Friday, 4 July 2014

Forgotten Book - Death in the Dark

Death in the Dark by Stacey Bishop is today's Forgotten Book. I've been hunting for it for a good many years - I first heard of it when I read Julian Symons' wonderful history of the genre, Bloody Murder, a book which interested me in a great many books and writers of which I'd never previously heard (in part because their books weren't in my local library). The book was published in 1930, but is extremely rare. I'm glad I've finally managed to read it, though to buy a copy would be beyond my budget - in fact, so obscure is it, that I've never seen a copy for sale.

As Symons indicated, it's an extraordinary book, written by an extraordinary man. Stacey Bishop was a pseudonym for Georges Antheil, a controversial American avant-garde composer who was a great fan of Stravinsky, and also a good friend of Ezra Pound and T.S.Eliot. Stravinsky and Pound get generous mentions in the story, while the book's UK edition was published by Faber, a company with which Eliot was very closely connected.

The book begins in dazzling fashion, setting out a summary of what is to happen (an impossible crime is included) in a tantalising way that is almost impossible to resist .In classic fashion, we're also provided with a plan of the apartment in which the first shooting (in a series of them) takes place. The story is told by Stacey Bishop, who acts as a Dr Watson to the brilliant sleuth Stephan Bayard.

There are, I am sure, a lot of in-jokes in this story, most of which were lost on me. Bishop has a great deal to say about modern music, and I'm sure he was paying off old scores. There's a touch of S.S. Van Dine and Ellery Queen in the complexity of the problem, but the small and thinly characterised circle of suspects didn't appeal to me very much. I found the whole thing fascinating but highly eccentric and the interest of this book lies in its oddity, its rarity and the remarkable nature of the author rather than in the excellence of the plot. I'm delighted I found it, though, and I'm very grateful to the kind person who made it possible. Symons mentioned a rumour that there was a second Stacey Bishop book, but there's no evidence to suggest that Antheil ever returned to the genre. One thing is for sure, if he had written another crime story, it could not have been much stranger than this one.


J F Norris said...

Wow! This really is a rare book. How lucky to have been loaned a copy. I've been very eager to read this for a long time. The only known copy currently in print is in Italian! The Italian crime fiction press is much better at getting the very scarce and obscure books back into print.

Antheil wrote a lot of film scores for the movies and many of them for for classic crime movies. His best known is probably for the Humphrey Bogart/Gloria Grahame noir movie In a Lonely Place. He also did the music for House by the River, Knock on Any Door and the very odd time travel/murder mystery Repeat Performance.

Martin Edwards said...

John, as ever, very interesting comment. I didn't know about In a Lonely Place,and I don't know anything about Repeat Performance. Must look that one up...