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S. S. Van Dine Locked Room Titles


Van DineS.S. Van Dine was a pseudonym used by American art critic Wilford Huntington Wright. (1888-1939) Wright created the immensely popular American detective Philo Vance, who featured in 12 novels, numerous radio broadcasts, and several movie adaptations. He was also an important early critic of the mystery genre. Wright described Vance as “a man of unusual culture and brilliance. An aristocrat by birth and instinct, he held himself aloof  from the common world of man.” Vance was a flippant cynic, but nothing like the typical ‘hard boiled’ American detective which would soon become so familiar.

Willard Huntington Wright, was born in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1888. His younger brother, Stanton Macdonald-Wright, was a respected abstract painter and a founder of “Synchromism”. Willard was first recognized as an art and literary critic, known for his scathing reviews and irreverent opinions. He was particularly caustic about romance and detective fiction. H.L. Mencken, Oscar Wilde, Ambrose Bierce, and the ‘naturalism’ of Theodore Dreiser, clearly influenced his first novel, ‘The Man of Promise’ (1916).

Wright also wrote a book introducing Nietzsche to a skeptical American audience. He was a proud Germanophile, writing ‘Misinforming a Nation’, which was a blistering attack on the British biases in the Encyclopædia Britannica. Wright did not support America’s decision to enter WW I, and was erroneously accused of spying for Germany. After suffering a nervous breakdown, and battling issues with drug and alcohol dependence, Wright retreated to California, where he attempted to make a living as a newspaper columnist in San Francisco.

Returning to New York in 1920, Wright continued his struggle with drugs and alcohol, and during a period of recovery, finally began reading crime fiction, which led him to write several essays on detective fiction as an art form. Wright also decided to try his own hand at detective fiction and approached Maxwell Perkins, a famous Scribner’s editor he had known at Harvard, with an outline for a trilogy that would feature an affluent, snobbish amateur sleuth, a Jazz Age Manhattan setting, and lively topical references. In 1926, the first Philo Vance book, The Benson Murder Case, was published under the pseudonym “S.S. Van Dine”. Within a few years he was one of the best-selling authors in the United States, and began writing Philo Vance movie and radio scripts, though frankly embarrassed by this turn from intellectual pursuits to mass market fiction.

On April 11, 1939, at age 50, Wright died in New York of a heart condition exacerbated by excessive drinking.

(Edited fro Wikipedia: S.S. Van Dine)

Only four Phlio Vance novels are considered to be locked room classics, with ‘The Kennel Murder Case’ and ‘The Canary Murder Case’, being the two most popular.

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Philo Vance Locked Room Novels


CanaryThe Canary Murder Case (1927)
Series: Philo Vance

 

 

Best Review
****

Available in paperback and ebook editions.

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Note: Death of a popular Broadway actress

The beautiful Margaret Odell, famous Broadway actress and ex-Follies girl known as “The Canary”, is found murdered in her apartment. A number of men visited her apartment the night of her death, ranging from high society to a gangster. Philo Vance recognizes a key clue that allows him to penetrate a very clever alibi and reveal the killer. 

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Greene MurderThe Greene Murder Case (1928) 
Series: Philo Vance

 

 

Best Review
****

Available in paperback and ebook editions.

Book  eBook   Amazon.ca

Note: Death becomes a family affair!

Philo Vance enters the case when, in a single evening, one daughter of the Greene family is shot to death and another one is wounded. The family includes two sons and three daughters  (the youngest, Ada, is adopted) under the rule of their mother, a bedridden invalid who feels sorry for herself and curses her ungrateful children. Later, the two Greene brothers and the mother are also killed, leaving only the two surviving daughters, jaunty modern Sibella and shy Ada, who have both faced attempts on their lives. A locked library figures in this case, and the evidence is complicated by a set of impossible footprints in the snow, and suggestions that the paralyzed mother had not been as bedridden as she claimed. Philo Vance reduces the facts to a short list, then sets them in order, and solves the case. Not a true locked room case, but clearly has several impossible crime elements.

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kennelThe Kennel Murder Case (1933)
Series: Philo Vance

 

 

Locked RoomReview
****

Available in paperback and ebook editions.

Book  eBook  Amazon.ca

Note: Chinese porcelain and Dobermans lead to an unlikely locked room solution.

One of the Coe brothers is found dead in his bedroom, locked from the inside, and the other brother is found the next morning dead in a downstairs closet. There is also the clue of a wounded Doberman Pinscher, a mysteriously broken piece of priceless Chinese porcelain, and a cast of suspicious family members, servants and associates. Philo Vance solves the case based on his knowledge of dog breeding, Chinese porcelain, and the annals of remarkable historical crimes.

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Dragon MurderThe Dragon Murder Case (1934)
Series: Philo Vance

 

 

Best Review
****

Available in paperback and ebook editions.

Book  eBook  Amazon.ca

Note: A dragon lurking in the pool?

A guest at an estate in northern Manhattan (Inwood Hill Park) dives into the swimming pool and disappears. His murder brings up references to a mythological dragon which is said to prey on the imprudent, but Philo Vance uses his knowledge of both dragons and criminals to demonstrate whodunnit.

Note: The estate in the novel was based on Tryon Hall, a mansion in Fort Tryon Park, built after 1900 by Cornelius Kingsley Garrison Billings, a retired president of the Chicago Coke and Gas Company. In 1917 he sold the mansion to John D. Rockefeller Jr.. The mansion burned down in 1925, and Rockefeller donated the land where it was located on to the city.

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Complete S. S. Van Dine Bibliography


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