I'd mentioned awhile back that when I got a free moment I would elaborate on the vintage mystery novels I picked up in the Malice Dealer Room, so here's a few of the more interesting items I shipped home.
WHAT RHYMES WITH MURDER? by Jack Iams. Dell mapback. No date, but it’s one of the later editions.
Hmmm. Birder? Girder?
“When a lusty Lothario sings his serenade, romance rhymes with death!”
It does? I’m thinking Mr. Iams was poetry-impaired, but he does seem to waxed lyrical in this one.
“Ariel Banks, a high-flying, Bohemian poet, had one bad habit: HE LOVED WHERE HE PLEASED.”
Weeell, don’t we all? Kind of? To some extent?
“The news that a British poet was going to lecture before the Tuesday Ladies’ Club would normally have caused something less than a ripple among the ninety-nine percent of our city’s eighty-odd thousand inhabitants who did not belong to, or give a hoot about, the Tuesday Ladies’ Club.”
You know, I like this. Not only did they get the “British” versus “English” thing right, but I am awfully partial to mystery novels about poets. In my opinion the world cannot have too many mystery novels centered around poets and poetry.
But that’s just me.
THE SHADOWY THIRD by Marco Page. Pocket, 1949.
“Marked for slaughter, he was number one on everybody’s hate parade.”
This batch of books goes rather hard on practitioners of the fine arts.
“Dave Calder had been hired to solve the disappearance of a heavily insured violin. Then the owner of the missing violin (Igor Krassin, in case you’re interested) was murdered, and the list of suspects read like a telephone directory.”
I’ll spare you the phone book recital just this one time. Opening line:
“The rehearsal was scheduled for noon but by ten-thirty there were already a dozen musicians in the orchestra dressing room and more were straggling in one or two at a time.”
Uh huh. As you’ve guessed, this kind of plot appeals to me—in particular I love the combination of tough guys and the arts.
Speaking of tough guys…
FINDERS KEEPERS by Geoffrey Homes. Bantam, 1947.
“Here is another toughie by that expert in murder, Geoffrey Homes, who has won a million readers for Bantam Books with his fast-paced, hard-hitting mysteries featuring that two-fisted milk-drinker, the dick with a hard fist and a soft heart, Humphrey Campbell. What more could you ask?”
Is this a sincere question or are you playing with me?
To begin with, I could ask that the dick not be named Humphrey Campbell. I’ll let the Humphrey pass, but CAMPBELL? (Little Scottish folk-singing joke.)
I have to say that Mr. Thrilling was…er…thrilled when I pulled this out of my Malice book box. Apparently he has been longing to read this series by Homes for eons. I myself am not entirely sold on the idea of a writer who pens “toughies” about milk-drinking lads named Humphrey, but….
OH MY GOD. IT’S WORSE THAN I THOUGHT. I tailed off to read the opening line and found this description of our hero:
“Humphrey Campbell, a chubby, tough, ACCORDION-PLAYING sleuth, who was headed for trouble.”
Opening line: “Under the giant sycamore a man in a wheelchair was writing a letter.”
MURDER ENTERS THE PICTURE by Willetta Ann Barber and R.F.Schabelitz. Penguin, 1942.
The gimmick here is an artist-detective, Kit Storm, whose “on-the-spot sketches are important in solving murders.”
Of course they are.
“This is the best book in a unique series of profusely illustrated mysteries, in which the scores of sketches are an integral part of the story.”
And you thought gimmicky mysteries started with recipes and crochet patterns in the eighties!
“EZRA’S GHOST, come back to haunt the Plateau!”
ROLLING STONE by Patricia Wentworth. Popular Library, 1940.
I bought this for the cover since I already have the book in a much later edition. I love all Wentworth’s novels, uneven though they frequently are.
“Spike Reilly, member of a gang of picture thieves that has added murder to its nefarious activities, dies suddenly in a hotel room—and Peter Talbot, unofficial operative of the Foreign Office, decides to take his place.”
“The rain fell in a fine, steady drizzle.”
Ah, to be in England…
My favorite Wentworth novel is called RUN. Anyone read that? I’ve tried unsuccessfully for years to get hold of a copy of THE ADVENTURES OF JANE SMITH (at a price I could afford), which I believe has never been reprinted. Possibly for good reason, but I’m still curious.
VENTUROUS LADY by George Harmon Coxe. Dell, no date again, but I’m guessing late forties.
“In the looming shadows of an old barn where New York actors are producing plays for summer vacationers, mystery rewrites the script—with terror and death as the stars.”
Oh, I just LOVE their work! I’ve never miss one of their shows!
“In the late afternoon the wind, which had been southwest and steady, shifted to easterly, and the sky grew overcast, promising an end to the clear warm days of the past week.”
PIPER ON THE MOUNTAIN by Ellis Peters. Lancer, 1968.
Plenty on the web about this offering from Peters featuring Dominic Fell all grown up and falling in love with a murder suspect, so I’ll move along to…
SING A SONG OF HOMICIDE by James R. Langham. Popular Library, 1940.
Terrific cover and we appear to have a hitherto undiscovered set of married sleuths, Sammy and Ethel Abbott. I wonder if they are somehow related to Pat and Jean Abbott?
Anyhoooooo, no hint as to what the story is about although the title is in keeping with our murder in the arts theme.
“Some people claim that it isn’t nice to laugh at a fresh corpse.”
There we go. It’s interesting how many opening lines focus on weather. Personally I prefer a hint of danger or death the minute the curtain rises.
MURDER OF A NYMPH by Margot Neville. Pocket, 1951.
“She would never steal another woman’s man again!”
Safe to say.
“Beautiful and bad—Enone McGrath had enough wickedness for a woman twice her age.”
Uh…you mean 40? Jeez. What’s that supposed to mean?
“Not even 21, she couldn’t help exercising her charms on other women’s husbands.”
Cute little tyke. Maybe she’ll grow out of it.
“One night someone caught Enone on a lonely road and cooled her off permanently.”
Or maybe not.
“It would have been hard to say just where the train of happenings that led up to the disaster at Come-hither Bend began.”
Oh my. AAAALLLLLLL ABOARD! That’s pretty bad, not even taking into account the Come-hither Bend bit. Let’s ride a little further…
“That question—where events start from, in the primeval cave or yesterday afternoon—opens up a whole field of metaphysical speculation. Better let that lie.”
Agreed. Best to back up slowly and carefully, avoiding sudden movements or any noise…
MYSTERY IN BLUE by Gertrude E. Mallette. Berkeley Books, 1945.
“THE CASE OF THE MISSING BLUEPRINT.
Kerry Owen was a very good secretary. She also had an inquiring mind.”
And inquiring minds want to know!
“And from her very first day as secretary in an engineering office, Kerry’s mind starting asking questions: about the shambles in the files, the way papers were lost one day and turned up the next, and the furtive behavior of some of her coworkers…”
My God, Kerry is working IN MY OFFICE!
(Yes, I do still have a day job—or did.)
“Kerry Owen kept her face as unrevealing as she could while the university placement secretary spoke.”
And I can hear her now: You shouldn’t have taken all those lit and humanity courses, Kerry. What the hell were you thinking? You should have gone for an MBA in Business!
I picked up a few other odds and ends, but the last one I’ll mention here is SCENT OF MYSTERY by Kelly Roos. Dell, 1959.
“The touch of horror, the taste of excitement, the look of murder, and the…SCENT OF MYSTERY”
Yep, Mr. Thrilling is cooking supper once again!
“SCENT OF MYSTERY the first motion picture ever filmed in SMELL-O-VISION!”
I am NOT making this up!
It says right on the cover, “Now a brilliant Michael Todd, Jr. Production.”
You can’t make up stuff like that.
“The young Englishman checked his light meter against the brilliant Mediterranean sun.”
And what are you reading?