Lynn Brock (1877-1943)

Lynn Brock (1877-1943) was the pseudonym of Alister McAllister, an Irish writer. He also wrote ‘straight’ novels as Anthony Wharton. McAllister was born in Dublin and educated at the National University of Ireland, where he became Chief Clerk. He served in British Intelligence and in the machine gun corps during WW1. Lynn Brock was one of the most popular and prolific detective novelists of the 1920s and 30s, famous for creating the detective character Colonel Gore, the first of which is The Deductions of Colonel Gore (1924). He won praise from fans and critics including Dorothy L. Sayers and T. S. Eliot. In 1932, however, Brock abandoned the formulaic Gore for a new kind of narrative, a ‘psychological thriller’ in the vein of Francis Iles’ recent sensation, Malice Aforethought. Advertised by Collins as ‘one of the most remarkable books that we have ever published’, the unconventional and doom-laden Nightmare provided readers with a disturbing portrayal of what it might take to turn an outwardly normal man into a cold-blooded murderer.

When Nightmare was first published in 1932, the TLS reviewer wrote, “Here is a thriller that ought to have been written by Poe. Every now and again Mr. Brock lives in the nightmare he has created by the trigonometry of detective fiction, and gives you a vivid glimpse of it that startles you into a gasp not only of horror but also of fervent admiration. Full justice to his subtle insight into character and contrasts of character could be done only by revealing the secrets of his plot, which is not permissible…. There is genius in Mr. Brock’s power of charging a moment with noises, colour and feeling until it seems more real than life.” (Source: The Neglected Books Page)

Bibliography: The Colonel Wyckham Gore series: The Deductions of Colonel Gore, 1924; Colonel Gore’s Second Case, 1925; Colonel Gore’s Third Case aka The Kink, 1927; The Slip-Carriage Mystery, 1928; The Mendip Mystery aka Murder at the Inn, 1929; Q.E.D. aka Murder on the Bridge, 1930; and The Stoat, 1940.

Under his Lynn Brock pen name, Alister McAllister (1877-1943) also wrote three books about Sgt. Venn (The Silver Sickle Case, 1938; Fourfingers,1939; and The Riddle of the Roost, 1939); and two stand-alone mysteries (The Dagwort Coombe Murder aka The Stoke Silver Case, 1929; and Nightmare, 1932).

‘Three writers whose works have much in common, in conventional method and solid British flavor, are Lynn Brock (Allister McAllister, 1877 – ) with his Colonel Gore; J. J. Connington (Alfred Walter Stewrad, 1880 – ) with his Sir Clinton Driffield and The Counsellor; and A. E. Fielding (revealed surprisingly to be a woman, one Dorothy Fielding) and her inspector Pointer.’ (Howard Haycraft’s Murder for Pleasure, 1941). Consequently, since I’m interested in both, J. J. Connington and A. E. Fielding, I may also be interested in The Deductions of Colonel Gore, recently published in a brand new edition by Harper Collins Publishers.

Mike Grost on Lynn Brock

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(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Collins (UK), 1932)

Driven to madness by the cruelty of a small group of people, a young novelist sets about taking murderous revenge. Simon Whalley is an unsuccessful novelist who is gradually going to pieces under the strain of successive setbacks. Brooding over his troubles, and driven to despair by the cruelty of his neighbours, he decides to take his revenge in the only way he knows how – by planning to murder them . . .

This Detective Story Club Classic is introduced by Rob Reef, author of the ‘John Stableford’ Golden Age mysteries, who finds philosophy at the heart of Brock’s landmark crime novel. (Source: Harper Collins Publishers)

Nightmare has been reviewed, among others, at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’ and Cross-Examining Crime,

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Dickens_Gurney_headCharles John Huffam Dickens was a writer and social critic who created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters and is regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime, and by the twentieth century critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius. His novels and short stories enjoy lasting popularity.

Dickens left school to work in a factory when his father was incarcerated in a debtors’ prison. Despite his lack of formal education, he edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, five novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, lectured and performed extensively, was an indefatigable letter writer, and campaigned vigorously for children’s rights, education, and other social reforms. Dickens was regarded as the literary colossus of his age. His 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, remains popular and continues to inspire adaptations in every artistic genre. Oliver Twist and Great Expectations are also frequently adapted, and, like many of his novels, evoke images of early Victorian London. His 1859 novel, A Tale of Two Cities, set in London and Paris, is his best-known work of historical fiction. Dickens’s creative genius has been praised by fellow writers—from Leo Tolstoy to George Orwell and G. K. Chesterton—for its realism, comedy, prose style, unique characterisations, and social criticism. On the other hand, Oscar Wilde, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf complained of a lack of psychological depth, loose writing, and a vein of saccharine sentimentalism. The term Dickensian is used to describe something that is reminiscent of Dickens and his writings, such as poor social conditions or comically repulsive characters.

On 8 June 1870, Dickens suffered another stroke at his home after a full day’s work on Edwin Drood. He never regained consciousness, and the next day he died at Gad’s Hill Place. Contrary to his wish to be buried at Rochester Cathedral “in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner,” he was laid to rest in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. A printed epitaph circulated at the time of the funeral reads: “To the Memory of Charles Dickens (England’s most popular author) who died at his residence, Higham, near Rochester, Kent, 9 June 1870, aged 58 years. He was a sympathiser with the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England’s greatest writers is lost to the world.” (From Wikipedia)

As Curtis Evans correctly reminds us at The Passing Tramp, for three decades, until the publication of Julian Symons’ Bloody Murder (1972), the primary popular mystery genre history was Howard Haycraft’s Murder for Pleasure (1941). Haycraft, after the first chapter on Edgar Allan Poe, devotes the second chapter to Gaboriau, Collins and Charles Dickens, and he finishes saying: ‘Gaboriau, Collins, Dickens. Each contributed something toward fictional detection. Jointly, they kept the form alive: saved the theme, perhaps, for premature extinction.’ If only for this reason, the name of Charles Dickens must be taken into account.

‘Dicken’s claim for inclusion in the roll of detective writers is based primarily on two books: Bleak House (1853) and the uncompleted The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870). Bleak House introduces the dogged detective Inspector Bucket, and details his relentless pursuit of Lady Dedlock, while The Mystery of Edwin Drood begins with a clear indication that there is going to be a murder and an investigation – though of and by whom remains unknown. Bleak House and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, along with many other Dickens works, are available from Project Gutenberg.’ (From: Golden Age of Detection Wiki)

Mike Grost on Charles Dickens

200px-Bleakhouse_serial_coverBleak House, Dickens’s most daring experiment in the narration of a complex plot, challenges the reader to make connections – between the fashionable and the outcast, the beautiful and the ugly, the powerful and the victims. Nowhere in Dickens’s later novels is his attack on an uncaring society more imaginatively embodied, but nowhere either is the mixture of comedy and angry satire more deftly managed. Edited with an introduction and notes by Stephen Gill, Reader in English Literature, University of Oxford; Fellow and Tutor, Lincoln College, Oxford. (Oxford World’s Classics, 2008)

From Wikipedia: Bleak House is the ninth novel by Charles Dickens, published in 20 monthly parts between March 1852 and September 1853. The plot concerns a long-running legal dispute (Jarndyce and Jarndyce) which has far-reaching consequences for all involved. Dickens’s assault on the flaws of the British judiciary system is based in part on his own experiences as a law clerk. His harsh characterization of the slow, arcane Chancery law process gave voice to widespread frustration with the system, helping to set the stage for its eventual reform in the 1870s.

In Bleak House Dickens experimented with the device of dual narrators: an unnamed third-person narrator and the orphan Esther take turns to tell the story. The style is also remarkable: a hypnotic opening of three paragraphs without a complete sentence. The scope is probably the broadest Dickens ever attempted, ranging from the filthy slums to the landed aristocracy, in a narrative that is in equal parts satire and comedy. One character, Krook, dies of spontaneous human combustion.

Some critics, including George Gissing and G. K. Chesterton, take this to be Dickens’s best novel.

Picture: Cover of first serial, March 1852

Lillian de la Torre (1902 – 1993)

8578229-MLillian de la Torre Bueno McCue (née Bueno; pen name, Lillian de la Torre; 1902 – September 13, 1993) was an American novelist and a prolific writer of historical mysteries. She served as President of the Mystery Writers of America. Born in Manhattan in 1902, de la Torre received master’s degrees from Columbia University and Harvard. Her first novel was Elizabeth Is Missing, or Truth Triumphant, published by Knopf in 1945. Her most popular works were the Dr. Sam: Johnson, Detector series of 33 detective stories that cast 18th century literary figures Samuel Johnson and James Boswell into Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson roles. This series, which de la Torre began in 1943 with The Great Seal of England, is one of the earliest examples of the historical mystery, a literary genre which combines historical fiction and the whodunit/detective story. She also wrote numerous books, short stories for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, reviews for The New York Times Book Review, poetry and plays. Her play Goodbye, Miss Lizzie Borden was adapted as the episode “The Older Sister” for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. She was a President of the Mystery Writers of America, and was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime for The Truth about Belle Gunness (1955). She died in 1993 at the age of 91. She was predeceased by her husband George McCue. (Source: Wikipedia)

As a child, Lillian de la Torre Bueno McCue became fascinated with detective stories shelved in her father’s library and later could hardly recall a time when she was not “addicted.” She did not, however, begin writing until her middle years, when she began to speculate about how Samuel Johnson might have approached mysteries of his era. Describing herself as a histo-detector, McCue used scholarly research to delve into old crimes and scandals, especially those in 18th-century Britain, and arrive at her own modern solutions. In related work, she also took real people and events and wove them into fictionalized plots. Her first book Elizabeth Is Missing or Truth Triumphant dismissed 12 theories on the famous 1753 disappearance of Elizabeth Canning , a maidservant near the Tower of London, and offered the author’s own. McCue had combined, said The New York Time s’ reviewer, “the scholarly patience of a candidate for a Ph.D.” with the “ingenuity of a Nero Wolfe.” She followed with a similar book, Villainy Detected (1947). But her most popular fiction comprised a series of short stories about Samuel Johnson and James Boswell under the title Dr. Sam: Johnson, Detector. A founding member of the Colorado Springs Chorale and a former president of the Mystery Writers of America, McCue wrote for nearly 50 years and was working on a manuscript at the time of her death. (Source: Encyclopedia.com)

More information may be found in her obituary in the New York Times. A bibliography of works may be found at Fantastic Fiction web site.

The first author to write a detective series about a historical personage was probably Lillian de la Torre, who cast Dr. Samuel Johnson in the Sherlock Holmes role, with James Boswell as his Watson, for a 1943 short story in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. First collected in book form in Dr. Sam: Johnson, Detector (1946), the series would eventually fill four volumes:
Dr. Sam: Johnson, Detector
(1948),
The Detections of Dr. Sam: Johnson
(1960),
The Return of Dr. Sam: Johnson, Detector
(1985) and
The Exploits of Dr. Sam: Johnson, Detector
(1987).

Lillian de la Torre’s short stories about Dr. Sam Johnson are the ancestors of much of today’s historical mystery fiction. Real life personages and events are often woven into these stories, and there is a great deal of historical atmosphere and dialogue. Unusual aspects of 18th Century law enforcement are often worked into the tales. The cleverest puzzle plot in the series is “The Stroke of Thirteen” (1953). This tale has affinities to the impossible crime school. It does not deal with a locked room or other physical impossibility; instead it deals with events which seem to be absurd, and gives them an ultimately logical explanation. The elaborate complexity of the plot in this tale recalls Ellery Queen, who published de la Torre’s stories in EQMM. (Mike Grost on Lillian de la Torre).

Dr. Sam: Johnson, Detector is on Haycraft Queen Cornerstones Definitive Library of Mystery Fiction.

22447Nine mystery tales starring lexicographer Dr. Samuel Johnson in “the finest series of historical detective stories ever written” (Ellery Queen)
For over two hundred years, devotees of English literature have lost themselves in James Boswell’s Life of Johnson, a biography of the great eighteenth-century thinker and writer, chronicling everything from kitchen chemistry experiments to tackling a pickpocket to his legendary investigation of the Cock Lane ghost. But Dr. Sam Johnson was more than a great thinker—he was also a talented sleuth.
From the chilling affair of the waxwork cadaver to the thrilling search for the stolen seal of England, the nine cases in this volume show Johnson at his very best—using his legendary intellect to apprehend the worst killers and thieves the era had to offer.
Written by Lillian de la Torre, a mystery author with “a finely tuned ear for eighteenth-century prose,” these charming stories are so believable, so perfectly in keeping with the Dr. Johnson we know and love, it’s hard to believe they aren’t true (The New York Times). (Source: Mysterious Press)

The whole first collection, Dr. Sam: Johnson, Detector, is especially charming as a historical work. The tales’ events are often colorful, and de la Torre is a superb prose stylist with a grasp of the possibilities of 18th Century English usage. In some ways, it might be best just to recommend the whole collection. Still the tales are very different from each other, and vary in their success as mystery and historical works. (Mike Grost)

New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1946. First edition. (Source: John W. Knott, Jr. Bookseller)

Ellen Wilkinson (1891 – 1947)

220px-Ellen_Cicely_WilkinsonEllen Cicely Wilkinson PC (8 October 1891 – 6 February 1947) was a British Labour Party politician who served as Minister of Education from July 1945 until her death. As the Member of Parliament (MP) for Jarrow, she became a national figure when, in 1936, she figured prominently in the Jarrow March of the town’s unemployed to London, to petition for the right to work. Although unsuccessful at the time, the march provided an iconic image for the 1930s, and helped to form post-Second World War attitudes to unemployment and social justice.

Wilkinson was born into a poor though ambitious Manchester family, and embraced socialism at an early age. After graduating from the University of Manchester she worked for a women’s suffrage organisation and later as a trade union officer. Inspired by the Russian Revolution of 1917, Wilkinson joined the British Communist Party, and preached revolutionary socialism while seeking constitutional routes to political power through the Labour Party. She was elected Labour MP for Middlesbrough East in 1924, and supported the 1926 General Strike. In the 1929–31 Labour government she served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the junior Health Minister. Following her defeat at Middlesbrough in 1931, Wilkinson became a prolific journalist and writer before returning to parliament as Jarrow’s MP in 1935. She was a strong advocate for the Republican faction in the Spanish Civil War, and made several visits to the battle zones.

During the Second World War Wilkinson served in Churchill’s wartime coalition as a junior minister, mainly at the Ministry of Home Security where she worked under Herbert Morrison. She supported Morrison’s attempts to replace Clement Attlee as the Labour Party’s leader; nevertheless, when he formed his postwar government Attlee appointed Wilkinson as Minister of Education. By this time her health was poor, the legacy of years of overwork. She saw her main task in office as the implementation of the wartime coalition’s 1944 Education Act, rather than the more radical introduction of comprehensive schools favoured by many in the Labour Party. Much of her energy was applied to organising the raising of the school leaving age from 14 to 15. In the exceptionally cold English winter of 1946–47, she succumbed to a bronchial disease, and died after an overdose of medication which the coroner at her inquest declared was accidental. (Source: Wikipedia).

The Division Bell Mystery (1932) is the only detective novel of Ellen Wilkinson. It reminds one of the work of the Coles. Like the Coles, Wilkinson was active in left wing politics – she was a Labour M.P. for over twenty years in Britain. Her book has the satiric tone of the Coles’ work, and its focus on members of the British high life. There is a sly sense in both the Coles and Wilkinson that the British ruling classes are full of eccentrics that shouldn’t be allowed to run a small firm, yet alone a great country. Also that they are quite willing to cover up the most outrageous messes. (Mike Grost at A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection. Continue reading the full text here)

After losing her seat at Middlesbrough East, Wilkinson published The Division Bell Mystery. The mystery surrounding a rich financier’s murder stems from a supremely incompetent police investigation of the crime scene, but in the vivid writing, background colour and characterization there is ample compensation for a lack of ‘fair play’. The book’s enduring appeal is underlined by unexpected parallels between the society Wilkinson describes and British life in the twenty-first century. When she returned to Parliament, politics’ gain was detective fiction’s loss. (Martin Edwards, The Golden Age of Murder, Harper Collins, 2015. Page 262.)

Martin Edwards included Ellen Wilkinson’s The Division Bel Mystery in his book The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.

Bibliography: Clash (1929), The Division Bell Mystery (1932)

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(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Harrap (UK), 1932)

From Wikipedia: The Division Bell Mystery is a 1932 political murder mystery by Labour Party MP Ellen Wilkinson. A financier is found shot in the House of Commons. A young parliamentary private secretary turns amateur sleuth becoming smitten by the dead man’s gorgeous but enigmatic daughter.

Book Description: Originally published in 1932, this is the first Crime Classic novel written by an MP. And fittingly, the crime scene is within the House of Commons itself, in which a financier has been shot dead. Entreated by the financier’s daughter, a young parliamentary private secretary turns sleuth to find the identity of the murderer – the world of politics proving itself to be domain not only of lies and intrigue but also danger. Wilkinson’s own political career positioned her perfectly for this accurate but also sharply satirical novel of double cross and rivalries within the seat of the British Government. (Source: British Library Crime Classics) This new edition comes with an Introduction by Martin Edwards and Preface by Rachel Reeves MP.

Poisoned Pen Press publicity page.

The Division Bell Mystery has been reviewed, among others, at Golden Age of Detection Wiki, ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’ Classic Mysteries, Cross-Examining Crime, Fiction Fan’s Book Reviews, Mysteries Ahoy!Happiness is a Warm Book, JacquiWine’s Journal, Books Please and Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings.

Leslie Ford (1898-1983)

21892_1Zenith Brown, nee Jones, (December 8, 1898 – August 25, 1983) was an American crime fiction writer who also wrote for a time in England. She wrote under the pseudonyms David Frome, Leslie Ford, and Brenda Conrad. As Leslie Ford, she is perhaps best known for a mystery series featuring Mrs Grace Latham and retired Army officer Colonel John Primrose, though some of her earlier standalone work has been praised. She was born Zenith Jones in Smith River, California and grew up in Tacoma, Washington. Brown was educated at the University of Washington in Seattle. She married Ford K. Brown, a professor, in 1921. The couple had one daughter. Zenith Brown became the Assistant in the Departments of Greek and Philosophy, then the Instructor and teacher of English for the University of Washington between 1921 and 1923. After that she was Assistant to the Editor and Circulation Manager of Dial Magazine in New York City. She became a freelance writer after 1927. Brown began writing as “David Frome” in 1929 while staying in London with her husband. She returned to the United States in 1931, and the couple settled in Annapolis, Maryland. Brown used the pen name “Leslie Ford” for her mystery novels published in the United States. During World War II, she wrote several novels about nurses under the name “Brenda Conrad”. Ms. Ford was a correspondent for the United States Air Force both in the Pacific area and in England during the Second World War. Her series characters were Lieutenant Joseph Kelly, Grace Latham and Colonel John Primrose. Her books often appeared in serial format in The Saturday Evening Post before being published. Brown also wrote short stories, which were published in various periodicals and anthologies. Brown died at the Church Home and Hospital in Baltimore at the age of 84.

Bibliography: Books as David Frome at Fantastic Fiction. Books as Leslie Ford at Fantastic Fiction

Further reading:

The Woman in Black (1947) is one of Ford’s better novels, mixing social commentary with comedy and some interesting mysteries surrounding the title character (Mike Grost).

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(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC.Charles Scribner’s Sons (USA), 1947)

Product Description: Who is the Woman in Black? A living ghost, dressed in black, crashes a Washington cocktail party — and touches off a chain of violence and murder. Who is the Woman in Black? The answer is a matter of life and death for a pretty young matron, a legendary captain of industry, a rich and dazzling hostess — and for lady sleuth Grace Latham and her friend Col. Primrose. (Source: Wildside Press)

The Woman in Black has been reviewed, among others, at Golden Age of Detention Wiki, Mystery File, and Pretty Sinister Books.