Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Today in 1977: The death of John Dickson Carr.

Shelly Dickson Carr provides insight on her blog about the life of her grandfather, locked room mystery master John Dickson Carr, on today's anniversary of his death (see below for the trailer to Dangerous Crossing [1953], based on Carr's radio play "Cabin B-13").

Monday, February 25, 2013

BBC Radio 4 Extra: The life of Mata Hari.

Mata Hari, NYPL
This week on BBC Radio 4 Extra, Juliet Stevenson reads Femme Fatale, which explores the life of Mata Hari, the notorious female spy executed in France during World War I. Episodes usually may be heard online for up to a week after broadcast.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Charlaine Harris on writing.

At the Mercantile Library's Center for Fiction, Charlaine Harris talked about her approach to writing fiction, particularly regarding True Blood's Sookie Stackhouse and the initial resistance to selling the first book in the series, Dead until Dark. On keeping a series fresh, Harris noted, "There should be a constant stream of . . . exposing layers of the character."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Today in 1906:
Alice Roosevelt weds Nicholas Longworth.

Portraits of Nicholas Longworth and Alice Roosevelt
in heart-shaped frames, Palestine [TX] Daily Herald
Feb. 10, 1906
Today in 1906, presidential daughter Alice Roosevelt married congressman Nicholas Longworth (R–OH) in, according to the New York Tribune, "the most brilliant nuptials ever celebrated at the White House or in the nation's capital." It was not exactly a serene union—Alice contemplated divorce and had an affair with Sen. William Borah (R–ID) that produced a child, Paulina, and Longworth acquired a reputation as a serial philanderer. He, however, was a devoted father to Paulina and died in 1931; Alice lived to age 96. My new ebook collection, No Man's Land and Other Stories, includes three stories with Alice as sleuth.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Fri Forgotten Books: The Mystery of
Central Park
, by Nellie Bly (1889).

He was questioned why he used the definite article instead of the indefinite in answering the officer's question.
—Nellie Bly, The Mystery of Central Park
In The Mystery of Central Park, lazy man-about-town Richard "Dick" Treadwell must prove his worth to prospective fiancee Penelope (and clear his name) by discovering who killed a young woman in Central Park. Dick finds that he is being followed as his investigation leads him into less savory areas of New York. Bly's interest in portraying the plight of the working class is evident in Dick's acquaintance with pretty factory worker Dido and her friends who are deprived of a living wage (a relationship not regarded with favor by Penelope).

"Penelope, with calm but serious face, kept close to the
morgue-keeper." Illustration from The Mystery of
Central Park by Nellie Bly. New York World,
19 July 1889

The modern reader will find it hard to give credence to Dick's chance discoveries of information that prove so crucial to the case, and those with even a passing acquaintance with forensics will loathe the fact that Dick is permitted to take the dead woman's clothes from the morgue (although his reason for doing so shows some logic). The portrait of the Pygmalion-like murderer has some elements of interest. The Mystery of Central Park should perhaps be regarded as a curiosity of a famed journalist's career and a continuation of her focus on progressive issues rather than as a significant contribution to the mystery literature.

Nellie Bly, ca. 1890.
Library of Congress,
Prints & Photos Div.
The intrepid Nellie Bly (aka Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, 1864–1922) became a reporter at age 16 and made her name as a "stunt" journalist, accomplishing a celebrated around-the-world journey in 72 days (meeting Jules Verne along the way and beating the 80 days of his character Phileas Fogg) and arranging her commitment to a mental asylum so she could write about the treatment of the mentally ill (see Ten Days in a Mad-House, 1887). The Mystery of Central Park was her sole mystery novel.

There are only three copies in U.S. libraries of the book version of The Mystery of Central Park. I found the serialized version in the New York World and have uploaded the parts as a resource for readers:
Update, 6-11-13. The Library of Congress has digitized its copy of The Mystery of Central Park (available at the Internet Archive). 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

John Sayles and history.

At the AHA meeting in January, historians discussed the work of writer-director-actor John Sayles, including Matewan (1987) and Lone Star (1996); Sayles responded to their presentations about 1 hour into the session.

Monday, February 11, 2013

TV version of Spellbound (1962).

The Paley Center for Media remembers that today in 1962, a television version of Spellbound aired on Theatre 62 with Maureen O'Hara, Hugh O'Brian, and Oskar Homolka. The source material is The House of Dr. Edwardes by Francis Beeding (aka Hilary St. George Saunders and John Palmer) and the 1945 Hitchcock film.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Mystery reading by Justice Holmes and friends.

He had just discovered [E. Phillips] Oppenheim and had been revelling in the world of international intrigue into which Oppenheim had transplanted him.

—1932 research material on Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. by Mark DeWolfe Howe
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.,
ca. 1924. Library of Congress,
Prints and Photographs Div.
Justice Sonia Sotomayer and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's fondness for Nancy Drew has precedence on the Supreme Court. Harvard Law School Library's impressive digital project on Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. sheds further light on his mystery reading (Holmes once confessed his "ignoble liking" for detective stories to British jurist Sir Frederick Pollock). In one letter, he states, "I like what I have read of John Dickson Carr—(author of The Lost Gallows)" [1931]. An inventory of Holmes's library after his death in 1935 lists John Buchan's Greenmantle (1916) and The Three Hostages (1924), Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest (1929), Oppenheim's A Prince of Sinners (1903) and Prodigals of Monte Carlo (1926), Dorothy L. Sayers's Have His Carcase (1932), and Edgar Wallace's The Man at the Carlton (1931). He also had a copy of Anna Katharine Green's The Leavenworth Case (1878, part of the Haycraft-Queen list of essential mysteries) with the following inscription by the author: "To Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes with birthday congratulations from Anna Katharine Green Rohlfs. Buffalo, March, 1926."

Some of Holmes's friends were equally enthusiastic about mysteries. In one letter, his British Marxist-socialist friend Harold Laski notes Freeman Wills Crofts's Inspector French's Greatest Case (1925), "which I commend warmly to you if it comes your way" and later urges Holmes to read Crofts's The Cask (1920; both books are on the Haycraft-Queen list). In another letter, Laski expresses appreciation for Mary Davies and the Manor of Ebury by Charles T. Gatty; in yet another letter, he recommends Philip MacDonald's The White Crow (1928) and The Rasp (1924; the latter is on the Haycraft-Queen list).

Pollock sent Holmes a list of his recommended detective stories, with a note by the names of Sayers and Agatha Christie that stated, "anything by either of these writers may be presumed to be good." Pollock's list included Margery Allingham, G. D. H. Cole, R. Austin Freeman, Ronald A. Knox, Anthony Rolls, Henry Wade, and Victor L. Whitechurch. It appears that Holmes did not need Pollock's prompting regarding Christie, as evidenced by the following passage from Some Table Talk of Mr. Justice Holmes and the Mrs. (1935): "Mrs. Agatha Christie may be pleased some day to know that at this moment [May 1933] she was sharing his attention and his praise with Aristotle."