Wednesday, May 31, 2017

5/31/1985 Here's Fletch

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 a rough 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.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

5/30/1992 Bloody Ten

May 30, 1992.  This was the publication date for Bloody Ten, William Love's third mystery starring  Francis X. Regan, a wheelchair-using bishop, and his assistant Davey Goldman.  In this case an acquaintance of Davey is blamed for the murder of his newly-discovered half-brother. 

If a detective who can't leave the house with a narrating assistant sounds familiar, Kirkus Reviews agreed with you.  They said: "Though they still haven't escaped Nero Wolfe's portly shadow, Love's homages have now gotten to be quite a treat in their own right."

There are several editions of Bloody Ten but I chose this cover to shame the publisher for the obvious typo.  Tsk and Tsk.

Monday, May 29, 2017

5/29/1874 Father Brown's father is born

May 29, 1874.  G.K. Chesterton was born on this date in London.  He was  a playwright, poet, journalist, theologian, blah blah blah... He's on this page because he created one of the immortal sleuths of mystery fiction: Father Brown (no first name, although once we are told his first initial was J and in another he is casually referred to (by the narrator) as Paul).  The character was inspired by a Catholic priest named John O'Connor who astonished the author with his knowledge of the seedy side of human nature.  Father Brown never appeared in a novel but he did wonderful work in 53 short stories, beginning with "The Blue Cross," which is still rated a classic.

Chesterton also wrote The Man Who Was Thursday, a sort of spy novel cum religious allegory which is a bizarre and fascinating read.

I am a journalist and have no earthly motives except curiosity and personal vanity.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

5/28/1954 M is dialed on the big screen

May 28, 1954.  This date saw the release of Alfred Hitchcock's version of Dial M For Murder, starring Ray Milland and Grace Kelly.  It is a tale of adultery, blackmail, and attempted murder, featuring a perfect crime that doesn't go perfectly.

The studio insisted on filming it in 3-D, which acounts for a lot of things being pushed toward the camera, but it basically went to theatres "flat."  The story was by no means flat and neither was the relationship between the director and Grace Kelly which lasted for two more films and certainly influenced the rest of Hitchcock's career. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

5/27/1894 The Thin Man, Sam Spade, and the Continental Op welcome their father

May 27, 1894.  Dashiell Hammett was born this day in Maryland.  If I have to tell you who he was, why the hell are you reading this blog?

Friday, May 26, 2017

5/26/1995 Wanda Fuca is identified

May 26, 1995.  This date saw the publication of Who the Hell is Wanda Fuca?  It is G.M. Ford's first novel about Seattle private eye Leo Waterman.  The unique feature of the series is that Leo has found the perfect operatives, folks who can spy on anyone anywhere without being noticed: homeless people.

Oh, and for those who don't live in the Pacific Northwest:the  Strait of Juan de Fuca is a body of water between Washington state and British Columbia.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

5/25/1956 Stuart Bailey shows up, but not on Sunset Strip

May 25, 1956.  The issue of Saturday Evening Post with this cover date featured a short story by Roy Huggins called "Now You See It."  Why is that important?

It was one of three stories to feature a character named Stuart Bailey.  Huggins later based a TV show on Bailey and 77 Sunset Strip was one of the most influential series in the history of TV private eyes.

Huggins went on to have a hand in the creation of The Fugitive, Maverick, and The Rockford Files.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

5/24/192? Ellery Queen takes a powder

May 25, 192?.  On this date a model in the show window of a New York City department store pushed a button on a folding bed, which unfolded, revealing a dead body.  Thus began The French Powder Mystery, the second novel written by Ellery Queen, starring mystery writer Ellery Queen, who is not the mystery writer who wrote the book... Oh, you know what I mean.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

5/23/2000 Johnny Cash commits murder... sort of

May 23, 2000.  This date saw the release of Johnny Cash's CD Murder.  Actually it was part of a three album set called Love, God, Murder. It featured his classic "Folsom Prison Blues," along with songs by Bruce Springsteen, "Cocaine Blues," and many more songs that don't end with love and kisses.

Movie director Quentin Tarentino wrote the album notes.

Monday, May 22, 2017

5/22/1991 The Cruellest Month arrives

May 22, 1991.  The Cruellest Month was published on this date.  (Shouldn't it have been in April?  T.S. Elliott said that April... oh, never mind.)  It was the second book in Hazel Holt's series about Mrs. Malory.  Mrs. M is doing research at Oxford and a librarian is killed.  Boo!

Publishers Weekly called it "a civilized and tantalizing mystery"

Sunday, May 21, 2017

5/21/1917 Perry Mason and Robert T. Ironside is born

May 21, 1917.  Raymond Burr was born on this date New Westminster, British Columbia, in Canada.  In the forties and fifties he played villains, mostly in noir films.  The most meorable of those parts was Jimmy Stewart's mysterious neighbor in Rear Window.

In 1956 Raymond Burr applied for the part of prosecutor Hamilton Burger in the TV version of Perry Mason.  Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of the character, supposedly took one look at Burr and shouted "That's Perry Mason!"  The show ran until 1966.

A year later Burr was on NBC, starring in Ironside, as the San Francisco chief of detectives, crippled by a sniper bullet. That one ran for another eight years.

Other series followed but Burr didn't find success again until the 1980s when he made two dozen TV movies as that famous defense attorney.  Erle Stanley Gardner certainly recognized his characters when he saw them.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

5/10/1904 Albert Campion's champion arrives

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.

Friday, May 19, 2017

5/19/1992 The Woman Who Married A Bear

May 19, 1992.  The title gets your attention, doesn't it?  The Woman Who Married A Bear was John Straley's first novel about Cecil Younger, a private eye in Sitka, Alaska.  The title refers to a Tlingit myth, which is told to Cecil by an elderly native AMierican who hires Tlingit to investigate the murder of her son.

Publishers Weekly  said it was "a book whose unique, fully fleshed-out characters readers will be eager to see again."

Thursday, May 18, 2017

5/18/1955 Kiss Me Deadly at the movies

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 Miss Marple.  Okay, he played Mike Hammer.  In 1999 it was added to the National Film Registry, along with Laura, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Duck Amuck, among others.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

5/17/1991 Invitation to a Yellow Dog Party

May 17, 1991.  Earl Emerson had two careers for many years.  He said that one reason he became a fireman was he knew that, while waiting for a call, he would have time to work on novels. 

One of his series was about Seattle private eye Thomas Black.  In Yellow Dog Party, published on this date, Black gets what seems like an easy job.  Four middle-aged men want him to trace down the women of their dreams.  Sounds like fun, right?  But that's before the murder, and the three thugs in Miss Piggy masks who try to hang our hero...

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

5/16/1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much knows it again

May 16, 1956. People complain  a lot these days that Hollywood has run out of new ideas.  It's all sequels, series, and remakes.  Remember when Gus Van Sant remade Psycho shot by shot, in color?

But he was not the first to  try a do-over on Alfred Hitchcock.  That was the Master himself.  This was the opening day for The Man Who Knew Too Much, based on a movie of the same name Hitchcock directed back in 1934.  The original starred Leslie Banks, Edna Best, and the wonderfully villainous Peter Lorre.  The second try starred Jimy Stewart and Doris Day.  It won an Oscar, a rare thing for a Hitchcock movie.  Unbelievably, it won for Best Song: "Que Sera, Sera."

Hitchcock's explanation for the remake: "Let's say the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional."

Monday, May 15, 2017

5/15/1926 The Shaffer twins arrive

May 15, 1926.  Twin brothers Anthony and Peter Shaffer were born on this day.  Anthony is best remembered for the classic crime dramedy Sleuth, which won him two Edgars (Best Play and later Best Screenplay)  He also wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's return-to-England movie, Frenzy.

Brother Peter, on the other hand, is best known for writing the plays Equus and Amadeus.  TOgether they wrote some mystery novels under the name Peter Anthony.  Quite a talented pair.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

5/14/1993 Robert Randisi takes a Hard Look

May 14, 1993.  This date saw the publication of Robert Randisi's novel Hard Look. It was his fifth novel about ex-boxer Miles Jacoby, now a private eye.  a missing wife case takes Jacoby from New York down to Florida, where, surprise, surprise, trouble awaits...

Saturday, May 13, 2017

5/13/1901 Lord Saltire Disappears

March 13, 190?.  This day saw the disappearance of Lord Saltire, ten year old son of the Duke of Holdernesse.  This event sent Sherlock Holmes into action in "The Adventure of the Priory School."  Arthur Conan Doyle's plot involves murder, blackmail, and horses disguised as cows.  Sort of.

Friday, May 12, 2017

5/12/2011 A Drop of the Hard Stuff is poured

May 12, 2011.  Lawrence Block wrote several novels about ex-cop Matt Scudder in which the guy sank deeper and deeper into alcohol.  The fifth book, Eight Million Ways to Die, and its sequel When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, see Scudder joining AA.  In my opinion they were the best two books of the series.

Block thought that was the end of Scudder, but then he found a way to write about the newly-sober private eye and kept doing so for another two decades.  But with his seventeenth Scudder book he goes back to the era of those two great books.  To be precise, A Drop of the Hard Stuff takes place around the first anniversary of Scudder's sobriety, a dangerous time for a recovering alcoholic.

And guess what?  It's just as good as Eight Million  and  Ginmill, which is very good indeed.  Block says he is too old to write novels anymore (although wonderful stories and novellas keep appearing), so this may be Scudder's last appearance.  Great way to go.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

5/11/1875 Leroy Scott arrives in Indiana

May 11, 1875.  So when do you think the first novel appeared starring a female criminal attorney?  Did you guess 1912?  I didn't think so.

Leroy Scott was born on this date in Indiana.  He was a newspaper reporter, an activist and a social worker.  His fourth novel, Counsel For The Defense (1912), was decades ahead of its time.  One reviewer notes that the protagonist "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.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

5/10/2006 Elmore Leonard grasps a Diamond Dagger

May 10, 2006  On this date the Crime Writers Association gave their lifetime acheivement award, the Cartier Diamond Dagger, to Elmore Leonard.  CWA is British, Leonard was American.  Nice to see trans-Atlantic cooperation.

Leonard made a rare trip across the pond to accept the award.  He said: "This is great news, by far the best kind of achievement award, to be recognised by fellow writers for the one thing I have ever wanted to do in my life, tell stories, what I’ve been doing for the past 55 years.”

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

5/9/1897 The Conjure-Man arrives

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 rascals 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....

Monday, May 8, 2017

5/8/1995 Let Me Call You Sweetheart

May 8, 1995.  This date saw the publication of Let Me Call You Sweetheart, by Mary Higgins Clark.  A female prosecutor risks her chances for a judgeship by investigating a ten-year old murder conviction.  Publisher's Weekly said the plot was "convoluted, full of red herrings and finally wrapped up with a villain out of left field."  But it was a bestseller.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

5/7/1865 AEW Mason born

May 7, 1865.  A.E.W. Mason was born on this date in London. His character Inspector Hanaud, a French cop, was supposedly an influence on Agatha Christie's creation of Hercule Poirot.  His most famous book, a non-mystery was The Four Feathers, and like a lot of his other books it has been filmed repeatedly.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

5/6/2005 Crash!

May 6, 2005.  A great movie was released on this date. Crash was written and directed by the brilliant Paul Haggis.  It told the story of a bunch of very different Los Angelenos who find themselves coming into contact over two days.  There are good and bad cops, thugs, police detectives, and solid citizens, all races and colors.  Bad things happen, brilliantly.

It won three Oscars including Best Picture, and was nominated for three more.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

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. 

If you like it you can read 12 more stories about the character in  Shanks on Crime.

5/4/1891 Meet me at the Reichenbach

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 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.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

5/3/2001 Lansdale gets an Edgar

May 3, 2001.  Joe R. Lansdale is laving a pretty good year, what with his Hap and Leonard novels being made into an excellent TV series on Sundance TV.  But one can assume he has fond memories of this date as well, when the Mystery Writers of America named a non-series book, The Bottoms, as  the best novel of the year.  It also won the Herodotus Award for Best US Historical Mystery Novel.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

5/2/1946 Ding dong. Ding dong.

May 2, 1946.  The Postman Always Rings Twice opened today.   John Garfield and Lana Turner starred in this adaptation of James L Cain's noir classic.

Monday, May 1, 2017

5/1/1868 They hanged Tom Dooley

May 1, 1868.  People who complain about modern pop music glorifying violence may forget the huge hit which helped goose the folk music revival.  The Kingston Trio's "Tom Dooley" was a number one hit in 1958.

It was written by Thomas Land, and based on the murder of Laura Foster. in North Carolina.  Tom Dula (pronounced Dooley) was hung for the  crime on May 1, 1868.  Many people say he didn't do it.

The Kingston Trio learned their version from someone who learned it from Frank Proffitt.  I have heard that when Proffitt heard their recording he was furious. Thought they were making fun of him.

That's a picture of Tom Dula in his Confederate uniform, by the way.