Thursday, April 30, 2015

April 30, 1982. Kinsey Milhone files her first report.

April 30, 1982.  A is for Alibi was published today.  It was not Sue Grafton's first book, but it is the one that made her career.  Kinsey Milhone was one of the first female private eyes to make an impression. 

One of the unique things about the series is that they have stayed in the 1980s, progressing a few months in each book.  By the time Z is for Zero arrives Kinsey may have a cell phone.  It is rare for a series to turn into historical fiction.

MWA named her a Grand Master in 2009.  I won't list all the other awards.  I will say Grafton is one of my favorite writers of P.I. short stories.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

4/29/1999 Mr White's Confession scores an Edgar

April 29, 1999.  On this date the Mystery Writers of America gave out the Edgar Awards.  The prize for best  novel of the year went to Robert Clark for Mr. White's Confession.  It's Saint Paul in 1939.  Some women are murdered and the prime suspect is a modest little man, who seems as decent as can be.  But his memory is so bad he doesn't know whether he did the deeds or not...

Kirkus Reviews called it "the most tender account of a sex-killing investigation you’ll ever read.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

4/28/2015 The Golden Age of Murder is published

April 28, 2015.  Today is the publication date for The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards.  Edwards is the first-ever Archivist of the Detection Club.  The Club's first president was G.K. Chesteron.  Other founding members (1930) include Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, A.A. Milne, Baroness Orczy,  etc. etc. I am reading the book right now.  It's fun.

Monday, April 27, 2015

4/27/1904 NIcholas Blake is born

April 27, 1904.  Cecil Day-Lewis arrived this day in Ballintubbert, Ireland.  He reached great success for his verse, becoming the poet laureate in 1968.  But what interests us today is that in 1935 Day-Lewis concluded, as many others have, that there wasn't enough money in poetry, so he wrote a crime novel.  A Question of Proof introduced amateur sleuth Nigel Strangeways, supposedly modeled on the author's mentor, W.H. Auden.  He went on to write 19 more crime novels (through 1968), most featuring Strangeways.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

4/26/1996 Mulholland Falls appears

April 26, 1996.  The movie Mulholland Falls was released on this date.  It was directed by Lee Tomahon and starred Nick Nolte, Melanie Griffith, and Chazz Palminteri.  Another story of corrupt Los Angeles cops, this time in the forties, it follows the Hat Squad as they investigate the murder of a woman who had photographs of a lot of important people doing naughty things.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

4/25/1992 Nancy Pickard gives Agatha an I.O.U.

April 25, 1992.  On this date Nancy Pickard's novel I.O.U. won the Agatha Award for best novel.  The Agatha is given at the Malice Domestic conference for best traditional mystery.  Sometimes the word cozy is invoked. 

Pickard has also won, Shamus, Anthony and Macavity Awards, being the only author to score all four.  Impressive. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

4/24/1996 The second Nevermore Awards

April 24, 1996.  In the 1990s the New York City bookstore Partners and Crime started holding a special night of festivities the evening before the Edgar Banquet.  Specifically they gave out the Nevermore Awards, which no one wanted to win.  The only one I know about in detail was the second annual flare-up, because Harlan Coben reported on it for The Armchair Detective. 

Here's an example.  The Graphic Violence Award was presented to the book whose "cover must somehow absolutely guarantee that the book's intended readership will either overlook it completely or be decisively repelled."  The prize in the hardcover division went to Lawrence Block and Ernie Bulow for After Hours: Conversations With Lawrence Block.  Mr Block said: "I wish Ernie Bulow was here with me.  In fact, I wish he was here instead of me."

Steve Thayer's The Weatherman won the Kama Sutra Award for managing to tangle the most trends into one plot.

The Collective Unconcious Award was given to three books with the same unlikely plot.  Except they gave out two such awards for two such trios.  Jeffrey Deaver, Mary Willis Walker, and Philip Caputo each featured a kidnapped bus.  Susanna Moore, Elise Title, and Laura Reese, all featured women who sought revenge for someone's murder by allowing the sadistic killer to seduce them and tie them up.

Don't let it be said that no good came out of these awards.  Remember the Graphic VIolence Award?  Harlan Coben's Deal Breaker  won the paperback category and he says it convinced the publisher to give up on the "bleeding sports equipment" theme.

Worse things have happened.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

4/23/1895? Ngaio Marsh mysteriously arrives

April 23, 1895?  There is some disagreement as to the date of Ngaio Marsh's birth because her father didn't get around to registering it until 1900, but this seems to be the standard guess.  We know she was born in Christchurch and is certainly one of the most famous people to come from New Zealand.  Her 32 novels featured a British cop, Inspector Roderick Alleyn, and often had theatrical themes. 

Marsh was considered one of the great female writers of the Golden Age, along with Christie, Sayers, and Allingham.  The Mystery Writers of America named her a Grand Master in 1978.

The prize for best crime novel in New Zealand is the Ngaio Marsh Award.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

4/22/1985 Elmore Leonard, cover boy

April 22, 1985.  Thirty years ago today Elmore Leonard appeared on the cover of Newsweek, representing a new wave of highly successful crime writers.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

4/21/1923 John Mortimer is born

April 21, 1923.  John Mortimer entered the world on this date in London.  His father was a barrister who specialized in divorce cases.  His father went blind in the 1930s but continued his career and the family never mentioned his condition.

Mortimer became a barrister in 1948, and his most famous cases involved obscenity charges.  His other career was as an author of novels, plays and radio scripts.  But his most memorable character was one he claimed he invented as a retirement plan: the feisty, unbearable, utterly lovable barrister Horace Rumpole.  As portrayed by Australian Leo McKern Rumpole was an instant classic.  He started in radio, moved to television, and Mortimer also carried him into novels.  Rumpole, who had proudly served in the RAF ground staff during the war, was still  defending bad guys and innocents with equal defiance in Rumpole Misbehaves (2007).

Monday, April 20, 2015

4/20/1993 Roy Hart's Final Appointment

April 20, 1993.  Today saw the publication of Roy Hart's Final Appointment.  It was his sixth novel about English Inspector Roper.  Publisher's Weekly called "a subtle, superior puzzle."

Sunday, April 19, 2015

4/19/1901 Gladys MItchell is born

April 19, 1901.  On this date Gladys Mitchell was born in Cowley, England.  Her huge popularity in Britain as a mystery writer never seemed to make it over the pond.  She wrote more than sixty novels about amateur sleuth Mrs. Bradley, and dozens more under other names.  Her themes included social conflicts, Freudian psychology, and witchcraft.  Some of her novels were adapted for television starring Diana Rigg.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

4/18/2008 In Bruges Premieres

April 18, 2008.  In Bruges is released in the U.S.  After a major screw-up two British hit men find themselves banished to Belgium by their tempermental boss.  In the disaster that follows all three of the main characters manage to cobble together a little scrap of redemption.  Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes starred in a wonderful movie.

Friday, April 17, 2015

4/17/1919 Julian Fast is born

April 17, 1919.  Julian Fast was born on this day.  In 1946 he won the very first Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, for his novel, Watchful At Night, which he wrote while serving in the Army Medical Corps.  He wrote several more detective novels but is perhaps most famous for his pop psychology books, especially Body Language (1970).  His big brother, Howard Fast, was also a the author of many books, including mysteries under the name E.V. Cunningham..

About the illustration: I couldn't find a picture of the cover of Watchful At Night, but Out Of This World is a fantasy collection Fast edited while still in the Army.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

4/16/1993 Nancy Drew goes academic

April 16, 1993.  There was a time when public libraries refused to stock books from the Stratemeyer syndicate (Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys, etc.), considering them "subliterature."  By the 1990s there was a whole community of women, many of them writers, who remembered the Nancy Drew mysteries, authored by Carolyn Keene (mostly Mildred Wirt Benson) as their first experience with mystery fiction, and with a strong independent girl.

One result was that the first-ever academic conference dedicated to the study of the girl sleuth was held at the University of Iowa (Benson's alma mater).  The place was full.  Not so surprising when you consider that 80 million copies of the books have been sold.  The conference papers were published as Rediscovering Nancy Drew and combine scholarly studies with nostalgic fondness.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

4/15/1912 Jacques Futrelle goes down with the ship

April 15, 1912.  Jacques Futrelle was an American writer, best known for the creation of Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, Ph. D.,LL. D., F. R. S., M. D., M. D. S., alias the Thinking Machine, a brilliant amateur detective.  The best known story  is  "The Problem of Cell 13," in which Van Dusen proves he can escape from a prison cell using the powers of his mind.  (I am not talking about woo-woo mind-over-matter, just good thinking.)

Unfortunately Van Dusen was not present to arrange an escape when the Titanic struck an iceberg, but Futrelle was.  He put his wife on a lifeboat and then went down with the ship, and several unpublished short stories.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

4/14/1991 The Turquoise Tattoo is revealed

April 14, 1991.  This date saw the publication of The Turquoise Tattoo, the first novel in Nancy Baker Jacobs' series about  Devon MacDonald, a female private eye in Minneapolis.  Kirkus Reviews said "Original plotting, competent writing and a heroine who's gutsy but no Superwoman make this one a welcome addition to the genre."

Monday, April 13, 2015

4/13/1979 The Mysterious Bookstore opens

April 13, 1979.  On this date Otto Penzler, collector of mysteries, opened the Mysterious Bookstore in New York City.  Remarkably, it's still open where many independent booksellers have closed.  For many years that building also housed The Armchair Detective and Mysterious Press, the first publishing house dedicated entirely to crime fiction.  Penzler has changed the field in a dozen ways, and is still editing several books a year. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

4/12/1962 Cape Fear is released

April 12, 1962.  Cape Fear was released on this date.  J. Lee Thompson directed the suspense film which starred Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum.  James R. Webb wrote the script, based on a novel by John D. MacDonald.  A lawyer and his family are tormented by a man he sent to prison (and was anyone but Mitchum as equally fine at playing good guys and bad guys?)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

4/11/1920 Peter O'Donnell blazes in

April 11, 1920.  Peter O'Donnell was born on this day in London.  He wrote more than twenty novels but his most famous creation began as a comic strip.  Modesty Blaise is a WWII refugee who ends up running a criminal network and then, having grown rich and bored, decides to help good guys, spies, and people in need of her special talents.  The strip/novels were turned into several movies. 

Novelist Kingsley Amis said Modesty and her sidekick Willie Garvin were one of the best pairs of characters in fiction.

By the way, O'Donnell was also an award-winning romance writer under the name Madeleine Brent.

Friday, April 10, 2015

4/10/1972 The French Connection connects with Oscar

April 10, 1972.  On this date The French Connection won five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Gene Hackman), Best adapted Script (Ernest Tidyman), and Best Director (William Friedkin).  The film was inspired by a true case involving New York City cops. It was the first R-rate movie to fetch home Best Picture.

Not surprisingly, MWA gave it the Edgar for Best Picture as well.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

4/9/1883 Old Cap Collier Library opens for business

April 9, 1893.  You have probably never heard of the Old Cap Collier Library but how about "dime novel?"  This was apparently the first of the extremely cheaply produced series of crime fiction.  All the great and not-so-great detective magazines owe a father's day card to this weekly (later monthly) that ran until 1899.  The most prominent inhabitant was Cap Collier, a mysterious fellow who worked unoffically with the police department.  You can view some of the issues here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

4/8/1990 America visits Twin Peaks

April 8, 1990.  One of the weirdest phenomena in the weird history of television started on this date, when Twin Peaks hit ABC.  It lasted only fourteen months, which was long enough to explode a lot of brain cells. 

As you probably know it tells the story of the death of small town high school student Laura Palmer, as investigated by FBI agent Dale Cooper. 

Sounds simple, no?  But this is a murder mystery as created by the eccentric director David Lynch and his partner Mark Frost.  So along the way we meet a woman who carries a log everywhere, a giant and a midget in identical clothes, a woman who turns into a cabinet knob, a white horse in the middle of a living room, and a damned fine cup of coffee.

In one episode the FBI agent is told by the dead woman (oh, just go with it) that she would see him again in 25 years, and here we are 25 years later.  So recently Showtime announced that Twin Peaks will return for a limited run of new episodes.  I'm sure this time it will make sense.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

4/7/1932 Bruce Cook is born

April 7, 1932.  Bruce Cook was born on this date in Chicago.  He wrote four private eye novels about L.A. detective Chico Cervantes.  I can't find a picture of the cover of the one with my favorite title: Death As A Career Move.

Under the name Bruce Alexander he wrote a series of mysteries starring Sir John Fielding, the blind man who in real life created London's first police force.

Monday, April 6, 2015

4/6/1950 Nero Wolfe lurches toward the Reichenbach

April 6, 1950.  (What an ugly cover, by the way.)  On this date the action begins in Rex Stout's novel In The Best Families.  This is the third of the Arnold Zeck trilogy, in which master detective Nero Wolfe confronts the master criminal.  In this book Zeck is so threatening that Wolfe flees, abandoning his beloved brownstone (leaving the door open, because with him gone there is nothing valuable left, the insufferable egotist).  His loyal assistant Archie Goodwin is left to cope on his own with no knowledge of where his boss has gone (although no one believes that he doesn't know, which makes it all the more frustrating).  But Wolfe hasn't surrendered, he's merely plotting, and months later...

Sunday, April 5, 2015

4/5/1960 Hitchcock meets Armstrong at a corner

April 5, 1960.  On this date Ford Startime Theatre presented "Incident At A Corner," directed by Alfred Hitchcock, based on a short story by Charlotte Armstrong.  A lot of people assume this was one of the shows Hitch directed for his own series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but it wasn't.  I haven't found an explanation of the shift, but in those days AHP was a 30-minute show, and this one ran the full hour.  It was also the only TV show he directed in color.   Knowing the devious mind of the Master there was probably something else going on as well.

Hitchcock had used Armstrong's material before with great success in the movie Strangers on a Train.  They certainly had some common viewpoints, especially about attractive bad guys, and tangled relationships between alleged heroes and villains.  This story, about the destructive power of gossip, among other things, also gave the director a chance to show off Vera Miles, who was appearing in his new film Psycho.

I can't find anyplace where the film is available today.  Any ideas?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

4/4/1976 John Ball suffers a home invasion

April 4, 1976.  John Ball was a successful writer from the start.  His first novel n The Heat Of The Night, introduced his most successful character, Virgil Tibbs, won the Edgar for Best First Novel, and was made into an Oscar-winning movie and a TV series. 

One thing he did with his success was start collecting jade.  Unfortunately those precious stones collected unwanted attention.  On this date, early in the morning, Ball opened the door and found himself looking at a huge man with a .38 automatic in his hand.  Ball, with a black belt in karate, decided not to fight.  He was soon bound in masking tape, barely able to breath.  In less than twenty minutes the precious jade figurines "some of which I had carried back from the Orient on my lap to guard against breakage," had been dumped into a pillow case and carried off. 

The cops, using a variety of methods - including hypnosis! - identified the bad guy, who was caught and convicted. 

You can read Ball's whole account of the ordeal (titled "211 Dossier") in I, Witness, a remarkable collection of essays by mystery writers about their experiences with true crimes.  My favorite part is the TV reporter who asked him to "please remove the bust of Hitler from the mantlepiece" before they started filming.  Ball explained that it was Poe not Hitler (his Edgar award), and it wasn't going anywhere.

Friday, April 3, 2015

4/3/1936 Reginald Hill is born

April 3, 1936.  British mystery novelist Reginald Hill was born this day in West Hartlepool.  He is best known for his novels about police officers Andrew Dalziel and Peter Pascoe, set in Yorkshire.  Among the best of his other books were five novels about a black private eye named Joe Sixsmith.

In 1995 the Crime Writers Association gave him the Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

4/2/1974 The Sting is the Best Picture

April 2, 1974.  A little movie with a convoluted plot about a con game won the Oscar for Best picture on this date.  It was the second combination of director George Roy Hill with Paul Newman and Robert Redford (after Butch Cassidy of course).  David S. Ward's screenplay also won an Oscar, one of seven for the film.

The movie's theme, "The Entertainer," by Scott Joplin, led to a boost in popularity for Ragtime.

My favorite line: "What was I supposed to do—call him for cheating better than me?" –Doyle Lonigan (Robert Shaw)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

4/1/2015 The 400th Gunsmith

April 1, 2015.  This is crazy.  On April 1, 2015,  that's today, The Lincoln Ransom is being published. That is the 400th Western novel in the Gunsmith Series by J.R. Roberts, since 1981.  One a month.  For 34 years.  And no, J.R. Roberts is not a house name.  It is a pen name for Robert J. Randisi who wrote all 400 of the books.  Can you imagine?

You might say that those books are westerns and this is supposed to be about mysteries.  Okay, but Randisi has also written dozens of mystery novels and is the founder of the Private Eye Writers of America.  So, give the man a hearty congrats.  Did I mention four hundred  books?