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  • Writer's pictureDavid Morris

ARCHIVE INSIGHTS: Coronet Magazine & the (thankfully) unpublished “Poirot” Story.

There are numerous Christie-related archives – mostly in the UK and US. Since I’ve had an opportunity to visit many of them, my goal is to share more about the contents of these archives that I’ll refer to as ‘Archive Insights’.


Coronet Magazine:

Within the University of Exeter archives are various items of correspondence related to Coronet magazine. This was a US imprint published by Esquire and based out of Chicago, Illinois. It’s first issue was in October 1936 and it ran under various guises until 1976.  Each publication was filled with short articles and stories – most of which were only a few pages long. For readers of mystery fiction, Coronet often had articles that would be appealing within their long list of general interest articles.


One letter in the archive relates to their December 1942 magazine. For Christie fans, a brief biography of her was included in this issue. The article was titled “Portfolio of Personalities: Merchants of Murder” in which the magazine profiled authors who had reached the ‘top rung’ of success in the genre of detective fiction.

Given that it was just one year after the US had entered WW II, it is interesting to note the preamble stating “it’s a democratic world they create, never fear. Could you, for instance, imagine the Nazis tolerating a Sherlock Holmes or Philo Vance – making fools of their precious Gestapo at every turn of the page?”.


The authors profiled were Ellery Queen (thus Frederick Dannay and Manfred Lee), Mrs. Zenith Brown (aka Leslie Ford or David Frome), Francis & Richard Lockridge, Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Dorothy Sayers, and Helen Reilly. It is interesting to note the reference in the article to a survey conducted by Columbia University Press that at that time found Dorothy Sayers and Lord Peter Wimsey the most popular writer and fictional detective in the US by a “wide margin”.

While this article recognized Christie as the ‘first women to make a name for herself in the field [detective fiction]’, it became clear from correspondence that Coronet wanted to leverage the article into increased circulation.  They contacted Christie essentially asking for her to assist in promoting the magazine. 

Given Christie’s established success in 1942 this clearly was an overreach.  However, Coronet’s truly questionable decision was still a few years off.

 

The Body: The appropriately unpublished "Poirot" Short-Story:

Further correspondence related to Coronet is from the summer of 1947. These records show that Oscar Dystel, the editor of Coronet magazine had contracted with Milton Ozaki to launch a series of murder mysteries to be known as ‘Capsule Mysteries’. Ozaki was a mystery author whose first story was published in 1946 under the title ‘The Cuckoo Clock’ (it was later retitled as ‘Too Many Women’). The story was published in the August issue of a different publication - Mammoth Mystery - with a unique concept that included a single piece of art that illustrated many of the clues to help the reader try to solve the mystery.

Dystel and Ozaki's goal was to start a series of very short murder mysteries in Coronet that would follow this playbook, with a summary of the clues in a single illustration on one page and the text of the mystery on another, with the answer later in the magazine.  Their aspiration was to publish these short mysteries as if written by highly recognized and respected writers – but Ozaki would ghost-write them.


In July 1947, Milton Ozaki wrote to Harold Ober, Christie’s agent in New York, to propose this idea. While the financial offer was $50, Ozaki tried to sweeten the pot by offering free publicity for Christie’s most recent novels.

Of note, Ozaki had already written an unauthorized Hercule Poirot story that he wanted Christie’s approval to publish under her pen name. It was titled ‘The Body’. Surprisingly, but maybe out of a sense of obligation, Ober forwarded the request to Christie’s UK agent, Edmund Cork. He did state in the letter that if Agatha gave permission that they would want to be clear she didn’t actually write it.

Needless to say, Christie rejected the idea. However, in September 1947, the first 'Capsule Mystery' written by Ozaki was published. It was titled 'A Problem in Murder' and attributed to Craig Rice.  As to plan, a single piece of art portrayed the clues.


So here is the unpublished and rejected Hercule Poirot mystery – The Body – written by Ozaki, that fortunately was not permitted by Christie to be used. Its distinct lack of quality in all aspects would have made it a disaster had Christie approved it. But as an archive, it has value in showing the lengths to which other publishers and magazines were willing to go to ride Christie's success. Solely for its archival interest, the story is shown below. In addition to the story is the guidance to the art department for the visual portrayal of the clues and the solution.


 The guidance to the artist for the summary visual was:

And the solution was:


 Summary:

Hopefully this article was of interest, despite it not discussing any original work by Christie. The archives I've visited have lots of unique insights into the world of Christie, including behind the scenes negotiations such as this. If you have any questions or feedback on whether learning what's in the archives is of interest, please email me at:


As always, thanks for reading and comments are always most welcome. If you are not a subscriber to my website, please consider subscribing here: link. This ensures you receive an email any time I write and post an article. Also, consider following me on X (formerly Twitter) @collectchristie and on Facebook (link). The content varies across platforms.


Happy Hunting!

 

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1 comentario


chriwillid
17 feb

Fascinating!

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