Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Countdown Concludes....Happy 2014!

To recap:

#20 I'll Tell You Everything (1933), J. B. Priestley and Gerald Bullett

#19 Murder in Maryland (1932), Leslie Ford

#18 The Curved Blades (1916), Carolyn Wells

#17 Southern Electric Murder (1938), F. J. Whaley

#16 Written in Blood (1994), Caroline Graham

#15 Murder in Bermuda (1933), Willoughby Sharp

#14 Murder Ends the Song (1941), Alfred Meyers

#13 The Portcullis Room (1934), Valentine Williams

#12 Ten Plus One (1963), Ed McBain

#11 Death of an Old Goat (1974), Robert Barnard

#10 Murder of the Honest Broker (1934), Willoughby Sharp

#9 The Wall (1938), Mary Roberts Rinehart

#8 The Slayer and the Slain (1957), by Helen McCloy

#7 The Running of Beasts (1976), by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg

#6 Last Post (2008), Robert Barnard

Now to the Top Five!

#5 Murder in Hospital (1937), Josephine Bell

Josephine Bell's first of many crime novels over a long writing career that extended into the 1980s was much-praised its day for is intricate plot and authentic workplace atmosphere.  It details what turns out to be a series of murders at a London teaching hospital that caters to working class patients in the era before National Health (Americans may be more familiar now with the period following National Health introduction due to the popular British television series Call the Midwife).

For her novel Bell, a doctor herself, clearly drew on her experiences at London's University College Hospital.  She produced a great book, a gripping murder mystery and a fascinating social document. Unfortunately, the novel has been out of print for over seventy years. Many of her novels are now available from Bello as eBooks, but not her fine first one (a first edition of which is currently available for around $450 USD).

#4 Give a Corpse a Bad Name (1940), Elizabeth Ferrars

This is another great first novel by a prolific late Golden Age woman crime writer, Elizabeth Ferrars, who wrote write up until her death in 1995. In contrast with Josephine Bell's first, Name has a highly-traditional setting in an English village, but it's a virtuoso performance of a familiar (and much-beloved) theme.  

When forty-something widow Anna Milne (recently returned from South Africa) reports to Constable Leat and Sergeant Eggbear (love that name) of that she has run over and killed an unidentified man, the village of Chovey is plunged into a complex murder mystery. Amateur detective Toby Dyke and his mysterious friend George pop up, happily, to straighten out the mess (watch that George).

Brightly written, with good characters, setting and a fine plot with a twist, this one is a real winner from the era of the classic British country house and village mystery.

#3 Death of a Curate (1932), Kenneth Ashley

This extremely obscure mystery by Kenneth Herbert Ashley, an accomplished English poet, was my find of the year, I think. Ashley had a great feel for rural ways in England and tremendous empathy for the down-and-out of his day (one of the poems in his collection Up Hill and Down Dale (1924) is called "Out of Work").  

What makes his Death of a Curate remarkable for its time is its extremely naturalistic setting.  One feels this is the rural England of real life, not of conventionalized crime fiction.  

In comments to my original blog review a reader suggested that this Kenneth Herbert Ashley may be Kenneth Herbert Ashley (1885-1969) of Nottinghamshire, a stonemason in 1911.  

One hopes we may find out more about Ashley in 2014 and see this novel reprinted, after over eight years.

#2 Hide My Eyes (1958), Margery Allingham

This Margery Allingham crime novel is a psychological suspense tale of vicious murderer, Gerry Hawker, and the doting older woman, Polly Tassie, who hides her eyes to the truth about him.  

Eyes a beautifully-written and masterful character study, ultimately quite darker, I think, than Allinghams's more celebrated suspense novel, The Tiger in the Smoke (1952).  While not Allingham's finest novel of detection (though there is an interesting alibi construction), it's arguably her finest novel (stop) and certainly a high point of English crime fiction, which was a-changing in the 1950s.

#1 The Far Cry (1951), by Fredric Brown

Although Fredric Brown was reprinted by the wonderful imprint Black Lizard in the 1990s he has since been dropped by them.  I can't see why, but then if I ran the world Brown's books would be part of the Library of America crime fiction series as well.  

A master plotter, Brown was a great writer of American noir, hard-boiled and semi-hard-boiled crime fiction (and science fiction for that matter).  His devoted mystery fans debate which title is his best novel, but for me it's The Far Cry, a novel of murder in the past and obsession, with an ending you won't forget.  As I said in my original review: "With its strongly-conveyed setting, high degree of narrative suspense and deft plotting, The Far Cry is a classic among crime novels."

Well, that's all for 2013.  I wish all of you a happy 2014, full of much (fictional) crime.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

I Can't Stop the Countdown....

To recap:

#20 I'll Tell You Everything (1933), J. B. Priestley and Gerald Bullett

#19 Murder in Maryland (1932), Leslie Ford

#18 The Curved Blades (1916), Carolyn Wells

#17 Southern Electric Murder (1938), F. J. Whaley

#16 Written in Blood (1994), Caroline Graham

#15 Murder in Bermuda (1933), Willoughby Sharp

#14 Murder Ends the Song (1941), Alfred Meyers

#13 The Portcullis Room (1934), Valentine Williams

#12 Ten Plus One (1963), Ed McBain

#11 Death of an Old Goat (1974), Robert Barnard

And now to the start of the Top Ten:

#10 Murder of the Honest Broker (1934), Willoughby Sharp (reviewed 18 May)

Willoughby Sharp's second and last detective novel sets murder at the New York Exchange--a place the author knew down to the ground.  Sharp doesn't hold back in his depictions of Wall Street "wolves," making this book as timely in 2014 as it was in 1934.

With an appealingly sardonic police detective and a clever puzzle with plenty of nifty material clues, this is a superb classical detective story.  Happily, it has been reprinted (with, I will add, a long introduction by me on the author and his publisher and business partner, the remarkable Claude Kendall).

#9 The Wall (1938), Mary Roberts Rinehart (reviewed 13 December)

This long mystery novel tells of a series of murders that befall a wealthy island resort community obviously based on Bar Harbor, Maine, where Rinehart herself--probably the wealthiest and most popular Anglo-American mystery writer in the 1930s after the death of Edgar Wallace--owned a home. An atmospheric and suspenseful tale, with a pleasing filigree of love interest.  When it came to fictional murder among America's genteel moneyed class, Rinehart knew how to do it like no one else.

the superbly designed
American first edition
#8 The Slayer and the Slain (1957), Helen McCloy (reviewed 30 June)

A notable example of 1950s psychological suspense, The Slayer and the Slain may not pack quite the same punch today as it did in 1957, but it is still makes exceedingly eerie, engrossing and intelligent reading.

It also marked a notable development phase in McCloy's writing career, as at this point she mostly abandoned her fine Basil Willing detective novel series in favor of more works of psychological suspense--none of them, I think, as good as this one.*

*(look for some more Helen McCloy to be reviewed here in January)

#7 The Running of Beasts (1976), Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg (reviewed 13 April)

This serial killer novel from the 1970s is a brilliant collaboration of two accomplished authors (the second collaboration on this top twenty list).  Very scary, very tricky, sometimes unpleasantly explicit, and with some dark humor too (the much-edited writings of the young journalist is virtuoso stuff). Detailing more about the cleverness of this book's plot risks giving away too much, so I will leave it at that.

#6 Last Post (2008), by Robert Barnard (reviewed 27 February)

An apt title this, for this novel was Robert Barnard's last great mystery before his sad death this year. An homage of sorts to the great Agatha Christie (particularly her 1968 novel By the Pricking of My Thumbs), it involves secrets from the past, sexual indiscretions, murder, true detection, clever clueing and a twist.

It's a great pleasure to know such a book can still appear in the 21st century, even though it's sad to think there will be no more such books from Robert Barnard, one of the greats of post-Golden Age detective fiction.

Be sure to come back for the final five on New Year's Eve!

The Countdown Continues....

To recap:

#20 I'll Tell You Everything (1933), J. B. Priestley and Gerald Bullett

#19 Murder in Maryland (1932), Leslie Ford

#18 The Curved Blades (1916), Carolyn Wells

#17 Southern Electric Murder (1938), F. J. Whaley

#16 Written in Blood (1994), Caroline Graham

Now on to #15--#11:

#15 Murder in Bermuda (1933), by Willoughby Sharp (reviewed 17 May)

This pioneering police procedural was written by a Wall Street broker who after the Great Crash retired with his family to live in Bermuda for several years. Murder in Bermuda, his first detective novel, resulted.

There's no Great Detective, but rather some dedicated cops.  There's also a good puzzle with good local color.

Murder in Bermuda has been reprinted, along with Sharp's second and last detective novel, Murder of the Honest Broker (see next installment).

#14 Murder Ends the Song (1941), by Alfred Meyers (reviewed 29, 31 March)

This is another impressive effort by a forgotten American mystery writer.  Reminiscent in basic plot design to Ngaio Marsh's Photo-Finish (1980) and P. D. James' The Skull Beneath the Skin (1982), Song, the only mystery novel by Meyers, tells the tale of the murder of a tempestuous opera diva in an isolated mansion cut off from the outside world by a storm.

The San Franciscan Meyers was a friend of Anthony Boucher and, like Boucher, a great opera aficionado.  In Song, he provides his readers with a colorful, authentic background and a richly plotted puzzle.

#13 The Portcullis Room (1934), by Valentine Williams (reviewed 11 January)

In contrast with Sharp and Meyers, Valentine Williams was a prolific old pro at the crime fiction game. Most of the mysteries he wrote were thrillers rather than true detective novels, but he did write some of the latter, including the atmospheric The Portcullis Room, set on an island-bound Scottish castle.

This novel, in which the author puts together an interesting cosmopolitan cast including some uncommonly convincing Americans (for a British author of the era), was praised by Dorothy L. Sayers, and deservedly so.

#12 Ten Plus One (1963), by Ed McBain (reviewed 9 May)

Ed McBain's name is synonymous with the American police procedural.  In this tale he combines with the procedural form the multiple murder plot.  What connects the series of appalling sniper killings? The reader will rush to find the answer in this suspenseful and consummately entertaining crime novel.

#11 Death of an Old Goat (1974), Robert Barnard (reviewed 22 February)

In this scathing but hilarious crime novel the late Robert Barnard with a poisoned pen (or a toxic typewriter?) takes merciless literary revenge upon an entire continent.

Barnard quite evidently did not think much of the time he spent teaching at an Australian university!  Possibly Barnard's funniest crime novel, though Australians may beg to differ. Read to the very last line, which is a classic in kicker last lines.

Next up: the Top Ten!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Peter Lorre Double Feature (The Verdict, 1946, and The Stranger on the Third Floor, 1940)

The actors Peter Lorre (1904-1964) and Sydney Greenstreet (1879-1954) were very popular film actors after their iconic appearances in the classic crime film The Maltese Falcon (1941).  They ultimately co-starred in nine films between 1941 and 1946, the last of which was The Verdict, based on the detective novel The Big Bow Mystery (1892), by Israel Zangwill (1864-1926).

Israel Zangwill
Zangwill's landmark locked room mystery had been filmed two times before, but I don't believe either of the earlier versions is well regarded.  This third version was scripted by Peter Milne, who had previously written the screenplays for The Kennel Murder Case (1932), adapted from the S. S. Van Dine novel, and a few other mystery/horror films.  It also was the first feature film directed by Don Siegel, who went on to helm, among other films, The Big Steal (1947), with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1955) and Dirty Harry (1971).

Like the novel upon which it is based, The Verdict is the in Victorian England.  Greenstreet, who unquestionably is the lead in the film, plays Superintendent George Edward Groman, who is cashiered after a man he charged with murder in a prominent case is discovered to be unquestionably alibied--shortly after his execution.

Soon Groman, in retirement, is confronting another murder--that of a man in the locked room of a lodging house, right across the street.  Now Groman has a chance to solve this murder and make a fool out of his scheming, though far less intelligent, rival and replacement, Superintendent John R. Buckley (George Coulouris).

Lorre and Greenstreet

Anyone who has read The Big Bow Mystery will recall the clever locked room plot, which is nicely adapted in the film.  Peter Lorre plays an artist friend of Greenstreet's, but the film is Greenstreet's all the way.  On hand as well are Joan Loring, as the chorus girlfriend of the murder victim, and Rosalind Ivan, one of the great forties film harridans (see The Suspect, 1944, and Scarlet Street , 1945), as the landlady.  She's comic relief in this film.

I found The Verdict quite an enjoyable film, with a tricky plot and some thoughtful reflections on the quality of justice.

The earlier of the two films, The Stranger on the Third Floor, was, it appears, an important step in Peter Lorre's career trajectory.  Despite starring in the famous Fritz Lang film M (1931), the original version of Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and Karl Freund's Mad Love (1935), I think in 1940 Lorre would have been primarily known to American audiences as the star of the Mr. Moto films (1937-1939).

Peter Lorre as the Stranger

Directed by Boris Ingster, who worked in the Soviet Union with Sergei Eisenstein, Stranger has smashing visuals and a great urban landscape of neon-lit diners and lonely, shadowy boarding houses (the print is nicely restored too). Though he gets top billing, Peter Lorre is hardly in the film; however the snatches we see of him are memorably filmed and he has a great few minutes at the climax.

The thinly-plotted film is about a newspaper reporter, Mike Ward (John McGuire), who is the key witness in the trial of a hard-luck loser, Joe Briggs (Elisha Cook, Jr., great as usual in what was to be his signature role), for the slashing murder of a diner owner.  Mike's good girl fiancee (Margaret Tallichet) has her doubts, however; and soon another slashing murder occurs--right next door to Mike's boarding house room!  Soon Mike himself is a suspect.

having a bad dream (John McGuire)

This is a very short film (just over an hour) that might have benefited from a longer running time.  The finale, with Lorre and Tallichet, could have been more drawn out for greater suspense.  A good chunk of the film is taken up by a nightmarish and surreal dream sequence.  It's terrific to watch though.

There are uniformly good performances throughout the film, from law enforcement officials to pressmen to landladies to street vendors.  I especially liked Charles Halton, one of filmdom's great twits, as Mike's nosy and unlikable neighbor, and Ethel Griffies as Mike's nosy and unlikable landlady (nearly a quarter-century later, when she was well into her eighties, she most memorably played that annoying know-all ornithologist in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds).

Stranger has been called the first film noir.  From it we're missing a fatal woman and the ending seems far too sunny--literally and figuratively--for pure noir, but there certainly are a good number of film noir elements, not the least of which is its questioning of the "justice" meted out by a legal system--a point the film shares with The Verdict, which has also been called film noir.*

*(certainly the relentlessly fog-bound Verdict would qualify as film voile)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Countdown Begins: The Passing Tramp's 2013 Best Books Blogged

Well, it's time again to pick the best crime novels reviewed this year on the blog.  I think I reviewed 72 works of mystery fiction this year, mostly novels published before 1960, as well as some books about mystery fiction.

Were there some disappointing novels reviewed here this year?  Sure, like Theodora DuBois' Death Is Late to Lunch, Doriel Hay's Murder Underground, Ed McBain's Jigsaw and the late Robert Barnard's The Corpse at the Haworth Tandoori, but I won't dwell on the disappointments.

So, without further ado, here are numbers 20-16:

20. I'll Tell You Everything (1933), by J. B. Priestley and Gerald Bullett (reviewed 8 March)

An affectionate and humorous pastiche of English Golden Age thrillers, this novel is about a Cambridge lecturer and the strange adventures that befall him after he meets an odd Italian professor urging him to accept an iron casket holding the bones and ashes of the Iron Prophet, Yann.

Both Priestley and Bullett were well-regarded English mainstream writers who made additional contributions to the crime fiction genre that are well worth looking up.

19. Murder in Maryland (1932), by Leslie Ford (reviewed 4 June)

With a strong sense of place, bright writing and an excellent narrator, a middle-aged woman doctor, Murder in Maryland is a well-crafted exercise in genteel American mystery, despite some condescending portrayals of African-Americans, unfortunately an issue with this author.  Her Maryland will be a bit too much "old South" for some readers in the age of Paula Deen and Duck Dynasty.

18. The Curved Blades (1916), by Carolyn Wells (reviewed 31 October)

Classic American murder at a country house party, with the victim a nasty rich woman who spends the first chapter giving everyone around her reasons to kill her.

For once Wells eschews improbable locked rooms, leaving the reader with a tricky and bizarre murder problem (the victim is found dead with a smile on her face and a Japanese paper snake wrapped around her neck).  Wells' Great Detective Fleming Stone falls in love, rather tiresomely, but you can ignore that and concentrate on clues.

17.  Southern Electric Murder (1938), by F. J. Whaley (reviewed 21 June)

As this title indicates this is a dense English murder mystery of railway movements and times.  It makes use of a real railway line that runs from Victoria Station, London to Brighton, Sussex, and many of the stations in it are still in existence today.  A great book for those who like to concentrate on a meaty murder problem (and for those who love railroads).

16. Written in Blood (1994), by Caroline Graham (reviewed 19 February)

A great wickedly satirical English village mystery--one might call it a curdled cozy--at which Caroline Graham most definitely excelled (her books inspired the seemingly never-ending British television mystery series Midsomer Murders). Some splendidly unlikable characters (Sergeant Troy, whom I described in the original review as "a boorish, sexist homophobe" and Brian Clapton, surely one of the most repulsive creatures in crime fiction) and a fairly-clued solution that is withal a genuine surprise.

I don't rate it higher because of its excessive length and over-the-top finale (written with TV in mind?), but it's a fine modern English mystery.

Fifteen more to go!  Are you as excited as I am?

Even if you're not (perish the thought!), be sure to check in tomorrow for Nos. 15-11.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Anthony Boucher's Choice: The Twenty Best Crime Novels of 1943

What was the good mystery stuff seventy years ago, in the midst of World War Two? Here's a list of critic and mystery writer Anthony Boucher's favorite 1943 crime novels:

Death of a Busybody, George Bellairs
The Lady in the Lake, Raymond Chandler

Painted for the Kill, Lucy Cores
The Mouse in the Mountain, Norbert Davis

She Died a Lady, Carter Dickson
Unidentified Woman, Mignon Eberhart
Ministry of Fear, Graham Greene

A Stranger and Afraid, Michael Hardt
The Smell of Money, Matthew Head
Death in the Doll's House, Hannah Lees and Lawrence Bachmann
Colour Scheme, Ngaio Marsh

The Green Circle, Chris Massie
Do Not Disturb, Helen McCloy

Wall of Eyes, Margaret Millar
The Thursday Turkey Murders, Craig Rice

The Year of August, Mark Saxton
Murder Down Under (Mr. Jelly's Business), Arthur Upfield

Stalk the Hunter, Mitchell Wilson
The Black Angel, Cornell Woolrich

Only a few of the names that are familiar to me come from the hard-boiled/noir school (Raymond Chandler, Norbert Davis, Cornell Woolrich).  Some of the books I didn't recognize, but I think these are, like Graham Greene's Ministry of Fear, espionage tales, which naturally would have been of particular interest during WW2.  The Green Circle I'm not sure should really be considered a crime novel, but then I tend to be something of a purist about these things.

How many of these have you read?  If over half, I would say you are a classic crime fiction superstar!

My own top twenty--the top twenty novels I blogged this year--will be starting soon.  Here are the links to last year's thrilling countdown:


And, incidentally, in my recent Christmas Number

Do Not Murder Before Christmas (1949)

I forgot to post last year's Christmas Number:

Murder for Christmas (1941)

Though I did post the one from the previous year (and do so again, just to have everything neat and tidy):

Mystery in White (1937)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ray and Jimmy: The Raymond Chandler--James M. Fox Correspondence (1950-56), Part I

Back in 1979 a small but fascinating collection of Raymond Chandler correspondence with James M. Fox (on Fox, see my recent blog posts) was published by a small Santa Barbara, California press. The little book was edited by James Pepper--the same James Pepper, I presume, who is proprietor of James Pepper Rare Books in Santa Barbara.  The copy I had was inscribed by Pepper to Richard Harwell, who I presume was Richard Barksdale Harwell (1915-1988), the Georgia librarian, bibliographer, author, according Emory University, who has some of his papers (I find this especially interesting because I have Barksdale relations in my family background).

Raymond Chandler

The correspondence between Chandler and Fox commenced on December 20, 1950, when Fox wrote Chandler, having met him the previous month at a dinner party.  Fox was following up on a promise to send Chandler a copy of his new, non-series novel, The Wheel Is Fixed (his previously novel was the John and Suzy Marshall mystery The Gentle Hangman, reviewed rather tepidly by me here).

Though he signed his epistle "with kindest regards," Chandler's response was not very encouraging:

One thing puzzles me a little: here you are, Dutchman by birth and a good deal of an internationalist by education; yet you seem to have committed yourself to one of the most parochial and overworked fields of writing there is--a style so desperately overdone that in some of its recent manifestations (for instance, The Drowning Pool, by John Ross Macdonald) it has become a burlesque.  There are pages in this book which are pure parody.  The man has ability.  He could be a good writer.  Yet everything in his book is borrowed, and everything in it is spoiled by exaggeration.

Chandler urged Fox to try writing a spy story.

It was interesting to see Chandler again attacking the work of Ross Macdonald.  I was familiar with his corrosive comments about Macdonald's first Lew Archer novel, The Moving Target (1949) (as was, sadly, Macdonald, after some of Chandler's correspondence was first published in the 1960s), but I don't recall having before seen these dismissive comments about The Drowning Pool (1950).

I myself am not too crazy about his first two books, but think much more highly of his next pair, The Way Some People Die (1951) and The Ivory Grin (1952).  Did Chandler ever come to accept that Macdonald was a great creative artist within detective fiction?  If so, we don't seem to have a record of it, sadly.

James M. Fox
Fox's response is interesting too.  "I was practically bulldozed by publishers and agents into producing book-length detective stories.  Since then I've turned out six of them, and I'm working on the seventh. They actually make a living for me....I know this is an overworked and parochial domain, and I can see your point about Macdonald's book and others....For myself, I try to keep from overdoing it.  But the attempt has never served to please my publishers."

It sounds like Fox was perhaps not as personally inspired to write hard-boiled detective fiction as he ideally should have been, even though he was a great admirer of Chandler's crime fiction.

Certainly parts of The Gentle Hangman did feel synthetic to me, and this seems to have been the same case with Fox's novel Free Ride, according to John Norris.

Ross Macdonald
The subject of the pressure brought to bear by publishers on genre authors' writing is an interesting one, I think.  From Tom Nolan's biography of Ross Macdonald I know that Macdonald frequently was pushed in the 1950s to add more violent action to his books.  It wasn't for about a decade after the commencement of the Lew Archer series that he really began fully writing the type of crime fiction he wanted to write.

In that sense, Chandler was right to point out that the younger man's earlier work was imitative, though his negative judgment was far too sweeping.  Some of Macdonald's 1950s fiction is tremendously good.

Could Chandler in fact have felt threatened by this quality as he struggled to complete another novel after The Little Sister (1949)?

Anyway, apparently Fox did not hear back from Chandler after this initial exchange, but he wrote him again, two years later, in March 3, 1953.  "It has taken me almost two years to bully my publishers into allowing me to act upon" Chandler's suggestion that he write a spy novel, he wrote.  Yet finally he had done so; and he wanted to dedicate the book to Chandler," "for the many lessons your books have taught me, even though I may have proved myself a student with a mere C-average, so far" (the novel was Dark Crusade).

A gratified Chandler soon wrote Fox back, mentioning that he had just read Dorothy B. Hughes' spy story The Davidian Report and didn't really like it, though he was a great admirer of her work; and he looked forward to seeing Fox's effort.

Thus was launched a correspondence of three years between the two men.  Over time they went from "Mr. Chandler and Mr. Fox" to "Chandler and Fox" to, finally, "Ray and Jimmy." Expect to see more about this after Christmas.  Happy holidays!

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Christmas Number: Do Not Murder Before Christmas (1949), by Jack Iams

Jack Iams (1910-1990) was a journalist and novelist who published a small body of crime fiction in the late 1940s and the 1950s.  A graduate of St. Paul's School and Princeton, he was involved with theatricals at both schools and after WW2 was a television critic for the New York Herald Tribune.

His crime writing in my experience is charming and amusing, kind of an Americanized version of British manners school of Dorothy L. Sayers and Ngaio Marsh.  However, Do Not Murder Before Christmas definitely has American elements to it, such as the crusading young journalist sleuth and the corrupt city administration.

What happened to all these fictional idealistic journalists in crime fiction, incidentally?  They were quite common in the United States in the 1930s and for decades thereafter, but they seem rarer now.  Are we as cynical about journalism as everything else these days?

Anyway, there's also a beautiful blonde, Jane Hewes, and a love triangle to go along with the obligatory murder.  Our hero must overcome a sneering, privileged Ivy Leaguer to win Jane and solve the mystery.

What is the mystery?  Why, who killed Uncle Poot, the kindly and beloved old Dutch toymaker, on the eve of his Christmas party for all the poor tots of Shady Hollow, the slum of the anonymous small city where the novel takes place.

It seems old Uncle Poot kept records going back for decades on the children who patronized his store as to which were naughty and which nice, and someone may have decided that the old Dutchman knew a little too much about these matters.

Though the murder ends up implicating two important families, the aristocratic but decaying Derwents, and the nouveaux riche and corrupt Malloys, our crusading journalist, Stanley ("Rocky") Rockwell, lets nothing get in the way of his pursuit of the truth.  He even finds time to throw the city's African-American children a little Christmas party after Uncle Poot is killed (these children were excluded from the Malloy's charity event).

As the above indicates, the social sentiments in this novel are more advanced than those in James M. Fox's The Gentle Hangman, recently reviewed here, although at one point, after Rocky fights and, through luck, knocks out Jane's snotty boyfriend, Jane gives Rocky a "half-rueful, half proud" smile and observes, "Isn't it awful how bloodthirsty women are?"

I found it funny how this same observation--that women love violence more than the men actually committing the violence--occurred in American mysteries published within a year of each other at the mid-twentieth-century that I read back-to-back.

Mysteries written by MEN, I might add!

Iams' narratives go down like the smoothest of eggnogs, and you can easily read Do Not Murder Before Christmas in an evening (I especially liked the chapter titles, which are adapted from the poem "The Night Before Christmas/A Visit from St. Nicholas").  It's a good example of American detective fiction at that time, with its zippy narrative and streamlined mystery.  Personally I prefer the dense clue puzzles of the 1920s and 1930s, but I can't deny that Iams' novel makes an entertaining read--and one that certainly won't get too much in the way of last-minute holiday shopping.

An earlier Christmas Number: Jefferson Farjeon's Mystery in White.

Friday, December 20, 2013

All Knotted Up: The Gentle Hangman (1950), by James M. Fox

"I'm assuming that a competent private investigator can take care of the matter, for a reasonable fee, and without involving us in any Sam Spade nonsense."

                                                         --The Gentle Hangman, James M. Fox

In the New York Times Book Review in 1950 Anthony Boucher praised James M. Fox's The Gentle Hangman for its convincing setting in Hollywood, "which Mr. Fox knows down to its last hand-painted cravat," and its "plot of tremendous intricacy" (involving "radio giveaways, labor racketeering, and a touch or two of sexual aberration").

Boucher also noted that in The Gentle Hangman there was "not a single turn of phrase or thought to indicate that [Fox] began writing in English only a dozen years ago" and that the author "has taken two of the prime American patterns, the Private Eye and the Bright Young Couple, and fused them delightfully so as to avoid either the excess toughness of the first or the cloying cuteness of the second."

Myself I found there were some good points to The Gentle Hangman, but I'm afraid I can't be nearly so positive about the book as Anthony Boucher.

What is the book about?  Well, as the jacket says, "a diamond brings death to a careless blonde" (I guess diamonds aren't a girl's best friend, eh?).  It seems that a woman tasked on a sort of radio game show with selling a diamond ring on the street for $10 instead absconded with it.  PI Johnny Marshall in turn is tasked with finding this blonde, and he does--dead, "gently" hanged from a bedpost.  By the by, the events take place at Christmas time, so technically this novel is a Christmas mystery, if only tepidly so.

Anyway, thus is launched a plot of, as Boucher wrote, "tremendous intricacy."  The problem is it doesn't uncoil nearly as well as it should.  At the end I wasn't totally clear on just who was who and which parts of which stories were true and which false.  Fox may have been a fan of R. Austin Freeman and Dorothy L. Sayers (see my previous post), but those two authors were much better plot untanglers.

Johnny Marshall is a smart guy.  He's Cornell '39, apparently, quotes Robert Burns and uses big words (a man displays "a couple of prominent, heavily auriferous eyeteeth"--I had to look up that word "auriferous").  He has a good descriptive sense (there are some vivid pictures of LA) and slings narrative one-liners in the classic tough guy tradition:

"She offered us a smile you could have bottled and sold for weed killer."

"It was small enough for a Carmelite nun to develop claustrophobia."

"The Mexican waitress looked like a high-school girl recently recruited into a life of sin; she didn't use quite a full ounce of mascara, and she sported a set of falsies big enough to bounce a truck off."

I found the police predictably unlikable, even though they didn't actually beat up our hero, as so often happens in Raymond Chandler's books.  Instead they beat up a cheap crook, in a lengthy and quite repulsive police interrogation scene.  Johnny seemed to disapprove in a general way, although he primarily expressed contempt for the hood (noting his "halitosis" for example).*

*(In the front matter of the novel we find this disclaimer: "This story is fiction....Apologies are tendered to Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz of Los Angeles County, and to his staff, under whose capable administration such goings-on as these could not possibly have occurred."  Well, that's certainly reassuring.)

In his page on the Johnny and Suzy Marshall series over at thrilling detective.com, Kevin Burton Smith refers to Suzy's "Kiss me, I'm stupid" ditziness, which he finds grating.  I don't know that I would call Suzy a ditz in this book, but she does ask a lot of "but why?" questions, which does get old by the end.  She is clearly the Watson figure in this relationship (Johnny even mentions Holmes and Watson several times).

Little, Brown's select company
Queen, Marsh, Hare and Fox
Especially tiresome is Johnny's seemingly endless series of "cute" pet names for Suzy.  I made a list:

cherry pie
honey bun
sugar lamb
honey doll
pussy cat
sugar bun
angel face

I was wondering whether Fox used a random generator for these. Let's try some others: cherry bun, honey pie, sugar doll, angel lamb--hmm, I'd better stop here. Johnny also refers to Suzy as "the little woman."  You definitely get the sense that the war is over and women are expected to get back inside the home, cooking, cleaning and cooing over their he-men.

Personally, I wish this series had continued until the 1960s, when Suzy might have read Betty Friedan and come up with her own pet name for Johnny: smug bastard.

The only other significant woman character in the novel is a female professional described as such by Johnny:

It wore a Kelly-green silk blouse with matching Paisley scarf and pure white gabardine slacks under the mink, on a body like a man's: tall, broad-shouldered and slender-hipped, the chest as flat as a billboard, the ankles thick and heavy over size-ten feet in low-heeled English saddle brogues. Paradoxically, the over-all effect achieved was somehow feminine and seductive.  

Miss Luanna Bouquette is soon out to seduce Johnny, assuring him that she's not one "one of those queers--you know, the ones who like little girls and things."  Johnny later sums her up as a "nymphomaniac."

Johnny's observations on women often are lamentable:

"Nylons they wear, yet, and they haven't changed a particle in ten thousand years--they still like to see blood so much they even paint their fingernails to preserve the illusion" (this after Suzy can't "suppress the pleasurable inflection" from her voice after Johnny beats two hoods to pulps).

"I was satisfied that there could be only one answer, but it was an answer based on cold, sordid logic of a kind no woman could be expected to appreciate....It simply wasn't the sort of deal that lent itself to argument from an emotional angle, such as a woman by nature always must take" (this on why he's not explaining things to Suzy).

As far as minorities go, a bucktoothed Japanese character is referred to by Suzy and Johnny as "the Jap" (perhaps not so surprising five years after WW2) and Johnny refers to a bulging-eyed "old Negro" diner worker as "the colored boy."  Blah.

Reading The Gentle Hangman, I couldn't help thinking of Ross Macdonald's classic detective novel The Ivory Grin (1952), which is light years ahead in terms of the author's handling of social relations and sympathy and his ability to unravel an extremely complex plot coherently.  Still, an Ivory Grin doesn't flash at one every day.  I might yet give another Fox novel a try next year.  At the very least it should make an interesting lesson in literary sociology.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

James M. Fox (1908-1989)

James M. Fox (1908-1989)
aka Johannes Knipscheer
Dutch by birth (his original name was Johannes Willem Mathijs Knipscheer), James M. Fox, a lawyer by profession, settled in Los Angeles after World War Two, where he began writing the hard-boiled Johnny and Suzy Marshall series for which he was, I believe, best known (though he wrote some well-regarded non-series titles like The Wheel Is Fixed, 1951, as well as four espionage thrillers before 1945).

There were nine of these Marshall mysteries, which combine the hard-boiled PI first person narrative with smart mystery couple banter, published between 1947 and 1953.  I am currently reading The Gentle Hangman (1950) and should have the full piece up tomorrow.

While not without some irritations characteristic of the period, it so far seems a literate and intelligent detective novel--though I do find myself missing the genius of Raymond Chandler, with whom Fox was a correspondent in the 1950s, as well as the originality of Ross Macdonald.  But then that is why Chandler and Macdonald, along with Dashiell Hammett, are the ones who constitute the great hard-boiled triumvirate.

Fox also corresponded with Percival M. Stone, a Massachusetts mystery collector and tremendous R. Austin Freeman enthusiast (Freeman, a contemporary of Arthur Conan Doyle and creator of the medical sleuth Dr. Thorndyke, was one of the great English detective fiction authors).

Happily, I happen to have one of the letters.  Stone had written Fox on January 4, 1954 canvassing Fox's opinions of crime writers.  From his Studio City abode (I think the place where he lived has been replaced by a Petco) Fox responded two weeks later, on January 17:

I can find no fault with your credo on the subject of R. A. Freeman, who will probably always rank at the top of the English school, with Dorothy Sayers a close second.  I'm somewhat undecided about the stature of Mr. [Freeman Wills] Crofts, whom I have at times suspected of certain deficiencies in plotting and characterization.  But my views are not really worth taking into account, since I've always belonged to the American school myself, and more particularly to that branch of it which is forever kicking over the traces or committing outright iconoclasm in some form or other....

Interestingly, as we see, Fox admired R. Austin Freeman, who also had a great fan in Chandler (though Chandler did not enjoy Sayers' work).  I share Fox's admiration for both Freeman and Sayers and have to admit that Crofts, of whom I have written at length in Masters of the "Humdrum" Mystery, did have certain deficiencies in characterization (though I greatly enjoy some of his books).

What do I think of Fox's own work?  Come see tomorrow.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Joan Fontaine (1917-2013)

I think to the crime fiction world Joan Fontaine, who died yesterday at the age of 96, is best known for the films Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941), both directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based, respectively, novels by Daphne du Maurier and Anthony Berkeley Cox.

Great films both (though the alteration of the novel's ending in Suspicion is controversial), but I want to take this opportunity to take note of the 1947 Joan Fontaine film Ivy, a period murder melodrama adapted from The Story of Ivy (1927), by Marie Belloc Lowndes, an under-appreciated crime writer (she's almost solely known today for one work, the much-filmed Jack-the-Ripper tale The Lodger).

Sadly, Ivy is not available on DVD, but let this be my plea to see it released as such.  It's a splendid old Victorian crime story, with a wicked woman (Fontaine), adultery, arsenic and annihilation.

Also in the cast are Herbert Marshall, Richard Ney and Patric Knowles, but except for a brief scene-stealing cameo as a fortune teller from Una O'Connor it is Joan Fontaine's show all the way.  Watch it if you get the chance.

Incidentally, here's the Suspense radio version of The Story of Ivy, starring Ann Richards.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Mysteries Unlocked: Essays in Honor of Douglas G. Greene

the door is open....
We now have a cover for this collection of essays on mystery fiction in honor of Douglas G. Greene, the distinguished academic scholar--among other things he wrote the much-admired biography of John Dickson Carr--and founder of Crippen & Landru, publisher of short form mystery fiction.

Mysteries Unlocked will be published next year by McFarland Press.  It boasts two dozen contributors from around the world, including ten Edgar winners and nominees.  The wide-ranging essays cover a great number of mystery works, from J. S. Fletcher's The Investigators, serialized shortly after the death of Queen Victoria, to P. D. James' Jane Austen pastiche (with murder mystery), Death Comes to Pemberley, published in the last month of 2011.

Hard-boiled authors are included as well as writers of classical detective fiction. There is an essay on Doug specifically, as well a a foreword, introduction and afterword about him and appendices on his scholarly publications and Crippen & Landru editions. The book highlights both mystery fiction itself and the impact that Doug and his work have had on the world of mystery readers.

I hope people will find Mysteries Unlocked an illuminating and entertaining book, as well as a worthy tribute to the dean of academic mystery history in his seventieth year.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Life and Death at Sunset: The Wall (1938), by Mary Roberts Rinehart

"Maybe we'd better get at it from the start.  It's not a pretty story; but as a matter of human interest and--well, human motives, it's a humdinger."

the excellent Mysterious Press
kindle edition
Our twenty-nine-year-old heroine-narrator, Marcia Lloyd, is quoting local good old boy sheriff Russell Shand (a quite appealingly-presented character, by the way), about the murderous goings-on in the 1938 Mary Roberts Rinehart novel The Wall.

In 1937, Rinehart bought a house, Fairview, in Bar Harbor, Maine, so I suppose it only makes sense that she set her 1938 murder mystery there, in a suitably fictionalized version (the house burned in 1948, a year after Rinehart was nearly killed there by her deranged cook; see more on Rinehart and Bar Harbor here).

A great part of the appeal of the novel is Rinehart's portrayal of this setting; it will be a rare reader who won't want to make a visit to Maine after reading this book.

I think The Wall is the sort of mystery novel to which the term cozy applies.  Despite unpleasantness and nasty murders, order is restored by the end in classic fashion.

"It is all familiar and friendly again," Marcia Lloyd writes, "this rambling old house, built by my grandfather in the easy money days of the nineties, and called Sunset House, generally corrupted to Sunset."

Of course with the Depression and all, life is somewhat tougher for Marcia and her brother Arthur. Mainly she worries about being able to keep up her retinue of servants--what would they do without her?  I know this sort of thing can sound self-serving, but, I will give Rinehart credit, she presents Marcia's paternalism in a much more sympathetic light than does, say, Theodora DuBois with her insufferable Anne McNeill, who comes off simply as a snob.  I think most readers will like Marcia and want things to work out for her.

1940s mapback edition
with an inaccurate Victorian house
As nice as the island is, there is a serpent that comes slithering into Marcia's midst at Sunset, her brother Arthur's scheming, common hussy of an ex-wife, Juliette Ransom (aptly named, because she is always demanding more money from Arthur).

Juliette soon gets fatally dispatched (with a golf club) and Marcia and the readers are off on a murder-go-round that doesn't come to a stop until there are three more deaths.

Rinehart said that for her crime novels she first wrote out the "buried story" (the true events of the mystery we don't know about until the end), then overlaid it with the surface story. Her narrators offer teasing hints and foreshadowing of things that were to come in a dramatically effective way, in my view.

Some critics mocked this as "had I but known" narrative, but it's simply a tool of suspense. Yes, with some writers it could get silly, but Rinehart was the master at this sort of thing and does it well.

Rinehart received the modern equivalent of over one million dollars for the serialization of The Wall in the Saturday Evening Post, so I can't blame her for taking a leisurely pace.

the frightened lady in nightgown motif
popular in late 60s/early70s "Gothic"
paperbacks--seemingly the setting
has changed to somewhere in Europe!
The novel is long by the standards of the era, about 120,000 words.  Yet there's a richness to the milieu that compensates for any slowness.

Dorothy L. Sayers appreciated this quality, comparing Rinehart's novels to the three-deckers of Victorian sensation writers like Wilkie Collins.  Rinehart isn't that good a writer (few people are) but I can see why Sayers made the comparison.  I'm reminded somewhat of the Barbara Vine novels of Ruth Rendell, though Rinehart is more cozy and genteel.

Considering how popular she once was and that she wrote books that are more like modern-day crime novels, focusing on characters and emotions more than physical clues, it seems odd that Rinehart isn't so well-known today, compared with contemporaries like Sayers and Agatha Christie.

It probably didn't help that Julian Symons was so dismissive of Rinehart in his influential Bloody Murder (published in three editions between 1972 and 1993) and that in Talking about Detective Fiction P. D. James doesn't even mention her (James seems to think Americans of that era wrote only hard-boiled crime fiction).  But for mystery fans who like older fiction Rinehart's criminous works (by my count 16 novels and 6 novellas, as well as short stories, written between 1906 and 1953) are a rich legacy, to be enjoyed at leisure.

The Wall (1938), Mary Roberts Rinehart---and The News

This will be the first of two books from Judge Lynch's 1938 "best of" list (see immediately below on the blog) that I will review in the next several days.  It's also the first Mary Roberts Rinehart book I have read since novella "The Confession" (reviewed here last year).

How does it hold up seventy-five years later?  On the whole I think The Wall is the best Rinehart book I have read.  But you'll be hearing more about this later today (I really should have the full review up before the end of the day).

Also, I will have some news this weekend about the collection of mystery essays in honor of mystery scholar and publsiher Douglas G. Greene that I've been editing this year.  We now have an official title for the book--and a cover illustration.  I look forward to talking more about this soon.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Best of 1938: Judge Lynch Renders His Verdict on Crime Novels

Earlier this year I posted Saturday Review mystery critic Judge Lynch's list of the best novels of 1939.  Here, without further ado, is the sequel, his list for 1938:

The Fashion in Shrouds (Doubleday, Doran), Margery Allingham

Albert Campion at his shrewdest as a sleuth, glittering background of London gown-shops and gaudy restaurants, galaxy of interesting characters and first-calls writing.

Fast Company (Dodd, Mead), Marco Page

Tough goings-on in the rare-book biz, a detective--and his wife--who can deduce and wisecrack at top-speed, dialogue that crackles and an A-1 puzzle.

The Crooked Hinge (Harpers), John Dickson Carr

Aura of supernatural around quite mundane but mystifying murder of claimant to old English estate adds triple zest to marvelously well-spun puzzle for adipose Dr. Fell.

Murder on Safari (Harpers), Elspeth Huxley

Complete education in big-game hunting (African); delightful obnoxious tycoons--American and English; robbery, murder, and a jungleful of excitement.

Lament for a Maker (Dodd, Mead), Michael Innes

Eerie Scottish castle houses eccentric laird who goes boomp over battlements.  Continuously creepy chapters lead to totally unexpected ending and all is braw--but for the tale-bearing rats.

Death from a Top Hat (Putnam), Clayton Rawson

Ex-Magicker Merlini manipulates coins while solving strange deaths of occultist and card-trickster. Huge amounts of fascinating facts on magicians, much humor, and a hurricane finish.

A Puzzle in Poison (Doubleday, Doran), Anthony Berkeley

Death--by arsenic--of retired English engineer brings numerous nice people under suspicion. Detectives clear them all but an amateur comes to conclusion that leaves reader agasp.

The Wall (Farrar & Rinehart), Mary Roberts Rinehart

Divorcee, lurking round ex-husband's seaside home, slain with gold club.  Other deaths, and romance, follow--all satisfactorily solved in spite of clues left hanging.

Warrant for X (Doubleday, Doran), Philip Macdonald

American playwright on London holiday overhears plot, almost gets bumped off before Anthony Gethryn, in class A comeback, nails plotters.

I have read all of these, but the Marco Page novel, which in its day was very popular and also successfully filmed.  I will be writing about one next week (I think you can guess which).

How many have you read?  What do you think of the judge's list?  I think it stands up pretty well, though there are some notable omissions.  No Agatha Christie (Appointment with Death, Hercule Poirot's Christmas), most obviously, and no Rex Stout (Too Many Cooks); they wouldn't make it in 1939 either.

On the other hand, Innes, Carr and Rawson made it both years.  Men predominate, accounting for six of nine titles, while Brits outnumber Americans 5-4.  Only one of the novels really has any affinity with the hard-boiled school (or maybe two, come to think of it, the Page and the Macdonald; the latter man had been living for some time in the United States, where he had moved to work on Hollywood screenplays).

Overall, my impression from this list is that 1938 was a very good year in crime!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mary Roberts Rinehart, Golden Age Crime Queen

The real Crime Queen in the decade of the 1930s, in terms of money and sales anyway, was not, I suspect, Agatha Christie (brilliant as she was), but the American writer Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876-1958).  At this time her books, which included mainstream novels as well as mysteries, regularly sold over 100,000 copies per title in the United States (this in a period when people mostly rented mysteries for a few cents a day from libraries).

with her book earnings in the 1930s
Rinehart could buy lots of sheet music
--not to mention grand pianos
Moreover, Rinehart's serialization figures are awesome.  The real price of the serializations of her crime novels The Door (1930), Miss Pinkerton (1932), The Album (1933), The Wall (1938) and The Great Mistake (1940) in The Saturday Evening Post was something close to five million dollars today. Then there were her serializations of the many short stories she wrote.  These were primarily non-criminous, but among the crime shorts "The Lipstick," for example, was purchased by Cosmopolitan for about $70,000 modern USD (compare this with a dozen years later, in 1954, when Rinehart published "The Splinter" in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine for about $3500 modern USD, chump change for this author; this story was published, by the way, in the Fall 1955 issue of EQMM and a list of its contents can be found here).*

*(figures drawn from Jan Cohn's 1980 Rinehart biography, Improbable Fiction)

There was really no one to compare to Rinehart in terms of classical mystery fiction sales during the Golden Age, I think, unless it was S. S. Van Dine, briefly, in the 1920s. Rinehart's fans considered her something more than a "mere" mystery writer (as did Rinehart herself), someone concerned with the emotional impact of crime rather than puzzle mechanics.

Julian Symons once rather patronizingly termed Rinehart's audience as "maiden aunts"; but in fact I think Rinehart's popularity encompassed a much broader demographic. Her mystery fiction not only sold well, but it was well-received by (predominantly male) newspaper book reviewers, despite Ogden Nash famously ridiculing Rinehart's sort of "Had I But Known" mystery fiction [HIBK] in his satiric poem "Don't Guess Let Me Tell You."

I'll be saying more about Rinehart in a few days, when I talk about one of those 1930s mystery novels.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Fourth Letter (1947), by Frank Gruber

Frank Gruber
Frank Gruber (1904-1969) was one of the great pulp fiction writers of the twentieth century. The Frank Gruber webpage over at thrillingdetective.com lists over one hundred stories by him, as well as more than thirty novels (he also wrote western tales).  He obviously had a quite a work ethic!

Often Gruber's tales revolve around interesting depictions of different sorts of employment.  His longest crime series was the Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg series of novels, fourteen of which appeared between 1949 and 1964 (a dozen of these in the 1940s, by far his most productive decade as a crime writer).

This series, about two guys who are constantly on the make for big moneymaking chances and who just happen to constantly encounter murder along the way, probably influenced Craig Rice's own excellent Bingo and Handsome series (The Sunday Pigeon Murders, 1942, The Thursday Turkey Murders, 1943, The April Robin Murders, 1958).

I can't help suspecting that one of Gruber's non-series titles, The Fourth Letter (1947), also influenced, just a bit, Craig Rice's 1948 novel The Fourth Postman, recently reviewed here.

Aside from the presence of "fourth" in the titles of both novels, mail plays a key role in both books. Given the close proximity of their years of publication, I think it not unlikely that there was a connection, whether conscious or not, on Rice's part.

I quite enjoyed The Fourth Letter, but more for the milieu than the mystery per se.  Frank Gruber was born on a farm in Elmer Township (population 151 in 2010) in Minnesota's iron triangle, about an hour northwest of Duluth, and judging by The Fourth Letter, he probably was glad to get out of there. His view of small town life is definitely akin to that of Sinclair Lewis in Main Street (1920).

The novel details newsman Tom Haggerty's relocation from Chicago to little Elmhurst, Iowa, where he has accepted a job as circulation manager for the rural newspaper The Farmer's Helper.  Within twenty-four hours of his first day at work, he is falling in love with one of the newspaper secretaries, who happens to be the most beautiful "girl" in Elmhurst, and coping with a murder on the premises, for which he becomes the chief suspect of the stupid and unethical local police.

The mystery is honestly worked out and interesting enough, but, as stated above, it is Gruber's depiction of life in a small Midwestern, mid-century American town and the workings of a rural newspaper that most interested me.  The author also has a good light touch with character and dialogue.  At a bit under 60,000 words, Letter is quite a short book and it won't change your life, but it's a good, quick mystery read.  I will definitely seek out more of Frank Gruber's writing.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Gone Fishing: A Mystery Artifact

Lake Wallenpaupack     Aug. 20, 43

Dear Son & Daughter: We caught 3 Pike and 1 calico Bass yesterday, 3 Pike today, 3 pike 17 in, 1 pike 19, 2 pike 20 in, the best catches of the week.  It was very cold last night.  I was cold under 4 blankets. We are using the [lend?], could not get a cottage.  It was very hot on the lake this afternoon.  The lake was very calm this afternoon and the fish would not bite at all.  My worms are in bad condition, may not hold out for my vacation.  Mother & Dad.

Fred Adams
Mt. Greenwood Road
Luzurne Co.
Penna [Pennsylvania]

This whimsical (and slightly racy) postcard was tucked inside my copy of Theodora DuBois' Death Is Late to Lunch.

Signed in the front of the book is Jane H. (or L.) Adams.  I assume this was Mrs. Fred Adams.  I hope for the sake of her 1943 summer vacation she enjoyed fishing like her husband.  Or did she spend much of it reading Death Is Late to Lunch?  If so, I hope she liked it better than I did!

But most of all I wonder, did the worms hold out?!