In GAD We Trust – Episode 14: The Island of Coffins (2021) by John Dickson Carr + The 9.50 Up Express (2021) by Freeman Wills Crofts [w’ Tony Medawar]

We’re all prone to speculate at times about how wonderful it would be to discover a previously-unpublished work by a beloved Golden Age author, and for today’s podcast episode Tony Medawar rejoins me to tempt you with two forthcoming collections of hard-to-find material from two of the genre’s titans — John Dickson Carr and Freeman Wills Crofts.

The Island of Coffins collects Carr’s scripts from the radio show Cabin B-13 and The 9.50 Up Express is a smorgasbord of obscure and unusual stories — one very unusual — that span the career of Crofts, and, since there’s been so much disruption to all normal services this year, it’s fair to assume that Crippen & Landru will be publishing these two collections in the opening months of 2021.

Until then, allow Tony to whet your appetites as we discuss some of what you can expect to find in these two volumes, plus some hints at what the future might hold for forgotten and misplaced mystery stories from the genre’s Golden Age (the author names tagged below should give you some hints there). Also, get a possible preview on some contents of future Bodies from the Library volumes, be sure to admire the artistry Tony employs when I ask him about the difficulty of including stories that aren’t any good — evasion worthy of a politician, I think you’ll agree — see if you can help with any of the missing stories he’s still trying to track down for posthumous collections, and wonder at the legitimate connection a roller skating rink has with the topic under discussion.

You can listen to the podcast on iTunes here, on Spotify here, or on Stitcher here, or by using the player below. 

Thanks are due to Tony both for his time in recording this and his continued efforts on behalf of GAD nerds everywhere, to Jonny Berliner for my eerie music, and to those of you who continue to take an interest in this podcast endeavour. Here’s hoping these final few weeks of the year are treating you all well, and that those close to you are as safe and happy as can be hoped.

More In GAD We Trust in a fortnight, but expect a podcast-related announcement tomorrow…

~

All episodes of In GAD We Trust can be found here.

42 thoughts on “In GAD We Trust – Episode 14: The Island of Coffins (2021) by John Dickson Carr + The 9.50 Up Express (2021) by Freeman Wills Crofts [w’ Tony Medawar]

  1. That was marvellous JJ, wonderful to hear about all this lovely new Carr stuff on the horizon. We know that he reused stories in a number of different formats although I would argue that perhaps the greatest recycler of all was in fact John Mortimer, who quite often could very easily turn a radio play into a novel and then into a television episode of some kind and then do it in reverse. If you look at his Rumpole of the Bailey stories, sometimes they started on television then went to radio and then ended up in prose for instance. In the case of Cabin B13 I think Carr towards the end of the run was put under a lot of pressure and ultimately did in fact rewrite some of his pre-existing radio plays just to get the plays done on time. Of course this could be quite common practice if one thinks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he reused the plots from A Study in Scarlet in The Dancing Men and The Crooked Man for instance. And Agatha Christie notoriously reused exactly the same plot from the short story Triangle in Rhodes in both Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun. Really can’t wait for this collection to become available, this is such great news!

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    • Sergio, I think you’re doing Christie a disservice when you’re saying that she reused “exactly the same plot” from Triangle in Rhodes to both Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun. Yes, there is a certain plot device that is common to all these stories (and, in fact, a couple of others as well), but to call them exactly the same plot is hardly true.

      Especially if you compare these instances to some of the others where she did reuse exactly the same plot…

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      • Hi Christian, well, I wouldn’t want to get too caught up in semantics. To me they seem to be the same story in all three cases because it’s not like saying that they use the same murder method (say, like using pins and string to lock a room from the outside to make murder look like sucide). Here the basic structure of the criminal conspiracy and its participants are the same after all. Wouldn’t you agree? If not then very curious to know which are the ones which you think this is a fairer remark? STYLES and BLACK COFFEE perhaps? Not read Christie in a while do always happy to be corrected 😀

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        • If I may step into the fray here:

          The concept of gur qrnqyl qhb is an oft-used one in Christie, stemming from the very start of her career. It’s just that the variations are so cunningly arrayed that it doesn’t really feel like “repetition.” I take Sergio’s point, but I wonder if the way Carr recycled plots wholesale into his different mediums and the various programs on which he wrote is a little different.

          Now if you’ll all excuse me, I’m going to go wrap up in many layers of clothing and face down the icy morning so that I can walk and listen to this interview, after which I will eat breakfast and feel jealous, then respond to the interview, then read the book for my Dec.19th review, if I’ve got this ROY thing all correct, then try and catch up on the twenty posts JJ has done which I’m behind on, then face another depressing call from my mother, then try and figure out what the hell I’m going to do stuck in my condo for another six months or so . . .

          If there IS going to be another Golden Age, it can’t come soon enough!!!

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            • Oh, come on, Sergio! It’s clearly spelled out for you!! Why, it’s as plain as gur abfr ba lbhe snpr!!!! 🙂

              SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

              I’m using the boys’ code, aka ROT-13, to describe “the deadly duo.” IN The Mysterious Affair at Styles, a pair of lovers cover for each other to shield themselves from suspicion. That’s the basic premise of the three stories you mentioned, too, albeit with variations. Christie had husbands plot with lovers, husbands plot with wives, wives plot with lovers, sometimes disguising the truth of their relationship (Styles), other times flaunting it (The Murder at the Vicarage). It really was shameless of Christie, but she’s so good at shifting/changing the details that some close readers still don’t recognize the pattern.

              Seriously, Sergio: lbh unir TBG gb pbzr onpx gb gur oybttvat jbeyq naq pngpu hc ba lbhe Puevfgvr! Bu, jryy, hayvxr zr, lbh cebonoyl abj unir n yvsr! Naq vg’f gehyl avpr gb frr lbh va gur pbzzragf frpgvba. Vg ryringrf gur arvtuobeubbq!

              ROT-13, man, ROT-13! It’s better than Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio!!

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            • Thanks Brad. And of course you are right. I like STYLES a lot but be kind because: a) I read it in Italian and b) it was probably 20 years ago. Sorry for not keeping up. 😆

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            • PS But also, straying from the fictional, all the best to you and your Mum this season. And I hope that things improve after January, hopefully about 15 seconds after the inauguration. ❤

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            • So here’s what’s going on with Murder at Dungarees: I need to get out of this pandemic; it’s crushing me! Then I want to go back to the start, rewrite the whole thing I’ve got so far in the past tense like an Earthling author SHOULD do, which will give both of you who are reading it (and me) a brush-up, and then finish the damn thing so that I can say I did it! That might not happen until the summer . . . I know who the killer is, but I’m working on the nature of the second murder, and I keep coming up with other ideas that take me far afield from where I started. Honestly, this writer’s game is tough enough without going all serialized about it. Who the hell did Charles Dickens think he was anyway???

              Liked by 1 person

  2. JJ – Thanks for another brilliant discussion with Tony. I look forward to the Carr and the Crofts collections (I am hooked on Crofts now after reading a number of your reviews and then trying his books for the first time). I like the way you asked Tony about his process for assembling a collection / anthology including the dilemma of going for quality versus completeness for any given author. Fascinating listening.

    Not only can I also anticipate a collection of works I haven’t read by Christianna Brand, but if I heard correctly … one or two Brand novels may get published in the future. Tony’s knowledge, dedication and efforts continue to impress and all of us GAD fanatics benefit.

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    • What’s amazing to me is that there must be quite a few people out there now who not only know about these extra Brand works but have also read them. When most of us can’t even track down the stuff that’s been published, a coterie of well-place and very fortunate individuals are besting us even more than before…!

      And I’m delighted to have made a Crofts fan of someone Spread the gospel 😄

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      • I’m curious what year the unpublished Brand novels are from. I’d venture to guess that they’re post 1957, as Brand was somewhat consistently publishing mysteries up until that time, with the last (although not certain it is a mystery) being The Three Cornered Halo. Then you get this twenty year gap until Ring of Roses in 1977, although Brand was certainly publishing other books (and quite a few under other names).

        On the other hand, there is a three year gap between her first two novels and Green for Danger, and maybe she was still having trouble getting published until she had a breakout hit? There’s also a three year gap between Fog of Doubt and Tour de Force, although one would think that anything she wrote during that period would have been easily published.

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  3. Great episode as always! Can’t wait for the Carr radio episodes. I loved hearing about Crofts’ many talents here.
    The talk of Carr’s radio work reminds me that his episodes of “Suspense” are kicking around somewhere online and I must give them a listen. I’ve read some of the radio plays starring Gideon Fell, and I find it interesting how they play around with the medium of radio itself. I don’t think I’ve heard of any of those ones having recordings anywhere. It would be intriguing to hear an actor’s take on Gideon Fell himself – as you said, maybe they would struggle to fit with each reader’s idea of him!
    That Christie idea about a murder at the Detection Club is reproduced in Secret Notebooks, and maybe I’m misreading, but Christie writes that Crofts and his wife “Alibis Mrs Christie”… we all know how a secure alibi goes in crime fiction, especially Crofts. Was she suggesting herself as the killer?!?

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    • Christie writing herself as a character in a book in which she turns out to be the killer is, I think we can all agree, about the most Christie thing imaginable. I now bitterly regret that this project didn’t get beyond the planning stages.

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  4. Another fantastic episode. I was already excited for the Crofts publication, now I am keen to get my hands on those Carr radio scripts as well.
    A few years ago, right before I started my own blog, the BBC put out a couple of their radio adaptations of Gideon Fell novels starring Donald Sinden (of Never the Twain fame) which I listened to and enjoyed. While I have read a number of Fell novels since then I still hear his voice as Sinden’s when I read them because I notice the parts of his character that Sinden plays up (mostly the harumphing). I do wonder if I would have read him differently had I started with the books but you can never know these things…

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    • The idea of someone else — which is to say, not my internal voice for him — delivering Fell’s lines makes me feel a little queasy. That said, my head-canon Poirot is about 80% David Suchet, so the order we experience things can make a real difference.

      Worrying to think there are people out there with John Malkovich or Alfred Molina in their head as Hercule. Some people’s minds must be unusual places 😄

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  5. I hope you end up having Tony on at least twice a year, as these are the most spellbinding conversations. Of course that’s helped by you asking such excellent questions.

    A few items I’m curious about:

    What is the process of selecting the order in a collection of stories? You can imagine similar logic in selecting the song order on an album: do you start with a strong opener, give it a few mid-grades, and then the big hit? Do you close with one that’s going to leave an impression for the collection? Or is it just as easy as going chronologically?

    What sort of thought has gone into the titles for some of these collections? I suppose the simple answer is you just go with the title of the strongest story.

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  6. It doesn’t take much to make me feel disheartened these days, but listening to this, I couldn’t help but ask myself: “How could you have wasted the past thirty-one years in something as useless as teaching school when you could have roamed the earth in search of hitherto unpublished and/or lost works by famous mystery authors???”

    I’ve been looking forward to The Island of Coffins since it was first announced. Tony says his interest in old mysteries was fostered by listening to radio programs. Well, mine was the reverse: I got into old radio because of my love of two things: classic mysteries and Jack Benny. Even more than the short story collections by C&L that I own, I am grateful to them for the collections of Ellery Queen and Gregory Hood scripts that they produced. My thanks to Jeffrey Marx and Doug Greene for the hard task they’ve undertaken in transcribing the Carr scripts. I know it is a labor of love, and I will LOVE reading them.

    I’m also so excited of the future that Tony teases us about here, especially the chance to read at least one of the unpublished Brand novels and all those short stories. And Stuart Palmer? Loads of fun!! I also want to say that about ten minutes before you guys brought it up, I was thinking how fun it would be to do some performances of the Carr scripts. So if anyone wants to do that, even in fun, I’m up for it. I have to admit that I have not been as excited about the Donald Sinden Dr. Fell programs I have heard. His voice grates on me, and I don’t find the adaptations particularly scintillating. But I will listen to more of them . . .

    I can tell how much fun you guys had talking about all this by the frequency of JJ’s godawful cackle! Thanks for providing a fun chat as well as a harbinger of so many great things to come. And now I’m off to bemoan my own wasted life . . .

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  7. How about some reissues of the Crippen & Landru titles that now seem to be out of print? I’d gladly buy the Christianna Brand collection The Spotted Cat, but not for $70. I’ll be snatching up The Island of Coffins immediately when it becomes available, because goodness, when these are gone, they’re impossible to get.

    But yeah, you listen to these interviews with Tony and you fantasize that’s what you’d be doing in another life. I can only be thankful that we have a few people doing it as it is.

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    • Some C&L reissues would be wonderful. Not that I have the money to buy much, but just the opportunity itself is something devoutly to be wished.

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      • Could you imagine if the Ramble House books became unavailable? I have cold sweats about not being able to get the rest of Norman Berrow’s library, much less authors like Walter Masterman. It’s comical that you can still buy these books new for $20 (a price that explains why I don’t have them all yet), and yet all of the second hand copies that I see are in the $40-50 range. Makes no sense.

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        • Ben – Which Masterman titles do you recommend? I have seen JJ’s four or so Masterman reviews but none of those books enticed me to try yet. I haven’t seen much about his works from other GAD bloggers.

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          • I haven’t read any of Masterman’s books yet, but JJ piqued my curiosity with his review of The Wrong Letter. I’ve placed two titles on my Christmas wishlist, and we’ll see if I can get started some time around January.

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            • The Wrong Letter is easily the most traditional of the Mastermans I’ve read thus far — and a good one to start with, I’d wager. RH have put out a lot more of his stuff recently, too, so it’s just a matter of time before we’re all reading him…

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    • Agreed on this! I’m happy to get ebooks of these collections personally, but some of the earlier books aren’t even available in that format!

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  8. Another wonderful podcast! Tony’s insight is one again priceless, and Jim, as always, you know just the right questions to ask. I can’t wait for the Carr book, the next Bodies in the Library, and I’m even excited to finally check out some Crofts.

    I’d be interested in hearing how understated readings of these radio scripts might work. The melodrama is inherent in the situations— underplaying could perhaps bring out some of their greatness. I don’t mind parodies of the genre, but too often there’s a sense of modern, retrospective condescension in the way past works are re-created.

    Tony’s mention of cheating in Death on the Nile got me wondering whether he was referencing vital evidence withheld, or rather a falsehood by a third person narrator. Both apply, though I feel that there’s no objective standard for what qualifies as “vital evidence,” and the falsehood is so tiny (a single word) that it generally goes unnoticed. Incidentally, Jim, though I agree that DOTN is flawed by an over abundance of unnecessary subplots (which is why I agree with Tony’s suggestion that the 1978 film version might be in many ways an improvement), I think any accusations of plot transparency regarding are misplaced, and just an unfortunate consequence of reading-order and experience. I assure you, it’s a particularly well-carpentered deception for well over 90% of readers.

    I’m afraid I’m among those who would be really interested in really interested in reading the article in which Christie discusses films of a particular year. If Tony could let us know how to access it, I’d really appreciate it.

    Great stuff again. When I’m next on the program, I’m determined to lower my voice and slow down. Everyone else sounds more laid-back and fun.

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  9. BREAKING NEWS!! Christmas gift to self: I just ordered the special clothbound edition with the extra script enclosed!! I’m considering it my 2020 summer vacation!! Only way to justify the splurge!!

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  10. Well done Brad. I went to the Crippen Landru website to purchase one just now and at least for the moment both the clothbound and soft cover editions are sold out.

    I will keep checking the usual sources and hope it becomes available. The Island of Coffins sounds brilliant.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, Scott!! I’m glad I acted early this morning, first by reading JJ’s blog and learning that it is finally available and then by jumping on the site. I’ve been waiting for so long for this one that it would have been the height of frustration to receive the message you got!!

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