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., Inc. 2008 2 May, 2020

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).


(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)


(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).


E. Phillips Oppenheim (1866 – 1946)

8495Edward Phillips Oppenheim was an English novelist, primarily known for his suspense fiction. He was born on 22 October 1866 in Leicester, the son of a leather merchant, and after attending Wyggeston Grammar School he worked in his father’s business for almost 20 years, beginning there at a young age. He continued working in the business, even though he was a successful novelist, until he was 40 at which point he sold the business.

He wrote his first book Expiation in 1887 and in 1898 he published The Mysterious Mr Sabin, which he described as “The first of my long series of stories dealing with that shadowy and mysterious world of diplomacy.” Thereafter he became a prolific writer and by 1900 he had had 14 novels published. While on a business trip to the United States in 1890 he met and married Elise Clara Hopkins of Boston and, on return to England, they lived in Evington, Leicestershire until the First World War, and had one daughter. His wife remained faithful to him throughout his life despite his frequent and highly publicised affairs, which often took place abroad and aboard his luxury yacht. During World War I Oppenheim worked for the Ministry of Information while continuing to write his suspenseful novels. He featured on the cover of Time magazine on 12 September 1927 and he was the self-styledPrince of Storytellers’, a title used by Robert standish for his biography of the author. His literary success enabled him to buy a villa in France and a yacht, spending his winters in France where he regularly entertained more than 250 people at his lavish parties and where he was a well-known figure in high society. He later purchased a house, Le Vanquiédor in St. Peter Port, in Guernsey. He lost access to the house during the Second World War when Germany occupied the Channel Islands but later regained it. He wrote 116 novels, mainly of the suspense and international intrigue type, but including romances, comedies, and parables of everyday life, and 39 volumes of short stories, all of which earned him vast sums of money. He also wrote five novels under the pseudonym Anthony Partridge and a volume of autobiography, The Pool of Memory in 1939. He is generally regarded as the earliest writer of spy fiction as we know it today, and invented the ‘Rogue Male’ school of adventure thrillers that was later exploited by John Buchan and Geoffrey Household. Undoubtedly his most renowned work was The Great Impersonation (1920). (Gerry Wolstenholme. Goodreads)

A comprehensive list of E. Phillips Oppenheim’s books is available at Fantastic Fiction.

Further reading: Mike Grost on E. Phillips Oppenheim at  A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection

The Great Impersonation is a mystery novel written by E. Phillips Oppenheim and published in 1920. Originally published serially in Harper’s Bazaar, The Great Impersonation ranks among the most acclaimed espionage novels. For the past hundred years, readers have been captivated by the fast-moving plot, the descriptions of life among English aristocrats before the Great War, and the bold cast of characters, which includes a host of dukes, duchesses, ambassadors, German agents, and harebrained young Englishmen. This vivid, convincing thriller is one of the first great achievements of the spy genre. (Source: Dover Publications) The book has been adapted to film three times. The first was in 1921, starring James Kirkwood as Everard Dominey/Leopold von Ragastein and directed by George Melford. The second was in 1935, starring Edmund Lowe and directed by Alan Crosland. The last was in 1942, and has significant plot and name changes (mostly to set the story in World War II), Ralph Bellamy stars as Edward Dominey/Leopold von Ragastein, and it is directed by John Rawlins. (Source: Wikipedia)


Published by A. L. Burt Company, New York, 1920 Hardcover Book, First Edition, The Great Impersonation, E. Phillips Oppenheim. Source:  MountainAireVintage.

Book Description: East Africa, 1913. The disgraced English aristocrat Everard Dominey stumbles out of the bush, and comes face to face with his lookalike — the German Baron von Ragastein. Months later, Dominey returns to London and resumes his glittering social life. But is it really Dominey who has come back, or a German secret agent seeking to infiltrate English high society? As international tension mounts and the great powers of Europe move closer to war, Dominey finds himself entangled in a story of suspicion and intrigue. He must try to evade his insane and murderous wife as well as escape the attentions of the passionate Princess Eiderstrom, and will eventually uncover the secret of the ghost that haunts his ancestral home. This classic thriller was hugely popular when it was first published in 1920, selling over one million copies in that year alone, and was filmed three times. It was selected by The Guardian as one of the 1000 novels everyone must read. (Source: Poisoned Pen)

The Great Impersonation has been reviewed, among others, at Mystery File, and ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’


The Great Impersonation by E. Phillips Oppenheim is in the public domain and is available at Project Gutenberg.

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