Sunday, December 18, 2022

Dec 2022 visit to 11 West 42nd St. headquarters

My wife and I have returned after a few days in New York City visiting our daughter. This visit included my traditional stop at 11 West 42nd Street, a fabulous art deco shrine for Golden Age mystery readers; being the HQ for the legendary Mystery League, which published a popular series of 30 garish titles from 1930-1933. Here is a photo taken by Kathy from across the street (at the New York Public Library) at the one moment when there were no cars, taxis, or other people in the frame! 

Saturday, December 3, 2022


 Greetings, all! As this particular blog is complete, I want to invite everyone to my Mystillery Blog which is where all my current posts live. 

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,, 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 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!


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.


#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! 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

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.


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)

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


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.


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)

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


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.


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."