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.”
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.
I wrote a post about Wilbur Daniel Steele a couple of years ago, after reading his eerie, almost ghost-story like (but completely nonsupernatural) crime tale, “Out of Exile.” I absolutely loved the way he wrote, how well he conveyed atmosphere and natural beauty; how deftly and sympathetically he sketched out his characters and his fictional fishing community of Urkey Island. Given that I’d never heard of him before, it was a surprise to learn how popular and well regarded he was in the early twentieth century.
Between 1915 and 1933, ten of his stories appeared in the annual Best [American] Short Stories of the Year series, and eleven of his stories were O. Henry prize selections. That’s up there with John Cheever (ten O. Henry stories), Alice Munro (twelve) and William Faulkner (twelve). After 1933 he basically disappeared, except for a brief revival around the 1950s, when Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and similar periodicals reprinted some of his earlier crime related fiction. Then nothing.
After a lot of research, I compiled a collection of some of his stories that were public domain at the time, and that appealed to my taste. These include some supernatural-tinged tales, crime stories, and stories about New England fisherfolk. You can find it as PDF here, and as EPUB here. I’ve also shared this collection with the American Literature website.
“Blue Murder” (1925) wasn’t public domain when I compiled my collection, but now it is, and I’m happy to finally share it with you.
If you like it, too, and you are looking for more crime tales by Wilbur Daniel Steele, I would suggest (from my collection):
- The lovely “Out of Exile” (Best Short Stories of the Year selection, 1920)
- “Luck” (1919 – no awards, but I’ve always liked it)
- “Footfalls” (O. Henry Prize selection, 1920)
Part of the Classic Crime series.
Featured Image: The Stud Farm, Théodore Géricault (after). Source: Wikimedia