When digging his garden to lay a foundation for a new sundial, quiet, unostentatious bachelor Marcus Pottermack uncovers a previously-unknown well. That same day, he receives yet another demand for money from the man who is blackmailing him, and it’s only a matter of time before one problem is used to solve the other. And when curiosities about the man’s disappearance are raised in passing with Dr. John Thorndyke, it’s only a matter of time before that pillar of truth is on the trail of quiet, unostentatious Marcus Pottermack. And yet, for all its conventional-sounding setup, Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight (1930) is a delightfully unconventional inverted mystery.
As the current glut of Golden Age detective fiction reprints is making us all aware, copyrights can be a tricky thing. An author’s intellectual property is the characters and plots they create, and allowing others to have access to them is correctly something which is very closely guarded.
In a recent conversation on the GAD Facebook group, I was reminded that I haven’t read any of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Doug Selby novels in a while. In fact, it’s been a year — where does the time go? So, Project One for 2020 is to get these Selby novels finished so that I can move on to the 30 cases featuring Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. And then the eighty-four Perry Mason cases, which, at this rate, will keep me in blogging material until I’m about 146 years old. But, for today and my belated return to Gardner’s world, we enter a very different Madison County: one where D.A Doug Selby isn’t the D.A — I suppose The Guy Who Used to Be D.A. Breaks a Seal just ain’t that catchy…
Sisters Constance and Gwenyth Little occupy an unusual place in the firmament of GAD. Together they wrote 21 novels and, thanks to the Rue Morgue Press reissuing them in the early 2000s, there’s sufficient awareness around them for the term “forgotten” to be thoroughly inappropriate…but you’d have to be a genre nerd to name more than a handful of their books. Their lack of a series character and the fact that they wrote no short stories (and a single novella, presumably harder to anthologise) doubtless play a part, but I think more telling is the fact that they’re remarkably difficult to pigeonhole. You’re never quite sure what you’re getting, and that cuts both ways.
I’m being a bit cheeky here, using what I believe will be the cover for the British Library Crime Classics reissue of this due out early next year when it’s not actually my copy — I’ll show that below — but, c’mon, it’s a thing of beauty. The skull-shaped castle the title promises and narrative delivers has been somewhat done to death in previous editions, and it’s nice to see someone being a little more liberal in their interpretations. Though, now I’ve said that, the BL will change the cover ahead of its January release to a castle made entirely of skulls, presided over by a man made of skulls, punching Skeletor with a skull-shaped boxing glove.
Without wishing to overlook the great work once done by The Murder Room, someone needs to reprint Henry Wade. I enjoyed The Hanging Captain (1933) and very much enjoyed The Duke of York’s Steps (1929), but Heir Presumptive (1935) is in another class altogether and, like Craig Rice the other week, if he has any other books written with even half the fizz and joy of this one, those are books I wish to read…but, goddamn, the man’s fully OOP at present and something needs to be done. Because if you haven’t read this one yet, I urge you to find it at the earliest opportunity, and that means we’ll then be in competition for any other paperbacks out there once you love this as much as I did.
There’s a comforting familiarity about the Ken Holt Mysteries for Boys written by Beryl and Sam Epstein under the nom de plume Bruce Campbell. This is only the third one I’ve read, but, perhaps because of the strict adherence to classic ingredients, I feel like I’m about 12 books deep in the series.