Anthony Abbot (1893 – 1952)

4496517Anthony Abbot pseudonym of Charles Fulton Oursler (January 22, 1893 – May 24, 1952). Fulton Oursler was once famous for his popular religious books, particularly The Greatest Story Ever Told (1949), a retelling of the story of the Bible. It was followed by The Greatest Book Ever Written (1951) and The Greatest Faith Ever Known, completed by his daughter, April Oursler Armstrong, and posthumously published in 1953, as well as other books of Christian apologetics. But as Anthony Abbot he wrote a brief series of mysteries about Thatcher Colt, head of the New York City police department.

Abbot began his writing career as a newspaperman with the Baltimore American, having previously work at jobs as various as law clerk and water boy for a construction crew. Although he never finished high school –actually, he never entered it, having dropped out of the eighth  grade– he rose to high positions with publishing companies in New York City. While working for MacFadden publications he oversaw various pulp magazines including True Detective. Abbot continued his own writing, however, and had a long-running play on Broadway, The Spider (1927), co-written with Lowell Brentano. He begun the Thatcher Colt series with About the Murder of Geraldine Foster (1930), which features an axe murder inviting comparisons with the Lizzie Borden case. Like S. S. Van Dine, Abbot sometimes used real cases as inspiration; also like Van Dine, the connection to reality stopped there. Thatcher Colt is the police commissioner of New York City, but he goes about in evening dress and is clearly a genius detective of the Philo Vance school. Although the Colt books are not even harder to find than the Vance mysteries, Barzun and Taylor gave Abbot credit for being more “sensible” than Van Dine.

Oursler became a senior editor at Reader’s Digest in 1944. He was a broadcaster during World War II. He also lectured on criminology and pursued a wide variety of interests, including psychic phenomena. He died in New York City in 1952, while halfway through writing his autobiography, Behold This Dreamer, published in 1964. (Source: The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery by B. Murphy)

Abbot wrote four Thatcher Colt detective novels in 1930 – 1932. They are especially Van Dine like in their tone, and in their detectival approach. He then paused for three years, without publishing any more Colts. During 1935 – 1943, he published four more Colt novels, at long intervals. These later novels are much less Van Dine like in tone, perhaps not surprising, in that Van Dine was no longer anywhere near as popular as in the early 1930’s. They also contain much more about an Abbot enthusiasm of those years, psychic phenomena. (Mediums are also mentioned briefly in his first book About the Murder of Geraldine Foster. (Mike Grost)

The Thatcher Colt mysteries date back to the 1930s and were the source material for a couple of interesting old films. You may find these difficult to acquire but keep your eyes open, they’re worth it. Classic American detection with good writing and interesting plots. I liked About the Murder of the Nightclub Lady; About the Murder of the Clergyman’s Mistress is tough to find but very enjoyable. (Noah Stewart)

Bibliography: About the Murder of Geraldine Foster, 1930 (UK Title: The Murder of Geraldine Foster [1931]); About the Murder of the Clergyman’s Mistress, 1931 (UK Title: Crime of the Century [1931]) (Also published as: Murder of the Clergyman’s Mistress [1950]; and as: Mysterious Murder of the Blonde Play-Girl [193?]); About the Murder of the Night Club Lady, 1931 (UK Title: Murder of the Night Club Lady [1932]) (Also published as: The Night Club Lady [1932]); About the Murder of the Circus Queen, 1932 (UK Title: Murder of the Circus Queen [1933]); About the Murder of a Startled Lady, 1935 (UK Title: Murder of a Startled Lady [1936]); About the Murder of a Man Afraid of Women, 1937 (UK Title: Murder of Man Afraid of Women [1937]); The Creeps, 1939 (UK Title: Murder at Buzzards Bay [1940]); and The Shudders (UK Title: Deadly Secret [1943]).

Anthony Abbot is one of the most important of the “little known” mystery writers. Like Ellery Queen an early follower of S.S. Van Dine, Abbot’s books are distinguished by a wonderful plot complexity. Abbot is good at misdirection. The reader is encouraged to view subplots as having a certain significance, when in reality they point in an entirely different direction, one that is only revealed at the end of the story. This is perhaps related to the plotting technique sometimes used by pulp writers, in which so many actors are doing so many things that the reader is constantly misled about the real origins of every startling, new plot twist. (To continue reading it click here at A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection)

Further reading:

2 (1)

(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Farrar & Rinehart, Inc. (USA), 1935)

About the Murder of a Startled Lady was originally published in the US in 1935 by Farrar and Rinehart and, a year later, in the UK as Murder of a Startled Lady by Collins Crime Club.

From the Introduction:

The truth about the case of the foundling bones should have been apparent from the start. At least, on looking back, it seems so to me. I believe that almost from the beginning, Police Commissioner Thatcher Colt had an idea of the nature of the deed and how it was committed. The problem was to prove it, and in this process, so Colt maintains, the Police Department and not himself deserves all praise. As to that, I make no comment, except to remind the reader that the only reason Thatcher Colt has permitted me to publish these memoirs is for the greater glory of the department which he administered so fairly and efficiently under two Mayors, of opposite political faiths. Colt’s love for the Police Department is thorough and sincere; he is anxious to win public respect and support for the blue-coats in the war against crime. Some years ago, in presenting the first of these mysteries of New York to the public, I made a few remarks which may bear repeating now:

“When Mr. Thatcher Colt was Police Commissioner of the City of New York he was confronted with a number of mysterious crimes. In the face of grave difficulties, not all of which were known to the public, he personally conducted the investigations and, under handicaps that might have discouraged a less determined man, he solved the cases, caused the arrest of the guilty persons and saw them convicted. Yet the credit for his detective work was given to others. Recently Mr. Colt was approached with the proposal that the[Pg 8] facts in these startling cases be published. At first he declined, on the wholly reasonable grounds that it might appear he was seeking honour for himself. The argument which finally persuaded the former commissioner was that he would bring honour to a place where it is too often a stranger—the police department.

“It is all too true that the American public does not sufficiently appreciate its police. There is a romantic fallacy that the Force is hopeless when faced with a clever crime; indeed many persons hold the departments of the country in contempt and derision. From short stories and novels they seem to have gained the impression that puzzling crimes are solved only by brilliant amateurs. These whimsical creatures of the story-teller’s imagination, a printed army of amiable dilettanti of the current fiction, are gentlemen of inexhaustible knowledge and accomplishment. They are experts in chemistry and astronomy, psycho-analysis and fire-arms; they know rugs, music, chess and wines; they are languid fellows with a great fund of humour, and a mischievous liking for cryptic utterances until they are ready to put a delicate finger on the malefactor. Their avocation is to catch elusive murderers, when the police detectives are ready to confess their utter ineptitude for their own business.

“Of course there are no such detectives in real life. Yet the crimes of reality are infinitely stranger than the fanciful misdeeds which these imaginary detectives are asked to unravel. The police face crime and mystery as a part of their daily routine, and they solve their cases by knowing their business and attending to it—by vast and competent organisation, patience and determined hard work, together with some ingenuity and an occasional streak of good luck….”

These were the methods employed in dealing with [Pg 9] the mystery of the box of bones. They are described here just as I saw them performed; perhaps you will anticipate the solution long before I did. As I said before, it was perfectly obvious almost from the beginning—or should have been. (Anthony Abbot)

About the Murder of a Startled Lady has been reviewed at Death Can Read, Golden Age of Detection Wiki, Beneath the Stains of Time, The Invisible Event, and Vintage Post Fiction

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