A Plea For Help – the mystery of The Spiked Lion

There are many real-life mysteries that bother me. Why did everyone slag off the new Charlie’s Angels film? Why does anyone think giving people a clap rather than a cost-of-living pay-rise is a good idea? And why the GOP hasn’t risen up to replace Trump with someone who isn’t a demented narcissist? [On the likelihood that he reads every single mention of his name, I’ve included a link so someone can explain the meanings of the long words in that article to him. You’re welcome.]

UK Edition 1932

But the mystery that is bothering me most at the moment is a truly profound one – the mystery of The Spiked Lion. The Spiked Lion, as I am sure you are aware, is the thirteenth Anthony Bathurst mystery, featuring a murder by an invisible lion (spiked, obviously) who savages someone, but only after poisoning them with cyanide. It’s one of Brian Flynn’s more bizarre set-ups – so why abridge it? And how can you help me?

First of all, why do I care? Well, I am currently writing for Dean Street Press (almost finished, boss…) the introductions to the next ten Brian Flynn mysteries, for publication later this year, running from The Padded Door (a mystery with one of the most shocking left-turns in the plot that I have ever read) to Tread Softly (my absolute favourite Anthony Bathurst mystery, with one of the most delightful chapters you will ever read in a mystery novel.) Anyway, I’ve come across a bit of a question with The Spiked Lion.

The Spiked Lion was first published in the UK by John Long in 1932, and the word count of the book  is exactly 74 895. At this point, the US publishers were a few books behind, reprinting The Creeping Jenny Mystery and Murder En Route (books seven and eight) in the same year.

Magazine Reprint 1933

In 1933, Ellery Queen’s Mystery League Magazine (the fore-runner to the long running Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine) ran for four issues, reprinting novels in their entirety. They apparently took pride in not abridging the titles, but the cover boast a page count of 80 750 words.

In 1934, Macrae jumped ahead in the book list and published The Spiked Lion, the word count here being an estimated 67 500 words – a removal of 10% of the text. It’s a clear abridgement, but I am a little perplexed as to why. I’ve scrutinised a few chapters and found a few changes:

  • Some UK dialect is translated, notably “forrader” becomes “further along”
  • A longish newspaper article regarding a missing person is sliced in half removing a lot of technical information, part of which is tangentially relevant, but not essential, to the plot.
  • Some paragraphs are simply cut short for no reason.

My question, as I’d like to get it right in the introduction, is when exactly did the abridgement occur? Was it in 1933 to fit the magazine or was it in 1934 for the US publication?

US Edition 1934

There is circumstantial evidence for either case. The fact that the Mystery League word count is wrong (I seriously doubt Flynn wrote an extra 5 000 words for the magazine) bothers me. They reportly, as I said, took pride in not cutting down the titles for publication, but it’s not as if the US reading public would know. It would seem to make sense – it was, after all, a magazine that had at least three additional stories in it, presumably short stories, so a trim would be understandable. The cut taking place for the magazine would then make sense of the novel doing the same, by using the same text that was used here.

However, if the magazine editors are to be believed, we have the question as to why the book publishers cut it down. The US title runs to 284 pages, more than enough to fit in such a word count. Remember, this was 1934 so it wasn’t wartime, unless the Depression has more of an effect on book publishing than I was aware of. I could understand changing the dialect, I can even understand removing the technical bits – but I can’t understand the general cuts.

So, a plea. Dear reader, do you have a copy of Ellery Queen’s Mystery League Magazine Issue 3? If so, could you check something for me please?

Towards the end of Chapter 2, there is a paragraph starting “Again he paused.” After the sentence “Unsolved tragedies” does it continue “Has there been anybody…” or “that, if we allowed ourselves…”?

It’s a rather lovely paragraph in my eyes. The UK original reads:

“Missing men; missing women; missing children. People of whom we never hear again. Unsolved tragedies, that, if we allowed ourselves to dwell on their dreadfulness, would pluck at our hearts until they bled. There is nothing so terrible, I think, as imagining what may have happened to these poor people… and in so many instances never knowing… anything.”

The US one just gives us:

“Missing men; missing women; missing children. People of whom we never hear again. Unsolved tragedies.”

I would really like to know which version appears in issue 3 of Mystery League. If anyone out there can help, or knows someone who can, please do…

12 comments

  1. Sorry, I don’t have a copy of the EQ Mystery League issue. But I have a suggestion: I wonder if the higher word count they advertise includes the three additional stories, and that’s what makes the word count higher. If so, and you can locate those three stories elsewhere, you might be able to estimate the word count of the version of Spiked Lion that EQ has published. Good luck. BTW, I’m waiting eagerly for the next ten Brian Flynns to be published. Thanks for bringing BF back into print.

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    • Not convinced the word count includes the short stories – the cover does say an 80 750 word novel. Besides, even with the names of the authors from the cover, I don’t know which short stories they are… I’d need someone to look them up in the magazine – but if they can do that, hopefully they could just check the paragraph for me…

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  2. The first issue has the novel Drury Lane’s Last Case by Barnaby Ross. The number of words mentioned on the cover is 86,431. But I checked and found that it has actually 82,420 words. Thus the magazine exaggerated the number of words but would it have exaggerated too much?

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  3. Even as a huge Queen fan, I am afraid that I don’t have a copy but after reading Santosh’s comment, I think it is possible that EQ may have written introductions to all the novels apparing in the mystery league, which would account for the increased word count.

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  4. Maybe Jon L. Breen or Francis Nevins would be able to help? I’m sure someone on the GAD Facebook group must have their contact info.

    I found the tables of contents for the four issues of Mystery League here: http://www.philsp.com/homeville/fmi/t/t4801.htm. Looks like they managed to squeeze SPIKED LION into 80 pages, which is a pretty impressive trick, although pulp magazines did tend to be printed in tiny font.

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  5. To all the helpful comments and suggestions – it has been confirmed to me that the magazine reprint was complete, so the abridgement was only for the US novel. No idea why…

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