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Encylopaedia of Mystery and Detection

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Steinbrunner, Chris and Penzler, Otto, et al. (Eds.) - Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection (1976)

 

 

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MYSTERY AND DETECTION (1976)

 

Back in the 1970s, Chris Steinbrunner and Otto Penzler tried their hand at producing a compendium of information on the "crime fiction" field, and their Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection was the result. As a first attempt, this one ain't bad.

 

As the front jacket flap notes:

 

"FOR THE FIRST TIME--a fascinating, comprehensive, authoritative reference guide to one of today's favorite forms of writing and entertainment. Biographies of the principal practitioners of mystery and detective writing are supplemented with information on the motion pictures, plays, radio and TV series, and telefeatures based on their works or their fictional creations. Also included are delightful 'biographies' of the great fictional detectives, their sidekicks, and their chief criminal adversaries--plus carefully researched articles on such subjects as dime novels, pulp magazines, comic art detectives, radio and television detectives, and collecting detective fiction."

 

In the Preface, the editors write of the mystery story:

 

"This vigorous and universally loved literary genre charts the victories of good over evil, lights up the darkness, celebrates justice, sharpens the thinking process. It is not reading for dullards, nor for those unnoble enough not to cherish the triumph of right. Its central figure, the Detective, is a modern knight searching after strange grails; its narratives are often mystic journeys for a secular age. The authors of The Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection explore the genre, its scope and its roots, its heroes and villains."

 

In the Introduction, they tell us this publication has more than 300,000 words and 600 articles. "There are scores of borderline entries in this book, and hundreds of borderline omissions. At least 10,000 writers have turned their attention to the mystery. We have reviewed every one of even the most marginal importance. If there is an argument for their inclusion, we have heard it. No one of genuine significance, we hope, has been omitted."

 

Maybe so ... but FIVE PAGES devoted to James Bond, an equal number to Agatha Christie, and only TWO to John Dickson Carr? Hmm. (To be fair, however, more space is given to Christie's and Carr's detectives in other related articles.)

 

There are some nice feature articles on

 

"Collecting Detective Fiction" (3 pages)

"Comic Art Detectives" (2 pages)

"Dime Novels" (2 pages)

"Locked-Room Mysteries" (1 page)

"Organizations" (2 pages)

"Pulp Magazines" (2 pages)

"Scientific Detectives" (1.5 pages) and

"Television Detectives" (4 pages)

 

--all up-to-date as of 1976, of course.

 

Since this is such a big book, only a few pull quotes of potential interest to GADetection fans will be offered here.

 

************************************************************

 

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MYSTERY AND DETECTION (1976)

Edited by Chris Steinbrunner, Otto Penzler, et al.

McGraw-Hill

Hardcover

Mystery and Detective Genre Criticism

436 Pages

 

Contents:

 

-Preface (1 page)

-Introduction (2 pages)

 

"More reference books devoted to the mystery have been published in the past decade than in all the years before. At last, it seems, critics and scholars are abandoning the simplistic snobbishness of Edmund Wilson and similar critics who denigrated the genre. Almost every great writer of the past century has turned his hand to novels and stories of mystery, crime, suspense, espionage, or detection. It is arguably the most important literary development of the twentieth century, and has attracted many of the best writers at one time or another. It is serious literature, and it is about time that it be treated with the respect and dignity it deserves."

 

-Selective Bibliography (1 page)

 

1. Aarons, Edward S(idney) - to - Ayres, Paul

 

"Anderson, Frederick Irving": "Anderson's third book, The Book of Murder (1930), features (Deputy) Parr (of the NYPD) and (Oliver) Armiston pitted against assorted criminals. Whereas Parr is generally in over his head, his friend is the ideal amateur detective. No problem is too intricate for Armiston, because there is a good chance he thought of it years ago, when he still wrote mystery stories. His plots were so ingenious, and his crimes so perfect, that the underworld read his stories scrupulously and duplicated them. Frustrated by their inability to solve the crimes, the police finally had to pay Armiston NOT to write. Parr now just visits his friend and gives him all available information about an apparently insoluble problem, and Armiston arrives at a solution, often without leaving his armchair." (p. 10)

 

2. Bagby, George - to - Butler, Walter C.

 

"Bencolin, Henri": "There is a legend about Bencolin, who is called the foremost police official, and the most dangerous man, in Europe. The story, in fact, which concerns his clothes, is a true one. When he is dressed in an ordinary sack suit, the wise ones know that he is interested in pleasure alone. When he wears a dinner jacket, he is involved in a case and spends his time in contemplation. But when he wears his evening clothes and carries his silver-headed walking stick with its concealed sword blade, he has tracked his prey and is about to act. Bencolin encourages a young journalist, Jeff Marle, to perpetuate this legend because he knows that Parisians like their law enforcers to be picturesque." (p. 23)

 

"Butler, Ellis Parker": (About Philo Gubb in Philo Gubb: Correspondence-School Detective--1918): "Gubb keeps a small-town office for his twin occupations of paperhanger and detective; on the wall is a diploma from the Rising Sun Detective Agency's correspondence school. A fan of Sherlock Holmes, the quixotic Gubb emulates the master by wearing a deerstalker and smoking a calabash (the real Holmes, despite numerous characterizations, did not smoke a calabash). While working on his cases, he employs an enormous collection of his disguises--which deceive no one; half the citizens of Riverbank greet him by name. Gubb commits a major crime during every case on which he works: the murder of the English language." (p. 57)

 

3. Cain, James M(allahan) - to - Curtiss, Ursula

 

"Carrados, Max": "A wealthy bachelor, Carrados pursues his talent for detection whenever he pleases without accepting a fee. Supplementing his intelligence are senses he developed to read newspaper headlines with a touch of his fingers, recognize a friend he has not seen in twenty-five years by his voice, and detect a man wearing a false moustache because 'he carries a five-yard aura of spirit gum.' His loss of sight has never affected his sense of humor, his almost overwhelming kindliness, or his strict sense of justice, which sometimes skirts the legal process and, on one occasion, causes a murderer to commit suicide." (p. 65)

 

4. D. A., The - to - Durham, David

 

"Dupin, C. Auguste": "The first fictional detective of importance and the model for virtually every cerebral crime solver who followed. Presented without physical description, the Chevalier Dupin seems less human than his successors because Poe wanted to stress the supreme importance of the intellect, unencumbered with emotional considerations--a character, in short, who is Poe's idealization of himself." (p. 137)

 

5. Eberhart, Mignon G(ood) - to - Evans, John

 

"Ellin, Stanley Bernard": "Ellin writes only about one short story a year, working in a slow, painstaking way. After mulling over an idea, sometimes for weeks, he laboriously writes and rewrites each page, sometimes a dozen times, before he is satisfied. Brilliant and imaginative, his stories rarely fall within the bounds of detective fiction; yet each of his first seven stories won a prize in the prestigious annual contests conducted by Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine ...." (p. 142)

 

6. Fair, A. A. - to - Futrelle, Jacques

 

"Fell, Dr. Gideon": "The great 250-pound detective was modeled after G. K. Chesterton, the creator of Father Brown and a boyhood idol of (John Dickson) Carr. At times, Fell resembles a madman, making no attempt to control his eccentricity; yet he somehow retains his dignity. The only cases for which he can muster any enthusiasm are those involving 'miracles'--impossible crimes which have an aura of the supernatural about them but which he solves with a reasonable explanation." (p. 147)

 

"Freeman, Richard Austin": "Aside from creating his brilliant detective, Thorndyke, Freeman made a great contribution to the literature of mystery fiction with his invention of the 'inverted' detective story. In The Singing Bone (1912; s. s.), which introduces the form, the reader is a witness to the crime, the suspense of the chase thereby being eliminated. Interest centers not on WHETHER the criminal will be caught, but on HOW." (p. 158)

 

7. Gaboriau, Emile - to - Gryce, Ebenezer

 

"Gaboriau, Emile": "Gaboriau moved ahead of his contemporaries by focusing attention on the gathering and interpreting of evidence in the detection of crime, rather than on the previously emphasized sensational commission of it. The roman policier he invented was instantly copied by scores of prolific French hacks, most of whom followed a standard pattern: a brutally murdered victim is found; a police officer demonstrates his ingenuity in solving the crime, which inevitably is connected with old family scandals; the villain is usually a handsome nobleman, often of illegitimate birth." (p. 163)

 

8. "Had-I-But-Known" School - to - Hyne, C(harles) J(ohn) Cutliffe (Wright)

 

"Hanaud, Inspector": "Like most French detectives in English literature, Hanaud is a comic character, though not as broadly drawn as Eugene Valmont or Henri Bencolin, or even Hercule Poirot, a Belgian. He has no unusual mental capabilities; he employs the methods of the average astute policeman, claiming that his chief skill is to seize the skirts of chance and cling tightly to them." (p. 188)

 

9. I Love a Mystery - to - Irwin, Will

 

"Innes, Michael": "In a 1964 essay for Esquire, 'Death as a Game,' Innes described his writing methods and also commented on the reading of detective stories, which he recognizes as addictive. He feels that he has escaped this compulsion--by writing such works himself. He regards characterization in depth, one of the hallmarks of serious fiction, as inimical to the mystery. His cardinal principle in writing detective stories has been to regard them solely as escape literature and never to allow real problems or feelings to intrude on his characters." (p. 224)

 

10. Jacobs, W(illiam) W(ymark) - to - Junkin, Harry W.

 

"Jepson, Selwyn": "In much of Jepson's work in the thriller category, justice is meted out, but not necessarily obviously, for it is often a poetic justice, arising out of the circumstances of a crime, or a secret justice, resulting from the efforts of a hero or heroine to bring it about against all the odds." (p. 226)

 

11. Kane, Bob - to - Kyle, Sefton

 

"King, Charles Daly": "As a mystery writer, King is an enigmatic figure. At times he is brilliant, writing with the verve and assurance of a master. At other times he is as frustrating as the old club bore who tells the same stories over and over again. King is undoubtedly the only mystery writer to have inserted a fifteen-page treatise on economic theory into a detective novel--for absolutely no reason." (pp. 233-234)

 

12. Lacy, Ed - to - Lynds, Dennis

 

"Locked-Room Mysteries": The late Hans Stefan Santesson on the decline of the locked-room subgenre: "When locked-room crimes were at the peak of their popularity (mainly between the world wars), fictional murderers were more concerned with the technique of the crime than the actual murder itself. The taking of a person's life demanded a certain ritual procedure, choreographed against an almost Wagnerian background. In that age, murder was a private affair. It had not yet become a way of life, or something to be investigated while attempting to cope with nymphomaniacs and indulging in pseudo-Freudian jabberwocky. Today, the age is more violent, more impatient; perhaps that is why the device of a murder committed in a hermetically sealed room (or its equivalent) is used less frequently than it once was." (p. 248)

 

13. Mabuse, Dr. - to - Mystery Writers of America

 

"Marsh, Ngaio": "In Murder for Pleasure (1941) (Howard) Haycraft included Dame Ngaio (along with Margery Allingham, Michael Innes, and Nicholas Blake) in a list of writers who had brought the English detective novel to 'full flower.' He pointed out that, despite her powers of characterization, her books are more novels of manners than of character. She depends upon police procedure more than her contemporaries, who are concerned with the psychology of their characters. Haycraft, in praising her sense of drama, felt that it was also her weakness; she tends to substitute dialogue for action." (pp. 278-279)

 

14. Nebel, Frederick - to - North, Mr. and Mrs.

 

"Noon, Ed" (Michael Avallone's softly hardboiled detective describes himself): "Strong, tough, Manhattan-cynical but underneath still a small boy. A movie lover. Cried when dogs got run over, helped little old ladies across the street, works for principle and integrity. Not an antihero. He believes the home team will win the old ball game in the ninth, that nice guys will not finish last, and when the climax comes, the Good Guys will always beat the Bad Guys. He grew up that way, through the Depression years, a second World War, and all the time he dreamed in a million darkened movie houses. He embraced the word Hero; he believed there was no other way for a man to be." (p. 295)

 

15. O'Breen, Fergus - to - Oursler, Fulton

 

"O'Higgins, Harvey Jerrold": "Detective Duff Unravels It (1929), published posthumously, was selected for Queen's Quorum and offered as the most significant collection of its decade because it represents the first serious approach to psychoanalytical detection. The dust wrapper of the first edition describes John Duff's methods: 'Every crime is committed in two places. It is committed at the scene of the crime, where the police investigate it, but what is far more important, it is also committed in the mind of the criminal. The old-fashioned detective followed the first trail, but Detective Duff tracked the psychological trail of the criminal through a labyrinth of haunting fears and hidden repressions and veiled passions. Duff ... discovered the guilty ones by the warm, believable tracing of a human being's motives.'" (p. 298)

 

16. Packard, Frank L(ucius) - to - Punshon, E(rnest) R(obertson)

 

"Phillpotts, Eden": "Perhaps the two greatest contributions to the mystery genre made by Phillpotts do not actually involve his writing. Since he was accepted as a major writer of fiction, his name lent prestige to the roster of mystery and detective writers. Also, his well-publicized encouragement of the youthful Agatha Christie appears to have been instrumental in her subsequent development." (p. 309)

 

"Post, Melville Davisson": "Credited with creating a new 'formula' for the mystery story, Post avoided the repetition of the traditional tale by developing the mystery and its solution simultaneously, substantially speeding up the action. His works, which generally have a strong moral tone (except for the early Mason tales), carefully combine the ratiocination of Poe's tales with the dramatic flair of the French writers." (p. 319)

 

17. Queen, Ellery - to - Quentin, Patrick

 

"Queen, Elllery (author)": "Howard Haycraft, in Murder for Pleasure (1941), called Queen's books 'as adroit a blending of the intellectual and dramatic aspects of the genre, of meticulous plot-work, lively narration, easy, unforced humor, and entertaining personae, as can be found in the modern detective novel. They represent the detective romance at its present-day skillful best.' To him, Queen's only flaw is 'an occasional tendency to too-great intricacy.'

 

"The 'ingenuity' of the Queen novels has been cited by James Sandoe, Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor, and Julian Symons, who also described the 'relentlessly analytical treatment of every possible clue and argument. Judged as exercises in rational deduction, these are certainly among the best detective stories ever written.' However, Symons felt that Queen had achieved these positive qualities at the expense of 'feeling for the people in his story.'" (p. 327)

 

18. Radcliffe, Ann (Ward) - to - Rydell, Stanton

 

"Rhode, John": "Critics have praised Rhode for his clever and carefully worked out, frequently baffling, plots but they have found his work to be talky, tedious, and unexciting--especially toward the end of his career. Rhode is not a master of characterization (with the exception of Dr. Priestley) or atmosphere." (p. 341)

 

19. Saint, The - to - Symons, Julian (Gustave)

 

"Sayers, Dorothy Leigh": "Regarding her fiction, critics have frequently commented on Miss Sayers's self-professed goal of producing a book 'less like a conventional detective story and more like a novel.' She later refined this objective in 1937, declaring that she tried to make the detective novel 'more a novel of manners than a crossword puzzle.' This was especially apparent in her last two books, Gaudy Night (1935) and Busman's Honeymoon (1937), in which the elements of detection were underplayed. John Strachey wrote, in 1939, that she 'has now almost ceased to be a first-rate detective story writer, and has become an exceedingly snobbish popular novelist.' Julian Symons summarized the dichotomy of opinion regarding Miss Sayers, pointing out that to her admirers 'she is the finest detective story writer of the 20th century; to those less enthusiastic, her work is long-winded and ludicrously snobbish.'" (p. 354)

 

"Sheringham, Roger": "A little below average height and stocky, he has a round face and is usually engaged in smoking a short-stemmed pipe with a large bowl, drinking beer, or talking--usually nonsense.

 

"Sheringham is rude, vain, loquacious, and offensive. As he became more popular, an attempt was made to smooth over his rough edges and have him conform to the more conventional picture of a great detective. A. B. Cox (Anthony Berkeley) said that Sheringham was 'founded on an offensive person I once knew because in my original innocence I thought it would be amusing to have an offensive detective. Since he has been taken in all seriousness, I have had to tone his offensiveness down and pretend he never was.' Sheringham is very fallible, as evidenced by his incorrect solution to The Poisoned Chocolates Case." (p. 362)

 

20. Tate, Ellalice - to - Tyre, Nedra

 

"Tutt, Ephraim": "One of the wisest lawyers in literature, Mr. Tutt is also one of the kindest, handling innumerable cases for which he cannot collect a fee. In the service of justice he often resorts to obscure legal technicalities and loopholes. He has never lost a case.

 

"Train describes Tutt as one who 'fights fire with fire, meets guile with guile, and rights the legal wrong. He is the Quixote who tries to make things what they ought to be in this world of things as they are, who has the courage of his illusions, following the dictates of his heart where his head says there is no way.'" (p. 394)

 

21. Uhnak, Dorothy - to - Upfield, Arthur W(illiam)

 

"Uncle Abner": "One of the greatest American detectives, a giant figure of absolute integrity whose strong moral convictions and profound biblical knowledge compel him to serve as the righter of wrongs and protector of the innocent in his Virginia mountain community.

 

"Abner lives in the rugged backwoods during the days of Thomas Jefferson's presidency, before there were police. He has no official standing and does not seek the job of solving crimes, but he believes someone must help God administer justice. The evil-doers, Abner knows, are perfectly capable of eluding man-made laws, which are vaguely connected with true justice. But the Virginia squire also knows that, ultimately, right must emerge because of the omnipresence of God."

(p. 395)

 

22. Vachell, Horace Annesley - to - Vulliamy, C(olwyn) E(dward)

 

"Vance, Philo": "An interesting full-length parody of Vance, The John Riddell Murder Case by John Riddell, appeared in 1930. Actually written by Corey Ford, the story involves John Riddell, a book reviewer, found dead in his library. Since his jaws are extended in a yawn, his feet are asleep, and the walls are lined with the best sellers of the previous year, Vance deduces that he was bored to death." (p. 400)

 

23. Wade, Henry - to - Wylie, Philip (Gordon)

 

"Wells, Carolyn": "Miss Wells wrote the first instructional manual of the genre, The Technique of the Mystery Story (1913). Her opinion that 'the detective story must seem real in the same sense that fairy tales seem real to children' has been quoted approvingly by Howard Haycraft and others. She inveighed against the use of impossible murder methods, and in her own books bizarre and seemingly supernatural crimes are always given natural explanations.

 

"Many critics have questioned why a writer so prolific and prominent in her own time should be as completely forgotten as Carolyn Wells is today. Although they never explain her initial popularity, Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor find that, although she had ingenious ideas, her powers of execution were poor." (p. 415)

 

24. Yaffe, James - to - Zinberg, Len

 

"Zangwill, Israel": "Written as a parody of detective stories, The Big Bow Mystery is a clever, if tongue-in-cheek, story of a man who is discovered with his throat cut in a room that has been locked, sealed, bolted, and 'as firmly barred as if besieged.' The retired Inspector Grodman provides a surprising solution--a solution that Gaston Leroux must have considered when he wrote The Mystery of the Yellow Room fifteen years later." (p. 436)

 

**************************************

 

--Michael

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