Friday, May 29, 2015

FFB: Three Books Reviewed by *Guest Blogger* DASHIELL HAMMETT

This article is from the April 16, 1927 issue of The Saturday Review of Literature

Guessers and Deducers

THE AFFAIR IN DUPLEX 9B. By WILLIAM JOHNSON. New York: George H. Doran. 1927. $2.
THE KINK. By LYNN BROCK. New York: Harper & Bros. 1927. $2.
AURELIUS SMITH—DETECTIVE. By R. T. M. SCOTT. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. 1927. $2.

Reviewed by DASHIELL HAMMETT

THERE exists a considerable body of reasonably authoritative literature on crime detection. Such Europeans as Gross and Niceforo have been done into English; Macnaughten, Anderson, and Thompson of Scotland Yard, our own Pinkerton, Burns, and Dougherty, have given their experiences. Post, Dilnot, Gollomb, and others have published articles on police methods here and abroad. Some of these books have had wide circulation. There's little evidence that many copies were bought by writers of detective stories. That's too bad.

"The Affair in Duplex 9B" is—don't stop me just because you've heard this one —about the wealthy rascal who was done in with the quick-acting South American poison, and about the Assistant District Attorney who fell in love with the beautiful young suspect. The present A. D. A. talks like this: "No, by God," said Chilton earnestly, "I'm going to prove her innocent. I saw Miss Adair, Graham, for only a few minutes, and heard her sing, but I saw enough of her to recognize that she is a sweet, clean girl whose inexperience has gotten her mixed up with a bad crowd. I'm not going to have a young girl who needs a man's protection dragged in the mire of a case like this. Find her for me, Graham, won't you, and help me shield her from this scandal, a scandal she never could live down."

Neither he nor the detectives working with him show any signs of ever having been employed in police affairs before. The simplest code ever devised—its invention followed the typewriter's by about two weeks—stumps them. (The detective who copies the coded message into his notebook is supposed, by the author and in the following chapter, not yet to have heard of it). Two typewritten letters are taken to a typewriter company for the purpose of having the machine on which they were written traced to its present owner. The company promises to try to trace it by its number. Luck to 'em! The murderer's identity may be suspected half-way through the book, but when you learn his motive you'll be ashamed of having suspected him. It's that sort of a motive.

"The Kink" is a rambling, too wordy story written in accordance with one of the current recipes, dully Babylonian in spots, gloomily melodramatic, devoid of suspense. Colonel Gore is hired to find a couple of missing men, to watch another man, to recover some stolen documents. There's a murder or two also in the book, but no excitement. This sleuth's method is simple, however the author tries to disguise it: he stalls around till things solve themselves. Even when he gets hold of a mysterious automobile's license number he takes no steps toward tracing it through the Metropolitan Police register, apparently not knowing that such an affair exists. Toward the last he does some guessing, but by then at least one reader had acquired too much of the Colonel's apathy to be aroused.

The dozen stories in "Aurelius Smith— Detective" are as mechanical as the others, and as preposterously motivated, but at least they do move and they are not padded. Smith is one of the always popular deducers, though not a very subtle specimen. It takes a shaven neck to tell him a man's probably not a gentleman, and a half-soled shoe to tell him another's hard up.

There isn't a credible character in any of these three books. Insanity seems to be growing in popularity as a motive for crime. Theoretically it has the advantage of not needing further explanation. Actually it's almost always a flop. 

10 comments:

Paul herman said...

Dave,

These reviews are really great! Any idea how many he wrote? Please keep posting all you can find. Thanks!

R.K. Robinson said...

He seems to be a reviewer who is hard to please, or perhaps the books he's given to review are just not very good, but I am really enjoying reading these. How long did he do reviews for the Saturday Review, do you know?

John Hegenberger said...

Wow! That last paragraph could apply to my writing. Love, R. T. M. He wrote the first two Spider novels, before Page.

Evan Lewis said...

Hammett's Saturday Evening reviews ran only a few months, and some were unsigned, so it's hard to be sure. In 1930 he did many more for the New York Evening Post. Stay tuned.

You have a collection of Smith stories by RTM Scott, do you not, Mr. R?

R.K. Robinson said...

Darn, I'll have to check... can't remember offhand. C&L or pulp reprint, I wonder.

Evan Lewis said...

An old blue hardcover in your dining room.

R.K. Robinson said...

Ah yes, I just went and looked. It's The Mammoth Secret Service Smith Stories omnibus which includes The Black Magician, Ann’s Crime and Secret Service Smith. Thanks for the reminder, I really need to read some of that one.

Christopher Davis said...

So, extracting these reviews from the scans is somewhat labor intensive, is it not?

Can you print the "Tong Wars" review sometime?

Love all your Hammett material.

Evan Lewis said...

It actually ain't too tough, Christopher. The hardest part is the squinting. If I can find Tong Wars, I'll surely run it.

Christopher Davis said...

Thanks. I found it. June 21, 1930. In the Fulton Archive, scan no. 4423.

Not as interesting as I imagined, but Hammett does recommend THE CASE OF ROBERT ROBERTSON by Sven Elvestad- which just goes to show even 'Scandanavian Noir' goes WAY back.