Friday’s Forgotten Book: The Silver Horseshoe by Gerald Verner

Gerald Verner was one of the many pen names used by John Robert Stuart Pringle (1897-1980). Other pseudonyms were Thane Leslie, Derwent Steele, Donald Stuart, and Nigel Vane. Donald Stuart was the name he used initially, writing 44 stories for the Sexton Blake Library under that identity. Verner wrote more than 120 novels, mostly mysteries and thrillers, that were translated into over 35 languages. He also wrote stage plays, radio serial programs, and movie scripts.

His most enduring series character was Superintendent Robert Budd of Scotland Yard, a large and sleepy detective who seems slow but manages to identify culprits in a more or less timely manner. The Silver Horseshoe (Wright & Brown, 1938; Lume Books, 2018) is Budd’s third appearance. It opens with John Arbinger, a well-known horseracing bookie, reading a letter demanding £5000 for protection from various unnamed racing gangs. That’s £339,077 in present-day pounds, or $427,985 US. The letter, signed only with the stamp of a silver horseshoe, expressly forbids contact with the authorities. Arbinger takes the letter to Budd in express defiance. Budd sends the letter to Finger Prints and promises an investigation. That night as Arbinger enters his study, a blast from a machine gun outside the French windows kills Arbinger and demolishes the room and its contents.

Budd was not expecting direct action of any sort and was completely taken aback. Confirmation that he was dealing with an unusual criminal came with the arrival of Peter Ashton of the Morning Mail, who had a copy of the original extorting letter sent to Arbinger as well as a letter to the newspaper, saying that Arbinger had been killed for failing to heed the warning not to contact Scotland Yard. There was no hope of keeping the newspaper from printing such a scoop and all Budd could do was try to make use of Ashton’s eagerness to investigate. In the meantime, other bookies who received letters demanding money were quick to pay up and keep still for fear of suffering the same fate. One bookie though was an ex-boxer and had no intention of being pushed around by a bunch of thugs…….

I enjoyed this book more than I expected to. It immediately drew me into the story and held my attention as one action sequence flowed easily into the next. Budd is an out-of-the-way fictional police detective, neither too good to be true nor a rogue cop. The writing style is not particularly dated, even though it’s more than 80 years old. I did notice some conventions that were popular at the time: There’s a master criminal who directs the activities of minions, keeping all but a few ignorant of the overall plan. The newspaper reporter becomes part of the investigative staff and the police share information with him. The kidnapping victims are held on a boat, which happens often in this time period. I do not know why. There had to have been garages, attics, and basements galore in London. Or maybe a nice deserted cottage on the outskirts of town. Perhaps boats are necessary so the kidnappers can leave victims to drown, creating a suspenseful scene while they find a way to escape. At any rate, this is a smoothly paced book with enough plot twists to hold a jaded mystery reader’s attention. Fans of Dick Francis and horseracing mysteries or journalist investigators will especially be interested in this story.

Friday’s Forgotten Book: A Wreath for the Bride by Maria Lang

Kate Jackson drew my attention to Maria Lang (1914-1991) a few weeks ago in her review of No More Murders!, one of three Lang books translated into English. See Lang was one of the original members of the Swedish crime writers association Svenska Deckarakademin and helped popularize the detective novel in Sweden. See more about her in this translated entry from the Swedish Women’s Biographical Dictionary

Anyone described as the equal of Agatha Christie has my immediate attention so I found an appallingly worn and stained copy of another title on ThriftBooks and dove into it upon its arrival. A Wreath for the Bride (Regnery, 1968), translated by Joan Tate from the Swedish original published in 1960, was also made into a film in 1961 and in 2013. It is one episode of the Swedish television drama series Crimes of Passion, It is the ninth of some 40 novels Lang wrote, mostly detective novels featuring Puck Bure and Christer Wijk.

The town of Skoga is atwitter with excitement on a June Friday as Anneli Hammar is to marry Joakim Cruse tomorrow. Anneli is a well-known resident who grew up in the town and Cruse is a wealthy bachelor who moved to the area a few months earlier. It’s considered by everyone an excellent match. Anneli visits the florist to see her bridal bouquet with her best friend Dina waiting for her outside. When Anneli does not emerge in a few minutes, Dina enters the shop to learn what is keeping her. The store owner denies that Anneli was ever there. Bewildered, Dina notifies Anneli’s mother that her daughter has disappeared. The town’s rumor mill explodes.

Christer Wijk is home for the wedding, as his mother is Anneli’s godmother. He is promptly pulled into the search, working with the local police. Anneli’s body appears on a beach near her home on Sunday morning. Instead of attending the town’s social event of the season, Christer goes back to work at his usual job as a State police detective, trying to figure out where Anneli was between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning and how she left the shop with no one seeing her.

Lang indeed has similarities to Christie. Her Skoga is the Swedish equivalent of St. Mary Mead, where everyone knows everyone else. Many of the characters are instantly recognizable as ordinary small town denizens. And the scene at the end where all of the suspects are gathered while the detective reveals the murderer is pure Christie.

However, Christie would never have deployed gender politics in her plots as brazenly as Lang does. Without giving it away, I can say that relationships are the major plot driver, which is quite unlike Christie. Contemporary reviewers criticized Lang for her focus on romance instead of logic and I can see their point. This interest seems to be an ingrained part of Lang’s character: Her doctoral thesis outed a Swedish philosopher and her first novel was nearly not published because of the lesbian relationship it depicted.

The bride’s wreath is also quite important to the plot. It is unusually made up of lilies of the valley, a beautiful flower but one I always thought too fragile to use in formal arrangements. There’s a long poem about lilies of the valley in the book. I have been unable to determine if Lang wrote it for the story or it is quoted from some other author.

Overall, an intriguing story with a surprisingly dark theme. I am sorry so few of Lang’s books have been translated into English. Print copies are hard to find and expensive but the ebook versions are quite affordable.

Friday’s Forgotten Books: Edwin of the Iron Shoes by Marcia Muller

Marcia Muller released her 35th book about Sharon McCone in 2018. Sharon is one of the earliest contemporary female private investigators I could find. Of course there was Miss Silver who first appeared in the late 1920s and Honey West, who was a caricature of a PI in the 1960s. But as far as modern realistic attempts to portray a woman earning a living as a private detective, the first seems to have been Cordelia Gray, introduced by P.D. James in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman in 1972. Then came Sharon’s appearance five years later in 1977, followed by Delilah West in 1980 and Maggie Elliot in 1981. The iconic V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Milhone both saw the light of day in 1982. Shortly afterwards the floodgates opened and readers had any number of women PIs to choose from, including taxi-driving Carlotta Carlyle and bartending Kat Colorado. Sadly enough, of the early arrivals only V.I. and Sharon are still around.

Sharon’s first case was Edwin of the Iron Shoes (David McKay, 1977). We learn right away that Sharon is the investigator for All Souls Cooperative, a legal plan for lower incomes in San Francisco, and her boss has called her to come to a small commercial strip that had been consulting with the cooperative over a series of vandalism events. This time one of the shop owners has been murdered. The police detective in charge does not want Sharon getting in his way so she uses the firm’s need to inventory the store for the owner’s estate as a reason for her to be on-site and to ask questions.

There are a number of things that don’t add up, such as how this particular shop appeared to be prosperous when the other stores on the street are barely getting by. A couple of break-ins while Sharon is in the store alone at night are frightening and tell her that there’s something valuable still there. Sharon doesn’t know enough about antiques to be able to tell what it is and she doesn’t trust the other dealers in the neighborhood enough to consult with them.

A story that is very much of its time and place. The partners in All Souls are the protestors of the 1960s grown up but still determined to make the world a better place. Computers had yet to commandeer the world. Apple meant the fruit in a lunch box and windows were holes in walls. Telephones stayed in one place, tethered by a cord. In many ways this book is historical fiction. Technology aside, the mystery is solidly plotted and solved. Along the way, key characters in this long-running series are introduced and their personalities begin to take shape, foreshadowing later stories. A good reminder of how this enduring series started. 

Friday’s Forgotten Book: Murders in Volume 2 by Elizabeth Daly

Elizabeth Daly (1879-1967) published her first mystery in 1940 and released 15 more in quick succession, the last one in 1951. Mystery Writers of America referred to her as “the grande dame of women mystery writers” when awarding her a “Special Edgar” in 1961.   The Golden Age of Detection Wiki states: “Daly works in the footsteps of Jane Austen, offering an extraordinarily clear picture of society in her time through the interactions of a few characters. In that tradition, if you knew a person’s family history, general type, and a few personal quirks, you could be said to know everything worth knowing about that person.” All 16 of her books feature Henry Gamadge, a bibliophile and expert on rare books and manuscripts.

In Murders in Volume 2 (Farrar & Rinehart, 1941) Henry Gamadge is invited to solve a mystery within an old, exclusive but now largely insolvent New York family. It seems in 1840 a governess to the family took a volume of Byron’s poems into the garden one afternoon and never returned. Both she and the book vanished forever. The family legend suggested the gazebo in the garden is haunted. Now the patriarch of the family, 80-year-old Imbrie Vauregard, known for his interest in the occult, is convinced that she has returned via the fourth dimension, looking just as she did a hundred years ago, and with the missing book as proof. The rest of the family is understandably skeptical and believes the so-called governess means to swindle the old gentleman out of what is supposed to be their inheritance. They hire Gamadge to identify the newcomer and the source of the book, which is the volume missing from a set of Byron in the Vauregard library.

Gamadge conducts a set of interviews and realizes he must have a photo of the upstart to properly identify her and arrives at the Vauregard mansion with a small camera to secretly photograph her. Instead he finds she has disappeared and Mr. Vauregard has been poisoned.

The family is full of recriminations for each other and Gamadge, although they are still relieved that their uncle did not have time to change his will. Gamadge finds he has to identify the killer to settle everyone else’s mind and to stop more bloodshed.

A smooth, evenly paced read. The milieu is old New York society, even though most of them have lost their money. Gamadge makes an interesting protagonist and the information about the old set of Byron is fascinating to bibliophiles. This is the story in which Gamadge meets his wife. Daly’s niece Eleanor Boylan wrote five mysteries featuring Henry’s widow Clara from 1989 to 1996. They don’t quite capture the feeling that these books have but they are also quite readable.

Friday’s Forgotten Book: Number Seventeen by Louis Tracy

Louis Tracy (1863-1928) was an inventive and versatile English author. From the Golden Age Detection Wiki: “….journalist and author of science fiction, adventure, crime and some supernatural fiction. His best-known detectives are the Scotland Yard team of Superintendent Winter and Inspector Furneaux. Other books feature Reginald Brett, a barrister. Tracy also collaborated with fantasist MP Shiel on eight novels under the pseudonym Gordon Holmes.” See a partial bibliography here: Fantastic Fiction states that he also used the pseudonym Robert Fraser, although I could not determine which books or stories were published under that name.

Number Seventeen (Edward J. Clode, 1915) is one of the Superintendent Winter and Inspector Furneaux investigations, although the main character is a freelance writer named Francis Berrold Theydon. Theydon is leaving the theatre one rainy night when he finds himself near a young lady whom he had admired earlier. She is entering a vehicle while her father assures her he will be home soon after a quick stop at his club. Theydon’s taxi appears and he goes home, surprised upon his arrival at seeing the same gentleman in front of his building, nowhere near the club mentioned.

Theydon hears a visitor enter the flat across the landing from his shortly afterwards and assumes it is the same individual. When he is approached by Superintendent Winter and Inspector Furneaux about 24 hours later who tell him the reserved lady who lived in that flat has been murdered, he can only think of the dignified gentleman. Coincidence enters the picture yet again when the millionaire James Forbes whose interest in airflight has captured public attention and with whom Theydon has an interview as background for an article he is writing turns out to be the man he saw outside the theatre and then outside his apartment building.

Theydon is so smitten with the millionaire’s daughter Evelyn that he is reluctant to mention seeing her father outside the victim’s apartment at the critical time. Much of the story deals with his attempts to be honest with the police while protecting the Forbes family. This book is very much of its time with a romance that motivates the lead character and international intrigue that contributes to the plot. Suspicion of individuals born in the East is evident. I found the book more readable than I expected it to be. Tracy’s work appears to be well worth a closer inspection.

Friday’s Forgotten Book: Lullaby of Murder by Dorothy Salisbury Davis

Dorothy Salisbury Davis (1916-2014) was known for her deeply human characters and the sensitivity and compassion with which she portrayed them in her suspense fiction. She was nominated for an Edgar Award six times, served as President of the Mystery Writers of America in 1956, and was named a Grand Master by the MWA in 1985. She was on the initial steering committee of Sisters in Crime when it was formed in 1986 to promote women crime fiction writers.

She wrote two series, one with Mrs. Norris, a Scots housekeeper in New York, and one with former actress Julie Hayes. Lieutenant Marks, a detective in the New York City police force, had two books to himself and he appeared in the Julie Hayes books. Her other 13 full-length novels are stand-alone mysteries. She also wrote dozens of short stories.

Sarah Weinman profiled Ms. Davis for Mystery Scene in 2014. See her article here: See the obituary that the New York Times ran here:

Lullaby of Murder (Scribner, 1984) is the third Julie Hayes mystery. Julie has worked for Tony Alexander for a year and is celebrating the anniversary at Sardi’s. Alexander writes a popular gossip column in the New York Daily. Tony is notoriously difficult to get along with, so the fact of the anniversary is indeed something to celebrate. Her journalist husband Jeff is leaving for Paris that night to research neo-Fascism, so the celebration is additionally something of a farewell meal.

A day later Tony rejects her latest column in the most scathing and humiliating of terms. That night she returns to the office to do some work, but sees Tony’s name on the after-hours sign-in log at the security desk. She leaves rather than face him again so soon. Unfortunately, she was seen by other late workers and becomes a person of interest when Tony’s body is discovered in his office early the next day. Julie feels the urgent need to identify the real killer to remove herself from police attention, so she begins questioning Tony’s wife and daughter and others who knew him in the past.

This mystery seems to be simpler and more straightforward in the beginning than it turns out to be. It skews dark by the end. Davis was known for her capable female characters and Julie Hayes is no exception. There is definitely something about a woman who, upon being advised to get a job, rents an office and sets up as a tarot card reader. The background, as the title suggests, is about actors, the support actors and the people on the fringes of the acting world and the ways they struggle to maintain a place in that world. An intriguing read but perhaps a little more complicated than it needed to be.

Friday’s Forgotten Book: Her Death of Cold by Ralph McInerny

Recently I was checking my shelves for books I could spare in response to a frantic call from a relative who ran out of things to read when I noticed my books by Ralph M. McInerny (1929-2010). I have not thought about his mysteries for years and decided to look at them again.

McInerney was a fascinating personality. He was Professor of Philosophy, Director of the Jacques Maritain Center, and Michael P. Grace Professor of Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He was also a Fulbright scholar. He published extensively in philosophy and theology, yet I knew of him because of his considerable output in the mystery field for which he received the 1993 Bouchercon Lifetime Achievement Award.

No two of the bibliographies of his fiction seem to match the others completely. Wikipedia cited McInerney’s obituary in the Los Angeles Times which said he published under the names Harry Austin, Matthew FitzRalph, Ernan Mackey, Edward Mackin, and Monica Quill, which no doubt contributes to the confusion.

In general, the following list seems to be correct, if not complete:

  • 27 adult mysteries, 2 young adult titles, and 3 collections of short stories with Father Francis Dowling
  • 6 books with Andrew Broom, an attorney in a small town in northern Indiana
  • 2 mysteries featuring Egidio Manfredi, a police captain in Fort Elbow, Ohio
  • 13 mysteries set at Notre Dame with a PI, Philip Knight, and his brother, Roger Knight, a philosophy professor
  • 2 books with retired CIA agent Vincent Traeger
  • 10 stand-alone mysteries

Written as Monica Quill, 9 books and one collection of short stories with Mary Teresa Dempsey, a nun in Chicago, Illinois. Written as Edward MacKin, one book with New York police officer James Cable.

For more about McInerney’s academic career, see For more about his fiction output, see Wikipedia,, Stop! You’re Killing Me,, and Fantastic Fiction,

Most people know about the Father Dowling mysteries through the television series of the same name with Tom Bosley in the leading role. It ran from 1987 to 1991. Ten years before that, however, the first book about Father Dowling was published, Her Death of Cold (Vanguard, 1977). It introduces Father Francis Dowling and describes how he came to the parish of St. Hilary in Fox River, Illinois, a community 40 miles outside Chicago.

Father Dowling revels in the work of caring for a parish most of the time. When an elderly parishioner calls him at 3:00 in the morning, however, he has to remind himself that he’s on duty around the clock. Sylvia Lowry is frightened and convinced her children want to kill her. Dowling is concerned enough to speak to her socialite children, who tell him about their mother’s erratic behavior with money. She’s recently cashed in all of her savings; her children don’t know why or what she’s done with it. When they find she is gone and her house is unlocked, they are not surprised that her car turns up later at an airport. But then her body is found on her kitchen floor. Where she has been, when she died, and how exactly she died is of intense interest to Detective Chief Phil Keegan, who confides in Dowling as the investigation progresses. The victim’s children are not at all admirable, and I found myself hoping one of them would be led off in handcuffs.

The plot offers a respectable number of red herrings and potential suspects. Authentic characters and sound Catholic theology are hallmarks of this series. With the summer ahead of us, this would be a good time for mystery readers to re-acquaint themselves with Fox River and its inhabitants. Readers who only know of Father Dowling through the television series have much good reading ahead of them.

Friday’s Forgotten Book: Detection Unlimited by Georgette Heyer

How I love Georgette Heyer! Her historical romances have an honored place on my bookshelves. I read some of them so often I can quote entire sections from memory. While Heyer wrote more than 40 romances, she only wrote about a dozen mysteries, although some of her romances have a mystery running through them, see The Reluctant Widow for instance. Eight of her pure mysteries were published before the beginning of World War Two during the Golden Age. There were three stand-alones, then four with Superintendent Hannasyde. Chief Inspector Hemingway appeared in one pre-war mystery, one released during the war, and two published during the early 1950s. The fourth stand-alone was also released during the war.

Her last mystery is the fourth Chief Inspector Hemingway, Detection Unlimited (Heineman, 1953). Set in the village of Thornden, which Heyer lovingly and meticulously describes, the town sounds positively idyllic. On a hot afternoon in June, everyone who is anyone in the village is at the Cedars, where the Haswells are hosting a tennis party. The sole absentee who might have been expected to attend is the newcomer Sampson Warrenby, an upstart who is gradually edging out the long-time village solicitor and who is doing his best to work his way into the rigid village social structure. He’s managed to annoy just about all of the locals so no one misses him. The party is slowly breaking up when Warrenby’s niece runs in to announce her uncle is dead. The death is clearly not natural, and the local police lose no time in calling in Scotland Yard.

Hemingway realizes quickly that the case is awash with suspects. There’s Warrenby’s niece, whom he treated like an unpaid servant. The resident solicitor was losing his practice through Warrenby’s conniving. The squire was introducing Warrenby to village society instead of crushing his pretentious ways, most unusual behavior. The mystery author was but one of many victims of Warrenby’s verbal jabs. A couple who recently moved into the area and who has declined to enter into the district social life has aroused everyone’s suspicions.  And on and on. The late lamented did not lack enemies. Moreover, most of the suspects insist on making cases against the other suspects, to which Hemingway is forced to listen.

The leisurely told story is as much about the village as it is about a mysterious death. Heyer portrays the village in such exquisite detail that a map, often seen in Golden Age mysteries, could easily be created from it. Hemingway and his assistant Inspector Harbottle have found housing in the village inn with which Hemingway is greatly pleased, the inn’s owner having, as he says, clearly not read the Rationing Orders. The culprit was gratifyingly hard to identify, and the arrest was a result of a last-minute surprise query from Hemingway. And many scenes are enlivened by the presence of a horde of rambunctious Pekinese dogs, raised by one of the residents who cannot control them. As always with a book by Heyer, highly recommended.

Friday’s Forgotten Book: Dread Journey by Dorothy B. Hughes

The crime fiction output of Dorothy B. Hughes (1904-1993) was only 14 novels but their influence was profound. Her work continues to be read, reprinted, and analyzed nearly 60 years after the publication of the last book in 1963, when she turned to full-time literary criticism. These two articles describe her work and its impact in some detail: The Deeply Unsettling Noir of Dorothy B. Hughes by Dwyer Murphy,, and On the World’s Finest Female Nor Writer, Dorothy B. Hughes by Sarah Weinman,

Hughes won the Outstanding Mystery Criticism Edgar Award in 1951 for her reviews published in the Albuquerque Tribune and the Los Angeles Daily News. Her last crime novel The Expendable Man was shortlisted for Best Novel in 1964, and her biography/literary analysis of Erle Stanley Gardner was shortlisted for Best Critical/Biographical Work in 1979. Hughes was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1978. 

Dread Journey (Duell, Sloan & Pierce, 1945) was the eighth crime story by Hughes. In some ways it is firmly set in its place and time, and in others it might have been based on a story ripped from last year’s headlines. Its setting is nothing new, a passenger train on the three-day trip from Los Angeles to Chicago. Other mystery writers have used trains to good effect, the much-filmed Murder on the Orient Express springs immediately to mind. There’s The Mystery of the Blue Train from Christie, another Poirot story. Christie also set the beginning of one of my favorite mysteries from her on a train, 4:50 from Paddington, alternatively titled What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw! More currently, Janet Dawson is writing a wonderful historical mystery series set on the California Zephyr, a passenger train that ran from Oakland, California, to Chicago from 1949 to 1970. A leisurely trip with nothing to do but snack and look at the scenery has always sounded like a great adventure to me. But in Hughes’ hands, the train trip becomes the height of trepidation.

Katherine Agnew, the film actress of the moment, is traveling cross-country via train to her movie premiere in New York. Traveling with her is her director Vivien Spender, one of the top names in Hollywood. Agnew is Spender’s latest discovery. A few years ago he scooped her out of oblivion and made her into a household name. But now, as is Spender’s habit, he has found another beautiful face that intrigues him and Agnew is to be discarded. Only she doesn’t intend to go. Shrewder than the women who preceded her, Agnew gathered enough evidence early in their relationship to ensure that Spender would go to jail if she revealed it. It is safe with her lawyer, who has a personal grudge against Spender and would be only too happy to use the information.

Spender’s enormous ego will not allow anyone to cross him. Agnew has no intention of giving up her career. The battle of nerves between the two creates nail-biting tension that infects the entire passenger car.

Only 192 pages, this book packs a visceral punch in its ability to convey anxiety and fear. It easily holds its own with contemporary novels of psychological suspense. Publishers Weekly gave the 2019 reprint of this book a starred review.

Friday’s Forgotten Book: The Case of the Leaning Man by Christopher Bush

Christopher Bush (1885-1973) is another prolific writer of the Golden Age who faded from view in the past 50 years. Why his books have not been reprinted while his contemporaries have been is a mystery in itself. Through the assiduous efforts of Dean Street Press, his entire catalog of 63 mysteries featuring writer and amateur sleuth Ludovic Travers, published between 1926 and 1968, is becoming available again. Numbers 41 through 50 were released on 4 May 2020.

In the nineteenth entry in the series The Case of the Leaning Man (Cassell & Co., 1938; reissued by Dean Street Press in 2018) Travers juggles multiple requests for his help. A theatrical agent is desperate to resolve a dispute between two sisters who comprise one of his top acts. He has a lucrative contract for the two, but they are suddenly declining to speak to each other, much less perform together. The loss of the contract means a great financial setback for the agent. Travers has some acquaintance with both sisters, so he agrees to sort out what he is sure is a trifling misunderstanding.

Then a visiting Maharajah is killed in an exclusive hotel, and no one saw anything or anyone at the relevant time. Superintendent George Wharton calls Travers in to help with the potential political implications and the interviews of the victim’s staff and hotel personnel. They advise Wharton and Travers, despite his royal birth and his wealth, the victim ran with a sketchy crowd and exhibited less than well-bred behavior. As the interviews are ending, the local division inspector calls Wharton to tell him that a man who had been picked up as drunk had just died in hospital and that he had the Maharajah’s wallet. Wharton and Travers tear off to the hospital to find out what they can there.

Some classic Golden Age investigative details here, such as a thorough analysis of timing and schedules and assessment of how long the trip from the hotel lobby to the Maharajah’s room might take via elevator versus the stairs. The action seemed to lag here and there because of all this, yet I found the characters appealing and the plot solid enough, if lacking in surprise. I will look for more in the series when my current TBR stack clears a bit.