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Blood in Their Ink

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 6 months ago

Scott, Sutherland - Blood in Their Ink (1953)


A fairly personal and sometimes long-winded view of Golden Age detective fiction, written by a medical man and part-time practitioner who seems to have disappeared from history. Sutherland Scott was the pseudonym of Scottish doctor William Clunie Harvey. Most of his books don't seem to have survived, even in the British Library, but at least this one gives an insight into his working methods. It begins with a leisurely history of the genre, and if Scott doesn't manage to say much that is new (or indeed, much at all), at least his heart is in the right place:


We must ... admit that a touch of romance, the merest whisperings of love, are desirable ingredients in a mystery novel. But when the trickle becomes a mighty, overwhelming torrent, when the whisper swells into an arresting roar, it is more than time to call a halt.


Be warned -- there are also lots of spoilers. Scott apparently believes that it is impossible to describe mysteries meaningfully without mentioning their solutions, and I tend to agree with him.


Interest in the book revives when Scott lists his favourite author, with descriptions. There are no surprises in the British section, but among US writers Kay Strahan and Todd Downing were new to me, as was Robert J Casey and Charlotte Murray Russell. I shall be adding them to the Wiki in due course. He also praises Thurman Warriner and Margaret Erskine. His list of the twenty-five best books to date includes Harry Stephen Keeler near the top of the list with The Amazing Web.


The second part of the book investigates the 'mechanics' of mystery writing. Methods are given fancy names -- The Method of Calculated Approach, The Method of the Sudden Plunge -- but behind the whimsy he has sensible things to say, illustrated by examples from books which are -- mostly -- still available. The section continues with a chapter of Do's and Don'ts which many modern writers would benefit from: Characters should behave like reasonably normal human beings; A detective novel should, if possible, have one villain only. And among the Don'ts: A good mystery has no need of padding; and Sex in a mystery novel is like a fly in your soup -- it should never be there. And with special reference to Mr Carr: When a bomb is dropped, it should explode. An attack on cliches is followed by an entertaining discussion of titles, settings and locales, with illustrative examples. Chapter 8 discusses Scott's own speciality, medical and psychiatric mysteries, and uncovers a murder method that Bill Pronzini should have known about:


He was killed by means of what is called 'psychic repercussion'... There is medical testimony which shows that sometimes, when a person has had a limb amputated, pain will persist in the place where the limb used to be. Investigation has shown that the amputated limb has been subjected to pressure, or something of that sort, in the box where it was buried. By removal of the pressure, the pain has disappeared, because there was a psychic relationship between the subtle and material bodies.


PG Larbalestier - Death Casts No Shadow


So if you bash someone's amputated limb enough you can kill him? PG Larbalestier, we salute you!


A final chapter discusses the future of the mystery novel; Scott seems to have had no inkling of the forthcoming decline and fall of the classic mystery story, though he does mutter disturbingly about the increase in 'incidents' per book and 'a tendency to top-heavy elaboration', which is as good a way to describe forensic fairy-tales as any.


The book deserves better editing: there are several mistakes in names -- 'Micky' for 'Mickey' Spillane, 'Larbalastier' for 'Larbalestier' -- and 'Van Dine' is spelt 'Van Dyne' throughout. There is a comprehensive index of titles, authors and investigators mentioned.


Only for enthusiasts, but for them an entertaining and possibly useful read, especially the second half.



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