“From Noir to Golden Age” (by Carlos Orsi)

Carlos Orsi is a Brazilian writer and journalist with three novels and five short-story collections published in Portuguese. His work first appeared in EQMM in the July 2014 issue, translated for our Passport to Crime department by Cliff Landers. Since then, we’ve learned that the author has a wide range as far as genre; he writes in the mystery, fantasy, horror, and science-fiction fields and has twice won the Argos Award for best science fiction short story published in Brazil. He’s equally versatile when it comes to language, writing fluently in English as well as in his native Portuguese. His work written in English includes stories for science-fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies and for Mystery Weekly. His new story for EQMM, his first English-language original for us, will appear in our May/June issue. It’s a locked-room mystery in the Golden Age tradition, even if, in atmosphere, it has a slight touch of noir. —Janet Hutchings

I would like to tell you about my intense love affair with Golden Age–style mysteries. I say “Golden Age–style” because I see the Golden Age of Mystery more as a state of spirit than as a period in time, the famously defined interval between the two World Wars of the twentieth century. For me, Soji Shimada, or even Anthony Horowitz of the Magpie Murders, are as “Golden Age” as Agatha Christie and Edmund Crispin.

If I were to try to define this spiritual space, I’d mention an air of serious playfulness; a bold disregard for external plausibility (internal plausibility, however, is a must); a tension between logic and absurdity, with logic finally emerging from the absurdity, as a hero rescued at the last second; and, as far as possible (without spoiling the fun), fair-play towards the reader.

This is a love that came late in my life: I am pushing 50, and my conversion came only in the last decade, when I struggled, amazed, with the third (or fourth?) brilliantly false solution of Ellery Queen’s The Greek Coffin Mystery. For comparison, the first time I recall saying to someone that I wanted to be a crime writer I was just 11 years old.

This late blossoming may perhaps be explained by Brazilian literary culture (I was born, raised, and still live in Brazil). Cultures, literary or otherwise, are complex and multifaceted creatures, so any generalization is bound to be, to some extent, unfair and open to counterexamples.

But, painting the picture with a very large brush and somewhat bold brushstrokes, one could define the Brazilian literary culture, at least since the Modernist movement of the early 1920s, as viciously antagonistic to all kinds of genre writing.

To be considered as literature at all, novels and stories ought to stretch the boundaries of the written language, or to lay bare the cruelty and unfairness of society, or to expose the Freudian scars of the writer’s deranged mind; if a book could do all three at the same time, it would be a masterpiece.

I won’t dispute the fact that many masterpieces were written in this vein, but the attitude also had the effect of pushing genre writing, in almost all of its forms—science-fiction was “crap”, fantasy was “for children”—to the very boundaries of the literary system, and often to toss it out completely.

Crime and mystery were given a kind of double citizenship, though: The murder of someone or the disappearance of something could give a slim thread of coherence to a novel that, otherwise, would be just a jumble of smart-ass musings, and crime breeds paranoia, which sounds Freud-ish. Besides, noir and hardboiled texts often had that “cruelty and unfairness of society” vibe. So, mystery, even if somewhat narrowly defined, got its passport to the Land of the Literati.

To read Raymond Chandler wasn’t as impressive as reading James Joyce, but it was cool enough to discuss with the other literary wannabes of the college in the bar, after class, without people snickering at you.

So, that was the climate in which I came to be a mystery fan and as an aspiring mystery writer. Things had to be dark, hard, cynical. The plot, just an excuse for some fancy footwork in the form of first-person narration and dismal personal insights. Mystery for mystery’s sake, the plot as a problem to be solved, preposterousness and playfulness as goals? Come on, those were old, tired cliches: so much naivete!

But I have a weakness for logic—I spent some twenty years trying hard to write hard science fiction!—and, even if I am as liable as the next guy to be engrossed and hypnotized by fancy first-person narrative footwork, for me, at least, it got tiresome.

As far as cliches go, in my eyes Philip Marlowe became one even bigger than Hercule Poirot; come on, John Dickson Carr’s Dr. Gideon Fell is a much more original character than almost every single wisecracking, raincoat-wearing, hard-as-nails private dick or alcohol-haunted ex-cop you ever saw (or read about). And (spoilers ahead!) the beautiful damsel in distress who really is the mastermind behind every piece of mischief might have been original in “The Maltese Falcon,” clever in “The Big Sleep”, funny in “I the Jury,” but . . . Please. Enough is enough. Then, the overt darkness and cynicism started to feel flat, too. Most of it began to sound like relapsing teenager angst, masquerading as depth.

In view of all of this, the old “realism” card, the engine behind the polemic between Raymond Chandler and Carr, in which Chandler decreed the Golden Age dead and buried, became harder and harder to sustain. (If you are curious about the arguments of both authors, I recommend “The Simple Art of Murder,” by Chandler, an essay that is easy to find. Carr’s riposte “With Colt and Luger” is a little harder to come about. It was originally published by The New York Times in September 1950).

The world of shady dames and guns in trench-coat pockets is no more “real” than the world of country houses and idiosyncratic amateurs; besides, if a drunken ex-cop, with a long rap sheet and a string of unhappy ex-wives can beat a fully equipped Police Department to the guilty party, why not a funny-looking Belgian refugee with a preposterous mustache? And, as far as literary sophistication goes, Ellery Queen, Carr and even Agatha Christie were doing some nice metalinguistic shenanigans back then when the wise guys were only wisecracking and trying to get away with it.

So, my appreciation for logic and the felt staleness of noir (and of much of its multitudinous progeny) drove me to the Golden Age. And I loved it! It was, as I said before, like a conversion experience. From Queen I went to Carr, I revisited Christie, I discovered Crispin and then found out today’s torchbearers—Shimada, Paul Halter, and others. I even became fond of Solar Pons.

Perhaps someday the conventions of the Golden Age will tire me as much as the conventions of noir did. But I don’t see it coming any time soon. I know that there are great, mediocre, and awful pieces in both schools, but it amazed me to realize how the great work that exists in the Golden Age tradition is underestimated, and how easy it is for mediocre stuff to get a free pass just because it happens to contain a dash of disillusion and a pinch of cynicism. And a shady dame wearing a trench coat.

Nevertheless, the idea that “proper” mystery literature is noir literature still goes strong in Brazil. You can see it in the reviews printed in newspapers and magazines, you can see it in the catalogues of the prestige publishers. And you can see it in the way the writers think, too. We are going to have a big national crime/mystery convention down here this April, in the city of Porto Alegre, and it will be called (guess what?) Porto Alegre Noir.

Posted in Books, Characters, Classic Mystery, Fiction, Genre, Guest, History, International, Noir, Pop Culture, Publishing, Readers, Writers | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Tense Boundaries” (by Matthew Wilson)

By most definitions Matthew Wilson’s story “Burg’s Hobby Case,” in the Department of First Stories of our current issue, would not quite qualify as historical fiction. Many people consider fifty years in the past the necessary distance to earn the tag “historical,” and the story’s setting is a few years short of that. Moreover, the events belong to a time period within the author’s lifetime, and some determine what belongs to the historical genre according to that measure. Reimagining something so far in one’s past is still a feat, though, and Matthew Wilson does it marvelously well, evoking tensions surrounding the Cold War. We are pleased to welcome this talented new writer to our pages, and think you’ll find interesting this post relating to the genesis of the story.—Janet Hutchings

When people ask someone like me “Where are you from?” it is a hard question to answer. Where I am from, meaning where I was born? That would be California, but there were stops in Kentucky, Kansas, Texas, and Washington. And if you were a kid like me, it seemed as if every town in America began with the word Fort. There was Fort Ord, Fort Hood, Fort Knox, and Fort Lewis. But there were also those six years in Germany. You see, kids like me had fathers (and a few mothers) who were soldiers, so that meant rotations to new duty stations every few years, and as part of the Cold War we accompanied them to all those garrison towns lined up along the fault line that split Europe in two for forty years. I know a few adults now who had this same kind of childhood, and we remember places like Illesheim, Schweinfurt, Bamberg, Augsburg, Kaiserslautern (K-town), Wertheim, Wildflecken (try to say that with a good German accent!), and my favorite, Bad Kissingen, which we often called BK for short. For many of us, these places hold strange and magical memories, and even today we feel ourselves lucky to have lived there. Just do a Facebook search of any of these garrison towns, and you will find groups of nostalgic cyber-friends sharing photos and memories of their Cold War childhoods.

So when I made up my mind to write some stories, I knew that I wanted to set them in this world. Ever since reading Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park I have loved mystery stories in which the place is as essential to the mystery as a murder or other crime. By place I mean both a place in geography and a place in time, so that is why Bad Kissingen intrigues me so much.

I lived there from 1976 to 1979. My father was serving with the 2nd Squadron of the 11th Armored Cavalry, commonly known as Eaglehorse. We lived on the second smallest U.S. instillation in Germany, Daley Barracks. Daley Barracks was like an American small town smack in the heart of central Europe. We ate burgers and BLTs at the AAFES snack bar, played pick-up basketball in the post gym, and lined up around the block for months-old blockbusters like Smokey and the Bandit or Saturday Night Fever at the post theater. There was Wednesday night league play at the six-lane bowling alley and bingo on Sundays at the NCO club. We shopped at the commissary for processed American comfort food like Pop Tarts and Mac & Cheese, and for music we had the Armed Forces Network. Depending on what time of day, AFN would offer country music one hour, maybe top 40 the next, only to switch later on to R&B and soul.

We were often reminded that we were only thirteen kilometers from the East German border. Just on the other side of that border were divisions of Soviet armor ready to roll over us on their way to capture bigger prizes in places like Frankfurt and Stuttgart. If a real war broke out, we were doomed. Of course, this was a kind of war that no one could really win. With tactical nuclear weapons deployed on both sides of the border, no sane person really wanted to see a shooting war. So Eaglehorse had another job, and that was the border mission, a kind of a maintenance of the stalemate that was Europe at the time. Our fathers and the young soldiers under them spent many cold nights in observation posts and on patrols by foot and vehicle along that border. It seemed that what they mostly did was watch their communist counterparts watch them. I remember more than once waking at five in the morning to the rumble of tracked armored vehicles on the way to that border.

Many of our fathers were Vietnam veterans, soldiers of a lost war and now part of a new military, one without the conscription that had once sent men like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash to Germany. The army in the late seventies was searching for its post-Vietnam identity, and the young men serving under our fathers were the first of a new all-volunteer force. There was trouble. I suppose that’s only natural with something new. If you research that era you might find stories of poor leadership, drug problems, racial tension, and a general malaise. But what I mostly remember were young soldiers not much older than me and my teenage brothers, and how despite their deadly weapons occupation, they were just teenagers too. They wanted to drink beer and flirt with girls and stay out of trouble with their sergeants, who happened to be our fathers.

The best place for them to drink beer and flirt with girls was in town, in Bad Kissingen. Now here was a place that was nothing like the machines and guns and hard regulation of the garrison, nothing like the cold and tense border. Bad Kissingen was filled with spa tourists and the locals who served them. There were gardens and parks where well-dressed men and women seemed to stroll in perfect step like something out of a Seurat painting, only with fashions updated to the 1970s and with a German orderliness. String quartets played from ornate band shells, fountains flowed with salty and medicinal waters, and arched colonnades ascended over beds of roses. There were gasthäuser where young soldiers could find a meal and a drink, or discotheques where they hoped for a chance with a girl. For kids like me, the shops held the most interest, especially the hobby shop full of scale models of the machines of the war that brought Americans to live in Bad Kissingen in the first place. We loved anything from that era—plastic Tiger Panzers, Messerschmitts, Shermans, P-51 Mustangs.

The older German men we usually encountered from that era were of two kinds. Those who had taken up low wage work on Daley Barracks, and the shopkeepers who watched us warily since we had a reputation for thievery. These men began to intrigue me, and some of them stand out in my memory. There was a one-armed man who ran the register at an Edeka shop, and I wondered at his lost arm—was it a war wound? I worked one summer with an old bald-headed fellow who was like a comic-book strongman. We moved furniture in and out of the American housing area as families came and went, and he could carry an entire chest of drawers on his back up three twisting stairwells. He spoke no English, so from him I learned langsam, vorsicht, and fertig—slow, careful, finished. He was a lifelong worker bee who, when he wasn’t lifting heavy things, seemed to smoke one cigarette after another. There was a drunken barber who cut hair on Daley Barracks. His English was almost as limited, which was a good thing for him, since he had to endure plenty of cursing after yet another botched cut. Best to get your haircut early in the day before the schnapps took full effect. My detective Hans Burg comes from this same generation, men who had to live on after a lost and horrible war, much as our own fathers also seemed to be doing, although our fathers continued to soldier on at the border and in the big training areas like Grafenwöhr and Hohenfels.

Bad Kissingen was also a place where I really grew aware of the two distinct sides of my own origin. My father’s army and the community that existed with it—a place of commissaries, PXs, NCO clubs, Star and Stripes newspapers, cars stopped in traffic at 5 pm for taps—places like Daley Barracks. And my mother’s world too. Like a lot of my friends, I had a German mother who married a GI. Some of my friends had names like Heike and Stefan—I felt lucky to escape that fate. Our mothers might have cooked up schweinebraten one night and southern-style pork chops the next. We were as familiar with leberkäse as we were with a can of Spam. And we had grandparents too, opas and omas, who were delighted when our fathers rotated back to Germany from one of those forts stateside. My own grandfather is the deaf man mentioned on a document Hans Burg encounters in his investigation.

Ultimately, Bad Kissingen in that time was for me a strange contradiction. A pretty village dedicated to curing bodies and spirits, situated on the very edge of a barbed and mined frontier, where mutual destruction was assured. Where other tense boundaries existed: between tanks and gardens, German hosts and American guests, sergeants and privates, blacks and whites, men and women, young and old, realists and idealists. I hope you enjoy Bad Kissingen as a lively backdrop for a mystery story.

Posted in Books, Guest, Historicals, International, Readers, Setting, Story, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“3 Reasons a Good Mystery Is as Good as High-Lit” by Lawrence Light

The author of a series of crime novels featuring financial reporter Karen Glick, Larry Light is himself a writer and editor for CBS MoneyWatch. His award-winning journalism career includes work for the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Business Week, and other publications, but for this post, he chose not to talk about the world of finance. A voracious reader of both literary fiction and crime fiction, he offers his view of why crime fiction deserves to be held in critical esteem. EQMM’s founding editor, Frederic Dannay, said that one of his goals for EQMM was “to raise the sights of mystery writers generally to a genuine literary form.” He would have agreed, we think, with Larry’s perspective on the two fields. In case you missed it, Larry Light has a story (“Dysperception”) in the current issue of EQMM.—Janet Hutchings

“It transcends the genre.”

How many times have you come across that backhanded compliment in a review of a mystery novel? The underlying assumption of this loaded phrase is that mysteries are cheap amusements, empty calories that a truly discerning reader should disdain.

But really, there’s no demarcation line between the very best mysteries and literary fiction, and that’s been true for years. Graham Greene, the Nobel-winning author of venerated titles such as The Power and the Glory and The End of the Affair, also produced novels he called “entertainments.” These were spy and crime stories that some judged to be of lesser caliber than his other offerings. Indeed, the entertainments also had an enormous amount of literary merit—well-written works offering deep characterization and acute observations on humanity.

Take his Brighton Rock, a 1938 thriller that revolves around a gangster named Pinkie Brown, who has murdered a reporter wise to the local rackets. On the surface, the book is a typical quest to find the killer. But the story is really about the nature of evil and morality. Augmenting the tale is the conflicted nature of Pinkie, a homicidal sociopath whose Catholicism nevertheless torments him because he knows his heinous activities damn him.

I find that mysteries often are more fun to read than current high-lit because they tend to be better plotted and more tightly written. Three examples. I loved All the Light We Cannot See, which depicts World War II’s horrors and shows how common decency is found between two strangers on opposite sides. Could Anthony Doerr’s book have benefited from a trimming? Probably. David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest? Masterful, but exhausting at over 1,000 pages. Don DeLillo’s Libra? The alternative telling of Lee Harvey Oswald’s life, had a meandering pace that did it no favors, although it told an interesting story.

Celebrated mystery writer Laura Lippman likes to point out that “high-lit is a genre, too.” As Greene’s work attests, the difference blurs between top-notch mysteries and literary novels. Raymond Chandler, Dennis Lehane, P.D. James, Donald Westlake, Lawrence Block—you can match these authors and many like them with high-lit’s worthies.

Sure, not all mystery novels even attempt to scale the literary heights. But the best mysteries are on a par with high-lit because they: 1) provide a crucial insight into human existence where things are often not what they seem, 2) illuminate important social issues, and 3) are captivatingly well-paced and well-written.

One of the best-known exemplars of crime fiction has a secure berth in the literary pantheon: The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic delivers on the three reasons that make a good mystery shine above all else.

He gradually unveils how his main character, the corrupt, nouveau riche Gatsby, is actually driven by love; shines a light on the ways the arrogant wealthy “smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money”; and nourishes the soul with fine flourishes of writing. To wit: “In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

When looking at the very best mysteries, you’ll find that what elevates them to the exalted levels of high-lit is some or all of these factors:

Offering a Key Insight Into Existence. Frequently, what the eye sees is deceiving. Finding out what we don’t know is at the core of much great literature, as in the line from Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Who committed the crime and why are the primary elements of any mystery, whether the villain is Hamlet’s uncle or Pinkie Brown. So is how the perp can be stopped. Once we at last find the truth, it’s immensely satisfying.

Getting to this resolution is a tantalizing puzzle. Take The Silence of the Lambs. FBI Agent Clarice Starling is flummoxed about how to find the serial killer, Buffalo Bill. Then the imprisoned Hannibal Lecter, who has a soft spot for her, tells the agent that the man’s impetus to kill and skin his plus-sized female victims is that he “covets” something. And he adds: “We begin by coveting what we see every day.” So Clarice eventually figures out that she must focus on Bill’s first victim, as he likely knew her.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the iconic spy novel, is a wonderful mystery that turns on the quest to unmask the Soviet mole at the heart of the British Secret Service. Author John le Carré’s hero, George Smiley, is in charge of the investigation but initially is blind to the culprit’s identity due to animosity concerning his unfaithful wife.

A similar affliction besets Rusty Sabich, in Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent. Rusty is an adulterous prosecutor who is charged with the murder of his lover. One of the last people he suspects of being the true murderer is hinted at early, in a catalogue of that killer’s strange interests—one of them is artificial insemination.

Tackling Societal Issues. As the French author Jean-Patrick Manchette put it: “The crime novel is the great moral literature of our time.”

The connection between crime fiction and burning issues that beset the world is strong. For a powerful portrayal of the drug trade and its corrupting power on our nation’s urban life, read Don Winslow’s The Force. Its antihero, Detective Denny Malone, justifies taking bribes as society paying its dues to ensure he does its dirty work.

In Alafair Burke’s The Wife, sexual harassment is examined in a way that demonstrates how the he-said-she-said version of reality has more nuances than some may imagine. And Greg Isles’ Natchez Burning trilogy delves into old crimes and race relations in the Deep South with harrowing, deeply affecting brio.

Fine Writing. Among the all-time hits are Raymond Chandler’s description of the Santa Ana wind, in his short story, “Red Wind”: “There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch.”

James Lee Burke’s lyrical touch is always at the ready, as seen in his latest novel, Robicheaux, where his recovering alcoholic hero smells booze as it is poured into a glass over ice: “My defenses were down, the smoky smell of the Scotch like an irresistible thread from an erotic dream you can’t let go of at first light.”

Alice’s Sebold’s The Lovely Bones starts in a way that stills your heart: “My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”

Crime fiction. With authors like these, you’re keeping superb company, easily the equal of anything on the bookshelf.

Posted in Books, Characters, Fiction, Genre, Guest, Readers, Story, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Thoughts Lurking in an English Sitting Room” (by Jane Jakeman)

Jane Jakeman is the author of a series of crime novels featuring the Regency detective Ambrose Malfine, and also two books starring modern French investigator Cecile Galant.  She is an art historian and sometimes writes short stories that draw on her experiences in that field. She has contributed three stories to EQMM, the latest of which, “Tapping the Glass,” set in Oxford, is in our current issue (January/February 2018). For two decades Jane did interviews and reviewed crime fiction for a British national daily. In today’s post she talks about some of the stars of the genre whom she interviewed. (All of those she mentions here have, at one time or other, been contributors to EQMM!)—Janet Hutchings

In the middle of the comfortably furnished room, I stood still in shock. Amid the armchairs, cushions, and coffee tables of a pleasant middle-class household in central London was a white marble bust of a young woman, skilfully carved to give the effect of a veil covering the perfectly formed face beneath. Her eyes were open, but was she alive or dead?

I peered more closely. “Ah, yes,” said my hostess, a smile on her pleasant face. “That’s the Veiled Bride. Lovely, isn’t she?”

Personally, I’d have been terrified to have that bride anywhere near me, but my hostess and interviewee was the crime writer P.D. James, and I had been wondering where, in this friendly family home, might be some trace of the preoccupation a crime novelist must surely have with death. As a crime writer myself, I have reviewed and interviewed crime authors over a couple of decades for the British print daily, The Independent, now, sadly in my view, only available online, and I was delighted when Phyllis James invited me to her home. She explained that her Veiled Bride was a copy of a sculpture belonging to the Duke of Devonshire and had been created by an Italian sculptor, Raffaele Monti, in 1847. At that time, it was appealing to the Victorian Gothic taste, but I was surprised to see it in cheerful modern surroundings. However, it not only gave me an insight into the depths of feeling behind her fiction, but also justified my belief that interviews should be conducted face-to-face. Many young journalists believe they can conduct the interview by electronic media, but even Skype cannot give the sense of actually being in the room with someone, let alone their odd tastes for the macabre.

For myself, I’ve been a lover of crime fiction since I was a teenager, reading it late at night while my mother kept telling me “Go to sleep!” The most attractive aspect of the genre is, for me, a story that twists and turns and has a solution. But, underlying this, I think the best crime fiction poses the unspoken question, “Does this author have a preoccupation with death?” After all, these stories almost always revolve round a murder or murders. The Scottish writer Val McDermid commented on this in another interview, “With death, the stakes are higher, the ante has been upped. I’m not sure I can get away from that kind of adrenalin rush. Death means people really have something to care about, something to fight for.”

Val McDermid was describing an effect of murder which I had realised when I invented my Regency detective, Lord Ambrose Malfine. In the first novel featuring him, Let There Be Blood, he has retreated from society, physically and mentally scarred from warfare. Only one thing is powerful enough to force him out of his retreat: a murder he must solve. That alone can bring him into contact with the rest of society.

Another writer whose life contained a surprise was Minette Walters, who will be well-known to crime fans for, among many other successful novels, The Sculptress, about a woman imprisoned for murder. Minette is a delicately pretty lady, one would think totally unfamiliar with the inside of a prison. But, no, she told me that she had been a regular visitor to Winchester gaol. This prison, in the gracious city where Jane Austen is buried, is actually one of the toughest in Britain, where hardened murderers and rapists are confined. But Minette had long one-to-one talks with some of these men. As the only “civilian” with whom they might come into contact, they confided in her intimate details of their lives which she felt honourably bound not to use in any of her books. But, clearly, this primary contact with murderers gave her a perspective not only on victims, but on killers, for she said rather chillingly that the men in Winchester seemed perfectly ordinary on the face of it, men whom one might meet in any situation.

Belinda Bauer, whose phenomenally successful Blacklands describes a murderer seen through the eyes of a small boy, made much the same point. “Statistically all of us know a paedophile,” she told me, “all of us know a rapist. We try not to think about it.”

Quite. It’s a very uncomfortable thought, but it is in some ways the job of the crime writer to think uncomfortable thoughts. And to read uncomfortable material. I spent some distressing hours reading reports of actual murders, and I can tell you there is nothing we writers could invent that is as horrible as what happens in real life. The difference is that between the covers of a detective story, the horrors can be controlled and contained. Yes, it’s our job to provide reassurance as well.

In my story, “Tapping the Glass,” I set out to reassure myself. I’ve always been terrified of insects and when I heard the true account of a house in Oxford where there is an inexplicable recurrent infestation of bluebottles, I virtuously decided to go to the University Museum to try and learn something about flies and thereby cure my terror. There were various insects pinned to display cards and as I walked along the gallery I saw a glass case labelled, “Salmon Pink Tarantula.” I plucked up the courage to go closer and saw a large spider with rather attractive furry pink and black legs in a nest of leaves. Congratulating myself on my courage, I went closer and read the small print, which said, “Please do not tap on the glass.”

Indeed, it was alive! Regularly fed and the pride of the entomology department. It seemed to me that this is what we do with history, not just with biology: We think it is safely dead and behind glass, so as to speak, but sometimes it can come alive and jump out at us. This was the germ of my story.

I can honestly say I have never used any of my interviewees’ stories in my own fiction because I take great pleasure in creating problems and resolutions in narratives and creating my own atmospheres and characters. And I’m very proud of appearing in the pages of EQMM alongside so many fine practitioners of murder stories!

Posted in Fiction, Genre, Gothic, Guest, History, International, Readers, Story, Writers, Writing | Leave a comment

A New True-Crime Department for EQMM and Some Reflections on Converging Fields

Yesterday, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’s new web-only column Stranger Than Fiction went live on our website. Written by award-winning Canadian author and journalist Dean Jobb, the new department explores the true-crime field through reviews of true-crime books and occasional articles about real-world crimes and criminals. It’s available—for free—on our website.

Columnist Dean Jobb is a true-crime specialist with more than a half-dozen titles in print, including one of 2015’s most notable true-crime works, Empire of Deception. The story of a master swindler in 1920s Chicago, the book won both the Crime Writers of Canada and Chicago Writers Association awards, and earned rave reviews. The New York Times Book Review called it “intoxicating and impressively researched.” In addition to pursuing literary and journalistic careers, Dean Jobb teaches in the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction program at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Stranger Than Fiction debuted with Dean’s roundup of choices for the best true-crime books of 2017, and that column will remain current until the beginning of February, after which it, like all future columns, will be archived on the site and remain accessible to readers. Going forward, each issue of EQMM will contain a preview of what’s coming up in Stranger Than Fiction, with the full text available only on our website. Readers of digital editions of the magazine will be able to click straight through from the previews to the full columns.

Here’s your peek at what’s coming up: February’s Stranger Than Fiction, entitled “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere,” explores, through reviews of new critical works, the creation and enduring popularity—130 years after he first appeared in print—of Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic detective. A tie-in to EQMM’s annual Holmes tribute (celebrated in our January/February issue), the installment complements the special Holmes reviews provided in the magazine by Jury Box columnist Steve Steinbock.

In March, Dean takes a look at the latest books on the history of Chicago crime: a gambling king, a century-old miscarriage of justice, Al Capone’s rivals, and the murderous rampage of the White City “Devil.”

We are all so excited about this new department that I have to remind myself why EQMM waited so long to cover a segment of crime literature that has been recognized by the Mystery Writers of America through the Edgar Allan Poe Award category Best Fact Crime since 1948. The truth is that up until the early 1990s, it was almost an axiom in publishing that the readership for crime fiction had little overlap with the readership for true crime. That was, of course, before Patricia Cornwell came on the scene in a big way with the debut of her medical-examiner detective Dr. Kay Scarpetta, a series informed by the six years Cornwell spent working in the office of the chief medical examiner of Virginia. The series inspired TV shows like CSI in the fiction realm, and true-crime shows such as Cold Case, and it’s been argued that CSI’s lasting legacy is that jurors in real criminal cases have, ever since, expected conclusive forensic evidence. Conversely, fact appears to be influencing fiction in more profound ways nowadays, as writers draw upon real investigative techniques, police procedures, and even notorious crime cases in ever more detail to aid in the fashioning of their stories. There ought, therefore, to be a natural crossover of interest between modern mystery/crime fiction and true crime.

I think one reason publishers were sceptical of such crossover in the past is that their paradigm for mystery fiction was the classical whodunit, in which the puzzle was supreme and gritty details of the sort found in real crime cases seldom featured. But I suspect that readers who prefer the classical cozy are no more immune than any other crime-fiction fan to the lure of a good real-life puzzle, and if we look back to the early days of mystery fiction, we can see that even some highly artificial mystery stories exerted an influence upon the detection of crime in the real world. It has long been noted that fingerprint and footprint evidence appeared in the Sherlock Holmes stories before being commonly used by real police forces, and recently I came across an interesting article in Smithsonian about the psychiatrist who pioneered criminal profiling, James A. Brussel. What struck me most strongly was this paragraph:

Brussel called his approach reverse psychology. Today we call it criminal profiling. Whatever the term, it was still a virtually untested concept in the 1950s. Brussel’s role models at the time were fictional investigators, most notably C. Auguste Dupin, the reclusive amateur detective invented by Edgar Allan Poe in the 1840s. Dupin was the original profiler, a master channeler of the psychotic mind and the forebear of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot.

How incredible to think that more than a hundred years after Poe constructed his complex fictional cases for Dupin, a real criminologist began to form a new science based on his sleuth’s methods. The truth seems to be that there has always been a two-way street between crime fiction and fact crime, and we’re very pleased (finally!) to present our readers with a column that represents the fact side of that street.

Have a look and let us know what you think!—Janet Hutchings

Posted in Ellery Queen, Magazine, Police Procedurals, Real Crime, Stranger Than Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Edwin Hill on Writing

Edwin Hill makes his fiction debut in the Department of First Stories of EQMM’s current issue (January/February 2018). The tale, entitled “White Tights and Mary Janes,” was inspired, in part, by a short stint he did at a for-profit college. Currently, he is vice president and editorial director for Bedford/St. Martin’s, a division of Macmillan. At the end of August 2018, Edwin’s first novel, Little Comfort, will be published by Kensington Books (with a second book already contracted). As he explains in this post, his story for EQMM began life as part of an earlier draft of that book. EQMM is trying something a little different today; we’re posting a podcast of “White Tights and Mary Janes,” Edwin’s debut story, this afternoon, to coordinate with this post and the print version of the story currently on sale.—Janet Hutchings

I’ve worked as an editor for most of my professional career, including my current stint as the vice president and editorial director at Bedford/St. Martin’s, which is a division of Macmillan Learning. I cherish the collaborative nature of writing and book making, especially the type of detailed development work that we do in academic publishing. And by now, I’m comfortable with both the editorial process and the recursive nature of writing. Still, I hadn’t had my own writing put to the test until an agent agreed to try to sell my first novel, Little Comfort, in the summer of 2014.

Below are five lessons learned during the three and a half years since that day.

  1. Rejection letters are the key to success.

The first time my agent submitted Little Comfort to publishers, it was rejected practically everywhere, and, I won’t lie to you, it was terrible. Most of the passes were polite and short, purposefully noncommittal. As an editor, I know how important it is not to give authors false hope. If a manuscript isn’t for you, it’s important to say that so that the writer can move on to someone who can support the project.

However, there was a bright spot in this process. In academic publishing, we use peer reviews all the time to help shape a manuscript. Academics will write detailed, and often very polite, reviews, and a good editor is able to synthesize the views of many different academics so that the author can shape the material to better fit the audience.

I read the rejection letters in the same way that I would read reviews to see what trends I could pull from them. One trend I started to see was that many editors mentioned that there was too much story in the manuscript. One editor—in a single gold mine of a sentence—went as far to say that the manuscript read like two novels mashed together. And that gave me enough to work with as I began an extensive revision process.

  1. Don’t kill your darlings, part one—recycle them.

Little Comfort began as three intertwined stories: Hester Thursby, a librarian who uses her research skills to find missing people; Sam Blaine, a charming grifter who reinvents himself to gain the trust of the wealthy and powerful; and Maxine Pawlikowski, the embattled leader of a for-profit college under federal investigation for fraud. I quickly realized that one of the stories had to go, so I spent about six months excising poor Maxine from the story. What resulted was a stronger novel—more focused, with a commitment to a single protagonist who could support a series.

I also wound up with the short story, “White Tights and Mary Janes,” which focuses on Maxine. To read more, visit here.

  1. Don’t kill your darlings, part two—you may need them.

Like many first-time novelists, I read, and continue to read advice from other writers, including very good tips for cutting as much backstory as possible from a polished manuscript. Backstory really can slow down the forward momentum of the novel and, worst of all, it can be boring.

As an editor, I know that many writers need to warm up to get into a manuscript, especially a first draft. I use backstory to get to the meat of the story, so trimming it away from the finished product is almost always a good idea. As I prepped Little Comfort for submission #2, I combed the manuscript for backstory and cut nearly all of it.

After I sold the novel to Kensington, and my editor sent his development notes, it turned out that most of his questions were about what had happened to get my main characters where they were, i.e. backstory. Thankfully I’d kept every single draft of the manuscript and was able to piece together a solid—and brief—backstory for each of the characters that answered my editor’s queries.

  1. Time away from a manuscript is a good thing.

Copyediting happens late in the writing and editing process. Good copy editors do much more than correct grammar. They find problems in your manuscript around logic and continuity, as well as structure, word choice, and repetition. And yes, they correct your grammar. A great copy editor will help you put the finishing polish on your manuscript and make you a much better writer in the process.

When I got the copyedits on my manuscript, I was deep into writing a new novel and hadn’t looked at Little Comfort in months. The nice thing about seeing the copyedits was that it made me think about my writing in a different way, and helped me catch some bad habits. I always believed I was a pretty clean writer, but it’s never too late to learn! For more on my own copyediting process, click here.

  1. Be mindful of names

Avoid naming terrible, terrible characters after real people, especially ones with whom you may have a conflicted relationship! Also, don’t name rifles after friends who are anti-gun. And if you choose to name a character after someone’s dog, ask. Especially if that character is a serial killer.

But, that’s what Find and Replace is for, and that’s why the editorial process has many steps and can sometimes be maddeningly slow. We all want to get it right. That takes time, and a great team.

Posted in Characters, Guest, Publishing, Story, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


Happy New Year from EQMM, and best wishes for 2018. What are your reading resolutions for the year?

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“Great God! This is an awful place.” (by Christine Poulson)

Setting always features interestingly in Christine Poulson’s fiction, whether it is Cambridge and the surrounding Fens as depicted in her Cassandra James mystery series; Sweden, Hong Kong, and Devon in her novel Invisible; or the cathedral of her upcoming EQMM story “Faceless Killer” (March/April 2018). Her settings are almost always places she has visited, but in her novel Cold, Cold Heart, due to be released in the U.S. next month, she employs a setting that only research could provide access to: the Antarctic plateau. It’s evident from this post that research—and imagination!— has worked its magic for her in bringing the place to life.—Janet Hutchings

Martin Cruz Smith visited Moscow for only two weeks on a tourist visa before setting his best-seller, Gorky Park, there. Harry Keating went one better. He had never visited India when he began his series of Inspector Ghote novels set in Mumbai.

A few years ago I wrote a guest post for EQMM, “A Sense of Place,” in which I explained that I admired these writers and their chutzpah, but that I could never write about a place that I didn’t know. And now—having well and truly nailed my colours to the mast—I’ve gone and set the greater part of a novel somewhere that I’ve never visited, and never will.

Think of this: a place where each night lasts for months and so does each day. The mean annual temperature is −57 °C. It’s a place where money isn’t important because there’s nothing to buy. There are no children or old people or land mammals and only one species of insect. There are no trees or shrubs or flowers, no fresh fruit or vegetables or meat or milk or eggs.

These are only some of the things you’ll miss along with your family and friends when you fly in to spend the winter on a remote research base on the Antarctic plateau. This was the place I planned to send my series character, scientist Katie Flanagan.

There were however things that she’d have plenty of. Silence. Space. Ice. Time. There’d be a strange, bleak beauty to the landscape and on starry nights the breath-taking aurora australis, the Southern lights, would ripple across the sky. Another plus: she wouldn’t catch a cold or flu, because there’ll be no-one bringing in viruses from the outside world. But just as no-one would be coming in, nor would anyone be going out. Once the last plane left at the end of February the base would be completely cut-off until late October, because it would be cold enough to gelatinise engine oil. It is easier to get back from the International Space Station than from the Antarctic plateau in mid winter. Wintering over in Antarctica has much in common with long duration deep space missions, and serves as a valuable substitute for research into the physiological and psychological effects of extreme isolation and confinement.

Whatever happens on the base has to be dealt with on the base. The commander is sworn in as a magistrate before the winter begins. As for medical emergencies: There was a famous occasion in the early sixties when a Russian doctor on a Soviet base removed his own appendix under a local anesthetic while a driver and a meteorologist stood by, holding a mirror and handing him instruments.

On my fictional research base, only ten would winter over (a nod to Agatha Christie’s And Then There None). There would be a doctor, a couple of astronomers, a meteorologist, a chef (yes, they do have their own chef!), an electrical engineer, a plumbing and heating engineer, a mechanic, a computer and communications guy—and Katie as medical researcher.

And one of these would vanish from the base. . . .

Once I’d had this idea, how could I resist? There was no going back for me either. But a research trip was out of the question and not only because of the distance and the expense. No-one gets out to the most remote bases without having a very good reason and it is only a very select few who can spend the winter there.

Luckily those who have wintered over often feel compelled to record their experiences, and there is an abundance of memoirs and biographies going back to the early days of Antarctic exploration. Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s classic, The Worst Journey in the World (1922) tells the story of an expedition to collect the eggs of the Emperor penguin, from which he and two others were lucky to return alive, and this is followed by an account of Scott’s ill-fated attempt to be first to reach the South Pole. It was Scott who wrote “Great God! This is an awful place” in the journal that was discovered with his frozen body and those of his companions.

Another stand-out account is Richard E. Byrd’s Alone (1958) which tells the story of his attempt in 1934 to spend the winter alone a hundred miles inland, and it is as gripping as any thriller. But of all the early polar explorers the one I came most to revere was Shackleton. He never lost a single man under his command. He was within a hundred miles of being the first to reach the South Pole and called a halt because there was not enough food to get his men back alive. “Better a living donkey than a dead lion,” he explained.

Coming up to the present day, Gavin Francis’s Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence & Emperor Penguins (2012), and Alex Gough’s Solid Sea and Southern Skies: Two Years in Antarctica (2010) are fascinating contemporary accounts. I immersed myself in these and in everything I could get hold of. I followed blog posts from Antarctica and watched documentaries and films, including the highly entertaining South of Sanity, a horror film scripted by, shot by, and starring a team wintering over one year at Rothera, a British Antarctic Survey base.

Yet informative as all this was, it wasn’t enough. I needed to talk to someone who had actually wintered over in Antarctica. Ideally this would be a young woman and a medic—someone like my character, Katie. What were the odds that I would find such a person living fifteen minutes drive from me? But that is exactly what happened. I found Rose, now working at a local hospital, via the blog she had written while she was in Antarctica. Over a couple of long lunches I learned about all the little traditions and rituals that make up life on the ice, about the danger posed by fire or loss of power, about what it was like to be on night duty, the only person awake on the silent base, and much, much more. Later, she read a draft of my novel (Cold, Cold Heart, published in the U.K. in November and due to be released in the U.S. in January) and picked up the things I hadn’t got quite right. It was a privilege and a pleasure to meet her.

Cherry-Garrard commented that “Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised.” That has changed. These days there are few deaths in Antarctica. The bases are well-stocked and (relatively) comfortable, especially the newer ones. But still this remains one of the most hostile environments on the planet, where no aspect of survival can be taken for granted. It is also one of the most fascinating and awe-inspiring and I have loved visiting it, if only in my imagination.

Posted in Adventure, Books, Characters, Setting, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Murder, Mayhem and Mistletoe” (by Elizabeth Elwood)

With Christmas less than two weeks away, Elizabeth Elwood is about to debut in EQMM with her story “Ghosts of Christmas Past” (January/February 2018—on sale December 19). Although she is new to EQMM, she is not new to mystery writing, having authored five books in the Beary series, the most recent of which is The Devil Gets His Due and Other Mystery Stories. Before turning to mystery writing, the British-born Canadian author spent many years performing with music and theater groups and singing in the Vancouver Opera chorus. She is also the creator of twenty marionette musicals for Elwoodettes Marionettes and a playwright with four plays produced in the U.S. and Canada, the most recent, Body and Soul, the winner of two Community Theatre Coalition awards and the recipient of two additional nominations. As you’ll see from this post, she is also a great reader, with some excellent suggestions for your holiday reading!—Janet Hutchings

Why is it that crime writers love to combine the Season of Peace and Goodwill with a juicy murder mystery? Incongruous themes? Not really, when you consider how psychologists expound on the subjects of anxiety, tension, and depression at Christmas. The web abounds with sites that offer tips on how to avoid stress during the festive season. It’s the time of year when families come together, whether the individual members like each other or not. There is an expectation that the feuds be buried, or at least suspended, no matter how much resentment might be simmering under the surface. One is conscious of obligations to others, whether or not the will is there to follow through. There are gifts to be purchased, which stretch budgets that may already be out of control. People who are alone feel lonelier; those who are inundated with relatives feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Such a lot of smoldering emotions for a crime writer to plunder.

As if the turbulence of family relations was not sufficient to tempt a mystery writer, Christmas also provides a wealth of opportunity for atmospheric settings. What could be more ‘cozy’ than firelight flickering in the hearth and snow falling outside the window? What can be more chilling than a black winter night with only the soft beam from a streetlamp lighting footsteps in the snow? What possibilities for sinister disguise lie in the cross-dressing of a Christmas pantomime? What great opportunities for the evil-minded are presented at those parties and dinners where food abounds and glasses and plates are often left unattended. No wonder mystery writers can’t resist creating a Christmas dilemma for their detectives to solve!

Christmas mysteries have been around for a long time. Charles Dickens certainly knew how to wring drama out of the Christmas season, and what a trend he began. Sherlock Holmes solved the puzzle of a goose that provided a lot more than Christmas dinner; G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown recovered “The Flying Stars,” diamonds that disappeared at a Christmas party; Hercule Poirot’s Christmas included a body in a locked room; Ngaio Marsh produced a corpse that was Tied up in Tinsel; Jessica Fletcher indulged in A Little Yuletide Murder; and Rumpole has a whole book of Christmas stories. Even PD James fans received an unexpected present last year when four of her seasonal stories were published after her death under the title The Mistletoe Murder. There are many anthologies too, such as Christmas Stalkings or Murder Under the Mistletoe, books that feature a host of stories by writers such as Margery Allingham, Peter Lovesey, Reginald Hill, Charlotte MacLeod, Patricia Moyes, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Current authors continue the trend. The detectives in Deborah Crombie’s compelling novel, And Justice There is None, mingle Christmas shopping with the investigation of a particularly brutal pair of murders; Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks suffers through a Blue Christmas; and Anne Perry has written an entire series of Christmas novellas, as have M.C. Beaton and Vicky Delany. Mary Higgins Clark, with her daughter, Carol, has also produced a set of seasonal mysteries and Charles Todd took a break from the Inspector Rutledge series to publish a holiday tale called The Walnut Tree. The list goes on and on.

Giving books as Christmas gifts has always been an important part of our family tradition. The other tradition that we love revolves around theatre and children’s entertainment. For more than twenty years, my husband and I worked our way through December performing marionette shows at New Westminster’s Bernie Legge Theatre and the Burnaby Village Museum, but finally, this year, we are taking a well-deserved break. So what am I going to do with all this extra time at Christmas? Our holiday season will include a visit to the Vagabond Players pantomime, a trip to historic Fort Langley to enjoy their holiday displays; leisurely shopping excursions in downtown Vancouver instead of rushed dashes to the mall; and much more time for visiting with friends and family. Last, but definitely not least, I am going to enjoy a relaxing time sitting by the Christmas tree and reading the deliciously cozy mystery stories that I put on my Christmas wish list—firelight flickering, snow drifting down outside the window, and the mysteries only within the pages of my book. A Merry Christmas indeed.

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Christmas, Fiction, Genre, Guest, Readers, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Librarians as Mystery Writers” by Robert Lopresti

Any devoted reader of short stories in the mystery genre knows the name Robert Lopresti. He’s been writing for forty years—mostly short stories—and his story oeuvre now includes more than seventy tales. He has received multiple award nominations and has twice won the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Derringer Award. Two of Rob’s stories have appeared in EQMM and we have a third coming up later this year. Though his ventures with novel writing are few, the Washington author’s 2015 novel Greenfellas was called one of the best books of that year by Kings River Life Magazine. Parallel to his work as a writer is Rob’s long career as a librarian—something he talks about here!—Janet Hutchings

Sometimes when I tell someone what I do for a living that person will get a dreamy look. “I’d love to be a librarian. Sitting around reading books all day!”

I tend to back away from such people with a fake grin, the same way I react when someone tells me the Martians have been stealing their buttermilk.

(Come to think of it, dealing with Martianphobes is one of the many things librarians sometimes have to do when they aren’t sitting around reading.)

A lot of people have equally unrealistic ideas about writers, assuming we divide their day between attending TV talk shows and literary cocktail parties.

Having a foot in both camps I would like to talk a bit about those two jobs, and specifically how they overlap.

There have been plenty of other librarian/mystery writers, of course. Jon L. Breen, for one, besides reviewing mysteries for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine for many years, has also published many short stories in EQMM, and two of his novels have been nominated for awards. You can find a no doubt incomplete list of others of the type here, and some of them set their tales of murder and deceit within the walls of the humble booklender.

But how has my work in the stacks (which is library jargon for bookcases) boosted my writing?

I started my career working with government publications in New Jersey. In one of those documents I discovered an obscure fact: In the south end of the Garden State there is a small community named Mauricetown, and its name is pronounced the same as Morristown, a big city upstate.

Hmm. I had already written several short stories about an Atlantic City private eye named Marty Crow. That coincidence was exactly the sort of thing he would know. The resulting tale, “The Federal Case,” marked Marty’s first appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

One day I was looking for something in the reference stacks and came upon the Encyclopedia of American Race Riots. Instantly I knew I was going to write a short story about the riot my family had experienced in the 1960s. When Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine published “Shooting at Firemen,” the story began with my protagonist in a public library discovering the same book that inspired me.

While I adamantly deny that we librarians sit around reading all day I will admit that at coffee break there is plenty of interesting material to peruse. For instance, in close succession I read columns in two British magazines, one about a con game, and one about a cunning method for dealing with negative reviews. I put the two together and came up with “Shanks on Misdirection,” set in the good old U.S.A. Hitchcock’s published it in 2009.

Early in my career I had to drive to Newark in the evening to take some courses related to my library job. Most afternoons I would see a young teenager sitting on a sidewalk banging out complex rhythms on an improvised drum set consisting of plastic buckets, cardboard boxes, and quite possibly the kitchen sink. I don’t know if I got much else out of those night courses, but “The Shanty Drummer” marked my first appearance in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

Of course, when I need to do research for my fiction I have both the skills and resources to do so. The most extreme case was when I was writing Greenfellas, a comic novel about a Mafiosi who, upon becoming a grandfather, decides to save the environment by any means necessary. He starts out by inviting an ecology professor to dinner and asking: What needs fixing most?

To find out what the professor should reply I contacted three professors at the university where I work. I explained the situation and asked them to put themselves in the shoes of my imaginary source: You are talking to a smart guy with no knowledge of the field, but high motivation to learn about ecological problems. What do you tell him?

Much better to hear it from the experts, than for me to try to dig it out by myself.

Which reminds me: Do you know the definition of a librarian? A person who may not know something, but knows how to find out. 

There’s one more point I want to address: Why are librarians attracted to mysteries? Well, for one subset—the reference librarians, myself included—the chase is very much the thing. We love helping a user dig up obscure facts, tracking down a book someone encountered in decades past (“I don’t remember the author or title, but the cover was green,”), and turning vague clues into solid facts. Does that sound like anyone in a mystery novel?

But it’s not just the reference librarians’ side of the family. Consider this true story.

A decade ago there was a guy who stole books from more than 100 libraries in the U.S. Because of a very alert staff member at the library where I work we wound up being the ones who tracked him down. After his conviction the FBI returned most of the 800+ stolen books they had found on his property to the libraries that had lost them. But there were about 200 volumes whose owners’ labels had been removed by the thief, and the Feds could not figure out who owned them. A judge decided to gift our library with them, since we had been responsible for their recovery.

And one of our catalog librarians got intrigued. Through what I can only call forensic cataloging she tracked down the owners of three of those orphaned volumes.

That’s right. A librarian solved three cases that stumped the FBI. And that’s one for the books.

Posted in Books, Genre, Guest, History, Readers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments