Tuesday 10 November 2009

The Ourslers

Much as I like crime novels that explore character and matters of social significance, one of my guilty pleasures continues to be those detective stories which are, in essence, games between the writer and the reader – to see if the reader can pick up the clues to solve the mystery in good time before the truth is revealed.

The ‘game’ aspects of the detective story were highlighted when Father Ronal Knox devised, with tongue in cheek, his ‘ten commandments’ for the genre, and when the Detection Club devised its first ‘ritual’ to be observed at the induction of new members. Books started to appear that did more than just include a ‘challenge to the reader’ in the style of Ellery Queen – they were wholly devoted to mystery puzzles. The Baffle Book is an example, and in the late 1930s, Dennis Wheatley and J.G. Links took things a stage further with their Crime Dossiers, starting with Murder off Miami.

I’ve written about the Crime Dossiers on my website, and I’m also interested in similar dossiers devised by those who followed in the footsteps of Wheatley and Links. Jamie Sturgeon recently supplied me with an example from 1950, Murder Meo to the Commissioner: The Carl Houston Case.

This dossier is written (or compiled) by Will Oursler and, though I haven’t yet studied it, I’ve done a bit of research on Oursler, whose work was unfamiliar to me. It turns out that he wrote a number of murder mysteries, along with various books about religion, a book about boy scouts, and a biography of the founder of Boys’ Town (who was famously portrayed on screen by Spencer Tracy).

The latter book was co-written with Will’s father, Fulton Oursler, and it turns out that Fulton also wrote about religion, and produced mysteries of his own, under the name Anthony Abbott. There are quite a few examples over the years of children following in their parents’ footsteps as mystery writers, but (although they evidently enjoyed considerable reputations in their day) the Ourslers were new names to me, though I had heard of Abbott, who I gather was fairly popular inhis day.

I shall report on Will’s crime dossier in due course…..


Anonymous said...

Martin - Like you, I'm particularly fond of mysteries that challenge the reader to "match wits" with the author. They really are some of my favorite kinds of mysteries, even when they don't explore anything of great social significance. I look forward to your writeup of the Crime Dossiers.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I love trying to figure out the puzzle! But then, I'm a crossword-lover, too. Not that I don't enjoy reading in-depth character exploration or social commentary...but to me, it's all about the puzzle the mystery poses.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Margot - the Wheatley dossiers are covered in an article on the website, but there are several more that I haven't studied yet.

Martin Edwards said...

Elizabeth, I was interested to learn today that Lionel Davidson was also a crossword compiler. I knew Colin Dexter and Robert Barnard were, but I didn't know about Lionel. It's an addictive habit - though I'm a wannabe solver rather than a compiler.

Bob Schneider said...

Will Oursler (along with Margaret Scott?) wrote two books featuring female detective agency owner Gale Gallagher. Similar to what Ellery Queen did, Oursler published the books as by Gale Gallagher. Her Acme Investigating Bureau specialized in skip-tracing. I have not read the stories but they sound interesting:
I FOUND HIM DEAD (1947) and CHORD IN CRIMSON (1949) according to Michele B. Slung in CRIME ON HER MIND.

Martin Edwards said...

Bob, many thanks for this info. Collaborative writing does intrigue me and will be the subject of a future post.