Roy Vickers (1889 – 1965)

7422061-MWilliam Edward Vickers (1889 – 1965) was an English mystery writer better known under his pen name Roy Vickers, but used also the pseudonyms Roy C. Vickers, David Durham, Sefton Kyle, and John Spencer. He is the author of over 60 crime novels and 80 short stories. Vickers is now remembered mostly for his attribution to Scotland Yard of a Department of Dead Ends, specialized in solving old, sometimes long-forgotten cases, mostly by chance encounters of odd bits of strange and apparently disconnected evidence.

He was educated at Charterhouse School, and left Brasenose College, Oxford without a degree. For some time he studied law at the Middle Temple, but never practiced. He married Mary Van Rossem and they had one son. He worked as a journalist, as a court reporter and as a magazine editor; he also wrote a large number of nonfiction articles and sold hundreds of them to newspapers and magazines. Between November 1913 and February 1917, twenty short stories by Vickers were published in the Novel Magazine. About this time he published his first book, a biography of Field Marshal Frederick, Earl Roberts. He was the Editor of Novel Magazine. Vickers is best known for his ‘Department of Dead Ends’ stories which were originally published in Pearson’s Magazine from 1934. Partial collections were made in 1947, 1949, and 1978, earning him a reputation in both the UK and the US as an accomplished writer of ‘inverted mysteries’. He also edited several anthologies for the Crime Writers’ Association.

He also published mystery stories as Sefton Kyle, David Durham and John Spencer. His series characters were Inspector Rason, Hugh Stanton, Jabez Winterbourne and Felicity Dove. In 1960 he edited the Crime Writers’ Association’s anthology of short stories Some Like Them Dead. The Manchester Evening News called one of his collections, “one of the half-dozen successful books of detective short stories published since the days of Sherlock Holmes.” Vickers’s work has been adapted for film and TV, including Girl in the News (1940), Violent Moment (1959) and three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Season 3: 1957–58). (Source: Wikipedia and Golden Age of Detection Wiki).

Roy Vickers Bibliography

Vickers wrote many crime novels from the twenties onwards, but those books bear no mark of being produced by the same man who wrote the short stories which begun with the invention of the Department of Dead Ends, an imaginary branch of Scotland Yard in which the details of all unsolved murder mysteries are kept. Vickers begun to write the Dead Ends stories in the thirties, but found it hard to sell them, because their realistic tone was utterly incompatible with the requirements of magazines at the time. It was not until Ellery Queen discovered “The Rubber Trumpet” and one or two other stories in the dusty pages of Parson’s and asked it there was a series of these tales that Vickers was moved to revive his highly original idea. …. When at last a collection of stories appeared in hard covers, as The Department of Dead Ends (1949), the brilliance of the conception was at once appreciated. (Julian Symons, Bloody Murder Penguin 1974. pp. 178 – 179)

One writer ferocious hostile to snobbery was Roy Vickers, who after a long writing career was elected to the Detection Club in the Fifties. William Edward Vickers, to give his real name, was educated at Charterhouse and Oxford, but left without taking a degree, and although he qualified as a barrister he soon turned to journalism. Despite his apparent advantages the smooth progress of his career seems to have been hindered by lack of money and a supportive social network. Vickers’ output includes a novel and a short story with different plots, both call Murder of a Snob. The Judge’s Dilemma, written under the name of Sefton Kyle, has a chapter called ‘Class Prejudices’ in which the near-impossibility of a young barrister succeeding in his chosen career without money behind him is described with what seems like personal anguish. Vickers’ writing simmers with resentment towards the ‘haves’ who patronized the ‘have-nots’. He recognized, as did many others in the Detection Club, that England in the Thirties was not a meritocracy, nor a country at ease with itself. (Martin Edwards, The Golden Age of Murder, Collins 2015. page 265)

Further Reading:


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Faber & Faber Limited (UK), 1949)

Here in one volume are ten of the best of Roy Vickers celebrated Department of Dead Ends detective stories. These are detective stories with a difference; the ‘inverted’ type of detective story. Knowing from the start who the murderer is, the reader is presented with the motive, the workings of the criminal’s mind, the crime itself, and all the clues.
The ‘surprise’ in Mr Vickers’s stories is, of course, supplied by the way in which his murderers are detected; and this is where the Department of Dead Ends comes in – that repository of files which were never completed, of investigations without a clue and clues which led nowhere. From time to time, quite illogically, Inspector Rason finds a connection between happenings in the outside world and the objects in his Scotland Yard museum, a rubber trumpet, maybe, or a bunch of red carnations. Then events move inexorably to their appointed end.
‘One of the half-dozen successful books of detective short stories published since the days of Sherlock Holmes.’ Manchester Evening News. (Amazon)

The Department of Dead Ends has been reviewed, among others, at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’ A Penguin a week and Mysteries Ahoy!

Carolyn Wells (1870 – 1942)

descarga (3)Carolyn Wells (18 June 1869, Rahway, New Jersey – 26 March 1942, New York, New York) was an American parodist and anthologist. A precocious child, Carolyn Wells hated formal schooling and refused to attend college. Scarlet fever, suffered at the age of six, caused her to become hard of hearing. Reared in New Jersey, she made her home in New York City after her marriage to Haldwin Houghton, of the Houghton Mifflin publishing clan. She loved puzzles, bridge, chess, charades, and detective stories (her discovery of a mystery by Anna Katharine Green was pivotal, inspiring her both to read voraciously and to write voluminously in that genre). Her literary career began almost by accident, with the contribution of jingles to humorous periodicals. She considered 1902 an important date in her career: by then she had written eight books and had begun composing juveniles; after this date she consistently published at least three or four books annually. From 1909 on she wrote mysteries, and she claimed in an autobiographical work (The Rest of My Life, 1937) to have written 170 books, including 70 detective stories—”so far.”

Her other main literary activity was as an anthologist, but she was also an important collector and bibliographer of the works of Walt Whitman. Her parody of Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street (Pto-maine Street, 1921), in which Carol Kennicott becomes Warble Petticoat, is funny and full of witty puns. Sometimes it misses its mark because both locale and social class are changed, but it wickedly refashions a number of episodes from the original.

Although also clearly limited by its time and place, Wells’ detective fiction holds up somewhat better. She claimed the title of “Dean of American Mystery Writers” and was widely considered an authority. The Technique of the Mystery Story (1913; revised 1929), heavily larded with quotations of both primary and secondary materials, is a thorough survey of the field, written for aspiring authors. Unfortunately, Wells’ own style is undistinguished; dialogue and dialect are often clumsily handled. Characterization is flat, characters often being hard to distinguish from each other. Her women are often irritatingly coy, shallowly coquettish ingenues—whom the reader is clearly expected to find charming—and she made it a rule that a woman could never be the murderer (though women were sometimes the victims in her stories). Although male figures are more varied, heroes and detectives are consistently well educated and wealthy. Plotting, however, is inventive, and Wells made interesting use of such conventional types as the “locked room” mystery.

Wells created a number of detectives, the best known and most frequently used (in 61 novels) being Fleming Stone, a professional detective who is a cultivated gentleman, moving easily in the elevated social circles in which Wells’ mysteries occur. He was her first creation (The Clue, 1909), and she continued to use him until the end of her career (Who Killed Caldwell?, 1942). Similar to Stone in characterization and methods of detection is Kenneth Carlisle, but he is distinguished by being a former screen star and matinee idol (in Sleeping Dogs, 1929, and two other novels). More interesting is the team of Pennington (“Penny”) Wise and Zizi (in The Man Who Fell Through the Earth, 1919, and five other novels). His approach to detection is rational while hers is intuitive; both are fallible, although Zizi is more often right. She is presented as a mysterious young sprite of a girl who seems to have no background or past. Wells’ other detectives are Lorimer Lane (in More Lives Than One, 1923, and another novel) and Alan Ford (in Faulkner’s Folly, 1917, and two other novels). Wells’ sleuths often work wonders of detection, but they occasionally err and thus illustrate her distaste, often expressed, for the “omniscient detective.”

Once well known and highly respected, Wells’s works now languish unread. She was too prolific, wrote too easily and rapidly, reflected her age too uncritically, and restricted herself too narrowly to popular genres and formulas. Her importance thus is largely historical, and is most clearly found in her practice of the detective novel. (Source: Excerpt from

Read more about Fleming Stone novels at The Thrilling Detective Web Site

Selected works by Carolyn Wells (to begin with): Anybody But Anne (1913-1914), Faulkner’s Folly (1917), The Room with the Tassels (1918), The Man who Fell Through the Earth (1919), Raspberry Jam (1919-1920), The Vanishing of Betty Varian (1922).

Further reading:

Anybody But Anne does establish, that what we think of as a “typical Golden Age style mystery novel”, was in existence before what is often thought of as the official start of the Golden Age in 1920. It is also a fact, that Wells was American, and that her book is set in the United States: somewhere in New England. (Mike Grost)


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. J. B. Lippincott Company (USA), 1914)

Eccentric millionaire David Van Wyck has decided to pledge all his money away, leaving his wife Anne nothing but her jewelry to survive on. When David sees Anne flirting with an old high school friend during a weekend party at his mansion, Buttonwood Terrace, he decides to include Anne’s gems in his giveaway. David Wyck is found murdered the next morning in a locked-room and while suspicion initially points to Anne, it becomes apparent that several of Wyck’s guests had a motive for the crime. The narrator of the story, the guest Ann is in love with, prays that the culprit is ‘Anybody but Anne.’ In a structural twist, Detective Fleming Stone appears in the preamble and returns in the third act, book-ending the mystery, rather than merely appearing in the denouement. (Source: Goodreads)

Anybody But Anne has been reviewed, among others, at Mystery File, and Ontos.

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