Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Apology for Murder (1945).

In a scenario reminiscent of Double Indemnity, a reporter in Apology for Murder helps his girlfriend kill her husband, and another man is accused of the crime. Hugh Beaumont stars.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Laura's Waldo Lydecker.

In the North American Review, editor Grant Tracey examines the narcissism of Waldo Lydecker, a major character in Vera Caspary's Laura (and Caspary's take on Wilkie Collins's Count Fosco).

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Reviews in verse.

I hadn't encountered a book reviewer who rendered his reviews in verse until recently: Paul Allen of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in the column "The Verse Side of Crime" in 1935-39. As a sample of his reviews, read his poetic view of Ellery Queen's Halfway House (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 11 Oct. 1936: C15):

The Lamberton Road, New Jersey
As you'll see by your tourists' guide,
Is more of a byway than just the right highway
To take for a pleasure ride;
It follows the Delaware River,
From Trenton, for miles on miles,
Past garbage dumps and sewage pumps
And a slow stream's rotting piles.

The Lamberton Road, New Jersey,
Runs by a forbidding spot,
Where some unknown, in a day long flown,
Erected a miserable cot;
It now has become weatherbeaten,
And bent by the weight of time—
A decrepit shack, turned a somber black,
A dwelling predestined for crime.

Down Lamberton Road, New Jersey,
Bill Angell, attorney, drives
His car, one night, in the fading light,
Till at the old shack he arrives;
To Bill comes a strange, eerie feeling,
As he draws up with bated breath.
And with nervous quakes, applies the brakes
Of his car by that house marked for death.

On Lamberton Road, New Jersey,
Re-echoes a feminine scream;
It comes from a room of that house in the gloom
Like the wail of a hideous dream;
Then out from the house darts a woman;
She enters her automobile—
A terror-stricken lass, who steps on the gas,
And scrams out of sight with a squeal.

From Lamberton Road, New Jersey,
Bill Angell then enters the door,
And under his eyes, immediately spies
A man stretched out flat on the floor;
The man has a message to whisper:
"A veiled woman knifed me!" he cries;
As Bill grabs his paws (they're his brother-in-law's)
The b-in-l. shudders and dies.

On Lamberton Road, New Jersey,
In that shanty, forbidding and lone,
A murder's committed, and are we outwitted?
We are, for no motive is shown;
But right from the start we're delighted,
To the close of the tale's final scene
By the deeds energetic, phrenetic, kinetic,
Of magnetic Ellery Queen.

(Lamberton Road, BTW, does indeed run along the Delaware River in Trenton.)

Monday, January 06, 2020

The life of a mystery writer.

For a few more days, you can listen to episodes from the lively Three-a-Penny read by Diana Quick on BBC 4. It is the autobiography of Lucy Malleson, aka Anthony Gilbert and Anne Meredith. Mystery fans may be most interested in the episode "The Detection Club," in which Malleson describes her induction into that august British body with leading roles played by G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers,  and John Rhode.

Monday, December 30, 2019

The real-life Charlie Chan.

KHOU2 in Honolulu pays tribute to Apana Chang (1871–1933), the first Chinese police officer in Hawaii who was acknowledged by Earl Derr Biggers as the inspiration for Charlie Chan.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Lady Confesses (1945).

In The Lady Confesses, a couple's marriage plans are derailed when the man's estranged wife appears and is murdered. His fiance sets out to solve the crime, nosing around the activities of a nightclub. Mary Beth Hughes and Hugh Beaumont costar.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Denise Mina on Scottish legal cases.

"The Trial of Madeleine Smith in the Scotch Court of Session."
1857. NYPL
Mystery novelist Denise Mina is hosting a series on BBC Radio 3 focusing on famous legal cases in Scottish history. The latest episode is on Madeleine Smith, accused of poisoning a former suitor and placed on trial in 1857.

Monday, December 16, 2019

10 great whodunnit films.

On BFI's website, Pamela Hutchinson selects and discusses 10 great whodunnit films such as The Last Warning (1928), which deals with the unsolved murder of an actor onstage, and Green for Danger (1946), which examines murder in a wartime hospital.

Ads for The Last Warning

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Dementia 13 (1963).

In this early film written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola and produced by low-budget specialist Roger Corman, an ax murderer stalks a family that has plenty of secrets to conceal.

Monday, December 09, 2019

The Lost World and conmen.

Scenes from The Lost World (1925)
The latest episode of the American Heritage Center's Archives on the Air deals with conmen who attempted to extort Cathrine Curtis, a producer planning an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (ultimately released in 1925). The film is notable for its early use of stop-motion animation.

Cathrine Curtis, ca. 1925

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

ELT ends after 60 years.

Sad news: The journal English Literature in Transition, 1880–1920, is closing up shop in late 2020 after a run of more than 60 years. The journal was a friendly venue for scholarly articles on mystery and detective fiction of the period, and editor Robert Langenfeld and I once exchanged info on our respective journals for publication in ELT and Clues in collegial fashion.

For a history of ELT, go here.

Monday, December 02, 2019

ISO: Mystery companion proposals.

I have a wishlist for proposals for the McFarland Companions to Mystery Fiction series that I edit (see below), but I also am interested in hearing from those who would like to prepare a proposal on alternative subjects. Potential subjects must have a substantial body of work (roughly defined as a minimum of 25 books).

Further details on the elements of a proposal.
• If interested, contact me.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

"The Impresario" (1960).

Screenwriter Liam O'Brien created the scenario for the 1960 TV series Johnny Midnight. It starred his brother, Edmond O'Brien, as an actor turned PI investigating crimes in the New York theatrical world, often drawing on his talent for disguise and usually involving some sort of fight sequence. In the episode "The Impresario," Johnny looks into the seemingly accidental death of an actor friend. Billy De Wolfe costars.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Matthew Surridge on The Best of Manhunt.

On Splice Today, Matthew Surridge reviews Stark House Press's The Best of Manhunt, an anthology of stories from an important crime fiction magazine that published authors such as Lawrence Block, David Goodis, Evan Hunter, John D. MacDonald, and Donald Westlake.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Find the Blackmailer (1943).

In Find the Blackmailer, private detective Jerome Cowan goes on the trail of a talking crow, which can implicate politician Gene Lockhart in blackmail and murder.

Monday, November 18, 2019

"The Missing Number" (1922).

Elisabeth Ellicott Poe, right,
1918. Library of Congress,
Prints & Photos Div.
Elisabeth Ellicott Poe (1886–1947) and Vylla Poe Wilson (1883–1969) trained women for national service during World War I and were longtime society and culture reporters for the Washington Post. Dubbed "the Poe Sisters," they were related to Edgar Allan Poe (their great-grandfather was a brother of Poe's grandfather). They were steadfast champions of their relative's work, with Elisabeth writing at least 20 articles on Poe's life and work; Vylla reviewing Dorothy Dow's take on Poe, Dark Glory, for the Post in January 1932; and the sisters establishing a short-lived, Poe-related journal, The Stylus, and coauthoring Poe: A High Priest of the Beautiful (1930). Elisabeth also painted, with some critics stating that her imagery resembled Poe's.

Vylla Poe Wilson, left, 1918.
Library of Congress,
Prints & Photos Div.
From May to June 1922, the sisters published "The Missing Number," a serial in 18 parts, in the Post. This mystery about the disappearance of a diplomat's wife in Washington, DC, that involves a Poe-like number cipher was trumpeted by the Post as "the first Poe mystery story in 73 years!" (see below). It featured a sleuthing female reporter, a disreputable medium, an energetic policeman, and more than one distraught family member and sinister servant. Although "The Missing Number" provided an interesting look at Washington life of the time (remember streetcars?), it is a not very successful literary work. It has an unknown half-brother (cheating, for many mystery writers and readers), some cloying romance, and portrayals of African Americans and a deaf-mute that would likely be unpalatable to modern readers.

The Poe Sisters are buried in DC's Glenwood Cemetery. Read Elisabeth's "Poe, the Weird Genius" (Cosmopolitan, Feb. 1909).

Excerpt from "The Missing Number," Washington Post, 31 May 1922.
Ad for "The Missing Number"
Washington Post, 19 May 1922: 2

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The return of Dorothy Bowers.

In the Shropshire Star Keri Trigg discusses the reprinting by Moonstone Press of the five detective novels of Dorothy Bowers (1902–48), a member of the Detection Club adept in the "fair play" mystery who died young from tuberculosis.

The books are:

Postscript to Poison (Inspector Dan Pardoe, 1938)

Shadows Before (Pardoe, 1939; Kirkus review)

A Deed without a Name (Pardoe, 1940; Kirkus review)

Fear for Miss Betony (Pardoe, 1941; Kirkus review)

The Bells at Old Bailey (Detective Inspector Raikes, 1947. "a literate and entertaining excursion into murder"—Jack Glick, New York Times)

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

"Rebecca" (1962).

This April 1962 version of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca aired on Theatre '62 and featured James Mason as Maxim de Winter and Joan Hackett as the second Mrs. de Winter. Nina Foch took on the role of housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, and Lloyd Bochner was Rebecca's cousin Jack Favell.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

The Chase (1946).

Based on The Black Path of Fear by Cornell Woolrich, The Chase features Robert Cummings as a troubled World War II veteran who becomes chauffeur to gangster Steve Cochran and entangled with Cochran's wife (Michele Morgan). Peter Lorre costars.

Monday, November 04, 2019

New exhibition on Rex Stout and his work.

The Burns Library at Boston College, the depository of Rex Stout's papers, has opened the exhibition "Golden Spiders and Black Orchids: A 'Satisfactory' Look into the Life and Mysteries of Rex Stout." The exhibition, which features Stout’s fiction and its adaptations, his activism, his pastimes, and his fandom, has interesting items such as a Nero Wolfe comic strip and Nero Wolfe postage stamps from San Marino and Nicaragua. The exhibition is on view until January 2020.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Mystery Junction (1951).

In Mystery Junction, a mystery writer encounters murder on a train.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Knopf and Cain tussle over The Postman Always Rings Twice.

James M. Cain with Lana Turner
On the Library of Congress blog, former Washington Post reporter Neely Tucker discusses the evolution of the title of James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, based on the Cain papers in the LOC. The work began life with the unpromising title BAR-B-Que.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Yellow Canary (1943).

Richard Greene and Anna Neagle
in Yellow Canary (1943)
In Yellow Canary, a well-to-do Nazi sympathizer (Anna Neagle) traveling to Canada becomes a focus of both British and Nazi agents, with the fate of a British convoy in the balance. The film is based on a story by Pamela Bower (daughter of the film's director, Herbert Wilcox, and stepdaughter of Neagle) and a screenplay cowritten by actor-screenwriter Miles Malleson. Costars include Richard Greene, Margaret Rutherford, and Valentine Dyall.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Crime Unlimited (1935).

In Crime Unlimited, a Scotland Yard detective (Esmond Knight) goes undercover in a gang of jewel thieves, seeking to unmask its mysterious leader. The film is based on the 1933 book of the same name by David Hume (aka former journalist John Victor Turner). Costars include Lilli Palmer as a Russian dancer associated with the gang.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Restored 1954 recording of Ngaio Marsh.

Ngaio Marsh companion
Ngaio Marsh companion (2019)
published by McFarland
In a restored recording from 1954, Ngaio Marsh speaks about her first novel, A Man Lay Dead (1934); relates her "odd" (in her view) process of writing detective fiction; and provides her eyewitness account of the eventful inauguration of E. C. Bentley as Detection Club president in 1936 with Dorothy L. Sayers and John Rhode, among others. "I screamed," notes Marsh. Other topics include her involvement in theater in New Zealand. (Read about the recording's restoration process.)

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

The Seventh Survivor (1942).

In The Seventh Survivor, World War II secret agents square off after a ship is torpedoed.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Sherlock Holmes essay contest for students.

Joseph Pennell, "Baker Street," ca. 1908.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Div.
The Beacon Society is sponsoring an essay contest for US and Canadian students in 4th to 12th grades that focuses on the Sherlock Holmes stories The Adventure of the Red-Headed League,“The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,” and “The Greek Interpreter.” There are cash prizes for first to third place. The submission deadline is February 1, 2020. (Thanks to the podcast I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere.)

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Strangers in the Night (1944).

In this film adaptation of a story by Philip MacDonald, a Marine looks into the identity of a mysterious woman who has been writing letters to him.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Exhibition on Florence Chandler Maybrick.

The New Milford (CT) Historical Society and Museum is hosting the exhibition "Florence Maybrick: The Mystery of the Dress." The American-born Maybrick (1862–1941) was convicted of killing her husband, James, in 1889 (although her husband was fond of taking arsenic, and a case could be made for the mental incompetence of the judge at her trial). She served 14 years in prison and was pardoned by King Edward VII in 1904. She returned to the United States, living in Connecticut. The museum is seeking artifacts related to Maybrick's time in Connecticut to add to the exhibition.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Train of Events (1949).

Train of Events tells the stories of people involved in a train crash, including a man who has killed his cheating wife and placed her body in a basket. The cast includes Peter Finch, Valerie Hobson, Michael Hordern, and Miles Malleson.