Sunday, June 17, 2018

Review: The Master Mystery, Arthur B. Reeve and John W. Grey

by Mary

I may be the last one to have seen this gem but I must say I really enjoyed The Master Mystery, stated to have been "Novelized by ARTHUR B. REEVE and JOHN W. GREY From Scenarios by Arthur B. Reeve in Collaboration with John W. Grey and C.A. Logue". Gutenberg offers an etext but the better version is their "Profusely Illustrated with Photographic Reproductions Taken from the Houdini Super-Serial of the Same Name" with stills showing various scenes, notably the murderous (but oddly mild looking) Automaton and shots of Harry Houdini as the hero of the multipart silent serial.

The writing is telegraphic and not reminiscent of Reeve's usual style, although it is done ably enough so pictures unfolding on the mental screen can be enjoyed quite well. And the plot! Our hero spends much of his time experiencing various perils -- suspended head down over a vat of acid, locked in a box and left to drown, chained and thrown into a river, hung up by his thumbs, fighting in a diving suit, falling through trapdoors, attached to a garotting machine, tied up in barbed wire, and so on, which added to secret hideouts in the cliffs, horrid dens in Chinatown, candles that provoke the Madagascar madness by which victims laugh themselves to death or insanity, and much more must have made positively thrilling viewing!

Etext: The Master Mystery, Arthur B. Reeve and John W. Grey

Monday, May 28, 2018

Review: The Mystery of the Ravenspurs by Fred M. White

by Mary

The Mystery of the Ravenspurs relates the mortal peril faced by a family of ancient lineage residing in a castle within sight of the British coast. Despite undertaking all possible precautions, their members began dying "mysteriously, horribly, until at last no more than seven of the family remained..." At this point, the son of whom the patriach of the family has not spoken for twenty years returns home blinded and hideously scarred after seeking esoteric knowledge in Tibet with a Russian friend, both of them having been caught and tortured for their attempt. They join with the family to thwart further attempts at murdering its members in a tale replete with such colourful trimmings as secret passages, sightings of mysterious Indians, poisoned flowers, infernal machines, and murderous Tibetan black bees for a start. What do these constant attacks mean? Who's trying to wipe out the entire family and why?

My verdict: For a novel published in 1911 it's grimmer than many dating from that era, even with its occasional little dashes of romance. The narration trots along well as it catalogues hair-raising escapes amid moves by, and counter-moves against, whoever is responsible for the mayhem as the actors in the drama attempt to make sense of the murderous situation. It reminded me somewhat of the more colourful works of Sax Rohmer or Edgar Wallace, so if you like their fiction you'll probably enjoy this one as well.

Etext: The Mystery of the Ravenspurs by Fred M. White

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Monday, November 20, 2017

In Praise of Golden Age Mysteries

by Mary

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my contention many cosy readers would enjoy works written during the Golden Age of Detection. A keen fan of them myself, I characterise the age as running from 1910 to 1940 with a sprinkling of earlier works, although others can and do differ.

Before I begin, I must mention potential stumbling blocks. Xenophobia sometimes appears, as do comments and attitudes now considered offensive. Bear in mind they reflect their times, and in particular the views of upper class society, around which many of these novels revolve.

That said, onward.

Popular locations for these adventures include country houses, barristers' chambers, medical practices, foreign capitals, and the Côte d'Azur. London is also featured strongly, particularly the beautiful Georgian houses in Belgravia's shady squares and Pall Mall's clubs for gentlemen. Scotland and the rural reaches of the home counties often appear, particularly during the grouse shooting season.

Amateur sleuths abound. Thus professional men such as lawyers and doctors, retired ex Indian Army wallahs, and wealthy young men are well represented among investigators, along with local constabulary and Scotland Yard personnel.

Then there are the crimes involved. More than one author advances the view, through their characters' dialogue, that killing a blackmailer is not to be viewed with the same horror murder otherwise inspires. Kidnapping, the white slave trade (enforced prostitution), and drugs both taken and dealt in are not unknown but are generally treated in a non lurid fashion. Sometimes the criminous activity seems quaint: who'd have thought black market saccharine could once have been so profitable? Missing wills, hidden identities, missions of vengeance, and fraudulent activities are other common plot elements.

Certain real life conventions are carried over into this fiction. For example women -- middle and upper class women in particular -- would not dream of visiting a bachelor's flat without a chaperone, even if affianced to the man concerned. To do so would mean the loss of her reputation. Even the boldest male goes no further than kissing his beloved before they are man and wife.

It was an era when men were praised for being decent and clean in mind and body. A man's word was his bond, and a rotter caught cheating at cards was socially ruined and/or had to resign from his club and regiment. Honour and devotion to duty were the norm, as was serving King and country as demonstrated in John Buchan's Greenmantle. During the search for the titular character, a matter of grave importance during the First World War, a character reveals his identity by addressing an arch-villainess thus: "You must know, Madam, that I am a British officer." Immediately she -- and the reader -- knows her nasty game is up.

Descriptions of mayhem are not dwelt upon. Where death or grave injury occurs it usually takes place offstage and if seen in the glare of the footlights is only briefly sketched. Profanity is uncommon, with inventive ways to get around situations where readers know someone would speak in a robust fashion. My favourites are mention of continental objurgations and "What the mischief....", closely followed by references to sanguinary.

Many of these novels therefore parallel traditional cosies. Yet they are not sugary works by any means. Take Ethel Lena White's psychological suspense mystery Some Must Watch, filmed as The Spiral Staircase, wherein several inhabitants of a house lock themselves in as mutual protection against a murderer known to be prowling about the local countryside. Yet one by one they leave the house for perfectly believable reasons...

We continue to assemble a library of free etexts of dozens of of GAD novels and collections on our website.

Detailed information and commentary about GAD novels is online and there is a lively Yahoo discussion group devoted to these novels. See you over there?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Win a Copy of Ruined Stones

"A mystery with dark and dangerous undercurrents that will keep you turning the pages. A "Must Read" for any serious fan of historical mysteries." -- Doward Wilson

Check out the review of Ruined Stones at KRL News and Reviews and enter to win a free copy.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Sunday, July 30, 2017