The Problem of the “Answer in Grand Larceny”

September 28, 2015 at 10:08 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

A number of Jack Boyle’s Boston Blackie stories are companion pieces.  That is to say, while each stands on its own as a story unto itself, several build upon the preceding yarn in the series, to present an initial story and a sequel.  Prime examples of this are “Black Dan” (which tells a story in which Blackie ends up in prison) and “The Water-Cross” (which relates his subsequent escape).  But perhaps the two most readily apparent companion pieces from the Boston Blackie canon are the Red Book Magazine tales “A Problem in Grand Larceny” and “An Answer in Grand Larceny.”  The first tells of a daring shipboard heist committed as an act of revenge, while the its sequel relates the moral dilemma Mary faces as a result of the crime’s aftermath.  The pair are excellent examples of Blackie and Mary in fine form, but some reflection on the stories’ background presents us with a puzzle.

Obviously, the titles “A Problem in Grand Larceny” and “An Answer in Grand Larceny” are meant to fit together, to link one story to the other. However, previous research has indicated that “A Problem in Grand Larceny” was, in all likelihood, not the name Jack Boyle gave his story.  Correspondence from the Red Book editorial staff cites the title “Queens of Camouflage” (see my June 3, 2015 post, “Black Dan Pays,” for further details).  So, if there was no “Problem in Grand Larceny,” it seems unlikely that Boyle would have titled his sequeThird Degree 1l “An Answer in Grand Larceny.”  If this is the case, what did he call his story?

Short of locating his original manuscript, it’s unlikely that anyone can provide a definitive answer to this question at this late date.  However, one source presents a strong possibility.  “A Problem in Grand Larceny” never saw publication in overseas magazines and newspapers, but outlets in the U.K., Australia, and other countries did reprint its sequel.  Intriguingly, another name was chosen for these foreign printings, christening the story “The Third Degree.”  It’s hardly surprising that, without the “Problem” title as a set-up, the overseas market did not want to use the “Answer” title for their republication.  But is it possible that their choice of “The Third Degree” was actually Jack Boyle’s original title?

On the subject of alternate titles, it’s worth mentioning there is yet another tied to this pair of stories.  In 1922, scenarioist Albert S. Le Vino adapted “A Problem in Grand Larceny” and “An Answer in Grand Larceny” into a single screenplay for the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation.  The result was the silent feature Missing Millions, starring David Powell as Boston Blackie and Alice Brady as Mary.  And this film was subsequently released in Brazil under the title Digna do Meu Amor (Worthy of My Love).  With so many titles in the offing for these stories, Jack Boyle himself may well have been hard-pressed to recall which was his original.

JBF  9/28/15


  1. Michael DeLisa said,

    An Australian newspaper published this as the Third Degree in May 1919. Miss Doris, Saffecracker published in Australia in Oct 1918 as Miss Doris “Raffles”

    • jackboylefan said,

      Thanks for confirming the month of publication, Mike! In case you haven’t spotted yet, in a separate entry I’ve written an entire blog post on “Miss Doris’s Raffles.”

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