Vicious Circle: Mysteries and Crime Stories from the Algonquin Round Table

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Most of the renowned writers who made up New York’s notorious Algonquin Round Table in the 1920s are remembered today not just for the caustic wit that led them to dub their group “The Vicious Circle,” but also for the essays, plays, and literary fiction they produced during its heyday. Less well known is that some Round Table regulars—who included humorists Robert Benchley and S. J. Perelman, playwrights Marc Connelly and George S. Kaufman, novelist Edna Ferber, critic Alexander Woollcott...

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Overview

Most of the renowned writers who made up New York’s notorious Algonquin Round Table in the 1920s are remembered today not just for the caustic wit that led them to dub their group “The Vicious Circle,” but also for the essays, plays, and literary fiction they produced during its heyday. Less well known is that some Round Table regulars—who included humorists Robert Benchley and S. J. Perelman, playwrights Marc Connelly and George S. Kaufman, novelist Edna Ferber, critic Alexander Woollcott and, most famously, Dorothy Parker—dabbled in crime writing as well.

 

Edgar Award–winning mystery editor Otto Penzler (Best American Mystery Stories of the Year, The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps) gathers these stories, satires, and sketches together for the first time in The Vicious Circle, a volume whose twelve selections showcase the cleverness and sophistication of the Round Table raconteurs, including:

  • “Farewell, My Lovely Appetizer,” S. J. Perelman’s snickering send-up of the hardboiled detective genre
  •  “Moonlight Sonata,” Alexander Woollcott’s ghoulish black comedy of a British manor house and its resident psychopath
  • “The Man Who Came Back,” Edna Ferber’s study of embezzlement and romance“
  • “The Mystery of the Poisoned Kipper,” Robert Benchley’s absurd tale of an equally absurd murder

If you’re in the mood for classy mysteries touched with wit, here’s a book whose contents will amuse as well as thrill.



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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

As mystery expert Penzler admits in his introduction, this volume contains "little classic detection . . . and less nail-biting suspense" than the usual crime fiction anthology, but those curious about the legendary figures of the Algonquin Round Table-a group of New York City writers and critics from the 1920s, many affiliated with the New Yorker-will get at least a taste of the wit and sophistication for which they were known. Of the dozen selections, the highlights are three parodic pieces by S.J. Perelman, notably the laugh-out-loud "Farewell, My Lovely Appetizer," a send-up of the hard-boiled genre that's a clear literary precursor to Woody Allen's Kaiser Lupowitz stories. Another standout is the wickedly absurd "The Mystery of the Poisoned Kipper" by Robert Benchley, perhaps best known today as the grandfather of the author of Jaws. While some tales disappoint, readers new to these authors may be inspired to sample more of their work. (Dec.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Editor Penzler, one of the great mystery aficionados, gathers an even dozen stories by Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Edna Ferber, Marc Connelly, George S. Kaufman, S.J. Perelman, and Alexander Woolcott. Although Penzler knows his stuff, dubbing many of these mystery and crime stories is a bit of a stretch. That's not to say they're not good stories-they most certainly are-but labeling Parker's "The Big Blonde" a crime story because the boozy, lovelorn protagonist attempts suicide-legally a crime-requires a leap of faith. True to the collective authors' reputation for wit, many of these pieces are laugh-out-loud funny sketches (Perelman's PI parody "Farewell, My Lovely Appetizer" is a peach) and others like Ring Lardner's noted "Haircut" and "Stop Me-If You've Heard This One," as well as Woolcott's "Rien Ne Va Plus" are straightforward prose pieces. Though these pieces are enjoyable if you're a fan of the Algonquin gang, readers of more traditional crime/mystery stories might find this collection little more than a pleasant novelty. Purchase accordingly.-Mike Rogers, Library Journal

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
You didn't know that the famed Algonquin Round Table of the 1920s was home to some noted mystery writers? Editor Penzler, try as he might, won't do much to convince you. The paradox here is that although half the volume's 12 reprints are well-known anthology pieces, none of them exactly establishes their authors as significant crime writers. Alexander Woollcott's suave anecdotes, "Moonlight Sonata" and "Rien Ne Va Plus," and Marc Connelly's equally slight "Coroner's Inquest," all go by in a flash. Dorothy Parker's "Big Blonde" lacks mystery, crime or suspense. And how many readers would call Ring Lardner's "Haircut" a crime story? The prize among the obligatory items is S.J. Perelman's sublime Raymond Chandler parody, "Farewell, My Lovely Appetizer." Penzler rounds the volume out with two other, lesser Perelman burlesques (the tedious "Up the Close and Down the Stair" and the livelier "Four-and-Twenty Blackjacks"); a pair of workaday send-ups by Robert Benchley ("The Mystery of the Poisoned Kipper") and George S. Kaufman and Howard Dietz ("The Great Warburton Mystery"); and two undistinguished stories that at least belong in the genre: Edna Ferber's "The Man Who Came Back" and Lardner's "Stop Me-If You've Heard This One."Penzler's introduction and headnotes conscientiously recycle the most enduring cliches about the Round Table wits' backbiting and their lack of major literary success. Even the collection's title is recycled.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781435111141
  • Publisher: Sterling
  • Publication date: 3/7/2009
  • Pages: 205
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Otto Penzler

Otto Penzler is the proprietor of the Mysterious Bookshop in New York City. He is the founder of the Mysterious Press and Otto Penzler Books, and has received an Edgar Award, an Ellery Queen Award, and a Raven Award for his contribution to the mystery field.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2009

    Fun read

    This book was given to a friend and he's enjoying it very muc.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2009

    Like a trip back in time.

    It was very interesting to read authors that I had heard about, that were popular before my time. I loved the stories. Good bedtime reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2009

    Offbeat stories by nontraditional mystery writers

    These stories are very unique and often leave one scratching ones head in disbelief..The style variations are very interesting. This book is probably not for mystery purists..It`s better suited for more literary types.

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