Ed McBain week is on October 2th. I have chose ME AND HITCH, not that I lay sole claim to it.
The So Blue Marble Dorothy B.Hughes(reviewed by Ed Gorman)
I'm not sure exactly when Freud became an influence on popular culture but certainly in the Thirties and Forties his beliefs could be found in crime fiction and crime movies everywhere. Hitchcock sanctified him in Spellbound and many lesser directors followed suit.
One of the most prominent of Freudian tropes was phantasmagoria, the sense that the protagonist is lost in a chaos that may or may not be real. A nightmare or is he really about to die?
Dorothy B. Hughes certainly plays with this trope in her famous novel The So-Blue Marble (1940). Her lovely protagonist, saddled with the unlovely name Griselda, decides to visit New York and stay in her ex-husband's apartment, at his request. They haven't seen each other for four years during which he's become a major reporter for NBC worldwide and she's become both a writer and an unlikely (and unhappy) movie actress.
This is the Vogue magazine world just before the war. Everything is ridiculously expensive, everything ridiculously elegant, people, clothes, cars, apartments alike. There are always limos standing by and champagne to drink.
Griselda is accosted in chapter one by a pair of diabolocially handsome twin brothers, one blond one dark haired, called the Montefierrow Twins by everybody who knows them. They are most frequently seen in tops hats, tails and carrying gold-handled canes, one of which has a dagger on its tip. In any kind of company other than their international che-che world these two would be dead in under five minutes.
The lads want a blue marble that they believe Griselda has. This is the McGuffin. A lot of people want the marble. Only the twins are willing to kill for it, something they do frequently. The marble isn't just a marble of course and there are hints that spies from three different countries have been searching for it, too.
The phantasmagoric aspect comes in when you realize that at times the story teeters on the brink of being unbelievable. It really does have the quality of a nightmare. The writing and social observation are so well done--Hughes, a Yale Young Poet in those days, obviously knew this turf well--you're swept up in all the calamity without worrying about some of the stranger twists and turns.
The most interesting character in the book is Missy, Grisedla's seductive sixteen year old sister. A true psychopath and the lover of one of the those god awful twins. Humbert Humbert would no doubt find her enchanting. Few writers have ever been able to create terror as well as Hughes and Missy is borne of that terror, another unsettling element play off again the real world. To me it's clear that she dutifully read her Elizabeth Sanxay Holding and learned great deal from the experience.
This is the novel that set Dorothy B. Hughes on a career that would include two of her novels becoming Bogart pictures, the best of which, In A Lonely Place, is a noir icon. This is a swift, tart, dark novel set in the months before Pearl Harbor. The coming war is felt on every page.
From the archives
Jeff Meyerson was a member of DAPA-EM for over 30 years and published an early fanzine in pre-computer days called (way before the bookstore/publisher of the same name existed) The Poisoned Pen. I was a mail order book dealer, specializing in secondhand British mystery and detective fiction. I've read thousands of mysteries since 1970.
John Sladek, INVISIBLE GREEN (1977)
Bari Wood, THE TRIBE (1981)
Walter Mosley, WALKIN' THE DOG (1999)
I thought what I'd do this week was go back and see what I was reading the first week in December of 1979, 1989 and 1999, and the above three titles answer that question.
Sladek was mostly a science fiction writer, of course, but he wrote two wonderfully old-fashioned locked room mysteries in the 1970's, BLACK AURA and INVISIBLE GREEN, both featuring brilliant amateur Thackeray Phin. Sadly, there were no more of them, and both certainly qualify as unjustly forgotten books. You could check the online booksellers for copies. Both are available at a cheap price on ABE and both are well worth your time.
THE TRIBE was a hit at the time it came out, I believe, and Wood had several other bestsellers, including TWINS and THE KILLING GIFT. She's probably been pretty much forgotten these days, as her last published book was in 1995. To be honest I don't really remember much of this one, which the publisher tried to make a Jewish version of THE EXORCIST, with concentration camp victims and Jewish mysticism combining for rather tepid, if fast-moving, horror thrills. I don't have a copy so can't really be specific.
Sergio Angelini, THE SKELETON IN THE GRASS, Robert Barnard
Yvette Banek, DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN, Peter Lovesey
Joe Barone, KISS CHRISTMAS GOODBYE, M.C, Beaton
Les Blatt, AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, Agatha Christie
Brian Busby, ORPHAN STREET, Andre Langevin
Bill Crider, THE END OF THE GUN. H.A. DeRosa
Scott Cupp, BLIND VOICES, Tom Reamy
Martin Edwards, WAXWORKS MURDER, John Dickson Carr
John Hegenberger, THE BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK
Rich Horton, THE SEED OF EARTH and NEXT STOP THE STARS, Robert Silverberg
Jerry House, THE LIFE OF SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE, John Dickson Carr
Nick Jones, PITY HIM AFTERWARDS, Donald Westlake
George Kelley, FUTURE WARS, Hank Davis
Margot Kinberg, A BAD DAY FOR SORRY, Sophie Littlefield
Dana King, Summer's Best Reads
Rob Kitchin, THE EXTERMINATORS, Bill Fitzhugh
B.V. Lawson, THE ADVENTURES OF RODNEY PRINGLE, R. Austin Freeman
Evan Lewis, WHERE THERE'S A WILL, Rex Stout
Steve Lewis/William Deeck. THE HYMN TUNE MYSTERY, George Birmingham
Matthew Paust, TWO-MINUTE WARING and BLACK SUNDAY
James Reasoner, TRAIL OF THE MCCAW, Eugene Cunningham
Kevin Tipple, WHEN OLD MEN DIE, Bill Crider
TomCat, THE CASK, Freeman Wills Croft, WAS IT MURDER? James Hilton
TracyK, DIAMOND SOLITAIRE, Peter Lovesey
Westlake Review, BUTCHER'S MOON, Richard Stark