mysterious scheme is right out of the Freeman Wills Crofts tradition. As in Crofts, the details of the scheme involve some technical issues. The novella is fair play: enough technical background about ranching, and enough clues, are provided so that the reader has a fair chance of figuring out the scheme.

The cowboy who serves as detective, Cimarron Steve Wilder, is an amateur, not a lawman. His motivation is to help a young cowboy friend in trouble, Benny Corbin. Corbin used to work for the hero, and the hero's fondness for him is why he is involved in the investigation. Corbin has a romance with a woman in the tale; the detective hero does not. Instead, the story emphasizes how physically attractive the hero thinks young Corbin is. It is hard to tell if the hero is helping a friend - or whether the hero should be seen as a gay character. In any case, the hero is highly likable.

The early chapters involve the hero impersonating Corbin, briefly. These sections have a bit of symmetry to them.

Also personal for Elston: the characters wind up under siege at their home, the Box Cross Ranch.

Earl Derr Biggers

The first Charlie Chan novel of Earl Derr Biggers, The House Without a Key (1925), shows signs of the Realist school of detective fiction, especially Freeman Wills Crofts. It has a policeman as its detective hero. It has a well described Background of Hawaii. It also explores San Francisco in one section. The plot ultimately hinges on that Croftsian staple, the alibi, although there is no "breakdown of identity". And it follows realist tradition by sympathetically including a character of a minority race, the Chinese detective Charlie Chan. Chan is depicted in the book as a person of high intelligence, ability, and moral character, who is uniformly respected by everyone in the society around him. Biggers explicitly created his hero Chan as a reply to the racist Yellow Peril stories that were so popular in their era, with their Oriental villains scheming to take over the world. After years of cliched movie adaptations, Charlie Chan is now frequently considered a lamentable stereotype. I am certainly not defending some of the film versions of the character. But it seems inaccurate and unjust to judge the original books by later film versions. Biggers worked hard to shatter racist stereotypes and replace them by positive images of Chinese people. He deserves credit for this, not blame. Chan personally has to battle racial prejudice against Chinese in some of Biggers' books; a memorable example is found in Chapter 21 of The Chinese Parrot (1926).

Biggers commitment to the Realist approach varies from novel to novel. It is strongest in The House Without a Key, more moderate in Behind That Curtain, and Keeper of the Keys, and weakest in The Chinese Parrot. Behind That Curtain opens with an explicit disavowal of the uses of science in detection, so if Biggers was influenced by Crofts, he had no interest in the scientific approach of R. Austin Freeman. The same opening discussion in Curtain also suggests that detective fiction bears little resemblance to real life police work; Biggers takes the Croftsian position that real life detection is largely dependent on a mixture of hard work and luck. This sort of self referential discussion of The Detective Story within a detective story has a long tradition in mystery fiction. The Chinese Parrot also contains several witty allusions to detective story conventions.

Howard Haycraft justly complained about the "mechanical" nature of Biggers' plot construction. The House Without a Key contains numerous subplots, rather arbitrarily sewn together. The best parts of the book are not the mystery plot or investigation, but the events leading up to the murder (Chapters 1 - 7). Similarly, the best parts of The Chinese Parrot are the first three chapters. In both novels, these opening sections contain the most important parts of the Background, and well done elements of intrigue and adventure.

The murder victim in Behind That Curtain (1928) leaves behind a non-verbal, symbolic clue that serves as a Dying Message. This convention would soon be used by Ellery Queen in numerous stories. I have no idea whether Biggers was the first mystery writer to use this device.

Milton M. Propper

Milton M. Propper published 14 detective novels (1929-1943), starring policeman series sleuth Tommy Rankin of the Philadelphia Homicide Squad. Rankin is handsome, broad-shouldered, muscular and young: only around 30, with curly dark brown hair. The early books stress Rankin's preference for working alone, but other series policemen gradually appear in the novels. Rankin's friendly superior is policeman Captain Thomas, of the Philadelphia Central Detective Bureau, who assigns Rankin his cases. A rival is Hugh Sanders, a low brow cop who lacks Rankin's intelligence and reasoning skills. Rankin's friends on the force include middle-aged Sgt. Daniel Gilmore, a knowledgeable, skillful and experienced officer, grey haired, heavily-built, wry and married. Rankin is assisted by police detectives, especially the lively, professional, energetic and somewhat earthy Jenks. In The Election Booth Murder Jenks is described as "a graying, cadaverous man, dependable if not clever" (Chapter 1). Smith is another detective who assists Rankin, but who is nearly as anonymous as his name. Members of the homicide team include coroner's physician Dr. Sackett, with his black goatee and pince-nez glasses, and enthusiastic fingerprint expert Johnson. Ballistics expert Thornton Dodd sometimes appears.

An excerpt from a Propper letter to mystery fan P. M. Stone has surfaced on the net: "My latest Tommy Rankin exploit has just been published under the title The Boudoir Murder. . . . My own humble opinion is that it is better than either of [my previous efforts]. I am in complete agreement with you as to the general superiority of English detective stories, especially those of Lynn Brock and Croft, who also happen to be my favorite authors, though I would exclude Fletcher's third-rate tales of the past five years. But in defense of America, I would suggest the late Isabel Ostrander, whose ingenuity and plotting were unsurpassed." Propper's references are likely to Lynn Brock, Freeman Wills Crofts and J.S. Fletcher.

Commentary on Milton M. Propper:

The Strange Disappearance of Mary Young

The Strange Disappearance of Mary Young (1929) is Milton M. Propper's debut mystery novel. It has a vivid opening, describing the finding of an unidentified body at a Philadelphia amusement park, and the police work to identify the corpse (Chapters 1 - 4). After this, the book turns into a mass of unconnected subplots, and is much less interesting. On the whole, this is not as good as Propper's best novels to come.

The book has some strengths: it creates Propper's series sleuth, young Tommy Rankin of the Homicide Squad - who is seen at his best in those same four opening chapters. It is also the debut of Rankin's friendly superior Thomas, who is only Lieutenant Thomas at this early date.

And the book comes up with a surprising killer. Other than the choice of murderer, there is not much of a real puzzle plot in the book, just a lot of routine investigation of what usually turn out to be red herrings.

The boarding house is compared to the setting of the play The Show-Off (1924) by George Kelly (Chapter 4). George Kelly was a famous playwright in that era. George Kelly resembled Milton M. Propper in that both were from Philadelphia, and both were gay.

The Strange Disappearance of Mary Young was serialized in the magazine Pictorial Review, starting in January 1929. It seems to be one of Propper's few magazine sales.

The Student Fraternity Murder

Student Life. Milton M. Propper's The Student Fraternity Murder (1932) was published the year before the rash of British University set mysteries, by Dermot Morrah and others. Unlike the British books, which concentrate on the faculty and administrators of various colleges, Propper's book deals with student life. It especially deals with what might be called the business aspect of student life: enrolling in school, paying bills for tuition, dormitories and expenses, joining a fraternity, living in a dorm, transferring from one school to another. These sorts of "business aspects of being a student" form a full Background, in the Croftsian sense. These details are carefully integrated with the mystery plot; in fact much of the detection consists of tracking down such information. They make surprisingly lively reading. Students of the 1930's seem to have paid more money and been richer than the students of the 1970's, when I went to school. They also seem to have been treated with much more personal respect than the students of today.

We also go inside a University Chemistry lab, discussing the poisons in the case; this gives the novel a slight scientific flavor of the Realist school.

Fraternities. Propper dedicated the book to both his past and his current fraternities. As he was 26 at the time, he presumably was either returning to college, or active as an adult in a frat. According to Francis M. Nevins' article on Propper in 1001 Midnights, Propper had graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's law school three years earlier. This is the same University at which the novel is set. Like the work of other Croftsians, the Background of the book stems from Propper's own experiences. The details in the book have the feel of authenticity.

The aspect of fraternity life that most intrigues Propper is the initiation. His first chapter describes one in great detail. Such an initiation represents acceptance into both society, and a circle of men, something Propper probably wanted more than anything else. His hero is poisoned just before he is admitted into the fraternity. It is Propper's situation too: he can never be quite accepted into society, no matter how close he comes. This is genuinely tragic. As an allegory of the plight of gay life, it is hard to surpass.

We also learn that Propper's series detective, policeman Tommy Rankin, was too poor to go to college himself, entering the police force after high school. This too has considerable pathos. The murder victim was an orphan, and none of the young men in the book has any visible support from a family. They all seem painfully on their own. Propper keeps stressing the need for confidentiality when dealing with their problems. There are a series of older, lower class women who seem to look after the students: the char woman at the dormitory, the farm wife who lets the victim make a telephone call. These sympathetic older ladies are the only sort of support any of the characters seem to receive.

The initiation is elaborately color coded, with different shades on the monk's robes worn by the participants. It is a full religious ritual, and probably seen by Propper as a genuinely sacred event. This is the only color in the novel, except for automobiles, which are also a subject of fascination to him, and a white ledge. Color is used by Propper as a way of underlining what is important to him. Daily life is seen in the book as colorless, or in black and white. While events that deeply appeal to Propper appear in full, bright primary color.

The frat brothers are mainly described sympathetically. Most are very good looking. Many of them seem to be in trouble. They all have a hard time maintaining the standards of decency to which society subjects them. Their plight also echoes the status of gay men of Propper's day. These are young men who can barely fit themselves into society's constraints, and Propper derives great pathos from this situation. The murder victim's personal life comes under double scrutiny. First, he suffers under a will, telling him he will not be able to inherit if his guardian finds any flaws in his character. His guardian interprets that to mean any sexual activity on his part. Secondly, after his death, the detective scrutinizes every aspect of his life, including his friends, his papers and possessions. The detective is increasingly dismayed that he cannot find any interest in women in the student's record. Such a minute spotlight put on a person seems almost totalitarian. Propper might well have undergone such a scrutiny in his own life, as a gay man.

One might note hazing has little interest for Propper. It is sometimes described in retrospect, and always with emphasis on how much fun it is for the already accepted brothers doing the hazing. But it is never described in detail, or made the subject of a flashback scene. Instead, the other aspect of fraternity life that most intrigues Propper is the ability to take women to one's room in the upper part of the fraternity, and make out. It is an image of sexual maturity and freedom. But just like the initiation itself, it is constantly being interrupted before it can be brought to a successful conclusion. Characters in general suffer from a lack of privacy. Nearly every wall in the book can be heard through, making one wonder about building practices in Philadelphia of the era.

Plot. As a mystery, Propper's novel suffers from coincidence. It is full of disconnected subplots, each one centering about a character who is doing something suspicious. By chance, their actions just happen to be identical to that of the real murderer, thus causing Rankin to suspect them. For example, one student steals the same obscure poison used in the crime. He's not the criminal; its all just a coincidence. This makes for an unfairly plotted book. Earl Derr Biggers, another American Croftsian, also wrote mysteries that suffered from an excess of subplots.

We do see everything that Propper's detective Rankin sees throughout the novel, and share his thoughts as the case progresses. This is typical of both Crofts, and such Crofts influenced writers as Dorothy L. Sayers.

The Divorce Court Murder

The Divorce Court Murder (1934) follows up on themes and approaches of its predecessor The Student Fraternity Murder. Once again, people's romantic and sexual lives are being monitored. These are not extremely young men, however: they are adults involved in a fierce divorce case. The case is based on mutual accusations of adultery. Both husband and wife are monitoring each other's behavior, in collaboration with teams of lawyers, court officials, friends, servants, private detectives, hotel employees and anyone else who can be pulled into the struggle. It produces a striking look at a society in which people's personal lives are constantly under observation for sexual misconduct.

Law. Like some other Propper mysteries, The Divorce Court Murder opens at an institution where an organized activity is taking place: the divorce hearing of the title. As in other Propper, this reflects real-life activities in Philadelphia. The hearing is based on the peculiarities of 1933 Pennsylvania law: divorces were not mainly tried in courtrooms, but in the legal offices of lawyers who had been appointed "Master" of a particular case. The hearings are fully legally binding, are conducted under strict legal rules, and are a highly unusual example in American law of legal hearings not held in courtrooms. The Divorce Court Murder is also unusual as a law-based mystery that never gets near a courtroom.

Like Erle Stanley Gardner's "Leg Man" (1938), The Divorce Court Murder shows the endless chicanery and fraudulent evidence that in practice surrounded high-toned divorce law of the 1930's, with its moralistic insistence on only granting divorces when one of the couple is to blame and the other innocent. Gardner's tone is one of blistering cynicism. King's is more moralistic, and apparently more supportive of the law. But both works show ugly realities of endless fraud and lying to obtain divorce.

Just as Propper dedicated The Student Fraternity Murder to his own fraternities, The Divorce Court Murder is dedicated to Propper's fellow students in the University of Pennsylvania law class of 1929. This perhaps reflects the value Propper placed on membership in male groups.

Also as in The Student Fraternity Murder, The Divorce Court Murder has a will giving one person control over the life of another (Chapter 5). In The Divorce Court Murder, there is perhaps an element of kinky fantasy to this. The will also involves the detailed financial elements often found in Propper.

The Divorce Court Murder is only in part a "legal thriller", in the modern sense. Both lawyers and a legal Background are prominent in the early chapters. But then they mainly disappear from the story.

Sleuths. We see series sleuth Tommy Rankin briefly at home. He has a modest bachelor apartment off Rittenhouse Square, with maid service to clean up during the day. Rankin is also seen eating quick meals, in brief breaks during his work. Rankin's apartment was briefly mentioned in his debut novel The Strange Disappearance of Mary Young.

Sgt. Daniel Gilmore, who assists Rankin with the investigation, gets some of his better characterization in the books (Chapter 6).

Plot. The best puzzle plot ideas involve not the murder, but subplots centering around surveillance situations in the past. Propper has two good ideas: one revealed half-way through the book (Chapters 10, 11), one revealed in the solution at the end. This second idea anticipates the solution of Ellery Queen's The Scarlet Letters (1953). It is unclear whether Queen knew of Propper's book. Queen's treatment is simpler, cleaner, and hence more plausible and self-consistent than Propper's.

Propper's choice of murderer is logical. It fully and logically explains a puzzling feature of the killing: thus forming a solid clue to the killer's identity. Oddly, while this puzzling feature is stressed in early sections of the novel, the solution in the final chapter does not bring it out.

If Propper had left it at this, he would have had a sound puzzle. Unfortunately, he gussies up the murder mystery by all sorts of suspicious actions by the other suspects. These actions sometimes involve unbelievable coincidences. For example, he repeats a flaw of The Student Fraternity Murder by having more than one person coincidentally buy the poison used in the killing! This turns the murder mystery into a mess.

One feature added to the murder mystery does show ingenuity, however: the involvement of the husband Mortimer Keith (Chapter 7). While admittedly a pure complication extraneous to the main mystery, it is plausible, not too coincidental, and best of all, ingenious. This subplot resembles some of the main mysteries in Propper concerning an infiltrator from the past who takes on a new identity to get close to a victim. Keith, however, is from the present, rather than the past.

Like some other Propper novels, The Divorce Court Murder has a floor plan of the building where the crime occurs. It also has a timetable, which largely describes the movements of people around this floor plan at various times.

The Election Booth Murder

The Election Booth Murder (1935) is a mystery set against a political election in Philadelphia. It gets Tommy Rankin involved in material more common in hard-boiled novels, such as racketeering, hoods and corrupt city government. It has some readable passages, and includes some interesting material. But as a whole The Election Booth Murder has serious problems that ruin it.

Plot. The mystery plot of The Election Booth Murder is flawed. Propper's use of subplots reaches unacceptable levels. There are no less than three independent suspects or groups of suspects hanging around the crime scene. The poorly motivated actions of one group, which turns out to be innocent, enables the crime to be committed easily by another suspect - purely through coincidence (Chapter 14). In addition, a fourth suspect, who didn't actually go to the crime scene, obligingly acts suspicious at the time of the killing (Chapter 8).

Aside from all this coincidence, there is nothing interesting or ingenious about the actual killing. One of the suspects simply shoots the victim.

One mildly interesting aspect: how the gun that commits the crime turns up. This serves as a clue to the killer.

SPOILER. Although politics and civic corruption are prominent in The Election Booth Murder, they turn out to have nothing to do with the killing. This is actually pretty common in so-called "political" mysteries. Still, it seems like something of a cheat, evading the announced subject of the book. After all, this is called The Election Booth Murder.

Ethnicity and Race. The Election Booth Murder sinks under the weight of ethnic stereotyping. There are lots of Irish and Italian crooks.

Ugly terms are used for black people, there is a talked-about black racketeer in the numbers racket, and a cab driver makes a racist remark (Chapters 7, 9, 15). By contrast, the book's one on-stage black character is an honest porter at a train station, who is depicted sympathetically (start of Chapter 9).

The Jewish lawyer is treated sympathetically and without stereotypes (Chapter 6).

Phone Technology. A positive feature of The Election Booth Murder is the look at phone technology. This was high tech in 1935.

A threatening anonymous call is traced to its source, by the phone company (Chapter 6). Scenes like this are common in TV crime shows of the last fifty years or more. I do not know the first such scene, or when such tracing technology was invented. But one suspects The Election Booth Murder is a fairly early example. A call is traced in the British novel The Perfect Murder Case (1929) by Christopher Bush.

In 1935, it took a long time to set up long distance phone calls: up to a half hour or more. Rich businessmen would often schedule a call for say 2PM, so that all the set-up work would have time to take place, and the call would be ready for them at two. We learn in The Election Booth Murder that the Philadelphia police headquarters has special phone technology, that enables long distance calls to be arranged much faster (middle of Chapter 9). Tommy Rankin makes a trip to headquarters, so he can make a speedy call to Atlanta, Georgia.

The police use of phone technology can be contrasted with the emphasis on radio use by the New York police in McKee of Centre Street (1933) by Helen Reilly.

The high tech phone episodes are part of a section about tracking down missing suspect Leonard Doran (Chapters 6, 8, 9). This section forms a sort of short story within the novel. It is a police procedural, with Tommy Rankin interviewing witnesses and gathering clues. This episode shows decent storytelling. Unfortunately, it also contains the cab driver's racial slur (start of Chapter 9). This badly mars one of the book's otherwise better sequences.

The Leonard Doran episode recalls the attempt to identify the victim in The Strange Disappearance of Mary Young (Chapter 4):

Car Chase. A car chase following the murder is one of the book's better passages (Chapter 2). This sort of action sequence perhaps recalls hard-boiled fiction. It stars Tommy Rankin and Jenks, two favorite police characters from the novels.

The car chase includes a welcome map of the area, and its streets and alleys. What seem to be real Philadelphia streets are mentioned. Similarly, the hunt for Leonard Doran is always set on named Philadelphia streets and locations.

One Murdered, Two Dead

Propper's One Murdered, Two Dead (1936) is a much weaker book. It lacks the readability of The Student Fraternity Murder, and its plot is fairly routine.

One Murdered, Two Dead is set among the social elite, and mentions in footnotes two previous cases that it explicitly notes were set among the upper crust: The Boudoir Murder and The Divorce Court Murder (start of Chapter 2). This is drastically different from Rankin's previous book The Election Booth Murder, with its numerous racketeers and criminal low-lifes. One wonders if Propper is trying to change his image with One Murdered, Two Dead, and portray himself as a mystery novelist who writes about the rich.

Fingerprints. Fingerprints are checked first locally in Philadelphia. If not found, they are sent on to the national collection at the Department of Justice in Washington DC. This is the procedure followed in both The Election Booth Murder and One Murdered, Two Dead (start of Chapter 4).

Plot. SPOILER. One Murdered, Two Dead has a surprise twist in its solution. The book is aiming for puzzle plot ingenuity. I confess I don't think this twist is outstanding. It seems like a long shot for the killer to attempt, something that could easily have gotten the killer in trouble, had it backfired. Still, the twist has some virtues, such as unexpectedness.

The Great Insurance Murders

The Great Insurance Murders (1937) is in the tradition of Propper's earlier The Student Fraternity Murder. Both books take place at concrete Philadelphia institutions. Both have a great deal of financial information in them. Both open with a murder during an elaborate public ceremony involving men: the initiation in Fraternity, a polo match in Insurance. Both groups of participants are in brightly color coded costumes: here the two teams of polo players are in blue or yellow. Even the colors recall the previous book. The elaborate movement of the players around the field recalls that of the pledges in the earlier tale. In both novels, there is a "box within a box" effect: the initiation takes place within a fraternity house, the polo match within a country club's grounds.

The heroine of Insurance seems like a ninny by today's standards. She is just idiotically trustful of her guardian's money management, despite all the intelligent protests of her fiancé. Perhaps upper crust people stuck together like this in the 1930's, no matter what.

The middle aged woman housekeeper in this book is very sympathetic. Propper clearly liked such women. They have a kindness and concern for others lacking in his exploitative upper class males. Propper keeps up his sympathy for outsiders to institutions. Here the young architect has neither the time or money to be part of the country club set; he is too busy working and building a career. Such outsiders were probably identified with by Propper. The architect is described in terms that parallel him with Propper's police detective Tommy Rankin. Rankin too is depicted as hard working and interested in building his career. We also learn about Rankin's ideal vacation: going hiking in the mountains of Northern Pennsylvania. Such walking tours were very popular with British Realist school writers of the era, such as the Coles. We also learn that Rankin likes to eat exotic, ethnic food. Rankin seems to coming alive more as a character here than in some of the books.

If The Student Fraternity Murder looked at the problems of undergraduate life, The Great Insurance Murders examines the anxieties of grown up workers, such as the young architect and the factory worker. The workers seem as insecure and vulnerable as Propper's younger characters. Propper is sympathetic to both middle class and working class people. Both seem to be frequently victimized by upper class crooks. These crooks operate with the full protection of the police and courts, in their exploitation of the less powerful. There is certainly a social message here, in the depths of the Depression. There is also a feeling of deep lack of confidence, the suggestion that society is against one, and that flourishing is difficult.

Another key piece of social commentary: Propper includes a sympathetic Jewish character, a New York City police inspector who is Rankin's contact for Philadelphia-New York police cooperation (Chapter 15). It is good to see Propper is not a hater. Such a character was a rebuke to Hitler's ideology, then on the rise. Inspector Goldman is a continuing character in Propper's books, appearing before in The Election Booth Murders, as Propper points out in a footnote in the S. S. Van Dine manner.

Plot. I read The Great Insurance Murders in a 1943 Prize Mystery Novels paperback. I have no idea if it was abridged, but the story seems to move at a much faster pace than other Propper novels. The ending of this version leaves several threads dangling: it could use some further exposition. The terrific cover shows Death playing polo. Appropriately, he is depicted as riding a pale horse.

The Great Insurance Murders does not have a Background. It does have other features of the Crofts school: an interest in alibis and modes of transportation, such as trolleys and automobiles; an inner look at police investigation, "routine" and yet far from dull; and a look at physical trails of evidence left at crime scenes.

Propper also likes detailed searches, a feature reminiscent not of Crofts, but of Ellery Queen.

The Great Insurance Murders has many subplots, in the Propper manner. However, the subplots all hang together better here. The book does not pile up coincidence as excessively as The Student Fraternity Murder. Each subplot seems to be a fairly complete mini-mystery in itself. Most of the subplots have a crime, a police investigation, interesting detective work, and some ingenious revelation. The whole book seems almost like a story sequence, or anthology of linked tales.

The third murder contains a dying message. This message is well handled, but very differently from those in Ellery Queen or other intuitionist writers. EQ tries to interpret dying messages with a flash of intellectual insight. Propper instead uses systematic police work to try to find the meaning of the message. There is no clever plot twist here, but there is an absorbing look at the exhaustive effort to interpret the message. Such an approach is consistent with Propper's heritage of the Crofts school, and its emphasis on police investigation.

Clifford Knight

Clifford Knight's series detective was Professor Huntoon Rogers, who appeared in 18 novels (1937-1947). After this, Knight wrote 6 non-series crime books (1949-1952). Some of the early novels are a bit vague about where Huntoon Rogers is employed, but by the time of The Affair of the Fainting Butler, he is firmly described as being a Professor of English at the real-life University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Commentary on Clifford Knight:

The Affair at the Circle T: A Short Story

Knight's "The Affair at the Circle T" (1946) has the sort of detailed Background common in his fiction, in this case, of a Nevada dude ranch. Most of his books' backgrounds are locations out West, or in the Pacific. The solution to the mystery, discovered by his series detective Professor Huntoon Rogers, turns on science. There is also a routine investigation of alibis in the tale. All in all, it shows signs of the Realist tradition.

"The Affair at the Circle T" is included the anthology The Queen's Awards (1946) edited by Ellery Queen.

The Affair of the Scarlet Crab

Huntoon Rogers first appeared in The Affair of the Scarlet Crab (1937).

Mystery Traditions. The Affair of the Scarlet Crab has links to Realist School traditions:

This book does not seem like a pure example of the Realist school. It also shows signs of the Van Dine tradition. Rogers is a genius amateur detective; amateur sleuths being standard in the Van Dine school, and rare among the Realists. He is an English professor, not one of the scientists favored by Realists. And the characters seem like the sort of intelligentsia that often show up in Van Dine school books, although they are scientists, not the arts oriented scholars of Van Dine novels.

Mystery Plot. Puzzle plot elements are skimpy in this not very inspired mystery. The best ideas involve the second murder, and follow Realist school traditions of alibis and the "breakdown of identity". The storytelling is also grim and depressing, and the book is not recommended.

Influence. The Affair of the Scarlet Crab seems oddly anticipatory of Michelangelo Antonioni's film L'Avventura (1959 - 1960). This is discussed in the article on Antonioni.

The Affair of the Fainting Butler

Background. The Affair of the Fainting Butler (1943) is more comic than some of Knight's other novels. Set in Hollywood, it is an attempt to write the sort of zany romp popular in mystery fiction in that era. The book is indeed cheery, with a pleasant set of comic characters.

The story is set on the literary fringes of Hollywood. Characters include a popular romance novelist turned screenwriter, and a prominent Shakespearean stage actor trying to break into Hollywood. The book is more a comic portrait of the literary world, especially kinds of popular fiction writing, than of Hollywood itself.

The Affair of the Fainting Butler repeatedly points out how many Americans are trying to write novels. These include both still commercially unsuccessful would-be professional writers, and many ordinary people who are writing novels in their spare time. The book gets comedy out of the ubiquity of this phenomenon, and the unexpectedness of some of the folks who are writing. But it also seems sympathetic to these writers, and suggests they have genuine talent.

Architecture. The Affair of the Scarlet Crab opened with a striking looking man putting his head over the wall of a California garden, startling the narrator. The first chapter of The Affair of the Fainting Butler includes a similar image. Unlike The Affair of the Scarlet Crab, which soon abandons the garden for other settings, most of The Affair of the Fainting Butler is set in its garden and the adjoining mansion.

The garden wall is simple, compared to the elaborate architecture in many Golden Age mysteries. But the novel uses it repeatedly, in different contexts and with different bits of business at the wall.

Motive. SPOILER. Both The Affair of the Scarlet Crab and The Affair of the Fainting Butler have as murder motive, the attempt to steal someone else's intellectual property. In both books, victims are killed off who know a secret about this property, thus opening the way for the killer to attempt the theft.

SPOILER. However, the motive aspects of The Affair of the Fainting Butler have an additional plot idea not found in the simpler The Affair of the Scarlet Crab. This plot idea involves a hidden Scheme perpetrated before the book opens, by innocent characters. The Scheme is only revealed at the end of the story, as part of the mystery's solution (start of Chapter 22, first half of Chapter 24). The Scheme's basic situation has been much employed through the years by other authors, and also is regularly used in television mysteries. I don't know who was the first mystery writer to create it.

Paranormal. The Affair of the Fainting Butler is unusual for its era, in that it contains a paranormal episode. Usually, detective fiction was strictly scientific. A witness sees an apparent corpse (end of Chapter 1), that vanishes. People suspect it is a paranormal vision (end of Chapter 3). I was hoping for and fully expecting a rational explanation. But at the end, it turns out indeed to have been a psychic vision (end of Chapter 24). This is a real cheat!

Death of a Big Shot

After World War II, Knight abandoned Rogers to write about non-series detectives. Knight's Death of a Big Shot (1951) shows several similarities with Erle Stanley Gardner. The hero is a Rogue, who uses his skills to help an innocent working woman caught in a jam, like many Gardner heroes. The setting, a Southern California fruit ranch, recalls the agricultural communities of Gardner's Doug Selby books.

Some of Knight's imagery also relates to the film noirs that were popular in his time. Hit men often showed up in films; Charles McGraw played them in Robert Siodmak's The Killers (1946) and Anthony Mann's T-Men (1947). Highway Patrol barricades, and searches for fugitives show up in both the prose of Karl W. Dexter, and in such films as Joseph H. Lewis' Gun Crazy (1949).

This does not mean that Knight's book is derivative. In fact, its opening chapters (1 - 5) are strikingly original. These sections are more thriller than mystery; they also contain a delicate love story, and lots of entertainment value. They are only marginally related to the mystery plot that follows, although Knight does return to their plot briefly with some interesting material at the end of Chapter 15. The later mystery sections of the novel disappoint. They also change the position of the hero in unpleasant ways. In the early sections, he is a powerful, clever rogue who does a lot to help the heroine. He, and the author, are also ingenious about both his hit man work, and his ways of aiding the heroine. In the later book, the world starts closing in on him, a much less fun thing to read about. One wishes Knight had stuck to his guns, and written a whole book about the protagonist in his opening pages.

One might also note that the opening chapters of Death of a Big Shot constitute a prototypical Road tale, several years before Beat writers made being On the Road (1957) fashionable in mainstream literature. (Apparently, Jack Kerouac's On the Road was actually written in 1948-1951, long before its publication.)

Elizabeth Daly

Elizabeth Daly was an American mystery novelist, who published 16 mystery novels in the 1940's and early 1950's.

Commentary on Elizabeth Daly:


Elizabeth Daly has been hailed by major mystery writer-historians like Anthony Boucher and Bill Pronzini. Her work was praised by Craig Rice and Agatha Christie, who cited Daly as her favorite American mystery writer.

Despite this, I have been unable to enjoy most of what Daly I've read. Her only book that seemed actively fun to me was Evidence of Things Seen. In most of her books, I don't enjoy her plots, storytelling or characters.

Many Daly books are grim in their storytelling. Unexpected Night, Deadly Nightshade and The Book of the Dead deal with horrific illnesses and medical problems that attack the characters. I tend to dislike both grim books, and fiction about terrible medical crises. Another problem: in some of her novels like The Book of the Dead, it is highly sympathetic characters who get bumped off, which is upsetting to read about. By contrast, the pleasant Evidence of Things Seen is distinctly more light-hearted in tone.

Daly books are sometimes referred to as "cozies", but this is misleading, in my judgement. They are indeed genteel and deal with socially proper people, often upper class. But they often have horrifying subject matter, far removed from typical light-hearted cozy fare.

Antecedents: The Realist School

Elizabeth Daly does not fit directly into any mystery tradition. But one can see possible influences on her. Many of these writers are members of the British Realist School.

Her series sleuth Henry Gamage is an expert on old manuscripts and books. He often studies these technologically, examining paper, ink, bindings, etc. This puts him in the tradition of Scientific Detection. Gamage seems especially close to R. Austin Freeman and his sleuth Dr. Thorndyke:

However, Thorndyke is much more purely a scientific detective than Gamage is. Technical issues often play fairly minor roles in Daly novels.

Harold Bantz also functions as Gamage's secretary, recalling sleuth Dr. Priestly's secretary Harold Merefield in the novels by John Rhode. Harold Bantz's origin story is told in Deadly Nightshade (second half of Chapter 1).

The gentility and upper class settings of some Dorothy L. Sayers books return in Daly. Other resemblances:

The negative depictions of the upper classes as corrupt and unpleasant in Daly recall Henry Wade. Both are somewhat unusual among mystery writers in filling their books with nasty rich (or at least upper class) characters. This look has a certain value as social criticism. But it also means that reading their works can be a suffocating, miserable experience of being trapped among thoroughly unpleasant people.

Freeman, Rhode, Sayers and Wade are all members of the British Realist School. So the Realists are perhaps Daly's biggest influence. One notes that Gamage, like a number of Realist sleuths, is heterosexual, and falls in love and marries in the course of the series.

Antecedents: Helen Reilly

But there are non-Realist authors too, among Daly's possible ancestors.

The settings in Daly can recall Helen Reilly:

Reilly often has dynamic, contemporary New Yorkers living in her historic settings, artists and intellectuals. By contrast, the characters in the cul-de-sac in Daly's Murders in Volume 2 are old-fashioned types who are themselves relics of a bygone era. They are nearly embalmed in the past (to borrow a phrase of Andrew Sarris). I confess I enjoy Reilly's vitality more than Daly's neurasthenic nostalgia.

Daly's descriptions of architecture are skillful and knowledgeable. But they lack the burning visionary quality that makes Relly's work a cultural treasure.

Harold Bantz

Harold Bantz, Gamage's assistant, is an appealing character.

We get an "origin story" for Harold Bantz in Deadly Nightshade (1939) (second half of Chapter 1), a book set in September 1939. He was seventeen when he first met Gamage two years before, in 1937, and asked him for a job.

So Harold will be roughly 23 in 1943, when The Book of the Dead takes place. In that tale Harold is off serving in the Marines. He therefore has no role in The Book of the Dead. One half humorously suspects that Harold might find the Marines a refreshing change of pace. Even the 1940's Marine Corps *%&#$%@&%*!! profanity might be a relief after all the stuffy upper crust gentility of some of Gamage's cases.

We learn at the end of Any Shape or Form (1945) (Chapter 20) that Harold does not plan to resume working with Gamage, after he returns from W.W. II. Gamage gets a new assistant, a man I find much less interesting and likable than Harold. This man is from an upper class background, unlike the working class (or even poorer) Harold.

Harold is part of a tradition in American mystery fiction. Giving genteel upper crust detectives very young, working class assistants from a poor background, recalls such 1910's sidekicks as Dollops in The Man of the Forty Faces (collected 1910) by Thomas W. Hanshew, and Fibsy in books by Carolyn Wells. One suspects that young readers identified with such youthful assistants. And that working class readers of all ages liked the recognition that working class heroes had something to contribute to society.

However, as a lab assistant and technology expert working for Gamage, Harold recalls Polton in the Dr. Thorndyke books by R. Austin Freeman. Polton is also of working class origin. However, unlike Dollops, Fibsy and Harold Bantz, Polton is not especially young. Another grown-up technical expert of working class origin will be police scientist Jub Freeman, who debuted in V as in Victim (1945) by Lawrence Treat. See also machinery expert Newton Bulger in The Catalyst Club (1936) by George Dyer, another grown man of apparently working class origin.

Murders in Volume 2

Murders in Volume 2 (1941) is a Gamage mystery novel.

Murder Mystery. It has murders, that don't take place till the middle of the book (nearly the exact half-way point). I can't see anything inventive about the murder mystery.

Daly is mainly interested in "who done it". The solution is chiefly concerned with identifying the murderer. This is legitimate - but awfully simple.

Mystery Subplot. More interesting is a non-murder subplot that occurs right away (Chapters 1-6). It is partly solved at the end of this opening section (Chapter 6), with a fuller solution later (middle of Chapter 14). This subplot benefits from a colorful premise (Chapter 2).

SPOILERS. Daly's solution involves motive: who benefits? knowledge: who had information required? And skill: who had the ability to carry this off? These are not profound questions, and they hardly break new ground in the technique of the mystery story. But they are sound. And allow Gamage to trace back the crime to an unlikely culprit, one I didn't suspect.

BIG SPOILERS. The basic premise of the solution recalls Daly's debut novel Unexpected Night. Both books feature a bunch of no-good heirs, hanging around waiting for a rich relative and/or benefactor to die so that they can inherit his money. In the meantime, they are living on allowances, rather than working. They engage in sinister, often criminal conspiracies, to gain their inheritance. Both groups of heirs are portraits of the upper classes at their worst: parasites who don't work and who pursue evil schemes to make sure they stay in the ruling class 1%. Daly's descriptions of these people can make your flesh crawl.

The lack of violence and the ultra-genteel settings sometimes lead critics and readers to label Daly's novels as "cozies". But the chilling portraits of upper class evil-doers are far from cozy.

SPOILERS. The conspiracy in Murders in Volume 2 has elements of inventiveness and ingenuity. They help give this subplot a certain distinction as a mystery plot puzzle - as do the clues of "motive, knowledge and skill" to its solution.

Cult Group. Gamage interviews the leaders of a genteel but sinister cult (Chapter 10). This is a skillful depiction of rich people behaving in an evil fashion. It only has a little to do with the mystery plot: It helps motivate the opening subplot.

More spiritual cults return in Daly's Any Shape or Form (1945).

Stereotype. After the opening, Daly introduces a disabled character, Cameron Payne (end of Chapter 7). He is depicted negatively. This is a major problem with the novel. It makes it impossible to recommend as a whole.

Evidence of Things Seen

Evidence of Things Seen (1943) is a charming mystery tale. It is set in a remote rural area, that mixes the summer homes of the rich with local folks of modest financial means. One of the book's main strengths is its depiction of this region, both the characters living there, and the landscape surrounding their homes.

Mystery Plot: Impossible Crime. Evidence of Things Seen is an impossible crime tale, in its main murder mystery. Unfortunately its solution re-uses a gimmick used many times before and since this book. It is one of the cliches of the locked room mystery. This idea is perfectly sound, both here and elsewhere, so the murder mystery in Evidence of Things Seen is fair and believable. But it lacks all originality.

Gamage later says he knew who the killer was immediately, as soon as he heard the details of the crime. Unfortunately, I did too - because the book employs a standard gimmick whose solution is obvious to anyone who has read this gimmick in other novels.

Mystery Plot: Subplots. Some subplots are better done. Gamage does a good job, reconstructing the events that led up to the crime in the victim's life. This includes him reconstructing the motive for the murder.

I also liked the mild intrigue surrounding some of the refugees living in the area.

The Book of the Dead

The Book of the Dead (1944) is a Gamage mystery novel.

Freeman Minimalism. The premise of The Book of the Dead recalls R. Austin Freeman, and such late Freeman novels as The Penrose Mystery (1936), Felo De Se? (1937) and The Jacob Street Mystery (1942):

Because so little is known about the mystery man, every scrap of knowledge that is known seems vital and important.

Breakdown of Identity. SPOILERS. Early on, Gamage brings up the possibility that somehow the identity of the mysterious man might have been switched (end of Chapter 3). This is an example of what I have dubbed the "breakdown of identity". It is a favorite plot device of Freeman and the Realist School as a whole.

Home Front. Like some other Daly novels, The Book of the Dead is firmly set at a specific time: Summer 1943.

This is in the middle of World War II. The Book of the Dead depicts civilian life on the "home front". We see shortages of both supplies and manpower. A New England factory has closed, simply because it cannot get raw materials to use in manufacturing. A hospital is drastically understaffed. This historical background in interesting. The Yellow Room (1945) by Mary Roberts Rinehart is another mystery that shows World War II USA from a civilian perspective.

The opening of The Book of the Dead takes place among far more "ordinary" people than do some Daly novels. The characters, while respectable-looking and far from the toughs and hoods seen in private eye tales, seem like regular people, rather than upper crust members of the 1%.

Any Shape or Form

Any Shape or Form (1945) takes place in a lavish country home and its grounds. It is a "country house mystery". Like Evidence of Things Seen it thus has a rural setting - but it is more genteel and upscale than the earlier Evidence of Things Seen. It also seems set in a less remote area, one closer to "civilization". The house is near the apparently fictitious Rivertown.

Mystery Plot: Criminal Scheme. BIG SPOILERS. The main mystery plot centers around a hidden criminal scheme. The scheme is of the same type as the ones in Unexpected Night, and to a lesser degree Deadly Nightshade and the opening subplot of Murders in Volume 2. This seems to be a patented type of Elizabeth Daly plot. As in Unexpected Night, the scheme is based in greed, and involves a wealthy innocent person in frail health.

The scheme in Any Shape or Form is pleasantly complex: a plus for it as a mystery plot. This leads to a question in mystery plot aesthetics. Which is superior, the plot in Unexpected Night, which presents Daly' scheme ideas in a pure, clean and simple form, or the plot in Any Shape or Form, which elaborates such ideas into a more complex, detailed plot? I will tentatively plump for the more complex plot in Any Shape or Form as preferable. In general, I admire complexity in works of art. This recalls the aesthetics widespread in the world of classical music, where the complexity of classic music is seen as one of its most important virtues.

SPOILERS. The main clue to the scheme involves the victim's clothes. This clue is interesting, and full of complex detail of clothing. However, I'm not sure if it offers conclusive evidence: after all, maybe the victim's clothes are simply caused by her being an eccentric dresser!

Mystery Plot: The Statue. The statue is pointed to right away, in the opening sentence of the novel. This suggests it will be important in the mystery plot. And indeed, in the solution at the end, it ingeniously plays two unexpected roles in the solution to the mystery.

The statue is part of the elaborate grounds of the estate (Chapters 1, 3, 4). Such grounds are part of the Golden Age interest in landscape. The grounds are mainly different kinds of garden, all interconnected.

Cult Group. The victim belongs to a genteel cult group. This recalls the creepier cult group in Murders in Volume 2. These groups signal Daly's belief that something is wrong with upper class lifestyles.

Race: A Positive View. The depiction of the two black servants is an attempt to make a positive, non-stereotyped view of black workers (first half of Chapter 7). There is a bit too much about their "feudal" devotion to their employer to satisfy modern taste. But mainly this is a highly dignified view.

Dorothy Gardiner

Dorothy Gardiner was an un-prolific mystery author, who only published six mystery novels. There is a discussion of Gardiner by Steve Lewis at Mystery*File. It includes a bibliography of her books, and information on her professional activities with the Mystery Writers of America.

The first half of The Seventh Mourner (Prologue, Chapters 1-9, 11-12) is a delight. This includes both a look at the North of Scotland, and pleasant mystery storytelling. The book's mystery puzzle is nothing. But the novel exemplifies a certain type of good natured, light hearted mystery narration, that evokes an era in mystery fiction.

In general, Gardiner's storytelling is better than her mystery plotting. It is best to regard her books as comic novels, and not to have much expectations of puzzle plot brilliance.

Links to Crofts and the Police Procedural

Her last three mystery novels star Sheriff Moss Magill of the fictitious small town of Notlaw, Colorado. These books are What Crime Is It? (1956), The Seventh Mourner (1958) and Lion in Wait (1963). The Magill books are loosely linked to the Crofts tradition: There are detailed looks in What Crime Is It? at the Sheriff's hometown of Notlaw, Colorado, and of Scotland in The Seventh Mourner. These function a bit like the Backgrounds in Realist School writers, although they are of regions, rather that the institutions or businesses so loved by Realist writers.

However, the links between Gardiner and the Crofts tradition are not close. There is little emphasis on alibis, or other complex puzzles. There is only a little police lab work, and it is mainly off-stage.


Since at least 1985, mystery novels set in different regions of the United States have been widely published. In the 1950's and before, however, they were much rarer. Most mysteries were set in major cities. Those few set in the country mainly transpired in New England, an area seen as "quintessentially American" in that era, and deeply revealing of American traditions and character. The Moss Magill books are fairly unusual in having a Colorado-based Sheriff and setting.

Gardiner is careful not to exaggerate the atmosphere of Notlaw: she keeps the characters and their professions relatively restrained, realistic representatives of a small tourist town in the Colorado Rockies. While they have comic sides, they are not eccentrics or zanies. The characters are all gainfully employed, and are the sort of people that could be found in any small or medium sized American city. They are not "hicks".

Notlaw has what might be called "cultural ties" with New York City. Some of the characters in What Crime Is It? and Lion in Wait have moved to Notlaw from New York. Others do business there. What Crime Is It? has an extensive section set in New York. Both Notlaw and New York are portrayed as having both honest and dishonest citizens. Neither is depicted as having a monopoly on virtue or vice.

There are no signs whatever of any Southern aspects to Notlaw. None of the locals is given any Southern background. When tourists' background is given, Illinois is mentioned in What Crime Is It? and Nebraska in Lion in Wait. Some residents have ties to New York City. No one seems remotely to be a "good old boy".

People in Notlaw also regularly have ties to Western Europe: Switzerland in What Crime Is It?, Scotland in The Seventh Mourner, the janitor Clarence is from England in Lion in Wait. This gives a cosmopolitan atmosphere to the novels. Unlike some modern mysteries which depict their small towns as hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world, the Gardiner books have both New York and European ties.


Most of the characters in the Magill books are married or dating. An exception: Sheriff Magill himself. There are no signs of any romance in his present or past life. Like many detectives of fiction, he seems to stand outside of the world of heterosexuality. Instead of romance, he seems to enjoy meeting the various policemen he encounters professionally on his travels.

Magill also meets some charming young crooks: Kendrick in What Crime Is It?, Angus MacPherson in The Seventh Mourner. These young men offer a change of pace and some comedy, in the middle of their novels. (One wonders if Kendrick is named in honor of Baynard Kendrick. Both Gardiner and Baynard Kendrick were heavily involved with the Mystery Writers of America.)

Mystery Plot

There are a few simple clues to the identity of the killer in What Crime Is It?. These do indeed give an indication, that the guilty party is indeed a likely suspect. They are not conclusive however. There have also been indications that the killer is a venal person, greedy and of low moral fiber. Oddly, not all the clues embedded in the novel, are actually mentioned by Magill at the end. The clues tend to link the villain to the "hidden criminal scheme". They are not directly related to the murder itself. The murder is not the subject of specific puzzle plots, as it would be in an impossible crime or alibi puzzle tale.

The mystery solution in The Seventh Mourner has little value. Only the subplot about Angus MacPherson is any good. It is unconnected with the book's main mystery puzzles.

Lion in Wait

Lion in Wait (1963) is an uneven work. It is best in a long middle section (Chapters 4-6) that features some good storytelling. This section offers the book's main look at the lion of the title. The good-natured, comic lion has come to Notlaw with a small circus. There is much about the lion, but only a little about the circus as a whole. This section also includes the discovery of the murder, the novel's most dramatic event.

We also get a bit of a look at Sheriff Moss Magill at home and at his jail. One suspects that Gardiner was trying to round out Moss' character, and show parts of his world.

Lion in Wait falls apart badly in its later sections. Problems:

Lion in Wait seems to be modeled on What Crime Is It?. Both a largely set in Notlaw, both have New York City connections. There are some recurring characters. The two books have hidden Crime Schemes. Gardiner is perhaps stressing "series" aspects. Unfortunately, she published no more mystery novels after this.

Richard Starnes

Richard Starnes was a newspaperman, starting out at age 16 on the Washington Daily News. By 1950, when his first mystery novel was published, he was make-up editor for the paper. There are perhaps some resemblances between Starnes and the narrator of his first three mysteries Barney Forge, both being married newspapermen in the Washington DC area.

The Other Body in Grant's Tomb

The Other Body in Grant's Tomb (1951) is the third of three novels featuring Starnes' medical detective, Dr. St. George Peachy, and his Watson and narrator, news reporter Barney Forge.

Mystery Traditions. The Other Body in Grant's Tomb is a curious hybrid of the R. Austin Freeman tradition of medical detection, and the hard-boiled novel.

The book has an elaborate, well crafted puzzle plot, whose solution shows formal features out of the Freeman tradition. The dock-side setting of the tale reminds one of the realist school's fondness for the sea and harbors, and shows an in-depth knowledge of such areas worthy of Freeman or Crofts.

Starnes shows influences from other mystery traditions. Dr. Peachy has comic characteristics that recall John Dickson Carr's sleuth Sir Henry Merrivale, and Starnes flirts with locked room ideas in this novel.

The book has some hard-boiled features, then at the peak of their popularity in American crime fiction. Starnes' use of the hard-boiled tradition is selective, employing some of its characteristics, ignoring others. It takes place in the world of urban corruption familiar from Raymond Chandler. Starnes' dialogue and narration also employ the wisecracks and startling similes made de rigueur in hard-boiled fiction by Chandler. Starnes has a gift for creating well turned phrases, ones which cleverly sum up a situation.

The book does not feature the relentless action familiar in many hard-boiled novels, however. There is a brief final shoot em up, and a few scenes of fighting, but most of the book stresses sleuthing, not violence. Nor are there any mobsters or gang figures, or private eyes. The newspaper hero of the story has no romances, and he and the doctor are brain workers, not figures of violence, and neither is especially tough. None of these men are alienated or loners; all are well integrated into the institutions of American society. They are all vastly more normal that the suspects they meet.

Background. Starnes' book takes place at a seedy waterfront bar, and adjacent areas, such as a dockside mission. This setting can be considered as a Background showing life among the down and out, although it seems a little less concrete than many realist school Backgrounds, which often deal with a single institution.

The bar is regularly visited not just by the poor, but by intellectuals and college students looking to experience the seedy side of life. The intellectuals are chess playing figures who sit around and discuss philosophy, and who look down there noses at "square" guys like the hero who wear suits and ties, and who are part of mainstream American life. We seem to be seeing a very early look at the Beat movement here, although this term is never used by Starnes. Starnes' narrator-hero Barney Forge is definitely not part of this crowd, and these intellectuals are only seen from outside: none ever becomes a major character in the book, although perhaps the piano player can be considered one of them. This was years before the Beats became at all known to mass America and the mass media.

Starnes' novel forms a drastic contrast with 1940's depictions of tough neighborhoods, such as the Skid Row shown in William Keighley's film, The Street With No Name (1948). The tough guy urban area in that film is the home of the poor, the tough, and the macho. There is nary an intellectual in sight.

By contrast, most of the denizens of Starnes' waterfront district are there because they are alcoholics. Many of them have attitude problems and are severely maladjusted. Both the alcoholics and the intellectuals are people who are in revolt against the norms of mainstream American life. This gives Starnes' portrait an entirely different feel. It is one of the earliest depictions in American fiction of an alienated underworld of the disaffected. Starnes differs from the Beats in that he is not advocating such disaffection. His sympathies instead seem to lie with Forge, Dr. Peachy, and the other mainstream characters. Still, his book is both a satirical and a poetic and moody evocation of the world of the lost.

The Early Books: Politics

The first two Dr. Peachy novels are much less interesting. Both And When She Was Bad She Was Murdered (1950) and Another Mug for the Bier (1950) have Washington DC settings, mixing politics with Washington society and high life. The general tone of both works is unpleasant, mixing snobbery, dubious social attitudes towards minorities and what passed in 1950 for spiciness. The puzzle plots are nothing much, either, although they are detailed in the tradition of the day.

The depiction of Washington in And When She Was Bad She Was Murdered recalls that in such Leslie Ford mysteries as The Murder of a Fifth Columnist (1941) and The Woman in Black (1947). There is the same focus on genteel parties and social gatherings among Washington Society, intermixed with newspeople and businessmen with government connections. In both And When She Was Bad She Was Murdered and The Woman in Black, there is a recognition of corruption in the business deals of people linked to government.

In And When She Was Bad She Was Murdered, this crookedness centers on a Middle East oil deal: a prophetic subject. Similarly, in Another Mug for the Bier a crooked natural gas deal being pushed through Congress is the focus. The novel links this to issues of "power" in general: what we tend to call "energy" today. Energy is much discussed in 1940's US science fiction, and it occasionally appears in US mystery fiction of the era too.

Another Mug for the Bier is more directly political than And When She Was Bad She Was Murdered, with events taking place in Government buildings. It has a Washington columnist-broadcaster as a villain. The powerful broadcaster is anti-munitions and opposed to government arms spending and waste. The narrator views this as evil, and betraying US troops. This attitude, combined with an anti-gay slur in the opening chapter, suggests perhaps a right wing point of view in Another Mug for the Bier. This contrasts with what seems to be a more liberal perspective in Leslie Ford.

The fictitious columnist villain in Another Mug for the Bier is likely based in part on the real-life columnist Drew Pearson. Pearson supported cuts to government arms spending. Pearson had a massive public feud with Defense Secretary James Forrestal, who opposed such cuts. Pearson had left wing ties, further suggesting that Another Mug for the Bier perhaps has a right wing perspective.

SPOILER. The murder in both Another Mug for the Bier and And When She Was Bad She Was Murdered turns out to have nothing to do with politics, deriving from personal motives instead. This is a bit of a letdown: why have a political setting, and then have it not related to the mystery? Perhaps the author was trying not to offend anyone politically.

The Early Books: Settings

And When She Was Bad She Was Murdered opens in a waterfront neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia. This is an upscale suburb, rather than the seedy waterfront of The Other Body in Grant's Tomb. Still, the waterfront is ancient, and full of an eerie atmosphere.

Another Mug for the Bier has an interesting opening crime scene, involving two real-life US government buildings connected by an underground trolley. This reflects the Golden Age interest in unusual architecture.

Another Mug for the Bier refers to both Philip Marlowe and Perry Mason, probably because they were among the best known sleuths of the day. Both characters have a hard-boiled tinge.

Charles B. Child

Child's stories of Inspector Chafik J. Chafik of Baghdad's Criminal Investigation Department ran in Collier's from 1947 through 1956, simultaneously with Blochman's Dr. Coffee tales. And like Blochman's series, Ellery Queen had the authors continue their work in EQMM in the sixties, after they had lost their slick magazine markets. The Chafik tales have a detailed Background of the Iraq of their era. They focus on the realistic police work of the Inspector. "The Inspector Had a Habit" (1949) was flagged by Collier's editors as the best of the series, and was reprinted in David C. Cooke's Best Detective Stories of the Year -1950. Child was born in Britain, but was a US resident when these tales were published in an American magazine; he is included here as he has more in common with the later American realists than with the 1920's British realists such as the Coles.

The Chafik stories I have read emphasize adventure as much as mystery. Their general lack of rigorous, fair play puzzle plotting is frustrating to readers like me.

H.T. Alfon

H.T. Alfon's "Fourth Rule for Murderers" (1948) is a police procedural set in Manila. It has a logical and well constructed plot; it also has a very vivid background of life and crime in the Philippines. Very little is known about its author, except that he or she was resident in the Philippines at the time of writing.

Hughes Allison

Hughes Allison's "Corollary" (1948) is an early entry into the police procedural tale that was so popular in post World War II America. These stories tried to present a realistic look at crime and police work. Allison's tale is much more intelligent than many of the cycle. Unlike many of its successors of the 1950's, it does not center on theories that today seem dubious. It does not push theories about the causes of crime, or that 1950's obsession, juvenile delinquency. Instead it just accepts that crime is, and shows the police trying to fight it. Not does it promote theories about how crime can be beat if ordinary citizens would just stand up to the mob. Also people in the story are characterized, not psychoanalyzed, a welcome relief from the realistic crime literature to come.

Both Allison and his lead detective character are black, and there is a great deal of pithy detail about both black life of the era, and the troubled state of race relations in the period. The story is a ground breaking work of sociological realism in the mystery story.

The title "Corollary" is about how investigation of one crime can lead to clues about another. Such an interest in the theory and practice of detection is part of the Croftsian school.

A.Z.H. Carr

Short Stories

A.Z.H. Carr's "The Trial of John Nobody" (1950) is oddly modern in its look at religion, tolerance, public values, and the media. It is one of few mysteries of its era to have much to say about religion, along with Borges' "Death and the Compass" (1944) and Ellery Queen's And on the Eight Day (1964). The storytelling is excellent. The story is in the 1950's tradition of civics lessons, debates about the proper organization of society. Carr's tales like to look at the public, civic institutions of whole small towns, for example, or Washington D.C., or an entire island. Carr was in public life himself, serving as an advisor to President Truman.

Of Carr's other fiction, "Murder at City Hall" (1951) falls flat on its face. It is less meaningful than "The Trial of John Nobody", and with less interesting characters or events.

"Tyger! Tyger!" (1952) is a genuine detective story, solved by a high brow poet who spends a lot of time thinking about mysticism, the problems of evil, human nature, and The Bomb. We also see samples of his William Blake style poetry throughout the story; they are not bad, and make the poet a reasonably believable figure. Carr is also more competent than most writers in showing the poet's compositional processes. The poet is given an admiring poetry loving policeman Watson on the homicide squad. The friendship between the two men reminds one a little of that between Dr. Coffee and policeman Max Ritter. The mystery story plot is closely integrated with a Background of a Russian restaurant.

The light hearted "A Case of Catnapping" (1954) is pretty minor as a detective story, but it has good background detail, and is fun to read.

"The Washington Party Murder" (1964) is a long short story or novella. It is ambitious, but somehow not pleasant in its story telling.

Mystery Plot and Detective Techniques: Links to the Realist School

The minister's investigative methods in "The Trial of John Nobody" are perhaps closest to Croftsian investigation, rather than intuitionist, Christie puzzle plotting. The minister observes clues, gradually puts together a profile of the man he is looking for, then uses Crofts style legwork to identify a locality for his suspect. It is very much classical detection in the Freeman Wills Crofts mode.

The drug distribution network of "Tyger! Tyger!" recalls on a small scale such elaborate Croftsian (non-drug) networks as found in The Pit-Prop Syndicate and The Box Office Murders.

There are some alibi features in "Murder at City Hall". Crofts specialized in alibis.

Other Realist School features include scientific characters such as the rain-making scientists in "Murder at City Hall", and the skeptical doctor in "The Trial of John Nobody". Still science plays a much smaller role in Carr's tales than in R. Austin Freeman and such Freeman-influenced writers as Lawrence G. Blochman and Helen McCloy.

"A Case of Catnapping" shows Carr's technique of developing a solution in layers. Carr's works involve the step by step unveiling of the truth. We see what his detective sees, and often times, through long sections of the story, we know what the detective knows. This is a Croftsian approach. However, Carr goes beyond this in his plot construction. His solutions come in layers, like a piece of puff pastry. First one layer is revealed, then another, and so on till all of the ideas making up the solution are exposed. This can be a very complex process, involving many different kinds of ideas. There are often lots of guilty parties taking part in the crime. They are all collaborating together, and know about each other's works, but they are doing different kinds of things. The revelation of each villain in turn, is also linked to the disclosure of what kind of criminal activity they have been up to. This allows the progressive peeling away of the solution that Carr favors.

Social Commentary

The 1950's were a period when mystery writers were obsessed with civics lessons in their stories, giving their analysis of the problems and opportunities of American democracy. Such problems seemed overwhelmingly vital in the age of the just-defeated Hitler and the still active Stalin.

In retrospect, the social analyses of such Realist School writers as Blochman, McCloy, Allison, Childs and Carr seem much more intellectually sophisticated than those of their crime novel contemporaries. The writers of straightforward, non puzzle plot police fiction of the era seem narrowly focused on Crime, whether committed by juvenile delinquents or mobsters. Much of their analysis of the situation is full of low brow bromides on juvenile delinquents reforming, ordinary people standing up to the mob, etc. The crime novelists were focused on Crime, whereas the Realist School was interested in Society.

Harry Miner

There is an informative post on Harry Miner, by Elizabeth Foxwell at her mystery fiction blog The Bunburyist.

Due Process: a short story

Harry Miner's "Due Process" (1954) contains features reminiscent of both Crofts and Freeman. Like Crofts, there is a Background, in this case a beautifully realized portrait of rural Northern Wisconsin in winter. It has a policeman hero, as well. Like Freeman, it looks at the problem of the disposal of the body. There is also some basic science used in the detection. Like both writers, there is the examination of trails of evidence: here done with some pleasantly new ideas.

Miner's tale also falls into the "civics lesson" tradition that was popular in early 1950's American mystery stories, not just those of the Realist School. There is an election, politics, and a low key look at that early 50's favorite, mob justice versus the rule of law. See the article on Charlotte Armstrong for a discussion of this.

Miner's tale also falls into some categories of mainstream literature. Rural fiction was still a big deal in the 1930's, when magazines like The Saturday Evening Post paid big bucks to writers like William Faulkner and MacKinlay Kantor to write short stories filled with local color. My impression is that by 1954 such rural portraits were considered less significant in American Literature, and that Miner's tale is a bit out of its time.

Another tradition that Miner's work evokes is that of the tale about snow. Many writers, not only fiction authors, but also poets, have been fascinated by snow, and written about it vividly. Miner makes a contribution to this tradition.

"Due Process" appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, November 1954.

Allen Richards

To Market, To Market

To Market, To Market (1961) is the only mystery novel published by "Allen Richards" (pseudonym of Richard Rosenthal). It is set in 1959, so it might have taken a little time to get published. It deals with back stage intrigue among buyers for a large New York City department store. The first five chapters offer an entertaining look at both honest and crooked department store business practices of the era, as well as a satire on business culture of the time.

Mystery novels have traditionally been full of time tables, floor plans and other multimedia. This story actually includes business spreadsheets, an unusual multimedia feature. This was long before computerized spreadsheet software, too.

To Market, To Market does not fall easily into any category of the mystery novel. Its complete lack of hard-boiled features, and its setting among reasonably prosperous New Yorkers make it remote from most of the tough guy school. Its detailed, expert Background of department store business life, and the carefully worked out Criminal Scheme of the bad guys show distant echoes of the novels of Freeman Wills Crofts. The book also shows the general surface realism that was de rigeur in American mystery fiction after 1945. It sticks closely to actions and characters that would be plausible among real life New York City business people of the time.

The Dandelion War

Richard Rosenthal has recently published a satirical novel, The Dandelion War, under his real name. The book is a comic but serious look at seniors fighting back against bureaucracy.

A Letter from the Author

Surprisingly I received e-mail from "Allen Richards" (Richard Rosenthal) in 2005, about his novel and more:

"What a pleasure to come on your review of To Market, To Market which I wrote nearly 50 years ago, under the pseudonym Allen Richards.

I especially enjoyed your noting my use of a spreadsheet as a vital clue in tracking down the killer. The book had good reviews by Anthony Boucher and Saturday Review, but this aspect wasn't noted. It reflected what I was trying to do which was to have a detective story in the midst of one's day-to-day working slob existence rather than in a British castle or urban cop/criminal underworld. I wrote while it I was working full time as a costume jewelry buyer for Abraham & Straus. It took a year and a half, I rarely slept more than 3 hours a night, and never felt better.

I did one other book, a self help work for people with hearing loss, which came out of my own experiences, a hearing loss from World War II. The Hearing Loss Handbook, St. Martins Press, 1976. And for 4 years I was a business and feature writer for Women's Wear Daily, but otherwise did not write much more than letters to the editor. That is until recently. From 1993 to 2003 I was employed as disabilities advocate for the Town of East Hampton NY.

After nearly 3 years at it am just about finished with a new satirical, suspense novel. I have written it purposely not thinking of a publisher. With To Market, To Market, I simply took it around the corner from where I was living in New York City and dropped it on the desk of the Macmillan mystery editor, confident it would be read. Six weeks later she called me with an offer. No agent. No précis.

After writing To Market, I learned that Lawrence Blochman was a second cousin of mine. I have actually read little of him, but did meet him occasionally between 1965 and his death. A lovely man who would serve wonderful wine at dinner as he expanded on poisons that could be in the food and drink and put us away without the FBI, Hercules Poirot or Sherlock Holmes ever figuring it out.

My favorite writers are Updike and Chandler and if anyone influenced me it would be Chandler, if only in the sense that he made me want to write. I think there were 2 aspects to this that I was unaware of at the time -- that simply looking about you at the urban scene or any scene can be wonderful, that excitement and fascination are implicit in a mundane existence. I saw this first through Chandler. And how marvelously Updike shows it through Rabbit.

The second aspect re Chandler was my identification with Marlowe. Looking back I realize it was much more than good guy bad guy stuff. He was lonely & alienated in a big city. He played chess with himself. He rarely got laid -- remember this was the forties -- and could not be casual about sex, or anything else for that matter. Yet he never succumbed to his cynicism, which was as it turned out sharp and often hilarious.

He knew he wasn't the smartest man around, (the reader would always know he was going to be beaten up before he did) but instead of acquiescing to his dumb slob niche, he focused and triumphed and then told his cynical user-client to take their 5 C's and shove it. At the end there was always his integrity. Chandler made this stuff, perhaps clichés of their depression W.W.II time, rich and believable.

I also admire Graham Greene. I think he was 80 when he finished his last work, and though I forget the title, it was wonderful. And I've loved Anne Tyler's way of having taken-for-granted- housewives take off in the middle of their lives and start anew."

Michael Scott Cain

Michael Scott Cain's "On Separate Tracks" (1981) is a murder mystery short story, that is a late example of the Realist tradition, especially that represented by Freeman Wills Crofts. It is reprinted in the anthology Show Business Is Murder (1983), edited by Carol-Lynn Rössel Waugh, Martin H. Greenberg and Isaac Asimov.

"On Separate Tracks" has a Background, showing how rock musicians record albums. Like many Realist School backgrounds before, this one mixes business and technology. The tale concentrates closely on recording: unlike many tales of rock music, it doesn't show concerts or much about the personal lives and lifestyles of rockers. Unlike virtually all rock music mysteries, there are no groupies!

"On Separate Tracks" resembles the Crofts tradition in another way: it has a Criminal Scheme, that is more interesting than the actual murder.

Pulp Inverted Stories

The pulp magazines were full of little inverted stories. These tales were different from the classic inverteds of Freeman, in that there is less emphasis on the detective at the end. Instead, there is usually a single clue which gives the murderer away. It becomes obvious at the end of the story, and upends the murderer's scheme. The entire tale is told from the point of view of the murderer, including the final arrest. The delightful anthology 100 Dastardly Little Detective Stories, edited by Robert E. Weinberg, Stefan Dziemianowicz and Martin H. Greenberg is full of such pieces, and I have listed some fine ones from that book above. (The article on Police Fiction also lists some gems from this collection.) These inverteds were usually by authors who were prolific contributors to the pulps, but whose work now languishes in total obscurity. It is therefore difficult to determine if these writers were specialists in the pulps' version of the inverted tale, or only occasional contributors to the genre. Pulp historians have been far more interested in series detective stories, and have completely ignored these little tales without continuing characters. They are as neglected as the anonymous motets of the Renaissance. It is also unclear if these authors were aware of their ties to R. Austin Freeman. A surprising number had clues that related to science or medicine. Perhaps this is a sign of a Freeman background; perhaps science is just a fertile field for murder clues. This genre continues today in mystery magazines; however, these pulp examples, recently reprinted, tend to have cleverer plots, and more ingenious final clues. The pulp suspense writer Cornell Woolrich also wrote several inverted stories, often using experimental variations on the form.

There are some good post-pulp inverted detective stories; see "Sound Alibi" (1957) by Jack Ritchie. Short inverted tales were also popular in the slick magazines of the 1930's: see Samuel Hopkins Adams' "The Unreckonable Factor" (1938), for example. Isaac Asimov included several Freeman-like inverted detective stories, such as "The Singing Bell" (1954), in his collection Asimov's Mysteries. The title of this tale, and its successor "The Talking Stone" (1955), are clearly in homage to Freeman's classic collection of inverted tales, The Singing Bone (1912). And as has often been pointed out, Freeman's inverted story pattern, in which we see the killer commit the crime first, and the detective track him down afterwards, forms the basic framework for the TV detective series Columbo.

Robert E. Weinberg, Stefan Dziemianowicz and Martin H. Greenberg are also the editors of two enormous anthologies of tales reprinted from the pulps, Hard-Boiled Detectives (1992), which reprints stories from the pulp magazine Dime Detective, and Tough Guys and Dangerous Dames (1993). Many stories from these collections are discussed in the articles on Pulp Adventure and Weird Menace fiction. The tales in these omnibuses are of surprisingly high quality; many combine well made puzzle plots with adventure elements. Mystery fans are greatly in these editors' debt, for their excavating so many lost gems of detective fiction.

Frederic Arnold Kummer

Frederic Arnold Kummer was a novelist and screenwriter. He also published as Arnold Fredericks.

Commentary on Frederic Arnold Kummer:

Pig's Feet: a short story

"Pig's Feet" (1924) is short story about a shyster lawyer who gets his comeuppance. Its main point of interest: an episode about a violent conflict among bootleggers (section 2 of the story). This shows at an early date the subjects of many Gangster stories and films to come: powerful big-shot bootleggers controlling territories, hit men they employ, hijackings by other criminals of trucks transporting illegal booze, corrupt lawyers who get them off in court, ties to crooked political bosses. There is nothing brilliant or artistically distinguished about Kummer's treatment of this material. But it is an early account indeed. It is two years before the hit gangster play Broadway (1926), by Philip Dunning and George Abbott, for example.

"Pig's Feet" appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, February 2, 1924. The Saturday Evening Post was one of the most popular magazines of all time. Anything published in it would become widely known to middle class readers. This means that the gangster/bootlegger subject matter of "Pig's Feet" was common knowledge among educated, middle class Americans early in 1924. One notes that the hard-boiled private eye tale had just been created the year before in 1923, in the pulp magazine Black Mask, first by Carroll John Daly, followed shortly after by Dashiell Hammett. Real-life gang bosses were well-established before 1924: Chicago gang boss Big Jim Colosimo was murdered in 1920, probably by Johnny Torrio so that Torrio could take over Colosimo's criminal empire and use it to enter the bootlegging business.

The middle class The Saturday Evening Post is typically more genteel than the hard-boiled Black Mask, and this gentility perhaps influenced "Pig's Feet". Most of "Pig's Feet" deals not with gangsters, but with bonds embezzled from a bank, a middle class setting more in keeping with the general tone of The Saturday Evening Post.

"Pig's Feet" is not being recommended here. Among other problems, it is relentlessly racist in depicting various criminal types. It is a tale of purely historical interest. "Pig's Feet" lacks any sort of mystery plot, dealing with various schemes instead.

Eight Bells: a novella

Frederic Arnold Kummer's "Eight Bells" (1935) is an American Magazine novella (January 1935). Kummer later expanded the story to the novel Death at Eight Bells (1937).

After the murder, the hero gradually uncovers the true story of the events of the night surrounding it. The uncovering is done in step by step fashion, gradually revealing another layer of events. Each step in the process is logically supported by clues and evidence. The story is not "fair play": the clues are not all shared ahead of time with the reader, so the reader can draw their own deductions. Still the whole uncovering of the truth is a pleasant process to read about. It has some structural relationship to the "inverted tale", in which physical pieces of evidence also lead to the step by step uncovering of the truth.

"Eight Bells" has a pleasant background, dealing with the still timely subject of political chicanery in Washington D. C.

The story's setting aboard of a luxury passenger cruiser recalls Roland Phillips' "Clews in the Wind" (1930).

The Scarecrow Murders

By contrast, The Scarecrow Murders (1936-1938) is mainly unpleasant, with unappetizing depictions of sexual harassment, and a general look at people at their worst. The whole novel has a nightmarish quality, that makes for an unenjoyable reading experience. It certainly paints an negative picture of Depression era America, with spoiled rotten rich people who exploit everyone else, nasty local yokels in the sticks, a racist police chief, rampant sexual exploitation, and religious fanaticism.

Mystery Plot. The subplot about the traveling salesman Hart has some modest merit. But the main mystery plot is not much.

Ancestors. The scarecrow imagery of the title recalls Ellery Queen's The Egyptian Cross Mystery (1932). Aspects of the novel recall Mary Roberts Rinehart's The After House (1914) a bit.

The detective, a wise elderly Judge in the Southern (Maryland) setting, is in the tradition of Irvin S. Cobb and William Faulkner, although less colorful.

C. William Harrison

C. William Harrison was a prolific pulp writer of the later 1940's.

Wish You Were Dead: a short story

A good short story by C. William Harrison is "Wish You Were Dead" (1945), from David C. Cooke's Best Detective Stories of the Year (1946). This story is not inverted; instead its plot is an imitation of the Cornell Woolrich mystery series that began with the excellent "You'll Never See Me Again" (1939). (It's in the Woolrich collection Nightwebs.)

Harrison's tale is notable for the way that strange evidence keeps turning up, indicating the hero's guilt, even though he is innocent. This evidence is so detailed, and so unlikely given what we know as facts, that the story is borderline-impossible crime. The evidence, and the way it shows up, has both a surreal and a paranoiac quality. The evidence almost seems to indicate a parallel world, a non material place where clues and evidence exist in Platonic archetypal form. It forms an alternative reality, a world which keeps shadowing our own, and forming a strange, idea oriented imitation of it.

There is a fair amount of interesting material on the technical aspects of photography in Harrison's story, and this is rather Freeman like.

There are some common images between "Wish You Were Dead" and Harrison's inverted story "Calling Doctor Death" (1949):

While Harrison goes through the motions of Woolrichian suspense, there is never any actual sensation of horror or suspense built up in his work. Instead the actual tone of his work is calmly logical, even dry. He quietly marches through the plots of his tales, which are constructed logically and straightforwardly.

Robert Arthur

Robert Arthur had a long and unusual career as a mystery short story writer. He began writing numerous stories for the pulps in the 1930's. Eventually he wrote both stories for such digests as EQMM, and finally juvenile tales about sleuths under Alfred Hitchcock's imprimatur.

Eye Witness: a short story

Robert Arthur's "Eye Witness" (1939) is a story somewhat in the tradition of the inverted tale. However, even though it appeared in the pulp Detective Fiction Weekly, it shows some differences in construction from typical pulp magazine inverted stories. R. Austin Freeman's original inverteds show first the crook committing the crime, then the detective tracking him down. Most pulp inverteds show only the criminal committing the crime, with a single flaw in his scheme tripping him up in the end. Many comic book inverteds also show this same pulp structure.

By contrast, "Eye Witness" is narrated entirely from the point of view of the detectives. It begins with one detective synopsizing to another, the story of how the villain probably committed the murder. Then the rest of the story is their detective work, building up evidence against the criminal. The structure of "Eye Witness" is thus closer to Freeman's paradigm. The early synopsis of how the crook probably committed the crime is not too dissimilar to Freeman's initial accounts of the crook committing the murder, while the detective work in the rest of the story corresponds exactly to the detection which forms the second half of a Freeman inverted. As in all kinds of inverteds, we know the criminal right away here; the suspense, mystery and intellectual interest coming from how the detectives are going to prove his guilt.

The Secret of Skeleton Island

Arthur wrote a series of juvenile novels, featuring the boy sleuths, the Three Investigators. The Secret of Skeleton Island (1966) shows a Golden Age inventiveness with landscape in its mystery plot. The landscape is set forth vividly in the first three chapters, "A Case for The Three Investigators", "An Unexpected Greeting" and "The Phantom is Seen", and further developed in the later chapters, "The Secret Cave" and "A Dangerous Predicament" (Chapters 13, 14).

Finally, the mystery subplot these chapters set forth is solved towards the end of Chapter 16, "Jupiter Solves One Mystery". These chapters, which deal with a historical mystery, are much more imaginative than the modern day mystery which takes up much of the rest of the book.

William Manners

Manners' "Summer's End" (1940) is a short pulp magazine tale. It is a moving, emotionally involving detective story. It is the first of only two pulp tales of this author; the other is "To Whom It May Concern" (1941). Biographical information on William Manners can be found in the next article on his brother, David X Manners.

David X Manners

David X Manners published over 65 stories in the pulp magazines, especially in Ten Detective Aces. His clever inverted detective stories "Eye Witness" (1935) and "Killer's Keeper" (1940) were also reprinted by Ellery Queen. The latter story has plot elements that were adapted to film with the Humphrey Bogart movie Conflict (1945), and have surfaced with numerous variations in movies and TV since. Another inverted story by Manners is "Death Debt", which appeared in Ten Detective Aces two months after "Eye Witness". You can tell it is by the same author as "Eye Witness" - the stories share a common approach. Both are "inverted" detective stories, both deal with mob killings in hotel rooms framed to look like aftermaths of robberies. But they have different characterizations, mystery plot twists and imagery.

Out of the blue I received e-mail from his son, Michael A. Manners, full of information on him, and his brother William Manners, who was also a mystery writer, as well as the founding editor of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Excerpts from Mr. Manners' very interesting letter of 12-30-1996 follow:

"My brother Tim alerted me today that by doing an Internet search for David X Manners, I would find that my father, David X Manners, and my uncle William Manners were included in a compilation of mystery writers. I thought you might be interested to know a little more about these two authors. They were both quite prolific and had several careers besides mystery writing.

"WILLIAM MANNERS wrote many mysteries, had a notable career as a professional boxer (52 pro bouts, 51 knock-outs), and wrote several non-fiction books that were very successful. Among them, FATHER AND THE ANGELS, an autobiographical account of growing up the son of a Rabbi, WAKE UP AND WRITE! - a quick and energized course in how to be a writer - T.R . AND WILL, the story of the stormy friendship between William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt - LAGUARDIA, the story of Fiorella LaGuardia, the outspoken mayor of New York. He also was editor for Alfred Hitchcock magazine for a number of years. His wife, Ande Manners, wrote a self help hardcover of several hundred pages - A PARENTS GUIDE TO MUSIC LESSONS - and a very important book "POOR COUSINS" that was critically acclaimed and a New York Times Best Seller. It detailed the story of East European Jews and how they were treated by their already "landed" cousins when they reached America. Uncle William was a life long athlete and vegetarian - even during his years as a professional boxer. He and my mother Ruth Ann Manners wrote "The Quick and Easy Vegetarian Cookbook" together and it has enjoyed 24 years of multiple new printings and re-releases in more than 14 languages.

"DAVID X MANNERS, (there is no period after the "X", it's his full middle name) was born in Zanesville Ohio in 1912. The son of Rabbi Harris Rosenberg and his second wife Bertha. David wrote pulps, worked as an editor for some of the biggest publishing houses buying manuscripts and also was one of the pioneers of the whole "Do it yourself" publishing industry. Many would say he was the one who really created it. Among other odd accomplishments, he is generally credited with introducing the Sauna to America. He has written hundreds of books and magazine articles on subjects from "how to do your own concrete and masonry" to "How to fix your own Television". When Writers Digest put together a 75th anniversary hardcover book containing the best "How to be a writer" articles it had ever published, "The 10 Deadly Sins", written in 1940 by David X Manners, was in there alongside articles by Louis L'Amour, Erle Stanley Gardner, Stephen King, Harlan Ellison and Isaac Asimov. The TEN DEADLY SINS he outlined in 1940 are still great advice, and might be a great addition to your site, as I suspect many visitors are would - be writers.

"David also designed and built his own house from scratch. Not just any house, but one that has been featured over and over again in magazines such as HOUSE BEAUTIFUL. David also founded The David X Manners Company, a public relations firm that today is run by his youngest son, Timothy, and now specializes in the field of marketing. His wife Ruth Ann has also published several do it yourself books, on subjects including sewing and kitchen design, in addition to the best-selling QUICK AND EASY VEGETARIAN COOKBOOK.

"My parents met as students at The Art Students League of New York City. I've found that creative people generally have more than one outlet for expression. I'm never surprised to hear that a well known musician, writer or actor also paints or sculpts.

"David wrote a TON of mysteries and westerns. He and my Uncle Bill also wrote and hosted a "solve the mystery" radio show in New York called ISN'T IT A CRIME with a chap named Ted Cott in the 1940's.

"William passed away in 1994 at the age of 86. David X Manners will turn 85 in February and we still can't keep him from climbing ladders to fix the roof. The man is made of bronze."

Readers can check out ELEVEN MANNERS, a family web site with much information on David X Manners, on line, at an external web site (out of this Guide).