Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Conan Doyle and war.

Conan Doyle in uniform
from The Sketch Jan 1902
This interesting 2010 article by U of Hull's Catherine Wynne from English Literature in Transition, 1880–1920 discusses how Arthur Conan Doyle dealt with war in his writings (such as "The Case of the Blanched Soldier," 1926), which seems to have been influenced by his experiences in the Boer War. It includes illustrations of Conan Doyle in South Africa. As Conan Doyle writes about a visit to the front during World War I, "[a] shattered man, drenched crimson from head to foot, with two great eyes looking upward through a mask of blood . . . might well haunt one in one's dreams" (The British Campaign in France and Flanders, 1920, p. 312).

Monday, May 30, 2011

The last full measure.

George M. Cohan, NYPL
In honor of Memorial Day, a few selections from the Library of Congress' National Jukebox (an online collection of historical recordings):

• "Over There," by George M. Cohan, perf. Nora Bayes, 1917.

• "Address at Hoboken on return for burial of 5,212 American soldiers, sailors, marines, and nurses," by President Warren G. Harding, 1921. ("Many sons and daughters made the sublime offering and went to hallowed graves as the nation's defenders.")

Lincoln's Gettysburg address, perf. Harry E. Humphrey, 1914.

• "Semper fidelis march," perf. Sousa's Band, 1904.

• "Anchors Aweigh," perf. U.S. Marine Band, 1921.

• "Private Tommy Atkins," perf. Victor Military Band, 1914.

• "It's a Long Way to Tipperary," perf. Victor Military Band, 1914.

• "The Laddies Who Fought and Won," perf. Harry Lauder, 1917.

• "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning," perf. Arthur Fields, 1918.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal at 40.

Edward Fox in The Day of the Jackal
(dir. Fred Zinnemann, 1973)
On BBC Radio Ulster's Book Programme, Frederick Forsyth reflects on his The Day of the Jackal after 40 years; the 1973 film version with Edward Fox as a man plotting to kill Charles de Gaulle; and his new thriller, The Cobra (which takes on drug traffickers).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Westminster Detective Library: Help requested.

Harriet Prescott Spofford,
n.d. Library of Congress,
Prints and Photographs Div.
The Westminster Detective Library, spearheaded by Edgar winner Leroy Lad Panek (Introduction to the Detective Story; The American Police Novel: A History; coeditor of Early American Detective Stories: An Anthology) and Mary Bendel-Simso of McDaniel College (MD), is a project to identify, catalog, digitize, and post online all short detective fiction printed in the United States before 1891. To date, the catalog holds more than 1000 titles drawn from periodicals such as the Bangor Whig and Courier, the Alta Californian, Harper’s, Galaxy, Putnam’s, the New York Ledger, Ballou’s Dollar Magazine, and other 19th-century magazines and story papers. The editors believe that there may be as many as 1000 titles yet to be discovered.  

Among the goodies currently online:

• "My Mysterious Neighbors" by Mrs. M[ary]. A[ndrews]. Denison (1858). Massachusetts-born author of the humorous (and successful) That Husband of Mine (1874); married to Charles Wheeler Denison, editor of the antislavery journal The Emancipator. "My blood curdled. Was I living day by day next to a murderer—to a brace of murderers?" 
 • Various pieces by Charles Dickens, including "Two 'Detective' Anecdotes" (1851)

• "The Trailor Murder Mystery" (1846) by Abraham Lincoln. "[T]he Postmaster at Springfield [IL] received a letter . . . stating that William [Trailor] had returned home without Fisher, and was saying, rather boastfully, that Fisher was dead, and had willed him his money, and that he had got about fifteen hundred dollars by it. The letter further stated that William’s story and conduct seemed strange..."

• "A Story of Circumstantial Evidence" (1834) by Daniel O'Connell.
the prisoner was called on for his defence.  He called—to the surprise of everyone—the murdered man."

• "In a Cellar" (Atlantic Monthly, 1859) by Maine-born Harriet Prescott Spofford. Important early detective story by a US female writer

Panek and Bendel-Simso hope to have at least 150 more pieces online before the fall. They also welcome comments, clues to finding additional stories, and volunteer editors to assist in all areas of the project. Contact the editors here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Penelope Keith as Agatha Raisin, BBC Radio 4 Extra.

To the Manor Born's Penelope Keith stars as M. C. Beaton's Cotswolds sleuth Agatha Raisin this week on BBC Radio 4 Extra.  Go here for the schedule of episodes or to listen; episodes can generally be heard for a week after broadcast.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Smithsonian: Christie's home, Christie on film.

Smithsonian magazine assesses Christie screen adaptations such as And Then There Were None with Louis Hayward and Barry Fitzgerald (1945); Love from a Stranger with Basil Rathbone (1947, version of
Margaret Rutherford, left, and
Joan Hickson in Murder She Said
"Philomel College"); Murder She Said (1961, adaptation of 4:50 from Paddington) with Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple and Joan Hickson, the future Miss Marple; and The Alphabet Murders with Tony Randall (1965, adaptation of The ABC Murders). It also covers her Devon house Greenway. (Hat tip to Karen Jackson)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

"Dick Tracy in B-Flat" with Bob Hope;
Knight's "Death Blew Out the Match."

Bob Hope, NYPL
This month's highlights on the Radio Hall of Fame Web site include "Dick Tracy in B-Flat," the 1945 Command Performance spoof of the comic strip detective, which starred Bob Hope as Flat-top, Bing Crosby as Dick Tracy, Frank Sinatra, and others; and the 1946 "Death Blew Out the Match" from Crime Club (writ. Kathleen Moore Knight, 1935, about a playwright's murder on Cape Cod). It appears Windows Media Player is needed to play these programs (alternate site for "Dick Tracy in B Flat" here; alternate site for "Death Blew Out the Match" here).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lord Peter Wimsey on BBC Radio 4 Extra.

Ian Carmichael as
Lord Peter Wimsey in
Clouds of Witness

(dir. Hugh David, 1972)
This week on BBC Radio 4 Extra, Lord Peter Wimsey (Ian Carmichael) races against time to save his brother Gerald, the duke of Denver, from the gallows in Dorothy L. Sayers's Clouds of Witness. Go here for the schedule or to listen. Episodes can usually be heard for a week after broadcast.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Yaffe, Asimov, et al. on the importance of libraries.

Frederic Dannay (aka
Ellery Queen), left,
and James Yaffe, 1943
Library of Congress,
Prints & Photographs
In 1971 Troy (MI) librarian Marguerite Hart wrote to a number of prominent individuals asking for their statement on the importance of libraries. Among those who responded: Isaac Asimov, who wrote, "[a library is] a gateway, to a better and happier and more useful life";
E. B. White
, who wrote, "Books hold most of the secrets of the world"; and mystery writer-playwright-screenwriter James Yaffe, who wrote, "Through books we can realize, in part, our wild ambitions." The collection of responses has been digitized and can be found here. (Hat tip to Letters of Note)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Latest Dove Award winners:
P. D. James, Catherine Ross Nickerson.

During the April 2011 Popular Culture Association conference the PCA's Detective/Mystery Caucus announced its latest George N. Dove Award recipients for contributions to the serious study of mystery and crime fiction:  P.  D. James and Emory University's Catherine Ross Nickerson (the latter the author of The Web of Iniquity: Early Detective Fiction by American Women, 1998, and editor of the Cambridge Companion to American Crime Fiction, 2010). Past winners of the Dove Award include H. R. F. Keating, Crippen & Landru's Douglas G. Greene, University at Albany professor-author Frankie Y. Bailey, and yours truly. For further information on the Dove Award, including details on the award citations to James and Nickerson, contact Marty S. Knepper, Morningside College.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Eric Ambler's Topkapi on BBC Radio 4 Extra.

Peter Ustinov in Topkapi
(dir. Jules Dassin, 1964)
BBC Radio 4 Extra is now airing Eric Ambler's caper novel Topkapi; go here for the schedule or to listen. Episodes can usually be heard for a week after broadcast.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Avengers after 50 years.

Matthew Sweet of BBC Radio 3's Night Waves program discusses the impact of The Avengers after 50 years, especially on women, with various commentators (including Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale on the program, and series writer-producer Barry Clements). I like the fact that in France, The Avengers is called Chapeau melon et bottes de cuir (Bowler Hat and Leather Boots).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fine Books & Collections: Lovecraft's RI hangouts.

Providence Athenaeum
ca. 1900. Library of Congress,
Prints & Photographs Div.
Nick Mamatas discusses the favorite places in Providence, Rhode Island, of
H. P. Lovecraft (such as the Providence Athenaeum) in this piece in the May issue of Fine Books & Collections, which also discusses the question of Lovecraft's first book.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Happy birthday, Rudolph Fisher.

New York City, 1924. From left to right:
Langston Hughes, Charles S. Johnson,
E. Franklin Frazier, Rudolph Fisher,
Hubert T. Delaney. NYPL.
Rudolph Fisher—physician, Harlem Renaissance figure, and author of The Conjure- Man Dies: A Mystery Tale of Dark Harlem (1932)—was born today in Washington, DC, in 1897. He died in 1934. The Conjure-Man Dies is commonly believed to be the first mystery novel by an African American, but Marlena Bremseth argues persuasively that Philip S. Warne preceded Fisher. Author and professor Frankie Y. Bailey recently wrote a Clues article that compares the Harlem of Conjure-Man to that of Chester Himes in A Rage in Harlem.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Happy birthday, Edmund Wilson.

Edmund Wilson,
ca. 1936. NYPL.
Journalist, critic, and Vanity Fair and New Republic editor Edmund "Bunny" Wilson was born today in Red Bank, NJ, in 1895. He died in 1972. In the mystery community he is most notorious for his cranky New Yorker column "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?" (1945) in which he seems to trash all mysteries except for Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely. Protesters of Wilson's incendiary opinions on the mystery included Jacques Barzun. George Demko discusses Wilson's antimystery pieces here; Edward Champion looks at Wilson's columns here and concludes, "Wilson read mysteries for the wrong reasons."

Friday, May 06, 2011

Fri Forgotten Bks: Murder in the Mist by Zelda Popkin (1940).

Zelda Popkin, from
her autobiography
Open Every Door
 "A country inn is a percolator. News seeps, simmers, and bubbles."
—Zelda Popkin, Murder in the Mist 143

As May is Jewish American Heritage Month, I chose for this week's forgotten books Murder in the Mist by Zelda Popkin, daughter of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, who wrote in her autobiography, "I have found being a Jew attractive and interesting" (26).

New York department store detectives Mary Carner and Christopher Whittaker are on their honeymoon when they check into a Massachusetts tourist hotel and find the body of an artist's model. The model's small daughter insists a witch killed her mother; Mary is more interested in word of a spurned lover; a jealous wife; and a new, younger boyfriend. Surrounded by self-centered artists, oddball guests, and gossipy staff, Mary and Chris piece together the story of a sad life, with Mary stating "I see murder as a struggle for possession" (234).

Mary has no problem dressing down an incompetent chief of police but regards her own detecting talents modestly: "My severest critics tell me that I just sit and wait for clues to drop into my lap. They feel I should go chasing around like Perry Mason or pontificate about little gray cells like Monsieur Poirot. But I'm not a story-book detective. I'm a thief spotter" (232). The lively prose (Chris has a tendency to say "God damn" and provides a hilarious commentary on art appreciation in one scene), a well-constructed puzzle, and keen insight into character keep the reader turning the pages.

The remarkable Zelda Popkin (1898–1983) was the first female general assignment reporter for the Wilkes-Barre [PA] Times-Leader at age 16. She wrote a standalone, So Much Blood (1944), and five mysteries with Mary Carner: Death Wears a White Gardenia (1938), Time Off for Murder (1940), Murder in the Mist (1940), Dead Man's Gift (1941), and No Crime for a Lady (1942). Popkin's A Death of Innocence (1971) was adapted as a CBS TV movie in 1971 and starred Shelley Winters as the mother of a murder suspect. Her best-known books are probably The Journey Home (1945), about a serviceman returning from World War II, and Small Victory (1947), one of the earliest U.S. novels dealing with the Holocaust. She assisted in rescuing Jews from the Nazis, worked for the Red Cross in occupied Germany, witnessed the desperate plight of displaced persons, and reported that a food parcel was given to the wife of the ill dancer Nijinsky. Quiet Street (1951) reflects her visit to the strife-torn Holy Land where her sister lived.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

U.S. writers on Time covers.

John P. Marquand,
from The Rotarian
(Aug 1949)
The Web site of the American Writers Museum (a proposed new museum on American literature) highlights the Time magazine covers since 1923 that have featured U.S. writers. Mystery fans will appreciate the ones with Craig Rice (1946), Mr. Moto creator John P. Marquand (1949), noted mystery critic and Columbia University provost Jacques Barzun (1956), Scott Turow (1990), and Michael Crichton (1995). Missed is James Gould Cozzens (1957), author of the Haycraft-Queen Cornerstone work The Just and the Unjust (1942).

Has a writer ever been selected as Time's Person of the Year? I can't recall.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Law professor: Law students can learn from detective stories.

When lawyers are not being villainized in popular culture, they are often portrayed as having many of the same admirable traits as a shrewd detective.
— Simon Stern, "Detecting Doctrines" 101
In "Detecting Doctrines: The Case Method and the Detective Story" (Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities 23.2 [2011], 101–48), U-Toronto law professor Simon Stern suggests that the detective story
Illustration of Randolph
Mason by Dan Sayre
Groesheck, from Melville
Davisson Post's "The
Corrector of Destinies"
Pearson's Magazine
Feb 1907
can help teach legal reasoning and provides some examples of how courts have applied the detective story in constructing doctrines. He quotes from R. Austin Freeman's "Art of the Detective Story" (1924) and also deals with lawyers as detectives, including Anna Katharine Green's The Leavenworth Case (1878); Fergus Hume's The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886); Arthur Morrison's Martin Hewitt, Investigator (1894); the inevitable Randolph Mason (of Melville Davisson Post) and Perry Mason (of Erle Stanley Gardner); the Francis Pettigrew novels of Cyril Hare; and Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent (1987). Who knew that the legal magazine Green Bag criticized Sherlock Holmes's reasoning in 1902?  (Hat tips to the Legal Theory and Law & Humanities blogs)

Monday, May 02, 2011

New book on Collins and Caspary.

My colleague A. B. Emrys (University of Nebraska–Kearney) has a new book out with McFarland, Wilkie Collins, Vera Caspary, and the Evolution of the Casebook Novel, which further traces the linkages between Wilkie Collins and Vera Caspary that were first explored in the Clues 23.3 (2005) article "Laura, Vera, and Wilkie" (for example, Laura's Waldo Lydecker was modeled on Count Fosco of Collins's The Woman in White). Emrys also edited the Caspary short story collection The Murder in the Stork Club and Other Mysteries and wrote afterwords to the Feminist Press reprints of Caspary's Laura and Bedelia.