Monday, November 30, 2015

Writers Born Today - John Dickson Carr

It's the birthday of John Dickson Carr, born November 30, 1906 in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. He devoured mystery, supernatural, and horror stories while growing up amid the coal mines of western PA.  He began writing stories while still in college, and eventually went to Paris to write (although his parents thought he was continuing his studies).

He published his first whodunit in 1930, It Walks By Night. But it wasn't until he went to England that he really hit his stride as a mystery writer. He wrote during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, and became a master of the locked room mystery. His most famous work in this sub-genre is The Hollow Man, published in 1935. It's considered by most to be the greatest locked room mystery of all time. He delighted in creating a spooky atmosphere in his novels, although his endings almost always has a rational explanation.

His work drew inspiration from some of the pioneers of mystery fiction such as Gaston Leroux and G. K. Chesterton. He had many admirers among his fellow writers. Dorothy L. Sayers said of his work, "Every sentence gives a thrill of positive pleasure."

He wrote under several pen names in addition to his own, including Carter Dickson, Carr Dickson and Roger Fairbairn. In 1950 he began writing historical stories and The Bride of Newgate, set in 1815 England, was one of the first historical mysteries ever written. Anthony Boucher included this in his list of the Best Dozen Novels of 1950.

Carr was honored on three separate occasions by the Mystery Writers of America. He won his first Edgar Award in 1950 for his biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In 1963 he was awarded the Grand Master Award. His final Edgar came in 1970 in recognition of his forty year career as a mystery writer.

You can read or download a partial pdf copy of The Hollow Man here.

"Let there be a spice of terror, of dark skies and evil things."

                              - John Dickson Carr

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Writers Born Today - Jack Harris

It's the birthday of Jack H. Harris, born November 28, 1918 in Philadelphia. A film director, producer and writer, he made his start in vaudeville at the age of six. He started distributing films and this helped him learn the movie business from the inside.

He decided that producing movies was where the real money was, and produced numerous successful sci-fi and horror movies, including The Eyes of Laura Mars, Dinosauris!, and Equinox.

But he is best remembered as the man who created The Blob. Today it's recognized as a cult classic that has thrilled baby boomers for over 50 years. Made on a shoe string budget (with one shoe missing), the movie grossed 4 million dollars and made an enormous profit for Mr. Harris. The theme song, which is rather jovial in tone, was written by Burt Bacharach.

Jack received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2014 in recognition of his contributions to show business. At the age of 96, he is the oldest recipient of the award.

Jack Harris talked with radio personality Joseph J. Airdo on Breakthrough Entertainment radio about his career and how he came up with the idea for The Blob. To listen to the interview, clickety-click here.

The original theme song can be heard here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Mystery History - The Edmund Fitzgerald and the Witch of November

It was forty years ago today that the Edmund Fitzgerald, carrying 26,000 tons of iron ore, floundered and sank just north of White Fish Bay on Lake Superior, taking with it 29 sailors. There were no survivors. To this day, the exact cause of the sinking remains unknown.

It was not the first ship to sink on Lake Superior, nor the last. Storms are common on Lake Superior in winter, and the weather turns ugly in fall. Not for nothing is this period referred to as the "witch of November", when winds approaching hurricane force winds rage across the Great Lakes.  In the past three centuries, over 10,000 vessels have sunk on the Great Lakes, with 30,000 lives lost. 40 % of these wrecks occur in November, more than any other month.

But no one could have conceived this fate would befall the Edmund Fitzgerald. Known as the "Queen of the Great Lakes", the Edmund Fitzgerald was one of the largest ore freighters ever built, 729 feet long. It had made hundreds of trips across the lakes in all types of weather. Launched in 1958, the ship had set cargo haul records six years out of 17 that she plied the lakes. The captain, Ernest M. McSorley, was an experienced pilot.

Another ship, the Arthur M. Anderson, was following the Edmund Fitzgerald that night and received several radio messages from her. They had taken on water, but their pumps were keeping up, and the ship was holding its own. The winds were gusting up to 86 miles per hour and the waves topped 35 feet. At 7:10 PM, both ships were in radio contact but at 7:15 PM the Arthur M. Anderson lost radar contact with the Edmund Fitzgerald. The radio operator on the Anderson tried to contact the Fitzgerald, but there was no response. It was the last anyone ever hear from the ill fated ship. No distress signal was sent.

By 8 PM the Arthur M. Anderson had contacted the Coast Guard and reached port in Whitefish Bay. The Edmund Fitzgerald had not, and a massive search was soon underway. Several life jackets and other debris were found, but no crew members.

On November 14th the U.S. Navy discovered the Edmund Fitzgerald in 530 feet of water about 15 miles west of Deadman's Cove. In the past thirty years several dives with submersible equipment have surveyed the wreckage, but to this day, the exact cause of the sinking remains a mystery.

On July 4th, 1995 the bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald was brought to the surface. It now rests in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. A replica copy of the bell, inscribed with the names of the lost crew, was taken down to the wreck and placed in the pilothouse, as a grave marker.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

TRUE CRIME TUESDAY - Feds Asked to Prosecute Man Who Killed Thousands of Horses. Their Response? Neigh!

Between 2008 and 2012, the Bureau of Land Management, which is responsible for the care of wild horses across the western U.S., sold 1,794 wild horses to a Colorado rancher named Tom Davis, according to an article by Lisa Rein in the Washington Post.  Mr. Davis said he would find homes for the wild horses, descended from Spanish stallions brought to America hundreds of years ago. He even signed a legal contract agreeing to the terms.

Instead, he sold them to slaughterhouses, where the animals suffered under inhumane conditions before being butchered for their meat. When the first reports of his horses being sold to slaughterhouses were made, the law enforcement arm of the Bureau (OLE) investigated and during two separate interviews Davis lied and said the animals went to good homes. Much later, he confessed that the animals were sold for slaughter.

Wanna hear the worst part? (or the best, depending on your point of view). Tom Davis paid just $10.00 a head for the horses. Quite a bargain. Of course, it cost $140,000 dollars to transport the horses to Davis's ranch, so he could turn the animals over the the slaughterhouse buyers. That's a lot of money.

But he didn't have to foot the bill for that. The taxpayers did it for him. That's right. The Bureau paid the expense to transport the animals into the hands of their killer.

Is this a great country, or what? Well, I guess it is if you're a wealthy rancher who violates a legal contract to make a few bucks ($200,000 dollars profit, actually).

To their credit, the Bureau asked federal authorities to prosecute Mr. Davis after their investigation uncovered the truth. But...they declined. I guess they have more important things to do.