It’s been about two and a half years since I read Death’s Old Sweet Song by Jonathan Stagge. Since that time I’ve read four novels by the writing collective most commonly known as Patrick Quentin, with the result being somewhat of a mixed bag. Each book had its own moments in the sun, but I’d only enthusiastically recommend Death and The Maiden and Cottage Sinister. It’s those two books though that have driven a hunger to find similarly satisfying reads by the authors. It’s a difficult hunger to satisfy though, as aside from the Peter Duluth series published under the name of Patrick Quentin, you’re pretty lucky to pay less than $80 a book for any of the rest of the library.
So count me lucky that I managed to find a cheap copy of Death, My Darling Daughters. It was published the year before Death’s Old Sweet Song, which puts it late in the run of nine Dr Westlake mysteries released under the name of Jonathan Stagge between 1936 and 1949.
I’ve been wanting to get back to Q Patrick ever since reading Cottage Sinister earlier this year. The author collective known as Patrick Quentin, Jonathan Stagge, and Q Patrick has been a bit of a mixed bag for me, but Cottage Sinister provided a marvelous British village mystery that felt like it could have come from the pen of Agatha Christie during her better years. The problem is that these Q Patrick books are very hard to find, much less for the price range that I’m willing to pay. When I spotted a Popular Library edition of Death for Dear Clara for cheap, I snatched it up.
The story concerns Clara Van Heuten, a respected fixture of New York high society. She runs a literary advice agency, reviewing manuscripts on the behalf of fledgling authors. The story kicks off with a day in the office, and throughout the day, Clara receives seven visitors. Her “gargoyle faced” secretary (who will later turn out to be pretty once some rouge is applied) provides witness to the comings and goings, which is a fortunate piece of evidence, since Clara ends the day slumped over her desk with a knife buried in her back. The obvious solution is that the final visitor committed the crime, but it turns out that there’s a little known rear entrance to Clara’s office. Anyone could have snuck in and committed the murder.
Man, when I came across a Popular Library paperback edition of Cottage Sinister by Q Patrick for a mere eight bucks… straight to the top of the pile. This is the first published novel by the writing collective known as Q Patrick, Patrick Quentin, and Jonathan Stagge (in this case, the early incarnation made up of Richard Webb and Martha Kelley). I’ve read one book published under each name up to now, and it was only 1939’s Q Patrick offering of Death and the Maiden that actually left me spinning. Now I rewind eight years to the first Q Patrick title – Cottage Sinister.
I’ll admit it, I was a bit thrown at first. All of the Patrick Quentin (as the collective is most commonly known) novels I’ve read up to this point have been set in the US and are thoroughly what I’d consider US Golden Age mysteries. The UK cottage setting of Cottage Sinister caught me off guard, and there was a clumsiness to the presentation of English village mystery tropes. Had these people ever actually even been to England?
My most recent experience with the writing collective most commonly known as Patrick Quentin was with Death and the Maiden.What felt like breezy fair while I read it ended up packing a major punch in the end, which scores points in my book.Since that time I’ve built up my Quentin collection a bit, mostly in the Peter Duluth series books that the authors seem to be best known for.
I somehow got it into my mind that Puzzle for Players is one of the better regarded Duluth novels, and so I decided to start there.It was somewhat of a questionable choice, as I’ve gotten the sense that the Duluth series has quite a bit of continuity between books, and I haven’t yet read the first entry – Puzzle for Fools.Did I make a mistake?Perhaps – I could quickly tell that at least five characters were potential hold overs from that first novel, which I suppose would rule them out as being killers in the original mystery.Don’t worry – I’m not big at listing character names in my posts anyway, so no risk of spoilers here.
This is my second novel by the author collective most commonly known as Patrick Quentin.My previous read (Death’s Old Sweet Song) was the GAD equivalent of a mindless 70s slasher flick – enjoyable for what it is, but a bit shallow throughout.I’m intrigued by Quentin nonetheless.There’s a respectably large library of books for me to track down and I can’t help but search for that elusive “next great author”.
Death and the Maiden caught my attention as one of the more consistently recommended works by Quentin.It’s a bit tricky to track down the author’s library for cheap, but I somehow managed to get my hands on this 1944 hard cover edition for a steal.
Because death’s old sweet song, keeps Georgia on my mind…
Ok, well, it doesn’t quite go like that.The song referenced in the title of Jonathan Stagg’s Death’s Old Sweet Song is much more obscure by my standards – Green Grow the Rushes, O, an English folk song that I’ve never heard of in my life.It’s one of those songs where I listen to it the first time thinking “why on earth is this song even notable?” and then find it oddly sticking around in my head a few hours later.
The song is cumulative in each verse, similar to The Twelve Days of Christmas.It plays into the novel in that each verse is associated with a murder victim, a la And Then There Were None.In this case we get “the lily white boys clothed all in green”, “the rivals”, “the gospel makers”, and so on.Suffice to say, Death’s Old Sweet Song has quite the body count…
I acquired a substantial portion of my Ellery Queen library through bulk purchases of 15-30 books at a time.Swept up in the tide were several “associated by name only” compilations such as The Quintessence of Queen – assortments of short stories published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and probably tossed into the bundles by some seller who didn’t know much better.
I’m admit I’m a fan of the short story.As a child I read a fair amount of Ray Bradbury and similar authors who walked the tightrope between science fiction, mystery, and horror.As an adult, I found my way into the locked room genre via the short story form.Since going full in with my reading of John Dickson Carr, I’ve stuck to novels based on the knowledge that authors such as him recycled story ideas occasionally – The Gilded Man being a well known example to appear in both short and long form.Better to ruin a twenty page read than a two hundred page one…