X marks the spot for treasure
Since I was a teen-ager, my all-time favorite murder mystery has been Philip MacDonald’s “The List of Adrian Messenger.” I’ve read it six or seven times.
The thing about MacDonald, though, is that he wrote dozens of mystery novels from the 1930s through the 1960s in England, but for some strange reason, only a handful were ever distributed in the U.S.: “Messenger,” of course (don’t see the movie), “The Rasp,” “The Rynox Mystery,” “The Polferry Riddle”….
I have scoured used bookstores throughout the United States looking for more MacDonald whodunits.
This week in New York, Katy and I stopped at Otto Pensler’s iconic Mysterious Bookshop in downtown Manhattan. The joint is classic. The bookshelves stretch 12 or 13 feet in the air, with wheeled ladders that let people browse at their altitude of choice.
“Mac” is about 10 feet up. A Haynes was never born who can dunk a basketball (or palm one; small hands), so I rolled over one of the ladders, climbed up, fell off twice (I’m a writer; what can I tell you), and finally found the right row.
And there it was. An original Philip MacDonald. “The Crime Conductor,” circa 1931. It had been owned by a June Robinson, who scratched her name inside the cover, in pencil, about the time Charlie Chaplin was appearing in “City Lights.”
The novel features MacDonald’s greatest hero, Colonel Anthony Gethryn.
My dad is gonna plotz when I tell him. Dad introduced me to MacDonald.
I ran into Pensler at a St. Martin’s Press cocktail party in midtown later that evening. Gushing, blushing, I took his arm and told him I found a (to me) long-lost Philip MacDonald locked-room mystery, the kinda book Scott and Zelda might have left on a sleeper car, or Nick and Nora might have spilled drinks on. It was a Gethryn!
Pensler’s a tough guy to impress. He shrugged, said, “eh,” and turned to another guest at the party.
Whatever. I got it.
Let the mystery begin.