MIDNITE MYSTERIES - An Updated Checklist by Steve Lewis
Back in November 2005, I wrote a review of Q. Patrick’s Return to the Scene, which if you wish to, you might first go read. The book was originally published by Simon & Schuster in 1941 as part of their Inner Sanctum line. The book eventually came out as a paperback from Popular Library, but between its original appearance and when it came out in softcover, it was reprinted in hardcover form, and that’s the edition of the book I read.
The publisher was a company called Books, Inc., and the book itself came out in March, 1944. Of significance to mystery readers, however, is a promotional blurb on the back of the dust jacket, one designed to let readers know that the book was among the first in a new series called Midnite Mysteries.
Other publishers specialized in doing reprints in hardcover editions around the same time, familiar companies like Triangle Books, Grosset & Dunlap, Sun Dial Press, Tower Books and so on. There is a more complete listing at this vintage books website, but the list of publishers that are found there goes through only the 1930s. Books, Inc., seems to have come along later – I have discovered nothing published by them earlier than a handful of books from 1936 –and so unfortunately there is no information about them there.
Before the era of widespread availability of mass-market paperbacks and book club editions, readers often sought less expensive reading material from publishers like these. Cheaper paper often prevailed, but not always. The book I have in my hand is solid and only lightly toned, and for a wartime book, it is surprising that it is no worse than that.
As far as I know, none of the other hardcover reprint publishers ever specialized in mysteries, although they all certainly published a lot of them. A quick glance on ABE reveals that while Books, Inc., also published other types of books, Midnite Mysteries was at least a specialized sub-line of detective fiction, one I hadn’t known about before, and so it’s one that’s worth looking into further.
Shown above is the back cover of the book at hand. You may be able to make out what it says from the image itself, but with a small amount of assitance from the world of scanners and computers comes the following and much more readable text:
A thrilling new series of selected modern mysteries, complete and unabridged, printed from the original plates, formerly $2.00 and $2.50 – now offered at a popular price.
These are not “April Fool Butler Stories,” where the reader’s temperature mounts, only to find, after all, that the Butler committed the crime.
Midnite Mysteries are brain teasers of the first order, and yet, we play fair with the reader, according to the rules laid down by mystery classics of recognized technique.
Every story is wholly realistic with the facts established. All the characters are named and no new last minute criminal is injected. Each story conforms to high literary standards.
Here is a mystery library of tremendous promise, beginning with 12 titles, the final choice of experts. Surprises and thrills are in store for our Midnite Mystery readers. Look for new titles added monthly.
TITLES NOW READY:
1. THE WHITE PRIORY MURDERS ………… By Carter Dickson
2. THE SECRET WEAPON …………… By Francis Beeding
3. THE PROBLEM OF THE WIRE CAGE …… By John Dickson Carr
4. RETURN TO THE SCENE …………………… By Q. Patrick
5. H AS IN HANGMAN …………………… By Lawrence Treat
6. THE DEADLY TRUTH ……………………… By Helen McCloy
7. THEY DEAL IN DEATH …………………… By Robert Terrall
8. THEN THERE WERE THREE ……………… By Geoffrey Homes
9. THE NINE WAXED FACES ……………… By Francis Beeding
10. SEE YOU AT THE MORGUE ………… By Lawrence G. Blochman
11. CURIOSITY KILLED A CAT …………… By Anne Rowe
12. SKELETON KEY ……………… By Lenore Glen Offord
(Additional) TITLES NOW READY (see below) :
13. THE BLACK CURTAIN ……………… By Cornell Woolrich
14. SINFULLY RICH ……………… By Hulbert Footner
15. THE PROBLEM OF THE GREEN CAPSULE By John Dickson Carr
16. THE BIG MIDGET MURDERS ……………… By Craig Rice
17. DECOY ……………… By Cleve F. Adams
18. WHAT DARK SECRET ……………… By Sheridan & Dudley (*)
19. CORPSE WITH THE EERIE EYE ……… By R. A. J. Walling
20. PUZZLE FOR PLAYERS ……………… By Patrick Quentin
(*) The full names of the authors are Juanita Sheridan and Dorothy Dudley.
ADDITIONAL BOOKS PUBLISHED IN THE SERIES:
(**) Dates given are for the first Books, Inc., printing. Most of the books in the series were reprinted several times. Each of the books in the first two groupings, numbered 1 through 20, first appeared in 1944.
(***) This is the only original title in the series, a novelization of a screenplay written by Curt Sidomak and Lynn Sterling, which was adapted in turn from a play by Edward Locke. The film itself starred Boris Karloff, Susanna Foster and Turhan Bey.
Questions that were asked with the preliminary checklist:
(1) New titles were to be added monthly. Can more books in the series be found and added to the list?
(a) Yes, thanks to Victor Berch, who sent me a short list of titles he had tracked down; a purchase on eBay of about a dozen Midnite Mysteries in one lot; and the used bookstore purchase of a copy of Death Has a Past, by Anita Boutell. On the back cover of the latter is a numbered list of the first twenty. The numbers have been added to the list above, along with all of the other authors and titles which are now known to have been published, ABE being the final source for discovering books in the series.
In the list above, if the numbering is not known (if indeed the books continued to be numbered) books are listed alphabetically by author, then by book title.
(2) What was the “popular price” of the books in the series? There is none to be found on the dust jacket I have.
(a) On the Boutell book, the price is 0049, or 49 cents. In today’s terms, that’s about the price of a trade paperback or a new book club edition.
(3) Was the blurb on the back cover accurate? Were the books in the series all truly “fair play” mystery novels, as suggested?
(a) In the 30s and 40s, “fair play” and “mystery novel” were virtually synonymous, at least as far as the better authors were involved. Take a look at the newly expanded list of authors. While some of the authors are not as well known now as they were then, there is no other reply you could make. The answer almost assuredly is yes.
(4) Notice the term “April Fool Butler Stories.” Did the lowly blurb writers on this occasion rise far above their station in life and come up with this amusing (and very appropriate) expression on their own?
(a) This was a rhetorical question. You may supply your own rhetorical answer.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME.
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