Willard Huntington Wright pseud. S. S. Van Dine, 1888-1939, American art critic and mystery story writer, b. Charlottesville, Va. He attended college in California and later studied art in Paris and Munich. Wright was literary critic for the Los Angeles Times and several periodicals and was editor (1912-14) of the Smart Set. Before 1923 he wrote nine books, chiefly art criticism, including Modern Painting (1915), The Creative Will (1916), and The Future of Painting (1923). After suffering a breakdown of health, he began writing highly successful detective stories under his pseudonym, modeling the erudite detective, Philo Vance, after himself. The best of these works include The Benson Murder Case (1926), The Canary Murder Case (1927), and The Bishop Murder Case (1929).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition
The story involves a series of murders taking place in a wealthy neighborhood of New York. The first murder, of a Mr. Christopher Robbin who is found pierced by an arrow, is accompanied by an anonymous note with an extract from the nursery rhyme Who Killed Cock Robin. This crime takes place at the home of an elderly physicist with a beautiful young ward and a private archery range. District Attorney Markham finds the circumstances so unusual that he asks his friend Philo Vance to advise upon the psychological aspects of the crime. Further murders connected with the family and neighbours of the physicist are accompanied with similar extracts from Mother Goose, such as the case of Johnny Sprigg, "who was shot through the middle of his wig, wig, wig." Midway through the book, an elderly woman confesses to the crimes, but this possibility is discounted by the police for physical reasons and by Philo Vance for psychological ones. The kidnapping and confinement of a little Miss Moffatt is luckily discovered by Vance and the police before the child suffocates in the closet in which she has been locked. Vance finally realizes the significance of a reference to the plays of Henrik Ibsen by one of the characters and arranges a spectacular finale in which the criminal is poisoned by a glass of liqueur which that person prepared for another suspect.
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