Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ellery Queen's Book of Mystery Stories by 25 Famous Writers

I found this secondhand aaaaages ago - in the summer? BEFORE the summer? Long ago, anyway. Like it says on the tin, it's a collection of stories by authors normally not associated with crime fiction. I decided when I bought it (for a pittance, by the way) that it would be fun to jot down a few notes after reading each story, and then posting everything on the blog. Ha ha. What followed was that I read 3/4 of the book and then got tired of taking notes, so left the book "to rest" for a good few months. Also, I suspect that the notes are not that thrilling to read. But it has the bonus of me listing ALL the authors and ALL the stories, and that may be of some historical interest. Perhaps there's a desperate Googler out there just waiting for this blog entry, who knows. In my recent determination to have a crime fiction spree I've finished this now, so here goes.

Sinclair Lewis: The Post-Mortem Murder
Pearl Buck: Ransom
Nobel Prize? First one rather dull. Overly dramatic delivery of lines. Buck better, but v. fanciful - Grey Squad from FBI etc. Strong silent men etc. Wtf? [I later happened to see a TV-programme on Hoover, and learned all about how he promoted the educated FBI agent that popularly became known as a G-man, and that became an almost super-hero figure, including comic books. So that explains the Grey Squad in the short story and the hero-worshipping.]

Somerset Maugham: Before the Party
V. good.

Edna St. Vincent Millay: The Murder in the Fishing Cat
From a time when Americans could write in French and assume they'd be understood.

John Galsworthy: The Juryman
Depth, moving, well described. Man more involved with status and material comfort learns that empathy and understanding more important, and that his marriage is empty if they cannot talk really talk about such things. He feels admiration for her but they are not close.

John Steinbeck: The Murder
Most impressed by Jelka Stepiz - those where the days when an American author could write diacritic signs and get them printed. Now US gets special edition of Harry Potter so US kids don't have to wonder what a jumper is.

William Faulkner: Monk
Quote the bit in §1! [I have no idea what I wanted to quote now. Introduction to story mentions several books I have to read though.] Monk name of criminal - is the tv series a joke?

Rudyard Kipling: The Limitations of Pambé Serang
True to imperialist form, but he is a great story-teller.

Louis Bromfield: Prime of Life
"Really American story" [according to introduction] - maybe so, v. good story-telling.

Ernest Hemingway: The Killers
Terse and hard-boiled.

Charles Dickens: Hunted Down
Curiously disappointing. Starts off well, but finishes bla bla bla all the tension gone from story.

Willa Cather: Paul's Case
Pulitzer prize winner deservedly. Example of American writing. Little gem. Imaginative boy unable to accept ordinariness, ultimate escapist - perhaps all criminals are?

Mark Twain: The Stolen White Elephant
Stolen elephant. Humorous but not really my thing.

Aldous Huxley: The Gioconda Smile
Flirty ladies' man accused of poisoning wife. Mostly about his inner workings, crime by the bye. Not bad.

Guy de Maupassant: The Hand
Funny how an Englishman plays pivotal role in French detective story - set in Corsica, no less. After all typically English genre. Almost Poe-ish.

C.S. Forester: The Letters in Evidence
Wife abuse. A little chilling at first but the endearments start to feel silly. Letters. Clever.

Ring Lardner: Haircut
Friend of Fitzgerald. Barber tells customer the tale. Interesting.

Walter de la Mare: An Ideal Craftsman
A bit too long and too intent on conveying in minute detail some sort of gothic feel. Less is more. Doesn't describe the boy's reasoning terribly well?

James Thurber: The Catbird Seat
Nice! English in flavour, mildly humorous.

R.L. Stevenson: Markheim
Moralistic. Reminds me of Poe, but less goffik.

H.G. Wells: Mr Brisher's Treasure
What's a taproom?

Damon Runyon: Sense of Humour
Cute funny mob story - must have inspired lots of people. Twisted macabre ending.

Frank Swinnerton: The Verdict
3 women discuss a friend's death. Liked! But odd ending? Good but not sure I get it.

James Gould Cozzens: Clerical Error
V short story on blackmail. Ok.

Fannie Hurst: Guilty
Another writer v popular in her day. About heredity of mental illness. In bits excellent, but author has annoying mannerisms like writing . . .  at end of sentence. Super descriptions of way of life. [Read the short Wikipedia article! What a woman. And now all but forgotten.]

I can't tag the post with all the authors' names, which irks me, but there you are. Hopefully all my hard work will benefit some curious soul some day...

Each short story has an introduction of the author at the beginning, and often those introductions are the bits I find most interestingin this type of book, since they praise authors now forgotten and mention in passing those that have now become cult classics. I wish I had the energy to type in lots of examples, but I don't because a) I don't, and b) I'm writing from work (have Internet access of sorts!!!) and haven't got the actual book here now. But I reoommend this heartily for any crime aficionado!

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