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Boucher, Anthony

Page history last edited by Jon 14 years, 3 months ago

Anthony BoucherSources: Wikipedia and William F Nolan at Mysterynet


Anthony Boucher (August 21, 1911 - April 29, 1968) was an American science fiction editor and writer of mystery novels and short stories. He was particularly influential as an editor. Between 1942 and 1947 he acted as reviewer of (mostly) mystery fiction for the San Francisco Chronicle.


Boucher was born William Anthony Parker White in Oakland, California, into a family based in medicine. He earnt a bachelor of arts degree in 1932 from the University of Southern California, and earned his M.A. (with honors in German and Spanish) at U.C. Berkeley in 1934. He was a natural linguist and later translated works into English from French, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. (He was also proficient in Sanskrit!) During his college years, Tony was active in Little Theater as actor, director and playwright. Opera was also an early passion.


In 1935, he became a theater and music critic for United Progressive News in Los Angeles, and write his first mystery novel, The Case of the Seven of Calvary, a year later. I once asked him about the origin of his second name. "I invented it for mysteries," he said. "Boucher was my grandmother's maiden name. She was French-Irish. The 'Anthony' came from a favorite saint of mine. Plus, it's part of my legal first name."


Tony married Phyllis Price in the spring of 1938 (they subsequently had two sons), and his second mystery novel, The Case of the Crumpled Knave, was published in 1939. Boucher's detective, Fergus O'Breen, was conceived as a kind of West Coast Ellery Queen with an Irish brogue, and Tony wrote three more O'Breen novels into 1942. He was also writing as H.H. Holmes (Nine Times Nine), utilizing his Roman Catholic background in the creation of crime-solving nun Sister Ursula.


Tony said: "Aware of my ongoing obsession with Conan Doyle's legendary detective, most of my friends assumed that 'H.H. Holmes' was derived from the great Sherlock. Not so. Holmes was an actually alias for one of the outstanding criminals of the century, Herman W. Mudgett. Later, I used Mudgett's real name for some of my printed verse."


Boucher had always been deeply involved in the genres of fantasy, mystery and horror (having sold his first story, at age 16, to Weird Tales), but it was not until 1940 that he added science fiction to the list. "SF was a 'cult' genre in those days," Boucher told me. "The boom in science fiction didn't take place until after the second World War. I was drawn into it by some of my local writer friends."


Tony became active in a Southern California group known as the "Manana Literary Society." Its members included some of the major talents in early science fiction: Robert A. Heinlein, Edmond Hamilton, C.L. Moore, Henry Kuttner and Cleve Cartmill. Tony's second H.H. Holmes mystery novel, Rocket to the Morgue (1942) was based directly on the group--and was dedicated to them.


This proved to be Tony's last novel, although he continued, throughout his career to write short fiction for both the mystery and SF/fantasy markets.


By 1942, he was into what most of his admirers claim was his "true vocation"--that of reviewer and critic. He began reviewing in the San Francisco Chronicle, expanding to the Chicago Sun Times, and the New York Herald Tribune, but his major critical contribution appeared in the New York Times Book Review beginning in 1951. In all (to the year of his death), Tony wrote more than 850 weekly review columns under the heading "Criminals at Large." He won three Edgars from the Mystery Writers of America for this outstanding body of criticism and was recognized as the nation's foremost authority on crime fiction, without question the most influential, as well as the most popular, mystery critic of his period.


He was no less an expert on true crime, editing The Pocket Book of True Crime Stories in 1943, and later helming the highly-regarded True Crime Detective.


The 1940s proved to be a very busy and productive decade for Boucher. In 1945 he launched into a spectacular three-year radio career, plotting more than 100 episodes for "The Adventures of Ellery Queen," while also providing plots for the bulk of the Sherlock Holmes radio dramas. By the summer of '46 he had created his own mystery series for the airwaves, "The Casebook of Gregory Hood." ("I was turning out three scripts each week for as many shows," he stated. "It was a mix of hard work and great fun.")


Tony left dramatic radio in 1948, "mainly because I was putting in a lot of hours working with J. Francis McComas in creating what soon became The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. We got it off the ground in '49 and saw it take hold solidly by 1950. This was a major creative challenge and although I was involved in a lot of other projects, I stayed with F&SF into 1958."


Indeed, throughout his years with the magazine, Boucher was certainly involved in "a lot of other projects." Among them:


• Supplying the SF and crime markets with new fiction.

• Teaching an informal writing class from his home in Berkeley.

• Continuing his Sunday mystery columns for the New York Times Book Review.

• Functioning as chief critic for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

• Reviewing SF and fantasy (as H.H. Holmes) for the New York Herald Tribune.

• Editing True Crime Detective.              Radyo dinle

• Supervising the Mercury Mystery Line and (later) the Dell Great Mystery Library.

• Hosting "Golden Voices," his series of historical opera recordings for Pacifica Radio.

• Serving (in 1951) as president of Mystery Writers of America.


In addition to all of this, Tony was a devoted poker player, a political activist, a rabid sport fan (football, basketball, track, gymnastics and rugby), an active "Sherlockian" in the Baker Street Irregulars, and a spirited chef.


In 1961 he became a regular reviewer for Opera News. In 1962 he supervised the line of Collier mystery classics, and in 1963 became editor of Best Detective Stories of the Year, while continuing to conduct his "Golden Voices" radio show and provide reviews for the Times and Ellery Queen. Other passions included SF conventions (where he functioned as a witty and erudite speaker and panelist), Elizabethan drama, mathematics, religion and pre-history. He died of lung cancer on April 29, 1968.


The annual Anthony Boucher Memorial World Mystery Convention (Bouchercon) was named in his honour.


Mike Grost on Anthony Boucher


Anthony Boucher's works contain three impossible crime novels. One of them, The Case of the Solid Key (1941), is my favorite of Boucher's novels. But not because of the impossible crime. Rather, because it is a fascinating book about 1940's Hollywood, focusing on a bunch of young people who, like Boucher himself at the time, were trying to break into the film industry. Boucher never made it in Hollywood, by the way, but he did become a prolific writer of radio plays. The actual impossible crime in Key is solid but slight. None of the Boucher novels I have read, considered as fair play, puzzle plot detective stories, reach the heights of his mystery short fiction collected in Exeuent Murderers. These are general purpose mystery stories in the Ellery Queen tradition, not impossible crime tales, and are outstandingly plotted. Boucher's short tales are persistent users of that EQ convention, the dying message. His "Coffin Corner" (1943), employs sports backgrounds just as EQ did, four years previously, in his Paula Paris series of shorts. Several of his short stories employ Boucher's series detective Nick Noble. This character recalls Erle Stanley Gardner's Mugs Magoo, in Gardner's Paul Pry stories. Both are alliteratively named former police officers who were thrown off the force for political reasons, had tragedy strike their lives, and who subsequently declined into alcoholism.


Boucher is generally undervalued, both as a mystery writer and as a science fiction author. Many people in both fields think of him in his later years, when he functioned mainly as an sf editor and mystery critic. He left a reputation for both personal kindness and literary quality in these roles, with a special emphasis on the encouragement of new authors. Boucher was both the writing teacher and first publisher of Philip K. Dick, for example; Dick later dedicated his classic Ubik (1968) to Boucher's memory. But Boucher's well deserved reputation as an editor has obscured his earlier literary contributions.


Boucher had an influence on several later science fiction authors. His story "Barrier" (1942) sets forth the basic time travel scenario that will later underlay Isaac Asimov's The End of Eternity (1955). Boucher's mystery novel, The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars (1940), seems to be a key ancestor of Philip K. Dick sf stories where reality collapses. In Boucher's tale, which is not a science fiction story, characters get involved in many strange surreal adventures, that are later explained naturally as bizarre schemes of the villain. The "feel" is remarkably similar to Dick novels, such as the strange adventures of the hero in The Man Who Japed (1956).


The comic elements in Boucher's novels recall those of John Dickson Carr. The events lurch between wild farce and serious crime; such an alternation of tone derives from Carr. There is also a certain self consciousness about the conventions of detective storytelling, that also recalls Carr, such as Dr. Fell's assertion in The Hollow Man (1935) that one was in the midst of a detective tale.


Boucher's sf story, "Q.U.R." (1943), was the one of first to describe African-Americans gaining political prominence in the future: one of them is President of the United States in that tale. Both that story's sequel, "Robinc", and Solid Key, give early, sympathetic portraits of gay people. All of these depictions of minorities are astonishingly liberal for their time, and probably form the high water mark of integrationist treatments of minorities in genre fiction before the Civil Rights movement of the 1950's. A later sf tale, "The Ambassadors" (1951), treats civil rights issues in an allegorical fashion, with great wit and humor.


Boucher wrote a vast amount of mystery criticism, from the early 1940's till his death in 1968. His writings are the foundation of most histories of mystery fiction of that period, and he is the most influential critic in modern mystery history. Just as Howard Haycraft's Murder For Pleasure (1941) was treated as a canon-defining look at the pre-1941 era, Boucher's critical writings set the tone for modern mystery reviewing.


Boucher's influence began right away, in that many of the books he recommended became winners of the Edgar awards, the annual awards for mystery fiction presented by the Mystery Writers of America. Boucher also had two of the most influential pulpits in mystery reviewing: The New York Times (for general readership) and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (for hard core mystery fans). One might also point out that Howard Haycraft was a big admirer of Boucher, so that Boucher had the sponsorship of both Haycraft and Ellery Queen, the two best known American critics of the era immediately preceding his.


Boucher was often the first writer to identify famous talent. He was the first translator of Borges into English, in the 1940's, nearly 20 years before anyone else outside of Argentina was aware of his existence. He championed Ross MacDonald as the leading private eye writer of the 1950's, a dozen years before MacDonald achieved mainstream fame in 1969. One might point out that when mainstream critics took these writers up in the 1960's, that they completely failed to mention Boucher's early championing of these authors. Boucher, like all mystery critics, was treated as a non-person by the mainstream establishment.


Boucher started a tradition of separate but equal tradition of the many subgenres of crime fiction. A Boucher year-end round up of the best books of the year, will break the books down into categories such as classical puzzles, police procedurals, private eyes, suspense, spy fiction, comic mystery novels, social commentary novels, and so on, and cite the best books in each category. No one category of crime fiction will be privileged over any other by Boucher. He will suggest that good books in each subgenre are especially worthy of respect. However, Boucher will express personal affection for the classical puzzle. He will make clear that this is the most loved genre of crime fiction, by him at least, and his personal favorite. This will be presented as a personal taste, not a belief that puzzle fiction has greater objective merit than other approaches. This is a delicately nuanced approach to the proliferation of genres within mystery fiction today. It is precisely the approach that has been taken by several of today's mystery historians, such as Francis M. Nevins and Jon L. Breen.


Boucher also strongly influenced the generation of mystery reviewers that came after him. Today's large annual convention of mystery fans is called the Bouchercon. Today's critic for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Jon L. Breen, writes in a format recognizably similar to Boucher's, and Breen's yearly round-ups in the Mystery Scene annuals recall Boucher's. Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller's 1001 Midnights (1986) is a huge collection of reviews of mystery novels, most of them from the post-1941 era. It is the most accessible source of information on the 1941-1985 period, and has become a de facto canon of recommended books for that era. Again and again while reading it, one is struck by the fact that many of the books covered in it were first recommended by Boucher in his reviews. The collection reflects a cultural tradition first started by Boucher himself. I cannot imagine that any of the these writers will be offended by my suggestion that they write in the tradition of Boucher. I think they will take it as a compliment.


Not all modern mystery critics are Boucher derived. Authors of large scale histories of mystery fiction, such as the great Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection (1976), and the current Guide you are reading, were probably most influenced by earlier historians Haycraft, Queen, and their ancestor, S.S. Van Dine. I know that in my own case, I have wanted to write a history of mystery fiction ever since I read Van Dine's The World's Great Detective Stories (1928) as a child, a work I have read and reread with intense fascination ever since. The debt I owe all these earlier writers is huge. And a major strand of modern mystery criticism, the book length author biography cum critical study, is also largely independent of Boucher. Classics here include Norman Donaldson on R. Austin Freeman, Charles A. Norton on Melville Davisson Post, Francis M. Nevins on Ellery Queen and Cornell Woolrich, Jan Cohn on Mary Roberts Rinehart, Richard Layman on Dashiell Hammett, Frank MacShane on Raymond Chandler, John McAuliffe on Rex Stout, Patricia D. Maida on Anna Katherine Green, Roger Bonniot on Émile Gaboriau, Jeffrey Marks on Craig Rice, and Douglas G. Greene on John Dickson Carr.





The Case of the Seven of Calvary (1937)

The Case of the Crumpled Knave (1939)

The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars (1940)

The Case of the Solid Key (1941)

The Case of the Seven Sneezes (1942)

Exeunt Murderers (1983)


As HH Holmes (later reissued under the Boucher name)


Nine Times Nine (1940)

Rocket to the Morgue (1942)




The Anthony Boucher Chronicles: Reviews and Commentary 1942-1947 -- available from Ramble House.




Four and Twenty Bloodhounds (1950)


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