One Of Every Four?
One day, the telephone rang at Edgar Wallace’s house.
Housekeeper: ‘Mr. Wallace’s residence.’
Caller: ‘May I speak to Mr. Wallace, please?’
Housekeeper: ‘I’m sorry, he’s quite busy. He’s writing a new novel.’
Caller: ‘That’s ok, I’ll wait.’
True story! (Well, maybe.) Edgar Wallace (1875-1932) was a very prolific writer, although perhaps not so much as the above anecdote suggests.
Over the course of his approximately 30 year writing career the numbers vary according to the source but he produced perhaps 150 novels, a couple of dozen plays, hundreds of short stories, non-fiction, as well as poetry, criticism, and whatnot. Prolific indeed, but not Creasey-level output (see our last post).
Edgar Wallace is remembered today for two things: That he wrote the story upon which the film(s) King Kong is/are based, and that at one point it was said that one out of four books purchased in the UK were titles of his! That this cannot be verified, and that this tidbit was put out by his publisher at the time, means that there is room for skepticism.
After a stint in the Army, Richard Horatio Edgar Freeman (so his foster parents named him) tried his hand at crime reporting in London where he used Edgar Wallace as his pen name. ‘Wallace,’ it was said, came from Lew Wallace, who wrote Ben-Hur. In so doing, the aspiring novelist didn’t make much money, but that inconvenient fact didn’t prevent him from living like a magnate anyway. In 1902 he was offered a post as editor of a South African newspaper, where he’d served during his military service, but while there, his infant daughter took ill and sadly died, whereupon he and his wife decamped back to London where he returned to journalism. Interestingly, he was booted from the staff of the Mail newspaper when incorrect facts in his stories generated libel suits. That was the end of his journalism career for the time being. Previously, while covering the conflict between Russia and Japan, he fell in with a group of spies which gave him an idea for a novel. His first mystery, The Four Just Men, was published in 1905 with an unusual gimmick--there’s no solution! He invited readers to solve the mystery and offered a cash prize to anyone who could do so. Unfortunately for Edgar, the crime was more easily solved than he’d realized and he had to pay a lot of winners, reducing him once again to bankruptcy. Thereafter he started prolifically turning out novels to satisfy his many creditors. It is said that he kept the plot outline of numerous stories in his head, never making notes, and allegedly wrote the first page, and only the first page, of each book in longhand, then dictated the remainder to a secretary. He didn’t go in much for series work and even after he introduced his most durable character, J. G. Reeder, the stories stand alone and need not be read in any particular order. Reeder was a former Scotland Yard detective and a shy, retiring fellow who was often called upon to help solve the Yard’s most baffling cases.
Finding a bit of success as a novelist helped him make his way back to journalism and he regularly published articles on horseracing. Even though he finally crawled out of debt and started making scads of cash, Wallace spent fortunes gambling and living a lavish lifestyle that was difficult to sustain. He stood for election to Parliament but lost, after which he decamped to Hollywood to try his hand at polishing screenplays, including The Hound Of the Baskervilles. He is best known for King Kong, of course, but sadly died before the script was completed, leaving other writers to finish it, so he never saw the work with which he would be most associated.
Here at Mysterious, we’ve got some paperback reissues:
Evans, the horseracing tout and devout Cockney, is back:
Who is Four Square Jane? Well, for one thing, she's a daring and audacious crook!
We've got several vintage hardcover titles from Edgar Wallace, very collectible and very reasonably priced, as always!
Also check out the new series of facsimiles from Collins Crime Club! They are bringing back some of their memorable titles from yesteryear, including The Terror from Wallace, which also includes White Face. Two titles from Agatha Christie, among many other notables, make the Collins series a go-to for your reading and gift-giving pleasure!
John Creasey--The Man of a Thousand Pen Names
Well, twenty-eight by y_r friendly blogger’s count. Creasey in his various iterations is credited with 562 novels! Do you know how many people haven’t even written one novel? Most!
John Creasey (1908-1973) was an unbelievably prolific author but he did seem to have a fair spot of bother getting started. He is said to have received over 700 rejections before his first crime novel, Seven Times Seven, was published in 1932. He had published several novels by 1935, and they must have done all right, for that year Creasey was able to leave behind his day jobs and devote himself full time to writing. No doubt this was at least partly due to his incredible output. How incredible? In 1937 alone, he published 31 titles! Think about that for a moment--it’s more than one every other week!
John Creasey wrote standalone novels, Westerns, romances, and at least dabbled in just about every subject under the sun. Not only that, but he created numerous series characters. Among the most popular are the Gideon series, a Scotland Yard detective who starred in 21 novels, written under the name of J.J. Marric. Gideon was noted for his astounding memory and his ability to juggle multiple cases at once. He was also a television star, 26 episodes of Gideon’s Way were produced in the mid-sixties for ITV in the UK. A film entitled Gideon’s Day (Gideon of Scotland Yard in the US) was directed by John Ford and released in 1958, to acclaim.
Writing as Anthony Morton, the Baron was introduced in 1937 (Meet the Baron) and proved popular from the beginning. It must have, for four Baron titles were published each year from 1937-40. Again adapted by ITV, this time as a 30-episode series, it showcased an American working for British intelligence. However, in the books, the Baron is a reformed jewel thief and British to boot. 47 Baron novels extended his career from the thirties to the seventies.
Upper crust crime sleuth The Toff (aka Richard Rollison) made his bow in 1938 with the first of 59 novels, Introducing the Toff. A ‘toff’ is British slang for an aristocrat. ‘Toffee’ is a delicious confection of caramelized sugar with butter, and has nothing to do with this post.
Two Toff films were also produced in 1952.
Noted physician Dr. Palfrey was lured into the spy organization Z-5 to fight the Axis during WWII and underwent a great deal of character changes over the course of the series, starting in Traitor’s Doom (1942). Many times over the course of the 34 novels we see the old ‘madman threatening to destroy the world’ situation, but keep in mind that after the war, things did change. When reissued some years later, the author revised his stories somewhat. Wouldn’t it be interesting to read two editions side by side to see what Mr. Creasey deemed worthy of changing?
Inspector West Takes Charge began a series of procedurals featuring the handsome title character in 1942. Forty-two adventures later, West had been promoted to Superintendent and seen his two boys (named after the author’s own sons) grow up.
The Department Z series first saw print in 1933 with The Death Miser and these espionage tales are fast-paced thrillers. These are among the titles that author Creasey revised upon republication.
How many fans of the tough, no-nonsense Gideon would realize that the selfsame author wrote the posh Toff books as well? Or that Dr. Palfrey, the leader of the worldwide espionage organization Z5 and the gentle, elderly physician Dr. Emmanuel Cellar were created by the same man?
A paragon of versatility, invention, and consistency, John Creasey is criminally overlooked today and you, as a mystery aficionado, should investigate his oeuvre immediately, if not sooner. Here’s a sample:
Here at Mysterious, we have lots of way cool vintage Creasey titles, call and ask about them at 212.587.1011, order off this very website, or better still, drop by!
Questions/Comments/Noms des plumes? firstname.lastname@example.org
Anthony Berkeley Quite Likes Chocolate
As we continue with our examination of vintage mystery writers, here’s one you may have overlooked:
Anthony Berkeley Cox (1893-1971) was one of the stalwarts of the Golden Age of Crime Fiction. Two distinct pen names and two distinct styles means that, as Anthony Berkeley, detective fiction with the character Roger Sheringham rose to new heights in the Golden Age, loosely defined as the period in between the World Wars. And as Francis Iles, psychological suspense stories welcomed a new champion. Active as a crime novelist for only fifteen years, his influence was substantial and significant, as he set the tone in certain ways for generations of crime writers to come.
Cox served in WWI and unfortunately took a dose of poison gas which affected his health for the rest of his life. An intensely private man, he published his first novel anonymously, after having written humorous sketches for Punch magazine, among others. But what a splash that first novel made! The Layton Court Mystery introduced irascible amateur detective Roger Sheringham. Starting with his second novel, The Wychford Poisoning Case, author Berkeley made an effort to steer away from what might be termed materialist-based crimes towards an effort to explore the psychological aspects of crime and criminals. Further stretching the norms of the genre, Berkeley introduced Inspector Moresby, who in many cases proves a better investigator than the nonprofessional Sheringham. Much of the time in crime fiction, the amateur sleuth sleuths rings around the cops, but Berkeley was ahead of the curve in making the cops occasionally competent. And Sheringham is certainly not infallible; sometimes he fails to identity, or misidentifies, the killer.
But without question, the written work for which Anthony Berkeley is best known is The Poisoned Chocolates Case, first published in 1929. A gent loses a bet with his wife and must pay off in the form of a box of chocolates. They both enjoy some, but the missus dies. Someone has poisoned the treats! Who is responsible for this reprehensible deed? Soon, five more amateur detectives join Sheringham and each offers a theory on the crime and the perpetrator. Which is correct? Has anyone got it right after all? No spoilers here! There’s only one way to find out who, if anyone, poisoned Joan Bendix, and I guess you know what it is. The six would-be private eyes who try to solve the case are known in the book as the Crimes Circle, which was patterned after the Detection Club, an invitation-only gathering of mystery writers that Berkeley himself helped to start. [Golden Age of Murder link] It was Berkeley who was one of the pioneers of the notion of the fallible detective; that is, someone who occasionally makes a mistake or whose big theory reveal at the close of the tale turns out to be completely wrong. Which is kind of refreshing. And quite unlike the polite, urbane, wealthy playboy type of sleuth, Sheringham, especially in his earlier adventures, is an obnoxious loudmouth, which also leaves the reader strangely impressed with this significant departure from the fictive norm. Although like many a fictional character, he did change over the course of the series, to the point where he was considerably mellowed from his early characterizations. Although, right to the end, Sheringham wasn’t shy about breaking the law if he deemed it necessary!
Many crime fiction aficionados regard the three books that Berkeley wrote under the name Francis Iles as his greatest works; the first, Malice Aforethought, fascinates as the reader tries to reason whether the murderer, who is known from the beginning, will get away with the crime and if so, how? Before the Fact, the second written as Iles, concerns a woman jarred by the notion that the man she married is a murderer, and was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock as Suspicion. Meanwhile As For the Woman, from 1939, is the last novel and but for a few short pieces, the last fiction that Anthony Berkeley (Cox) wrote. According to some of his fellow Detection Club members, Berkeley did a sort of reverse Sheringham, being known for his urbanity and suave behavior, but eventually morphed into a mean, unpleasant man, which may be partially explained by his late-in-life health problems.
Eccentricities aside, crime fiction aficionados should not neglect Berkeley (or Iles), for some of the best characterization and plotting of the entire Golden Age is contained in these stories; indeed, if your curiosity is piqued, then look no further!
Questions/Comments/Cream Tangerine? email@example.com
- Auguste Dupin, esq.--The Leader Of the Pack
Edgar Allan Poe is considered by many to be the originator of the modern detective story with Commissaire Auguste Dupin, who first appeared in Murders In the Rue Morgue in Graham’s magazine in 1841, at which publication Poe worked as an editor. He received $56 for the story, high for the time, especially compared to the $9 that he was paid for The Raven.
Now, Poe did not invent crime fiction, prior works such as Zadig by Voltaire contain plot and stylistic similarities although the recognition of Poe as the first exponent of detective fiction is contained in the naming of the Mystery Writers of America award the ‘Edgars.’
Many of the characteristics of Poe’s detective Dupin have become standards in detective fiction, such as the brilliantly deductive sleuth, the friend who serves as narrator, and the revelation of the perpetrator preceding the explanation of the crime itself. Dupin was born into a well-off family, but he lost his wealth and led a hand-to-mouth existence, living a relatively simple life. Unlike Watson, his narrator/roommate is unnamed. The pair live in Paris and met at the library while looking for the same book. Dupin is an honoree of the legion d’honneur and is acquainted with a police prefect, referred to in the stories as G-.
In a letter to a friend, Poe wrote that the point of ‘Rue Morgue' was to spotlight the exercise of ingenuity in depicting a murderer. And ingenuity it is, as the perpetrator of the crime is a most unlikely suspect.
(Spoilers!) ‘Rue Morgue’ is the first locked room mystery in fiction, another milestone for author Poe. If written today, the sailor would be set up as a suspect for the detective to prove or disprove, and today’s readers, who expect to investigate along with the police, might be put off at Poe’s ‘cheating,’ as few would include an orangutan on a list of suspects.
Dupin returned in two more stories in the 1840s. The Case of Marie Roget was based on a sensational murder in New York, when the body of cigar saleswoman Mary Rogers was found floating in the Hudson River. This was the first fiction based upon a true crime and indeed remains one of New York City’s most baffling unsolved murder cases ever. This second story in the Dupin canon was originally published in Snowden’s Ladies Companion in late 1842.
The third and final Dupin story by Poe appeared in The Gift in 1844, which was an annual publication devoted to presenting literary works to its readers. Poe received twelve dollars for this piece. A letter has been stolen from a government minister. Through logic, Dupin deduces that the politician, Minister D.-, has the letter. But then, Dupin produces the letter to collect the reward! This money-motivated Dupin is in contrast to the detective of Murders In the Rue Morgue, where he declines a reward. His desire to solve crimes for his own edification has thus evolved!
A huge influence in the creation of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, among many others, was C. Auguste Dupin.
Read all three Dupin stories, and lots more Poe here:
Cornell Woolrich (1903-1968) was considered by some of his contemporaries as one of the best crime fiction writers, right up there with Hammett and Chandler. He is perhaps best known for ‘It Had To Be Murder,’ memorably filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1954 as ‘Rear Window.’ ‘The Bride Wore Black’ was filmed by Francois Truffaut, as was ‘Mississippi Mermaid,’ and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s film for German television, ‘Martha,’ was loosely based on Woolrich’s story ‘For the Rest Of Her Life.’
Certainly Woolrich wrote some pretty purple prose, although some readers & critics feel that some of it is a little too purple, and some are critical of his plotting, feeling it unrealistic and less than plausible. Unlike most mystery writers, though, he becomes less familiar the more his work is read. Suppose you’d seen some of the Perry Mason television shows, or read some of the later Erle Stanley Gardner novels. You’d learn pretty quickly that whoever is in jail for the crime didn’t do it, right? But with Woolrich, to his credit, you never know. Could be the logical suspect, could be the one you least expect, could even be the butler! Or there the murder may lie, unsolved.
A New Yorker by birth, Woolrich left Columbia University before his class graduated when his first novel, Cover Charge, was released. He did, however, eventually endow a scholarship fund at that august citadel of learning.
His first six novels were creatures out of Fitzgerald, and rather obviously at that, but he hit his stride with the next six written under his own name, which placed him firmly in the pantheon of noir fiction writers. It’s generally conceded that his books with ‘black’ in the title are the best of his work and some of the best thrillers ever. The Bride Wore Black, The Black Curtain, Black Alibi, The Black Angel, The Black Path of Fear, and Rendezvous In Black are the ones not to be missed. In between these, Woolrich published several books under one or another of his pseudonyms, among them the Dell paperback original Marihuana, the story of a troubled man who goes berserk when he has a puff on a reefer. The book is today a cult classic, and nice copies regularly sell for three figures. Writing as William Irish, Phantom Lady is the story of a man accused of murder who predictably insists upon his innocence, but the woman he was with who serves as his alibi cannot be found. Is she even real? Published in a nice facsimile edition, and also memorably filmed.
One thing that might set Cornel Woolrich apart from the pack is his strong female characters. Particularly evident in ‘Angel Face’ and ‘Murder In Wax’ (The stories upon which The Black Angel was based), these dames are not necessarily paragons of virtue, nor are they paper saints, but they are very real, especially by the standards of the crime fiction of the time. They simply do what they have to do to survive and in the novels these characters thankfully are not bombshells or simpering doormats fainting at the drop of a hat (or a gat), but these women come across as rather more fully fleshed out characters than the norm.
Cornell Woolrich was second to none in creating atmosphere for his characters, who tend to be amoral or helpless with little in between. Moral ambiguity is thus quite evident. For example (Spoiler!), in The Black Angel, when the besotted drunken man takes his own life after falling in love with the heroine, she feels neither sorrow nor remorse, only satisfaction.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Woolrich did not start his writing career through the pulp magazines, nor did he have any recurring characters. In a way, this freed him, for there was no need for the happy ending done up in a ribbon. His standalones could end any way he wished them to, reader expectations notwithstanding, which is refreshing. A critic for a Pittsburgh newspaper wrote that if one could imagine Alfred Hitchcock writing a novel the way he directed his films, one would have a Cornell Woolrich story (referring to The Bride Wore Black), and that is as good a way of putting it as any.
Now you’re all curious to read some Cornell Woolrich, right? Right?
Ask about our facsimile editions in general and Phantom Lady in particular!
Questions/Comments/Night Light? firstname.lastname@example.org
Maigret et Simenon
Georges Maigret was born in Liege, Belgium in 1903. Of course, he is best known for the seventy five novels featuring the French commissaire that were published between 1931 and 1975 as well as twenty-eight short stories between 1938 and 1950. However, he regarded the Maigrets and their like among the dozens of novels he wrote for popular consumption as pulpy and not serious literature. As for literary ambition, he wrote more dozens of novels and novellas in a more ‘serious’ vein.
As a youth, his parents occasionally took in boarders, which allowed the nascent writer exposure to the wider world beyond Belgium. He left school at fifteen and held a variety of (very) short term jobs, one of which was as a pastry chef. This writer would have enjoyed devouring a baked treat cooked up by Georges Simenon! He started as a cub reporter for the local newspaper Gazette de Liege in 1919, and worked on lower-level human interest stories for a shade under four years. In that time, he learned how to write to deadline and how to quickly and efficiently self-edit, the latter being an apparently lost art. He wrote his first novel about this time, which was published in 1921. The following year, Simenon’s father died, which provided him with the impetus to move to Paris. By this time he’d met his future wife Regine and after living in the City of Light for a short time, returned to Liege to wed. A writing machine, he used numerous pseudonyms and began to make his living telling stories.
In 1930 the character which would make him known worldwide would first see the light of day, in a story published in Detective which was written while boating in the Netherlands.
While rapidly producing novel after novel, Simenon somehow managed the truly superhuman feat of living with his wife and mistress at the same time.
But the character that made him famous wasn’t like the author at all. M. Maigret is a middle-aged, slightly overweight man who is childless and lives in Paris and in happy domesticity with his one and only wife, the saintly Mme. Maigret.
Not a traditional detective in any way, shape, or form, Maigret seems uninterested in gathering evidence and interpreting clues. He’s known to go off on inexplicable tangents and often actually ignores clues staring him in the face. As Scott Bradfield wrote in the New York Times, the detective solves people, not crimes, looking at faces, not fingerprints. So from the Belgian dynamo we can infer that the way to a career in detection is: be able to read people, and remember to show up!
In 2013, Penguin began re-issuing the 75 Maigret novels, with some of his more serious books only recently receiving their first English translations.
Check out some of Simenon’s lesser-known works:
An underemployed actor and a lonely woman meet in a NYC bar and seek to understand, or drown, their sorrows. Said to be loosely based on Simenon's relationship with his second wife.
M. Monde is a successful businessman who one day leaves it all behind and ends up on the Riviera consorting with drunks, whores, and all manner of lowlifes. But why? More than a midlife crisis but less than an epiphany, how well do any of us understand ourselves?
Starting life as a biographical sketch of his childhood in Belgium, Simenon was encouraged by Andre Gide to turn this tome into a novel. After he did so, Simenon was heard to quip that this was a book in which everything is true but nothing is accurate! Find out for yourself--if you can!
And, of course, Maigret:
The Belgian detective comes out of retirement when an eighteen-year-old girl is found dead in the Seine. But an encounter with an old enemy makes it clear that M. Maigret is not welcome here, even when more of the town's elite turns up murdered.
Maigret arrives in a small French town to investigate a murder, but soon finds that the case may end up ruining the people he's sought to help. An old enemy, an ex-cop named 'Inspector Cadaver' doesn't help matters.
Questions/Comments/Je ne sais quoi? email@example.com
Lieutenant Jones was dreaming. He was eight years old, in his backyard, and playing catch with his father. In the dream, he knew it was a dream, because his father had been a cold, distant man who worked about twenty-five hours a day and was so rarely home that his children were quite often frightened about this virtual stranger. But here they were, tossing an official National League ball, with the John Heydler stamp and the red & black stitching, back and forth.
As both the Lieutenant and his dad started putting a little more mustard on their throws, a strange sensation came over the lad. He was floating, spinning, in a cone of darkness where he felt weightless. He knew he’d been called on another mission, but for the first time, didn’t want to go and resisted. He wanted to stay a happy eight-year-old! When he again noticed his surroundings, he was shocked, and here he thought he’d been past shocking.
He was in a large parking lot. In the midst of thousands of very big cars. Was he still dreaming? He was carrying his glove, the beloved Nelson Fox model that his dad had bought him--holy cow! Lt. Jones looked down at himself---he was still eight years old! Just a kid! What was going on?
Before he could even begin to speculate, his father took his hand and they walked up to the turnstiles. Jones noticed that his dad was clutching two tickets to that day’s game. So they were going to watch the A’s play the Chicago Cubs! So often the future Lieutenant had heard Jones senior talk about the great old players he’d seen at Shibe Park, and now he was too. He didn’t fully understand what was so important about this particular game, only that it was important, since all the men around him, including his dad, spoke of the possibilities in hushed tones of gravity. He knew the rules, of course, having played in the streets with the other neighborhood boys.
A wizened old ticket-taker who looked about a hundred years old to the little boy tore their tickets in two and gave back half, and they were in, up and up and up the ramps, and then through a big doorway and then, the field! He had never ever seen anything so green! He could sense his father looking fondly down on him and smiling, for the elder Jones had had much the same reaction when his uncle had taken him to a game here the year the park opened. A smiling usher showed them their seats, and good seats they were, along the first base line, about halfway between home and the first base bag. The players were warming up in foul ground, and look, there was Hack Wilson, shaped like a barrel from the waist up, and like rolled-up newspaper from the waist down. There was Big George Earnshaw, the Philadelphia starting pitcher, of whom it was said that he threw harder than Johnson, Grove, all of them. Mickey Cochrane, the A’s firebrand catcher, was on the infield, shouting instructions. His Windy City counterpart, ‘Old Tomato Face’ Gabby Hartnett was looking on from the Cubs’ dugout, where some of the Bengals fearsome lineup gathered: Rogers Hornsby, Kiki Cuyler, Charlie Grimm. A fine team and one that the Philadelphias would have to go some to beat!
They were settled in their seats, hot dogs and pop in hand. The game was on! Both starting pitchers, Earnshaw and Charlie Root, mowed the opposition down in the early going, and young Jones began to fidget. How could anyone stand this tension? It was while he was worrying that no one would ever score a run that it happened. He was looking out to left field, trying to figure who the Cubs’ outfielder was, when the crack of the bat caused the lad to look up just in time to see the ball speeding toward him! Pow! It caught him right on the head! Down he went!
When he came to, a burly, older man who looked nothing like his father was shaking him. ‘You ok, Jonesy? Attaboy! Now get down to first, and get us a run!’
The Lieutenant got to his feet and for the second time that day, looked down at himself and scarcely believed what he saw. He was in full uniform for his favorite team, the Philadelphia A’s! Suppressing the shock, he felt thirty thousand pairs of eyes on him as he made his way down to first. He felt alien, utterly alone, but at the same time like he belonged on this team. Soon, though, young Jones felt out of sorts--his A’s were losing by eight! Soon manager Connie Mack would start replacing his regulars to battle afresh another day. Headed into the bottom of the seventh Jones strode boldly up to the batter’s box for his first plate appearance. Someone had told him that Cubs pitcher Charlie Root was well known for headhunting, so he’d better be on his toes! Sure enough, here came the first pitch whistling right at his head. Ducking out of the way, the ball struck the bat and bounded away, foul. Expecting a pitch low and outside, the future Lieutenant wasn’t disappointed, here it came! Stepping into the pitch and smacking it right on the button, Jones was momentarily surprised at how far the ball sailed when he hit it! He broke from the box and chugged around to second as fast as he could go, but then his heart sang. It was over the fence! All right, they were still trailing 8-1, but at least they wouldn’t get shut out.
Was this a dream? He’d gone of an instant to every boy’s fantasy--he’d just hit a home run in the World Series! Better yet, his fellow Athletics just kept hitting and hitting, and next thing he knew, here he was up at bat again! After the obligatory message pitch at his head, he felt wary of looking for the next low and away and stepped back a bit. And a good thing too! Another one in tight! NOW was the time to look outside, and there it was--Crack! A clean single into left field. 2-for-2 in the same inning! Wow! There he was on first base, right next to Jolly Cholly Grimm, longtime Cubs first sacker and future manager. The next batter hit a hard ground ball into the hole between second and third. Woody English made a nifty backhand stop and fired the ball to Hornsby at second to at least get a force but the flight of the ball was interrupted--by Jones’ head! Whammo! Right in the temple it caught him! Ouch!
Wavy lines burst across his field of vision and he felt himself falling through time and space again. Where would he end up this time?
Wait, who won the ball game? Who won the World Series? These are important matters! But what of Lieutenant Jones? What new adventure is in store for him? Watch this space! This post in honor of the 112th World Series.
We’ve got a couple of new biographies that are topnotch! Check ‘em out:
Did Bram Stoker have any inkling of what he was starting when Dracula was first published in 1897? I'll bet he didn't!
Strangely overlooked by the arbiters of American Letters, Shirley Jackson is best known for the story The Lottery and the novel The Haunting of Hill House, but O boy! is there a lot more to her work, and her life, than that! This new bio covers her life's work.
Questions/Comments/Making Out the Lineup Card? firstname.lastname@example.org
Brand and the Fall Classic.
The stadium was decked out in bunting and flags for the big set-to between the hometown Pelicans and their arch-rivals the Oxford Stoats. A rematch from last year’s exciting World’s Series, and you can bet the Stoats were out for revenge. For their part, the Pelicans were still reeling from the untimely passing of the O’Sullivan twins, even though they’d won the Series. As for the Stoats, they hadn’t won a championship since 1887, when it was called the Eckert Cup.
Brand, a lifelong Pelican fan, was beside himself with excitement! He felt like the ten year old he used to be, eagerly anticipating Opening Day, the pennant races, the Series, and even the All-Star Game. This year he’d be seeing the game, all right--but not from a box seat, not from a bleacher seat, from the DUGOUT! And not just any game--the SEVENTH Game! Yes, through his pal Rocco Lampone, the Pelican Stadium clubhouse attendant, he’d been chosen as the world’s oldest batboy. Old Man McReedy, the Pelicans owner, had the bright idea of sponsoring a contest so that a young Pelicans rooter could enjoy the thrill of being batboy for the home team (The Stoats would furnish their own), but Lampone had, let’s say, adjusted the results so his pal Brand would win. He was such a good fan!
The first game of the World Series was a little like the first game of the season, both teams starting out even, each having an equal chance to win. But Brand was confident that the Pelicans would prevail, just as they had last time. But it wouldn’t be easy; the Stoats were awfully tough and the first six games of the Series were intense and captured the interest of the entire country with a display of good old-fashioned country hardball. And this year there wouldn’t be any pesky murders to get in the way. Would there? Well, not so far, anyway. It was a tough, hard-fought Series, and by the morning of the Seventh Game, both teams were about at the boiling point.
All eyes were on Remy Altair, the rookie sensation of the Pelicans. Past thirty, he had spent years in the independent leagues and, it was rumored, in prison, although no evidence of this had come to light. As a player, he was known for his blazing speed and quick glove, and was a good catalyst at the top of the order. And he’d had a tremendous Series so far, in fact, he was the odds-on favorite to be Series MVP. So naturally, a Pelican partisan plot was afoot to get him out of the lineup by means fair or foul.
In a seedy room in a short stay hotel, three tough-looking hombres were up to no good. The boss, resplendent in a white three piece suit, watch chain, and snazzy two tone shoes, was talking to his two torpedoes.
‘I want Altair neutralized before the game is over. Clear?’
Somberly they nodded. It would be done!
Came the day of Game Seven, the stands were packed, the infield was dragged, the sky was clear, and the bets were down! Of course, betting on games was technically illegal in River City, but with bigger fish to fry, the cops usually looked the other way on the picayune bets that fans might put down. It was the mob boys’ attempts to influence the outcome that attracted attention of law enforcement, and there were vice agents in the clubhouses interviewing the players to make sure no one was on the take. Satisfied, the agents took their own seats to enjoy the game while still keeping an eye out for trouble.
Trouble was the farthest thing from the mind of Brand, who was giddy with excitement. He was kneeling in the on-deck circle waiting for the first Pelicans hitter in the ninth, who was the newest ‘can’t miss’ prospect Remy Altair. The giant number 2 on the rookie’s back stretched and straightened as he took his practice swings with his usual three bats at a time. Brand took the unneeded two from him as Altair strode to the plate.
‘CRACK!’ went the bat as the ball flew off to the deepest reaches of the outfield! Altair dashed around first, keen on getting into scoring position so the Pelicans could get an insurance run. Brand ran to the plate to grab the player’s hastily flung bat. Altair charged into second base, flinging his body at the bag, twisting so that the Stoats infielder could only tag a toe.
Here comes the throw from the outfield! Here comes the play at second! Here’s Brand watching, enraptured, at home plate! Will Altair be safe or ….
The silence fell thick and heavy on Pelican Field. The ball in play was bouncing along in left field, lopsided and with part of the cover hanging off. Altair was crouched on the second base bag with his hands over his ears. And Brand? Brand was standing at home plate holding a shattered bat.
Brand was still shaking. How close he’d come to taking a bullet! Avery was debriefing him, assisting the Feds with their mission. Costello was still serving his suspension from the Cat Caper* so Avery was going solo for a while.
‘I think I’ve got it now,’ said the detective. ‘Two goons with rifles smuggled into the park shot at Altair. One hit the ball and one hit the bat you were holding.’
‘That’s about the size of it. Look at me, I’m still shaking.’
Avery grinned. ‘Lucky for you they were such lousy shots!’
The Boss was on the phone. ‘I got to hand it to those guys--perfect shooting! The game ended one to nothing on Altair’s home run in the first. What?’ The person on the other end of the line repeated the question. The Boss barked a short laugh. ‘No, as usual the cops and the papers don’t know what they’re talking about. See, the home run ball that won the Series? My guy was in the bleachers and got it. How? Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies! I got the bat too. But if Altair gets on and scores in the ninth, that ball and bat that Won the Series aren’t unique and aren’t nearly as valuable. Now I can name my own price!’
Baseball Commissioner Neddy Styles was holding a press conference. ‘And so, I invoke the morals clause in player Altair’s contract, and in the best interests of baseball, void any and all games in which player Altair participated, due to his conviction in our neighbor to the south, Santa Babka, for forging memorabilia, cruelty to animals, counterfeiting, piracy, and offenses against the fashion police.’
Advertisement in the River City Record, October 16:
For sale, cheap: One official league baseball, slightly damaged. One Louisville slugger, cracked. Any reasonable offer.
*See All Things Mysterious Volumes 64-68 for that tale, or tail.
Even though what Brand thought was an assassination attempt on Remy Altair wasn’t, check out some of these adventures involving assassinations:
Giants-Dodgers at the Polo Grounds? Yes please! At the old ball yard, a Senator is assassinated and his widow convinces Nero Wolfe to take the case.
One of the most momentous events in ancient history was the assassination of Julius Caesar. Author Harris melds this and other dramas into the story of Cicero.
Ian Rutledge isn't paying much attention to world affairs in August 1914. He's more concerned with the course of true love, as he plans a proposal to his beloved. Men in love across Scotland set in motion events that lead to a series of murders in the run-up to WWI.
Questions/Comments/Bill Wambsganss? mike@email@example.com
Nine Lives, Less One
‘All right, so I wanted to get back with Alanna, is that so wrong?’
Costello was speaking from the interview room at the River City precinct.
For his part, Avery was in a certain disbelief that his partner could be engaging in this kind of behavior. Caught up in a cat-snatching ring! But Costello had been a good detective for a lot of years, and were very close, as partners fighting crime are wont to be. For this reason, he trod softly here, not using the ‘Bad Cop’ method of questioning that was his usual norm.
‘Why don’t you begin at the beginning? How did all this start?’
‘When Alanna got involved with Luz Marin, I….I felt like a failure and I looked for any way to win her back.’ He stopped to collect himself. ‘At first I wanted to make myself look good, so I faked the first catnapping, you know, so I could play the hero when I foiled the crime,’
‘Well, you missed that a mile, didn’t you?’ interjected Avery, ‘but when I saw how easy it was to make money at it,’ continued Costello, ‘ I..I just kept going.’
Avery could scarcely believe his ears. ‘How could you turn your back on enforcing the law so quickly, Cos?’
‘It didn’t seem like such a big deal. It was only cats. Then I thought I’d fake one for Cinnamon so no one would suspect me.’
Avery could only shake his head. Cinnamon! And after the way the big, tough detective doted on that animal!
‘Then the Paltry Gang got involved, didn’t they?’
‘They found out what was going on--I don’t know how--and started using the hot rod to get around quickly and a couple of times they had to rescue Taper when he almost got caught.’
‘I can’t believe that you got mixed up with all this, but if you want to try a little redemption, let’s go over to the crazy cat house, pick up whoever’s there and break up this extortion caper once and for all,’ said Avery.
‘Then what?’ quavered Costello.
‘What do you mean, ‘then what?’ Then we go to Internal Affairs and lay all our cards on the table, and if you come out of it with just a suspension, you’ll be lucky. ‘Course, that’s just my opinion.’
Alanna Nashua, nee Costello, was near tears. She’d been roped into the cat ring, partly through her own gullibility, her flagging sense of self-worth occasioned by her increasingly rocky marriage, and her greed for a stake of money in case she found herself alone on the street anytime soon. Furthermore Luz Marin had just told her, in no uncertain terms, that they were through, that they were never really an ‘item’ and that she, Luz, was devoted to her husband Taper and that any connection between the two women was strictly in Alanna’s mind. But Alanna hadn’t been married to a detective for years without developing a core of iron which made it difficult to penetrate to her most deeply felt emotions. Her insincerity detector was also apparently back on after being comatose for some time. And she wasn’t a bad actress. So while she pretended to be devastated, she was plotting madly. She knew that soon Luz would get disgusted with this unseemly show of emotion and leave her to her own devices. This she did, and when alone, Alanna carefully made her way to the phone nook, and, whispering, called the station and left a message for Costello. Then it occurred to her that he might be persona non grata there, since surely word of his involvement in the ring must have gotten around by now. So she left word for Avery that the cat-nappers were about to flee and they’d better send the paddy wagon to catch the crooks before they disappeared. Just for good measure, she left word with the Chief of Police, with whom she was on good terms ever since she contributed five dollars to the Chief’s Widows and Orphans Fund.
Accordingly, several unmarked cars were dispatched to the crazy cat house, but just as they arrived, the fire-engine red hot rod that had been used in several of the snatchings burst out of the garage and went boiling off down the road. The ringleaders of the caper, the Marins, were escaping! Suddenly, like a streak of lightning, Xavier the rescue cat bolted like a shot out from his latest hiding place and chased the hot rod. He leapt into the open cockpit and sank his claws into Taper Marin’s arm. Marin screamed and let go of the wheel. Luz screamed even louder and tried to right the careening vehicle by grabbing the wheel but soon found a howling, furry banshee wrapped around her head. The hot rod was out of control! It slammed into a fire hydrant, sending a geyser of water gushing thirty feet into the air. Officers swarmed around the crime car, hauling the Marins out and cuffing them. The catnapping ring was broken!
Wait! Another man had dashed out the back door of the cat house and, dodging a dozen officers, jumped into the hot rod which, its caved-in front end notwithstanding, was still running, backed it up and took off down the street in a desperate effort to escape! Xavier dashed toward the souped-up rod, which charged at him like a bull at a red flag! Look out, Xavier! The scream of an overloaded engine, the squeal of burdened brakes, a cloud of burning rubber, Xavier obscured from view and then….
What has happened to Xavier? Did he get run over? Did he thwart another escape? Will we meet him again? Time will tell! We’ll check in with the Brown Recluse, Cinnamon, Raffles, Costello, Avery, and the rest in the future. But now, what of Brand? Well, he’s at the World Series……...
Have a look at some staff favorites you may have overlooked:
This first book featuring Kolbjørn Kristiansen, aka K2, is set in 1968 Oslo, where a man has been found murdered in an apartment block, and it soon becomes clear that the killer could only have been a fellow tenant!
A delightful satire about the Constitution, slavery, the Supreme Court, segregation, the Little Rascals, and more. This one'll make you think and laugh at the same time.
We have several facsimile editions of Golden Age mysteries, including the classic tale of mayhem on a train:
We also have a new facsimile of And Then There Were None, as well as Phantom Lady by William Irish (aka Cornell Woolrich), The House Opposite by Farjeon, and others. Stop in or inquire via phone or email!
The leaves are changing, the temperature's dropping, and the days now form a gentle slope towards Halloween. So how can you compliment your autumnal feelings with the proper literature? We here at The Mysterious Bookshop have a few suggestions...
Many of us know Shirley Jackson for her classic tales The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. But as biographer Ruth Franklin discovered, there's way more to this author than meets the eye. A genius of literary suspense and psychological horror, Jackson plumbed the cultural anxiety of postwar America more deeply than anyone. Placing Jackson within an American Gothic tradition that stretches back to Hawthorne and Poe, Franklin demonstrates how her unique contribution to this genre came from her focus on "domestic horror." Almost two decades before The Feminine Mystique ignited the women’s movement, Jackson’ stories and nonfiction chronicles were already exploring the exploitation and the desperate isolation of women, particularly married women, in American society. Franklin’s portrait of Jackson gives us “a way of reading Jackson and her work that threads her into the weave of the world of words, as a writer and as a woman, rather than excludes her as an anomaly” (Neil Gaiman). Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life is an exceptional work that shines a light on one of our most underrated authors. Signed. $35.00
There are few television shows that are more divisive than Twin Peaks. Some people adore its quirky humor and dark underbelly, while others just don't seem to get what all the fuss is about. Well, both camps may want to check out Mark Frost's latest novel, The Secret History of Twin Peaks. Delving deeper into the central mystery of the town and its residents, Frost's book both accentuates the show and creates something new. Filled with over 100 photos and "primary sources" the book is as visually stunning as it is intriguing. And since there will be a new season of Twin Peaks coming to the screen sometime in 2017, what better way to get primed! Signed. $29.99
First published in 1897, Dracula has had a long afterlife—one that rivals its immortal creation; yet author Bram Stoker has remained a specter in this pervasive mythology. In Something in the Blood, David J. Skal exhumes the inner world and strange genius of the writer who birthed an undying cultural icon, painting an astonishing portrait of the age in which Stoker was born—a time when death was no metaphor but a constant threat easily imagined as a character existing in flesh and blood. Skal draws on a wealth of newly discovered documents with to challenge much of our accepted wisdom about Dracula, Stoker, and the late Victorian age. Signed. $35.00
Note: For a fictional study of Stoker's life, check out our recent Bibliomystery -- Christopher Fowler's Reconciliation Day.
The year is 1869. A brutal triple murder in a remote community in the Scottish Highlands leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. A memoir written by the accused makes it clear that he is guilty, but it falls to the country's finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence. Was he mad? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the gallows. Graeme Macrae Burnet tells an irresistible and original story about the provisional nature of truth, even when the facts seem clear. His Bloody Project is a mesmerizing literary thriller set in an unforgiving landscape where the exercise of power is arbitrary. Shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. $24.99.