Friday’s Forgotten Book: Death for Dear Clara by Q. Patrick

Q. Patrick was the pseudonym of Hugh Callingham Wheeler (1912-1987) and Richard Wilson Webb (1901-1966), who also published under the names Patrick Quentin and Jonathan Stagge. Webb wrote with Martha Mott Kelly under the name Q. Patrick for a few years before Webb teamed up with Wheeler. Webb also worked with Mary Louise White Aswell on a couple of early novels. Wheeler and Webb are the authors of Death for Dear Clara (Simon and Schuster, 1937), which is the first appearance of Timothy Trant, a police lieutenant in New York City.

Clara Van Heuten was much admired for her initiative in setting herself up in business after she was widowed. She ran what she called a literary advice bureau, not an agent as such, but an editorial service that read manuscripts of all kinds and recommended improvements. From the lush furnishings in her office and her Park Avenue apartment, apparently it was quite successful.

On the afternoon that she died, a number of clients visited her in rapid succession. When her secretary entered her office with letters to be signed at the end of the day, she found Clara slumped across her desk with a knife in her back. After the police were called in, Detective Timothy Trant was assigned to the case, considering the victim’s place in society. A Princeton graduate, he was believed to have an understanding of the upper social circles that escaped lesser police officers and was deployed as a sort of supplemental secret weapon. His choice of clothing was unorthodox for a policeman. When he first comes in to the action, he is wearing a gray suit with a maroon shirt and a black tie. He tells someone he wears all colors except violet and pastels. (I don’t know what he has against pastels.)

Despite his sartorial peculiarities Trant is quite workmanlike in his investigation and the story that follows is classic Golden Age in style, down to the big reveal at the end in front of all of the suspects. A compelling case could be made against several of them, as Clara was not as nice as everyone thought she was.

The writing is gently sardonic throughout; one character’s wild youth is described as being “the New York débutante to end all débutantes. Her wild escapades had run neck and neck on the front pages with the downward careening of stock prices….But flaming youth had palled. … Patricia had abandoned her capitalistic pranks to become the democrat to end all democrats. She had deflected her money and her boundless energy into soup for soup kitchens and butter for breadlines. She had become at once the champion and the terror of Manhattan’s unemployed.”

Solid plot, smoothly paced story, proficient writing. A good read!

Friday’s Forgotten Book: The Canary Murder Case by S. S. van Dine

S. S. Van Dine is the pseudonym used by Willard Huntington Wright (1888 – 1939) when he wrote detective fiction. Originally a literary and art critic, Wright read dozens of mysteries and crime novels during a lengthy illness, after which he wrote an essay on the history and conventions of detective novels that was published in 1926. He also wrote an article, Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories, in 1928 that has been often reprinted and compared to Ronald Knox’s commandments. After his research into the origins of the detective story, he wrote a dozen contemporary mysteries featuring amateur detective Philo Vance, a well-to-do member of New York’s upper crust. He later developed the scenarios for a number of detective short films produced in Hollywood.

The Canary Murder Case (Macmillan, 1927) was the second adventure for Vance. In the introduction Van Dine describes himself as the personal attorney and close friend of Vance, who accompanied him on his investigations and became his eventual scribe. Vance was well-acquainted with the New York District Attorney John Markham who invited him to assist in the investigation of the murder of Margaret Odell, a Broadway singer and dancer known as the Canary after one of her most famous roles. Odell, notorious for her flamboyance and her love affairs, was found strangled in her apartment one morning by her maid. The apartment was ransacked and her jewelry was missing. Based on the evidence of the switchboard operators and the janitor, the building was secured such that no one could have entered her apartment near the time of the murder, thereby setting up a nice locked room puzzle.

Philo Vance is the classic gentleman detective, wealthy and well-educated with a strong interest in the arts. His foppish mannerisms conceal significant intelligence and creative problem-solving skills. Think Peter Wimsey or Albert Campion transported to Jazz Age New York City. The district attorney and police detectives who can’t keep up with Vance’s out-of-the-box approach to the investigation serve as his foils. The mystery offers an apartment that no one could have entered to commit the crime and suspects with apparently unassailable alibis. In addition, the setting, the social context surrounding the murder, and the dialog are very much of the time and place, making this an intriguing period piece of crime fiction.

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: 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: The American Gun Mystery by Ellery Queen

The American Gun Mystery by Ellery Queen (Frederick A. Stokes, 1933) is the sixth mystery written by cousins Manfred Bennington Lee and Frederic Dannay. The series began in 1929 with The Roman Hat Mystery and ended in 1971 with A Fine and Private Place. A collection of short stories was released posthumously in 1999.

Buck Horne was a star of the silent Western movies for years but eventually the casting calls stopped. His foster daughter had learned all of his shooting, roping, and riding skills and became a cinema star in his place. Buck yearned for the spotlight again and, in a bid for a comeback, enlisted the assistance of his old friend Wild Bill Grant, a former U.S. Marshal, who cast him as a star in his traveling rodeo. The massive indoor sports arena in New York was rented for a week’s worth of shows, and Grant moved his performers, their horses and caretakers, and all of the supporting staff and gear needed across the country to New York.

Ellery Queen and his father Inspector Queen were given tickets to the opening night and were on the spot when Buck falls off his horse during an early gallop around the stadium floor in front of a crowd of some 20,000 people. A bullet hole is discovered in the body and Inspector Queen takes over what is obviously a homicide scene. Inspector Queen focuses on the search for the murder weapon, while Ellery Queen focuses on the people closest to the dead man.

I thought this was a clever idea for a story setting. The juxtaposition of the Old West and that quintessential city of cities New York is incongruous, as no doubt it was meant to be. The idea of cowpunchers on the loose in the city that never sleeps evokes visions that are hard to forget. The attempt to reproduce Western dialect was strained but I got the point.

The mystery itself was convoluted and the solution was a surprise. Despite Ellery Queen’s statement midway through that he knew who had committed the murder, I didn’t feel as if all the clues were present from which to reach the final answer. Inspector Queen was remarkably patient with his son when he made these pronouncements. The writing was florid and could have been tightened up to good effect. Probably not the best choice for a first Queen read. Still, an entertaining story with some original characters.

Cover image is from a mass paperback reprint.

Friday’s Forgotten Book: Murder in Stained Glass by Margaret Armstrong

Margaret Neilson Armstrong (1867–1944) was a well-known book cover designer with some 270 books to her credit, working for A.C. McClurg, Scribner’s, and other publishers. Her covers generally had a plant theme and were in the Art Noveau style. Authors for whom she designed include Frances Hodgson Burnett, Charles Dickens, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Henry van Dyke. When dust jackets rose in prominence, she began writing her own books.  From 1911 to 1914, she traveled throughout the Western United States and Canada, discovering several species of flowers as yet unidentified. The results of her research were compiled in her Field Book of Western Wild Flowers (1915), which is considered the first comprehensive guide on the subject.

After that, she wrote three mysteries, the first of which, Murder in Stained Glass (Random House, 1939), was no doubt informed by her father’s and sister’s extensive work in stained glass. In her sole appearance Miss Trumbull of New York visits a school friend in a small New England town. Expecting a tedious stay, she is pleasantly surprised to find a lively young cousin staying with her friend and that the cousin has an attractive young neighbor. The neighbor’s father is Frederick Ullathorne, a noted stained glass artist, known for his temper as much as his talent. The privacy-loving Ullathorne has just moved his studio to the small town to get away from the noise of New York City.

Mr. Ullathorne hasn’t been in the area long but his irritability and unpleasantness has managed to upset many of the locals. When he is murdered in a particularly gruesome way, there are any number of suspects for the authorities to consider. Miss Trumbull is not impressed with the detective leading the investigation so she undertakes her own.

This is a traditional mystery, much in the style of Agatha Christie. Miss Trumbull tends to ask a number of questions, heedless of the danger she is putting herself into. A friend warns her against getting involved, but in true cozy heroine style, she persists until she finds herself in a confrontation with the murderer. A fine comfortable read.

Cover from the 2015 reissue by Lost Crime Classics.

Friday’s Forgotten Book: The Dead Can Tell by Helen Reilly

Helen Reilly (1891-1962) wrote nearly 40 mysteries between 1930 and 1962. Her primary series character was Inspector Christopher McKee of the fictional Manhattan Homicide Squad. She is credited with writing some of the earliest known police procedurals, using forensics and scientific investigation to solve the mystery. Michael E. Grost ( has an essay on her use of scientific detection principles in her books on the Golden Age of Detection Wiki:

She did keep herself informed in the realm of forensics research. In The Dead Can Tell (Random House, 1940) she makes use of the new method of rebuilding the face of homicide victims based on the skull bone structure when they cannot be identified any other way.

In this story, the ninth appearance of McKee, Steven Hazard and Cristie Lansing accidentally meet after ending their relationship years earlier. They are both reminded of what they gave up, especially Steven, who married on the rebound, only to regret it bitterly. He takes a promotion within his company that will take him out of the country and plans to take Cristie with him, after initiating divorce proceedings and handing over virtually all of his assets to his wife Sara. To his great surprise, Sara will not grant him the divorce he wants. Within 24 hours, her car is seen to roll off the street into the river. When the car is recovered within hours, there was no one in it. When her body is recovered weeks later, the medical examiner’s findings are death by accident.

A few weeks after the funeral, Inspector McKee receives an anonymous letter that says Sara Hazard was murdered. While he has no real evidence that the death was anything but accidental, he begins investigating. He learns that Sara Hazard’s maid has disappeared with some of Sara’s jewelry. He finds that Sara was deeply in debt and indulged in blackmail to keep herself afloat. It took no time to discover that her husband wanted to end their marriage. With the list of her enemies growing almost daily, Inspector McKee finds it easier and easier to believe the death was deliberately contrived.

While it’s clear that Reilly did indeed incorporate police procedures into the plot of her book, she wasn’t consistent with their application. For instance, she did not observe the preservation of the chain of evidence as it related to one of the guns in the case. It probably wasn’t as important then as it is now.

The general style of the writing and many of the characters in this book remind me of the Lockridges’ work. Perhaps also because it is set in New York, where most of their books were set. I intend to locate a few more in this series for my TBR stack. Recommended especially for anyone interested in the history of police procedurals.

Friday’s Forgotten Book: Madame Storey by Hulbert Footner

William Hulbert Footner (1879-1944) was born in Hamilton, Canada, and moved to New York before he was 20 years old. Eventually he settled his family in Calvert County, Maryland. He wrote books on travel and developed mysteries around two series detectives: one is Amos Lee Mappin, a successful mystery writer who solved crimes in and around New York’s social scene, the other is Madame Rosika Storey, a private investigator in New York City, whose exploits were described by her assistant. Madame Storey is a 1920s professional who chooses career over the traditional role for women, in itself interesting. Footner’s Rosika Storey cases appeared in Argosy All-Story Weekly every year from 1922 through 1935. Some were collected into book-length volumes and reissued as the following titles:

  1. The Under Dogs, New York, London, 1925
  2. Madame Storey, New York, London, 1926
  3. The Velvet Hand, New York London, 1928
  4. The Doctor Who Held Hands, 1929
  5. Easy to Kill, 1931
  6. The Casual Murderer, London, 1932
  7. The Almost Perfect Murder, 1933
  8. Dangerous Cargo, 1934
  9. The Kidnapping of Madame Storey, London, Toronto, and New York, 1936. (Source: Wikipedia)

The first book featuring Madame Storey was published by Doran in 1926 and is a collection of four short stories:

  • “The Ashcomb Poor Case”
  • “The Scrap of Lace”
  • “The Smoke Bandit”
  • “In the Round Room”

The first story, the longest of the four, describes how Madame Storey met her assistant and then ran circles around the local district attorney in the successful identification of the culprit who murdered Ashcomb Poor, a wealthy man whose womanizing proved to be his undoing.

These stories are more character focused than plot driven. They are a pleasant read, reflecting as they do the Roaring Twenties during which they were written, although not particularly remarkable in investigative techniques or plot devices. They are worth looking into by those interested in Golden Age mysteries.

Friday’s Forgotten Book: The Cinnamon Murder by Frances Crane

Frances Kirkwood Crane (1896-1981) wrote 26 mysteries between 1941 and 1965 with private investigator Pat Abbott and his wife Jean in the leading crime-solving role. The Abbotts were based in San Francisco but travelled constantly so the stories are set in a range of locales. All of the books have a color in the title, except for The Polkadot Murder, which, to be strictly accurate, is a pattern, not a color.

The Cinnamon Murder (Random House, 1946) is the eighth in the series, and the Abbotts are vacationing in New York City. After 10 days they are ready to go home. They attend one last cocktail party where they become enmeshed in the problems of Brenda Davison. They meet Brenda’s brother-in-law and her sister-in-law and learn that Brenda’s husband, their brother, died in an aircraft accident a few years previously. They also learn that the surviving Davisons’ father left a sizeable estate to his grandchildren, skipping a generation and making Brenda’s 3-year-old daughter immensely wealthy. Neither of the Davisons like Brenda but they like the money she controls as her daughter’s guardian, thereby setting up significant tension in the family. The child was quite ill earlier in the year, and Brenda believes that someone tried to poison her.

Between worry about her child and being convinced the Davisons are trying to make her look like an unfit mother, Brenda is upset and hysterical in almost every conversation she has with the Abbotts. Pat is intrigued enough to postpone their departure from New York to look into the situation. They seem to never sleep and, during one of their early morning investigative excursions, find the body of a woman with the same cinnamon-brown nail polish that Brenda wears. Since the face has been mutilated, identification is made based on the nail polish and hair color.

The plot was probably fresh at the time this book was written but not so much 70 years later, as I recognized a couple of twists for what they were. One point that was not cleared up to my satisfaction was the taxi driver that followed the Abbotts around. He turned up at odd times for no reason that I could see.

I appreciated the precise references to colors, as I also tend to notice the exact shade I’m seeing. I would like to know what Schiaparelli blue is, though; a later reference said it is blue violet but I could not find a sample on the Internet. A doorman’s uniform was described as “faun-colored”, which I assume is an editorial error that someone should have caught.

Kirkus called it “sleek” and The Saturday Review said it was “readable.”

Friday’s Forgotten Book: The Fourteenth Trump by Judson Philips

Judson Phillips, also known as Hugh Pentecost, wrote a dizzying number of mysteries under both names, earning him the Grand Master Award from Mystery Writers of America in 1973. His first mysteries were about a gambler in New York City named Danny Coyle and his assistant Claude Donovan, nicknamed Harvard. The Fourteenth Trump (Dodd, Mead, 1942) is the second one.

Danny Coyle used to be a bookmaker but now he specializes in betting on anything at all that interests him. Currently his favorite bet involves the local district attorney, whom he loathes. The DA’s office is being investigated by a special committee headed up by Congressman Terry Reardon. Danny has bet a quarter of a million dollars (nearly $4 million in 2019 dollars) that when the investigation is complete, the DA will be out of office.

Reardon’s fiancé is found standing over the body of a man in his hotel room, holding a gun that has been recently fired. She denies involvement, saying she just arrived and found the victim, but she’s arrested for murder in what appears to be an open-and-shut case. She refuses to talk to anyone, including Reardon, but she does ask Harvard to pay her gambling debt of forty-seven hundred dollars (worth just under $74 thousand in 2019) at a questionable bridge club.

Danny assumes the arrest is a frame set up to embarrass Reardon and by extension, himself. He throws himself into the investigation to salvage his bet and his reputation, looking at the bridge club and its gun-toting staff closely, especially after he determines that the play in the club is rigged in favor of the house. Harvard’s girlfriend decides to help things along and engages in a flirtation with the worst of the thugs at the bridge club, putting herself and Harvard in danger.

Danny is a likeable character who inspires loyalty among his legion of informants. My favorite is Mickey, who runs a dice game in the subway station late every night to take advantage of men waiting for their trains. An involved plot includes an intricate examination of timing and of clocks that may or may not have been changed in order to provide an alibi. A plot twist from out in left field in the last chapter or two reminds the reader that the book was written during wartime.