Saturday, June 27, 2020

Death Blew Out the Match

The once-viney tree down the street, although looking a little weary in this week's sunny heat, has produced fruit from its blossoms earlier in the season. All this time I've been thinking it's an ornamental cherry tree, but those don't look like cherries, do they? Could they be crabapples?

Clearly I am not an expert on certain fruit trees. Growing up in Florida, we always just had oranges and grapefruit. Apples and cherries are not my thing.

Today is supposed to be cool and cloudy -- maybe even rainy -- which will be a refreshing change. The sunny weather and reopening after our lockdown have combined to create a sort of temporary insanity in the UK population. The beaches have been swamped with people, and we've had civil unrest in several areas when police tried to break up nighttime street parties or unauthorized music events. In Notting Hill, on the very streets where I walked just a few days ago, there were disturbances. Even on our street, someone's been bashing out car windows this week -- we received a police notice about one such incident and then noticed another broken window the very next morning. (Fortunately we don't have a car!)

Maybe rain would calm everyone down.

I just finished a very old mystery novel. There's a whole story behind why I read it.

When I was in college, my friend Suzanne and I used to scour local thrift stores in and around Tampa for interesting stuff -- vintage clothes, old dishes and, yes, bizarre old books. One time we found one called "Death Blew Out the Match," from 1935, and we loved the melodramatic title. Suzanne bought it and kept it on her shelf for years. (Her copy looked like the one above, the hardcover edition.) She may still have it, for all I know.

The thing is, though, neither of us ever read it. For some reason, a few months ago, more than thirty years after the fact, I got to wondering about this book. I remembered it only because we joked about it so often. What was the plot like? Was it any good? I decided to find a copy of my own, and satisfy my curiosity.

I found one on Abe Books, a paperback version with a creepy cover (above) from Anson Bond publishers, and at $15 it wasn't all that cheap. But I sprung for it anyway. Turns out it's an abridged version -- Anson Bond published a series called "Bonded Mysteries" that pledged to offer "the best available two dollar mystery novels" in a shortened, 25-cent format.

Normally I wouldn't opt for an abridged book, but oh well. When my copy arrived, I noticed that a previous owner -- initials "EFD" -- proclaimed it "good" with a pencilled note on the title page. Evidently they liked it so much they wrote the title on the cover a second time!

Anyway, I read it over a couple of days, and it was pretty entertaining. Of course, having been published 85 years ago, it was bound to contain at least one uncomfortable racial stereotype -- the Chinese servant character Wing Lo was described as having "inscrutable, unblinking Oriental eyes, that saw everything and told nothing." And even though it supposedly took place in New England, the accents seemed more West Virginia. But overall it was a fun read, and now I can say I've read it. For what that's worth.


  1. Sorry. I cannot help with the fruit tree . Very sadly, Kathleen Moore Knight died in Massachusetts in 1984 at the tender age of 94. Gone before her time. "Exit A Star" indeed. French Wikipedia says that she was born Alan Amos! I am not sure that this is correct but it could be. Perhaps he/she was an intersexual human... like J.K.Rowling/Robert Galbraith.

  2. The fruit and leaves do look to me very much like a type of crab apple. I don't know what kind. Some produce fruit that's great in pies and other things that "cooks" would know about. I think I'll skip that book, although I love that you finally found a copy and read it all these years later. I wonder how different the unabridged version would be. I'm right now playing with the idea of reading Moby Dick. I've tried the first time in high school, again about 15 years ago, and am wondering if this time I won't again get buried at sea.

  3. Those do look like crabapples to me but, I haven't seen any is many years so I could be wrong. Every now and then I pick up an old book to read. My grandfather used to have a lot of mysteries and I still have a few of them. They are fun to read. Kind of like watching an old movie.

  4. Definitely looks like an apple of some sort. How exciting that it's making fruit!
    I would read that book for sure. I wonder if Mr. P. is on to something and the author was transgendered. That would be interesting. I have a theory that a lot of early pulp writers were differently gendered as they could do their writing and publishing quite privately.
    Just a theory.

  5. Definitely crabapple..just take one and cut across

  6. what a surprise! your rescued tree is bearing fruit. wouldn't it be nice if it was an edible apple tree. we have a lot of old science fiction books. not as many as we used to have. some of the are two novels in one book. read one, flip the book around and turn it over and read the other.

  7. the title is enough to catch your attention.

  8. Guessing some type of apple tree...evidently there are all sorts of apps that you can put on your phone to help identify flora and fauna. You take a picture and the app identifies it. Might be fun thing for you since you're always traipsing through verdant territory with Olga.

  9. Looks like crabapple to me. The photo of the tree blossoming does as well. Our neighbours had one and it was gorgeous in spring, and very popular with deer in the fall - they loved the windfalls.

    I would be as "at sea" with a citrus tree as you say you are with apple trees - they just don't grow here. But apple trees - the Annapolis Valley in our province is kind of famous for those and produces dozens of varieties.

    That really is a cool book title!

  10. Every once and a while, something reminds me of Death Blew Out the Match. We did say the title in a very radio drama style and for years the title alone had given both Steve and I great laughs. I'm glad you finally got to read it, I can't remember who got my copy friend or store. Did we find it at the big book sale in St. Pete.? The same trip you found the flailing wet cat painting at a Good Will.

  11. We used to have crabapple trees in my part of North Dakota. I can remember eating a green fruit from the tree or at least took one bite before I threw it away with a sour taste in my mouth AND on my face. I can't remember if I ever tried a ripe one or not. I'm reading a strange novel right now - Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by one Robin Sloan. I'm not sure what to think of it yet.

  12. not sure why crab apple is even in the same category as apple- they are nasty little tricksters.
    Your book's cover is worthy of two titles, Very cool! Curious about the flailing wet cat painting! oh yes, please

  13. YP: Thank you for the fanciful Knight biography! I think Alan Amos was actually a nom de plume.

    Mitchell: Yeah, I'm bummed that I wound up with an abridged version, because now I'll still always wonder what the original is like! (But not enough to buy one.)

    Sharon: I used to love reading all my grandfather's old Perry Mason paperbacks!

    Ms Moon: A lot of pulp fiction was quite transgressive in its day, with gay characters and plots and that kind of thing. This was a pretty standard murder mystery, though.

    GZ: That's a good idea! Why didn't I think of that?!

    Ellen: I bet they're collectible! Years ago I found a bag of old sci-fi paperbacks in a trash bin in New York. They had great mid-century covers. I put them on eBay and sold them. I wonder if they're still out there?

    Red: It's a good title, isn't it? That's the only reason Suzanne and I were so intrigued by it!

    Mary: Yeah, I've seen ads for those apps. I probably should download one. Dave has one on his phone but it doesn't work too well!

    Jenny-O: Maybe when the fruit gets slightly larger it will be more obvious, or as GZ says I can cut it open and figure it out.

    Supergirl67: Hey Suzanne! I totally forgot about that cat painting! LOL

    Catalyst: We have Mr. Penumbra in our library, I believe. I haven't read it. Let me know if you ultimately like it.

    Linda Sue: They may be nasty but they're beautiful! I have a picture of the cat painting -- I'll blog it sometime.

  14. Ah yes, the inscrutable Oriental, featured often enough in Biggles books.

  15. You can make delicious jams and jellies with the crabapples, as well as other delicious tasties. Try it, you might like it. If you do, let me know how it comes out. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.