As part of the Crimes of the Century strand here on Past Offences, every month we review crimes books and films first published in a particular year. In May, we focused on 1949, selected by regular contributor John from the classic movie blog Noirish. It was an unusually positive month, with more five stars and highly recommendeds than usual, so it was an inspired choice, John.
So starting with a Noirish film review, Silent Dust was described by John as almost a classic, a funny and sad British film about a bad penny turning up – a long-lost son believed killed in the war, who…
…arrives by night and unannounced, having hijacked a car and thumped its owner during the journey: Simon, who is not dead at all but deserted his men in the heat of battle and has been on the run ever since. He’s come to see if he can get enough money out of his father to escape to the US and make a new life there. Both Angela and then Joan are horrified when they find him in the house, but they conspire to keep the news from Robert, reckoning that discovering the son he idolized is in fact a blackguard would destroy him. Max, too, enters into this conspiracy of silence. But how long can they all keep it up? And what of Angela’s marriage to Max, now that he and Simon are—as Simon puts it—”husbands-in-law”?
John also put in some reading time, looking at noirmeister Jim Thompson’s Nothing More Than Murder:
This was one of Thompson’s earliest crime/hardboiled novels and it isn’t one of his greats, yet it’s by no means a negligible piece. The narrative is quite sophisticated: rather than follow a straightforward linear form, he twists the chronology in the way we’ve come to associate with film noir and more especially neonoir.
Back to the movies with Stray Dog. Patrick at Book ’em Danno opted not to…
try to decide to whether a Japanese post-war semi-documentary crime film is truly noir. So let’s hedge and say that Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog (1949) is a policier with certain noir characteristics — not least of which is the conflictedness of its protagonist, a rookie detective played by the great Toshiro Mifune.
And it’s got a cool poster, just like this next one:
Jose Ignacio had a nice personal memory of Carol Reed’s The Third Man:
My earliest memory of this film is associated with Anton Karas music, which I used to hear in an old gramophone at home when I was a child, probably between 1955 and 1957. I also remember clearly the first time I went to see the movie in the former Cinema Tívoli in Madrid located on Alcalá 80, about 1964 (or was it Cinema Benlliure on Alcalá 106). Since then, I watched the film several times and I believe I will never get tired of seeing it.
Thanks to the internet, I was able to find the 1964 Spanish movie poster – does it seem familiar, Jose Ignacio?
Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise took in Michael Innes’s CWA top 100 title The Journeying Boy, and changed her mind about it halfway through (exactly as I did when I read it in 2013, but in a different direction):
At times the style is rather ponderous and long-winded, and the initial plot rather complicated. The writing is littered with quotations and rather academic in-jokes, which presumably meant something to someone at the time. But there is something rather akin to Boys Own about this book and after Mr Thewless and Humphrey have crosed the sea to Ireland, and face various perils on their way to Humphrey’s distant relatives, the action ramps up and it becomes a rollicking good story.
Ngaio Marsh’s jazzy little number Swing, Brother, Swing was chosen by Lucy at The Art of Words:
What’s 1949 about it? The determined effort of the aristocratic and moneyed to carry on as if the war had never happened. (Cecile is a French aristocrat and all her forebears were “de” something, as she reminds us.) Carlisle and Edward, marked by the war but adapting to a new world by getting jobs and living modestly. The musicians mixing uneasily with their posh fans. The communist drummer who thinks Lord P&B is a “parasite” who is being used for his “snob value”. Little do they know that they are about to be swept away by the welfare state and rock’n’roll.
Bev at My Reader’s Block read amnesiac mystery Call for Michael Shane, a PI story by Brett Halliday.
This was another fun romp and it’s always good to watch Shayne one-up that annoying Miami Beach Chief of Police, Peter Painter. You’d think that Painter would learn that Shayne generally delivers the goods–and it’s never the solution that the Chief has selected. This is a fast-paced story that I easily finished in a couple of hours. Halliday’s descriptions of the Miami area are deft and transport the reader direct from 2015 to the beach city of the late 1940s/early 50s.
Bev at My Reader’s Block and I shared a book this month, John and Emery Bonett’s generally light-hearted (although with quite a dark sub-plot, at least to a modern reader) Dead Lion, starring the rumpled Professor Mandrake:
There isn’t much detecting going on, not many clues [beyond the initial display] are discovered, and there isn’t much interrogation of suspects. Mandrake does a lot of scribbling in his notebook and muttering to himself about the murder, but the mystery seems to solve itself.
My thoughts on Dead Lion are here.
Moira at Clothes in Books opted to continue perpetuating this idea that ‘Delano Ames’ is a real author (whom I just haven’t heard of) with a review of the made-up book Murder Begins at Home:
As a 1949 book: there is an air of the war being over and everyone going home. The sherriff’s son is having trouble over a wartime marriage. One character is a scientist at the atomic research station near Alamogordo, and I had high hopes of this as a plot development, but it is completely irrelevant. A cowboy wears a silk shirt in a check pattern – this seems somehow very unlikely.
Meanwhile Col (another ‘Delano Ames’ reader) added Fredric Brown’s serial-killer thriller The Screaming Mimi to his Criminal Library, and gave it five stars.
With hindsight, it seemed so simple and obvious……..and vaguely familiar – have I read it in a previous life? So what, I loved it and what’s more I’d read it again next week if I had time, which unfortunately I don’t.
The Screaming Mimi seemed fast and fresh which isn’t a feeling I usually take away from reading books written pre-50’s. A tick in every box.
After Dead Lion, Bev returned to 1949 with Jonathan Stagge’s The Three Fears:
Of all the pen names taken up by Webb and Wheeler as well as Martha Kelley and Mary Aswell (Patrick Quentin, Q. Patrick, and Jonathan Stagge), I think I enjoy the Stagge books with Dr. Westlake the best.
This one has a nifty puzzle plot with a nice juicy clue dangled right before the reader’s eyes in the opening chapter.
Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery returned to one of her favourites, Rex Stout, and a collection of novellas called Trouble in Triplicate:
“Help Wanted, Male” is set in 1944; Archie is a Major in the Army but is in Military Intelligence, working with Wolfe, out of uniform. This is a sequel of sorts to an earlier novella, “Booby Trap,” in which industrial secrets are being stolen. A participant in the earlier story, Ben Jensen, has received a threatening note and wants to hire Wolfe’s brains, not his brawn, to protect him. I enjoyed this story, but overall the plot is implausible. Still it has so many bits I love, including Archie going to Washington to try to talk a general into sending him overseas to get directly involved in the war.
New entrant Neer at A Hot Cup of Pleasure read Death Takes the Living by Miles Burton (aka Major Cecil John Street and John Rhode), an ecclesiastical mystery with a spooky opening.
… more than the mystery and the police-procedure, it is the unstated social and cultural mores of British Society that make the novel interesting.
A million miles from British mores was Jose Ignacio’s 1949 book choice, W. R. Burnett’s The Asphalt Jungle, the first book in the trilogy which continued with Little Men, Big World (1951) and Vanity Row (1952).
The story offers us a superb portrait of characters. Most, if not all of them, are losers that face their fate with the fatalism of a classic hero. In essence, this is a story that is very far away from the American dream, where we can find a great dose of realism in pure state. I acknowledge that some reviewers consider the story is outdated however, in my view, it reflects accurately the times in which was written.
Bernadette at Reactions to Reading read my current favourite Christie, Crooked House:
In the end CROOKED HOUSE is ‘just’ a deliberately puzzling whodunnit with a finite suspect pool and several twists designed to shock the reader. If that style of story is not your thing at all then there is probably nothing about this particular example that will make you change your mind. If, on the other hand, you don’t mind a classic whodunnit as long as it is well done then I highly recommend CROOKED HOUSE. It puts the vast majority of this type of tale, including some of Christie’s own, to shame in the way it is constructed and while it shares may tropes of the genre it does break with a few traditions.
A palpable hit was Anthony Gilbert’s Death Knocks Three Times reviewed by John at Pretty Sinister Books.
Almost unclassifiable. It’s a Gothic send-up, a satire on the art of novel writing, a treatise on detective novels, a “badass biddy” (my own name for a certain type of subgenre featuring nefarious and murderous senior citizen women) suspense thriller, and the end a fair play mystery novel. But detection, I have to say, takes back seat to an engrossing tale of duplicity, blackmail, anonymous threats and familial jealousy.
Another badass biddy: The Puzzle Doctor read Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver Comes to Stay and posted a review beneath his spiffing new blog header (of which I am a little bit envious).
This is one of the best classic mysteries that I’ve read in a long time. A nice list of suspects, a plot that keeps moving forward, and, most importantly, a murderer that utterly caught me out.
Moira looked at another Wentworth, Spotlight:
What a treasure trove this book was – full of items related to recent Clothes in Books preoccupations, starting of course with its being a 1949 book and thus post-war – references to war knitting (in khaki) and black market adventures and free education. There are many outfits that could have been featured – the pink frilled negligee, the bad blue dinner dress and the good black one. But as soon as I saw the reference to the fur turban I knew this had to be it. Fur turban – just the sound of the words is wonderful. Fur turban. Fur turban. Sorry, maybe it’s just me.
Finally, Sergio convinced me to give Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister a try:
So how does it feel, critically confronting this work so many decades after my first encounter? It seems to me that the charge of misanthropy is unfair. Yes, it is present, no question, but it is one of the major themes of the novel, which is about Marlowe’s attempts not to give in to the impulse, expressed most poetically in chapter 13 in which the detective vents his frustration and anger at the darkness that surrounds him, and repeatedly reminds himself to not give in, admonishing himself, “You’re not human to-night, Marlowe.” It is that struggle that makes this story so compelling and romantic. It’s not about money, it’s not about sex – Marlowe rejects both, though never out of hand, because for him it is about priorities – it’s about finding your humanity and hanging on it as tightly as you can.
As usual, thanks to all my contributors and profuse apologies if I have missed your review, or misattributed a review.
The ones that got away: