Saturday, October 31, 2015

Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)


The lurid fright film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), starring film legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, proved such a hit that it launched the so-called "psycho-biddy" genre, where aging screen queens from Hollywood's Golden Age deglammed to play maniacal harridans and the like in increasingly campy horror flicks. Predictably, plans were soon laid for another Davis-Crawford shocker vehicle after the success of Baby Jane.  It was found in the classic southern Gothic movie Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)--although when it was shown in the theaters only one of these great acting divas was actually in the film.

Production problems plagued Charlotte (according to legend, Bette Davis's psychological warfare against Crawford drove her despised rival off the set, forcing the director to replace Crawford with Olivia de Havilland), delaying its release until late in 1964, and it was not as big a hit as Baby Jane; yet the film was received even more warmly when the Academy Awards nominations rolled round, netting seven Oscar nods to the five of Baby Jane: best supporting actress, cinematography, art decoration, costume design, film editing, original song and original score.

Additionally, Agnes Moorehead's supporting performance won a Golden Globe Award, while the film itself secured the Edgar Award from the MWA for best motion picture.  The song "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte," a lush ballad about a suspected decapitation murderess that was beautifully performed by Patti Page, rose to #8 on the American pop charts, though it lost the Oscar to "Chim Chim Cher-ee" from Mary Poppins. (These things will happen.)


Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte was based on a novella, What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?, written by Henry Farrell, the author of the novel What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?  I think Farrell wrote the novella as the scenario for the film that was to be made from it, and I believe it was never published until recently, when it appeared in this 2013 edition of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

There are a few differences between the novella and the script, most notably the expansion and deepening of the role of Velma, played in the film in classic scene-stealing fashion by Agnes Moorehead.  Basically, the novella is a solid enough example of a mid-century domestic suspense story, written by a man, while the film itself is lifted above the genre norm by superb production values and colorful acting.

Set on the River Road in Louisiana (film exteriors were shot at Houmas House plantation), Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte tells the story of batty Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis), believed way back in 1927 to have hacked to death in a summerhouse during a ball at the Hollis mansion her married lover, John Mayhew (Bruce Dern), upon his having broken off their tempestuous affair. (John's murder was never officially solved, nor, um, was his head ever located.) This part of the story is memorably shown immediately after the film's prologue and opening credits.

Bruce Dern gets cut from the film

Since  the death of her nouveau riche protective father, a classic southern "Big Daddy" type played with typical gusto by Victor Buono (back from Baby Jane, for which he had received an Oscar nomination), Charlotte has lived alone in the decaying antebellum mansion her father bought many years ago, attended by her ornery "white trash" maid of all work, Velma (Agnes Morehead).

Unhappily for the eccentric and reclusive Charlotte, the Hollis mansion is scheduled to be demolished in order to make room for a highway and bridge.  Charlotte is determined to prevent this, so she calls upon her capable poor relation from her younger days, Cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havlland), now a successful career woman, to help her out of this mess.

Mutual dislike: Velma (Agnes Moorehead) and Cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland)

Also on hand is the Hollis family friend and doctor, Drew Bayliss (Joseph Cotten), and, in a couple of scenes, Jewel Mayhew (Mary Astor), owner of the neighboring estate and the widow of Charlotte's long-dead lover, John.

In spite of Miriam's help, Charlotte's sanity seems only to deteriorate further, as Charlotte hears strange noises in the night (a harpsichord plays the haunting melody John wrote for her, for example) and has nightmarish visions of the decades-old murder.  Of course there will be more deaths at the Hollis mansion before the film is over, but whose will they be? Ladies and gentlemen, our nerves are in for a bumpy night!

Is that Joan Crawford returning to the set?
Bette Davis as "Sweet Charlotte"

I really enjoy Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte.  Despite the, oh, decapitation murder (recalling the infamous ax murders of the Lizzie Borden case, local children with the casual cruelty of youth have changed the words of John's song from "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" to "Chop, Chop, Sweet Charlotte"), I don't find Charlotte quite so cruel a film as Baby Jane and I believe it's more of a genuine mystery film in its structure.

Agnes Moorehead's scene-stealing Velma is a right hoot in my opinion, while everyone else in the main parts gives compelling performances too, I think. As Cousin Miriam (the part originally slated for Joan Crawford), Olivia de Havilland is terrific, and Joseph Cotten's role as the silky-mannered doctor fits the native Virginian like a glove. In her final film performance as the widowed Jewel Mayhew, Mary Astor also delivers a compelling performance, making you wish she had more scenes.

Cousin Miriam and Drew Bayliss (Joseph Cotten)

Bette Davis's starring role as Charlotte is not as singular a part as her notorious Baby Jane (for which she received an Oscar nomination, being done out of the win, according to legend, by her co-star and rival Joan Crawford's vigorous campaigning against her), but she holds the screen like the great diva that she was. If she chops up the scenery (and does she), well, that is what Charlotte Hollis does...right?

Happy Halloween to all of the Passing Tramp readers out there.  Frightful dreams!

Save the last dance....

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tuesday Night Bloggers: Agatha Christie, Week #5

Links to our last group posting on Agatha Christie for now. Quite a company of bloggers this week!  Next week, as I understand it, we will be talking about Ellery Queen.  Links will, I believe, be posted at Noah Stewart's blog.

Brad Friedman: The Documents in the Case: Christie and Clues

Mark Green, The Detection Club's Fogginess

Kate Jackson, The Christie Verdict

Bev Hankins, Christie and the Art of Disguise

Noah Stewart, My Favorite Agatha Christie Paperback Covers

Moira Redmond, Clothes in Christie

Jeffrey Marks, The Case of the Flu

Helen Szamuely, Archaeologists in Christie's Stories

Curtis Evans, Murder as a Fine Art: Tom Adams and Agatha Christie

Murder as a Fine Art: Tom Adams and Agatha Christie

Illustrator Tom Adams seems to be everyone's favorite Agatha Christie paperback cover artist. Certainly he is mine--in part, I'll admit, because Christie Pocket paperbacks with Adams cover art introduced me to Christie back in 1974, when I was eight years old.

One summer when my family and I were living in Mexico City, I was with my mom at Sanborns Department Store when she purchased four Christie paperbacks off the rack, three with Adams art. I've been a Christie fan ever since.

But mostly Tom Adams is my favorite Christie cover artist because his cover art is so darn good. Concerning Christie cover art, Adams is best known for that which he did over many years for English paperback publisher Fontana (often intriguingly surrealistic), yet his beautiful American Pocket editions from the early Seventies are most familiar to me personally.

I have already shown Adams's cover art for Christie's Third Girl in my review of that book here (note also his Fontana Third Girl cover art); and below can be seen yet more Adams Christie paperback art, front and back covers included, since the wonderful paperbacks have wraparound illustrations. Enjoy!  Which are your favorites?

Also take note: A new edition of Tom Adams art, Tom Adams Uncovered: The Art of Agatha Christie and Beyond, with commentary by John Curran, is now available.

On other vintage mystery genre cover art, see

Death and Rudolph Belarski
John Rhode and William Faulkner
More Arthur Hawkins Book Jackets
















Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Return of Harriet Rutland: Knock, Murderer, Knock! (1938), Bleeding Hooks (1940) and Blue Murder (1942) reissued by Dean Street Press

Under the pseudonym "Harriet Rutland," Olive Maude (Seers) Shimwell (1901-1962) published three detective novels around the time of the end of the Golden Age of detective fiction, as traditionally defined (roughly 1920 to 1940).

Along with such authors as Christianna Brand, Dorothy Bowers, and Elizabeth Ferrars, Rutland was one of the brightest British women newcomers to mystery writing to appear near the end of the Golden Age, producing between 1938 and 1942  a trio of detective novels distinguished by good plotting, witty writing and a sardonic and subversive sense of humor characteristic of Golden Age great Anthony Berkeley Cox.

Although the Rutland novels were very well-received in their day in both the UK and the US and Rutland was praised several decades ago in Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor's classic A Catalogue of Crime, Rutland received little notice in the internet era that I'm aware of until in 2010 I included her debut mystery, Knock, Murderer, Knock! (1938) on a list of my favorite Golden Age detective novels.

This in turn inspired the fine mystery blogger John Norris to seek out her work. At his Pretty Sinister blog in 2011 he reviewed Rutland's second detective novel, Bleeding Hooks (1940), and in 2015 he reviewed Knock, Murderer, Knock!

John gave both books strong recommendations, and I urge you to read his blog pieces, though you might want to wait until after you've read the Rutland novels for yourselves. You will now get your chance to do precisely this, as new editions are forthcoming very shortly from Dean Street Press of both these novels, as well as Rutland's third and final mystery, Blue Murder (1942). They are available for pre-order at both Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

I have contributed introductions to each of the three reissued novels wherein I have drawn on additional information I have been able to glean about this mysterious author, about whom, as in the case of another recently revived author, Annie Haynes, virtually nothing was publicly known five years ago.

Rutland's novels should appeal to lovers of the Crime Queens Christie, Sayers, Allingham and Marsh, as well as such appealing ladies-in-waiting, if you will, as Christianna Brand and Georgette Heyer. The first of the tales takes place at a Devon spa, the second at a Welsh fishing hotel and the third at a headmaster's household in northern England. All are filled with cleverly-portrayed characters, acid wit and acrimony--just how most of us like it in our classic mysteries!

If you are a fan of classic crime fiction from the 1930s and 1940s, you really owe it to yourselves to give these books a look. They are some of my favorite "forgotten mysteries" from the period. I must say too that I really like these cover designs!

With attractive reissues of mysteries by Ianthe Jerrold, Annie Haynes, Harriet Rutland and E. R. Punshon, Dean Street Press is, like the British Library and other publishers, making a healthy contribution to the revival of vintage English crime fiction, something I have worked to encourage for some fifteen years now. More authors are on the way in 2016.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Labours of Hercules (1947), by Agatha Christie, Part Two; Plus a Few Words on the Film Version (2013)

Picking up where I left off last week, Hercule Poirot has now begun his seventh labor in Agatha Christie's the short collection The Labors of Hercules (1947)

"Dash it all, there's a trace of insanity in nearly every old family!"

Unfortunately, The Cretan Bull is the weakest story in the collection, in my view.  It deals with that hoary chestnut of classic English crime fiction: the county gentry family that ostensibly has a thread of insanity running through it, so that the nice young couple simply can't get married, dash it all! (As I recollect this plot is similar to the one Christie used in an early, and indifferent, Poirot short story, The Lemesurier Inheritance.)

Inevitably, there's mention of sheep with their throats torn out, and all that sort of thing, provoking this hushed exchange:

Poirot dropped his voice still lower.  He murmured discreetly:

"There is--insanity, I understand, in the family?"

Frobisher nodded.

""Only crops up now and again," he murmured.  "Skips a generation or two."

This pack of cardboard country ninnies is clearly being led by their noses by some malign individual and you should be able to see the twist well before Poirot.  It's pure hokum, but at least I learned that "Think I'll go and see if I can get a rabbit" is country gentry code for "Cheerio, I'm about to blow my brains out."

Now what do I do with this rabbit?

In The Horses of Diomedes Poirot takes on the cocaine trade, that perennial scourge of gilded fast sets in Golden Age mystery fiction.  It's a pretty good story, though not comparable with the best in the collection.

The Girdle of Hyppolita creatively combines art theft with the vanishing of a proper teenage English girl on her way to school in France.  (Schoolgirls stand in for the Amazons from the mythical Hercules labor.)  The plot is a variant on a trick Christie has used before, but it's nicely done.  Chief Inspector Japp makes a welcome appearance, plus there's one of those indomitable schoolmistresses Christie always portrayed so well.

The amusingly-portrayed Miss Carnaby, who appears in The Nemean Lion, the wonderful first tale in Labours, returns in The Flock of Geryon, where she acts as a deputy of Hercule Poirot in investigating one of those odd religious cults that spring up in classic English mysteries, never favorably.

Miss Carnaby primly announces to Poirot that naturally she approves only of "orthodox religion":

You refer to the Greek Church?" asked Poirot.

Miss Carnaby looked shocked.

"Oh no, indeed.  Church of England.  And though I do not approve of Roman Catholics, they are at least recognized."

Miss Carnaby means the Flock of the Shepherd, headquartered on the Devonshire coast. She suspects the Flock gets credulous wealthy people to bequeath their estates to it before somehow bumping 'em off! The intrepid spinster enrolls in the sect to investigate--but she may be in peril of her life! Inspector Japp appears in this one too, by the way.

In The Apples of Hesperides, Poirot is tasked with tracking down a precious stolen Benvenuto Cellini goblet of gold (the ornamental decoration on it includes apples), originally used by Pope Alexander VI--i.e., Rodrigo BorgiaRobert Barnard cited this as an instance of philistinism in Christie, in that Cellini was but two years old when Pope Alexander VI met his reward, meaning that for the goldsmith to have made a goblet for this Pope he would have had to have been quite an infant prodigy indeed!

In spite of this historical error, it's an enjoyable story, with an always timely moral. In lieu of Japp, an Inspector Wagstaffe appears in the tale--could he have been inspired by John Rhode's Jimmy Waghorn?

Poirot's final labor takes place in the tale The Capture of Cerberus, an excellent story in which Poirot is reunited with his old flame of sorts, the Countess Vera Rossakoff, who has left crime--or has she?--to run a fashionable London nightclub provocatively named Hell.

When Poirot unexpectedly encounters the Countess while riding in the Underground (this in itself is memorable) and asks her where he may meet her again, she cheekily answers him, "In Hell!"

This is a most ingenious and ingratiating crime story, allowing Poirot to complete his labors in high style. Inspector Japp is on hand in this tale as well.

At this point, Poirot, contrary to his stated intention, didn't retire, of course, though it wasn't long after the original serial publication of The Labours of Hercules tales that Christie wrote what actually was Poirot's last case, the novel Curtain. However, it was only published over thirty years later, in 1975, shortly before Christie's death.

Interestingly, the Poirot television series in its final season (2013) filmed The Labours of Hercules as its penultimate film (followed of course by Curtain).  Some fans have criticized this film for failing to incorporate all dozen of the labors within the story, and that is a fair criticism; yet the film did manage to include, in substantive form, four of the Labors: The Arcadian Deer, The Erymanthian Boar, The Stymphalean Birds and The Capture of Cerberus.

The Arcadian Deer, which provides the film's bookends, is most movingly done. (This is the story that details the love of an auto mechanic--in the film Poirot's chauffeur--for a vanished maid.) The Erymanthian Boar--the one about Poirot stranded at a mountainside Swiss hotel with a depraved murderer and a number of eccentric guests--provided the main basis of the film. It is also quite well depicted, as are the other two tales. While considerable changes are made to The Capture of Cerberus, a surprising amount of the material is faithful to the general idea of the story, though it is given a more serious twist. (Overall the film is quite bittersweet.)

I love the story collection, but in the end I was not enraged with the liberties taken by the film adapters.  Perhaps someday we will get a more complete adaptation, when, inevitably, a new Poirot television series is commenced!

Take a bow
The cast of The Labours of Hercules (2013)

Tuesday Night Bloggers: Agatha Christie, Week 4

Here are the links to this week's Tuesday Night Bloggers Agatha Christie posts.

This week we introduce a new Tuesday Nighter, Kate Jackson of Cross Examining Crime.

Kate Jackson, Classical Allusions and Miss Marple

Brad Friedman, Agatha Christie and Me: Confessions of a Fan

Noah Stewart, Book-Scouting Agatha Christie

Moira Redmond, Christie on a Dig

Jeffrey Marks, Walk Like an Egyptian

Curtis Evans, The Labors of Hercules (1947), Part Two, Plus a Few Words about the Film Version (2013)

Helen Sazmuely, What Did the Beresfords Read?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Down These Dysfunctional Drawing Rooms a Man Must Go: Ross Macdonald's Black Money (1966) and The Instant Enemy (1968)

Black Money (1966) is my favorite Ross Macdonald novel from the 1960s, in part because it steers away from the intricate, indeed dizzying, genealogical family dysfunction puzzles so prevalent in the author's books at this time.  An example of the latter sort of tale is found in another one of Ross Macdonald's Sixties crime novels, The Instant Enemy (1968), a tale which also involves another hugely important element in Macdonald's crime fiction from this period: fatal misunderstandings between parents and children, or the generation gap, as it was being called back then.

In a Commentary review (1 Sept. 1971) of Macdonald's The Underground Man, Richard Schickel, until a few years ago the longtime film critic for Time magazine, noted the late Sixties/early Seventies critical embrace of Ross Macdonald as a "serious writer" who "transcends the boundaries of his genre" (fueled by a Newsweek cover story and major reviews in the New York Times Book Review from William Goldman and Macdonald's intimate epistolary friend Eudora Welty).

Schickel pointed out that the crime writer's multi-generational crime sagas of family deceptions and dysfunctional behavior had caught the tenor of the times, even though he, Schickel, did not think that Macdonald's books deserved all the praise as Literature that was then being heaped upon them. For my part, I have a much higher estimation than Schickel of Macdonald as a literary writer, yet I don't enjoy quite so much as many of Macdonald's admirers the pattern that his mysteries so frequently fell into in the 1960s and 1970s.  For me, as with Schickel, the books do get too repetitive.

Even Macdonald's series sleuth, PI Lew Archer, declares early on in The Instant Enemy: "I was weary of the war of the generations, the charges and countercharges, the escalations and negotiations, the endless talk across the bargaining table."  Archer has ample reason to make this declaration of weariness, for The Instant Enemy offers a great example of the pattern that so obsessed Macdonald. (It's one that also dominates his much-praised follow-ups, The Goodbye Look and The Underground Man, the latter adding the plot wrinkle of California environmental devastation, seen as well in Sleeping Beauty, the penultimate Macdonald mystery.)

In The Instant Enemy Lew Archer initially finds himself embroiled in a missing persons case.  Not surprisingly, the actions of unhappy young people start the investigative ball rolling.  This time, Sandy Sebastian, seventeen-year-old daughter of Keith and Bernice Sebastian, has disappeared.  Archer again finds himself haunting his usual surroundings--unhappy domestic abodes of the professional business classes (in his review Schickel rightly notes Macdonald's "obsession with the upper middle-class and rich")--and acting as much as family counselor as shamus.

Sandy had become moody and unhappy, confiding her feelings in a diary that Bernice Sebastian tells Archer she has destroyed and will not discuss with him.  She and her husband think that Sandy has run off with Davy Spanner, a nineteen-year-old boy with even more emotional baggage than Sandy, and they want Archer to get her back.  Thus tasked, Archer embarks on a labyrinthine case involving much criminal mayhem and revelation of shocking family secrets.

As with The Goodbye Look I felt compelled at one point in The Instant Enemy to make a chart of all the extended family members and purported family members across the three generations, as there was so much inter-generational complication and deception occurring in the novel. For me Macdonald's greatest strength as a crime writer lies in (besides his sense of empathy for the emotional travails of human existence) his sheer skill at devising complex puzzle plots.

In his essay Richard Schickel astutely observes that Ross Macdonald "is something a detective story classicist" and that, despite Macdonald's elevation with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler to the great American hard-boiled detective fiction triumvirate, his fiction is closer to the the "whodunits of Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Ellery Queen, and the other masters of the purely ratiocinative school."

Like these renowned classic detective fiction authors, argues Schickel, Macdonald deals with murder within a "closed, and closely related, society," upon which the detective descends "to punish the transgressor" and restore innocence, whereupon s/he retires from the scene. (Schickel here explicitly draws on "The Guilty Vicarage," W. H. Auden's famous essay on classical English detective fiction.)

I think there is a lot of truth in this assertion, although I also think it must be admitted that Macdonald (like P. D. James, a great admirer of his) allows quite a lot of emotional wreckage to take place before Archer successfully navigates his ship to shelter from the criminal storm.

Black Money has many of the ingredients of The Instant Enemy, such as misery among the wealthy and an intricate plot implicating misdoings from the past, but it feels more original because here Macdonald found an additional wellspring of plot inspiration to family dysfunction.

As others have noted, with Black Money Macdonald was influenced by The Great Gatsby (1925), a classic American novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. (Another author who seems clearly to have based a crime novel on what might be termed the "Gatsby legend" is Ruth Rendell in Going Wrong (1990); Black Money I find inestimably a better book, however, despite my admiration for Rendell's crime writing in general.)

In this novel Archer is hired by an affluent young man to look into the questionable background of a dangerously suave Frenchman who has run off with the young man's beautiful girlfriend. Quite a hornet's nest is stirred up by the detective in the process, including much mystery surrounding the seven-year old drowning death--purportedly a suicide--of the girlfriend's father.

Much of the case takes place within the milieu of the wealthy Tennis Club society of Montevista, California (where people "play at being simple villagers the way the courtiers of Versailles pretended to be peasants"), which gives the book rather a fresher feel than The Instant Enemy, in my view. The novel also has some of the most memorable and moving closing lines Macdonald ever devised.

Both these Macdonald mysteries are well worth reading, but it is Black Money that would get my vote for one of the best modern (1960s onward) "classical" detective novels by an American author.  I would urge fans of classic crime fiction--and fans simply of good fiction for that matter--to read it, if they haven't already.  In August it was announced that the Coen brothers are interested in developing the book into a  film--I certainly hope this event comes to pass!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Lady Carew's Secret: The Abbey Court Murder (1923), by Annie Haynes

The Abbey Court Murder is Annie Haynes's second mystery novel.  It appeared in 1923, the same year that The Bodley Head published the author's debut book of fiction, The Bungalow Mystery.

The twelve detective novels Haynes produced between 1923 and 1930 reflect a shift on her part from the more sensationalist style of the Victorian and Edwardian era to the more detached modernity of the between-the-wars Golden Age detective novel.

The earlier Haynes's novels tend to be longer, with greater emphasis on emotional travails, while the later ones are shorter, with more detailed focus on detection.

It is notable in this regard that of Haynes's last six mysteries fully five have series sleuths, while of her first six only two do. (And in that case the sleuth did not actually become a "series sleuth" until three years after his first appearance, when a second novel about a murder case of his was published; in other words, it's not clear that Haynes originally intended for him to be a series sleuth.)

Here is the breakdown:

The Bungalow Mystery 1923
The Abbey Court Murder 1923 (Inspector Furnival)
The Secret of Greylands 1924
The Blue Diamond 1925
The Witness on the Roof 1925
The House in Charlton Crescent 1926 (Furnival)

The Crow's Inn Tragedy 1927 (Furnival)
The Master of the Priory 1927
The Man with the Dark Beard 1928 (Inspector Stoddart and Sergeant Harbord)
The Crime at Tattenham Corner 1929 (Stoddart and Harbord)
Who Killed Charmian Karslake? 1929 (Stoddart and Harbord)
The Crystal Beads Murder 1930 (Stoddart and Harbord)

The four Stoddart and Harbord mysteries have been discussed by me here (and links to reviews of the books can be found here and here). In this post I want to say a bit more about the three Inspector Furnival mysteries, particularly, on this occasion, the first: The Abbey Court Murder.

I have already reviewed The House in Charlton Crescent here.  In my opinion it is the first of the Annie Haynes mysteries to be composed fully in the style of of the "modern" detective novel, closely resembling the sort of fiction being written at this time by such early Golden Age masters of the form as Agatha Christie and Freeman Wills Crofts.

The Crow's Inn Tragedy, which closely followed Charlton Crescent, is similarly designed, though it introduces another element one often finds in 'twenties mysteries: the criminal gang. (Despite this aspect to the tale, the book is definitely a detective novel, not a "thriller").  However, I will discuss Tragedy more later, so let me move on to Abbey Court, a rather fascinating book, I think.


The Abbey Court hotel in Notting Hill
a Victorian row house not far from where Annie Haynes 
was living when she wrote The Abbey Court Murder

The Abbey Court Murder was published in 1923, but it actually appeared originally in serial form about a decade earlier, in 1912-1913; and it was reprinted serially around the world a number of times in the 1910s.  Why Haynes decided at this time to publish an older serialized novel in book form, I don't know; perhaps her publisher was eager for an immediate follow-up to her hit debut crime tale, The Bungalow Mystery.

Tellingly, The Abbey Court Murder went under the title Lady Carew's Secret when it was published serially.  To anyone remotely familiar with the Victorian sensation novel, this title will recall Mary Braddon's smash sensation tale Lady Audley's Secret, a triple-decker novel that was originally published in 1862, just three years before Annie Haynes was born, and is one of the enduring mystery classics of its day.  Readers also likely will note certain resemblances to Charles Dickens's Bleak House and some of the sensation fiction of Wilkie Collins.

Ladies have their secrets....
Theda Bara in the 1915 film version
of Mary Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret

So this is to say that, despite first being published in book form in 1923, the year of the appearance of Christie's Murder on the Links, Crofts's The Groote Park Murder and Dorothy L. Sayers's classic debut mystery, Whose Body?, The Abbey Court Murder seems something more of an earlier period piece (though in fact I would argue that both of these particular Christie and Crofts novels have something of the flavor of older mystery fiction as well).

Yet, like Haynes's later detective fiction, Abbey Court is, I found, a hugely readable yarn; I finished it in two days. Once you start The Abbey Court Murder, I predict that you will want to keep going until you find out just what Lady Carew's horrible secret is and what its deadly ramifications will be.

Abbey Court opens a few years after beautiful Judith Carew's marriage to Sir Anthony Carew, the half-brother of pretty young Peggy Carew, her former charge as governess at Heron's Carew.  The couple have a young son, Paul, and live in happily wedded bliss until one day when Lady Carew, after attending a London wedding, encounters outside the church a sinister man from her past, someone about whom her husband has never been told, someone, indeed, whom she believed was most conveniently dead....

"But I am not dead, Judy.  On the contrary I am very much alive, and--I have come for my own, Judy."

The man demands that "Judy" meet him at 42 Abbey Court to discuss both their unpleasant past and their uncertain future. Under the concerned eye of her husband and the calculating eye of her French lady's maid, Celestine (calculating French lady's maids named Celestine are to Haynes's fiction what dim, adenoidal, housemaids named Gladys are to Christie's), Lady Carew makes plans to keep an undesired assignation at Abbey Court--plans that include arming herself with her husband's revolver.

Someone will die this night at Abbey Court....


And, oh, how the plot does thicken from here!

A woman from Sir Anthony's past pops up too, now widowed and not at all well-disposed toward Judith. Then there is Peggy Carew's suitor, Lord Chesterham, deemed most objectionable by Sir Anthony. And there is intrepid Inspector Furnival, "an unobtrusive-looking little man with a bushy, sandy beard" and "about the keenest-witted detective they have at Scotland Yard." He's determinedly on the hunt for the Abbey Court murderer, and the trail he's following just may take him, much to Lady Carew's mortification, to Heron's Carew....

I found The Abbey Court Murder a tremendously entertaining vintage crime novel, the definition of a mystery page-turner. I hope you will give it a try and see what you think. There is a link to the Dean Street Press edition on Amazon.com above, and here is a link to the edition on Amazon.co.uk.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Pyne-Poirot Nexus, Part 2: The Labours of Hercules (1947), by Agatha Christie, Part 1

More of a shocker sort of fellah
Hercules battles the Lernean Hydra
In Agatha Christie's The Labours of Hercules (1947), the Queen of Crime produced her single best conceit for one of her many mystery short story collections: Hercule Poirot, planning to retire, decides to go out with a flourish, by taking on and solving a dozen cases resembling the mythical labors of Hercules. Seeing how the author transforms these legendary acts of brawn into masterpieces of the deductive art by her diminutive detective is most enjoyable.

Labours was first published in 1947, yet eleven of the stories had originally appeared in the UK over 1939-1940 in the Strand Magazine.  The last tale, The Capture of Cerberus, was rejected by the the Strand, apparently because it too much dealt, unusually for Christie, with contemporary politics.  A new version of the story appeared in the book in 1947.

Although The Labours of Hercules stories include both Poirot's secretary Miss Lemon and Inspector Japp (and, one imagines, it would have been easy enough to incorporate Hastings into them), Poirot's Labors were never filmed in the 1990s for the David Suchet Poirot television series.  Instead, several of the Labors were incorporated into the penultimate television film in the series in 2013.  I will be writing about this film and the rest of the final season of Poirot next week, along with the second half-dozen Labors.

Along with the Poirot novel One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, which was published in November 1940, the Labors in which Japp features constitute his last appearances in the Poirot canon. Did the Labors conversely see Miss Lemon's debut appearances in the Poirot canon? As we know from my last Christie Tuesday Night Club post, Miss Lemon was working for Parker Pyne in the early 1930s.  I don't recall this most efficient of secretaries appearing in any of the Thirties Poirot novels.

Has Hercule Poirot found his match in a lap dog?
In the first labor Poirot battles the Nemean Lion.  In Christie's hands this fearsome beast of legend becomes, most amusingly, a pampered Pekingese.

Christie also introduces a good character, the much put-upon paid companion, Amy Carnaby, who appears in a later Labor. Does anyone else think Miss Carnaby owes a bit of a debt in her conception to Dorothy L. Sayers's Miss Climpson?  Both are delightful individuals.

There is a tiny nod to this tale, one of Christie's most engaging, in the film version of Labours.

The Lernean Hydra is less original but still quite enjoyable. The tale involves a situation I believe Christie had used before, about a doctor suspected of poisoning his wife so that he might marry his pretty female dispenser; but it's all very neatly carried out by the author.

The "monster" in this one is malicious village gossip--a hydra with many heads indeed! There's also yet another Christie house servant named Gladys. A promising subject for a future thesis: why did Christie so often name servant characters Gladys?

2001 HarperCollins paperback
edition--a striking design, I think!
In a wry tweaking of the original legend, which concerns Hercules being tasked with capturing a hind with golden horns and hoofs of bronze that is sacred to the goddess Diana, in The Acadian Deer Poirot encounters a "simple" young car mechanic, Ted Williamson, "one of the handsomest specimens of humanity he had ever seen...with the outward semblance of a Greek god."

Handsome young Ted ingenuously asks Poirot to find his lost love: a maid to a Russian dancer who was staying with her mistress at a local country house party but has since disappeared with no trace. Poirot resolves to bring Ted's dear, Nita, back to to the anguished mechanic, in a Labor involving a good deal of Continental travel on the sleuth's part. This story, really a romance tale with a twist, was one of the Labors used in the 2013 film version of the book.

The Erymanthian Boar also takes Poirot to the Continent, specifically to an off-season, snowbound hotel in Switzerland.  This is a darker story than the others in the collection, involving as it does a vicious French murderer and master crook known as Marrascaud. It appears that this monster is holed up with Poirot at the very same hotel, which can only be reached by a funicular railway.  After the funicular is disabled (naturally!) Poirot is isolated at the hotel for several days with the other guests. Which one of them is a bloodthirsty killer?  Not surprisingly, this exciting story became the main basis for the film version of the book.

the fateful funicular

Christie goes highly figurative in The Augean Stables.  In the original Labor, Hercules is tasked with cleaning out an ungodly amount of crap from King Augeas's stables of assorted animals.  In Poirot's Labor the Belgian sleuth must put a halt to crap spewed out by England's gutter press.  Good luck, Hercule!

Hercules shoots the bird
I think that Christie has a great insight here, namely that where the attention of the salacious public is concerned sex scandals tend to trump any other sort of business shenanigans, yet the notion seemingly advanced in the tale that one should cover up crooked financial dealings by retired, presumably conservative, politicians in the name of keeping a "radical" party out of power surely is an arguable one in my view!

This Labour was slightly worked into the film, at least in my reading.

The Stymphalean Birds once again takes Poirot to a hotel--in Christie's fabled Balkan country of Herzoslovakia, no less--where something most untoward is occurring. This is a neat little twist story, involving an earnest young British politician and two ladies in need, that also was employed pretty faithfully in the film. Interestingly, it bears a certain resemblance to a P. G. Wodehouse Jeeves and Wooster story.

Well, we've taken the mighty Hercule halfway through his Labors.  More to come next week!

The Tuesday Night Bloggers: Agatha Christie, Week Three

Ready to do the carving?
Dr. Armstrong (Walter Huston)
discourses on crime in the
first film version of
And Then There Were None
The third week of our Club meetings already! Links to this weeks posts.

Bev Hankins, The Problem of Stand-Alones

Noah Stewart, Christie's Worst Paperback Editions

Brad Friedman, Doctor, Lawyer, Merchant, Chief: Professions in Agatha Christie

Moira Redmond, Christie Tropes

Jeffrey Marks, Collecting Christie

Curtis Evans, The Pyne-Poirot Nexus, Part 2: The Labours of Hercules (1947) by Agatha Christie, Part 1

Helen Szamuely, The Beresfords--Discuss

Enjoy!

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Inspector Furnival Mysteries of Annie Haynes

In addition to the four Inspector Stoddart detective novels of Annie Haynes, Dean Street Press has reprinted her three Inspector Furnival mysteries: The Abbey Court Murder(1923), The House in Charlton Crescent (1926) and The Crow's Inn Tragedy (1927).

Earlier this year I reviewed The House in Charlton Crescent here, and I also discussed a true life Victorian crime that is partially reflected in the novel, one involving the famous Inspector Whicher of Constance Kent fame and was perpetrated in Annie Haynes and her companion Ada Heather-Biggs's own house, decades before they lived there.

See The Affair of the Bracelet: Miss Brown and the Robbery at Radnor Place.

Posts about The Abbey Court Murder and The Crow's Inn Tragedy are to follow.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

In the Shadow of Coleorton Hall: More on the Early Life of Annie Haynes

Readers of this blog will know that I have written here about how in the early 1900s Annie Haynes (1865-1929) moved to London, where she became a successful mystery novelist and lived for over twenty years (until her death) with the prominent feminist intellectual and social activist Ada Heather-Bigg.  That much I had determined some months back, but it was only this year, as I discuss in my introduction to the new Dean Street Press editions of seven of Haynes's mystery novels, that with the help of a couple of individuals in England, Carl Woodings and Peter Harris, I was able to determine something more of Haynes's fascinating family origins.

ruins of the great castle
at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire
From my reading of Haynes's detective novels I suspected that the author came from England's Midlands and it turns out she indeed did. Haynes was born in 1865 in the town of Ashby-de-la- Zouch, Leicestershire (very close to the border with Derbyshire, one of my earlier guesses for her home county, along with Nottinghamshire), the daughter of Edward (Edwin) and Jane (Henderson) Haynes.  Today Ashby-de-la-Zouch is known for its ruined castle (Ashby-de-la- Zouch Castle), once the longtime seat of the noble Hastings family.

Annie's father, Edwin as he was known (though he was baptized with the name of Edward), was an ironmonger and the son of an ironmonger, a Shropshire lad who originally hailed from the small town of Much Wenlock, where the family kept an ironmonger's shop. Edwin and his brother and sister were raised strict Methodists.

In 1858 Edwin's father, Thomas Haynes, testified in a prominent Much Wenlock murder trial, where thirty-five year old William Davies stood accused of stabbing to death his sixty-five year old common law wife, Ann Morgan, in Morgan's cottage. A fortune teller, Morgan was "rumored to practice witchcraft and to possess supernatural powers," according to author Nicola Sly in her book Shropshire Murders.

Locals are said to have whispered to themselves that Morgan had bewitched the much younger and reputedly slow-witted Davies into remaining with her and doing her bidding, though she was known to have subjected him frequently to foulmouthed harangues.

Evidently the worm turned.  Davies was found to have murdered Morgan with a large clasp knife sold to him by Thomas Haynes just two days before the murder. The bloody knife had been left on a dresser in Morgan's cottage.  Davies was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, but this sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, on the grounds of provocation.

Much Wenlock

Edwin Haynes's marriage to Jane Henderson did not end violently like the common law arrangement of Ann Morgan and William Davies, but it obviously was not a successful union of man and wife.

By 1861, when he was twenty years old, Edwin Haynes had left the family shop and moved to Ashby-de-la-Zouch, where he apprenticed with local ironmonger John Orchard. There he married Jane Henderson, daughter of a prominent landscape gardener, the Scottish-born Montgomery Henderson, who superintended the famous gardens at nearby Coleorton Hall, home of the Beaumont baronets. (The poet William Wordsworth once designed a winter garden for Coleorton Hall.)

Was all forgiven?
Iglesia San Bartolome,
English Church at Rosario, Argentina
After Annie was born in 1865, Jane Haynes became pregnant again the next year. Before she gave birth to Annie's brother, however, Edwin Haynes had left his family, under the name Edward Haynes boarding the ship "Uruguay" at Liverpool on 20 November 1866. In a development that reminds one of all those Golden Age detective novels where family "black sheep" depart England for foreign climes to start life anew, Haynes embarked to Rosario, Argentina (home to a large English community) to work on building railroads.

Once settled in Argentina, Edwin Haynes may have married again and had a son named Eduardo, who appears to have been a successful lawyer. According to a Haynes descendant, when Edwin died he left an island located near Rosario that he owned (appropriately named Haynes Island) to Annie's brother, Thomas, provided that he come live there.  Thomas declined to do so, so Edwin's English family inherited nothing from him. (Thomas himself became an ironmonger, learning the trade from his grandfather and uncle in Much Wenlock.)

Coleorton Hall
After being abandoned by her husband, the pregnant Jane Haynes moved with Annie into the dwelling of her parents, the gardener's cottage at Coleorton Hall, where she gave birth in 1867 to Thomas.

Annie thus grew up on the estate of Coleorton Hall, surely giving her significant glimpses of the life of the gentry, which she would later put to good use in her fiction. In 1871, when Annie was six, Sir George Howland Beaumont, 9th Bt., resided at Coleorton Hall with his two young sons and a Dowton Abbey-ish retinue of servants, including a governess, butler, footman, groom, stables helper, nurse, cook, kitchenmaid, three housemaids, coachman, gamekeeper, laundress, laundry maid, head gardener (Annie's grandfather) and two assistant gardeners, not to mention all the people who worked on the Hall Farm.

During his lifetime did Annie Haynes ever learn what happened to her father, of whom she would have had no personal memory whatsoever from her childhood years? Evidence from one her novels suggests that perhaps she did.

Coleorton Hall and grounds
In her horse-racing mystery, The Crime at Tattenham Corner, we find that the racehorse Peep o'Day, owned by murder victim Sir John Burslem, is sold by his widow, Lady Burselm, to one Ramon de Villistara, a big Argentinian horse breeder who owns a stud-farm north of Rosario. At one point in the novel, Inspector Stoddart pronounces that Argentina makes a good "hiding place" for absconded Englishmen....