The Saturday Review’s Criminal Records: Some Amusing Highlights

The Saturday Review, was an American literary publication, which ran from the 1920s in to the 1980s. The reason this publication should be of interest to us classic mystery fan readers, is because of one particular feature within it: The Criminal Record. In each issue a small section of one page under the heading mentioned above, would be dedicated to newly released mystery novels. These were snippet reviews, divided into four columns (Title and Name, Crime, Place and Sleuth, Summing Up and Verdict). I would show a picture but electronic reproduction is prohibited from the site (www.unz.org), which contains copies of this publication. However I would definitely recommend going onto this site and having a look for yourself.

But for those of you who want the hard work done for them, below are some of my favourite comments from The Criminal Record, as the reviewer (or reviewers most likely), do certainly have a way with words; neither mincing them nor shrinking away from putdowns. Enjoy!

Death of Ghost by Margery Allingham: ‘Usually delightful Campion wasted on first humourless Allingham; otherwise good mystery of how, not who’ (14th April 1934).

The Green Pack by Edgar Wallace and R J Curtis: ‘Two and two make four […] Dismissed’ (11th November 1933).

Murder Moon by Henry Leyford: ‘Bombastic speeches and silly posturing of “super detective” plus gaudily melodramatic plot reduce interest to zero centigrade’ (11th November 1933).

Corpse Escort by Clifford Knight: ‘Murderer with screw loose in brain plants one corpse in coffin and otherwise disports himself in rather brittle and unconvincing tale’ (20th July 1946).

Menace by Philip Macdonald: ‘Sloppy writing, wooden and unattractive personnel, reduced horror element to boredom’ (14th October 1933).

The Christine Diamond by Mrs Belloc Lowndes: ‘Triumph of virtue over wickedness of nobility described at great length and with considerable emotion. Mainly for simple-minded readers’ (25th May 1940).

Spinsters in Jeopardy by Ngaio Marsh: ‘Weird cultists, dope ring, similar stock props mar typically admirable craftsmanship […] For devotees and she has (and deserves) many’ (12th September 1953).

Murder in Black by Francis Grierson: ‘By the time you find out who “Black Man” was and how he did it you don’t much care’ (14th September 1935).

And here are some more positive reviews (after all they have to like something surely?)…

The Strange Case of Dr Earle by F W Crofts: ‘Sixty-one clues to minute, each followed to bitter end. For readers who like ’em hard and don’t skip’ (15th April 1933). I was in two minds about putting this in the positive section.

Puzzle for Fiends by Patrick Quentin: ‘Duluth’s didoes with sultry females, his amnesiac deducings and completely surprising solution make easy, if wacky reading’ (20th July 1946).

The Crimson Hair Murders by D and H Teilhet: ‘Bibulous baron carries weight of rather confusing yarn on his aristocratic shoulders – to knockout finish’ (21st November 1936).

The Crooks’ Shepherd by Selden Truss: ‘Despite meaningless title and lumbering action, story is completely redeemed by inexhaustible exuberance of clever Gallic detective’ (21st November 1936).

Once Too Often by Whitman Chambers: ‘Runs a high fever from start to finish. Alcoholic content very high with numerous purple pages, and ending grisly but effectively’ (20th August 1938).

Spies and Intrigues by E Phillips Oppenheim: ‘Some of it “dates” a bit but for readers with strong and tireless wrists, its sure-fire entertainment’ (14th November 1936).

The Chameleon by Harry Stephen Keeler: ‘You know what it’s all about – maybe – on last page, and the rest is sheer – but dammit, interesting – lunacy’ (4th February 1939).

Hugger-Mugger in the Louvre by Elliot Paul: ‘Begins as contribution to crime literature, where Salvador Dali leaves off in painting. Sober-minded readers strictly warned off’ (27th January 1940).

The Cabenda Affair by Matthew Head: ‘If J. Conrad were alive, and writing mystery yarns, they would resemble this one – although New England spinster sleuth might floor him’ (5th March 1949).

Purely including this one for JJ whose love of Gladys Mitchell is well known…

The Saltmarsh Murders by Gladys Mitchell: ‘One of the few mystery stories for the adult mind. Thrills, humour, considerable a-morality, and much slick psychology.’ (29th April 1933)

You may be thinking one rather well-known Classic crime author has been left out. However fear not, all will be revealed tomorrow…

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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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6 Responses to The Saturday Review’s Criminal Records: Some Amusing Highlights

  1. Pingback: The Saturday Review’s Criminal Records: Some Amusing Highlights | picardykatt's Blog

  2. JJ says:

    I was in two minds about putting this in the positive section.

    Haha, poor old Crofts…

    What a great selection of reviews, thanks for sharing this. I’d love to think that these were all the work of one reviewer, I can picture a thoroughly disgruntled figure throwing aside those first books in disgust and then reaching for a pen to have their revenge in arch, decisive handwriting. Equally, you get a sense of those later books being snapped shut with a deep sigh of satisfaction, and a small smile playing on their lips as they recalls its delights while making a few notes about it.

    And, seriously, The Saltmarsh Murders? Literally any other Mitchell book I could put this opinion down to differing tastes — she’s not for me, we’ve established that — but how anyone can can something this positive about that sh*tshower of a book is beyond me. Aaah, well, takes all sorts…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure it is the same reviewer over all that time, as the later reviews do lack that biting edge (something I’ll be looking at in today’s post a little bit). But like you I’d like to think the ones in the 1930s and 40s at least were the same person. Shame almost that modern publications don’t tend to review in that way or tone. And glad to see you appreciated the Mitchell reference…

      Like

  3. Pingback: Agatha Christie and one of her Toughest Critics | crossexaminingcrime

  4. John says:

    “[S]lick psychology” in The Saltmarsh Murders? I’m with JJ. It’s a pile of Freudian BS. Not one of my favorite Mitchell books at all. Written for shock factor alone, I think. She was subversive and loved breaking rules in her early career, but her heavy leaning on Freudian psychology is not only dated it’s pure crap.

    Mini lecture time: “Sergeant Cuff” was the pseudonym of John T. Winterich, managing editor of The Saturday Review from 1946 until 1966. For a brief period (1950-1951) The Criminal Record was covered by Saturday Review writer Kathleen Sprouls who in the 1930s wrote a handful of fairly competent mystery novels herself. She is a much better critic of mystery novels than a concocter of plots. If you come across any of her rave reviews you ought to read the book. Unlike “Cuff” who often overpraised some pretty dull and unimaginative mystery novels (as well as digging into some brilliant ones) Sproul knew the superior from the mediocre.

    Liked by 1 person

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