INSIGHTS: Agatha Christie's "Traitor Hands" & Flynn's Weekly
Most Agatha Christie novels and short stories appeared in magazines, newspapers and periodicals before being published in book form. The Strand and Colliers are two examples of publications well known for their first printings of Christie’s works. Another publication collectors should be familiar with is Flynn’s as it published numerous works by Christie, of which five are true firsts. One of these is arguably one of Christie’s most famous short stories – Traitor Hands – later retitled by Christie as The Witness for the Prosecution.
Based in New York, USA, Frank Munsey started Flynn's which became one of the most popular and longest running of all the detective pulps with 929 issues over 28 years, In the first 17 of these years, it was a weekly publication.
Branding stability was not a highlight as the periodical's name was changed numerous times over its life. The first issue was 20th September 1924 under the name “Flynn's” and it continued, on a weekly basis under that name until 22 May 1926. The name changed to “Flynn's Weekly” from 29 May 1926 – 11 Jun 1927 and then to “Flynn's Weekly Detective Fiction” from 18 Jun 1927 – 26 May 1928. From 2 June 1928 it was renamed “Detective Fiction Weekly” – which it retained for 14 years. In July 1942 the magazine was renamed to “Flynn's Detective”, concentrating on true crime stories. This lasted for only six issues when Munsey sold the magazine to Popular Publications, who revived the fiction content and renamed the magazine as “Flynn's Detective Fiction Magazine”. This lasted for 20 monthly issues until the magazine was merged into “Dime Detective Magazine”. The magazine was revived briefly in 1951, under the title “Detective Fiction”, but only lasted for six more issues before folding for good. A Canadian reprint edition ran for a period in the 1930s & 1940s.
The Christie Stories:
For collectors of Christie’s works, Flynn’s (under one of its varied brand names) is known to have published at least 10 stories, of which five were true first appearances while the balance were all first US appearances. It is possible there were several others that have not yet been catalogued given the total volume of periodicals printed. Of the stories known to have been printed by Flynn's many were later collected in The Mysterious Mr. Quin.
The first Christie story Flynn’s published is arguably the most collectible of all of them given the success of The Witness for the Prosecution in later years. When first published Christie titled it Traitor Hands, yet by 1933 it had been renamed when it was included in the collection The Hound of Death and Other Stories, published by Odhams. Despite the change in title, the two stories are essentially identical with only a few very minor word changes, such as changing the line “But, by heaven, I swear I’m not” to “But, by God, I swear I’m not”. The original short story ends solely with the acknowledgment of guilt – there is no second death as was added to the playscript when Christie later adapted the story.
First Printings in Flynn's:
1925, January 31, Vol. 4, No. 2: Traitor Hands (later titled: The Witness for the Prosecution).
1926, October 30, Vol. 19, No. 3: At the Crossroads (later titled: The Love Detectives).
1926, November 13, Vol. 19, No. 5: The Soul of the Croupier.
1926, November 20, Vol. 19, No. 6: World’s End (later titled: The World's End).
1926, December 4, Vol. 20, No. 2: The Voice in the Dark.
First U.S. Printings in Flynn's:
1926, June 19 to July 10, Vol. 16, No’s. 2 – 5: Who Killed Ackroyd? (Hardback title: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd). Of note, Flynn's version is heavily abridged but is one of only two Christie's credited on the cover - in this case the profiled story.
1926, July 17, Vol. 16, No. 6: At the 'Bells and Motley'.
1927, August 6, Vol. 26, No. 1: The Face of Helen. The other story to have front cover credit.
1927, August 27, Vol. 26, No. 4: Harlequin's Lane.
1929, June 22, Vol. 42, No. 3: The Dead Harlequin.
Values & Collectibility:
Flynn’s issues can appear for sale either singularly or bound together in volumes. Since issues were quite large (those from 1925 contained 192 pages), bound volumes often will have up to six issues. Single issues in very good condition can generally be found for $20 US, while collected volumes will trade for a discounted multiple, often $100 US for 6 issues. A slight premium exists for Traitor Hands given the acclaim afforded the story and that it is a true first. The paper stock is most commonly aged and browned, though not brittle if stored in a cooler location. Periodicals, weeklies and magazines such as Flynn’s continue to offer an affordable way for Christie fans to collect first printings of her works as they generally continue to be less popular than the novels. Part of the reason for this is arguably the lack of reliable resources to guide the collector. At Collecting Christie we hope to continue to shed light on the world of magazine and periodical collecting.