Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy birthday, Helen Eustis.

Helen Eustis—author of the Edgar-winning The Horizontal Man (1946) and The Fool Killer (1954), friend of Carson McCullers, and ex-wife of Smith poet-professor Alfred Young Fisher—turns 92 today in New York City.

About the image: Anthony Perkins in The Fool Killer (1965, dir. Servando Gonzalez)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Poe's "The Raven" online at LOC.

Courtesy of the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress, the 1884 edition of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" (with illustrations by Gustave Doré) has been digitized, as well as an 1875 French translation of the poem by Stéphane Mallarmé (with illustrations by famed painter and Mallarmé friend Edouard Manet).

About the image: Illustration by Gustave Doré from Poe's "The Raven" (New York: Harper, 1884)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Patrick Hamilton's Rope and World War I.

On the Great War Fiction blog, George Simmers discusses the World War I background to Patrick Hamilton's Rope, the 1929 play based on the Leopold and Loeb case, which was later filmed by Alfred Hitchcock. The play is on stage again at London's Almeida Theater.

About the image: John Dall and Farley Granger in Rope (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1948).

Monday, December 28, 2009

"The footprints of a gigantic hound"
this week on BBC Radio 7.

This week, BBC Radio 7 features Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles starring Roger Rees. Go here for the schedule or to listen.

About the image: Cigarette card of the Hound of the Baskervilles, part of a series featuring Conan Doyle's characters, NYPL.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Rod Serling's "Night of the Meek."

For today, Rod Serling's 85th birthday as well as Christmas Day, let's remember the episode he wrote for The Twilight Zone, "Night of the Meek," starring Art Carney as an alcoholic department store Santa. Go here to watch it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

R. Austin Freeman's first detective work sold at auction.

At the December 17th Sotheby's auction, a first edition of R. Austin Freeman's first detective work The Adventures of Romney Pringle (1902, written with James Pitcairn under the pseudonym Clifford Ashdown), sold for £1875 (approx. US$3030). Freeman is the creator of Dr. John Thorndyke and a pioneer in the Columbo school of storytelling (i.e., the reader knows the identity of the criminal at the outset of the narrative and follows the detective's investigation).

Other results include the following:
  • R. Austin Freeman, The Red Thumb Mark (1907), 1st ed. copy owned by Ellery Queen, £3250 (approx. US$5252)
  • Dashiell Hammett, 1st ed. of The Thin Man (1934), £1375 (approx. US$2222)
(Hat tip to PhiloBiblos)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Doug Cushman's Dirk Bones.

The latest mystery for beginning readers from author-illustrator Doug Cushman is Dirk Bones and the Mystery of the Missing Books, in which the intrepid reporter Dirk (I suspect a nod to Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt) investigates why the books by famous author Edgar Bleek are going missing.

I really like Cushman's works (such as the Aunt Eater series and those featuring wombat detective Seymour Sleuth) with their engaging drawings.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Art of the Bookstore.

The Art of the Bookstore features paintings by Gibbs M. Smith of—what else—bookshops. The usual suspects seem to be covered—for example, Laurence Ferlinghetti's City Lights in San Francisco, Powell's in Portland, Shakespeare & Co. in Paris—and it is also good to see icons such as Tattered Cover in Denver and Prairie Lights in Iowa, as well as one of my favorites, Green Apple, represented. But it is sad to see those that are no more—Cody's in Berkeley, CA; Chapters in Washington, DC (although Chapters may eventually reopen; go here for details).

About the image: Inside the Strand Bookstore, NYC. Go here for a tour of the store.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Russell Thorndike this week on BBC Radio 7.

This week on BBC Radio 7, Dr. Syn, Russell Thorndike's swashbuckling vicar, is back in The Further Adventures of Dr. Syn (1936), read by Rufus Sewell (Cold Comfort Farm, John Adams). Go here for the schedule or to listen.

About the image: Patrick McGoohan as Dr. Syn in The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (dir. James Neilson, 1963)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Marcia Muller on favorite books received from Santa.

Marcia Muller discusses the past books she has received as Christmas gifts on

Friday, December 18, 2009

Early zombie work reissued.

Long before Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was Richard Marsh's A Spoiler of Men (1905), dubbed by the Morning Leader as "thoroughly gruesome and effective." Now republished by Valancourt Books, it joins Valancourt's other Marsh reprints such as The Beetle (1897) and The Seen and the Unseen (1900).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Happy birthday, Penelope Fitzgerald.

British author Penelope Fitzgerald (The Bookshop, Offshore, etc.) was born today in Lincoln in 1916. She died in 2000. Fitzgerald was the niece of Golden Age mystery writer Monsignor Ronald Knox (see Fitzgerald's book The Knox Brothers [1977] for her take on her uncle and her father, Punch editor Edmund Knox).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New Poe exhibition in Boston.

As noted by PhiloBiblos, "The Raven in the Frog Pond: Edgar Allan Poe and the City of Boston" opens at the Boston Public Library on December 17th. The festivities kick off with the latest chapter of the Great Poe Debate as to what city can claim the tortured writer as its own.

About the image: Edgar Allan Poe, NYPL

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Spy novelists continue to attract interest at auction.

At Bloomsbury's December 10th auction, spy novelists continued to garner buyer interest. Below are pertinent mystery-related results.
  • Agatha Christie, first editions of A Murder Is Announced (1950); Destination Unknown (1954); Hickory, Dickory Dock (1955); and four other unspecified novels, £480 (approx. US$781).
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, 2nd ed. of The Sign of Four (1892), £120 (approx. US$195); 1st ed., The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894), £110 (approx. US$179); 1st ed., The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902), £320 (approx. US$520); 1st ed., The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905), £460 (approx. US$748); 2nd issue, The Lost World (1914, which includes photos of Conan Doyle disguised as Professor Challenger), £260 (approx. US$423).
  • Ian Fleming, first editions of You Only Live Twice (1964), The Man with the Golden Gun (1965), and Octopussy (1966), £380 (approx. US$618).
  • Graham Greene, 2nd issue of Stamboul Train (1932), with two other works, £240 (approx. US$390); 1st ed., The Third Man and The Fallen Idol (1950), £190 (approx. US$309); 1st ed., The Spy's Bedside Book: An Anthology (1957, ed. Graham Greene and Hugh Greene), £10 (approx. US$16).
  • John le Carre, 1st ed., The Looking Glass War (1965), with 13 other books, £140 (approx. US$228).
Sadly, Edgar Wallace's Captain Tatham of Tatham Island (1909), est. between £200–250, went unsold.

(Hat tip to PhiloBiblos.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Collins, Cadfael, and more this week on
BBC Radio 7.

This week on BBC Radio 7: The program The Lady Detectives features Wilkie Collins's The Law and the Lady (1874–75), in which a wife attempts to clear her husband of the charge of murdering his first spouse; and detective Florence Cusack looks into "Mr. Bovey's Unexpected Will" (1899) by L. T. Meade [Elizabeth Thomasina Meade Smith] and Robert Eustace [Dr. Eustace Robert Barton]. Also airing this week is Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael in The Virgin in the Ice. Go here for the schedule or to listen.

About the image
: L. T. Meade, NYPL.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Folio Club debuts.

The Folio Club, which gets its name from a Poe story, is a new biannual literary magazine edited and published by an old friend of mine, Robert Pranzatelli, who is a publicist for Yale University Press. Indie cartoonist Onsmith designed the cover; contributors include Blondie songwriter Romy Ashby and poet Mark Saba.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Happy birthday, George MacDonald.

Scottish writer-poet George MacDonald, primarily known for fantasy works including "The Light Princess" (1864), "The Golden Key" (1867), and At the Back of the North Wind (1871), was born today in Aberdeenshire in 1824. For his influence on C. S. Lewis, go here; for his friendship with Mark Twain, go here. MacDonald, who died in 1905, was the grandfather of Philip MacDonald, screenwriter and author of mysteries such as The Rasp (1924), Warrant for X (1938; filmed as 23 Paces to Baker Street, 1956), and The List of Adrian Messenger (1959; film 1963).

About the image: George MacDonald, NYPL.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Conan Doyle, Milne, Washington score big at Christie's auction.

Christie's December 4th auction of fine printed books and manuscripts reaped the following results:
  • George Washington, letter to his nephew Bushrod Washington (1787), $3.2 million
  • Oscar Wilde, Poems (1892), $12,500 (estimated at $4000–6000)
(Hat tip to PhiloBiblos)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Happy birthday, Leslie Ford.

Zenith Jones Brown—aka Leslie Ford, David Frome, and Brenda Conrad and a descendant of the illustrious Calvert family of Maryland—was born today in Smith River, CA, in 1898. Her numerous mystery works include The By-Pass Murder (1932), The Strangled Witness (1934), Ill Met by Moonlight (1937), The Simple Way of Poison (1937), Three Bright Pebbles (1938), and The Girl from the Mimosa Club (1957, selected as one of Mystery Loves Company's Best Mysteries of the Century). She died in Baltimore in 1983.

Monday, December 07, 2009

BBC Film Programme: Eric Ambler.

In this December 4th broadcast of BBC Radio 4's Film Programme, Adrian Wootten discusses the "profound influence" of espionage master Eric Ambler on film and points out that 2009 marks Ambler's centenary.

About the image: Orson Welles (foreground) and Joseph Cotten in Eric Ambler's Journey into Fear (dir. Norman Foster, 1943).

Friday, December 04, 2009

Hawthorne meets the blow dryer.

The Harvard University Press blog discusses its new covers for works by Nathaniel Hawthorne that feature various renderings of the author, but they tend to appear as if Hawthorne has discovered the blow dryer (see sample at left).

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Erle Stanley Gardner's correspondence with Nathan Leopold.

On the blog American Fiction Notes, Mark Athitakis discusses the correspondence of author-lawyer Erle Stanley Gardner with convicted murderer Nathan Leopold (of Leopold and Loeb infamy). A few more details can be gleaned here from UT-Austin's Ransom Center; other mystery writers mentioned on this page include Rupert Croft-Cooke (aka Leo Bruce) and Beverley Nichols.

(Hat tip to the Guardian books blog)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

"Why I Still Love Encyclopedia Brown."

Kate Sutherland of Kate's Book Blog pays tribute to Donald J. Sobol's super sleuth, Encyclopedia Brown, who debuted in 1963: "...I'm a lawyer and a law professor. Much is made of the mystical process by which students learn in first year law school how to 'think like a lawyer.' On reflection it occurs to me, with apologies to my first year law professors, that I may in fact have received my earliest lessons in how to think like a lawyer from Encyclopedia Brown."

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Latest auction results.

At Christie's November 23rd auction, a letter from Arthur Conan Doyle regarding the Oscar Slater case (one occasion where Conan Doyle acted as a real-life detective) fetched £1500 (approx. US$2500); and a first edition of Ian Fleming's From Russia with Love (1957) with three other Fleming first editions went for £1250 (approx. US$2081).

(Hat tip to PhiloBiblos)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Val McDermid, Lindsey Davis this week on BBC Radio 7.

In the latest in the series Foul Play, which is written and chaired by Simon Brett, authors Lindsey Davis and Val McDermid attempt to solve the mysterious death of a doctor. Go here for the schedule or to listen.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Lamb to the slaughter.

When people think of mystery, food, and the perfect murder weapon, what frequently comes to mind is Roald Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter," which was adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1958 and starred Barbara Bel Geddes.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy 150th birthday, Woman in White.

On this day 150 years ago, the first serial part of Wilkie Collins's The Woman in Whiteoften regarded as the first mystery novelappeared in the periodical All the Year Round (published by Charles Dickens). Some appropriate links:

Clip from the 1997 BBC adaptation of The Woman in White starring Tara Fitzgerald as Marian (referred to as Fairlie in the production, whereas her surname in the book is Halcombe)

Clip from The Woman in White (1948) starring Gig Young as struggling art teacher Walter Hartright

• Preview trailer from Andrew Lloyd Webber's short-lived version of The Woman in White

• Michael Crawford as Count Fosco sings "You Can Get Away with Anything" from the Andrew Lloyd Webber production of The Woman in White

(Hat tip to Paul Lewis. About the photo: Wilkie Collins, bet. 1880 and 1890. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Whitlock reissues "Victorian Valley of the Dolls."

Whitlock Publishing has reissued the temperance novel Danesbury House (1860) by Mrs. Ellen Wood, which combines "addictions, insanity, forgery, and death" and is memorably characterized by its publisher as a "Victorian Valley of the Dolls."

Bestselling (take a look at these sales figures) novelist Wood, aka Mrs. Henry Wood (1814–87), may be best known for East Lynne (1861), but she also wrote a number of ghost stories and can be considered as a rival of Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon.

About the image: Portrait of Ellen Wood, from Memorials of Mrs. Henry Wood (1894).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New biography of Louisa May Alcott.

Just in time for Louisa May Alcott's birthday on November 29th, Julia M. Klein reviews Harriet Reisen's new Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women in Obit magazine and mentions that the PBS program American Masters on December 28 will focus on Alcott.

I've always enjoyed Alcott's sense of humor and penetrating eye. In 1942, scholars Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern discovered Alcott's hidden history as a writer of "blood and thunder" tales when they compared entries in Alcott's account books to published stories and so linked the A. M. Barnard pseudonym to Alcott. As I wrote in Deadly Women, these stories have lurid content such as drug addiction and murder; and A Long Fatal Love Chase, considered too sensational to be published in Alcott's lifetime, has the modern themes of domestic abuse and stalking. Klein cites Alcott's "thirst for adventure" in penning such tales; as Alcott wrote about one story, "Enjoyed doing it, being tired of providing moral pap for the young."

Klein mentions that Alcott may have suffered from lupus, but it was my understanding that mercury—the treatment for the typhoid pneumonia Alcott contracted as a Civil War nurse—likely contributed to her death some 20 years later.

About the photo: Louisa May Alcott, NYPL.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Richard Marsh, Wilkie Collins, and
John Buchan this week on BBC Radio 7.

This week on BBC Radio 7: The life of an actress is threatened in "An Illustration of Modern Science" (1896) by Richard Marsh, best known for The Beetle (1897); a policeman recalls a memorable murder case in Wilkie Collins's "Who Killed Zebedee?" (1880), read by Ronald Pickup; and Richard Hannay seeks to thwart German spies in John Buchan's classic The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915). Go here for the schedule or to listen.

About the image
: John Buchan, NYPL.

Friday, November 20, 2009

You too can indulge in academic obfuscation.

The University of Chicago's Virtual Academic can supply that perfect incomprehensible academic sentence to you after you select words and phrases from various dropdown menus (e.g., "praxis"). I came up with "The illusion of praxis gestures toward the discourse of the public sphere."

Unfortunately, I have edited sentences like that...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More items from LOC.

More interesting items I've found from the Library of Congress:
• 1934 panel from the comic strip Secret Agent X-9 (text by Dashiell Hammett; art by Alex Raymond).

• "Hungarian Baroness Scores Success as Authoress," on Baroness Orczy, from the December 24, 1905, issue of the San Francisco Call, in which the baroness reveals that she reads Edgar Allan Poe, Victor Hugo, Georg Ebers, and Bret Harte.
• A promotion for the upcoming serialization of Anna Katharine Green's Lost Man's Lane in the January 2, 1898, St. Paul Globe, in which Green talks about her writing philosophy: "I look for the naturally unexpected, and when I have found such a treasure, I take pencil in hand and take the 'dear reader' into my confidence and tell him or her just what, in my estimation, will induce him or her to go on."

About the photo
: Anna Katharine Green, taken bet. 1870 and 1890. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Edgar Rice Burroughs:
"damned sick of hearing people apologize to me for reading my stories."

Over on Letters of Note: Even prolific Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875–1950) had some down moments. As he writes to his daughter in January 1941: "If anyone says a kind word about my work nowadays, as you did, I nearly break down and cry. I have had so many refusals lately and had my classics so gratuitously insulted over here that I have lost confidence in myself."

About the image: Bookplate of Edgar Rice Burroughs, bet. 1914 and 1922, by Studley Burroughs. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Web site on Robert Louis Stevenson.

With funding from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, a new Web site has been established that focuses on Scottish native son Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–94). Included are a biography; a look at his various travels (including his time in Monterey, CA); books such as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Kidnapped; annotations on his letters; photographs; a works chronology; associates of Stevenson such as poet W. E. Henley, Fanny Sitwell, and Andrew Lang; and a lot more.

About the image: Robert Louis Stevenson, NYPL.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ellis Peters, Arthur Conan Doyle, and
Sara Paretsky this week on BBC Radio 7.

This week on BBC Radio 7: Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael in Dead Man's Ransom; a rebroadcast of Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower, and Charles Foley's Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters; and Sara Paretsky's Bitter Medicine. Go here for the schedule or to listen.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Happy birthday, George V. Higgins.

Lawyer-author George V. Higgins, best remembered for the gritty The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972), was born today in Brockton, MA, in 1939. He died in 1999.

About the image: Robert Mitchum in The Friends of Eddie Coyle (dir. Peter Yates, 1973)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What the astronauts read.

Some of what's available for recreational reading, viewing, and listening at the International Space Station, ca. 2008:
  • Isaac Asimov, multiple titles
  • Dan Brown, Angels and Demons
  • John le Carre, Absolute Friends, The Constant Gardener
  • David McCullough, 1776
  • Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days
  • Apollo 13
  • Hogan's Heroes
  • The Ladykillers
  • The Usual Suspects
  • College Fight Songs, vols. 1, 2, 3

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A jury of her peers.

Images pertaining to women and juries from the Library of Congress:

Illustration on future roles for women, including jury service, 1891

The first all-female jury in California (Los Angeles, 1911; see image at left)

Sarcastic cartoon on women being "too sentimental" to serve on juries, 1915

Wyoming was the first state to allow women to serve on juries, including six women on a Laramie grand jury in March 1870 that, according to I. S. Bartlett's History of Wyoming (1918) "investigated many cases including murders, cattle stealing, illegal branding, etc" (206).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Some praise for John Buchan: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction.

Nice words from Washington State University librarian J. Greg Matthews in Reference Reviews regarding John Buchan: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction (by Kate Macdonald; ed. yours truly; first in the McFarland Companions to Mystery Fiction series):
Macdonald's Companion admirably achieves what the best criticism aspires to: presents and considers an author's work in unsparing detail, presents conclusions on a foundation of solid critical evidence, and ultimately preserves the author's (or work's) autonomy while examining it in multiple contexts . . . it accomplishes something more elusive because it infuses Buchan's readers with a desire to return to his works with new enthusiasm. (34)

Monday, November 09, 2009

Isaac Asimov:
"For the sake of conscience."

Over on Letters of Note, a November 1964 letter from science fiction-mystery-etc. author Isaac Asimov to the editor of the children's lit magazine Horn Book inquires about a raise in the reviewer's rate.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Happy birthday, Charles MacArthur;
Carole Nelson Douglas.

Journalist, playwright, and screenwriter Charles MacArthur—best known for The Front Page (cowritten with Ben Hecht) and his marriage to actress Helen Hayes—was born today in Scranton, PA, in 1895. He won an Oscar for best original story for The Scoundrel (1935). He died in 1956.

And Texas resident Carole Nelson Douglas—author of the Midnight Louie and Irene Adler series, as well as a new paranormal series—turns 65 today.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Peter Temple on Radio New Zealand.

Radio New Zealand talks to Duncan Lawrie Dagger recipient and Ned Kelly Award winner Peter Temple here. His most recent novel (a follow-up to The Broken Shore) is Truth (US publication: January 2010).

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Mysteries: Not just for geezers.

After hearing dire predictions about teenagers' reading habits, I was happy to read the PW article by's Carol Fitzgerald that reported on the habits of young "uber readers." Mysteries were reported as favorite reading by 61 percent of the sample (after fiction, series, romance, fantasy, and adventure). It should be noted, however, that the respondents were overwhelmingly female (96 percent).

Monday, November 02, 2009

Bulldog Drummond this week on
BBC Radio 7.

Sapper's intrepid ex-World War I captain Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond takes to the BBC Radio 7 airwaves this week in "Bulldog Drummond." Go here for the schedule or to listen.

Friday, October 30, 2009

F. Scott Fitzgerald's tax returns.

In the new issue of American Scholar, University of South Carolina law professor William J. Quirk examines F. Scott Fitzgerald's tax returns and draws some unexpected conclusions, such as refuting the common notion that Fitzgerald was a reckless spendthrift (surprising to anyone who has read Fitzgerald's letters to his editor, Max Perkins, as they usually include the writer's request for an advance on royalties). He also notes that Fitzgerald was paid more during his time in Hollywood ($1000 per week) than William Faulkner ($300 per week). Quirk estimates that Fitzgerald made an average of $24,000 per year, which translates, in today's dollars, to about $500,000 annually.

(Hat tip to PhiloBiblos. Photo of Fitzgerald, 1932, by Carl Van Vechten, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ray Browne, 1922–2009.

As first reported by the Gumshoe site and the Rap Sheet, Ray Browne died on October 22nd from congestive heart failure at the age of 87. He did much to nurture scholarship in popular culture, such as founding the first U.S. popular culture department at Bowling Green State University, the Popular Culture Association, and Popular Press. The latter first published Clues: A Journal of Detection, which was originally edited by Ray's wife, Pat, and is now edited by Margaret Kinsman (London South Bank University, UK) and me. Donations in Ray's memory may be made to the Ray and Pat Browne Popular Culture Library at BGSU, one of the foremost popular culture collections in the country.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

ABC Book Show: P. D. James, Ruth Rendell.

The Australian Broadcasting Co.'s Book Show airs the PD James–Ruth Rendell appearance from the Cheltenham Literary Festival earlier this month.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Woolf's A Room of One's Own at 80 and
Val McDermid.

BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour commemorates the 80th anniversary of Virginia Woolf's seminal work A Room of One's Own with this Oct 22nd program, including commentary by Val McDermid and Jill Dawson (author of Fred & Edie, a fictional retelling of the Thompson-Bywaters murder case).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Soupy Sales flashback:
Philo Kvetch, detective.

Among the characters of the delightful Soupy Sales, who died October 22nd at age 83, was hapless investigator Philo Kvetch in "The Adventures of Philo Kvetch." See a clip as part of Barry Mitchell's Soupy tribute "Come Pie with Me" or see below for "Fathom of Fear" as Philo continues his crusade against nefarious criminal The Mask (easy to spot by the paper bag over his head).

Friday, October 23, 2009

Writer's block? Check out these surefire mystery plot twists.

Web comic Dresden Codak presents "42 Essential 3rd Act Twists" across several genres, including these for mysteries and thrillers: "Killer solves own crime," "amnesiac villain kidnaps self," and "God did it."

(Hat tip to the Guardian books blog)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The body in the library?

Library consultant Jessamyn West has posted a funny (and appropriate) image of signage from the Howe Library in Hanover, NH.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An evening with James Ellroy.

James Ellroy appeared at Los Angeles's Hammer Museum on October 19 to discuss his new novel Blood's a Rover. Go here for the video.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The return of Sexton Blake.

Over on the Great War blog, George Simmers discusses the new collection Sexton Blake, Detective (ed. George Mann) published by Snowbooks. One of Britain's most popular detective-adventurers, Blake debuted in "The Missing Millionaire" in 1893 and had a long run in periodicals, silent movies, talkies, radio serials, and even a 1960s TV series.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Henry Hudson:
Exploration, mutiny, murder?

In this interview on the New Books in History blog, Peter C. Mancall, author of Fatal Journey: The Final Expedition of Henry Hudson, describes what happened on the last voyage of the first European to explore New York's Hudson River region.

About the photo: "Henry Hudson, the celebrated and unfortunate Navigator, abandoned by his crew in Hudson's Bay the 11th of June, 1610." Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Friday, October 16, 2009

James Jones, mystery author.

There are fascinating pieces lurking in Clues back issues, such as one from issue 16.2 (1995) by University of Vermont English professor emeritus Allen Shepherd, "'Too Old for This Business': James Jones's A Touch of Danger." Jones (1921–77)—best known for From Here to Eternity (1951) and Some Came Running (1957)—also wrote a mystery novel, A Touch of Danger (1973), featuring private investigator Lobo Davies.

As Shepherd explains, Danger began life as the screenplay Hippy Murders for director John Frankenheimer. When it was clear that the project would not come to fruition, Jones decided to rework it as a mystery novel, patterning his detective after Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe (perhaps "Lobo" is a clue here, with its wolfish connotations and the PI's usual role as a "lone wolf"). On vacation in Greece, the middle-aged Davies encounters various anti-establishment youth involved in drugs and the sexual revolution, deals with dissipated expatriates, and investigates two murders.

In an April 23, 1972, letter to Dell president Helen Meyer, Jones stated, "It is perfectly possible to write a book of high literary merit within the 'mystery form'" (qtd. in Shepherd 131. Dell, apparently, did not agree; it rejected the book, which was eventually sold to Doubleday). Shepherd notes, "As mystery fiction, Jones's novel does in fact have much to recommend it, for it is well conceived, with good structure and pacing..." (132). Robert F. Jones in the May 6, 1973, Washington Post Book World called it "a fast, colorful, flawed but fascinating private-eye thriller" (4). Anatole Broyard in the May 21, 1973, New York Times was more dismissive: "Reading 'A Touch of Danger' is like looking at an antiquated but solid old flick on late TV with a drink in your hand and a luxurious yawn gathering somewhere in your chest" (31).

About the photo: Author James Jones (right) with From Here to Eternity actor Montgomery Clift. Billy Rose Theatre Collection, NYPL.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Happy birthday, Ed McBain/Evan Hunter,
S. S. Van Dine.

Two major mystery figures mark birthdays today: the late Evan Hunter, aka Ed McBain and a slew of other pseudonyms, was born today in New York City in 1926. Smart Set editor in chief Willard Huntington Wright—aka S. S. Van Dine, the creator of sleuth Philo Vance and the famous "Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories" (1928)—was born today in Charlottesville, VA, in 1888. He died in 1939.

You can see Hunter discussing his theory of the Lizzie Borden case here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A. E. Housman on coroner's juries and author-publisher relations.

"We sat on five bodies: one laundryman who tied a hundred-weight to his neck and tipped over into the water-butt; one butcher's man who cut his throat with a rusty knife and died a week after of erysipelas (moral: use a clean knife on these occasions); one old lady who dropped down in a fit; one baby who died of convulsions; and one young woman who died of heart disease after eating spring onions for supper. I really do not know what is the good of a Jury or of witnesses either: the Coroner does it all: his mind seemingly is lighted by wisdom from on high, so he tells the Jury what their verdict is and the witnesses what their evidence is: if they make mistakes he corrects them."

—Letter from poet A. E. Housman to his stepmother Lucy Housman, June 10, 1885.
Letters of A. E. Housman, vol. 2, ed. Archie Bennett (Oxford: Clarendon, 2007) 56–57. Photo: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

And, as a special bonus, an extract from a June 8, 1905, letter from Housman to his publisher, Grant Richards:
. . . I shall be there about 9 o'clock, just drunk enough to be pleasant, but not so incapable as a publisher would like an author to be.
— Letters of A. E. Housman
2: 177.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

National Book Festival: Clips with Connelly, Child, Mosley, Silva.

New video has been added from the 2009 National Book Festival: Lee Child, Walter Mosley, and Daniel Silva. In addition, there's a podcast with Michael Connelly.

Monday, October 12, 2009

This week on BBC Radio 7:
Hawthorne, Collins.

BBC Radio 7 takes a turn to the macabre this week with broadcasts of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" (1837) and Wilkie Collins's "A Terribly Strange Bed" (1852). Go here for the schedule or to listen.

About the photo: Nathaniel Hawthorne by Matthew Brady, ca. 1855–65. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Final Earl Derr Biggers: Charlie Chan Carries On, Keeper of the Keys

Academy Chicago Publishers continues its elegant reprints of Earl Derr Biggers's Charlie Chan novels with Charlie Chan Carries On (1930) and Keeper of the Keys (1932)—the latter, sadly, the last of the series.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

More Clues news.

I'm pleased to announce that thanks to the industry of Clues editorial board member Juana R. Young, who is associate dean of libraries at the University of Arkansas, and some equally energetic colleagues, Clues: A Journal of Detection now has indices posted online that encompass the entire run of the journal: from volume 1 (1980) to the present (volume 27). We hope that these free tools will help researchers and fans of mystery fiction.

On the Clues Web site, you can also consult the table of contents for the current issue, read past article abstracts, check our author guidelines for submissions, and see a Clues cover gallery since 2004.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Conan Doyle and Stoker, together again.

Valancourt Books has just reissued Arthur Conan Doyle's novella of science vs. the occult, The Parasite, and Bram Stoker's smuggling tale The Watter's Mou' (both 1894), which were the first two works in the Constable & Co. series called the Acme Library.

Pairing the creators of Sherlock Holmes and Dracula is not an outlandish idea; they did know each other. In Teller of Tales, Dan Stashower discusses the staging of Conan Doyle's play A Story of Waterloo by Henry Irving (Stoker was Irving's manager at the time), and both writers participated in the round-robin novel The Fate of Fenella (1892). The Valancourt edition of The Parasite and The Watter's Mou' includes a 1907 interview of Conan Doyle by Stoker.

About the images: Arthur Conan Doyle (left); Bram Stoker (right). Conan Doyle: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. Stoker: Virtual Museum, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, from the Illustrated London News.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Clues 27.2 published: Lesbian crime fiction.

Clues 27.2 has been published, which is a theme issue on lesbian crime fiction guest edited by Jacky Collins (Northumbria University, UK). The contributors look at works by—among others—American author Katherine V. Forrest, British author Stella Duffy, French author Maud Tabachnik, German author Thea Dorn (pictured on the Clues cover at left and scheduled to be a visiting professor at Dartmouth in spring 2010), and Spanish author Isabel Franc. Go here for the table of contents; here for more information on the journal.

The issue also includes some intriguing articles on class and conscience in Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male (1939) by Robert Lance Snyder; spiritualism in the work of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Josephine Bell by Victoria Stewart; and the importance of setting in Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind (2004) and Dulce Chacón’s Cielos de Barro (2000) by Lorraine Ryan. Also featured are reviews of Leonard Cassuto's Hard-Boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Stories, Julia Jones's The Adventures of Margery Allingham, Sari Kawana's Murder Most Modern: Detective Fiction and Japanese Culture, and editor Edward J. Rielly's Murder 101: Essays on the Teaching of Detective Fiction.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Dial M for Mongoose:
The return of Chet Gecko.

Bruce Hale's clever elementary school shamus Chet Gecko and faithful sidekick Natalie Attired face—gasp!—a deadly stink bomb in their 15th adventure, Dial M for Mongoose, which is out today.

These mysteries for children have some of the best pulpy covers in the business, as can be seen at left. My favorite of the punny titles is Farewell, My Lunchbag with the immortal epigraph "It's not over till the lunch lady sings." Number 7 in the series, The Malted Falcon, was an Edgar nominee.