Sunday, July 16, 2017

"That Mysterious Individual Mrs. Victor Rickard": Jessie Louisa Rickard (1876-1963), Crime Writer?

In the summer of 1939, as Europe sped toward a calamitous conflagration, English mystery writer John Street (aka John Rhode, Miles Burton and Cecil Waye) was undergoing an ordeal of his own: editing the Detection Club anthology known as Detection Medley. (Street chose this title over such doozies as Detective's Ditty-bag and Detection Pie, phlegmatically writing Dorothy L. Sayers of that last precious pair and some others, like Here's to Jack Ketch,"I can't say that I am personally in love with any of them.")

As editor of the collection, Street was tasked with trying to track down all of the current Detection Club members (nearly forty people), seeking from them contributions to the, erm, ditty-bag.  Street had particular trouble locating several members, including the person he dryly termed "that mysterious individual Mrs. Victor Rickard." Just as Mrs. Rickard was to her fellow Detection Club members in the 1930s, she has remained an elusive presence today within the mystery fiction genre, being far better known for her marriage to Victor Rickard and her Great War fiction than for her crime writing.

Jessie Louisa Moore Rickard
1876-1963
Mrs. Victor Rickard was born Jessie Louisa ("Louie") Moore in Dublin, Ireland, in 1876.  She was the daughter of Reverend Canon Courtenay Moore (1840-1922)--a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, enthusiastic cyclist and amateur archaeologist and, during Jessie's youth, rector of Mitchelstown in County Cork (he later became Canon of Cloyne)--and his wife, the native Scottish Jessie Mona Duff, a granddaughter of Garden Duff, 8th Laird of Hatton and master of Hatton Castle.*

*(Canon Moore was not a fortune hunter, for some time before her marriage Jessie's father, Captain Benjamin Duff of the 92nd Gordon Highlanders, had been disinherited by his father, who, in classic terminology, was "dissatisfied with his conduct.")

Hatton Castle was in the news recently when the Duff family put it up for sale after over three centuries of ownership. Some news sources pointedly noted at the time that the family was deeply displeased with the actions of the SNP, or Scottish National Party.

Hatton Castle

Courtenay Moore was, notes John Hayes (in "C. S. Lewis and a Chronicle of the Moores," Irish University Review, 2009), a progressive man for his time in some ways, advocating "change in respect to Irish land tenure...Home Rule, and the fostering of Gaelic, in public lectures and articles."

Moore published two novels, served as vice-president of Royal Society of Antiquaries in Ireland and edited the Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette, the Anglican newspaper in Ireland. Rather less progressively, he also opposed his daughter Louie's divorcing of first her husband to marry the Catholic Victor Rickard, and left her out of his will.  (Louie Moore would herself convert to Catholicism in 1925, three years after her father's death.)

The youngest of Courtenay and Jessie Moore's children, Louie Moore had two brothers and a sister (another sister died in infancy), the brothers being Alexander Duff Moore, future Archdeacon of Glendalough, and Courtenay Edward Moore, a civil engineer who married Jane ("Janie") King Askins, daughter of Reverend Canon William James Askins.

CS Lewis
Before their separation in 1907 Edward Moore and his wife Janie had two children, Edward ("Paddy") Francis Courtenay Moore and Maureen ("Daisy") Helen Moore.

Paddy Moore was a roommate of author and theologian C. S. Lewis during the pair's wartime army training at Keble College, Oxford; and at the altogether too young age of 19 he was killed in France during the last year of the Great War.

After the war Lewis lived with Paddy's mother Janie Moore (many Lewis authorities believe Lewis had a sexual relationship with the more than two decades older Janie, who never returned to her husband, Louie Moore's brother, whom she bluntly dubbed as "The Beast") and her daughter, Daisy, a future baronetess (one of only four in British history) through her Duff family lineage.

C. S Lewis, it has been pointed out by scholar John Hayes, shared a markedly similar personal background to the Moores: the Lewises and Moores, he notes, "were Irish, Anglican, markedly clerical, and literary."

Let's move on to the most literary Moore, Jessie Louisa Moore, future crime writer.  In 1901 Louie Moore married Robert Dudley Innes Ackland, but the couple divorced in 1907 (provoking a rift with her father), after Jessie had given birth to a daughter. A lieutenant in the King's Liverpool Regiment in September 1914, Ackland was dismissed, for reasons unknown to me, from the service the next month, rejoining the army as a private in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Whatever his personal faults, he gave his life for his country, becoming one of the last soldiers killed in action at Gallipoli in 1916.

Victor Rickard
1873-1915
Louie Moore next wed Lieutenant-Colonel Victor George Howard Rickard in 1908 and the couple had a son together.  He too would die in action in the First World War, in France in 1915.  Louie married one more time, this time to Tudor Fitzjohn, whom she divorced. In contrast with Louie's first two husbands, he survived the Great War, in which he fought valiantly, passing away a year before Louie at the age of 87.

At his death on May 9, 1915 at the Battle of Aubers Ridge, characterized as an "unmitigated disaster for the British" (in part because of the poor condition of British artillery and ammunition, a fact which precipitated the so-called Shell Crisis of 1915), Lt-Col Victor Rickard was leading an advance out of the trenches by the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers, which he had commanded since February 6. 

Fifteen paces from the British lines he was killed instantly by a bullet to the spinal column in his neck. Despite 151 deaths of officers and men, the battalion managed to capture German trenches, the only unit to manage this feat on that day, though they soon were forced to withdraw.

The day before the attack Rickard had halted his men at Rue Du Bois, before a roadside shrine (the altar of a war-shattered family chapel), in order to speak to them about the forthcoming battle; afterward the men received absolution from their pastor, the beloved Father Francis Gleeson, a moment commemorated in a famous painting commissioned by Jessie Moore Rickard, "The Last General Absolution of the Munsters at Rue du Bois," by Italian artist Fortunino Matania.

Last Absolution of the Munsters
Father Gleeson on horseback in foreground
Lt.-Col.Victor Rickard on horseback in background

Widowed and with a daughter and son to support, Louie Rickard, nearly forty years old, turned to her pen to make her way.  She had actually published two novels before the outbreak of the war: Young Mr. Gibbs (1912), a comedy, and Dregs (1914), described as a "psychological" novel.  In 1915 she published The Story of the Munsters, about her husband's battalion, following it with a trio of popular and critically well-received war novels: The Light above the Crossroads (1916), The Fire of Green Boughs (1918) and The House of Courage (1919).  She became a great friend of Hazel, Lady Lavery, an American-born artist and the second wife of celebrated Irish portraitist Sir John Lavery.

Louie's novel A Fool's Errand (1921), introduced crime and adventure elements into her oeuvre, yet it was not until the mid-Twenties, with Upstairs (1925) and Not Sufficient Evidence (1926), the latter drawn from the real life Charles Bravo case, that Louie Rickard really made a splash in crime fiction.  Other novels by her with definite criminous aspects are The Mystery of Vincent Dane (1929, The Baccarat Club in the US), The Dark Stranger (1930), The Empty Villa (1930) and Murder by Night (1936).

Jessie Moore Rickard published at least 26 novels between 1912 and 1936, roughly one a year.  After the publication of Murder by Night, however, Louie's production declined drastically.

On the strength of her small output of crime fiction (excluding Murder by Night), which probably accounted for less than a fifth of her novels, Louie Rickard was invited to become a charter member of the Detection Club: a testament, surely, to the respect her fellow authors (or at least some of them) had for her reputation as a serious writer. 

The crime novels by her that I have read are works more reminiscent of mature Ruth Rendell than, say, Agatha Christie; and I'll have more to say about them this month.

As John Street's letter indicates, Louie Rickard seems to have had little, if anything, to do with the Detection Club in which she had accepted membership.  Like other older Detection Club members in the 1940s, she suffered from increasing infirmity and in 1948 she returned to her native Ireland, settling in Cork.  She died in 1963 and since then seems to have been almost entirely forgotten by posterity, except as a Great War lady novelist and as, as her official author name suggested, the wife of the fallen hero Victor Rickard.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

"Not a Blah": Plot It Yourself (1959), by Rex Stout

"There is something about the idea of a very successful author stealing his material from an unsuccessful author that seems to appeal to ordinary people, and juries are made up of ordinary people."

                                --Thomas Dexter, publishing executive, Plot It Yourself (1959)

"....I can't dismiss the possibility that one or more of the supposed victims is a thief and a liar.  'Most writers steal a good thing when they can' is doubtless an--"
"Blah!" Mortimer Oshin exploded.
Wolfe's brows went up.  "That was in quotation marks, Mr. Oshin.  It was said, or written, more than a century ago by Barry Cornwall, the English poet and dramatist.  He wrote Mirandola, a tragedy performed at Covent Garden with Macready and Kemble.  It is doubtless an exaggeration, but it is not a blah.  If there had been then in England a National Association of Authors and Dramatists, Barry Cornwall would have been a member."

                                --Plot It Yourself (1959)

In Plot It Yourself The National Association of Authors and Dramatists, or NAAD, is in a pickle, and has come to Nero Wolfe, Great Detective, to get them out of it.  Several of their more successful members have been hit with plagiarism allegations and are being sued for heavy damages by their accusers.  NAAD, and the accused individual members, insist the claims are fraudulent, but there is, or seems to be, considerable damning evidence against them, in the form of similar manuscripts that were written by the accusers and submitted to the publishers of the later, successful, works.  Did the authors and publishers shelve and then steal this intellectual property, or are they the victims of a clever criminal enterprise?


The more I read of Rex Stout, the more I'm convinced that of all the writers working within the mystery genre it was he who was the greatest chronicler of elite corporate culture in mid-century America--what we might call "Mad Men culture," though I think Stout can be said to have written, with a few exceptions, his best books before the 60s (at least, surely, before Woodstock).  Perhaps this is why academics and literary critics have tended not to be that interested in him, in contrast with enduring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin fans.  He doesn't write so much of dark mean streets, but of scheming corporate cheats.  And I find it fascinating.

As social history and simply as pure entertainment, I don't rank Plot it Yourself as highly as I do And Be a Villain (1948), Stout's delightful and hilarious take on commercial radio and corporate sponsors, but it's still a satisfyingly solid and engrossing entry into the Wolfe canon.  The first half of the novel moves a bit slowly, but in the second half the bodies begin really to pile up, as a ruthless killer seeks to block every one of Nero Wolfe's gambits by mercilessly sacrificing human pawns on the crime chessboard. It's a bit like Game of Thrones even!

Rex Stout named one of his Wolfe novels Gambit and they really do feel like chess games, as Wolfe from his brownstone fastness shrewdly maneuvers to collar a killer and collect his fee.  I've read commentators dismiss Stout as a plotter, but PIY has a good plot, and it's a fair play plot.

Late in the novel Wolfe's legman, Archie, even essentially offers us what is in effect an Ellery Queenian "challenge to the reader," where he tells us that he, Archie, should have seen the solution as his employer has, because the main clue was presented to him, and he assumes the reader has had the sense to see it. (I hadn't!)  This is the definition of fair play.  Frugally clued fair play, to be sure, but still fair play.

Plagiarism--the use of another's words, ideas and work without attribution--is an interesting subject to me, as I have mentioned previously, and Stout treats it much more authoritatively than Josephine Bell would two decades later.  (Had someone ever tried to accuse him of it?  He was certainly a successful author!) 

I enjoyed seeing Wolfe spotting similarities in author's texts by checking for duplicated usages of phrases and other matters of style.  This was what convinced me a few years ago that Anthony Gilbert was the woman who completed Annie Haynes' The Crystal Beads Murder (1930).  I believe this still, even though I have been challenged by the eminent modern crime fiction writer and critic Martin Edwards.  Gilbert really liked the phrase "flotsam and jetsam," I'm just telling you!  I believe Nero Wolfe would agree, and, as Archie says, he's a genius.

see Keble College, Oxford
In PIY Wolfe reviews at length how the phrase "not for nothing" is used repeatedly in the supposedly plagiarized manuscripts, leading Archie to quip, "Not for nothing did you read the stories."  This is main reason why, in the eyes of most fans, the Wolfe canon has endured: Archie and Nero and their wonderful, witty banter. 

Without that (and Archie's narration) PIY would be a solid enough plotted example of a mid-century American mystery, but it wouldn't be nearly as memorable as a novel, even with the asides about plagiarism.  With Archie and Nero it is memorable indeed. 

There's also a splendid burn Wolfe blasts Inspector Cramer with, but I'll leave you to spot it yourself, if you will (if you haven't read the book already).  As much as I dislike Wolfe's self-centered eccentricities sometimes, the perpetually blustering, stogie-chomping Inspector Cramer is vastly more objectionable and I always enjoy seeing Wolfe (and Archie, though his victim seems more often to be Sergeant Purley) score off him.

Coming soon on the subject of plagiarism, possibly the most egregious example of it in the history of mystery publishing.  And it happened at the height of the Golden Age of detective fiction!  Stay tuned, I shall blog it myself.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Gathering of Gumshoes: Murder in Pastiche (1954), by Marion Mainwaring, Part Three

For the previous post on Marion Mainwaring's Murder in Pastiche, see here.

Before saying a fond goodbye to the Florabunda--where, you will recall, hateful syndicated columnist Paul Price has been murdered--and coming ashore, let's look at the last two detectives to investigate the case.

Mallory King
Most recent Ellery Queen novel at the time
The Scarlet Letters (1953)


searching for a pattern
The meaning of the scarf and pipe found under Price's body was incontrovertible.  They were symbols--the pipe in a punning way.  The murder was symbolic!

Mallory grinned at him.  "I haven't gone crazy.  At least I don't think so.  I'm just working on the suspects' names anagrammatically.

"I see..."

But Mallory, out of kindness, explained: "I mean, I rearrange the letters....Often names provide vital clues, you know.  They can influence character.  In one of my cases there were two brothers, called Kane and Judah:
their real names were Cain and Judas!

Turning from Spike Bludgeon (Mike Hammer) to Mallory King (Ellery Queen) in Murder in Pastiche is apt to give one whiplash, but it's truly striking, to be sure, how well Marion Mainwaring captures the styles and themes of both authors.

With Spike she gave us a typical Mickey Spillane revenge plot, with the tough guy dick--whose profound sense of disgruntlement with his lot in life and resentment against elites and "others" would have made him a wonderful focus group voter in last year's election--punching his way to a solution (though his paranoia leads him utterly, hilariously astray).

I feel so symbolic....
For his part, Mainwaring's cerebral Mallory King immediately starts searching for obscure symbols and strange patterns in the case. As he explains to the First Officer:

"My cases...always have some underlying pattern; some theme, some motif which unites and gives meaning to details which, on the surface, seem merely arbitrary and fantastic."

The first officer nodded intelligently.

"For instance, in one case the killer used the concept of the chain of evolution, working up from the murder of frogs, and dogs, and so on, to Man.  Another, with an Old Testament complex, used the scheme of the Ten Commandments. This time--"

"Yes?" Mr. Waggish asked eagerly.

"This time--Darn it," Mallory said plaintively.  "I simply don't know."


But Mallory sticks with it, and he begins to see the light, or what he fervidly imagines is light.

Concerning Ellery Queen, the ex-academic Mainwaring has a lot of fun with EQ half Frederic Dannay's obsession with patterns and symbols, so manifest in then-recent EQ fiction, like The Origin of Evil (1951), specifically referenced above by Mainwaring. Recalling another recent EQ novel, Double, Double (1950), the nursery rhyme The Farmer in the Dell even gets a workout--a very thorough workout!  It's a bravura performance by Mainwaring, even if EQ's brilliance leads him astray. Mainwaring leaves it to another detective to resolve the affair.

Lord Simon Quinsey
Most recent Lord Peter Wimsey novel at the time
Busman's Honeymoon (1937)


the gentleman is cogitatin', don't you know
A fleeting melancholy crossed Quinsey's long face.  "I know.  Et ego in Arcadia, Mr. Waggish."

Lord Peter comes out of a seventeen year retirement (fifteen if one counts the few Lord Peter stories in the collection In the Teeth of the Evidence) in Murder in Pastiche, in the guise of Lord Simon Quinsey, accompanied by his loyal manservant, Bunter--er, I mean Punter.

This is another smart Mainwaring appellation, recalling Simon Peter, of course; and, as for the surname Quinsey: "The crest of the ducal family" is "a domestic cat crouched as to spring" and its motto is "Lest Quinsy take me." Clever woman, that Marion Mainwaring!

Pastiche Artist
Marion Mainwaring
Mainwaring, whom I suspect was a particular Peter Wimsey fan, has the aristocrat put his finger on the essential clue, making the solution of the case possible.  I wonder whether Dorothy L. Sayers ever read Murder in Pastiche?   Lord Peter's creator died three years after the original publication of Mainwaring's second detective novel, never having brought Lord Peter back into print with a new adventure, much to the disappointment of her loyal mystery readers.

However, thanks to Marion Mainwaring's brilliance as a pastiche writer, mid-century detective fiction fans got once again to see Lord Peter--or a close facsimile thereof--in sleuthing action, along with eight other famous British and American detectives who were still active at the time of Pastiche's publication.

Today, over six decades later later, Murder in Pastiche indeed reads like a return to Arcadia, to what many of us see as, if I may borrow the title for a brief moment, the Golden Age of Murder.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Gathering of Gumshoes: Murder in Pastiche (1954), by Marion Mainwaring, Part Two

For the previous post on Marion Mainwaring's Murder in Pastiche, see here.

The fifth detective to horn in on the most perplexing murder case aboard the Florabunda (the slaying of obnoxious syndicated columnist Paul Price) is

Trajan Beare
Most recent Nero Wolfe novel at the time
The Golden Spiders (1953)


It wasn't the group you'd have selected if you wanted a party, unless you hoped for another murder. Pictorially, it had a wide range, from Win and Dolores Despana, neither of them open to any real criticism, to Homer T. Anderson at the other end of the spectrum, looking like something from a 3-D horror film.

Yes, it's an excerpt from the notebook of Archie Goodwin--I mean Ernie Woodbin--right-hand man of Nero Wolfe--make that Trajan Beare.  Mainwaring really captures Archie's pricelessly snappy patter and the structure of the chapter, with Ernie having to cajole Beare into taking up the case and Beare getting all the suspects into his cabin before he announces his deductions, is pure Rex Stout.  Of course by all rights Beare should never have left his New York brownstone domain at all, but, Stout himself managed to break this rule of character a number of times too.

I have the same reaction to that man too sometimes.

Another example of how good Mainwaring is at capturing the authentic nature of "her" sleuths can be seen in the contrasting attitudes of some of the sleuths toward "exotic" actress Dolores Despana. Here's Ernie on the alluring subject:

Beare glared.  He may have recognized her [Dolores] from things I'd said, or he may not.  It didn't matter.  What with his general feeling about women, which is not favourable, and his being away from solid ground, I half expected him to say outright to get out; but he only looked at me in a way that meant I was to say it.

But I ignored him and looked at Dolores.  You could tell that two years ago she'd been buying clothes on Fourteenth Street, and that one year ago she kept a wad of chewing-gum in her cheek; but she was coming along fast and there was certainly nothing wrong with what the eye could see.  I said, "This is Miss Despana," and got her settled in a chair.


Sure Ernie gets in his digs at Dolores, but you get the feeling he might be willing give the actress a whistle, and certainly Ernie knows how to put his lips together and blow.  Broderick Tourneur (aka Roderick Alleyn), on the other hand:

The coarse mockery [from Dolores Despana] grated on Tourneur: nothing else in her composition, he thought, quite matched the miraculous finish of her complexion.  But he sensed something deep underneath the vulgarity.  She is afraid, he told himself.  She is truly, pitifully afraid.

This is in the style of classic Ngaio Marsh, I think: an author for whom murder was not so much a sin, as an error of taste, a social faux pas. Dolores is just too tacky for her oh-so-fastidious sleuth. (Of course by this time he has found a fitting mate in artist Agatha Troy.)

As for Spike Bludgeon's (aka Mike Hammer) reaction to Dolores, read on!

a nice cup of tea
Miss Fan Sliver
Most recent Miss Maud Silver novel at the time
The Silent Pool (1954)


Mr. Waggish looked at Miss Sliver with profound respect.  He asked: "How did you guess it?"
Miss Sliver coughed.  "It was not precisely 'guessing,' Mr. Waggish."


For the record Miss Fan Sliver coughs eleven times in twenty pages, so she more than lives up to her model in that respect.  Mainwaring again captures her sleuth well, but there is less humor in this chapter, probably because Miss Silver just doesn't seem that easy to broadly parody.  I mean, who on earth would dare?

Spike Bludgeon
Most recent Mike Hammer novel at the time
Kiss Me, Deadly (1952)


From the memoirs of Spike Bludgeon:
The fog was like sweat, great and damp and beady, and the ocean was like the grey cold gravy you get in Bowery hash-houses.  Looking in from the deck, the lights in the Lounge were warm and pretty, like twinkly bulbs on a Christmas tree, till you thought about the ship and you saw what it really was, a rotten tub with a cargo of dirt.  Human dirt.  A floating sewer.  The Florabunda.  A place where murder had been done.


Going from Patricia Wentworth to Mickey Spillane is like going from nibbling sandwiches at a ladies church tea to nibbling strippers at the Gold Club, but Mainwaring manages the feat with aplomb.  Her Spike Bludgeon (aka Mike Hammer) chapter is probably the most uproariously funny in the entire book, but then Spillane's psychotic Mike Hammer mysteries virtually compel parody.

All the other sleuths in the story make some contribution to actually solving the case, but Spike Bludgeon...well, read it for yourself.

Spike/Mike sure knows
how to charm a girl
Mainwaring allows Spike to violently twist the mystery into the usual Spillane revenge tale and of course that damn dame Dolores soon falls hard for Spike's irresistible attractions.

"You're so wonderful, Spike," she muttered, "All those ugly scars....your broken nose...and the ear that's chopped off...How could they do it, Spike?  How could anyone bear to hurt you?"
"The ones who did it are dead," I told her.  "People who cross me usually end up that way."


Mrs. Chip-Ebberly is another story, giving Spike "a look a that would have congealed a blast-furnace," so Spike decides to give the haughty Englishwoman "a good lesson in democracy."

Stay tuned for a look at the last two sleuth chapters, which detail the incredible deductions of Mallory King and Lord Simon Quinsey, as well as the novel's amazing conclusion.  Don't worry, it's all spoiler-free!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Gathering of Gumshoes: Murder in Pastiche (1954), by Marion Mainwaring Part One

My late internet friend, Helen Szamuely, with whom I had political disagreements in the last year I'll admit, wrote what I found a fascinating piece for the essay collection Mysteries Unlocked, titled Parody, Pastiche and Presentism in Mystery Fiction, in which she distinguished parody from pastiche as follows:

Detective fiction parody is a relatively straightforward affair.  As long as there is some memorable feature to the detective that can be exaggerated, there is potential for parody.  Leo Bruce's classic mystery novel Case for Three Detectives (1936) mirthfully parodies, as the title indicates, no less than three renowned Golden Age sleuths: Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown and Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey.  Yet among M. Poirot, Father Brown and Lord Peter, only the latter character to date has figured in pastiche novels.  [This was written before the advent of Sophie Hannah and HarperCollins' Poirot venture--TPT].  Of these two literary forms, parody and pastiche, arguably it is pastiche that offers the more daunting prospect.

While the literary parodist exaggeratedly portrays the work of another author in order to make the author's characters look ridiculous, the writer of pastiche attempts literally to accomplish what is proverbially the sincerest form of flattery, imitation....There no doubt can be true creative genius in pastiche; yet...there is also a pitfall to the form, namely its stifling of originality....


In his introduction to the 1989 edition of Marion Mainwaring's Murder in Pastiche: Or, Nine Detectives All at Sea (1954), mystery scholar Robin W. Winks (1930-2003) writes that the novel "is, quite obviously and entertainingly, a parody."  I don't disagree that the novel is extremely entertaining, but is it parody, or pastiche, or both?

Helen's distinctions are valuable here, I believe. I go as the title suggests: Murder in Pastiche is pastiche, for the most part, and a remarkable case of it at that.  However, there are moments when parody intrudes, most mirthfully.

New York Times book reviewer Anthony Boucher, undeniably one of the top authorities on the crime novel in mid-century America, put it well in his notice of Murder in Pastiche:

...no multiple [mystery fiction] pastiche has ever succeeded in dissecting each of its subjects with such wickedly flawless accuracy.  That anyone can catch each flaw and each virtue of the prose styles of authors as disparate as Michael Innes and Earle Stanley Gardner all but passes my belief--or that anyone can think a plot in precisely the manner of, in turn, Mickey Spillane and Ellery Queen.  The fullest enjoyment of this wondrous book may be limited to those who know intimately the annals of all nine detectives; but if you know even so much as one of them, I think you'll agree that this is a permanent addition--both as criticism and entertainment--to the detective bookshelf.

Inevitably, as Boucher indicated, your enjoyment of Pastiche should be directly related to your familiarity with the detectives who are the subjects of the pastiches, but the mystery plot itself is clever (if, just as inevitably I think, bookish) and the writing and characterization lively and fun; so any classic mystery fan, however experienced, should give the book a try, in my opinion.  You should have a fun time aboard this lively (and deadly) murder cruise. 

ship of sleuths
Yes, Murder in Pastiche is a mystery set on an ocean liner, RMS Florabunda, en route from Liverpool to New York. (Records show that Mainwaring herself traveled this route several times in the 1950s.)

I must say, incidentally, that I love cruise and train mysteries. Have I ever read a bad one? The only one I can recalling ever feeling meh about is Ngaio Marsh's Singing in the Shrouds, which, come to think of it, followed Mainwaring's novel by a only few years.  Indeed, I found it about as dull as Marsh's Seventies tour group mystery (another subgenre to itself), When in Rome.  But back to the review!

By some miraculous coincidence (?), there are no less than nine famous detectives on board the Florabunda:

Atlas Poireau
Sir Jon. Nappleby
Jerry Pason
Broderick Tourneur
Trajan Beare
Miss Fan Sliver
Spike Bludgeon
Mallory King
Lord Simon Quinsey

You likely can guess just whom all these people represent. (It's also a striking indicator of the times how few women Great Detectives are represented, though the Americans to British ratio among the sleuths is close indeed.) Who would be the nine 'tecs chosen today for a parody, I wonder?)

Pastiche is divided into three parts, the first part introducing the characters (with amusing introductory vignettes devoted to each detective) and ending swiftly with the murder of the most objectionable one. (Well, most objectionable after Spike Bludgeon, actually; more on him later.)  This dead 'un is the extremely influential and utterly noxious American scandal columnist Paul Price. (Walter Winchell?)

Potential suspects among the passengers and crew are numerous indeed and include, from the crew, the captain, who may or may not be insane; the ingenuously Watsonian first officer; the quite passionate purser and the ship doctor, a literature enthusiast who prefers devoting his time not to any patients but rather to the composition of his massive and passing awful classical epic poem, Tipptoppus and Gazella (Mainwaring includes hilarious extracts throughout the book). 

Among the dubious passengers there are the dead man's amateur psychologist niece, Winifred; a haughty English countrywoman, the Hon. Mrs. Chip-Ebberly; an exotic film actress, Dolores Despana; and an obnoxious American millionaire businessman (complete, in classic fashion, with unnecessary initial), Homer T. Anderson.

The middle section of the novel is devoted to the investigations each detective makes into the murder,  with one chapter devoted to each sleuth.

Atlas Poireau
Most recent Hercule Poirot mystery at the time
After the Funeral (1953)


Poireau was pained.  "But," he declared, "there is no such things as 'mystery,' mon cher.  There is only disorder!  To solve a crime, is only to use the logic: to restore misplaced details to their proper position."
...."And the details that will not fit? that are illogical?"
Poireau said severely: "In my cases there are no such things."

when it comes to killer cruises this ain't the little Belgian's first trip to the rodeo

Atlas Poireau's section reveals that Mainwaring, who later in life controversially finished Edith Wharton's unfinished novel, The Buccaneers, would have been admirably well-suited to continuing Agatha Christie's Poirot saga, now in the hands of crime writer Sophie Hannah.  Not only does Mainwaring get the Belgian's mannerisms just right, she fashions the chapter in shipshape Christie fashion, with Poireau focusing on the pretty young girl in the case, Winifred Price, and her shipboard love interest, the passionate purser.

Sir Jon. Nappleby
Most recent Sir John Appleby mystery at the time
A Private View (1951)

"And how did you discover what he was up to?...Did you use logic, and simply put misplaced details into place in the proper system?"
"It was rather a matter of pursuing certain themes from Wordsworth and Gray."
...."It must be hard to be a detective until one has read a great deal of poetry?"
"It is difficult to solve a case without a thorough knowledge of the classics and of modern European literature."  Nappleby considered.  "Indeed, I suspect that crime and indagation are not only inherently arcane, fantastic, and polysyllabic, but quintessentially allusive."


This is a high point of the novel, with the academic Mainwaring perfectly capturing the academic Michael Innes' learned, if not to say pretentious, style in his Sir John Appleby detective novels. Obscure, polysyllabic words and copious literary references are frequently found.  Indeed, Mainwaring shows she is no slouch herself in the highfalutin' vocabulary department:

you might need one of these
noumenally
lacunose
verecund
poetastrical
infuscation
speluncar
verjuice
titubating
sanguinolent tripudiation (whew!)

How many of those did you know?  It made me feel smarter just knowing they were in a book I was reading!

Mainwaring also brings in an espionage element (whether red or red herring I won't say), which dovetails with some of the Appleby fiction from the Forties and Fifties.

Jerry Pason
Most recent Perry Mason novel published at the time: 
The Case of the Fugitive Nurse (Feb. 1954)
The Case of the Runaway Corpse (June 1954)
(Erle Stanley Gardner was nothing if not prolific!  He would publish an additional Mason novel that year, in October: The Case of the Restless Redhead.  He seems to have been into ambulatory titles that year.)

Jerry Pason said cheerfully: "Well, it won't be long now, Stella.  One more week, and we'll be back in the good old U.S.A."
Stella Deet, Pason's attractive secretary, nodded.  They stood looking into the fog from the promenade deck of the R.M.S.
Florabunda.
"You certainly got a lot done in England, Chief," she said.  "No one but you could have handled that case so well!"
"I
had to do it well," Pason said, "when they sent to Los Angeles for me all the way from Peckham, England!"

"I've found out a lot about my client.  Enough to clear him!"
"Did you use poetry to find out?"
"Poetry?  Hell," said the lawyer.  "None of my cases have anything to do with
literature!"

but I only have eyes for you....

Of all the sleuths Mainwaring parodies I am least familiar with Perry Mason, in book form anyway. But the pastiche here seems solid to me.  Pason immediately gets a client, wealthy Homer T. Anderson, and determinedly sets out to clear him, with worshipful Stella Deet in tow.  The clear and convincing contrast between the ornate writing style of Innes and the penny plain (but plenty profitable) style of Gardner is a tribute to Mainwaring's astonishing mastery and versatility in this form.

Broderick Tourneur

Most recent Roderick Alleyn case published at the time
Spinsters in Jeopardy (1953 in the US)


The tall man stood back to let the others go by, top-heavy in their inflated rubber vests.  He himself retained his customary air of aloofness, elegance, and breeding; his delicately chiselled head emerged from the life-jacket like the head of a Velasquez nobleman from a ruff.

"....I love an English accent.  You're what they call a bobby, aren't you?"
Mr. Waggish was scandalized.  "Mr. Tourneur is a gentleman," he said, with an apologetic glance at Tourneur's superlative tailoring.  "
Everyone knows that!  Why, he went to Oxf--"
Tourneur lifted a thin hand in deprecation....

Is that the most important qualification for being a detective, would you say, Mr. Tourneur?
Tourneur reflected.  "That, and breeding.  One always has to ask oneself, 'How does a gentleman behave in this particular situation?'  Or--better still--'How would a lady consider that a gentleman ought to behave in this particular situation?"  And no handbooks, no rules, no police colleges can teach such things, he thought.


yes, I'm talking about you, my good man

For the surname of this detective Mainwaring presumably drew on Cyril Tourneur (not Jacques Tourneur!), a Jacobean English dramatist, thought by some to have been the author of The Revenger's Tragedy (1607).  for her part author Ngaio Marsh took "Alleyn" from Edward Alleyn, the prominent Elizabethan actor.

Mainwaring's portrayal of the painfully posh and precious Broderick Tourneur is another high point of this mountain range of a novel.  Some might see this portrayal as parody, but I think it's a perfectly pitched pastiche of Ngaio Marsh's crime writing, in my view easily the most affected of the English Crime Queens.  Marsh's Alleyn really is like this.

There are five more detectives left to look at, plus the conclusion of this very clever novel.  I'll be back soon!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

James Yaffe (1927-2017)

My introduction to James Yaffe (1927-2017), who passed away on June 7 at the age of 90, occurred twenty years ago when I bought a copy of Yaffe's short story collection, My Mother the Detective, published by Doug Greene's fine short mystery fiction imprint Crippen & Landru (now run by Jeffrey Marks, with input from Doug).  After John Dickson Carr's rediscovered radio play Speak of the Devil, the first Crippen & Landru books I bought were Yaffe's and the premier collection of Ed Hoch's Dr. Sam Hawthorne mysteries.  I loved both books and even ordered another copy of the Yaffe, this time in hardcover. (Here's a link to my review of the second C&L book in the Hawthorne series).

a young JamesYaffe with Fredric Dannay
of Ellery Queen fame
The hardcover edition of My Mother, the Detective includes a tipped-in edition of an early "impossible crime" story by Yaffe, "The Problem of the Emperor's Mushrooms." Yaffe was something of a mystery writing prodigy, publishing in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine between July 1943 and February 1946 (before he was even twenty years old), a half-dozen tales about the criminal investigations of policeman Paul Dawn, of the NYPD's rather fanciful "Department of Impossible Crimes."

These stories are, as Jon L. Breen explains in "Experimenters, Pioneers, Prodigies and Passers-By: Ten Detective Story Writers in Search of a Collection," an essay he wrote for Mysteries Unlocked (2014), a collection of essays published in honor of Doug Greene, "The Department of Impossible Crimes," "Mr. Kiroshibu's Ashes," "The Seventh Drink," "Cul de Sac," "The Problem of the Emperor's Mushrooms," and "The Comic Opera Murders."

"Mushrooms," which Jon Breen links with "The Comic Opera Murders" as the best of the Paul Dawn tales, is the only one that has actually been anthologized, I believe. (See the locked room mysteries website.)  I would love to see all of them published together, as would, obviously, Jon Breen.

Impossible crime mysteries seem to have been, if not the first mystery love of many of us fans, at least the sexy second, after the Sherlock Holmes tales of Arthur Conan Doyle.  This was the case with Yaffe, as the late author explains in his fascinating introduction to My Mother, the Detective; but it was not so with me, for my first mystery love, who smote me when I was all of eight, was Agatha Christie (followed by Sherlock Holmes).

I did not get around to John Dickson Carr, the undisputed master of miraculous murders, until 1989, when I was 23, but then I fell hard, trying to read everything by him I could find well into the 1990s. For me Carr will always represent a sort of last fling on my part with the romance of mystery fiction.  In the late 1990s I discovered the more stolid pleasures of the prosaic, though often quite ingenious, "Humdrum" mystery fiction of such authors as Cecil John Charles Street, and a little of the romance went out of it as I savored the drier delights of purely ratiocinative detective fiction.*

*(Street and Carr were, incidentally, great friends and in their own ways they both possessed a great deal of ingenuity, Carr in the creation of locked rooms and Street in the devising of fiendish murder means.  Carr was a far livelier writer, however--too much so, indeed, for mystery critic and aesthetic theorist Jacques Barzun, a great Street partisan.)

In his introduction Mother, James Yaffe explains that what initially attracted him in detective fiction was the puzzle, and that constructing ingenious puzzles was his aim in the stories of Paul Dawn and his Department of Impossible Crimes (which, though Yaffe doesn't say so, I assume was modeled after Carr's less ingenuously titled "Department of Queer Complaints.")  Writes Yaffe:

The absurdity of this concept is a dead giveaway to what was really happening.  The detective story to me, in that stage of my life, was the puzzle and nothing but the puzzle.  The excitement of unraveling the puzzle, which had been aroused in me by so many writers during my childhood, was pretty much all I was trying to reproduce in my own work.  It was a game and I was having a lot of fun with it.

....Sometimes I think I reached my peak of sheer cleverness at the age of seventeen in the last couple of Paul Dawn stories; it's been downhill ever since.

But the one thing those early stories never had was any connection with reality....It simply never occurred to me to base any of my characters on people I had known or observed, to draw on experiences I had actually had, to set the stories in a social world I had lived in.  Detective stories obviously had
no connection with reality; that was part of what made them fun.

I think this is one reason these sorts of stories attract to us so much when we are young, or at least comparatively so.  When we are young we haven't much experience of the social world to base any writing on, even were we inclined to do so.  But even when we are older these sorts of stories, so removed from the dull workaday world of reality, still have considerable escapist appeal.

Some of us consciously rejected mystery fiction when we turned to "serious" fiction in college, having matured, as we loftily imagined it, too much for the "juvenile" stuff.  Yaffe did this, as he explains in his introduction, as did Edgar award-winning critic and author Michael Dirda (as he explains in his essay in Mysteries Unlocked), as did I myself, I must admit.

My Mother, the Detective (1997, enl. ed. 2017)

Even though I've been working for the New York Homicide Squad almost five years, I still give a little shudder at the thought that someday somebody might discover my secret--specifically, that most of my successful cases were really solved by my mother.  

                                                                               --"Mom Makes a Bet"

After serving in the US navy at the tail end of World War Two and graduating summa cum laude from Yale University, Yaffe began a career of writing mainstream fiction, but the lure of the puzzle mystery still beckoned him. In two creative spurts (1952-1955 and 1966-1968) he published eight short stories, again in EQMM, all of them about the brilliant armchair deductions of the middle-aged, widowed Jewish mother of a young New York police detective. Two decades later, Yaffe also commenced a short-lived series (four books in all) of "Mom" detective novels.

I have to admit I haven't read the Mom novels, but the Mom short stories (there's an additional one included in a new edition of the collection, now available from Crippen & Landru), are excellent examples of armchair detection, on the order of Baroness Orczy's Man in the Corner tales and Christie's classic Miss Marple short story collection, The Thirteen Problems.  Mom even shares Miss Marple's penchant for drawing "parallels" between any given murder milieu and her own more limited, bourgeois social experience.

By this time Yaffe was leavening his mystery stories with manners comedy and wry psychological insight, but in them he never neglected the fair play murder problem.

To be sure, the early stories are more purely problem-focused. (And you couldn't ask for better examples of these sorts of problem stories than, for example, "Mom Knows Best" and "Mom Makes a Bet").  By the end of the Mom saga, however, Yaffe is including much more social observation in his stories. ("Mom Remembers," from 1968, is 41 pages long, compared with 14 for 1952's "Mom Knows Best," and the additional detail found on those pages is not, shall we say, forensic in nature.) Yet all the tales are delightful and make most engaging reading for the fan of classic mystery.

However, the Yaffe story, as concerns crime fiction, doesn't quite end with Mom.  There's more to his fine body of criminous work, as I will detail in an upcoming post.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Just Some Gigolos? Profile of a Murder (1935), by Rufus King

Why, wondered Miss Marshall, were the nicest-looking and strongest men, the most physically attractive men, always found in those impossible positions in life where a marriage with them became almost insurmountably difficult?"

....Alfred's legs...were beautifully shaped, like a runner's, but just below the knew she did feel that they could do with a bit of toughening.  His scant bathing trunks were dazzlingly white against his brown skin, a tan that had been acquired with the slothful poise of a salamander during hours and hours of immobile lying in the sun, and his stunning arms moved just enough to keep the canoe in gentle motion across the lake's surface,

His throat looked like smooth brown velvet out of denim and she felt congealed and rigid with a frozen smile solidly stupid on her face.

"I do forty tricks, all with cards."
"And-coins?"
"I shall show you how I make them jump with my muscles."


                                                                     --Profile of a Murder (1935), by Rufus King

My generation in the United States most likely associates the song "Just a Gigolo" with the much-mugged mashup version (with "I Ain't Got Nobody") by David Lee Roth, an Eighties MTV video fixture. Roth's raucous version of the song  itself was based on the upbeat version popularized by Louis Prima in 1956. (Perhaps inevitably, the Village People did a disco version too, rather dreadfully.)

But the original American version of Just a Gigolo (1929) was based on the Austrian "Schoner Gigolo, armer Gigolo," a song composed in Vienna in 1928 as a melancholy reflection on the social collapse that occurred in Austria after the First World War.  The singer is meant to represent the viewpoint of a former Hussar recalling his once proudly parading in uniform in the martial past, in contrast with his sordid peacetime present as a hired dancer. Rupert Croft-Cooke (who wrote crime fiction as Leo Bruce) visited Vienna in the years after the war and wrote of how the city was rife with destitute male prostitutes, hungrily prowling for customers.

I think the image of the gigolo in between-the-wars detective fiction was decidedly, as least in the UK, that of the continental: if not an Austrian, an ersatz Russian prince perhaps, or maybe some silky and smooth-mannered Frenchman or Italian, the latter regrettably apt to be termed, by some stolid, outraged English male, "that damn dago." The image of American film heartthrob Rudolph Valentino comes to mind, an example of what a character in a Mignon Eberhart mystery from the period, notes Rick Cypert in his essay on Eberhart in Murder in the Closet, suspiciously termed men who were "a little too handsome."  But there were native English gigolos as well.

To readers of classic crime fiction Dorothy L. Sayers' Have His Carcase (1932) is a familiar depiction of what we might term the gigolo culture of the between-the-war years, but I doubt you will ever find a greater crowd of gigolos than those appearing in the works of Rufus King, one of the premier crime writers in the US during the Golden Age of detective fiction.  Or, if not gigolos per se, certainly all-American male gold diggers who with amiable avarice attach themselves to wealthy society women of a certain age.

Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon is found in what is arguably King's best crime novel, Murder by Latitude, but it's also a notable feature of King's Profile of a Murder (1935), which despite its title is less a police procedural than an early example of what is now generally termed domestic suspense crime fiction.

In Profile King on page 109 dispenses with the formal whodunit aspect of the novel, informing readers outright who committed the murder.  King's series police sleuth, Lieutenant Valcour, had very shortly into the investigation deduced the identity of the killer, but he feels he does not have the proof to secure a conviction.

Convinced the murderer will strike again against a specific person, however, Valcour plays a nail-biting waiting game, in order to catch a killer in the act. So you can see how this book is essentially a suspense novel, making it perhaps a little disappointing to me, because all the ingredients for a classic GA detective novel are assuredly present.  But for what it is, it's done well.

Profile of a Murder, which might better have been titled Profile of a Murderer, tells the story of the strangulation slaying of the middle-aged heiress Beatrice Mundy in the master bedroom at her exquisite country home in the village of Peglertown, located on Alden Lake in upstate New York, and its aftermath. There is a quartet of suspects in the dastardly crime:

Rufus King's colonial ancestral home,
located at Rouse's Point, New York,
a few miles from Canada on Lake Champlain
Alfred Mundy, her much younger, oh-so-handsome husband ("He had, from the age of sixteen on, continued to be a pretty perfect example of the physically attractive male")

Emily Haldane, Beatrice's pretty, on-the-make nurse ("She took excellent care of her body, neither ate too much nor drank liquor to any excess, and her not infrequent excursions into the carnal were directed with a scientific lack of nonsense that always resulted in some sound financial gain")

Hilda Mundy, Alfred's kid sister ("the girl had developed a confusedly fumbling infatuation for Beatrice's gardener, a young French Canadian, Segret Gambais")

Segret Gambais, the aforementioned French Canadian gardener ("an agreeable youngster, certainly, of twenty-two, with the slopes of as young bullock")

One of these four people cruelly slew Beatrice, of that you should have no doubt.

Much of this novel seems clearly based on King's own life and personal sensibility, which I have detailed in previous blog posts here and in a "A Bad, Bad Past," an essay in Murder in the Closet. King had a very close relationship with his own wealthy and charming mother, who seems to have been the model for many of the stylish society matrons depicted in his fiction.  For much of his adult life, until he moved to Florida after his mother's death, King divided his time between an apartment in New York City and his ancestral home in a small town on Lake Champlain, close to the border with Canada.

Readers also might sense the gay sensibility in the physical descriptions of Alfred and Segret (see above).  It seems clear that King drew upon his own sexual feelings when depicting those of his female characters, leading to an unusual forthrightness for the period on this subject.

It's a forthrightness that King shared, however, with some other gay male Golden Age crime writers of the period, particularly Richard Wilson Webb and Hugh Callingham Wheeler, a pair of sophisticated Americanized Englishmen who wrote as Patrick Quentin, Q. Patrick and Jonathan Stagge.

Like Webb and Wheeler, as well as a number of female mystery writers of the period, King was a pioneer not only of the domestic suspense novel popularized in the mid-century US (see Sarah Weinman's recent work), but the manners mystery associated with the British Crime Queens. King's work is filled with incisive social observation and a certain ironic detachment, often amusing and sometimes piercing.

Only once during [Alfred and Beatrice's] married life had he ever made up his mind about anything and that had been during their honeymoon on the way to Hawaii when he had wanted to view Los Angeles from a blimp.

Snow fell more thickly.  [Segret] thinks, [Beatrice] decided, that I'm crazy.  Then she wondered whether she wasn't, whether money and the ability to do things with it, wasn't just a sesame to the abnormal.  Certainly it must seem so in the eyes of the anchored poor.
The eyes of the anchored poor.  No, King's not Dashiell Hammett nor Raymond Chandler, but for his part he offers something more penetrating than critics of the social mores of classic crime fiction from the Golden Age often seem willing to allow.