Monday, November 30, 2015

11/30/1974 Eric Ambler sorts the rubbish

November 30, 1974.  The Times Saturday Review of this date featured an article by great British spy novelist Eric Ambler with the unpromising title, "A Better Sort of Rubbish."  His argument was that the new generation of espionage writers like John LeCarre and Len Deighton were superior to the previous authors such as Sidney Horler and William Le Queux.

Ambler wrote spy novels for more than forty years, starting in 1936.  He won the Edgar and Gold Dagger Awards, each twice.  One of his screenplays was nominated for an Oscar.

Source: Peter Wolfe, Alarms and Epitaphs: The Art of Eric Ambler.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

11/29/1945 John Dickson Carr is a no-show

November 29, 1945.  On this date John Dickson Carr was supposed to be the guest of honor at one of the first dinner meetings of the Mystery Writers of America, but Carr, who had problems with crowds, didn't show up.

Carr was an American by birth but set most of his books in England.  He was considered one of the great "Golden Age" authors, and the master of the locked room mystery.  His main detectives were Dr. Gideon Fell and (under the name Carter Dickson) Sir Henry Merrivale.

MWA apparently didn't hold a grudge about his absence.  They gave him two Edgar Awards and, in 1963, named him a Grand Master.

Source: Douglas Greene's John Dickson Carr, the Man who Explained Miracles.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

11/28/1936 "Twenty Year Payment" is a Treat

November 28, 1936.  Among the eleven stories in today's issue of Detective Fiction Weekly is "Twenty Year Payment" by Lawrence Treat.  (The only other author I recognize is Davis Dresser, aka Brett Halliday.)  Treat wrote more than 700 mystery stories and is often considered the inventor of the police procedural.  You can read the story here.

Friday, November 27, 2015

11/27/1937 Sherlock Holmes arrives on the boob tube

November 27, 1937.  On this date Sherlock Holmes made his first appearance on TV, in  an adaptation of  "The Three Garridebs." If that sounds insanely early, you're right.  It was a trial broadcast from the stage of Radio City Music Hall, produced by the American Radio Relay League.  It was a live show with prerecorded links.  

Oh.  Proper format requires that I tell you that the story "The Three Garridebs" was written by  Arthur Conan Doyle.  In case you wondered.

This was reported in Ron Miller's "Sherlock Holmes on TV," in Mystery Scene, issue 93.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

11/26/2002 Puzzle in a Pear Tree blooms

November 26, 2002.  The fourth novel in Parnell Hall's Puzzle Lady series was published on this date.

“If you want a well-plotted mystery… try Parnell Hall’s A Puzzle in a Pear Tree. This delightful series is a throwback to the frothy detective puzzlers of the 1930s and 1040s [which] helped make reading mysteries fun.” – Otto Penzler, New York Sun

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

11/25/1952 The Mousetrap opens

November 25, 1952.  Agatha Christie's play The Mousetrap opened in London's West End.  It is still running to this day, to the entertainment of (mostly) tourists.  Christie gave the rights to her grandson Matthew Prichard as a birthday present.  That certainly has to be one of the better gifts he got that year, or any other.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

11/24/1922 Erskine Childers faces firing squad

November 24, 1922.  There are a few unusual deaths among mystery writers, but I think only Erskine Childers, author of the classic The Riddle of the Sands,  was killed by a firing squad.  Formerly a dedicated member of the British Army, after the Boer War, Childers became committed to Irish independence.  During the Irish Civil War he was arrested by Free State forces for carrying a semi-automatic pistol.  Two weeks later he faced the firing squad in Dublin.

Monday, November 23, 2015

11/23/2007 Second Sleuth slips in

November 23, 2007.  A remake of the movie Sleuth, based on Anthony Shaffer's hit play, opened on this day.  The original film (1972) starred Lawrence Olivier as an aging mystery writer and Michael Caine as his wife's lover.  In the remake Caine graduated to the older role and Jude Law took over the younger. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

11/22/1963 Easy Rawlin loses a friend

November 22, 1963.  The day John F. Kennedy was assassinated  also saw the apparent death of one of Easy Rawlin's closest friends.  This occurred in Walter Mosley's A Little Yellow Dog, but the full truth of the events was not revealed until a later book.

Mosley's much-praised series followed Rawlins, an unlicensed African-American private eye, through Los Angeles in the decades after World War II.  He covered the same space and some of the same time as Raymond Chandler's Marlowe novels, but showed it to us from a wildly different perspective.

By the way, when I searched for a picture of the book for this entry I found many pictures of little yellow dogs which, while cute, were not literary.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

11/21/1967 Jim Thompson does Ironside

November 21, 1967.  So, who are the most famous authors to ever create novelizations of TV shows?  Thomas M. Disch did The Prisoner.  Max Allan Collins has done well with CSI.  

But who would have guessed that Jim Thompson, master of mad lawmen and noir endings, would have written a novelization of Ironside, the show about a disabled police detective? 

He did, though, and it was published on this date.  I read it at the time and remember two things about it: that the narrator spent some time in the killer's head (a very Thompsonian touch) and there was a very sexy shower scene.  Neither of these innovations was likely to make it onto NBC prime time.

Friday, November 20, 2015

10/20/1926 John Gardner is born

November 20, 1920.  Author John Gardner was born on this day.  That was the English John Gardner, not the American one.  Gardner invented a character named Boysie Oakes, a cowardly, violence-hating spy.  He then went on to extend the works of two British authors: Doyle's Professor Moriarty, and Fleming's James Bond.  In fact, he wrote more Bond novels then the other guy.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

11/19/1993 Footsteps in the Blood published

November 19, 1993.  This date saw the publication of Jennie Melville's novel Footsteps in the Blood.  London police officer Charmian Daniels has enemies.  In fact, someone offers to sell her a list  of them, but is killed soon after.  Publishers Weekly called it "a zinger of a story."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

11/18/1976 Long Time, No See begins

November 18, 1976.  On this night a blind man was murdered in Isola, the first of a string of killings that kept the 87th Precinct guessing in Ed McBain's Long Time, No See.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

11/17/1958 Tom Dooley hangs at #1

November 17, 1958.  Tom Dula hung in 1869 for the murder of Laurie Foster.  There is still debate as to whether he was the guilty party - or the only guilty one.  What is beyond debate is that on this date the Kingston Trio had a number one hit with their version of an old folk song about the crime: "Tom Dooley."  It was one of the high water marks of the folk music revival.

Monday, November 16, 2015

11/16/1995 The Crossing Guard is released

November 16, 1995.  Sean Penn wrote and directed The Crossing Guard, a terrific little film released on this date.  Freddy Gale (Jack Nicholson) is the father of a boy killed by a drunk driver.  It wrecked him and his marriage to Mary (Angelica Huston).  Now the driver, played  by David Morse, sober and reformed, is getting out of prison.  And Freddy can't live with that...

It could have been played  slam-bang, but Penn and the terrific cast went for the gut not the spine.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

11/15/1990 J.A. Jance hunts new territory

November 15, 1990.  By 1990  author J.A. Jance had already written half a dozen novels about  Seattle cop J.P. Beaumont.  But in Hour of the Hunter, published on this date, she struck out in a new direction.  From Seattle, that would be, south southeast.

Andrew Carlisle spent six years in prison for murdering a Tohono O'Odham Indian girl.  Now he's out and he wants revenge on Diana Ladd, the widow who testified against him.  Ladd teaches on the Indian reservation in Arizona and she knows he's coming for her.  On her side is a blind medicine man and a vengeful detective.  And a whole lot of Indian folklore...

Jance has written four sequels about Diana Ladd and her family.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

11/14/1942 The Catbird Seat

November 14, 1942.  One of the great "perfect crime" stories appeared in the issue of The New Yorker with this date.  James Thurber wrote of Mr. Martin, one of his "Little Men" protagonists, finding his life overturned by a new arrival in his office: a woman named Mrs. Ulgine Barrows, a loud brassy slang-slinging force of nature who is destroying all the careful patterns of Mr. Martin's peaceful existance.  So he decides to rub her out.  "The term rub out pleased him because it suggested nothing more than the correction of a error..."

I liked "The Catbird Seat" enough to make it the first entry in the book Thurber on Crime.  Read it and see why.

Friday, November 13, 2015

11/13/198? Matt Scudder's last drink

November 13, 198?.  Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder is one of the great characters in private eye fiction.  In the first few books he was an ex-cop with an increasing drinking problem.  Eight Million Ways To Die, in which he joined AA, was supposed to be the end of the series, but Block found brilliant ways to keep it going.  In the most recent novel, A Drop Of The Hard Stuff,  Scudder looks back on the events around his first anniversary of sobriety, always a dangerous time for a recovering alcoholic.  And for Matt, there are people making it more dangerous yet.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

11/12/1996 Jeremiah Healy gives the state of the profession address

November 12, 1996.  On this date, in Vienna, Austria, American mystery writer Jeremiah Healy spoke at the conference of the International Association of Crime Writers.  His subject was "the current status of the private investigator novel in the United States."  It was a fitting choice; by that point Healy had published nine books in the award-winning John Francis Cuddy series.

He argued that the two most important changes in the field were women investigators, and the investigation of controversial social issues.  "In my own books I have explored the crisis of the battered spouse in divorce cases like the O.J.Simpson situation, the rights of journalists not to reveal their confidential sources for articles, the issue of whether a person should have the Doctor-Kevorkian right to assisted suicide, and the dangers posed by religious fanatics.  I also think this current focus on social issues has elevated the private investigator novel from the level of popular entertainment to a zenith of important literature."

The speech appeared in the Summer 1997 issue of Murderous Intent mystery Magazine.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

11/11/1821 Dostoevsky is born

November 11, 1821.  Fyodor Dostoevsky was born in Moscow on this date.  He's considered a great mainstream writer, but he has certain claims on the mystery genre.  For example, Crime and Punishment, one of the first reverse mysteries, in which we follow the criminal rather than the detective.  Second, that very detective, Porfiry, the polite police officer who served as a model for television's Columbo.  And don't forget The Brothers Karamazov, a novel featuring a murder in which (spoiler alert) the butler did it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

11/10/1934 Robert Arthur: Too Dumb To Be Fooled

November 10, 1934.  Robert Arthur, Jr. turned 25 on this day, so call the publication of "Too Dumb To Be Fooled" in Detective Fiction Weekly a birthday present.  You can read the whole story here.

Arthur had been getting published since 1930.  In the 1960s he wrote first ten volumes of the children's mystery series, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators.  He also edited many of the wonderful Alfred Hitchcock Presents anthologies before passing away in 1969.

Monday, November 9, 2015

11/9/1990 The Krays slither in

November 9, 1990.  You may have heard about a movie based on the true story of Reggie and Ronnie Kray, twin gangsters who  were leaders of organized crime in London in the swinging sixties.  That would be Legend, starring Tom Hardy, and opening November 20.

But on this date in 1990 The Krays opened.  It starred Gary and Martin Kemp, and Billie Whitelaw.

The Krays were vicious criminals but they left a surprising trail through popular culture.  Remember the Piranha Brothers?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

11/8/2005 Indridason takes a Dagger

November 8, 2005.  On this date Arnaldur Indridason won the Crime Writers Association's Gold Dagger for the Best Mystery Novel of the year.  Silence of the Grave was his second book about Inspector Erlendur. When a skeleton is found in a construction site in Reykjavik, Erlendur has to figure out who the corpse is and whether he/she is a victim or something else...

Saturday, November 7, 2015

11/7/1950 Black Mask fires its last editor

November 7, 1950.  H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan founded Black Mask in 1920, a more commercial spinoff from their literary magazine, Smart Set  (whose mascot was Satan wearing a black mask).  Eight issues later they sold it for 25 times their initial investment.

While Black Mask started willing to publish any commercial genre it soon found its focus on hardboiled crime fiction, especially under the legendary editor Captain Joseph Shaw.  Many great mystery writers found a home there including Raymond Chandler, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon began as a serial there).

But after World War II magazines of this type started to lose their market.  On this day in 1950 Black Mask fired Henry Steeger, their last editor.  Steeger, by the way, was a co-founder of  Popular Publications, one of the major producers of pulp magazines, including Battle Aces and Terror Tales.

Friday, November 6, 2015

11/6/2001 The clock starts ticking on 24

November 6, 2001.  The longest running spy show in American history premiered on this night.  24 was supposed to start in September, but the events of 9/11 made the contents of the first episode - including a terrorist blowing up a jet - seem a little dodgy.

24 was always tangled up in current events, tying it's terror-group-of-the-season to what was going on in the allegedly real world, and being accused of making government-sponsored torture seem a foolproof way of getting accurate information.

But what made the show a hit was the stylization: the brilliant real-time concept.  Every episode started and ended on the hour, and a clock ran down the time.  The creators used this device in many creative ways, playing against the viewer's expectation that the show would end on a moment of high drama.  Sometimes it did; sometimes the drama happened and the clock kept ticking...

Counter-terrorist operative Jack Bauer was the only person guaranteed to survive each episode and supposedly the other actors hated to see a scene in which they left headquarters in Kiefer Sullivan's company, because they knew their character might never get back alive.  Somehow they never got around to bumping off Chloe O'Brien, the grumpy nerd who kept Jack alive through dozens of dark and dangerous corridors and alleys.

And they never did explain when these people found time to go to the bathroom.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

11/5/1900 Philip MacDonald is born

November 5, 1900.  Mystery writer Philip MacDonald was born on this day (and he should not be confused with mystery writers John D. MacDonald, Ross Macdonald, or Gregory MacDonald).  He wrote more than thirty novels, under several names, and wrote screenplays based on his own work and others. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

11/4/1986 Martha Grimes starts jogging

November 4, 1986.  Martha Grimes' eighth novel about Richard Jury was published on this date.  I Am The Running Footman, named after an actual pub (as are all the books in the series), involves "the porphyria murders," two crimes that took place a year and many miles apart, but might be related.

The Washington Post called it “Literate, witty, and stylishly crafted.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

11/3/1890 Harry Stephen Keeler arrives

November 3, 1890.  Harry Stephen Keeler wrote weird novels.  They included sinister Asians, a Human Spider, dialogues that went on for hundreds of pages, cartoons, short stories written by his wife,  3-D color television (in the 1930s) and God knows what else.

A few of my favorite Keeler titles: The Mysterious Mr. I; The Case of the Barking Clock; The Gallows Waits, My Lord!; The Case of the Transparent Nude;  and Adventure in Milwaukee.

Years ago I was considering buying one of his novels while talking to one of the people at Ramble House, a publisher that republishes Keeler's books.  I said "Which Keeler book would you recommend for a fan of Donald Westlake?"  He thought for a moment and said "None."

For more information on this one-of-a-kind arteest  contact the Harry Stephen Keeler Society.

Monday, November 2, 2015

11/2/2007 American Gangster is sprung loose

November 2, 2007.  This date saw the release of American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington as a top Harlem drug dealer, and Russell Crowe as the cop who tries to bring him down.  Based on a true story, it involved smuggling drugs with military planes from Vietnam and nasty stuff happening to bad people.  It received two Oscar nominations, uncluding a Best Supporting nod for Ruby Dee.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

11/1/1992 Quaker Silence speaks up

November 1, 1992.  Irene Allen's first novel, Quaker Silence, was published on this date.  Quaker clerk Elizabeth Elliot thinks the police have arrested the wrong man in the case of a murdered millionaire.  To find the truth she will have to do a little housebreaking, but she's up to the task.

Kirkus Reviews said: "Introspective traditionalists will find much to mull over."