The Mysterious Bookshop

All Things Mysterious Volume Seventy-Eight

 

Lieutenant Jones and the Deadly Vegetable

 

‘I say, old horse, can you direct me to Baker Street?’

Rarely did Lieutenant Jones have such a disconcerting episode in his vast experience in time and space shifting.  Oh, the usual disorientation and queasiness were evident as usual, but the real confusion started when he found himself in the midst of a cacophony of light and sound.  Horse-drawn carriages went barreling by, followed closely by a dozen or more street urchins.  Lt. Jones and everyone else were ankle deep in mud and various effluvia, there were street vendors hawking everything from roasted potatoes to Dickensian matches to ribbons and pins.  And the stench of horse manure was overpowering but didn’t seem to register amongst the masses.  Perhaps one got used to it in time, but the Lieutenant searched the pockets of his proper Victorian suit and happily found a handkerchief which he immediately clapped over his nose and mouth.  Whew!

He was thus occupied when the gentleman approached him with the question. Now how was he to know what street was where in a time and place that he’d never been?  But he seemed to know, somehow, that Baker Street was to the northwest, so he directed the gentleman that way.  Indeed, something told him to head that way himself and so he did.

Not following the man, exactly, but in a way practicing his trailing techniques.  The gentleman was ahead of him and hurrying to a townhouse in the middle of the block.  What was the number?  There it was, 221B. Lt. Jones stopped in the doorway of 221A and observed.  Presently three men rushed out of the adjacent door; a portly, white-mustachioed man carrying a small black bag, a tall thin man smoking a pipe, and the gentleman from earlier.  The latter was being supported by the other two men, looking for all the world like he’d overindulged in drink.  The Lieutenant was not convinced--the man had been perfectly vertical and quite rational when he’d spoken to him before.  Something must have happened to him in the last few moments, but what?  It looked like Lt. Jones would find out, for as he stood next door, the tall pipe-smoker hailed him and said, ‘I say, old bean, can you give us a hand here?’

So the Lieutenant hailed a coach and helped haul the stricken man into it; it was just large enough for the man to lie down so that the portly gent, who introduced himself as Doctor Watson, could examine him.  The physician rummaged in his bag, found an instrument, and peered into the man’s mouth!

‘I say, Holmes, look at this!’

Why did all these people say ‘I say’ in preface to their remarks?  How strange!

‘Good show, Watson!’

What a strange language!  

As the Lieutenant peered over Watson’s shoulder, he observed particles of a strange green matter in the stricken man’s mouth.  

‘Clearly he somehow ingested this leafy substance and is now scarcely conscious.’

‘Quickly, let us get to Doctor Finley’s!  More speed, driver!’

And so the carriage boiled along the road and shortly came to a screaming halt in front of a fancy whitewashed building in Gerrard St.  This was where a lot of professional men had offices, and momentarily the four were speaking to Dr. Finley, a man even taller and thinner than Holmes, if that were possible. But no pipe that Lt. Jones could see.

‘This man is suffering from vegetable poisoning!  We don’t see that much today, for most people can’t or won’t consume greens.’

‘I shouldn’t wonder, if this is the result!’ opined Watson.

Don’t misunderstand me,’ replied his colleague. ‘A modicum of greens are essential to good health, but, as in any endeavour, too much is a bad thing!’

‘Yes, quite.’ Holmes hadn’t yet spoken much and his voice resonated through the silence of the office. He had gone through the man’s wallet, looking for identification.

‘Good Lord!’

‘Good Lord!’

Holmes and Finley exclaimed simultaneously. They looked at each other, startled, and then each politely waited for the other to speak.

‘You first, my good man.’

‘No, you first, old man, you first!’

If nothing else, they were polite.  Finally Holmes broke the logjam.  

‘This man is Doctor Goodbright, the noted nutritionist!’

Watson said, ‘I’ve heard of the bloke--he’s the one that advocated an all-meat diet!’

‘Right you are, Watson!’

‘And he’s dead!’ said Dr. Finley.

This shocked everyone into silence.  Dead!  Why, the man was alive and well not half an hour ago!

Everyone somberly pondered the intransigence of life as Doctor Finley summoned the coroner.

 

The next day the Lieutenant found himself at the library, trying to find out as much as possible about the deceased doctor as he could.  It seemed that Goodbright had published a popular pamphlet in defence of carnivorous diets which had catapulted him into the public eye.  Had it also generated enmity?

Now this was interesting!  A cache of documents under the business registry revealed some salient facts.  Holmes should know this!  And Lt. Jones rushed out of the library back to his temporary lodgings at 221A Baker Street.

Later, Holmes, Watson, and the Lieutenant convened next door at B when the latter dropped his bombshell.

‘That is indeed most interesting, Lieutenant,’ Holmes said, stroking his chin.

‘Interesting!  Pah!  Interesting!’ Watson spluttered. ‘I’d call it a sight more than interesting when a man advocating an all-meat diet covertly owns no fewer than seven meat packing and processing facilities!’

‘You may be right, Watson.  In any event, we must find the person or persons who poisoned the good doctor, and we can best do so by splitting up.  Lieutenant, can you remain at 221A and intercept any callers here?  Watson, can you go to the doctors’ union hall and find out whatever else you can on Goodbright?  And just in case, you might look up Dr. Finley as well.’

‘And you?’

‘I shall be practising my violin, I am frightfully rusty.’

Watson seemed nonplussed by this, as he must be used to the vicissitudes of the detective, but Lt. Jones wondered, what possible good could that do?  On the other hand, some folks did their best thinking when engaged in another task, so perhaps Sherlock Holmes was one of those types.

Lt. Jones was keeping an eye on things at 221A when all of a sudden there was a fearsome banging on the adjacent door.  He opened up to reveal a sodden young thing, no more than twenty, and no bigger than a minute.  He said, ‘Come in, come in,’ and ushered her dripping wet self into the foyer of 221A.

‘What can I do for you?’

‘Oh! I must see Mr. Holmes at once!’

‘I’m afraid that is impossible at present.  May I be of assistance?’

‘But I can hear someone sawing away at a fiddle next door!  Is not that Mr. Holmes?’

‘Dry yourself off, lass, and tell me what the trouble is, and I shall pass it along to Mr. Holmes.’

‘All-all right.’  The young woman drew herself up to her full height, which was no more than five feet.  ‘I am Filomena Finley; Dr. Finley is my father and I believe it was he that was present at Dr. Goodbright’s untimely passing.’

‘Yes, that is so.  Pray, continue.’

‘There are militants who were very very angry with the doctor’s dietary notions.’

‘Why would anyone be so angry over advocacy of a meat diet?’

‘Some say animals have souls and shouldn’t be killed, some say that vegetarianism is the only healthy way to live.’

‘Angry enough to kill him?’

‘I believe so.’

‘I see.  And where do you and your father fit in?’

‘He and I--’

Just then, another fearsome knocking on the door!  No one just taps, or uses the knocker anymore.  No, it’s always pounding with a clenched fist.

Lt. Jones opened the door to reveal a disheveled, panting Watson.

‘You must come!  And bring the lady!’

‘Come where?  What has happened?’

‘Doctor Finley has been murdered!’

And Filomena Finley collapsed in a dead faint.



What deviltry is this?  Are doctors being targeted? Or meat-eaters?  Why?

Tune in next time for more of The Mystery of the Deadly Vegetable!

 

While you’re waiting, why not try out some Sherlock stories?  Whether the A.C. Doyle originals or one of the many excellent pastiches, enjoy your own journey to Victorian (among other times) London (among other places) and match wits with Holmes, Watson, Irene Adler, Moriarty, and even Mrs. Hudson!

 

If variety is your bag, try this fantastically diverse collection of some of the best of Sherlock!

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Sherlock battles Jack the Ripper?  Yes, please.

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And, while we're on the subject:

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Like the esteemed TV series?  Herein are the stories that inspired the creators:

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And, because there's nothing like the originals:

A two-volume paperback set, very reasonably priced, containing all 56 short stories and four novels.

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Questions/Comments/Clues? mike@mysteriousbookshop.com

 

Written by Ian Kern — January 19, 2017

All Things Mysterious Volume Seventy-Seven

All Things Mysterious Volume 77

Welcome back to All Things Mysterious and Happy 2017!  Here’s hoping that it will be the best year ever and that all your mysteries will be little ones!

We here at ATM are glad to be back after our holiday hiatus and will continue to bring you interesting, entertaining, and informative posts on a semi-regular basis, as time permits.  Just now we are shooting for a new tidbit every Thursday.

 

Lieutenant Jones in: Never Brought To Mind

 

The huge crowd surged to and fro in the center of the giant square, as if they were a single, multi-celled organism. Lieutenant Jones, squished in the midst of two million New Year’s Eve revelers, wondered why he had not simply stayed indoors and done something less stressful, like negotiating a peace treaty or piloting a starship. For a while there his feet never touched the ground as he was carried along by the mass of humanity.  At last he found himself on the edge of the square and had just a little elbow room.  But he hadn’t much time to enjoy his newfound breathing space, because just then he felt the familiar sensation of weightlessness and dissociative tension that heralded a shift in time and space.  

When his feet reconnected with the ground he was standing in another crowd of people, only this one was much smaller. They were gathered around a church, surrounded by a copse of trees, and a choir was softly singing.

It was a traditional, old-fashioned holiday celebration and for a time the Lieutenant was caught up in the moment and found himself warbling along, despite the fact that he sang like a hinge.  But no one seemed to mind, and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ wafted through the brisk night air as the clock neared twelve.

As the bells began to chime and the crowd swayed in time, a man standing just in front of Lt. Jones suddenly slumped forward, causing the song to abruptly stop.  In the loud silence that followed, someone bent down to examine the stricken man, stood bolt upright and shouted, ‘He’s dead!’

Revelers, unaware of the murder, shouted ‘Happy New Year!’ while one stalwart yelled, ‘Is there a doctor?  Please, a doctor?’  The Lieutenant stooped to examine the body, but before he could begin, a stout man shouldered his way through the crowd, baying ‘Let me through, I’m a doctor!’  Then, to Lt. Jones, ‘Help me get him into the rectory.’

The two men carried the dead man into the church and gently set him down on the altar. In a moment the pastor rushed in through the great doors, crying, ‘What’s this? What’s this? How dare you--’ then he stopped in his tracks.  The doctor introduced himself as Bullock and quickly explained the situation. The clergyman, Pastor Miller, backed up to a discreet distance to allow the man room to examine the victim while Lt. Jones observed in the background.  At last the doctor straightened up, brushed off his trousers, and said simply, ‘Gunshot.’  Stating the obvious, thought the Lieutenant, to whom it seemed the examination was quite cursory.  On the other hand, it was pretty obvious that the man died of a gunshot wound, wasn’t it?

‘I’ve sent for the police,’ said Pastor Miller. He was staring at the doctor with a strange expression.  Bullock noticed this and said, ‘Something I can do for you, preacher?’

‘I could swear I’ve seen you before,’ replied Miller. ‘Now where was it?’

‘I don’t know you.’

‘But I know you, and I--Wait!  I remember now!’

Suddenly the man bolted for the door, but he only got a few steps before the doorway was filled with the massive frame of one of the city’s finest.

‘What’s the trouble here?’ asked the officer. No fool, he latched onto Bullock, preventing the ersatz healer from fleeing. 

‘A man’s been shot!’ exclaimed the pastor. The cop knelt beside the deceased, still on the altar, and his eyes went wide.  ‘Why, this is Benjy Fetlock, the hoss doc!  He used to look after our carriage hoss when we was first married!’

Pastor Miller was angry.  ‘Just what do you mean, passing yourself off as a regular doctor?’  By this time a small crowd had gathered in the church and there was some shouted agreement with the pastor’s admonition.

‘That’s the man who kilt my dog!’

‘Hey, you, I want my money back!’

‘He drownded my wife’s kittens!’

While Lieutenant Jones reflected on the man’s wife actually having had kittens, another man rushed in from outside and pushed his way to the altar.

Pointing to the veterinarian, the man yelled, ‘He’s the killer!  I saw him do it!’

The Lieutenant calmly said, ‘And he timed it so the ringing of the bells would muffle the sound of the shot being fired?’

‘Now that you mention it, he did!’

The policeman had heard enough.  Taking the doctor by the collar and giving him a good shaking, he said, ‘We’ve got the goods on you, mac.  Better come clean!’

The man who had revealed the murderer spoke up. ‘I can tell you what happened!  This mug and the man he shot were partners in a hoss and dog hospital and Mr. Brownstone--that’s him lying there--found out that Bullock had never even been to school for doctorin’!  And Bullock killed him for it so he wouldn’t be found out!’

‘And so he could keep all the money the practice brought in,’ added the Lieutenant.

‘All right, mister, you’re coming with me,’ said the policeman.

Suddenly the phony vet broke free  again and charged at the door.  This time he made it, and bolted into the churchyard.  The crowd around the altar ran to the door in hot pursuit, but Lt. Jones, reaching the door first, held up a hand to stop the mob.  ‘No need to chase him, folks, he’s caught.’

Amid a great huzzah from the assembled gawkers, those nearest to the doorway could see--the killer had run into the road just as a cabriolet came barreling toward the church.  And he ran smack dab into one of the horse’s flanks, knocking himself cold.  Well, that was all right, he’d wake up in the pokey.

Since the excitement was over, the crowd dispersed.  As he was lingering in the doorway of the church, a man came over to the pastor and the Lieutenant.  ‘Craziest thing I ever saw!  Them hosses went out of their way to block that man who was running!  I never saw the like!  Looks like they WANTED to knock him down!  What do you make of that?’

 

Here’s a topnotch thriller that begins on New Year’s Eve:


Lonely, shunned Magnus Tait waits for guests that never come. He rings in the new year as a suspect in the murder of a teenage girl!

 

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Questions/Comments/Welcome Back Messages/Very Dry Champagne/Noisemakers/Party Hats?  mike@mysteriousbookshop.com

 

 

 

Written by Ian Kern — January 12, 2017

Best of 2016

Now that the holidays are over and January is well on its way, we here at the Mysterious Bookshop have finally had time to reflect on the year behind us, and to pull together a list of our favorite books from 2016. Individual lists can be found in the January newsletter; below, check out a master list of our collective favorites, which pulls together, in no order, fifteen particularly noteworthy titles from those individual lists. Happy New Year!

Lauren Belfer, And After the Fire. After the death of her uncle, a young woman in present-day New York tries to solve the mystery of an old music manuscript, stolen from the ruins of Germany after WWII. $26.99.

John Hart, Redemption Road. Hart’s fifth book is a beautiful work of literature that happens to include horrific murders, violence, and detection, as a former cop, fresh out of prison, races to solve a rash of killings. $27.99

MJ Carter, The Infidel Stain. In the wonderful follow-up to The Strangler Vine, Blake and Avery return from colonial India to 1840s London, and immediately find themselves involved in another mystery. $27.00.

Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow. A Russian Count, sentenced to house arrest in Moscow’s grand Metropol Hotel, watches the tumult of 1920’s Russia from his window. $27.00. 

Martin Cruz Smith, The Girl from Venice. In the last year of World War II, a simple, peaceful Venetian fisherman reluctantly faces off with Nazis after his fishing net pulls in the still-living body of a young female fugitive. $27.00

Lyndsay Faye, Jane Steele. A compelling, pitch-perfect Victorian novel whose heroine is inspired by Jane Eyre, but with something extra: She is a serial killer. $27.00

Tana French, The Trespasser. The most cynical detective you’ll ever meet battles sexism and racism in the workplace as a run-of-the-mill domestic murder case seems to suggest something more complex. $27.00

Lawrence Block, editor, In Sunlight or in Shadow. A beautiful book of short crime stories based on the work of Edward Hopper, each of which is accompanied by a full-page color reproduction of the painting that inspired it. Includes stories by Michael Connelly, Robert Olen Butler, Joyce Carol Oates, Jeffery Deaver, Lee Child, and others. $25.95

Allen Eskens, Heavens May Fall.  Courtroom drama and exciting police procedures are masterfully woven together in this paperback original. $15.95

Patrick Hoffman, Every Man a Menace. Interconnected episodes in the world of global MDMA trafficking stretch from LA to Bangkok in a taut thriller whose quick, clean pace ripples with dark comedy. $25.00

John le Carre, The Pigeon Tunnel. The great espionage author’s memoirs from his work in British intelligence during the Cold War are both entertaining and illuminating, and a must-read for fans of his work. $28.00

Peter Robinson, When the Music’s Over. Newly promoted Detective Superintendent Peter Banks masterfully juggles two baffling cases: a long-ago assault, and a just-now murder. $25.99

 Duane Swierczynski, Revolver. A cop’s murder is investigated by two subsequent generations of his family in this perfectly-layered narrative. $26.00

Chan Ho-Kei, The Borrowed. Five novellas follow the careers of two detectives through fifty years of Hong Kong history. Note: While the American edition of this book was technically published in 2017, we carried the British when it was released in 2016, validating its inclusion on this list. $16.00

Ben Winters, Underground Airlines. In an alternate history that eerily resembles our country today, the Civil War never happened, and a modern-day detective hunts fugitive slaves in Free states. $26.00

Written by Ian Kern — January 05, 2017

All Things Mysterious Volume Seventy-Six

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:

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Who is Four Square Jane?  Well, for one thing, she's a daring and audacious crook!

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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!

Questions/Comments/Appraisals?  mike@mysteriousbookshop.com

Written by Ian Kern — November 21, 2016

All Things Mysterious Volume Seventy-Five

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:

 

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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?  mike@mysteriousbookshop.com

 

 

 

 

Written by Ian Kern — November 17, 2016

All Things Mysterious Volume Seventy-Four

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!  

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Written by Ian Kern — November 14, 2016

All Things Mysterious Volume Seventy-Three

 

  1. 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.’

http://mysterywriters.org/

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:

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Questions/Comments/Lenore?  mike@mysteriousbookshop.com

 

 

Written by Ian Kern — November 10, 2016

All Things Mysterious Volume Seventy-Two

Gathering Woolrich

 

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?

 

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Ask about our facsimile editions in general and Phantom Lady in particular!

Questions/Comments/Night Light? mike@mysteriousbookshop.com

 

Written by Ian Kern — November 07, 2016

All Things Mysterious Volume Seventy-One

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.

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Questions/Comments/Je ne sais quoi? mike@mysteriousbookshop.com

 

 

 

Written by Ian Kern — November 03, 2016

All Things Mysterious Volume Seventy

 

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!

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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.

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Questions/Comments/Making Out the Lineup Card?  mike@mysteriousbookshop.com

 

Written by Ian Kern — October 31, 2016

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