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Lawrence Treat (1903-1998) - pseudomym of Lawrence Arthur Goldstone

 

American writer, a three-time Edgar Allan Poe Award Winner, frequently called the "father" of modern police procedural novel. Treat himself did not accept the honour, although his early novels paved way to the radio and television police series Dragnet, John Creasey's Gideon stories, and Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels. (See also Chester Himes and his series of Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones.) But as a pioneer in mystery genre, Treat developed a narrative framework, which differed from the traditional detective story, where the story centers on a single person, like Sherlock Holmes or Inspector Maigret. In Treat's novels there is a group of police detectives with family problems. They have conflicts inside departments, and work under-staffed too long hours. The formula, which he started in the 1940s, have since been used repeatedly in books, movies, and television series.

"... the jury trial is still the best protection we have against injustice. It is one of the best examples of democracy in action, representing the judgment of a cross section of community, not a judge or police officer or government official, but the people. Finally, it has become a marvelous educational tool: every day across the country thousands of Americans pass through our courtrooms as jurors, learning about their Constitution and their Bill of Rights, and for a few hours or a few days rising to a new level of responsibility." (from You're the Jury by Norbert Ehrenfreund and Lawrence Treat, 1992)

Lawrence Treat was born Lawrence Arthur Goldstone in New York; he changed his name legally in 1940. After graduating from Darthmouth College in 1924, he entered Columbia University, attaining a law degree in 1927. For some time, he worked as a lawyer, but when his firm broke up in 1928, he moved to Paris, where a friend provided free room and board. Treat wrote poetry and worked in odd jobs. Realizing that poetry would not give him bread, he turned into writing mystery stories.  His earliest contributions to this field were picture puzzles, some of which were collected in Bringing Sherlock Home (1930).

After returning in the United States, Treat began to write for detective and mystery pulps; during his career he published 17 novels and over 300 short stories in such magazines as Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Detective Fiction Weekly, Dime Detective, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

While living in New York, Treat taught mystery writing at Columbia University. In 1930, he married Margery Dallet; they divorced in 1939. For a period, Treat was a member of the League of American Writers (LAW), an anti-fascist organization, which had been launched in 1935 by the Commmunist Party USA (CPUSA). In addition, Treat joined the pacifist Keep America Out of War Committee (KAOWC), which had been organized by the LAW; its members also included Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett, among others. The FBI kept a close watch on League's activities.  

Treat's first novel, Run Far, Run Fast (1937), was came out under the name Goldstone. As Lawrence Treat, he launched in 1940 his first four-book series featuring the criminologist Carl Wayward. In 1942, he met Rose Ehrenfreund, the daughter of a Czech wigmaker. She became his wife of 55 years. Rose was a registered nurse, who later embarked on an artistic career; her friends included such names as as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollack. Before settling to Martha's Vineyard in the 1970s, they lived in a wooded part of New York state.

In 1945, Treat became one of the founders of the Mystery Writers of America in New York City, and served at various times as MWA's president and director. A sought-after lecturer, he taught at Columbia University, New York University, Adelphi College, Ditmas High School in Brooklyn and at public schools. Treat won twice the Edgar Allan Poe Award, in 1965 for the short story 'H as in Homicide,' which first appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and in 1978 for editing the Mystery Writer's Handbook. In 1981, Treat was a prize-winner at the Crime Writers' International short story contest held in Stockholm, Sweden. A special Edgar Allan Poe was awarded him in 1987 for his television story on the Alfred Hitchcock program, 'Wake Me When I'm Dead (aka. Murder Me Twice),'  a trial of a woman who claims she had killed her husband under hypnotism.  Treat died on January 7, 1998, at Martha's Vineyard Hospital in Massachusetts.

Treat's best-known characters include Commander Bill Decker, Carl Wayard, a professor of psychology, and Mitch Taylor, a veteran police officer, and his sidekick Jub Freeman, an easygoing forensic expert, but who ambitiously declares: "I want to show those bastards what the laboratory can do." B as in Banshee (1940), D as in Dead (1941), and O as in Omen (1943) featured Carl Wayward, who is married during the course of the series. Taylor's greed leads to his involvement in graft and he is removed from NYPD in Big Shot (1951). Later Sue Grafton used Treat's title gimmick in her Alphabet Mystery series. Freeman, who replaced Taylor as the protagonist, appeared alone in H as in Hunted (1946) and Decker was introduced in F as in Flight (1948). After being dismissed from the force, Taylor made only occasional appearances. 

With V as in Victim (1945), Treat created the police procedural as we know it and established his place in crime-fiction history. However, until the mid-1980s, police novels were a rather small sub-genre of crime fiction. "Moreover, the few critics who found them worthy of comment defined the genre by applying to the police novel the criteria of the detective story developed in the 1920s and 1930s – the need for clues, for a surprise ending, and all the other conventions adhered to by critics and writers alike." ('Post-war American police fiction' by Leroy L. Panek, in The Cambridge Companion to Crime Fiction, edited by Martin Priestman, 2003, p. 156) In Treat's ground-breaking novel Mitch Taylor, "a short, chesty man with dark dry hair brushed back over his forehead", bemoans the policeman's lot, tries to find ways to improve his chances of promotion, and investigates a murder and hit-and-run accident, along with the coincidental connections between the two.

Treat's innovation did not lie in introducing the importance of scientific evidence within the legal process, but in his characters – they were cops. Being a police officer is a job for them, they have their own particular jargon and slang, they tell cop tales, they share a professional bond, they do not like paper work, and the police station is shabby. However, in plotting Treat relied on the surprise ending of the traditional golden age detective story. The police procedural was introduced to the British by the ex-police detective Maurice Procter with his work The Chief Inspector's Statement (1951). Its protagonist was Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Philip Hunter.  

To get the details right, Treat spent time with the San Diego homicide police and in the New York Police Departments forensics laboratory. (Key Concepts in Crime Fiction by Heather Worthington, 2011, p. 146) In  You're the Jury (1992) Treat used the expertise of Norbert Ehrenfreund, who had served as a judge for seventeen years in the Superior Court of California – Treat was his brother-in-law. The book was written for ages 13 and up. It looks at justice in action through twelve actual trials from 1961 to 1991. The clue of the book is that it gives the reader a chance to step into the jury box. At the end of each chapter, the reader can check how the real jury decided, and why. Often Treat rises moral questions. In one case, 'State v. Storm and McClure,' a father is charged with kidnapping his twenty-four-year old daughter. He believes that the Church of the Master, whose member she is, is an evil cult.

Treat's first rule in Mystery Writer's Handbook is: "There must be a crime and it must be personalized to the point where the reader cares. Usually, but not always, the crime is murder, since murder is the most serious crime known to man." (Mystery Writer's Handbook, Writer's Digest Books, 1982, p. 3) For the young detectives Treat wrote such exercises in observation, creativity and logic as Crime And Puzzlement (1881-82) and You're the Detective! (1983), in which the reader is asked to solve mysteries using clues found in the brief story and accompanying illustrations. "Remember, however, that detection is art and not science, and being an art, there are not always precise answers." (from Crime and Puzzlement 3, 1988, p. 8)

Some of the stories were based on the knowledge of sailing. In 'Julius and the Jollyboat' Julius has bought a 12-foot sailing dinghy. He takes a course in navigation, buys emergency equipment, and starts confidently for his maiden voyage. The jollyboat tips over and the question is: why? In the picture one can see Julius and a small boat with a single sail, made for one-man operations. But there is no centerboard – the boat has no stability.

For further reading: The Police Procedural by George Dove (1982); St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, ed. by Jay P. Pederson (1996); "The Police Procedural" by Jon L. Breen in Mystery and Suspence Writers, vol. 2, ed. by Robin W. Winks (1998); The Oxford Companion to Crime & Mystery Writing, ed. by Rosemary Herbert (1999); Treat, Lawrence,' in The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery by Bruce F. Murphy (1999); The American Police Novel: A History by LeRoy Panek (2003); Key Concepts in Crime Fiction by Heather Worthington (2011); 'Treat, Lawrence (193-88),' in 100 American Crime Writers, edited by Steven Powell (2012) - Note: Treat lived in Martha's Vineyard, where one of his puzzle books, Crime And Puzzlement (1993), was also set. Rose Treat was an amateur mycologist (student of wild mushrooms) and a well-known amateur phycologist  (seaweed expert). 

Selected works:

  • Bringing Sherlock Home, 1930
  • Run Far, Run Fast, 1937
  • B as in Banshee, 1940
  • D as in Dead, 1941
  • H as in Hangman, 1952
  • O as in Omen, 1943
  • The Leather Man, 1944
  • V as in Victim, 1945
  • H as in Hunted, 1946
  • Q as in Quicksand, 1947
  • T as in Trapped, 1947
  • F as in Flight, 1948
  • Over the Edge, 1948
  • Trial and Terror, 1949
  • Big Shot, 1951
  • H as in Homicide, 1965 (in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, March 1964)
  • Weep for a Wanton, 1956
  • Lady, Drop Dead, 1960
  • Venus Unarmed, 1961
  • Murder in Mind - An Anthology of Mystery Stories, 1967 (editor)
  • P as in Police, 1970 (edited by Ellery Queen)
  • Mystery Writer's Handbook, 1976 (editor)
  • Crime And Puzzlement, 2 vols., 1981-82
  • A Special Kind of Crime, 1982
  • You're the Detective!: 24 Solve-them-Yourself Picture Mysteries, 1983 (illustrated by Kathleen Borowik)
  • The Clue Armchair Detective, 1983
  • Crime And Puzzlement 3, 1988 (illustrated by Paul Karasik)
  • Crime and Puzzlement 4: My Cousin Phoebe: 24 Solve-Them-Yourself Picture Mysteries, 1991 (illustrated by Dean Bornstein)
  • You're the Jury, 1992 (with Norbert Ehrenfreund)
  • Crime and Puzzlement: On Martha's Vineyard, Mostly 24 Solve-Them-Yourself Picture Mysteries, 1993 (illustrator Paul Karasik)


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