7/24/22

Curiosity is Killing the Cat: Detective Novels That Need to Be Reprinted

Last year, Nick Fuller, of The Grandest Game in the World, compiled a list of "what detective stories should be reprinted" and posted the result under the title "Detective Stories to Reprint" covering a who's who of obscure, long out-of-print mystery writers and detective novels – a list going from Hugh Austin's Murder of a Matriarch (1936) to R.C. Woodthorpe's The Public School Murder (1932). One or two items on Nick's list were already back in print and James Quince's The Tin Tree (1930) and Casual Slaughters (1935) have since been reissued as ebooks. 

I decided to put together a selection of obscure, shamefully out-of-print detective novels and mystery writers, which aroused my curiosity over the years as an addendum to Nick's list. I tried to keep the overlap between both lists as small as possible and an attempt was made to not let the locked room mystery dominate the list, but hey, you know me. So here's a small selection, in completely random order, put together according to the magpie's method (Ooh, shiny objects).

Nearly a decade ago, Curt Evans favorably discussed Invitation to Kill (1937) by "Gardner Low," a pseudonym of Charles Rodda, who wrote Edgar Wallace-style thrillers under the name "Gavin Holt," but Invitation to Kill is "a rather fascinating" detective novel – possessing "fair play plotting, wit aplenty and a felicitous style." Curt ended the review with "an invitation to republish," but nothing has materialized ten years later. 

The Anthony Boucher Chronicles: Reviews and Commentary, 1942-47 (2001/09) is a treasure trove to pad out lists, like these, but one review that has always stood out to me is Marion K. Sanders and Mortimer S. Edelstein's The Bride Laughed Once (1943). Alternatively published as Death Wears Skis in the 1951 Winter issue of 2 Detective Mystery Novels Magazine. Boucher praised the story about the stabbing of a playboy at a ski resort as "a thoroughly sound detective in the classical mold” strongly recommended "to the formally puzzle-minded and to fans of winter sports." Sounds like a gem of a whodunit waiting to be rediscovered! 

On the very same page of The Anthony Boucher Chronicles, there's a review of Ruth Darby's Murder with Orange Blossoms (1943) about ex-detective Peter Barron and narrator-wife Janet investigate the murder of a bride – who drops dead en route to the altar. Boucher called the book "slick and relentlessly amusing" with a Long Island society setting. Something tells me Murder with Orange Blossoms could be in the same league as The Frightened Stiff (1942) and Sailor, Take Warning! (1944) by Kelley Roos. I would also like to see Darby's Death Boards the Lazy Lady (1939) and Death Conducts a Tour (1940), If This Be Murder (1941) and Beauty Sleep (1942) return to print. What a shame Rue Morgue Press closed down, because Darby sounds like the kind of mystery writer they would have loved to reprint.

Speaking of Rue Morgue Press, when they closed down, they left behind several obscure, but great, mystery writers who were never picked up by other publishers. Clyde B. Clason is a notable example who was only two reprints away to have had all his detective novels brought back in print. I would very much like to add copies of Clason's The Fifth Tumbler (1936) and The Whispering Ear (1938) to my (locked room) library. Same goes for Glyn Carr. I really looked forward to the RMP reprints of A Corpse at Camp Two (1954), Murder of an Owl (1956), The Ice Axe Murders (1958) and Lewker in Tirol (1967) that would never come.

Horatio Winslow and Leslie Quirk's Into Thin Air (1928) and Anthony and Peter Shaffer's Withered Murder (1956) can be counted among the most well-known of the elusive locked room mystery novels, which have been out-of-print for decades and available copies tend to cost a leg and an arm. John Norris, of Pretty Sinister Books, praised Withered Murder as "a diabolically clever and often sardonically funny murder mystery" deserving of being reprinted, while the Death Can Read blog declared Into Thin Air "mandatory for those who love the genre." All we need is a kindly publisher to provide us with freshly printed copies.

The blog of John Norris has three tags, "bizarre murder methods," "neglected detectives" and "obscure writers," representing another treasure trove of long-forgotten mystery writers and detective novels that have been out-of-print for a very long time – sometimes the better part of a century. Some of the mysteries John discussed stood out more than others. One of those standouts is Frederica de Laguna's academic mystery novel, The Arrow Points to Murder (1937), which "makes use of anthropological forensic science and unusual poison experiments in a way like no other detective novel." And the storytelling "replete with anthropological lectures, curious tidbits and tangential scientific trivia all related to museum work." Such an intelligent, absorbing piece of detective fiction needs to be reprinted! Sue MacVeigh's Murder Under Construction (1939) caught my attention for the same reason as Darby's Murder with Orange Blossoms, but also for its setting and authentic background in civil engineering. That makes her second and third novels, Grand Central Murder (1939) and Streamlined Murder (1940), all the more enticing. Reginald Davis and his only three detective novels have become pretty obscure over the decades, but John's reviews of The Crowing Hen (1936) and Nine Days' Panic (1937) argue a good case for reprinting. Same goes for Robert Hare's "three works of ingenious crime fiction" and John Donovan's short-lived Sgt. Johnny Lamb series and his standalone mystery, The Dead Have No Friends (1952). I could go on mentioning writers discussed on Pretty Sinister Books, like Charles Ashton, Christopher Hale and Victor Luhrs, but you get the idea.

Lester Heath's The Case of the Aluminum Crutch (1963) is a juvenile mystery and the only published account from The Casebook of "Sherlock" Jones, which appears on the surface to be standard story of this kind with a Sherlockian touch, but a teaser of the plot suggests otherwise ("the boy's crutch lay at the foot of the tree. The door to the tree house was locked—from the inside. Yet no one was there"). The only review that can be found online compares the book to The Three Investigator series and how "Sherlock" Jones can pass for a cousin Jupiter Jones. And that should be more than enough to get Jim's attention. 

Eunice Mays Boyd was an American writer who wrote only three detective novels, Murder Breaks Trail (1943), Doom in the Midnight Sun (1944) and Murder Wears Mukluks (1945), which are all set in Alaska with "its ghosttowns, its echoes of the rugged goldrush era and its eerie midnight sun" – all three strike me as potential gems of the regional mystery novel. So was Boyd the Elspeth Huxley or Arthur Upfield of Alaska? A fresh print-run could answer that question.

During the early days of this blog, I reviewed a truly weird locked room mystery, Joseph B. Carr's The Man With Bated Breath (1934), which reads like an alternate universe version of John Dickson Carr and has a bizarro world, pot-smoking rendition of Dr. Gideon Fell as the detective. Some thought it might actually be a hitherto unknown Carr novel and it wouldn't have been the first time one turned up (e.g. Devil Kinsmere, 1934), but Douglas Greene argued against the possibility. Unfortunately, his comments posted on the old GADetection Group have since fallen prey to internet decay. I'm still very curious about Joseph B. Carr's first detective novel, Death Whispers (1933). Now that the real Carr is returning to print, The Man With Bated Breath and Death Whispers make for interesting companion pieces. 

Anthony Berkeley and Mignon G. Eberhart have been slipping in-and out-of-print for the past two decades, but Berkeley's Top Storey Murder (1931) and Eberhart's From This Dark Stairway (1931) continue to elude me. I have good hope Top Storey Murder will eventually get published again as part of the British Library Crime Classics series, but From This Dark Stairway is probably going to be a different story.

It's an old, tired running joke around these parts Jim and I agree about once or twice a month, if that. So following up on any of his recommendations is always a risky venture, but I can't deny his reviews of James Ronald, "a writer of no small talent," has failed to intrigue me. Slapping four-star and five-star ratings on Six Were to Die (1932), Murder in the Family (1936), They Can't Hang Me (1938) and This Way Out (1939). James Ronald strikes me as being in the same category as other pulp writers, like Theodore Roscoe, who wrote some first-rate detective fiction and reprints will be welcomes with open arms. He also wrote the tantalizingly-titled The Sealed Room Murder (1934), under the name Michael Crombie, which is another one that needs to be republished. 

Val Gielgud was an actor, director, broadcaster and mystery novelist who was "a pioneer of radio drama for the BBC" and "directed the first ever drama to be produced in the newer medium of television," which provided an authentic backdrop to a number of his detective novels – like Death at Broadcasting House (1934) and The First Television Murder (1940). So you would think that would be enough to keep at least his radio-and television themed mysteries in print, but the last time Death at Broadcasting House appeared in print was a 1994 large print edition. Most of his other novels have (I think) never been reprinted. Another early media mystery that probably merits reprinting is The Studio Murder Mystery (1929) by A.C. and Carmen Edington. An American husband-and-wife team who wrote three more mysteries, Murder to Music (1930), The Monkshood Murders (1931) and Drum Madness (1934), which have not been reprinted since their original publication. For the same reason, I would like to see reprints of Alfred Eichler's Murder in the Radio Department (1943) and Death at the Mike (1946). 

I can't remember how Basil Francis came to my attention, but he was theatrical manager and historian (Fanny Kelly of Drury Lane, 1950) who wrote eight detective novels between 1935 and 1954. Francis appears to be fairly typical example of one those little-known, now completely forgotten Golden Age writers who wrote mysteries with such titles as The Holiday Camp Murder (1939), Death on the Roof (1946) and Death on the Atoll (1948). But his last novel might turn out to be an interesting piece of meta-fiction and genre commentary. Apparently, Death in Act IV (1954) is a published stage play (never performed?) concerning the six members of the London Crime Circle. So a potentially interesting name for the British Library or Dean Street Press to rescue from biblioblivion. 

H.C. Branson is another writer who's completely forgotten today, but he's supposed to be good a writer and plotter with The Pricking Thumb (1942) and The Case of the Giant Killer (1942) apparently being among his better works.

I tried to not to let the locked room mystery and impossible crime genre dominate the list, but it would foolish to pretend Robert Adey's Locked Room Murders (1991) and Brian Skupin's Locked Room Murders: Supplement (2019) aren't the paper and ink incarnation of my wishlist. So let's go over some choices highlighted and listed in Adey and Skupin. Oh, come on, you knew it was coming! Yes, I'll try to keep it as brief as possible.

Adey listed some truly obscure, rarely reprinted writers and novels in his introduction. The first title is a very early one, Fred M. White's "Who Killed James Trent?" (1901), which was serialized in Pearson's Weekly and has "a rising young novelist," Jasper Carr, acting as detective. Adey called it "an amazing coincidence and an unconscious pointer to an author yet to come." The story should be in the public domain, but is nowhere to be found online while a lot of White's other fiction is easily accessible. Typical! Another intriguing-sounding locked room mystery that's in the public domain and nowhere to be found is W.A. Mackenzie's Flower O' the Peach (1916). One of those exceedingly rare WWI era mysteries! Charles Chadwick's The Cactus (1925) and The Moving House Foscaldo (1926), "both are well worth reading," can be added to the list of (possible) public domain works missing in action. Scobie Mackenzie's Three Dead, One Hurt (1934) is "an almost Buchanesque tale of an oddly assorted group of people marooned on a Scottish island" with a "clever locked room situation" marking it out "as something a little different." Francis Leslie's Study of Death (1943) merited a special mention on account of "a genuinely clever and original locked room gimmick." There are over 2000 entries in Locked Room Murders and not everyone was specially mentioned in the introduction, but some nevertheless stood out to me for one reason or another.

The first item listen in Locked Room Murders can almost be described as a glitch in the matrix, Jacques Aanrooy's Off the Track (1895), in which Donald Fraser solves a stabbing in a locked surgery and was published in South Africa by J.C. Juta & Co – which makes entry 1098 a little spooky. Sir Henry Juta's Off the Track (1925) has a detective, named Ronald Fraser, solving a stabbing in a locked consulting room. No idea whether it's "one of those amazing coincidences" or whether there's a story behind, but I would like to see them back in print. Even more so, if they turn out to be completely different, unconnected detective stories. James Street's Carbon Monoxide (1937) caught my attention and breath, because I thought I had found an unknown, completely overlooked John Rhode novel hiding in plain sight. The impossible situation (carbon monoxide poisoning in a locked garage) struck me as Rhodean, but James Street turned out to be the pseudonym of Michael Majolier who also wrote Death in an Armchair (1937). Charles Ashton is listed with three novels, Death Greets a Guest (1936), Here's Murder Done (1943) and Dance for a Dead Uncle (1948), which all sound great and are criminally out-of-print! Same goes for Hugh Austin's quartet of Peter Quint novels, It Couldn't Be Murder (1935), Murder in Triplicate (1935), Murder of a Matriarch (1936) and The Upside Down Murders (1937). Nigel Burnaby's The Clue of the Green-Eyed Girl (1935) presents another tantalizing impossible crime, murder in a beach hut surrounded by unmarked sand, but this one, too, is shamefully out-of-print. Same goes for Wallace Jackson's The Zadda Street Affair (1934). I could go on, and on, but let's move on to Skupin's Locked Room Murders: Supplement.

Right off the bat, Skupin's introduction throws a mouthwatering, out-of-print locked room mystery at the reader, Terror at Compass Lake (1935) by Tech Davis. A mystery of a dead "that was neither murder, suicide nor natural death" and offers "a new twist on the locked room mystery." Eugene V. Brewster's Surprise Party Murder (1936) reportedly has a "sophisticated solution" to a reversal on the traditional locked room situation: a man denies entering the study of his uncle "despite the accounts of multiple witnesses." William F. Temple's The Dangerous Edge (1951) briefly appeared in print during the early 2000s, but has since gone back to obscurity and it has to be reprinted as its packed with impossible disappearances and miraculous thefts committed by “a master thief who announces his thefts in advance.” Also "worthy of note," Maisie Birmingham's extremely rare The Mountain by Night (1997). Birmingham wrote three novels in the 1970s and self-published her last novel in '90s, which at the time probably meant that copies were circulated privately. So copies are not easy to find, but that was once the case with Derek Smith's Come to Paddington Fair (1997). So, hopefully, John Pugmire can track down a copy and have it properly published.

There are some interesting titles listed in Skupin that might warrant reprinting. Esther Fonseca's The Thirteenth Bed in the Ballroom (1937) concerns "death by carbon monoxide poisoning of one girl in a dormitory when all other girls were unaffected," but available copies can be described as nonexistent. Very little can be found about it online. Sinclair Gluck's Sea Shroud (1934) has a locked room situation that invites further investigation, "stabbing in a room locked and bolted on the inside" and "a hole from a rifle shot" in the barred window, but apparently copies are ultra rare. Stephen Gould's Murder of the Admiral (1936) is the first of only two novel-length cases about a striking pulp hero, Sheridan Doome, who has to figure out how someone could have been shot in a ship's cabin under observation. The book was also published under the name Steve Fisher. I've no special reason to list Charles Reed Jones' The Van Norton Murders (1931), except that it could very well be one of the earliest parody or pastiche of S.S. van Dine and Philo Vance on record. Herman Landon's Death on the Air (1929) has three people die "apparently by the playing of a song," which is one of a handful of intriguing locked room mysteries he wrote. Such as Mystery Mansion (1928) and Murder Mansion (1928), published respectively UK and US, which are nearly identical except that "the solutions are quite different." Three Brass Elephants (1930) concerns the disappearance of an entirely room. This author appeared on my radar after reading The Back-Seat Murder (1931) in 2019. Jason Manor's Too Dead to Run (1953) has one of those magic bullet puzzles that rarely fail to fascinate me. Ning Xu's Murder at the Drum Tower (1994) was translated and published in English, but, today, copies are nowhere to be found.

Just to rattle off some random titles that caught my eye: Anthony Gilbert's The Tragedy at Freyne (1927), E.C.R. Lorac's Murder in St. John's Wood (1934), George Bagby's Ring Around a Murder (1936), John Bentley's The Dead Do Talk (1944), B.C. Black's The Draughtsman's Pen (c. 1948), Theodore Brace's Death Goes in a Trailer (1950) and Nigel Brent's The Leopard Died Too (1957). And more Anthony Wynne reprints like The Case of the Gold Coins (1933) and Emergency Exit (1941).

So here you have a very tiny, minuscule selection from the near Earth planetoid, known as my personal wishlist, which for one reason or another captured my imagination, but annoyingly remain out of reach. And would welcome reprints with open arms. But then again, that was said about a lot detective novels writers and novels since discussed on this blog. Let's press on with the Renaissance!

15 comments:

  1. I thought I could feel something weird in the air; should have realised that it was about due time you and I agreed on something...

    A great selection of potential here; it remains fascinating to me just how much remains untouched despite the wealth of reprints we've taken such delight in recently. Anyone interesting in reprinting the Golden Age isn't going to run out of material any time soon!

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    1. And here I was, thinking it had something to do with the weather.

      I've said this before many, many times, but the sheer size and scope of detective fiction produced during the first half of the previous century will never cease to amaze and surprise me. Every time you think you've a pretty good idea what's out there, someone finds some long-forgotten writer or obscure mysteries in desperate need of reprints. See Nick's comment below.

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  2. Thanks for this list of tempting titles including the Carr ones (Glyn and Joseph). I did enjoy Austin's Murder of of a Matriarch, Eberhardt's Stairway, three of the James Ronald titles, a few from Christopher Hale as well as well as from John Donovan, but the rest of your list and much of Nick's from last year is new to me.

    Is it possible that we should re-name GAD to iGAD = immense or infinite Golden Age of Detection as the titles that could be re-printed seem limitless.

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    1. Like I said, the size and amount of GAD is staggering, but an infinite amount is perhaps asking a little too much from the genre. Even if it feels like it has the size, mass en density of a star. Hey, what about Golden, Star-like Detective Fiction (GSDF)?

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  3. That's certainly more than an addendum! Lots of intriguing stuff here, much of it unknown to me.

    Shaffer's Withered Murder needs to be reprinted. It's as flamboyantly fantastical and fearsome as a Father Brown case, and as brilliantly clued and surprising as a Carr.

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    1. You make me wish the British Library had reprinted Withered Murder first instead of The Woman in the Wardrobe.

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  4. Hello, you can find Anthony Wynne's Emergency Exit on the Internet Archive.

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    1. That one has already been taking care off, but thanks for the heads up, Anon.

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  5. Read the latest PSB post I just published. I'm transforming from a reviewer to a a reprint publisher!! Your wishes may be coming true over the next couple of years.

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    1. Impeccable timing, John! I dump my personal wishlist under the title "Curiosity is Killing the Cat" and, a mere day later, you not only announce your going to become an indie publisher, but that Agora Books is going to reprint a mystery titled Curiosity Killed the Cat. That's the kind of coincidence we would call "stretching," if we came across it in a detective story.

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  6. I do however have some sad news about James Ronald. Debra Riley of Moonstone Press tried valiantly to get the rights to five of his books, including They Can't Hang Me. After dealing with one member of his family (a great niece) and seeming to get to the the finish line others got wind of the plan then emailed Debra and put a stop to it all. They told her that they do not have fond memories of the man and they would prefer if he were not back in print. It's very disheartening that his checkered personal life and a few 'scandalous' escapades (one of which involved tax evasion) are enough to embarrass his lineage so much that they won't allow his books back in print. Makes me burn. But what can you do?

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    1. I assume they don't need the money, if they block the reprints on principle. So why not reprint the books and donate their royalties to charity? That way, something good and positive can be extracted from the work of a deeply flawed, perhaps even downright unpleasant person. You can include a frank introduction to the new edition to explain the situation and why part of the proceeds will be donated to charity.

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  7. Coachwhip reprinted the Edingtons, I should know I wrote the intros.

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    1. You're right! I overlooked the Coachwhip reprint of the Edington's The House of the Vanishing Goblets, which sounds fascinating even for a thriller, but The Studio Murder Mystery and their three 1930s detective novels remain out-of-print to this day. But maybe Coachwhip has plans to continue the Edington reprints?

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    2. Oh, I guess that's right. I remember reading The Studio Murder Mystery, I think there was a copyright issue. I've never seen Drum Madness!

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