Friday, May 15, 2015

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

This piece is from The Saturday Review of Literature for May 21, 1927, and can be seen in its original habitat on, HERE.


THE HOUSE OF SIN. By ALLEN UPWARD. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co. 1927. $2.
THE TATTOO MYSTERY. By WILLIAM LEQUEUX. New York: The Macaulay Co. 1927. $2.
THE VICTORY MURDERS. By FOSTER JOHNS. New York: John Day Co. 1927. $2.

IN "The House of Sin" the quick-acting poison is brought, for a change, from Nigeria instead of South America. Dr. Tarleton, medical adviser to the Criminal Investigation Department, is called to the residence of the Duke of Altringham to examine the body of a handsome young man who has been found dead—murdered, of course—in the Duke's conservatory. All hands lie to the doctor, very industriously. A great mound of trickery, intrigue, and the rest of it, is erected, with a fresh crime thrown on top every now and then. Tarleton, with his experience as physician and police official, should have hit on the truth fairly early in the story. The chances are you will find the solution—if not all its details—before the doctor does, but I recommend the experiment. "The House of Sin" is—except for the weakness mentioned—well and intelligently done.

The author of "All at Sea" has written something in the neighborhood of a couple of dozen detective stories, all conscientiously in accordance with the formula adopted as standard by the International Detective Story Writers' Convention at Geneva in 1904. One should expect that by now she would have learned to do the trick expertly. She hasn't. The present work is without skill in plot, incident, or wording. For instance, in setting the stage for the murder, the author puts Carmelita Valdon beside the man who is to be done in, and then, two paragraphs later, makes her go around another to get beside him. "One could distinguish them, most often, from their costumes, especially those of the women. . . . The speech grated on Ned Barron's taste. . . . Already the manager was planning to train the little chap up in the way he should go to become later a valuable clerk in the hotel": three hundred and some pages of that can annoy.

Garrett Folsom was knifed as he stood in a group of friends in the surf at a New Jersey resort, and the first detective immediately pronounced it "the most mysterious case I have ever heard of." You'll spot the murderer on sight. Any policeman would have had him or her (this vagueness is rather over-ethical in the circumstances) jailed within the hour. Suspicion is thrown at (not on, because you're credulous indeed if any of it fools you) this one and that one. The chief suspect puts himself to an enormous amount of trouble to endanger his neck. Toward the last Fleming Stone is brought in. He's as useless as the other detectives. On page 339 the murderer confesses, for no reason at all except that it's time to end the story. The final explanation is unduly preposterous.

"The Girl in Black" is about one of those beautiful and mysterious ladies who tote important documents, are pursued by scoundrels, and eventually clear the names of dear old fathers. I may be wrong. This one may be no worse than others of the same sort. It seemed pretty terrible to me, but I admit I may have been influenced by my dislike for the hero—a thoroughly stuffy young explorer with a flair for the limpest of wisecracks.

"The Tattoo Mystery" is another mimeographed affair. Lovely Lady Erica Thurston is held in horrible bondage by a most fearsome gang of international thieves, "The Money Spiders," who mark their victims with a terrible tattoo, the first warning of their doom. (If you think I composed that sentence with intent to sneer at the book, you're mistaken: I copied it from the jacket.) The lady talks like this: "I must be taken away from you by a cruel destiny," she said, interrupting me. "Have I not told you that we must never meet again, Mr. Remington? I mean what I say alas! even though it distresses me to repeat those words." People stand aghast and it's all very funny if you're in a mood for burlesque. If your desire is for excitement, pass on

"The Victory Murders" doesn't redeem its jacket's promise of "a motive new in fiction," nor is there elsewhere much novelty in the tale's machinery. All its gadgets—including the quick-acting poison of which you may have heard previous mention—are second-hand, and as the story progresses it becomes unnecessarily complicated and not altogether plausible. Nevertheless it is far above the average prevalent in its field—an entertaining history of the deaths of charming ladies, of intrigue, deceit, and blithe violence in Marseilles, London, Paris, and New York, with a villain whose guilt is adequately concealed, and a couple of detectives who go sanely about the business of detecting. A deft handling of old materials, "The Victory Murders" deserves a reading.


George said...

Now I want to drop everything and read these five books!

Rick Robinson said...

It seems he liked 2 of the five well enough to, however reluctantly, recommend them. I sure wish for a review of something I've read so I had an idea how closely our tastes align.