A Christmas Crime from Mary Fortune

Winter Tales season is just about here, so it’s time to wrap up Classic Crime for 2021. What better way to finish up than with a Christmas Crime?

I’ve had “Christmas Eve, Long Ago” on my Winter Tales list for several years, and have always skipped it, because it’s not a ghost story. This year, with this new crime series, I’ve finally got a chance to share it!

Father Christmas in Australia

It’s Christmas Eve, Australia; Edward Woolston and his wife Soo have just sold their property, and plan to move back to England. Full of the spirit of the holiday, Woolston invites a man he just met to stop by for a drink and a cigar to celebrate the Woolston’s last Christmas in Australia. But “goodwill towards all” isn’t a sentiment that everyone follows, even during this special season.

You can read “Christmas Eve, Long Ago” here.

This story first appeared in The Portland Guardian (Portland, Victoria, Australia, that is) on Christmas Day, 1879, under the byline “Waif Wander”. The author’s real name was Mary Fortune (1833-1911), an Irish-born Australian writer known primarily for her crime fiction; she was one of the earliest women detective writers in the world. Her series The Dectective’s Album, narrated by detective Mark Sinclair, ran for forty years in the Australian Journal, from 1868 to 1908. During her career, the name Waif Wander was so well known that both a racehorse and a greyhound were named in her honor!

Sadly, Ms. Fortune died ill and in obscurity in 1911. I think she has been somewhat rediscovered, at least in Australia, and I do plan to check out some of her other crime and detective fiction for the Classic Crime series. But in the meantime, enjoy this Christmas tale!


Part of the Classic Crime Series.

Featured Image: Christmas in Australia, Frederick Grosse, engraver (1865). Source: State Library Victoria.
Father Christmas in Australia, from Illustrated Australian News, Christmas 1882. Source: State Library Victoria.

Classic Crime: Talma Gordon

Today: the second Lizzie Borden-inspired crime tale, and of the earliest (possibly the first) published mysteries by a black author. “Talma Gordon” appeared in the October 1900 issue of Colored American Magazine, an early literary and cultural journal for African-American readers. The author of “Talma Gordon,” Pauline Hopkins, was also the magazine’s editor, and one of its most profilic contributors.

Pauline Hopkins
Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins (1859-1930). Source: coloredamerican.org

I wrote about Pauline Hopkins for my Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic series, so I’ll quote what I said about “Talma Gordon” there:

Lovely golden-haired Talma Gordon is accused of the grisly murder of her wealthy father Jonathan Gordon, her stepmother, and her infant half-brother. During the investigation it comes out that Talma did not get along with her stepmother, that her father had forbidden Talma’s marriage to struggling artist Edward Turner — and that Gordon had been planning to leave the bulk of his wealth to his son, with only a small annuity to each of the two daughters of his first wife. Talma is acquitted legally, but not necessarily in the court of public opinion. What really happened?

You can read “Talma Gordon” here.

If you’ve read Hopkins’ fiction before, you’ll recognize the themes in “Talma Gordon.” On the plus side, it’s a crisp and engaging crime tale, and if there had been an American equivalent of The Strand Magazine at the time, “Talma Gordon” would have been right at home. On the other hand, I do have to give it a point off for a Deux ex machina ending, and some aspects of the story haven’t aged well—because some of the cultural attitudes of the time are, thankfully, no longer acceptable.

All in all, if you’re looking for a unique take on the Lizzie Borden story, as well as an interesting piece of literary and African-American history, do check out “Talma Gordon.” I hope you enjoy it!

Classic Crime: The Long Arm

Today’s Classic Crime is one I’ve shared before, but it’s a story I really like, by an author I admire. “The Long Arm,” by Mary Wilkins Freeman, is the first of two women-authored murder mysteries I plan to present that were probably inspired by the infamous Lizzie Borden case.

Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman
Mary Wilkins Freeman Source: Wikimedia

Sarah Fairbanks is an unmarried schoolteacher who’s been engaged to her beau for five years. But for some reason, her father disapproves of the relationship. Sarah argues loudly with him about her fiancé one night when she is home for summer vacation. The next morning, she finds her father in his bed — murdered. Suspicion falls quickly on Sarah, and soon she’s arrested.

At the trial, Sarah is acquitted (like Lizzie Borden was), but she is shunned by the community, which still suspects her guilt. So to clear her own name, Sarah decides to investigate the murder herself. Can she find the murderer and prove her innocence?

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Vincent Price’s The Price of Fear

Lately, I’ve been folding laundry while listening to the Vincent Price radio drama The Price of Fear. The episodes are excellently written, and often based on a well-known horror short story.

Not only does Price narrarate each episode, but he’s been folded into the adaptations as a character. Well acted, and fun to listen to. And each episode is the perfect length for a load of laundry!

So far, I’ve listened to four episodes, and I’m really enjoying it.

You can find the episodes at the Internet Archive.

Here’s another link, which includes short descriptions of each episode, as well.

Enjoy!

Classic Crime: Blue Murder

Today’s Classic Crime tale is by Wilbur Daniel Steele, a once highly regarded, but now sadly forgotten American author. It’s a lovely, atmospheric tale of death and sibling rivalry, called “Blue Murder.”

Wilbur Daniel Steele
Wilbur Daniel Steele (1886-1970).
Source: Wikimedia.

The Bluedge brothers all live and work within the valley called Mill Crossing. The oldest, Jim, runs the farm; Frank runs the store, and Camden is a blacksmith. The three were once rivals for the woman who is now Jim’s wife, Blossom. As the story begins, Frank, Blossom, and Camden are waiting for Jim to come home with his latest purchase: a stud horse from Wyoming, with the ominous name of Blue Murder. The horse, apparently, came suspiciously cheap. Rumor says the horse lives up to his name. Could it be that the rumors are true?

“Blue Murder” was one of Tony Hillerman’s selections for his Best American Mystery Stories of the Century anthology, and it’s a great tale. I like how the complete solution doesn’t come until the very last line of the story.

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Dark Tales Sleuth Wrapped Up; The Contentious Life of Rosina Bulwer Lytton

I’ve wrapped up my current Dark Tales Sleuth case by posting the Table of Contents and Attributions for Volume Three of Evening Tales for the Winter. For this last volume, I mostly relied on the attribution information from ISFDB, and limited my research to tracking down original publication information, and more readable versions of the stories. However, one story earned a little more attention: “Nina Dalgarooki.”

Rosina Anne Doyle Bulwer Lytton née Wheeler Lady Lytton cropped
Rosina Bulwer Lytton (1802-1882).
Source: Wikimedia.

Unlike the other stories in this volume, “Nina Dalgarooki” is in fact supernatural; it’s a sort of satirical adult fairy tale about a beautiful Russian countess who wants to turn her beauty on and off: to “ration” it, for when good looks are truly needed. She finds a wizard to help her accomplish exactly that, and takes this power to Siberia, Paris, and London, with amusing results. It’s rather a fun piece!

ISFDB did not credit the story, but I found a snippet from The London Morning Post that attributed the tale to “Mrs. Lytton Bulwer,” the wife of the novelist known at the time as Edward Lytton Bulwer, and now known to us as Edward Bulwer-Lytton. You know: “It was a dark and stormy night” Bulwer-Lytton. The Post snippet said favorable things about “Nina Dalgarooki,” which is significant, in light of what happened afterwards… .

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Dark Tales Sleuth: Two-Thirds Done!

Somewhat over a year ago, I started the Dark Tales Sleuth blog to record my progress tracking down the sources of unattributed stories in the 1856 three volume anthology, Evening Tales for the Winter. I’ve been working on the project on and off since then, and yesterday I wrapped up what I could discover about Volume Two!

MadelynMack books
Image from Miss Madelyn Mack, Detective, by Hugh C. Weir (1914). Source: Internet Archive.

Of the last four stories in Volume Two, two were non-supernatural crime or adventure tales, one was arguably a ghost story, and the last a gothic demon tale. I’ve already featured Charles Macfarlane’s “Hungarian Robbers” in my Classic Crime series, so no more needs to be said about that.

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Classic Crime: Little Louise Roque

Today’s Classic Crime is a striking, disturbing story by Guy de Maupassant, one of the great masters of the short story form.

Guy de Maupassant (1850 - 1893)
Guy de Maupassant (1850 – 1893)
Source: Wikimedia

In “Little Louise Roque,” the body of a young village girl is found in the woods, violated and murdered. With a cool and disinterested eye, Maupassant describes the reactions, actions, and thought processes of the people affected: the girl’s mother, the postman who discovered the body, the mayor, the magistrate — and the murderer. It’s a dark and unsettling story, but also quite powerful. And memorable, too.

I first encountered this novelette in the Boris Karloff-edited collection, And the Darkness Falls, and it’s stayed with me since that reading. I’m sharing the same translation, from a collection of Maupassant translations credited to “Albert M.C. McMaster, A.E. Henderson, Mme. Quesada, and Others.” The story was first published in December 1885, and later became the title story of Maupassant’s eleventh collection, La petite Roque (1886).

You can read “Little Louise Roque” here.

I hope you find it as memorable as I did.


Part of the Classic Crime series.

Featured image: The Brook in the Woods by Worthington Whittredge (ca. 1885-86). Source: metmuseum.org

Classic Crime: The Man with Nine Lives

Today I’m presenting another series detective debut: the first Madelyn Mack story, by author, journalist, and screenwriter Hugh C. Weir. This is Ms. Mack’s second appearance on this blog; I first mentioned her in a post about the 1976 anthology The American Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.

Madelyn mack color
Source: UNCG Special Collections & University Archives, via the Internet Archive

Though the character herself makes fun of Sherlock Holmes, Weir clearly modeled Ms. Mack on The Great Detective. She has a sidekick and chronicler, the newspaperwoman Nora Noraker. She is eccentric: only dressing in solid white or solid black, brusque, and somewhat imperious. She loves music. She has an annoying tendency to hide her thought processes and the details of her investigation from Nora; and she when she’s stressed, she falls back to her addiction — the stimulant kola nuts.

The first time I encountered Madelyn Mack, I was rather surprised by how polite, even deferential, the police were to a young woman detective in 1914. But now it makes more sense: Ms. Mack is already famous for any number of high-profile cases by the time we readers meet her. It helps when your Watson is a journalist.

In “The Man with Nine Lives,” millionaire scholar Wendell Marsh writes to Ms. Mack for help after a series of attempts on his life. Unfortunately, by the time Madelyn and Nora arrive at Marsh’s estate, it’s too late. His servants have already found him, quite dead but apparently unwounded, in his wrecked and ransacked library, which of course was locked from the inside. Who did it? How did it? And why? Ms. Mack is on the case.

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Classic Crime: The Archduke’s Tea

Today’s classic crime story comes from journalist, Golden Age mystery author, and historical novelist Henry Christopher Bailey. Bailey is probably best remembered today for his long-running series of Reggie Fortune stories, featuring a surgeon with a talent for solving crime. In this post, I’m sharing Reggie Fortune’s debut case!

CallMrFortune

The Archduke’s Tea” opens with Reggie’s parents going on holiday, leaving Reggie to mind his father’s thriving medical practice. Almost immediately, Reggie is summoned to attend the Archduke Maurice, heir to the throne of Bohemia, who currently lives in the wealthy suburb where Dr. Fortune practices. The Archduke was stuck by a hit-and-run driver while on one of his habitual countryside rambles. While hurrying to his patient, Reggie comes across another hit-and-run victim lying by the side of the road–very dead. And this victim bears a striking bodily resemblance to the Archduke.

Suspicious. Also suspicious: Maurice’s brother Leopold–next in line for the throne–is visiting his brother. And it seems the Archduchess, who hates life in the royal Court, is a speed-demon who loves to race up and down the roads in her own “ferocious vehicle”…

Who struck the Archduke? Can Reggie catch the attacker before they strike again?

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