From ‘The shadowed streets of ancient Peking’ to the Mexican border #1936book

Thankyou_Mr_MotoThanks to everyone who submitted a review for the April 2015 challenge to review a book or film from 1936.

Lucy at The Art of Words chose 1936 and reviewed Thankyou Mr Moto by John P. Marquand, which introduces this month’s front-cover theme: photographic cut-outs against a pictorial background. Take a look below; definitely a theme.

Thankyou Mr Moto is one of those books which sounds nothing like the book I thought it would be (and those are generally the books that repay reading them. Here’s Lucy:

It is more of a thriller than a mystery, a breathless page-turner, and written by a skilled master who evokes a dimly unknowable city with empty, dusty streets, high walls, ancient gates, and the occasional rickshaw drivers’ eating house lit by flickering lanterns. What makes it 1936? The politics, and the sense that the Dark Ages are back. And Eleanor dancing in a tailored chartreuse dress and hat. And Tom’s reliance on servants to bring him something to eat.

LibertyThe biggest title of 1936 must be James M. Cain’s seamy and steamy little story Double Indemnity which (we are told at The Game’s Afoot) ‘first appeared in serial form in 1936 for Liberty magazine and was finally published in book form in 1943, just one year before being brought to the big screen.’

I cannot fail to mention the significance of Cain’s novels in the birth and subsequent evolution of what we know today as ‘noir fiction’ or ‘roman noir’, understood as an independent genre to hardboiled fiction.

AShillingForCandles-C2Cain certainly wasn’t influencing Josephine Tey. brought to us by Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery in her review of A Shilling for Candles:

A slow-paced but entertaining novel (if the mystery plot is not your major concern), and I am eager to re-read more of the books in the Grant series, to see how they compare. The remainder of the novels were written after World War II and it will be interesting to see how they reflect the differences of that period in England also.

Moira also read A Shilling for Candles at Clothes in Books, as well as watching the Hitchcock film version, Young and Innocent, ‘a classic Hitchcock series of chases – away from danger of capture, and towards the McGuffin of a coat that will prove Robert’s innocence.’

Stuttering_BishopJohn from Noirish watched three 1936 movies in April, and also clocked up a review of The Case of the Stuttering Bishop by Erle Stanley Gardner, advising us that ‘you need to read two or three (they’re quite short) to really get into the swing of PerryMasonWorld.’

It’s hard to assess the literary merit of a Perry Mason novel. They always give the impression of being written in great haste (in fact, Gardner dictated them to a battery of secretaries), so that there are all sorts of stylistic blemishes — repeated words, etc. And there are a couple of plot flaws here, too. At one point a character tailing another’s car switches on his headlights so the prey won’t be able to identify the make of the car that’s following her; a couple of pages earlier, we’ve been told it’s daylight.

Popcorn at the ready for four movie reviews.

Jose Ignacio watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Sabotage, which is recorded on my telly for a rainy day.

sabotageIn 1936 the idea of a terrorist blowing up a bus in London’s Piccadilly Circus was an unimaginable and somewhat outrageous conceit. Yet that action provides one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous and controversial sequences in Sabotage (1936), an adaptation of the Joseph Conrad novel, The Secret Agent.

John’s Noirish site expanded to accommodate three 1936 movies this month, including I’d Give My Life, a remake of The Noose.

A very creditable piece, largely because of its cast—the contributions of Brown, Drake, Hurst, Beecher and in a different way Lowell border on exceptional. It’s also, because it keeps its subtext well under wraps, quite an effective polemic against the death penalty, or at least the mindless application thereof.

Seven_SinnersSeven Sinners is:

A highly entertaining movie, although it has its flaws… Its major problem, at least in the first half, is that there’s far too much badinage between Lowe’s and Cummings’s characters. Some of the waspish lines are very funny and none of them are dire, but the screenplay could have profited greatly had the weaker ones been pruned.

John also alerts us, quite rightly, to some bad language 🙂

Finally, Missing Girls is the tale of a small-town girl getting mixed up in big city shenanigans and falling prey to one Ma Barton.

There’s cheapness written all over this production, which comes from Poverty Row specialist Chesterfield; at one stage Dorothy and Jimmie are dancing at a nightclub where carefully arranged drapes ensure we can’t see the orchestra—presumably because there wasn’t one. The final shootout, as FBI goons storm Ma Bolton’s hideout, is one of the less convincing to be captured on celluloid (I could swear that some of the ricochet noises were supplied by small boys playing cops an’ robbers).

Back to books. New player Patrick at Book Them Danno introduced me to a Mercè Rodoreda’s Crim, a Catalan-language novel which has never been translated but which sounds pretty interesting.

Crim is specifically a parodic take on the classic Agatha Christie-style “country house mystery,” which of course was much newer in 1936 than it is today, but was apparently already firmly enough established, even slightly calcified, to be susceptible to such treatment. Since Rodoreda’s parody is among the first full-blown ones the genre inspired, it would deserve attention on that ground alone.

Cards_on_the_TableOften to be found subverting her own genre was Agatha Christie, whose Cards on the Table brought together four suspects and four sleuths at the house of Mr Shaitana, reviewed at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel:

This is a very clever mystery, with much more to it than the bridge clues (although I do know a lot more about bridge these days). You could make the case that one of the suspects is a little too clearly innocent from early on, but manages to bounce from reveal to reveal and still manages to pull a surprise (partly due to, for once, having a very short wrap-up, so that the page count doesn’t work against the finale.)

WIngs_Above_the_DiamantinaBernadette was happy to find an Aussie title for Fair Dinkum Crime, Arthur Upfield’s Wings Above the Diamantina, which…

takes full advantage of this unusual setting. Distances are vast, people are of necessity self-reliant and mother nature has a way of letting them know that even if they think they know what they’re doing she can always surprise them. It’s a toss up whether the cloying sand cloud scenario that develops at the novel’s half-way point or the the dramatic rain storm that occurs near the end is the most memorable natural phenomenon but I bet most readers remember at least one long after the novel is over.


From Australia to New Zealand. Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise joined in with her review of Death in Ecstasy:

To make sure the reader is up to speed, Alleyn and Bathgate draw up a list of suspects with motives at least twice. The author drops a couple of large hints about the identity of the murderer, which I should have picked up but didn’t. There’s a matter of missing bearer bonds, addiction and drug running, and entrapment, but in the long run Alleyn would not have solved the case without help from a couple of suspects.

Moira at Clothes in Books was underwhelmed by Death in Ecstasy:

The trouble is that Marsh plainly despises her characters so much that it becomes ridiculous. They are all shown as feeble or gullible or unpleasant or all three – but their foibles are no worse than those of the theatrical milieu in Enter a Murderer, and both books have a sideplot concerning drug dealing. But in the other book Marsh shows a cheerful tolerance of their ways.

Murder_of_Edmund_GodfreyBev at My Reader’s Block reviewed John Dickson Carr’s The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey, based on the real-life murder of an English magistrate which really set the cat amongst the pigeons back in 1678.

I started out thinking that The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey by John Dickson Carr should be filed under historical fiction/mystery. By the time I finished, I realized it is more accurately fictionalized history. Carr makes no claim that his telling of the story and the final solution is the unassailable historical truth, but he does set himself the task to be historically accurate while entertaining the mystery lover.

SussexDownsLes at Classic Mysteries reviewed John Bude’s The Sussex Downs Murder, a British Library title which will be published in the US is May 5.

When human bones begin appearing at construction sites around Chalklands Farm, Superintendent Meredith must try to determine if they are grim evidence of John Rother’s fate. The superintendent has a limited field of possible suspects – and, for quite a while, it is far from clear exactly what those suspects might have done, and why, and how. Meredith’s search for the truth is carefully laid out in a plot full of twists and surprises. It’s part procedural – but also quite definitely a traditional, plot-driven mystery with interesting characters and a well-delineated setting – not to mention a challenge to the reader to solve the mystery before Meredith.

WesternFictionMonthlyCol went West to read Dane Coolidge’s Texans Die Hard, published in Western Fiction Monthly. Westerns are crime fiction with hats, in my view, so definitely welcome here pardner.

There was the usual gun-play, a few chases, a kidnapping, some cattle rustling, some double-crossing, corruption, reneging, some rebellious Mexicans and some vengeful Mexican widows with a thirst for American blood, and more than a few border crossings… south, to north , to south, to north…….so many, I kind of felt I was watching a game of tennis at times. My neck was aching by the end of this one.

Wheel_SpinsLast – and least -my own entry is the last of the superimposed-photo covers, Ethel Lina White’s The Wheel Spins, inspiration for another Hitchcock movie, The Lady Vanishes.

Next month (courtesy of John): 1949…


About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
This entry was posted in Classic crime round-up, Crime fiction of the year challenge, Crimes of the Century, Information Received and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to From ‘The shadowed streets of ancient Peking’ to the Mexican border #1936book

  1. realthog says:

    What a great collection of stuff this year’s has turned out to be! Congratulations (and thanks) to you for inspiring our efforts, and assembling the links here.

    Um, one tiny thing: My site’s called Noirish, not Noircyclopedia. Noircyclopedia is my moniker for twitterpation.


  2. J F Norris says:

    Gosh darn it! I finished my book last night and was going to post my piece on A CLUE FOR MR. FORTUNE this afternoon. I thought we had until April 30. Oh well… I’ll post it later and let you know when it’s up. This month was filled with drama and was emotionally unnerving for our family. I had to withdraw myself from books, the blog, and the internet and deal with Reality. Now everything has settled down thankfully. I hope to get back in the swing of blogging in May.


  3. tracybham says:

    I love the variety of content here. Thanks for pulling this all together.


  4. John says:

    Well what with a doctor’s appointment and other stuff that happened today I didn’t quite make this afternoon or the April 30th deadline. Just posted my review of A CLUE FOR MR FORTUNE a few minutes ago for May Day. No need to add me up above, Rich. I’ll try to be better this month.


  5. It is a varied collection for this year…I can almost all these authors to a missed-eries list…that’s one of the reasons I participate in the challenge each month…to expand my experiences of these authors…so you’ll have to keep going for several decades to give me the motivation to catch up 🙂

    Feel duty bound to point out that it’s Kerrie who blogs at Mysteries in Paradise and wrote about Ngaio Marsh, not me


  6. Great collection of books, thanks as ever Rich.


Make a statement...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s