Friday, February 17, 2023

Nobody Would Listen - The Collected Mystery Stories of Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding (1889-1955) authored 25 novels between 1920 and 1953. In addition, she wrote over 200 short stories for magazines and digests like Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, The Saint Detective, and Nero Wolfe. Mostly, she concentrated her efforts on mystery and crime-fiction, however, she also contributed to the science-fiction genre as well. Stark House Press has been releasing many of Holding's novels, novellas, and short stories. The publisher's newest Holding release, Nobody Would Listen: The Collected Mystery Stories of Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, is a mammoth volume collecting 19 stories and novellas as well as an introductory article by Curtis Evans. At over 400 pages in length, there is a little something for everyone. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Strange Children

The Magazine of Mystery and Science-Fiction included this Holding story in its August, 1955 issue. As a fan of “evil kids” fiction and films, I honed in on the ominous story title. This 11 page story features a young woman named Marjorie receiving a call from a distressed mother. The woman explains to Marjorie that she was referred to her by a mutual acquaintance and that she desperately needs a babysitter for her two sleeping children within hours. The woman and her husband have a prior engagement and their sitter and housekeeper are both unavailable. Being late in the evening, Marjorie explains that she shouldn't babysit children that don't know her. What if they wake up and find their parents gone and a stranger in the house? The woman assures Marjorie that the children sleep through the night and won't wake up. Marjorie takes the deal and the family's chauffeur picks her up and drives her to a secluded house in the forest. 

The mother shows Marjorie the house layout and advises her that the children sleep in the bedroom down the hall. There are no other people in the house (this is important). The parents leave and so Marjorie sits in this strange house that is as silent as a tomb. Until she hears a child's laughter down the dark hallway. Looking through the door's keyhole, she finds the children awake in their beds playing with a man in a gray suit. Who is this creepy guy and how did he get in the house? This story is told in a suspenseful way and is just eerily delightful. It's a mix of paranormal, suspense, and mystery and Holding utilizes just enough restraint to keep the reader glued to the pages. Excellent. 

Nobody Would Listen

This is a 20 page story that was first published in Mystery Magazine in August, 1935. Like the above story, this one features an isolated house in the forest, a rainy atmosphere, and a new visitor. 50-year old Mrs. Morrissey has just accepted a new job as a live-in cook and housekeeper for two older women, Mrs. Raleigh and Mrs. Torrance. However, once Mrs. Morrissey settles in, she discovers that the two women have an immense hatred for one another. A nearby neighbor scoffs at Mrs. Morrissey's warning that she fears the two will murder one another. The story is aptly titled with Mrs. Morrissey's repeated warnings fall on deaf ears. Will Mrs. Raleigh and Mrs. Torrance eventually hurt or kill one another, or is this a familiar, old-time rivalry that is nothing more than harmless bickering between two lifelong companions? Holding builds so much suspense and impending doom that it seemingly explodes in the unforgettable finale. Think of “Nobody Would Listen” as a dark character study with a unique atmosphere. Recommended.

Friday the Nineteenth

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science-Fiction included this story in its Summer, 1950 issue. To properly review the story in 2023, I'm citing a popular 1993 film called Groundhog Day. It starred Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell and was written by Danny Rubin, who claimed the concept came to him when he read Anne Rice's 1985 romantic horror novel, The Vampire Lestat, and began thinking about eternal life. In the film, weatherman Phil Connors finds himself reliving February 2nd repeatedly, in a time-loop, in a small tiny Western Pennsylvania town. Oddly, Holding had a similar concept as her plot for "Friday the Nineteenth" – 40 years before Rubin's screenplay. 

Boyce is an average white-collar suburbanite living a mundane life with his boring wife and kids. He begins to fascinate about a relationship with his friend's wife, a plain-Jane looking woman named Molly. On Friday the 19th, Boyce arranges for a meeting with Molly in a downtown bar. There, the two discuss their attraction to each other and the restraints both of them practice when the couples meet at social gatherings. Boyce and Molly make a plan to meet in a more intimate setting the next day, on Saturday the 20th. However, Boyce awakens on Saturday to learn it is Friday all over again. When he meets Molly at the bar, he discovers that both of them realize they are living in a time-loop, constantly reliving Friday the 19th. How do they escape?

Groundhog Day, and other time-loop films like Palm Springs and Edge of Tomorrow, have always fascinated me. I was shocked to find a time-loop story that seemingly matched Groundhog Day, but I would imagine there were even more of these stories prior to Holding's. Regardless, her story injects a Gil Brewer/Orrie Hitt flavor as Boyce becomes the unsatisfied husband and father. I really enjoyed the chemistry between Boyce and his wife and how it changes over time. It was rewarding and entertaining simply examining Boyce's complaints at the start of the story. Everyday events like mowing the grass and taking out the trash become valuable experiences that Boyce wishes to have back when he realizes seeing Molly each day isn't exactly a thrilling experience. 

Other highlights include the private-eye story “Farewell, Big Sister” and three stories starring Captain Martin Consadine, Commissioner of Police on the Caribbean island of Puerto Azul, “People Do Fall Downstairs”, “The Most Audacious Crime”, and “The Daring Doctor”. 

Holding's writing is top-notch and gradually leans from mystery, suspense, thriller, and shades of atmospheric terror. She has a unique writing style where her protagonists think to themselves, but Holding places these thoughts into the form of dialogue with quotation marks. I've seen this method a few times in other early 20th century writers, but it's uncommon to me. If you can accept that, then there is nothing to dislike about any of these stories. The Stark House Press staff has performed a marvelous job of singling out some of her best stories. Recommended! 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

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