EDWARD D. HOCH’S “PAUL REVERE’S BELL”

In celebration of Independence Day, instead of posting an article this week, I’d like to direct readers to the full text of a story by Edward D. Hoch, from his Revolutionary War series starring Alexander Swift.  The tale, entitled “Paul Revere’s Bell” and originally published in EQMM’s March/April 2004 issue, is made available through the generous permission of Ed’s widow, Patricia Hoch. The stories in this series are among my favorites from Ed Hoch’s large body of work. Whether this case for Alexander Swift is new to you or remembered from more than a decade ago, I hope you’ll find it an enjoyable addition to your holiday. Happy Fourth of July!—Janet Hutchings

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POETS AND SLEUTHS

Jeffrey Marks’s recent post about Frederic Dannay’s famed collection of mystery books closed by saying that in his later years, after donating his mystery collection to the University of Texas, Dannay began to collect books of poetry. Dannay, who was, of course, the founding editor of EQMM and half the Ellery Queen writing team, wasn’t just a collector of poetry, however. He wrote poetry as well as mysteries, and he shared that confluence of literary interests with many other great writers in the mystery field, beginning with the father of the mystery, Edgar Allan Poe.

In the 1960s Fred Dannay compiled a collection of mystery stories by famous poets entitled Ellery Queen’s Poetic Justice, which still has a place on the shelves in our offices. When I first discussed this topic, on the forum of EQMM’s Web site several years ago, it was still possible to access online an article by Martin Edwards called “Poets as Crime Writers.” Though it seems no longer to be available online, interested readers can find the piece in the Oxford Companion to Mystery and Crime Writing, edited by Rosemary Herbert. Martin Edwards remarks in that article that poets turned mystery writers are “presumably . . . attracted to a literature that shares with much poetry the importance of form and structure.” In his introduction to Poetic Justice, Dannay points to a similarity that appears to go deeper, and to have to do with substance as well as form: For him, both poets and fictional detectives are trying to make order out of chaos.

Among the poets whose stories Dannay collected in Poetic Justice were Sir Walter Scott, Dylan Thomas, Stephen Vincent Benét, Conrad Aiken, Ogden Nash, and Walt Whitman. Martin Edwards mentions several other important poet/crime writers, some from mystery’s Golden Age, in “Poets as Crime Writers,” but concludes: “No one, however, has worn the two hats of poet and crime writer more successfully than Cecil Day-Lewis. Under the pseudonym Nicholas Blake, he created the detective Nigel Strangeways, a character based on W.H. Auden. Blake’s finest novel is probably The Beast Must Die (1938), but he continued to write mystery novels until shortly before his death in 1972, despite his continuing commitment to poetry, which culminated in his appointment as Poet Laureate.”

As one would expect, there are many notable poet/crime writers who don’t get a mention in either Dannay’s book or Edwards’s article, including, from mystery’s classical period, Mary Roberts Rinehart. And if a new volume of Poetic Justice were being compiled today, it would certainly include the work of contemporary poet/crime writers such as John Harvey, Ken Bruen, and Peter Robinson.

The connection between poetry and crime fiction isn’t just that many poets have penned prose mystery stories or novels, however. Another intersection of poetry and crime writing is the mystery or crime story told in verse. The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest known works of literature, was an adventure/suspense story told in poetic form. And the tradition of telling adventure/crime stories in verse, which continued through the ages, could be found even in EQMM until the 1990s through the work of John F. Dobbyn (who eventually turned to prose fiction). Mystery stories in verse are now mostly found only in books for children, but I suspect there might be more writers producing such poems for adults even now if crime-fiction publications existed that could easily accommodate the special typesetting needs of long poems (something not easily done in a magazine formatted such as EQMM is)—and, of course, if reader tastes still ran as strongly as they once did to verse.

Yet another junction of poetry and mystery occurs via some of mystery’s iconic fictional characters. Think of those fictional detectives who are portrayed as either lovers of poetry or writers of it: most notable in the former category Robert B. Parker’s Spenser and in the latter P.D. James’s Adam Dalgliesh. Contemporary writer Qui Xiaolong, born in Shanghai but currently a U.S. resident, followed in the tradition of the detective with poetic sensibilities when he created his poetry-reading Chief Inspector Chen—and it is really not so surprising that the author should have taken this direction when you consider that before turning to crime writing he was a translator of the poetry of T.S. Eliot, among others.

Now here’s a bit of a mystery—at least to me. By some estimates, the mystery/crime/thriller genre accounts for nearly half of all fiction book sales in the U.S. each year. Our genre is clearly one of the bestselling of all genres if that estimate is even close to accurate. Books of poetry, on the other hand, tend to fall into the least-purchased category, with most titles selling only a few hundred copies. If poetry and mystery have so many compelling crossing points, how is it that the rising popularity of the mystery book seems to have coincided with the slumping popularity of the poetry volume?

With that question piquing my curiosity, I would love to know how many of the devoted mystery fans who follow this site are also avid readers of poetry. . . . —Janet Hutchings

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“Woody, Clint, and Dutch: Three American Masters, Each With a Long-term Commitment to Crime Fiction” (by Kevin Mims)

If you read Kevin Mims’s last article for this site, you know that he’s something of an expert on the crime novels of the great pocket-paperback era. It turns out he’s also a devotee of crime movies; here are his picks for the three most important figures in that genre.—Janet Hutchings

Few American pop-culture icons remain active and relevant in their chosen field for very long. Most pop-culture icons are associated with a particular decade, even if they managed to put together a career that spanned a half century. We associate Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner with the 1960s. Nothing they did after the original Star Trek series was ever quite as important. We associate Olivia Newton John and Burt Reynolds with the 1970s. Writer Jean Auel was a 1980s phenomenon. Pearl Jam was a 1990s phenomenon. Only a handful of the artists who survived long enough to not only see this current decade but also to make an important cultural contribution to it were also culturally relevant in all of the previous six decades. That handful, you could argue, consists of only three men: Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, and Elmore Leonard. Yes, I am aware that Tony Bennett recorded his first number-one record in 1951, but he has never had anywhere near the pop-cultural cache that Eastwood, Allen, and Leonard have all achieved. Likewise, writer Lawrence Block has a distinguished publishing career stretching all the way back to the 1950s but, alas, he is a household name only to connoisseurs of great crime fiction. The average American couldn’t pick him out of a lineup.

Elmore Leonard’s first published story appeared in Argosy magazine in 1951. If we argue that no one really hits the cultural big time in America until he’s discovered by Hollywood, then we can date Leonard’s true cultural relevance to 1956, the year of his first credit on the Internet Movie Database. Woody Allen’s first IMDb credit dates back to 1956 as well. Clint Eastwood’s first IMDb credit is from 1955. In essence, all three of these men first crept into the public eye within the span of about a year.

Eastwood didn’t make a big splash until 1959, when he began costarring in Rawhide, a popular Western TV series. Leonard’s first big splash came in 1957, the year that two of his Western stories were made into films, The Tall T (from a story called “The Captive”) and 3:10 From Yuma. Allen first gained pop-cultural relevance when he began writing gags for TV performers such as Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers, Buddy Hackett, Jack Paar, and Ed Sullivan in the mid to late 50s. Born in 1935, Allen was more precocious than either Leonard or Eastwood. He began selling jokes professionally while still a teenager. Eastwood was born five years before Allen and Leonard was born five years before Eastwood, but they all hit the big time in the same decade.

The decade of the 1960s was a big one for all three men, though it certainly wouldn’t prove to be the acme of any of their careers. Allen’s first feature film as both writer and director, Take The Money and Run (a title befitting at least half of Elmore Leonard’s crime novels), was released in 1969. Eastwood’s legendary collaboration with Sergio Leone began in 1964 with the release of A Fistful of Dollars. And in 1969 Leonard made one of the most important transitions of his career when he switched from being a writer primarily of Westerns to being a writer primarily of crime novels. That was the year The Big Bounce, his first crime novel, was published.

You could argue (many have) that Allen’s career peaked in the late 1970s with the releases of Annie Hall in 1977 and Manhattan in 1979. Other prominent Allen titles of the 1970s include Love and Death, Sleeper, Bananas, and Play it Again, Sam. But of Allen’s 24 Academy Award nominations, 17 have come after the end of the 1970s. Three of them have come in the current decade. His work in the 1980s included such masterpieces as Hannah and Her Sisters, Zelig, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and Crimes and Misdemeanors. I would argue that Allen, who will turn 80 this year, remains one of America’s most prominent, and relevant, filmmakers. His most financially successful film is Midnight In Paris, released earlier this decade.

Although the 1970s were huge for Leonard, his biggest decades were still to come. Four of the novels he published in the 70s (Fifty-Two Pickup, Swag, Unknown Man # 89, and The Switch) have been collected for posterity in a Library of America edition of his works. Likewise, four of his novels of the 1980s (City Primeval, Glitz, LaBrava, and Freaky Deaky) have received the same honor. The decade of 1990s was arguably his peak as a novelist. That was the decade during which he became celebrated by writers outside the crime/mystery genre. In 1995, Martin Amis reviewed Riding the Rap in the New York Times Book Review and declared that Leonard possessed “gifts—of ear and eye, of timing and phrasing—that even the most indolent and snobbish masters of the mainstream must vigorously covet.” Saul Bellow was also a fan. Two of Leonard’s best crime novels—Get Shorty and Out of Sight—were published in the 1990s, both of which became critically acclaimed films. It was also the decade in which he introduced the American public to Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, inarguably his-best known fictional creation. Givens first appeared in the novel Pronto, but made his biggest cultural impact in the FX network television series Justified, which is based on the Leonard short story “Fire in the Hole.” Justified will almost certainly stand as Leonard’s most widely known contribution to popular culture (the series was developed for television by Graham Yost). Leonard’s novel Pronto, published 22 years ago, has generated a mere 152 user comments on Amazon.com. The TV series Justified has generated 15,984 Amazon.com comments, roughly 100 times more than Pronto’s total. The series debuted in March of 2010 when Leonard was still very much alive and active. He received a writing credit on four of the episodes. Although Leonard died in August of 2013, the series remained on the air until April 2015. To the very end it remained popular with viewers and critics alike.

It’s difficult to say which decade of his career was Eastwood’s most successful, but there’s no question that his most commercially successful production was last year’s film American Sniper, which earned $349 million dollars at the domestic box office. Most of that money was earned early in 2015, making this year arguably Eastwood’s most successful. Of his eleven Academy Award nominations, ten have come in the last dozen years.

Elmore “Dutch” Leonard, Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen. The three men share many attributes, both bad (messy personal lives) and good (tremendous critical and popular success), but there is no doubting that all three have shared a strong commitment to crime fiction that dates all the way back to the 1960s. In Leonard’s case, the commitment to crime fiction is self-evident. Most of his published oeuvre is in the crime genre. Likewise, Eastwood’s most iconic film role is the character of “Dirty” Harry Callahan, the San Francisco police inspector he played in five films between 1971 and 1988. And Dirty Harry was far from Eastwood’s only contribution to crime fiction. As a director he has brought the work of many noteworthy crime writers to the screen, including novelists Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, and David Baldacci (Eastwood and Elmore Leonard collaborated on the film Joe Kidd, a 1972 western starring Eastwood, written by Leonard, and directed by John Sturges). Play Misty For Me, Eastwood’s directorial debut, was a crime thriller. His filmography bulges with work in the crime and mystery genres: Escape From Alcatraz, Tightrope, Pink Cadillac, The Rookie, In The Line of Fire, A Perfect World, Absolute Power, True Crime, Blood Work, Mystic River, Gran Torino, and so forth.

Ask someone to associate Eastwood or Leonard with a particular genre of fiction and they are likely to mention either the Western or the crime story, although Eastwood, at least, has done plenty of work in other genres such as the romance (The Bridges of Madison County), the spy thriller (The Eiger Sanction, Firefox) and the war film (Heartbreak Ridge, Where Eagles Dare, American Sniper). Ask the average American to associate Woody Allen with a particular genre and they are likely to answer “film comedy” or perhaps “romantic comedy.” What many people seem to overlook is the fact that Allen has written and directed more crime films than many directors who are far better known for their work in that genre. As I noted earlier, his directorial debut was the comic crime caper Take the Money and Run (technically his debut was What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, but that spoof is primarily an overdub of a Japanese film directed by Senkichi Taniguchi). His film Sleeper is the story of a man on the run from a gestapolike organization in a futuristic police state. Broadway Danny Rose is about a talent agent involved with the mob. Crimes and Misdemeanors, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Bullets Over Broadway, Small Time Crooks—the very titles of those films scream out “crime story!” The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is about a jewel theft, Match Point is a tale of illicit sex and murder, Scoop is a supernatural murder mystery, Cassandra’s Dream is a dramatic tale of murder and its aftermath, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger includes a character who plagiarizes a dead man’s unpublished novel, and Blue Jasmine deals with a woman’s struggle to survive after her wealthy husband is jailed for multiple financial crimes. Even when he takes an acting job in some other director’s film, Allen seems to be drawn to crime stories. In Martin Ritt’s film The Front, Allen plays a man who attracts the attention of the FBI and the House UnAmerican Activities Committee after he agrees to fraudulently represent himself as the author of TV scripts that were actually written by writers blacklisted for their ties to communism. In Alfonso Arau’s 2000 film Picking Up the Pieces, Allen stars as a butcher who murders his unfaithful wife, chops her body into pieces, and buries them in a New Mexico desert. In the animated film Antz, directed by Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson, Allen voices a character who is falsely accused of being a war criminal. In John Turturro’s Fading Gigolo, Allen plays a pimp. Even much of Allen’s lighter comedic fair has some element of criminality in it. In Magic in the Moonlight, for instance, the main character, played by Colin Firth, is a magician who is trying to expose a con woman, played by Emma Stone. In Deconstructing Harry, a distraught woman (played by Judy Davis) attempts to murder her ex-lover (Allen) by firing a gun at him. Mighty Aphrodite involves a prostitute and her violent pimp. Shadows and Fog involves the search for a serial killer. What’s more, Allen has spoofed detective fiction in numerous prose pieces written for the New Yorker. These include such comic gems as “The Whore of Mensa,” “Mr. Big,” “Match Wits with Inspector Ford,” “This Nib for Hire,” “How Deadly Your Taste Buds, My Sweet,” and “Above the Law, Below the Box Springs.”

Clint, Dutch, and Woody. Until recently, all three were still walking the earth and still very much an important part of the contemporary cultural scene. It’s curious that three men who spent so much of their lives crafting stories about lives cut short by murder would themselves live such long and productive lives. Dutch is no longer with us, but Clint and Woody remain professionally active to this day. With luck, we may get another decade or two of work out of them. Let’s hope that at least some of that work is in the crime genre. Few filmmakers have done it better.

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“Books to Die For” (by Jeffrey Marks)

Jeffrey Marks is one of the best-known contemporary biographers working in the mystery genre. After writing numerous short mystery-author profiles he produced his first book-length biography, Who Was That Lady?, in 2010. It chronicles the life of mystery writer Craig Rice, and the research for it inspired him to write about other authors from the same era in Atomic Renaissance: Women Mystery Writers of the 1940s/1950s. His more recent biographical works include Anthony Boucher, which won an Anthony Award and was nominated for an Agatha; a newly completed biography of Erle Stanley Gardner; and his work-in-progress, a biography of Ellery Queen, which he draws on for this post.
Like many dedicated fans, historians, and critics of the genre, Jeffrey also writes fiction. His recently published novel The Scent of Murder was a past winner of the yearly Malice Domestic Grant for unpublished writers.—Janet Hutchings

No man has done as much as Fred Dannay for the short form of the mystery since Edgar Allan Poe wrote “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” in 1841. Dannay is better known as half of the team who wrote the Ellery Queen mysteries as well as the first editor of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. However, another aspect of his life is equally important; his superlative short-story collection revolutionized the genre.

Dannay’s knowledge of the short form of the mystery was unparalleled. In part, this was because he possessed a stellar mystery short-story collection. Dannay was a born collector. In 1941, he determined that of the 360 known mystery short-story collections, he personally possessed copies of 300 of the books. He had his own group of collectors in every part of the country, scouring used bookstores for the volumes he didn’t yet have. However, Dannay did not collect just to own “a copy.” He collected to own “the copy.” As a result, his collection was one of the finest in the country.

Dannay wasn’t selfish about these works. He shared the content of his collection through a series of themed multiauthor anthologies, including Rogues’ Gallery and The Female of the Species. 101 Years’ Entertainment, published in 1941, was undoubtedly the best of the Queen anthologies. As well as being a collection of the best stories over the past century, the anthology included a brief narrative of the genre thus far.

His first forays in writing about the genre led to other works related to mystery short stories. By the 1940s, little critical research had been done and there was not much literary scholarship of genre fiction. The genre was still relatively young and had not received much respect from scholars.

Dannay used his collection to develop a bibliography of the mystery short story. The Detective Short Story: A Bibliography allowed others to look at what had been published and gave a description of each volume’s appearance. While not complete, the book was an important first effort in defining the works in the genre.

Dannay wrote to a friend:

Except for Scribner’s catalog and Bates’ and Carter’s article on the detective story, there is virtually no printed information available. Mine would be the first bibliography in the field—the first comprehensive attempt. It should become an important book—and because I think it will, I’m willing to go to the terrific trouble to do the job.

Dannay soon found that his ebullience over the collection and its uses had a downside. Booksellers who had heard of Dannay’s plans soon began increasing prices on the volumes he needed. While Dannay made good money writing as Ellery Queen, he did not have unlimited funds for the demands of his collection.

Dannay was not finished with writing critical works about his collection. Queen’s Quorum, which is subtitled A History of the Detective Crime Short Story as Revealed in the 100 Most Important Books Published in This Field Since 1845, which appeared nearly a decade after the bibliography, explained why these books were worthy of mention and contextually placed them in the history of the genre.

These two books helped enlarge academic scholarship on the mystery genre and led to biographies of many of the important authors of the twentieth century (including my works) as well as surveys on the genre and specific eras. In no small part because of these works, the mystery genre is now taught at many universities.

Ironically, the books that Dannay did not possess were first editions of his own novels. While he professed to be keeping copies of all of his own works for his sons, by the early 1940s Dannay had given away all his personal copies of The Roman Hat Mystery. As a result, he turned to others to look for and purchase copies of that title as well as the short-story collections.

For anyone who wants to see Dannay’s priceless works from our favorite genre, the collection was donated to the University of Texas in Austin in 1958 and now resides in the Harry Ransom Center at the university. A recent exhibition showed off the collection and some of the rarer pieces, which include:

  • Beeton’s Christmas Annual, from November, 1887 which published the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet. Now called the most expensive magazine in the world with a recent copy selling for over $150,000.
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles in the original dust jacket, one of the most pristine copies of the century-old book in existence
  • The original hand-written manuscript of the first Sherlock Holmes story, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” which includes letters from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s biographer, John Dickson Carr, regarding Doyle’s handwriting
  • Austin Freeman’s John Thorndyke’s Cases, the British edition from 1909 and the author’s personal copy
  • The Mysterious Affair at Styles, first edition signed by Agatha Christie. Christie was notoriously reclusive, and any edition signed by her is automatically rare. Unsigned first editions of her first book currently run $5000 or more.
  • Dorothy L. Sayers’s first novel, Whose Body? signed by the author to her parents, Reverend and Mrs. Sayers.

At this juncture, the sheer number of mystery short- story volumes produced means that Dannay’s collection could never be replicated. The prices alone would require the fortune of Bill Gates. And even then, many of the best copies of early works are now snatched up by museums, rare-book libraries, and dedicated collectors, leaving only a few lesser copies of the books available to collectors.

So what does a collector do once he gives away his life’s work? He begins collecting again. After donating his works to the Harry Ransom Center, Dannay, a poet himself, began to collect volumes of poetry. He continued to add to his collection until his death. The collection was sold at auction posthumously.

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“How to Read Disreputably” (by Kevin Mims)

Kevin Mims is a short-story writer and essayist whose stories have appeared in many literary magazines and in EQMM and AHMM. His essays have appeared in the New York Times and many other newspapers. He last contributed a post to this site almost exactly a year ago. He returns with a piece focused entirely on reading and readers. It will bring back some vivid memories for those of us who used to carry “pocket books” around in pockets or bags.—Janet Hutchings

When I was a lad I enjoyed reading in literary genres that were regarded as disreputable: crime fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, western, film novelizations, true crime, etc. Back then, serious books tended to be published in hardback editions and in so-called “quality” paperback editions, the latter being larger than traditional paperback books and printed on paper that wouldn’t turn yellow with age. Disreputable literature, on the other hand, was most commonly found between the covers of small paperback books. These were called “mass market” paperbacks or “pocket books” because they could literally be stuffed into the back pocket of one’s jeans. Thin collections of short stories by the likes of Ray Bradbury, Fredric Brown, Ernest Haycox, and H.P. Lovecraft were staples of my literary diet. Likewise, paperback novels by such luminaries as Alistair MacLean, Agatha Christie, Isaac Asimov, and John D. MacDonald could frequently be seen bulging in my back pockets.

One problem these days is that there are no disreputable literary genres anymore. Grown women unashamedly sit in the bleachers and read semiliterate soft-core porn (Fifty Shades of Gray) inspired by silly juvenile fantasy fiction while waiting for their daughters’ soccer practice to end. Grown men avidly read books that recast Abraham Lincoln as a zombie hunter. In the 1960s and 70s only nerds could be seen carrying around tattered paperback copies of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels. Now respectable businessmen and -women eagerly devour the latest installments of multivolume fantasy cycles by the likes of George R.R. Martin and Diana Gabaldon in an effort to stay one step ahead of the prestigious big-budget television miniseries based on those tomes. Many of these pillars of the community are reading their Fifty Shades books and Vampires vs. Zombies books on e-readers, which make it impossible for the person sitting across from them on the subway to determine if they are reading Stéphane Mallarmé or Stephenie Meyer. Thus you might conclude that one advantage of the e-reader is that it has made it possible to read disreputable literature in public without fear of being caught at it. But I don’t think this fact is important to most of those who use an e-reader. The truth is that few people these days are ashamed to be caught reading trashy books.

In the old days, reading a tattered, yellowing paperback bedizened with a lurid cover was a way of letting your freak flag fly. It allowed you to announce to the world that you didn’t give a damn about what the cultural snobs thought. And the beauty of it is that much of what passed as pop detritus back in the 60s and 70s is now actually recognized as a truly valuable contribution to Western culture. Tolkien’s fantasies are now taken seriously as literature. Likewise, genre writers such as Patricia Highsmith, Elmore Leonard, and Jim Thompson, who were mainstays of the pulp-fiction mass-market paperback racks in the 60s and 70s are now regarded as masters of the American idiom. Their books are now published in classy looking trade-paperback editions and their lives are the subjects of serious literary biographies. Time has vindicated many of my own freak flags. The snobs who looked down their noses at me as I read my paperback copy of Leonard’s Mr. Majestyk on a Portland, Oregon, bus back in 1976 now probably speak admiringly of Leonard’s pitch-perfect ear for the way America’s hustlers, grifters, and losers speak. But plenty of my paperback heroes still remain unappreciated. It seems unlikely that the literary snobs will ever embrace the likes of Fredric Brown or Ernest Haycox or Lewis B. Patten despite the many pleasures to be found within their prolific output of novels and short stories. That’s their loss. The point is that the cheap, yellowing, pocket paperback was a uniquely satisfying physical object. The spines tended to be stiff, which meant that it took a bit of effort to hold the book open. The pages tended to absorb odors, which meant that they sometimes smelled vaguely of cigarette smoke or the musty old garage in which the book resided before you bought it for five cents at a yard sale. Blocks of print were occasionally slightly askew on the page, so that one paragraph might be out of alignment with the paragraphs below and above it. Sometimes the print at the far left side of right-hand pages and the far right side of left-hand pages tended to get sucked into the vortex at the center of the book like light being sucked into a black hole. This forced the reader to hold the book with both hands and splay it apart like a mousetrap that one was setting. Occasionally the reader had to squint at the places where some previous owner’s sweaty thumb had washed away some of the printer’s ink. Sure, these imperfections were frequently annoying, but the hardship of reading a cheap paperback generally added to the sense of accomplishment one felt upon finishing the book. Cheap paperbacks could be not only intellectually demanding at times but also physically demanding. All of these physical demands are lost when one reads on an e-reader.

Some literary snobs argue that the greatest flaw of the e-book is that it can never replace the tactile pleasure of holding in one’s hand a really well-made physical book, a book bound with cloth covers, dressed in a beautiful glossy dust jacket, and printed on acid-free paper upon which the words have been set in an elegant typeface ideally suited to the subject matter. But my complaint is that the e-book cannot replicate the thrill of reading a disreputable genre novel in a disreputable format—i.e., a spavined old pocket paperback whose pages are yellowed and whose print is annoyingly small and whose cheap cardboard is so fragile that dog-earing the corner a few times is likely to cause it to break off like a piece of graham cracker.

Until just recently, when she graduated from high school, I used to escort a granddaughter of mine to various volleyball tournaments when both of her parents were otherwise occupied. The parents and grandparents who accompanied the athletes at these day-long (and sometimes weekend-long) events almost always brought along something to read during the long empty stretches between matches. Most of these adults were, unlike me, reasonably well-off suburbanites and they tended to prefer e-readers to actual books. I usually brought along old paperback books because they were easier to carry than hardbacks. I recall a time when I was amidst a bunch of volleyball parents who were sitting around reading during a break between matches. One of the parents, looking around at the others, began asking us all what we were reading. All of the other parents seemed to be devouring current bestsellers by the likes of Dr. Phil or Deepak Chopra or James Patterson or Sandra Brown. Everyone listened politely while each person described the bestseller she was reading on her e-reader. When it came my turn, however, I held up an old yellow-paged Avon paperback edition of Margaret Millar’s The Fiend. The book had been published in 1964. My paperback edition was a reprint from 1974. Its back pages advertised other popular Avon titles of the era such as Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull, I’m OK – You’re OK by Thomas A. Harris M.D., You & I by Leonard Nimoy, and The Brothers System for Liberated Love and Marriage by Dr. Joyce Brothers. The cover painting was a lurid montage containing an unsmiling woman in a bridal veil, a sad-looking little girl holding a glowering cat, and a shadowy man in a long coat, standing in a public park and eyeing the little girl with evil intent. Everything about the book screamed “cheap, sensationalist trash involving pedophilia!” But Millar’s novel, like almost all her work, is a well-written story of suspense far more interested in psychological portraiture than in cheap thrills. Written back when the sunny, upper middle-class suburbs of southern California were pretty much a literal embodiment of the American Dream, Millar’s book was way ahead of its time in its ability to demonstrate how even in these homogenous, upscale communities, marriages were falling apart, childhood was fraught with anxiety, and even the most ordinary of people could have terrifying tendencies hidden behind their placid outward appearances. I was eager to sing the book’s praises to my fellow readers, but before I could even say, “I’m reading The Fiend by Margaret Millar,” I was interrupted by someone who said, “Wow, that looks like a golden oldie.” Someone else observed, “My grandmother used to have a whole shelf full of old paperback mysteries like that.” Pretty soon everyone was talking about the boxes of old paperbacks their parents used to keep out in the garage, or their neighbor lady who was always buying bagfuls of old paperbacks at thrift stores and yard sales. Although it was almost certainly the best written and most intelligent of the books under discussion in that little circle of volleyball parents, no one wanted to hear about The Fiend. It was relegated to the status of nostalgic curiosity simply because of the format in which I was reading it. No one in that circle of parents was ever likely to read The Fiend because, even to this day, no e-book version of the novel is available. If you want to read The Fiend, you pretty much have no choice but to seek out a yellowing old paperback at a thrift store or from the box in the garage of the crazy old lady who lives next door to you. Although I was frustrated by the fact that I wasn’t given an opportunity to sing the praises of a great-but-sadly-neglected master of the American suspense novel, I was gratified by the reappearance of a feeling I hadn’t experienced much of since high school—the thrill of reading a disreputable book in a very public place, the thrill of letting my freak flag fly proudly. Crime novels are no longer a disreputable genre because, hey, no genre seems to be disreputable anymore. Scott Turow, Michael Connelly, P.D. James, Dennis Lehane, Kate Atkinson—no one is, or should be, ashamed to read the works of these very gifted crime writers in a public place. But, nowadays, no one is ashamed to read even the works of total hacks in public. The only way to make yourself appear disreputable these days is to grab hold of some cheap-looking old paperback. I’m not talking about one of the glossy-covered James Patterson or John Grisham bestsellers that reside on the spinner rack at the airport bookstore. Those are perfectly respectable these days. The covers are usually masterpieces of contemporary design and the words are printed on bright, white, acid-free paper. No, if you want to really experience the thrill of reading a disreputable book in public, you need to get hold of a lurid-looking paperback book published sometime in the 1960s or 70s and then whip it out in the grandstands of some high-school gymnasium or kids’ soccer park or public conveyance or sidewalk bistro. Only then will you get the kind of stares and odd remarks usually reserved for those who have toilet paper stuck to the bottom of their shoes. It is an experience that no e-reader will ever be able to replicate. I recommend it highly.

Posted in Books, Fiction, Genre, Guest, History, Novels | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Crime Research: Behind the Facade” (by Howard Halstead)

Howard Halstead’s outstanding fiction debut, “Limelight,” was published in our Department of First Stories in January 2014. His second story for us, “A Dark Symmetry,” is featured in July 2015—on sale this week! Another Halstead short story, in which he brings his love of history to bear on a fictional creation, envisioning the world of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Moriarty, is forthcoming in The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Moriarty. Before he turned to fiction-writing, the British author was already well known for books on history and true crime, under the name Howard Watson. Recent Watson titles include Twisted History and Secrets & Lies: Elite Fighting Units. His research for his true-crime books takes him on travels well off the tourist trail, as he reveals in this post.Janet Hutchings

Rome: It’s my fault. I’m looking for a story or at least some texture: a shard of the city beyond tourist queues, porticoes, and palisades, behind the facade. I have an excuse: I write both crime fiction and true tales from the dark side of history (which often amounts to writing true crime). And, like many writers on their travels, I’m looking for the gutter between the pages of the guidebook. I’m no better than the most guileless of tourist who points a camera through the window on a sightseeing drive-thru, feet never touching the ground. I’m just a different sort of culture-vulture, picking at the bones of the city, searching for tasty scraps.

So here we are again, Leanne and myself, in the wrong part of town, probably going the wrong way.

Disoriented by too many turns and too few signposts, we are lost. At the mouth of the alley, we stand momentarily. It is unlit except for the ambient light of the city and an unshrouded but weak moon. The deep shadows mask the unknown, but we are hungry and it is late, and surely this must be the right direction. The target, somewhere beyond this alley, is close but, for the last half an hour, has avoided detection. It is a truffle restaurant prized by locals, unregistered by guidebooks, and we only have a vague address. We are two pigs snouting the ground, being driven crazy by its proximity.

Leanne reaches out for my hand. What could possibly happen to us? We are not afraid of ghouls in the night. We stride purposefully into the darkness, feigning confidence. The pattern of the brickwork on the high wall to our right is just about visible; the shapes to the left, at the foot of shuttered warehouses, are heaped bags of rubbish, and our noses tell us they are wet with bin juice and peppered with dogshit. We walk on. The black deepens and the pattern of the brickwork is lost.

The alley is too long and seems to be curving away from our destination. There is still no square of blazing light or sound of blaring traffic to announce the main street. The aspic-preserved world of the Coliseum, Forum, and St Peter’s, tasted earlier today, seems distant beyond years. We should turn back. Of course we should. But still we walk on.

Leanne’s hand grips tighter. It is not a tweak of affection. I have held that hand for long enough to know that it is a warning. I turn towards her, ready to say something stupid and laugh her—and myself—out of any fear. But she is pointedly staring straight ahead, her face immobile. I look away and I see what she is now refusing to look at. Against the high wall, the moonlight reveals a girl’s face, at first seeming to float in isolation in the darkness. But now I see a gloved hand gripping her chin. The hand is not hers. A man, unshaven, long hair, black leather, thirties, is forcing her chin upwards with his left hand. His other hand holds a syringe.

We are just metres away. Our feet keep walking towards the strange embrace. The needle nears the pale exposed flesh of the girl’s neck. She can be no more than sixteen, seventeen. I want to shout but I don’t know the story. The who-what-or-why. And perhaps I am a coward after all. The girl keeps staring expressionless at the night sky but the man sees us as we draw level. The needle is poised. His eyes fix on mine. The remorseless expression is that of a man inured, a man immune to the thousands of years of Roman civilization and the rule of law. He is capable of anything. He seems to make a calculation and his eyes narrow. All my senses are primed. Fight or flight. I fear a flashing blade but it does not come. He simply smiles a cruel little smile. He turns back to his prey and we walk on.

We stare ahead and see nothing more, but we hear the girl’s small sigh and know that the needle has slipped into the vein.

Soon we are sitting safe in the restaurant, and it is all it promised to be, but the food is made tasteless by the sense of our own weakness and ridiculousness.

It is one of a series of events that have punctuated our research travels—in Amsterdam, desperately holding a mugger’s arm to stop him getting a weapon out of his hoody pocket; being saved from a band of thieves by mysterious, besuited, sunglass-wearing vigilantes on another street in Italy; in the Meatpacking District, before the whole area became a designer hotel-cum-gallery, wandering into an abandoned slaughterhouse and running straight out again, full pelt, having disturbed a criminal gathering and seen hands reach for hardware.

I blame myself, of course. And yes, I am a fool to place myself and my albeit willing partner in jeopardy. But, and I know this might be a stretch, I also blame Wilkie Collins for his depiction of the country house and the village of Frizinghall in The Moonstone, often regarded as the prototype for the mystery novel. I even blame Agatha Christie for the village of St Mary Mead, home to Miss Marple. And I certainly blame Raymond Chandler for his Los Angeles, Jo Nesbø for his Oslo, and Donna Leon for her Venice. In each case, these distinctive writers have pulled off the same trick that is vital to so much crime writing: they create a credible world, a place we can readily understand, and then they peel back the skin. They capture the genius loci—the true “spirit of the place.” And if the place is credible then the reader accepts that the otherwise incredible can happen.

I’m narcotically drawn toward the warp and weft, the texture of a place. Standing in the Hagia Sophia may help to disclose the incredible twisted history of Istanbul; walking along Abdi İpekçi Street, pocked by the designer shops that have made the high streets of the world’s major cities so homogenous, may reveal the city’s capital aspirations; but step off that street and walk parallel to it, just a hundred metres away, and you’ll find yourself teetering on the precipice of the third world on an unpaved road with decrepit residential buildings, broken scooters, and children playing in the dirt. It then becomes far easier to understand the ambitions and motivations of the shop assistant in one of those glamorous shops.

For me, the most satisfying crime novels capture the complex spirit of a place, which is perhaps necessarily entwined with the character of its people. And the quickest way to understand a place is to leave Main Street, to walk the back streets, to find the shadows, to eat and drink where the locals eat and drink, and sometimes that’s where the real story starts taking shape. Marlowe is “of” Los Angeles, the real city, not just Hollywood. Miss Marple is “of” St Mary Mead and all its intricacies beyond the village fete and manicured gardens. They understand the spirit of the place beyond the clinical cartography of the surface. They are the water diviners of the little known and little seen, detecting the underground streams.

And so to Kyoto. I had already written about the history of samurai, ninja, and yakuza, but had never felt close to understanding contemporary Japan despite filleting innumerable reference books, history books, documentaries, and Web sites. It had always remained “other,” steeped in stereotype, with a proper understanding of its culture escaping my remote reach. With a new project on the horizon, we flew the 10,000 miles to try and make the Land of the Rising Sun real but our initial day-to-day experience was of an unassailable wall of politeness. Politeness, civilization, and honour are the stereotypical building blocks of the British character, but compared to the Japanese we are just rude barbarians.

“It is an honour for me . . .” and “Gomen nasai, I’m so sorry, so sorry . . .” have formed the soundtrack to our travels, and bowing is even more constant than imagined, with car drivers lowering their heads to each other with stately grace. In an ancient wooden inn, where the Shoguns of centuries ago stayed, a kimono-wearing server spills a couple of drops of cha onto the tatami. Her flushed shame as she short-steps hurriedly from the room makes us fear that she is about to resign in dishonour.

The violence of the yakuza and POW camp commander seems a world away from what seem to be the safest city streets I have ever walked. Where is the undertow? Where are the rot, deceit, desire, and machination that are embedded in every human society, that make history? Where is real life beyond the politeness and order?

We take to the backstreets. We twist and turn and turn again without reference to maps, guidebooks, or GPS. We find ourselves on a very long, very narrow residential street, little more than an alleyway. It is deserted and we are lost again, but finally we have a glimpse behind the facade. Each local area has a little wooden street shrine, but the one we now pass is battered and includes a cracked orange plastic vase, a long-dead flower, and a ripped paper lantern. Above the shrine, washing is strung from windows and clotheshorses are overloaded on the tiny balconies of very cramped three-storey houses.

A motorcyclist tears down the narrow lane. His visor is pure black. He veers towards us but sweeps past at speed. We are forced to get the map out, a siren call for the criminally inclined. The map is no good to us. The lane doesn’t seem to be marked.

A young man is standing stationary, looking at us. He is just twenty yards away but there is no turning from which he could have appeared so suddenly and we have heard no door. He face is set, determined. He finally moves. His walk is direct. He is coming straight for us.

He bows slightly. “So sorry. Are you lost?” he says in perfect English.

He takes our silence as affirmation.

“I will walk you to the main crossing.” He repeatedly flicks the inside of his index finger with his thumb as he speaks.

We look ahead. We can see for at least 200 yards without any obvious sign of a crossing, main or otherwise.

“No, thank you,” Leanne says. “It’s too far. Please just point us in the right direction.”

“I’m so sorry, you don’t understand—as a Japanese it is my honour to help you.”

I detect the slightest of smiles on his otherwise expressionless face. Are we being played? He walks ahead and we follow. I’m sure I hear a quiet, high-pitched laugh, but when he turns his head back to us he seems emotionless. Still I hear the faint rasp of skin as he flicks his thumb against his index finger. My mind is racing. I hear that laugh again. This time I’m certain that I didn’t imagine it. Leanne looks at me quizzically, her senses alert. Her hand reaches out for mine and momentarily grips hard. It is not a tweak of affection. I have held that hand for long enough to know that it is a warning.

Anything can happen before we reach the crossroads.

Posted in Fiction, Genre, Guest, History, Setting, Suspense, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Series P.I.—Some Pros and a Con” (by Harley Mazuk)

Harley Mazuk’s first published work of fiction appeared in EQMMs January 2011 issue. Normally a “first” is assigned to our Department of First Stories, but the tale was so thoroughly rooted in the old-style hardboiled tradition that we decided to publish it in the Black Mask section. That first story introduced series character Frank Swiver, and Frank returned in two more stories for EQMM. Before turning to fiction writing, Harley worked as a copy editor, writer, and managing editor in corporate communications for the federal government. He has recently signed a contract for the publication of his first novel, White with Fish, Red with Murder, starring Frank Swiver. He will also soon be reappearing in EQMM with the launch of a new series; watch for it in the September/October double issue. —Janet Hutchings

When I graduated college, I needed a draft deferment; I needed a job; I needed a ticket to Canada. What I had was a low lottery number, 1-A status for Vietnam, and a B.A. in English.

I did manage to get that deferment, and found an entry-level job in D.C. with the Treasury Department, my Salem Custom House. By the mid ‘90s, I was pulling the strings that made a large three-letter agency dance like Juliet Prowse in Can-Can, like Gwen Verdon in Damn Yankees. Then one afternoon, I stopped at a Walter Mosley book signing. A line of fans waiting for Mosley’s autograph wound through the store, practically out the front door. About three-quarters of them were young women. I thought it might not be so bad to write detective fiction and sign my name for the gals. I might even find it more rewarding than just pulling strings.

Some ten years later, retired, with a government pension, I finally tried my hand at private-eye fiction. I’m neither a “cool-headed constructionist” nor a “grim logician,” capable of turning out intricate puzzle plots, as Chandler puts it in “The Simple Art of Murder.” I figured my best bet to attract readers would be with lively, likable characters they might care about.

Many of the best-loved characters in detective literature are recurring or “series” characters. Nancy Drew and Maisie Dobbs, Inspector Ghote and Inspector Maigret, Tom Ripley and Hannibal Lecter all have their fans. I wanted to create my own recurring character, a series P.I. The protagonist in my half-dozen stories and two novels is Frank Swiver.

Frank grew out of my interests and beliefs, and out of what I liked about Hammett’s and Chandler’s P.I. characters—hard work, courage, dedication to the client, and a tendency to take the job, but not themselves, seriously. I started writing about Frank in 2005, in a novel, White with Fish, Red with Murder. By the time I’d finished I had a detailed character sketch for a private eye. Of course, I did write a two-page character sketch for Frank in the process, as I did for many of my characters. The sketch covered things like date and place of birth, height and weight, current home address, the location of his office, and make of his car. These are little things, but handy references for me so that the proverbial jezail bullet wouldn’t migrate someday from Frank’s shoulder to his leg. It was the novel itself, though, not those two pages of “driver’s license” info, that was the valuable character sketch. The novel told me how Frank talked, what sorts of women he liked, what he drank and how much. I knew from that book how loyal he could be, and what he might do if someone took a shot at him.

Frank and I spend many a pleasant hour sitting in the Black Lizard Lounge, sharing a bottle of wine. Carignan, Garnacha, or Zinfandel, it doesn’t matter much, so long as it’s red and from California or Spain. Sometimes when we’ve had a few, Swiver talks about Cicilia Ricci, a waitress he met at John’s Grill in 1933.

“Cici, now there was a dame. 5’2”, 95 pounds. My first true love. I’d just stopped in John’s for a nickel beer, but I paid with a piece of my heart. We were together the better part of a year, then she threw me over for that ex-bootlegger, O’Callaghan. He had dough, good looks, and a ready story.”

When Cici left him in ‘34, Frank went into a tailspin of heavy drinking. His old college pal, Max Rabinowitz, a lifelong Red, saw Frank slipping into darkness. Max cleaned him up and took him to a political meeting at Berkeley in 1937.

“I’d drink anything then. I sank so low. Max helped me pull out of it. Sometimes we both think it would have been better if he’d just let me sink.”

Before the night was out, they had joined the Abe Lincoln Brigade, and were off to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Max lost an eye to a shrapnel wound. Frank saved his life but fell victim to what we’d now call PTSD. He’d killed several men, fascists, at close quarters and the violence traumatized him.

“When we made it back to the States, I suffered terrible nightmares. Dark images I can’t think about. The drinking started again. Now it was wine. I’d picked up the grape bug in Spain. The nightmares persisted. I was on the streets. I began going to a Dorothy Day hospitality house. I went for the free meals, but I read, too. I listened. One day I realized I was a pacifist. Then the nightmares started to go away.”

Yes, Frank’s a pacifist. Maybe a story takes a violent turn, maybe it doesn’t. But if the going gets gashouse, Frank faces it with courage, . . . and non-violence. People ask why a pacifist got into shamus work. It’s one trade that takes little capital to start up.

“All I needed was a coat, a hat, and a gun. And I didn’t even use the gun.”

In White with Fish, I brought Frank and a newly-widowed Cici back together in 1948, fourteen years after she’d dumped him. Frank’s girl Friday, Vera Peregrino, didn’t like the way he was playing house with Cici. Vera walked out as his secretary, and wanted no more to do with him. That gave me a new story arc. Frank wants to salvage his relationship with Vera, win her trust back. As the writer, I give him every opportunity.

“Yeah? You’re not making it easy for me,” he says. “You’re always writing these parts for femmes fatales—”

“Don’t complain,” I tell him. “You know you love it. But you’re not going to get Vera back if you chase every new skirt that comes along.”

Frank Swiver is still suffering from the loss of his girl; he drinks too much. He’s traumatized from his war experience in Spain, and he’s a pacifist, trying to make it as a private dick. (Good luck to the poor client who walks in.) All this is background for every story, but I don’t need to re-write the background each time. I just portray Frank as a man who acts like a fellow with all that baggage would act.

It’s challenging to know what to leave in, what to leave out, but it helps to think of the stories as episodic, standalones. Those of you who enjoyed Art Taylor’s scholarly essay, “The Curious Case of the Novel in Stories,” should note, my series is not so closely linked as to be a novel. Still, I’m often surprised at how much explanation I can omit, and usually the story’s better for it. The action zings along when you skip that expository stuff and get down to business. The plot and the characters are manifest for the readers in action, not in exposition.

Writing a series featuring Frank is not just about Frank. John Huston could call on Warner Bros. featured players like Elisha Cook, Sydney Greenstreet, Mary Astor, and Peter Lorre. I don’t have such a cast of ace performers, but I do call on characters from books and stories I’ve written: Joe Damas, ex-forger for the Maquis; Max Rabinowitz, eye-patch-wearing, card-carrying attorney; Marcus Aurelius Wolff, sinister fat man and wine collector, and, of course, Vera and Cici. Sure, the fat man and the femme fatale are types, but Damas, Wolff, and Cici are intense and uncompromising. They’re not afraid to come in and get their hands dirty. When Wolff hauls out his sap, or Cici flashes her smaragdine eyes, they pull it off with authority.

These have been some of the advantages for me of working in a series–a fully fleshed-out private eye, an underlying character arc for continual development, and a stable of secondary characters ready to walk on and perform when I need them.

What are the limitations?

Well, to pick up on a theme Raymond Chandler entertained in a 1949 letter, a private-eye story may not be about the private eye. The P.I. is only a catalyst to stir up the other characters and the plot, but he leaves the tale as he was when he entered, unchanged by events. My protagonist can’t live happily ever after. He never gets the girl, never marries. (And this is not a bad thing for the noir writer.) The P.I.’s wants and desires carry over from story to story, book to book. For, as Chandler wrote in a review of Diamonds Are Forever: “beautiful girls have no future [with James Bond], because it is the curse of the ‘series character’ that he always has to go back to where he began.”

Sorry, Frank. But let me buy you another glass of the Louis Martini Monte Rosso Zin.

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“It’s Not So Lonely Here in the Garret” (by Michael Wiley)

Michael Wiley belongs to a select group of writers who got their start in the Private Eye Writers of America/St. Martin’s Press Best First Novel contest.  The book, published in 2007, was The Last Striptease, featuring P.I Joe Kozmarski, and it went on to earn a Shamus Award nomination for best first novel. Two more novels in the Kozmarski series followed, including the 2011 Shamus Award winner A Bad Night’s Sleep. Michael is a professor of English Literature at the University of North Florida as well as a book reviewer and “occasional journalist.” He manages to juggle it all while continuing to produce both more books—his two upcoming titles, Second Skin and Tar Box (Severn House) are both thrillers featuring series character Daniel Turner—and short stories.  He first appeared in EQMM in December of 2014 with the story “Concrete Town,” and he has another story, “The Hearse,” coming up in EQMM soon.  How he does it all is a secret he shares here.—Janet Hutchings

Like many other book-loving kids, I believed that writers live solitary lives. If they were like Nathaniel Hawthorne, they would stay in their mom’s house until they were in their thirties, refining their craft, pounding out short stories. Or if they were like Joseph Conrad—parentless and adventurous—they would lock themselves in a ship cabin with a pencil and paper while storms howled around them. When they shimmied down a tree from their childhood bedrooms to meet with an editor, or passed a homeward-bound steamer that might deliver a manuscript to a publisher, they exchanged only a few words before disappearing back into the realms of the lone imagination.

I still believed in this myth when, as a would-be writer, I graduated from college in the early 1980s. I rented a studio apartment and furnished it with a mattress, a table, and two chairs (the second being for an editor if one ever stopped by to exchange a few words before abandoning me to my lone imagination), a stereo, a television, and a writing desk. The stereo and television disappeared in a burglary, but the thieves left my typewriter, so I was all right. I had a place to sleep, a place to eat, and, most importantly, a place to write.

But I didn’t write. Not much, anyway. I sat at my desk day after day and waited for writing to happen to me. I figured it must be happening elsewhere to others—in childhood bedrooms, in ship cabins, on the banks of a secluded pond, in garrets around the world. I spent two years in that apartment and completed three published articles, a handful of unpublished poems, and a couple of unpublished short stories.

Then I moved in with my girlfriend—now my wife—and, as happens, a new love replaced a love for writing.

I put my fingers back on the keyboard to write fiction again only years later when my wife and I started having children and all of the chaotic noise of existence meant I could barely think straight, much less put together a sentence. Oddly, though, I now had something to say—stories to tell. Surrounding myself with infants and toddlers and coming to understand the complex emotional and psychological business of life taught me how to write the kind of crime fiction I’ve always enjoyed. Yes, having children taught me how to write about murder.

My first, unpublished book manuscript, written in sleep-deprived incoherence, is now in a box, where it will remain. Then St. Martin’s published my second manuscript, The Last Striptease. And my belief in the myth of solitary writers collapsed.

When my editor called to tell me she would be publishing the book, she wanted to do more than exchange a few words before abandoning me to my lone imagination. At that time and in future conversations, she wanted to talk, really talk—about books, mine and others’, about the many writers she loved and thought I should read and love too, about the publishing process, about her own background as a reader, writer, and editor.

In our first telephone conversation, she also invited me to the Bouchercon Mystery Convention, held that year in Madison, Wisconsin. On that island in the middle of cornfields, I confirmed that my image of the writing life—at least the crime-writing life—had been all wrong. The writing life doesn’t look like an individual in a lonely garret. It looks like a party with a thousand close friends. At Bouchercon—and at any of the dozens of smaller crime-writing conventions held around the world—you can hang out at panel sessions with dozens of likeminded fans of crime fiction. And you can walk into the coffee reception first thing in the morning or into the bar at any time of the day or night and chat with a New York Times bestselling writer or a short-story writer who has published a dozen mysteries in the pages of Ellery Queen.

These people may spend their days and nights scheming of new criminal plots, but they are friendly and generous of time and spirit. There are exceptions, but the truly hard nuts are few. When I was passing through airport security in Anchorage, returning from another Bouchercon, the guards grabbed a woman I’d seen at the convention because she had concealed a pistol inside her jacket. But somehow—even in the post-9/11 anxiety—she convinced the guards that she had no ill intent, and they sent her on her way. Maybe Alaskan guards are used to such things. Or maybe they looked into the woman’s eyes and decided she was more interested in imagining murder than committing it.

In the ten years that I have been publishing crime fiction, I have talked at many bookstores, libraries, and other venues for book events, and at every one of them people have been excited about making connections with others who share an interest in crime, criminals, and crime detection. And when I’ve gone home after events, I’ve turned to social media to make more connections and continue the conversations.

It’s true that there are some J.D. Salingers among crime writers, as there are readers who would rather hole up with a book than spend an afternoon with Salinger. I’m guessing that most of us in our community have hours and days when we would prefer to bury ourselves alone in a mystery than see or hear from our friends.

And it’s true that, between events, when I’m in the middle of a manuscript, with a deadline still months in the future, I happily spend a lot of time alone. Like most writers, I’m self-motivating and sometimes even self-satisfied. I might get an occasional e-mail or phone call from an agent or editor, but most of my messages consist of spam promoting sexual aids or get-rich schemes based in faraway countries. And a lot of my calls are wrong numbers or requests for donations to one charity or another.

But even when I’m most alone I’m not really apart from the community. I hear the voices of characters from others’ books that have influenced me. I live among my own characters, too. And sooner or later an infant or toddler—or, in recent years, a teenager—will scream bloody murder because a sibling has committed some minor offense. Or music will turn on in a farther room. Or voices will come through the window from outside. And those will be the people—the voices and sounds—that make me imagine and that lead to the stories and books I write.

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EDGARS/MALICE PHOTO GALLERY

The last week in April/first weekend in May is always our busiest time at the Dell mystery magazines. This year, it all got going a day earlier than usual. On Tuesday, April 28, we hosted a bagel breakfast in our new offices on Wall Street for those of our nominees and Readers Award winners who’d come into town in advance of Wednesday’s Edgar Allan Poe Awards. As always, it was a cozy, comfortable gathering, which began at nine A.M. —and continued into midafternoon! While AHMM editor Linda Landrigan and I were whiling away the day in pleasant conversation, senior assistant editor Jackie Sherbow was representing us at the annual Edgars Symposium. We joined her in early evening for the MWA’s Agents and Editors Cocktail Party, where we were pleased to run into many of our magazines’ contributors.

Wednesday, of course, was the big day. Our annual cocktail party, at which we present the EQMM Readers Awards, and honor the Robert L. Fish Award winner and nominees for the Edgar and Agatha awards, was held in the afternoon. Third-place Readers Award winner Miriam Grace Monfredo (“The Tavern Keeper’s Daughter, December 2014) was unable to travel from Rochester for the occasion, unfortunately, but second- and first-place winners Marilyn Todd (“Blood Red Roses, September/October 2014) and Doug Allyn (“The Snow Angel, January 2014) were present, along with Fish Award winner Lauren James (a.k.a. Zoë Z. Dean). Doug Allyn was also a nominee for the Edgar for best short story for his Readers Award winning tale, as was Brian Tobin, whose work commitments prevented him from attending, for “Teddy,” EQMM May 2014. In attendance at the party were several other Edgar nominees in other categories. They included John Floyd, for a story in The Strand, Francis M. Nevins in the critical/biographical category, Steve Hockensmith for best juvenile mystery, and Charles Ardai, winner of the Ellery Queen Award. You’ll find photos of most of them in the following selections from the cameras of Carol Demont and Jackie Sherbow in NYC, and Josh Pachter and Tara Laskowski at Malice.

The Edgars banquet this year was a star-studded event, with Sara Paretsky, incoming MWA President, as master of ceremonies and Stephen King presenting the Ellery Queen Award and then claiming the Edgar for best novel. Zoë Z. Dean’s Robert L. Fish Award (for “Getaway Girl” EQMM November 2014) was presented by past Fish Award winner Ted Hertel. The short-story Edgar went to Gillian Flynn for “What Do You Do?”, from the anthology Rogues. Congratulations to winners and nominees alike!

With the events in New York over, many writers, editors, and agents went on to Bethesda, Maryland for the Malice Domestic Convention. I had the pleasure, while there, of catching up with many of my favorite authors, including Charlaine Harris, Toni and Steve Kelner, Dana Cameron, Martin Edwards, Ann Cleeves, Josh and Laurie Pachter, EQMM’s fabulous reviewer (and author) Steve Steinbock, Doug Greene, Margaret Maron, Dorothy Cannell, Terrie Farley Moran, and many others, not least—and saved for last because he was this year’s short-story Agatha Award winner (for his November 2014 EQMM story “The Odds Are Against Us”)—Art Taylor, along with his wife author Tara Laskowski.

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the short-story panel moderated by my colleague at AHMM, Linda Landrigan, but I understand it was an interesting and lively session. Congratulations to Art Taylor and all of the other Agatha Award winners, including the winner for best first novel, Terrie Farley Moran, who got the idea for the setting for that winning book from Dell Magazines’ own Christine Begley, Vice President for Editorial.

I wish we could have obtained photos of all of our guests, friends, colleagues, winners, and nominees, but we did capture a good number of them. Enjoy—and let us know if you have any photos of the events that you’d like to share.—Janet Hutchings

Kevin Todd, Sheila Williams, and Marilyn Todd

Kevin Todd, Sheila Williams, and Marilyn Todd

Sarah Weinman, S. J. Rozan, Jonathan Santlofer, and Katia Lief

Sarah Weinman, S. J. Rozan, Jonathan Santlofer, and Katia Lief

Peter Kanter and Barry Zeman

Peter Kanter and Barry Zeman

Zoë Z. Dean and Susanna French

Zoë Z. Dean and Susanna French

Linda Landrigan, David Dean, and Janet Hutchings

Linda Landrigan, David Dean, and Janet Hutchings

Linda Landrigan, William Burton McCormick, and Abigail Browning

Linda Landrigan, William Burton McCormick, and Abigail Browning

Richard Dannay, Janet Hutchings, and Otto Penzler

Richard Dannay, Janet Hutchings, and Otto Penzler

Doug and Eve Allyn and Peter Kanter

Doug and Eve Allyn and Peter Kanter

Abigail Browning and David Toth

Abigail Browning and David Toth

Larry Light and Meredith Anthony

Larry Light and Meredith Anthony

Abigail Browning, Christine Begley, and Carol Demont

Abigail Browning, Christine Begley, and Carol Demont

Joshua Bilmes and Trevor Quachri

Joshua Bilmes and Trevor Quachri

Richard Koreto, Marilyn Todd, and Dorothy Cummings

Richard Koreto, Marilyn Todd, and Dorothy Cummings

David Dean, Dale Andrews, and Liz Zelvin

David Dean, Dale Andrews, and Liz Zelvin

Joseph Goodrich

Joseph Goodrich

Charles Ardai and Ken Wishnia

Charles Ardai and Ken Wishnia

Sarah Weinman and Kate Stine

Sarah Weinman and Kate Stine

Kevin and Marilyn Todd and Jay Carey

Kevin and Marilyn Todd and Jay Carey

Tara Hart

Tara Hart

Terrie Farley Moran and Christine Begley

Terrie Farley Moran and Christine Begley

Francis M. Nevins

Francis M. Nevins

Parnell Hall and S.J. Rozan

Parnell Hall and S.J. Rozan

Kevin Egan and Meredith Anthony

Kevin Egan and Meredith Anthony

Emily Hockaday, Jackie Sherbow, and Deanna McLafferty

Emily Hockaday, Jackie Sherbow, and Deanna McLafferty

Marilyn Todd accepting her EQMM Readers Award

Marilyn Todd accepting her EQMM Readers Award

Doug Allyn accepting his EQMM Readers Award

Doug Allyn accepting his EQMM Readers Award

Crowd at the Dell Magazines Pre-Edgars Cocktail Party

Crowd at the Dell Magazines Pre-Edgars Cocktail Party

Sarah Weinman at the Edgars

Sarah Weinman at the Edgars

View from the Dell table of Stephen King presenting the Ellery Queen Award to Charles Ardai

View from the Dell table of Stephen King presenting the Ellery Queen Award to Charles Ardai

The Chocolate Edgar

The Chocolate Edgar

Josh Pachter, Art Taylor, Linda Landrigan, and Steve Steinbock in Bethesda

Josh Pachter, Art Taylor, Janet Hutchings, and Steve Steinbock in Bethesda

Deadly dessert at the Agathas

Deadly dessert at the Agathas

Art Taylor and Tara Laskowski at the Agatha banquet

Art Taylor and Tara Laskowski at the Agatha banquet

Art Taylor with his Agatha Award

Art Taylor with his Agatha Award

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CRIME FICTION IN JAPAN

Over the past few years EQMM has received a number of excellent stories from Japanese writers, and that has inspired me to expand on a post I made on EQMM’s Web-site forum four years ago, shortly after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Everyone who loves mysteries ought to be at least a little bit of a Japanophile, since Japan’s mystery-writing tradition goes back almost to the beginning of the genre in the United States, Britain, and France—and since it is in Japan, more than anywhere else, that the puzzle mystery continues to give off healthy new shoots today. I’ve written elsewhere about the oddness of the fact that the only place in the world in which the novels of Ellery Queen have remained consistently in print is Japan, a country whose respect for tradition and order is about as far, culturally, from the New York of Ellery and Inspector Queen as could be imagined. Think of the Queen novel Cat of Many Tails, in which the whole city hovers on the edge of chaos over the work of a single serial killer, and compare that to the calm cohesiveness and cooperation one could observe in TV news reports of Japan after the harrowing earthquake of 2011 and the Fukushima leaks.

Japanese interest in Western mystery writing goes back to the 1880s, when the work of Poe, Doyle, and others began to appear in Japanese translation. The writer often called the father of the Japanese mystery, Tarō Hirai, wrote under the pseudonym Edogawa Rampo, which a little thought, or fast pronunciation, will tell even the uninitiated is a phonetic nod to the most important name in the pantheon of American mystery writers, Edgar Allan Poe. Edogawa Rampo had already produced some of his most famous work before Ellery Queen appeared on the American scene at the end of the 1920s. But once the work of Ellery Queen became available in Japanese translation, interest in his distinctively American version of the detective story took root and continues to exist in Japan to this day.

In 2004, EQMM first published the work of Norizuki Rintaro, a writer of the “new traditionalist movement” in Japanese mystery writing. Following in the footsteps of Ellery Queen, the writer-sleuth protagonist of the Rintaro books and stories bears the same name as the books’ author. And the author’s decision to cast a father-son/police inspector-mystery writer detecting team as the central players in his stories and novels further mirrors Ellery Queen—his acknowledged inspiration.

For a number of years EQMM has been commissioning translations of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award (Best Short Story) winners and runners-up. These awards are the equivalent of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgars. For all the respect and reverence the Japanese have shown Western mystery writers, there has been relatively little reciprocal translation or homage. And this is a loss to Western readers, for Japanese writers have brought their own innovations to the classical forms established by American and European masters of the genre. In my own reading of Japanese mystery fiction I’ve discovered writers with an interest in more subtle aspects of human psychology than is typically found in American writers of the classical whodunit. The little I’ve been able to read in English translation convinces me there must be a treasure trove of material there waiting for American publishers. The only Japanese writer I’m aware of who’s gained sufficient entry into the U.S. mainstream to garner a major award nomination here is Natsuo Kirino, who received an Edgar nomination in 2004 for her novel Out.

But I think things are starting to change. As I mentioned, EQMM has an ongoing commitment to bringing as many of the Edogawa Rampo short-story winners into print in the U.S. as possible. And in recent years a new publisher, Locked Room International, founded and run by John Pugmire, a frequent translator for EQMM, has been making classical puzzle novels from a variety of other languages available in the U.S. Some of Locked Room’s titles are by Japanese writers, including Koga Saburo (a pseudonym of Haruta Yoshitame), a contemporary of Edogawa Rampo who trailed the father of Japanese mystery writing into print by only four months. 2015 sees Locked Room International’s release of the first English-language edition of Ayatsuji Yukito’s The Decagon House Murders. At around the same time, EQMM will publish the first English translation of Saburo’s short story “The Spider.”

Another writer of the Japanese neoclassical school, Soji Shimada, will see the re-release of an earlier English translation of his novel The Tokyo Zodiac Murders this year by Pushkin Vertigo. One of Soji Shimada’s locked-room short stories, “The Locked House of Pythagoras,” appeared in EQMM’s August 2013 issue, and another, “The Executive Who Lost His Mind,” is upcoming in this year’s August issue.

I don’t want to give the impression that all the good mystery and crime writing coming out of contemporary Japan belongs to the classical school. In 2013 EQMM published Nagase Shunsuke’s “Chief,” a nominee for the Edogawa Rampo Award. Like many of the other Rampo Award nominees we’ve seen over the years, its focus is more on societal issues, and how the police and others deal with social conflict, than on the solving of a puzzle. Reader engagement with the characters and their struggles is of central importance in such stories, and this trend in Japanese mystery writing parallels the currently dominant school of crime writing in the West.

Last but certainly not least, there is the Japanese psychological thriller. Some of the stories belonging to that category that have crossed my desk barely qualify as crime stories: no murder, no puzzle, no enacted violence. The brilliant story “Eighteenth Summer” by Mitsuhara Yuri, which first appeared in English in the December 2004 EQMM and which we later reprinted in the anthology Passport to Crime, centers almost exclusively around its characters’ inner lives. Yet out of that material of emotions, thoughts, and mistaken assumptions the author managed to craft a sensitive, suspenseful narrative that leads somewhere quite different from where the reader expects. It’s a shame that Mitsuhara Yuri’s work (and that of many other Japanese psychological-suspense writers) is not available in English. It seems to me that this is a subgenre of the mystery at which Japanese writers truly excel.—Janet Hutchings

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