CRIME ON MY HANDS (1944) by George Sanders (and Craig Rice)

crime on my hands coverThis was the first of two mysteries published as by suave movie star George Sanders, then best known for playing the Saint and the Falcon on screen. Two of the latter had been co-written by Craig Rice (1908–1957), who ghosted this effort for the star. Indeed, the book is dedicated to her: ‘To Craig Rice, without whom this novel would not be possible.’ An early example of the celebrity mystery, this has recently been republished as an ebook by the brand new imprint, Dean Street Press, who kindly supplied a review copy.

I submit this review for Bev’s Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge; and Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme over at her fab Pattinase blog.

“You’re George Sanders?”
I bowed, slightly.
“Saw you in a picture once,” he went on. “Something of Sunnybrook Farm, think it was. My wife said you got what was coming to you.”
“Rebecca,” I corrected him. “Just that, with two e’s. Not of Sunnybrook Farm. Du Maurier, you know.”
“Do what?” the sheriff asked.
I smiled tolerantly.

Hollywood actor George Sanders is hugely popular as an on-screen sleuth, but he is desperate to get a meatier part – and his dreams come true when his hardboiled agent Melva gets him the lead in the historical epic Seven Dreams, which is shooting on location out in the desert. He’s barely got started when, during a battle scene, one of the extras is found shot dead. This is initially taken to be a tragic accident, but it soon emerges that the man wasn’t even supposed to on the set – and it’s George who points how unlikely it is that a stray live bullet from guns that are only meant to be loaded with blanks would have found and killed the one person who was not meant to be on the set. Everyone expects Sanders’ on-screen detecting skills to be a reflection of his real-life persona, so he becomes the de facto investigator, much to the chagrin of the dunderhead locals sheriff and his much brighter deputy.

“But it’s impossible! All the guns were supposed to be loaded with blanks!”
“Apparently somebody improved on the script.”

Sanders_Crime-on-my-Hands_IPLHowever, it has to be said, in this screwball mystery, our George is often none too bright. He keeps trying to set traps for the killer, ever to the extent of absconding with the reel of unexposed film that captured the fatal shooting, only to see the evidence vanish and himself become a suspect when it turns out that the bullets may have come from his prop gun, which have now gone missing. But what seems to be lacking is motive – just who had it in for the victim, with the delightful name of ‘Severance Flynne’? Well, it turns out both of the leading ladies had met him before. Then two other members of the crew are also killed and George is once again in the frame. Will he clear his name, finally?

“Who do you think you are, Ellery Queen?”
“Ellery Queen is a myth.”
“Stop lisping! He’s a mister.”

George Sanders is today probably best remembered for his Oscar-winning turn as theatre critic Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (1950) and for providing the voice of Shere Khan in the Disney animated version of The Jungle Book (1967). But in the early 1940s he established himself as a star sleuth at RKO Studios, first as The Saint (five film, from 1939 to 1941) and then as The Falcon (four films, released between 1941 and 1942). He was in fact a pretty underrated actor but was mostly cast as suave, debonair and charming Crime On My Hands by Sanders, Georgerogues, his caddish on-screen behaviour marking him out either as a charming villain (he even played a few Nazis) or a slightly cynical hero. Here he makes for a pretty charming narrator and the sardonic narration is very Sanders sounding – but how much was he involved with the writing? Well, Rice certainly incorporated quite a lot of genuine information about Sanders into the plot, most especially his status as an amateur inventor, so one assumes he was involved at some level. However, this is pretty typical of Rice’s particular brand of hardboiled screwball and the solid mystery plot certainly belongs to her. I was very pleased with this book as it holds up very nicely and it’s a pleasure to see it back in print.

“Who do you think you are, Ellery Queen?”
“Ellery Queen is a myth.”
“Stop lisping! He’s a mister.”

TomCat reviewed this book in detail over at Beneath the Stains of Time while Curtis Evans profiled the new edition of both of the Sanders novels (the second actually written Leigh Brackett – that book’s dedication reads, “To Leigh Brackett, whom I have never met”) over at The Passing Tramp.

I found Crime on My Hands to be a thoroughly entertaining comic mystery fromt he Golden Age, one that includes much genuine information about Sanders (including details of his birth in Russia and his tinkering as an inventor), a nice little mystery to solve and plenty of screwball laughs to. Great fun.

I submit this review for Bev’s 2015 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo in the ‘set in the entertainment world’ category:

013-Vintage-Sanders

***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)

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52 Responses to CRIME ON MY HANDS (1944) by George Sanders (and Craig Rice)

  1. It’s so nice that these older stories are getting new leases on life, isn’t it, Sergio? I’m very glad you enjoyed this one, too. Sometimes a screwball mystery is just the thing, especially when the dialogue is snappy.

  2. Colin says:

    I missed out on this one years ago when it was published bu IPL – God knows why I didn’t pick it up then! Thanks for flagging up this new e-book. I’m not a huge fan of the format, I have to say, but I do make the odd exception.

    • I know what you mean about the format but the publishers very kindly sent me a copy and reading it on my laptop was OK though I wouldn’t want to make a habit of it – I spend too long in front of the computer as it is 🙂

  3. Great review, Sergio! I’ve always wanted to read the ghostwritten George Sanders mysteries as Craig Rice and Leigh Brackett are two of my favorites. And many thanks for mentioning that it’s been re-released as an ebook… I’ll keep that in mind for the next time I need a screwball mystery!

  4. westwoodrich says:

    The Leigh Brackett one is brilliant; takes a completely different tone and direction to Crime on my Hands (not that I didn’t enjoy both). Very Chandleresque setting and a truly unlikeable set of characters.

  5. TomCat says:

    Great review, Sergio, and thanks for the mention. I still haven’t read the Leigh Brackett one, but thanks for reminding me it has been reprinted.

  6. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Great review! Straight on the wishlist!

  7. Sergio, I did not know George Sanders was the lead character in his own published mysteries. That’s really very interesting. I haven’t seen him either as The Saint or The Falcon but I’d certainly like to hear him again as Shere Khan in THE JUNGLE BOOK, one of my favourite animated films.

    • Thanks Prashant – well, Sanders only did it the once – the other book published under his name, but by Leigh Brackett, is more of a hardboiled mystery and he doesn’t appear in it. The Saint and Falcon films are good fun and worth a look – here’s a clip from The Saint in London, one of the best of them (and actually shot in the UK too):

      • Thanks for the link, Sergio. I may be wrong but I think THE SAINT IN LONDON is one of two paperbacks hidden away in my loft, and I still have to read it. What has put me off so far is the small print, I remember.

        • I feel the same way Prashant – if the print is too small it’s a real deal-breaker, even when I use my reading glasses because I don’t usually travel with them and only use them at home.

  8. I’m with you on spending too much time on a computer. The last thing I want to do after a day of work in front of a computer monitor is to stare at a Kindle or Nook or iPad to read an ebook. My eyes are fried by the end of the day. I’d rather read a Real Book at that point.

    • Thanks for that George – I do worry of course at the seemingly inevitable day when the book I want is only available electronically – mind you, I may be grateful to have the option to change the point size fairly soon the way things are going with my eyesight!

      • Santosh Iyer says:

        Apart from being cheaper and saving space, the following are the 2 main advantages of kindle book over printed book:
        1. The font size can be increased.
        2. By tapping a word on kindle screen , one can get its dictionary definition and also its wikipedia description.

        • Thanks for that Santosh, all very true and I think important – I would hope that one day one could have access to both (i.e. you buy a paper version and you get a download edition too, like with a CD). And clearly it’s better for the environment too 🙂

  9. westwoodrich says:

    My thoughts on the 1946 Leigh Brackett novel (interestingly in ’46 she also wrote the screenplay for The Big Sleep for Howard Hawks): https://pastoffences.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/george-sanders-stranger-at-home/

    • Todd Mason says:

      Co-wrote, with Jules Furthman and an apparently sullen, unproductive William Faulkner. Happily, she had already started writing cf novels under her own name beforehand…though the only westerns she wrote, I think, were novelizations.

      • Brackett and Faulkner initially took alternate chapters and submitted them to Hawks, who then reworked the material with his old collaborator Furthman and additional (uncredited) help from Philip Epstein when they did several significant reshoots – it is fascinating that we can now watch the earlier 1945 version and the revised and partially re-shot 1946 version.

    • Thanks for that – very tempted by this one as it sounds even better.

  10. Todd Mason says:

    Well, Sanders’ management knew who to hire. But, then, so did Collier Young’s.

    • Did Bloch ever work for the Scott Meredith staple, Todd?

      • Todd Mason says:

        I don’t think Bloch ever hired SMLA…and definitely wasn’t a staffer. Young probably got Bloch because he was a notable prose writer in WGA West.

        • I suppose in the 60s and early 70s Bloch would have been at the height of his fame as a prose and screenwriter. Of course, I would expect you to have several copies of The Todd Dossier – I mean, it may not be his best, but it’s got your name all over it pal 🙂

          • Todd Mason says:

            Think of all the Masonic tomes (there was once an important political Anti-Masonic Party in the US) I would need to own by that logic…and then the treatises on how many Angelini can dance on the head of a pin (accounts of how many mafioso cousins either of us have who’ve “danced” on pinheads might make for deadlier reading). I might of mentioned that I distantly assumed Young was simply a pseudonym of Bloch’s over the years, since it was only very recently–not more than a couple of years before your review, I’d guess–that I’d come across his name outside of a comprehensive Bloch bibliography.

          • Perverse, isn’t it? The only reason I picked up the book (in Italy) as a kind was because, being a film buff, I knew Young’s name from his collaborations with Ida Lupino and the Ironside TV show he created. I do like the sound of Angelinis dancing on some pinheads – good one 🙂

  11. Barry Ergang says:

    I read and greatly enjoyed the IPL edition of this one many years ago, not least because of Craig Rice’s obvious “input,” to put it (in all likelihood) admirably. Leigh Brackett was heavily influenced by Raymond Chandler, one of my all-time-favorite authors, and a competent writer herself. But she was also guilty of writing the abominable screenplay for Robert Altman’s film version of THE LONG GOODBYE, my all-time-favorite novel, so I’ll look for her take on Sanders with some caution.

    • Todd Mason says:

      I’d like to see the text of the script, sometime…though I rather like the film. To call Brackett “competent” is a little like saying the same about Faulkner. (FWIW, I occasionally pick up Barry’s former books at the Title Page, near Villanova in Penna.)

    • Thanks for that Barry, though we are going to disagree about the Altman version of Chandler’s magnificent The Long Good-bye – I love the film’s interpretation as much as the book itself, albeit in a totally different way.

      • Barry Ergang says:

        Fair enough, Sergio. I should’ve added, in my reply to Todd’s comment, that like Chandler, Faulkner has long been one of my favorite authors. THE SOUND AND THE FURY is my candidate for the great 20th Century American novel (despite THE LONG GOODBYE being my all-time favorite).

        • Faulkner is one of those authors that I fell in love with, albeit it once I made my peace with the idea that I had to read every single page twice before moving on to the next one. The only reason why I might not pick Sound and the Fury but maybe Light in August or As I Lay Dying or The Hamlet or Intruder in the Dust instead is because it is so beholden to Joyce Ulysses. Great work though, no question.

  12. Bev Hankins says:

    Great review, as always, Sergio! I’ve got this one (IPL edition) waiting for me on the TBR stacks. I’ll get to it one of these days….

    And, I’m definitely on the Real Book team. I spend all day at work in front of a screen and don’t want my pleasure reading to be onscreen as well. I’ve made a couple of exceptions–but given how many mountain-size stacks of books yet to read I have around here, there’s no reason why I should ever have to resort to e-books.

  13. You can’t write a review of a book by Craig Rice without the word “screwball.” I’m pretty sure that’s the law.

  14. tracybham says:

    Great review, Sergio. I am sure I will get around to these but I may go for paper copies. I do read e-books, and I have too many on the Kindle, but paper always reads better. I will admit that sometimes the paper book copies I get have print too small for me to read.

    Not only is it a problem to come home and read on the screen after eight hours on a computer at work, but blogging also takes time and is on the computer. And then there are the gorgeous illustrations on the covers of some old and new books.

    • I remain a paper person for now but I’m really glad they have been re-released after so many decades and I think, with luck, that they will find a new audience in this way.

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