I tackled the debut issue of the Creasey Mystery Magazine way back in 2015 (click HERE to re-read that entry first). Four years later, I am returning to the task of revisiting that magazine, with the second issue. This was more of a wake-up reminder than a plan on my part. A recent blog reader asked me a question, and her question prompted this assignment. So, I’m dedicating this blog entry to Pennie.
Creasey Mystery Magazine (v1 n2, September 1956) UK: Dalrow Publishing.
The first three issues sported identical covers (no doubt to save on design costs), but, the one solid color differed per cover. The first featured a light blue cover, while this one has a red cover.
The lead story is Death to Joy by John Creasey. The tale is smoothly written, fairly fast-paced, and feels like a precursor to James Bond. It features his recurring popularly favorite detective Richard Rollison, aka The Toff. The plot takes place in Durban, Africa. Rollison seems always to be coincidentally in the right place(s) to view overlapping cases of good and evil, but hell, that’s fiction for you. Here we have Rollison watching a young teenaged lovely lady laughing it up watching the playful antics of Zulu boy while she and her company, an aged woman, sit upon a rickshaw. Rollison notes that another person is also watching the pair. He’s swarthy, handsome, well-dressed, and his eyes betray his thoughts. Rollison doesn’t like him. Fast-forward, Rollison’s at a special party-affair. Everyone is present there, too. Rollison asks local journalist Jim Crane who the females are. The younger gal is Elizabeth Dunn, slated to inherit a fortune; the older lady is her aunt and guardian. A young man dancing with her is Tony Cornish, money made from real-estate. The evil-looking gentleman and his female companion? Klimmer, dabbles in illegal activities, but never been caught by the police. The woman? Not his wife, but perhaps a lover. Her identity is not known to Crane, nor is it ever truly clarified later in the text. Fast-forward to another day. Miss Dunn visits Rollison at his room, looking for assistance. He pauses her, discovers a snooper at the door, they fight, he knocks him down, someone down the haul pulls a gat and shoots at Rollison. He dodges the iron pill. That would-be killer escapes. He looks like a pan-handler, a character with recurring theme throughout the text. I won’t divulge more on that, as it’s relevant to the story. Rollison assigns George, his “negro” boy, to assist. George is faithful to Rollison from some undisclosed prior assignment. I’m not sure if he shows up in other stories or not, but had he been developed more, he’d have made an interesting character of his own merit. Miss Dunn shies away from Rollison after guns and death are employed, begs off, and leaves without hiring Rollison. Too late. He’s accepted the case, whether she likes it or not. The gist: she saw in the newspaper a man was murdered and Miss Dunn fears that her lover, Tony Cornish, was the killer. Evidence suggests this, especially after an altercation between Dunn and Cornish, in which he calls her a Delilah! Seems he believes she stole papers from his place, especially after blackmailer Klimmer staged the suggestion. How Rollison solves the case and disables each would-be killer makes for a fascinating read and finalizes in the cliché manner. Cornish and Dunn are joined, and Rollison asks Dunn to do him one favor. Rollison’s returning to England, could she give George a job? She accepts, proclaiming “A thousand jobs!” to which Rollison rejoins “He’ll only need one.”
The next tale is The Lernean Hydra by Agatha Christie, continuing her series of tales featuring the obnoxious Hercule Poirot. Originally debuting in America’s magazine This Week, 3 September 1939 as The Invisible Enemy and it soon appeared in England’s The Strand (December 1939). Hercule Poirot returns, hired to squash rumors in a small town. A doctor’s career is near ruin after his wife dies. Rumors spread like wild-fire that he and/or the younger lady he’s suspected of being infatuated with poisoned his invalid wife. Rumors also suggest that while he cared for her, he never loved his wife. Poirot insists from the doctor full disclosure, no matter what. He finally acquiesces that it is true: he never loved his wife, he did care for her during those sick years, he is interested in the younger lady, she likewise is interested in him, they have never professed their love openly nor proposed marriage. No, he did not murder his wife. So, Poirot accepts the assignment and like the many-headed Hydra, must investigate every major talking head to discover the original source of the rumors, and discover whether there is any real truth to the rumors.
The Case of the Thing that Whimpered by Dennis Wheatley is excerpted from his collection Gunmen, Gallants & Ghosts (London: Hutchinson, 1943). It features psychic/paranormal/ghost-hunting investigator Neils Orsen, a Swede with bizarre facial structures and features. No doubt the tale was originally published in a magazine or newspaper, but I’ve yet to trace the original source.
In The Unhappy Piano-Tuner, Julian Symons’ popular detective character Francis Quarles is visited by the titular character who is married to a unfaithful woman. Requesting Quarles aid in fixing his marriage, the detective rejects the assignment, but takes up the “case” as the woman is found dead and the tuner is held on the charge of murder! The evidence? An open bottle of wine…poisoned. Did the distraught husband commit the crime? The room boarder? The milk man? This tale originally appeared in the 20 July 1950 edition of London’s The Evening Standard.
Eric Allen presents Strong-Arm Man, a short story spanning a few pages and culled from London’s The Evening News, 5 January 1953. The body-guard is assigned to escort a jeweled lady from a flight but she inexplicably slips him the envelope containing said jewels while the drifts away briefly. In walks a man insisting that he has already kidnapped said lady, and wishes to offer cash for the jewels, in exchange for the safe return of the lady. The guard decides not to play ball, and slaps a cuff on his wrist and the other’s wrist, when inexplicably the woman re-enters the scene, not kidnapped at all, and claiming to have been looking all over the place for him. He uncuffs himself and attaches the cuff to her and the briber! Appears she isn’t the real McCoy and he knew that before any of this nonsense transpired. An absurd story that could have been better developed as a longer feature.
Driver’s Seat debuted in This Week magazine on 25 March 1951 under the title Lady, You’re Dead!. It features Inspector Queen and his son, Ellery Queen, solving the unbreakable case. Four brothers own a business. Each own an equal cut. One dies. That cut goes to his widow. The three brothers have squandered their earnings and have fancy women. The widow plays her hand at the board meeting. She knows each brother has been quietly selling off a percentage of their stock to finance their foolishness: gambling, cars, women, etc. The original “contract” drafted between the brothers legally states that when one owns a majority of the stocks, they have the right to buy out the remaining stocks. She’s been buying their sold stocks through “dummies.” The boys have one week…and then…they are OUT. Mortified, they consult their lawyers. She’s right. She’s also found murdered on the day they are to receive their buy-out checks. Stabbed. A rain coat is found sodden on the premises. It belongs to the brothers. Which brother? They are all the same size. Wear the same jacket. And each is covering for the actual killer. Ellery enters the scene and informs his father the killer make a grave mistake in leaving the jacket, as one side is more sodden than the other. It belongs to the man that stuck his arm out the right-hand window to make “signals” while driving (yes boys and girls, in the old days, we used arms, not electronic turn signals, just like on bicycles). Well, one of the brothers drives an imported British auto, which obviously has the steering wheel on the right side of the car, not the left. So, he’s clearly the killer. I say…Why?!?!?!? All the jacket proves is that the fool left it behind. It doesn’t prove he did the deed. So, I find a flaw in this decisive conclusion, and so would any lawyer.
Victor Canning’s The Cautious Safe-Cracker is more of a humorous irony tale than a mystery. Originally published 4 July 1954 in This Week magazine, the protagonist is a bad-luck safe-cracker that strives for one last big hurrah. Carefully planned to the last detail, he enters the widower’s home, opens the safe, extracts the jewels…only to discover the man-of-the-house dead. Cause of death was likely a heart attack, on the way down to the floor he smacked his head and bled. The thief is in a predicament. Caught with the jewels, he’ll surely hang for murder. Unable to simply toss the jewels back in the case and pretend he never was there, he steals out into the night, tosses the jewels into an abandoned, long-unused well, walks into town, and does his utmost to establish an alibi. All goes awry. He tosses a brick through a storefront window. Nothing. Enters, steals from the cigar shop. Nothing. The dog doesn’t assault him. The owner doesn’t wake. Good grief. Realizing it’s a botched attempt, he makes to leave. The dog suddenly decides to maul him. Screaming, the owner wakes, and the cops finally make an appearance. He’s arrested, jailed, serves his time, gets out, goes to retrieve the jewels…only to discover the town has filled the well with cement and erected a monument to the memory of the dead man on the well’s site.
Like the preceding tale, this one is meant to be one of irony, and less about mystery. Peter Cheyney’s The Humour of Huang Chen involves two rival Chinamen and their murderous raiding gangs in old 18th century China, always trying to one-up the other. In this case, Huang Chen’s rival (Li-Tok) raids one of his areas, murdering everyone. Some of his loyal men escape, and along for the ride, they have captured an imminent physician. He is blind and without tongue. Huang Chen takes one look at the man, orders him to be isolated in a bamboo cage, then orders his gorgeous daughter brought before him. Arriving, he gives her instructions to go out with a small escort and be captured by his rival. She does, and is. Li-Tok sends a letter courier noting that he has captured Huang Chen’s daughter, and desires a trade. The girl for the physician. Huang Chen naturally agrees. The trade is made, and later, he has a letter sent to Li-Tok, noting he planned the swap, for the imminent physician has the plague. Honestly, a flawed tale. Obviously those that were in immediate contact with the plague-ridden physician of Huang Chen’s men would have been likewise infected. Online sources note the earliest known appearance of this story appears in the Peter Cheyney collection You Can’t Hit a Woman and Other Stories (London: Collins, 1937). According to an Australian newspaper that syndicated the tale mid-1937, it originated in the Birmingham Weekly Post. This likely was in 1936, as I found the tale syndicated in England, very late 1936. Unfortunately, the BWP has not been indexed that far back as yet.
Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Inspiration of Mr. Budd originally was published in the American weekly pulp Detective Story Magazine for the 21st November 1925 issue and next year in the UK via Pearson’s Magazine, March 1926. The tale is not one of mystery. Budd is a down-on-his-luck hair stylist. A series of bad luck and tarnished family has led him to be impoverished and bear a tainted name, so he moves his once successful business to London to disappear. Subsequently, he has aspired to win every sort of lotto, prizes, etc., that turns up from businesses, in newspapers, etc. Just now, he is reading in the local paper that there is a 500 Pound bounty / reward for genuine information leading up to the arrest of a wanted man. Ironically, a man fitting the very description enters his establishment requesting his hair style to be changed, a trim and coloring, claiming his current girlfriend doesn’t like his current look. Budd realizes the man is a fraud, with a fake hair dye already covering the man’s real hair. But, how to confront or capture the man? He doesn’t have the nerve nor the training, and reflecting back on the ad, recalls the reward was for information, not actual detainment. Mixing up a special dye concoction, he finishes the assignment and the man departs. Budd wastes no time in rushing to the authorities and imparting his knowledge, and, just what he did to the man’s hair. That’s the joke! He created a dye concoction that turned the man’s hair absolutely green! Word is rushed to all outlets. The police learn a man matching the description is holed-up on an outbound vessel, and has requested a hair stylist. They bust in and arrest a man with green hair. Budd attains the reward and, suddenly, a rich elitist pays his shop a visit desiring her hair to be turned green so that she can brag to be his first legal customer after the sensationalized arrest of the wanted man.
With A High Tension Lead by Roderic Graeme filling out the remaining allotted fiction pages, I’m direly hoping against all odds for a genuine mystery story. Unfortunately, I do not know where this story originates, as this certainly can’t be the first publication, can it? The son of famed Blackshirt creator Bruce Graeme (whose full name is actually Bruce Graham Montague Jeffries), Roderic Graeme Jeffries presents me with a solid crime story. A young man arrives home to find his aged uncle dead, stabbed in the back. He informs his sister (they both live with the deceased). The vast property and money was mostly willed to the pair, with the rest divvied up among other parties, etc. However, it’s learned the will had been destroyed the day prior. Bizarre… Motive? Was someone written out of the will? Was there an argument? Police swarm the scene, dust for prints, etc. An investigator makes an appearance and begins to interview the sister first, for about an hour. He then moves on to the brother, and asks all sorts of questions and makes unusual comments along the way. The story title concerns that the young man’s car had a problem and he drove it home despite this. The investigator thinks he a fool for doing so, and elaborates why. This brilliant mystery is solved in typical Hercule Poirot fashion by a seemingly obnoxious investigator, and I’m not going to reveal the how and why of it. Bizarrely enough, JRG is only credited with two short stories on FictionMags. When his father tired of authoring Blackshirt novels, the son took up the series, cementing his name in history with his father.
The Creasey Mystery Magazine concludes with a book review section credited to Mr. Creasey (and going so far as to recommend one under his alias of Jeremy York) and an article by Michael Underwood concerning the metropolitan police.