Thursday, December 31, 2015

Writers Born Today - Helen Eustis

It's the birthday of mystery writer and translator Helen Eustis, born December 31, 1916 in New York City. Although her output was small, she made a lasting impact in the mystery field. She attended Smith College as an art student but began writing fiction.

Her debut novel, The Horizontal Man, was based in part on her experiences while attending Smith College. A philandering professor is murdered in his home and the suspects (students and staff) are either mad, lovesick, or rivals of the victim. In 1947 the Mystery Writers of America awarded it the Edgar for Best First Novel. It was one of the earliest examples of the psychological suspense thriller. Eustis once joked that she had written the novel because "she knew so many people in college she would like to murder".  

She wrote short stories for many of the era's prominent magazines. An American Home won the O. Henry Award in 1947, and appeared as part of a short story collection, The Captains and the Kings Depart and Other Stories. She also translated works of french writers into English, including detective novels by Georges Simenon.

Her 1954 novel, The Fool Killer, was turned into a movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Eddie Albert. And this year, Sarah Weinman included The Horizontal Man in her acclaimed Library of America collection, Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Mystery History - Sydney Greenstreet

It's the birthday of actor Sydney Greenstreet, born December 27, 1879 in Kent, England.  One of eight children, he left England as a young man for colonial Ceylon to seek his fortune, but failed as a business man. Once back in England, he took acting lessons for something to do, and soon became a star on the stage. His first appearance in 1902 was as the villain in a production of Sherlock Holmes.

For decades he was a successful stage actor, first in England and then in the United States. But it was as an actor in Hollywood that he is best remembered. John Houston cast him as Kasper Gutman, known as "the fat man" in the film The Maltese Falcon. Along with his cohort in crime, Joel Cairo (played by Peter Lorre), the pair sought an elusive jewel encrusted statue worth a fortune. Their search pitted them against Sam Spade, played by Humphrey Bogart. The movie was a critical and financial success, and it established Greenstreet as a character actor who would go on to play the villain in nearly two dozen films.  His weight (nearly 300 pounds) and his piercing hawk-like eyes, gave him an ominous presence, and his stage acting experience allowed him to deliver lines that became classic quotes among fans of film noir.

After his film debut he went on to star in numerous films recognized as classics today, including CasablancaPassage to Marseille, The Mask of Dimitrios, and The Verdict. In all he made 24 films in a Hollywood career that lasted only eight years. Yet his impact has been remarkable. He was the perfect villain, a man who spoke politely and with a rich vocabulary, and yet could be ruthless. He was often paired with Peter Lorre, with whom he made nine films. Greenstreet even helped inspire the alien villain in Star Wars. When receiving instructions from George Lucas on how to create Jabba the Hut, the designer thought of Sidney Greenstreet.  It was a comparison Greenstreet would have appreciated.

"Talking’s something you can’t do judiciously unless you keep in practice, and I’ll tell you right out that I’m a man who likes talking to a man that likes to talk."

- Kasper Gutman, The Maltese Falcon

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Mystery History - The Crime Films of Frank Sinatra

It's the birthday of Frank Sinatra, born 100 years ago today in Hoboken, New Jersey. Besides being one of the greatest singers of the 20th century, he starred in more than a few movies, and did quite well as an actor. He was nominated for four Academy Awards and won three of them, in 1946, 1954 and 1971, as well as numerous others. He also won three Sour Apple Awards, for the dubious distinction of "Least Cooperative Actor".

Many of his films revolved around crime or have a noir film style, and these are my personal favorites. One of the earliest of these was Suddenly, a 1950 movie starring Sinatra, Sterling Hayden and Nancy Gates. Sinatra plays the part of John Baron, an assassin who plans to kill the President of the United States at a train stop in the small town of Suddenly. He and his team take over the home of a family that lives near the station and hold them hostage while they wait for the train to arrive. A sense of claustrophobia created convincing fear as the family struggles to deal with the home invaders. Sterling Hayden played local Sheriff Todd Shaw, assigned to protect the President during his visit. Sinatra got good reviews for his performance as the psychopathic killer who takes joy in his work.

A few years later Sinatra was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor in The Man With The Golden Arm. Many people consider this his best film performance, although he lost the Academy Award that year to Ernest Borgnine. Directed by Otto Preminger, The Man With The Golden Arm was the first film to treat the subject of drug addiction seriously. Sinatra played Frankie Machine, a drummer who has recently been released from prison after overcoming his addiction to heroin. His attempt to stay clean and land a job with a band fall apart and he succumbs to drugs and illegal poker games. The film failed to get a seal of approval from the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), but did well at the box office and received strong approval from critics.

In 1960 he played Danny Ocean alongside the rest of the rat pack in the ultimate Las Vegas casino heist film, Ocean's 11. The idea behind the robbery came from a gas station attendant. When Peter Lawford, who had bought the film rights, approached Sinatra about starring in the film, he reportedly said, "Forget the movie, let's pull the job". The New York Times liked the film's dialogue and skilled performances, but lamented that former war heroes could treat robbery and crime with no moral baggage or seeming consequence. The Times' critic must have missed the end of the movie, when Danny's crew suffers from a finale that brings them all to tears.

One of Frank Sinatra's most controversial roles occurred in The Manchurian Candidate, released in 1962. The cold war thriller had a star packed cast with Angela Lansbury, Janet Leigh, Henry Silva and James Gregory. Sinatra plays Major Bennett Marco, a Korean war veteran who uncovers a plot to assassinate a Presidential candidate in an upcoming election by one of the men he served time with in a POW camp. The plot is the result of wartime brainwashing by the communists. After the Kennedy assassination, the movie fell out of favor and, except for a brief viewing on NBC in 1974, was not seen again until 1987.

Sinatra appeared in another taboo breaking film in 1968 with his starring role in The Detective. Roger Ebert praised Sinatra's performance and the film's "clear, unsentimental look at a police investigation." The movie was one of the first films to tackle openly the subject of homosexuality and treat it seriously.

Almost as interesting as Sinatra's appearance in so many fine crime movies are the movies he didn't make. He was chosen for the starring role in Dirty Harry, a character later made famous by Clint Eastwood. Sinatra had suffered a broken hand while filming The Manchurian Candidate, and as a result he was unable to lift the character's trademark .44 Magnum. The role was also turned down by John Wayne, Robert Mitchum and Burt Lancaster.

Frank Sinatra was also selected to play the star in the movie that was later filmed as Die Hard. Based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp, it was a sequel to The Detective, which had starred Frank Sinatra. Thus, the producer was obliged to offer the role to Sinatra. By the time filming was ready to begin, he was 73 years old, and turned it down. It later went to Bruce Willis.

Click here for a complete list of movies with Frank Sinatra with rankings and reviews.

Suddenly has lost copyright protection and is in the public domain. You can watched the entire film on the internet. The You tube link is listed below.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Writers Born Today - Cornell Woolrich

It's the birthday of Cornell Woolrich, born December 4, 1903 in New York City.

For a while he lived in Mexico with his father after his parents separated, but returned to New York to live with his mother. F. Scott Fitzgerald was an early influence on his writing. He went to college at Columbia, but dropped out after his first novel, Cover Charge, was published.

His best writing occurred in the 1940s, with titles such The Bride Wore Black, I Married A Dead Man, and Night Has A Thousand Eyes. He also wrote under the pen names William Irish and George Hopley.

Many of his characters face a world of bleak prospects with little room for success or sentimentality. In his novel The Black Angel a man kills himself for the love of a woman, She remarks with cynicism, "I gave him something to die for. That was more than he'd had before. It's better to die for something than to live for nothing."

He's been called the Poe of the 20th century. Much of his work, especially his short stories, were published in pulp detective magazines, and are out of print. But as a testament to his skill, over two dozens films have been made based on his stories and novels. The best known is Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, based on his story It Had To Be Murder.

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.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Writers Born Today - Linda Rodriguez

It's the birthday of poet and mystery writer Linda Rodriguez, born October 24th in Fowler, Kansas. Her first novel, Every Last Secret, won the Malice Domestic Award for Best First Traditional Mystery Novel in 2011.

It features a Cherokee police chief named Marquitta "Skeet" Bannion who leaves her career in a big metropolitan police force for a small town. She soon finds herself embroiled in a murder on a college campus and tangling with some pretty powerful people who don't appreciate her efforts.

The novel won praise from readers and writers alike. Best selling author Julia Spencer-Fleming called it "a triple crown winner; superb writing, hell for leather plotting and terrific characters."

Linda has published two more novels in this highly acclaimed series, including Every Broken Trust and Every Hidden Fear.

In addition to the Malice Domestic Award, she has won the ArtsKC (Kansas City) Fund Inspiration Award, an Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, and a Midwest Voices and Visions Award. Linda has also served as President of the Sisters In Crime Border Chapter and Vice-President of the Latino Writer's Collective.

Her poems, including The Sun Grows In Your Smile, have been read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer's Almanac. They appeared in her poetry collection, Heart's Migration. You can listen to them here.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Writers Born Today - Helen Nielsen

It's the birthday of Helen Nielsen, born October 23, 1918 in Roseville, Illinois. She studied art and drafting before the outbreak of World War II. During the war she worked in a California airplane factory helping to design bombers and fighter planes, including the P-80, one of the first jet fighters.

After the war she stayed in California and wrote for several television shows, including Perry Mason and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. As a way to amuse her nieces and nephews, she would sometime use their names in a TV script to delight the kids.

When not penning scripts for TV, she wrote short stories and novels. Her first novel came out in 1951, The Kind Man, and her second, Gold Coast Nocturne, was made into a movie called Murder By Proxy.

Thanks to the growing interest in the mystery genre Domestic Suspense, some of her work is coming back into print. Two of her novels were reprinted by Black Lizard, Detour and Sing Me a Murder. Prologue Books has made many of her novels available as ebooks.

Her short story, Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree, was included in the widely praised anthology Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, edited by Sarah Weinman.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Don't look away from Blind Spot

Odell DeCruz (aka Dingo), fancies himself a criminal mastermind with great ambitions, a modern day Moriarty. Marshall Quinn, a college professor, lives comfortably in his insulated world with wife and child. One day the lives of these two men intersect, and nothing will ever be the same again. And not just for these two polar opposites. Odell is not the only criminal and Marshall not the only victim in this tense drama.

Tom Kakonis has written a suspense thriller packed with desperate hopes and stolen dreams. The reader sees, hears and smells the blue collar bars that pepper industrial Chicago, its bucolic suburbs and sad, gray police stations where detectives pursue dead end leads in a desperate search for a little boy. Kakonis uses his brush with expertise to paint a startling canvas that reveals the hidden world of child trafficking.

When Marshall Quinn takes his toddler to an amusement park he doesn't expect his day of relaxation to turn into a nightmare. But that's what happens when little Jeffie disappears. It's every parent's worst fear. Driven by guilt, Marshall canvases the city with posters and pictures of his stolen son. After weeks turn into months it seems futile. Then a chance encounter at a freeway toll booth give Marshall and his wife hope. A woman in a Mercury next to his glances at the poster in Marshall's window and with widening eyes mouths the words, "I know that kid."

The car vanishes, but Marshall is now convinced that someone has seen Jeffie. Using a partial license plate, a bumper sticker and a description of the vehicle (not enough, according to the detective working his son's case), Marshall combs the industrial parks and factories on the tough side of town as his wife Lori begins to emerge from the paralysis of her grief. Marshall's out of his element, but a brutal beating by one of Dingo's henchmen isn't enough to dissuade him.

What he doesn't bargain for is the fact that the Norma and Buck, the couple that adopted Jeffie on the black market, may not want to be found, even as their suspicions are awaken. They've already lost one child. They're not going to lose another, regardless of who gets hurt.

As for Dingo, this may be just a business deal, but in his line of work, there are no refunds or returns. He'll do whatever it takes to remove this "little problem" that could land him behind bars for a very long time.

As these three forces threaten to collide in a final confrontation, you'll be holding your breath until the very end. Just don't take your eyes off the page. Blind Spot packs a punch that strikes you right in the gut.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Writers Born Today - James Thompson

It's the birthday of James Thompson, born October 16, 1964 in Kentucky. In his short life he wore many hats, one of the reasons his writing has such an enormous impact. He knew his characters, both the mighty and the fallen. His Inspector Kari Vaara novels have set the standard for Finnish Noir. They explore the dark side of Finnish society that few see; topics like prostitution, racism and alcoholism.

Before publishing his first novel, he was a bartender, a soldier, a construction worker, a coin dealer and a photographer. In 1998 he moved to Finland and got his master's degree. He learned Finnish and spoke other languages as well. But it was Finland that changed him, and where he gained his success as a writer.

A chance encounter with a major European publisher in 2008 lead to his first contract and first published novel. In 2009, his second novel and the first of the Inspector Vaara series was published. Snow Angels became his breakout novel, and was nominated for several awards, including the Edgar Award.  Thompson's fictional hero has been compared to Harry Bosch and John Rebus.

Thompson followed this up in 2011 with Lucifer's Tears, which proved that he was no one-hit wonder. It garnered multiple starred reviews. Booklist declared it was "impossible to put down", and Kirkus called it one of the best novels of the year.

And yet, it almost didn't make it to the printed page. No one knew it at the time, but Thompson was suffering from crippling migraines. A doctor suggested a change of scenery with more sun. Thompson left Finland for Spain, where he plugged away at the novel. Halfway through, he tossed it in the garbage and started again. The climate in Spain didn't help his illness, but he forced himself to continue on the new draft.

As he put it, "The number of hours I was well enough to sit at the keyboard and write was limited, so I would lie down and imagine the next scenes, and write them out when I was able. The worse I got, the worse Kari got. I wrote in long bursts. The last fifteen pages were typed in one day. I remember typing THE END, and feeling both relieved that it was over, but it’s a harsh novel. I was afraid I had gone too far. I had, however, for good or ill, written the book that I wanted to write.

I sent it to my agent. He told me it was a huge step forward in my growth as a writer. There’s a lesson in there, but I don’t know what it is."

More Vaara novels followed, Helsinki White in 2012 and Helsinki Blood in 2013. His works have been translated into twenty languages and are available around the globe. He also edited and contributed to Helsinki Noir, a collection of noir short stories published by Akashic Books.

Tragically, he passed away in 2014.

“Finland, the myths and truths. Internationally, it has a reputation as perhaps the best place in the world to live. A great economy. A low crime rate. There is some truth to this, but like every country, Finland has many truths . Finland is, like the theme so often explored in Star Trek, a parallel universe in which, on the surface, all seems normal, but under that shell lie vast differences . . . "

- James Thompson, Helsinki Noir

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Brash Books - The new publishing kid on the block

There are a lot of good mystery and crime fiction novels that have fallen out of print over the past thirty years. Writers like Jack Lynch, W. L. Ripley, and Carolyn Weston (whose police procedurals were turned into the hit TV show The Streets Of San Francisco) were hard to find. You could wander the shelves of your local library hoping to get lucky or check out the second-hand bookstore in your town (assuming you have one).

No more. Brash Books, the creation of Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman, is now publishing, as they put it, "the best crime novels in existence". That's a pretty bold claim. But I think they can back it up. Check out their author page, where you can find out more about their award winning writers. 

No more searching for that great book you heard about which is out of print. Brash Books is doing the legwork for you, pounding the streets and hunting down these lost but not forgotten writers. One author who was rediscovered and now is seeing his books back in print asked Joel how they managed to track him down. Brash Books did it with a private investigator! That's pretty brash..for a publisher.

Joel Goldman spoke to Sisters In Crime at our Border Chapter about Brash Books and how the company got it's start. It's a fascinating of many. Check it out.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Writers Born Today - Lester Dent

It;s the birthday of Lester Dent, born October 12, 1904 in La Plata, Missouri. He wrote over 150 novels for the pulp magazine trade which flourished in the 1930s and 40s, but he is almost unknown today. Most of his novels were written under the name Kenneth Robeson, the pen name owned
by the publisher.

His formative years were spent in Wyoming. His father was a rancher and "a chronic pioneer", according to Dent. He was educated in a one room schoolhouse. Lack of friends and close neighbors prompted him to develop the wild imagination that would serve him so well in later years. The family returned to Missouri in 1918, where Dent went to college. He then moved to Oklahoma for a job and got married. Inspired by a friend who had a story published in one of the popular pulp magazines, he began to write. After publishing several stories he was contracted to write for Street and Smith Publications, where he spent much of his career writing the Doc Savage novels.

Technology fascinated his curious mind, and he was constantly taking classes to better himself. He acquired both his radio operator and pilot license. His enthusiasm for travel prompted him to buy a boat so he could learn to sail, and his used this knowledge to sail up and down the East Coast. He searched for sunken treasure in the Caribbean and prospected for gold in the Southwest. His travels earned him membership in The Explorer's Club, a professional organization dedicated to field research and the advancement of scientific knowledge.

All of this served to fuel his writing, and his novels with the character Doc Savage were immensely popular in the 1930's. Doc Savage was a scientist and adventurer who was capable of almost super human feats of endurance and intelligence. Dent described him as "a cross between “Sherlock Holmes with his deducting ability, Tarzan of the Apes with his towering physique and muscular ability, Craig Kennedy with his scientific knowledge, and Abraham Lincoln with his Christliness.” There is evidence that Dent's character may have been the inspiration for Steven Spielberg's globe trotting adventurer Indiana Jones.

In addition to the Savage novels, Dent wrote dozens of adventure and mystery stories using numerous pen names, including H.O. Cash, Harmon Cash, Tim Ryan, Cliff Howe, Maxwell Grant, C.K.M. Scanlon, and Kenneth Roberts.

The need to write quickly for the pulp market lead to the creation of a set of rules for fiction writing, which Dent called The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot. Even after 70 + years, the advise in this list holds up well, and includes several gems, such as this:

A different murder method could be--different. Thinking of shooting, knifing, hydrocyanic, garroting, poison needles, scorpions, a few others, and writing them on paper gets them where they may suggest something. Scorpions and their poison bite? Maybe mosquitos or flies treated with deadly germs?

A little less exotic, but just as useful, are the rules for the first quarter part of every successful story.

1--First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved--something the hero has to cope with.

2--The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)

3--Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.

Lester Dent's work has become a bit more accessible in the last few years. Many of the Doc Savage novels are now available on Kindle

Hard Case Crime published one of Dent's works for the first time ever in 2009, Honey In His Mouth

And Mysterious Press has published several of Dent's mystery novels in the past few years, including Lady In Peril and Cry At Dusk.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Writers Born Today - Natsuo Kirino

It's the birthday of mystery novelist Natsuo Kirino, born October 7, 1951 in Kanazawa, Japan.  She obtained a law degree after college but couldn't find a job in her profession. Various jobs followed, including stints as a magazine writer and movie promoter. She began writing in her thirties in the romance genre. But as she put it, "there was no market for it". When that didn't work out she turned to mysteries with an emphasis on hard boiled suspense.

Here she found her footing, and wrote several mysteries that focus on the psychological undercurrents of criminal behavior. Her first novel to be published in English, Out, was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 2004, the first translated work by a Japanese writer to achieve that milestone. It tells of four working class women who struggle to maintain their families and finances until one woman murders her husband. She seeks help from the other three to help cover up the crime. Their actions lead to disaster.

When she published her ground breaking novel Out, it was a shock to Japanese readers. The idea that a wife could kill her husband was still new in Japan due to its traditional culture. As a result, it got a lot of attention. That it was written by a woman was another surprise. It became a best seller and won the Best Japanese Crime Fiction of the Year and the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Best Novel. She has won six awards for her crime novels.

Her work has been described as 'feminist noir' because many of her female characters live ordinary lives yet become capable of extraordinary action to protect themselves, actions which include murder.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Writers Born Today - Nedra Tyre

It's the birthday of Nedra Tyre, born October 6, 1912 in Offerman, Georgia. She was a social worker for most of her life and she used her experiences to create some of the best suspense fiction of the post war era. She produced six novels and over forty short stories, according to Sarah Weinman, crime fiction critic and leading authority on the genre know as Domestic Suspense.

Anthony Boucher referred to her as not just a mystery writer, but a novelist. He said that she "brings to the mystery novel a richness of human warmth, sympathy, and insight comparable to Dorothy Salisbury Davis or Margaret Millar...".

She read voraciously and squeezed her writing in between work and caring for an ailing mother.  In the 1970s she lost her hearing and became absorbed by the charity work she was doing for the poor. Her work fell out of print. She stopped writing.

One of her best short stories, A Nice Place To Stay, was republished in 2013 in the critically acclaimed anthology, Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, edited by Sarah Weinman. The story examines a woman's struggle to support herself with the menial jobs available to her, and the solace she finds when her final destination gives her a measure of security and stability in a prison cell.

The Independent made her the subject of it's famed Invisible Ink series in December 2014, with No. 254.

"Some of the finest writing ever done has been in mysteries --even your precious Henry James tried them."

             - Nedra Tyre, Mouse In Eternity 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Writers Born Today - Edward Stratemeyer

It's the birthday of Edward Stratemeyer, born October 4, 1862 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The youngest of six children, he grew up in a family of hard-working immigrants. But he preferred to spend his time reading the Horatio Alger Rags-To-Riches stories. Soon he started writing stories for his friends. His father thought Edward was wasting his time. But he sold his first story at the age of 26 to a popular boy's magazine for $75.00 (over $1,940.00 in today's dollars). When he showed the check to his father, the elder Stratemeyer replied "You'd better write a lot more for them."

And write he did. Most of his stories were geared toward the children and young boys market, and he produced numerous stories with titles such as "Dashing Dave, the Every Ready Detective." He went to work for Horatio Alger, his boyhood hero, and even completed some stories for the ailing author (they split the royalties as per their agreement).

As public education took hold in America, it produced millions of new educated readers, and printing advances made the dime novel a reality. Stratemeyer wrote dozens of novels. His series about three schoolboys and their adventures, The Rover Boys, was a big success. But he could not keep up with the demand for stories. He decided to launch a company, and called it The Stratemeyer Syndicate. He hired writers to produced novels based on plots that he would dictate, and had the writers use a pen name that was owned by the company (in case a writer of a successful series left, the author's name would stay behind). He even created fake biographies for his ghost writers.

During the roaring 20s Stratemeyer thought mystery stories would broaden the company's reach from adventure and success stories. He created two of the most popular children's series of the 20th century. In 1926 he created The Hardy Boys. He followed up this successful series with another geared towards the growing market for female readers. Thus was born Nancy Drew.

These stories followed an outline created by Stratemeyer and he required they contain certain standard features, such as cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. Characters rarely "said" anything...instead they "cried", "exclaimed", or "declared". But readers gobbled them up.

To date, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series have sold over 100 million copies. Even today, they sell millions of books each year and have admirers among many of today's crime writers. Both Sara Paretsky and Nancy Pickard have credited Nancy Drew stories in part with inspiring their interest in mystery writing.

You have my personal thanks, Mr. Stratemeyer.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Mystery History - Edgar Allan Poe Reappears

On the evening of October 3, 1849, a magazine editor and physician in Baltimore Maryland received this hastily written letter.

Baltimore City, Oct. 3, 1849 
Dear Sir,

There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan's 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, he is in need of immediate assistance.

Yours, in haste, 
To Dr. J.E. Snodgrass.

Snodgrass, along with one of Poe's relatives, arranged to have a carriage take the writer to Washington College Hospital. Poe was obviously ill and in distress. Some thought he was drunk. Doctors could not determine his illness. Four days later, he was dead.

The true cause of death for the greatest writer of the 19th century has never been determined. But almost as great a mystery surrounds his appearance in Baltimore. He had left Richmond, Virginia a week earlier, destined for Philadelphia. Poe never arrived. He had been missing for several days when discovered outside Gunner Hall, a public tavern, by Joseph Walker, the man who alerted J E Snodgrass. 

Friends and observers who tried to piece together where Poe had been for several days didn't get far, but several strange facts did emerge. Poe left Richmond wearing an expensive wool suit, but upon arriving at the hospital, he was wearing someone else's clothes. They were filthy and didn't fit him. His attending physician, Dr. Moran, described Poe as wearing "a stained, faded, old bombazine coat, pantaloons of a similar character, a pair of worn-out shoes run down at the heels, and an old straw hat." Very strange attire for a man who had a reputation for dressing well.

Though Snodgrass thought Poe was drunk after going on a wild bender, Moran was convinced his patient was sober and suffering from severe head trauma. Moran also stated that Poe had repeatedly called out the name "Reynolds" before he died. Subsequent attempts to find this mystery man were fruitless. 

One witness claimed Poe had left Richmond with a large sum of cash (over 1,000 dollars) for magazine subscriptions. But he was penniless upon discovery in Baltimore, leading some to theorize that Poe had been mugged and his clothes stolen by ruffians. Other theories include mercury poisoning, a brain tumor, or rabies. One credible theory suggests Poe was kidnapped, disguised, gotten drunk and forced to vote at several polls for a favored candidate (election fraud was common in the mid 19th century and voters were often given alcohol as a reward for their votes). But the truth still eludes us.

"Maybe it’s fitting that since he invented the detective story, he left us with a real-life mystery."

- Chris Semtner, curator of the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia

For a look at Poe's Baltimore, including the spot where he was discovered by Walker, click on the blue balloon links in the map below.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Writers Born Today - Tapani Bagge

It's the birthday of Tapani Bagge, born October 2, 1962 in Kerava, Finland. He has written dozens of novels in several genres, including children, Young Adult, espionage and historical. In addition he has written for television, the stage and even comic books.

But he is best known for his crime novels (18 and counting), which lean towards hard-boiled noir. They contain considerable black comedy and have won numerous awards, including the The Finnish Whodunnit Society’s annual award in 2007 for his novel Black Sky. Some of his historical crime novels (Black Vortex and Red Shadow) explore the tension and conflicts which arose from the Finnish War with Russia and its effect on a nation struggling to maintain its freedom in the shadow of the Russian bear. Despite their historical setting, they speak of the same crises that trouble Europe today.

As a crime writer he counts among his important influences Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake, and Joe Lansdale . He was 10 years old when he read his first hard-boiled novel, The Lady In The Lake by Raymond Chandler. "That book really started my never-ending love story with tough guys and dangerous dames, at least in fiction," he said in an interview with FinPop, a website devoted to Finnish culture and the arts.

Bagge's work can be hard to find, but Thrilling Detective has posted two of his short stories on their website, The Face in the Concrete, which features Onni Syrjänen, a drunk lawyer forced by lack of funds to do his own detective work. Another story featuring his protaganist Onni is One More Shot.

You can read an entertaining interview with Bagge where he is interviewed by...Tapani Bagge. It's entitled Dancing With Myself.

Based on the limited number of stories I've read, I can say this is a writer worth getting to know. His novels aren't yet available in English. That's a crime that needs to be solved, and soon. Justice delayed, after all, is justice denied.

Bagge on Writing:
"The best part comes when the characters take the story and run, and leave you wondering if they really know where they are heading. That's the most high I've ever gotten, and it leaves no hangover whatsoever."

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Mystery History - The Salem Witchcraft Trials End

It was on this day in 1692 that seven men and women were hung after they were convicted of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. Used as inspiration by dozens of artists, musicians and writers, the events stun us even today. How did the town descend so rapidly into chaos and madness?

The town of Salem had seen an influx of refugees from the devastation of King William's War in 1689. The strain on resources among the town folk caused a great deal of conflict between the established wealthy and powerful families and the newcomers. By the time the trials ended, the hysteria surrounding the accusations had claimed twenty innocent lives.

 It began when some of the teen-aged girls became to bark and yelp like animals and reported seeing strange things. They soon accused their afflictions on three women, one a slave, one a beggar, another an impoverished old spinster. A panel of male judges declared them witches and held them for trial. A declaration of innocence did the women little good. When some of them spoke, the girls broke into convulsions, and this was seen as proof of the accusations. One confession was even extracted from a four year old child!

Some victims were accused simply because they declared that the did not believe in witches, such as Martha Cory (she was one of the women hanged this day). Her husband, Giles, defended her and was also accused. Refusing to enter a plea or recognize the authority of the judges, he was punished by being slowly crushed to death.

After the Governor of Massachusetts received news of the trials he put a stop to them. He barred further trials, released the remaining accused and disbanded the court.

Today, the Salem witch trials have come to represent hysteria and xenophobia at their worst, and the events inspired numerous works of literature.

Arthur Miller used the trials as inspiration for his play The Crucible. Shirley Jackson's short story, The Lottery, is said by some to have been inspired by the trials. And elements of teenage angst and hysteria are prominent in Megan Abbott's novel, The Fever (although the author points more directly to strange events in an upper New York state town as her direct inspiration).

A complete list of cultural references to the Salem Witch trials in art, music and literature would be enormous and beyond the scope of this blog, but a partial list is featured here.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Writers Born Today - Barbara Callahan

It's the birthday of Barbara Callahan, born September 20, 1934 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After graduating college she became a teacher and later a technical writer. Most of her energy went into raising a family (she had five children). But she began to write in the spare time she could find.

Her contribution to the mystery genre was small in quantity, but not quality. She published 22 short stories during her life. Many of them appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. She's recognized as an important contributor to the mystery genre now known as Domestic Suspense.

Her second story, Lavender Lady, was nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America. It was published in EQMM in April 1976. The haunting tale made such an impression on editor Sarah Weinman that she included it in her 2013 anthology Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives.

My Mother's Keeper, also published in EQMM, was published in 2009 and nominated posthumously for a Barry Award the following year. It was the last story published before her death. You can read it here.

Note: Special thanks to Sarah Weinman, whose research and help made this posting possible.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Writers Born Today - John Creasey

It's the birthday of John Creasey, born September 17, 1908 in England. He came from a working class family, and work he did. Depending on who you ask, he wrote somewhere between 560 and 620 novels using more than two dozen pen names (as well as his own). A complete bibliography of his work has never been assembled, and even Creasey admitted he could not remember all of them.

A teacher suggested he would make a career as a writer when he was just 10 years old. He took the advice to heart and began writing while still a teenager. Despite his dedication, he was rejected over 700 times. In his early years he wrote while working odd jobs to support himself, and produced up to 7,000 words a day on average.

By 1935 he was writing full time and publishing several books a year under different pen names. (Book sellers complained that he monopolized the letter "C" on their shelves).

He created two famous and lasting protagonists, Richard Rollinson (the Toff), an amateur detective, and George Gideon of Scotland Yard. Both of these characters made their way onto film and television. 

In 1962 the Mystery Writers of America awarded him an Edgar for Best Novel for Gideon's Fire. The organization honored him again in 1969 by making him a Grand Master.

He sold over 80 million books by the time he passed away in 1973.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Writers Born Today - Richard Henry Sampson

It's the birthday of mystery writer Richard Henry Sampson, born September 6, 1896 in London. He wrote under the pen name of Richard Hull and achieved instant success with his first novel, The Murder Of My Aunt, published in 1934 to critical acclaim. But before he turned to writing full time he worked in private practice accountant!

Sampson's early years held little clue that the man who entered figures in a ledger would someday spend most of his time pondering how to kill his victims for entertainment. After attending school in Warwickshire, he joined the army when World War I broke out. He became an officer in the infantry and served with distinction. After the war he became an accountant and eventually opened his own firm. He began writing after reading Malice Aforethought by Frances Illes, a work which made a powerful impression on him.

After the success of The Murder Of My Aunt, Hull published 14 more novels. He was well known for his wit, displayed in many of his novels. In 1940, he published a novel My Own Murderer in which the villain's name was Richard Henry Sampson.

He was a member of The Detection Club, a group of mystery writers who agreed to write novels that would give the reader a fair chance to guess "whodunit".

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Women Crime Writers of the 1940s & 1950s. An Interview with editor Sarah Weinman

Sarah is the news editor for Publisher's Marketplace, and the editor of the short story anthology Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives. She is also editor of the just released Library of America two volume set  Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 1950s and one of today's top mystery fiction critics.

Welcome Sarah. Thanks for talking with me today.

1) Tell us about the birth of Women Crime Writers. And how did you convince the Library of America that this remarkable collection belonged on bookshelves?

To tell you the truth they didn't need much convincing! A mutual professional acquaintance put me in touch with Max Rudin, publisher of the Library of America, not long before TROUBLED DAUGHTERS, TWISTED WIVES was published a couple of years ago. We had a meeting and it emerged they had been thinking of doing such a set for some years now, what with the success of their original late-90s CRIME NOVELS OF THE 1930s/40s/50s 2-volume set edited by Robert Polito. One meeting led to the next and by the end of 2013 I was in board to edit what became WOMEN CRIME WRITERS.

2) Many of the novels that appear in this anthology were best sellers in their day, both in print and in movie versions. How did they slip from our memory in the first place?

Writers fall out of fashion or circulation for any number of reasons: changing tastes, changing fortunes, and having a next-generation champion at just the right time. In the 1980s, Barry Gifford, through Vintage Black Lizard, revived many reputations of those who toiled in the trenches of Fawcett Gold Medal and other paperback original publishers of the 1950s and 1960s, and those guys -- David Goodis, Jim Thompson, Peter Rabe, to name a few -- got written up and celebrated. But in parallel was this whole generation of women writing for hardcover publishers and garnering critical acclaim and yet, by not writing stories that fit the Black Lizard mold, they didn't make it in the revival. But now psychological suspense is all the rage, and it's important to recognize those who came before the Gillian Flynns and Paula Hawkins and Laura Lippmans of the world.

3) You've done more than anyone in the mystery field to identify and promote the sub-genre now known as Domestic Suspense. What exactly is Domestic Suspense? And is it a unifying theme in this collection?

I define "domestic suspense" as works written between the onset of World War II and the dawn of second-wave feminism, that delve into the dark side of human behavior that threatens to come out with the dinner dishes, the laundry, or taking care of a child. They are about ordinary, everyday life, and that’s what makes these novels of domestic suspense so frightening. The nerves they hit are really fault lines.

4) Some of the choices you made in Women Crime Writers may have seemed inevitable (for example, The Horizontal Man and Beast In View both won Edgars). But how did you decide what else to include?

The eight volumes were a consensus choice between myself and the Library of America editors, i.e publisher Max Rudin and editor-in-chief Geoffrey O'Brien. We all made lists and read widely but we started with some fairly obvious choices: LAURA by Vera Caspary, IN A LONELY PLACE by Dorothy B. Hughes, THE BLANK WALL by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. That Charlotte Armstrong and Margaret Millar would be included were also obvious, but finding the right book of theirs took a little time. Eustis I read during the selection process and its influence and critical importance was clear. Dolores Hitchens I also loved but FOOL'S GOLD was not as well known as her later novel SLEEP WITH SLANDER -- published too late for the collection in 1960 -- and a little more difficult to come by. The Highsmith was the final choice, and THE BLUNDERER is a key linchpin because you see all the seeds of what would become THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY and other later, important works of hers.

5) The website you created to introduce Women Crime Writers ( is packed with essays, information and fascinating trivia about the anthology and the writers. Did you organize it yourself?

Again, the companion website was a total collaborative effort. I solicited the appreciations and wrote an introductory essay, while the LoA team assembled that amazing timeline of ancillary works, images of first edition covers, film posters, and more, and then some. It was months in the making and I'm so pleased at how it turned out, into a real destination that readers can get lost in for hours at a time, for repeat visits.

6) What's next? Is there a possibility we might someday see an anthology of International Women Crime Writers of Domestic Suspense?

I am the type of person who has multiple projects on the go and sees where the chips fall. But as to your anthology idea, it's a good one, and certainly in my wheelhouse.

Thanks again for allowing my readers to re-discover these remarkable women. Good luck with the tour.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Spend a few hours with The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley.

Pity Poor Paddy. His pregnant wife died 2 years ago and he hasn't been the same since. He just walking through life like a zombie. But this half-life, such as it is, just got very precious to him. He's just killed a man.

Sure, it was an accident. A pedestrian jaywalking on a dark rainy night, a brief distraction from the radio, the sound of a thump, and his life is changed. Things go from bad to worse when Paddy realizes who he's killed...Donal Cullen, brother of the most powerful gangster in Ireland. His initial thought was to seek help. But after the shock of his discovery this idea is tossed to the street to be washed into the sewer like the rain. His instinct is to flee, and he follows it. There are no witnesses...he assumes.

He barely has time to gather his wits around him when he is called into the office the next day and given a new assignment, which takes him face to face with Vincent Cullen...the dead man's brother.

Paddy, you see, works for a funeral home. He's been given the job of burying the very man he killed.

Mother said there'd be days like this. If only we had listened.

Not all is bleak for Paddy, however. He's also fallen in love with the daughter of one of his clients. The whirlwind romance feels solid, perhaps a second chance at redemption. But he's pursued by the fear of exposure that haunts his every move. At any moment, someone may point an accusing finger and reveal him a hypocrite and murderer. What's worse, his crime exposes not only him to danger, but the woman he loves, and if Vincent Cullen learns his secret, even the innocent will suffer.

Jeremy Massey has written an amazing debut novel. The Last Four Days Of Paddy Buckley is a thriller and a romance wrapped into a story that I couldn't put down...and neither will you. The writing is like poetry, the characters like the friends you haven't seen for years but can't forget.  After you're done, you'll savor it and want to read it again. Then you'll wonder...when will his next novel come out? And can you wait that long?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Writers Born Today - H.P. Lovecraft

It's the birthday of H.P. Lovecraft, born August 20th 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island. When he died, he was virtually unknown. Only a few of his stories had been published. Yet today he is recognized as one of the most influential writers of modern times. He knew and befriended many great authors of early science fiction and horror, including August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch and Robert E. Howard. They became known as The Lovecraft Circle, due to Lovecraft's influence on their writing. He corresponded with dozens of writers and edited countless stories without taking credit. Stephen King said he was "the twentieth century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale," and credited Lovecraft with King's interest in horror and the macabre.

As a writer of horror Lovecraft was a genius, and coined the phrase known by even non-Lovecraft fans, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

His health was frail for most of his life. As a result he did not graduate from high school. But he studied on his own and was well read in science and astronomy. He was generous with his editorial assistance to fellow writers, but his own contributions to magazines such as Weird Tales brought him little money. By the time he died of cancer in 1937 he was broke.

After his death, August Derleth worked to maintain Lovecraft's reputation and increase interest among readers. Derleth even started a publishing company named Arkham House (named after a setting in Lovecraft's stories) with the express purpose of publishing Lovecraft's work. His fans bought him a tombstone in his home town of Providence. And in 2005, the Library of America honored him by publishing an edition of his stories, H.P. Lovecraft: Tales.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Finding Jack Lynch is worth playing Truth Or Die.

You don't have to wander the bookshelves or spend hours with Google to find forgotten but great crime writers anymore. Brash Books, a new independent publisher, is doing it for you. One fine example is Jack Lynch.

Truth or Die, the sixth in an eight book series, features California Private Eye Peter Bragg. He's visiting Monterey with his girlfriend when he runs into an old acquaintance, Jo Sommers. Jo's married now, but she can still turn heads, and Bragg's head is ready to spin. So when he learns she's in trouble, he can't resist the temptation to look into it, for old times sake.

Big mistake. Jo's husband has been murdered, and she's the prime suspect.  Instead of running back to Allison, Bragg decides to interview the less than grieving widow. Dr. Sommers was a psychiatrist and many of his patients were ex-navy officers. While the doctor helped them deal with the horrors of war, someone decided to use their secrets for blackmail. That may have gotten Dr. Sommers killed. And Bragg may be next, if he gets too close to the blackmailer.

He has to be wondering what Jo is up she part of the blackmail scheme or an innocent patsy? Was her husband blackmailing his own patients? Is the wife really a black widow? This story will keep you turning the pages to find out and has enough action to keep you entertained along the way.

Lynch has a clean, straightforward prose style that was made popular by Ernest Hemingway, and copied by countless writers. But Lynch is no imitator. He learned to write while working for numerous newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle (Hemingway cut his teeth at the Kansas City Star). They must feed those newspapers reporters something potent, because most of them can write a tight sentence that packs a punch. Lynch was nominated for the Edgar and twice for the Shamus award.

 This is the first of the Bragg novels I've read, but it won't be the last. There's seven more on my list. They should be on yours.