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Talbot, Hake

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 8 months ago

Hake Talbot was the pseudonym of Henning Nelms (1900-1986), an American conjuror with an interest in 'impossible' crimes. His detective character was Rogan Kincaid. Like Clayton Rawson, Nelms also wrote non-fiction books on stagecraft under his own name.


"A typical trick has no meaning beyond the fact that it presents a puzzle and challenges the audience to find the solution. When we supply meaning, we eliminate the challenge, and the puzzle becomes secondary". - Henning Nelms


Mike Grost on Hake Talbot


Hake Talbot only published two novels, a play and some short fiction, so his output was very small. Talbot's first novel, The Hangman's Handyman (1942), is disappointing, and I have not been able to track down most of his other works. But his second novel, Rim of the Pit (1944), is a masterpiece. Talbot is the only Carr imitator whose work could actually be preferred to that of Carr himself. Both of these novels are now back in print, from the publisher Ramble House.


Talbot's mystery technique is closer to Carr than it is to any other writer, such as Chesterton or Futrelle, and one suspects that Talbot was familiar with and inspired by Carr's work. In Carr's The Three Coffins, the reader is often inventively misled about the order of events and their actual significance; the same technique is used in Rim of the Pit, in complex and creative ways. In Carr's work, suspects are often wandering around from location to location, and their position at various times is relevant in the solution. Carr also uses ingenious methods to mislead readers' about these positions. This is an aspect of Carr's work that he took over from the mystery novel as whole, not just its impossible crime wing. (It is most useful as a technique in the novel as opposed to the short story, since in a novel there is room to describe the elaborate wanderings of a group of characters.) We see this same technique in Talbot. There is a certain sophistication and "man of the world" attitude to Carr's characters; we see the same in Talbot. Carr was fascinated by problems involving "impossible" crimes in open fields and beaches, complete with tracks in the ground; Talbot gives us just such a problem, among the many marvelous puzzles in the book. (Carr's hero Chesterton was one of the first to propose such a problem, in The Poet and the Lunatics. His solution was nowhere as good as Carr's many later approaches to this puzzle, but his tale could have fired Carr's imagination.) There is also an air of "creative eclecticism" in Carr, where he was willing to use and combine many different techniques of impossible crime to make up all the puzzles in a novel. Talbot's work shows a similar eclecticism.


I hope it is clear from this discussion that while Talbot was influenced by Carr's approach, he in all cases showed plenty of personal creativity.


Talbot wrote at least two impossible crime short stories about the series sleuth of his novels, Rogan Kincaid. "The High House" (1948) has an impossible crime based in the architecture of its remote country mansion, like some of the miracles in Rim of the Pit. This sort of concern for architecture was a Golden Age specialty. Rogan Kincaid has manipulated a few events behind the scenes, actions we learn about in the finale, as in Rim of the Pit. And it deals with a curse that threatens to annihilate the hero of the story, as in Hangman's Handyman. The story has some of Talbot's trademark atmosphere, with a group of characters stuck in a remote place where eerieness reigns. There is an odd feel of time having stopped, while we watch strange events unfold as in a dream. There is also a complex series of interrelationships between the characters in the story: Talbot has worked out the special nature of the relationship between each pair of the story's characters. This too adds to the feeling of plot density and weight.


The Spring 1948 (Volume 6, #3) issue of Mystery Book Magazine, where "The High House" originally appeared, has a good illustration on the title page of the story. This is the only portrait of Rogan Kincaid I've ever seen. He is shown wearing a good suit: this is the height of the film noir era, and Kincaid seems like the sort of snappy dresser one sees in the heroes of Hollywood crime thrillers of the period.



The Hangman's Handyman (1942)

The Rim of the Pit (1944)

Short stories

  • The Other Side
  • The High House

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