Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lesbian pulp cover art.

Over on Yale's Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities is a selection of covers from lesbian pulp novels spanning the period 1935 to 1965. Authors mentioned include Ann Bannon and Vin Packer.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books:
Doctor Syn by Russell Thorndike (1915).

My latest choice in Patti Abbott's Friday's Forgotten Books series is Russell Thorndike's Doctor Syn: A Smuggler Tale of the Romney Marsh (1915).

The mild-mannered vicar Doctor Syn is boring his congregation with his Sunday sermon when the British excise men (read tax guys—boo, hiss) arrive in their part of eighteenth-century Kent. Soon strange things start to happen: ghostly riders are seen in the marsh, the local physician with the unfortunate name of Dr. Pepper is knifed, a mulatto with connections to a notorious pirate disappears, and Syn seems to be up to more than saving souls.

For those who enjoy the derring-do of Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel or Rafael Sabatini's Captain Blood, this book is right up their street. I am currently trying to work the word "Zounds!" into my everyday conversation.

Wounded at Gallipoli during World War I, actor and author Arthur Russell Thorndike (1885–1972) was the brother (and biographer) of actress Dame Sybil Thorndike and appeared in Laurence Olivier's films of Henry V, Hamlet, and Richard III. Doctor Syn was filmed twice—in 1937 starring George Arliss in the title role and in 1963 featuring Patrick McGoohan as the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (the latter recently released on DVD). Thorndike himself also played Syn.

After Doctor Syn: A Smuggler Tale of the Romney Marsh Thorndike wrote the following:

Doctor Syn on the High Seas (1935)
Doctor Syn Returns (1936)
The Further Adventures of Doctor Syn (1936)
The Courageous Exploits of Doctor Syn (1938)
The Amazing Quest of Doctor Syn (1939)
The Shadow of Doctor Syn (1944)
The Slype (1927; not featuring Syn but including other characters from the series)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lindsey Davis's Falco this week on
BBC Radio 7.

BBC Radio 7 is now broadcasting The Silver Pigs, the first in Lindsey Davis's Marcus Didius Falco series ("Sam Spade in a toga"). Go here for the schedule or to listen.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Agatha Christie's house opens to the public.

Agatha Christie's Greenway House in Devon opens to the public this week after the National Trust completed a £5.4 million (approximately $8 million) refurbishment. Go here for further details.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Happy birthday, Grant Allen;
Rupert Holmes.

Mystery author Grant Allen, who thought he would be remembered for his scientific journalism rather than the fiction he despised, was born today in Canada in 1848. He died in 1899, attended by his friend and neighbor Arthur Conan Doyle. A major influence on H. G. Wells (who once trashed Allen in a review), he is mentioned in The Time Machine. Some of Allen's better known works are An African Millionaire (1897), "Pallinghurst Barrow" (1892), "The Great Ruby Robbery" (1892), and Hilda Wade (completed by Conan Doyle, 1900), the latter featuring an early female detective. His Miss Cayley's Adventures (1899), which also features a forthright female sleuth, has been reissued by Valancourt Books with a new introduction by me.

And Tony winner (for The Mystery of Edwin Drood), mystery writer, composer, and musician Rupert Holmes turns 62 today. To see Holmes performing his hit song "Him," go here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oddest book title shortlist:
Baboon Metaphysics.

The Bookseller has issued its short list for the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title, and you can vote for your favorite:
Baboon Metaphysics by Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert M. Seyfarth (U of Chicago P)

Curbside Consultation of the Colon by Brooks D. Cash (SLACK Inc.)

The Large Sieve and Its Applications by Emmanuel Kowalski (Cambridge UP)

Strip and Knit with Style by Mark Hordyszynski (C&T)

Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring
by Lietai Yang (Woodhead)

The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais by Philip M. Parker (Icon Group Intl)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dick Barton, Special Agent, this week on
BBC Radio 7.

This week, BBC Radio 7 brings back the BBC's first daily serial hero, ex-commando Richard Barton, in a series from 1972 starring Noel Johnson. Go here for the schedule or to listen.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Wilkie Collins vs. Tony Hillerman at auction.

At the February 12th Bloomsbury auction in London, while a signed first edition of Tony Hillerman's The Fallen Man went unsold, Wilkie Collins's 1897 Antonina, or the Fall of Rome (included in a lot with the intriguingly titled The Male Flirt by a Mrs. Gordon) went under the gavel for £170 (approximately $244). Full auction results here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The "literary death spiral" of the
newspaper book section.

Over on NPR's Against the Grain blog, Dick Meyer examines the "literary death spiral" of the newspaper book section: "It doesn't follow that the decline of professional writing about books is something to cheer about."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What's going on at Faber Finds.

Over at Faber Finds, the POD program that puts back into print neglected works, is Brian Aldiss's The Dark Light Years (1964). One of the most popular books at Faber Finds is Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal (1907) by Roy Horniman, the basis for the hysterical Alec Guinness film Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). You can suggest works for Faber Finds here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Radical children's literature.

C-Span recently filmed this appearance by Julia Mickenberg and Philip Nel, coeditors of the new Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children's Literature (Providing the foreword is Jack Zipes, the editor of the feminist fairy tales collection Don't Bet on the Prince, the only place you'll see Snow White as a union organizer).

(Hat tip to the NYU Press blog)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Book design exhibit.

A small online exhibit on the book arts at the University of Central Florida's Special Collections displays some gorgeous book design by William Morris and Kelmscott Press, as well as by H. R. Miller for Headlong Hall and Nightmare Abbey (authored by Shelley compadre Thomas Love Peacock).

Monday, February 16, 2009

Happy 75th birthday, National Archives.

Our National Archives turns 75 this year. Go here for a gallery of photos from the 1930s to the present, including an image of Bob Newhart touring the archives. The photo at left is of the contestants of the 1966 "Miss Archives" competition (the winner is third from the right—the one wearing the crown).

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Helen MacInnes this week on BBC Radio 7.

Helen MacInnes's Above Suspicion (1941), in which a young couple finds themselves embroiled in espionage on the eve of WWII, is featured this week on BBC Radio 7, along with Agatha Christie's Miss Marple in At Bertram's Hotel. Go here for the schedule or to listen.

About the photo: Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray in Above Suspicion (1943)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Encyclopedia of Chicago online.

As today is the 80th anniversary of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, it seems fitting to feature the online Encyclopedia of Chicago (a joint project of the Chicago History Museum, the Newberry Library, and Northwestern University). Interesting entries: "Chicago Literary Renaissance," "Crime and Chicago's Image," "Journalism," "Jungle, The" (on the Upton Sinclair book), "Literary Careers," "Pinkertons," "Publishing, Book." Other neat things: the subpoena for "Shoeless Joe" Jackson regarding the Black Sox scandal; a small video gallery.

About the photo: Suffragist and peace activist Jane Addams, founder of Chicago's Hull House, ca. 1910–15. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Friday, February 13, 2009

New biography of Ngaio Marsh.

There's a new HarperCollins biography of Inspector Alleyn creator Ngaio MarshNgaio Marsh: Her Life in Crime by Joanne Drayton—which is available only in Australia and New Zealand. But caveat emptor: early indications are that it's on the gossipy side.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

New column on book thefts.

Jeremy Dibbell of PhiloBiblos is now writing a regular column for Fine Books Notes on book crimes. Here's his first: on Farhad Hakimzadeh's thefts from the British Library and the Bodleian.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sara Paretsky:
Competition for Denyce Graves?

The University of Chicago Magazine blog provides an account (with photos) of the annual Revels that starred alumnus Sara Paretsky as "evil Big Pharm CEO Stacy Starkweather," including Paretsky singing a modified version of an aria from Tosca.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Case for Dr. Morelle this week on
BBC Radio 7.

This week BBC Radio 7 broadcasts its 1957 series A Case for Dr. Morelle, a psychiatrist-sleuth created by Ernest Dudley and played by Cecil Parker. Go here for the schedule or to listen.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Ask Simon Brett.

The multitalented mystery author, radio producer, and Detection Club president Simon Brett will appear on a future episode of the BBC's I Did It My Way, and you can participate by submitting questions to by 6 pm on February 26th. Clips from Brett's career, including the radio adaptations of his hapless actor-sleuth Charles Paris, are planned to be aired during the program.

I do wish there was a radio adaptation of Brett's Lines of Enquiry, his mystery written entirely in verse. It's hilarious.

About the photo
: Simon Brett by Jason David Hall.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

A new Federal Writers' Project? And a Himes query.

Eastern Washington University historian Larry Cebula proposes a new Federal Writers' Project as part of the stimulus package. The New Republic's Mark I. Pinsky has his own take on the idea (and misses a significant alumnus of the original project: Chester Himes).

There's an infuriatingly vague hint from Himes in Dear Chester, Dear John: Who is the "big fat mannish woman who wrote detective stories" (p. 19) and supervised Himes on the Ohio State Writers' Project in Cleveland in the late 1930s? I've checked Conversations with Chester Himes and resources on the Federal Writers' Project to no avail.

BTW, Clues still has an open Call for Papers on "Chester Himes and His Legacy."

(Hat tip to the AHA blog. About the photo: Chester Himes by Carl Van Vechten, 1946. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.)

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The ghost stories of M. R. James.

There's an interesting discussion by Chris Power on the Guardian blog about the ghost stories of M. R. James (1862–1936). I especially like the one commentator who stated, "Someone once described to me the difference between Poe and M. R. James by saying 'In Poe, you reach out for your bedside lamp at night and it isn't there; in Mr. James, you reach out for your bedside lamp and something in the dark hands it to you.'" Brrrr.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books:
A Diplomatic Woman by Huan Mee (1900).

Contributing my bit to Patti Abbott's series on Friday's Forgotten Books, I choose Huan Mee's A Diplomatic Woman, which features an early female spy (hat tip to Douglas G. Greene, aka Super-Mystery History Man).

As the "cleverest woman in Paris," Mademoiselle Aidë Lerestelle takes on the thefts of secret ciphers involving dastardly Russians, the abduction of the British ambassador, the infatuation of a prince with a "third-rate actress," a jeopardized alliance between France and China, and a stolen document that threatens to plunge France into war. Some Gothic touches and a certain floridness of style are evident:
"It's you who are mad. All of you, for you've come to your death. And you're in your coffin now!" (57).
(Ahem. Pause for cackling, twirling of oversized mustaches, etc.)

As an unmarried woman is involved in these tales, there must be at least a bit of romance, but the sensible Mademoiselle Lerestelle is not one to have her head turned:
"Yes, ma chère, you are the one woman in the world who is brilliant enough to do it, because—"

"Not so much sugar, if you please, monsieur." (128)
Undoubtedly Mademoiselle Lerestelle's cases involve decidedly domestic situations. But it is pioneering, given the 1899–1900 period of these stories, for two male writers to have created a female spy whose brains take precedence while good looks are a pleasant afterthought. In addition, she is loyal, fond of adventure, and independent, treating the payment that she receives for her services as incidental.

Huan Mee was the pseudonym for British journalists and brothers Walter E. and Charles H. Mansfield. Other works by Huan Mee include A Beauty Spot (London: Gale, 1894), Wheels within Wheels (London: Ward, 1901), Weaving the Web (London: Ward, 1902), and The Jewel of Death (London: Ward, 1905). A list of some of the Huan Mee short stories appears here; a list of Charles Mansfield's short stories appears here.

About the photo: Illustration by A[rthur]. H[erbert]. Buckland, from the June 1899 Cassell's Magazine publication of Huan Mee's "The Russian Cipher" (part of A Diplomatic Woman).

Thursday, February 05, 2009

75 years ago today: Dashiell Hammett and Secret Agent X-9.

Among the neat photos in the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection is this one of Dashiell Hammett toasting the creation of his comic strip Secret Agent X-9 on February 5, 1934, with co-creator Alex Raymond, Rube Goldberg, Chic Young (the creator of Blondie), and others.

About the photo: DVD of Secret Agent X-9 (1945), starring Lloyd Bridges and Keye Luke.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Happy birthday, MacKinlay Kantor.

MacKinlay Kantor—Pulitzer Prize winner (for Andersonville, 1955), Medal of Freedom recipient, war correspondent, screenwriter, and crime fiction writer—was born today in Webster City, Iowa, in 1904. His narrative poem-novel Glory for Me (1945) was adapted as the Goldwyn film The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). He died in 1977.

On his contributions to the pulps and other forms of mystery fiction, see John Apostolou, "MacKinlay Kantor and the Police Novel." Most of Kantor's papers are in the Library of Congress.

About the photo
: Gun Crazy (aka Deadly Is the Female, 1950), writ. MacKinlay Kantor and Dalton Trumbo.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Happy birthday, Joan Lowery Nixon.

Joan Lowery Nixon, a young-adult suspense and Edgar Award-winning legend for such works as The Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore, The Seance, The Other Side of Dark, and The Name of the Game Was Murder, was born today in Los Angeles in 1927. She died in Houston in 2003. I only had the pleasure of meeting her once—she was a lovely and gracious lady. Many of her manuscripts reside in the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota.

Monday, February 02, 2009

New biography, Msgr. Ronald Knox.

Msgr. Ronald Knox (1888-1957)—author of the famous ten commandments of detective fiction ("5. No Chinaman must figure in the story"), member of the Detection Club, Catholic apologist, and uncle of the late British novelist Penelope Fitzgerald—is the subject of a new book, The Wine of Certitude: A Literary Biography of Ronald Knox, written by David M. Rooney (Hofstra University). For Fitzgerald's take on her uncle, see The Knox Brothers (1977).

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters
this week on BBC Radio 7.

Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters, the Conan Doyle correspondence collection edited by Jon Lellenberg, Charles Foley (Conan Doyle's great-nephew), and Daniel Stashower, begins on BBC Radio 7 tomorrow. Also scheduled: Geoffrey Household's Rogue Justice, the sequel to Rogue Male. Go here for the schedule or to listen.