Seven Men – Theodore Roscoe (1942)

I was absolutely shocked when I stumbled upon this Handi Books edition of Seven Men.  I’d known that there was a 1980’s Starmont Facsimile edition of this obscure Theodore Roscoe novel, but all the copies I’d ever seen floated above my price point.  Seven Men was originally published in the April 12, 1941 edition of Detective Fiction Weekly, and I had assumed that the Starmont version was the only actual novelization.  But there it was – a Handi Books edition for an affordable price.

I’m a bit of a sucker for Handi Books, having collected a half dozen or so.  The publisher specialized in mystery novels by extremely obscure authors; Cornell Woolrich and Anthony Gilbert being the most “famous” names that I’ve noted in their library.  The few books that I’ve read are actually pretty awful, and I imagine Handi Books was going after some low hanging fruit when it came to publishing rights.

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To Live and Die in Dixie – Theodore Roscoe (1961)

If any Golden Age author can tell a story, it’s Theodore Roscoe.  Yes, I take great comfort in the prose of the likes of John Dickson Carr, Agatha Christie, Henry Wade, Anthony Berkeley, Herbert Brean, Rupert Penny, or Norman Berrow.  And Christianna Brand… well, she’s just sublime.  But Theodore Roscoe can paint with words in a way that I haven’t encountered with other authors.  I’d be fine reading a Roscoe book that doesn’t even feature any mystery – but, I mean, come on, give me a mystery…

Which takes me to this read – To Live and Die in Dixie.  Is it a mystery novel?  Roscoe wrote a breadth of pulp, ranging from tales of The Foreign Legion to jungle safaris and adventures of the United States Navy, so there isn’t a guarantee that anything you pick up by him is going to be a story of detection.  But I suppose it’s a silly question to pose in the case of To Live and Die in Dixie.  It’s right there on the cover: “A mystery novel by Theodore Roscoe”.  Why then can’t I find a single review of this book?  I mean, this is the guy who wrote Murder on the Way – a zombie laced impossible crime (published in 1935 no less) – which is easily one of the best entries the genre has to offer.

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Ghoul’s Paradise – Theodore Roscoe (1938)

One of the highlights of my reading in 2020 was Four Corners Volume One, a collection of short mysteries by Theodore Roscoe.  The stories take place in the small town of Four Corners, located in the mountains of upstate New York.  There’s a definite vibe of Ellery Queen’s Wrightsville novels, although Roscoe’s were published half a decade earlier and are far richer.  The tales of Four Corners are more stories than mysteries, and although my own description there probably wouldn’t excite me to read it, what outstanding stories they are.

I wondered at the time if there would ever be a second collection of the series, and have to admit that I skeptically assumed it would never come to be.  Imagine my shock when I stumbled upon Four Corners Volume Two while trawling for other Roscoe works.  By some coincidence it had been released a week or so earlier, even though I hadn’t heard a peep about it.

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Four Corners (Volume One) – Theodore Roscoe (1937-1938)

FourCornersMurder on the Way opened a door for me to Theodore Roscoe, a gifted writer who can paint a scene as well as the best of them.  I come to these books for the mysteries, but really, there are authors like John Dickson Carr and Roscoe who can turn a story into a canvas, filling in the gaps between what is merely said and done, rendering scenes that your senses experience.  Roscoe’s one of those authors that you come away wanting to read more of, not so much because of the clever puzzle and twist, but because of the pure story.

Luckily I already had another of Roscoe’s titles on deck: Four Corners, a collection of short stories published in Argosy magazine during the late 30s and brought back to life by Altus Press.  The publisher has released a number of Roscoe’s works over the past few years, although most seem to concern adventures – tales of the foreign legion and far flung lands.  A review at Beneath the Stains of Time confirmed that Four Corners belongs to the mystery camp, and so it seemed like a natural candidate for the gift list.

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Murder on the Way! – Theodore Roscoe (1935)

MurderOnTheWayI’ve been reading a lot of really good books lately – it’s been an intentional indulgence in my “rainy day” collection – and I have to say, Murder on the Way is the most fun I’ve had in nearly as far back as I can remember.  That’s not to say that it features the most perplexing mystery, the most clever solution, or the most shocking twist.  No, not by a long shot.  That’s where I feel that I disclaimer is necessary: Murder on the Way isn’t really a mystery, it’s a balls to the wall action thriller.  No, scratch that – it’s actually is a mystery masquerading as a balls to the wall action thriller.

On the surface this is… I don’t even know.  It starts out with your classic mystery set up – a dozen characters called to Haiti for the reading of the will of a wealthy plantation owner.  The will stipulates that all of the money goes to a single individual within 24 hours of the funeral, but also provides a line of succession should the prior recipients be deceased.  Oh yeah – and no one’s allowed to leave the property before the 24 hours is up, or they forfeit their inheritance.

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