Michael Koryta

koryta_michaelBefore Lehane, before Chandler, there was Keith Robertson and The Crow and the Castle

I've written many times and at some length about the most influential crime novel of my reading life, which was Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane, but most of the Mystery Scene readers are surely familiar with Dennis and his work, so it seems prudent, or at least a little more interesting, to follow Carolyn Hart's lead and take it back a step.

The first mystery I ever read was a young-adult novel called The Crow and the Castle by Keith Robertson. Robertson was best known for his humorous Henry Reed stories, but The Crow and the Castle was a mystery featuring the "Carson Street Detective Agency," a crow named Hector, a missing chess piece with a jewel inside, and a cranky retired Navy captain. Robertson wrote many young-adult mysteries that were wonderful reads, anchored in characters who often had a love affair with the land around them, the history of that land, and with the weather. If you doubt the influence of a childhood read, check out So Cold the River and consider those three elements.

robertson_crowandthecastleI wrote a letter to Keith Robertson and mailed it to his New Jersey farm when I was eight years old. It arrived the month of his death, September 1991, and he never read it. His son, Jeff, did. He wrote a response. I wrote back. He held up the chain. We corresponded for years, and I read every book his father wrote, and I mimicked them shamelessly in my own writing attempts, and from The Crow and the Castle I found Raymond Chandler and from Chandler I found Lehane and...you see.

Another note—the book was long out of print by the time I read it. It was a childhood favorite of my father, and he remembered it, and the library had it. The tale outlasts the teller, always, and that's one of the great joys of this craft. 

Michael Koryta's latest standalone is So Cold the River (Little, Brown and Company, June 2010).

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" eNews June 2010 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.