Friday's Forgotten Books is a weekly meme hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, Pattinase. This week it's the Forgotten Coffee Table Book getting center stage and here's my entry:
GREAT DETECTIVES Seven Original Investigations by Julian Symons
Illustrated by Tom Adams
Harry N. Abrams Publishers (1981)
This is an unique sort of book for two reasons:
The fabulous illustrations by Tom Adams of 7 of the best detectives ever to have walked the pages of some of the best mysteries ever written: Sherlock Holmes (created by Arthur Conan Doyle), Jane Marple (created by Agatha Christie), Nero Wolfe (created by Rex Stout), Hercule Poirot (created by Agatha Christie), Philip Marlowe (created by Raymond Chandler), Ellery Queen(created by Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee) and Inspector Maigret (created by Georges Simenon). (Don't have a scanner or I'd have included some of them.)
Each detective gets a story created by Edgar winner author and critic Julian Symons. The stories are a mixture of biography - what ever happened to? - or a fleshing out of background details, as in the Jane Marple story or, for instance, in the Philip Marlowe pages, we get an interview with the man Symons imagines was the model for Chandler's Marlowe.
My favorite two stories are the 'Marlowe' interview, ABOUT THE BIRTH OF PHILIP MARLOWE and the story explaining the 'end' or the disappearance of Nero Wolfe, ARCHIE GOODWIN REMEMBERS. Both wonderfully conceived and executed bits of chutzpah by Symons. I still can't read the Nero Wolfe story without getting a bit teary-eyed. But, I suppose it's as good an ending for Wolfe as any I could think of.
1) HOW A HERMIT WAS DISTURBED IN HIS RETIREMENT
Which is, as you can probably guess, is a story of Sherlock Holmes, ancient beekeeper and how he is cajoled into taking one last case by a young woman whose last name is...hmmm...
'A trivial little case, with some points of interest, but hardly one for Watson,' Sherlock Holmes said to himself. He put the letter into the thin file containing the other relevant details. The young woman had impressed him by her strength of character as well as by her youthful innocence, and he indexed the case under 'M'. He could not quite read the surname: was it perhaps Mantle or Maple...?
I wonder too if this isn't the story that influenced Laurie R. King to write her splendid Mary Russell series beginning with THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE?
2) ABOUT MISS MARPLE AND ST. MARY MEAD
The story begins thus: My name is Leonard Clement, and I was for many years the Vicar of St. Mary Mead. It was with some hesitation that I acceded to Mr. Symon's suggestion that I should write something about the village and Miss Marple, but in the end my dear wife Griselda convinced me.
If you're familiar with the Jane Marple stories by Agatha Christie, then you know these two characters - first introduced in MURDER AT THE VICARAGE - and are especially fond of them. Who better to tell the tale of Miss Marple in St. Mary Mead? St Mary Mead is a perfectly ordinary pleasant English country village. Except of course, that it has had more than its share of crime.
3) IN WHICH ARCHIE GOODWIN REMEMBERS
Some of you may know of my devotion to Nero Wolfe in the stories by Rex Stout. Of course I would want Wolfe and Archie to live forever and in my heart and my imagination, they do. But this story by Symons detailing the 'end' of Wolfe is so well thought out and so in keeping with Wolfe's character that I couldn't help but admire it even if it brought a tear or two when I first read it. There is a gorgeously moody illustration by Tom Adams of Archie and Wolfe, each riding donkeys across a mountainous ridge in Yugoslavia.
Julian Symons interviews Archie Goodwin and gets the true facts - or - as much truth as Archie will reveal. In his early thirties, from all the descriptions I had read, Archie Goodwin was attractive rather than handsome, a big, muscular six-footer with the light-coloured hair that is almost red, and regular features saved from being conventionally good-looking by the short broad-ridged nose which gave him an air of independence and slight cockiness. That had been a while ago, but although the hair was grey now he still gave the impression of physical power kept nicely under control to be expected of Nero Wolfe's close associate. The handshake was firm, the grey eyes gave me a searching, but not unfriendly look. There wasn't much those eyes failed to notice, and they took in now my rapid inspection of the room. There were things I'd read about in twenty books, but never seen. As I walked over to the big globe standing in one corner, he nodded approvingly.
'That's the three-foot globe that stood in one corner of the office, right.'
'It was a two-foot globe in the early days, or so I read.'
He said with a touch of sharpness, 'We didn't get around to measuring it. What else?'
The story Archie later tells Symons is one in which Wolfe is again called back to his homeland of Montenegro, this time never to return.
4) WHICH EXPOUNDS THE ELLERY QUEENS MYSTERY
In which Julian Symons calls on Frederic Dannay '...who is without doubt the greatest expert on all matters connected with Ellery Queen.' (He should be since he was one of the creators and writers of the many stories.)
In the seven biographical sketches of this volume no figure has appeared so baffling as Ellery Queen. It is not that information about him is lacking, although there are some surprising gaps in the family history, but rather that what we learn is sometimes so contradictory that the biographer has to abandon exposition for interpretation - interpretation which leads to an astonishing conclusion.
Of course you have to read the rest of Symon's story to find out what 'astonishing conclusion' he arrived at while researching Ellery Queen and his father, the Inspector. I like his final hypothesis as it mirrors the whole double writing, double detective song and dance that was Ellery Queen.
5) ABOUT MAIGRET AND THE STOLEN PAPERS
From the window of the flat in the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir Maigret could see that it was a fine morning....Meanwhile he looked at the paper in front of him, the sheets in the wastepaper basket, and sighed.
His wife called: 'What is it?'
A good smell came from the kitchen. 'What's for lunch?'
'Morue a la creme.'
One of his favorites! But still, he sighed again. Madame Maigret appeared in the doorway. She was wearing a cotton housecoat he particularly liked, one printed all over with little flowers. 'What's the matter?'
'It's that devil Simenon. He's got things all wrong again.'
Read the story to see what mistake Simenon has made this time. Also see who Maigret met while working on a case that happened to involve the Belgian police in the capture of a notorious criminal. Hint: The man had a habit of turning his head to one side as he spoke and mentioned something about his '...little grey cells.'
6) THE LIFE OF HERCULE POIROT Based on the Notes of Captain Arthur Hastings
Note: I visited Captain Hastings at the Dorset seaside resort of Lyme Regis. He had been living there in retirement for some time, first in a service apartment and latterly at the Bideawhile Nursing Home, where I saw him. We took several walks along the sea front, the Captain in blazer and short peg-top trousers, and the warmth with which he was greeted showed that he was held locally in much affection.
The purpose of my visit was to look at the materials the Captain had gathered for a biography of his friend Hercule Poirot. Although his health remained good, he felt that completion of a biographical memoir would be beyond him, and so passed on what he had written and gathered together to me, with the request that I should make what I could of them.
This story contains some wonderful illustrations made to appear as newspaper or book pages and other assorted ephemera: materials collected by Hastings, some photos, a drawing of the Belgian police in uniform, Poirot's apartment, the cover of The Police News, cards from Poirot's favorite restaurant La Veille Grandmere and others. The odds and ends of a very interesting life with some romantic speculation about the Countess Vera Rossakoff.
7) ABOUT THE BIRTH OF PHILIP MARLOWE
The door was pebbled glass, the paint was black, and the wording said '...Investigations,' but the name wasn't right. When I turned the handle, though, there he was sitting behind the desk.
'You're Philip Marlowe.'
'Marlowe isn't the name on the door. You're one of those guys who never quite made reading, thought all the letters were good for was alphabet soup.' He saw that I was taken aback, laughed and put out his hand. 'Okay, let's not say yes or no about my being Marlowe, but just bat the idea around a little. What's it to you anyway?'
I told him about the bookseller who had sold me some Raymond Chandler letters that mentioned the name that was on the door, how I had checked up and discovered that he was a private detective, with a reputation for being honest and highly independent like Marlowe, that he was unmarried, had an office in the right area, was the right age. Everything I had found out suggested that he was the original of Marlowe.
The story reveals how a detective met a writer named Chandler and how a classic series was born.This is a very entertaining book. I'd say, if you can find a copy, buy it or borrow it and read it.