Friday, August 28, 2015

FFB: Seven Books Reviewed by DASHIELL HAMMETT

(This column appeared in the April 26, 1930 edition of the New York Evening Post.)

THE WYCHFORD POISONING CASE. By Anthony Berkeley. Crime Club. $2.
DEATH TRAPS. By Kay Cleaver Strahan. Crime Club. $2.
THROUGH THE EYES OF THE JUDGE. By Bruce Graeme. Lippincott. $2.
WHY MURDER THE JUDGE? By Claude Stuart Hammock. Macmillan. $2.
MARKED "CANCELLED." By Natalie Sumner Lincoln. Appleton. $2.
WHO MOVED THE STONE? By Frank Morison. Century. $2.50.
MURDER IN THE STATE DEPARTMENT. By "Diplomat." Cape & Smith. $2.

OF ALL the facetious amateurs—count them yourself—engaged in solving mysteries that are too much for the police Roger Sheringham is the most amusing—well, anyhow, the least annoying—to me. His Job in "The Wychford Poisoning Case" is to learn who gave arsenic to the late John Bentley There are several people who could, and perhaps would, have done it. You are not likely to guess the right one, but you can blame the author and not yourself, for his book runs a brisk, entertaining race to a flabby and unsporting end.

“DEATH TRAPS” would have been a pretty good short story. It attains book length by dint of a tedious opening, many irrelevancies and the rambling volubility of the retired Yakima grocer through whom it is told. The mystery it gets around to after five or six chapters has to do with an attempt to murder Gerald Dexter in his suburban home and the subsequent deaths of the Justin Veernegs next door. Familiarity with one of the established technical devises for leading suspicion away from the guilty person will lead you straight to him, her or it fairly early in the story. Ever since "The Desert Moon Mystery" there have been rumors that Mrs. Strahan writes what is sometimes called graceful English. I have not yet been able to verify these rumors. The outstanding characteristics of her style seem to be an assortment of rather acrobatic synonyms for "said" and a waiving of the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs.

“THROUGH THE EYES OF THE JUDGE" follows the now familiar court room method of solving a mystery. Patrick Terence Spencer is being tried for the murder of his cousin George, a murder by which he gained fifty thousand pounds. The evidence against him is overwhelming, but into Mr. Justice Raymond's mind certain doubts begin to come, and so. . . .  It is difficult to say why this should not be a better story than it is. Perhaps the trouble is that the judge lacks reality.

IN "Why Murder the Judge?" his Honor is poisoned in his library while showing a rare book to a group of friends. Then the book disappears, there is a lot of bocuspocus in a bookshop, people refuse to account for their actions, there is more hocuspocus in a law office and much activity only slightly related to the murder. Probus Thorne, another gifted amateur, is the detective, though his Japanese valet seems to do most of the work. There is nothing here to excite you.

THE most exciting thing shout "Marked Cancelled" was the excellent publicity put over for it. The morning before the hook appeared in bookshops a New York morning paper—by no means the least prominent—gave space on its front page to an alleged Washington dispatch in which Miss Lincoln was said to have unearthed, while examining some family relics, an old envelope bearing a stamp reputed to be worth some $10,000. Now, ladies and gentlemen, when you consider that she was about to publish a book bearing the present title and that one of the clues in the book was an out-of-date postage stamp, well, it is a shame the book was— But here is a sample: "With me, it was love at first sight. Ah, Claire, dare I hope?"

THE author of "Who Moved the Stone?" applies detective-story methods to the question of what actually happened to the body of Jesus Christ between the time it was laid in the tomb after the crucifixion and the discovery of the empty tomb on Sunday morning. The result bears the same relation to history that the average detective story bears to criminology

“MURDER IN THE STATE DEPARTMENT," written by a man known on two continents as diplomat and author, so the blurb says, starts off with the murder of Harrison Howard, Under Secretary of State, in his office, then becomes what the jacket calls a "satirical expose of the workings of the Department of State" and, with the help of much dirty work on the part of pacifists and bootleggers, lisps its way to an inane end. By "Diplomat"? By Jove!


Cap'n Bob said...

They published a lot of crud back then if you can believe Dash.

George said...

Dash had "high standards" for mysteries. Sturgeon's Law--"90% of everything is crap"--still holds true.

Oscar Case said...

I don't feel too bad, now, after reading those reviews. I knew parts of my books were crap when I wrote 'em, but some of us liked 'em.

Barry Ergang said...

Hammett's reviews are jewels of succinctness.