Saturday, September 30, 2006

Happy dual birthday, Truman Capote/Michael Innes.

Truman Capote, the author of In Cold Blood, would have turned 82 today. He died in 1984. A new film, Infamous, starring Toby Jones as Capote in yet another examination of the genesis of In Cold Blood, is scheduled for release on October 13th.

British author Michael Innes, aka J. I. M. Stewart, would have celebrated his 100th birthday today. He died in 1994. In a writing career that spanned more than 50 years, university professor Stewart wrote numerous academic, fiction, and radio works, including a mystery series featuring Scotland Yard inspector John Appleby. These titles include Hamlet, Revenge!, Appleby's End, and A Family Affair.

Photo credit: Fay Godwin

Friday, September 29, 2006

Happy birthday, Barbara Mertz.

Photo credit: Sue Feder.

Dr. Barbara Mertz, better known under her pseudonyms Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels, turns 79 today. Her latest novel featuring intrepid Egyptologist Amelia Peabody Emerson is Tomb of the Golden Bird.

A University of Chicago graduate, Mertz began her fiction career with The Master of Blacktower (1966) as Michaels; the Peters pseudonym debuted in 1968 with The Jackal's Head. Her rollicking Murders of Richard III (1974) riled the Richard III Society so much that it was successful in banning the novel from England for many years. The parasol-wielding Amelia Peabody, partially based on bestselling novelist and Egyptologist Amelia B. Edwards, made her debut in 1975 in Crocodile on the Sandbank.

Mertz's nonfiction books Red Land, Black Land and Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs are staples of undergraduate Egyptology courses; indeed, the galaxy-traveling archaeologist played by James Spader in Stargate packs a copy of Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs in his luggage. She endowed a scholarship program at Hood College (Md.) for fledgling mystery writers and was the prime mover behind the founding of Malice Domestic Ltd.

I met her in 1984, and my life hasn't been the same since (a common phenomenon). For a discussion of her work as Michaels, see my article in summer 1996 issue of The Armchair Detective, "Novels of Many Shadows: The Messages of Barbara Michaels."

Monday, September 25, 2006

Happy birthday, William Faulkner.

Mississippi's own William Faulkner would have turned 109 today. A devoted mystery fan, Faulkner made several contributions to the genre: the short story "A Rose for Emily," the short story collection Knight's Gambit, the novels Intruder in the Dust and Sanctuary, and the screenplay for Chandler's The Big Sleep.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Happy birthday, Baroness Orczy.

Emma Magdalena Rosalia Maria Josefa Barbara Orczy, aka Baroness Orczy, was born on September 23, 1865. She died in 1947. Best known for that swashbuckling figure The Scarlet Pimpernel, she also made some notable mystery contributions: Stories with Bill Owen, known as "The Old Man in the Corner," often considered the first appearance of the modern armchair detective; and Lady Molly of Scotland Yard (1910), in which Lady Molly and her maid Mary Granard join Scotland Yard's "Female Department," as Lady Molly seeks to exonerate her wrongly accused husband. As Granard comments, "[M]y firm belief is that we shouldn't have half so many undetected crimes if some of the so-called mysteries were put to the test of feminine investigation."

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Happy dual birthday, Robert B. Parker/John Creasey.

Author Robert Brown Parker, creator of Spenser, Jesse Stone, and Sunny Randall, turns 74 today. You can hear Parker in my June interview with him here, or check out The Robert B. Parker Companion, coauthored by myself and Dean James.

British mystery phenomenon John Creasey, who is credited with publishing more than 560 novels (yes, you read that right: 560), was born on this day in 1908. He died in 1973. His many memorable characters include Sexton Blake, the Hon. Richard Rollison (aka "The Toff," who bears some similarities to Leslie Charteris's "The Saint"), Roger West of Scotland Yard, Superintendent Folly, spy Gordon Craigie, and reformed thief John Mannering. The film Gideon's Day (1958), starring Jack Hawkins and directed by John Ford, is an adaptation of Creasey's novel of the same name (aka Gideon of Scotland Yard).

Friday, September 15, 2006

Happy dual birthday, Loren Estleman/Agatha Christie

Versatile mystery/western author Loren Estleman, creator of sleuth Amos Walker, turns 54 today, while Agatha Christie would have turned 116.

Estleman's latest novels are Nicotine Kiss (Walker series) and The Adventures of Johnny Vermillion (western featuring an actor-cum-bank robber). Christie's is Miss Marple's Final Cases. You can listen to various Christie works on BBC Radio 7 this month; go here for details.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Happy birthday, Carroll John Daly.

Born on September 14, 1889, pulp writer Carroll John Daly is credited with creating the first hard-boiled detective in "The False Burton Combs" (Black Mask, 1922; rpt. The Hard-Boiled Detective: Stories from Black Mask Magazine 1920-1951, ed. Herbert Ruhm, Vintage, 1977). He died in 1958. Daly's notable characters include the interestingly named Satan Hall and tough investigator Race Williams.

A possible article of interest is Penguin publicist Michael S. Barson's "'There's No Sex in Crime': The Two-Fisted Homilies of Race Williams" (CLUES: A Journal of Detection 2.2 [F/W 1981]: 103-12). You can probably only find it via interlibrary loan.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Who Knows What Evil Lurks...

Magician and writer Walter B. Gibson was born on September 12, 1897, and died in 1985. The author of more than 300 novels, he is best known for one immortal creation: The Shadow, the crimefighter who has the ability "to cloud men's minds."

The Shadow spawned a magazine, a comic book, a long-running radio series (which featured Orson Welles for a year as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow), and a 1994 film starring Alec Baldwin, Penelope Ann Miller, and Ian McKellen that, I confess, I hugely enjoyed.

For more on Gibson, see Walter B. Gibson and the Shadow by Thomas J. Shimeld (McFarland, 2005).

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Happy birthday, Peter Lovesey.

Peter Lovesey and I display our sartorial finery at Malice Domestic VIII in 1996.

Diamond Dagger recipient Peter Lovesey, author of numerous mysteries such as the Victorian Sergeant Cribb series, police procedurals with detective Peter Diamond, and the hilarious Bertie, Prince of Wales series, turns 70 today.

There's a Lovesey work to suit every reading taste. I personally prefer his historicals, where he balances meticulous fact with a swiftly moving plot and memorable characters, such as his masterful The False Inspector Dew (murder with Crippen overtones in 1921 on the Mauritania, which was captained by Arthur Rostron, rescuer of Titanic survivors as captain of the Carpathia). Lovesey's delicious sense of humor is showcased in works such as "The Crime of Miss Oyster Brown" and On the Edge, which was adapted as the PBS production Dead Gorgeous (bored rich woman in postwar London proposes to her friend that they kill each other's husbands). Another one not to be missed is the audio version of "The Corbett Correspondence," coauthored with Edward Marston, in which Patrick Macnee and Juliet Mills play amorous spies in an epistolary tale that features a mysterious manuscript, sinister servants named Deeck and Garbo, and various other hysterical details ("behind the erotic tapestry..."). It appears in Malice Domestic 6, which won an Audie Award in the Best Short Stories/Essays/Collections category.

Many of Lovesey's books are published by Soho Press, including The Circle (about an eccentric writers' group and a publisher who gets bumped off). To listen to my interview with Lovesey from my radio show "It's a Mystery," go here.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Happy birthday, Phyllis Whitney.

Photo (from left): Elizabeth Peters, Anne Perry, and Phyllis Whitney at Malice Domestic V in 1993. Photo by Laura Hyzy.

The legendary Phyllis Whitney, author of more than 75 books and a two-time Edgar winner and Grand Master, turns 103 years old today. Her numerous credits include romantic suspense, children's/young adult novels, and books on writing. She published her first book in 1943 (Red Is for Murder).

I worked with her on Malice Domestic 5, which she introduced. Tremendously supportive to other mystery writers throughout her long career, she is a warm and gracious lady. Count me among the many waiting eagerly for her autobiography, which is in progress in longhand.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

A. J. Cronin.

In the car amid the dregs of Hurricane Ernesto, I listened to the delightful BBC audio adaptation Dr. Finlay: Adventures of a Black Bag by Scottish physician-turned-author A. J. Cronin, probably best known for his bestselling novels The Citadel and The Keys of the Kingdom.

You may remember the 1944 film of The Keys of the Kingdom with Gregory Peck, the Doctor Finlay series on PBS starring David Rintoul and Ian Bannen (1993), and The Citadel film versions with Robert Donat (1938) and Ben Cross (1983). This BBC Radio 4 adaptation features stories narrated by Dr. Cameron, the elder partner in a medical practice located in the Scottish Highlands, about his stubborn younger colleague Dr. Finlay. The stories have the distinct feeling of James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small via eccentric townspeople; a young, dedicated protagonist who has a lot to learn; and poignant tales such as one in which a devoted wife keeps a serious secret from her soccer-star husband so as not to distract him from the championship match.

There's also a follow-up available, Dr. Finlay: Further Adventures of a Black Bag.

Cronin (1896-1981), a surgeon in the Royal Navy during World War I, turned to writing when an ulcer forced him to give up his medical practice. There's a fun article by the late John Z. Bowers in the University of Maryland's medical alumni magazine about Cronin and other "truants from medicine."

Friday, September 01, 2006

Happy birthday, Victoria Holt

Eleanor Hibbert, aka Victoria Holt, Jean Plaidy, Philippa Carr, and four other pseudonyms, was born on September 1, 1906. She died in 1993.

A major figure in romantic suspense, she wrote nearly 200 works. Mystery fans may be most interested in her novels under the pseudonym Elbur Ford: Poison in Pimlico, Flesh and the Devil, The Bed Disturbed, and, most notably, Such Bitter Business (US title: Evil in the House), which is based on the Constance Kent case of 1860 (Kent was convicted of killing her half brother).