The Passing Tramp. As the name may indicate, the blog is devoted to wandering around the mystery genre, encountering all sorts of interesting specimens, and then reporting back to readers. It’s an excellent blog, and I tend to agree with Curt on many points, especially his continued and unrepentant defense of a group of authors collectively known as “The Humdrums”. You could say he’s written the book on the subject. Literally—I am of course talking about Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery: Cecil John Charles Street, Freeman Wills Crofts, Alfred Walter Stewart and the British Detective Novel, 1920-61.
To put it quite simply, Curt’s book is a bravura performance. He takes a look at three major mystery authors from the Golden Age: John Rhode/Miles Burton, Freeman Wills Crofts, and J. J. Connginton. All three men have been condemned to out-of-print hell, and when brought up by academics at all, their opinions tend to be largely dismissive of these “mere puzzles”. But Curt remains unconvinced, and through his analyses he tries to prove that these books have far more merit to them than such a label might imply.
|Alfred Walter Stewart (alias J J Connington)|
I’m a big fan of John Rhode and of J. J. Connington. I have never understood why these folks have been labelled as Humdrum—Rhode had a fine sense of humour that finds its way into his books, as well as a fondness for beer and plenty of technical ingenuity. Even in the less successful books I’ve read – see, for instance, Death on Sunday – there is much of interest going on apart from the puzzle. As for J. J. Connington, I’ve had the pleasure of reading some of his masterpieces in the genre such as The Case With Nine Solutions or The Castleford Conundrum. I love his ingenuity, and the cynical worldview of his detective Sir Clinton Driffield is remarkably different from the usual stuff you get in Golden Age mysteries.
Now, at last, I get to appreciate these authors a bit more. Curt has tackled fascinating questions like that of Connington’s worldview. This is a particularly fun section, because we see the author himself rising out of the sands of time, wondering to himself what on earth Curt is doing because he certainly never intended to put his worldview into his “’tec yarns”. No, really—it emerges during correspondence. Curt also looks at the author’s apocalyptic and disturbing novel Nordenholt’s Million, which eerily foreshadows the cruelties of the Nazi regime.
|John Rhode & Eric the Skull|
Overall, I recommend Masters of the Humdrum Mystery. This is a very important work in mystery criticism. Curt Evans takes a good, close, and *serious* look at these so-called Humdrums as part of the historical era they belonged in. Too many critics write them off and pretend that only the “Big Four” of Crime Queens were of any interest during the Golden Age, but Curt here has proven that the Humdrums are far more interesting than has been given credit. This book, however, comes with a warning: Curt’s enthusiasm is downright infectious. You will find yourself reaching for your wallet – I myself already find that I am the owner of two new John Rhode novels (Death in Harley Street and The Bloody Tower), and two new Freeman Wills Crofts novels (The Loss of the Jane Vosper, Antidote to Venom)… and I somehow have the feeling it won’t end there.