Murder and Sudden Death (Mitre Press – 1944)

Murder And Sudden Death

Murder and Sudden Death is a 32-page side-stapled booklet, published 1944 (per the British Library) by the Mitre Press. There are only 5 stories present, and not a single one of them was droll. As with all Mitre Press and Everybody’s Books story collections, most of the tales are reprints from earlier sources (newspapers, magazines, etc.)

The artwork appears to be rendered by “Douglas” — he also signed as “Doug” — is responsible for several other covers via this publisher. I know nothing about “Doug” (if anyone can supply information on this artist, I’d love to now).

This eye-catching lovely arrested my attention and cried “Read me!” As long-time readers of this blog know, I love British wartime-published fiction booklets.

  • All Details Supplied! – Michael Hervey (pages 1-7)
    A nondescript male boards a train and enlists the other riders to assist him in coming up with an original means to commit murder. He explains that he is a short story writer and has run out of fresh material. With the riders’ assistance, they eventually supply the author all the necessary details to commit the perfect crime. While we, the reader, is convinced that this is a standard story in which the “author” intends to simply murder his wife, we learn that he is actually a serial killer; the next day uses the details to generate 4 identical crimes!
  • The Eye Witness – Sydney Denham (pages 8-14)
    Philip awakens in a hospital with a case of amnesia to find the police interested in his whereabouts that night and if he can assist in identifying a killer. He is entirely stupefied by the encounter. The police are angered that he won’t cooperate. We are left to wonder if he is entirely innocent or if he is the murderer. The doctor releases the patient, and Philip departs, as “bait.” It’s not long before the murderer accosts him and demands to know if he coughed up the details to the police. Shocked by the sudden encounter, his memory immediately returns, just as the man intends to murder him!
  • Suspicion – Michael Hervey (pages 15-18)
    In this brilliant tale without-a-conclusion, the reader is adequately bated. A doctor is married to a much younger beauty who has been cheating on her husband. Answering a call, he departs and ends up at the residence of “the other man.” Said man is given to be dead-on-arrival, having consumed poison. The doctor returns home and informs her that Mr. Grant died. She feigns disinterest, and “they sat there silently, staring into each other’s eyes–wondering–wondering how much the other knew–“
  • Grounds for Appeal – Frank Bardon (pages 19-24)
    Mr. Justice Farncombe is an aging judge. A prisoner is brought in, someone who has recently moved to the locale, and, it appears, committed a crime. Much to the judge’s surprise, he recognizes in the middle-aged male the facial features of his long-missing son! Dedicated to the position, he can’t give his son any leeway, yet he feels partially responsible for how he may have ended up. Meanwhile, for a long time now, rumors locally in the judicial system had been circulating that the judge might not be on the top of his game and need retire. Working off this premise, he essentially creates a mistrial, thereby allowing his son’s lawyer to file grounds for appeal, and perhaps, a better planned case to save himself…
  • The Experiment – Michael Hervey (pages 25-32)
    Remarkably, this is actually more of a mad-scientist weird tale than a clear-cut murder story! A man commits suicide after his wife has a miscarriage; he awakens to find that his brain, which survived the demolishing of his body, has been successfully transferred into the body of a dog! Hervey creates the blunder of not explaining how the canine can possibly speak as a human, rather than via a series of barks or growls. That aside, it’s an amusing tale, and ends with the traditionally “mad” scientist playing with powers he can’t control, and the dog, in the closing lines, slowly, ever-so-slowly, moving in for the kill…
Murder and Sudden Death (Mitre Press – 1944)

2015 September 11: “The Man Who Tilted the Earth” by Justin Atholl

Exactly twenty years ago this Fall, I drove to Dearborn, Michigan, and visited Howard DeVore, at his request, to pick over his collection. Only non-American items were optioned, and I walked out with a small bundle, on my first of many visits.

One of the booklets that I left with (that day) was “The Man who Tilted the Earth” by Justin Atholl. It was published by the Mitre Press in 1943. The artwork is unsigned, but may be the work of Jeff Cook, if one were to believe the lower right skyscraper “windows” were actually him cleverly trying to disguise the signing of his name. The formation of a “J” and “e” are readily visible down there.

ATHOLL The Man Who Tilted The Earth 3          ATHOLL The Man Who Tilted The Earth 1

Do not adjust rub your eyes. You aren’t seeing double. You are also not seeing an enhanced image. The one on the left is (was) Howard’s copy. Not too shabby a copy, I think, once the second copy (on the right) arrived, with a tape repaired cover, etc.

Turns out the worn copy isn’t so worn. The left copy was printed on inferior paper stock, thus affecting the quality of the image. The right copy was printed on better paper and properly showcases the cover as it was meant to be.

So, which one is the true first edition? Interior copyright plates are identical, however, the rear cover and rear internal ad pages are entirely different. The copy on the right is the true first edition. It does not advertise other fiction pamphlets published whereas the faded copy does, indicating that it came along after other titles had been published.

The identity of Justin Atholl baffled me for over a decade until a breakthrough occurred. Back around 2005, I was reading one his short stories, when it occurred to me that I had read it somewhere else … in a 1930s horror anthology, under another name, that of Sidney Denham. How the correlation was never drawn prior, since they are recorded side-by-side in weird / horror anthologies, is bewildering, but, these things happen….

I have kept this a secret for the past decade, but since the news just broke this year via another researcher, no point in keeping it mum any longer. The reason I kept it a secret was that I wanted concrete evidence that Atholl had not been used by more than one author. His 1940s novels do not exercise a firm uniformity among themselves. Due to the recently offered-for-sale on ABE of a book noting that T. S. Denham authored “The Perfect Murder,” we now know he did author at least ONE of the 1940s novels, but one short story and one novel does not mean that he is the sole author behind Atholl.

However, not released yet is the fact that he also utilized the alias Arthur Armstrong. Whether this alias was exclusive to Denham is also unknown, but, it was also applied to the very same short story that first united Atholl with Denham in my decade-old discovery!

“The Man who Tilted the Earth” involves the intrepid investigations of reporter John Renvers into Dr. Surrocks claims of having constructed a super weapon. However, ahead of him is multi-millionaire villain Zachavitch (note that wartime villains often had foreign-sounding names). Zachavitch has already latched onto Surrocks and is privately funding his project, with the intent to obliterate a massive iron deposit in the Arctic, thereby causing the poles to shift and worthless lands he has purchased to suddenly become very valuable. Untold millions of people would perish in the explosion, cities will topple, sea level areas vanish under mountain of water, etc. Only Renvers, with the aid of Surrocks lovely (and intelligent) daughter, can possibly try to thwart the evil Zachavitch and the mentally warped Dr. Surrocks from accomplishing their maniacal goal … world domination.

2015 September 11: “The Man Who Tilted the Earth” by Justin Atholl

2015 August 31: “The Trackless Thing” by Justin Atholl

“The Trackless Thing” by Justin Atholl was published in 1943 by Everybody’s Books, a short-lived wartime outfit operated by the Kelly brothers. The cover art, unsigned, was used on a handful of titles by this publisher, and also by their partner, the Mitre Press.

ATHOLL The Trackless Thing 2

Superintendent Lakin must investigate the sudden is plagued by a series of crimes perpetuated by an unknown criminal, whom appears only interested in ransacking homes, tossing papers about, killing house pets (brutally), and apparently not stealing anything. At least nothing of worth.

Months go by, and the “Trackless Thing” has vanished, when suddenly, the town is struck by a pair of murders! And, in both cases, no visible means of forced entry is present.

Can Lakin solve the murders before another occurs, sending the town into a panicked tizzy? Who, or, what, is the Trackless Thing? Is it even human?

2015 August 31: “The Trackless Thing” by Justin Atholl