Blind Drifts – Clyde Clason (1937)

I went on a bit of a Clyde Clason buying spree after enjoying The Man from Tibet.  Admittedly, it might have been a b-grade mystery, but it had enough unique touches to keep my interest throughout, and opened with a stellar story-within-a-story that completely won me over.  I finally return to Clason with his third novel, which was published a year before The Man from Tibet.  I picked this one because it takes place in a Colorado gold mine.  A mine is always a fun setting for a story, and something that you don’t see too often in the Golden Age; The Owner Lies Dead being the exception that comes to mind, although hopefully someone posts a few more examples.

It was the Colorado setting that struck me too.  I’m biased in my preference for mysteries set in England, in part because 99% of US mysteries from the Golden Age seem to be set in New York City, and there are a set of tropes that you seem to get with The Big Apple.  Anthony Boucher is an obvious exception, with his output taking place in the San Francisco bay area, and I suppose that Ellery Queen stretched his legs and headed out to Hollywood.  US settings outside of that are few and far between (I realize you’ll correct me).  There’s late-era John Dickson Carr exploring the south – although those books were well past his prime – and I supposed Hugh Holman set his stories in South Carolina.  But Colorado?  I can’t really think of another Golden Age set in Colorado.  Yeah, you could interpret The Owner Lies Dead as taking place in Genessee right outside of Denver, but I had the sense while reading it that it was supposed to take place somewhere on the east coast.

To be fair to Clyde Clason, he did set his Theocritus Lucius Westborough novels in Chicago, Illinois, which is unique in its own right (although somewhat of an alternate NYC… please don’t kill me).  Blind Drifts finds our oddly named amateur detective traveling out to Denver, Colorado to look into matters regarding stock in a gold mine that he recently inherited.  Westborough finds himself torn between two competing sides vying for control of the mine.  We soon learn that another stakeholder has recently disappeared and foul play is suspected.

The possible victim was seen during the day in Denver, apparently drove to his home 70 miles away in Colorado Springs, was last witnessed in our fictional mining town with an unknown passenger, and finally his abandoned car was discovered the next morning in Pueblo (which interestingly was apparently the second largest city in Colorado at the time this was written).  Enter a timetable problem that will play out for the remainder of the book, with the question of how each of the possible suspects could have been present at key locations located hours apart within a particular time window.

We’re quite a ways in before the story arrives at the actual mine. Clason dabbles around a bit with various facts regarding life in a mining town, and it’s a long while before we eventually get two murders.  Blind Drifts never drags as a story, but man does Clason take his sweet time covering every last minute of each day.  I stayed engaged throughout, but I get the sense the page count could have been lopped in half if he was more straight to the point.

I’m sure someone will describe Blind Drifts as an impossible crime, but it doesn’t meet the criteria in my book.  A character gets shot in the head before the eyes of several witnesses, but not only did no one see who fired the shot, no gun can be found at the scene.  Except, this all takes place in a section of the mine with a lot of rubble on the floor, and even though we’re told that the search is thorough, we’re also told it’s nearly hopeless.  Hard to explain, yes, but not impossible.

The solution to the whole thing isn’t much to write home about either.  There’s a nice long explanation, but it’s one of the ones where you’re like “ok, that explains that” as opposed to being shocked by some major revelation.  The solution to the “impossible” shooting is pretty bland and nowhere near as clever as I was anticipating.

So, yeah, it’s hard to be enthusiastic about Blind Drifts as far as the mystery goes.  The book stands out for the mining aspect and all of the interesting details you learn along the way.  But who am I kidding, we read these things for the mystery, right, and I guess with that in mind, even though you’d moderately enjoy the read, you can probably just skip this one.

18 thoughts on “Blind Drifts – Clyde Clason (1937)”

  1. I must confess that I read crime novels, even Golden Age and “humdrum” ones, more for the atmosphere, setting, characters, and prose than the plot per se, often missing or losing track of the clues presented. 🙂

    So a mining mystery, hot-diggety, right up my alley. In fact, I recently finished reading Rodman W. Paul’s classic study Mining Frontiers of thd Faf West.

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    1. Hopefully I tipped you off to something that works for you. I’ve definitely read my share of mysteries where the journey was better the better part. You might check out some David Duncan or Theodore Roscoe.

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      1. Oh yes, I bought a copy of Roscoe’s To Live and Die in Dixie on your recommendation, although I haven’t read it yet, and I’m aware of the Duncan reviews as well.

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  2. I believe that Elizabeth Dean wrote MURDER A MILE HIGH, a Rue Morgue Press book which was set in Colorado. I really enjoyed it.

    Chris Wallace

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  3. Re: other mine-set stories – Keikichi Osaka wrote “The Demon in the Mine,” a very good and atmospheric one which was collected in LRI’s THE GINZA GHOST a few years back.

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  4. I read three Clasons — the one with the mushrooms, one with a room of masks, and another which I remember only tress from — and their lack of impact on my memory tells you all you need to know about what I made of him…! Sorry this was a bit of a dud, hopefully things pick up soon.

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      1. I appear to have reviewed no Clason on my blog despite definitely reading those books since starting it. Which speaks volumes, I guess.

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  5. I have read a couple of Clyde B Clason books, but not for a while as they are not the cheapest to come by. I think I thought they were alright but they never left me desperate to rush out and buy the rest.

    Also you have mail!

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    1. I managed to find a handful of Clason novels for around $6, which definitely contributed to my buying spree after The Man from Tibet. But yes, other than that lucky find they aren’t exactly cheap.

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  6. I have four Clasons – Dragon’s Cave, Murder Gone Minoan, Poison Jasmine, and Green Shiver (the latter in its Popular Library edition!). I’ll probably get Man from Tibet soon, too, since you among other people rate it so highly among Clason’s oeuvre. You’ve definitely roused my interest in this one, especially the mine setting. I should probably get through Westborough’s more memorable tales first, though.

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  7. You might try The Silver Tombstone by Frank Gruber or The Case of the Drowsy Mosquito by Erle Stanley Gardner for two other mining mysteries.

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