Thursday, March 31, 2011

Childers's Riddle of the Sands (1903) at NYU.

On April 14, NYU's Glucksman Ireland House will celebrate the Haycraft-Queen Cornerstone work The Riddle of the Sands (1903)
Simon MacCorkindale, left, and
Michael York in The Riddle of the
(dir. Tony Maylam, 1979).
by Erskine Childers (who ran guns before the 1916 Easter Rising and was executed in 1922 during the Irish civil war; his son later became president of Ireland). Penguin has reissued this tale of espionage. Childers's great-grandson, also named Erskine Childers, will read from his relative's work.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Amateur detectives of 100 years ago.

A NYT article of March 12, 1911, listed "tales that will test the ingenuity of experts in the literature of mystery," but not all were universally embraced by the reviewer. The books were the following:

"I'll shoot," she
announced in a tense tone,
"so help me, I'll shoot."
Illustration by J. V. McFall
from The Paternoster Ruby.
The Dazzling Miss Davison by Florence Warden [actress-author Florence Alice Price James] (1910). Is the beautiful Miss Davison a pickpocket and a shoplifter, under the "hypnotic control [of] some very capable crook"? Filmed in 1917.

The Paternoster Ruby by Charles Edmonds Walk (1910). A detective investigates the murder of a skinflint who owned a priceless jewel.

The De Bercy Affair by Gordon Holmes [Louis Tracy] (1910, illus. Howard Chandler Christy). An actress is murdered; suspects include her wealthy fiance and anarchists. A "well-constructed detective tale, with plenty of false clues to lead the reader astray" [and a] "Chief Inspector, who is a much more human and attractive person than the customary detective of fiction."

The Key to Yesterday by Charles Neville Buck (1910). An artist with no memory of his past begins to look into what he once was. Filmed in 1914. Buck has "to enjoin his characters from attempting such curious stunts with their eyes—as when his heroine stifles 'a mutinous impulse of her pupils to riffle into amusement.'"

The Quests of Paul Beck by M. McDonnell Bodkin (1910). A dozen murders that have baffled others are solved by the detective of the title; Bodkin was a judge and served in the Irish Parliament. His notable female detective is Dora Myrl (Dora Myrl, the Lady Detective, 1900)—a "Sherlock Holmes in petticoats," according to the Morning Leader.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jonathan Miller and an M. R. James ghost story.

Michael Hordern in
"Whistle and I'll Come
to You," BBC
Omnibus, 1968.
BFI Screenonline discusses Jonathan Miller's 1968 BBC version of the M. R. James ghost story "Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad" (1904). Michael Hordern stars in this creepy tale of a whistle found in a cemetery that brings unexpected results; you can watch the program here. The Guardian examines the 2010 remake with John Hurt here.

Monday, March 28, 2011


"Crime and Peepishment" by Diane H. Esher
2010 Peeps in Law, Pt Deux, ABA Journal
The ABA Journal gets into the Marshmallow Peeps act by holding its third contest with legally related Peeps dioramas; submission deadline is April 5. There's an in-progress gallery of this year's entries; 2010 entries are here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Death and the Good Life by Richard Hugo (1980).

The Neglected Books blog looks at the mystery Death and the Good Life about an ex-cop investigating the murders of two victims by ax. It's written by Seattle-born Richard Hugo (1923–82)—poet, University of Montana professor, and self-described "world's worst bombardier" during World War II (qtd. in Dictionary of Literary Biography).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Clues 29.1 issued: Christie, Spencer-Fleming, Borges, Temple, et al.

Volume 29, no. 1 (2011) of Clues: A Journal of Detection has been published, with a slew of interesting articles. Links on the author names below are to the article abstracts:

Maria Hebert-Leiter on detecting crime after Hurricane Katrina (including analysis of James Lee Burke and several stories from New Orleans Noir, ed. Julie Smith)

Stephen Knight on the work of Australian author Peter Temple

Linda S. Maier on similarities between Jorge Luis Borges (who wrote detective fiction under pseudonyms) and Wilkie Collins

Pamela S. Saur on the novels of Austrian author Gerhard Roth that can be read as murder mysteries

Rachel Schaffer on sources of moral authority in Julia Spencer-Fleming's series

Sarah E. Whitney on emotional violence in the neglected novels of Mary Westmacott (aka Agatha Christie)

Holmes and Watson on
the trail with the
"staunch hound" Pompey.
Illustration by Sidney
Paget, "The Adventure
of the Missing Three-
Kate Watson on nineteenth-century dog detectives (see illustration at left), particularly those created by Australia's Mary Fortune

Janice Shaw on Frank Moorhouse's use of whodunit techniques in Lateshows

Elyssa Warkentin on women in two early fictionalizations of the Jack the Ripper murders

• Reviews of Thrillers: 100 Must Reads, Detective Fiction in a Postcolonial and Transnational World, and Investigating Identities: Questions of Identity in Contemporary International Crime Fiction

Particularly fascinating is Emanuela Gutkowski's explanation using linguistic theory of just how Christie fools the reader regarding the murderer's identity in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926). Readers should not be daunted by the word theory; the author clearly explains each point and illustrates it with examples from Christie's book.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Canada's new chess detective.

Canada's Showcase TV is airing a new series, Endgame, which features an agoraphobic chessmaster as sleuth. Go here to see the trailer; here to read a review; here for the Endgame blog. (Hat tip to Alexandra Kosteniuk's Chessblog)

Margot Kinberg discusses the similarity of the game of chess and the activities of fictional investigators, and the Chess Circle forum mentions appearances of chess in works such as Rex Stout's Gambit (1952), Alan Sharp's Night Moves (1975), and Katherine Neville's The Eight (1988); another example is William Faulkner's short story "Knight's Gambit" in the collection of the same name (1949).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ngaio Marsh curator okay after earthquake;
Ngaio Marsh House suffers some ill effects.

Stamp of Marsh
issued by NZ
in 1989
I'm relieved to report that Bruce Harding, curator of the Ngaio Marsh House in New Zealand where the MWA Grand Master spent 77 years of her life, is okay after the February 22 earthquake. Harding reports that "the hills area (near Ngaio's house) got a whack and 5 brick homes in a lane below us are condemned for demolition." Harding also is a research associate in the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch. The university community was seriously affected by the quake; several buildings have been damaged and additional staff have been moved into Harding's research center, making for some tight quarters. Computer access and server issues are two of the continuing problems at the university.

Ngaio Marsh House
The Marsh House itself is sound, although some items in the house have been damaged. Writes Margaret Sweet, chair of the Friends of Ngaio Marsh House:
After the September [2010] quake there was a broken sewer pipe in the garden in front of the House and the front concrete steps had come away from the building. This time the interior of the fireplace and chimney in the diningroom has come down and the bricks have tumbled out onto the floor. On the kitchen side of the chimney where once there was a coal range there are signs of some movement. . . .
The damage has been mostly to contents. Both times [referring to the Sept 2010 and Feb 2011 earthquakes] books have spilled out of shelves . . . Ngaio's collection of Venetian glass has mostly now been smashed. . . . One or two valuable decorative plates and vases have broken and many glasses and china cups and saucers in the kitchen have smashed. . . . The marble top of the lovely old dresser in the Longroom is badly broken. Amazingly the wine glasses on the table in the dining room which is always set up for a festive Christmas meal are all sitting demurely in place!
Sweet notes that because Ngaio Marsh House is classified as a commercial property, it is not eligible for redress services from the New Zealand Earthquake Commission. The inaugural Ngaio Marsh Memorial Lecture by Elric Hooper, scheduled for April 17, has been postponed.

Writes Harding, "So much of our daily life is now in upheaval. Roads buckled and traffic is slow . . . .But compared to the inconceivable horrors of northern Japan we are OK."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Books:
Josephine Bell's Murder in Hospital (1937).

It was not his fault if a nurse was so ill-bred as to get herself murdered... — Josephine Bell, Murder in Hospital 30
A nurse found strangled in a hospital laundry launches the first mystery novel of Josephine Bell and the debut of series sleuth Dr. David Wintringham. In Murder in Hospital Wintringham, medical registrar at St. Edmund's Hospital, sees disquieting occurrences in cases featuring star physician Sir Frank Jamieson; soon the instances of patients who have inexplicably died assume far greater significance. Enlisting fellow physicians Richard Williams, Rachel Ludwick, and Tony Hutchings to chase down details among patients, staff, doctors, and students, Wintringham begins to uncover a more sinister pattern and comes face to face with a serial killer.

In this book Bell has interesting things to say about medical ethics, race relations, and the position of women in medicine and has a fine sense of irony. The New York Times deemed the method of murder too difficult for readers to grasp, but I did not find it so. Readers may appreciate the following comment by the highly starched hospital matron: "... I should have thought you could have got all you want out of modern novels. I find most of them so full of sex as to be quite unreadable" (179). Sadly, Murder in Hospital is out of print.

Detection Club member and British Crime Writers Association cofounder Josephine Bell (aka Doris Bell Collier Ball, 1897–1987) was a physician before she became a full-time writer in 1954. She published more than 60 books over the course of her long career. Well-regarded novels include The Port of London Murders (1938), Death in Clairvoyance (1949), and New People at the Hollies (1961). She contributed an essay to Michael Gilbert's Crime in Good Company (1959).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dorothy B. Hughes picks, best mysteries of 1953.

Glenn Ford in
The Big Heat
dir. Fritz Lang)
Calling 1953 "not ... the best year in mystery writing," author-critic Dorothy B. Hughes selected her favorite mysteries of the year in a December 6, 1953, column for the Washington Post. They were:

Christianna Brand, Fog of Doubt. "Artful puzzle."

Leslie Ford, Washington Whispers Murder."Tells, with the bite of intelligent scorn, a terrifying story."

Max Franklin [Richard Deming], Justice Has No Sword. "This one has the professional touch of a star reporter."

Michael Gilbert, Fear to Tread. "Another great Michael Gilbert novel."

• Charlotte Jay, Beat Not the Bones. "The first important mystery of the year."

Ira Levin, A Kiss before Dying. "Another big first, written by a 23-year-old."

René Masson, Green Oranges. "Masson is one of the great discoveries of this decade."

William McGivern, The Big Heat. "Today's first-ranking novelist of the hard-hitting mystery."

Josephine Tey, The Singing Sands. "Her noted blend of detecting excitement and beautiful writing."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

BYU exhibition, Literary Worlds.

Caricature of Chesterton
by David Low from
Lions and Lambs
The Literary Worlds: Illumination of the Mind exhibition in Special Collections at Brigham Young University's Harold B. Lee Library focuses on the creative processes of writers. Among those included are Louisa May Alcott, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Orson Scott Card, G. K. Chesterton, Arthur Conan Doyle, Zane Grey, Eden Phillpotts, and Robert Louis Stevenson. It's on display until June, and some materials can be accessed online. I'm rather astounded that the précis on Chesterton fails to mention Father Brown.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Times' recommended mysteries, 1936.

Eden Phillpotts, NYPL
"So prolific are our masters of mystery and detection," wrote the Times of London on July 24, 1936, "that it is only possible to make a brief selection from their latest contributions" (9). Here is what was recommended:

• Margery Allingham, Flowers for the Judge

• E. C. Bentley and H. Warner Allen, Trent's Own Case

• Thomas Burke, Murder at Elstree. "makes our flesh creep."

• Agatha Christie, The A.B.C. Murders; Murder in Mesopotamia

• G. Belton Cobb, No Alibi

• Freeman Wills Crofts, The Loss of the "Jane Vosper"

• [Margaret] Leonora Eyles, They Wanted Him Dead. Eyles was married to D. M. Murray, editor of the Times Literary Supplement.

R. Austin Freeman, The Penrose Mystery 

• Georgette Heyer, Behold, Here's Poison

• Charles J. Kenny [Erle Stanley Gardner], This Is Murder

• L[eonard]. A[rthur]. Pavey, Forward from Youth. Summary from the London Mercury, 34 (1936): "Brian Ferrands, a victim of shell-shock, is found lying dead of exposure. His friend, Denis Wantage, is induced to search into the dead man's past to find the true reason for his suicide." Pavey was a World War I veteran.

Eden Phillpotts, A Close Call

• Edward Shanks, Old King Cole. "an unusual 'thriller.'" Mystery author Martin Edwards is distantly connected to Shanks by marriage.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Christie conf, Mosley panel, Frye issue.

• A Call for Papers has been issued for the September 12, 2011, conference "'Whodunit,' and how have they 'dunit'? Investigating Agatha Christie's Works and Their Adaptations."  It will be held at the University of Derby in the United Kingdom. Go here for the Call for Papers.

• A panel is planned on Walter Mosley's work at November's Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Assn conf; Call for Papers here.

• ESC: English Studies in Canada plans a special issue on critic Northrop Frye in honor of his centenary. One item on the Call for Papers lists "Frye and  . . . detective fiction." Deadline for papers is July 15. Go here for Frye's musings on the appeal of detective fiction.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The lighter side of mystery.

The Richard Belzer
muppet attempts to
find the letter M.
Sesame Street
Alert Bunburyist readers may have noticed that I've been tinkering with the blog layout, adding links to posts based on popularity among Web surfers. I've also added a new section on the right, "The Lighter Side of Mystery," for fun mystery spoofs such as Sesame Street's "Law & Order Special Letters Unit." Feel free to suggest possible additions. I dearly wish that Not Necessarily the News had a clip available of "News Noir"—where the reporters and anchors wear trenchcoats and fedoras, smoke incessantly in dim light, and talk about being doublecrossed.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Watch episodes of Richard Diamond,
Private Detective

David Janssen as
Richard Diamond in
"Picture of Fear"
Through the archives of the Museum of Broadcast Communications (available through a free registration), you can watch two episodes of Richard Diamond, Private Detective: "Picture of Fear" (July 1957; Diamond helps a woman pursued by thugs) and "The Merry-Go-Round Case" (Sept. 1957; Diamond tries to help a friend who has turned to crime). Search on "Richard Diamond" to bring up the episodes.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The favorite mystery writers of 1941.

The New York Times of April 18, 1941, reported on a survey conducted by Columbia University Press of the readership of its weekly newsletter The Pleasures of Publishing. Respondents reported reading 4.5 mysteries a month (one hopes they eventually finished the half portion) and the following as their favorite writers (in order of popularity):

1. Dorothy L. Sayers
2. Agatha Christie
3. Arthur Conan Doyle
4. Ngaio Marsh
5. Erle Stanley Gardner
6. Rex Stout
7. Ellery Queen
8. Margery Allingham
9. Dashiell Hammett
10. Georges Simenon

Thus the total is 4 Brits, 4 Americans, 1 New Zealand citizen, and 1 Belgian.

Lord Peter Wimsey was voted best detective; Marsh's Death of a Peer (aka A Surfeit of Lampreys, 1940) was deemed the best story read within the past six months, followed by Allingham's Traitor's Purse (1941).

Monday, March 07, 2011

Steal this book.

As the October 15, 1922, Library Journal reported in "Favorite Books of the Lightfingered," the books of mystery writers were the most
Sax Rohmer, from the
New York Tribune,
Apr 18, 1920
popular ones taken from the Grand Rapids Public Library, along with those of adventure and western authors. Among those most popular with thieves:

Zane Grey, including 3 copies of Rainbow Trail (1915)

E. Phillips Oppenheim

• Mary Roberts Rinehart, Amazing Interlude (1918) and More Tish (1921)

Sax Rohmer, The Golden Scorpion (1919; "a galloping, breath-taking yarn" according to its advertisements)

Friday, March 04, 2011

Unlikely Mystery Fan #5: Robert Taft.

Sen. Robert Taft, ca. 1940
(note photo of his father
behind him). Library
of Congress, Prints &
Photographs Div.
According to the New York Times of July 28, 1946, Senator Robert Taft (R–OH) was a devoted mystery fan, with his favorite authors listed as Anthony Berkeley Cox, Dorothy Cameron Disney, and Dorothy L. Sayers.

It seems to have run in the family. His father, President and Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft, also enjoyed detective stories.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Edward Gorey exhibition, Boston Athenaeum.

Cover of Amphigorey
Lucky Bostonians get to see the new exhibition at the Boston Athenaeum "Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey." It runs until June 4. (Hat tip to PhiloBiblos)

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

UK's National Archives on the Constance Kent case.

Rendering of Constance
Kent, Alden's Illustrated
Family Miscellany
Aug 1865
In this podcast from the UK's National Archives, Sarah Hutton discusses the documents in the archives pertaining to the Constance Kent case of 1860, most recently covered in Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher (2008). Kent confessed to killing her half-brother, Francis Saville Kent, and served 20 years in prison.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Why aren't women writers remembered?

Dorothy B. Hughes,
one author reprinted
by Persephone Books
As Women's History Month begins, Nicola Beauman of Persephone Books (which has reprinted US mystery authors Dorothy B. Hughes and Elisabeth Sanxay Holding) provides a thought-provoking piece on women authors: "...why are a small number of women writers remembered and given a comfortable, settled place in the great tradition while the majority suffer E. V. Thompson's 'enormous condescension of posterity'?"

Literary gatekeeping is a perpetual, much-debated topic. Although it seems to operate more aggressively against women, it also occurs with men. Fitzgerald, for one, was not recognized as a literary craftsman until well after his death. How many pulp writers were considered to be "slumming" in their lifetimes? The mystery genre suffers from the Rodney Dangerfield syndrome (i.e., receives little respect as a literary form worthy of study) and persistent perceptions that women write "fluffier" works, as can be seen in the sneering about the hugely successful Mary Roberts Rinehart. Powerhouses such as Charlotte Armstrong, Vera Caspary, Hughes, Margaret Millar, Ruth Rendell, and others would tend to refute the fluffy notion, but it would be interesting to see how many works by female mystery writers of the past are reprinted versus those by men.