Friday, 7 December 2012

Forgotten Book - The Department of Dead Ends

The Department of Dead Ends is Roy Vickers' most famous book. The eponymous Department is also his most famous creation - a fictional part of Scotland Yard, presided over by Detective Inspector Rason, which collected seemingly trivial and inconsequential bits and pieces associated with unsolved cases, and every once in a while managed to interpret those stray scraps of evidence so as to pin the crime on a hitherto unsuspected culprit.

Julian Symons and Ellery Queen were among the very good judges who lauded the "inverted mystery" short stories featuring the Department, and thanks to their advocacy, these stories are by far the best known of the countless stories that Vickers wrote. Is the praise deserved? I think so. There is an element of formula about the stories, once you have read several, and I think it's best to read them in small quantities. But that's true, in my opinion, of the great Father Brown stories too. You can have too much of a good thing, certainly, but I am quite clear that the Dead Ends stories are good thing.

"The Rubber Trumpet", the first of the stories, is justly famous, but several others are equally good. One story is plainly based on the Brides in the Bath case, while another, the excellent "The Henpecked Murderer", explicitly references the Crippen case. I hadn't read this story before, or been aware of it, and I though Vickers used the elements of the Crippen story very cleverly to create an intriguing tale.

Vickers' preoccupation with snobbery and social climbing is very evident in this collection, happily made available to modern readership by Bello - so much so that one senses he was working out "issues" of his own. The stories are very crisp and entertaining, and some of the writing - for instance, the opening paragraph of "The Yellow Jumper" - is very good indeed. This is a genuine classic.

10 comments:

Jerry House said...

I remember reading those stories in EQMM many, many years ago. Great stuff!

If memory serves, there were three different editions of this book, with varying contents.

Anonymous said...

I've been a fan of these stories for years, and I've certainly got three editions (Faber hardback from 1949, green Penguin paperback from 1955 and Dover paperback from 1978) and they all have different contents, though with a lot of overlap.

Clothes In Books said...

I think there was a TV series of this, and I'm talking 40 years ago - I think I read the book then as a result of seeing the stories adapted on TV...

J said...

I have the Hutchinson Library Services hardcover version (1973), which claims to be based on Faber's 1954 edition. It has an introduction by Ellery Queen, but only ten stories. (Wikipedia says there are 37 Dead Ends stories in all.

Jerry House said...

I believe The Detective Book Club also offered a version of The Department of Dead Ends.

IMDB shows that two of Roy vickers' stories were adapted for the British television DETECTIVE, which ran in 1964 and in 1968-9. DETECTIVE was an anthology show which evidently adapted mystery stories by a number of authors. I had never heard of the show, but I'd love to catch some episodes. I've included a link which shows some of the authors they adapted:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0397776/fullcredits#cast

pastoffences said...

The Bello edition has the Ellery Queen introduction, so it's probably the same book.

I enjoyed the stories and thought they had a real feel of Edwardian true crime.

Martin Edwards said...

Many thanks for these comments. I'm especially interested in the mentions of DETECTIVE, a superb TV series. I remember the later series (and its excellent theme music) very fondly indeed. Sadly, I believe that many of the recordings were wiped by the BBC. One can only hope that some surviving episodes will resurface one of these days.

Ant Harrison said...

I hadn't heard of these, but will certainly look out for them.

Christine said...

I have just been re-reading Julian Symons' BLOODY MURDER where he praises these stories. It's a while since I read them, so maybe time to revisit.

Martin Edwards said...

Chrissie, I hope you like Bloody Murder as much as I do. Fascinating.