Palmer was born in Baraboo, Wisconsin. He "was descended from some of the earliest English colonists, [and] had held a variety of jobs including seaman, apple picker, taxi-driver and newspaper reporter before turning to fiction." His first novel, The Penguin Pool Murder was published in 1931 and filmed the following year by RKO Radio Pictures. Character actress Edna May Oliver starred as Palmer's heroine, Hildegarde Withers, a spinster schoolteacher who was an amateur sleuth – something of an American version of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple although considerably more comic and caustic. "The model for the unusual sleuth had been his high school teacher, a Miss Fern Hakett, he later admitted." The casting of Oliver for the role was a happy coincidence, as Palmer had been influenced by her performance in the Broadway production of "Show Boat" when creating the character. The film was a hit and Oliver starred in two more Withers films, but she left RKO in 1935. Helen Broderick and ZaSu Pitts played Withers in another three films, but the series then ended. "The success of his first novel also inspired Palmer to collect pictures and statues of penguins and he even devised a personal trademark featuring one of these birds."
Palmer wrote several Hildegarde Withers novels, including Murder on the Blackboard (1932), Murder on Wheels (1932), The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree (1934), Four Lost Ladies (1949), and Cold Poison (1954), set in the thinly disguised Walter Lantz animation studio. The short story collection People vs. Withers and Malone (1963) was a collaboration with Craig Rice and featured Rice's hard-drinking lawyer detective J. J. Malone; and Hildegarde Withers Makes the Scene (1969) was completed by Fletcher Flora upon Palmer's death and published posthumously. Palmer also featured Withers in short stories that were published in newspapers and mystery magazines; some were collected in The Riddles of Hildegarde Withers (1947), The Monkey Murder (1950), and Hildegarde Withers: Uncollected Riddles (2002).
He also wrote a few detective novels with the lead character Howie Rook, a newspaperman who's slightly more hardboiled than Withers.
Several of Palmer's stories were made into motion pictures. In 1936, he penned his first screenplay and would go on to write several others, most of them B movies. He scripted the first three Bulldog Drummond films for Paramount, and later entries in Columbia's Lone Wolf and RKO's The Falcon series.
"The Adventure of the Remarkable Worm" was a humorous Sherlock Holmes pastiche that was published in Ellery Queen's The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes in 1944. In 1960, "The Adventure of the Marked Man" was published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. This short pastiche takes the detective Sherlock Holmes and his companion Dr. Watson to the seaside village of Penzance, in Cornwall, where they investigate the strange warnings given to Allen Pendarvis, and the subsequent attempt on his life. "The two pastiches, one serious and one comic, were written while Palmer was marooned at an army post in Oklahoma, where he was serving as an instructor.…."
Palmer served for one year as president of the Mystery Writers of America.
- Art Scott (1991). "Palmer, (Charles) Stuart". In Lesley Henderson. Twentieth-century crime and mystery writers. St. James Press. pp. 827–8. ISBN 978-1-55862-031-5.
- Haining, Peter, ed. The Television Crimebusters Omnibus. London: Orion, 1994, p. 406. ISBN 1-85797-736-X
- Included in The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
- "Introduction" to The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
- The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Penguin Books, 1985, ISBN 0-14-007907-6
- External Links