Short Stories, Drama In Old Mystery Books
13 to The Gallows
By John Dickson Carr and Val Gielgud
Crippen & Landru Publishers, 2008, $43/20.
The Battles of Jericho
By Hugh Pentecost
Crippen & Landru Publishers, 2008, $29/20.
Crippen & Landru Publishers, the Norfolk, Va., company that returns mystery classics to print, has produced a couple of readable volumes featuring mid-to-late 20th century authors.
The volume by John Dickson Carr and Val Gielgud is different because the material is drama, not the novel or short story.
As such, the reader must use a varied perspective in searching for the solution. The four plays are examples of diversity, and the two three-act works by both men are marked by refreshing humor along with the traditional suspense.
"13 to the Gallows" is the most puzzling and, to the reader, probably the most interesting of the four. The "13" refers to the number of steps the condemned person takes in approaching the method of execution used in Great Britain at that time.
Both "13" and "Inspector Silence Takes the Air," the other three-act play, are set during World War II in emergency BBC studios and were written for radio. "Intruding Shadows" offers a moral dilemma, and the publishers have provided an alternate ending as proof that the writer did not approve of network censorship. The other one-act play, "She Slept Lightly," dates to the Napoleonic era when political connections could mean death as quickly as triumph. Carr is the sole writer of the two one-acters.
Carr died in 1977. Edited by Tony Medawar, this volume includes listings of casts and contemporary reviews of original productions.
The title of the Hugh Pentecost book sounds fanciful, but these short stories do reflect battles of a sort, for John Jericho, our artist-turned-sleuth, is no armchair detective. He comes out with fists flying and moves with astonishing speed.
The plots to the stories of Hugh Pentecost (Judson Phillips) are varied and often focus on social issues of the day. Pentecost is a type of Superman-Lone Ranger guy, all too quick to act when he sees social injustice. In "Jericho and the Silent Witnesses" the plot is reminiscent of an incident that occurred in New York City years ago, when a woman was tortured and murdered on the street outside an apartment complex. Residents closed their windows to stifle the sound of her screams, and no one called the police or offered to help.
In "Jericho and the Nuisance Clue" he is described as "some Viking warrior who had come down through the ages, unmarred by time." Jericho is said to be about 40, six-feet-six inches tall, weighing 240 pounds -- a giant with red hair and red beard. (Pentecost has lapses of memory on occasion, for in some stories his height goes down to six-feet-four.)
Despite fast-moving, clear writing and varied plotting, the stories take on a sameness and repeated descriptions of the red-bearded giant of an artist grow wearying before one reaches the halfway point among these 15 stories. This is a frequent ailment with short stories originally printed in periodicals and finally collected into anthologies, often for reading at one or two sittings. Jericho is just too good to be true.
Pentecost died in 1989. This volume includes an introduction by S.T. Karnick and an afterword by the author's son, Daniel Phillips.
Information about both volumes is available at www.crippenlandru.com.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at florence @thepilot.com.
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