Authors: George Sanders
George Sanders is frankly bored.
Lionized the world over as the ultimate on-screen bounder, cad and ladies' man, he is in serious danger of becoming typecast as the particular kind of gentleman sleuth seen in his long-running film series
. George would actually be quite happy at home, tinkering with his inventions, but if he must act he wants something he can sink his teeth into.
Now George's firecracker agent, Melva, has got him the part of a lifetime â the lead in a hot new western, starring alongside screen goddess Carla Folsom. But when shooting begins, someone takes the term a little too literally, and the dead body of an extra is found. That wasn't in the script â and neither was George's unwilling debut as real-life private detective, only this time he's also been cast as the police's number one suspect. Before you can shout âaction' the game is afoot and the victims start to mount up, with George remaining just one step ahead of the law until the final denouement.Â
Crime on My Hands
, the debut George Sanders mystery, is a suspenseful and highly entertaining backstage crime novel, which perfectly captures the wit and charm of George Sanders, especially his quintessentially polished, sardonic dialogue. Anyone who lovesÂ
All Abour Eve
, or enjoys golden age crime fiction, will findÂ
Crime on My Hands
âLots of fun and a sufficiency of bloodshed.'
NEW YORK TIMES
âFast and funny.'
âA highly readable thriller with laughs on the side.'
NEW YORK HERALD-TRIBUNE
TO CRAIG RICE, WITHOUT WHOM THIS BOOK WOULD NOT BE POSSIBLE
It's possible the early 1940's witnessed the origins of the modern celebrity novel. Celeb-fiction has since evolved into a genre which comes and goes, enjoying only a middling reputation and frequently a shelf-life shorter than yoghurt. But English actor George Sanders's two novels,
Crime on My Hands
Stranger At Home
(1946), have justifiably enduring appeal. They are not only fine examples of forties crime fiction in their own right, but also highly effective evocations of Sanders' sardonic, charming and intelligent screen persona which, if his later autobiography
Memoirs of a Professional Cad
is any guide, had more than a hint of the real man behind it. Â To allude to a more recent generic literary trend, the novels could almost be termed authorized fan fiction.
They had an important precursor in Gypsy Rose Lee's
The G-String Murders
(1941), a classic backstage murder mystery novel starring the author herself as narrator, and which was later made into the entertaining if slightly sanitized film
Lady of Burlesque
starring Barbara Stanwyck. (Stanwyck also gets a mention in
Crime on My Hands
, completing a circle of connections.) Opinion remains divided on the extent to which
The G-String Murders
was penned by Lee alone, or was predominantly the work of the popular crime writer Craig Rice â most accept however that both were important contributors to the finished novel.Â
The same publishers, Simon and Schuster, released Sanders' novels a few years later. This might suggest the publishers were taking the lead, especially as Craig Rice was again the chosen co-author. But Sanders and Rice were not strangers: the latter happened to have written screenplays for two films in which Sanders had recently starred, so there were other possible sources for their literary collaboration. There is certainly forensic evidence that Sanders contributed substantially to
Crime on My Hands
. The dedication could only have come from Sanders' polished pen, and there are numerous flashes of trademark wit in the dialogue (a style Sanders later brought to a consummate shine in his memoirs). The novel is strewn with facts about his life, such as his second career as an inventor, and his cooking ability (a mouthwatering pie is prepared by our hero in the course of the novel).
The story also reflects Sanders' own situation at the time.
Crime on my Hands
is a clever spoof on Sander's screen persona, and his fears (probably only too genuine) that he was becoming typecast as a screen detective in the mould of The Saint or The Falcon, two roles he'd had recently played in long-running film series. Ironically, though the novel starts with him getting a big break and a starring role in a Western, after shooting commences he is thrown headlong into a murder case. In order to clear himself he is obliged to don his metaphorical gabardine mac once more, but this time as Sanders playing Sanders.
Stranger At Home
, the second novel, takes us into darker territory: a view of southern California recognizable to readers of Raymond Chandler. It is a place of wealth and glamour, but also graft and exploitation. This time the accomplished novelist Leigh Brackett was chosen for the project and, though she abandons the first-person narrator of the earlier novel, in Michael Vickers she created a disturbingly convincing alter-ego for Sanders. It's a nuanced role Sanders would have played wonderfully well on screen, had it ever landed there. As it was, Sanders had to content himself with âa fling at printer's ink', to use his own words. It is a honour and a pleasure to re-publish both novels, and we hope you enjoy them.
I squatted, rather than knelt, over the prostrate form. I tried to concentrate on how, and at whose hand, she had met her death. Try as I might, though, I couldn't make myself believe that the wretched girl was dead, and I simply didn't give a damn who had killed her, or why.
For one thing, the heat was getting me. I was wet with sweat and my newest shirt was a six-dollar wreck. My Shetland jacket was going to be a headache for my cleaner. And I was so tired that I squinted against the bright light.
But I had to solve the case, and the important clue was in plain sight. That is, it was in plain sight to my trained eyes. The ordinary person would have missed it. The ordinary detective would have missed it, for that matter. But I, George Sanders, would see it.
I examined the body.
Her name was Velda Manning, and she was a spy. She had been killed because she had been careless. Served her jolly well right. She wasn't very likeable, anyway. She had always been too certain of her great beauty, too proud of her legs, which she flaunted at the drop of a glance.
They were on parade, even in death. She lay on her side, with her right leg extended. The left t leg was bent at the knee, and the inside of her thigh was visible to an almost embarrassing extent. It seemed to me that several yards of bare, pink flesh was exposed to distract me from the more important problem of the body as a whole.
I lifted my eyes to the wound, a red mass in her chest. Her strutting breasts were not bare, but they gave that impression. As a matter of fact, she was much more exciting as a corpse than she had been as a flaunted body.
The clue. Oh yes, the clue. Must find it. Where was the damned thing? It had to be here. Ordinary eyes might pass it by, but not mine â not mine. This keen and flashing glance should seek it out, this incisive brain weigh its significance, this objective voice reveal all. And then, maybe this splendid body could go dunk itself in its private pool.
If only that bare leg were covered. I pulled her skirt down, and went back to the search. My legs were beginning to ache, just behind the knees.
I stood up. “The clue is missing,” I said.
I knelt, later, on my spread handkerchief, to examine the body. I wasn't going to get my trousers dirty just because a weak-minded girl had got herself rubbed out. I wanted to wear those trousers to Melva's party that night. Provided I ever got away from this silly case.
Her leg was bare, but I was inured by now. This time I would find the clue. Now it peeked out from under the hem of her dress, a tiny gleam of brass that other eyes would have missed. Not mine.
I picked it up. I turned it between my long, tapering fingers. I frowned. This was a hard problem. She had been stabbed. Why, then, was this cartridge here? Had she been shot, too? A thorough person, this unknown murderer. Perhaps she had been strangled also.
Yes, there were the marks on her lovely throat. I hadn't seen them before, but t once my keen mind took hold of the problem, my eyes knew where to look. I touched the bruises on her throat with thoughtful fingers. Silk had been used, a silk scarf.
I looked at the cartridge again. I stood up. “This,” I said furiously, “is the wrong caliber!”
When I took up my examination again, I stood in a half crouch. It was a more comfortable position than the others, and it didn't wrinkle my pants.
The leg. Hello, leg. I was beginning to know every pore of that leg, every vein in delicate tracery just under the skin. That tiny hollow, just above her dimpled knee, the gentle curve of her calf.
Now, the wound. She had been shot. She had died instantly. Next, she had been stabbed, and then strangled. These latter acts were to cover the fact of shooting, to confuse George Sanders, detective. But they did not. The murderer had left his signature, just as surely as if he had written a confession and pinned it to the bulging bosom of her dress. This cartridge, this thing of metal, was an odd size, an unusual make. Only one man would have such a gun as fired this shell.
That man was the last person you would suspect, but as his name flashed in my head, the pattern was clear. His philanthropies, his kindliness, were a cloak for his true nature: spy, traitor, murderer.
I turned the cartridge thoughtfully between my clever fingers. I looked at it as if it were a crystal ball in which I saw the face and name of death.
“Channing Wommack,” I mused aloud. “He is the man.”
I stood quite still for a few seconds before I nudged the recumbent form with my gleaming shoe. “You can get up now, Pat,” I said. “And pull your dress down.” I turned as Charlie ran over to shake my hand. He was almost maudlin, his round face flushed with satisfaction. “George, you were terrific. You were colossal.”
I shrugged my shoulders. âI'm thirsty and hot. Can't somebody turn off those damned lights?” Charlie yelled at the roof, “Save 'em!” and an electrician threw the master switch to plunge the sound stage into welcome gloom.
“If we don't get an Oscar for this one, there ain't no justice,” Charlie said. He said it after each picture he directed. Thus far both justice and the Academy Award Committee had remained blind. “You wanta see the rushes, George?”
“Frankly, no. I don't care, somehow, after all those retakes.”
âI'm going to fire that prop man,” Charlie said.
The prop man who had put the wrong cartridge under Pat's dress had been married just the day before. He was a nice kid.
“Don't fire him,” I said. “He's tired. Send him home to get some sleep.”
Charlie leered, and I went away.
Melva was in her office, her secretary told me with a roll of pretty eyes. “That's a lovely shirt, Mr. Sanders,” she added. I patted her blonde permanent and left her happy.
Melva's green eyes had a gleam as they surveyed me.
“Just the type,” she said. “You're a handsome beast, Georgie.”
She scowled, looking like a piqued pixie. “Don't call me Red!”
“Don't call me Georgie!”
“You look so boyish in that fancy shirt, George. Sit down and rest your big feet. I want to talk to you.”
She leaned back in her swivel chair, so that the sunlight through the Venetian blind slatted her green blouse with gold.
“Why don't you take a whirl at acting?” I asked. “A screen test in that outfit, with that pattern of shadows, would get you a fat contract.”
“I'd rather be your agent, dear,” she said. “Besides, my nose is too snub. I'd never be able to look down it, and if I can't look down my nose the way you do, I don't want to act.”
“I don't look down my nose at people.”
“It's your most valuable asset, George. Tell me about
Die by Night
I crossed my legs and lighted a cigarette. I slid my case across her desk. “This will be a shock to you. I suggest that you light up. If there's a drink in the place, I suggest that, too.”
She sat up, leaning slightly forward. Concern darkened her eyes. “What's the matter, Georgie?”
âI'm sorry, George. I won't do it again. Tell.”
“I have played my last role as a detective.”
She didn't scream and wring her hands. She just sat, calm and unruffled. “Why?” she asked.
âI'm tired of detectives. And don't wisecrack about that. Here is why. The vogue is for the light-hearted playboy with a butter-heart and iridium brain to become involved in a murder situation. Now the audience knows that I, as that amateur detective, am going to triumph in the end. There's no suspense, except of an intellectual nature. The melodramatic action seeks to cover that dramatic fault, but I know suspense is lacking. I can't be whole-hearted about it when I know that I will win, no matter what.”