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No Escape: Jacques Futrelle and the Titanic
Jeffrey A. Marks

On the written page, Jacques Futrelle could devise the most ingenious of “impossible escapes.” On the tragic night of April 14, 1912, however, the celebrated author of “The Problem of Cell 13,” refused his only chance to escape the sinking Titanic.


Titanic Sinking

“There was not the slightest thought of danger in the minds of those who sat around the tables in the luxurious dining saloon of the Titanic. It was a brilliant crowd. Jewels flashed from the gowns of the women, how fondly they wore their latest Parisian gowns! It was the first time many of them had an opportunity to display their newly acquired finery.”

—Mrs. Jacques [May] Futrelle, all quotes are from The Boston Post, April 21/22, 1912

The sinking of the HMS Titanic during its maiden voyage on the night of April 14, 1912 seemed to usher in the end of an age of unprecedented peace, prosperity and progress. When the “unsinkable” ship was lost so were more than 1,500 lives, including some of the richest and most powerful figures in America.

By now, everyone in the country has heard of James Cameron’s 1997 movie of the same name. Yet despite the overall historical accuracy of the movie, one of the ill-fated ship’s notable passengers wasn’t mentioned: the mystery writer and journalist Jacques Futrelle.

“The last I saw of my husband,” his wife, May, wrote, “he was standing beside [the American financier and multimillionaire] Colonel [John Jacob] Astor. He had a cigarette in his mouth. As I watched, he lit a match and held it in his cupped hands before his face. By its light I could see his eyes roam anxiously over the water. Then he dropped his head toward his hands and lighted his cigarette… I know those hands never trembled.”

Jacques Futrelle

Jacques Futrelle (1875-1912) was an admirer of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and accordingly created his own intellectual detective, Dr. F. S. X. Van Dusen. Better known as “The Thinking Machine,” Futrelle’s sleuth appeared in over forty short stories from 1905 to 1912.

Jacques Futrelle was born in 1875 in Pike County, Georgia. He started writing early, taking a job at the Atlanta Journal by the age of 18. Within a year, he had moved to Boston to take a new position although he grew homesick and returned quickly to Atlanta and the Journal. Shortly after his return in 1895, he married Lily May Peel, who went by the name May. The couple then moved to New York so that Jacques could take a job as the telegraph editor at the Hearst paper, The New York Herald. The Futrelles lived at 71 Irving Place in the lovely Gramercy Park area of the city; his neighbors included Edith Wharton and O. Henry. In 1897, their first child Virginia was born, followed in 1899 by John.
In addition to penning feature stories and articles at the Herald, Futrelle started writing detective short stories. This fiction writing appealed to his creativity as well as his love of the mystery genre, particulary the Sherlock Holmes stories.

During the next year, the long hours and stress of covering the Spanish American war took a physical and mental toll on young Jacques, and eventually left him exhausted and too ill to work. His sister loaned him a home in Scituate, Massachusetts, where he and May lived until he recuperated.



After this fallow period, Futrelle didn’t return to journalism instead taking a two-year contract as a theatrical manager. He and May moved to Richmond, Virginia where Jacques traveled for the small repertory company and tried his hand at dramatic writing.

At the end of his stint with the theater, Jacques took a job at the Boston American where he continued to write short stories. Soon Futrelle introduced an unusual new detective who was an immediate success with the American public.

Taking the intellectual Sherlock Holmes one step further, Futrelle imagined a character who was the ultimate cerebral detective. Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen, better known as “The Thinking Machine,” appeared in over forty short stories from 1905 to 1912. The Thinking Machine was a small, nearsighted man with a huge head and an even larger ego. Unlike Holmes with his cocaine habit, Van Dusen appeared to have no human frailties. His deductive power was unhindered by emotion and human connections. A journalist by the name of Hutchinson Hatch brought suitable crimes to Van Dusen’s attention and served as his assistant and foil.

The Problem of Cell 13 illustration In the most celebrated case of the Thinking Machine, “The Problem of Cell 13,” Van Dusen makes a seemingly miraculous escape from a maximum security prison. In Van Dusen’s world, the mind is the master of all things. Cement is no match for cerebrum.

The stories were published in the Boston American to much popular success. In 1906, Jacques left the newspaper business for good, this time turning his attention to novels. The next few years were busy and successful ones for the young family. They spent much time in Scituate, where Jacques and May built a house known as “Stepping Stones” that overlooked the harbor.

In 1912 the couple traveled in Europe for several weeks while Jacques wrote magazine articles, visited a number of publishers and promoted his work amongst European readers. In pursuit of more technical information about criminal investigating, he also made a research visit to Scotland Yard.

The couple had left their children with Jacques’ parents, and decided to come home early to see them. On the night before sailing, friends had gathered in London to celebrate Jacques’ 37th birthday. The party did not end until 3:00 a.m. and the Futrelles never went to bed.

Instead, they packed and headed for Southampton. Mrs. Futrelle was later to lament that “if my husband had got drunk that night, he might not have sailed, and he might be alive today. But he never did drink much.”

On the fateful night of April 14, she and Jacques were in their first class stateroom when they felt a “slight concussion.” Jacques reassured his wife that it was nothing. “We have simply bumped into a baby iceberg. If that’s what it is, it won’t bother the Titanic any more than if it had struck a match.” May wanted more assurance, and insisted that her husband investigate further. “In a moment, we...understood that the situation was desperate.”

Soon both had donned life jackets, but discovered only women and children were allowed to board the lifeboats. May threw her arms around her husband, refusing to leave him. Jacques insisted that she board. In an incident which was fictionalized in the 1997 film, May leapt from the lifeboat just as it started its descent to the water and frantically fought her way back to her husband. Jacques assured her repeatedly that he would survive the disaster by holding on to the side of one of the lifeboats, neglecting to mention the frigid waters of the North Atlantic would surely kill him.

“For God’s sake, go! It’s your last chance, go!” May later remembered him pleading. He reminded her of her duty to their young children, finally convincing her. Lifeboat No. 9 was launched only half full, as so many of the lifeboats were that chaotic night. As the boat descended, May “gave up hope that my husband could be saved.”

Jacques Futrelle’s body was never recovered.

May FutrelleTwo weeks after the Titanic sank, May Futrelle wrote a vivid account of the tragedy which was published in The Boston Post. She was one of the eyewitnesses who reported that the band continued to play as the doomed ship sank.

Ironically enough for a writer best remembered for a tale of brilliant escape, Futrelle heroically chose to stay aboard the Titantic in the hope that others might be saved. All of the stories that Jacques Futrelle wrote during his stay in Europe were lost as well that terrible night, leaving his canon far short of what it might have been.

May would live until 1967. She kept her husband’s memory alive by finishing his last uncompleted novel and promoting his works. As a final tribute to Jacques she added the dedication below to the posthumously published My Lady’s Garter (1912). And every year, on the anniversary of Jacques’ death, she cast a bouquet of flowers off the cliffs at Scituate into the chilly North Atlantic.

Dedication of My Lady's Garter

Jeffrey A. Marks is the Agatha and Anthony nominated author of The Ambush of My Name, a General Grant mystery published by Silver Dagger Press.

Admin
2010-03-28 00:00:00

The night the author of “The Problem of Cell 13” refused his only chance to escape the sinking ship.


Titanic Sinking

Evermore: the Enduring Influence of Edgar Allan Poe
Steve Hockensmith

To most people these days, he’s that creepy guy. That horror guy. That Gomez Addams-looking guy who wrote about premature burials and black cats and a talking raven. And, yes—Edgar Allan Poe was that guy. But he was much, much more.

poebypoltgrayFor which we can all be thankful. Because if you’re reading this magazine, odds are you’re a mystery fan and/or writer. And if you’re a mystery fan and/or writer, you owe Poe...whether you know it or not.

“Poe is so ingrained in us—so deeply encoded into our cultural DNA—that we no longer recognize him,” says Louis Bayard, whose novel The Pale Blue Eye puts Poe at the center of a mystery during his days as a West Point cadet. “And yet whenever we write a mystery, whenever we write horror, whenever we write science fiction—whenever we write about obsession—we’re following in his tracks.”

“He wasn’t just a mystery/suspense writer,” adds the author many fans would describe as the modern Poe, Stephen King. “He was the first.”

So as the Mystery Writers of America prepares to hand out the annual Edgar Allan Poe Awards in April (including a Grand Master honor to King and poss- a Best Novel Award to Bayard), we thought the time was right to remind crime fiction fans why the honor’s named
after Poe in the first place.

After all, it’s not “the Arthur” or “the Dashiell.” It’s the Edgar.

Here’s why.


The Innovation
Edgar Poe was born on January 19, 1809. The middle name Allan didn’t come until later, after Poe’s father (an alcoholic actor) disappeared and his mother (an actress) died of tuberculosis. Only two years old when he was orphaned, young Edgar was taken in by John Allan, a wealthy Virginia merchant. But the lad’s luck never improved much after that tragic start to life.

It was Allan’s wife, Frances, who bonded with the child. Allan himself never did—in fact, Allan never even formally adopted him. As Poe matured into manhood, the two quarreled constantly. Poe saw Allan as cold and stingy. Allan considered Poe self-indulgent and irresponsible. Not long after Frances died, Poe found himself penniless and adrift.

ravenHe tried to keep himself afloat the only way he knew how: writing. After self-publishing his first books (poetry collections that barely made a ripple before sinking into obscurity), he began selling stories to newspapers and magazines. That eventually led to positions as an editor/staff writer/critic at a string of publications—as well as the appearance of many of the short stories (or “tales” as they were known at the time) for which he would one day be famous.
Although today Poe’s often associated with the horror genre, his tales didn’t dwell on the supernatural. Instead, they often took a psychological approach to stories of crime and tragedy. As Bayard notes, Poe seemed obsessed with obsession. “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” are both narrated by psychotic killers driven to destroy themselves by guilt-fueled hallucinations. In “The Oval Portrait,” an artist becomes so fixated on finishing a painting, he doesn’t even notice that his beautiful model—his wife—is dead. And even “The Fall of the House of Usher” isn’t a ghost story, as so many readers seem to remember it. It’s about a twisted, quasi-incestuous relationship between a young woman and the brother who tries to have her interred alive.

Of course, Poe wasn’t the only writer cranking out dark tales about dirty deeds. The day of the “penny dreadful” was dawning, and there were outlets aplenty for blood-drenched shockers. Yet Poe stood apart from the hack pack, partially thanks to his emphasis on aberrant psychology, and partially because Poe’s imagination so far out-stripped his rivals.

“Poe was an innovator,” says Dawn B. Sova, author of Edgar Allan Poe A to Z and Critical Companion to Edgar Allan Poe. “He was not the first to tackle morbid subjects. He just pushed the envelope.”

Eventually, Poe wasn’t just pushing the envelope anymore. With his story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” he created one all his own: the tale of ratiocination. Or, as it later came to be called, the mystery.

Always fascinated with puzzles and cryptograms, Poe frequently wrote columns challenging readers to send him a code he couldn’t break. In “Rue Morgue,” he did what no other writer had yet thought to do—took that kind of intellectual challenge and used it as the hook for a work of fiction.

A mother and daughter are found horribly mutilated in a locked room. The police are baffled. Only a brilliant amateur, C. Auguste Dupin, can provide an explanation, which he arrives at purely through the application of cold, precise logic. The tale is told by the dilettante detective’s unnamed roommate, who later returned to relate two more of Dupin’s cases: “The Mystery of Marie Roget” (1842) and “The Purloined Letter” (1844), both of which also hinge on detection and deduction rather than blood and thunder.

“Poe almost single-handedly invented the puzzle element of detective fiction that later came to dominate the genres of mystery and crime,” says Boston University English professor Charles Rzepka.

“There were other writers dealing in mystery and suspense, but not this kind of detective work or ratiocination,” adds Scott Peeples, associate professor of English at the College of Charleston in South Carolina and the current president of the Poe Studies Association. “I don’t think someone else would have come up with it, really. Not one of Poe’s contemporaries, anyway. The character of Dupin, the structure of the stories and the idea of proving oneself to be the intellectual champ—that stuff is intrinsic to Poe. Even when Poe’s not writing detective fiction, there’s often a similar element of gamesmanship.”

Rzepka (whose book Detective Fiction tracks the development of the genre) calls Dupin “the grandaddy of all modern literary detectives.” But it was one literary detective in particular who would pick up where grandpa left off, creating a sensation that helped cement the popularity of the mystery before the genre even had a name.

doyle_studyinscarletThat detective, of course, was Sherlock Holmes. Holmes and his sidekick, Dr. Watson, even acknowledged their literary heritage in “A Study in Scarlet.”
“You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin,” Watson tells his friend. “I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories.”

“No doubt you think that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin,” Holmes replies. “Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow....”
Despite the haughtiness of Holmes’ dismissal, the character’s creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, was offering a sincere (if cheeky) tip of the deerstalker to a writer who’d paved the way for him.

“Conan Doyle never failed to acknowledge his debt to Poe,” says Daniel Stashower, who’s written about both the English author (in the Edgar-winning Conan Doyle biography The Teller of Tales) and his American predecessor (in the Edgar-nominated 2006 book The Beautiful Cigar Girl, which explores how “The Mystery of Marie Roget” grew out of a real-life murder case).

“‘To [Poe] must be ascribed the monstrous progeny of writers on the detection of crime,’ Conan Doyle once wrote. ‘Each may find some little development of his own, but his main art must trace back to those admirable stories of Monsieur Dupin....’ Elsewhere, he was more succinct: ‘Poe is the master of all.’”
Such high praise would have come as a surprise to the writers and critics of the previous generation, since to them it appeared that Poe was the master of nothing, except perhaps living shamefully and dying young.

The Betrayal
While he had the occasional brush with fame and fortune (most notably after the publication of the poem “The Raven” in 1845), Poe squandered whatever opportunities came within reach. Erratic behavior (exacerbated by alcohol and the long decline and death of his wife) and a string of literary feuds (fueled by his insightful but often vicious reviews) had all but wrecked his career. The sordid, murky details of his death were, appropriately enough, the last nail in the coffin for his literary reputation.

Poe died in 1849 shortly after being found roaming the streets of Baltimore in another man’s clothes. Some accounts say he was drunk, others say he was delirious. Either way, no one knows what exactly killed him. Had he been beaten? Drugged? Bitten by a rabid cat? Infected with cholera? A new theory seems to emerge every year.

Even dead, however, Poe had to withstand one final stab in the back. An editor with whom Poe had often clashed, Rufus Griswold, wrote an anonymous obituary that began, “Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it.” It got worse from there, painting Poe as a debauched lunatic.

Later Griswold went even further, penning a Poe “memoir” that was filled with slanders: Poe had been expelled from the University of Virginia for debauchery, Poe was an army deserter, Poe seduced and blackmailed respectable women, Poe was addicted to opium, Poe was insane. And this from the man who (for murky reasons scholars still debate) Poe had named as his literary executor—which gave Griswold the chance to work even more mischief, altering Poe’s letters to make them more scandalous and cheating Poe’s family (in particular, his beloved aunt Maria “Muddy” Clemm) out of profits from posthumous sales of his work.

Sadly, Griswold’s crusade against Poe wasn’t just tireless: For decades, it was effective.

“In large part because of [Griswold], Poe was considered morally reprehensible,” Sova says. “His work was not thought of as a suitable model [for literature]. It was largely pushed aside in the United States and England for 50 years.”

In France, however, the perception of Poe as an opium-addled madman might have actually helped. The French poet Charles Baudelaire came to worship Poe, seeing in him not only a kindred spirit but a victim of parochialism and hypocrisy. Poe was, to him, the classic Misunderstood Genius. Baudelaire set out to right that wrong by praising Poe to anyone who’d listen and translating the writer’s tales into French.

“Baudelaire was a great press agent,” says Peeples, who devoted an entire book (The Afterlife of Edgar Allan Poe) to the writer’s image and how it’s evolved over time. “He really played up the idea that Poe was rebellious and decadent.”

As a result, Poe was regarded as a master in France long before his reputation was salvaged in his homeland.

When Poe was remembered in the US (which wasn’t by many) it was as a wild-eyed reprobate tortured by demons of his own creation. Which, if you think about it, is exactly the sort of image some PR-savvy horror or crime writers would kill to have today. This gothic, larger-than-life persona meshed perfectly with Poe’s dark tales, and it eventually gave him a sort of romantic glamour he couldn’t quite pull off when he was alive.

“On the one hand, the treatment of him after death created a lag in American appreciation of him,” says mystery/thriller author Matthew Pearl, a Poe enthusiast who edited and wrote the introduction for a recent Modern Library collection called The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales. “On the other hand, it built up a mystique that has helped his writing survive in posterity.”

That mystique didn’t just allow Poe’s works to live on: In a way, it’s kept Poe himself alive. He’s such a fascinating character that he’s been reincarnated time after time in other writers’ works.

Harold Schechter has penned a series of historical mysteries starring Poe (beginning with Nevermore in 2000), while English writer Andrew Taylor put a young Poe in peril in London in his 2003 novel The American Boy (released in the US as An Unpardonable Crime). More recently, Pearl and Louis Bayard both released Poe-focused books last year—on the same day, in fact. (Pearl’s The Poe Shadow imagines efforts to recruit the real C. Auguste Dupin to solve the mystery of Poe’s death). And this year, Joel Rose’s The Blackest Bird made Poe a suspect in the sensational murder that inspired “The Mystery of Marie Roget.”

Bayard says he’s not surprised in the slightest that so many other authors have wanted to use Poe as a character.

“It’s an act of humility,” Bayard explains. “You read Poe, you read Doyle, even Agatha Christie, and you realize they’re still the masters. And since every writer begins as a reader, it’s entirely fitting to pay homage to these masters in some way—in my case, by placing one at the center of a detective story, the genre he himself created.”

The Legacy
poe_edgarallanBy the end of the 19th century, Poe was finally getting his due. Not only were his contributions being acknowledged by Conan Doyle, the man who’d picked up the detective fiction torch he’d lit, Poe also had a host of other high-profile champions, including W.H. Auden, H.G. Wells, Fyodor Dostoevsky and George Bernard Shaw.

By the time the 20th century reached its mid-point, Poe wasn’t just famous again. He was respectable enough to pop up on high school reading lists alongside Twain, Melville, Hawthorne, Hemingway and other authors who’ve shaped American literature.

Which is no guarantee of immortality given the (complete lack of) enthusiasm the typical teenager brings to reading assignments. Fond of long, clause-choked sentences and untranslated quotes in Latin and French, Poe certainly doesn’t make it easy on young readers.

Could Poe have been rescued from obscurity only to be forgotten all over again by the next generation? Stephen King would like to think not.

“Poe’s stories are wonderful, and they still stand up,” the bestselling author says. “They’re as readable now as they were when I first encountered them in my teens.”

Of course, when King was a teen, he didn’t have MTV and PlayStation competing for his time (and shortening his attention span).

“Most kids today need some help to get hooked on Poe,” says suspense novelist Karen Harper, who has taught English at both the high school and collegiate levels (and wrote about her debt to Poe in the book Mystery Muses: 100 Classics That Inspire Today’s Mystery Writers). “As with someone like Dickens, today’s students don’t get why he doesn’t just ‘cut to the chase,’ as they are used to with horror flicks, TV or short stories today. The idea of setting the mood is something they need to understand.”

Take, for instance, the following sentence from “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (which opens with several pages of philosophizing about logic and “the analytical power” before even introducing C. Auguste Dupin).

“The faculty of re-solution is possibly much invigorated by mathematical study, and especially by that highest branch of it which, unjustly, and merely on account of its retrograde operations, has been called, as if par excellence, analysis."

To which your average high school freshman eloquently replies: “Huh?”

“The style’s certainly not what we think of as ‘modern,’” admits Bill Crider, another former college English teacher (and an Edgar nominee for a story in the 2006 anthology Damn Near Dead). “The opening paragraph of ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ has more adjectives in it than most novels now. [And in] his detective stories, like ‘The Purloined Letter,’ the solution can take up two-thirds of the story.”

Yet as dated as Poe’s work can sometimes seem, Crider insists that the author’s best tales are just as relevant as ever—particularly to anyone interested in the craft of writing.

“Poe’s always in the back of my mind,” says Crider (who contributed Poe pastiches to the anthologies Dark Destiny and Cat Crimes II). “‘The Cask of Amontillado’ is still a great revenge story, maybe the best ever.”

Rob Kantner agrees. The Shamus-winning author of the Ben Perkins PI series, Kantner also eulogized Poe in Mystery Muses, picking (like Crider) “The Cask of Amontillado” as an example of the author’s most powerful, enduring work.

“Compared with Poe, most of today’s authors, even the very respected ones, seem to me flabby, self-conscious and pretentious,” says Kantner. “I think studying him can still be good for writers, both new and experienced; for spareness, economy of prose, ability to build suspense.”

So even if the public-at-large remembers Poe as, alas, the creepy, Gomez Addams-looking author of quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore, mystery writers will always remember him differently.

“We are entwined with Poe,” says MWA historian and archivist Barry T. Zeman. “Without him, we would not have had this genre. He is our father and our symbol.”

MWA’s newest Grand Master puts it another way.

“Poe’s The Man,” King says. “What more can I say?”

Admin
2009-06-14 10:08:04

To most people these days, he’s that creepy guy. That horror guy. That Gomez Addams-looking guy who wrote about premature burials and black cats and a talking raven. And, yes—Edgar Allan Poe was that guy. But he was much, much more.

poebypoltgrayFor which we can all be thankful. Because if you’re reading this magazine, odds are you’re a mystery fan and/or writer. And if you’re a mystery fan and/or writer, you owe Poe...whether you know it or not.

“Poe is so ingrained in us—so deeply encoded into our cultural DNA—that we no longer recognize him,” says Louis Bayard, whose novel The Pale Blue Eye puts Poe at the center of a mystery during his days as a West Point cadet. “And yet whenever we write a mystery, whenever we write horror, whenever we write science fiction—whenever we write about obsession—we’re following in his tracks.”

“He wasn’t just a mystery/suspense writer,” adds the author many fans would describe as the modern Poe, Stephen King. “He was the first.”

So as the Mystery Writers of America prepares to hand out the annual Edgar Allan Poe Awards in April (including a Grand Master honor to King and poss- a Best Novel Award to Bayard), we thought the time was right to remind crime fiction fans why the honor’s named
after Poe in the first place.

After all, it’s not “the Arthur” or “the Dashiell.” It’s the Edgar.

Here’s why.


The Innovation
Edgar Poe was born on January 19, 1809. The middle name Allan didn’t come until later, after Poe’s father (an alcoholic actor) disappeared and his mother (an actress) died of tuberculosis. Only two years old when he was orphaned, young Edgar was taken in by John Allan, a wealthy Virginia merchant. But the lad’s luck never improved much after that tragic start to life.

It was Allan’s wife, Frances, who bonded with the child. Allan himself never did—in fact, Allan never even formally adopted him. As Poe matured into manhood, the two quarreled constantly. Poe saw Allan as cold and stingy. Allan considered Poe self-indulgent and irresponsible. Not long after Frances died, Poe found himself penniless and adrift.

ravenHe tried to keep himself afloat the only way he knew how: writing. After self-publishing his first books (poetry collections that barely made a ripple before sinking into obscurity), he began selling stories to newspapers and magazines. That eventually led to positions as an editor/staff writer/critic at a string of publications—as well as the appearance of many of the short stories (or “tales” as they were known at the time) for which he would one day be famous.
Although today Poe’s often associated with the horror genre, his tales didn’t dwell on the supernatural. Instead, they often took a psychological approach to stories of crime and tragedy. As Bayard notes, Poe seemed obsessed with obsession. “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” are both narrated by psychotic killers driven to destroy themselves by guilt-fueled hallucinations. In “The Oval Portrait,” an artist becomes so fixated on finishing a painting, he doesn’t even notice that his beautiful model—his wife—is dead. And even “The Fall of the House of Usher” isn’t a ghost story, as so many readers seem to remember it. It’s about a twisted, quasi-incestuous relationship between a young woman and the brother who tries to have her interred alive.

Of course, Poe wasn’t the only writer cranking out dark tales about dirty deeds. The day of the “penny dreadful” was dawning, and there were outlets aplenty for blood-drenched shockers. Yet Poe stood apart from the hack pack, partially thanks to his emphasis on aberrant psychology, and partially because Poe’s imagination so far out-stripped his rivals.

“Poe was an innovator,” says Dawn B. Sova, author of Edgar Allan Poe A to Z and Critical Companion to Edgar Allan Poe. “He was not the first to tackle morbid subjects. He just pushed the envelope.”

Eventually, Poe wasn’t just pushing the envelope anymore. With his story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” he created one all his own: the tale of ratiocination. Or, as it later came to be called, the mystery.

Always fascinated with puzzles and cryptograms, Poe frequently wrote columns challenging readers to send him a code he couldn’t break. In “Rue Morgue,” he did what no other writer had yet thought to do—took that kind of intellectual challenge and used it as the hook for a work of fiction.

A mother and daughter are found horribly mutilated in a locked room. The police are baffled. Only a brilliant amateur, C. Auguste Dupin, can provide an explanation, which he arrives at purely through the application of cold, precise logic. The tale is told by the dilettante detective’s unnamed roommate, who later returned to relate two more of Dupin’s cases: “The Mystery of Marie Roget” (1842) and “The Purloined Letter” (1844), both of which also hinge on detection and deduction rather than blood and thunder.

“Poe almost single-handedly invented the puzzle element of detective fiction that later came to dominate the genres of mystery and crime,” says Boston University English professor Charles Rzepka.

“There were other writers dealing in mystery and suspense, but not this kind of detective work or ratiocination,” adds Scott Peeples, associate professor of English at the College of Charleston in South Carolina and the current president of the Poe Studies Association. “I don’t think someone else would have come up with it, really. Not one of Poe’s contemporaries, anyway. The character of Dupin, the structure of the stories and the idea of proving oneself to be the intellectual champ—that stuff is intrinsic to Poe. Even when Poe’s not writing detective fiction, there’s often a similar element of gamesmanship.”

Rzepka (whose book Detective Fiction tracks the development of the genre) calls Dupin “the grandaddy of all modern literary detectives.” But it was one literary detective in particular who would pick up where grandpa left off, creating a sensation that helped cement the popularity of the mystery before the genre even had a name.

doyle_studyinscarletThat detective, of course, was Sherlock Holmes. Holmes and his sidekick, Dr. Watson, even acknowledged their literary heritage in “A Study in Scarlet.”
“You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin,” Watson tells his friend. “I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories.”

“No doubt you think that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin,” Holmes replies. “Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow....”
Despite the haughtiness of Holmes’ dismissal, the character’s creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, was offering a sincere (if cheeky) tip of the deerstalker to a writer who’d paved the way for him.

“Conan Doyle never failed to acknowledge his debt to Poe,” says Daniel Stashower, who’s written about both the English author (in the Edgar-winning Conan Doyle biography The Teller of Tales) and his American predecessor (in the Edgar-nominated 2006 book The Beautiful Cigar Girl, which explores how “The Mystery of Marie Roget” grew out of a real-life murder case).

“‘To [Poe] must be ascribed the monstrous progeny of writers on the detection of crime,’ Conan Doyle once wrote. ‘Each may find some little development of his own, but his main art must trace back to those admirable stories of Monsieur Dupin....’ Elsewhere, he was more succinct: ‘Poe is the master of all.’”
Such high praise would have come as a surprise to the writers and critics of the previous generation, since to them it appeared that Poe was the master of nothing, except perhaps living shamefully and dying young.

The Betrayal
While he had the occasional brush with fame and fortune (most notably after the publication of the poem “The Raven” in 1845), Poe squandered whatever opportunities came within reach. Erratic behavior (exacerbated by alcohol and the long decline and death of his wife) and a string of literary feuds (fueled by his insightful but often vicious reviews) had all but wrecked his career. The sordid, murky details of his death were, appropriately enough, the last nail in the coffin for his literary reputation.

Poe died in 1849 shortly after being found roaming the streets of Baltimore in another man’s clothes. Some accounts say he was drunk, others say he was delirious. Either way, no one knows what exactly killed him. Had he been beaten? Drugged? Bitten by a rabid cat? Infected with cholera? A new theory seems to emerge every year.

Even dead, however, Poe had to withstand one final stab in the back. An editor with whom Poe had often clashed, Rufus Griswold, wrote an anonymous obituary that began, “Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it.” It got worse from there, painting Poe as a debauched lunatic.

Later Griswold went even further, penning a Poe “memoir” that was filled with slanders: Poe had been expelled from the University of Virginia for debauchery, Poe was an army deserter, Poe seduced and blackmailed respectable women, Poe was addicted to opium, Poe was insane. And this from the man who (for murky reasons scholars still debate) Poe had named as his literary executor—which gave Griswold the chance to work even more mischief, altering Poe’s letters to make them more scandalous and cheating Poe’s family (in particular, his beloved aunt Maria “Muddy” Clemm) out of profits from posthumous sales of his work.

Sadly, Griswold’s crusade against Poe wasn’t just tireless: For decades, it was effective.

“In large part because of [Griswold], Poe was considered morally reprehensible,” Sova says. “His work was not thought of as a suitable model [for literature]. It was largely pushed aside in the United States and England for 50 years.”

In France, however, the perception of Poe as an opium-addled madman might have actually helped. The French poet Charles Baudelaire came to worship Poe, seeing in him not only a kindred spirit but a victim of parochialism and hypocrisy. Poe was, to him, the classic Misunderstood Genius. Baudelaire set out to right that wrong by praising Poe to anyone who’d listen and translating the writer’s tales into French.

“Baudelaire was a great press agent,” says Peeples, who devoted an entire book (The Afterlife of Edgar Allan Poe) to the writer’s image and how it’s evolved over time. “He really played up the idea that Poe was rebellious and decadent.”

As a result, Poe was regarded as a master in France long before his reputation was salvaged in his homeland.

When Poe was remembered in the US (which wasn’t by many) it was as a wild-eyed reprobate tortured by demons of his own creation. Which, if you think about it, is exactly the sort of image some PR-savvy horror or crime writers would kill to have today. This gothic, larger-than-life persona meshed perfectly with Poe’s dark tales, and it eventually gave him a sort of romantic glamour he couldn’t quite pull off when he was alive.

“On the one hand, the treatment of him after death created a lag in American appreciation of him,” says mystery/thriller author Matthew Pearl, a Poe enthusiast who edited and wrote the introduction for a recent Modern Library collection called The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales. “On the other hand, it built up a mystique that has helped his writing survive in posterity.”

That mystique didn’t just allow Poe’s works to live on: In a way, it’s kept Poe himself alive. He’s such a fascinating character that he’s been reincarnated time after time in other writers’ works.

Harold Schechter has penned a series of historical mysteries starring Poe (beginning with Nevermore in 2000), while English writer Andrew Taylor put a young Poe in peril in London in his 2003 novel The American Boy (released in the US as An Unpardonable Crime). More recently, Pearl and Louis Bayard both released Poe-focused books last year—on the same day, in fact. (Pearl’s The Poe Shadow imagines efforts to recruit the real C. Auguste Dupin to solve the mystery of Poe’s death). And this year, Joel Rose’s The Blackest Bird made Poe a suspect in the sensational murder that inspired “The Mystery of Marie Roget.”

Bayard says he’s not surprised in the slightest that so many other authors have wanted to use Poe as a character.

“It’s an act of humility,” Bayard explains. “You read Poe, you read Doyle, even Agatha Christie, and you realize they’re still the masters. And since every writer begins as a reader, it’s entirely fitting to pay homage to these masters in some way—in my case, by placing one at the center of a detective story, the genre he himself created.”

The Legacy
poe_edgarallanBy the end of the 19th century, Poe was finally getting his due. Not only were his contributions being acknowledged by Conan Doyle, the man who’d picked up the detective fiction torch he’d lit, Poe also had a host of other high-profile champions, including W.H. Auden, H.G. Wells, Fyodor Dostoevsky and George Bernard Shaw.

By the time the 20th century reached its mid-point, Poe wasn’t just famous again. He was respectable enough to pop up on high school reading lists alongside Twain, Melville, Hawthorne, Hemingway and other authors who’ve shaped American literature.

Which is no guarantee of immortality given the (complete lack of) enthusiasm the typical teenager brings to reading assignments. Fond of long, clause-choked sentences and untranslated quotes in Latin and French, Poe certainly doesn’t make it easy on young readers.

Could Poe have been rescued from obscurity only to be forgotten all over again by the next generation? Stephen King would like to think not.

“Poe’s stories are wonderful, and they still stand up,” the bestselling author says. “They’re as readable now as they were when I first encountered them in my teens.”

Of course, when King was a teen, he didn’t have MTV and PlayStation competing for his time (and shortening his attention span).

“Most kids today need some help to get hooked on Poe,” says suspense novelist Karen Harper, who has taught English at both the high school and collegiate levels (and wrote about her debt to Poe in the book Mystery Muses: 100 Classics That Inspire Today’s Mystery Writers). “As with someone like Dickens, today’s students don’t get why he doesn’t just ‘cut to the chase,’ as they are used to with horror flicks, TV or short stories today. The idea of setting the mood is something they need to understand.”

Take, for instance, the following sentence from “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (which opens with several pages of philosophizing about logic and “the analytical power” before even introducing C. Auguste Dupin).

“The faculty of re-solution is possibly much invigorated by mathematical study, and especially by that highest branch of it which, unjustly, and merely on account of its retrograde operations, has been called, as if par excellence, analysis."

To which your average high school freshman eloquently replies: “Huh?”

“The style’s certainly not what we think of as ‘modern,’” admits Bill Crider, another former college English teacher (and an Edgar nominee for a story in the 2006 anthology Damn Near Dead). “The opening paragraph of ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ has more adjectives in it than most novels now. [And in] his detective stories, like ‘The Purloined Letter,’ the solution can take up two-thirds of the story.”

Yet as dated as Poe’s work can sometimes seem, Crider insists that the author’s best tales are just as relevant as ever—particularly to anyone interested in the craft of writing.

“Poe’s always in the back of my mind,” says Crider (who contributed Poe pastiches to the anthologies Dark Destiny and Cat Crimes II). “‘The Cask of Amontillado’ is still a great revenge story, maybe the best ever.”

Rob Kantner agrees. The Shamus-winning author of the Ben Perkins PI series, Kantner also eulogized Poe in Mystery Muses, picking (like Crider) “The Cask of Amontillado” as an example of the author’s most powerful, enduring work.

“Compared with Poe, most of today’s authors, even the very respected ones, seem to me flabby, self-conscious and pretentious,” says Kantner. “I think studying him can still be good for writers, both new and experienced; for spareness, economy of prose, ability to build suspense.”

So even if the public-at-large remembers Poe as, alas, the creepy, Gomez Addams-looking author of quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore, mystery writers will always remember him differently.

“We are entwined with Poe,” says MWA historian and archivist Barry T. Zeman. “Without him, we would not have had this genre. He is our father and our symbol.”

MWA’s newest Grand Master puts it another way.

“Poe’s The Man,” King says. “What more can I say?”

Bury Me Deep
Hank Wagner

As with 2007's The Song is You, Megan Abbott was inspired to write Bury Me Deep by a true story. The former was based on the disappearance of actress Jean Spangler from Los Angeles in 1949; her new novel is based on the story of Winnie Ruth Judd, also known as the "Trunk Murderess," the "Tiger Woman," and the "Blonde Butcher." Here, the Winnie Ruth Judd analog is the lonely nurse Marion Seeley (abandoned by her strange husband), who falls under the influence of her colleague, the feisty Louise Mercer, and Louise's gal pal Ginny, both ladies famous for the raucous social life they lead. It's at a gathering of theirs that Marion meets Joe Lanigan. Sparks fly, and they embark on an affair that ultimately leads to disaster, as you might intuit if you reflect on Abbott's clever character names.

With her first three novels, Megan Abbott has already been nominated twice for the Edgar Award, crime writing's most prestigious honor: once for best first novel for Die A Little and again for best novel, taking that prize with her last book, Queenpin. Is a third nomination out of the question? Certainly not—Bury Me Deep is a compelling, almost hypnotic piece of work, one sure to garner Abbott even more attention. Reminiscent of the works of Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy, Bury Me Deep is another jewel in the crown of one of the reigning monarchs of modern noir.

Admin
2009-08-31 19:08:42

As with 2007's The Song is You, Megan Abbott was inspired to write Bury Me Deep by a true story. The former was based on the disappearance of actress Jean Spangler from Los Angeles in 1949; her new novel is based on the story of Winnie Ruth Judd, also known as the "Trunk Murderess," the "Tiger Woman," and the "Blonde Butcher." Here, the Winnie Ruth Judd analog is the lonely nurse Marion Seeley (abandoned by her strange husband), who falls under the influence of her colleague, the feisty Louise Mercer, and Louise's gal pal Ginny, both ladies famous for the raucous social life they lead. It's at a gathering of theirs that Marion meets Joe Lanigan. Sparks fly, and they embark on an affair that ultimately leads to disaster, as you might intuit if you reflect on Abbott's clever character names.

With her first three novels, Megan Abbott has already been nominated twice for the Edgar Award, crime writing's most prestigious honor: once for best first novel for Die A Little and again for best novel, taking that prize with her last book, Queenpin. Is a third nomination out of the question? Certainly not—Bury Me Deep is a compelling, almost hypnotic piece of work, one sure to garner Abbott even more attention. Reminiscent of the works of Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy, Bury Me Deep is another jewel in the crown of one of the reigning monarchs of modern noir.

Trixie Belden the Girl-Next-Door Sleuth
Judith Sears

belden_trixie_onbike

In 1948, Trixie Belden strode into the annals of children's mysteries, taking her place as one of the most distinctive and appealing girl sleuths ever created.

Thirteen (then fourteen) years old, Trixie Belden loved horses, hated chores, and charged headlong into adventure.

The Trixie Belden series was created by Julie Campbell Tatham (and published under her maiden name, Campbell), in response to Western Publishing's call for fast-moving, inexpensive children's books. Almost immediately, the series won legions of fans, including some of today's notable mystery writers.

"There is no doubt that my characters were influenced by the Trixie Belden series," says Agatha-winner Earlene Fowler. "Fans tell me that my detective, Benni Harper, makes them feel that they know what happened to Trixie when she grew up. I'm proud of that," Fowler continues. "It's good fiction and Julie Campbell had a good voice."

Denise Swanson (Murder of a Barbie and Ken) went so far as to give her detective, Skye Dennison, a best friend named Trixie. "I thought maybe one or two people would get my sly joke," Swanson laughs. "But a whole group of Trixie fans showed up at a book signing I did in Ohio!"

Trixie also shows up as the cherished childhood reading of a pivotal character in Keith Ablow's suspense novel, Denial. "My wife was an avid reader of Trixie Belden as a young girl," explains Ablow, who is also a forensic psychiatrist. He was intrigued and impressed by his wife's quest to collect a complete set of Trixie Belden books. "She doesn't have art work or dolls from her childhood: she has her Trixie Belden books. I thought that was a powerful, powerful fact. I imagine these books must hold a special place in a number of little girls lives."

It's easy to condescend to these books as "kiddie potboilers," which, in fact, they are. But that overlooks the real achievements that made the series so memorable. For Campbell salted the contrivances of the genre with witty dialogue, strong characters and a vivid evocation of locale.

Trixie lives at Crabapple Farm in the Hudson River valley, along with her parents and three brothers: 16 year-old Brian, 14 year-old Mart; and six-year old Bobby. Modeled on Campbell's own home just outside of Ossining, New York, Crabapple Farm sits a few miles outside of fictional "Sleepyside-on-Hudson," a name derived from combining "Sleepy Hollow" and "Sunnyside," the name of Washington Irving's home.

tatham_trixiebeldensecretofmansionThe first three books introduce most of the series' regular characters and set the pattern for the remainder of the series. The Secret of the Mansion and its companion volume, The Red Trailer Mystery, chronicle the adventures and blossoming friendships of Trixie and her new neighbor, the wealthy, but lonely and timid Honey Wheeler, and Jim Frayne, a hot-tempered, resourceful runaway. The trio find a fortune in the dilapidated "Miser's Mansion," rescue Jim from a venal and abusive stepfather, and outwit trailer thieves on their way to finding Jim a home as the Wheeler's newly adopted son.

When Trixie's older brothers come home from summer camp in the third volume, The Gatehouse Mystery, the teens form a club, the Bob-Whites of the Glen, vowing to help others and be like "one big family." In between swimming, horseback riding, baby-sitting, and other activities, Trixie and the Bob-Whites catch big city diamond thieves.

Later volumes added two more regulars, Diana Lynch, the school beauty, and Dan Mangan, the rebel who's been misunderstood, but with The Gatehouse Mystery the world of the series is formed. Trixie is firmly situated in a close-knit circle of family and friends. This sense of community exercises a strong appeal for many readers. "Trixie's is a world you want to be in," says Jennifer Dussling, currently the Trixie Belden editor at Random House. "Not everything is about moving the plot along: sometimes they're just hanging out and toasting marshmallows."

Fowler agrees and believes that the ensemble cast influenced her own creative choices. "My books are much more multicultural, but the family feeling is there, just like it is in the Trixie Belden books."

Further, the various characters are often distinctly drawn individuals. "These books taught me to pay attention to how characters speak," says Lora Roberts, author of Another Fine Mess. "Trixie and her friends are alive and are fomenting the action. They're doing things that develop naturally out of their characters and situations."

In the late 1940's, Trixie herself was something of a breakthrough character. "Trixie raised readers' expectations of what a girl character can be," says Octavia Spencer, co-author of the new Rock Holler Gang series which features a female leader. "She is not afraid to go after what she wants."

campbell_trixiebeldenmysteryoffglenrdWhile she's a strong character, she's not perfect. Especially in the first six books, the action of the mystery often coincides with Trixie's personal development. This personal stake sets the series apart from many mysteries where the detective's derring-do and insight solves someone else's problems. Nancy Drew stories, for example, often have a sense of noblesse oblige, Nancy arriving in well-heeled, well-groomed poise to solve the problems of those not quite so quick-witted or fortunately situated as she. Trixie, in contrast, is younger and not quite put together : either in wardrobe or personality. Like most adolescents, she's a welter of possibilities. She loves and readily sacrifices to help her family and friends. But she also jumps to conclusions about people.

Early in The Secret of the Mansion she bluntly dismisses the crotchety neighbor, Mr. Frayne, as a "greedy old miser" and wonders how he could have panicked so completely when his wife was bitten by a copperhead.

A few chapters later, Trixie faces the identical challenge when kid brother, Bobby, is bitten by a copperhead while her parents are away. Trixie administers first aid and, with Honey's help, gets a doctor out to Crabapple Farm. During the emergency she demonstrates a courage and level-headedness that had eluded old Mr. Frayne. But she also comes to empathize with his plight: "every minute of the long wait Trixie lived in her imagination with Old Mr. Frayne and his wife on a lonely road in a car that wouldn't start. 'I guess I'd go crazy too if that happened to me,' she admitted"

It's a classic Trixie developmental moment: her strengths are confirmed and she begins to recognize and outgrow her weaknesses. "People are lovable and admirable when they're working to become what they can be," observes Swanson. "That's what we see in Trixie throughout the books. She's working to become a better person and she always acknowledges when she makes a mistake."

This psychological realism extends to other aspects of the books. While in some ways Crabapple Farm represents an idyllic slice of Americana, the books can throw some big challenges at Trixie and her friends. "People look at the books and say, 'how sweet,' but some issues, such as Jim Frayne's troubled home life, are the precursors for the young adult fiction of the 1970's," Fowler notes. "I don't think Campbell is given enough credit for being ahead of her time."

The Mystery Off Glen Road is a case in point. As the book opens Trixie and Honey are happily contemplating the "perfectly perfect" clubhouse they've been restoring over the course of the previous two books. But they wake up the next morning to find their clubhouse and hard work nearly destroyed by a blizzard. The remainder of the book follows the teens as they put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

belden_trixie_pedalpushers"That's a lesson in life and it's quite a foreshadowing of adulthood," says Swanson who also holds down a day job as a school psychologist. "I see many kids nowadays who aren't as equipped to handle those disappointments. Parents step in and rescue them more than I think is good. This was a turning point for these characters."

For the adult reader, the mysteries themselves sometimes aren't especially well-crafted or convincing. Even so, Roberts believes that the books taught her some valuable storytelling lessons. "Campbell didn't just bring clues in and drop them. Her clues have an actual place in the narrative. For example, Jim's christening mug puts his evil stepfather on his trail in The Secret of the Mansion as well as the trailer thieves in The Red Trailer Mystery. The same mug leads Trixie to him. I doubt that Campbell initially planned for the christening mug to keep turning up: but once she got the clue she carried it forward."

Campbell exploits the specifics of landscape and locale, e.g., copperheads and catamounts, in developing Sleepyside. Later series authors also built on the area's heritage, such as Washington Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow." "The town seemed so real, I was shocked to find there was no Sleepyside in our atlas," recalls children's author Kathryn Reiss.

Years later, the tables were turned when Reiss created the fictional town of Garnet, Massachusetts, for two of her books. She was pleased and amused to receive a letter from a young reader who had tried to locate Garnet while on family vacation. "Shades of Sleepyside!" she says.

A total of 39 Trixie Belden volumes were published between 1948 and 1986. Campbell, however, left the series after the first six books. Subsequent volumes, published under the house name, "Kathryn Kenny," were written by authors of varying abilities and allegiance to Campbell's original vision. But the pattern of a spirited girl and her friends working together and solving mysteries survived.

So did fan loyalty, sending prices soaring at online auction sites. The four volumes Random House reissued in 2003 have already been through multiple printings and the publisher has announced plans for reissuing at least the first 15 volumes.

The small-town, harum-scarum girl with PI ambitions turns out to have staying power. "These were by no means meant to be classic kids books," says Swanson. "They were meant to be pulp fiction for kids. But Trixie tunnels her way into your heart and so many of us still love her."

Trixie Belden, it seems, is here to stay and delight a new generation of young readers and, just possibly, influence another generation of mystery writers.

Judith Sears is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. Visit her online at sleepysidezone.com.

Admin
2009-10-01 13:19:31

belden_trixie_crop2In 1948, Trixie Belden strode into the annals of children's mysteries, taking her place as one of the most distinctive and appealing girl sleuths ever created.

Types of Material
Mystery Scene

Articles

We are interested in articles on a variety of topics within the crime & mystery genre. These include: essays on various writers, articles on book collecting, appreciations of particular books or subgenres of mystery fiction, biographical sketches of interesting people in the mystery world, historical pieces, articles on film/television/radio, etc., opinion pieces, and the occasional rant. Payment is negotiated with the editor in advance; payment is upon publication. Length: 800 to 2,000 words.

Interviews

Mystery Scene offers a wide variety of interviews. In addition to novelists, people we would particularly like to chat with: film/tv writers; film/tv directors and producers; book collectors; biographers; playwrights; librarians and museum curators of mystery-oriented collections.

Interviews may range from 800 to 1,000 words; shorter lengths are preferred. The subject should be introduced in a biographical preface. For interviews with writers, please include a booklist with publication years noted. The format may be in "Q&A" style or in article style with quotes. Query the editor in advance for approval, payment details and possible help with contacting interview subjects. [PLEASE NOTE that we receive more interview queries than any other type of correspondence. If you're trying to break into Mystery Scene, then an article would have a better chance.]

Book Reviews

The length of the reviews should range from 100-250 words. By publishing short, but sharp, reviews we hope to cover as many as possible of the 800+ mystery titles published annually. We supply the books and a small payment. When making inquiries, please include two sample reviews (with publication details) and mention what types of mysteries you prefer.

Please query Teri Duer This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

New Books Pieces

Authors of upcoming books are encouraged to send in short essays about their new titles. These essays are meant to entertain and intrigue potential readers, so be creative. Some examples: real-life inspirations for plot and characters; unusual research; issues raised in the book and why they were of interest to you; the story's locale or time period.

Humor is good, detailed plot summaries are not. Please include publication details (publisher, price, month of publication). These essays should be submitted via e-mail. Please provide author photo, book jacket, and any other photo that could accompany the essay by email. Any photo taken with a digital camera should be fine. If you are scanning a photo, use 300 dpi resolution.

There is no payment for these pieces. The length should range from 400 to 500 words. Please query This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Letters To The Editor and Miscellaneous Items

If you'd like to send correspondence for our "Letters" section, please clearly mark your submission as intended for that section. We'd love to hear from you! Miscellaneous trivia, poems, jokes, quotes & anecdotes are always welcome and will be credited if you remember to identify yourself. (Full names, please.) We also appreciate receiving news items and pertinent press releases.

As a service to our readers we will print information on Book Club Guides in our "Letters" section. Authors should This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. information to the editor—including the contact information you want printed.

Admin
2009-10-01 19:52:14

Articles

We are interested in articles on a variety of topics within the crime & mystery genre. These include: essays on various writers, articles on book collecting, appreciations of particular books or subgenres of mystery fiction, biographical sketches of interesting people in the mystery world, historical pieces, articles on film/television/radio, etc., opinion pieces, and the occasional rant. Payment is negotiated with the editor in advance; payment is upon publication. Length: 800 to 2,000 words.

Interviews

Mystery Scene offers a wide variety of interviews. In addition to novelists, people we would particularly like to chat with: film/tv writers; film/tv directors and producers; book collectors; biographers; playwrights; librarians and museum curators of mystery-oriented collections.

Interviews may range from 800 to 1,000 words; shorter lengths are preferred. The subject should be introduced in a biographical preface. For interviews with writers, please include a booklist with publication years noted. The format may be in "Q&A" style or in article style with quotes. Query the editor in advance for approval, payment details and possible help with contacting interview subjects. [PLEASE NOTE that we receive more interview queries than any other type of correspondence. If you're trying to break into Mystery Scene, then an article would have a better chance.]

Book Reviews

The length of the reviews should range from 100-250 words. By publishing short, but sharp, reviews we hope to cover as many as possible of the 800+ mystery titles published annually. We supply the books and a small payment. When making inquiries, please include two sample reviews (with publication details) and mention what types of mysteries you prefer.

Please query Teri Duer This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

New Books Pieces

Authors of upcoming books are encouraged to send in short essays about their new titles. These essays are meant to entertain and intrigue potential readers, so be creative. Some examples: real-life inspirations for plot and characters; unusual research; issues raised in the book and why they were of interest to you; the story's locale or time period.

Humor is good, detailed plot summaries are not. Please include publication details (publisher, price, month of publication). These essays should be submitted via e-mail. Please provide author photo, book jacket, and any other photo that could accompany the essay by email. Any photo taken with a digital camera should be fine. If you are scanning a photo, use 300 dpi resolution.

There is no payment for these pieces. The length should range from 400 to 500 words. Please query Brian Skupin This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Letters To The Editor and Miscellaneous Items

If you'd like to send correspondence for our "Letters" section, please clearly mark your submission as intended for that section. We'd love to hear from you! Miscellaneous trivia, poems, jokes, quotes & anecdotes are always welcome and will be credited if you remember to identify yourself. (Full names, please.) We also appreciate receiving news items and pertinent press releases.

As a service to our readers we will print information on Book Club Guides in our "Letters" section. Authors should This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. information to the editor—including the contact information you want printed.

The Trans-Atlantic Eye
Adrian Muller

With Britain's rich tradition in crime fiction, it is surprising that this organisation is only just celebrating its 50th year. Its American counterpart, the Mystery Writers of America, banded together in March 1945, taking their inspiration from the British Detection Club. The latter was founded in 1928, but limited its membership to only a chosen few. The MWA from the very start allowed all writers of mystery fiction to join.

It wasn't until eight years later, on the 5th of November: Guy Fawkes Night in England: that John Creasey convened a meeting at the National Liberal Club to form an organisation along the lines of its American equal. According to the minutes of that day those present, all authors of crime stories, were: Josephine Bell, John Bude, John Creasey, Ernest Dudley, Elizabeth Ferrars, Andrew Garve, Bruce Graeme, Leonard Gribble, T.C.H. Jacobs, Nigel Morland, Colin Robertson and Julian Symons.

The notes go on to say that "it was unanimously agreed that those present should found forthwith an association of crime writers, the specific purpose of which should be to raise the prestige and fortunes of mystery, detective story and crime writing and writers generally." And so the Crime Writers' Association came to be.

Chairing the association through its first three years was John Creasey who, to this day, is the only person to have presided over both the CWA and the MWA. (Creasey was MWA president from 1966-1967.) MWA also presented the author with a Grand Master Award in 1969. That Creasey had time for anything other than writing is impressive: the St. James Guide to Crime & Mystery Writers credits him with 24 pseudonyms and 8 pages of book entries!

Over the years the association has opened up its membership to non-British authors published in the U.K., agents, editors and other professionals in the field. Most people of note have become members of the CWA, however, Agatha Christie, arguably the best known British crime-writer, never joined. When asked if she would like to become a member she replied that she was at a time in her life where she felt happier resigning from things rather than joining them. She also said that, "what you want in your association are the up-and-comings, not those sliding happily down to the grave.Ó The Christie Estate, however, has been a generous benefactor of the CWA over the years.

Soon after its founding a newsletter came into being. Initially called CWA News, it was later renamed Red Herrings, and is only available to CWA members.

One thing that the association does publish for the general public are anthologies. The first was called Butcher's Dozen, and the most recent instalment, Mysterious Pleasures, appeared earlier this year, in time to celebrate the anniversary. It was edited by Martin Edwards (author of the crime novels featuring Liverpool lawyer Harry Devlin), and the contributors include Robert Barnard, John Creasey, Lindsey Davis, Colin Dexter, Dick Francis, Val McDermid, Peter Lovesey, Ian Rankin, and Ellis Peters. Each story is by a member who has won a Diamond or a Gold Dagger Award, or served as Chairman of the CWA. (Some have done all three.)

The CWA Dagger Award was first presented in 1955 to Winston Graham for The Little Walls. Initially there was only one award, that for Best Crime Novel. Since then other awards have been added, including the Diamond Dagger for lifetime contribution to crime writing. Visit <www.thecwa.co.uk> for a full list of past winners.
Besides John Creasey, other luminaries such as H.R.F. Keating, Dick Francis, Peter Lovesey, Ian Rankin and Lindsey Davis have chaired the CWA. The present Chairman is Hillary Bonner, and she passes the reins to historic crime novelist Michael Jecks in early 2004. Her last official duty will be to hand the 2004 recipient of the Cartier Diamond Dagger their award at a ceremony in May. For details of the winner see the next issue of Mystery Scene.

Poirot Complete In the run up to Christmas in the U.K., David Suchet appeared in two more feature length television dramas of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot novels (Five Little Pigs and Sad Cypress). If fans are chuffed to hear that two further episodes are currently being filmed (including Death on the Nile), they will be thrilled to hear that Suchet doesn't want to stop until all the books featuring the Belgian sleuth have been adapted. Says the actor, "I've done nearly 50 so far and there are 16 more to go. I think everyone's keen to do more, although nothing's been spoken about it directly as yet.Ó The CWA Debut Dagger This award, for unpublished books, was set up to encourage new writers. It is sponsored by Orion and awarded on the basis of one chapter and a synopsis.

As you will see below, Kirsty Evans was the 2003 recipient of the Debut Dagger. The 26-year-old Australian was one of the hundreds of contestants from more than half a dozen countries who entered the competition run by the British Crime Writers' Association. Evans, a finalist in 2002, turned down offers from several agencies to sign up with Gregory & Co, the company that represents Val McDermid and Minette Walters. So far all the winners: and many of the short-listed authors: have gone on to be published. Ed Wright, the 2001 winner from America, saw his Clea's Moon hit the bookshelves on both sides of the Atlantic last year. Margaret Dumas, a 2003 nominee from the U.S. has since been contacted by several agents, and her manuscript, Speak Now, has received an offer from an American publishing house.

The Debut Dagger competition is judged by top agents and crime editors from well-respected publishing houses and will be held again this year. Entries will be accepted from 1 March to 31 August, 2004. For details of how to avoid publishers' slush-piles and have an opportunity to become a published author, visit the Debut Dagger page at <www.thecwa.co.uk>.

Kirsty Evans, The Cuckoo

Also nominated were:

Duncan Brewer, The Woman From Smyrna

Sandra Charan, The Third Room

Margaret Dumas, Speak Now

Avriel Geneson, Speak No Evil

Judy Larkin, Without Apparent Reason

Peter Wynn Norris, The Long Train

Bryon Quertermous, Lunchbox Hero

Chris Rose, Driftlines

Melissa Kate Rowberry, The Mouths of Men

Maria E. Schneider, Soul of the Desert

Michael Shenton, The Amazing GM Dog

Betty Jacque, Days of Future Past

Otis Twelve, On the Albi

Visit the CWA website at <www.thecwa.co.uk>

Adrian Muller is a U.K. based freelance journalist and events organiser specialising in crime fiction. Email: <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>.

Admin
2009-10-01 20:00:02

2003 Daggers

At a luncheon ceremony on Thursday, the 13th of November, 2003, the British Crime Writers' Association announced the winners of their annual Dagger Awards (see MS #82 for the winners). In addition to the usual awards a special one was presented to celebrate the CWA's 50th anniversary. The recipient was the association's founder, John Creasey. This was nothing short of a miracle because Creasey died in 1973, which might explain why he looked remarkably like Peter Lovesey.

Crippen & Landru Raising the Bar
Mark Terry

crippen_landru

A chat with Crippen and Landru's Douglas Greene on a decade of publishing Max Allan Collins, Marcia Muller, Peter Lovesey, Ed Hoch, and other great writers.

You could say that publisher Douglas Greene's career path began on a yellow brick road.

A bibliophile since childhood, Greene and his brother Dave had gathered a near-complete collection of Wizard of Oz works by L. Frank Baum. Realizing there was little left to acquire, they decided to auction off the entire collection, expecting it might go for 30 or 40 thousand dollars. "We decided we could use the money for our kids' college tuition," says Greene.

The collection went for $175,000. After paying taxes, the auction house and putting the kids through school, Greene found he still had three or four thousand dollars left over.

So in 1994, the Old Dominion University history professor started a small press devoted to mystery fiction and named after two murderers, H.H. Crippen and Henri Landru. Greene was already the author of an Edgar-nominated biography of John Dickson Carr, so he debuted with a collection of Carr's short stories. C & L's second book was a collection of short stories by Marcia Muller.

The pattern was set. Crippen & Landru, comprised of Greene, along with his wife Sandi and their son Eric, would be devoted to publishing single-author short story collections.

collins_kissesofdeathMax Allan Collins, whose collection Kisses of Death: A Nathan Heller Casebook appeared in 2001, says, "Mystery writers and fans alike owe Doug Greene and C&L a great debt of thanks. Without them, precious little of the short fiction of the last thirty years would be preserved in book form, certainly not in 'single author' collections. The books are classy-looking and Doug's scholarship in attaching bibliographies adds a touch that is at once nicely fan-ish and entirely professional...two qualities that don't come together that often."

In the ten years since opening its literary doors, C&L has published over 50 books by such mystery stars as Marcia Muller, Peter Lovesey, Ed Hoch, Joe Gores and Lawrence Block. "If anybody had told me that we'd last ten years, I don't know if I would have believed it," says Doug Greene. "The surprising thing is we're still around and increasing our market."

Crippen & Landru's "Regular Series" is made up primarily of works by contemporary mystery writers. The books are published in two forms: Signed, numbered, clothbound, limited to 175-300 copies, each with a page tipped-in of the author's typescript or with an additional story in a standalone pamphlet. The Regular Series is also available, unsigned, in trade softcover.

Eric Greene handles the "Lost Classics Series," available in cloth and trade softcover, which are collections of stories by vintage authors. So far, there are ten volumes devoted to works by writers such as Craig Rice, Peter Godfrey and Gerald Kersh. There are more on the way, too, including collections by Erle Stanley Gardner, Gladys Mitchell and Rafael Sabatini.

By all accounts, authors love working with Crippen & Landru. Margaret Maron, whose second collection, Suitable for Hanging will be out in 2004, says, "I find Doug Greene such a pleasure to work with. He asks for my input, listens to what I have to say, and answers my letters even faster than members of my own family."

Author Jerry Healy, whose second collection, Cuddy Plus One, came out in June 2003, agrees. "I imagine the experience is a little like what Rex Stout would have encountered back when publishing was a smaller sorority-fraternity, and editors and publishers all knew well the authors on their lists."

"We try to be as professional as possible," says Greene, noting that they pay advances and always get their royalty statements out on time. He believes that the authors and agents respond well to their professionalism.

But why single-author short story collections? "Ever since Poe and Doyle," notes Greene, "short stories have been the purest form of the mystery story and our goal is to preserve these tales in permanent books. Most commercial presses do not want to publish short-story volumes, so many authors have come to us or we to them."

block_onenightstandsLawrence Block (The Lost Cases of Ed London and One Night Stands) says, "Doug and Sandi Greene have made a wonderful success of small press publishing by following the time-honored formula: Find a need and fill it. Their single-author collections of short stories, artfully compiled and attractively presented, are so designed as to appeal to the reader and the collector."

Greene notes that marketing is one of their trouble spots, but that they've had two very successful initiatives in this area. One involves publishing special collector's pamphlets in conjunction with the annual Malice Domestic conference. These pamphlets feature a short story by "The Ghost of Honor" a vintage author being honored by the convention or a short story by the winner of the Malice Domestic Lifetime Achievement Award. The pamphlets have proven to be excellent advertising for Crippen & Landru books.

Their other successful marketing tactic is to offer a subscriber list. Those on the list agree to automatically purchase all C&L books and in return receive a 20% discount. Notes Greene, "the 185 subscribers pretty much covers the press run costs."

Lawrence Block says, "I don't collect and rarely read these days, but I've been a Crippen & Landru subscriber almost from the beginning, and not only display the books with satisfaction but even go so far as to read them. Two books of my own are a part of the series, and I've never had a more satisfying publishing experience. They are, to the surprise of no one who knows them, a true pleasure to deal with."

But what does Douglas Greene think makes up a great short story? "Obviously character, setting and plot," says Greene, "but novels have (or should have) those characteristics as well. Unlike a novel, a short story has a single idea with a twist."

hoch_morethingsimpossibleEd Hoch, who has several collections of short stories published by C&L, including the upcoming More Things Impossible: The Second Casebook of Dr. Sam Hawthorne, says: "Doug Greene is a publisher who obviously loves books. He consults with his authors about all aspects of their books, including the cover art, with the result that Crippen & Landru publications are among the most attractive mystery series being produced today. At a time when publishers shy away from short story collections, he has proven that a market exists for a quality product."

Max Allan Collins agrees. "I prize my relationship with Doug, who is very easy to work with, but also demanding: it starts with the stories. He and C&L have set the bar so high that they have the field virtually to themselves."

To find out more about Crippen & Landru the murderers, and Crippen & Landru the publishers, visit their website at www.crippenlandru.com.

Mark Terry is a freelance writer and editor living in Oxford, Michigan. www.mark-terry.com.

Admin
2009-10-01 20:07:26

crippen_landru

A chat with Crippen and Landru's Douglas Greene on a decade of publishing Max Allan Collins, Marcia Muller, Peter Lovesey, Ed Hoch, and other great writers.

You could say that publisher Douglas Greene's career path began on a yellow brick road.

A bibliophile since childhood, Greene and his brother Dave had gathered a near-complete collection of Wizard of Oz works by L. Frank Baum. Realizing there was little left to acquire, they decided to auction off the entire collection, expecting it might go for 30 or 40 thousand dollars. "We decided we could use the money for our kids' college tuition," says Greene.

The collection went for $175,000. After paying taxes, the auction house and putting the kids through school, Greene found he still had three or four thousand dollars left over.

So in 1994, the Old Dominion University history professor started a small press devoted to mystery fiction and named after two murderers, H.H. Crippen and Henri Landru. Greene was already the author of an Edgar-nominated biography of John Dickson Carr, so he debuted with a collection of Carr's short stories. C & L's second book was a collection of short stories by Marcia Muller.

The pattern was set. Crippen & Landru, comprised of Greene, along with his wife Sandi and their son Eric, would be devoted to publishing single-author short story collections.

collins_kissesofdeathMax Allan Collins, whose collection Kisses of Death: A Nathan Heller Casebook appeared in 2001, says, "Mystery writers and fans alike owe Doug Greene and C&L a great debt of thanks. Without them, precious little of the short fiction of the last thirty years would be preserved in book form, certainly not in 'single author' collections. The books are classy-looking and Doug's scholarship in attaching bibliographies adds a touch that is at once nicely fan-ish and entirely professional...two qualities that don't come together that often."

In the ten years since opening its literary doors, C&L has published over 50 books by such mystery stars as Marcia Muller, Peter Lovesey, Ed Hoch, Joe Gores and Lawrence Block. "If anybody had told me that we'd last ten years, I don't know if I would have believed it," says Doug Greene. "The surprising thing is we're still around and increasing our market."

Crippen & Landru's "Regular Series" is made up primarily of works by contemporary mystery writers. The books are published in two forms: Signed, numbered, clothbound, limited to 175-300 copies, each with a page tipped-in of the author's typescript or with an additional story in a standalone pamphlet. The Regular Series is also available, unsigned, in trade softcover.

Eric Greene handles the "Lost Classics Series," available in cloth and trade softcover, which are collections of stories by vintage authors. So far, there are ten volumes devoted to works by writers such as Craig Rice, Peter Godfrey and Gerald Kersh. There are more on the way, too, including collections by Erle Stanley Gardner, Gladys Mitchell and Rafael Sabatini.

By all accounts, authors love working with Crippen & Landru. Margaret Maron, whose second collection, Suitable for Hanging will be out in 2004, says, "I find Doug Greene such a pleasure to work with. He asks for my input, listens to what I have to say, and answers my letters even faster than members of my own family."

Author Jerry Healy, whose second collection, Cuddy Plus One, came out in June 2003, agrees. "I imagine the experience is a little like what Rex Stout would have encountered back when publishing was a smaller sorority-fraternity, and editors and publishers all knew well the authors on their lists."

"We try to be as professional as possible," says Greene, noting that they pay advances and always get their royalty statements out on time. He believes that the authors and agents respond well to their professionalism.

But why single-author short story collections? "Ever since Poe and Doyle," notes Greene, "short stories have been the purest form of the mystery story and our goal is to preserve these tales in permanent books. Most commercial presses do not want to publish short-story volumes, so many authors have come to us or we to them."

block_onenightstandsLawrence Block (The Lost Cases of Ed London and One Night Stands) says, "Doug and Sandi Greene have made a wonderful success of small press publishing by following the time-honored formula: Find a need and fill it. Their single-author collections of short stories, artfully compiled and attractively presented, are so designed as to appeal to the reader and the collector."

Greene notes that marketing is one of their trouble spots, but that they've had two very successful initiatives in this area. One involves publishing special collector's pamphlets in conjunction with the annual Malice Domestic conference. These pamphlets feature a short story by "The Ghost of Honor" a vintage author being honored by the convention or a short story by the winner of the Malice Domestic Lifetime Achievement Award. The pamphlets have proven to be excellent advertising for Crippen & Landru books.

Their other successful marketing tactic is to offer a subscriber list. Those on the list agree to automatically purchase all C&L books and in return receive a 20% discount. Notes Greene, "the 185 subscribers pretty much covers the press run costs."

Lawrence Block says, "I don't collect and rarely read these days, but I've been a Crippen & Landru subscriber almost from the beginning, and not only display the books with satisfaction but even go so far as to read them. Two books of my own are a part of the series, and I've never had a more satisfying publishing experience. They are, to the surprise of no one who knows them, a true pleasure to deal with."

But what does Douglas Greene think makes up a great short story? "Obviously character, setting and plot," says Greene, "but novels have (or should have) those characteristics as well. Unlike a novel, a short story has a single idea with a twist."

hoch_morethingsimpossibleEd Hoch, who has several collections of short stories published by C&L, including the upcoming More Things Impossible: The Second Casebook of Dr. Sam Hawthorne, says: "Doug Greene is a publisher who obviously loves books. He consults with his authors about all aspects of their books, including the cover art, with the result that Crippen & Landru publications are among the most attractive mystery series being produced today. At a time when publishers shy away from short story collections, he has proven that a market exists for a quality product."

Max Allan Collins agrees. "I prize my relationship with Doug, who is very easy to work with, but also demanding: it starts with the stories. He and C&L have set the bar so high that they have the field virtually to themselves."

To find out more about Crippen & Landru the murderers, and Crippen & Landru the publishers, visit their website at www.crippenlandru.com.

Mark Terry is a freelance writer and editor living in Oxford, Michigan. www.mark-terry.com.

Policeman Lou and Policewoman Sue
Roberta Rogow

Lisa Desimini has the ultimate police procedural for the small set. Policeman Lou and Policewoman Sue are having a relatively quiet day in their small town that could be Anywhere, USA Between their breakfast of muffin and coffee at the local diner and their shared dinner at Sue's house, they keep the streets safe for the people of their precinct. They direct traffic, return a lost dog to its owner, ticket an illegally parked car, and chase a purse-snatcher, who is then read his rights and booked at the police station. It's a reassuring look at routine police work, with the solidly-drawn cops shown as doing an important job for their community, preferring a nice, quiet day to headline-grabbing heroics. A final page of safety tips for children adds to the value of the book in reinforcing a positive image of the police.

Teri Duerr
2009-10-01 20:16:32

Lisa Desimini has the ultimate police procedural for the small set. Policeman Lou and Policewoman Sue are having a relatively quiet day in their small town that could be Anywhere, USA Between their breakfast of muffin and coffee at the local diner and their shared dinner at Sue's house, they keep the streets safe for the people of their precinct. They direct traffic, return a lost dog to its owner, ticket an illegally parked car, and chase a purse-snatcher, who is then read his rights and booked at the police station. It's a reassuring look at routine police work, with the solidly-drawn cops shown as doing an important job for their community, preferring a nice, quiet day to headline-grabbing heroics. A final page of safety tips for children adds to the value of the book in reinforcing a positive image of the police.

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed No
Jon L. Breen

WAM does not venture to evaluate recipes, but the following are some of the more intriguing dishes on offer: Glue Hawaii Sandwich (Daniel Klein), Watson's Favorite Peanut Butter Oatmeal Dog Biscuits (Patricia Guiver), Jesse Ascencio's Cultural Assimilation Cheeseburger (Kent Braithwaite), Eintopfgericht Von Ratteriesse (Richard A. Lupoff), Aunt Maggie's Three-Secret Steak and Kidney Pudding (Pip Granger), Justinian's Minimalist Egg Curry (Mary Reed and Eric Mayer), Mma Ramotswe's Boiled Pumpkin with Botswana Ostrich (Alexander McCall Smith), and Invasion of the Body Snatchers Chocolate Pod Cake (Lou Allin). A crossword puzzle accompanies Nero Blanc's recipe for Deviled Eggs. Among the bigger names contributing are Elizabeth Peters, John Harvey, Elizabeth George, George Pelecanos, Robert Barnard, and Dick Francis. A few non-contemporaries turn up, including mixed drink instructions by James Bond and Philip Marlowe and a breakfast sequence from David Dodge's Bullets for the Bridegroom (1944).

The only index is to the authors. A portion of the royalties go to a charity called From the Wholesaler to the Hungry.

McGilligan, Patrick.

Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light.

New York: ReganBooks/HarperCollins, 2003. 850p. Illus., bibl., index. $39.95

This is the largest and most detailed biography of the famed director of suspense films and should rank as the standard life for years to come. McGilligan frequently draws on earlier sources: notably the major previous biographies, John Russell Taylor's authorized Hitch (1978) and Donald Spoto's The Dark Side of Genius (1983); Francois Truffaut's book length interview Hitchcock (1967); and David Freeman's account of the director's final unfinished project, The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock (1984): but much of the book is based on original research in primary sources, including interviews with those who knew and worked with Hitchcock. The result is a full professional and personal portrait that will probably only enhance most readers' admiration for the subject, without ignoring his occasional petulance and usually (but not always) benign kinkiness. Many may not have realized that this archetypal cinematic auteur was a writer as well as a director, demonstrated in the playful short-short stories he contributed to an advertising house organ in 1919 and 1920. Though he never took a writing credit on his films after the first few years, he was the guiding force behind the development of his scripts and often did some of the actual writing.

Among the biographer's most laudable attributes from the mystery buff's point of view is his knowledge of and respect for the writers, from Mrs. Belloc Lowndes and Ethel Lina White to Robert Bloch and Victor Canning, who provided Hitch his rich source material.

A section of plates includes photos from Hitchcock's life and career, some but not most familiar from other sources. The last hundred pages include a 35-page annotated filmography; four pages of TV credits, listing only those episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour directed by the man himself; six pages of sources and acknowledgements; 20 pages of notes; two pages of reprint permissions; and a 32-page index.

One minor complaint: Brigitte Aubert, in her memorable role in To Catch a Thief, spoke perfectly grammatical, understandable, and proper English, albeit with a pronounced French accent, and was no more guilty of "pidgin English" than Charlie Chan.

Layman, Richard, ed.

Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon: A Documentary Volume. (Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 280.)

Detroit: Gale, 2003. xxv, 429p. Illus., bibl., index. $270

This large-format reference source gathers in one convenient place a remarkable amount of material: book excerpts, periodical articles and reviews, letters: on Hammett, his most famous book, and its various media adaptations and spin-offs. Every relevant biographical detail and critical viewpoint is here, together with copious illustrations. Among the writers represented are Pinkerton historian James D. Horan, daughter Jo Hammett, biographer William F. Nolan, Black Mask editor Joseph T. Shaw, crime writer Joe Gores, and numerous scholars, critics, and reviewers.

One of the best features for the general mystery buff is the sampling of Hammett's often caustic, sometimes indulgent, usually good-humored reviews of crime fiction. In a 1927 issue of The Saturday Review of Literature, he couples his often-quoted demolition of S.S. Van Dine's The Benson Murder Case with sarcastic dismissal of Sydney Horler's False Face and faint praise for J.S. Fletcher's Sea Fog. Later that year, he ridicules two slightly remembered writers (Carolyn Wells and William LeQueux) but praises novels by two utterly forgotten ones: Allen Upward's The House of Sin and Foster Johns's The Victory Murders. Writing in the New York Evening Post in 1930, Hammett found Mary Roberts Rinehart's The Door implausible but readable, Philip MacDonald's The Noose " the neatest plot I have seen in months," and Earl Derr Biggers's Charlie Chan Carries On unfinishable: he laid it aside before Chan, whose "laborious quaintness" he had previously blamed for his "inability ever to finish one of Mr. Biggers's products," had even appeared.

The list of selected publications of The Maltese Falcon includes dozens of U.S. editions plus foreign editions in about 30 countries, followed by a four-page secondary bibliography.

The actual text ends on page 346, the rest of the volume consisting of a cumulative index to Dictionary of Literary Biography and its related series.

Peters, Elizabeth, and Kristen Whitbread, eds.

Amelia Peabody's Egypt: A Compendium.

New York: Morrow, 2003. 335p. Illus., bibl. $29.95

The series about Amelia Peabody, her husband Radcliffe Emerson, and their family now occupies 15 volumes, from the classic Crocodile on the Sandbank (1975) to Children of the Storm (2003), and so far covers 35 years (1884 to 1919) in the lives of its characters. This coffee-table book, with copious black and white illustrations appropriate to the period, should delight fans of the series and other readers interested in Egyptology and the Victorian era. Beginning with an excerpt from Emerson's 1885 journal, the book takes a Sherlockian approach: that is, the Emerson family are treated as real people in an otherwise non-fictional history.

Editor Peters also contributes under her two other bylines: as Barbara Mertz, a chapter on Victorian attitudes to other cultures; and as Barbara Michaels, a sort of quiz on Victorian popular fiction referred to in the Peabody journals, as the series of novels are called throughout the text. (Question: Isn't Gargery, the Dickens character for whom the Emerson butler is named, a character in Great Expectations rather than David Copperfield?) Of the other essayists, Elizabeth Foxwell (on Amelia's relationship to the women's movement of her time) is the most likely to be familiar to mystery buffs.

Other articles discuss servants, fashions, childrearing, technology, and music of the Emersons' time. The volume also includes separate alphabetical sections identifying and defining references in the journals to people and animals, places, foreign words and phrases, Egyptological terms, and ancient Egyptians human and divine. The two-page bibliography is wholly non-fictional.

Swanson, Jean, and Dean James.

The Dick Francis Companion.

New York: Berkley, 2003. xv, 206p. Bibl. $14

A three-page biography of the jockey turned crime writer is followed by a 10-page interview conducted in 2002; synopses of about a page each of Francis's novels, arranged chronologically from Dead Cert (1962) to Shattered (2000), followed by brief summaries of the stories in Field of Thirteen (1998); a directory of human characters, the longest section at over 100 pages and of doubtful reference value (does anybody actually look up one-shot characters even in the work of an author as popular as Francis?); a "gazetteer" of locales; a one-page listing of websites on British horse racing; a 13-page directory of equine characters; a brief section of first lines and other quotations; and finally (and of greatest reference value) a 10-page bibliography, including the subject's books, film and video adaptations, awards, secondary books and articles, and a three-page listing of websites, some about crime fiction generally but most specifically related to Francis. It's all as efficiently done as one would expect from the authors of several earlier reference works, but I never find this sort of book as interesting or useful as a biography or critical study, both of which already exist on the subject. The authors hedge too much when they state in their introduction that many of the subject's books are involved with horse racing: in fact, all of them are, to a greater or lesser degree.

Jon L. Breen is the mystery critic for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and twice winner of the coveted Edgar Award. His most recent book is Kill the Umpire: The Calls of Ed Gorgon, a short story collection from Crippen & Landru.

Admin
2009-10-01 20:26:13

Grossman, Jo, and Robert Weibezahl, eds. A Second Helping of Murder: More Diabolically Delicious Recipes from Contemporary Mystery Writers. Scottsdale: Poisoned Pen, 2003. xii, 210p. Index. $19.95

If there is ever a new book edition of What About Murder?, I may have to add a separate section for cookbooks. This one is a sequel to A Taste of Murder, first published in 1999 and recently reprinted by Poisoned Pen. With one exception (the editors challenge you to find it), none of the contributors are repeaters from the first volume. The recipes are arranged in menu order from "The Set-Up" (appetizers) to "The Proof is in the Pudding" (desserts). Most entries run one page, followed by a brief biographical note on the author.

Csi Fiction Is Reality on Tv
Lee Goldberg

As a veteran homicide detective I know likes to say, Star Trek is more realistic than CSI

csi_cast

CSI is fictional. The way the characters behave, the scope of their investigatory responsibilities, their legal authority in a case, their relationship to the police detectives, and the lightning-fast scientific results they achieve have absolutely no basis in reality.

But success is its own reality to television network executives. So while you and I may know CSI is fiction, it's real to the people who develop TV shows. If you're writing about crime on television, you're required now to incorporate the world according to CSI into your fictional universe.

The best and most obvious example of the inescapable CSI-ification of cop shows is the venerable Law & Order. If you look at the early episodes of Law & Order, there isn't a single CSI tech in sight. At most, one of the detectives might refer to information that "just came in from the lab." Now, in every episode, there's a talkative CSI tech at each crime scene and the detectives have to make at least one obligatory stop at CSI headquarters to get a multi-media briefing from some colorful tech in a lab coat. I the detectives didn't acknowledge the story-telling liberties and dramatic devices of CSI, the crime story just wouldn't be real or contemporary or "cutting edge"—well, not to network executives, anyway.

I once wrote a pilot, a sample episode of a proposed murder mystery series, for one of the big three networks. The first note I received told me to add a regular CSI character to the show, even though the series concept had nothing to do with that aspect of homicide investigation. The network's argument, of course, was that the show "didn't seem real" without a visit to the crime lab, even though the proposed series isn't about cops. (If the pilot gets filmed, which I won't know until after the new year, I'll let you know if the CSI character remains—I suspect he will.)

Did Columbo ever talk to the CSI folks? How often did the cops of Homicide or NYPD Blue consult anyone at the crime lab?

There are, of course, hundreds of examples of successful cop shows and legendary detective heroes who solved crimes without a heavy reliance on technology, forensics, and the story-telling conventions of CSI But that argument won't work with network executives because those shows and characters, with the success of CSI, have instantly become "dated" and "old-fashioned" in their eyes (even a western, in order to be "contemporary," had to include forensics, though that didn't help Peacemakers stay on the air).

So it doesn't matter if CSI is totally fictional, it's the new fictional reality by which all other fictional realities will be measured against by network executives for fictional authenticity—at least until another cop show becomes a breakout hit and redefines the way we tell crime stories on television.

Admin
2009-11-05 21:50:02

As a veteran homicide detective I know likes to say, Star Trek is more realistic than CSI...

csi_cast

Mystery Scene Your Essential Partner in Crime
HatLogo2

Thriller, romantic suspense, PI, cozy, noir—the award-winning Mystery Scene covers it all.

Every issue is packed with entertaining articles, informative reviews, and fascinating interviews with both famous writers and emerging talents.

Our award-winning critics will clue you in to hundreds of interesting books, TV shows, films, short fiction, reference works, and more, in every issue.

Throw in contests, jokes, quotes, and anecdotes and we think you'll find that Mystery Scene is your essential partner in crime.

Mystery Scene publishes four times per year as a full-color glossy print magazine and as a digital edition available for Apple, Android, and Kindle devices. Don't miss a clue, subscribe today!

"Exceptional reviews of genre-related audiobooks, novels, short story collections, and movies... its feature articles lend the publication more heft than the traditional book review journal. Highly recommended."

—Library Journal

"Mystery Scene consistently provides something available nowhere else--a true inside look at the whole world of crime fiction."

—Lawrence Block

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Admin
2010-03-03 01:36:45
The Law of Inevitable Solution
Super User
2010-03-13 01:41:25

“At least half the mystery novels published violate the law that the solution, once revealed, must seem to be inevitable.”

- Raymond Chandler
(1888-1959)

Rss Feeds

RSS feeds are an easy and quick technique to stay on top of the latest content available on MysterySceneMag.com. Use the link below to subscribe through your browser or favorite RSS Reader.

All Site Content: {module All Content}

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News:{module News}

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Admin
2010-03-15 23:03:47

RSS feeds are an easy and quick technique to stay on top of the latest content available on MysterySceneMag.com. Use the link below to subscribe through your browser or favorite RSS Reader.

All Site Content: {module All Content}

Use the following feeds to get only the content you want:

News:{module News}

Articles:{module Articles}

Daily Miscellany:{module Daily Miscellany}

Reviews:{module Reviews}

Recommendations:{module Recommendations}

Commentary:{module Commentary}

Virtually Dead
Oline H. Cogdill

When our lives become too complicated, overrun with confrontations, debts and emotional turmoil, the desire to escape can be overwhelming. In Peter May’s entertaining Virtually Dead, a virtual world becomes preferable to reality for crime scene photographer Michael Kapinsky.Michael’s life is in chaos. The death of his wealthy wife has left him grief-stricken, depressed and in debt. While his wife, Mora, had inherited millions, her lavish lifestyle and a legal battle with the family of her first husband has left Michael an inheritance of overdue bills and a staggering mortgage. He begins to find solace in the virtual world called Second Life, which his therapist suggests as a kind of group therapy.There, his avatar is moviestar handsome Chas Chesnokov, a fearless agent of the Twist of Fate Detective Agency. But the virtual and real worlds collide when both the the avatars and their real life counterparts start being murdered. Chas and an exotic dancer avatar begin an investigation that centers on greed and control.

May (The Enzo Files) keeps a firm hand as Virtually Dead alternates between Michael’s real-life struggles and his avatar’s fantasy life. The plot moves briskly with surprise twists and a believable conclusion. May not only makes Michael a sympathetic, likable character, but also imbues Chas with a solid personality and a fearlessness that makes him a true hero. Online you can be whoever or whatever you want to be as May believably shows.

Teri Duerr
2010-03-28 14:42:20

When our lives become too complicated, overrun with confrontations, debts and emotional turmoil, the desire to escape can be overwhelming. In Peter May’s entertaining Virtually Dead, a virtual world becomes preferable to reality for crime scene photographer Michael Kapinsky.Michael’s life is in chaos. The death of his wealthy wife has left him grief-stricken, depressed and in debt. While his wife, Mora, had inherited millions, her lavish lifestyle and a legal battle with the family of her first husband has left Michael an inheritance of overdue bills and a staggering mortgage. He begins to find solace in the virtual world called Second Life, which his therapist suggests as a kind of group therapy.There, his avatar is moviestar handsome Chas Chesnokov, a fearless agent of the Twist of Fate Detective Agency. But the virtual and real worlds collide when both the the avatars and their real life counterparts start being murdered. Chas and an exotic dancer avatar begin an investigation that centers on greed and control.

May (The Enzo Files) keeps a firm hand as Virtually Dead alternates between Michael’s real-life struggles and his avatar’s fantasy life. The plot moves briskly with surprise twists and a believable conclusion. May not only makes Michael a sympathetic, likable character, but also imbues Chas with a solid personality and a fearlessness that makes him a true hero. Online you can be whoever or whatever you want to be as May believably shows.

Baja Florida
Bob Morris

Florida author Bob Morris continues to show his affinity for the action and appealing heroes in his fifth novel about Zack Chasteen, a former Miami Dolphin turned amateur sleuth. Baja Florida isn’t in the Sunshine State but that’s how Zack describes the Bahamas where the land is spread out over more than 3,000 islands with “plenty of places to hide.”

In Baja Florida, Zack is called on to try and find the missing daughter of his old friend Mickey Ryser. When Zack was growing up, an orphan being raised by his grandfather, Mickey took Zack under his wing, showing him how to surf and, in many ways, how to be a man. Now a millionaire, Mickey is dying with one last wish to reunite with Jen, the daughter he hasn’t seen since she was a baby. Jen is supposed to be heading from Charleston, S.C. to the Bahamas to finally meet her dad on the new sailboat she recently bought—but she has gone missing, one of her friends has jumped ship, and Mickey can’t find the private detective he originally hired to find her. Zack’s investigation leads him to an international piracy ring that targets private yachts.

With modern pirates too often in the news, Baja FloridaBaja Florida more than just a ripped from the headlines story. Edgar nominee Morris keeps Baja Florida on a steady course as he crisscrosses the islands, showing the real Bahamians whose lives have little to do with the tourists who visit.

Teri Duerr
2010-03-28 15:37:19

Florida author Bob Morris continues to show his affinity for the action and appealing heroes in his fifth novel about Zack Chasteen, a former Miami Dolphin turned amateur sleuth. Baja Florida isn’t in the Sunshine State but that’s how Zack describes the Bahamas where the land is spread out over more than 3,000 islands with “plenty of places to hide.”

In Baja Florida, Zack is called on to try and find the missing daughter of his old friend Mickey Ryser. When Zack was growing up, an orphan being raised by his grandfather, Mickey took Zack under his wing, showing him how to surf and, in many ways, how to be a man. Now a millionaire, Mickey is dying with one last wish to reunite with Jen, the daughter he hasn’t seen since she was a baby. Jen is supposed to be heading from Charleston, S.C. to the Bahamas to finally meet her dad on the new sailboat she recently bought—but she has gone missing, one of her friends has jumped ship, and Mickey can’t find the private detective he originally hired to find her. Zack’s investigation leads him to an international piracy ring that targets private yachts.

With modern pirates too often in the news, Baja FloridaBaja Florida more than just a ripped from the headlines story. Edgar nominee Morris keeps Baja Florida on a steady course as he crisscrosses the islands, showing the real Bahamians whose lives have little to do with the tourists who visit.

The First Rule
Hank Wagner

Crais’ second full Joe Pike adventure finds the ex-mercenary, ex-cop, PI, and gun shop owner out for vengeance against the gang responsible for the savage slaughter of former comrade Frank Meyer and his family. Assisted by his associate and friend Elvis Cole (the hero of several other Crais’ novels), Pike launches an investigation to discover just why his friend, who the authorities suspect may have been involved in an illicit arms deal, was murdered. Dismissing that possibility of Frank’s guilt out of hand, the lethal Pike doggedly pursues a gang of Eastern European mobsters led by one Michael Darko to uncover the truth and avenge his friend, creating mayhem wherever he goes.

It’s interesting that Crais dedicates his latest to “Harlan Ellison, whose work, perhaps more than any other, brought me to this place,” in that the book’s larger than life hero, Joe Pike, shares many traits with the larger than life writer, chief among them unswerving loyalty to his friends and unrelenting enmity toward his enemies. Crais also shares many traits with Ellison, exemplified by his electric prose, deft plotting, and his wicked, winning way with an action scene. And, like Ellison, he’s careful to provide a few subtle touches to show that his hero, while certainly extraordinary, is also a human being, as evidenced by Pike’s reaction to a dog who has been abused by a bad actor, and the tender connection he forges with an infant who plays a key role in the story.

Teri Duerr
2010-03-28 16:01:07

Crais’ second full Joe Pike adventure finds the ex-mercenary, ex-cop, PI, and gun shop owner out for vengeance against the gang responsible for the savage slaughter of former comrade Frank Meyer and his family. Assisted by his associate and friend Elvis Cole (the hero of several other Crais’ novels), Pike launches an investigation to discover just why his friend, who the authorities suspect may have been involved in an illicit arms deal, was murdered. Dismissing that possibility of Frank’s guilt out of hand, the lethal Pike doggedly pursues a gang of Eastern European mobsters led by one Michael Darko to uncover the truth and avenge his friend, creating mayhem wherever he goes.

It’s interesting that Crais dedicates his latest to “Harlan Ellison, whose work, perhaps more than any other, brought me to this place,” in that the book’s larger than life hero, Joe Pike, shares many traits with the larger than life writer, chief among them unswerving loyalty to his friends and unrelenting enmity toward his enemies. Crais also shares many traits with Ellison, exemplified by his electric prose, deft plotting, and his wicked, winning way with an action scene. And, like Ellison, he’s careful to provide a few subtle touches to show that his hero, while certainly extraordinary, is also a human being, as evidenced by Pike’s reaction to a dog who has been abused by a bad actor, and the tender connection he forges with an infant who plays a key role in the story.

False Convictions
Oline H. Cogdill

Fighting for the innocent and helping those falsely accused of crimes are prime goals for Texas attorney Casey Jordon. So she is eager to lend her skills to the Freedom Project, a non-profit organization that seems to be committed to the same ideals—freeing wrongfully convicted prisoners. To sweeten the deal, the group’s founder Robert Graham will give Casey’s legal clinic $1 million a year to handle just two cases. Robert’s down-home personality and good looks are a bonus.

Casey’s first case is to free Dwayne Hubbard, a black man who was convicted of the rape and murder of a popular college girl more than 17 years before. The case is resolved quickly, mainly because Casey finds that Dwayne may have been framed by the police force, judge, and jury in his small town in upstate New York. While Casey believes in her client’s innocence, she’s willing to listen to TV reporter Jake Carlson’s concerns that her benefactor Graham has ties to the mob.

The brisk plotting and surprise twists make False Convictions exciting from start to finish. Green’s third novel featuring Casey, and his 14th novel to date, realistically explores how the law can be manipulated, even with the best of intentions. Green captures the insular nature of a small town without resorting to clichés.

Casey, Robert, and Jake are stock characters, but Green makes us care about each of them and their motivations. The author adds just enough shading to each character to make her or him distinctive, and to reveal a layer under each person’s surface personality. And the chemistry between Casey and the two male characters adds to the fun. I hope Green will continue to focus on Casey. She’s worthy of additional novels.

Teri Duerr
2010-03-28 16:08:23

Fighting for the innocent and helping those falsely accused of crimes are prime goals for Texas attorney Casey Jordon. So she is eager to lend her skills to the Freedom Project, a non-profit organization that seems to be committed to the same ideals—freeing wrongfully convicted prisoners. To sweeten the deal, the group’s founder Robert Graham will give Casey’s legal clinic $1 million a year to handle just two cases. Robert’s down-home personality and good looks are a bonus.

Casey’s first case is to free Dwayne Hubbard, a black man who was convicted of the rape and murder of a popular college girl more than 17 years before. The case is resolved quickly, mainly because Casey finds that Dwayne may have been framed by the police force, judge, and jury in his small town in upstate New York. While Casey believes in her client’s innocence, she’s willing to listen to TV reporter Jake Carlson’s concerns that her benefactor Graham has ties to the mob.

The brisk plotting and surprise twists make False Convictions exciting from start to finish. Green’s third novel featuring Casey, and his 14th novel to date, realistically explores how the law can be manipulated, even with the best of intentions. Green captures the insular nature of a small town without resorting to clichés.

Casey, Robert, and Jake are stock characters, but Green makes us care about each of them and their motivations. The author adds just enough shading to each character to make her or him distinctive, and to reveal a layer under each person’s surface personality. And the chemistry between Casey and the two male characters adds to the fun. I hope Green will continue to focus on Casey. She’s worthy of additional novels.

Among Thieves
Oline H. Cogdill

In 1990, paintings now worth a half billion dollars were stolen from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. They’ve never been found. David Hosp bases his third novel about Boston attorney Scott Finn on that real event for a skillfully rendered tale that is rich in atmosphere and carefully crafted subplots. Connecting the Boston mob, IRA terrorists, and a high-profile art theft might seem overly ambitious, but Hosp pulls together these myriad story threads into an exciting plot.

Scott has defended low-level career criminal Devon Malley before, so he thinks he knows what he’s getting into when the thief gets arrested again. But there’s more at stake than a charge of burglarizing a high-end clothing store. Devon’s connections—and his alibis—are members of Boston’s underworld who are being murdered in ways that suggest the IRA is involved. Devon’s link to the art theft spurs on Scott’s investigation, but also makes Devon the target of ex-IRA operative, Liam Kilbranish, whose brutality makes the local mobsters seem like choirboys.

Hosp’s inventive storytelling keeps Among Thieves on a fast track. The various subplots, including the personal lives of his associates Tom Kozlowski and Lissa Krantz, are believable and never seem forced. Finn’s rough and tumble background, and his transition to being an attorney, give Hosp’s novels heft. But the savvy lawyer may have met his match in Devon’s 14-year-old daughter Sally, whose life with a drug addict mother has hardened her and made her wary of adults. Hosp’s life-changing surprises for Finn and his associates hints that this series will continue its exciting track.

Teri Duerr
2010-03-28 16:17:22

In 1990, paintings now worth a half billion dollars were stolen from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. They’ve never been found. David Hosp bases his third novel about Boston attorney Scott Finn on that real event for a skillfully rendered tale that is rich in atmosphere and carefully crafted subplots. Connecting the Boston mob, IRA terrorists, and a high-profile art theft might seem overly ambitious, but Hosp pulls together these myriad story threads into an exciting plot.

Scott has defended low-level career criminal Devon Malley before, so he thinks he knows what he’s getting into when the thief gets arrested again. But there’s more at stake than a charge of burglarizing a high-end clothing store. Devon’s connections—and his alibis—are members of Boston’s underworld who are being murdered in ways that suggest the IRA is involved. Devon’s link to the art theft spurs on Scott’s investigation, but also makes Devon the target of ex-IRA operative, Liam Kilbranish, whose brutality makes the local mobsters seem like choirboys.

Hosp’s inventive storytelling keeps Among Thieves on a fast track. The various subplots, including the personal lives of his associates Tom Kozlowski and Lissa Krantz, are believable and never seem forced. Finn’s rough and tumble background, and his transition to being an attorney, give Hosp’s novels heft. But the savvy lawyer may have met his match in Devon’s 14-year-old daughter Sally, whose life with a drug addict mother has hardened her and made her wary of adults. Hosp’s life-changing surprises for Finn and his associates hints that this series will continue its exciting track.

Last Snow
Jim Winter

Troubleshooter Jack McClure returns in this follow up to last year’s First Daughter. In Last Snow, McClure is with the US President in Moscow on the eve of a historic treaty with Russia. But when an American senator is killed in Italy (when he was supposedly in the Ukraine), the President sends McClure to Kiev to investigate. McClure’s job is complicated by the presence of Annika Dementieva, a renegade Federal Security Service (FSB) agent and Alli Carson, the President’s daughter, whom he must keep safe. Time and again, McClure’s three-dimensional approach to problem solving, which ia also linked to his dyslexia, gets them out of trouble. At the same time, McClure uncovers a conspiracy to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty and involving some in the President’s own inner circle.

Last Snow is one of several recent novels featuring the grandiose theme of a renewed Cold War with Russia. However, the presence of Alli Carson, the titular First Daughter of the previous novel, humanizes the story. Alli is still reeling from the kidnapping and torture she endured in the first installment. Her rather bizarre presence on McClure’s mission gives her an opportunity to face her fears and claim her own identity. That alone raises Last Snow above the current le Carré knockoffs.

Teri Duerr
2010-03-28 16:22:47

Troubleshooter Jack McClure returns in this follow up to last year’s First Daughter. In Last Snow, McClure is with the US President in Moscow on the eve of a historic treaty with Russia. But when an American senator is killed in Italy (when he was supposedly in the Ukraine), the President sends McClure to Kiev to investigate. McClure’s job is complicated by the presence of Annika Dementieva, a renegade Federal Security Service (FSB) agent and Alli Carson, the President’s daughter, whom he must keep safe. Time and again, McClure’s three-dimensional approach to problem solving, which ia also linked to his dyslexia, gets them out of trouble. At the same time, McClure uncovers a conspiracy to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty and involving some in the President’s own inner circle.

Last Snow is one of several recent novels featuring the grandiose theme of a renewed Cold War with Russia. However, the presence of Alli Carson, the titular First Daughter of the previous novel, humanizes the story. Alli is still reeling from the kidnapping and torture she endured in the first installment. Her rather bizarre presence on McClure’s mission gives her an opportunity to face her fears and claim her own identity. That alone raises Last Snow above the current le Carré knockoffs.

Death by the Book
Kevin Burton Smith

Some guys have all the luck. Like Jack Susko, the bookselling protagonist and amateur sleuth in Australian writer Bartulin’s 2008 entertaining and nicely paced debut (recently published Stateside with a new title). I sell books for a living too, but I can assure you that no rich sexpots like Annabelle Kaspowricz ever seem to throw their voluptuous bodies (“on the curvy side of womanhood”) or any of their other spectacular assets at me the way they do with Jack.

Then again, the complications that ensue when Annabelle’s wealthy, but singularly unpleasant, businessman father hires Jack, the proud proprietor of Susko’s Books, a struggling basement shop in Sydney, to track down every copy he can of an obscure poet’s books, might not be worth it. Even at $50 a pop. Those complications include sleazy business rivals, a disgraced gynecologist, possibly corrupt or at least inept cops, a vengeful crime lord, hired muscle, plenty of dubious poetry and enough dirty family secrets, obsessions and greed to fill a soap opera.

In fact, Annabelle’s family is so chronically dysfunctional that they make The Big Sleep’s Sternwoods look like television’s Waltons. And unfortunately, by the time Jack realizes what he’s involved in, it’s far too late to crawl out gracefully. Still, he draws upon just enough unexpected resources of strength and courage (not to mention a bit of wild luck) and a definite way with wisecracks (for example a thug is dismissed as having the “muscle-to-brain ratio of a brontosaurus”) to keep the reader flipping pages. A sly parody of 30s-era hardboiled fiction or the contemporary real deal? Either way, this stuff is just way too good (and too fun) to be a one-off. Down these mean streets a used book dealer must go, anyone?

Teri Duerr
2010-03-28 16:28:59

Some guys have all the luck. Like Jack Susko, the bookselling protagonist and amateur sleuth in Australian writer Bartulin’s 2008 entertaining and nicely paced debut (recently published Stateside with a new title). I sell books for a living too, but I can assure you that no rich sexpots like Annabelle Kaspowricz ever seem to throw their voluptuous bodies (“on the curvy side of womanhood”) or any of their other spectacular assets at me the way they do with Jack.

Then again, the complications that ensue when Annabelle’s wealthy, but singularly unpleasant, businessman father hires Jack, the proud proprietor of Susko’s Books, a struggling basement shop in Sydney, to track down every copy he can of an obscure poet’s books, might not be worth it. Even at $50 a pop. Those complications include sleazy business rivals, a disgraced gynecologist, possibly corrupt or at least inept cops, a vengeful crime lord, hired muscle, plenty of dubious poetry and enough dirty family secrets, obsessions and greed to fill a soap opera.

In fact, Annabelle’s family is so chronically dysfunctional that they make The Big Sleep’s Sternwoods look like television’s Waltons. And unfortunately, by the time Jack realizes what he’s involved in, it’s far too late to crawl out gracefully. Still, he draws upon just enough unexpected resources of strength and courage (not to mention a bit of wild luck) and a definite way with wisecracks (for example a thug is dismissed as having the “muscle-to-brain ratio of a brontosaurus”) to keep the reader flipping pages. A sly parody of 30s-era hardboiled fiction or the contemporary real deal? Either way, this stuff is just way too good (and too fun) to be a one-off. Down these mean streets a used book dealer must go, anyone?

Paganini’s Ghost
Mary Helen Becker

The sequel to Adam’s excellent novel The Rainaldi Quartet (2006), Paganini’s Ghost, is an equally splendid music mystery featuring violinmaker Gianni Castiglione and his younger friend Antonio Guastafeste, cellist and police detective. Set primarily in Cremona and Milan, with brief excursions to Paris and London, the story opens with a young Russian virtuoso who won the Premio Paganini competition in Genoa and whose prize includes a recital in Cremona where he gets to play Paganini’s violin il Cannone (the Cannon). The violin is brought to Castiglione for repair before the performance, and he and the Russian, Yevgeny Ivanov, become friends. The day after the big performance though, a somewhat shady French antiques dealer is found murdered and Castiglione and Guastafeste discover a gold box that had been made to hold a small, jeweled violin given to Paganini by Napoleon’s sister.

An extremely complex mystery follows, with the disappearance of the Russian violinist, more deaths, a lost piece of music, and a fascinating study of the life and loves of Paganini. Castiglione’s encyclopedic knowledge of violins and music history help Guastafeste solve the crimes. Adam has a remarkable ability to create characters that come alive on the page. The Italian settings are superb. Music lovers and mystery fans have a marvelous treat in store.

Teri Duerr
2010-03-28 16:38:36

The sequel to Adam’s excellent novel The Rainaldi Quartet (2006), Paganini’s Ghost, is an equally splendid music mystery featuring violinmaker Gianni Castiglione and his younger friend Antonio Guastafeste, cellist and police detective. Set primarily in Cremona and Milan, with brief excursions to Paris and London, the story opens with a young Russian virtuoso who won the Premio Paganini competition in Genoa and whose prize includes a recital in Cremona where he gets to play Paganini’s violin il Cannone (the Cannon). The violin is brought to Castiglione for repair before the performance, and he and the Russian, Yevgeny Ivanov, become friends. The day after the big performance though, a somewhat shady French antiques dealer is found murdered and Castiglione and Guastafeste discover a gold box that had been made to hold a small, jeweled violin given to Paganini by Napoleon’s sister.

An extremely complex mystery follows, with the disappearance of the Russian violinist, more deaths, a lost piece of music, and a fascinating study of the life and loves of Paganini. Castiglione’s encyclopedic knowledge of violins and music history help Guastafeste solve the crimes. Adam has a remarkable ability to create characters that come alive on the page. The Italian settings are superb. Music lovers and mystery fans have a marvelous treat in store.

The Wolf at the Door
Jim Winter

Jack Higgins kicks it old school, as in bringing back the Cold War and the troubles in Northern Ireland for the 21st century. In The Wolf at the Door, Higgins’ usual cast of characters, General Ferguson, agent Harry Miller and his ex-IRA partner Sean Dillon, and American agent Blake Johnson, find themselves the targets of several assassination attempts. The group digs deep to find a sleeper cell of the Provisional IRA they suspect may be behind the attacks, but the real cuplrit may be even more dangerous and powerful than they imagined.

Higgins comes from a school of writers who think nothing of making huge historical events and real political figures characters in their fiction, and his cast of heroes has been entertaining readers for 17 novels now. But it is this novel’s “wolf,” Yorkshire-born PIRA veteran Daniel Holley, and his role as the vengeful hunter unleashed on the “the Prime Minister’s private army” that is the heart of this story. By the end, Holley has determined there’s little difference between those who recruited him to kill and the British against whom he’s avenging his fallen comrades. In the end, the reader is forced to agree.

Teri Duerr
2010-03-28 16:42:59

Jack Higgins kicks it old school, as in bringing back the Cold War and the troubles in Northern Ireland for the 21st century. In The Wolf at the Door, Higgins’ usual cast of characters, General Ferguson, agent Harry Miller and his ex-IRA partner Sean Dillon, and American agent Blake Johnson, find themselves the targets of several assassination attempts. The group digs deep to find a sleeper cell of the Provisional IRA they suspect may be behind the attacks, but the real cuplrit may be even more dangerous and powerful than they imagined.

Higgins comes from a school of writers who think nothing of making huge historical events and real political figures characters in their fiction, and his cast of heroes has been entertaining readers for 17 novels now. But it is this novel’s “wolf,” Yorkshire-born PIRA veteran Daniel Holley, and his role as the vengeful hunter unleashed on the “the Prime Minister’s private army” that is the heart of this story. By the end, Holley has determined there’s little difference between those who recruited him to kill and the British against whom he’s avenging his fallen comrades. In the end, the reader is forced to agree.