This week, for the Letter S, I thought I'd do something a little different. So here, from the annals of really bad crime fiction--books to avoid at all costs--I bring you Strange Murders at Greystokes by Elsie N. Wright. I could discover very little about Elsie on the interwebs, except that this is her only mystery (and a very good thing that is too). I picked this little gem *cough, cough* up last year at our local Red Cross Book sale. It was sitting there all lonely on the clearance table and I just had bring home this 25 cent mystery. But let me give you my full review from earlier this year:
"Oh, dear, dear, dearie me!" [Kate Griggs, housekeeper]
That just about sums it up. This is a train wreck kind of book. A deer in the headlights kind of book. A "it's just so awful, but I can't stop reading it because I've got to see if it gets any worse" kind of book. And it does. Elsie N. Wright was so busy stuffing Strange Murders at Greystones with every cliché and stock cardboard character that she could whip up that she didn't have room to logically complete scenes and provide ample explanations for inexplicable events.
You have the unpleasant lord of the manor who has been cruel to everyone and who winds up conveniently dead. Nobody really cares--especially not you, the reader. You have the worried, harried housekeeper. You have the weird butler who has just been dismissed from service shortly before the murder. [Maybe the butler did it!] You have the disgruntled gardener who looks furtively or malevolently or mirthlessly (or some other -ly sort of way) at everyone. You have the excitable French maid. You have the "coloured" cook who is suddenly hired to fill in for the excitable housekeeper who has to take to her bed because of the stress. A cook who says "Lawd's sakes" and swears that the "Debbil" is after them all. You have the daughter who has been sent away to school all her life up till now and who didn't really know her father--and she's so innocent and brave and naive and willing to stick up for her fiance (who the cops immediately nab for the murder). You have the (obviously innocent) fiance who had a huge ol' fight with the victim shortly before he (the victim) is found dead. You have the Inspector who is initially advertised as the force's best and brightest, but who shows himself to be a big dumb cop who'd rather beat a confession out of the first obvious suspect than get down to business and actually try to solve the crime.
Oh, and don't forget the mad scientist and the unknown relative and the secret passage(s). And as an extra special surprise--the pretty gory (for the time period) grand finale. Whew. Then, of course, there are the mysteries of why Inspector Kelley would hand over his convenient extra gun to the man he's considered his A number one suspect. And why he only keeps one bullet in it. And the huge gaps in between the second murder and Kelley being interested in it. Not that the corpse is important being one of his fellow officers and all. And Polly (the daughter) being too scared to go to bed that first night and deciding to wait up for her aunt--and immediately falling asleep as soon as she sits down. [Personally, with a murder and someone laughing maniacally in my house, I'd be too darn keyed up to sleep--for weeks, probably.] And Kelley swearing to bring a squad of police officers and the doctor after another murderous attempt....and dawdling for what seems days (but in reality hours). And the number of mysterious people who appear and disappear. It's more than a body should have to stand (cue harried housekeeper).
I couldn't resist this book when I found it on the almost free clearance table at the Red Cross Book Sale last fall. In this case, "clearance" must have been code for "nobody in their right mind would pay a decent price for this" OR "if you only knew...we'd have to pay YOU to take it home with you." I even got an inkling of what was in store for me when I looked good ol' Elsie N. Wright up on the interwebs once I had the thing in my possession. William F Deeck reviewed this book in August 2010 over at Mystery*File. He told me how bad it was. John at Pretty Sinister Books put in a word to the wise when I bragged about my Red Cross haul. Silly me, I thought perhaps it might be so bad, that it would be good. At the very least humorous because it was so bad. Yeah--no.
But you know what I absolutely love about this book? At the end of the book--supposing you hang in there and read all the way to the end--there is this blurb:
Did you enjoy reading "Strange Murders at Greystones?" It is only the first of twelve First Editions that we have scheduled for 1931 Publication! Each book will be an "eye-opener" to fiction readers--so--we suggest you get your copy of each new book as it is placed on sale....You can now go to your neighborhood store and buy your copy of a BRAND NEW BOOK, WRITTEN BY A VERY WELL KNOWN AUTHOR FOR 25 cents. ['cuz everybody has heard of Elsie N Wright, right? And, coincidentally--that happens to be how much I paid for this off of the clearance table.]
In the following pages you will find a few paragraphs, picked at random, form this very excellent story, which held every member of our Editorial Department interested from beginning to end.
Get Your Copy of "Dancing Desire" on March First. [Darn. I wish I'd known. I would have scoured the Red Cross Sale to see if I could have found that one too!] Sarcastic? Who me?
Unrated. I can't even think of an appropriate rating for this.....They say that everyone has at least one book in them. What they don't say is that not all of them should be published.
Really Bad Lines (descriptions/metaphors/what-have-yous):
Nervously her bony hands twisted her stiffly-starched apron, while the brown frightened eyes in her wrinkled face blinked with anxiety as she darted, quick, bird-like glances all about her. [About Kate Griggs--on the very first page--and nothing has really happened yet.]
The housekeeper screamed, a loud piercing scream that rose above the wailing of the dogs, above the harsh voice of the gardener--a scream to wake the dead--but Thatcher Graham did not stir. (p. 12)
They stood there, the four of them, in a tableau of horror, no one daring to go forward to the man who had been their master, and help him, if help were possible. (p. 13)
"The Commissioner thought that seeing that Mr. Graham is so important, and this would have such a great effect on stocks going down and all, that it would be best to put someone on this case who'd clear it up right away." (Inspector Kelley about self--the epitome of the humble detective, p. 16)
He became a member of the plainclothes staff. Here the sledding was harder, but by dint of sheer ability and persistence, he forged his way ahead, and was now Inspector Kelley. [p. 17; "sledding"--really?]
"Well, Doc, he's dead, ain't he?" [Kelley, p. 17]
It came from Pete the gardener, who sat far back in the shadows, his piercing eyes glaring malevolently from out of his dark face. [p. 26]
"Oh, all right, all right, girlie, go ahead. But remember, one false move, and we shoot from the hip." [Kelley, p. 34]
Suddenly a laugh, a bloodcurdling laugh, a laugh that ended in a shriek, echoed through the house. [p. 50]
There was a whirring sound and the clock on the mantel struck twelve. "Twelve!" shuddered Polly. "Anything can happen at twelve! Everything happens at twelve!--" [p. 54]
Polly screamed, but no sound came from her throat. [p. 55]
From the corner of the room two piercing green eyes were regarding her, fixedly, unblinkingly. Polly could not move--her limbs were paralyzed. She could not cry out--her throat belonged to someone else. She could only sit there, horror-stricken, while those eyes drew closer, closer, through the pitchy blackness of the room. [p. 55]
"Lord knows, you need the newspapers to convict a man." [Kelley, p. 66; Never mind evidence.]
There was more to this Russian than he could fathom. In Kelley's mind the man was either awfully smart or awfully stupid. Either he knew an awful lot about this case or he knew nothing. [p. 87; odds are...Kelley's right]
"You see, a good alibi is bad, but no alibi at all is worse." [Kelly, p. 107]
And a whole lot more. If I'd wanted to, I probably could have given you bits from every page.
Favorite Quotes (for reals):
It's his business to sound convincing, Polly, dear, and the less he has to say, the more convincingly he'll say it. (Aunt Margaret, p. 61)
I never argue with a woman, especially when she's made up her mind." [Kelley, p. 156; smartest thing he said in the whole book :-)]
****Update! Did a little search on the interwebs for Dancing Desire. It's a "ballet romance." Only description I could find: Dancer makes good, gets three boyfriends. How could I resist that? Will have to keep my eyes peeled. Of course, if I really wanted it, I could order it up online--for anything from $4 to $65. I think I'll hold out for 25 cents. ;-)