Selected by Joseph Henry Jackson
HERE is an agreeable collection of murders from various parts of the world, mostly of spouses. The necrology includes Americans, British, French, a Cuban, sundry Hungarians, and even a New Zealander. Mr. Jackson gives us no statistical summary, but as a rough guess one might say that a hundred or so perished to provide, in this 700-page volume of the Viking Portable Library, what the publishers call “crimes of distinction.”
The Cuban story hardly seems to belong in such fast company as the other seventeen. The murderer was a ship’s cook who did away with his frivoling wife on the high seas, a deed so eminently moderate under the circumstances that the authorities accorded him only a scant tenyear stretch on his return. This crime and its punishment seem artless fare amid the reeking trunks, guillotines, smotherings, and retching of the context. Furthermore, is a single crime passionnel sufficient to document the term “murder ship" when the captain, mate, and indeed all hands return from the voyage alive and in fairly good health? We must charge the Cuban episode against the anthologist, therefore, as too slight to pay off in this otherwise robust company.
No such complaint need be made in the matter of the widow Sorenson of La Porte, Indiana, a wholesaler in mailorder matrimony, a widow by her own strong right arm on twenty or thirty occasions. Here was a woman who must have incurred a noticeable expense simply in keeping supplied with spades for her prodigious digging operations. Had she continued, her effect would have been felt in insurance rates, like heart disease, apoplexy, or fire disasters caused by defective wiring. Never brought to justice, she mysteriously disappeared, was “seen” in Mississippi as recently as 1931. She would be eighty-six if alive today, but well worth avoiding.
Mr. Jackson has searched widely for his selections. He presents one of Christopher Morley’s best, two by William Bolitho, a minor Woollcott. and two first-rank reports by William Roughead, to mention some of the better ones. The result is a fine assortment almost wholly free from the taint of familiarity which makes so many anthologies unreadable. To few readers will these seem twice-told tales.