Day: May 2, 2020

Craig Rice (1908-1957)

2414Georgiana Ann Randolph was born in Chicago on June 5, 1908, the daughter of Harry Moschiem “Bosco” Craig and Mary Randolph Craig. Her father was an itinerant artist, her mother the daughter of a Chicago physician. Accounts differ on her correct surname. Her most famous pen name combines her father’s last name and the last name of his brother-in-law and sister with whom she lived, Mr. and Mrs. Elton Rice.

Educated by her uncle and in a Jesuit missionary school, Rice developed a dislike of conformity and at the age of eighteen began earning a precarious living in the Chicago literary world. She succeeded because of her versatility; she took on jobs as a crime reporter, a radio and motion-picture script writer, and publicity manager for Gypsy Rose Lee and a group of traveling wrestlers, as well as working as a general freelance writer.

Rice was married at least four times, to Arthur John Follows, a newspaperman named Arthur Ferguson, H. W. DeMott, Jr., and a writer named Lawrence Lipton, not necessarily in that order. Her children, Nancy, Iris, and David, appear as characters in her semiautobiographical novel, Home Sweet Homicide (1944). The children spent much of their time in boarding schools while their mother wrote at home in Santa Monica, California. Her husband at the time, Lawrence Lipton, worked in an office in Los Angeles.

Rice’s first detective novel, Eight Faces at Three (1939), took her nearly two years to write. The first chapter was easy enough, but she had trouble getting beyond its intriguing problem. She claimed that she never understood how she did it, but the character of the hard-drinking, womanizing John J. Malone succeeded with the public and appeared in several subsequent novels.

Reportedly an expert marksman, cook, and grower of prize gardenias, Rice enjoyed life enormously. Nevertheless, in spite of fame and financial rewards (she was the first mystery writer to appear on the cover of Time), she found meeting deadlines increasingly difficult. The drinking that she made amusing in print was not amusing in her own life. On August 28, 1957, she died of an overdose of barbiturates and alcohol.

(Source: “Georgiana Ann Randolph – Biography” Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition Ed. Carl Rollyson. eNotes.com, Inc. 2008 eNotes.com 2 May, 2020 http://www.enotes.com/topics/georgiana-ann-randolph#biography-biography-3425)

Craig Rice’s work as a mystery writer falls into a number of phases. Craig Rice’ early novels tend to have a Society background. Her detectives gain entrée into this world through Helene Brand, who is a debutante and member of Society. There is a closed circle of suspects built up, in what is almost a parody of Golden Age tradition, all people who were present at an early crime or sinister event. There are good things in the pre-1942 books: the great mise-en-scène of the opening chapter of The Wrong Murder, and the beginnings of Rice’s surrealist plotting technique in the middle chapters of The Right Murder. I also like the bandleader’s name in The Big Midget Murders (1942). She hit her stride with such inspired novels as Mother Finds A Body (1942), The Thursday Turkey Murders (1943), To Catch a Thief (1943), Crime on My Hands (1944), and Home Sweet Homicide (1944). Even the lesser novels of 1943 – 1944, such as Having Wonderful Crime (1943) and Murder Through the Looking Glass (1943), have their virtues. After 1944, both her productivity and quality temporarily fell off. Knocked for a Loop (1957, based on a 1955 novella) is somewhat weak. My Kingdom For a Hearse (1956) shows Rice at her furiously surrealistic best. This strange classic of chopped-up corpses takes black humor at first to distasteful extremes, and then into wild flights of imagination. During the 1950’s Rice concentrated her energies of a large number of short stories, most of which have never been reprinted since their original magazine publication and which I have not been able to find or read. Some of these show Rice at her best: “The Murder of Mr. Malone” (1953), “The Little Knife That Wasn’t There” (1954), “The Frightened Millionaire” (1956), and “The Last Man Alive” (1953), which Rice choose for the anthology, My Best Mystery Story. This last piece, like Rice’s first novel, 8 Faces at 3 (1939), was based on a dream Rice had. This is an appropriate choice of inspiration for a writer whose best work contains the logic, surprise and poetic feelings of our dreams. (Mike Grost)

Further reading: Home Is Where the Corpse Is by Jeffrey Marks, and Who Was That Lady? Craig Rice: The Queen of Screwball Mystery by Jeffrey Marks (Delphi Books, 2001).

Mike Grost on Craig Rice Within the mystery field, Jacques Futrelle, Ellery Queen and Craig Rice form a trinity of surrealistic authors. These mystery writers emphasized constantly surprising twists of plot, characters and events that startled readers by their sheer strangeness. Despite all of this strangeness, everything in their books is logically self consistent. Each bit of plot is carefully constructed to lead logically, within its own terms, on to the next. Although the plots are continually strange, they are the diametric opposite of free form whimsy. (Read more at A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection).

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

From Wikipedia: Home Sweet Homicide is a 1944 comedic mystery novel written by American author Craig Rice, following the story of three young siblings as they investigate a murder in their neighborhood. The novel was adapted into a film of the same name in 1946.

When your mom’s a mystery writer, a talent for detection is only natural. So when the three children of prolific whodunit author Marion Carstairs become material witnesses in a neighborhood murder, they launch their own investigation. And why not? They know everything about baffling mysteries from reading their mother’s books, the publicity could do wonders for her sales, and then she and a handsome detective could fall in love. It’s too perfect for words.
Marion’s too busy wrapping up the loose ends of her latest book for the inconvenience of a real crime. But what’s surfacing in the shadows of the house next door is not quite as predictable as fiction: accusations of racketeering, kidnapping and blackmail; a slain stripper; a grieving but slippery husband; a wily French artist; a panicky movie star; and a cop who’s working Marion’s last nerve. If the kids are game, Marion decides she is too—in between chapters, at least. Besides, this whole dangerous bloody mess could turn out to be a source of inspiration!
This stand-alone mystery was the basis for the classic 1946 comedy starring Randolph Scott and Peggy Ann Garner and “makes clear why Craig Rice remains one of the best writers of mystery fiction” (Jeffery Marks, author of Who Was That Lady?). (Mysterious Press publicity page)

The Mysterious Bookshop publicity page.

Home Sweet Homicide has been reviewed, among others, at January Magazine, Mystery File, Classic Mysteries, Cross-examining Crime, and The Invisible Event.

Arthur Upfield (1890 – 1964)

2965Arthur William Upfield (1 September 1890 – 13 February 1964) was an Australian writer, best known for his works of detective fiction featuring Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (‘Bony’) of the Queensland Police Force, a half-caste Aborigine. Born in England, Upfield moved to Australia in 1910 and fought with the Australian military during the First World War. Following his war service, he travelled extensively throughout Australia, obtaining a knowledge of Australian Aboriginal culture that would later be used extensively in his written works. In addition to his detective fiction, Upfield was also a member of the Australian Geological Society and was involved in numerous scientific expeditions.

Upfield’s first published book was The House of Cain in 1928. It wasn’t until The Barrakee Mystery that he introduced the character of Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte, affectionately known as ‘Bony’. Bony was a mixed blood Aboriginal famous for using technics he learnt in the bush to track down his suspects. Bony is also known as Boney for the American market and was also used in 70’s Australian TV series (“Boney”) which was also distributed overseas in high demand. His Works over the years have been published in several languages such as French, German, Italian often out selling the Australian market. 

Inspector Bonaparte Book Series in order: The Barrakee Mystery (1928);
The Sands of Windee (1931); Wings Above the Diamantina (1936); Mr. Jelly’s Business (1937); Winds of Evil (1937); The Bone is Pointed (1938); The Mystery of Swordfish Reef (1939); Bushranger of the Skies (1940); Death of a Swagman (1946); The Devil’s Steps (1946); An Author Bites the Dust (1948); The Mountains Have a Secret (1948); The Bachelors of Broken Hill (1950); The Widows of Broome (1950); The New Shoe (1951) Venom House (1952; Murder Must Wait (1953); Death of a Lake (1954); Cake in the Hatbox (1955); The Battling Prophet (1956); The Man of Two Tribes (1956); Bony Buys a Woman (1957); Bony and the Black Virgin (1959); Bony and the Mouse (1959); Bony and the Kelly Gang (1960); Bony and the White Savage (1961); The Will of the Tribe (1962); Madman’s Bend (1963); and The Lake Frome Monster (1966).

Further reading: Arthur W Upfield Official Website and Arthur Upfield official site.

Mike Grost on Arthur Upfield: Upfield, a British-born writer who emigrated to Australia, shows clear links with the Freeman-Crofts school of “realistic” detective fiction, and shares many of their key characteristics. There are backgrounds in Upfield’s tales: the detailed description of the Australian outback. There is the detectival pursuit of chains of physical evidence: Bonaparte is an expert at reading clues from the outback, and tracking suspects from them, as well as finding evidence for murder. There is the sympathetic portrait of racial minorities: in this case, the Australian Aborigines. There is a scientific content in the stories: in this case, a look at the ecology of the outback. Finally, there is an occasional use of the inverted detective story invented by Freeman: Upfield’s only short story about Bonaparte, “Wisp of Wool, Disc of Silver” (1948), is an inverted detective tale. It, and the novel it is based on, The Sands of Windee (1931), the second Bonaparte book, also show another Freeman interest: ingenious methods of disposing of a body, so that a charge of murder cannot be brought. Upfield also shows some differences from the Realist school. Upfield’s puzzle plots often turn on misdirection. In this he is closer to Agatha Christie, than to Realist school authors. To continue reading please click here.

I find it always hard, when approaching a new author, to choose the first book I’m going to read. At times it seems clear to start at the beginning in a long series, but it might also be wise to get started reading one of the most well-known. After all, that first experience might condition our future readings. Besides, one may always have time to read afterwards the series in its chronological order, if so one wishes.

Venom House is an interesting crime novel, full of Australian local color that should prove especially interesting to non-Australians.  Upfield has a leisurely and measured narrative style that does indeed remind me of the English Humdrums Freeman Wills Crofts and John Street (Julian Symons thought as much), but Bony, despite his tracking skills, seems more intuitive and less dependent than Crofts’ and Street’s sleuths on material clues.  The book actually is not as viscerally thrilling as I have probably made it sound, but it’s a good tale nevertheless. (The Passing Tramp)

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(Source: Facsimile Dust Jacket. Doubleday The Crime Club (USA), 1952)

Venom House is the 16th novel of the Bony series by Arthur Upfield. Bony finds himself in the coastal town of Edison, in south-eastern Queensland, investigating two bodies found in a man-made lake which surrounds the Answerth familys mansion known as Venom House.

The Answerth family’s mansion seems to deserve its nickname of Venom House – perhaps because of its forbidding setting, an island in the centre of a man-made lake, its treacherous waters studded by the skeletons of long-dead trees. Perhaps it’s because of the unquiet ghosts of the Aboriginals slaughtered by the Answerth ancestors. Whatever the reason, most people are content to give Venom House and its occupants a wide berth… until a couple of corpses turn up in the lake. Inspector Bonaparte has a sudden urge to get to knows the Answerths and their charming home much better… (Source: Goodreads).

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