book: Best Detective Stories of the Year 1950 (1950), edited by David C. Cooke

I read this book because I was intrigued by the fact that it was the only item to turn up when I did a search for Fredric Brown in the online catalogue for my local county’s libraries. There are 27 — countem, 27!!! — libraries in the county, so it’s pretty shameful that a popular writer of non-negligible importance should have been so ignored. (Thank goodness, I say, for the ebook revolution.)

The Brown tale here, “Crisis, 1999,” is in fact one of the weaker offerings in Cooke’s anthology: it’s a science-fiction story far more than it is a detective story, and the science has dated rather badly. The other science-oriented tale in the book didn’t impress me much either, alas: Lawrence G. Blochman’s “Brood of Evil,” one of his Diagnosis: Homicide/Diagnosis: Murder series featuring Dr. Dan Coffee. This outing depends for its solution on knowledge of the details of a medical syndrome so obscure that I imagine the average physician has never heard of it, let alone an ordinary joe like me.

But there’s some good stuff here too. As is so often the case in anthologies of this era, the best offering is by Roy Vickers: “The Million-to-One Chance” isn’t one of his Department of Dead Ends “inverted mysteries,” but it might as well have been. I actually for once guessed the denouement — the factor that’d be the undoing of the murderer — before it was revealed, but that just made me grin and like the story all the more.

As with the Vickers, Bruno Fischer’s “The Dog Died First” and Sidney Herschel Small’s “The Stalking Shadow” have dogs at their heart. Both of these stories bored me at first before abruptly drawing me in at about the halfway mark. In the case of the latter, this was because it took me a while before I could become simpatico with Small’s rather odd, telegraphese dialogue style. I’m not sure why it was so in the case of the Fischer.

Day Keene’s “Remember the Night” challenges the Vickers as my favorite in the book, even though it’s soon pretty clear what’s going on in it. Other writers represented in Cooke’s selection are Ben Hecht, Allan Vaughan Elston, James A. Kirch, William Fay, Charles B. Child and the great Stanley Ellin.


4 thoughts on “book: Best Detective Stories of the Year 1950 (1950), edited by David C. Cooke

  1. I really enjoy reading mystery and suspense anthologies from previous decades, and the results are almost always equally surprising and disappointing (for every forgotten gem, there seems to be two disposable or dated curios). Perhaps my favorites in the last few years have been true-crime anthologies either completely written by or with submissions by journalist/novelists like William Roughhead, Stuart Palmer, and Alexander Woollcott. Curious to know what Fredric Brown envisioned with his version of 1999, and just what it looked like! Hope you are doing well and staying creatively busy — Jason

    • Thanks for the good wishes!

      I confess I haven’t read too many — if any! — true-crime anthologies of past eras. So far as the fictional variety goes, I find the ones edited by Ellery Queen fairly reliable — and I meant to mention here that Cooke’s intros to the stories in this anthology seem designed to emulate the Queen ones.

  2. Now things are settling down after the move, I hope to recover my stash in the next few months and gradually integrate them into the home. Hopefully I’ll remember to snag some Day Keene before they get buried again!

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