You Called Your Book What….?

This is a topic I have been pondering of late, mainly due to all the book browsing I have been doing online – just looking mind… well mostly just looking… fine I bought some Image result for the girl with the squint george simenonbooks! I noticed on the one hand you can get some incredibly prosaic titles such as Kenneth Hopkins’ The Girl Who Died (1955), Rae Foley’s The Girl From Nowhere (1949), George Simenon’s The Girl with the Squint (1951), (see the trend for titles including the phrase ‘The Girl,’ started long before the girl ever got on a train) and John Cameron’s Body Found Stabbed (1932). With titles such as the last one there is no messing around or vague literary allusions. The pithiest one I came across was Selwyn Jepson’s novel of 1932 called Man Dead. A murder mystery in a nutshell.

On the other hand though there have also been plenty of writers who have gone for more outside the box titles, no doubt hoping to lure readers in by sheer befuddlement and curiosity. Of late I have found Image result for the phantom canoe 1935myself quite enjoying titles which begin with the phrase ‘the man who,’ as although lots of the time the rest of the title is quite ordinary, such as: Vera Caspary’s The Man Who Loved His Wife (1966) and George Simenon’s The Man Who Watched Trains Go By (1938), occasionally an author does throw you a curve ball you weren’t expecting. Two recent examples of this for me were Gladys Mitchell’s The Man Who Grew Tomatoes (1959) and Ethel Lina White’s The Man Who Loved Lions (1943). Another good starter phrase for mystery titles is ‘The Phantom,’ again because 9 times out of 10 the phrase will be followed by something expected (e.g. of the opera, clue, guest, house), only for the 10th time to be something wonderfully weird such as William Byron Mowery’s The Phantom Canoe (1935). If this was a game of Family Fortunes, the word canoe definitely wouldn’t have been one of the top answers.

Now that we have eased our way into the weirder titles of crime fiction, our next stop is animals. When an animal is mentioned in the title the chances of it being a slightly less Image result for cats don't smile d b olsenthan normal title are quite high. Quite a famous example for us Golden Age fans is John Rhodes’ Vegetable Duck (1944). Cats of course also frequently turn up in weird and wonderful mystery titles, with writers such as D. B. Olsen writing a series of 13 mysteries of which all the titles include the word cat. The most unusual ones in my opinion are Cat’s Don’t Smile (1945) and The Cat Wears a Noose (1944). However what surprised me when researching this post was also how popular horses were, especially unnaturally coloured ones, ranging from Kathleen Moore Knight’s The Blue Horse of Taxco (1947) to Tim Hemlin’s If Wishes Were Horses (1996) and Ride the Pink Horse (1946) by Dorothy B Image result for the blue horse taxacoHughes. Two other unusual, though smaller subgroups also emerged in my research. The first one is animals in cellars and I think the RSPCA would definitely have something to say about the animals some writers keep in their cellars, such as Pamela Branch’s Lion in the Cellar (1951) and Margaret Scherf’s The Owl in the Cellar (1945). Dragons was the second subgroup, such as Clyde B Image result for the owl in the cellarClason’s Dragon’s Cave (1939) and Death on the Dragon’s Tongue (1982) by Margot Arnold, though in a way they were a bit disappointing, primarily because there is part of me which wanted the books themselves to actually have dragons in them. Or maybe I am just being a bit picky? A final surprise for me came when I found an unusual animal related title by R. T. Campbell, an author I have read before, who in 1946 wrote a mystery novel named Adventure with a Goat (1946). At last I have found a mystery novel it seems for my own two goats, though I worry it might give them ideas. Worried that insects may have been left out? Then fear not as Alice Campbell also in 1946 wrote The Cockroach Sings.

Image result for she had to have gas rupert pennyThere is also a subgroup of weird crime fiction titles for me which all have one of two things in common. They are either so weird they raise questions or they include words which I don’t really know what they mean. For instance examples of those from the first category would include She Had to Have Gas (1939) by Rupert Penny, Dirty Butter for Servants (1972) by Joan Fleming, Twenty Five Sanitary Inspectors (1935) by Roger East and Hugh Pentecost’s The Cannibal Who Overate (1962). Out of the selection I have offered Fleming’s title probably raises the most questions, which can be pretty much Image result for hugger mugger in the louvresummed up by the word WHY??? Moving on to the second category two titles which came up in my internet searching were Elliot Paul’s Hugger-Mugger in the Louvre (1940) and Eunice Mays Boyd’s Murder Wears Mukluks (1948), though I think it is the first title which wins the prize for being the weirdest, as not only did I have no idea what hugger-mugger meant (sounded like a mugger who goes around hugging people), but whatever this weird thing was, it was taking place in the highly unusual place of the Louvre.

Food is another source of odd and weird mystery fiction titles, beginning with Anne Nash’s Cabbages of Crime (1945). Image result for cabbages of crime anne nashOther unusual ones include Arthur Upfield’s Cake in the Hat Box (1954), Gladys Mitchell’s Churchyard Salad (1969), (writing as Malcom Torrie), Raspberry Jam (1920) by Carolyn Wells and Sydney Fowler’s The Rissole Mystery (1941). It also surprised me to discover that there is not only one mystery novel named A Trout in the Milk, but there are in fact three!

Finally there are of course those weird titles which are sufficiently weird that they don’t really fit into any group at all such as:

  • A Nice Cup of Tea (1950) by Anthony Gilbert;
  • Beer for Psyche (1946) by Dorothy Gardiner;
  • Hung by an Eyelash (1939) by Lindsay Anson;
  • Beyond Insulin (1935) by J. J. Connington and
  • Moss Rose (1934) by Marjorie Bowen (writing as Joseph Shearing)

Image result for hung by an eyelash lindsay anson

So there we have it, a whistle stop tour of some of the unusual and wacky names authors have given to their mystery novels. Whilst I don’t think a title is the strongest motivator for me reading a book, I do find it hard to resist a mystery when it has a completely mad title. And it is a little bit sad that nowadays mystery titles are by and large much more conventional and at times formulaic. Though I can’t see any author naming their next thriller or police procedural novel cotton wool or flapjack, it would be nice if the titles crept just a little outside the box. I hope you have all enjoyed this post and I’d love to hear of other daft and batty titles you have come across, so do share below.

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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31 Responses to You Called Your Book What….?

  1. Santosh Iyer says:

    The following are the titles of French translations of some books by L.C.Tyler:
    1. Mort mystérieuse d’un respectable banquier anglais dans un manoir Tudor du Sussex
    2. Etrange suicide dans une Fiat rouge à faible kilométrage
    3.Mort étrange sur un bateau remontant le Nil
    4. Homicides multiples dans un hôtel miteux des bords de Loire
    Very detailed titles !

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Robert Garni says:

    One of my favorites (and one of the more elusive) is The Mystery of the Monkey Gland Cocktail by Roger East (1932).

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The thing with Vegetable Duck is that it is the exception that proves the rule for Rhode… ooh, I feel a blog post of my own coming on. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This post had me laughing out loud, fantastic. It reminds me of a great lecture I went to last year of a friend who is doing a PHD in the theology of monsters (super interesting topic!)

    On a side note during the lecture, and for a laugh, he showed us a whole strand of self published trashy romantic novels that you could find on kindle under the category of ‘Bigfoot Erotica’. I’ll leave it to your imagination how funny some of those titles were.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Glad you enjoyed the post. A PhD in Monster Theology does sound pretty cool, though Bigfoot Erotica does seem a little disturbing to say the least. Think my interest in monsters is probably more in the regions of Monsters Inc.

      Like

    • John says:

      Theology of monsters? And what exactly is that? Studying the religions that are formed around monsters…or the religions that monsters follow themselves? And give me an example of either, please. Sometimes there are fields of study I would rather not know exist, but this is too bizarre for me to remain unenlightened.

      Like

  5. JJ says:

    God, yes, that Rupert Penny title is unfortunate, isn’t it?! And I only started reading his Ramble House stable-mate Max Afford because I was intrigued by the sheer oddness of the title Owl of Darkness…but some of these choices are nevertheless rather difficult to understand (The Girl with a Squint Really, Georges? Really?). Excellent topic, I shall keep an eye out…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel like Penny’s editor might have said something. Or perhaps he did and that title was an improvement on the original? Doesn’t bear thinking about really does it? The amount of older mysteries which began with The Girl… really surprised me and to be honest I think they often finished the titles off much more originally than they do nowadays. The only shame about this post is that an awful lot of mysteries aren’t that easy to get a hold of.

      Like

      • JJ says:

        Initial sugestions probably included Whew, It Stinks In Here, Somebody Open a Window as well as Well, She’ll Probably Be Fine In a Minute and Dammit Jones If You Can’t Control Yourself at a Crime Scene…Oh, Sorry, I Just Smelled It and Assumed…Well, In My Defence This House Isn’t Piped For Gas — Oh For God’s Sake, Man, Don’t Sulk, It’s Very Unbecoming; Look, I’m Sorry, Okay?.

        Liked by 3 people

      • oh to be a fly on the wall of their author/editor meeting…

        Liked by 1 person

      • JJ says:

        “So, this novel of yours in which a lady is murdered in a sealed room…”
        “Yes, I want to call it Oh, Blimey, How on Earth Has She Been Stabbed in the Back When the Door is Locked and No-one Could Get In? Was It a Ghost? No, Wait, Ghosts Aren’t Real So It Can’t Have Been a Ghost…

        Liked by 2 people

      • An career in creating mystery fiction title is definitely beckoning for you I think.

        Like

  6. John says:

    Bill Pronzini has an entire chapter on bizarre titles in his book on the “alternative mystery” Gun in Cheek. Phoenix Press, a low rent publisher of genre fiction mostly westerns and mysteries, was particularly fond of releasing books with “out there” titles many of them following a pattern of using either Death or Murder “doing” something odd: Murder Spoils Everything, On Murder’s Skirts, Murder Does Light Housekeeping, Murder with Long Hair, Death Gets a Head, Death on the Nose, Death Wears a Scarab, Death Goes to a Party, Death Paints a Picture, Death Defies the Doctor, Death Beats the Band, and Death Croons the Blues. There are lots more!

    One of my favorite bizarre titles that also happens to be a very good mystery is Diabolic Candelabra by E. R. Punshon. My favorite “insane” title is another from the gallery of kooks published by Phoenix Press: Lady, That’s My Skull! by Carl Shannon.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I had a feeling you would know some good ones. Think Lady, that’s my skull would also be my favourite out of those ones, though I am intrigued by Murder Does Light Housekeeping – another one of those titles which begs the question why?

      Like

      • Santosh Iyer says:

        Similarly, there are titles beginning with Corpse like Corpse in the Wind, The Corpse Came Calling, The Corpse Came Back, The Corpse at the Quill Club, and The Corpse With Knee Action.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Corpse with Knee Action? Think that title definitely fits into the category of being a weird title due to the questions it raises.

        Like

  7. James Henry says:

    “Hugger-mugger” can mean either chaotic or clandestine, which makes Elliot Paul’s title even more interesting.
    I’m surprised you didn’t mention The Deadly Percheron by John Franklin Bardin – a horse and an unusual word combined. A Percheron is a heavy-duty haulage horse.
    The English writer Peter Dickinson wrote a book called The Glass-sided Ants’ Nest, but his publisher insisted that the title be changed, as books with insects in the title didn’t sell.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. ravenking81 says:

    Thanks to you I have now learned what mukluks are 🙂
    Apparently a mukluk is a classic Alaskan foot wear, some sort of winter boot.

    “Obelists Fly High” by C. Daly King is another weird one, didn’t King even make up that word obelist himself?

    One of the more unusual moder titles I came across recently is “Police At The Station And They Don’t Look Friendly” by Adrian McKinty.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Brad says:

    I always thought Marsh’s Killer Dolphin a weird title. I know the Dolphin is a theatre, not the kindly, intelligent mammal. But really! what was Marsh going for there? Maybe the dolphin was simply not thought about much until the TV series “Flipper!” I wish I had a list of great titles for you. Like others here, I will keep a watch out for them. Fun topic, Kate! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • haha Killer Dolphin must be the American title, as in the UK it is entitled Death at the Dolphin (sounds vaguely more sensible). I guess in a similar vein to the 60-70s covers of GAD fiction which tried to make the books look incredibly racy when they weren’t, the American publishers might have thought if they called it Killer Dolphin, people might think it was the dolphin version of Jaws.

      Like

  10. I loved this, so entertaining! I hope I will start noticing some odd ones from now on. there’s a Michael Gilbert called Crack in the Teacup, I think, which I did find odd.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Taking Detective Stories Seriously: The Collected Crime Reviews of Dorothy L Sayers (2017) | crossexaminingcrime

  12. Pingback: The Trouble at Turkey Hill (1949) by Kathleen Moore Knight | crossexaminingcrime

  13. Pingback: Spider Web (1938) by Alice Campbell | crossexaminingcrime

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