Thursday, January 31, 2008

Happy birthday, Zane Grey.

Legendary Western novelist Zane Grey, best known for Riders of the Purple Sage (1912), was born today in Zanesville, Ohio, in 1872. Before his death in 1939, he had produced nearly 90 books, many of them adapted for film (such as The Last Trail with Tom Mix, 1927). During an eight-year period (1917 to 1924), a Grey book appeared on the bestseller list every year.

Check out the West Society's "Why You Should Read Zane Grey."

Monday, January 28, 2008

Crime Fiction Down Under.

The Australian crime fiction blog has listed favorite Australian mysteries of 2007, including the intriguing El Dorado by Dorothy Porter, "crime fiction in verse."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Talent to Amuse.

In conjunction with its revival of Present Laughter, Britain's National Theatre honors writer, director, actor, playwright, and composer Noel Coward with an exhibition, "Star Quality," through March. For further information, go here. For BBC interview clips with Coward, go here. For his inimitable performance of "Mad Dogs and Englishmen," go here.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Madness of Mary Lincoln.

As a BookTV junkie, I watched a program on Jason Emerson's new book The Madness of Mary Lincoln, which deals with the often misunderstood mental illness of the wife of the 16th president. Her son, Robert Todd Lincoln, tends to be demonized for institutionalizing her; Emerson explains in an even-handed fashion the difficult situation in which Robert found himself, Mary's severe trauma via the violent death of her husband and the deaths of most of her children, her medical treatment, and her attitude toward her confinement as evidenced in her letters.

To watch the video from the program, go here. (And for Bill Crider and other Texans, this tribute to the late Molly Ivins may be of interest).

Friday, January 25, 2008

Somerset and All the Maughams.

Somerset Maugham was born today in Paris in 1874 and died in 1965. Although Maugham is known for works such as Cakes and Ale, Of Human Bondage, and The Painted Veil, those that resonate in mystery annals are Ashenden, featuring the spy inspired by Maugham's World War I experiences and later played by John Gielgud (in Hitchcock's Secret Agent) and Alex Jennings (in Ashenden), and The Letter, where Bette Davis so memorably blew away her lover in the opening scene.

The Letter was revived at London's Wyndhams Theatre in 2007 and starred Jenny Seagrove in the Davis role and Anthony Andrews in the Herbert Marshall part. A Lux Radio Theater version with Davis and Marshall can be heard here.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Happy birthday, Edith Wharton.

Edith Wharton—author of Ethan Frome, The House of Mirth, and The Age of Innocence; friend of Henry James; and a relative of mystery author Frances Newbold Noyes Hart—was born today in 1862. She died in 1937.

She received the Cross of the Legion of Honor from the French government for her considerable relief work during World War I and the Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Innocence in 1921. Among her many works are a number of ghost stories such as "The Fullness of Life," "The Moving Finger," "Mr. Jones," "The Triumph of Night," and "Pomegranate Seed." New York Review of Books Classics has recently issued The New York Stories of Edith Wharton.

Monday, January 21, 2008

100 Books Every Child Should Read.

The Telegraph's list of 100 Books Every Child Should Read includes Roald Dahl (5 entries), Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, Daphne du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek, H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines, and Charles Portis's True Grit.

What—no Freddy the Detective?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Happy birthday, Richard Le Gallienne.

Writer-poet Richard Le Gallienne was born today in Liverpool in 1866 and died in 1947. The father of legendary actress Eva Le Gallienne, he had a substantial literary career starting in the Mauve Decade and eventually produced some 40 volumes of poetry, nonfiction works, and novels. A reader for the Bodley Head and a good friend of mystery author Grant Allen, he also was a critic, writing for newspapers such as the London Star, the New York Sun, and the New York Times. According to Richard Whittington-Egan in the August 2003 Contemporary Review, Le Gallienne, living in France in considerable difficulty during World War II, was offered various incentives to broadcast for the Germans but he rejected their overtures.
" the writer life seems still more real, and how much finer, as he lives it—in the starlight of words."—Richard Le Gallienne, Attitudes and Avowals (1910) 164

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Triple-whammy birthday.

Today's three birthdays reflect the immense diversity in and richness of the mystery field.

Tormented genius Edgar Allan Poe was born today in Boston in 1809.

Strangers on a Train author Patricia Highsmith (and the creator of the creepy Mr. Ripley) was born today in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1921.

Patricia Moyes, the creator of sleuths Henry and Emmy Tibbett, was born today in 1923 in Ireland and died in 2000. A one-time assistant to Peter Ustinov and a member of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force during World War II, she published 19 mysteries with the Tibbetts, including Johnny Under Ground (1965), in which a corpse discovered at an abandoned World War II airfield has implications for both past and present. She received an Edgar for Many Deadly Returns (1970).

Friday, January 18, 2008

WPA Posters.

The Library of Congress has posted online highlights from its Works Progress Administration collection of posters. It spans the years 1936 to 1943.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Pat Paulsen for President.

For those suffering from primary fatigue, have a look back at perpetual candidate for president Pat Paulsen. Go here for video and audio clips as well as texts of Paulsen's editorials from the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

"And, all the fuss about that Senator who rented a yacht at government expense and threw a series of wild orgies...Picky...picky...picky..." –Pat Paulsen (1968)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

"Improving" Dame Agatha?

Gilbert Magazine, a publication of the American Chesterton Society, has posted an "Open Letter to the Agatha Christie Estate" by Chris Chan that criticizes the latest Miss Marple adaptations now airing on PBS. Says Chan, "When productions imply that Christie adaptations are only watchable if sex and violence is added, the battle for respectability is already lost." Similar howls of outrage were heard on DorothyL after Tuppence Beresford--hardly a mess as an accomplished spy and former World War I nurse--was portrayed as a lush by Greta Scacchi in the new adaptation of By the Pricking of My Thumbs. The discussion on the Mystery! board is equally negative, not least for the fact that many of the plots bear no resemblance to the original texts (such as the adaptation of Nemesis).

Insulting is the mind-set that older works must be "updated" because today's audiences will be unable to grasp their references. The popularity of Jane Austen adaptations demonstrates that audiences can understand and appreciate works written in another era (Miss Austen's unerring eye for universal characters undoubtedly is key as well). One blogger stated that as the Joan Hickson Marples and David Suchet Poirots were definitive, remakes serve no purpose and asks, "Why have we never seen Parker Pyne on our screens, for example?" It's a good question. Private investigator Pyne, teamed with Dame Agatha's alter ego Ariadne Oliver as he was in "The Case of the Discontented Soldier," would make for an entertaining series.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Haycraft-Queen: Update.

Since I last posted on the out-of-print Haycraft-Queen Cornerstone titles (those mysteries deemed essential by scholar Howard Haycraft and author Ellery Queen), there have been some welcome developments:

Rue Morgue Press announced reprints of HQ listers Manning Coles (aka Cyril Henry Coles and Adelaide Frances Oke Manning) and John Dickson Carr (aka Carter Dickson; pictured at left). The Coles title is Pray Silence (1940), featuring spy Tommy Hambledon; the Carr titles are The Judas Window and The Crooked Hinge (both 1938). Pray Silence is slated for February; the Carr titles slated for March.

The literary executor for H. F. Heard announced a reprint of HQ lister A Taste for Honey (1941). Blue Dolphin Publishing's edition is slated for March, followed eventually by the other Mr. Mycroft mysteries (Reply Paid; Murder by Reflection).

Haycraft-Queen Out-of-Print Titles in the United States
(Compiled and revised by Elizabeth Foxwell)

Anderson Frederick Irving - The Book of Murder - 1930
Armstrong Charlotte - The Unsuspected - 1946
Bailey H. C. - The Red Castle - 1932
Benson G. R. - Tracks in the Snow - 1906
Charteris Leslie [Leslie Charles Bowyer Yin]
- Meet the Tiger - 1928
Coates Robert M. - Wisteria Cottage - 1948
Cole G. D. H. [G. D. H. Cole and Margaret Cole] - The Brooklyn Murders - 1923
Crispin Edmund [Robert Bruce Montgomery] - The Moving Toyshop - 1946
Dane Clemence [Winifred Ashton] and Helen Simpson - Re-enter Sir John - 1932
Davis Dorothy Salisbury - A Gentle Murderer - 1951
De la Torre Lillian [Lillian McCue] - Dr. Sam Johnson, Detector - 1946
Dickson Carter [John Dickson Carr] - Lord of the Sorcerers - 1946
Dunsany Lord - The Little Tales of Smethers - 1952
Eberhart Mignon G. - The Patient in Room 18 - 1929
Ellin Stanley - Dreadful Summit - 1948
Eustis Helen - The Horizontal Man - 1946
Frome David - The Hammersmith Murders - 1930
Gardner Erle Stanley - The Case of the Sulky Girl - 1933
Halsey Harlan Page - Old Sleuth, the Detective - 1872
Hammett Dashiell - The Adventures of Sam Spade - 1944
Hart Frances Noyes - The Bellamy Trial - 1927
Hughes Dorothy B. - The So Blue Marble - 1940
Iles Francis [Anthony Berkeley Cox] - Before the Fact - 1932
King Rufus - Murder by the Clock - 1929
Lawrence Hilda - Blood Upon the Snow - 1944
Lipsky Eleazar - The People Against O’Hara - 1950
Lockridge Frances and Richard Lockridge - The Norths Meet Murder - 1940
Lustgarten Edgar - A Case to Answer - 1947
MacDonald Philip - The Rasp - 1924
MacDonald Philip - The Nursemaid Who Disappeared [aka Warrant for X] - 1938
MacHarg William and Edwin Balmer - The Achievements of Luther Trant - 1910
Marquand John P. - No Hero - 1935
McCloy Helen - Through a Glass, Darkly - 1950
O’Higgins Harvey J. - Detective Duff Unravels It - 1929
Paul Elliot - The Mysterious Mickey Finn - 1939
Piper Evelyn - The Motive - 1950
Rawson Clayton - Death from a Top Hat - 1938
Rhode John - The Murders in Praed Street - 1928
Rhode John - The Paddington Mystery - 1925
Rice Craig - Trial by Fury - 1941
Rohmer Sax [Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward]
- The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu - 1908
Ross Barnaby [Ellery Queen]
- The Tragedy of Y - 1932
Seeley Mabel - The Listening House - 1938
Stribling T. S. - Clues of the Caribbees - 1929
Trevor Glen [James Hilton] - Murder at School [aka Was It Murder?] - 1931
Van Dine S. S. [Willard Huntington Wright] - The Benson Murder Case - 1926
Vickers Roy - The Department of Dead Ends - 1946
Walling R. A. J. - The Fatal Five Minutes - 1932
Walsh Thomas - Nightmare in Manhattan - 1950
Waters [William Russell] - Recollections of a Detective Police Officer - 1856
Wells Carolyn - The Clue - 1909

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Happy birthday, Storm Jameson.

British novelist Margaret Storm Jameson was born today in Whitby in 1891. Before her death in 1986, she had produced more than 40 novels and a two-volume autobiography, Journey from the North (1969-70). Cambridge Scholars Publishing has recently issued a collection of critical essays on her work, Margaret Storm Jameson: Writing in Dialogue (2007).

Monday, January 07, 2008

The First Police Procedurals.

Michael over at 2blowhards recently stated,
". . . it was the crime novelist Ed McBain who kicked off the 'police procedural' genre. . . ."

Not precisely. Although Lawrence Treat denied it, he is frequently credited as the "father" of the police procedural, and Lancashire-born Maurice Procter also made important contributions, such as Hell Is a City (1954). In addition, according to Dean James, although McBain (aka Evan Hunter) certainly popularized and gave distinction to the police procedural, recognition should be given to American author Hillary Waugh (for Last Seen Wearing, 1952) and ever-energetic British writer John Creasey (under the J. J. Marric pseudonym, for Gideon's Day, 1955; filmed by John Ford as Gideon's Day, aka Gideon of Scotland Yard, 1958). Waugh's and Creasey's works appeared before McBain's Cop Hater (1956).

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Richard Hannay returns.

The 39 Steps, a stage production of Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 film (which loosely adapted John Buchan's famous 1915 thriller), is now playing at the American Airlines Theater via the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City. It runs through March 23rd.

In it, South African Richard Hannay is embroiled in espionage and murder and dodges various nefarious spies and the police in his efforts to uncover the truth.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Horrid Murder!

Harvard Law Library has a new digital collection, Dying Speeches & Bloody Murders, of more than 500 broadsides that were sold to witnesses of public executions in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain. These include an 1808 account of mutiny, the execution of Fenians for killing a police officer in 1867, and the confession of Constance Kent for murdering her half-brother in 1860 (the case is the basis for Such Bitter Business by Elbur Ford, aka Victoria Holt).

(Hat tip to PhiloBiblos).

About the image: Rendering of 1890 murder victim Hiram Sawtell. Courtesy of Special Collections Department, Harvard Law School Library.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Paddington: Illegal alien?

Author Michael Bond plans to mark Paddington Bear's 50th anniversary with a new book, Paddington Here and Now, scheduled to be published in June. In it, the marmalade-loving bear faces arrest by police, who have questions about his immigration status (you may recall that Paddington originally hails from Peru, where his Aunt Lucy lives in a Home for Retired Bears). For further details, go here.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy birthday, Isaac Asimov.

Science fiction legend Isaac Asimov was born today in Russia in 1920. He died in 1992.

One does not need to look far for evidence of Asimov's work, which numbers approximately 500 books; Will Smith recently appeared in a film version of Asimov's I, Robot. But Asimov also has made some notable contributions to the mystery field. I am a particular fan of his entertaining Black Widowers tales, in which a perplexing mystery is solved after dinner not by any of the distinguished guests present but by the unassuming waiter Henry. Not long ago, Carroll & Graf published the collection The Return of the Black Widowers (introd. Harlan Ellison), and mystery fans often recall with affection Asimov's Murder at the ABA (not the American Bar Association, but the American Booksellers Association).
. . .in the 21st century, if we survive, we can imagine that our technological society will advance even further. There will be even more computerization and automation. The dull work of the world will be done by machines. Men and women themselves will be able to do the kind of work they want to do. Undoubtedly, some of them will want to be research scientists, or symphony conductors, or they will want to be great artists, or writers. . . . There will be enough people who will want to be that, and there will be people who will want to learn how to bowl perfectly, or how to collect leaves, or how to build battleships out of toothpicks. What's the difference? Whatever it is you do that makes you happy, and adds to the joyousness of the world, is justified.—Isaac Asimov, 1974.