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!
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.
Today’s Classic Crime is a striking, disturbing story by Guy de Maupassant, one of the great masters of the short story form.
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).
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.
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.
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!
“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?
If you enjoyed my previous classic crime tale “The Murder Hole,” then here’s another sinister inn story for you! This one comes from the ultra prolific Scottish historical novelist and travel writer Charles Macfarlane.
Among the many, many tomes that Macfarlane produced, one of the more fun ones is The Lives and Exploits of Banditti and Robbers in All Parts of the World, which first appeared in two volumes in 1833. This particular tale tells the adventure of a Hungarian horse dealer, returning home from a successful and profitable business trip to Vienna. Just past the Hungarian border, he stops off for the night at a respectable-looking inn.
The host then inquired what business had carried him to Vienna. He told them he had been there to sell some of the best horses that were ever taken to that market. When he heard this, the host cast a glance at one of the men of the family who seemed to be his son, which the dealer scarcely observed then, but which he had reason to recall afterwards.
A lonely road runs through a desolate stretch of Scottish moor. This part of the country has a bad reputation for murder and highway robbery; almost everyone who used to live here has fled. There’s only one family left, an old lady and her two sons. When night falls, travelers caught on the moor take shelter at their cottage, because it’s much safer there than to sleep out in the open, all things considered. Right?
The Murder Hole is a gruesome little tale of the “scary stories around the campfire” variety: somewhat predictable, but fun to read or to hear. You can find it various places around the web, usually unattributed and subtitled something like “A Scottish Legend.”
The tale itself may well be a local legend, but this specific version has an author, and she should be credited: Catherine Sinclair (1800-1864), a philanthropist and author of children’s literature. She also wrote a few volumes of legends and folktales, and apparently was the first to identify Sir Walter Scott as the author of the previously anonymous Waverly novels.
“The Murder Hole” first appeared in the February 1829 issue of Blackwood’s Magazine. Sinclair later republished it as part of her 1853 collection London Homes.
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!
The first piece is a short excerpt from the beginning of the biography of Cimon, an Athenian general and statesman, in Plutarch’s Parallel Lives (circa 75 ACE). It’s got nothing to do with Cimon, but rather relates the legend behind a haunted and abandoned bath house in the city of Chaeronea. Vengeful murder, punishment and more murder permeate this bloody little tale.
The second piece is a much longer account, taken from Book VIII of The Golden Ass, by Lucius Apuleius. The Golden Ass, an early precursor to the picaresque novel, tells of the narrator’s misadventures after he is accidentally transformed into an ass. The novel is full of digressions and side tales, which other characters tell in the narrator’s hearing.
“Thrasyllus and Charite” relates the fate of a rich young woman, Charite, who had been held captive by robbers, along with the narrator. She (and the narrator) are eventually rescued by her fiance, Tlepolemus. Alas for poor Charite and Tlepolemus, they don’t live happily ever after, as we learn in this tale of betrayal, ghostly visitations and brutal revenge.
I found this surprisingly–but delightfully–blood-thirsty tale at the Internet Archive, in the Christmas 1909 issue of a magazine called The Scrap Book. Of course, I dug in, hoping for some good winter tales. And “Spukenswald” is fun! It’s a Grand Guignol romp that’s got all the fixings: a haunted castle, a magic talisman, a mysterious lady, a young man on a quest, wizards, revenants, robbers, even cannibals! But it’s also not terribly wintry, so I decided to share it it now, rather than waiting until December.
Although The Scrap Book presents the story as an anonymous “Ghost Story Translated from the German,” it’s actually an American-authored pastiche/spoof of the German gothic literature so popular in the early 19th century. Plus, it has some interesting connections to that great author of American gothic, Edgar Allan Poe.