Anthony Boucher began writing mystery and detective fiction as a way to support himself while he pursued a never-realized career as a playwright. All five novels published under the Boucher pseudonym and those published as H. H. Holmes between 1937 and 1942 are well-constructed murder-detection puzzles featuring a deductionist hero or heroine and often a locked-room theme. The characters in his novels are not well developed, are almost exclusively Caucasian with bourgeois attitudes and goals, and are always secondary to the puzzle and its solution. Only rarely do the novels mention the social and political issues of the period during which they were written, and they offer no particular insights into the several potentially interesting subcultures in which they are set. In short, the Boucher-Holmes novels are examples of much of the Golden Age mystery and detective literature, in which the crime and its solution through logical deduction are paramount.
Taken collectively, the Boucher-Holmes novels are the epitome of one branch of Golden Age mystery and detective fiction. They are amusing escapist works of no particular literary merit. Boucher, an only child from a comfortable middle-class background, did not have the worldly experience of a Dashiell Hammett. Thus, his characters were portrayed in a narrow world in which ugliness, if it existed at all, derived from character flaws, not from social realities. He did not possess the poetic insight into the human condition of a Ross Macdonald or a Raymond Chandler, so his characters lack depth, and the situations that he created for them are generally unconvincing.
Boucher was much more successful in his short stories, in which characterization is less important than in novels. Nick Noble, an alcoholic ex-cop who was featured in “Black Murder,” “Crime Must Have a Stop,” and “The Girl Who Married a Monster,” is a much more engaging character than any of those appearing in Boucher’s longer works. Fergus O’Breen and Sister Ursula are also more believable when they appear in short stories. Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Playboy, and Esquire are only a few of the many journals that published Boucher’s short stories.
The Case of the Seven of Calvary
In many ways Boucher’s first novel set the pattern for those that followed. Set on the Berkeley campus of the University of California, The Case of the Seven of Calvary (1937) introduces several promising characters whose personalities prove to...
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