Saturday, October 31, 2015

10/31/1920 Dick Francis is born

October 31, 1920.  A great jockey.  A pilot in World War II.  A bestselling novelist.   And from all I hear, a pretty nice fella.  He certainly wrote some of the best opening lines in the business:

Gordon Micheals stood in the fountain with all his clothes on. -BANKER

I looked at my friend and saw a man who had robbed me. -HIGH STAKES

Art Matthews shot himself, loudly and messily, in the center of the parade ring at Dunstable races. -NERVE

And he was born on Halloween, not as significant a date in the U.K. as in the U.S.  But in his novel The Danger (opening sentence: "There was a god awful cockup in Bologna.") his British hero solves a kidnapping in part because of his knowledge of American Halloween customs.

Friday, October 30, 2015

10/30/1973 Travis McGee gets into hardcover

October 30, 1973.  This date saw the publication of The Turquoise Lament, John D. MacDonald's fifteenth novel about "salvage expert" Travis McGee.  In the series it is perhaps most notable for being the first in hardcover after a decade in paperbacks.  For the record, the plot involves an old acquaintance of McGee's who thinks her husband is trying to kill her.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

10/29/1923 Desmond Bagley is born

October 29, 1923.  Desmond Bagley was born on this date in Kendal in England.  He wrote more than a dozen highly praised thrillers, several of which were made into movies.  (Remember The Macintosh Man with Paul Newman?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

10/28/198? Put out The Light begins

October 28, 198?  This date saw the beginning of the action in Put Out The Light, Sara Woods' 45th novel about British barrister Anthony Maitland.  Woods moved from England to Canada at age 35, and published her first novel four years later.

The plot involves deadly, possibly supernatural, mischief intended to prevent the production of a newly discovered seventeenth century play.  Publishers' Weekly said: "this whodunit is as archly spun out as its 44 predecessors, but it will undoubtedly captivate the author's large and loyal following."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

10/27/1993 South of Sunset goes south

October 27, 1993.  On this date the private eye series South of Sunset made it's premiere on CBS.  You may wonder why I am bothering to mention a show you never heard of.

That's the point.  South of Sunset was cancelled after only one showing.  Practically a record.

Glenn Frey of the Eagles starred as a private eye.  The show was heavily promoted during the World Series but ratings were disappointing (in some parts of the country the premiere was replaced by coverage of wildfires) and so Sunset immediately sank below the horizon.

Oddly enough, I saw that single showing, and I have seen worse.  I remember a moment when the young African-American sidekick finds himself alone in a convertible limousine.  "Ladies and gentlemen," he announces, "the first Black president of the United States!"  Then he pantomimed being assassinated.  Seemed funny at the time.

Monday, October 26, 2015

10/26/1959 A vicious criminal tops the pop charts

October 26, 1959.  Forget about gangster rap.  If you want a hit song praising murder and mayhem
look at "Mack The Knife," performed by Bobby Darin.  It reached Number One on the charts today.  Originally "Die Moritat von Mackie Messer," the song appeared in The Three Penny Opera, in 1928, written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.

While Darin's pop version left out the verses about child rape and the woman stabbed in the chest, he did warble enthusiastically about "a body oozing life," and someone being dumped into the water with a bag of cement.  

Ah, for the innocence of the 1950s.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

10/25/1993 Catilina's Riddle is revealed

October 25, 1993.  On this day the third book in Steven Saylor's series of mysteries set in the dying throes of the Roman Republic was published.  Catilina's Riddle describes Gordianus the Finder's reluctant involvement with Catilina, whom Cicero suspects of plotting to take over the city. 

This book has a special place for me, because years ago I visited the Baths of Diocletian in Rome where they store bits of ancient writing. One was a small bowl with Catilina's name in it: election swag from his campaign for consul.  He lost and the rest is history.  Or, in Saylor's case, fiction. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

10/24/1973 Kojak arrives

October 24, 1973.  Kojak premiered on this date, giving CBS a huge hit and making Telly Savalas a big star.  Theo Kojak's lollipops and "Who loves ya, baby?" became as famous as his bald head and Greek heritage.  It was a cop show set in New York City, inspired by a TV movie called The Marcus-Nelson Murders, also starring Savalas, and itself inspired by the Wylie-Hoffert murders which occurred in 1963.

The show won four Emmy Awards, among a ton of nominations, and mystery writer Joe Gores won an Edgar for a script.

Friday, October 23, 2015

10/23/1918 Helen Nielsen arrives

October 23, 1918.  Helen Nielsen was born on this date in Roseville, Illinois.  During World War II she served as a draftsman, working on military aircraft.  Afterwards, she started writing crime novels, including Gold Coast Nocturne,  which was made into the movie Blackout.  She also wrote for TV shows such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Perry Mason.  She died in 2002.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

10/22/2009 William Brodrick grabs a dagger.

October 22, 2009.  William Brodrick won the CWA Gold Dagger Award on this day for his novel A Whispered Name.  It is a historical novel set in Passchendaele in 1917.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

10/21/1974 Donald Goines is murdered

October 21, 1974.  Donald Goines followed the old rule about writing what you know.  He enlisted in the Air Force at age fifteen, got addicted to heroin, and after being discharged started committing crimes to support his habit.  He started his writing career in the Jackson Penitentiary in Michigan. He wrote almost twenty books about inner city criminals, two of which were made into movies.

On this day he and his common law wife were found murdered in their Detroit apartment.  Their killer was never found.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

10/20/1905 Half of Ellery Queen is born

October 20, 1905.  Daniel Nathan was born on this day in Brooklyn, New York.  Writing under the name Frederick Dannay, with his cousin Manfred Lee, they created the author Ellery Queen, who wrote about the character Ellery Queen.  Complicated names, huh?  And I didn't even mention that Lee's real name was Emanuel Lepofsky.

They wrote more than thirty books, sometimes bringing in a ghost writer to do part of the work.  Ellery Queen, the author, loved complicated fair play plots in the early days, with Challenges To The Reader:  You know what Ellery knows.  Can you solve the puzzle?  Their style changed over the decades, as they were willing to experiment  more than many of their era.

The character went onto movies, radio, and television, not to mention comic books.  But the half of Queen whose birth we celebrate today was also the main force behind Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, which he edited for forty years.  Now in its seventies, EQMM is one of the oldest surviving magazines in the U.S., and has been a steering force in mystery fiction,e specially the short story. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

10/19/1915 Buchan climbs the 39 Steps

October 19, 1915.  On this date John Buchan's first novel was published.  The Thirty-nine Steps was an immediate hit, selling 25,000 copies by the end of the year.  It tells the story of Richard Hannay, a South African visiting London who gets caught up in an espionage ring.

Jason Worden argued that Buchan actually invented a new subgenre: the story in which a civilian gets chased both by the bad guys, and by the police who think he is the bad guy.  That paranoia made it perfect for Alfred Hitchcock, who not only filmed The Thirty-nine Steps, but used a similar plot in two other movies.

Buchan wrote many more novels, including four about the plucky Richard Hannay.  He also served as Governor General of Canada, not bad for a thriller writer.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

10/18/1933 Nero Wolfe begins to appear

October 18, 1933.  This is a sacred day for many mystery fans.  Rex Stout brought his wife and newborn first daughter home from the hospital and began work on a book he hoped would pay the family bills better than the psychological fiction he had been producing for years.

The result was Fer-de-lance,  the first book to feature Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, two of the greatest characters in mystery fiction.  Over the next forty-one years Stout wrote almost eighty novels and novellas about the fat man and the leg man. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

10/17/1936 Pretty Parker published

October 17, 1936.  The issue of Detective Fiction Weekly with this cover date included the first section of Max Brand's Seven Faces, "Nuts About Mutts," by Hugh B. Cave, and "Easy Money in the Big House," by Convict 12627, among other classics,  but today we are featuring "Pretty Parker," a short story written by Theodore Tinsley.  You can read it here. 

Tinsley wrote two dozen stories about The Shadow for that memorable gentleman's own magazine.  He also created Carrie Cashin, one of the first female pulp detectives.  

Friday, October 16, 2015

10/16/2009 Robert Randisi gets the Eye

October 16, 2009.  Robert J. Randisi calls himself the "world's biggest private eye nut."  Not only does he write novels about that quintessential American character, but he founded the Private Eye Writers of America in 1981 and remains the Executive Director.  The PWA gives out the Shamus Awards for best private eye novels and stories of the year, but they also give out the Eye for lifetime achievement.  In 2009 the judges announced that their would be no award that year, as had happened occasionally in the past.

But this time they were lying.  And so a very surprised Bob Randisi got the Eye for literature accomplished and services rendered.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

10/15/1936 Lord Peter Wimsey becomes a daddy

October 15, 1936.  According to Sayers' notes for Thrones, Dominations (finished by Jill Paton Walsh) Bredon Wimsey, the first child of Lord Peter Wimsey and his wife, the former Harriet Vane, was born on this date.  They had two more sons, Paul and Roger. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

10/14/1994 Pulp Fiction opens

October 14, 1994.  Quentin Tarentino's crazy masterpiece Pulp Fiction opened on this date.  Several storylines weave through, with thematic connections rather than chronology.  The hero (or at least anti-hero) of one story is the villain in another, and a character we see die, strolls by cheerfully in a later scene that (in real time) takes place earlier.  It was nominated for several Oscars,  winning  for Best Screenplay.  (Forrest Gump beat it for Best Picture.)  It won the Edgar for Best Movie, natch, and restarted the career of John Travolta.

Honey Bunny: I love you, Pumpkin.
Pumpkin: I love you, Honey Bunny.  [Standing up with a gun] All right, everybody be cool, this is a robbery!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

10/13/1869 Guy Boothby is born

October 13, 1869.  Guy Boothby was born this day in Adelaide, Australia.  He spent most of his life in England, where he wrote sensationalist fiction.  It was his fate to pioneer in fields where those who came later did better and eclipsed him.  His Shanghai-based occultist anti-hero, Dr. Nikola, appeared almost 20 years before Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu.  His Simon Carne was a gentleman rogue two years before E.W. Hornung produced A.J. Raffles.

Monday, October 12, 2015

10/12/2012 Argo launches

October 12, 2012.  The movie Argo was released on this date.  It was based, loosely on the true story of a CIA plot to exfiltrate a group of American embassy employees from Iran after the revolution there.  It won three Oscars including Best Picture of the  year, and I enjoyed it but I was frustrated because of all the great true stuff they left out in favor of standard Hollywood cliches. 

Here are some true events they left out of the movie:
  • The forgers put the wrong date on some of the passports, indicating that the carriers were travelers from the future. 
  • The Canadian cabinet had to meet in secret to authorize false passports.  Then the authorities refused one to the CIA agent, because he had not been included in the vote.
  • When the hero visited the Iranian consulate, he left his portfolio in the taxi cab.
  • The CIA agents’ map of Tehran led them to the Swedish embassy instead of the Canadian one. 
  • On the morning of the actual escape, our hero slept through his alarm.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

10/11/1986 Grafton nabs the first Anthony Award

October 11, 1986.  The Anthony Awards are voted on by the attendees at each year's Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention.  In effect they are modeled on the Hugo Awards, since science fiction fandom got organized a long time before our field di. 

The first Anthonys (Anthonies?)  were distributed on this date at the Bcon in Baltimore, Maryland.  Sue Grafton took home the Best Mystery Novel for B Is For Burglar, the second Kinsey Milhone book.  It also scored the Shamus Award for Best Private Eye Novel.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

10/10/1958 77 Sunset Strip drives in

October 10, 195877 Sunset Strip premiered on this date on ABC.  The stylish private eye series was inspired by some crime fiction written by producer Roy Huggins.  It starred Efrem Zimbalist, Jr, Roger Smith, and (to everyone's surprise) Edd Byrnes.  I say, surprise because Byrnes was orignally cast as a bad guy in the first episode, but he was so popular that he was brought back as "Kookie" the valet parker at the nightclub next door to the private eyes office.  Anyone remember the hit song "Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb?"  No, I am not making that up.

I was a little young for that show, but I do remember an entire episode done without dialog, just music.  That was ahead of its time.

Friday, October 9, 2015

10/9/2004 Laura Lippman goes home with Anthony

October 9, 2004.  At the Bouchercon in  Toronto, Laura Lippman won the Anthony Award for Best Mystery Novel for Every Secret Thing.  We hope she has an extra-wide mantlepiece because she has also taken home the Edgar, the Shamus, and Agatha Awards.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

10/8/2015 Bouchercon comes to Raleigh!

October 8, 2015.  Today is the first day of the 46th Bouchercon, the world mystery conference, running through Sunday in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Good times to all attendees and good luck to all Anthony and Shamus nominees!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

10/7/2014 Shanks on Crime arrives

October 7, 2014.  Your humble calendar-keeper has written a bunch of short stories about mystery writer Leopold Longshanks.  This book contains nine that  Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine picked up and four that have never appeared in public before.  Shanks is a curmudgeon who just wants to be left in peace to write fiction, but true crime keeps interfering...

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

10/6/2000 CSI: A franchise is born

October 6, 2000.  This day saw the premiere of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, a series set in Las Vegas which explained that all crimes are solved not by police detectives but by lab technicians.  Or something like that.  It ended last month after 337 episodes, but one more spinoff goes on, inspiring a whole lot of people to make a surprising career choice.

Monday, October 5, 2015

10/5/1915 Detective Story: the first crime pulp

October 5, 1915.  The first issue of Detective Story bore this date, the first pulp magazine dedicated to crime fiction. It lasted to 1949, producing more than 1000 issues.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

10/4/1931 Dick Tracy arrives on the scene

October 4, 1931.  One of the longest running crime stories in history began on this day when Chester Gould's Plainclothes Tracy, later Dick Tracy, hit the funny pages.  Gould wrote and drew it for 46 years.  Among those who have contributed since are the noted novelist Max Allan Collins.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

10/3/1941 Miss Wonderley hits the big screen

October 3, 1941.  One of the great crime movies premiered on this date. Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon had already been filmed twice, badly, but screenwriter John Huston decided that he could make it work by taking his script practically word-for-word from the novel.  George Raft didn't want to work with an unexperienced director so Huston picked Humphrey Bogart.  And that turned out to be, in one line that did not come from the book, "the stuff dreams are made of."

Friday, October 2, 2015

10/2/1921 Edmund Crispin is born

October 2, 1921.  Robert Bruce Montgomery came into this world on this day in England.  He was a noted composer of film music but under the name Edmund Crispin he wrote mystery novels about Oxford don Gervase Fen.  He was well known for breaking the fourth wall, meaning that characters would note that they were indeed characters in a  book.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

10/1/1940 Hello to Farewell My Lovely

October 1, 1940.  Farewell, My Lovely was published by Knopf on this day.  It was Raymond Chandler's second novel about Los Angeles P.I. Philip Marlowe, and my favorite.  It is a classic noir story with a hard luck guy chasing a beautiful dame who done him wrong and continues to do him wronger.

In this case the loving loser is Moose Malloy, a big man recently released from prison and looking for his sweetheart, Velma.  He runs into Marlowe and, after Moose kills a man and disappears, Marlowe starts hunting Velma himself...

It was made into three movies, including the Robert Mitchum version which is my favorite Chandler-based flick.  Yes, I know that's blasphemy.  I don't care.