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Joseph Commings Locked Room Titles


Joseph Commings (1913 – 1992) was an American writer of short fiction mysteries. He also wrote a series of soft-core sex novels, and attempted a few mystery novels, but is best known for his locked room mystery / impossible crime stories, many featuring the irrepressible Senator Brooks U. Banner.

Commings began writing in 1947, and was first published in ’10-Story Detective Magazine’ in March, 1947. Commings also began writing for a sister publication, ‘Ten Detective Aces’, but, for some unknown reason, the editors of both magazines thought it would be a good idea to have a different detective. Commings therefore often merely changed the name of Banner to Mayor Thomas Landin, but kept almost everything else the same during these quick re-writes. Most of the stories that were first printed in ‘Ten Detective Aces’ and have since been reprinted, have changed the name of Landin back to Banner.

After the demise of ’10 Detective Stories’ and ‘Ten Detective Aces’, Commings submitted stories to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, but Frederic Dannay (half of the writing/editorial team known as Ellery Queen) didn’t like the character of Banner, so Commings was never printed in EQMM. It wouldn’t be until 1957 that Commings would find another outlet for his Banner stories, this time at ‘Mystery Digest’, where he also served as an editor from September 1957 to March 1958, and later worked on the January/ February 1963 edition. It was during this period that Commings would write his best-known story, ‘The X Street Murders’. Other stories, including many  published by Commings at ‘Mystery Digest’, were published under the pseudonyms of ‘Monte Craven’. Another similar pseudonym ‘Monty Craven’, was only used in other publications. Commings would continue to be published in Mystery Digest until it finally went bankrupt, his last story being ‘The Giant’s Sword’ in 1963.

Commings later published a couple of stories in ‘The Saint Mystery Magazine’ and one in the Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine in 1968, as well as  a series of part crime/part soft core sex novels. During this period, Commings attempted to write several normal mystery novels, and locked room mystery novels, none of which were ever published. In 1979, Commings published a ‘Stairway to Nowhere’ in the ‘Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine’, it was another Banner story, but this time co-written by Edward D. Hoch. (Commings was a close friend of both John Dickson Carr and Edward D. Hoch.) This story apparently opened a new door for Commings, who would continue to publish in MSMM until 1984. The last Banner story, ‘The Whispering Gallery’, was not published until 2004, in the collection Banner Deadlines, published by Crippen and Landru.

(Source: edited from Wikipedia)

 For those not familiar with Joseph Commings, it is interesting to note that mystery critic, Mike Grost, placed Commings fourth in importance in the locked room genre, just behind Edward D. Hoch:  (1) Carr (2) Porges (3) Hoch (4) Commings (5) Paul Halter

More on Joseph Commings    Mike Grost


Senator Brooks U. Banner Locked Room Stories


Banner DeadlinesFingerprint Ghost (1947)
Detective: Banner
Collection: Banner Deadlines; Murder Impossible, Adrian & Adey (1990)

Best Review
*****

Available only in used paperback and hardcover edition. 

Book

Note: Murder in a seance

A séance is held to uncover the truth in a past death. Everyone in the séance is straitjacketed and linked by touching feet, but it is not enough. The organizer of the event is murdered in the middle of the séance, and the fingerprints on the murder weapon do not match those of anyone in the room. 

Best quote: “Mebbe something backfired and the ghost did it.” (page 32)

More on Fingerprint Ghost


Banner DeadlinesMurder Under Glass (1947)
Detective: Banner
Collection: Banner Deadlines

Best Review
****

Available only in used paperback and hardcover edition. 

Book 

Note: Murder in a locked room made of glass 

Murder committed behind the locked door of a room made entirely of glass. A famous glass manufacturer is stabbed to death inside his proudest creation.

Best Quote: “I suppose you’ll tell me that you know a way that a murderer can go through solid glass without leaving a scratch on it.
I’m working on it,’ said Banner.” (page 19)


Banner DeadlinesSpectre on The Lake (1947)
Detective: Banner
Collection: Banner Deadlines

Best Review
****

Available only in used paperback and hardcover edition. 

Book

Note: Banner witnesses a murder!

There’s a legend about Mad Moon Lake. Two lovers once drowned themselves because of their forbidden love!  Now, this old tragedy is revived when two sides of a love triangle are shot to death in the middle of  the lake – when no one else was nearby! Banner actually witnesses the double murder, but can’t identify an apparently invisible killer, or even find the gun!  The speed of sound is an important clue.

Best Quote: “The way you tell it a phantom killer with a phantom gun crossed all that water without making a splash, got into the boat, shot both men dead, then went off the same way it came.” (page 43)


Banner DeadlinesThe Black Friar Murders (1948)
Detective: Banner
Collection: Banner Deadlines

Best Review
****

Available only in used paperback and hardcover edition. 

Book

Note: And you thought your Thanksgiving was bad!

Eric Bayne is on the loose. His appearance is unknown, but he  seems to have become stranded with a group in a cloister, who are celebrating a very odd Thanksgiving!  There is also a ghostly friar who stabs people inside  barred cells, then escapes through the wall! Banner was invited for Thanksgiving dinner, but ends up completely embroiled in this spooky double murder.

Best quote: “….Are you still dabbling in the old gore? You know–detecting?”
“Detecting! Betcher bootees I am! Why, they use me for transfusions to bloodhounds.” (page 49)


10 story April48The Scarecrow Murders (1948) 
Detective: Banner
Collection: 10 Story Detective Magazine, April 1948

No Review

Available only in used magazine edition of 10 Story Detective Magazine, April 1948. Not currently available on Amazon.

10 Story Detective Magazine, April 1948

Note: The Straw Man did it?

Murder by shotgun and the only clue is a trail of footprints that lead to the shoes of a scarecrow in the middle of a field – then stop!

A murder in a small town like Cow Crossing! No wonder this event has attracted the attention of Senator Banning, as he tours the countryside on his election campaign. The victim is one Beverley Jelke, who had been hit by a lethal dose of buckshot, and it is soon followed by another murder, this time her brother, under nearly identical circumstances! The only difference in the second case is a trail of footprints, departing from the crime scene and leading to a freshly plowed field and the feet of a scarecrow!


Banner DeadlinesDeath by Black Magic (1948)
Detective: Banner
Collection: Banner Deadlines; Sleight of Crime, Clute & Lewin, (1977)

Best Review
****

Available only in used paperback and hardcover edition. 

Book

Note: Commings version of Othello?

Murder in a haunted theatre, with a very real ghost! Fifteen years ago, Simmonds, while playing Othello, actually strangled his wife, who was playing Desdemona, before vanishing from the stage. Now, a young magician figures the haunted theatre is the best place to test a new trick!  He is soon proved wrong! The audience is allowed to view the cabinet before he steps inside and the curtain is closed. When it is raised, the magician is still in the cabinet – strangled to death! The entire performance takes place in full view of his daughter – and Banner. Is the old actor’s ghost the guilty party! Not according to Banner! One of Commings best!

Best quote: “Banner picked his teeth with his raccoon-bone toothpick. ‘Abracadabra is my meat.’” (page 85)


Banner DeadlinesGhost in The Gallery (1949)
AKA: The Devil’s Cousin
Detective: Banner
Collection: Banner Deadlines

Best Review
*****

Available only in used paperback and hardcover edition. 

Book

Note:  A dead man’s ghost leaves a present for his killer?

Linda Carwe had just poisoned her husband with 5 grams of arsenic, to escape her husband’s painful end, she takes refuge with her lover, Argyll Borden, in an art gallery. All goes well until DeWitte Carwe finds his way into the very well locked gallery, then just as suddenly disappears – leaving behind him the corpse of  Phyliss Remington, his former mistress, and a painting – ‘Wolf and  Victim’ – on which appears the faces of  both Linda’s dead husband and Phyllis Remington. Was it actually Carwe’s ghost – or a living mad man?

Best Quote: “….Seeing the hanging corpse, Coyne crossed himself religiously and exclaimed, ‘ ‘Tis the divvil hisself!’
“Banner scowled. ‘No. Just a poor sap with buck teeth.’” (page 77)


Invisible clueThe Invisible Clue (1950)
Detective: Banner
Collection: Hollywood Detective, April, 1950

No Review

Available only in used magazine edition of Hollywood Detective, April, 1950

Hollywood Detective, April, 1950

Note: Death in a solid brick locked and guarded shed

A man is shot to death inside a locked and guarded 12 foot square well house.

The austere Judge Felix Hawthorne ‘Chairman of the Committee against Vice’ has received death threats in retaliation for his personal crusade against the music halls. In fact, he even wants to close the Fine Arts Theatre, believing it shows depraved plays. This is why he now surrounds himself with all possible precautions!  He is barricaded inside a small structure of solid bricks and soon surrounded by a layer of fresh snow – and constantly watched by Senator Banning and a squad of policemen in ambush. Of course, this in no way prevents the inevitable: three shots are fired, the victim is killed at close range, and found alone without a murder weapon or a murderer in sight!


ChristmasSerenade To A Killer (1957)
Detective: Banner
Collection: Mystery Digest, July, 1957; Crime at Christmas, Jack Adrian, 1988; Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, Otto Penzler

No Review

Big Book of Christmas Mysteries is available in paperback and ebook editions. Crime at Christmas is only available in used hardcover edition, or the story is available in used magazine format of Mystery Digest, July, 1957 

eBook Penzler / Book Adrian   Amazon.ca

Note: A Troubled Sleeper?

A man is shot to death in his garden ‘music box’!

A fan of the esoteric and the occult sciences, the celebrated pianist Casper Woolfolk was fatally shot in the head, while in his ‘music box’  a small octangular pavilion in the middle of his garden. It had snowed the night before, and Casper went to the pavilion just after the fall of the last flakes. Now, Casper is murdered, shot in the head, and the only footprints in the snow are those he made on his one way trip.

The police are more than a little suspicious of Ora Spires, the old governess of  Beryl, Casper’s daughter, who is prone to sleepwalking and had a dream that she killed her boss with a blow gun on the night of the crime. An especially troubling coincidence, is that the head of the victim rested on the score of Bellini’s The Sleepwalker…


HallidayBrett-1958Through The Looking Glass (1958)
Detective: Banner
Collection: Big Time Mysteries, MWA,Halliday, 1958

No Review

Available only in used hardcover edition. Very hard to find!

Book

Note: A reflection of murder?

A very hard to find title. A boy disappears in the House of Mirrors at a fairground!


mystery_digest_195807The Bewitched Terrace (1958)
AKA: The Fraudulent Spirit
Detective: Banner
Collection: Mystery Digest, Jul 1958 (Monte Craven)

No Review

Available only in used magazine edition of Mystery Digest, July 1958. Both this title and the related title, ‘The Fraudulent Spirit’ (Mystery Digest, Sep/Oct 1960), are written under the pen name of ‘Monte Craven’. Neither title is currently available on Amazon.

Mystery Digest, July 1958

Note: Almost a lost story!

This title is not  listed in Robert Adey’s ‘Locked Room Murders’, but is counted by Roland Lacourbe in his French ‘1001 Chambres Closes’ bibliography. It was not uncommon for Commings to issue the same work under two different tiles, as with the Banner rewrites featuring Mayor Thomas Landin, but the odd part here is that both titles, one of which must be the Banner story, were both published under the pseudonym Monte Craven. What purpose would it serve to publish a Banner story under another name? Would love to buy both copies and compare, but neither is currently on the market. As almost no other information is available, this is my rough translation of the French blurb in Lacourbe.

“A great work of art occurred on the terrace of the twentieth floor, extending out from the apartment of Madame Olympe, the founder of the New Dawn Spiritual movement. To shake the skeptics, the ghost of the deceased Jasmine Leslie, climbed over the parapet,  jumped into the empty void – and disappeared … only to rematerialize on the other side of the avenue, in the opposite apartment. Banner, a fierce opponent of the spiritualists, is close to swallowing his cigar. The apparition was attempting to prove the reincarnation of Jasmine, who had fallen from the same terrace, a few months earlier.  Banner must disassemble the ‘trick’ to reveal an imaginative and very confused assassin.”


mystery_digest_195801The Female Animal (1958)
Detective: Banner
Collection: Mystery Digest, January, 1958

No Review

Available only in used magazine edition of Mystery Digest, January, 1958. Not currently available on Amazon.

Mystery Digest, January, 1958

Note: Death by champagne?

The aging star Miss Fanny Fitch had a phobia about dying by suffocation, but she was not afraid of drinking copious glasses of champagne!  It was therefore rather ironic that she should die alone in a locked room, of asphyxia, after indulging in her favourite poison.


Banner DeadlinesMurderer’s Progress (1960)
Detective: Banner
Collection: Banner Deadlines

Best Review
****

Available only in used paperback and hardcover edition. 

Book

Note: An attempt to fool Banner takes a deadly turn!

A game cooked up by five of Banner’s rivals goes fatally wrong when they stage an impossible vanishing, that ends with both participants dead. Banner is already on to their game, and is not so easily duped by a mixture of malice and chess!

Best Quote: “‘The bullet found in Wheaton’s head was fired from the gun….left behind at the club. Then Wheaton was murdered with the gun while it was in my pocket!’
“Lutz said wryly: ‘Have you got an aspirin?’” (page 100)


Banner DeadlinesThe X Street Murders (1962)
Detective: Banner
Collection: Banner Deadlines; Mammoth Book of Perfect Crimes & Impossible Mysteries; Death Locked In, Adey & Greene (1994) 

Best Review
*****

Available only in used paperback and hardcover edition. 

Book

Note: A very impossible murder!

The most famous Commings story! A  man is shot in a guarded room, while the still smoking gun is still being delivered from next door in a sealed envelope – sent prior to the shots being fired. An interesting variation on Christie’s story, “The Dream.”

Best Quote: “McKitrick sighed. ‘Times are getting brutal for us investigators when all a murderer has to do is send his victim a gun by mail and it does the killing for him.’” (page 127)


mystery_digest_19620708Open To Danger (1962)
Detective: Banner
Collection: Mystery Digest, July/August, 1962

No Review

Available only in used magazine edition of Mystery Digest, July/August, 1962. Not currently available on Amazon.

Mystery Digest, July/August, 1962

Note: An invisible murderer?

Very little information on this title. Robert Adey in ‘Locked Room Murders’, simply notes: “Stabbing and shooting by invisible means.”  


Banner DeadlinesHangman’s House (1962)
Detective: Banner
Collection: Banner Deadlines

Best Review
****

Available only in used paperback and hardcover edition. 

Book

Note: It was a dark and stormy night…

An impossible hanging in an isolated mansion outside Natchez, Misssissippi. Death had appeared at a costume ball many years earlier and vowed revenge against Jeff Fremantle for accusing him of cheating at cards. That occasion had been a farewell party, just before the family abandoned the massive old Southern mansion. Now, eleven years later, Jeff Fremantle and several others, including Banner, are trapped in the musty old mansion after a levee has failed during a severe storm – and Death is also one of those taking shelter –  and is still eager to exact his vengeance! 

Best Quote: “‘If it’s suicide,’ he (Hume, The Peanut Man) said, ‘how did he cross thirty feet of floor without leaving any marks in the dust? How did he get the rope tied to that high chandelier when there’s nothing in the house to stand on? And if he jumped from the chandelier, he wouldn’t have been strangled–his neck would have been broken!’
“‘Brother,’ said Banner, scowling, ‘you said a mouthful.’” (page 138)


Banner DeadlinesCastanets, Canaries & Murder (1962)
Detective: Banner
Collection: Banner Deadlines

Best Review
****

Available only in used paperback and hardcover edition. 

Book

Note: Who killed the $1000 canaries?

A very complex plot with an ‘Invisible Man’ who commits a murder almost right in front of a running camera. The clues include three dead canaries that belonged to a volatile Puerto Rican actress! 

Best quote: “….’She’s got a whole arsenal of dirks, poniards, stilletos, creeses, and machetes in her apartment. She admits this’s from her collection.’
“‘Isn’t she the sweet helpless li’l thing!’ said Banner with sarcasm.” (page 112)


mystery_digest_196301-02Betrayal in The Night (1963)
Detective: Banner
Collection: Mystery Digest, January/February, 1963

No Review

Available only in used magazine edition of Mystery Digest, January/February, 1963. Not currently available on Amazon.

Mystery Digest, January/February, 1963

Note: Killed by an empty room?

The Secretary Consul of Hungary in Washington, Alexi Ceska, has decided to defect to the west. Senator Banner is given the mission of granting all possible assistance. This includes sending Dr. Cowles to the bedside of Bela Zaros, the wife of the Consul, who is giving birth.

Just as he arrives on the scene, Cowles suddenly sees Ceska run out of an office and collapse in front of two witnesses, after having pointed at some attacker behind him, and screaming ‘It is here in this room!’ But there is no one in the office and no other way out! Dr. Cowles can only note that Ceska is dead!


Banner DeadlinesThe Giant’s Sword (1963)
Detective: Banner
Collection: Banner Deadlines

Best Review
****

Available only in used paperback and hardcover edition. 

Book

Note: It began with a fake painting… followed by a brutal murder!

Estelle Whitelake bought a nice painting that turns out to be a forgery. The dealer that sold it is also soon dead, brutally murdered with a huge Scottish claymore, that could only have been wielded by a giant. Oddly, how much mileage a Volkswagen actually gets proves to be crucial to Banner’s solution!

Best quote: “….How much do you know about art?”
“I can’t draw a cow and put all four legs on it.” (page 146)


saint_mystery_196312The Last Samurai (1963)
Detective: Banner
Collection: The Saint Mystery Magazine, December, 1963

No Review

Available only in used magazine edition of ‘The Saint Mystery Magazine, December, 1963. Not currently available on Amazon.

The Saint Mystery Magazine, December, 1963

Note: An impossible jailbreak?

Tokyo, summer of 1947: Several Japanese war criminals are awaiting trial, but the eleven judges of the International Tribunal are baffled because Colonel Mitsuko Ohara, who had agreed to testify against his superior General Yamagata, has just escaped from Sugamo prison. It was Senator Banner who had ensured his testimony and helped him flee assassination attempts by Yamagata. Mitsuko had inexplicably disappeared from the infirmary cell where he had been transferred; a cell whose door was constantly under the supervision of Sergeant Don White;  a cell whose window was fitted with solid bars. Banner finally elucidates this mystery in the Inn of Heavenly Desire, during a fine meal with three attractive geishas serving.


Big lizard LR mysteriesThe Glass Gravestone (1966)
Detective: Banner
Collection: The Saint Mystery Magazine, October, 1966; The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries

Locked Room Mini-Review
*****

Available in paperback and ebook editions.

Book  eBook   Amazon.ca

Note: Murder at the UN

Sir Quiller Selwyn, the current president of the UN Security Council, has called Senator Banner to a meeting at the UN, to discuss some troubling information that has been brought to his attention. Unfortunately, Banner is running behind schedule due to a serious winter storm, and only Surendranath Das. an Indian delegate, and reporter Bob Farragut, who has been tipped off by Banner, are present when Sir Quiller starts down the long escalator from the mezzanine, in full sight of all below. He makes it halfway down, before their is a loud crack, not unlike a pistol shot – and Sir Quiller’s throat is suddenly transformed into a huge bloody gash! Das and Farragut are each others alibis, but not a single other person was near Sir Quiller on the stairway, nor on the floors above or below! It was clearly murder – though no murderer or murder weapon is anywhere in sight – except an old razor that falls from Sir Quiller’s pocket – but suicide is completely out of the question!


MSMM 196804The Moving Finger (1968)
Detective: Banner
Collection: MSMM, April 1968

No Review

Available only in used copies of The Mike Shane Mystery Magazine, April, !968. Not currently available on Amazon.

The Mike Shane Mystery Magazine, April, 1968.

Note: Invisible messages?

As the grand vizier to his caliph, Senator Banner promises to help his old friend Sheik Ali Sa’ab solve a personal problem. The Iraqi magnate suspects his young wife Bernice of deceiving him with three Americans, who work for an oil company. But none of the men ever approach the beautiful young woman, who receives no letters, not even a note, nor any calls. She simply makes brief appearances outside of each of their offices, or outside their residence – without entering or leave anything. The Sheik suspects some sort of secret message is being passed, but his careful searches have so far turned up nothing, Now, he is asking Banner to investigate this secret means of communication.


Banner DeadlinesStairway to Nowhere (1979)
With Edward D. Hoch
Detective: Banner
Collection: Banner Deadlines

Best Review
****

Available only in used paperback and hardcover edition. 

Book

Note: Banner gets burned!

Banner had been warned that a young woman was in danger, which made it a real burn when she disappears in the middle of a staircase. It also seems likely that she was running around with a valuable diamond! Quite a different story for Commings, this one is written from the  narrative viewpoint of the young man, Jim Newman, whose girlfriend is missing, rather than Banner’s perspective. Makes Banner seem far more inscrutable!

Best quote: “Banner drew himself up augustly. ‘I dabble in crime.’
“‘You’d better watch out,’ said Jim wryly. ‘Some day the police’ll catch you.’” (page 157)


MSMM 198006Nobody Likes a Fat Man (1980)
Detective: Banner
Collection: MSMM, June 1980

No Review

Available only in used magazine edition of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, June 1980. Currently not available on Amazon.

MSMM, June 1980

Note: Whose got the microfilm?

Not much information on this title, Robert Adey, in Locked Room Murders, simply notes: “Concealment of a capsule full of microfilm in a house searched from top to bottom.”


MSMM198105Assassination – Middle East (1981)
Detective: Banner
Collection: MSMM, May 1981

No Review

Available only in used magazine edition of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, May 1981. 

MSMM, May 1981

Note: A robbed figure impossibly disappears.

Another title with virtually no available inforation. Robert Adey, in Locked Room Murders, simply notes: “Disappearance of a robed figure from a house into which it has been seen to withdraw.”


MSMM198203Dressed to Kill (1982)
Detective: Banner
Collection: MSMM, March 1982

No Review

Available only in used edition of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, March 1982.

MSMM, March 1982

Note: ‘Dressed to be killed’ might be a better title?

Returning home one evening, Georgia Bacon entered the home of her brother, Dr. Quincy Bacon, then lies down on the sofa … and dies. Returning later, Dr. Bacon is lost in conjectures about the reasons for her death. She was just 27 years old,  in perfect health, had no heart disease, and her body bears no apparent injuries. Later analysis of her stomach also proves that she was not poisoned. Dr. Bacon goes to Banner in desperation, and he enthusiastically  starts an investigation. The most curious discovery he makes, is that a few days earlier, another young woman had died under identical circumstances, on the day of her wedding. And she was wearing a dress that looked strangely similar to the one worn by Georgia Bacon!


MSMM 198208Murder of a Mermaid (1982)
Detective: Banner
Collection: MSMM, August 1982

No Review

Available only in used edition of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, August 1982. Not currently available on Amazon.

MSMM, August 1982

Note: A long swim in a short pool!

It is always tragic when a young beautiful creature loses her life, especially when she dies practicing the sport she loves. This was the sad fate of Aimee Waverly, swimming champion unparalleled; endowed with an excellent physical condition that surpassed everyone in the pool. She was even a qualified rescue swimmer, unlikely to make a foolish mistake! So why did they find the intact and lifeless body of this beautiful swimmer dead by drowning, after swimming until she was completely exhausted in her own pool? Banner is faced with a challenging new problem, cleverly constructed, and punctuated with a solution of absolutely brilliant simplicity.


MSMM 198405The Fire Dragon Caper (1984)
Detective: Banner
Collection: MSMM, May 1984

No Review

Available only in used edition of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, May 1984.

MSMM, May 1984

Note: Modern day alchemy?

The Hong Kong Shanghai Corporation, one of the largest banks in Southeast Asia, boasted of never having been robbed – until that day that the wily Earl Fauntleroy stole the sum of £30 000. A brilliant young chemist, Fauntleroy claimed to have found a way to produce more gold from the same precious metal, using a scientific process, and had managed to convince one of the bank’s biggest customers to take a chance by placing at his disposal the equivalent of 30,000 pounds in gold sovereigns. It was Colonel Walter Seven who was responsible for monitoring the laboratory of Fauntleroy, housed in a disused warehouse. The building was guarded day and night, and anyone who entered or came out was systematically searched. Then one morning, two and half months after the start of the experiment, Fauntleroy was impossibly absent and all the gold sovereigns had disappeared! While in Hong Kong, after completing a special mission in Formosa, Senator Banner tries to clear up this matter.


Banner DeadlinesThe Vampire in The Iron Mask (1984)
AKA: The Grand Guignol Caper
Detective: Banner
Collection: Banner Deadlines

Best Review
****

Available only in used paperback and hardcover edition. 

Book

Note: A Vampire is killing children!

Colonel Hope Seven wants to give Guy St. Hilaire a medal for his work in the French resistance, but Guy isn’t very interested. Then an iron-masked man starts strangling kids at a creepy French boarding school, and someone is also writing ‘Vampir’ inside a locked tomb. 

“A night full of grand-guignolesque revelations, when the unreal became the real, and the real became the unreal.”  A sepulchral atmosphere and a plot with so many twists that it is almost more Carr than Commings.

Best quote: “The vampire turned its iron face upon them, but it was too late. The curse no longer worked, the evil spell was broken.” (page 197)


Banner DeadlinesThe Whispering Gallery (2004)
Detective: Banner
Collection: Banner Deadlines

Best Review
****

Available only in used paperback and hardcover edition. 

Book

Note: Did the Great Zeno perform a real disappearing act?

First published in Banner Deadlines, likely written many years earlier. A spiritualist debunker vanishes, and some people are quite happy with the outcome. Clues include:  a 3,000-year-old papyrus, a portrait punctured by a bullet, a pack of tarot cards, an under-age bride, an albino policeman, and a body frozen in ice! 

Best Quote: “This house is supposed to be haunted. It has twenty rooms. This is the whispering gallery.”
“Yeah? What’s it saying?” (page 204)


Other Locked Room Short Stories


ten_detective_aces_194709Hate Laughs at Locksmiths (1947)
Detective: Doc Vincent
Collection: Ten Detective Aces, September 1947

No Review

Available only in used magazine edition of Ten Detective Aces, December 1947. Not currently available on Amazon.

Ten Detective Aces, December 1947

Note: A locked room stabbing without a weapon?

Not much information available. Robert Adey, in Locked Room Murders, only notes: “(1) Death by stabbing in a locked room in which the victim and the three suspects were together after being examined by a fluoroscope before they entered to prove that no weapon had been taken in.  (2) Exit, later, from the same locked room after similar fluoroscope examination to obviate the possibility of a key being taken in.”


private_detective_stories_194902Death Shapes The Frame (1949)
Detective: Matt Tudor
Collection: Private Detective Stories, February 1949

No Review

Available only in used magazine edition of Private Detective Stories, February 1949. Not currently available on Amazon.

Private Detective Stories, February 1949

Note: A honeytrap catches a dead queen bee!

Private detective Matt Tudor was hired to find evidence of adultery by Gerald Henstowe. Tudor plans to wait for a girl to arrive, then barge in and take photos for Julia, the wife of Henstowe, so she can be granted a divorce. Henstowe is in his suite on the eleventh floor of Century House Hotel. But when Tudor comes to the door with two witnesses holding cameras, no one answers the doorbell. The door is locked from the inside, so Tudor must use his burglar skills to enter the premises. All three then discover Henstowe dead drunk on the couch and Julia Henstowe’s corpse in the bedroom. The young woman had been stabbed with a very sharp dagger – like a knitting needle. But no murder weapon is found, despite a very thorough search conducted by experts. 


western_trails_194904The Riddle of Hangtree County (1949)
Detective: Colonel Beardsley
Collection: Western Trails, April 1949, 

No Review

Available only in used magazine edition of Western Trails, April 1949. Currently not available on Amazon.

Western Trails, April 1949

Note: A locked room in the old west!

A murder trial is taking place in Hangtree County, with Colonel Beardsley Prawn as the defense counsel. The trial of Chet King. accuses him of murdering Bill Trinidad in his room at the Hotel Cherriko. Trinidad’s body was found stabbed in the back with a “Bowie Knife” inside a locked room. King was in the same room, lying on the ground, apparently dead drunk, a half-empty bottle of whiskey at his side. No one could have left the premises, as every exit door and the windows were locked from the inside, and a heavy dresser had been pushed across the door.

The murder was discovered by Lon Lucas who came to see Trinidad, and when nobody answered, he had suggested to the hotel owner to send someone to inspect the room through the window. After climbing up a  ladder, a Comanche hotel employee actually made the discovery. The only way to enter the premises had been to break the glass of the window. Chet King could not remember anything and the room key had been found in his pocket. Beardsley strongly suspects that Lon Lucas is behind this murder. He is at the head of the Homesteaders Protective Agency, a group of citizens who looks very much like the Ku Klux Klan! Lon and his brother George have been pushing small owners off their land, and King was the one who was organizing a citizens committee to oppose their deadly tactics. But how was the trick done!

One of a small collection of westerns, where Commings merges the mystery and western genres.


LR ReaderBones For Davey Jones (1953)
AKA: The Diver and The Witch (Monty Craven pseudonym)
Detective: Captain Tom Pepper
Collection: The Locked Room Reader, Hans Santesson (1968); Crook’s Tour, MWA, Ed. Bruno Fischer (1953)

No Review

Available only in used hardcover edition.

Book

Note: Death at sixteen fathoms

Sirens, amphibious creatures, sea monsters… Nonsense, you say! Yet Captain Tom Pepper is now close to being a believer, after he witnessed the fate of Marshall Curwen! Curwen’s yacht had run up on a reef that very morning, right in front of Pepper and his crew. Curwen had not been aboard, but everyone knew that his wife, Jayne, had long been trying to escape his violent temper. Curwen had gone down to the wreck in heavy diving gear, and had somehow been knifed sixteen fathoms down. The killer must have been a passenger on the yacht that sank a few hours earlier, and is now taking revenge on the owner! But Pepper is not superstitious and wants to solve this strange case. With the consent of Sheriff Ives, he dives down and finds four drowned crew members onboard, plus the wife of Curwen, with a stab wound in her heart, that closely matches the one in her husband!  There is only one problem – Jayne Curwen didn’t drown, she was already dead before the yacht sank!


mystery_digest_195709Paging Mr. Blitzen! (1957)
Detective: Blitzen The Great
Collection: Mystery Digest, September 1957

No Review

Available only in used magazine edition of Mystery Digest, September 1957. Not currently available on Amazon.

Mystery Digest, September 1957

Note: See ‘Hot Bullet’

Paging, Mr. Blitzen, Hot Bullet, and Intermission are all basically the same story with different detectives and a few cosmetic changes. Little information is available with respect to ‘Paging, Mr. Blitzen’ or ‘Intermission’, but a bit more information is available in French, for translation, with respect to  ‘Hot Bullet’.

Robert Adey, Locked Room Murders, simply notes: “Death by shooting in a locked room from which a valuable deck of Tarot Cards has been stolen.”


mystery_digest_195711Die, Ballerina, Die (1957)
Detective: Banner
Collection: Mystery Digest, Nov 1957

No Review

Available only in used magazine edition of Mystery Digest, Nov 1957. Not currently available on Amazon.

Mystery Digest, Nov 1957

Note: Memories can be dangerous!

This title is not listed in Robert Adey’s ‘Locked Room Murder’s, but is counted by Roland Lacourbe in his French ‘1001 Chambres Closes’ bibliography. This is my translation of Lacourbe’s blurb on this title.

“Silka, the ballerina, says Dr. John Carter, her psychiatrist, thinks she killed Norman Gard, five months ago, when she was in a state of hypnosis. They were alone in the office of Gard when he was shot with a revolver bullet, and witnesses later found the young woman unconscious at the bedside of the victim, the murder weapon by her side. Although she was the only heiress of the Bellhurst estate, that had been bequeathed to her in the will of Norman Gard, the police finally exonerated her. But that did not help her deal with the remorse, and Silka had been on the verge of suicide.

It was therefore not entirely surprising when she was found dead in her dressing room a few days later, poisoned with aconite. But the problem is that no one really knows what happened the day Gard died. Now, Dr. Carter believes Silka was actually eliminated by the real murderer, since she might, one day or another, finally remember what had actually passed that fateful day five months earlier…


mystery_digest_196005-06Hot Bullets (1960)
Detective: The Great Jannings – Master of Magic!
Collection: Mystery Digest, May/June 1960

No Review

Available only in the used magazine edition of Mystery Digest, May/June 1960. Currently not available on Amazon.

Mystery Digest, May/June 1960

Note: Rewrite of ‘Paging Mr. Blitzen!’ & ‘Intermission’.

Paging, Mr. Blitzen, Hot Bullet, and Intermission are all basically the same story with different detectives and a few cosmetic changes. Little information is available with respect to ‘Paging, Mr. Blitzen’ or ‘Intermission’, but a bit more information is available in French, for translation, with respect to ‘Hot Bullet’.

Tod Camden was neatly framed. Hired as a bodyguard, he is now accused of murdering his boss, Eli Starbuck, who had been killed by a bullet inside his locked office. The irony is that Tod was cleaning his weapon at that precise time, but ballistics has formally established that his gun is the one that killed the old man. The Great Jannings, a professional magician, is called in to help rescue the bodyguard from this masterful illusion created by a murderer. 


300px-No_image_availableIntermission (1961)
Detective: Faust the Great – Master of Magic
Collection: Mystery Digest, November/December 1961

No Review

Available only in used magazine edition of Mystery Digest, November / December 1961. Currently not available on Amazon.

Mystery Digest, November/December 1961

Note: See ‘Hot Bullets’

Paging, Mr. Blitzen, Hot Bullet, and Intermission are all basically the same story with different detectives and a few cosmetic changes. Little information is available with respect to ‘Paging, Mr. Blitzen’ or ‘Intermission’, but a bit more information is available in French, for translation, with respect to ‘Hot Bullet’.


Bibliographical Notes

Our Locked Room List contains 30 Banner stories and 8 other titles = 38

In addition, there are three ‘unclassified’ Banner stories for a total of 33 in the series.

Three Chamberpots – Banner – Mystery Digest Nov/Dec 1959
A Lady of Quality – Banner – Mystery Digest Sep/Oct 1961
The Cuban Blonde – Banner –  The Saint Mystery Magazine Oct 1964

Note: In addition, French ‘Chambres Closes’ locked room bibliographer, Roland Lacoube, adds one more: ‘The Harp’ – no other information is given or available in other locations. (42?)

However, Commings wrote many more stories than those listed above, but as there is no proper working bibliography, it is necessary to create our own. If you can provide any further information – please contact us! The following stories are known to have been published, though copies are usually very hard to find!

The stories written by Commings for ’10 Story Detectives’ were usually Banner stories, but four of these titles are not on the Banner list or in Robert Adey’s ‘Locked Room Murders’. (46)

10-Story Detective Magazine, August 1948, Joseph Commings, ‘What a Difference a Slay Makes’ 

10-Story Detective Magazine, December 1948, Joseph Commings, ‘Dead Letter Day’ 

10 Story Detective Magazine, June 1949,  Joseph Commings – ‘I lost My Goulish Figure’ 

10-Story Detective Magazine, August 1949, Joseph Commings, ‘The Lane That Led to Homicide’ 

 

The stories Commings published in ‘Ten Detective Aces’ were often (but not always), Banner rewrites, featuring Mayor Thomas Landin, but three remain ‘unclassified’. (46)

Ten Detective Aces,  Mar 1948, Joseph Commings, Die by Night

Ten Detective Aces, Sep 1948, Joseph Commings,  Cinder Bull 

Ten Detective Aces,  Nov 1947, Joseph Commings, The Devil’s Elbow

 

The next magazine that regularly published Commings stories was Mystery Digest, where he served as an editor  from Septmber 1957 to March 1958, and later on the January/February issue in 1963. It is here we find the largest collection of unclassified stories, with 13 unlisted stories appearing between November 1957 and March 1963: (59)

Mystery Digest, Jul 1958, Joseph Commings, ‘Counsel for the Damned’

Mystery Digest Apr 1959, Joseph Commings, ‘Home Is Where You Hang Your Husband’ 

Mystery Digest, June 1959, Joseph Commings ‘Aloha’

Mystery Digest,  Jan/Feb 1960,  Joseph Commings, ‘The Black Book’

Mystery Digest Mar/Apr 1960, Joseph Commings, The Fugitive

Mystery Digest, Jul/Aug 1960, Joseph Commings, ‘The Bluebeard of New York’

Mystery Digest,  Jan/Feb 1961,  Joseph Commings, ‘A Mermaid Named Desire’

Mystery Digest, Mar/Apr 1961, Joseph Commings,  Devils Inheritance

Mystery Digest, May/Jun 1961, Joseph Commings, ‘The Last of the Red Hot Mayas’

Mystery Digest, Jul/Aug 1961, Joseph Commings, ‘How to Lose an Election’

Mystery Digest, May/Jun 1962, Joseph Commings, ‘The Morgue of Shattered Hopes’

Mystery Digest, Sep/Oct 1962, Joseph Commings, ‘Madness Around Midnight’

Mystery Digest Mar/Apr 1963, Joseph Commings, ‘The Wandering Jew’

 

In addition, under The pseudnym ‘Monte Craven’, Commings wrote another 12 titles for Mystery digest: (71)

Mystery Digest, Nov 1957, Monte Craven, ‘The King of Liars’

Mystery Digest, Nov/Dec 1959, Monte Craven, ‘The Ice Age’

Mystery Digest, Jan/Feb 1960, Monte Craven, ‘Crime File 3549’

Mystery Digest, May/Jun 1960, Monte Craven, ‘The Dummy’

Mystery Digest, Sep/Oct 1960, Monte Craven, ‘The Fraudulent Spirit’

Mystery Digest, Nov/Dec 1960, Monte Craven, ‘The Witch’

Mystery Digest, Mar/Apr 1961, Monte Craven, ‘The Image of Me’

Mystery Digest, May/Jun 1961, Monte Craven, ‘The Bookkeeper’

Mystery Digest, Jul/Aug 1961, Monte Craven, ‘The Man Who Lost His Head’

Mystery Digest, Nov/Dec 1961, Monte Craven, ‘I’m No Hero’

Mystery Digest, Mar/Apr 1962, Monte Craven ‘The Diver and the Witch’

Mystery Digest, Mar/Apr 1963, Monte Craven, ‘All Men Kill the Thing They Love’

Note: ‘The Bewitched Terrace’ is also by Craven, but included above. ‘The Fraudulent Spirit’ is known to be essentially the same story, but as it is unclear what changes were made to ‘The Bewitched Terrace’ –  it is counted as a separate story.  The same applies to ‘The Diver and The Witch’ which is an early version of  ‘Bones For Davey Jones’.

 

Commings also published in various other magazines, to date I have located another 11 unlisted stories: (82)

Crime Fiction Stories, December 1950, Joseph Commings, ‘Gems Glow With Blood’ 

Killers Mystery Story Magazine,  Mar 1957, Joseph Commings, ‘Blonde Beautiful and Dead’

Manhunt, Dec 1957, Joseph Commings, ‘Clay Pigeon’

Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, Apr 1960, Joseph Commings, ‘Unlucky Star’ 

Private Detective, Jan 1950, Joseph Commings, ‘A Halo for Murder’

The Saint Mystery Magazine, Oct 1965, Joseph Commings, ‘Party Girl’

Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine, Spring 1949, Joseph Commings, ‘The Lady and the Tiger’

Super-Detective, Oct 1950, Joseph Commings, ‘Memo: Murder’

Suspect Detective Stories,  Jun 1956, Joseph Commings, ‘The Warning’

Suspense (UK),  Nov 1959, Joseph Commings, The Cardinal’s Candles

Suspense (UK), Mar 1959, Joseph Commings, ‘The Great Hunger’ – Originally Published in: Eat, Drink, and Be Buried, ed. Mystery Writers of America, Viking 1956

 

There were also several stories written under the ‘Craven’ pseudonym, and not published in Mystery Digest, which are spelled Monty, not Monte! (87)

Ten Detective Aces, Mar 1948, Monty Craven, ‘Daughter of Disaster’

Ten Detective Aces, Sep 1948, Monty Craven, ‘Scent to Kill’

10-Story Detective Magazine, Monty Craven.Jun 1948, Boogie-Woogie Bullets

Western Aces, May 1949, Monty Craven, Trail of the Talking Trees

Western Trails, Apr 1949, Monty Craven, Pioneer Sky-Pilot

The last two stories above also demonstrate that, early in his career, Commings also attempted to write in the western genre. Another title I found even sounds like a western locked room title:

Western trails. Vol. 44, no. 4./ Springfield, MA : A.A. Wyn, 1948. / 65.—“Satan Forks a White Horse” (novelette) “After taking a foreman’s job, Larry Deacon finds himself in a dead man’s boots on his way to murder in the mesquite” by Joseph Commings” (88)

Commings also wrote a story for a Mystery Writer’s of America Anthology:

Tales for a Rainy Night, Mystery Writers of America Anthology #14 (1961), Joseph Commings, ‘Have You Lost Your Head?’ (89)

The 38 locked room stories above, and these 51 uncategorized mystery titles, provide us with a rough bibliography of 89 short mystery titles, though there may well be many more now completely lost or  undiscovered in some minor publication.

French Collected Editions:
Le Vampire au masque de fer et autres histoires 
Les Enquêtes du Sénateur Banner, tome 1 : Les Meurtres de l’épouvantail et autres histoires 
Operation aphrodite (1966)

Adult Fiction Titles:
Sailor’s Nympho
The Goddess
Nine to Five


Joseph Commings Short Story Collections


Banner DeadlinesBanner Deadlines 
Detective: Senator Brooks U. Banner

 

Best Review
****

Available only in used paperback and hardcover edition.

Book

Included in this unique collection:

Introduction: “The Writing Career of Joseph Commings” by Robert Adey

1. “Murder Under Glass” (1947) *
A rich man is murdered in a locked room made of glass.

2. “Fingerprint Ghost” (1947) *
Murder right in the middle of a seance. No fingerprints on the murder weapon.

3. “The Spectre on the Lake” (1947) *
Banner is an eyewitness to murder, can’t positively identify the killer or find the weapon.

4. “The Black Friar Murders” (1948) *
Banner gets invited to Thanksgiving dinner and ends up in the middle of a double murder.

5. “Ghost in the Gallery” (1949)
Asians devised a method of killing Satan long ago – now it has returned.

6. “Death by Black Magic” (1948) *
Murder in a haunted theatre, but the “ghost” is real – a clever re-working of Othello.
*The audience is allowed to inspect the magician’s cabinet from all sides before he steps inside to perform his vanishing trick and the curtain descends. When the curtain goes up again, the magician is still in the cabinet—strangled.

7. “Murderer’s Progress” (1960) *
A game that goes fatally wrong, challenges Banner to solve two intertwined murders.

8. “Castanets, Canaries and Murder” (1962) *
The Invisible Man commits a murder. Dead canaries, a volatile movie star, carrier pigeons, and a lens are all part of Banner’s solution.

9. “The X Street Murders” (1962) *
International espionage leads to two murders, the first one a marvel of intricacy and timing.
* A man is shot in a guarded room, while the still-smoking gun was delivered next door in a sealed envelope prior to the shots being fired

10. “Hangman’s House” (1962) *
Death, wearing a mask, vows revenge, and eleven years later collects.

11. “The Giant’s Sword” (1963)
A most unusual murder method. The victim is involved “up to the hilt” and the mileage a Volkswagen proves crucial.

12. “Stairway to Nowhere” (1979) (with Edward D. Hoch) *
A young woman disappears, as does a precious stone.

13. “The Vampire in the Iron Mask” (1984) * AKA:  The Grand Guignol Caper

A sepulchral atmosphere and intricate jiggery-pokery, ALMOST as good as John Dickson Carr on one of his off days.

14. “The Whispering Gallery” (2004)
When a spiritualist debunker vanishes, a few people hovering around are highly motivated to see him stay vanished.


Locked Room 101: The Masters


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