Hake Talbot (1900 – 1986)

Hake Talbot is a pen name of the American writer Henning Nelms (1900-1986). Talbot was chiefly known for his impossible crime, locked room mystery novel Rim of the Pit (1944). Nelms reserved his real name for writing non-fiction about showmanship (his chief occupation was as a stage magician). He was the author of the book Magic and Showmanship: A Handbook for Conjurers (1969). During a 1981 poll by experts arranged by Edward D. Hoch, for the preface of his anthology All But Impossible!, Talbot’s Rim of the Pit stood second, next only to John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man (1935) as the best locked room mystery. Another novel, The Hangman’s Handyman, which Talbot wrote in 1942, was not as successful. He also wrote two short stories, “The High House” and “The Other Side”.

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. (A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection by Mike Grost)

My previous post is here. Stay tuned.


(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Simon and Schuster Inner Sanctum Mystery (USA), 1944)

Hake Talbot wrote only two mystery novels and Ramble House is proud to bring both of them back into print for modern readers. Rim of the Pit is his masterpiece of an “impossible crime” that takes place in the far north where snow surrounds a group of desperate people, one of whom is bent on murder. The mapback cover from the 1950’s Dell paperback is one of the best crime maps ever drawn and we reproduce it here for you. In addition, this book contains a short story by Talbot called “The Other Side”. You will not forget this book! (Ramble House publicity page)

Rim of the Pit has been reviewed, among others, at Gadetection, Classic Mysteries, My Reader’s Block, The Green Capsule, The invisible Event (1), The Invisible Event (2), In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Mystery File, Crime Fiction Lover, Ah Sweet Mystery Blog, Vintage Pop Fictions, Death Can Read, and Clothes In Books.

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