Monday, March 26, 2018

Welcome and title list

I remember when I first ran into the Mystery League. It was a rainy day at a used bookstore in Wells, Maine; when The Mystery of Burnleigh Manor caught my eyeIt must have been the strange, Art-Deco shaped letters in green on the spine. I picked it up for a couple of bucks ... and it sat on my bookshelf for many years.


Eventually I came across this article by Diane Plumley: The Mystery League: Great Crime Fiction or Only Super Deco Dust Jackets? which piqued my interest in the series. Then I came across J F Norris'  blog IMPRESSIVE IMPRINTS: The Mystery League, 1930-1933 and the November 1992 issue of Firsts: Collecting Modern First Editions, which has an article by Ellen Nehr on the series (still available as a back issue from the link). There is also an article on Tenth Letter of the Alphabet by Alex Jay which has reproduced a number of period articles and ads for the Mystery Guild - scroll way to the bottom of that post. 


While most collectors seek the editions with the minimalist dust jacket art, I was interested in the stories themselves. I buy old mysteries to read them, not to let them languish on the shelf; so I am not too concerned with condition or dust jackets**. So with these low expectations, I was able to acquire "reading copies" of the entire series in less than a year from eBay, bookfinder.com, and surprisingly, Amazon; picking them up for a self-imposed budget of $10 each, although I did stretch to $12 ... well, maybe $14 ... for a couple. Patience pays off. 

The above linked articles provide great information on the cover art, promotion schemes, and distribution of this series. So what I can offer you that is new? It is my plan to read my way through the series (again), this time compiling a cast of characters and a concise synopsis for each; so prospective readers will have some idea which books they may enjoy seeking.


Last year, on a trip to New York City, I went on a little spy expedition to take a look at the League's published address of 11 West 42nd Street, to see if anything recognizable remained after - what? almost 90 years. I was pleasantly surprised at what I found. Look for the photos in this post!


Here are the 30 titles in the series. I believe this is the order of release, but some sources vary. The 31st was announced to be Death Holds the Key by David Frome, but it was never published by the League. Please note the titles themselves were not numbered, I have added numbers just to indicate the sequence of release.

  1. The Hand of PowerEdgar Wallace, 1930
  2. The Curse of Doone. Sydney Horler, 1930
  3. The House of Sudden Sleep. John Hawk, 1930
  4. Jack O'LanternGeorge Goodchild, 1930
  5. Mystery of Burnleigh Manor. Walter Livingston, 1930
  6. The Invisible Host. Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning, 1930
  7. *The Day of Uniting. Edgar Wallace, 1930
  8. *The Monster of Grammont. George Goodchild, 1930
  9. *The House of Terror. Edward Woodward, 1930
  10. *The Hardway Diamonds Mystery. Miles Burton, 1930
  11. *Peril. Sydney Horler, 1930
  12. The Maestro Murders. Frances Shelley Wees, 1931
  13. Turmoil at Brede. Seldon Truss, 1931
  14. Death Walks in Eastrepps. Francis Beeding, 1931
  15. The Secret of High Eldersham. Miles Burton, 1931
  16. The Gutenberg Murders. Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning, 1931
  17. The Merrivale Mystery. James Corbett, 1931
  18. The Tunnel Mystery, J. C. Lenehan, 1931
  19. The Mystery of Villa Sineste, Walter Livingston, 1931
  20. The Hunterstone Outrage, Seldon Truss, 1931
  21. Murder in the French Room, Helen Joan Hultman, 1931
  22. Bungalow on the Roof, Achmed Abdullah, 1931
  23. The False Purple. Sydney Horler, 1932
  24. Two and Two Make Twenty-Two. Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning, 1932
  25. For Sale - MurderWill Levinrew, 1932
  26. The Ebony Bed Murder, Rufus Gillmore, 1932
  27. Spider House, Van Wyck Mason, 1932
  28. The Mardi Gras Murders. Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning, 1932
  29. The Stingaree Murders. W. Shepard Pleasants, 1932
  30. Death Points a Finger. Will Levinrew, 1933
#31 was planned to be Death Holds the Key by David Frome. The League did not survive to publish it. It was later published by Grosset and Dunlap under the title Scotland Yard Can Wait.

*Released simultaneously in a boxed set of five.

**Reproduction dust covers for most of these titles are available from Facsimile Dust Jackets, LLC, doing business as dustjackets.com. Just enter the title name in their search box. The preview photos also allow you to read (barely) all the material on the dust jackets.

Teasers, Gimmicks, and Baffles; oh my!

Teasers

How can you get readers addicted to the next book of a series? After they finish a book, let them immediately encounter a teaser consisting of Chapter One (or thereabouts, depending on space available) of the next title in the series. This routine began with #3, The House of Sudden Sleep, and continued through #19, The Mystery of Villa Sineste; with a hiatus of the five volumes (7 thru 11) released simultaneously in a boxed Christmas set.

How do you get readers to seek out titles they missed? Most titles contain a consecutive list of titles published thus far.


Gimmicks

#26, The Ebony Bed Murder, contained a sealed section to isolate a portion of text in virgin condition until  the reader broke the seal, which J F Norris notes was a gimmick copied from Harper (see his Pretty Sinister Books blog for photos of the seal). The rear portion of the seal contained a promo for Spider House, the next title in the series. In my copy, only a small, jagged portion of the seal page remains bound between 158/159.



Baffle Cases

The Mystery League put together Baffle Contests in which readers are presented with a mini-mystery in the back of a regular title, and are invited to solve and submit the solution.

The Baffles ran on a 60-day cycle. The solution was planned to be divulged in the second title after the Baffle was printed, to allow time for the books to be distributed, readers to submit their entries, be judged, and results compiled for printing.


This initiative lost steam quickly. Only three Baffle Cases were presented, and only one solution.*


Here is the schedule of the Baffle Cases:


Baffle Case #1: The McCumber Murder

Baffle Case #2: The Crime at Laurel Lodge
  • Appears in #21: Murder in the French Room
  • As for the solution*, there is only this brief mention on the dust jacket flap of #23, The False Purple: "Due to the extreme length of Mr. Horler's tale, the Baffle Case planned for this month [#4] has been omitted and the results of the contests regarding The Crime at Laurel Lodge individually sent [to] all contestants."
Baffle Case #3: The Alexander Mystery
  • Appears in #22: The Bungalow on the Roof
  • As for the solution, there is only this brief mention on the dust jacket flap of #24, Two and Two Make Twenty Two: "The results of the Baffle Case, The Alexander Mystery, have individually been sent to all contestants submitting solutions." This was the last mention of Baffle Cases in the series. 





* Other sources mention the solution to #2 was provided, but I don't know where. Please comment below if you know anything about where it may have shown up.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

#31 - Death Holds the Key by David Frome (1933)

The Mystery League came to an end with the publishing of #30, Death Points a Finger by Will Levinrew. However, the next title had already been announced to be Death Holds the Key by David Frome.


promo appearing in #30, Death Points a Finger

I obtained a copy, published by Grosset and Dunlap under the title Scotland Yard Can Wait! (Please see additional information in the comment below by J F Norris). So let's call this an "honorary" Mystery League title. Let's take a look at it.



Zenith Jones Brown

About the author: David Frome was a pseudonym used by Zenith Jones Brown, 1898-1984. She also wrote as Leslie Ford and Brenda Conrad. Here is her bibliography. Also see this Book Scribbles blog: Leslie Ford's Fall From Grace. Here is her resting place, St. Anne's Cemetery, Annapolis, Maryland.

photo by Linda Lyons


Principal characters:

  • Sprat Marlin, aka T. K. White, just released from Dartmoor, the only one who knows where the money is
  • Oliver Marlin, Sprat's son, living in Detroit
  • Cissie Gay, Sprat's lady friend
  • Algernon Charles (A. C.) Sitwell, owner of the Temperance Club
  • Inspector Thomas Lord, who has been waiting a long time for this day
  • Jerry Drake, law office clerk for Attorney Prothero
  • Ernest Prothero, his firm is responsible for vacant 10, Barkston Mews
  • Phil R. Bailey, former Branch Manager of Lombard Street Branch bank
  • Kitty Bailey, Phil's daughter
  • Sir John Bailey, Phil's brother
  • Hal Franklin, Sir John's ward, was a clerk at the bank
  • Alfred Sutton, Sir John Bailey's cousin and secretary
  • James Oliphant, Sir John Sutton's butler
Synopsis: 

Eleven years ago, Sprat Marlin was sent to Dartmoor prison for a theft of
£60,000 from the Lombard Street Branch bank, which was never recovered. It was suspected to be an inside job. Now he is released, and Inspector Lord has been waiting. A long time. Marlin is immediately put under surveillance, and is believed communicating with someone through the 1930's version of the text message: a line in the Personals column of the newspaper.

Sprat eludes the watchers. Jerry Drake, junior attorney for Attorney Ernest Prothero, notices a curious little man (Sprat) engage a taxi and give an address of 10, Barkston Mews, which is a property up for sale by his office. Suspicious, he follows him, then finds him dead inside the house, pausing to take a key found beside the body. The killer takes the body away and dumps it in the river.

Drake is sent to see a client, Sir John Bailey. Drake is astounded to see that James Oliphant, the butler, is a man he saw meeting with Sprat earlier. Soon everyone is after Drake's key, which must unlock the hiding place of the loot.

Review:

My first novel by David Frome/Leslie Ford, and an enjoyable one. The writer's characters are fully developed, and fun to follow. We are treated to Jerry Drake's and Inspector Lord's thought processes throughout as they seek to unravel a complex mystery. Ex-actress Cissie Gay, the girlfriend of Sprat Marlin, is an especially enjoyable character as she becomes increasingly independent and assertive following his death. She puts her theatre background to work, and is at times a barfly, a spy, and an investigator herself.

The writing style reminds of Manning Coles, in which trivial side events are related in great detail and become hilarity; such as when housekeeper Mrs. Rodgers offers Sutton and Franklin some of her homemade cake; which seems to have a reputation as they attempt to sneak out and toss it in the bushes without her seeing.

Note that there also appears to be an "Americanized" version of this title published which has British slang “translated”, pounds translated to dollars, etc. The originally planned title, "Death Holds the Key", would have been a better fit as the entire story revolves around the search for the elusive key.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

#30 - Death Points a Finger by Will Levinrew (1933)

dustjackets.com



About this selection: This is the last of the 30 titles published by The Mystery League. It contains a promo for the next planned title, Death Holds the Key by David Frome; however, the League did not survive to publish it. The story was picked up by Grosset and Dunlap and published under the title Scotland Yard Can Wait!

About the author: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction states: Pseudonym of US author William Levine (1881-?   ), who seems to have been active in the late 1920s and 1930s, publishing several crime novels during this period, usually featuring the deductive exploits of the elderly Professor Herman Brierly. Seemingly unnatural events and murders are usually brought back to the mundane by the professor. He also authored For Sale - Murder in the Mystery League series. 

Principal characters:
  • Jimmy Hale, star reporter for the New York Eagle
  • Morris Miller, recently deceased
  • August Schurman, recently deceased
  • -- Wrigley, recently deceased
  • Judge Isaac Higginbotham, camp owner, host of the veterans group
  • Professor Herman Brierly, nearby camp owner
  • James McGuire, ex-police commissioner of New York
  • Amos Brown, the one member of "14" they have lost track of
  • Amos Brown III, grandson
Locale: Two remote camps (Higginbotham's and Brierly's) on Lake Memphremagog, which spans the Vermont/Quebec border

Synopsis:

A group of war veterans has an annual reunion at a remote lakeside camp. When the war first ended, they entered into a Tontine investment plan - which provides annuities to members, and the last survivor gets everything left. Over the years, as each member passed away, the survivors get an anonymous note just signed "14", signifying another group that betrayed them during the war. It seems that "14" is doing away with them one by one.

As the annual reunion begins, only 11 members arrive. News comes that three of their group - Morris Miller, August Schurman, and Wrigley, have just died. The "14" message arrives soon after.

Jimmy Hale, star reporter for the New York Eagle, had been assigned to cover the reunion. He travels to his friend Professor Herman Brierly's nearby camp, and from there they attend the reunion at Higginbotham's camp. As news of the three deaths arrives, Hale and Brierly begin the investigation to see who "14" is, and if the deaths are related. Professor Brierly uses scientific methods to find clues to the case.

Review:

The opening chapter provides a thorough insight into the hectic operations of a big city newspaper, with the chaos peaking as deadline approaches; then all activity abruptly ceasing as the building vibrates with the starting of the presses in the basement. (A scene recently replicated in the 2017 Steven Spielberg movie, The Post.)

An enjoyable mystery. Professor Brierly is a Sherlock Holmes type of investigator who uses scientific analysis to find astounding clues (examining a rope, he determines it came from a farm which has a boxwood hedge, pear trees, two horses - one bay, one sorrell - leghorn chickens, and a collie. However, unlike Sherlock, he leaves us to wonder just how he made those determinations.

The investigation grinds along, and just when they close in on the suspect, we expect a neat wrapup, but suddenly the killer is shown to be someone we did not expect - and technically in violation of fair play with the reader.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

#29 - The Stingaree Murders by W. Shepard Pleasants (1932)

moonlight-detective.blogspot.com

About this selection:

About the author: This is evidently his only novel. In Biographical Sketches of Cartoonists & Illustrators in the Swann Collection by Sara Duke, it is noted that he and John Churchill Chase created a comic strip series on New Orleans history in the 1940's. 

Principal characters:
  • Leonard Reade, the host, owner of the New Orleans Herald
  • Harvey Reade, his son
  • Marie Reade, his daughter
  • Wayne Whitsell, architectfriend, and narrator
  • Pierre Lacroix, governor of Lousiana
  • Paul Green, his bodyguard
  • J. D. Henderson, lawyer
  • General Pitts
  • Anne Pitts, his wife
  • Archibald Hurley, Commissioner of Conservation
  • O'Niel Henry, of the New Orleans Herald
  • Needle, servant
  • Si Ling, boat engineer
Locale: The Gulf of Mexico



Synopsis: 

Thirteen people are aboard the houseboat Terrapin, guests of publisher Leonard Reade. They set out into a remote region of the Gulf on a fishing expedition. One the guests, Louisiana Governor Pierre Lacroix, shows a threatening letter he has received from "The Stingaree Gang", rumored to be drug smugglers. Lacroix has written a secret plan to round them up. Lacroix sets off from the houseboat in a small skiff to fish, and is later found dead, stabbed, with a barb from a stingaree (stingray) in the wound. Then the boat's motor is disabled, and they are marooned in the marshes. Boatman Si Ling volunteers to row to the mainland for help - and he, too, is found dead in his skiff. Two more murders will follow before the murderer is found.

Review:

This is a nice tight little mystery, well constructed, especially in Chapter One as the characters are introduced, and in the take-a-breather-and-review-the-suspects (Ch. 12). Th spectacle of the passengers, none of which trust each other trying to stay on deck all night to keep an eye on each other reminds of the famous can't-fall-asleep scene in Treasure of the Sierra Madre

That's the good part. The bad part is the continual distraction by cringe-worthy items such as:
  • Marie Reade deliberately tossing her hat overboard and telling African-American Needle to dive in and retrieve it
  • pejorative terms used in referring to various nationalities
  • the speech of Needle rendered in phonetics ("Thank de Lord my haid am dry"), 
  • likewise, Si Ling ("Si Ling velly solly motor no good")
  • gender stereotypes ("A woman would have abided by intuition, but I was a man, and as a man, I sought logical reasons to support my opinion.")
  • needless killing of animals
Also see this review by TomCat, a.k.a. Last Century Detective, who sums it up this way: "I found this an interesting curio with a fresh look on an old theme and plenty of good ideas, but its unashamed airing of 1930's racial opinion makes this a problematic book to recommend to a modern audience. If you can put it down as a product of its time and think you have come across every trick in the book than you simply have to pick this one up."

Sunday, March 11, 2018

#28 - The Mardi Gras Murders by Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning (1932)

dustjackets.com

About this selection:



About the authors: Here is a Wikipedia article about Gwen Bristow and her husband, Bruce Manning. They also authored three other novels in the Mystery League series (The Invisible HostThe Gutenberg Murders and Two and Two Make Twenty-Two). 

Principal characters:
  • Cynthia Fontenay, leader of DIS 
  • Roger Parnell, DIS member killed at the party
  • Arnold Ghent, DIS member
  • Dick Barron, DIS member, lost a bundle at The Red Cat
  • Ross Hildreth, DIS member
  • Lucy Lake, Cynthia's maid
  • Esther Morse, guest of honor at the DIS party
  • Fritz Valdon, owner of The Red Cat gambling joint
  • Con Conroy, secretary to Fritz Valdon
  • Mark Oliver, toy manufacturer
  • Tony Wiggins, photographer for The Morning Creole
  • --- Wade, reporter for The Morning Creole
  • Captain Murphy, of the Homicide Squad
  • Dan Farrell, District Attorney
Locale: New Orleans

Synopsis:

The story is set in three parts, corresponding to the three days at the beginning of Mardi Gras: Collup Monday, Shrove Tuesday, and Ash Wednesday. DIS is a secretive group of 50 who hold their own alternative Mardi Gras celebration with a satanic theme: members dress in masked devil costumes and hold a big drinking party. As they are masked, the only way to tell them apart is a number of the back of each costume.

Photographer Tony Wiggins is assigned to take a group photo for his paper, The Morning Creole. Soon after, one of the DIS party, wearing #47, is found dead by Lucy Lake, maid to DIS leader Cynthia Fontenay. The victim is initially thought to be Arnold Ghent, but when his mask is removed he turns out to be Roger Parnell, wearing the incorrectly numbered costume; belonging to Ross Hildreth. Hildreth was out of town and missed the DIS party.

The investigation begins by Captain Murphy, and reporter -- Wade is his confidante and assistant. 45 of the DIS members present were in a closed room under observation when the murder occurs, and are eliminated from suspicion. The 5 remaining and some others (p. 89) are rounded up for questioning.

Toy manufacturer Mark Oliver, DIS member 147, is shot and slightly wounded by persons unknown. 

Cynthia Fonteney is questioned, and soon after dies in a fall during the Mardi Gras parade. Is it murder? When the parade is over, the body of Mark Oliver is found inside a closed simulated fish bowl on the float in which he was riding.

Review:

If nothing else, this book will acquaint you with the runup to Mardi Gras. I'm not sure if the DIS group has any basis in reality, a quick search did not turn up anything on it; but there are many and complex groups making up the celebration.

Reporter Wade seems to have a free hand in running the investigation, with the authorities having minimal participation. In the 1930's everything revolved around the newspaper world, and this story reflects that. Wade works out the solution with photographer Wiggins running the leg work. It is enjoyable following this pair as they work so well together.

It is distracting that the speech patterns of African-American is represented by phonetic spellings, i.e. "yessuh". Although unacceptable today as stereotyped, this was a prevalent writing style of the 1930's. There is liberal use of the n-word when referring to African-Americans, yet this seems, in context, non-derogatory. Two African-Americans play key roles in resolving the murders.




Thursday, March 8, 2018

#27 - Spider House by Van Wyck Mason (1932)

dustjackets.com

About this selection:

F. Van Wyck Mason (fantasticfiction.com)

About the author: Wikipedia states in his biographyFrancis Van Wyck Mason (November 11, 1901 – August 28, 1978) (aka Geoffrey Coffin, Frank W Mason, Ward Weaver) was an American historian and novelist. He had a long and prolific career as a writer spanning 50 years and including 78 published novels, many of which were best sellers and well received.

Principal characters:
  • Ezra Boonton, paranoid owner of "Spider House"
  • Juan Boonton, his brother
  • Dora Delray, "bewitching" nurse in a short uniform and high heels
  • GrΓΌber, a male nurse
  • Terence Kelly, butler and bodyguard
  • Whang-Su, Chinese cook
  • Dr. George Lawes, neurologist
  • Captain Janos Catlin, of the State Police
  • Sergeant Matt McNulty, of the State Police
Locale: New Brunswick NJ

Synopsis:

Eccentric Ezra Boonton, "Spider of the Street", is a retired financier who has swindled many to build his fortune, and now lives on the second floor of a house fortified with various gadgets to protect him from his supposed enemies. Captain Janos Catlin of the State Police has gone to see him on a request for protection. 

While Catlin is there, butler/bodyguard Terence Kelly is shot when no one is looking. Catlin and his team decide to spend the night. He winds up locked in a closet, and when he gets out finds that (Ezra) Boonton has been killed upstairs as well; and no weapon can be found.

Sexy Dora Delray is hesitant to talk, but invites Catlin to her place (wink, wink). While there, they are both abducted by a gang. Trooper Matt McNulty had been outside on guard, but he is found dead also. While investigating the gang, Dr. George Lawes is abducted; and held hostage on a beat-up houseboat tied up on the river.

Review:

This is a version of a locked-room mystery, which has turned into a locked-entire-second-floor mystery. A bit daring, with the killings occurring under the nose of the state police. Red herrings abound. It is remarkable that there is only one woman in the book - and this one is the one your mother warned you about.

The drug smuggling gang seems to be a popular theme of the 1930's. The action all culminates in a big fight on the houseboat, quite satisfying.

Note that the text uses stereotypes and pejorative terms for various nationalities, unacceptable today but common in writing of the time.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

#26 - The Ebony Bed Murder by Rufus Gillmore (1932)

dustjackets.com

About this selection: This book contained a sealed section to isolate a portion of text in virgin condition until  the reader broke the seal, which J F Norris notes was a gimmick copied from Harper (see his Pretty Sinister Books blog for photos of the seal). The rear portion of the seal contained a promo for Spider House, the next title in the series. In my copy, only a small, jagged portion of the seal page remains bound between 158/159.

This is the first selection to indicate New York and London as their publishing site, both on the front papers and the dust jacket.

About the author: The Golden Age of Detection web site notes: Gillmore, Rufus (1879-1935) was an American mystery writer. The author of four mysteries, Gillmore's books often reflect those of better-known writers. The Alster Case (1914) is virtually a parody of Anna Katherine Green's famous The Leavenworth Case (1878), mixing comedy and chills. The Ebony Bed Murder (1932) echoes the then-popular works of S.S. Van Dine. Gillmore has always been an obscure mystery writer. There is no evidence that such famous mystery historians as S.S. Van Dine, Howard Haycraft or Anthony Boucher had ever heard of him, or read his books. Gillmore was the first husband of writer Inez Haynes Gillmore Irwin. 

Principal characters:
  • Rufus Gillmore, chronicler and narrator, Watson style
  • Griffin Scott, psychologist, advertising expert, and criminologist
  • Randolph Hutchinson, district attorney
  • Detective Sergeant Mullens
  • Detective Haff
  • Helen Brill Kent, the victim
  • Bascomb White, boyfriend of Dorothy Vroom
  • Edward St. Clair, a gigolo and dancing partner
  • Shah, the Persian cat
The six people present at the time of the murder:
  1. Mrs. Vroom, the "stage mother"
  2. Dorothy Vroom, daughter of Mrs. Vroom
  3. Miss Ethel Cushing, daughter of Helen Brill Kent
  4. Captain Brill, of the Salvation Army, brother of Helen Brill Kent
  5. Napoleon Brill, "rat-like" brother of Helen Brill Kent
  6. Jesse Brill, "elephantine" father of Helen, Napoleon, and the Captain.
The five ex-husbands, and #6 in waiting, in order (detailed beginning p. 126):
  1. Harold Beasley Kent
  2. Thomas O. Cushing, father of Ethel Cushing; disappeared in China
  3. Robert Courtlandt Stuyvesant, father of Robert Courtlandt Stuyvesant, Jr., whom Helen "sold" to him
  4. Marquis de la Battaile
  5. Chilton Fullegard
  6. Jason Sullivan, a.k.a. "Big Boss"big tough industrialist, would have been #6


Locale: New York City

Synopsis:

Griffin Scott, amateur criminologist, is summoned from his home to scene of Helen Brill Kent's murder. Kent was an actress and society climber, leaving behind a trail of five ex-husbands. She is found shot in her apartment (map on page 41) on her elaborately carved ebony bed. Six others (listed above) had gathered in the apartment to celebrate her birthday.

The family insists it is suicide, but Griffin Scott and D.A. Randolph Hutchinson claim it is murder. A search of the room turns up one curious object: a long, rolled up piece of twine with a shoehorn tied to one end. Someone pulls the electrical fuses, and when they get the lights back on, the twine is gone.

Further developments: Her jewels turn up missing (oxymoron?). Later, Detective Haff calls from the apartment with the news that he knows who the killer/thief is. Before Scott and Hutchinson can return, Haff himself is killed.

Attention focuses on Jason Sullivan, who was lined up to be husband #6, and lives two floors below. Scott spies on Sullivan, who goes on the defensive.

Review:

As others have noted, dilettante Griffin Scott is a kindler, gentler version of Philo Vance (from the S. S. Van Dine novels of the same period), minus the snobby condescension; making him a lot more likable. Scott's batcave-like apartment contains all the latest anti-crime tech gadgets (chem lab, workshop, grand piano) as well as a giant chessboard painted on the floor (guess he didn't worry about the security deposit). 

Lots of sixes: Six people present at the murder, Five ex-husbands with a sixth in the pipeline, six keys to the apartment. A floor plan of the apartment is provided (p. 41) which is helpful, but darned if I can find the rear entrance, which plays an important role, indicated on it.

Also please see this review by Mike Grost.

Friday, March 2, 2018

#25 - For Sale - Murder by Will Levinrew (1932)

dustjackets.com


About this selection: This selection does not contain any promotional or preview material.

About the author: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction states: Pseudonym of US author William Levine (1881-?   ), who seems to have been active in the late 1920s and 1930s, publishing several crime novels during this period, usually featuring the deductive exploits of the elderly Professor Herman Brierly. Seemingly unnatural events and murders are usually brought back to the mundane by the professor. 


He also authored Death Points a Finger, the final selection published by The Mystery League.


Principal characters:



  • Dr. John Agnew, the shady doctor
  • Henry Slater, dead of diabetes before story begins
  • Mrs. Frey, an invalid 
  • Annie Roosma, Mrs. Frey's maid and unstable screaming neighbor
  • Charles Stone, who got too close to a cliff
  • Dr. Richardson Cornwall, who got a bad whiff of something
  • James MacIntosh, Lieutenant of Detectives
  • Richard Quantrell Marlow, reporter for the Newark Evening Bulletin
  • George Becker, City Editor of the Newark Evening Bulletin
  • Louis Carver, chief adjuster of Trans-Pacific Life Insurance Co.
Locale: Newark NJ

Synopsis:


It starts with a brief newspaper item of a scheduled speech by Dr. John Agnew at a medical conference, in which the speaker claimed that science has advanced to a point where murder can be committed, leaving no traces. A year goes by - and Louis Carver, chief adjuster for Trans-Pacific Life Insurance Co. becomes suspicious when the company receives an unusual number of claims for deaths of persons with large value policies. Detective James Macintosh and Reporter Richard Quantrell Marlow notice the death certificates are signed by Dr. Agnew. Is he committing murder for hire?


No sooner do they begin inquiring into the death of the last victim, Henry Slater, when Mrs. Frey, invalid patient of Dr. Agnew, is found murdered in her bed. She had been providing a room for her maid, unstable neighbor Annie, who staged a fake attack upon herself, and screams a lot.


More of Dr. Agnew's patients drop off - Charles Stone (literally, off a cliff) - and his associate Dr. Richardson Cornwall - while their beneficiaries collect large sums. Can Dr. Agnew be stopped?

Review:


This follows the police procedural formula - it is known early on who the killer is, the challenge is catching him with proof. It is fascinating how the evil doctor keeps coming up with more convoluted, obscure murder methods - and the detective and his newspaper buddy have to keep digging into research to figure them out.


The annoying aspect of this book is Detective James MacIntosh with his heavy Irish brogue which is rendered phonetically ("Yon's a verra dangerous mon, laddie"), and can turn it on and off at will. Not only is this flip-flopping annoying to the reader, but reporter Marlow likes to fake the brogue just to tease MacIntosh, so it is difficult to follow who is actually speaking. Cute at first, but wears thin quickly.


Caution: Text contains use of the n-word to reference African-Americans.