"IN MEMORY OF HOPATCONG… WHICH RESULTED IN OUR FRIENDSHIP": PRESENTATION COPY OF S.S. VAN DINE'S FIRST PHILO VANCE NOVEL, INSCRIBED BY HIM TO CLOSE FRIEND NORBERT LEDERER, WHO FIRST URGED VAN DINE TO "DEVOTE HIS LIFE TO WRITING CRIME NOVELS"
(WRIGHT, Willard Huntington) VAN DINE, S.S. The Benson Murder Case. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1928. Octavo, contemporary three-quarter green crushed morocco, elaborately gilt-decorated spine, raised bands, decorative endpapers, top edge gilt. $2800.
Third edition of the first Philo Vance novel by legendary critic and editor Willard Wright under the pseudonym of S.S.Van Dine, a Haycraft-Queen Cornerstone mystery, a splendid presentation copy inscribed by him to his close friend, "To Norbert L. Lederer. In memory of Hopatcong and the Uberbrettl movement—the place and the subject which resulted in our friendship. S.S. Van Dine, New York."
Lederer, the recipient of this distinctive copy, was a close friend of Wright, who published his Philo Vance series under the pseudonym of S.S. Van Dine. When Wright was ordered to take a break from overwork, Lederer stepped in and told his friend to instead "devote his life to writing crime novels" (Sanchez, Jose Raul Capablanca, 276). Lederer offered Wright access to his "vast collection of detective fiction.… Wright then read all of the authors of crime fiction, old and new… and decided he could do better" (Backer, Mystery Movie Series, 5-6). As Wright began working on Benson Murder Case, the first Philo Vance novel, he asked Lederer, a member of the prestigious Manhattan Chess Club, to arrange a meeting with Alexander Alekhine, who became the Fourth World Champion of Chess in 1927. Wright used that meeting to gain background for Philo Vance's talent for solving chess-related murders. In 1933, New Yorker magazine reported that Lederer "gave S. S.Van Dine the chess and mathematical dope for The Bishop Murder Case."
When Wright began "crafting his influential theory of detective fiction, he drafted several story outlines and submitted three to Maxwell Perkins at Scribner's, promptly receiving a contract." Benson Murder Case launched "what Haycraft has called the "Golden Age… Van Dine's place in the history of the American detective story is secure and important" (Reilly, 1415). "Philo Vance was an American cousin to Lord Peter Wimsey and forefather of many later detectives" (Hardy, BFI Companion to Crime, 137). At his death Wright was "the best known American writer of the detective story since Poe… His name will endure among the immortals of the literature" (Haycraft, 168). Preceded by the 1926 first and 1927 second editions. With page of publisher's advertisement at rear. Reilly, 1414. Hubin, 414. Haycraft-Queen Cornerstone. See Barzun & Taylor 3268. From the library of Norbert L. Lederer with his bookplate. The "überbrettl movement" of Wright's inscription highlights a type of literary cabaret popular in Berlin at the turn of the century; "hopatcong" likely refers to an area not far from New York City. The two men shared a keen interest in chess, and Lake Hopatcong was the center for major chess tournaments in the 1920s, including one in 1926 won by the chess champion defeated by Alekhine in 1927. A suspect in The 'Canary' Murder Case, the second Philo Vance novel, complains of getting ticketed for speeding while "driving down to Hopatcong."
Text fine, lightest edge-wear, faint toning to spine. An about-fine presentation copy.