Friday, March 2, 2018

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

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


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?


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.


  1. Hi!

    I've read various writeups on the old Mystery League mystery novels and the only common denominator of a positive kind in these seems to be praise for the Art Deco dust-jackets, the main reason most, if not all, people collect these books (myself included; I have all but two, in nice condition with the dust-jackets; also the four issues of the rare "Mystery League" magazine, the expenditure of which reduced me to pretty much living on soup!).

    The mystery novels are, for the most part, rather poor. One, however, was actually given high marks by Ellery Queen, no less: "Death Walks In Eastrepps" (1931) by Francis Beeding - an excellent mystery if one doesn't object to there being no means provided to identify the murderer, or his in-effect above-suspicion profession, a ploy hardly new by 1931.

    Perhaps the most interesting Mystery League entry is "The Invisible Host" (1930) by Gwen Bristol and Bruce Manning. It was produced as a play that same year, this with the title "The Ninth Guest", and in 1933, Columbia did a film version, released in 1934 retaining the title of the play. And it is this which represents a cinematic tour-de-force!

    The movie was directed by veteran Roy William Neill, who also directed all but one of the superb Universal "Sherlock Holmes" films of the Forties. Neill rose above the confining area of a penthouse background with fluid camerawork and atmospheric lighting: for one scene, the frightened group is seen as if in the hand of a huge piece of statuary; and in another, photographed from within a radio through its vertical bar-like slats - each effectively symbolizing the entrapment of the gathered victims while done quickly and by no means heavy-handedly. It's often mentioned that the plot here foreshadows Agatha Christie's 1939 masterpiece, "And Then There Were None", while relying more on happenstance, and getting itself into a corner as to the identity of the murderer whereas Christie's plot device in this regard is one of her best. The film's finale is particularly striking: rather than consume poison, as in the earlier versions, the killer electrocutes himself, the droning noise and showering sparks of this ongoing as the camera moves up to a lighting fixture which fluctuates wildly before going out. End of picture.

    Screen Gems had "The Ninth Guest" in TV release back in the Fifties, but it subsequently was withdrawn from circulation. Someone at Columbia told me some time ago that it was being readied for rerelease - presumably with its original title card restored - but this has yet to happen as far as I know. An old Screen Gems print of the movie can, however, be downloaded from the Internet.

    Ray Cabana, Jr.

  2. Hello Ray, and thank you for your comment. I have rounded up all the Mystery League titles, although only a couple have dust jackets. I enjoy them for the stories, and see them as a product of their time. I am always amazed at the explosion of detective stories between 1929-1931, which also saw the launch of the Collier Front Page Mystery series which I also collect.

    This Mystery League blog is complete now, and I invite you see my ongoing Mystillery Blog