Golden Age Detective Stories (2021) ed. by Otto Penzler

Knowing that I had less prolonged reading time these last few days, I decided to take a look at this forthcoming short story anthology which is being released by American Mystery Classics next month. Perfect for the shorter bursts of reading time that I had. There are 14 stories in total, and they vary in length, with some being in the 50+ range. But most are around 20-30ish. The collection begins with an introduction by Otto Penzler, which treads the familiar ground of the origins of the mystery short story and the dates for when the Golden Age of detective stories began and ended. This is an introduction which is perhaps more geared towards someone new to the genre.

The Enemy (1951) by Charlotte Armstrong

A boy named Freddy is being held back by a policeman, after a local householder called Matlin says the youth attacked him. In return the boy and his friends accuse Matlin of having poisoned Freddy’s dog, whose body is found in the man’s back garden. With things looking like they will boil over, Mike Russell, (who is lunching at Judge Kittinger’s home), steps in and decides to divert the teenagers’ energies into investigating the canine’s death. The truth of what really happened is surprising to many, including the reader. The focus of this story is Mike’s concern for Freddy, who he fears will do something he will regret if the death is not resolved.

The Stripper (1947) by Anthony Boucher

This is the sort of title that is probably intended to trip you up, expecting one thing and getting something entirely different. The stripper of the title is Jack the Stripper, the nickname of a serial killer who is on the loose and the only witness who has seen something of him and lived, noticed that he disrobes for his murderous acts. The killer has 6 bodies to his credit and as the mystery progresses he adds another to his list. This time it is Professor Flecker, a man who had communicated with Sister Ursula that he thinks he knows who the murderer might be. But before she and the police have reached him, he is dead, yet this time the killer has made a mistake. The location within which the professor dies, a locked house, narrows down the suspects to his three roommates, but which one is it? The professor in his letter to Sister Ursula leaves her a riddle which should pinpoint their identity. But can she figure it out? I have read some of Boucher’s mysteries, but have not read any of the Sister Ursula ones, so it was nice to finally encounter her. I think the solution to this case, to a degree, involves some specialist knowledge.

Postiche (1935) by Mignon G. Eberhart

Susan Dare, one of Eberhart’s series sleuth, is a mystery writer and has been invited by Miriam Wiggenhorn to her home with the request that she investigate the death of Miriam’s uncle. She wants to make sure it was a natural death. Eberhart provides an interesting array of clues and is clever at turning things upside down at the end.  

The Case of the Crimson Kiss (1948) by Erle Stanley Gardner

In the story specific introduction, it was interesting to note that in the 1950 George Gallup Whodunit Derby, a nationwide poll to find out America’s favourite mystery writer, Gardner came first, (followed by Arthur Conan Doyle, Ellery Queen, Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie, S. S. Van Dine, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Rex Stout and Dashiell Hammett.)

The story commences with Fay Allison prattling on about her engagement to Dane Grover, and is oblivious to the hatred her roommate, Anita Bonsal, has towards her. Fay is just waiting for her aunt to arrive so they can get married and we soon learn that Dane used to take Anita out. Anita secretly goes to another apartment in the building which houses Carver L. Clements and no one knows they are in a relationship, (since he is waiting for his divorce to come through.) She waits for him in his car but when he doesn’t come out a while later, she returns to his apartment and discovers he is dead, murdered. This was definitely not the death I was expecting, having my own ideas of where the story might head. I don’t want to say much more about the plot, but Anita’s subsequent actions open up a two-pronged mystery and naturally Perry Mason is in the middle of it all. I would say this story is partially an inverted mystery, but not totally. I very much enjoyed this longer tale and it is one of my favourites from the anthology.

The Enchanted Garden (1949) by H. F. Heard

Heard is an author I have heard about through the American Mystery Classics series, since they reprinted one of his novels a while ago, but this is the first time I have tried anything by him. It begins with his series sleuth Mr Mycroft correcting our Watson-like narrator Mr Silchester and a recent death is brought up, that of Hetty Hess. Previously she had fallen at her bird sanctuary but had been fine afterwards. Yet two weeks later she dies of intestinal stasis. Mycroft is sure she was murdered, though his friend cannot see why. We follow the pair as they visit the sanctuary twice and like Silchester we probably can’t see how Mycroft’s actions lead to him solving the mystery. I think this is a mystery which tells more than it shows. However, the murder method is cunningly unusual.

5-4=Murderer (1953) by Baynard Kendrick

Kendrick is another writer who has come on to my radar due to the AMC series and it was interesting to read that he was a founding member of Mystery Writers of America and was their first president. He did a lot of work helping blind veterans during WW2 and wrote mysteries which featured such a veteran called Captain Duncan Maclain, ‘who becomes a private eye, assisted by his friends and partner, Spud Savage, but even more by his two dogs, Schnucke and Dreist.’

However, Maclain is without his assistants in this short story. He has been at a hunting camp with his friend Phil Bristow. Bristow had invited him out there because Colonel William Yerkes, who is in charge of the State Police, wants Maclain to investigate a police department. There have been too many unsolved shootings and too much gambling going on. However, Bristow has had a heart attack and Maclain has to make his way to a telephone to get an ambulance. This he manages to do, only minutes later to be plunged into the middle of a shooting at a diner, late at night. Sorting out the good guys from the bad becomes an urgent necessity, but can Maclain manage to do it in time? I like the ambiguous nature of the ending and based on this first experience I would be interested in reading a longer outing starring Maclain.

There’s Death for Remembrance (1955) by Frances and Richard Lockridge

I liked finding out the origins of the characters Jerry and Pamela North. It transpires that originally Richard Lockridge wrote a ‘series of non-mystery stories about a publisher and his wife’ and collected them in a book called Mr and Mrs North (1938). However, ‘when Frances Lockridge decided to write a detective story, she became bogged down and he suggested that he use his creations as the main characters. She devised the plot, he did the actual writing…’ This short story has been reprinted as ‘Pattern for Murder’ and ‘Murder for Remembrance’.

Pamela and Jerry North have been at a small school reunion dinner party in New York, yet before anyone has even sat down to dinner, one of the guests, Fern Hartley, is dead. The rest of the group has seen her fall head long down the stairs and she died of a broken neck, but what caused her to fall in the first place? The writers describe being stuck at such a social event well, with Pam failing to remember anything about her time at school. This contrasts with Fern who has a ridiculously good memory. Pamela fears that Fern one of these days will remember too much, as there are things people wouldn’t want remembered. This certainly seems to have been the case. Fern reminds me of Major Palgrave from Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery (1964) as he too has an endless supply of anecdotes which people switch off to. Yet the answer to their deaths lies within their ramblings. Captain Weigand is the central sleuthing figure, but Pamela nudges him in the right direction at the end, when he is about to go off track.

The Monkey Murder (1947) by Stuart Palmer

Inspector Oscar Piper and Hildegarde Withers have been out for the evening, when he notices George Wayland at Times Square flaunting himself in front of Oscar. Oscar mentions that he is very likely to be a murderer, but that he has got away with it. Oscar believes that he strangled his wife and that he had tried to confusing matters by setting the crime scene up as a religious cult ceremony, with a stuffed monkey’s tail having been used to do the deed. However, certain pieces of evidence seemingly exonerate him and Oscar fears he will be derided in the newspapers shortly if he cannot prove who did it. Thankfully Hilda is able to come to his aid, even if she uses slightly dubious methods. I am fond of Hilda as a character, so I enjoyed experiencing her in the short story format.

The Adventure of the African Traveller (1934) by Ellery Queen

The information in the first few paragraphs feels a little bit back to front for me and I did have to re-read some places to make sure I knew what was going on, but essentially the tale kicks off with Ellery Queen heading to a university seminar room to teach his first deduction class. He is meant to be teaching just two students, but the daughter of a professor manages to wrangle her way onto the course, much to Ellery’s displeasure. He takes them straight off to look at a real-life crime scene which his father is investigating. The crime is the murder of Oliver Spargo who has been killed in a hotel room. The trio get to look at the scene before going off for two hours to follow their own theories independently. But will any of them crack the case? I found Ellery a bit irritating in this story as he acts shoddily towards Miss Ickthorpe. He is happy when she displays discomfort at seeing a dead body for the first time and squashes her attempts to engage in the crime scene discussion.

Puzzle for Poppy (1946) by Patrick Quentin

Iris and Peter Duluth are regretting their choice of rental accommodation as they want to avoid using the public beach to relax, as Iris is too well known as an actress. But it seems as though they are not allowed to use the patio, as another lodger, Miss Crumps, apparently has sole use of it. She doesn’t want them using it due to her St Bernard, an expectant mother, called Poppy, who needs peace and quiet. However, she relents later and the Duluths find out about how Miss Crumps fears that Poppy may be killed. Poppy, I should add, was owned by a rich woman, who had recently died and had left all her money to Poppy, aside from a nest egg for Miss Crumps. However, if Poppy dies before she gives birth, then the money will revert to the rich woman’s ill-favoured nephew. But can Miss Crumps, with the aid of the Duluths, foil any attempts? I thought this was a very engaging tale and I liked the unusual type of crime setup being investigated.

From Another World (1948) by Clayton Rawson

Ross Harte, our narrator, is writing an article on ESP and goes to interview Andrew Drake, a rich millionaire who has become interested in the topic. However, when he arrives the other inhabitants of the house are trying to break down the door of his study and naturally when they effect an entry they find him dead. The door had been sealed up once he had gone in, as he was conducting an experiment with a woman called Rosa Rhys. Alongside Drake being stabbed, the only other person in the room is Rosa, who is found knocked out and wearing a swimming costume.  Given the evidence the police soon arrest Rosa, but have they got the wrong person? Thankfully, the Great Merlini is on hand to help. This story certainly has its outré elements and has more than one ‘impossible’ aspect.

Goodbye, Goodbye (1946) by Craig Rice

The story opens with a woman in a mink coat crouched on a building ledge, with others trying to dissuade her from jumping. John J. Malone is in the vicinity and manages to help her back inside. She claims an unknown man forced her out on to the ledge, but medical professionals and the police believe this is her third attempt at suicide. Is she being framed or are they correct? Malone is an enjoyable character to follow in this book, but the tale is very much one which tells you rather than shows you, and the case has quite an extended backstory.  

Locked Doors (1925) by Mary Roberts Rinehart

I have already reviewed this title on the blog, and you can read my thoughts here.

The Mystery in Room 913 (1938) by Cornell Woolrich

I learnt the unusual fact that Woolrich was such a recluse that when his leg became infected, he did not allow any medical attention until it was too late and it then had to be amputated. Woolrich lived in a hotel so I wonder how much of his own experiences fed into this story, which is also set at a hotel, called St. Anselm. It appears that once or twice a year a single guest books room 913 and despite showing no signs of suicidal intentions, dies by falling out of the room window, down to the street below. There is always a very short suicide note. Each time the police are happy to write these cases off as suicides, but the hotel detective, Striker, is sure they are murders. He is determined to prove this and to figure out how they are managed, but will he be murdered in the process? With Woolrich there is no guarantee of a happy ending, of right triumphing over wrong, and I feel this gives his work a grittier edge. This is not a criticism and I very much enjoyed reading this story. The mechanics involved are unusual and unexpected.

Overall, I felt this was a strong collection of stories, showcasing a number of America’s finest mystery writers and it is the sort of anthology which having given you a taster, encourages you to go away and try some of the included author’s novels.

Rating: 4.25/5

Source: Review Copy (American Mystery Classics via Netgalley)

6 comments

  1. This looks like an interesting, fairly balanced collection that mostly avoids over-anthologized stories with the exception of Rawson’s “From Another World” and Woolrich’s “The Mystery in Room 913.” I can’t fault Penzler for including them, because they’re more than worthy of their status as classics of the short locked room mystery.

    …based on this first experience I would be interested in reading a longer outing starring Maclain.

    Baynard Kendrick is almost anomalous as a Golden Age mystery writer. Kendrick was basically the “missing link” between the detective story, the pulps and comic books with Captain Maclain being credited as the inspiration for Marvel’s Daredevil. I recommend The Whistling Hangman, but you might be more fascinated by one of his standalone mysteries, Blood on Lake Louisa, which is his take on the HIBK school. Mike Grost says on his website that “it is odd to see this whole Rinehart approach, in an utterly male-oriented book.” I agree and that perhaps makes it unique in the genre.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I think their story choices were also directed by which authors they have already reprinted in their series, which makes sense, as if people liked a certain writer they then have access to another title by them. Thank you for the Kendrick recommendations. Blood on Lake Louisa does sound intriguing.

      Like

  2. Glad the QPQ story was good. I have a story collection by them.
    I read the Heard novel,, which is rather famous and apparently has never been out of print. Best skipped I thought.

    Liked by 1 person

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