Thursday, August 31, 2017

8/31/1928 Three Penny Opera is coined

August 31, 1928Three Penny Opera, by Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht, opened in Berlin on this date.  It was adapted from the 18th century Beggar's Opera, written by John Gay.

It tells the story of MacHeath, alias Mack the Knife, a notorious London criminal.  The show is dark, political, and brilliant.  The most famous song, best known as "Mack The Knife" has been a huge hit in the United States.  "Pirate Jenny," alias "The Black Freighter," has been recorded by many artists as well.

Here is a video of Alan Cummings and Cyndi Lauper performing "Ballad of the Pimp" at the 2006 Tony Awards.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

8/30/1889 A dinner party that made literary history

August 30, 1889.  A major literary event happened on this night, which had great import for the mystery field.  You see, when Arthur Conan Doyle introduced Sherlock Holmes to the world in A Study in Scarlet, the world couldn't have cared less.  But when he wrote a historical novel called Micah Clarke it became a best-seller.  Joseph M. Stoddard, the publisher of Lippincott's Magazine, had published Study in Scarlet in America.  He was visiting  England that summer, and noted the popularity of Clarke.  So he invited Doyle to a dinner at the Langhorn Hotel and suggested he give Holmes another shot.  This led to The Sign of Four, and eventually to the short stories that made Holmes a household word.   Oh, Stoddard invited another writer to the event, one who became immediate friends with Doyle - a very unlikely pair.  Stoddard suggested that other man write something for the magazine as well.  So Oscar Wilde produced The Portrait of Dorian Gray.

Must have been quite an evening.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

8/29/2005. The longest prison break begins

August 29, 2005. This night saw the premiere of Prison Break on FOX. The concept: an innocent man sis sentenced to death.  His brother, a brilliant engineer with a compulsion to fix things (think MacGyver with an obsessive conscience) gets himself thrown into prison in order to break him out.
The creators were hoping for a two year run: One season for the escape and one for the run out of the country.  But the show was so successful they had to come up with plots for two more years, which turned pretty silly.  Great ending, though.  Unfortunately, the network recently decided to revive it, even dragging a character out of the grave to do it. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

8/28/1946 The Killers arrive

August 28, 1946.  This day saw the release of The Killers, starring Edmond O'Brien  and Ava Gardner.  Other important roles were played by Burt Lancaster and William Conrad, in their film premieres.

The first twenty minutes is an accurate filming of Ernest Hemingway's story of the same name, part of his Nick Adams cycle.  It describes hired killers coming to a small town to kill an ex-boxer called the Swede.  The rest of the flick, in which the crime is investigated,  is made up from scratch. 

It does offer an explanation of Swede's fatal mistake.  For a different take on that, read Leigh Lundin's surprising discovery.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

8/27/1947 Hollywood gets the kiss of death

August 27, 1947.  On this date the movie Kiss of Death was released.  A film noir classic, it starred Victor Mature and gave Richard Widmark his first role in the flicks.  It scored two Academy Award nominations, one for Widmark.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

8/26/2004 Cleary gets Kelly

August 26, 2004.  On this day the Crime Writers Association of Australia gave the Ned Kelly Award for best mystery novel to Degrees of Separation.  It was the 20th and last novel Jon Cleary write about police inspector Scabie Malone. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

8/25/1911 Ed Lacy is born

August 25, 1911.  Ed Lacy was born on this day.  He wrote about fifty novels, mostly mysteries.  He won the Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel for Room to Swing which introduced an African-American private eye named Toussaint "Touie" Marcus Moore.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

8/24/2012 Premium Rush is delivered

August 24, 2012 This date saw the premiere of Premium Rush, a lightweight but fun movie starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (that year he was almost as ubiquitous as Benedict Cumberbatch  soon became).  A New York bike messenger picks up an envelope and a dirty cop (MIchael Shannon) will do anything to stop him from delivering it.

"Yeah guys, I'll catch up with you.  I forgot my bullets."

I didn't know there were World Stunt Awards, but of course there are, and this movie received three nominations for the Hardest Hit Award.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

8/23/1991 Sleep of the Unjust

August 23, 1991.  This day saw the publication of E.X. Ferrars' Sleep of the Unjust.  Felix and Virginia Freers are invited to the wedding of the niece of their friends, but the unexpected arrival of a former love of the bride results in a mysterious death -- accompanied by several contradictory suicide notes.  Hmm...

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

8/22/1933 Babcock breaks in to Black Mask

August 22, 1933.  On this date Dwight V. Babcock made his first sale of  a short story.  Incredible as it may seem, he broke into Black Mask.  Sounds like starting out on top to me.  "At the Bottom of Every Mess" appeared in the January 1934 issue.  He got $100 for it; good money in the Depression.

Babcock went on to write many short stories and some popular humorous crime novels.  But let's get back to that first sale to Black Mask, home of Hammett, Chandler, Gardner, etc.  He only submitted there because Underworld Magazine, which I have never even heard of, lost the copy he sent them.  Wow.

My first sale was to Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.  Not quite so fancy.

This info came from James L. Traylor's article about Babcock in The Armchair Detective, volume 23, number 1.

Monday, August 21, 2017

8/21/1916 Jackson Gillis is born

August 21, 1916.  One of the great writers of TV crime was born on this date in Kalama, Washington.  In 1953 Jackson Gillis became the main writer for a syndicated cop show called I'm The Law, starring George Raft.  In the years that followed he wrote for Perry Mason, Mannix, Mod Squad, Cannon, Ironside, The Man From Uncle, Hawaii Five-O, and tons of other series.

He was also a key figure in Columbo, with a hand in at least fifteen episodes.  His first script there was "Framed For Murder" with Ross Martin as the guest murderer, and some of us fondly remember that one for the cleverest clue and the most audacious "reveal" in the whole series.  He was nominated for an Emmy for it, losing to his bosses, the show's creators Levinson and Link.

His last script was for Lois and Clark, based on a story he wrote for The Adventures of Superman forty-years earlier.

Most of this information comes from an excellent article by Michael Mallory in a recent issue (#149) of Mystery Scene magazine.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

8/20/87 Sherlock opens his last case

August 20, 1987,  Sherlock's Last Case opened on Broadway on this date.  It was Charles Marowitz's take on Conan Doyle.  From the Playbill summary: Dr. Watson gives us the truth about Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary detective Sherlock Holmes — he is a self-absorbed, egotistical tyrant in private, even as he is tested once again to solve the case of "the perfect murder."

Whatever you think of that it gave the world a chance to see Frank Langella as the Master.  It ran for 124 performances.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

8/19/1967 The Fugitive's final TV Guide cover

August 19, 1967.  This week's TV Guide celebrated the end of the line for one of the most popular escaped criminals in television history.  If I am counting correctly, this is the fifth time David Janssen made the cover of the media's main magazine in four years of The Fugitive.

This was probably the first series in TV history to be given the dignity of an actual ending, as opposed to merely vanishing forever between summer and fall. After 120 episodes of chasing and being chased Richard Kimball finally catches the guy who killed his wife.  And TV Guide was there to celebrate.  

Friday, August 18, 2017

8/18/1941 Cordially invited to meet death

August 18, 1941.  On this date Bess Huddleston, professional party organizer, came to Nero Wolfe, asking him to investigate letters her clients had received accusing her of misbehavior.  Although she had previously irritated him by asking him to play detective at a "murder party" he agrees to look into the matter.  Soon a particularly horrible death is also invited...

As World War II began Rex Stout spent more of his time on war-related activities and less time on writing, and that meant switching to short fiction.  This was his second novella (after "Black Orchids.")  It was published in American Magazine in April 1942, as "Invitation to Murder," but in the book Black Orchids, it is "Cordially Invited to Meet Death."

Thursday, August 17, 2017

8/17/1942 Marlowe looks out a high window

August 17, 1942.  This date saw the publication of The High Window, Raymond Chandler's third novel about L.A. private eye Philip Marlowe.   (Has anyone else pointed out that his novels arrange the same way chronologcally as alphabetically?  Just like Sue Grafton's sort of.)

And speaking of the alphabet, this story features characters named Marlowe,  Murdock (two of them), Magic, Merle, Morny, and Morningstar.  Why do authors do that sort of thing?  What's wrong with the other letters?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

8/16/1902 The mother of the historical romance is born

August 16, 1902.  You might say Georgette Heyer was born a century late.  Her most popular books were romances, set in the Regency period (early nineteenth century).

Naturally we are more concerned with her less popular books, the thrillers, the creation of which  she compared to solving crossword puzzles.  Sometimes the mechanical nature showed a little too much, as in the novel in which all the main characters names are alphabetical according to the order in which appear.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

8/15/1929 Roman hat trick

August 15, 1929.  This date saw the beginning of one of the longest and most distinguished careers in mystery fiction.  It saw the publication of The Roman Hat Mystery, the first mystery written by Ellery Queen, featuring, of course, the detective Ellery Queen.

Cousins Manfred Lee and Frederic Dannay wrote the book for a contest and won, but the sponsoring organization promptly went out of business.  Fortunately Frederick Stokes published it and the Queen career was on its way.

Monday, August 14, 2017

8/14/198? Sleeping Dogs awake

August 14, 198?.  On August 14th in an unspecified year an American who calls himself Michael Shaeffer meets a beautiful aristocratic woman in London.  Schaeffer is actually the Butcher's Boy, the Mafia's favorite hit man until a mobster tried to cheat him  That made our hero cranky and that made the cheater dead.  

The Butcher's Boy gets spotted in London and he decides he needs to go back to the States to teach a refresher course to those thugs who think they need to kill him.  All he has to do is stay out of the way of the mob, the cops, the FBI, and the Justice Department.  Piece of cake...

Sleeping Dogs is the second of (so far) three novels by Thomas Perry about the terrifyingly efficient Butcher's Boy.  They are worth reading, and in order.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

8/13/1899 The Master of Suspense is born

August 13, 1899. The last year of the nineteenth century saw the birth of one of the greatest film directors of the twentieth.  I don't imagine I need to tell you what Alfred Hitchcock contributed to the mystery field, but I'll mention a few.  He made masterpieces (Vertigo, Psycho). He experimented (Rope, The Wrong Man, Lifeboat). With The Birds he invented a genre that has seldom been done as well.   The Thirty-Nine Steps (based on John Buchan's novel) introduced the hero-chased-by-villains-AND-cops story which has been used thousands of times - including brilliant reworkings by the Master himself.

The plot of Vertigo  has more holes than a politician's alibi.  Don't care.  It's still my favorite movie.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

8/12/1992 Payday for sin

August 12, 1992.  On this date Andrew Greeley's novel Wages of Sin was published.  Greeley was the author of dozens of nonfiction books as well as many bestselling novels (for a while he was putting out two a year).  He was supposedly the bestselling priest in history, and made a lot of money, much of which he donated to the Catholic Church.

Wages of Sin features a commodities broker trying to solve murders that happened many years before.  Referring to the priest's controversial inclusion of sexual material Kirkus Reviews called the book "Safe sex for senior citizens."

Friday, August 11, 2017

8/11/2015 Publishing sees the last of Deborah Knott

August 11, 2015.
 This was the publication date for Long Upon the Land, the last novel in Margaret Maron's award-winning series about North Carolina judge Deborah Knott.  "When I started writing," Maron said, that year, "all the southern books were southern gothics, and the pigs ate mama."

The adventures of Judge Knott (oh, that pun) were somewhat more elevated.  The first of them Bootlegger's Daughter,won the Edgar, Anthony, and Macavity Awards.  The MWA named Maron a Grand Master in 2013.

Publisher's Weekly that the series' final entry "combines strong plotting, a superb cast of recurring characters, and a rare sense of place that transports readers to rural North Carolina."

Thursday, August 10, 2017

8/10/1992 Jimmy Buffett, meet Joe Merchant

August 10, 1992.  On this date Jimmy Buffett's first novel was published.  Where is Joe Merchant? is about a rock star, missing and possibly dead in the Caribbean, and the seaplane-flying Vietnam vet who goes looking for him.  Buffett is, of course, a pop star in his own right, and the king of Carib tourist music.  Kirkus Reviews called it "a relaxed and rambling novel... The unitiiated may be baffled; his fans will be enchanted."

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

8/9/1910 Robert Van Gulik is born

August 9, 1910.  Robert Van Gulik was born in the Zutphen in the Netherlands on this day.  While he was a diplomat, a musician, and man of other accomplishments, he is best remembered for his Judge Dee novels, inspired by an eighteenth century Chinese novel.  The real Judge Di lived in the seventh century, but the original novel (which Van Gulik translated) bumped him up to the Ming Dynasty, approximately a thousand years later.  

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

8/8/1891 Nick Carter Library opens

August 8, 1891.  This was the cover date of the first Nick Carter Library, the dime novel series featuring America's most popular detective, Nick Carter.  They were supposedly written by Nicholas Carter, a house name that covered Frederic Van Rensselaer Day, George Waldo Browne, and Edward Streetmayer (of Nancy Drew fame) among others.

Carter went on to movies, magazines, radio, and even became a spy-assassin in 1960s paperbacks.

Monday, August 7, 2017

8/7/1940 Eric Ambler introduces a gentleman poet

August 7, 1940.  Eric Ambler was a great author of thriller and spy novels.  On this date Sketch magazine published one of his few short stories.  "The Adventure of the Gentleman Poet" was one of six tales he wrote about Dr. Jan Czissar, a Czech refugee who helped Scotland yard.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

8/6/2013 Sandrine's Case Published

August 6, 2013.  Thomas H. Cook's novel Sandrine's Case was published on this day.  When Sam Madison's wife Sandrine dies in an apparent suicide he realizes he did not know her as well as he thought.  With the authorities convinced he killed her, Sam tries to figure out what really happened.  Publisher's Weekly called the book a "slow-burning, intricate of his best, [which] burns to an unforeseen, but earned climax."  It was nominated for both the Edgar and Barry Awards.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

8/5/1926 Yahoo for Wahloo

August 5, 1926.  Decades before some girl got a dragon tattoo, Scandanavian crime fiction consisted mostly of an excellent set of novels by Per Wahlöö (who was born on this day) and Maj Sjöwall.  These Swedes were very methodical and  blunt about their intentions: they were going to write ten police procedurals, each thirty chapters long. They wrote alternating chapters. The books were going to get more political - frankly Marxist - as the series went on.  And that is exactly what happened.

They called the entire series The Story of a Crime, which referred to Swedish society, not a mere murder or two.  The hero was the melancholy cop, Martin Beck. The Laughing Policeman won the Edgar for Best Mystery Novel.  It was made into a movie starring Walter Matthau.  Among the other actors who starred in movies based on their books is Derek Jacobi.

Friday, August 4, 2017

8/4/197? Smiley's People are contacted

August 4, 197?.  At precisely noon on this date a Russian emigrant woman in Paris was accosted by a mysterious stranger who claimed to have news about her daughter, left behind in the Soviet Union many years before.  The chain of events that followed forced brilliant spy George Smiley out of retirement, and led to the death of an old Russian general who claimed to have "three proofs against the sandman."  Don't you love le Carre's way with a code phrase?  Smiley's People was the climax of the Quest For Karla trilogy.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

8/3/1920 P. D. James is born

August 3, 1920. P.D. James was born on this date in Oxford, England.  When her husband came back from World War II with mental issues she started working to support the family.  She started to write novels in the 1950s.  Her novels about police detective Adam Dalgliesh led her to fame and fortune.

Among her honors were the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America and a life peerage from that whole British government thing.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

8/2/1967 In the Heat of the Night

August 2, 1967.  This date saw the premiere of In the Heat of the Night.  The story of a Black city cop trying to solve a murder in the rural south won five Oscars including Best Picture.  It was based on John Ball's first novel.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

8/1/1991 The Song Dog arrives

August 1, 1991. This date saw the publication of The Song Dog, both the first and last novel in James McClure's series about South African cops Trompie Kramer and Mickey Zondi. These books are set in the era of apartheid and the white and black cops have to play at being hostile when they are actually best friends.

"First and last" suggests a pretty short series but that's not it.  The Song Dog is a prequel to the series, showing us the first time the heroes met and worked together.  And at the end there is a grim prediction of how their story will end.