A ROUGH WEEK
by Steven Steinbock
My original plan for this week’s Bandersnatches was to describe Doubleday Crime Club books and discuss their merits. But life (and it’s departure) intervened. In the latter half of this week’s column, I’ll introduce Crime Club, among other things. Next week I hope to tell you more about the Crime Club.
Remembering a Master
At the risk of dwelling too long on Ed Hoch’s death, I’m adding another paragraph or two to the many beautiful things people have said about him. He was a clever plotter, a generous soul, and a dear friend. I’ve shared more extensive thoughts and memories of Ed at my personal blog, “The Vorpal Blade Online.” Here’s a bit of trivia that I haven’t written or seen elsewhere: It’s well known that Ed had an unbroken run of almost thirty-five years with a story in every issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, but Ed also had his picture on the cover of more issues of that magazine than anyone else, with the possible exception of Fred Dannay. No fewer than five times did Ed grace the cover of that magazine, the most recent being the December 2005 issue.
I ought to point out that the title of my blog is a strange one. I snagged the title from the name Fredric Brown gave to a secret society of Lewis Carroll devotees described in his novel, The Night of the Jabberwock. For the past decade or so, I’ve published a print fanzine called “The Vorpal Blade,” and when I gave a copy to Ed Hoch, he responded by telling me that he’d written a story by that name. A short time later I received a photocopy of from Ed of the story. The magazine had misspelled “Vorpal” and given Ed the wrong middle initial, but the story was brilliant, and was adapted as an episode of the British television program “Tales of the Unexpected,” featuring Peter Cushing, in 1983. (If devoted readers are experiencing déjà vous, it may be because I mentioned this story in an earlier Bandersnatch).
I received another piece of sad news this week, my magical mentor Bob Nixon died at the age of 63. Bob was a leader in the Society of American Magicians and the International Brotherhood of Magicians throughout Maine and New England. Bob was also a stand-up comedian, and did several world tours as a U.S.O. entertainer. It was Bob who sponsored my admission into the Society of American Magicians. I don’t mean to make light of a sad and untimely event, but Bob went out in a uniquely Bob style: he collapsed during a weekly chess gathering. (Bob played chess competitively). Coincidentally, the Society of American Magicians publishes a monthly magazine, M.U.M., and one of its features is “S.A.M. Spotlight,” highlighting member’s of the Society. Last month’s issue of M.U.M. spotlighted Bob.
Love of Old Books
I’ve got a reputation here at Criminal Brief as being the collector. I’m really more of an accumulator. But I don’t just let the books gather dust. I try to read them, too. This week, in between the Ed Hoch short stories, I’ve been reading Christopher Morley’s novel The Haunted Bookshop. This book is a blast. Published in 1919, it’s no ghost story (despite the title) but it does have a bit of mystery, a bit of romance, and a lot of love of books and bookshops.
Most of my collecting is centered around certain authors that I enjoy (Fredric Brown, R. Austin Freeman, Jacques Futrelle, Ellery Queen, Ed McBain, Lawrence Block). But two areas of my collection are centered on publishers. I have around 130 Dell Mapbacks. If you’re unfamiliar with these, they are paperbacks, mostly mysteries, published by Dell in the 1940s and 1950s. What made them unique was that the back covers were maps, often of the scene of the crime. (I wrote about Dells in more detail here, with cool clickable cover-art!) The down side of Dells are that the books themselves are fragile and the text was often abridged to fit strict page formats.
The other publisher line that I actively collect are Doubleday Crime Clubs. The name is misleading. The Crime Club is not to be confused with book club editions. Beginning in 1928, these were high quality hardcovers that featured the best crime and detective fiction in the English language. It was the Crime Club that first introduced American readers to some of the lesser known British greats like H.C. Bailey, Anthony Berkeley, Edgar Wallace, Philip MacDonald, and Manning Coles. Next week I’ll tell you a bit more about the Crime Club, and list some of the short story anthologies they published.