Back in 1946, E. P. Dutton published Best Detective Stories of the Year, the first in a long series of “Year’s Best” anthologies. David C. Cooke in his Introduction says he read 1800 short stories to come up with these 15 stories. Cooke also addressed the attack on detective fiction by “eminent critic” Edmund Wilson who dismissed the genre as “dull,” “ill-written,” and “boring.” Wilson also concluded that paper should not be wasted on publishing “this rubbish.” Cooke’s spirited defense of detective stories in the Post-World War II years reminds us how low pulp fiction and popular magazine stories were regarded by the Cultural Establishment. Best Detective Stories of the Year is a time capsule of stories that shows what was considered “The Best” over 70 years ago. I liked Bruno Fischer’s “The Man Who Lost His Head,” Day Keene’s “The Case of the Sobbing Girl,” and “Norman A. Daniels’s “Slightly Perfect.” Yes, some of these stories are dated. But this anthology gives you a good view of the state of detective fiction in 1945. Recommended. GRADE: B+
David C. Cooke–Introduction 9
G. T. Fleming-Roberts–Married to Murder (In Argosy) 17
Royce Howes–Slick Trick (In The Saturday Evening Post) 54
Robert C. Dennis–Don’t Comp Back Alive! (In Detective Tales) 68
Q. Patrick–White Carnations (In Collier’s) 78
Walter C. Brown–Prelude to Murder (In Blue Book) 96
Bruno Fischer–The Man Who Lost His Head (In Doc Savage) 118
Margaret Manners–Body in the Barn (In Argosy 138
A. Boyd Correll–Press Agent for Murder (In Detective Story Magazine) 174
Day Keene–The Case of the Sobbing Girl (In Detective Tales 174
Marie Beynon Ray–Just a Minute, Dr. Marlowe (In Cosmopolitan) 203
Julius Long–Carnie Kill (In Black Mask) 220
C. William Harrison–Wish You Were Dead (In New Detective) 250
Henry Norton–The Booby Trap (In Detective Story Magazine) 282
Norman A. Daniels–Slightly Perfect (In The Shadow) 299

24 thoughts on “FORGOTTEN BOOKS #422: BEST DETECTIVE STORIES OF THE YEAR: 1945 Edited By David C. Cooke

    1. george Post author

      Dan, Edmund Wilson considered himself the gatekeeper of Culture. Wilson’s “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” inspired a great response by W. H. Auden in “The Guilty Vicarage.”

  1. Bill Crider

    Looks like an entertaining collection. I’d probably enjoy it more than I’d enjoy Edmund Wilson.

  2. Jeff Meyerson

    I used to read Wilson back in college, and some of it was interesting, but his unbearable pretensions were hard to take.

    1. george Post author

      Jeff, for a few decades Edmund Wilson ruled over the American literary scene. He claimed the mantel of Arbiter of Taste. But once the Sixties arrived, Wilson’s power eroded and now he’s just a footnote.

    1. george Post author

      Maggie, I can’t remember where I found BEST DETECTIVE STORIES OF THE YEAR: 1945 but I’ve had it on my shelves for a few years. Finally got a chance to read it!

  3. Art Scott

    My random collection of these Best Of volumes doesn’t reach back as far as the first one. An interesting and surprising mix: 3 slicks & the rest pulps. But where is EQMM? It started in ’41, and featured good original stories, as well as reprints, from the outset. My recollection of later books in the series was that EQMM was very well represented, as you would expect. Was there initially some sort of feud between Cooke & Fred Dannay, or Dutton & Mercury?

    1. Todd Mason

      Might’ve been, if not feud, turf protection. Queen was already issuing his own anthologies alongside the magazine by then (though unlike at Davis Publications and Delll Magazines later, they weren’t published as fat annual/semi-annual magazine issues as well), and it’s notable also that Davis Dresser/”Brett Halliday”‘s volume of the BEST DETECTIVE STORIES annual, the first after Cooke’s last, also makes a point of omitting any stories from EQMM…though one also wonders about the perceived “rivalry” there between the Queen-branded magazines and Halliday-branded MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE as having some relevance. But later volumes of the Cooke annual definitely did feature EQMM stories and no few of them.

      1. Art Scott

        Todd, I Just checked the 2nd Halliday collection & same story. No Queen again, but nearly all digests by then (17th Annual). Shayne, Ed McMcBain’s Mystery Book, Manhunt, AHMM (not then a sister mag to EQMM I think) and one lone men’s mag, Dude. I think your turf explanation is correct.

      2. Todd Mason

        Yes, Davis Publications, which was formed by B. G. Davis when he quit Ziff-Davis when his late old partner Ziff’s son didn’t want to do things in the accustomed manner (and pushed ZD toward hobbyist slicks, hence the branding that survives today as a computer info source), and bought EQMM from Mercury Press, and issued a new, shortlived JACK LONDON’S ADVENTURE MAGAZINE. Davis Publications eventually started publishing hobbyist and related semi-slicks that aped Ziff-Davis magazines mostly, but also bought ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE from its founding publishers, HSD Publications, in 1975, and they’ve been stablemates since.

        And the later Cookes were mostly given over to stories from digest-sized crime-fiction magazines, too, for fairly obvious reasons, though the likes of THIS WEEK (a newspaper supplement rather like a more interesting version of PARADE, the primary survivor of that form) and THE SATURDAY EVENING POST were still likely to be represented. Boucher’s and Hubin’s and Hoch’s volumes were dominated by the Usual Suspects as sources, too.

      3. Todd Mason

        Back then, George, it would’ve been Mercury Press and perhaps more importantly Dannay and Cooke/Dutton. Perhaps Cooke was able to assure Dannay, perhaps with Spivak at his back, that stories from EQMM in BEST DETECTIVE wouldn’t hurt the Queen anthologies…or Cooke managed to find enough budget to meet EQMM/Mercury reprint fees, or talk them down. I gather Dannay could be Difficult and easily offended at times.

    2. george Post author

      Art, you raise a valid point. I have no idea why EQMM was ignored. But, if anyone can figure it out, it’s you!

  4. Rick Robinson

    I’ve hear of over half, nearly 2/3, but have read only two of the stories, in other anthologies. I’d read this one. Art’s question is a good one, but it’s impossible to know why any editor chooses or ignores any story.

      1. Art Scott

        And certainly Fischer, Keene & Daniels are familiar to fans of pb original crime fiction.

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