Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, November 23, 2012

FORGOTTEN BOOK: WORLD'S GREAT MYSTERY STORIES

World's Great Mystery Stories edited by Will Cuppy (1943)


Will Cuppy (1884-1949) was an American humorist, essayist, and critic, best known for his book The Decline and Fall of Practically Everyone.  Beginning in 1943 he edited three anthologies of mystery stories, of which this was the first.  (The others were World's Great Detective Stories [1943] and Murder Without Tears [1946].)

As couple of things should be made clear.  "World's" in the title does not refer to a truly global selection; indeed, all the stories came from England and America only.  The book was published as a Tower Book Edition from The World Publishing Company in Cleveland, hence the "World's" in the title.  Also, the word "mystery" does not necessarily refer to detection.  For Cuppy's purposes, a mystery is just that -- it may include detection, but it may also cover suspense, crime, or the outre.

I have no idea how long I have had this book and I have no recollection of buying it.  (Does that qualify as a mystery?  I guess it does.)   Tower Books specialized in cheap editions (this one originally sold for 49 cents) and the flimsy paper has browned and faded and chipped, and the book gives off that sweet/sour acidy scent that comes from almost seventy years of existence. 

There were not that many mystery anthologies back then.  Ellery Queen had published only three anthologies, the Mystery Writers of America would not begin publishing their anthologies for another three years, Carolyn Wells had published her American Mystery Stories a few years earlier, there were (I believe) a couple of attempts to produce a best mystery stories of the year anthology, both Pocket and Avon had put out a few original anthologies, and there were the large and anonymously-edited doorstopper anthologies from (most often) England.   Basically, though, mystery stories were available either in their original magazine appearances or in single-author story collections.  For an anthologist in 1942 or 1943, the pickings were pretty good.

What was good pickings back then has often become fairly familiar today.  Most of the stories in this anthology are readily available -- many for free on the internet.  There are still some, however, that remain fresh in original execution, if not in theme.  Francis Brett Young's psychic tale of love, "A Message to Laura," is touching even though it's ending is telegraphed for the modern reader.  And Irvin S. Cobb gives us a murder trial where the chief witness for the prosecution is a parrot.

Here's the run-down of the twenty stories in the book.  How many are you already read, and how many can you find on the web within a minute?

  • William Faulkner, A Rose for Emily
  • Agatha Christie, The Adventure of the Clapham Cook
  • Francis Brettt Young, A Message to Laura
  • Dorothy L. Sayers, Suspicion
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, The Fiend of the Cooperage
  • Edith Wharton, Miss Mary Pask
  • Charles Dickens, The Signal-Man
  • Arthur Machen, The Cosy Room
  • Irvin S. Cobb, A Bird in the Hand
  • Algernon Blackwood, The Listener
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Short Trip Home
  • Edgar Wallace, The Magic of Fear
  • H. G. Wells, The Door in the Wall
  • W. W. Jacobs, The Interruption
  • Wilkie Collins, The Dream Woman
  • Ambrose Bierce, The Boarded Window
  • Katherine Fullerton Gerould, Vain Oblations
  • Edgar Allan Poe, The Masque of the Red Death
  • William Mudford, The Iron Shroud
  • Stephen Leacock, Who do You Think Did It? or, The Mixed-Up Murder Mystery

A great line-up of authors.  A good cross-section of the mystery genre back then.  Recommended to those who are not already familiar with most of the contents.

4 comments:

  1. Nice of Cuppy to tip his hat to colleague Leacock, as well (the token Canadian among the North Americans?). I'm pretty sure I haven't read six, including the Leacock. Actually tired from the exertion of redundifying Patti, so shant go seeking the rest yet...but, my goodness, all the acid paper we try to curate...

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    1. You, as well as Patti, deserve the rest, Todd.

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  2. And consider the various abuses of "mystery" in some of our favored, or once-favored, publications, FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES and HOUSE OF MYSTERY being only the ones which come immediately to mind, along with the slightly more justified STARTLING MYSTERY STORIES (with its initial focus on psychic investigation fiction).

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    1. I think there's more fantasy and weird in this one than there is crime and detection, Todd. The book does give a pretty good cross-section of the many nuances of "mystery" at the time.

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