Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Boston Globe interview, 1946

Surprising little is known about Kathleen Moore Knight, at least online. She is not listed in Wikipedia nor the more popular mystery fiction directories; her booklist is on Fantastic Fiction. My count is 34 mystery novels, all published by the Crime Club; a couple under the pseudonym of Alan Amos.

I recently discovered a copy of an archived 1946 newspaper interview (at this link) which includes not only her background, but also the only photograph I have ever seen of her (her dust jackets apparently never included a photo). Note her pins spell out "K M K". The text in the archived scan is difficult to read, so I have typed it out for you below, and included the photo. 


The Boston Daily Globe - Friday, June 21, 1946 - page 19


Kathleen Moore Knight Pictured Corpses All Over Martha’s Vineyard - Then Wrote

by Paul F. Kneeland


BETWEEN MURDER MYSTERIES, and en route from Mexico to Martha’s Vineyard, Kathleen Moore Knight stopped off in Boston one morning last week long enough to have breakfast at the Copley Plaza and reveal that her next Crime Club book would be conceived July 10.


“I believe it will be my 20th” - she paused to screw a cigarette into a holder - “or perhaps my 21st. People always ask me how many books I have written and I never seem able to give them the latest correct figure.”


If appearance means anything, then Miss Knight* ought to remember, looking, as she does, very much like an efficient and statistically-minded business woman. She was one, too - a YWCA executive secretary. That rigidity of a social worker vanishes, however, once she appraises a humorless situation; it is then that she relaxes completely and her teeth flash strong and white with frequent outbursts of laughter.


“There was nothing very funny about the weekly train ride I used to take to Boston,” Miss Knight said with a smile. “From the time I was 12 years old until I was graduated from high school I was dismissed at noon every Friday in order to hear the Boston Symphony play. Of course, quite a few classmates envied my excursions - if they only knew that I HAD to go.”


The daughter of George Knight, wealthy Brockton shoe machinery inventor, Miss Knight turned down college for Lasell Seminary, and after a fling at public relations (“those days are best forgotten”) I went to work promoting funds in New York for intrepid explorers, aviators, and adventurers who made headlines (“we won’t name names”) after Lindbergh’s solo hop across the Atlantic. With the crash and ’29 depression, she fled to Martha’s Vineyard and there, actually from sheer boredom and want of something better to do, wrote her first murder mystery. 


“One day I happened to be looking out of the window and wondering what it would be like if the island homes around me housed murderers; in my own imagination I scattered the landscape with corpses and before I knew it, a detective story was born,” Miss Knight recalled. “That was in March - six months later the book was completed and with one revision, accepted as a Crime Club selection by Doubleday Doran. They’ve published everything I’ve written ever since.”


Miss Knight attributes her success - critics for years now have been raving about her deftly constructed, cleverly carpentered murder mysteries - to the fact that she has inherited some of her father’s inventive genius. “He designs new machinery. I try to devise fresh plots,” she said.


Although she never was a crime story fan, and had only the average reader’s en passant page-turning acquaintance with Sherlock Holmes and his ilk, Miss Knight is a severe critic of detective fiction - including her own. Here’s what she thinks about a best-selling author of whom she is a best-selling contemporary:


“His first six books were good, but after you’ve read the same story in six different volumes, that same story becomes rather tiresome in the next six books.”


She also has no use for the old - and now unreliable - “whodunits” of the locked door, “had-I-but-known,” secret room, and “the-butler-did-it” schools of sleuthing. 


“I avoid those hackneyed threadbare situations along with the death-by-unusual-secret-weapon sort of thing because smart editors just won’t stand for them,” she added. “And I have long since learned that it takes more than a puzzle, the pieces of which must be fitted together by the reader, before a detective story writer can boast that he is having a wonderful crime.”


Of course she has had some wonderful crimes, and sales, too. The Kathleen Moore Knight output has not only sold big in original Crime Club editions, but the reprints at a dollar down have been coming off the presses by the hundred thousand. And to top it all, the other day one of the 25-cent pocket-book publishers snapped up nearly a dozen of her thriller-diller-chillers which go into an even 1,000,000 copies for a starter - that’s not mentioning the British editions and the new French market just opened since the war ended.


“It pleases me very much, but I’m not much for publicity,” she revealed. “This is my first interview in ages.”


Miss Knight prefers writing the intrigue story to the murder mystery and has created a couple of detective characters, Blair Margot** and Elisha Macomber, who are becoming as popular as Father Brown and Philo Vance. They’re both at work in her four latest books published during the past 18*** months - “Design in Diamonds,” “Intrigue for Empire,” “Stream Sinister,” and “The Trouble at Turkey Hill.”


“I’ve been thinking seriously about doing a straight novel - incidentally, detective fiction is fast becoming high calibre literature - but I don’t get much encouragement from my agent,” she went on. “If you want sales to drop off for about two years, go ahead,” he tells me. Miss Knight prepared her holder for about the sixth cigarette of the morning and accepted a light from an attentive waiter who was quicker on the draw with a book of matches than the writer with his lighter. 


“What I should really do though,” she said, inhaling deeply, “is buy a recording instrument. Then I could dictate my little 60,000 word stories in an ever greater - ahmm - ‘record time.”


Saturday, December 19, 2020

Murder for Empire / Intrigue for Empire, 1944

 

fantasticfiction.com

Major characters:

  • Pat Torreon, just out of a concentration camp
  • Judith Trowbridge, magazine correspondent
  • Brad Maury, magazine correspondent
  • Tom de Vasco, Brad's friend
  • Señor Ibarra
  • Stanley Pierce, a newspaperman
  • Nina Rodriguez, cold as ice

Locale: Morocco, Cuba

Synopsis: It is 1944-1945? and Pat Torreon, a Mexican, has just been liberated from one of Franco's concentration camps in Morocco. He is waiting for transport back, but all air travel is reserved for necessary travel; and Torreon - being a liberated prisoner - has no passport. He encounters Judith Trowbridge, an American correspondent. While having dinner at a cafe, another customer - Judith's co-worker, Brad Maury, falls dead - poisoned. Pat examines the body and lifts his passport, along with an identification bracelet.

Maury had arranged transport for Judith and himself to the US via Cuba. Pat decides to stand in as Maury and take his place on the plane. He finds Maury's bracelet has the name of a historical Spanish figure. A gunman, Señor Ibarra, enters Pat's room, demanding Maury's papers. Pat shoots him in the scuffle. He finds this Ibarra is wearing a simliar bracelet. Pat and Judith get on the plane and go to Cuba.

In Cuba, Judith looks up a newspaper friend, Stanley Pierce, who suggests the men are part of an Axis plot, named Hispaniadad, to take control of countries in Central and South America; and the bracelets are a token to identify each other.

Review: A love-struck couple is stuck in Morocco toward the end of WW II, trying to find passage to the Americas. Sound familiar? It should - being the same setup as 1942's Casablanca. Perhaps this 1944 novel was inspired by Casablanca, as was a number of spin-off films of the time. The difference? This time, the guy and girl both make the plane. 

This is the first spy novel by K.M.K. I have read (not sure if there are others) and it is a far cry from quiet little Pemberthy Island. The plot is exciting, the characters well developed.  Mixed feelings about protagonist Pat Torreon - a good guy, but a bit quick on the trigger. Judith is an assertive news reporter but does run to tears when the going gets tough. Nina Rodriguez makes a great evil-mastermind's-moll in her sexy outfits, a la James Bond movies. The marriage-of-convenience ploy may have been necessary at the time, but is passé now. The story element of the I.D. bracelets works well. 

The edition I have is a 1944 wartime oversize paperback titled 'Murder for Empire'. The cover proudly proclaims "A full length novel", yet the flyleaf states in tiny print "This edition respresents an abridgement of the original to speed the action."

Friday, November 20, 2020

Bait for Murder (1948)

 

dustjackets.com

Major characters:

Andrea Philbrick, mystery writer and our narrator

Pleasure crew of The Cormorant:
Ives Berrien, a plagiarist
Charlotte Quentin, his wife
Miles Granby, his agent

Pleasure crew of Xiphias:
Dick Eaton, author
Guy Philbrick, publisher, Andrea's husband
Dan Warner, writer's agent

Commercial crew of The Rover:
Tony Matarellis
Matt Matarellis

Commercial crew of The Three Sisters:
Olaf Magnusson
Seth Benton

Alice Chilton, wealthy cougar

Elisha Macomber


Locale: Penberthy Island, off Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Synopsis: Two pleasure swordfishing crews arrive on Penberthy Island. Guy Philbrick and the crew of Xiphias, from a publishing company; and the crew of The Cormorant, headed by Ives Berrien. Bad blood exists between them - Berrien has plagiarized and published work by Dick Eaton. Guy brings his wife, Andrea, along; but she prefers to remain on the island and work on her mystery story.

Berrien and crew quickly antagonize the commercial crew with their dishonest work. Twice they attempt to take swordfish which other crews are fishing. They collide with The Three Sisters, seriously injuring Olaf Magnusson. Berrien continues to make enemies among the locals, and as expected, turns up dead on his boat. The locals are surprised to find that Charlotte Quentin is married to him. Wealthy Alice Chilton shows up in her speedboat, she is after Berrien himself and is also quite annoyed to find him married. Alice looks like the prime suspect, but then she is killed as her speedboat runs up on the rocks.

Review: An excellent Knight, told from the unusual third-person aspect of a mystery writer, observer, and narrator Andrea Philbrick. The tensions between the pleasure fishermen and the locals is tangible and realistic. The same tensions exist here in Maine between locals and fishermen from away.

Berrien is a first rate cad and no one is sad to see him go. A couple more deaths pile up and may not be accidents. 

The story takes a surprising Agatha Christie-style turn at the end when the murderer is revealed. The solution skirts with fair play a bit, as some aspects were not revealed to the reader as they occurred. The end is eye-opening, however, and the ultimate ending a bit sad.


Monday, October 26, 2020

Death Came Dancing (1940)

dustjackets.com

Major characters:
  • Barbara Locke, assistant to Tod Richmond
  • Tod Richmond, owner of Tropical Tourist Agency
  • Liane Richmond, his predatory wife
  • Peter Scotland, newspaper reporter, friend of Tod
  • Sidney Bonfield, British diplomat
  • Mark Fleming, banker
  • Carol Fleming, his pregnant wife
  • Dr. Lucius Lear
  • Julia Lear, his wife
  • Eric Thurman, antique dealer
  • Gustav Nilsson, a trader
  • Elisha Macomber, investigator
  • Police Judge Urriola
Locale: Panama City

Synopsis: Barbara Locke, our protagonist, has come to Panama seeking glamour and excitement. She takes a job at Tropical Tourist Agency, as an assistant to owner Tod Richmond. Tod's wife, Liane, is a predator and has her eyes and claws out toward various possibilities: Sidney Bonfield, British diplomat; and Mark Fleming. 

Preparations are underway for a gala evening: the Pollera Ball. At a pre-gala cocktail gathering, Liane mentions she will be wearing her Tembleques, a priceless Panamanian gold hair ornament. The pairings for the ball indicate the dysfunction of the Richmond marriage: Tod is taking Barbara (instead of his wife), while Sidney Bonfield is taking Liane. After the ball, Barbara returns to her room to find Liane is dead and the Tembleques gone.

Elderly Julia Lear (Liane's aunt) is aghast, she is more upset that the tembleques are missing than her niece is dead. Later she receives a package with the tembleques in it, and is instructed to attend the carnival that night to find out who killed Liane. Julia wears the templeques to the carnival, and she is killed also; and the tembleques she is wearing are found to be a copy.

Elisha Macomber is still in Panama on vacation, and is urged to investigate.

Review: This novel is a sequel to The Tainted Token. While it is a standalone story, The Tainted Token sets up the locale and the background for why Elisha Macomber is in Panama, and his relationship with the authorities.

Knight has, again, set up the atmosphere of Panama well; and in a similar household setting as The Tainted Token. The characters all inhabit a common version of an apartment building, a hollow single-story square with a balcony around the outside and a common courtyard in the center.

There are two intertwined mysteries: the two killings, and the situation of the original and the copy of the tembleques. They turn out connected, and the solution revealed satisfactorily. The ending seems to me hastened, with the killer bowing out of the story suddenly, and the love story between Peter and Barbara coming to an ambiguous ending.

The two stories should be read together, in sequence, for the best experience.




 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Trouble at Turkey Hill (1946)


mysteriousbookshop.com
Major characters:

  • Elisha Macomber, selectman, investigator
  • Marcella Tracy, librarian, our narrator
  • Tad Marsh, returning Army veteran, manager of Turkey Hill Farm
  • Lays Marsh, his wife
  • Pershing Willis, returning Army veteran
  • Candy Pierce, Pershing's girlfriend
  • Pudgy Billins, returning Army veteran
  • Zaire Pinho, had affair with Tad
  • Harvey Winchester, owner of Turkey Hill Farm
  • Enoch Snow*, hired man at Turkey Hill Farm
  • Mattie Mason, cook at Turkey Hill Farm
  • Miss Marion Thorne, mysterious veiled lady

Locale: Penberty Island, off Cape Cod, MA.


Synopsis: The island community of Penberthy Township gathers at the dock to welcome three local boys returning from the war: Tad Marsh, Pershing Willis, and Pudgy Billings.


Harvey Winchester is the owner of Turkey Hill Farm and is looking forward to Tad’s return to his former job as farm manager. The other employees are Enoch Snow*, hired hand; and Mattie Mason, cook.


The boys are met at the dock by Tad’s wife Alyse March (who has never forgiven him for a previous affair with sultry Zaida Pinho), and Pershing’s girlfriend Candy Pierce (distant due to news of Pershing’s brief marriage overseas which ended with the wife’s death in childbirth).


A town dance is held in celebration that evening, but most of the attendees are busy shooting eye-daggers at each other. Miss Marion Thorne, who is always veiled, is injured by a thrown rock outside the dance.


The next morning librarian (and narrator) Marcella Tracy goes to Turkey Hill Farm to find Alyse dead from violence. While she and selectman Elisha Macomber investigate, another murder occurs at the farm.


Review: 


Elisha Macomber is sharper-tongued than in other books, and here enlists a local as both narrator and co-investigator. Petty jealousies abound between members of the small island community, and what should have been a happy homecoming for the three servicemen falls apart quickly. I had to make a sketch of who-loves-who as there are several affairs happening simultaneously. 


Elisha solves the case not by active investigation, but in his role as father-confessor for the town as various people reveal things to him. The final scene is exciting as two people struggle at the top of a cliff, alternately illuminated by the red and white beams from the lighthouse, a setting which reminded me of Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty at their struggle on the cliff. 


One nitpick: In the denouement, Elisha reveals several facts which had not been shared with the reader.


*sound familiar? This is also a character name from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel, which was written in 1945.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Death Blew Out the Match (1935)

dustjackets.com

Radio dramatization available: I came across this public domain .mp3 recording of this book, which was on the Crime Club radio program in the 1930's-1940's. I have placed it on my web site so you may enjoy it. Here it is (30 minutes): DeathBlewOuttheMatch.mp3


Major characters:
  • Anne Waldron - our narrator and protagonist
  • Hazel "Kerch" Kershaw - her friend who is staying with her
  • Leonard "Len" Case - Anne's friend, in a body cast
  • Wing Lo - Leonard's assistant and housekeeper
  • Marya Van Wyck - a New York playwright
  • David Hyland - a mysterious outsider
  • Jeffery Pemberton - a wealthy resident
  • Henry Cahoon - deaf and mute local, a tinkerer
  • "Simple Sam" Layborn - a local, friend of Henry
  • Chris Witherbee - a local
  • Gloria - Len Case's tame crow
  • Elisha Macomber - investigator, chair of the Board of Selectmen
  • Buck Edwards - chief of police of Medbury
Locale: Penberthy Island, Massachusetts

Synopsis:

Our narrator Anne Waldron and her friend Hazel "Kerch" Kershaw are opening up their summer cottage on Penberthy Island. Leonard Case lives nearby on a hilltop with the village in view. He is recovering from a car accident and is in a body cast. He spends time watching birds and the villagers through a telescope.

Len calls Anne. Through his telescope, he has observed a door open at playwright Marya Van Wyck's cottage; believed vacant. He asks Anne to go secure it. When she does, she looks inside to find the body of Marya, on the floor in front of the fireplace - holding a burned out match. She had died in the act of lighting the fire. The doctor is called, and states it appears to be some fast-acting poison. Elisha Macomber heads up the local investigation.

Initial suspicion is on mysterious David Hyland, who has suddenly appeared on the island and is renting the Mannering cottage. He lurks around and peeps in windows. Simple Sam Layborn and Henry Cahoon have disappeared. Kerch disappears, and in her search for her, Anne is kidnapped.

Review:

This story is written in a diary-entry format which is quite effective and realistic. My edition (Crime Club, 1935) contains a sketch map on the endpapers which is helpful. The parallel story of the tension between the local, Elisha, and a mainland investigator, Coughlin, is evident. The author is quite successful in fooling the reader in suspecting (incorrectly) several characters in turn. Another excellent work by Kathleen Moore Knight.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Birds of Ill Omen (1948)

Fantastic Fiction

Major characters:

The Canniffs:
  • Louise Canniff - elegant, aristocratic, always gets what she wants 
  • John Canniff - her wealthy take-no-prisoners husband
  • Dennis Canniff (John's son) - 
  • Mark Pryor (Louise's son) - a brat
  • Veronica "Ronnie" Pryor (Louise's daughter) - a schemer
At the San Cosmé hacienda:
  • Antonietta "Toni" Lind, proprietor 
  • Don Antonio Salazar, her elderly great-grandfather
    • Bartolo Gomez - his servant
    • Ana Cristina Lind, her mother
    • Nicha, Ana Cristina's maid
    • Peter Lind - Toni's brother - blinded in the war
    • José - Peter's servant
    • Roldan Licona, Toni's assistant
    And..
    • Gilberto Romero, a travel agent
    • Chief Rodriguez, of the police
    Locale: Mexico

    Synopsis:

    Bitchy Louise Canniff sees a photo of the San Cosmé hacienda guest house in Mexico, and instantly recognizes it from her dreams. She tells wealthy, pushy husband John Canniff he is to buy it for her, sight unseen. John sends his practical, diplomatic son, Dennis Canniff, down to inspect it and make an offer. 

    Dennis meets with proprietor Toni Lind, and finds her unwilling to sell. He finds other family members live there in seclusion: widowed 97-year old Don Antonio Salazar, Toni's invalid mother, and her brother Peter Lind, who has blinded in the war. Coincidentally, two species of birds arrive at the same time, which legend has it portends death.

    Louise and John arrive. Louise encounters 97-year old Don Antonio Salazar while exploring, and he suddenly has an attack and dies. His servant Bartolo hangs himself in grief that evening.

    Louise and John continue to try to convince Toni to sell. She states she can not legally do so, with Don Antonio's death the property has passed to her brother Peter.

    Louise's daughter Ronnie encounters Peter Lind, to find that he is unaware he is living in a cottage on the grounds of his own home; thinking he is in some hotel. The family, thinking he has amnesia, has kept him unaware he is on their own property.

    Review:

    Kathleen Moore Knight again creates a colorful exotic atmosphere, perfect for us reading during a New England winter. The despicable Canniffs are the ugly Americans you love to hate, except for son Dennis who somehow turned out a decent human being. 

    As the story winds on, it becomes a bit of struggle remembering the various tangled family generations (there are four present) and relationships; but it does not detract from the story.

    The enjoyable, developed characters are Toni Lind, Dennis Canniff, and (surprisingly) Peter Lind. 

    The climactic scene takes place in an abandoned chapel, and has a Hitchcock feel to it (Birds? Abandoned chapel? What could possibly go wrong?). Despite the title, the birds are a minor aspect of the story, and their role is reminiscent of the rooster crowing when Peter denies the Lord three times (Mark 14:30).

    The ending didn't quite play out as I expected it to, leaving it somewhat to the imagination; yet still a satisfying conclusion.