Mysteries Unlocked: Essays in Honor of Douglas G. Greene

by Chris Evans, editor
McFarland, July 2014, $45

No mystery-world figure is more deserving of what librarians and academics call a Festschrift than the publisher of Crippen & Landru, author of the definitive John Dickson Carr biography, and longtime critic, scholar, and historian Douglas G. Greene. That the result is one of the finest essay collections on the detective-story genre ever published, offering one superb piece after another, is a tribute both to the inspiration of the honoree and the meticulousness of editor Curtis Evans. The emphases on classical detection, locked-room problems, and the detective short story reflect Greene’s particular interests, but the range of subjects and viewpoints is impressive.

Some who have written extensively on their subjects elsewhere cover fresh ground here, including John Curran on Agatha Christie’s occasional forays into impossible crime, Barry Pike on Margery Allingham’s lesser-known and sometimes pseudonymous “left-handed” work, Julia Jones updating a key point in Allingham’s biography, Tom Nolan on poetry in Ross Macdonald’s The Galton Case, and Jack Seabrook on some of Fredric Brown’s heavy-drinking detectives. There’s excellent biographical information in some of the survey articles: David Whittle on Edmund Crispin, Martin Edwards on Anthony Berkeley, Mauro Boncompagni on the Q. Patrick/Patrick Quentin/Jonathan Stagge team, Steven Steinbock on his fellow magician Jake Talbot, and Peter Lovesey on the Detection Club’s famous initiation prop Erik the Skull. Two essays tantalize English-language readers with descriptions of untranslated work: Henrique Valle on Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa’s mostly unfinished detective stories and Patrick Ohl on prolific contemporary French writer René Reouven. Editor Evans, one of his own best contributors, finds some good in the early work of the much-maligned Carolyn Wells, surveys T.S. Eliot’s mystery criticism, and (most significantly) definitively debunks the oft-repeated claim that Raymond Chandler hated puzzle mysteries and English mysteries generally.

Among other highlights are Helen Szamuely on recent book-length Doyle and Sayers pastiches and P.D. James’ Jane Austen sequel; and Joseph Goodrich on Ellery Queen’s radio career, reproducing a long and previously unpublished letter by Manfred Lee regarding the cancellation of the show. Among the other contributors are Michael Dirda (on Carr) and Marvin Lachman (on Doug Greene and Crippen & Landru). Others not mentioned due to time and space constraints are equally praiseworthy. Full disclosure: I contribute a brief piece on some short story series without enough entries to make a full book.

The book concludes with a bibliography of Doug Greene’s writings on mystery fiction, 1978-2014, and of Crippen & Landru’s publications, 1994-2014.

Jon L. Breen

evans mysteriesunlockedA nod to publisher of Crippen & Landru, author of the definitive John Dickson Carr biography, and longtime critic, scholar, and historian Douglas G. Greene.

Teri Duerr
Evans, editor
July 2014