THE GREAT MAIL ROBBERY FILE [The Federal Agent Mysteries] by Clarence Budington Kelland

Eccentric characters, screwball romance, and mid-century zeitgeist in this classic postal procedural!

The hidden movement of mail…Post Office procedure is the backbone, and the story behind the story, of U.S. Postal Inspector Will Scarlet's hunt for the fiend plotting to loot the mail. When a few very expensive packages mailed within the Manhattan area go missing, Scarlet suspects a rehearsal is underway for a much more ambitious theft—possibly worth millions. Scarlet begins with a little New York dress shop whose order of gowns has has gone missing. There Scarlet meets the store’s intriguing manager, Mabel Brown, who remembers seeing a woman wearing one of the stolen dresses. This hot tip takes Scarlet to a nightclub, where he is introduced to Jahala Vidmar, a sensational dancer whose shows have taken the town by storm and who has drawn the attention of many a shady character. At this point in the case, Scarlet has accumulated a few noteworthy suspects:

  • Chinner DePew, an easygoing underworld jokester who managed fighters—and also managed to have friends on every side;
  • Marquis Downs, a man with a shady past and a shady future. Not one for slapdash work, he took the time to try to bribe a government agent on the way to one of the greatest criminal double-crosses in history;
  • Jacques Forgeron, an all-around tough guy and Jahala’s fierce protector. In the end, he will give her the greatest gift any man could;
  • The Trenton Terror, a naïve boxer whose handlers were grooming him for the World Heavyweight Championship—but was that was not all they were preparing him for.

Scarlet knew one of them was the criminal mastermind plotting the greatest mail theft ever—but which one?

“…fine documentary stuff” —Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

“My father relished this mystery, [he] knew the Post Office well from working there. So we have praise from someone with insider and multidisciplinary viewpoints…. He admired Kelland's attention to detail … most of us see only the mail carrier walking or driving his route, or the postal clerks behind their counter, but legions of people work at diverse jobs around the clock, every day of the year. Between the curbside drop-off box and the recipient's mailbox is a zigzag and sometimes surprising trip.

“Kelland's hero is Will Scarlet, a postal inspector: essentially an internal criminal investigator, a specialized federal police detective. From this modest beginning Kelland develops what we may call a postal procedural, ranging not only through the inner workings of the Post Office, but into different strata of society and crime in New York. The characterization is Kelland-smooth … But Kelland really excels with one of the women of the dress shop, and with another who is a stage performer. These two not only are vivid beyond anticipation, but have surprising depths and turns in their characters.

“As a detective story and as a romance The Great Mail Robbery works well, but what raises it beyond the ordinary and keeps me coming back for re-reading are those two unpredictable women, and the engaging postal procedural itself.” —Franson Reviews

“Postal inspector Will Scarlet must uncover the plot for looting the mails. Beginning with the disappearance of dresses sent from a little New York City shop, where he meets the awkward, brilliant Mabel Brown, it is on to the mysterious singer Jahala and the men whom she dominates. Scarlet works out the system by which packages vanish, turns up some murders and rounds up the whole gang. Maintains its pace and humor in the expected Kelland style.” —Kirkus Reviews

Reader Bonus: Sneak peeks at two recently published Kelland mysteries!

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About the Author

Clarence Budington Kelland was author of nearly 100 novels of mystery and romantic suspense, had enough careers for several men: attorney, reporter, manufacturer of clothespins, director of a major newspaper group, and more. Kelland became best known as a fiction writer, penning some 100 novels, and selling them as serials to the biggest and highest paying magazines of the time—like The Saturday Evening Post, The American Magazine, Colliers, and Cosmopolitan. Many were immortalized on film, of which the romantic suspense comedy and Oscar-winner, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, is undoubtedly the most famous. Kelland appeared alongside Agatha Christie, Rex Stout and Erle Stanley Gardner in the same magazines, but was the most popular of the four. The New York Times described Kelland’s novels as “lively stories, designed to prick the jaded palate, that keep readers pleasantly entertained” and noted that “Kelland demonstrates the emotions of his lovers with a psychological penetration.” Kirkus Reviews called his novels “Bright and breezy, with plus appeal for murder-mystery addicts.” His magazine publishers kept besieging him for more novels because every time they serialized one of them (typically in 6-8 installments), circulation shot upward. Kelland obliged, and produced far more each year than his publisher (Harper and Row) could keep up with, leaving more than three dozen unpublished in book form when he died. His inimitable characters, trademark dialogue and deftly plotted stories, according to Harper, “made him an American tradition and won him more loyal, devoted readers than almost any other living author.” Kelland, as ever self-depreciating, simply described himself as “the best second-rate writer in the world.” His legions of fans, old and new, would likely disagree. There was nothing second-rate about his work.