Arthur Vidro publishes the thrice-yearly journal Old-Time Detection, which explores mystery fiction of the past. He has special expertise in the works of Ellery Queen, and was one of the winners of EQMM’s 80th Anniversary Trivia Contest. Old-Time Detection will be reprinting a series of early author and editor interviews from EQMM beginning this summer. Be sure not to miss them if you have an interest in the history of our genre. For this post, Arthur discusses the work of a great but underappreciated author from mystery’s golden age: C. Daly King.—Janet Hutchings
If not for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, some wonderful detective fiction would never have been written.
Every story in the first issue of EQMM (Fall 1941) was a reprint. Great stories, but in the long run the magazine would need new stories from skilled practitioners.
Part of the solution was to bring lapsed mystery writers back into the field. One such writer was C. Daly King (1895-1963).
By the way, the “C” stood for Charles, which never appeared in his byline. To scholars, he is King or Daly King.
Fred Dannay (the half of the Ellery Queen team leading the then-new EQMM project) was a big fan of Daly King’s sole short-story volume, The Curious Mr. Tarrant. The original edition was then, and remains today, a very scarce book. It was published in 1935 by Collins in London.
Though Daly King was an American, the book was not published in America until a Dover trade paperback edition in 1977.
Simply to have Daly King’s book in the 1940s was an achievement.
Daly King’s short story collection—especially in dust jacket—simply couldn’t be found during the author’s lifetime. Even now, only one copy of the 1935 edition in dust jacket is known. It was inscribed in 1940 by the author: “For the ‘Queens’—may they continue to rescue us from the ever-recurring menaces of crime. C. Daly King” and resides in the Ellery Queen collection at the Humanities Research Center in the Austin branch of the University of Texas.
Eventually Queen would compile Queen’s Quorum, which lists and describes the greatest, or most important, short mystery fiction books of all time. The list spans 1845 to 1967 (from Edgar Allan Poe to Harry Kemelman) and lists 125 books. One of those books is The Curious Mr. Tarrant—which still had not been published in the USA.
Queen’s Quorum says the eight tales in The Curious Mr. Tarrant “are in many ways the most imaginative detective short stories of our time.”
The outstanding critic Anthony Boucher called Daly King “one of the most original, inventive, and underrated detective writers of the golden thirties. His novels of detection are elaborate and extraordinary.”
In the words of scholar Charles Shibuk, “King’s major strength is his ability to create plots. At his best, he can concoct puzzles that are as baffling and bizarre as those created by Queen and Carr, with all the deviousness of Christie.”
But by the time EQMM launched in 1941, Daly King had stopped writing fiction. His six detective novels were published from 1932 through 1940—and, agonizingly, two of those six novels (Obelists en Route and Careless Corpse) still have not been published in the United States.
EQMM got into the Daly King act in 1944, reprinting “The Episode of the Nail and the Requiem” in its May issue. This was not the story’s first reprinting. It had appeared in the 1936 anthology Tales of Detection, edited by Dorothy L. Sayers.
In its September 1944 issue, EQMM published a new Daly King mystery. The story’s introduction by Fred Dannay tells us, “We asked C. Daly King to write a brand-new Trevis Tarrant adventure-in-deduction especially for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.”
At the time, Daly King was conducting research at Yale University, where he was working toward his Ph.D in psychology (awarded to him in 1946) with an electromagnetic study of sleep. Despite his workload, King answered Queen’s call.
Daly King wrote “The Episode of the Little Girl Who Wasn’t There,” which Dannay retitled “Lost Star.” In the story, Tarrant solves a “sealed room” puzzle from 3,000 miles away—the only time Tarrant acted in the role of pure armchair detective.
Dannay ended his introduction to “Lost Star” by calling it “something of a tour de force—the kind of story that demands careful reading. So don’t bolt it; chew on it slowly. In many ways it’s an object lesson in point-counter-point ingenuity.”
The December 1946 EQMM gave us another new Tarrant story, “The Episode of the Sinister Inventor.” Its introduction mentions a John Dickson Carr project in progress, an anthology (which never got published) called The Ten Best Detective Novels, in which, in the words of Dannay, Carr “nominated a select circle of modern American murdermongers; he included S.S. Van Dine, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, and Anthony Abbot, and went on to say that ‘in the front rank, or very close to it, [are] Clayton Rawson and C. Daly King.’”
The November 1947 issue of EQMM reprinted a second tale from The Curious Mr. Tarrant, “The Episode of the Tangible Illusion.”
The next new Tarrant tale—though I don’t know when it was written—appeared in the February 1951 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which was co-edited by Anthony Boucher.
King’s fourth and final new Tarrant tale appeared in the April 1979 EQMM. Fred Dannay was still editing the magazine but he no longer routinely wrote lengthy introductions. But for this story, Dannay made an exception and gave us a full-page introduction, which concluded with:
“We think you will find a pleasant nostalgia in this authentic reminder of ‘the good old days’ —the days when private detectives were brilliant, if not omniscient, when cases were complex and ingenious, when the creators strove for originality of concept, when clues were subtle and legitimate but always fair to the reader, when the author and reader played a game of wits, the author trying to win by achieving a surprise solution—when ‘The Great Detectives’ of The Golden Age ‘solved the unsolvable’” . . .
That outstanding description by Dannay of Golden Age fiction has always thrilled me. Wish I could have lived through those days.
It took until 2003, but finally all twelve Trevis Tarrant stories were collected (by Crippen & Landru) and published as The Complete Curious Mr. Tarrant. Remember, the final four tales would never have been written but for the existence and encouragement of EQMM.
The book’s introduction, penned by Edward D. Hoch, began with Ed’s fantasy of publishing a series of mystery reprints devoted to locked rooms and impossible crimes. The three short story collections Ed Hoch would select: The Department of Queer Complaints by Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr), The Incredulity of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton, and The Curious Mr. Tarrant by C. Daly King.
Which Tarrant story is the best? Well, that’s a matter of opinion. Hoch wrote that “The Episode of the Nail and the Requiem” is considered by many critics as the best of the tales but added: “My own favorite from the original collection of bizarre wonders, by a narrow margin, is probably ‘The Episode of Torment IV,’ a baffling tale that parallels the mystery of the Mary Celeste on a smaller scale.”
Beyond his one story collection, Daly King wrote six mystery novels, all starring Michael Lord, affiliated with the New York City police. They are:
Obelists at Sea (1932)
Obelists en Route (1934)
Obelists Fly High (1935)
Careless Corpse (1937)
Arrogant Alibi (1939)
Bermuda Burial (1940)
In his novels, Daly King freely drew upon his wealth of knowledge in psychology, and probably had a ton of fun naming his characters. In Obelists at Sea, he gives us four psychologists, each with his own specialty in the field: Dr. Frank B. Hayvier (conditioning), Dr. Malcolm Plechs (inferiorities), Professor Knott Coe Mittle (middle grounding), and Dr. Love Rees Pons (dominance). Read those names aloud, slowly.
Obelists Fly High (his most acclaimed and most reprinted novel) gives us Dr. Cutter, a surgeon; Cutter’s seductive niece, Fonda Mann; her unfeminine sister Isa Mann; a pilot named “Happy” Lannings; and a clergyman named Reverend Manly Bellowes. Other Daly King stories brought us film star Gloria Glammeris and a psychiatrist named Usall Backenforth (sounds like a Marx Brothers movie character who should be played by Groucho).
Obelists en Route gives us a very efficient secretary called Entwerk. His full name is Xavier Lewis Entwerk. Which can be reduced to X.L. Entwerk. (Excellent work, get it?)
Each of Daly King’s three Obelists novels contains in the back of the book a Clue Finder, which indexes all the clues that could have pointed an alert reader to the correct solution. Now that’s fair play. His final three novels do not contain a Clue Finder.
Plus, Daly King wrote five books on psychology:
Beyond Behaviorism (1927)
Integrative Psychology (1931)
The Psychology Of Consciousness (1932)
The Oregean Vision (1951)
The States of Human Consciousness (1964)
To be precise, Daly King was one of three co-authors on Integrative Psychology. The other two were W.M. Marston and Elizabeth H. Marston. Mr. and Mrs. Marston are credited as having invented an early prototype of the lie detector.
Daly King’s friendship with the Marstons was such that he dedicated Obelists en Route to William Moulton Marston.
Anyone recognize that name? Yes, Daly King was a friend and colleague of the man who would go on to create perhaps the most famous female fictional character ever: Wonder Woman.