Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sayers, Thorndike this week on BBC Radio 7.

BBC Radio 7 airs Dorothy L. Sayers's Busman's Honeymoon this week, featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey. Also featured is Russell Thorndike's pirate-turned-vicar Dr. Syn. Go here for the schedule or to listen.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Blake's Nigel Strangeways returns.

Rue Morgue Press has reissued A Question of Proof (1935), the first novel featuring sleuth (and W. H. Auden alter ego) Nigel Strangeways, by Nicholas Blake (aka British poet laureate Cecil Day Lewis). The press will follow this novel with Blake's splendid Thou Shell of Death in early 2009.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Charlie Chan returns.

Welcome news indeed: Hard on the heels of the August 26th birthday of Earl Derr Biggers, Academy Chicago Publishers announced its reprints of several Charlie Chan novels, starting with The House without a Key (1925) and The Chinese Parrot (1926) in October.

(Hat tip to In Reference to Murder)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Be a marshal, dress like a chicken.

In this interesting exhibit on the U.S. Marshals Service, it is revealed how one deputy dressed as the San Diego Chicken and others as cheerleaders to trap fugitives via offers of free tickets. For a chronology of the marshals' history, go here; for the different badges marshals have worn, go here; for the marshals' 15 Most Wanted List, go here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

W. H. Auden, professor.

"Fellow Irresponsibles, Follow Me" begins the lively look at W. H. Auden as a Swarthmore professor, which is featured on the college library Web site. Included are Auden's course reserve lists for the library and his penchant for writing in books, such as this comment on one of his own poems: "O God, what rubbish." While at Swarthmore, he wrote the play The Ascent of F6 with Christopher Isherwood and saw it performed there. I was particularly taken by his remark, "My seminar on Romanticism starts tomorrow. Quakers or no Quakers, I shall serve bread and cheese and beer at four o'clock." (Swarthmore, of course, was founded by Quakers.)

Auden, the model for sleuth Nigel Strangeways for Nicholas Blake (aka Cecil Day Lewis), was a big fan of detective stories. Be sure to read his classic essay "The Guilty Vicarage" on the genre.

About the photo: Auden, right, with Christopher Isherwood, Feb. 1939. Photo by Carl Van Vechten. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Clips from the Edinburgh Book Festival.

Among the video and audio clips available from this month's Edinburgh International Book Festival: actors Bill Patterson and Simon Callow; as well as author Val McDermid (and there are archives of past events, including Ian McEwan with Ian Rankin, and Alexander McCall Smith).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sayers and Tey this week on BBC Radio 7.

Coming up this week on BBC Radio 7: Dorothy L. Sayers's Strong Poison and Josephine Tey's The Singing Sands. Go here for the schedule or to listen.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Louis Bayard on LOC podcast.

With The Black Tower, his novel featuring the ex-con turned cop Vidocq out this week, Louis Bayard (The Pale Blue Eye, Mister Timothy) sat down with Matt Raymond of the Library of Congress to talk about balancing fact and fiction in his historical mysteries. Go here to listen.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

List of radio literary programs updated.

I've updated my list of links to radio programs on books and authors; go here for the latest (I became frustrated trying to find such a list on the Web and so created my own).

About the photo
: Booklist's Donna Seaman, host of Open Books Radio, WLUW (Chicago)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Quoth the raven.

Ed and Edgar over at the Bibliothecary blog is featuring Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven," including readings of the poem by John Astin and Basil Rathbone and a clip from Roger Corman's The Raven (1963).

(Hat tip to PhiloBiblos)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Our man in Croatia, Sterling Hayden.

Among the surprises coming out of the recent release of OSS files in the National Archives is the report of the file on John Hamilton, aka The Asphalt Jungle's Sterling Hayden, who served in the OSS during World War II. An accomplished sailor, Hayden helped set up shipping routes involving Italy and participated in other clandestine operations. Check out this Washington Post article for more information about his WWII record.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Clues publishes Scottish crime fiction issue.

Clues: A Journal of Detection has just published vol. 26, no. 2, a special theme issue on Scottish crime fiction. Guest edited by Gill Plain (University of St. Andrews, UK), the issue features articles on James Hogg, Paul Johnston, Denise Mina, Ian Rankin, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson, as well as J. E. Preston Muddock's Dick Donovan, a Glasgow detective that appeared alongside Sherlock Holmes in the pages of the Strand. Go here for the table of contents; here for more about the journal in general (including subscription information).

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

V. I. Warshawski this week on BBC Radio 7.

Sara Paretsky's Chicago private investigator V. I. Warshawski appears this Thursday and Friday on BBC Radio 7 in "Publicity Stunts" (from V.I. x 2). Go here for the schedule or to listen.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Happy birthday, 19th amendment.

The ratification of the 19th amendment to the Constitution—giving American women the right to vote—occurred today in 1920 (thanks to Tennessee state representative Harry Burn, whose mother told him to "be a good boy and vote for suffrage").

To watch "Sufferin' till Suffrage" from Schoolhouse Rock, go here.

About the photo: Alice Paul, author of the Equal Rights Amendment, sews a star onto a suffrage flag (stars were added as states ratified the 19th amendment). Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-USZ62-119710.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cool stuff found by Library of Congress interns.

The Library of Congress blog reports that Library of Congress interns, whose job each summer is to comb through uncatalogued copyright records and collections acquired through gifts, have found a batch of neat stuff such as:
an October 1935 issue of G-Men (vol. 1, no. 1)

original instrumental sheet music for Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" (1899)

an original Broadway cast recording of 42nd Street (1980)
Greenwich Village (ca. 1922), which assembles pieces from Chaplin's The Rounders (1914) and another Chaplin film to create a new film

Further details about the finds here.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Happy birthday, Hugo Gernsback.

Science fiction pioneer and editor of Amazing Stories Hugo Gernsback (for whom the Hugo Award is named) was born today in Luxembourg in 1884. The photo at left is of Luxembourg's 2004 stamp honoring its native son, a naturalized American.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The magic hairball?

The Curious Expeditions blog discusses "the magic hairball" that is displayed at the Staten Island Museum, believed to negate any ingested poison in days of old.

Mystery writers, take note.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Valancourt to reissue Richard Marsh's
The Beetle.

"Mr. Marsh has as prettily gruesome an imagination as any writer of sensational fiction." —To-day.

Kansas City's Valancourt Books has announced that it will shortly reissue Richard Marsh's The Beetle (1897), which created a sensation with its supernatural account of an Egyptian sect that seeks to use the powers of someone who can turn into a large beetle (pre-Kafka, of course).

Marsh was the pseudonym for Richard Bernard Heldmann (1857-1915); Valancourt has reprinted a number of his mysteries and ghost stories. Talent obviously runs in the family, for Marsh's grandson was the horror writer Robert Aickman.

And for those weary of the same names on the bestseller list, Valancourt's list of its top sellers for July provides a refreshing alternative:
1. Clermont by Regina Maria Roche (first publ. 1798)
2. Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parsons (first publ. 1793)
3. The Italian by Ann Radcliffe (first publ. 1797)
4. The Sorrows of Satan by Marie Corelli (first publ. 1895)
5. (tie) The Fate of Fenella by Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, et al. (first publ. 1892)
5. (tie) The Garden God by Forrest Reid (first publ. 1905)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Deborah Crombie on Live from
Prairie Lights

Agatha, Edgar, and Macavity nominee Deborah Crombie recently appeared at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City to talk about her new Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James novel Where Memories Lie (involving a dark legacy from World War II). Go here to listen.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Happy birthday, Mary Roberts Rinehart; William Goldman.

Mary Roberts Rinehart, creator of nurse-detective Hilda Adams (aka Miss Pinkerton), and hugely successful over a writing career that spanned some 40 years, was born today in 1876; and author-screenwriter William Goldman turns 77 today. Goldman won Oscars for his screenplays of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as well as All the President's Men, and his books include The Princess Bride and Marathon Man.

About the photo: Mary Roberts Rinehart (center) is made an honorary member of the Blackfeet Indian tribe, May 31, 1923. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-USZ62-108080.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Classics for Pleasure Web cast with
Michael Dirda.

The Library of Congress has posted the Web cast with Michael Dirda on his book Classics for Pleasure, in which he points readers to books they may have neglected, including works by G. K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, Philip K. Dick, Frederick Douglass, H. Rider Haggard, James Hogg, M. R. James, Sheridan Le Fanu, Daphne du Maurier, and Jules Verne.

Dirda, who writes for the Washington Post Book World and hosts a weekly bookchat on, is a member of the Baker Street Irregulars. His favorite authors include John Dickson Carr and Georgette Heyer.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Cornerstone: The Bellamy Trial
by Frances Noyes Hart.

Note: This continues my occasional series on the Haycraft-Queen Cornerstone list (those mysteries deemed essential by Howard Haycraft and Ellery Queen).

"We're all so everlastingly canny and competent and sophisticated these days, going mechanically through a mechanical world, sharpening up our little emotions, tuning up our little sensations— and suddenly there's a cry of 'Murder!' in the streets, and we stop and look back, shuddering, over our shoulder—and across us falls the shadow of a savage with a bloodstained club, and we know that it's good and dangerous and beautiful to be alive."—Frances Noyes Hart, The Bellamy Trial 5-6

As today is the birthday of Frances Newbold Noyes Hart, it's fitting to discuss her terrific novel that appears on the Cornerstone list, The Bellamy Trial (1927). Taking place entirely in the courtroom, the case involves a beautiful woman found dead in a cottage; her husband and a female friend, both accused of killing her; and the friend's husband, who is believed to be the victim's lover. Assorted ex-fiancés, family members, colorful servants, and other witnesses parade to the witness stand, appearing reliable and unreliable by turns, as prosecutor and defense attorney indulge in courtroom pyrotechnics and the weary judge attempts to maintain order. Particularly fine are Hart's portrayal of the circus atmosphere of a notorious trial and her characterization of a jaded male reporter and his dewy-eyed female counterpart at the "Philadelphia Planet" (Hart's father, Frank Brett Noyes, was the publisher of the Washington Star. Planet/star—get it?). The writing is elegant and suspenseful, although I guessed the perpetrator, and the book ends with éclat.

Hart (1890–1943) served as an overseas YMCA canteen worker during World War I and earned second prize for her short story "Contact" in the O Henry Memorial Prize competition in 1920. The Bellamy Trial is dedicated to "my favourite lawyer Edward Henry Hart"—her husband—and is based on New Jersey's Hall-Mills murder case, which also influenced F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. The Bellamy Trial is out of print in the United States—a distinct crime, in my view. I'm looking forward to my next read, Hart's Halloween mystery Hide in the Dark (1929), in which a coterie of bright young things revisits the site of a mutual friend's death 10 years later.

About the photo: Frances Noyes, bet. 1910 and 1920. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ggbain-11227.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Happy birthday, Robert van Gulik; Jonathan Kellerman; P. L. Travers.

Dutch diplomat and Sinologist Robert van Gulik, creator of the Judge Dee mystery series, was born today in 1910; hard on the heels of his wife's birthday on July 31st, Alex Delaware creator Jonathan Kellerman turns 59 today; and P. L. Travers, creator of the original supernanny, Mary Poppins, was born today in Queensland, Australia, in 1899.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Happy birthday, Iain Pears; Carolyn Wheat.

Iain Pears, creator of art sleuths Jonathan Argyll and Flavia de Stefano, and author of the intricate An Instance of the Fingerpost (1998), turns 53 today. And Anthony and Agatha winner Carolyn Wheat, creator of attorney Cass Jameson, turns 62 today.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


Today in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt (left in photo) and Hiram Johnson were selected as candidates for president and vice president respectively by the Progressive (aka Bull Moose) Party.

And today in 1974, Philippe Petit stepped out on a thin wire strung between the towers of the uncompleted World Trade Center while New Yorkers held their breath.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The dozen best detective short stories ever written.

The following were selected by Anthony Boucher, John Dickson Carr, August Derleth, Lew D. Feldman, Howard Haycraft, James Hilton, Charles Honce, Ellery Queen, James Sandoe, Viola Brothers Shore, Vincent Starrett, and Lee Wright (as reported in Ellery Queen, In the Queen's Parlor and Other Leaves from the Editors' Notebook 89):

"The Hands of Mr. Ottermole" by Thomas Burke
"The Purloined Letter" by Edgar Allan Poe
"The Red-Headed League" by Arthur Conan Doyle
"The Avenging Chance" by Anthony Berkeley [Anthony Berkeley Cox]
"The Problem of Cell 13" by Jacques Futrelle
"The Absent-Minded Coterie" by Robert Barr
"The Invisible Man" by G. K. Chesterton
"Naboth's Vineyard" by Melville Davisson Post
"The Yellow Slugs" by H. C. Bailey
"The Genuine Tabard" by E. C. Bentley
"The Gioconda Smile" by Aldous Huxley
"Suspicion" by Dorothy L. Sayers

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Happy birthday, Per Wahlöö.

Swedish author Per Wahlöö, creator (with his wife Maj Sjöwall) of detective Martin Beck, was born today in Gothenburg in 1926. They won an Edgar for The Laughing Policeman (1970). Wahlöö died in 1975. Beck appears in a Swedish TV series that often airs on the Mhz networks.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Maugham's Ashenden this week on BBC Radio 7.

Somerset Maugham's "gentleman spy" Ashenden (from Ashenden; or, The British Agent, 1928) appears this week on BBC Radio 7, narrated by Alex Jennings. Go here for the schedule or to listen.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Happy birthday, P. D. James.

Baroness James of Holland Park, creator of Commander Adam Dalgliesh and Cordelia Gray, turns 88 today. Her upcoming Dalgliesh novel is The Private Patient (due out in the United States in November).

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Stanley Baldwin, mystery fan.

The favorite detective story of British prime minister Stanley Baldwin? The Leavenworth Case by American author Anna Katharine Green (1878; see Julian Symons, Bloody Murder 63).

Friday, August 01, 2008

Happy birthday, Carter Brown; M. R. James.

Naturalized Australian Alan Geoffrey Yates, better known as Carter Brown and a bunch of other pseudonyms, was born today in London in 1923. He churned out numerous paperback originals during his career, including Lament for a Lousy Lover (1960), Murder Is a Package Deal (1964), The Black Lace Hangover (1966), and So What Killed the Vampire (1966).

And writer and academic M. R. James was born today in Kent in 1862. Penguin has published two volumes of his ghost stories.