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Commings, Joseph

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 3 months ago

Joseph Commings was an American short story writer who specialised in locked room crimes and other impossible mysteries. His series detective was Senator Brooks Banner.

 

Mike Grost on Joseph Commings

 

Joseph Commings' impossible crime short stories have been collected in Banner Deadlines: The Impossible Files of Senator Brooks U. Banner (2004), available from its publisher Crippen & Landru. Commings' series detective Senator Brooks U. Banner, shows some similarities to John Dickson Carr's two principal detectives. Like Carr's Sir Henry Merrivale, Banner is an important government official, with comically casual manners and slangy speech. And like Carr's Dr. Fell, Banner is massive and rotund. The fact that both Merrivale and Banner work for the government allows them both to be involved in tales with spy backgrounds, as well as more domestic crime. There are still at least 17 uncollected Banner impossible crime short stories, in addition to those collected in Banner Deadlines. The rest of Commings' large body of short fiction lies scattered in post World War II detective magazines, only rarely being reprinted in anthologies. Commings' early stories often appeared in Ten Detective Aces, which since the thirties had carried the banner of the impossible crime story in the pulps, where it was known as the "weird menace" tale.

 

Commings also wrote many non-series short stories, not about Banner. At least five of these are impossible crime tales, each about a different detective. The Locked Room Reader (1968) edited by Hans Stefan Santesson includes the excellent "Bones for Davy Jones" (1953).

 

The freshness of Commings' concepts helps: many of his impossible crimes are new and different. Commings' approach offers plenty of imagination, something he shares with Chesterton, Carr and Talbot. Commings is also generous with his illusions: his tales often feature not one, but numerous ingenious gimmicks, all working together to produce the ultimate illusion.

 

Commings and Edward D. Hoch were friends, and there are signs that Commings' fiction might have influenced Hoch's, in general terms. Both men are prolific short story writers, specializing in impossible crimes. Both men tried to come up with new impossible crime situations, that had not appeared in other writers. Hoch coined the phrase "novels in miniature", for short stories that have all the structural ingredients of a full length mystery novel, such as puzzle plot, suspects, clues, a fair play solution, etc. It is a good description of Hoch's own work, and that of Commings' before him. Both men introduced Golden Age detective motifs, into modern day settings in the United States. Commings also freely incorporated spy elements into his puzzle plot mysteries on occasion, like those of Hoch's Rand tales to come.

 

Commings has a feel for the dramatic possibilities of his locales, whether New England, Washington DC, or East Germany. His characters are lively, colorful and sympathetic, which helps a good deal as well.

 

Bibliography

 

Banner Deadlines (2004)

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