Tuesday, January 31, 2017

1/31/1993 NBC commits Homicide

January 31, 1993.  This night saw the premiere of one of the great TV cop shows.  Homicide: Life on the Street was based on David Simon's memoir of a year as embedded reporter in the Baltimore Homicide Squad, and a lot of the best lines in the early years came right from the book.  As in Melissa Leo's explanation in the first episode: "This is Homicide.  We work for God."

Besides Leo the cast included Yaphet Kotto, Andre Braugher, Ned Beatty, Jon Polito, and Michelle Forbes, to name a few.  Richard Belzer played John Munch, a detective who transferred to New York when Homicide ended, and got a job with Law and Order: SVU.

Creator David Simon also did pretty well for himself, going on to Oz, The Wire, etc. 

At the end of the first episode the rookie detective caught his first homicide: the brutal killing of a young girl.  The cops pursued that case throughout the series, getting nowhere. One episode consisted only of the grim interrogation of the chief suspect.  At the end of that hour all that had changed was that the detective who was sure the suspect  had done it was left in doubt and the one who had been in doubt was now sure.

After the show ended they brought the entire cast back for a TV movie -- even the characters who had died -- but they never solved that one nagging death.

Monday, January 30, 2017

1/30/1924 Margaret Yorke arrives

January 30, 1924.  On this date the world welcomed Margaret Yorke (although that was a pen name.)  She wrote dozens of novels but is best remembered for her mysteries about Oxford don Patrick Grant.  The Crime Writers Association awarded her the Cartier Diamond Dagger in 1999. She died in 2012.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

1/29/1966 A doxy dies

January 29, 1966.  On this date Orrie Cather sends Archie Goodwin to do a little investigative burglary and Archie finds a corpse.  So begins Death of a Doxy, written by Rex Stout at the age of 80.  He wrote a few more Nero Wolfe novels after this one, skillful to the end.

Weird cover, huh?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

1/28/1967 Dare I Weep? Dare I Mourn?

January 28, 1967.  Master spy novelist John LeCarre has written less than a handful of short stories, but one appeared in the Saturday Evening Post issue with this date.  "Dare I Weep?  Dare I  Mourn" is the tale of a West German grocer named Koorp who has the odd job of getting his father's corpse over the border from East Berlin.  It turns out to be a lot more complicated than it appears...

Friday, January 27, 2017

1/27/1980 Tenspeed meets Brown Shoe

January 27, 1980.  This day saw the premiere of an unsuccessful show that left a big shadow.

Consider the cast: Ben Vereen played Tenspeed, a con man playing detective to meet his parole requirements.  Jeff Goldblum was Brown Shoe, an accountant who dreamed of being a P.I. 

Consider the producer: Stephen J. Cannell, the guy who created or co-created The Rockford Files, The A Team, WIseguy, 21 Jump Street, etc.

How could this team create a loser?  Don't know, but the show - with a formula that was copied successfully by several hits - only lasted fourteen weeks.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

1/26/1952 The Black Ledger appears

January 26, 1952.  The issue of This Week magazine with this cover date featured "The Mysterious Black Ledger," a short story by Ellery Queen, based on one of their radio scripts. Ellery (the detective, not the writer... well, the detective is a writer, but... oh, you know what I mean) is serving as a courier and the bad guys catch him and try to find the ledger he is carrying...

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

1/25/1921 Russell Braddon is born

January 25, 1921.  Australian author Russell Braddon was born on this day.  He first became famous with The Naked Island, his memoir of a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.  He wrote many kinds of books - the eco-political satire The Year of the Angry Rabbit is well worth a read - but he entered the mystery field with Funnelweb, in which the bad guy uses the titular arachnid, an Australian native, to kill rivals.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

1/24/1932 Chan takes a chance

January 24, 1932.  This day saw the release of Charlie Chan's Chance, the third movie starring Warner Oland as the Honolulu detective.  It was vaguely based on Earl Derr Biggers novel Behind That Curtain.  It is now believed to be lost and I don't miss it a bit.

Monday, January 23, 2017

1/23/1937 There is a Corpse Next Door

January 23, 1937.  The issue of Detective Fiction Weekly with this date on the cover featured a story by the great Cornell Woolrich entitled "The Corpse Next Door."  Someone is stealing the protagonist's milk bottles and he objects.  Things get out of hand and soon there is more than spilled milk to cry about.

In 1980 Mark Reichert directed a film adaptation called Union City, starring Dennis Lipscomb and Debby Harry (yes, of Blondie fame).

Sunday, January 22, 2017

1/22/1934 Secret Agent X-9 gets commissioned.

January 22, 1934.  If the comic strip Secret Agent X-9 never became a household name you can't blame its pedigree.  The artist was Alex Raymond, who drew Flash Gordon.  The writer was Dashiell Hammett, and if I need to tell you what else he wrote, why are you reading this blog? 

The strip started on this date.  After Hammett left Leslie Charteris took over for a while.  He is better known for creating The Saint. 

The strip ran until 1996.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

1/21/1967 TV Guide is Avenged

January 21, 1967.  The issue of TV Guide with this date featured a very professional British spy and a very talented amateur on the cover.

Decades later someone asked Patrick Macnee  what it was like being the star of the hottest show on British TV when Swinging London was the place everyone in the world wanted to be?

He replied, approximately: "Don't ask me.  We asked fourteen hour days, went home, and collapsed."  But didn't they look cool?

Friday, January 20, 2017

1/20/1993 An Act of Faith is committed

January 20, 1993.  Michael Bowen's Act of Faith was published on this date.  It was his third mystery about Thomas and Sandrine  Curry,  It is 1963 and they are honeymooning in Burundi when there sleep is interrupted by murder, possible guerilla warfare.  Or is it something more personal?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

1/19/2001 The Pledge is made

January 19, 2001.  This date saw the release of The Pledge, a terrific movie directed by Sean Penn.  It starred Jack Nicholson as police detective Jerry Black who, on his last day on the job, promises the parents of a murdered girl that he would find her killer.  When circumstances make that difficult, his choices get more and more desperate...

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

1/18/1882 A.A. Milne arrives

January 18, 1882.  On this date Alan Alexander Milne was born in Hampstead, England.  Okay, you might be saying, but why is he appearing in Mystery History?  True, Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet did some valient detective work in pursuit of the heffalump, but does that count?

No.  But Milne also wrote The Red House Mystery (I love that cover, by the way), considered a classic of the Golden Age.  Alexander Woolcott called it "one of the three best mystery stories of all time."  Not surprisingly, Raymond Chandler felt otherwise.

It doesn't get a lot of love these days but this amateur-sleuth locked-room tale involves a variation that even Dame Agatha didn't hit upon.

By the way, Milne had something in common with Arthur Conan Doyle: both came to see their most famous creations as millstones around their necks.  Fortunately Milne never threw Pooh over the Reichenbach Falls.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

1/17/1953 A witness becomes irate

January 17, 1953.  This date saw the publication of The Case of the Irate Witness, which is unique among Erle Stanley Gardner's fifty-plus books about Perry Mason.  It is not a novel, but a collection of four short stories and only one is about the famous defense attorney.  In his pre-Mason days Gardner was a massively prolific author of shorts for the pulp magazines, so this was a chance to connect some of them to his most famous creation.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

1/16/1981 Nero Wolfe comes to NBC

January 16, 1981.  This date saw the premiere of Nero Wolfe on NBC, starring William Conrad and Lee Horsley.  As a major fan of Rex Stout's great detective I will restrain myself and merely  say that it was worse than bubonic plague.

1/15/1926 Father Knox's radio scandal

January 15, 1926.  The Reverend Ronald Knox was a man of many talends, including mystery writing.  If he is remembered today it is mostly for his Decalogue, ten rules for writing fair detective fiction.

But on this date, in less than fifteen minutes, he managed to shock a good portion of the British public and cause an amazing stink for the new BBC.  Sitting in a cramped studio behind a music shop in Edinburgh, Knox presented "Broadcasting From The Barricades,"  It began with news  of  a disturbance in Trafalgar Square, led my a Mr. Poppleberry, leader of the National Movement for Abolishing Theatre Queues.  Things get worse and one authority is "roasted alive" on his way to the studio, meaning that, regrettably, "he will therefore be unable to deliver his lecture to you."

It sounds so absurd it seems impossible that anyone could have fallen for the hoax (if you can even justify it with that name). But there were reports of people fainting, demands that the Navy sail up the Thames against the rioters, and so on.  To be fair, radio was still pretty new, and the Bolshevik Revolution was still fresh in people's minds.

All of this happened a decade before Orson Welles terrified some Americans with his dramatization of The War of the Worlds.  And, of course, almost a century before people started screaming about "fake news."

Saturday, January 14, 2017

1/14/1898 Hilary Saunders arrives

January 14, 1898.  Today is the birthday of Hilary St. George Saunders, an Englishman (as that name should have tipped you).  He won a medal for his service during World War I, and wrote a lot of military history books, but we are, as ever, more interested in his fiction.  Together with John Palmer, under the name Francis Beeding, he wrote many novels, including The House of Dr. Edwardes, which Alfred Hitchcock adapted into the movie Spellbound.

Friday, January 13, 2017

1/13/1964 The Chill settles in

January 13, 1964.  Ross Macdonald's eleventh novel about private eye Lew Archer was released on this day.  The Chill was about a disappearing bride and a half-remembered crime.". Like an oilslick on a fast travelled throughway," said Kirkus Reviews,  "this is shiny, treacherous stuff."

Thursday, January 12, 2017

1/12/1972 Highsmith starts a game

January 12, 1972.  On this date Patricia Highsmith came up with the first sentence of Ripley's Game.  It is her third novel about the immoral Tom Ripley who hates murder, "unless absolutely necessary."  It has been filmed twice, in German and in English.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

1/11/1993 The 27 ingredient chili is ready!

January 11, 1993.  This date saw the publication of The 27 Ingredient Chili Murders.  Nancy Pickard wrote this book based on notes (and recipes) by Virginia Rich, and it stars Rich's charatecter, Eugenia Potter, cook and amateur detective. Publisher's Weekly called it a "satisfying, chatty tale."

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

1/10/1931 BBC gets the Scoop

January 10, 1931.  On this day a new serial appeared on BBC radio.  The Scoop was a twelve-part story with each chapter written and read by a  member of the Detection Club.  Dorothy L. Sayers started the game on this night, followed a week later by Agatha Christie.  Among the best known names that followed were Ronald Knox, Anthony Berkeley and E.C. Bentley.

Monday, January 9, 2017

1/9/1992 Cat goes to mountain, moves it

January 9, 1992.  This date saw the publication of The Cat Who Moved A Mountain, Lilian Jackson Braun's thirteenth novel about Jim Qwilleran and his cats.  Kirkus Reviews said it was "a shade cuter" than most of the series, but "devoted fans will lap it up anyway."

Sunday, January 8, 2017

1/8/1989 LIttle Gray Cells Come to TV.

January 8, 1989.  This date saw the premiere on ITV of Agatha Christie's Poirot, one of the most popular and long-running filmed versions of Dame Agatha's fiction  David Suchet starred as the wily Belgian detective and by 2013 he had filmed essentially everything Christie had written about him.  The series was nominated for countless awards and won several, including an Edgar for best TV episode..

Saturday, January 7, 2017

1/7/1888 The Valley of Fear begins

January 7, 1888.  On this date Sherlock Holmes gets a note from one of Professor Moriarty's henchmen.  Thus begins Arthur Conan Doyle's fourth and last novel about the great detective.  The Valley of Fear was published in 1915.  Not generally considered the best of the books, but it does have a wondErful plot twist.

Friday, January 6, 2017

1/6/1927 The Hardy Boys get signed up

January 6, 1927.  On this date Leslie McFarlane signed a contract with the Stratemeyer Syndicate to write the first books in a new series: the Hardy Boys, which were published under the house pseudonym, Franklin W. Dixon.  McFarlane wrote 19 of the first 25 highly successful books.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

1/5/1965 The Doorbell Rang begins

January 5, 1965.  On this date Mrs. Rachel Bruner came to Nero Wolfe with a little problem.  The wealthy widow had sent 10,000 copies of an anti-FBI book to people of influence.  Now the FBI wants revenge.

So begins The Doorbell Rang, Rex Stout's most successful, controversial, and  popular novel.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

1/4/1975 Police Woman, cover girl

January 4, 1975.  The issue of TV Guide with this date featured Angie Dickinson, the star of Police Woman.  The show premiered in September and ran for four years on NBC.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

1/3/1893 A (Rufus) King is born

January 3, 1893,  Rufus King was born on this day.  Between 1927 and 1964 he published more than two dozen mystery novels.His best-known character was Lieutenent Valcour.

Monday, January 2, 2017

1/2/1942 Dreaming of Babylon begins

January 2, 1942.  Whatever type of novel Richard Brautigan set out to write - gothic, romance, fantasy, horror - what always came out was a Richard Brautigan novel.  That could be wonderful, or not.  Dreaming of Babylon is pretty wondrful.

It's about C. Card, a private eye in wartime San Francisco who can't get into the army because he got bashed on the head once too often and occasionally finds himself in ancient Babylon.  He thinks. 

And on this date he finally has a client!  If only he can borrow some bullets for his gun...

Sunday, January 1, 2017

1/1/1943 Alison Gordon born

January 1, 1943.  Alison Gordon was born on this day in New York City.  She was one of the first important female sportswriters, but from this website's parochial view, all that matters is that she wrote a series of crime novels about a reporter named Kate Henry.