Paul Chadwick | Norvell Page | G.T. Fleming-Roberts | Donald Wandrei | Robert Bloch | William Hope Hodgson | Gerald Findler | Sax Rohmer | Fergus Hume
A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection Home Page
The Dwarf's Chamber, and Other Stories
Hagar of the Pawn-shop, The Gypsy Detective (collected 1898)
The Dancer in Red (collected 1906)
Fantasy (not mystery):
The House on the Borderland (1908) (available on-line at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/10002)
The Night Land (1912) (Chapters 2, 3) (available on-line at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/10662)
Carnacki Supernatural Detective and Others (available on-line at http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0605781h.html)
I.V. Frost and Jean Moray stories
Dave Kirby stories
Blood Runs Cold
The Living Demons
Chamber of Horrors
Fear Today, Gone Tomorrow
"Crook of the Month" (1976)
Like his contemporary McKinlay Kantor, Chadwick sometimes wrote about seemingly supernatural situations that are really created by some human. These stories are structured as combination thrillers-cum-detective stories, with both chills and a rational solution at the end. Some of these tales could be classified as impossible crime tales. In the pulps, this approach was known as the "Weird Menace" school.
Chadwick's Wade Hammond tales run a complete gamut of basic structural approaches. They include:
"Tarantula Bait" is a gem, with numerous impossibilities. This story is a full example of a true impossible crime tale. It is the best Chadwick story easily available today. One hopes there are other impossible crime tales lurking in Chadwick's output.
Some of Chadwick's backgrounds are close to the settings favored by the Golden Age writers who were his contemporaries, so there is a surprisingly small gulf between his world and that of the Golden Age. Chadwick's detective Wade Hammond is even specially deputized by the Police Commissioner in his tales, and works closely with and is respected by the police, so his relationship with the police parallels those of the Van Dine school. (Of course, Carroll John Daly's characters also often had relations with the Commissioner, so there were pulp antecedents, too.) Hammond's sophistication and luxurious bachelor apartment also recall Van Dine. The artists of "Murder by Minutes" (1932), the opera attendees of "Ghost Fingers" (1932), the show biz vaudeville performers of "Tarantula Bait" (1932) and the radio performers of "Murder on the Air" (1936) are the sort of New Yorkers involved with the arts that the Van Dine school liked as suspects. Had Chadwick's stories like these been collected in book form in the 1930's, he might well be considered a Golden Age author today. Instead, Chadwick went on to create a series of Secret Agent X novels for the pulps.
Wade Hammond is supposedly a newspaper writer, but only in "Skyscraper Horror" do we get even a hint of any current newspaper work he might be engaged in. Hammond mainly moves in a world of Men. In "Murder by Minutes" and "Trance of Terror" we meet gutsy women who sympathetically operate in these dangerous male worlds. These portraits are feminist throughout most of their length; however, both ladies wind up captured by the bad guys and in need of rescue at the end. Hammond is not romantically involved with either woman, and Chadwick never depicts Hammond in romantic pursuits in any of the tales available today. In "Ghost Fingers", Hammond states that he has occasionally had women in his apartment; one suspects that this was supposed to be quite racy in 1932. Some of the stories stress Hammond's friendships with other men. We get the best look at his relationship with homicide policeman Inspector Thompson in "Skyscraper Horror". And Hammond gets involved with the crimes in "Murder by Minutes" and "Trance of Terror" to help out buddies of his.
Chadwick is a very visual writer, and his stories often remind me of the B movie mysteries of the thirties. They would have made good movies of this type, but unfortunately I do not know of any film adaptations of his work. The tales almost seem to be consciously constructed as movie scripts, and seem almost "pre-dramatized", as if their author were hoping for an eventual screen version.
"Tarantula Bait" and "Skyscraper Horror" both take place along the sides of tall buildings. They show the Golden Age fascination with integrating architecture into plots. The rooftop of "Murder by Minutes" and the opera boxes of "Ghost Fingers" are also architectural. "Trance of Terror" takes us to a whole architectural complex.
"Corpse Cheaters" (1935) takes place at a suburban mansion filled with strange and eccentric people. This will be a favorite locale in Merle Constiner's pulp mysteries about The Dean (1940-1945). The story also has elements that anticipate Robert Bloch's novel Psycho (1959).
"The Murder Monster" (1932) is mainly a horror story, about robots run amok. It does have some elements of mystery, however, about remote control of the robot. This anticipates the science fiction mysteries Gardner Fox wrote for his comic book series Adam Strange. Fox's tales involved mysteries about both robots and remote control.
"The Skeleton Scourge" (1934) is the worst Wade Hammond (and Paul Chadwick) tale I've ever read. Its slight mystery elements are not fair play, with a villain picked out of the hat at the end, and the story-telling is mainly an excuse for some unpleasant horror.
Unfortunately, not all of the Wade Hammond stories are actually detective stories. "Dr. Zero" (1933) is essentially a science fiction tale, about another one of those mad scientists who invents a death ray (actually a sinister ball of purple light). This is not an impossible crime tale: at the story's end, the sinister ball of light turns out to be exactly what it seems, a futuristic invention. The hidden identity of the mad scientist is a mystery element, which Chadwick pulls off decently; the dance of suspicion, falling first on one character, then another, is modeled on a similar structure in "Tarantula Bait". Mainly "Dr. Zero" is notable for its vivid descriptions of the attacks by the purple light. The light shows and their vivid color recall effects in the novels of William Hope Hodgson.
The suspects for the role of Dr. Zero are all associated with a local college. Universities seem to show up in American impossible crime writers, more than in other mystery writers of the era. The universities are spooky, and full of strange scientists up to bizarre research. One recalls the university scientists in Horatio Winslow and Leslie Quirk's Into Thin Air (1929). There is perhaps a bit of class attitude here. Unlike today, when half of American adults have some college education, before the GI Bill after W.W.II funded mass education, college was restricted to 1% of the US population.
When the author later sold "Sleep No More, My Lovely" (1943) to Dime Detective magazine, his work was not in the private eye mode, but rather was a suspense oriented mystery with a woman protagonist, a domestic suburban setting, and a whodunit puzzle plot. This suburban marriage story has the feel of what W.S. Gilbert referred to as "unbounded domesticity". It anticipates the Eisenhower era, when "everyone" in America was married, lived in the suburbs, and had 2.6 children, and social life consisted of couples getting together for a barbecue or bridge. It is a million miles away from the urban underworld of much of Dime Detective or Black Mask. This just emphasizes how distinct the pulp traditions of Hard-Boiled and Weird Menace were.
Personal relationships are important in Fleming-Roberts' work. His characters need a social support network, one that involves both friends and family. Issues of trust form important elements of these plots.
There is also sympathy for the disabled, and for minority groups expressed in his work.
Half the tale is taken up by the adventure filled sleuthing of Frost's assistant, Jean Moray. This gutsy, two-fisted heroine is one of the least sexist creations of the pulps; she is given a chance to operate on her own far more than Cardigan's Patricia Seward (in Nebel's tales), for instance. Moray gets a chance to use Frost's inventions in her adventures; these high tech crime fighting devices anticipate Batman, and other comic book thrillers. In particular, Moray drives Frost's auto, The Demon, which recalls the Batmobile.
The pulps as a whole seem far more open to women characters than were Black Mask and the hard-boiled school. Black Mask used to bill itself as the "he man magazine", and the hard-boiled school is "coded for gender", as current academese phrases it. The heroes of the hard-boiled tales were men, and heroism and detective work itself were seen as male occupations. This point of view seems just plain sexist. It needs to be stressed that not only was this point of view atypical of mystery fiction as a whole, it was atypical of pulps as a whole.
In this story, as well as in Anderson's Book of Murder (1923 -1929), the police seem to have unlimited resources. If they want to send twenty men to watch a location, they just do it. If they think a night club might be a trouble spot, they can permanently establish a plain clothes man to watch in the lobby every night. This is in contrast with the cliché of 1970's police shows, in which the police are constantly understaffed, and can barely even do the minimum to fight the most heinous crimes. This later cliché found its nadir in the film 48 HRS (1982), in which Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy are sent in single handed to clear out a large gang of cop killing escaped cons from a sleazy hotel. In real life, of course, such cop killers would find themselves under a Waco-style siege. Another less than plausible scene in this movie has the heroes ineffectually shooting at the driver of a high-jacked bus. As the little old lady sitting behind me in the theater asked her husband, why don't they just shoot out the bus' tires? They never do this in the movies, and it would be far more effective at preventing a getaway. Not to mention far less risky to life and limb of innocent bystanders. If I'm ever in a jam, I don't want Nick Nolte to help me. I want the little old lady who sat behind me in the theater.
Hodgson's mystery explanations for his "supernatural" phenomena tend to fall in the category of "machines". They resemble the machinery used by magicians to perform stage shows. Hodgson also used such machinery occasionally in his smuggling tales, such as "The Drum of Saccharine" in Captain Gault. So did Fergus Hume in his "supernatural mystery", "The Ghost's Touch". Such machinery was used as well in pulp magazine "weird menace" writers. One can cite Dashiell Hammett's work in Part II of The Dain Curse (1928), Lester Dent's "Hades" (1936), which is in the tradition of Hammett's story, and the main body of weird menace in such 1930's writers as Paul Chadwick and Norvell Page. This gives a certain continuity to the weird story tradition, distinct from the central line of 20th Century impossible crime writing (Leroux, Chesterton, Carr and his successors), which tended to use instead the "rearrangements in space and time approach" analyzed by Carr in his "Locked Room Lecture". It is not clear whether the weird menace writers were directly influenced by Hodgson and his "supernatural mystery" contemporaries, or whether they simply hit upon the same sort of explanation for the apparent supernatural events in their stories. After all, magician's tricks are perhaps the most obvious explanations for supernatural effects.
The real merit of Hodgson's tales is not the fairly perfunctory solutions Hodgson devised for his "supernatural" events, however, but rather the visionary force with which Hodgson conceived and described the events of his tales. "The Horse of the Invisible" (1910), for example, sweeps the reader along into a terrifying series of hallucinatory events. Its power is directly related to the strange visions that appeared in Hodgson's fantasy fiction. In Hodgson's works, visions of strange other worlds, supernatural phenomena, and monstrous supernatural beings appear. These are described with all of the senses: sound, physical touch, sight, including often vivid colors, especially red and green (although no colors appear in "The Horse of the Invisible"). Elaborate geometric patterns and shapes appear too, as well as complex patterns in time. Hodgson's works were contemporary with the abstract art movement of Kandinsky and Mondrian, which was also heavily influenced by theosophy. The complex abstract patterns of his tales, with their strong visual and geometric elements, seem like the products of a related aesthetic impulse.
Some of the Carnacki tales are full blown supernatural stories, with no natural explanation. "The Whistling Room" (1910), for example, is one of Hodgson's best fantasy tales. His analysis of the supernatural events in the tale links it to "The Voice in the Night" (1907), one of his best fantastic short stories, along with the ickier horror tale "The Derelict" (1912).
The first tale in the Carnacki series, "The Gateway of the Monster" (1910), shows some modest merits. A pure supernatural tale, with no mystery, it unites medieval manuscripts with modern technology, especially "The Electric Pentangle", a star made up of vacuum tubes that glow with a pale blue light. This will be extended to a whole set of color organs made up out of vacuum tubes in "The Hog", a kind of successor to "The Gateway of the Monster". The color organs are fascinating, but much of "The Hog" is static, repetitive, and overblown in comparison to the better done "Gateway". Color organs interested theosophists of the day, such as the composer Scriabin, some of whose music is designed to the accompanied by light shows generated on color organs. They also influenced the modernist, abstract movement in painting and film, such as the film color abstractions of Eggling, Ruttman and Fischer. S.S. Van Dine wrote a whole book about how the art of the future would be made up of pure color and light. Another Carnacki tale in the same mode is "The House Among the Laurels" (1910). It shows some mild ingenuity in its mystery features. All of these tales involve the hero and his allies sitting around inside the Electric Pentangle in a haunted house, waiting for manifestations to appear.
Most of the Carnacki tales involve hauntings of one sort or another, and they especially recall Bulwer-Lytton's "The Haunters and the Haunted" (1859), a tale whose "visionary" qualities remind one of Hodgson's own. Especially Hodgson like are the colored bubbles that float in Bulwer-Lytton's tale.
The tale is one of the most "logical positivist" of any Hodgson wrote.
The story shows the same power of 3D visualization as Hodgson's other fiction, and is especially pleasant in this regard. The geometry is some of the most rectilinear of any Hodgson tale, and this seems somehow linked to the cheery nature of the plot. The lack of any color imagery in the story gives it a "white on white" effect, also quite upbeat.
Its subject matter of theft and smuggling aboard ship links it to Hodgson's Captain Gault stories. "Bullion!" contains a great deal of realistic information about shipping and the commercial transport of cargo, anticipating such Freeman Wills Crofts tales as The Loss of the Jane Vosper (1936). Many other Hodgson works about the sea treat it as a purely romantic world of adventure and menace.
It is in the anthology Murder Impossible (1990), edited by Jack Adrian and Robert Adey. (This anthology is known in Britain as The Art of the Impossible.)
"The Diamond Spy" (1914) is a lively comic tale. It is a burlesque, on ideas that echo Doyle's "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" (1892) from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The story shows an interest in "detectives using disguise", also a feature of Sherlock Holmes and other sleuths of his era. The Rogue writers sometimes also featured disguise.
Findler's story seems to be in the Hodgson tradition. It basically has the form of a supernatural tale, not a detective story. At the end the events are given a realistic, if not too plausible explanation, just as in Hodgson. Like Hodgson, the "supernatural" events involve brilliant sensory patterns, in this case sounds. Hodgson's favorite color green also plays a role, through the curiously shaped green lamps. The house in a remote section of England recalls the equally isolated Irish mansion in Hodgson's fantasy novel The House on the Borderland (1908).
It is in the anthology Murder Impossible (1990), edited by Jack Adrian and Robert Adey. (This anthology is known in Britain as The Art of the Impossible.)
The stories clearly were an influence on C. Daly King's The Curious Mr. Tarrant. They are called "Episodes", as are King's tales. The first piece involves a series of night crimes in a museum; so do two of King's; it centers on a ancient harp, as does one of the King tales. There are also stories in both authors dealing with decapitation. The creepy supernatural atmosphere of the King stories seems very reminiscent of Rohmer's. Both King's and Rohmer's collections end with a story which is straight supernatural fiction. Both writers stress the mysterious nature of their detectives.
Rohmer's work has received positive reviews in many recent histories of crime fiction. A review of his writing is hence mandatory in any broad history of crime writing, such as the present one. However, I differ from some recent commentators in thoroughly disliking his work. The limiting factor in Rohmer's tales is the lack of real mystery, any sort of ingenuity that would puzzle readers. In case after case the solution is obvious. Often times there is only one possible explanation of events, and it is routine. The stories come closest to real mystery in the two tales set at the (fictitious) Menzies Museum, "The Tragedies in the Greek Room" and "The Headless Mummies". Both's solutions have elements of surprise, although neither is at all at classic level. They are also the two stories with the most characterization of Morris Klaw and his daughter. Oddly, they are also the two tales which seem closest to King's later work. Rohmer's stories also suffer from a morbid tone. Their events are relentlessly grim and downbeat. On the plus side, Rohmer's tales show a continuing interest in architecture. Most have complex settings, which are closely integrated into the plots of the stories.
Part of the solution anticipates a well-known story of R. Austin Freeman. The concrete details are different, however. The setting of the tale, an English laboratory, also seems Freeman-like. But "The Green Spider" was written before Freeman created his scientific sleuth Dr. Thorndyke.
Like most modern detective stories it is a one volume novel (250 pages), and there are no Gaboriau-Green-Doyle style flashbacks to previous histories taking up the second half of the book. The story is all mystery and detection.
Yet it does not focus so relentlessly on the detective and his or her work as do the casebook school and Gaboriau. There is room instead in the book for the development of a series of characters who will serve as suspects, their relationships, and the complex events into which they are drawn, a tangle which forms the substance of the plot. This reminds one very much of the circle of characters who populate a typical Golden Age detective novel, such as Christie or Ngaio Marsh. Intermixed with this there is an investigation of the crime itself, shadowings by the detective of various suspects, and such subsequent mystery staples as an inquest and a trial. This is exactly the mix one finds in an average Golden Age book, and it is still the formula of a "typical" whodunit of today.
One suspects that both Baroness Orczy and Israel Zangwill used Hume as their rough foundation for what a detective story should be. The inquest that opens Hume's novel is a prominent feature in their work too.
Hume is fairly dispassionate. He refers to a murder mystery as a puzzle (start of Chapter 4, near the end of Chapter 7), one of the earliest comparisons of a mystery to a puzzle that I know of. Hume lacks the emotional intensity of earlier writers in the genre. He mainly maintains an attitude of calm interest in unraveling the crime. This too anticipates the Golden Age, as well as such calm writers as Orczy and Zangwill. Certainly he was vastly less dynamic as a storyteller than Doyle.
Ambiguous Relationships. Hume emphasizes a group of fairly normal people who get involved in a mysterious murder, and in which all of them look fairly suspicious. Hume's ability to make the relations of the characters to each other ambiguous, so that events can be interpreted in a multitude of ways, is at the core of the modern detective novel. It is certainly a staple of Christie, and before her Orczy. It allows characters to look suspicious, without actually being guilty, and it allows the author to spring a surprise solution to the mystery at the end of the tale, one that depends on interpreting the relations in the story in a different fashion than they first appeared. A similar ambiguous set of relations propels Hume's pleasantly done tale, "The Greenstone God and the Stockbroker" (1893). Hume's various twists and turns on the relationships are nowhere as clever as Christie's, but they certainly point in the same direction.
Dialogue and Characterization. Hume's dialogue and characterization sometimes reminds one of Agatha Christie. Here for example, the good natured, somewhat superficial Society gossip Felix discusses the crime in Hansom Cab (Chapter 7):
"I consider it reflects great credit on the police, discovering it so quickly".
"Puts one in mind of 'The Leavenworth Case', and all that sort of thing," said Felix, whose reading was of the lightest description. "Awfully exciting, like putting a Chinese puzzle together. Gad, I wouldn't mind being a detective myself."
"I'm afraid if that were the case," said Mr. Frettlby with an amused smile, "criminals would be pretty safe."
This sort of light hearted, gently satirical depiction of Bright Young Things seems especially Christie like. Christie often used constructions like "Felix, whose reading was of the lightest description" in her writing. It bounces the speaker's dialogue off facts about the person's background. It helps the story achieve flow, where the characterization moves along with the conversation. Often in Christie, such constructions suggest the speaker is following some well worn social path, limited by convention and/or superficiality, and is mildly satirical of it.
Ancestors. Hume cites many mystery ancestors in his novel: Poe, Gaboriau (the Preface), Du Boisgobey (the end of Chapter 1, where Hume compares the plot of Hansom Cab to Du Boisgobey's An Omnibus Mystery), Anna Katherine Green (Chapter 7), Mary Elizabeth Braddon (Chapter 8).
Hansom Cab is full of literary references and quotations, mainly to literary figures like Virgil, Thomas Moore, Thackeray, Disraeli, Dickens, Shakespeare, etc. He also quotes Australian writer Marcus Clarke (Chapter 15). Hume, like Poe and Green, thought that books should be full of quotations. I've always enjoyed this style of writing, but it is not in critical favor today.
Hume's Preface states that he used Gaboriau's novels as his model. Well, this is undoubtedly historically true, and yet... The famous, much reprinted quotation from the Preface to Hansom Cab about Hume being influenced by Gaboriau's popularity is very misleading. Hume and Gaboriau resemble each other little as writers, and it is clear that Hume had read many other late 19th Century mystery writers. His book seems very different from Gaboriau, and from Poe and Green. In one way, the difference is just sheer blandness: Hume lacks the distinguishing traits of these writers. He does not have Gaboriau's brilliant deductions from evidence, or his carefully characterized police. He does not have Green's atmosphere of horror, and crimes based on the extremes of passion, or her relentlessly brilliant detective work. He does not deal in the baroque secrets of the Sensation writers. Hume's work is closest to Du Boisgobey, who concentrated on the personal and romantic lives of his suspects.
Description. One area in which Hume does recall Gaboriau is in his lyrical descriptions. The scenes at night wandering around Melbourne are especially beautiful.
Hagar is unusual in fiction in being a sympathetic Gypsy heroine.
"The Casket" is as much as romantic drama, as it is a crime tale. Late in the story comes an encounter which Somerset Maugham might have remembered when he wrote "The Letter" (1924). In both short stories, a wealthy adulterous woman is humiliated for her misdeeds by a much lower status but respectable woman. SPOILER. "The Casket" has a final plot twist, that draws on Hume's abilities to create ambiguous relationships.