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Hake Talbot is a pen name of American lawyer, theatrical director, amateur magician and novelist, Henning Nelms (1900-1986). Talbot is now chiefly remembered for his locked room mystery novel ‘Rim of the Pit’ (1944).
During a 1981 poll of experts, arranged by Edward D. Hoch for the preface of his anthology ‘All But Impossible!’, Talbot’s ‘Rim of the Pit’ stood second, next only to John Dickson Carr’s ‘The Hollow Man’ (1935), as the best locked room mystery of all time. Another of Talbot’s novels, ‘The Hangman’s Handyman’, which Talbot wrote in 1942, also received honourable mention, and he wrote two important short stories, ‘The High House’ and ‘The Other Side’.
After 1945, it became more difficult to publish mystery fiction, and Nelms could not get his third novel published. He then stopped writing fiction and to this day no copy of this third novel, reportedly titled ‘The Affair of the Half-Witness’, has ever been found. Nelms is also widely remembered as an amateur stage magician, who wrote several important works on this art. His ‘Magic and Showmanship: A Handbook for Conjurers’, is widely considered to be one of the most important texts on the performance of stage magic. He was an active member of the Society of American Magicians and taught drama at Middlebury College, Vermont. He also wrote the play ‘Only an Orphan Girl’ (1944).
“Hake Talbot only published two novels, a play and some short fiction, so his output was very small. Talbot’s first novel, Hangman’s Handyman (1942), is disappointing. But his second novel, Rim of the Pit (1944), is a masterpiece. Talbot is the only Carr imitator whose work could actually be preferred to that of Carr himself. Both of these novels are now back in print, from the publisher Ramble House.”
Hangman’s Handyman (1942)
Series: Rogan Kincaid
Available in paperback and ebook editions.
Note: A fairly good first novel
Reviewers generally agree that this first effort was not in the same league as his classic ‘Rim of The Pit’, though some disagree (See link below). Rogan Kincaid arrives at the mysterious island known as The Kraken, expecting to attend a lavish party thrown by Jackson B. Frant for a dozen guests. Instead he finds only Nancy Garwood, who has been drugged and left in her bedroom. The rest of the mansion is deserted and all Nancy remembers is that somebody died at dinner!
During the course of this novel a man is apparently killed by a spoken curse, after which his body begins to immediately decompose. There is also an attempted murder inside a locked room.
Available in paperback and ebook editions.
Note: #2 on the all time list of locked room mysteries!
A true locked room classic. Second only to ‘The Hollow Man’ on Hoch’s 1981 list of best locked room mysteries of all time! The setting is a snowbound New England cabin, where an odd group of characters have gathered to discuss logging rights bequeathed by a deceased step-father. The meeting takes a rather dramatic turn when the deceased stepfather appears at a séance hovering in mid-air!
The central locked room murder involves a man who is beaten to death inside a locked room, then there are those mysterious tracks that stop in the middle of a field of snow!
Hake Talbot Short Stories
Available only in used hardcover.
Note: A religious cult haunts Hollywood
“The Other Side” features Talbot’s central character, Rogan Kincaid, this time assisted by Svetozar Vok. The victim is shot to death while alone inside a locked room under constant observation. The novel is set in Hollywood and involves the machinations of a dangerous religious cult. Talbot again deals with the power of curses, much like those found in ‘Hangman’s Handyman’.
Available only in the original magazine. Some issues on eBay, can’t currently locate this title: Mystery Book Magazine [v6 #3, Spring 1948] (25¢, pulp) Other issues $15 – $45, this one likely much more!
Note: Death by falling from a rooftop?
“The High House” (1948) has an impossible crime based in the architecture of its remote country mansion, like some of the miracles in Rim of the Pit. This sort of concern for architecture was a Golden Age specialty. Rogan Kincaid has manipulated a few events behind the scenes, actions we learn about in the finale, as in Rim of the Pit. And it deals with a curse that threatens to annihilate the hero of the story, as in Hangman’s Handyman. The story has some of Talbot’s trademark atmosphere, with a group of characters stuck in a remote place where eeriness reigns. There is an odd feel of time having stopped, while we watch strange events unfold as in a dream. There is also a complex series of interrelationships between the characters in the story: Talbot has worked out the special nature of the relationship between each pair of the story’s characters. This too adds to the feeling of plot density and weight.”