Wednesday, January 5, 2022

A Little Less Than Kind

“A Little More Than Kin and Less Than Kind” are the first words uttered by Hamlet in what is perhaps Shakespeare’s best-known play. In a masterful bit of literary understatement Hamlet is referring to Claudius who is “More Than Kin” (he is both his uncle and his stepfather) and “Less Than Kind” (he murdered his father). Charlotte Armstrong was a true Shakespeare scholar even to the point of researching whether William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon actually wrote all of the works attributed to him.

The wonderful thing about A Little Less Than Kind is that it can be read at two completely different levels. For those unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s works it reads as one more of Charlotte’s excellent suspense stories set in 20th Century Southern California.

Devotees of Hamlet will recognize the following characters:

Ladd Cunningham                 Hamlet
Hob Cunningham                  Hamlet’s father
David Crown                         Claudius
Abby Cunningham-Crown    Gertrude
Aaron Silver                          Polonius
Gary Fenwick                        Horatio
Felicia Lorimer                      Ophelia
Justin Lorimer                       Laertes 

The book ends up deviating substantially from Hamlet with a very different ending however the reader will pick up on scenes reminiscent of, for example,  "The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King" and the struggle of the relationship between Ladd (Hamlet) and Felicia (Ophelia). In lieu of the duel that takes place in the last act of Hamlet, there is a struggle on a staircase resulting in serious injuries 

On a personal note, this is the only book for which my mother asked me for some input. She described Ladd Cunningham and asked me what kind of car he would be driving. I quickly said I thought it would be a Corvette. Imagine my delight when the book came out and there it was, a 1961 blue Corvette convertible.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Chocolate Cobweb

 This book followed closely on the heels of the successful Unsuspected. It, too, was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post and was released in 1948. But unlike the former, it took more the 50 years before it became a movie. Famed French director Claude Chabrol optioned it in 2000 and the move, Merci pour la Chocolate, was released in 2003, and distributed world-wide with English sub-titles. Many years earlier, Chabrol made a movie, La Rupture, from Armstrong’s novel, The Balloon Man. We guess he may have thought that another Armstrong based movie might be a good idea. Well, it certainly was for us and we believe it has generated more revenue that any other property. The movie prompted more book sales.

Here is the Mysterious Press plot summary: For a few hours after her birth, Amanda Garth had two fathers. One was John, the kind, forthright man who would raise her. The other was Tobias Garrison, a well-known California artist who, because of a mix-up in the hospital’s nursery, briefly thought Amanda was his. The confusion was straightened out, and the misunderstanding is forgotten for twenty-three years, when questions about her birth cause Amanda to approach the Garrisons. This could prove a deadly mistake.

Someone in that poisonous family is plotting a murder, and the last thing they want is another heir to the massive Garrison fortune. The quest for truth could mean death for the girl whose birth was shrouded in secrecy.

The Chabrol movie changed the Tobias character from an artist to a musician, perhaps feeling that sound was a better movie sensation than looking at paintings. But the movie had the same level of suspense along with a little romance. The movie starred Isabelle Huppert, a fine and popular actress.

We once asked friend who was a native French person, why that book was some popular with the French. She read it in French and concluded it was the romance and intrigue that made it so compelling to them.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Dram of Poison


This novel is one of Charlotte Armstrong’s best. We judge that based on the fact that it received the prestigious Edgar (as in Edgar Allan Poe) Award, an annual award for the best mystery novel of the year. It is an unusual story as there is no victim and no crime. Yet, Armstrong manages to weave her magic and create a suspense-filled story how we are going to avoid a terrible accidental death from a deadly poison. It is also a story how total strangers come together and by combining their wits and skills drive to successful conclusion. It is also one of only four books that were dedicated. More on that later.

A Dram of Poison (1956), despite its serious central situation, is a comic novel, with an unlikely set of characters uniting in a common purpose and discovering in the process much that is admirable in each other.[1]

Her Edgar award winning novel A Dram of Poison (1956), about a bottle of poison that inadvertently gets left on a bus, can't really be called a crime novel as I see it (there is really no intended crime to speak of)--though it certainly is suspenseful (and it was marketed as "a novel of suspense").  Rather, I find it simply a marvelously humanistic tale about the foibles of men and women.[2]

Here is the plot synopsis as noted in Mysterious Press.

For fifty-five years, Kenneth Gibson has lived in backwaters. A former army clerk, he makes a quiet living teaching poetry to indifferent undergrads. His life is happily dull until the day he meets Rosemary, a damaged girl whose frailty compels Kenneth to try to make her well. They wed, and as Rosemary recovers from her depression, Gibson falls in love, transforming his world. But his wife will never love him.

She is smitten with their landlord, a dashing young chemical engineer named Paul. Gibson wants to let her go, but he cannot bear to be parted with the first love he has ever known. In Paul’s house is a case of poison, and this love triangle can only end in death.

In 2019, this story was optioned to Skalar, a German feature film producer. After struggling to find financing, their efforts ground to a halt in 2020 due to the COVID 19 pandemic and, in August 2021, they, reluctantly abandoned their efforts. So, now rights to the property have reverted to the author’s estate and are available to some other aspiring film producer.

The dedication of this book arose when, at the last minute, Armstrong remembered to dedicate the book to her housekeeper for her devoted service to humor and joust with Armstrong’s elderly and frail father-in-law living in the Lewi house.


[2] The Passing Tramp, Aug 30, 2012

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Charlotte Armstrong

Welcome to the Charlotte Armstrong Blog, an adjunct to the website. The purpose of the blog is to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas about the life and work of this well-known and successful mystery/suspense writer of the era of the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

Chief bloggers of this effort are Armstrong’s sons, Jerry and Peter Lewi, with support of their sister, Jacquelin Bynagte. These children lived through and were witnesses of the development, as well as the ups and downs of their mother’s incredible career.

Why do we want to do this? First of all, reprints and e-books of many of her books are being republished and there appears to be a significant number of readers out there interested in good old-fashioned stories that are in contrast to the more current books that depend so much on gratuitous sex  and violence.

Secondly, as we re-read the stories that we often do, we are struck even to a greater extent than when our mother was living with the fine craftsmanship, the attention to detail, the development of character of her stories. And perhaps even more significant, we  keep finding more stories that seem to have captured morals and themes way ahead of their time. We already knew that Lemon in the Basket featured a middle-eastern potentate being treated for a serious illness while American scholars were being held hostage to be sure of his safe treatment and return to him home country – a story written in 1968. And we knew of the tragic school child fatal shooting with a handgun in Ride with the Executioner, penned in 1955.

Now we realize that Girl with a Secret  makes reference to Mexican narcotic trafficking long before any of us knew about Mexican drug cartels. Story written in 1959.

So, our idea is to from time publish reviews of her full-length books and short stories with comments about how the story might have had its origins from our knowledge of her life.

We cannot close this post without acknowledging The Virtue of Suspense, by Rick Cypert that is the most definitive published biography of Armstrong’s work. All of Charlotte Armstrong’s books and books about her can be accessed elsewhere on this website.

Thus, we hope we will reach of all this writer’s fans as well those who may have known her work in some professional capacity. We promise to respond to all comments as promptly as possible.