Monday, June 26, 2017

6/26/1904 Peter Lorre slithers into the world

June 26, 1904.  Think how much poorer our genre would be without Peter Lorre, who was born on this date in Austria-Hungary (now Slovakia).  His first big success was starring as a serial killer in the Fritz Lang masterpiece M.  When the Nazis took over Germany in 1933 he got the hell out (as did Lang).  His first English Language was Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (the first version). 

Among the American movies in which he played criminals are Crime and Punishment,Mad Love, The Maltese Falcon, and Casablanca.  The last two also featured Sidney Greenstreet, and those two went on to make seven more movies. 

He also starred in a series of movies about John P. Marquand's Japanese spy/detective Mr. Moto.  One of my favorite performances was as the hilarious plastic suregon Dr. Einstein in Arsenic and Old Lace.

John Huston, who directed him in The Maltese Falcon, said  "He's always doing two things at the same time, thinking one thing and saying something else."  A great skill for an actor.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

6/25/1971 Talking about Shaft

June 25, 1971. This date saw the release of the movie Shaft, based on the novel by Ernest Tidyman.  Directed by Gordon Parks and starring Richard Roundtree, it is considered the first major film of the "blaxploitation" genre.  It led to a dozens of rip-offs, and a few sequels, and saved MGM from bankruptcy.  Oh, it won an Oscar for that memorable Theme.  And in 20oo it made the National Film Registry.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

6/24/2014 Murder on the Mediterranean

June 24, 2014.  This date saw the publication of Murder on the Mediterranean, the fifth novel in Alexander Campion's series about detective Capucine Le Tellier and her husband, Alexandre, a reataurant critic.  There's murder on a sailboat and Publishers' Weekly called it a "zesty stew of a mystery."

Friday, June 23, 2017

6/23/1964 A Shot in the Dark is fired

June 23, 1964.  This date saw the release of A Shot in the Dark.  It is the second Inspector Clouseau movie, and the only one without Pink Panther in the title.  It was based on a French play which is why it involves murder instead of theft and has an actual mystery in it.  But most important it has Peter Sellers.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

6/22/1958 Steve Carella becomes a daddy

June 22, 1958.  On the day of his sister's wedding 87th Precinct detective Steve Carella becomes the father of twins.  Oh, and tries to prevent his new brother-in-law from getting murdered.  That's the plot of Ed McBain's Til Death.  Literary Review called it “zestful, inventive, and utterly compulsive.”

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

6/21/2002 Minority Report is released

June 21, 2002.  On this date Hollywood made a big step forward in its effort to film everything Phillip K. Dick ever wrote when they released Minority Report.  Tom Cruise played a cop in a future in which computer-wired people can predict who will commit a crime.  HIs job is to arrest them in advance.  Scary stuff. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

6/20/1925 Hugh Pentecost enters Room Number 23

June 20, 1925.  The issue of Flynn's Magazine with this cover date featured "Room Number 23," the first published story by a Columbia University student named Judson Philips.  He went on to write more than one hundred crime novels, mostly under the name Hugh Pentecost. The Mystery Writers of America gave him the Grand Masters Award in 1973.   

Monday, June 19, 2017

6/19/1863 Max Pembleton arrives

June 19, 1863.  Max Pemberton was born on this day in London.  He grew up to write mostly adventure novels, most famously The Iron Pirate about a modern day vessel terrifying the seas. 

You can read "The Ripening Rubies," which some consider his best crime story, here.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

6/18/1992 Bodies of Evidence

June 18, 1992.  It's hard to imagine George Clooney playing second fiddle in a TV show, much less being in a non-hit.  But the fact is that he ranked below Lee Horsley in Bodies of Evidence, which premiered on this date on CBS.  It ran for eight episodes that summer and another eight in the following spring.  Horsley and Clooney played homicide cops in an unnamed city.  Then Clooney went off to deal with  live bodies in the ER.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

6/17/1995 Shamus goes home with a long line of dead men

June 17, 1995.  On this date Lawrence Block added yet another award to his long list of trophies.  The Private Eye Writers of America gave him the Shamus Award for A Long Line of Dead Men.  The Shamus Award is given to books about private eyes or other people who don't work for the government but are paid to investigate crimes.  That includes lawyers, reporters, and unlicensed, unofficial private eyes like Matt Scudder, the hero of this novel.  In fact, I think of that part of the Shamus rules as the Scudder Exception.  But it would certainly make no sense to leave this great series out.

Friday, June 16, 2017

6/16/1920 Isabelle Holland is born

June 16, 1920.  Isabelle Holland was born on this date in Basel, Switzerland to American parents.  She wrote mostly young adult novels on controversial subjects, and gothic mysteries.  Mel Gibson's movie The Man Without a Face was based on her novel of the same name.   She didn't get published until she passed forty, but she wrote more than fifty books. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

6/15/191? An assassination is planned

June 15, 191?.  This is the planned date for the assassination whose prevention is the McGuffin that fuels John Buchan's first novel, The Thirty-nine Steps.

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, by the way, went on to write a bunch of other novels. He was also one of the top figures in British Intelligence during the First World War.  Then he became the Governor General of Canada.  Not a bad resume for a thriller writer.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

6/14/1939 Montalban born in Barcelona

June 14, 1939.  Manuel Vázquez Montalbán was born on this date in Barcelona.  He wrote many books and more than a dozen involved a detective named Pedro Carvalho.  The first book (1972) was entitled I Killed Kennedy.  Among Carvalho's bad habits was a tendency to use books from his own library as firewood.  (Shudder.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

6/13/1953 Carr does Holmes

June 13, 1953.  Collier's Magazine, with this cover date, featured "The Adventure of the Sealed Room" by Adrian Conan Doyle and John Dickson Carr.  It was part of a series of stories about the Master all co-written by the original author's son and the master of locked room mysteries.  They were collected under the title The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, which always made me wonder: did they know that one meaning of exploit is "use selfishly for one's own end?"

Monday, June 12, 2017

6/12/1990 Stardust arrives

June 12, 1990.  This date saw the publication of Stardust, the seventeenth novel in Robert B. Parker's series about Boston private eye Spenser.  A TV star is being stalked and the Man With No First Name is called  to California to investigate.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

6/11/1923 George Baxt is born

June 11, 1923.  George Baxt was born on this date in Brooklyn.  After years as a screenwriter, he produced his first novel, A Queer Kind of Death, in 1966.  Talk about groundbreaking: his private eye, Pharaoh Love, was gay and Black, either of which was pretty unusual in a mystery hero back then.  Anthony Boucher, in the New York Times, said "you must not miss it."

Baxt wrote four more novels about Pharoah Love, and about twenty other books, many of them historical mysteries set around Hollywood.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

6/10/1940 Where There's a Will there's a Wolfe

6/10/1940  This date saw the publication of Rex Stout's Where There's A Will, in which Nero Wolfe tries to solve a crime involving the Secretary of State's family.  It's a weird book, full of symbolism that, to my mind, never goes anywhere.

For instance, the Secretary's wife is June.  Her sisters are May, a college president, and April, an actress.  They call June Juno,  the most powerful goddess in the Roman Pantheon, which naturally makes one think that the spinster genius May resembles the maidenly goddess of wisdom Minerva, and the beautiful April suggests Aphrodite (or Venus).  Then there is their sister-in-law who wears a veil because their brother accidentally show her in the face with an  arrow.  And a disputed will which bequeaths pieces of fruit to the three sisters.  Apples of discord?  It certainly seems like Stout had something mythological in mind here, but I don't know what.

The highlight of the book is the unexpected appearance of a second veiled widow.  The only way to determine who is the phony to yank off the veil with a fifty percent chance of revealing a horrible injury.  Brave Archie Goodwin is strangely reluctant to proceed... 

Friday, June 9, 2017

6/9/1870 The Mystery of Charles Dickens

June 9, 1870.  Charles Dickens died on this date.  I usually only mention the births of mystery writers, but I will make an exception for this one, because it had effect on our field. 

Dickens had written a few books with crime elements.  Inspector Bucket in Bleak House is one of the first fictional police detectives.  But Dickens died while he was working on a genuine mystery novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  If he had finished it we would probably think of it as a minor work, notable only for its author.  But since we can never know exactly what solution DIckens had in mind the story keeps capturing people's imagination.  It was even turned into a musical in which the audience got to vote on the killer - with songs written for each possibility. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

6/8/1950 Armored Car Robbery released

June 8, 1950.  This was the release date for Armored Car Robbery, a movie starring the legendary Charles McGraw and Adele Jergens.  Not legendary?  Well, third place went to William Talman, who later played Hamilton Burger in ten zillion episodes of Perry Mason.

Apparently the clever robber is outsmarted by a cop using the latest 1950-cop technology.  Also the movie seems confused as to whether it is taking place in New York or Los Angeles.  But we all have days like that.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

6/7/1866. Hornung horns in

June 7, 1866.  E.W. Hornung was born in Middlesborough on this date.  He became a published writer at age twenty.  His great claim to fame was his invention of A.J. Raffles, "the amateur cracksman."  In other words, Raffles was a gentleman burglar, essentially the first hero-rogue in the mystery genre.  The stories were narrated by Bunny Manders, Raffles' faithful companion.

If that sound vaguely familiar, you're right.  The stories were a sort of parody or answer to the Sherlock Holmes stories created by Arthur Conan Doyle, who happened to be Hornung's borther-in-law.  Doyle admitted the tales were of high quality but, like many reviewers, found them morally abhorrent.

Like Doyle, Hornung killed his hero, having Raffles slain during the Second Boer War.  Unlike Holmes, Raffles stayed dead.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

6/6/2014 The Red Box opens

June 6, 2014.  Rex Stout's first novel about Nero Wolfe appeared in 1934, but it took 80 years before the fat genius detective waddled onto a stage.  Joseph Goodrich adapted The Red Box for a production by Park Square Theatre in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

The Saint Paul Pioneer Press called it "a terrific introduction to the characters and the milieu."  Good heavens!  Is that Wolfe with a cigar?

Monday, June 5, 2017

6/5/2008 Inspector Endersby meets Arthur Ellis

June 5, 2008.  On this date the Crime Writers of Canada gave the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Mystery Novel to John Redfern for Trumpets Sound No More.  The book, set in London in the 1840s, featured Inspector Owen Endersby, on the trail of the killer of a theatre manager.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

6/4/1940 George Chesbro arrives

June 4, 1940. George C. Chesbro was born on this date in Washington, D.C.  His most famous novels featured a criminologist named Dr. Robert Ferguson, better known as Mongo the Magnificent.  If that seems like an unusual nickame for a criminologist, you are probably not aware that Mongo was a dwarf and in his early years had been an acrobat in the circus.

The Mongo books had memorable titles: Second Horseman Out Of Eden, The Language of Cannibals, and so on.  They often had paranormal elements too.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

6/3/2012 Longmire is ready for his close-up

June 3, 2012.  This date saw the premier of Longmire, based on Craig Johnson's novels about the sherriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming.  The show has had five seasons, first on A&E and then on Netflix.  Australian Robert Taylor plays the laconic Walt Longmire, with backup from Katee Sackhoff and Lou Diamond Phillips, among others.

Friday, June 2, 2017

6/2/19?? Lew Archer's birthday

June 2, 19??.  Happy birthday to Lew Archer, the private eye hero of Ross Macdonald's well-loved novels. 

"The greatest P.I. series ever written? Probably." -Thrilling Detective

Thursday, June 1, 2017

6/1/1923 The hardboiled detective is born

June 1, 1923.  The issue of Black Mask with this cover date fetured "Knights of the Open Palm," by Carroll John Daly.  It is not quite the first story about a two-fisted private eye - that was Daly's "Three Gun Terry," which appeared a month earlier -- but its hero Race Williams, was the first PI to continue in a series of short stories. 

It's good that Race Williams has that to recommend him because few readers these days love him for his brains or writing skills.  He's a pretty blunt guy, though.  In one story he announces his fee as "$25 an hour, plus $3.75 per man killed."  And he got those bonuses often.