Leslie S. Klinger

Classic American Crime Fiction of the 1920s

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Classic American Crime Fiction of the 1920s Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Classic American Crime Fiction of the 1920s by Leslie S. Klinger.

Classic American Crime Fiction of the 1920s (2018) is an anthology of five crime and mystery novels edited by Leslie S. Klinger. In addition to the full text of the stories, the book also contains annotations by Klinger, photos and maps, and an introduction by the mystery writer Otto Penzler. The five books included in Classic American Crime Fiction of the 1920s are as follows.

The House Without a Key, a 1925 novel by Earl Derr Biggers, introduces the character Charlie Chan, a Chinese-American detective based in Hawaii. The book contains detailed descriptions of Hawaiian culture and society as it existed in the 1920s. The plot concerns the murder of Dan Winterslip, a wealthy member of Boston society who has moved to Hawaii. When Dan is murdered, his nephew John and sister Minerva conscript Charlie to help them find the murderer.

Charlie finds a number three that has fallen off a wristwatch at the crime scene and knows that he is looking for a killer with a broken watch. John assists him in solving the case, figuring out the identity of the killer. Learning more about Hawaii, John falls in love with the place. He eventually breaks off his engagement and moves to Hawaii permanently at the end of the book.

The Benson Murder Case (1926) is the first book in the Philo Vance series by S.S. Van Dine. Philo is inspired by Sherlock Holmes, and the novels are ostensibly written by a character named Van Dine who functions as a Watson-like figure.

A wealthy New York stockbroker is murdered in his own home, just moments before he is visited by his friend Philo. When the police arrive, Philo volunteers to help them catch the murderer. Though he does not have any law enforcement experience, Philo is a gifted psychologist who is able to determine the physical appearance of the killer based on clues at the scene. Assisted by his friend District Attorney Markam, Philo interviews five suspects who were linked to the victim romantically or through business. He must figure out not only who committed the murder, but how the murderer did it in a locked house.

The Roman Hat Mystery (1929) is the first of Ellery Queen’s classic mystery novels. New York detective Richard Queen is called to investigate the death of the lawyer Monte Field who was poisoned during a play. Richard is assisted by his author son, Ellery.

They soon learn that Monte was blackmailing his clients, several of whom were in the audience at the play and could have committed the crime. Monte’s hat is missing, which leads Ellery to believe that blackmail papers were hidden in it. Through investigation, the Queens eventually discover that the murderer killed Monte because he was threatening to reveal to the killer’s fiancée that he was mixed race. Once Ellery determines the suspect’s guilt, Richard forces a confession out of him.

Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest was originally published in 1929. Time magazine named it one of the best English language novels from 1923 to 2005.

The Continental Op, a member of the Continental Detective Agency, arrives in Personville to help rid the city of organized crime. He falls for Dinah Brand, the lover of one of the local mob bosses, but Dinah is killed for revealing too much. The Op becomes a suspect in her death. Pursued by the police, he is abandoned by his partner, Dick Foley. While in hiding, he manipulates the various gangs into going to war with one another.

The gang leaders kill one another, as well as the corrupt Chief of Police. The Op calls in the National Guard who place the city under martial law until the rest of the corrupt officials can be rooted out.

In W.R. Burnett’s novel Little Caesar (1929), main character Rico is a young gangster who seizes control of his crime syndicate when its leader, Sam Vettori, is killed in a robbery. Rico has the will and ambition necessary to lead the gang. He is supported by fellow gang member Otero and “Gentleman” Joe Massara, but opposed by Tony Passa.

After Tony crashes a getaway car during another crime, he flees the gang and is sheltered by his mother. He plans to talk to a priest about leaving his life of crime, but Rico intercepts him before he can, shooting him dead on the steps of his church. The book ends with Rica thinking about how precarious his leadership position is and how he is now vulnerable to people who want to take the gang from him.