Over the past year and half, I’ve found my reading habits changing a bit. I still read the ghost stories and weird tales that I love, but lately, I’ve been turning more to short stories of the mystery and macabre — my genre of choice before discovering classic supernatural fiction.
So many times I’ve come across a story that I would love to share, either as a Winter Tale or otherwise, but didn’t, because it had no supernatural component. Now I’ve decided, “why not?” — and so I’m starting a new series, Classic Crime, to share public domain, non-supernatural, crime and mystery short stories that I really like. But don’t worry, I’ll still be reading and sharing ghost stories, too!
My introductory classic crime story: The Avenging Phonograph, by E.R. Punshon.
Sounds like a ghost story, doesn’t it? That’s why it’s been on my Winter Tales candidate list for several years. I always decide against it, and this is a better way to share it, so….
The Mayor has a secret; a dark, dark secret that could destroy him if he told it. But, like King Midas’s barber, he’s having a hard time keeping it in. What is he going to do?
You can read “The Avenging Phonograph” here, and find out.
E. R. Punshon (1872-1956) is best known today for his mystery novels from the Golden Age of crime fiction, in particular the Bobby Owen series that ran from 1933 to 1956. He was a member of The Detection Club, the British mystery writer society that included such prominent members as Agatha Christie, G.K Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, and many others. I confess, I’ve never read any of Punshon’s novels, but if you are interested in Golden Age crime fiction, there’s an entire corner of the Internet that’s got you covered. Here’s one discussion of Punshon’s work, from the Golden Age of Detection Wiki.
Punshon wrote several novels and short stories, in a variety of genres, prior to the 1930s; “The Avenging Phonograph” first appeared in the periodical Black and White, January 12, 1907. I’ve occasionally come across early Punshon crime or supernatural short stories in anthologies, but for the most part, this part of his work is little known. To be honest, what I’ve read has been uneven; “The Avenging Phonograph” was the most memorable. I like the dark humor. The characterization is more sketched-in than well-drawn, but still makes an impression. It’s worth reading!
And if you like what you read, and are curious to find more:
- Wikisource has a list of selected Punshon works that are public domain in the US, with some links (The Bittermeads Mystery is also available at Project Gutenberg).
- Dean Street Press has republished several of Punshon’s novels.
- Ramble House has a collection of selected Punshon short stories, some of which are US public domain, and some which are not.
- Ramble House additionally has a number of Punshon novels, mostly Bobby Owen, I think. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the list of books by author.
Image from an ad for the Edison Phonograph, The Scrap Book, Christmas 1909. Source: Internet Archive