Friday, 29 October 2010

Forgotten Book - Six Dead Men


Xavier Lechard, a great expert on Golden Age detective fiction, alerted me to the book which I have chosen to feature today in Patti Abbott’s Forgotten Books series. It is certainly forgotten – in fact, I’d never even heard of it. The title is Six Dead Men, and the author Andre Steeman.

The author was Belgian; he was born in Liege, and he was only 23 when this novel was published in 1931. It won the Prix du Roman d’Aventures that year, and was promptly translated by Rosemary Benet and published in the US. The blurb hails Steeman as ‘the Continental Edgar Wallace’. He never became as prolific, but research on the internet suggests he was pretty successful, and several of his books were the subject of screen adaptations.

The premise is appealing. Six young men have agreed to spend five years seeking their fortunes all over the world, before returning to Paris to share equally their gains. But one by one, they are murdered. Who will be next?

Does this remind you of And Then There Were None? I don’t know whether Agatha Christie read this book, but suffice to say that apart from a few similarities, the books are very different in mood and theme. I enjoyed Steeman’s pacy story, and the tension is built up very well. The plot is full of twists and cleverly done. Of course, there is much that is implausible, but it’s a book that deserves to be much better known. Arguably a real landmark in the genre.

19 comments:

Minnie said...

It's curious how some books get overlooked or forgotten, isn't it? Not sure if it's a question of fashion or publishers ruthlessly pruning mid-lists or what ... But whatever the reasons, you're doing a great job, Martin, giving new life to some compelling crime novels that have been unjustly neglected. I'd certainly love to read this one!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sounds like a great book and title is certainly eye-catching.

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Thanks for sharing this book. This is one I'd never heard of, either, but it sounds like an interesting find. I'm glad you shared it :-).

Xavier said...

It's a pity that only one other book by Steeman had the honour of an English translation for "Six Dead Men", as good as it is (and I second your assessment of it as a landmark) is only one of many outstanding things he wrote. Steeman was one of the very few French-speaking authors fully at ease in the traditional, fair-play mystery genre and his cleverness rivals that of his British and American colleagues (Be sure not to miss his "L'Assassin Habite Au 21" if it ever gets translated or if the film H.G. Clouzot made of it finally shows up in DVD) He was also an extremely versatile writer and his post-war works reflect, always in a very personal fashion, the changes at work in the genre.
Regarding the similitudes between SDM and ATTWN, I'd say they are mostly to be found in the premises and in the murderer's modus operandi (to say more would spoil it) though the climate and the motive are completely different.

P.S.: Thanks for branding me a "great expert". Coming from you it is an invaluable compliment.

Paul D. Brazill said...

Nope. New to me!

BV Lawson said...

It's at times like this I wish my high school French were better so I could read such books in the original language. I checked IMDB to see if I'd seen any of the screen adaptations, but they appear to be mostly in French (as you'd expect). Looks like an interesting read!

Dorte H said...

This one sounds rather intriguing.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments. It is a book that deserves not to die! Xavier, I do hope more of Steeman's work can be translated. Maybe you can have a go!

Fiona said...

Reading this review caused the faintest of stirrings way, way down in my subconscious.....no, I'm quite sure I haven't read Six Dead Men, but something tickled a far distant memory of a book about a tontine! It stayed in the depths because a tontine isn't something you hear about every day, but at least when the word appears I know what it is.

Does this ring any bells with you, Martin? (Or anyone else?) I think it must be a Golden Age story.

Fiona said...

Sorry, Martin, I really should do a little research before opening my mouh! I looked on Amazon and typed in the word Tontine: among other things I found DVD of The Wrong Box, based on a story by RL Stevenson and that is definitely the one I read many, many years ago....I must read it again!

Dorte H said...

Fiona: I know the term Tontine from a Miss Marple story. But as usual, I have no idea which one.

Martin Edwards said...

Fiona, thanks. I haven't read it and I'd be interested to track down the DVD, which I have a very hazy memory of seeing when I was in my teens.

Martin Edwards said...

Dorte, it is 4.50 from Paddington. A nice book.

karabekirus said...

Steeman was a true Golden Age author, playing fair and coming up with original clues (a murderer being afraid of thunder, or the behavior of blind people caught in fire, etc.) My favorite Steeman book is L'Infaillible Silas Lord, in the first half of which the successful cases of a Holmesian detective are demolished in the second half.
Steeman is still widely read in France, I think it can still be read in translation.

Martin Edwards said...

Karabekirus, that book sounds really good, and I'd like to read it one day.

Mike Blake said...

Tontines are a classic feature of old mysteries, thrillers and historicals. Allow me to recommend a great historical by the now-neglected author Thomas B. Chastain, The Tontine, on the subject.

Dorte H said...

Oh yes, the Crackenthorpe family. I love their name, by the way.

Fiona said...

Mike, that should be Thomas B Costain (and for once I did double check before commenting!) I found that title on Amazon when I did my broad search and remember it being very popular in the library where I started work in 1963.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Mike, can you tell us more about The Tontine?