Monday, July 31, 2017

7/31/1930 The Shadow knows what happened today

July 31, 1930.  On this date the Detective Radio Hour, sponsored by pulp publisher Street and Smith, featured a mysterious narrator called The Shadow.  This became so popular that by the following spring The Shadow Magazine sprang forth, starring a much more fully developed character, designed and usually written by the prolific Walter Gibson.  By 1937 The Shadow radio show had the characteristics now so familiar: "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?  The Shadow Knows!"  He had "the power to cloud men's minds so they cannot see him."  And "The tree of crime bears bitter fruit." 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

7/30/1973 Today is the day of the jackal

July 30, 1973.  The Day of the Jackal was released this day.  Fred Zinnemann directed the film version of  Frederick Forsyth's first novel, about an attempt to assassinate Charles DeGaulle.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

7/29/1909 Chester Himes is born

July 29, 1909.  Chester Himes, arguably the first great African-American mystery writer, was born this day in Jefferson City, Missouri.  He started writing while in prison for armed robbery.  He is best remembered for the Harlem Detectives novels he wrote, featuring Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones, two Harlem police detectives.  Three of them were made into movies, starting with Cotton Comes To Harlem in 1970.

The novelist Ishmael Reed wrote that Himes "taught me the difference between a black detective and Sherlock Holmes."

Friday, July 28, 2017

7/28/1841 Mary Rogers is found dead

July 28, 1841.  On this date the body of Mary Rogers, a clerk in a New York tobacco store, was fished out of the Hudson River.  Many possible explanations of her death were offered but nothing was ever proved.

Only one explanation need concern us because it was offered by Edgar Allan Poe.  He wrote a thinly disguised version called "The Mystery of Marie Roget."  It took place in Paris and starred his amateur sleuth C. Auguste Dupin. 

This was the second of three Dupin stories.  In this trilogy Poe created not just the roman a clef, mystery (that is, one based on actual people and events), but the genius detective, the narrating "Watson," the bumbling cops, the "obvious" clue, the least likely suspect....

Thursday, July 27, 2017

7/27/188? Australian mystery fiction begins

July 27, 188?.  Fergus Hume's The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, published in 1886, is usually considered the first Australian mystery novel.  It begins on a smoky night in Melbourne, July 27, when a dead body is discovered in a hansom cab.  Hume self-published the book and sold 25,000 copies of the first edition.  Over a million copies were sold in Britain and the United States combined.  Not a bad start.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

7/26/1866 George Barr McCutcheon is born

July 26, 1866.  On this date George Barr McCutcheon was born.  He is best remembered for his novel Brewster's Millions, about a man who, in order to inherit seven million dollars, has to first spend one million.  It has been made into a movie a dozen times.

His most famous contribution to crime fiction is Anderson Crow, a midwestern lawman who appears in some comic novels.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

7/25/1980 Dressed to Kill

July 25, 1980.  On this date in 1980 director Brian DePalma released his most Hitchcockian flick, Dressed To Kill.  A woman has an adulterous fling that turns into murder, and a call girl is the only witness.  And the next victim? 

Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, and Nancy Allen starred.

Monday, July 24, 2017

7/24/1915 Baby blue for the onesie

July 24, 1916.  This was the birthday of one of the most popular and prolific of American mystery writers, John D. MacDonald.  He is best remembered as the creator of "salvage expert" Travis McGee, but his other work included the novel The Executioners, filmed twice as Cape Fear.

The Mystery Writers of America named him a Grand Master in 1972. Or should we say they recognized him as one?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

7/23/1965 Ed Gorman causes a riot.

July 23, 1965.  On this day there was a near riot in Black River Falls, Iowa, resulting in the town's only appearance on the news with Walter Cronkite.  It seems that Cliffie Sykes, the dumb-as-dirt chief of police decided to arrest every teenage boy with long hair.

That is the fictional beginning of Ticket To Ride, Ed Gorman's eighth novel about Sam McCain, lawyer and private eye, coping with life in the fifites and sixties in a small town in the midwest.  Before long there will be violence at a peace rally, and Sam will be defending a man he loathes at the request of the man's girlfriend - who used to be Sam's.

Publisher's Weekly said: "Besides getting the pop culture of the period right, Gorman captures the baffled frustration of provincial folk who don't want to believe that things are more complicated than they look, that it's sometimes a mistake to trust people in authority"

Saturday, July 22, 2017

7/22/1993 The Software Bomb goes off

July 22, 1993.  Today saw the publication of The Software Bomb.  It was Steve Womack's third and last novel about New Orleans PR consultant Jack Lynch. Yes, it's about malware and ransomware, back when computers were bigger, slower, and more expensive.

Publishers Weekly said that Womack "once again delivers an effective work, never too complex and not quite overburdened with woes for the ever-resilient Lynch."

Friday, July 21, 2017

7/21/1923 Charles Goodrum circulates

July 21, 1923.  Today saw the birth of Charles Goodrum.  He served as director of research at the Library of Congress's Congressional Research Service, the people who pcik up the phone when a senator needs to know about the history of Haitian gambling laws, or a congressman wants to make sure that this punchy quotation he wants to use in a speech doesn't have a dubious history, like being used to defend Stalin, or something.

But then Goodrum went on to much more important tasks.  Namely, writing book-related mysteries.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

7/20/1924 Who is Thomas Berger?

July 20, 1924.  Thomas Berger was born on this day in Cincinnati.  He was the author of many eccentric novels, most of which explored a different genre (although he said his subject was always the language, not the plot).

His western was Little Big Man, source for the Dustin Hoffman movie.  Several other movies based on his work followed.

Berger's Regiment of Women appears to be a science fiction attack on the feminist movement, but deeper down there is an exploration of sexist language.  If a successful man has a young mistress, what does a successful woman have?  A master?

In 1977 Who is Teddy Villanova? arrived.  It begins with private eye Russel Wren being beaten up because of the titular Villanova, whom he has never heard of.  Then a bunch of corpses start showing up everywhere.  Well, technically, the same corpse keeps showing up.  And the cops, all named for Protestant theologians, are filming a TV series called The Reformers.

A decade later Russel Wren returns for a case that takes him to a strange and distant land.  Nowhere is Berger's version of a utopian novel.  One memorable scene involves a coroner explaining that in this land the cause of death is always listed as heart failure.  Hey, shoot someone or cut off their head and their heart will stop. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

7/19/1993 Morons and Madmen arrive

July 19, 1993.  This date saw the publication of Morons and Madmen, Earl Emerson's third novel about small town police chief Mac Fontana.  He is asked to investigate a deadly fire in Seattle.  A female firefighter is being blamed for the death of her co-workers.  There is sexism, racism, and affirmative action involved.  And, of course, someone tries to kill Mac.

One of the highlights of Fontana books are the chapter titles.  For example, from this one
* Where you wake up in a puddle of cold sweat and your heart is pumping like a nuclear reactor with broken spokes.
* Survivors will be prosecuted
* Firefighters hiding in closets
* What to do when your head is screwed on backwards


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

7/18/1917 Agatha Christie's century of murder

July 18, 1917.  One hundred years ago today  a woman was murdered at a mansion called Styles, beginning Agatha Christie's long killing spree.  The Mysterious Affair at Styles, published in 1920, is the first of her 66 mystery novels.  Her books are estimated to have sold 4 billion copies.

Monday, July 17, 2017

7/17/2015 Greenfellas break in

July 17, 2015.  Today was the official publication date for Greenfellas, a novel by Robert Lopresti.  And here is the first review:

**** Robert Lopresti, GREENFELLAS, Oak Tree Press, $17.95. If Carl Hiassen and Al Gore had collaborated on RESERVOIR DOGS, it might have come out something like GREENFELLAS. Then again, it probably wouldn't. Robert Lopresti, whose stories have appeared in EQMM, AHMM, and THE STRAND, among others, has penned a comic crime novel in which a New Jersey mobster with a bad comb-over decides to use his resources to save the environment for future generations. The dialogue is crisp and the situations darkly funny. - Steve Steinbock, "The Jury Box," ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, August, 2015.

Kings River Life Magazine named it one of the best mysteries of the year.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

7/16/2013 Countdown City

7/16/2013. Countdown City was published on this date.  It is the second volume of Ben Winters' brilliant Last Policeman trilogy, which asks the question: how do you deliver justice when an asteroid is about to destroy the world?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

7/15/2015 nEvermore! for evermore

July 15, 2015.  On this day nEvermore! was published.  It was a collection of new gothic stories inspired by Edgar Allan Poe.  Included is the last tale of the late great Tanith Lee, plus new works by Margaret Atwood, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Richard Christian Mathesen.

And also "Street of the Dead House," a sort of steampunk retelling of "Murders in the Rue Morgue," which got me my first and probably only appearance in both Best American Mystery Stories and Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror Stories.

Friday, July 14, 2017

7/14/1914 A car crash inspires literature

July 14, 1014.  On this date an automobile driven by silk factory owner Henry Kaufman smashed into a horse-drawn wagon in the streets of Paterson, New Jersey.  The wagon was the property of three sisters, Constance, Norma, and Fleurette Kopp, who got badly banged up in the accident.  They demanded that Kaufman pay $50 to repair the wagon.  He refused, they persisted, and the result was months of terror that wound up in a trial in Newark the following summer.

All true, and it inspired Amy Stewart's charming novel, Girl Waits With Gun.  The title, by the way, is a headline from a newspaper story about the case.  And the "girl," Constance Kopp, was in her late thirties.  Ah, the good old days.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

7/13/1952 Murder scores a knockout

July 13, 1952.  Once upon a time there was TV network called Dumont, and for four years it featured a show called Rocky King: Detective.  On this very night an episode called "Murder Scores a Knockout" premiered, and when I say premiered, I mean it was performed live.  If you don't believe me you can watch it here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

7/12/1933 Westlake busts in

July 12, 1933.  On this date comic mayhem gained one of its greatest advocates. Donald E. Westlake was born.  He may be the only author bestknown for parodying himself.  His books about the talented but luckless burglar John Dortmunder seem like a funhouse mirror held to the deadly serious books he wrote, under the name Richard Stark about the ruthless thief Parker.

Many of his books were made into movies, and he was nominated for an Oscar for his script of The Grifters, based on a Jim Thompson novel.  The MWA gave him several Edgars and named him a grandmaster.

I once had the honor of sitting with him at a luncheon.  All I had to  do was sneak into the dining room and rearrange the table cards.  Dortmunder and Parker would have been proud.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

7/11/2017 Death on Delos discovered

July 11, 2017.  On this date,which happens to be today, Death on Delos is being published.  It is the seventh novel in Gary Corby's series about the people of classical Athens.

Kirkus Weekly says: "In his brisk seventh mystery set in the world of ancient Greece (The Singer from Memphis, 2016, etc.), Corby highlights the crackling chemistry between the two leads and provides another helpful, amusing list of characters that includes a description of and a quotation from each of them."

Monday, July 10, 2017

7/10/2008 A dagger from Blood from Stone

July 10, 2008.  On this date the Crime Writers Association gave Frances Fyfield the Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award (Best Crime Novel)  for  Blood From Stone.

A highly successful barrister wins another case and then kills herself.  Peter Friel investigates, leading to the revelation of terrible secrets...

"The kind of compelling, hypnotic read that can only come from the pen of a writer at the top of her game."  - Daily Record.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

7/9/1905 Lionel White is born

July 9, 1905. Lionel White was born on this date in New York City.  He wrote many crime novels, and a lot of them were adapted into films.  For example, Stanley Kubrick turned Clean Break into his movie The Killing. 

But surely the weirdest adaptation of one of his books was what happened to The Snatch, a novel about kidnapping a child.  A gang of French criminals read the book and used it as the blueprint for a real crime.  It went beautifully until, as Donald E. Westlake out it, "They ran out of book."  Bragging about their accomplishments and spending money wildly, they were soon picked up.  They did not offer White any of the ransom money, alas.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

7/8/2001 Blues in the Night commence

July 8, 2001.  It was the nightgown that hooked me: Sunday, July 8, 1:46 A.M.  Near Lookout Mountain and Laurel Canyon.  An unidentified woman in her mid to late twenties, wearing a nightgown, was the victim of a hit-and-run accident that left her unconscious.  There were no witnesses.

That's the opening for Blues in the Night, Rochelle Krich's first novel about freelance reporter Molly Bloom.  Molly is happily divorced but her high school sweetheart is back, and he's single.  And a rabbi...

"Krich shows that she really knows her stuff...Molly investigates with both thoroughness and compassion, making this new sleuth worth her salt." - New York Times Book Review 

Friday, July 7, 2017

7/7/1918 Cain goes to war

July 7, 1918.  On this date a troop ship sailed for France full of  U.S. troops heade for World War I.  Among them was a young journalist named James M. Cain.  He didn't see much action but later he managed to pour plenty of violence into his noir novels.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

7/6/1899 America's Agatha Christie is born

July 6, 1899.  Mignon G. Eberhart was born on this day in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Her career extended through seven decades.  Known as "America's Agatha Christie" she wrote almost sixty novels.  Most of her books are considered romantic suspense, and she was a pioneer in the use of female main characters.  The Mystery Writers of America declared her a Grand Master in 1971.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

7/5/1943 Chick Carter, Boy Detective

July 5, 1943. File this under things you never heard of.  On this date the Mutual Broadcasting System premiered Chick Carter, Boy Detective.  Chick, you see, was the adopted son of Nick Carter. who started out in dime novels in the 1880s and had an adult radio show at the time.  "Adult" in this case not being a euphemism for pornographic.  In 1946 Chick even got his own film serial, and also a comic strip.

That illustration on the left came up when I was searching for Chick Carter.  It is for a different character but it  may be the most amazing thing I have ever seen. If you offered that cover to a publisher today the only question is what sort of institution you would wind up in.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

7/4/1976 In which friends are absent

July 4, 1976.  S.J. Rozan's first non-series mystery is all about the after-effects of 9/11 on the lives of New Yorkers, but it actually starts on Independence Day in the Bicentennial year, when her characters were just kids. 

“Rozan shifts among several narrators and between present and past in this riveting offering reminiscent of Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River.  An unforgettable elegy to the clear September morning that forever changed our lives.” –Booklist

Monday, July 3, 2017

7/3/2012 Stacy McLaughlin goes organic

July 3, 2012. This was the publication date for Stacy McLaughlin's Going Organic Can Kill You. It's the first book in a series of cozy mysteries set in Blossom Valley, California.  Dana Lewis,m junk food junkie, has just returned to her home town to be the marketing director for an organic farm and spa.  What could go wrong?  Besides murder.  And tofu...

Sunday, July 2, 2017

7/2/1951 Boucher goes critical

July 2, 1951.  On this day William Anthony Parker White (doing business as Anthony Boucher)  began reviewing mysteries at the New York Times. He also wrote mysteries and science fiction and co-founded The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  Many people feel that Boucher's reviews raised the respect of the whole mystery field.  The annual world mystery convention was named Bouchercon in his honor, and the awards given out there are called the Anthonys.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

7/1/1892 The Baby not in the icebox

July 1, 1892.  Happy birthday to James M. Cain, one of the noiriest of the noir writers. He was greatly admired for The Postman  Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce, and Double Indemnity, among other grim stories of bad things happening to bad people.

Many of them were made into movies.  Supposedly when a friend tried to sympathize with him about what Hollywood had done to his books, Cain replied "They haven't done anything with them  They're right over there on the shelf."