DW puts in his oar...

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Jim
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DW puts in his oar...

Post by Jim » Wed 20 May, 2015 01:55:42

On 22 December 1938, novelist/critic Howard Spring reviewed three new books in London’s Evening Standard, one being Agatha Christie’s mystery Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. In the course of the review--in addition to describing the book as “clumsyâ€￾ and “overladenâ€￾--Spring “disclosed (1) the identity of the murderer, (2) the murderer’s motive, (3) nearly every detail of the trick by which the crime had been committed, (4) how the detective knew it.â€￾ [1]

John Dickson Carr, who at that time was secretary of the Detection Club (a mainly social group of mystery writers formed in 1930 or so), was deputized to write a letter of protest to the paper. He allowed that Spring could like or dislike detective novels as he chose, but to give away the solution to one “can scarcely be called legitimate criticism,â€￾ and was unfair both to readers and writers. The Standard published Carr’s letter on 4 January 1939, along with an additional article by Spring in which he stated “most detective fiction is nonsense and it is time someone said so.â€￾ [2]

Now the fat was in the fire! Over the next few days, some two dozen letters appeared, taking one side or the other. The only ones from writers, however, came from other members of the Detection Club, including Dorothy L. Sayers, denouncing Spring's attack. (Christie maintained a dignified silence.) Perhaps Spring looked around among his literary friends and acquaintances to see who might contribute something on his behalf. He had been among the guests at some of Dennis and Joan Wheatley’s parties; DW’s library had half a dozen of Spring’s novels, all inscribed. [3/4] Although Spring considered Edgar Wallace’s books “trash,â€￾ he had praised Wheatley’s thrillers (“Mr Wheatley...never lets you downâ€￾), and raved about his son-in-law’s book of poetry. [5]

When the Standard published three letters on Monday, January 9, one of them was from Dennis Wheatley. It took, however, the odd position that Christie’s sales were so great that the original review would not hurt them, and the publicity would only generate more interest in her work. (Was that the best he could think of on short notice?) He admitted that he himself had written some mystery stories--referring to the Crime Dossiers--but “I did at least give the public something different.â€￾ (Spring's published opinion of one of those: "It is not for me to criticize Murder Off Miami any more than it would be for an art critic to criticize the artist's haystack.") [6]

Just one brief letter appeared on January 10--either no-one was interested in pursuing the debate any further, or the Standard’s editors decided to terminate it. DW does not refer to the controversy in his autobiography (unless it was edited out when the last two volumes were crammed into one), and Carr only used it later as a humorous plot device in The Case of the Constant Suicides (1941). And there it ended.

Or did it? The single Wheatley book constructed like a traditional detective story, Three Inquisitive People, had been shelved in favor of The Forbidden Territory as his debut novel, and had been sitting idle for five years. It’s only a thought, but perhaps now he was more alert to the appeal such puzzles continued to have for readers. Later that year, it would be included in the first-ever Wheatley omnibus, Those Modern Musketeers. [7]

[hr]
[1] John Dickson Carr, writing in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, November 1970.

[2] This information is almost all courtesy of James E. Keirans, who wrote an entire article about the brouhaha recently for a magazine called CADS (Crime And Detective Stories - issue 69), and kindly said I could crib his piece for this site. Keirans is also the author of the new John Dickson Carr Companion, a guide to the works of that “Golden Ageâ€￾ writer.

[3] Phil Baker, The Devil is a Gentleman, 2009.

[4] Blackwell catalog for the sale of Dennis Wheatley’s library, 1979.

[5] Wheatley, Drink and Ink, 1979.

[6] Quoted in Martin Edwards, The Golden Age of Murder, 2015.

[7] "Nothing would have induced me to publish it as a separate volume at my normal new novel rate...because I do not consider it up to the standard of my other books. But...it does tell how the four friends originally met, which may interest people who have already read one or more of the other books and I gladly give it to you for nothing." (Hutchinson never made that mistake again...)
Last edited by Jim on Sat 27 Jun, 2015 15:21:15, edited 1 time in total.

Charles
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Post by Charles » Thu 25 Jun, 2015 08:34:46

Thanks, Jim for that typically well researched piece on a snippet of DW's life that I for one didn't know about.

Yes, it's interesting he couldn't come up with a better argument for his old pal Howard Spring - about whom, as I recall, he had lots of fond memories reproduced in Drink & Ink.

I love the idea that this might have been a spur to getting Three Inquisitive People published.

Lots more of these snippets, please !

Best as always !
Charles

Jim
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Post by Jim » Sun 28 Jun, 2015 14:45:29

Charles wrote: I love the idea that this might have been a spur to getting Three Inquisitive People published.
I have no proof of this at all, but certainly--with three full-length novels already included--Those Modern Musketeers didn't need any padding. We know that he never went back to anything he had written once it was turned in (with the single exception of the unpublished Roger Brook rewrite), so he wasn't about to revise this book for later use. Why is it there, then? I think my suggestion is at least plausible...

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