Sunday, May 31, 2015

5/31/1985 Fletch is released

May 31, 1985.  On this day the movie Fletch was released, based on the great novel by Gregory MacDonald.  Michael Ritchie directed from a script by Andrew Bergman.  Chevy Chase played an approximation of I.M. Fletcher.

It was a very popular movie (nominated for an Edgar no less), and I hated it.  This was largely because they gummed up a very clever plot by going for dumb cliches.  (I believe there was a rule in the 1980s that every businessman in a movie had to be a secret drug lord.)  Not the worst movie made from a good book, but definitely on my list thereof.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

5/30/1902 Paul Cain is born

May 30, 1902.  George Caryl Sims was born on this date in Des Moines, Iowa, but he achieved fame writing under the name Paul Cain.  His short stories for Black Mask Magazine and his one novel, Fast One, helped define hard-boiled mystery fiction.  Chandler said his novel was “some kind of high point in the ultra hard-boiled manner.”

Friday, May 29, 2015

5/29/2012 Tote Bags and Toe Tags published

May 29, 2012.  Kensington publishes Tote Bags and Toe Tags, by Dorothy Howell, one of her Haley Randolph books.  I mention this example of a shopping mystery because I love the title.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

5/28/1958 Vertigo

May 28, 1958.  One of the best movies ever opened on this date.  My opinion, anyway.

Alfred Hitchcock directed from a script by Alec Coppen and Samuel Taylor, based on the novel D'entre les Morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac.   James Stewart plays a cop whose  acrophobia and vertigo is responsible for another officer's death.  After leaving the force he is asked by an old college friend to follow the man's wife, who is obsessed with a woman who died centuries before...

There are all kinds of holes in the plot.  I don't care.  It's a masterpiece. 

Scottie: One final thing I have to do... and then I'll be free of the past.

Good luck with that.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

5/27/1925 Tony Hillerman is born

May 27, 1925.  Tony Hillerman was born on this date in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma.  He went on to be a soldier, a journalist, a college administrator and, oh yeah, a winner of the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. 

He received dozens of rejections for his first novel, including one who advised him to "get rid of all that Indian stuff."  Lucky for us, he didn't.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

5/26/1953 The Black Baronet gets suspenseful

May 26, 1953.  On this night the CBS TV show Suspense featured Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes in "The Adventure of the Black Baronet."  This was based on a story by Doyle, sort of, but not that Doyle.

Arthur Conan Doyle's son Adrian had decided to expand the family empire by co-writing a set of new Holmes stories with the great American mystery writer John Dickson Carr.  Each took its starting point from some case mentioned in passing in the Canon, as Holmes fans call the original tales.  The stories were published under the name The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, which causes me to raise an eyebrow.  Did they know that one meaning of "exploit" is to use selfishly for one's own advantage?

Nigel Bruce was not part of this particular adventure, having passed away two years earlier.  Instead the faithful Dr. Watson was played by Martyn Green, who is considered by many Savoyards to be to Gilbert and Sullivan what Rathbone was to Holmes: he was the greatest performer of the principal comedian parts in the light operas.

No copies of the show are known to survive, which is particularly unfortunate because it was apparently Rathbone's last filmed performance as the Master.

Monday, May 25, 2015

5/25/1995 Darkness begins to bid the dead goodbye

May 25, 1995.  On this date a woman is marched into the woods of southern Washington and killed.  So begins Darkness Bids The Dead Goodbye, Gary McKinney's second novel about Gavin Pruitt, Willapa County sheriff and dedicated Deadhead.  Is it possible to enforce the law, solve mysteries, and still be a dedicated follower of the Grateful Dead?

Sheriff Pruitt will make you a believer.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

5/24/1902 Seishi Yokomizo is born

May 24, 1902.  "The Japanese John Dickson Carr" was born on this date.  Yokomizo's first novel, Onibi was published in 1935 but he didn't become a popular success until after the War.  His most important invention was private detective Kosuke Kindaichi.  The author died in 1982 but the Yokomizo Seishi Prize is given each year to an unpublished mystery novel, which is then published and filmed for television. 

Most of this information came from Wikipedia.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

5/23/1985 Found In The Street is finished

May 23, 1985.  On this date Patricia Highsmith completed her twentieth novel.  Found In The Street is set in Greenwich Village and centers on two men's obsessions with a newly arrived would-be model. Kirkus Reviews lamented that Highsmith had been passed by a generation of thriller writers who had learned from her (such as Ruth Rendell) and complained that the book was "[s]poradically engrossing, then, but largely unsatisfying."

Friday, May 22, 2015

5/22/1966 Perry Mason's final fadeout

May 22, 1966.  On this evening millions of people tuned in to watch the 271st and last episode of Perry Mason, "The Case of the Final Fadeout."  Of course, Erle Stanley Gardner's great lawyer couldn't stay off the tube forever.  Monte Markham played him in a 1973 revival that flopped, but Raymond Burr returned starting in 1985 to play him in almost 30 TV movies.

Burr originally tried out for the part of Hamilton Burger but, supposedly, when Gardner saw him he said "That's Perry Mason!"  The TV audience certainly agreed.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

5/21/1982 Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid

May 21, 1982. Steve Martin's parody of noir movies, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, was released on this date.  He claimed the title was a quote from Chandler; can anyone verify that?

What made this black-and-white comedy special is that it included clips from actual noir movies.  So there are cameo appearances by Humphrey Bogart, Alan Ladd, Ingrid Bergman, etc. 

Carl Reiner directed it from a script he wrote with George Gipe and Martin.  Triple threat, because Reiner acted in the film as well.

Rigby Reardon: If you want me to investigate your father's death, I get ten dollars a day - plus expenses.
Juliet Forrest: Will two hundred dollars be enough in advance, Mr Reardon?
Rigby Reardon: Two hundred, I'd shoot my grandmother.
Juliet Forrest: That won't be neccessary.
Rigby Reardon: Never can tell. In my last case, I had to throw my own brother out of an airplane.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

5/29/1904 Margery Allingham is born

May 20, 1904.  Margery Allingham was born on this day in London.  Her breakthrough novel was The Crime At Black Dudley, which included a minor character, a bit of a rogue named Albert Campion.  At her publisher's suggestion she moved him to the front in her next novel and he became her master sleuth.  Campion was somewhat mysterious; his family had royal connections that were never clarified.  He featured in more than a dozen novesl and several books of short stories.  Peter Davison played him on television starting in 1989.

 Allingham's husband, Pip Youngman Carter, created the covers for her books and sometimes collaborated with her.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

5/19/1934 Cornell Woolrich becomes a paid crime writer

May 19, 1934.  On this date Detective Fiction Weekly sent Cornell Woolrich a check for "Death Sits In The Dentist's Chair."  The story, about a reporter trying to prove that his dentist friend did not poison a patient, appeared in the August fourth issue.  It was Woolrich's first sale in the crime market.  More than a hundred followed, plus novels.  The recluse who lived with his mother in a hotel was a master of paranoia and noir.  Oh, he was paid $110 for the story.  Good money in those days.

Sources: Nevins, Francis.  First You Dream, Then You Die.
Irwin, John T.  Unless The Threat of Death is Behind Them

Monday, May 18, 2015

5/18/1955 Kiss Me Deadly is released

May 18, 1955.  Well, that is one ugly poster.  On this date Kiss Me Deadly was released, the second movie based on one of Mickey Spillaine's Mike Hammer novels.  Ralph Meeker starred as you-know-who.  In 1999 it was added to the National Film Registry,    along with Laura, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Duck Amuck, among others.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

5/17/2003 Gary Phillips takes the Himes Award

May 17, 2003.  On this date Gary Phillips became the eighth winner of the Chester Himes Award for outstanding African-American mystery writers.  He is best known for his novels about private eye Ivan Monk. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

5/16/1931 Peter Levi is born

May 16, 1931.  Peter Levi was born this day in Ruislip, England.  He was a poet, archaeologist, travel writer, Catholic priest, and he managed to find time to write a few crime novels, beginning with the wonderfully titled The Head in the Soup (1979).

Friday, May 15, 2015

5/15/1923 The hardboiled dick bursts in, shooting.

May 15, 1923.  Carroll John Daly's "Three Gun Terry" appears in Black Mask Magazine.  It is usually considered the first hardboiled private eye story.  As WIlliam F. Nolan wrote in his anthology The Black Mask Boys:

"Three Gun Terry" represents a "major" first in the genre of crime fiction. It is the first tough detective story starring the world's first wise-cracking, hard-boiled private investigator...

Terry Mack is the prototype for ten thousand private eyes who have gunned, slugged, and wisecracked their way through ten thousand magazines, books, films and TV episodes.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

5/14/1992 All the Dead Heroes arrive

May 14, 1992.  On this date, Stephen F. Wilcox,s novel All The Dead Heroes was published.  When a baseball hall-of-famer apparently kills someone and commits suicide, writer T.S.W.  Sheridan investigates.  Kirkus Reviews called it "smooth and readable, with a bittersweet approach to heroes and national pastimes."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

5/13/1942 This Gun For Hire

May 13, 1942.  Alan Ladd as a hired hitman?  That's the concept here.  He gets paid in marked money by a traitor and goes after him.  Meanwhile a cop who is chasing the hitman is encouraged by a senator to hunt for the treasonous guy.  It gets very complicated.  And it premiered on this date.  Great poster.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

5/12/1947 An Angel arrives in Liverpool

May 12, 1947.  Mary Hayley Bell's play Angel opened on this date in Liverpool, England.  It was based on the Constance Kent murder case.  (That's Constance on the left.)

One summer night in 1860 a three-year-old named Francis "Saville" Kent disappeared from his home in Wiltshire.  He was found on the property, brutally stabbed to death.  The nursemaid was arrested, then released when the police inspector suspicions turned to Francis' half-sister, the sixteen-year-old Constance.  Apparently no one could believe a woman of good family could be guilty of such a horrible crime and so she too was released.

Five years later Constance confessed to an Anglo-Catholic clergyman which led to her conviction, plus a loud public debate over whether such clergy could be forced to testify about confessions.  There is still debate over whether Constance did it, or was protecting someone else.

Besides the play Angel the Kent case  inspire elements of Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret, Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, and Charles Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood, among others.

As for Mary Hayley Bell, she was the wife of actor Sir John Mills, and the mother of actress Hayley Mills, who scored her first success in the movie Whistle Down The Wind, based on one of her mother's novels.

Monday, May 11, 2015

5/11/1875 A radical arrives: Leroy Scott

May 11, 1875.  Leroy Scott was born on this date in Indiana.  He was a newspaper reporter, an activist and a social worker.  He makes it onto this page because of his fourth novel, Counsel For The Defense (1912).  Not only was it a crime novel, but it was decades ahead of its time.  The protagonist was a female attorney.  One reviewer notes that she "secures the release of two innocent prisoners, overthrows a political ring, exposes a water-works conspiracy, elects a mayor and marries him."  Wow. 

You can read the book here for free.

Source: James Alvin Huston.  A Hoosier Sampler: An Anthology of Indiana Writers.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

5/10/1997 Jonathan Creek magically appears

May 10, 1997.  On this date an unusual mystery series premiered on the BBC. 

Maddie Magellan (Caroline Quentin) is a true crime writer and while investigating a story she meets a strange young man named Jonathan Creek (Alan Davies) who lives in a windmill, and works as a creative consultant for a famous stage magician.  That job title means he's the one who creates all the elaborate tricks and stunts. Maddie realizes he is the perfect person to solve impossible crimes, and so a partnership of sorts is born.

There is a great moment in the first episode when Jonathan demonstrates how a particular suspect could have narrowly slipped out of her office unseen to commit the murder.  Just as Maddie is about to congratulate him on the solution he says (approximately) "Of course, she didn't do that.  Only a lunatic would take that sort of risk."

And thus the viewer is alerted:  On this show the solutions will have to make sense.

Inevitably they couldn't always live up to that standard.  And Caroline Quentin was replaced by other, less satisfactory, co-stars.  But the show is always worth watching and the solutions are always dazzling.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

5/9/1897 Rudolph Fisher is born

May 9, 1897.  Rudolph Fisher was a part of the Harlem Renaissance.  He was a musician, a physician, and a playwright.  But narrowly-focused little devils that we are, this page is primarily interested in him for one reason.

Fisher wrote The Conjure-Man Dies (1932), the first novel with a Black detective, and all Black characters.  When a Harvard-trained African fortuneteller is killed in his apartment in Harlem policeman Perry Dart has to investigate all of the man's customers....

Friday, May 8, 2015

5/8/12 A Simple Murder occurs

May 8, 2012.  Eleanor Kuhns won the MWA/Minotaur FIrst Crime Novel Competition with A Simple Murder, published this day. It is set in a Shaker community in Maine in the 1790s.  Douglas Lord in Library Journal said "The simple plot offers little in the way of fancy twists or turns, so mostly this is carried by Kuhns’s gift for clear writing with a just-right amount of historical detail."  Great cover, don't you think?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Dick Francis tells a tale of wine and roses

May 7, 1973.  If you picked up the Sports Illustrated Kentucky Derby issue with this date on  it you would have encountered a short story by Dick Francis entitled "A Day of Wine and Roses."  When it appeared in his collection Field of Thirteen he returned to his original title, "The Gift."

Under either name the story involves a boozy reporter who is supposed to cover the big race.  He uncovers a big story.  If he can stay sober enough to write it...

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

5/6/1991 Loves Music, Loves to Dance

May 6, 1991.  On this date Mary Higgins Clark's tenth suspense novel was published.  Loves Music, Loves to Dance was one of Publishers' Weekly's ten biggest sellers of the year.  It was made into a TV movie in 2001 starring Patsy Kensit, and Cynthia Preston. 

The plot involved a serial killer who made use of personal ads.  It probably scared a few people right back into the safety of singles bars.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

5/5/2014 Shanks Holds The Line

May 5. 2014.  Trace Evidence, the Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine blog, puts up a free short story.  Robert Lopresti offered "Shanks Holds The Line" as a public service, to warn people about a certain scam.

Monday, May 4, 2015

5/4/1891 A meeting at Reichenbach Falls...

May 4, 1891.  On this date there occurred the most famous event that never actually happened (well... there are more famous ones, if you agree that all the religions can't be be true).  In Arthur Conan Doyle's story "The Final Problem" Sherlock Holmes grappled with Professor James Moriarty at the top of Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland.  Both fell to their death.
But one of those deaths was cancelled, due to popular demand.  How often does that happen?

Illustration by the great Sidney Paget.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

5/3/2001 Lansdale wins an Edgar

May 3, 2001.  On this day the Mystery Writers of America named Joe Lansdale's novel The Bottoms the best novel of the year.  It also won the Herodotus Award for Best US Historical Mystery Novel.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

5/2/1946 The Postman Always RIngs Twice is released

May 2, 1946.  John Garfield and Lana Turner starred in this adaptation of James L Cain's noir classic, which opened this day.

Friday, May 1, 2015

5/1/1939 Batman flies in

May 1, 1939.  The 27th issue of Detective Comics changed the comics world forever.  It featured "the world's greatest detective," the Batman (also known as the Dark Knight, the Caped Crusader, and that nut with the rodent obsession).  He has managed to stick around.