Sunday, February 26, 2017

2/26/1922 The Presence of Jack Ritchie

February 26, 1922.  One of the truly great authors of humorous short mysteries was born on this date in Milwaukee, a city where many of his works were set.  His greatest character was Henry Turnbuckle, a police detective whose unearned self-confidence was matched by his bad luck.  You see, Henry read all the crime novels and expected reality to conform to its cliches.  But in a Turnbuckle story if two of the suspects are identical twins that will turn out to have nothing to do with the solution.  And in one story after Henry gloriously announces the identity of the killer the assembled suspects not only proves him wrong but then conclude that the killer was someone else - a person no one had ever mentioned to Henry at all.

Another great Ritchie character was Cardula, a private eye who happens to be a vampire.

He also invented (or at least perfected) a subgenre I call the Unknown Narrator, where the reader knows nothing about the main character except what other people say about him, which turns out to be dramatically wrong.  One example is "The Absence of Emily," which won him an Edgar.

But Ritchie;s biggest success may have been "The Green Heart," which begins "We had been married three months and I rather thought it was time to get rid of my wife."  This tale of a would-be homicidal husband was made into the movie A New Leaf, and later into a Broadway play.

Ritchie's curse was that he was a master of the short when audiences demanded long.  As Donald E. Westlake said, he was, "a miniaturist in the age of elephantiasis."

No comments:

Post a Comment