Sunday, September 24, 2017

9/24/1986 A Rose gets Named

September 24, 1986.  Italian literary critic Umberto Eco made quite a sensation with his first novel, the medieval mystery The Name of the Rose.  On this date the movie came out, starring Sean Connery as the brilliant Brother William of Baskerville (one of many perfect names... I recall the blind librarian Jorge of Burgos).

Many thought the book would be impossible to film but it turned out quite well and was nominated for an Edgar.

My favorite bit of dialog, between Brother William and Dr. Watson - I mean Adso (Christian Slater).

     –Oh dear.
     –Why oh dear?
     –You ARE in love.
     –Is that bad?
     –For a monk, it does present certain problems.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

9/23/1935 The Saint takes over from Sam Spade, for spying, sort of

September 23, 1935.  Secret Agent X-9 was a comic strip, originally written by Dashiell Hammett and drawn by Alex Raymond (better known for Flash Gordon).  X-9 was the only spy in history who was addressed by his secret spy number instead of his name (huh?).  The agency he worked for was equally nameless.

X-9's adventures began in 1934 but on this date the authoring duties transferred from Hammett, the creator of Sam Spade, to Leslie Charteris, better known as the creator of the Saint. Seldom has so much talent been spent on so little a result.

Charteris left the strip a year later but it limped on with a  pseudonymous author (joining the agent and his agency in namelessness, I guess), until 1992.

Friday, September 22, 2017

9/22/1990 Caudwell catches Anthony

September 22, 1990.  Bouchercon was held in London this year and the Anthony Award for Best Mystery Novel went, appropriately enough, to an Englishwoman.  The Sirens Sang of Murder was Sarah Caudwell's third novel about Hilary Tamar, a professor of medieval law and unknown gender.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

9/21/1993 NYPD Blue comes in, swearing

September 21, 1993.  One of TV's best cop shows, and ABC's longest running drama, premiered on this night.  NYPD Blue courted controversy at the start with nudity and bad language.  Once they got everyone's attention they settled down to some excellent character-driven drama.

One of the oddities of the show was that it was intended as a star vehicle for David Caruso, but he left at the start of the second season.  While he was replaced by Jimmy Smits and a trail of other good-looking leading men, it became clear that the soul of the show was Andy Sipowicz, the bigoted, alcoholic older detective played by Dennis Franz.  Andy survived the loss of three partners, a son,  and a wife and somehow turned into a decent person along the way.

The show had behind the scene problems.  Caruso was allegedly very hard to work with.  And in a later season a producer was supposedly writing dialog while the actors stood on the set waiting for it.  But the show was a heck of a ride.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

9/20/1963 Burke's Law is in force

September 20, 1963.  There have been some TV shows with bizarre concepts.  My Mother the Car leaps to mind for some reason.

This day saw the premiere of Burke's Law, a show about Amos Burke, the chief of detectives of Los Angeles, who happens to be insanely rich and arrives at murder scenes in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce.

Two years later when The Man From Uncle became hugely popular the show changed concepts and became Amos Burke, Secret Agent.  Why not?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

9/19/1990 Welcome the Goodfellas

September 19, 1990.  This day saw the premiere of the movie Goodfellas.  Based on the true story of a mafiosi, it starred Robert DeNiro, Ray Liotta, and Joe Pesci.   It was nominated for six Oscars and won three, including Best Picture.

"Jimmy was the kind of guy that rooted for bad guys in the movies..."

Monday, September 18, 2017

9/18/1886 Nick Carter bursts in

September 18, 1886.  Today's issue of New York Weekly featured the first of a 13-week serial called "The Old Detective's Pupil, or the Mysterious Crime of Madison Square," by Ormond G. Smith.  Catchy title, huh?  The story introduced detective Nick Carter whose popularity led to Nick Carter Weekly, which ran through 1915.  Carter returned as the star of a pulp magazine and a radio show, which went off the air in 1955.

But you can't keep a good character down, apparently.  In 1964 he changed his profession and became Nick Carter, Killmaster, in a series of almost 300 paperback thrillers.   Not bad for a septuagenarian.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

9/17/2011 SleuthSayers gets a clue

September 17, 2011.  Six years ago today the SleuthSayers blog began.  Fourteen mystery writers taking turns with occasional pushing and shoving.  No, we've gotten along wonderfully.

Among our members, some of whom have come to their senses and some who are still with us:
Dale Andrews, John Floyd, Jan Grape, Dixon Hill, Thomas Pluck, Leigh Lundin, David Dean, Angela Zeman, Deborah Elliott-Upton,  Terence Faherty,  Janice Law, R.T. Lawton,  O'Neil De Noux, Fran Rizer, Stephen Ross, Susan Slater, Neil Schofield, Brian Thornton, Louis A. Willis, Jim Winter, Elizabeth Zelvin, Robert Lopresti, Melodie Campbell, Susan Rogers Cooper, Eve Fisher, Steve Liskow, David Edgerley Gates, Barb Goffman, Paul D. Marks, Art Taylor, Melissa Yi, and newbie Mary Fernando.



Special notice of B.K. Stevens, who passed away this summer.  We still miss her.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

9/16/1966 T.H.E. Cat prowls

September 16, 1966.  T.H.E. Cat premiered on this date on NBC.  Am I the only one who remembers it?  Robert Loggia starred as Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat (and yes, I did remember those names without checking.  Don't ask me what I had for breakfast yesterday.) 

What was the show about?  Well, here was the intro:

"Out of the night comes a man who saves lives at the risk of his own. Once a circus performer, an aerialist who refused the net. Once a cat burglar, a master among jewel thieves. Now a professional bodyguard. Primitive... savage... in love with danger. The Cat!"

Friday, September 15, 2017

9/15/1939 Hello, Farewell

September 15, 1939.  On this date Raymond Chandler finished the first draft of Farewell, My Lovely, his second novel about L.A. private eye Phillip Marlowe. In my opinion, his masterpiece.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

9/14/1946 Dangerous Decoys

September 14, 1946.  We go deep into noir territory today, as Decoy premieres.  A dying female gangster explains how they rescued her boyfriend after he dies in the gas chamber, hoping to revive him.  Not out of love, but because he knows where the money is hidden.  What could possibly go wrong?  Oh yeah, she's fatally wounded...

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

9/13/1916 Roald Dahl arrives

September 13, 1913.  Ask any fan of Alfred hItchcock's TV show about their favorite episodes and they are very likely to recall "Lamb to the Slaughter," based on a short story by Roald Dahl. Another Dahl/Hitchcock  favorite was "The Man From the South," starring Peter Lorre as a gambler with a strnage obsession.

Today Dahl is best remembered for his children's books (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, etc. ) but he was a master of the suspenseful, sardonic short story.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

9/12/1938 When Archie met Lily

September 12, 1938.  This is a day that should be marked with honor on the calendar of all Rex Stout fans.  It is the day that Archie Goodwin met the love of his life, Lily Rowan. This happens in the first chapter of the sixth Nero Wolfe novel, Some Buried Caesar, and it is certainly one of the most memorable openings in that long series.

The fat sleuth is in upstate New York, heading to a flower show, when his car has an accident.  Wolfe and Archie take a short cut through a pasture, which turns out to have a bull in it.  Archie has to run and tumble over a fence, nearly getting mangled to death by an angry beast, and as he struggles to his feet he hears a woman applauding and  cheering as if he were a circus act.  And that, of course, is Lily Rowan.

But my favorite line in the book is from Wolfe: "If you regard it as a rational project to find a legitimate nocturnal pickwasher, go ahead."  You had to be there.

Monday, September 11, 2017

9/11/1862 O. Henry is sweet

September 11, 1862.  William Sydney Porter was born on this date in Greensboro, North Carolina. He spent five years in prison for embezzling $856 from the bank where he worked.

But he is remembered today as one of America's greatest short story artists, under the name O. Henry. His "Gift of the Magi" will apparently live forever.  But in our field he is revered for creating the legendary safe cracker Jimmy Valentine, who only appeared in  one story, "A Retrieved Reformation," as well as the much-copied "Ransom of Red Chief."

"The Caballero's Way," featured the Cisco Kid, but he was anything but the brave Mexican hero of TV and the movies.  Instead this Cisco was a vicious American outlaw.

Oh, and Henry coined the phrase "banana republic," when he was in Honduras, hiding out from the bank charges.  Quite a full life.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

9/10/1989 The icy clutches of Aaron Elkins

September 10, 1989.  On this day the action begins in Aaron Elkins' sixth novel about anthropologist and bone expert Gideon Oliver.  Icy Clutches involves three scientific researchers who died in an avalanche in the  1960s. Now their remains are coming out of the glacier, but there is something very odd about them...

Elkins once said that all the brilliant discoveries Oliver makes in his book have been made by other physical anthropologists.  Elkins just makes them all occur to our hero, and gives them a criminal twist.  Did I make that sound easy?  If it was then everybody would be writing books like this.  And they don't.

Gideon Oliver, that most engaging forensic anthropologist, solves a lulu here....Aaron Elkins is witty, and oh so clever with that final twist."
- New York Daily News

Saturday, September 9, 2017

9/9/1903 Phyllis A. Whitney arrives

September 9, 1903.  Phyllis A. Whitney was born on this date in Yokohama, Japan, of all places.  Not that there's anything wrong with Yokohama, but Whitney is thought of as an American author, which indeed she  was.  Her family spent her first few years in Asia.

Whitney was often described as an author of gothic novels, although she preferred the term romantic suspense.  Call it what you will, she was good at it.  Among her seventy novels were two Edgar winners for Best Juvenile Mysteries.  The MWA recognized her as a Grand Master in 1988.  She died at the ripe old age of 104. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

9/8/1999 American Beauty blooms

September 8, 1999.  This date saw the premiere of American Beauty,  a stunning movie about a suburban dad who becomes obsessed with a friend of his daughter. It won five Oscars, including the second for Kevin Spacey.  One of the most amazing things is that it begins by telling you the main character is murdered, and still manages a surprise ending.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

9/7/1976 Miss Marple's graceful exit

September 7, 1976.  This day saw the American publication of Sleeping Murder, which Agatha Christie wrote during the second World War and tucked away to be a posthumous curtain call for herself and Jane Marple, the beloved spinster from St Mary Mead.

A newlywed has an apparent deja-vu memory of a murder.  Is it ESP, or something more sinsiter.

Kirkus Review said: "This is Miss Marple at her noticing, unobtrusive, kindly best--a perfect envoi."

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

9/6/199? The strip tease begins

September 6, 199?.  This day saw the beginning of the action in Carl Hiassen's fifth comic crime novel, Strip Tease.  The plot involves a congressman who defends a stripper in a nude bar by clobbering a groper with a champagne bottle.  After that, and the murder that follows, things get messy.  As usual, one of Haissen's targets is the madness and corruption of Florida's politics.

The book was generally praised; the movie version (Striptease, with Demi Moore), not so much.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

9/5/2017 George Smiley returns

September 5, 1971. The very first sentence of the very first book John Le Carré published tells us that George Smiley's wife has left him.  Here it is, fifty years later and we are still reading about George and the faithless Lady Ann, among others.

Le Carré has written more than 20 books and this is the ninth loosely described as a George Smiley novel.  The master spy with the guilty conscience and a will of iron is only the main character in four or five of them (depending on whether you think the main character of The Honourable Schoolboy is, uh, the honourable schoolboy.

The narrator and protagonist of A Legacy of Spies,  is Peter Guillam, Smiley's protegé, dragged out of retirement to explain some old cases to a post-Cold War generation of interrogators.  And that reminds me.  I got my filthy hands on a pre-publication copy and I am halfway through it, but I am still trying to figure out when it is set.  INternal evidence says it has to be later than 2000.  In our present day Peter would be mid-eighties and Smiley, if he is still alive (that is under debate in the part I am reading) would be a decade older.  Those would be mighty old spies. 

In any case it is a great read.

Monday, September 4, 2017

9/4/1900 Cyril Hare comes up

September 4, 1900.  Alfred Gordon Clark was born on this date in Surrey, England.  He became a barrister and later a judge, but he interests us because, under the name Cyril Hare, he wrote some great mystery novels.  His most important character was Francis Pettigrew, also a barrister.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

9/3/1960 Maigret is uncovered in Holland

September 3, 1966.  On this date a statue of Inspector Maigret was revealed in  Delfzijl, Holland.  It was commissioned to honor the great detective's visit as reported in Georges Simenon's novel Maigret in Holland.  You can find pictures of the statue and more information about it here.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

9/2/2005 Sara Paretsky catches the eye

September 2, 2005.  On this day Sara Paretsky won the Eye Award, given by the Private Eye Writers of America for lifetime achievement.  Most of her twenty-something books star private investigator V.I. Warshawski.  She is one of the top authors to come out of the wave of female P.I. writers in the 1980s.  The MWA named her a Grand Master in 2011.

Friday, September 1, 2017

9/1/1994 Lee Child starts to write

September 1, 1994. August of 1994 was a bad month for Jim Grant. He was fired after almost 20 years at British Granada Television.  So on September first he sat down with $6 worth of paper and pencils and began to write a book.  It was published as Killing Floor under the pen name Lee Child.

The first Jack Reacher novel was so successful that Child starts each new book on September first.  Millions of readers are glad of it.