Friday, May 16, 2014

FFB: BEST OF THE BEST DETECTIVE STORIES: Fifteen Years of Prize Stories edited by David C. Cooke (Dutton 1960)--1950s CF Week

David C. Cooke revived the U.S. annual series of best-of-the-years in short crime fiction (after a long interregnum after Carolyn Wells's two successive volumes in the 1930s) with E. P. Dutton in 1946...and in 1960, offered this extra volume as a culling from the first fifteen years of the series, including the most distinctive stories from each volume surveying the years 1945-59.  So, one prominent editor's core sampling of the latter '40s and '50s in the US, with allowances made not solely for personal taste but also balance (and while it's less likely he was too worried about this particularly for this retrospective, the representation of the range of magazines featuring crime fiction in this period is pretty good). 

The selection, of course, also tells us a bit about Cooke's predilections...

Contents from WorldCat:
Best of the best detective stories.
Author: David C Cooke
Publisher: New York, Dutton, 1960. 279 p.

Body in the barn / Margaret Manners -- from Argosy, 1945
The perfectionist / Margaret St. Clair -- Mystery Book, 1946

Revenge / Samuel Blas -- Collier's, 1947
Being a murderer myself / Arthur Williams -- Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, 1948
Blackmail / Allan Vaughan Elston -- The American Magazine, 1949
A boy's will / Q. Patrick -- EQMM, 1950
The kiss-off / John P. Foran -- Male Magazine, 1951
For value received / Richard Deming -- EQMM, 1952
The killer is loose / John and Ward Hawkins -- The Saturday Evening Post, 1953
Chinese puzzle / Richard Marsten -- Manhunt Magazine, 1954
First offense / Evan Hunter -- Manhunt, 1955
Three wives too many / Kenneth Fearing -- Michael Shayne Mystery Magazine, 1956
The day of the execution / Henry Slesar -- Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, 1957
Over there--darkness / William O'Farrell -- Sleuth, 1958
Bottle of death / Gilbert Ralston -- SEP, 1959

Two stories, and the only two of the fifteen, by women lead off the book, the Manners from the slick-paper format, no-longer pulp (and not yet quite a men's magazine) Argosy, the St. Clair from the first version of Mystery Book, a digest-sized attempt to give EQMM a run for the literate crime-fiction buff's patronage; the title folded rather quickly and was purchased or revived for a shortlived if rather handsome pulp magazine from the Thrilling Group.  The Blas story, his first, appeared in the general-interest "slick" magazine Collier's and was famously adapted for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents: television series. The Williams, apparently published under a pseudonym which was not used again, was rather widely anthologized (it is one of the two stories I'd read before in later anthologies, the other being the Deming); first of three EQMM stories. The Elston is from a Collier's stablemate, the more "family-oriented" The American Magazine, which was nonetheless a solid market for un-cozy crime fiction.  The Foran story is a good example of hardboiled caper fiction, first published in the men's sweat magazine Male, one of the several published by Martin Goodman (of Archie Comics notoriety...more for his business practices than for the comics' content) and featuring on staff the likes of Bruce Jay Friedman and Mario Puzo; for whatever reason, Male was mined a few times by Cooke over the years while no stories I've seen so far were taken from any of its competitors, which would soon include Argosy. The Hawkinses' story is the first of two from the more durable Collier's competitor, the SatEvePost; the next two, the two examples from hardboiled 1950s trendsetter Manhunt,  are both by the same writer, born Salvatore Lombino and best known in crime fiction as Ed McBain, legally by then Evan Hunter. The fine Fearing story is from the early issues of what would soon tweak its title to Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine; founded, as was Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, in 1956. AHMM would soon be joined, briefly, by a stablemate magazine project co-sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America, Sleuth.

Cooke can be seen here as drawn to stories which take commonly-employed formula plots and tweak them (usually) cleverly; and while there are a number of gulled fool men in the stories assembled here, the women come off a bit worse, on balance.  "Body in the Barn" and "Over There--Darkness" both deal with manipulative old women who won't let the facts get in the way of their intrigues in the lives of others; "Blackmail" outlines a pretty elaborate double-bottomed scheme on the part of younger, no less self-involved woman. Other women characters are too often simply condescended to in ways we as readers are supposed to endorse, though happily there are counter-examples, as well; the Foran story turns out to be memorable in this regard, if peripherally, while at least the villainess at the heart of the Fearing story can be seen to be behaving rationally and with motive, if insufficient motive drawn from rather evil premises, in dealing with her polygynous husband (shades of Charles Kurault); Cooke compares this story favorably to The Big Clock, and he might not be wrong. Collected here are the two best Evan Hunter short stories I've read so far, while still being essentially the weakest in the volume; instead of the usual glaring stupidity at the heart of, or at least offered as an important detail in, every other Hunter fiction I've read, the "Marsten" story is slight and excessively flip about the murder of a young woman, while "First Offense" is a not-bad but utterly unsurprising story which reads for all the world like a rendering in prose of a typical script from the CBS Radio series The Lineup (it made a jump to television after several seasons, but I haven't seen the latter version, nor the film spin-off Don Siegel wonders if the Hunter story was pitched to the series before or after publication in Manhunt).  The degree to which "Q. Patrick" wishes to avoid stating that his protagonist is a gay man, while portraying a self-indulgent "nelly" stereotype to a fault (and making of him as anti-empathic a twit as anyone else in the book) is almost comic in and of itself when read today; nonetheless, QP knows what he's about here. The wit and deftness employed by St. Clair, Henry Slesar, and Elston help elevate their stories, even if the Slesar suffers a bit by being too much like the Blas; the attention to fine quotidian detail also enlivens the Elston,  the Deming, "The Killer is Loose" and "Bottle of Death" as well as "The Kiss-Off."  I think subsequent series editors Anthony Boucher, Allen J. Hubin, and Edward Hoch did a better job in their volumes (the two from Brett Halliday...well, I've read only his first so far, and it was hobbled by no stories from EQMM at all, for reasons I can only guess at), but this gives a good sense of what some of the better work in short form was like in this decade and a half. 

Hubin, editing the series at the point it celebrated 25 years (New York, Dutton, 1971), consciously chose other stories to represent the first fifteen as well as subsequent ten years:

The man who lost his head, by B. Fischer.--
The wine glass, by A. A. Milne.--
The adventure of the President's half disme, by E. Queen.--
Murder in one scene, by Q. Patrick.--
The million-to-one chance, by R. Vickers.--
The orderly world of Mr. Appleby, by S. Ellin.--
Total recall, by J. Helvick.--
The dusty drawer, by H. Muheim.--
The attacker, by M. Wolson.--
The choice, by R. Deming.--
The conscience of the cop, by W. Fay.--
The last spin, by E. Hunter.--
Secret recipe, by C. Mergendahl.--
The day the children vanished, by H. Pentecost.--
Murder method, by T. Powell.--
For all the rude people, by J. Ritchie.--
My sister Annabelle, by De Forbes.--
The cattywampus, by B. Deal.--
Routine investigation, by R. Twohy.--
The locked house, by S. Barr.--
The yellow brick road, by G. Williams.--
The road to Damascus, by M. Gilbert.--
The sooey pill, by E. Slater.--
The lord of Central Park, by A. Davidson.--
A quarter century of the best: a checklist (p. 371-380)

--I haven't received my copy of this one yet, but judging by the stories I have read, I suspect the Hubin retrospective to be better, on balance, as well.

For more of the 1950s Crime Fiction week selections, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

July 1949

June 1951
May, 1947

And the actual issue featuring the St. Clair 
story,  May, 1946
Argosy for January, 1945
(Magazine cover images courtesy of Galactic Central.)

First of two issues, 1958; features the O'Farrell story. 


George said...

I have a copy of Hubin's BEST OF THE BEST and I hope to review it for FFB someday. The Cooke collection looks good, too. I'll have to track down a copy.

Rick Robinson said...

So many stories, story collections, whuf. I can't imagine getting to them all. I may have to settle for your fine discussions of same. Thanks, Todd.

Todd Mason said...

George, my copy of the Hubin retro just arrived I'm likely to deal with it sooner rather than later, too...

Thanks, Richard...there's no way to get to everything, so we get to what ever looks most intriguing, one way or another...I'm certainly behind on Wilson Tucker's fiction...

Richard Moore said...

I have 13 of the Cooke collections missing the second one and ending with the 14th annual which was published in 1959. I wonder if his Best of the Best published in 1960 replaced the 15th Annual or if there is a separate 15th Annual? The first Halliday is 16th Annual.

The excuse Halliday gave in his introduction was that Ellery Queen was now publishing two anthologies each year from EQMM and so the best stories from the mag were already taken.

It's a stupid, flimsy excuse for a petty decision.

Todd Mason said...

Yes...and I suspect that it wasn't Bret Halliday making that call so much as Frederic Dannay. Was the same true of the second Halliday, I wonder (since I don't currently have access to that one).

Todd Mason said...

And for whatever reason, there appears to have been no "standard" annual volume of BEST DETECTIVE STORIES in 1960.

Todd Mason said...

The contents of the second Halliday volume do suggest a lack of EQMM items as well, and a heavy representation of AHMM, MSMM, THE SAINT MAGAZINE and probably the fading MANHUNT (along with the PLAYBOYs and SEPs):

Bruno Fischer / Service call --
Herbert E. Kastle / Game --
Jack Ritchie / For all the rude people --
Robert Bloch / A home away from home --
Stephen Marlowe / Drum beat --
Ross MacDonald / Midnight blue --
Davis Dresser / I'm tough --
Douglas Farr / For love of $10,000,000 --
Michael Zuroy / How much to kill? --
Retribution --
Theodore Sturgeon / How to kill your aunty --
Craig Rice / Hard sell --
Richard Deming / Second honeymoon --
Paul M. Fitzsimmons / The night before Christmas --
Steve O'Connell / Put together a man --
Henry Slesar / I'm better than you --
Miriam Allen Deford / A death in the family --
Mack reynolds / Tale from Tangier.

Richard Moore said...

Thanks for the information about there being no 1960 Best. One less to look for.

Not sure what evidence you have to lay the absence of EQMM stories in both Halliday edited volumes on Dannay rather than Halliday.

EQMM stories were included by Cooke including his final the 14th annual and in Boucher's first the 18th. Only Halliday's 16th and 17th excluded EQMM.

There was no rationale given in 17 for the exclusion, which included 4 from Mike Shayne MM and 5 from Ed McBain's Mystery Book.

Todd Mason said...

Well...I'm less aware of capricious and petty decision-making on the part of Dresser/Halliday than I am on the part of Nathan/Dannay/Queen. And Halliday, after all, was bound up with MSMM, in a way that Cooke, and for that matter Boucher and Hubin and Hoch, were not with any other magazine (Hubin at THE ARMCHAIR DETECTIVE wouldn't be seen as "competition"). Meanwhile, this from the Halliday intro to his first volume definitely sounds to me like his attempt to be diplomatic about Dannay not allowing first North American reprint rights go for EQMM stories:

"I realize that aficionados are going to raise their eyebrows and
exclaim loudly at the non-appearance of any stories from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The explanation is very simple.

"Ellery Queen is now publishing two collections each year
from Ms own magazine. These two volumes pretty well take up
the bulk of the original fiction published by EQMM, and they certainly call for the best that appeared in those pages."

(quoted at

Richard Moore said...

Wow, I am very familiar with Halliday's published reason for excluding EQMM stories and while you read it as Brett being diplomatic I read it as a feeble excuse for excluding stories from a rival's magazine. I found Dannay to be a most generous editor and person. And if Dannay was so petty about Halliday, why did he reprint at least one Halliday story in EQMM after the launch of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine? Plus, you may be unaware of Halliday/Dresser pettiness but based on what I've heard I wouldn't hang a halo on him.

Todd Mason said...

Good to know. I've not heard too much about Halliday, but have heard of capricious and self-serving behavior on Dannay's part, and not merely rarely. Yet another something (the specifics of the Halliday volumes EQMM exclusion) it would be nice to have Clear Documentation about.

Richard Moore said...

I should have mentioned that the Halliday story that the self-serving Dannay reprinted during the early run of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine was a Mike Shayne story. Todd, as far as I can see, you got nothing.

Todd Mason said...

It's not my personal experience, so I'd have to ask the people who mentioned it to me before I could cite the examples.

Richard Moore said...

First of all, Todd, I regret the tone of my last remark. Secondly, I doubt the stories would carry much weight with me on the current specific. But I think it is something that can be researched.

There are extensive collections of Dannay's (and EQMM) records and correspondence at universities. A friend of mine occasionally researches the one most likely to have anything referencing Halliday/Dannay and the Year's Best decisions of 1961 or so.

My friend has checked something out for me before and this may interest him. If he agrees to look and finds anything, I would let you know. I would think that if Halliday made the request and was refused, there would be some correspondence. Also, there might be correspondence from writers reflecting the exclusion from the annual Best.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks. That would be interesting (I have at least one other query to pursue of a similar nature...why Street and Smith kept ASTOUNDING when they folded all their other fiction magazines, a matter that most sf folks seem curiously incurious if it was, of course, a given that ASTOUNDING was a title they'd want to keep--I suspect they simply wanted to hang onto editor John W. Campbell to have him edit a technology magazine they hoped to make a success of, which failed quickly after launch a few years later.) All told, I'd have to suggest that it makes more surface sense that EQMM was withholding than that Halliday was boycotting (a bit like the O. HENRY folks boycotting THE PARIS REVIEW, though of course they did tend for some decades to ignore F&SF and sometimes EQMM as well), but I'd be happy to be shown I'm mistaken.

Todd Mason said...

Certainly first NA reprint rights questions involving the BEST OF the various sf/fantasy magazines have kept various stories out of Judith Merril's and other fantasticated annuals of similar vintage. Or perhaps these tended to be dense publisher's editors' concerns.

Todd Mason said...

Barry Malzberg is perhaps the most vocal of the folks who have discussed Frederic Dannay with me, with a very complex view of his strengths and weaknesses. Something he has just written:

Dannay loved the mystery and really wanted the field to prosper and increase but he wanted it to do so only under his aegis and in terms of his vision of what it should be and a lot of writers got scrapped or seriously hobbled by his policies. Dannay got two letters complaining about my "Agony Column" (12/71 EQMM) and with one tiny exception, a Woolrich pastiche dedicated to Cornell, I never sold EQMM non-collaboratively again. Dannay, as I wrote someone, maybe you, was the kind of editor who could not write a letter of rejection without a subtext insisting how wonderful and special and compassionate was Fred Dannay.

Richard Moore said...

I am a bit surprised after my suggestion that we check the Dannay/EQMM files in universities for the reality of what happened with the Best of volumes edited by Brett Halliday, that you have continued on this negative track. After all, based upon what I have seen of the comprehensive nature of the files, it should answer the all the key questions.

Dannay was an editor for 3 to 4 decades (if you count his pre-EQMM days) and I have no doubt you can assemble all sorts of negatives. Dannay will have rejected hundreds of manuscripts.

As a long time reader of EQMM and someone who has a complete run, I would not be surprised that some rejections were born of timidity and excessive concern about negative reactions from from readers.

That you can find writers upset at their treatment by Dannay is not a surprise. I love Barry Malzberg and have since his first SF appearances. But the mainstay of EQMM were older subscribers and I can understand if Dannay was gunshy. I might not agree with it but I can understand it.

Does that indicate a pettiness of the sort that would deny Dresser/Halliday the right to reprint for fear of competition from MSMM? Not at all.

If Dannay had that fear why did he reprint a Mike Shayne story in EQMM when Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine was getting established?

I have mentioned this several times in this exchange but you carefully avoid addressing this key question. Why would he? It is much more an indicator than examples of his capriciousness or timidness of Dannay's long history of an editor.

My thought is that once we consult the extensive records, the truth will be known and perhaps you will be right.

I don't think that whatever the records show that will change the fact that Dannay was one of the most important editors in the history of the mystery/detection field.

I admit I am influenced by his kindness to me, a complete unknown, both in written exchanges and in person. He rejected some of my stories but he bought my first and his suggestions resulted in my best story. In a crowded gathering that was there to honor him, he went out of his way to introduce me to Lee Wright who bought my first novel.

As folks back home used to say 'I am small potatoes and few to the hill' but I don't forget and there is a world of other writers who have benefited from the same patience and guidence.

As I said before, let's wait until we see what the records indicate.

Richard Moore

Todd Mason said...

Well, Richard, I was providing an example of what I'd been told about Dannay. Other writers have mentioned other things, and Barry has mentioned some matters involving Dannay's interaction with other writers that he was not comfortable in sharing publicly on behalf of those other writers.

And if the archives your friend explores turn up anything relevant, I will be very interested indeed, thanks. But as to why I suggested that Dannay might be the instigator of a EQMM absence in a Halliday and Halliday-only set of BEST DETECTIVE was a question that you did indeed challenge me about. I've thus provided some of the reason for that.

I'm glad that he was a supportive and encouraging editor in his interactions with you, and I suspect he was with many others he dealt with as well. This doesn't mean that he wasn't at times capricious or perhaps a bit too content in his status as the most widely respected of crime-fiction magazine editors. You're correct--the possibility of a bit of impulsive decision-making on Dannay's part doesn't change his position as a writer, editor or scholar of crime fiction...and yet you continue to take umbrage at the suggestion that he might well not always have made every choice in the best interests of the work at hand, something you seem willing to suggest about Dresser, quite possibly with at least as much testimony in support of that as I've received about Dannay. For all we know at the moment, some idiot at Dutton or Davis Publications might've decided the EQ ANTHOLOGY series was a conflict of interest and suggested/demanded that EQMM stories should be omitted, though that would be a pretty remarkable decision as well.

I didn't realize you had so much invested in the notion of him running a single Shayne story presumably sometime around 1956 or shortly thereafter, the year MSMM was founded...that the story was in inventory might've been reason enough to run it, and who knows when it was purchased. And, indeed, your friend might find correspondence about that as well, or how things might've gone badly between Dresser and Dannay since.

But your friend might not find any such correspondence, and your tone throughout this discussion has been that I'm simply spitting at Dannay, when in fact I'm trying to take as close to accurate view as possible. On what basis do you suggest that Dresser boycotted EQMM for his volumes? For it was you, in this comments string, who introduced that interpretation of this comment in the 1961 volume.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Fascinating to look at how the gender politics played out - thanks Todd. Can;t say I've read alot of the actual stories but am at least conversant with most of the writer's work one way or another!

Richard Moore said...

I'm sorry but nothing you have presented is persuasive or even on point about the exclusion of EQ stories from Halliday's two anthologies. My basis for believing it was Dresser's decision is his own published statement that it was his decision. As neither Cooke before him or the various editors after him excluded EQMM stories, it seemed a reasonable interpretation.

That over the course of time Dannay angered some writers with his decisions and that some of those decisions were arbitrary and is not surprising. That's called being an editor. I have heard other writers who felt blacklisted from EQ for one reason or another. Avallone was one but then he felt blacklisted by everyone. What drove him crazy was that EQ had bought a story but kept it unpublished for years. It finally ran and as I recall, it was really bad.

He had some annoying traits as an editor, such as he rarely saw a title he wouldn't change. Every issue contains stories I find unreadable. Not sure where you get that I am endorsing every action he made as editor. As the letters between the two cousins indicate, he definitely had a temper.

The Shayne story was published in 1957. I mentioned it only because the justification for Dannay excluding EQ stories was to hurt a rival magazine and it seemed to me that he would not have published a Shayne story if that were true. Even if in his inventory, it would have stayed there. Many stories did for years. Looking for a negative rationale, it is possible that Dannay published the Shayne story to tweak MSMM.

I am confident that based on what I have seen on other topics there will be evidence in the files. I am also going to reach out to others who are more expert on EQ and Dannay.

Finally, Todd, after much thought and more time on this increasingly tedious subject, I can say you may be right. I will be satisfied with knowing the answer regardless of what that proves to be.

Todd Mason said...

Dresser's statement is vague, and doesn't actually say who made the decision to exclude or disallow reprint of EQMM stories. You didn't quite demand I tell you why I suspect that Dannay might've been the person making that decision, and I think I've done so.

But I agree anything to do with figuring out this relatively minor if odd matter awaits any further evidence.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, is not quite a danger of reading any work of the past, so much as an interesting insight on the Geist...particularly those items which challenge tradition, always good to be reminded that there is a reason certain things seem "quaint" (to be kind) now...our predecessors included people ready to suggest things were not quite as conventional outlook might insist.