Thursday, March 5, 2015

Star Power: Crime on My Hands (1944) and Stranger at Home (1946), by George Sanders

I was pleased to see that the distinguished critic and author Michael Dirda devoted his most recent piece in the Washington Post to the Golden Age crime writer Todd Downing, including discussion of Clues and Corpses, my 2013 book on Downing and his writing (including his crime fiction newspaper reviews and other critical pieces). For some more on Downing and another, admittedly rather more famous, Oklahoma crime writer contemporary, Jim Thompson, see "A Tale of Two Citizens," Parts One and Two.

Among Michael Dirda's vast reading interests is classic detective fiction and, in contrast with some, he takes notice of the worthy efforts of small presses and micro-presses, who often today are making some of the most interesting choices in genre fiction publishing.

I have been involved for a few years now with Coachwhip, who has republished not only the Downing mysteries but a number of other vintage mystery writers.  I'll be saying more about this a bit later.

George Sanders is back in print
dealing with crime and mystery
in his most inimitable fashion
Currently I've also been doing some work with Dean Street Press, who has recently reprinted Crime on My Hands (1944) and Stranger at Home (1946), the pair of mystery novels credited to that exceedingly suave British actor, George Sanders, filmdom's Saint and Falcon and a notable player in a number of other movies of interest to crime fans, including Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940) and Foreign Correspondent (1940) as well as The Lodger (1945), Hangover Square (1945), The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945) and Lured (1947) (and we must not forget his Oscar-winning performance in All About Eve, 1950). Mystery authors Craig Rice and Leigh Brackett have been listed as the ghosts behind the first and second Sanders mysteries, respectively, although the publisher's foreword to the new editions states that "there is certainly forensic evidence that Sanders contributed substantially to Crime on My Hands."

get acquainted
Stranger at Home is back in print
The two novels were well-received in their day, but have been out of print for many years now (Crime on My Hands was last reprinted a quarter of a century ago by IPL).

Crime, in which George Sanders himself serves as narrator and detective, is, as the foreword states, "a clever spoof on Sanders' screen persona," as well as an entertaining mystery in its own right. Stranger is a fine example of the more hard-boiled style in Forties mystery fiction ("California casualties in high chrome," as Kirkus Reviews alliteratively put it).

As the foreword to the novels notes, the Sanders mysteries "had an important precursor in Gypsy Rose Lee's The G-String Murders (1941)," a bestselling mystery novel with a celebrity author/narrator (it has been claimed that Craig Rice ghosted Lee's novel as well, though this claim has been disputed by others). Together with the Sanders tales and Mother Finds a Body (1942), Lee's own follow-up to her hugely successful first mystery, these works constitute notable examples of the modern celebrity novel.

Both George Sanders mysteries are now available on Kindle from Amazon and Dean Street Press has some other interesting classic crime authors in the queue, some of whose books will be available in both paper and electronic versions; and I will be discussing another one of them later today, as well as posting some more cover illustrations.


  1. I've never found a copy of "Stranger at Home" and I'll look forward to reading that; an interesting example of the "celebrity mystery". I have to say that I was one of the people who, for many years, held it as gospel that Craig Rice had actually written "The G-String Murders" -- it seemed to me very likely because the flavour of the novel and the writing style, difficult qualities to analyze, were very Rice-ean. However I have become convinced that Gypsy wrote the first book herself, although probably with some contributions by Rice in terms of oversight or guidance, by an excellent book by a mutual friend of ours, Jeffrey Marks; his 2001 biography of Craig Rice, "Who Was That Lady?", changed my mind. I still think the second novel, "Mother Finds a Body", is both awful and 100% the work of Gypsy, and I don't know how she managed to pull off such a clever mystery her first time at bat.
    It's been years since I read Rice's book as by Sanders, and I remember not thinking much of it, but I'm a big fan of her work as Craig Rice.

    1. "I still think the second novel, "Mother Finds a Body", is both awful and 100% the work of Gypsy"

      This comment made me laugh! Poor Gypsy! Except maybe not, if she really wrote the first one. Her latest biographer says she wrote it too.

      Hope you like the second Sanders (Leigh Brackett)!

  2. I have CRIME ON MY HANDS in what appears to have been an edition prepared for the armed services but have never read it - right, I'll be amending that oversight very soon! Thanks Curtis.

  3. I read and greatly enjoyed the IPL edition of CRIME ON MY HANDS years ago, but until today didn't know there was a second book credited to Sanders.

    I thought THE G-STRING MURDERS was just okay, and MOTHER FINDS A BODY was unreadable. After a chapter or two I gave up and gave it away.

    1. Barzun abd Taylor's Catalogue of Crime finds "Mother Finds a Body" "less engaging" than "The G-String Murders." Both have been reprinted by Feminist Press.

  4. Do you have a copy of the the review? I can mail you one if you want one. (I'm in DC and subscribe to the Post.)

  5. Send me an address and I'll drop it in the mail. bkeaveny AT aol dot com

  6. It's always good news when I learn that a new publisher is reprinting old mysteries. These I'd buy if they were available in paper as well as on Kindle. Any chance of that happening?

    1. It may, Steve, depending on sales as I understand it. The Jerrolds will be available in paperback as well.