Philo Vance & S.S. Van Dine


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Van DineS.S. Van Dine was a pseudonym used by American art critic Wilford Huntington Wright. (1888-1939) Wright created the immensely popular American detective Philo Vance, who featured in 12 novels, numerous radio broadcasts, and several movie adaptations. He was also an important early critic of the mystery genre. Wright described Vance as “a man of unusual culture and brilliance. An aristocrat by birth and instinct, he held himself aloof  from the common world of man.” Vance was a flippant cynic, but nothing like the typical ‘hard boiled’ American detective which would soon become so familiar.

Willard Huntington Wright, was born in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1888. His younger brother, Stanton Macdonald-Wright, was a respected abstract painter and a founder of “Synchromism”. Willard was first recognized as an art and literary critic, known for his scathing reviews and irreverent opinions. He was particularly caustic about romance and detective fiction. H.L. Mencken, Oscar Wilde, Ambrose Bierce, and the ‘naturalism’ of Theodore Dreiser, clearly influenced his first novel, ‘The Man of Promise’ (1916).

Wright also wrote a book introducing Nietzsche to a skeptical American audience. He was a proud Germanophile, writing ‘Misinforming a Nation’, which was a blistering attack on the British biases in the Encyclopædia Britannica. Wright did not support America’s decision to enter WW I, and was erroneously accused of spying for Germany. After suffering a nervous breakdown, and battling issues with drug and alcohol dependence, Wright retreated to California, where he attempted to make a living as a newspaper columnist in San Francisco.

Returning to New York in 1920, Wright continued his struggle with drugs and alcohol, and during a period of recovery, finally began reading crime fiction, which led him to write several essays on detective fiction as an art form. Wright also decided to try his own hand at detective fiction and approached Maxwell Perkins, a famous Scribner’s editor he had known at Harvard, with an outline for a trilogy that would feature an affluent, snobbish amateur sleuth, a Jazz Age Manhattan setting, and lively topical references. In 1926, the first Philo Vance book, The Benson Murder Case, was published under the pseudonym “S.S. Van Dine”. Within a few years he was one of the best-selling authors in the United States, and began writing Philo Vance movie and radio scripts, though frankly embarrassed by this turn from intellectual pursuits to mass market fiction.

On April 11, 1939, at age 50, Wright died in New York of a heart condition exacerbated by excessive drinking.

Edited from Wikipedia: S.S. Van Dine

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philo vanceBest Collection

The Philo Vance Megapack
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Philo Vance Novels


benson murderThe Benson Murder Case (1926)

Available in paperback and ebook editions.
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Best Review
****

Note: A murdered playboy!

Playboy stockbroker, Alvin Benson, is found in his brownstone mansion with a bullet through his head. First on the scene is Philo Vance, amateur detective, who is at once intrigued by the absence of Alvin’s toupee and his false teeth. With a jigsaw of odd clues he sets off in pursuit of an elusive murderer, making obvious his disdain for the professional crime-solvers of the police and the DA’s office. To him, they seem to be hopelessly addicted to the pernicious practice of looking for physical clues and circumstantial evidence. His own theory is that psychology is the key.

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Canary The Canary Murder Case (1927)

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Best Review
****

Note: Death of a popular Broadway actress

The beautiful Margaret Odell, famous Broadway actress and ex-Follies girl known as “The Canary”, is found murdered in her apartment. A number of men visited her apartment the night of her death, ranging from high society to a gangster. Philo Vance recognizes a key clue that allows him to penetrate a very clever alibi and reveal the killer. 

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Greene Murder The Greene Murder Case (1928)

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Best Review
****

Note: Death becomes a family affair!

Philo Vance enters the case when, in a single evening, one daughter of the Greene family is shot to death and another one is wounded. The family includes two sons and three daughters  (the youngest, Ada, is adopted) under the rule of their mother, a bedridden invalid who feels sorry for herself and curses her ungrateful children. Later, the two Greene brothers and the mother are also killed, leaving only the two surviving daughters, jaunty modern Sibella and shy Ada, who have both faced attempts on their lives. A locked library figures in this case, and the evidence is complicated by a set of impossible footprints in the snow, and suggestions that the paralyzed mother had not been as bedridden as she claimed. Philo Vance reduces the facts to a short list, then sets them in order, and solves the case. Not a true locked room case, but clearly has several impossible crime elements.

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Bishop Murder The Bishop Murder Case (1929)

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Best Review
****

Note: Who Killed Cock Robin?

Philo Vance investigates a series of murders taking place in a wealthy neighborhood of New York. The first murder, in which the victim is found pierced by an arrow, is accompanied by a note signed “The Bishop” with an extract from the nursery rhyme Who Killed Cock Robin. Further murders are accompanied with similar extracts from Mother Goose.

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scarab The Scarab Murder Case (1930)

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Best Review
****

Note: Murder in a museum!

In “The Scarab Murder Case” Philo Vance investigates a murder in a private home that doubles as a museum of Egyptology. Vance’s extensive knowledge of Egyptian history and customs enables him to reveal the misdirections perpetrated by the real murderer and reveal the culprit.

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kennelThe Kennel Murder Case (1933)

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Good Mystery Review
****

Note: Chinese porcelain and Dobermans & an unlikely locked room solution.

One of the Coe brothers is found dead in his bedroom, locked from the inside, and the other brother is found the next morning dead in a downstairs closet. There is also the clue of a wounded Doberman Pinscher, a mysteriously broken piece of priceless Chinese porcelain, and a cast of suspicious family members, servants and associates. Philo Vance solves the case based on his knowledge of dog breeding, Chinese porcelain, and the annals of remarkable historical crimes.

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Dragon MurderThe Dragon Murder Case (1934)

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Best Review

****

Note: A dragon lurking in the pool?

A guest at an estate in northern Manhattan (Inwood Hill Park) dives into the swimming pool and disappears. His murder brings up references to a mythological dragon which is said to prey on the imprudent, but Philo Vance uses his knowledge of both dragons and criminals to demonstrate whodunnit.

Note: The estate in the novel was based on Tryon Hall, a mansion in Fort Tryon Park, built after 1900 by Cornelius Kingsley Garrison Billings, a retired president of the Chicago Coke and Gas Company. In 1917 he sold the mansion to John D. Rockefeller Jr. The mansion burned down in 1925, and Rockefeller donated the land where it was located on to the city.

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casino murder The Casino Murder Case (1934)

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Best Review
****

Note: A family affair!

Vance receives an anonymous letter alerting him to imminent danger to a member of his own family. If he wants information which will assist him in averting the threat he must visit a certain Casino to find it. Predictably, once there the body count starts to rise .Vance once more has a case on his hands and a killer to uncover-and this time the preferred weapon is the poison bottle. 

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garden murder The Garden Murder Case (1935)

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Best Review
****

Note: Vance witnesses a murder!

‘The Garden Murder Case’, takes its name from a New York city rooftop garden where Vance witnesses the crime take place when a gunshot brings sudden death to a distinguished company gathered to enjoy the horse racing results!

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The Kidnap Murder Case (1936)kidnap murder

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Best Review
****

Note: The Purple House Case

A member of the wealthy Kenting family is kidnapped, and Philo Vance’s suspicions lead him to the victim’s home, the “Purple House” on New York’s 86th Street. A mysterious ransom note and the family collection of gems both play a part in the plot, which ends with the murderer’s suicide with the connivance of Vance. “To be sure, the motive for the crime, or, I should say, crimes, was the sordid one of monetary gain … through Vance’s determination and fearlessness, through his keen insight into human nature and his amazing flair for the ramifications of human psychology, he was able to penetrate beyond the seemingly conclusive manifestations of the case.” 

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gracie allen The Gracie Allen Murder Case (1938)
AKA:The Smell of Murder

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Best Review
****

Note: An experimental mystery!

Fortunately George Burn’s zany companion is not the victim of the crime, but she provides predictable comic relief to the case, making this an unusual and quite experimental Vance story.

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winter murder The Winter Murder Case (1939)

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Best Review
****

Note: A novella & 20 Rules for detective writing!

‘The Winter Murder Case’, is in a short novel that once again demonstrates the insight and understanding of one of fiction’s great fictional characters. Included in this final volume are S. S. Van Dine’s rules for detective story writing, which make this book a must not only for Philo Vance fans but for aspiring authors as well!

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