Monday, August 31, 2015

8/31/1928 Three Penny Opera opens

August 31, 1928Three Penny Opera, by Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht, opened in Berlin on this date.  It was adapted by the 18th century Beggar's Opera, written by John Gay. 

It tells the story of MacHeath, alias Mack the Knife, a notorious London criminal.  The show is dark, political, and brilliant.  The most famous song, best known as "Mack The Knife" has been a huge hit in the United States.  "Pirate Jenny," alias "The Black Freighter," has been recorded by many artists as well.

Here is a video of Alan Cummings and Cyndi Lauper performing "Ballad of the Pimp" at the 2006 Tony Awards.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

8/30/1889 Dinner party at the Langhorn Hotel

August 30, 1889.  A major literary event happened on this night, which had great import for the mystery field.  You see, when Arthur Conan Doyle introduced Sherlock Holmes to the world in A Study in Scarlet the world wasn't much interested.  But when he wrote a historical novel called Micah Clarke it became a best-seller.  Joseph M. Stoddard, the publisher of Lippincott's Magazine, which published Scarlet in America, happened to be  visiting England that summer, and saw the pupularity of Clarke.  So he invited Doyle to a dinner at the Langhorn Hotel and suggested he give Holmes another shot.  This led to The Sign of Four, and eventually to the short stories that made Holmes a household word.   Oh, Stoddart invited another writer to the event and suggested he write something for the magazine as well.  So Oscar Wilde produced The Portrait of Dorian Gray.

Must have been quite an evening.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

8/29/1967 The Fugitive finds justice

August 29, 1967.  In the 1960s it was almost unheard of for a TV series to have an actual ending.  When it got cancelled the characters just faded off the screen.  Each episode was generally self-contained anyway, so there weren't any outstanding issues to resolve.

The Fugitive was an exception.  After 120 episodes of running from the death penalty for a crime he didn't commit, the public wanted to see Dr. Richard Kimble exonerated.  And in a special two-part episode, ending tonight, he was.

Roy Huggins created the series.  David Janssen starred.  Quinn Martin produced.  Plenty of credit (and Emmys) to go around.

Friday, August 28, 2015

8/28/1946 Burt Lancaster does Hemingway, sort of

August 28, 1946.  This day saw the release of The Killers, starring Edmond O'Brien  and Ava Gardner.  Other important roles were played by Burt Lancaster and William Conrad, in their film premieres.

The first twenty minutes is an accurate filming of Ernest Hemingway's story of the same name, part of his Nick Adams cycle.  It describes hired killers coming to a small town to kill an ex-boxer called the Swede.  The rest of the flick, in which the crime is investigated,  is made up from scratch. 

It does offer an explanation of Swede's fatal mistake.  For a different take on that, read Leigh Lundin's surprising discovery.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

8/27/1929 Ira Levin is born

August 27, 1929.  Ira Levin was born this day in New York City.  His first novel, A Kiss Before Dying, won the Edgar Award.  But his best-known book is Rosemary's Baby.  Levin later said he felt guilty that that horror novel had encouraged some people to believe in the existence of Satan.  "Of course, I didn't send back any of the royalty checks."  His play Deathtrap won him another Edgar, and was also filmed.   

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

8/26/1967 Billie Joe goes off a bridge and tops a chart

August 26, 1967.  Bobbie Gentry had a first album most songwriters can barely dream of.   On this date "Ode to Billie Joe" reached Number One on the Billboard chart and stayed there for a month.  It's a song about a family reacting - or more accurately, NOT reacting - to a young man's suicide.  What fascinated the audience was a mystery: What had the narrator and Billie Joe McAllister been throwing off the Talahatchie Bridge?  And how did that relate to his suicide?  No answers came but eight Grammy nominations did, and eventually a movie.  Gentry, however, says the point she was trying to make was the indifference of the family to their neighbor's death - and to the narrator's suffering.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

8/25/1987 Five Bells and Bladebone

August 25, 1987.  This day saw the publication of Martha Grimes' novel Five Bells and Bladebone.  Superintendent Richard Jury's vacation is interrupted by a corpse falling out of the furniture.  Don't you hate it when that happens?

Kirkus Reviews called it "Steadily absorbing and stylishly crafty."

Sunday, August 23, 2015

8/24/1899 Jorge Luis Borges enters the labyrinth

August 24, 1899.  Jorge Luis Borges was born on this day in Argentina.  He believed that an author of fiction should created his own world so many of his early "stories" consisted of reviews of books that were never published, biographies of people who never lived, and detailed descriptions of buildings that could never stand.

But around his fortieth birthday (midlife crisis?) in the course of a few months he created three masterpieces of mystery fiction: "Death and the Compass," "The Garden of Forking Paths," and "The Shape of the Sword."  In these he explored two of his favorite themes, the double and the labyrinth, while also discussing Chinese spies in England, murderous dwarfs in a mysterious unnamed city, and betrayal during the Irish Civil War.

He also co-wrote with his friend Adolfo Bioy-Casares Six Problems for Isidro Parodi about a man, falsely imprisoned, who passes the time solving mysteries for his visitors.  Parodi is a common surname in Argentina, but it also means just what it sounds like.

Borges went blind as he aged, and also was named the director of the national library of Argentina.  It is not coincidence that the blind librarian in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose was named Jorge of Burgos. 

8/23/1991 Sleep of the Unjust

August 23, 1991.  This day saw the publication of E.X. Ferrars' Sleep of the Unjust.  Felix and Virginia Freers are invited to the wedding of the niece of their friends, but the unexpected arrival of a former love of the bride results in a mysterious death -- accompanied by several contradictory suicide notes.  Hmm...

Saturday, August 22, 2015

8/22/1931 Jim Thompson plays detective

August 22, 1931.  On this date the first part of "The Car in the Mexican Quarter" appeared in Nebraska Farmer.  It was a rare detective story by Jim Thompson, who made his reputation writing from the bad guy's point of view, (The Grifters, The Killer Inside Me, etc.).  You can read it here.

Friday, August 21, 2015

8/21/1912 A Fish is born

August 21, 1912.  Robert L. FI\ish was born on this date.  His first novel, The Fugitive (no connection to the TV show) won him the first of his two Edgar Awards,  Mute Witness was made into the hit movie Bullitt. 

He also wrote some of the funniest parodies of a certain detective, starring Schlock Homes of Bagel Street.  I well remember Dr. Watney expressing amazement at one of Homes' disguises, which made him appear a full foot shorter.  "Special shoes," the sleuth explained.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

8/20/1993 The Mysterious Death of Meriwether Lewis

August 20, 1993.  This date saw the publication of Ron Burns novel based on the famous demise of the explorer, one half of Lewis and Clark.  The official record says Lewis killed himself but there have always been doubts about it.  Burns sets a fictional detective on the case...  KPublishers Weekly said: "This elegant, slim mystery satisfies modern expectations of conspiracy in the highest places of power."

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

8/19/1968 The Saint thanks his creator

August 19, 1968.  Leslie Charteris created Simon Templar, the helpful rogue known as The Saint in the 1920s.    In 1962 The Saint became a TV starring a young actor named Roger Moore.  On this date in 1968, nearing the end of the show's run, Moore sent a cablegram to Charteris:

The thanks are due to you for making a halo which fitted so well.   - Roger

Source: "'The Saint' Speaks, Paul M. James.  The Armchair Detective, v23, n 3.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

8/18/1941 Cordially Invited To Meet Death

August 18, 1941.  On this date Bess Huddleston, professional party organizer, came to Nero Wolfe, asking him to investigate letters her clients had received accusing her of misbehavior.  Although she had previously irritated him by asking him to play detective at a "murder party" he agrees to look into the matter.  Soon a particularly horrible death is also invited...

As World War II began Rex Stout spent more of his time on war-related activities and less time on writing, and that meant switching to short fiction.  This was his second novella (after "Black Orchids.")  It was published in American Magazine in April 1942, as "Invitation to Murder," but in the book Black Orchids, it is "Cordially Invited to Meet Death."

Monday, August 17, 2015

8/17/1993 North Star Conspiracy brought to light

August 17, 1993.  This date saw the publication of North Star Conspiracy,  the second novel in Miriam Grace Monfredo's historical mystery series about librarian Glynis Tryon, who lives in Seneca Falls, New York, before the Civil War.  This one involves the underground Railroad.

Kirkus Reviews said: "Stimulating fare (despite a subplot or two too many) that effectively parallels the powerlessness of slaves and women--the disenfranchised--building to a dramatic courtroom sequence."

Sunday, August 16, 2015

8/16/1995 The Usual Suspects arrive

August 16, 1995.  The Usual Suspects was released on this date.  Cleverly written, brilliantly acted, it was one of those flicks that you wanted to watch again immediately to see what you had missed.  Kevin Spacey won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and Christophe McQuarne won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

8/15/1994 The Black Orchid Bookshop opens

August 15, 1994.  On this date Bonnie Claeson and Joe Guglielmelli opened the Black Orchid Bookshop at 303 East 81st Street in Manhattan.  The Mystery Writers of America gave the store the Raven Award in 2006 for contributions to the field.  The store closed in September 2007, suffering the fate of many independent bookstores.

Friday, August 14, 2015

8/14/198? Sleeping Dogs awake

August 14, 198?.  On August 14th in an unspecified year an American who calls himself Michael Shaeffer meets a beautiful aristocratic woman in London.  Actually Schaeffer is the Butcher's Boy, the Mafia's favorite hit man until a mobster tries to cheat him and he gets, say, terminally cranky.

The Butcher's Boy gets spotted in London and he decides he needs to go back to the States to teach a refresher course to those thugs who think they need to kill him.  All he has to do is stay out of the way of the mob, the cops, the FBI, and the Justice Department.  Piece of cake...

Sleeping Dogs is the second of (so far) three novels by Thomas Perry about the highly efficient Butcher's Boy.  They are worth reading, and in order.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

8/13/1967 Bonnie and Clyde are unleashed

August 13, 1967.  This day in 1967 saw the release of Bonnie and Clyde which showed the vicious killers as movie stars.  Arthur Penn directed from a script by David Newman, Robert Benton, and Robert Towne.  The stars, of course, were Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, with smaller rolls for Gene Hackman and the inimitable Michael J. Pollard.

It was nominated for ten Oscars and won two. 

My favorite part was this revealing bit of dialog in which Clyde is invited to dream big.

Bonnie: What would you do if some miracle happened and we could walk out of here tomorrow morning and start all over again clean? No record and nobody after us, huh?
Clyde: Well, uh, I guess I’d do it all different. First off, I wouldn’t live in the same state where we pull our jobs. We’d live in another state. We’d stay clean there and then when we’d take a bank, we’d go into the other state.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

8/12/1992 Wages of Sin are paid

August 12, 1992.  On this date Andrew Greeley's novel Wages of Sin was published.  Greeley was the author of dozens of nonfiction books as well as many bestselling novels (for a while he was putting out two a year).  He was supposedly the bestselling priest in history, and made a lot of money, much of which he donated to the Catholic Church.

Wages of Sin features a commodities broker trying to solve murders that happened many years before.  Referring to the priest's controversial inclusion of sexual material Kirkus Reviews called the book "Safe sex for senior citizens."

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

8/11/1907 William Haggard is born

August 11, 1907.  William Haggard was born this day in Croyden, England.  After a career as a civil servant in India he started writing spy novels in the fifties.  More than twenty of them were about Colonel Charles Russell, who worked for the fictional Security Executive.

Monday, August 10, 2015

8/10/1992 Where is Joe Merchant?

August 10, 1992.  On this date Jimmy Buffett's first novel was published.  Where is Joe Merchant? is about a rock star, missing and possibly dead in the Caribbean, and the seaplane-flying Vietnam vet who goes looking for him.  Buffett is, of course, a pop star in his own right, and the king of Carib tourist music.  Kirkus Reviews called it "a relaxed and rambling novel... The unitiiated may be baffled; his fans will be enchanted.:

Sunday, August 9, 2015

8/9/1910 Robert Van Gulik is born

August 9, 1910.  Robert Van Gulik was born in the Zutphen in the Netherlands on this day.  While he was a diplomat, a musician, and man of other accomplishments, he is best remembered for his Judge Dee novels, inspired by an eighteenth century Chinese novel.  The real Judge Di lived in the seventh century, but the original novel (which Van Gulik translated) bumped him up to the Ming Dynasty, approximately a thousand years later.  

Saturday, August 8, 2015

8/8/1843 The Gold Bug hits the boards

August 8, 1843.  On this date the first dramatic presentation of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Gold Bug" was put on stage at the American Theatre in Philadelphia.  It was probably the first theatrical adaption of one of the author's works.  Of course, many more followed.

Poe's tale of code-breaking and treasure-hunting had won a $100 first prize in June and was published in the Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper.  Robert Louis Stevenson acknowledged it inspired Treasure Island, the definitive fictional view of pirates.

Friday, August 7, 2015

8/7/1962 Kramer meets Zondi

August 7, 1962.  The Song Dog  is the last book in James McClure's masterful series of novels about the Trekkersburg, South Africa police force.  It is also the first, since it tells of the eventful first meeting of the two main characters: Afrikaaner Lieutenant Trompie Kramer, and Bantu Sergeant Mickey Zondi.  The unlikely friendship of these two shrewd officers gives McClure the chance to reveal much of the apartheid society.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

8/6/2013 Sandrine's Case Published

August 6, 2013.  Thomas H. Cook's novel Sandrine's Case was published on this day.  When Sam Madison's wife Sandrine dies in an apparent suicide he realizes he did not know her as well as he thought.  With the authorities convinced he killed her, Sam tries to figure out what really happened.  Publisher's Weekly called the book a "slow-burning, intricate of his best, [which] burns to an unforeseen, but earned climax."  It was nominated for both the Edgar and Barry Awards.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

8/5/1926 Per Wahloo is born

August 5, 1926.  Long before some girl got a dragon tattoo, Scandanavian crime fiction consisted mostly of an excellent set of novels by Per Wahlöö (who was born on this day) and Maj Sjöwall.  These Swedes were very methodical and  blunt about their intentions: they were going to write ten police procedurals, each thirty chapters long. They wrote alternating chapters. The books were going to get more political - frankly Marxist - as the series went on.  And that is exactly what they did.

They called the entire series The Story of a Crime, which referred to society, not a mere murder or two.  The hero was the melancholy cop, Martin Beck. The Laughing Policeman won the Edgar for Best Mystery Novel.  It was made into a movie starring Walter Matthau.  Among the other actors who starred in movies based on their books is Derek Jacobi.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

8/4/197? Smiley's People begins

August 4, 197?.  At precisely noon on this date a Russian emigrant woman in Paris was accosted by a mysterious stranger who claimed to have news about her daughter, left behind in the Soviet Union many years before.  The chain of events that followed forced George Smiley out of retirement, and led to the death of an ex-general who claimed to have "three proofs against the sandman."  Don't you love le Carre's way with a code phrase?  Smiley's People was the climax of the Quest For Karla trilogy.

Monday, August 3, 2015

8/3/1955 To Catch A Thief released

August 3, 1955.  One of Hitchcock's most stylish flicks was released on this date.  To Catch A Thief was his third collaboration with Cary Grant (Pop quiz, Hitchcock fans!  How fast can you name the other three?).  The story of a retired cat burglar trying to prove he isn't the one robbing mansions on the Riviera was nominated for three Oscars and won one.  A more bitter loss for Hitchcock was that Grace Kelly fell in love with Prince Rainier of Monaco, and stopped making movies.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

8/2/1914 His Last Bow

August 2, 1914.  On this date Sherlock Holmes had his final adventure, as recorded by Arthur Conan Doyle.  (This is not to be confused with "The Final Problem," which records Holmes battle with Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls).  "His Last Bow," published in The Strand in 1917, is a spy story, ahowing Holmes at work against the Germans just before the World War began.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

8/1/1925 Carter Brown is born

August 1, 1925.  Alan Geoffrey Yates was born in England on this date.  As a young man he moved to Australia and started writing books under many names, but the best-known is Carter Brown.  He was a huge part of the paperback market, pouring out more than 300 novels, although he claimed to have writer's block before every deadline.  More than 100 million copies of his books have sold.  According to Wikipedia he won a French award for "the most whiskies drunk in a single novel."

By the way, I went to some trouble to find a book cover where the woman had some clothes on, which tells you something about Brown's plots (and/or his publisher).  And I got the birthdate from William Malloy's excellent Mystery Book of Days.