Sunday, July 30, 2017

#1 - The Hand of Power by Edgar Wallace (1930)


About this edition: This edition has just the novel, with no promotional or preview material.

Edgar Wallace (photo: Wikipedia)

About the author: Here is a Wikipedia article on Edgar Wallace. He also authored The Day of Uniting in the Mystery League series.

  • Dr. Joshua Laffin, creepy retired physician who lives in a creepy house, and guardian of...
  • Betty Carew, red-headed actress, and love interest of...
  • Lord Clive Lowbridge, who has just inherited his title and mansion, but without any funding to manage it
  • La Florette, a dancer, claims to be French but lets a Cockney accent slip occassionally.
  • Police Inspector Bullott, who rents an unused room to...
  • William "Bill" Holbrook, who quits his advertising job at Pawter Publicity Services to get back into journalism, along with...
  • Benson, his butler, who also knows how to find out things.
  • Pawter, head of Pawter Publicity Services
  • Captain Harvey Hale, out-of-work sea captain since he ran his ship aground
  • Toby Marsh, a street-wise, educated, well-spoken burglar, and a boarder of ... 
  • Jenny Hamshaw, mother of La Florette
  • Lambert Stone, American millionaire, and brother of...
  • Leiff Stone, founder of the Sons of Ragousa, a shady fraternal organization which runs a lottery to attract members
  • Brother John, an ex-priest, curious about Betty's stint in the window (names shown in red indicate those unfortunates who do not survive the novel). Brother John does not even survive two pages.
  • Mr. Van Campe, manager of the theatre
Locale: England, and at sea

Synopsis: Betty Carew and La Florette work in the theatre, but when the play closes early Betty is compelled by her guardian Dr. Laffin to take a job from Pawter Publicity Services posing in a store display window; ostensibly advertising a unique desk. The real purpose is to deliver a message to a stranger who may show up at some point and ask for it.

Once the message is delivered, the display window job is done. Dr. Laffin takes Betty home, and locks her prisoner in her room. Bill Holbrook and Toby Marsh observe, conspire, break in, and release her. .

Betty returns to the theatre. She is approached and questioned by Brother John, a member of the shady fraternal organization Proud Sons of Ragousa; whose only purpose seems to be running a lottery. Brother John meets his end on the street immediately following. Bill Holbrook joins the Ragousas in an effort to infiltrate it. The Ragousas kidnap Betty in the belief she is destined to be their new leader.

Soon the action moves to an ocean liner bound for New York, with all the principal characters aboard, and apparently the evil Dr. Laffin too. The Ragousas are aboard also, with their eyes on plundering a cash shipment to the US.

11 West 42nd Street - today

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. Here is what I found.

11 West 42nd St. is directly across 42nd St. from the New York Public Library, with its lions Patience and Fortitude standing guard, so we are definitely in the literary district.

The building's exterior is unchanged from when it was built. Doesn't this look like it could be Superman's Daily Planet?

The grand entrance. The octagonal sign confirms we are in the right place. Oh my, look at the carvings surrounding the doorway! This must be the doorway through which the staff of The Mystery League reported to work.

A better view of the door surround. Note the art deco style of writing - all the rage when the League's books were published.

The door was open, so in we went, and through the revolving door.

The lobby is open to the public. Elevators are on the left. On the right, out of view here, is a directory of businesses having space in the building; and an attendant/guard who will check you in - and maybe grant you admittance beyond the velvet rope. Since we had no legitimate business in the building, we did not go any further than the lobby.

Be still, my heart! What an artifact! The central outgoing mailbox is still here! The glass tubes extend to all upper floors, and mail can be slid into a slot on any floor and whoosh down to a crash landing here. I remember (in other buildings) the fun of seeing mail go tearing down through intermediate floors. This would be the very mailbox in which the League's outgoing mail was posted. We imagined contracts and royalty checks to authors, answers to reader inquiries, and notifications to Baffle winners all passing through this ornate receptacle.

I hope you have enjoyed this little visit to 11 West 42nd. St.! If you find yourself in NYC, step across 42nd street from the New York Public Library and take a peek for yourself.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Introduction 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 eye. It 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 the next 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 Power. Edgar Wallace, 1930
  2. The Curse of Doone. Sydney Horler, 1930
  3. The House of Sudden Sleep. John Hawk, 1930
  4. Jack O'Lantern. George 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.