Much as I like crime novels that explore character and matters of social significance, one of my guilty pleasures continues to be those detective stories which are, in essence, games between the writer and the reader – to see if the reader can pick up the clues to solve the mystery in good time before the truth is revealed.
The ‘game’ aspects of the detective story were highlighted when Father Ronal Knox devised, with tongue in cheek, his ‘ten commandments’ for the genre, and when the Detection Club devised its first ‘ritual’ to be observed at the induction of new members. Books started to appear that did more than just include a ‘challenge to the reader’ in the style of Ellery Queen – they were wholly devoted to mystery puzzles. The Baffle Book is an example, and in the late 1930s, Dennis Wheatley and J.G. Links took things a stage further with their Crime Dossiers, starting with Murder off Miami.
I’ve written about the Crime Dossiers on my website, and I’m also interested in similar dossiers devised by those who followed in the footsteps of Wheatley and Links. Jamie Sturgeon recently supplied me with an example from 1950, Murder Meo to the Commissioner: The Carl Houston Case.
This dossier is written (or compiled) by Will Oursler and, though I haven’t yet studied it, I’ve done a bit of research on Oursler, whose work was unfamiliar to me. It turns out that he wrote a number of murder mysteries, along with various books about religion, a book about boy scouts, and a biography of the founder of Boys’ Town (who was famously portrayed on screen by Spencer Tracy).
The latter book was co-written with Will’s father, Fulton Oursler, and it turns out that Fulton also wrote about religion, and produced mysteries of his own, under the name Anthony Abbott. There are quite a few examples over the years of children following in their parents’ footsteps as mystery writers, but (although they evidently enjoyed considerable reputations in their day) the Ourslers were new names to me, though I had heard of Abbott, who I gather was fairly popular inhis day.
I shall report on Will’s crime dossier in due course…..