30 November 2014

The First Female Detective

by Louis Willis

In my August post, “An Homage To Poe,” I discussed Andrew Forrester (pen name of J. Redding Ware) and his short story “Arrested On Suspicion.” I also mentioned The Female Detective, a collection of stories that he supposedly edited. I couldn’t find the book on Project Gutenberg. I found and downloaded it from Google Play. Because I couldn’t increase the small text in the scanned edition, I bought a print edition (released in 2012). The Female Detective was originally published in 1864.   
In the introduction to the 2012 edition of The Female Detective, Mike Ashley accepts Forrester as the author of the stories, though the scanned edition shows him as the editor. When  the book was published, there were no women detectives, either private or police, in Britain. It would be 50 years before women detectives appeared. Meanwhile, in the United States, the Pinkerton agency employed a woman detective in 1856, and the first policewoman appeared in 1908 in Portland, Oregon.
However, women as amateur detectives had appeared in stories prior to 1864, but “These works...involved women who, by circumstance, were forced to investigate matters.” According to Ashley, THE FEMALE DETECTIVE features the first professional woman detective: "Whether inspired by real events or entirely fictional it is clear that the mysterious 'G' is first and foremost the pioneering female detective.” 

G, as the police refer to her (she calls herself Gladden), is retired from the detecting business and was wise enough to allow a “literary editor” to revise her manuscript. G wrote the “book to help show, by my experience, that the detective has some demand upon the gratitude of society.”
The first case in the collection, “Tenant For Life,” is about a five year old inheritance fraud that G feels she must expose. Her round-about way of telling the story at first annoyed me until I accepted that she, like many of us old folks, likes to talk. She considers herself “a good talking companion, and “women are in the habit of talking scandal, with me for a hearer, within three hours of my making their acquaintance."
From a cabman and his wife, she learns the story of how, five years earlier,  the cabman bought a baby from a poor woman who appeared to be in distress. Shortly after the transaction, a lady ran after him looking for a woman with a baby and hears the baby crying in the cab. She offered him thirty pounds and he sold the baby to her. After hearing the story, G suspected the lady wanted to substitute the child for one who had died and that possibly an inheritance fraud was involved. She feels it is her duty to “deal out justice” and see that the property is return to the rightful owner, if it is in fact an inheritance fraud. 
I like the story for the way in which G goes about the investigation. Researching the birth and death records of the village where the cabman had sold the baby, she discovers it was born close to the same time a wealthy lady, Mrs. Shedleigh, in the village died. Armed with this information, she locates a family consisting of a five-year-old girl, her father Mr. Newton Shedleigh, and his sister Miss Shedleigh. Disguising herself as a seamstress, she gains entrance into the Shedleigh household and learns all she can about the Shedleighs. 
From her research on the law on inheritance, she learns that if the children of a husband and wife die before the wife, and she dies before the husband, he inherits her possession and becomes a “tenant for life.” If she dies without children, her property passes to her father’s brother. Her investigation of the Shedleighs leads to the dead wife’s uncle, whom she suspects is the rightful heir.
I like G even though she seems to be a meddlesome woman who interferes in other people’s lives to prove that detectives are necessary. I’m sure I’ll enjoy the remainder of her sleuthing adventures.

So long until next month when I must say goodbye.

29 November 2014

Based on the Novel by . . .

by John M. Floyd

I'll start off with a fact gleaned from writer Stephen Follows's blog: More than half of the top 2000 films  of the last twenty years were adaptations. The rest, of course, were original screenplays and remakes. I see a lot of all three, and I plan to see a lot more--but with regard to movies adapted from novels, I do always try to read the book before watching the movie.

Why? Simple answer: Because the book is usually better. Also, I like to be able to picture the characters, settings, etc., in my own mind first, rather than seeing instead the result of what was in someone else's mind.

If all that's true, one might ask, why bother to watch the movie at all? That's an easy one, too: I want to see how the filmmaker's view compares to my own. Besides, as I've said, I just like movies. And sometimes--not often, but sometimes--what I see on the screen turns out even better than what I saw on the page.

Which brings up another question. What makes for a successful movie adaptation? Is it good simply because it remains faithful to the book? Not necessarily. I heard Twilight was faithful to the book, and look what happened there.

I think a good adaptation is when a piece of fiction, novel-length or short, great or terrible, is transformed into a good film.

Several categories are involved, here. And--as always--the following lists are based on my opinion only.

The four possibilities

1. Disappointing book becomes a disappointing movie: Dreamcatcher, Scarlett, Eragon, The Bridges of Madison County, The Reivers (I know, I know, it won the Pulitzer--but still), The Time Traveler's Wife, Battlefield Earth, Love Story, The Da Vinci Code, Message in a Bottle, The Betsy, The Valley of the Dolls. (NOTE: "Disappointing" doesn't necessarily mean "of poor quality." It just means "disappointing." To me.)

2. Book is better than the movie: The Stand, The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Great Gatsby, Congo, One for the Money, Great Expectations, The Haunting of Hill House, Ender's Game, The Golden Compass, Dune, The Hobbit, Mind Prey, Live and Let Die, StripteaseTell No One, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, It, The Pillars of the Earth, Sphere, The Scarlet Letter, Timeline. 

3. Movie is better than the book: Dances With Wolves, Die Hard, Mrs. Doubtfire, Dr. Strangelove, M*A*S*H, Forrest Gump, Les MiserablesCasino Royale (2006), Cape Fear, The Bourne Identity, The Graduate, Psycho, Heaven's Prisoners, Blade Runner, Thank You for SmokingThe Godfather, The Poseidon Adventure, Interview With the Vampire, L.A. Confidential.

4. Good book becomes an equally good movie: Mystic River, The Searchers, The Silence of the Lambs, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, Jaws, The Dead ZoneThe Caine MutinyThe Eye of the Needle, Shane, Rebecca, From Russia With Love, Misery, Giant, Papillon, The Maltese FalconThe Princess Bride, Magic, HombreOut of Sight, From Here to Eternity, Cool Hand Luke, Sands of the Kalahari, The Cider House Rules, The Big Sleep (1946), The Hunt for Red October, Gone With the Wind, A Time to KillPresumed Innocent, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Old Yeller, The Guns of Navarone, Life of Pi, The Lord of the Rings, The Green MileJurassic ParkThe Hunger Games, The Hustler, The RoadOn Her Majesty's Secret Service, The Prince of Tides, Jackie Brown, The Day of the Jackal, The Help, Holes, Flight of the Phoenix, Appaloosa, Third Man on the Mountain, No Country for Old Men, Get Shorty, Death Wish, The High and the Mightry. (And, according to R.T. Lawton's SleuthSayers column yesterday, Enemy at the Gates. I've seen that movie but I've not read the book.)

There are obviously many, many more, but my head's beginning to hurt, and yours probably is too. Can you suggest others, in the above categories? Do you disagree with some of my choices? (My wife certainly does.) Should I stop buying books at garage sales and cancel my Netflix subscription? All opinions are welcome.

Observations from the cheap seats

Note 1: A lot of outstanding films have been adapted from--believe it or not--short stories. Examples: Rear Window ("It Had to Be Murder"), High Noon ("The Tin Star"), It's a Wonderful Life ("The Greatest Gift"), 3:10 to Yuma, Brokeback Mountain, Duel, Stagecoach (The Stage to Lordsburg"), Bad Day at Black Rock ("Bad Day at Honda"), The Swimmer, Minority Report, It Happened One Night ("Night Bus"), 2001: A Space Odyssey ("The Sentinel"), The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Fly, Don't Look Now, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Note 2: Good novellas usually make good movies. Why is this true? I think it's because a novella-length story most closely fits the length of a screenplay. Short-story adaptations (unless they become short films, or "episodes" in TV shows like Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents) require the screenwriter to add a lot to the originals--and novel adaptations (unless they become TV miniseries like CentennialRoots, and Lonesome Dove) require the screenwriter to leave a lot out. Examples of excellent novella-based movies: The Old Man and the Sea, Double Indemnity, The Mist, Apocalypse Now (Heart of Darkness), Stand By Me (The Body), The Shawshank Redemption (Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption), The Thing (Who Goes There?), The BirdsThe Man Who Would Be KingThe Third Man, Hearts in Atlantis (Low Men in Yellow Coats), The Snows of Kilimanjaro. Most of these were able to remain fairly true to the source material.

Looking ahead . . .

I'm hoping that movies will one day be made from the following novels: The Bottoms (Joe Lansdale), The Given Day (Dennis Lehane), The Quiet Game (Greg Iles), Rose (Martin Cruz Smith), Plum Island (Nelson DeMille), The Matarese Circle (Robert Ludlum), 11/22/63 (Stephen King), The Two Minute Rule (Robert Crais), A Cold Day in Paradise (Steve Hamilton), Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (Tom Franklin), Booked to Die (John Dunning), Cimarron Rose (James Lee Burke), Destroyer Angel (Nevada Barr), Killing Floor (Lee Child), Time and Again (Jack Finney). I'm keeping fingers crossed--I'd miss an episode of The Walking Dead to see one of those.

At the moment, I'm looking forward to watching several recently-released and upcoming films based on novels: Gone GirlThe Maze RunnerMockingjayThe Hundred-Foot Journey, and Horns. Will they be good or bad? Better than their books, or worse? 

Who knows. You pays your money and you takes your chances.

Maybe that's part of the fun.

28 November 2014

Three Books by David Robbins

by R.T. Lawton

A few weeks back when I was looking for something new to read, I stumbled across The Empty Quarter (2014), the latest book by David Robbins. Its title intrigued me. I opened the book and scanned the inside. The offered sample read well, so I made my purchase.

The Empty Quarter opens in Afghanistan with a team of para rescuers from the Air Force's SOE branch being landed in an open field by a Pave Low helicopter, protected by a gunship. Their mission is to locate, treat and evacuate three wounded British marines whose patrol is pinned down by the enemy. In the process, the reader gets introduced to some of the main characters and finds out what makes them do the hazardous job they do. I then expected the rest of the book to take place in Afghanistan with that war. It didn't.

The story next moved to Yemen where the reader is introduced to Arif, a Saudi who returned from fighting the Russians in Afghanistan twenty-five years previously. Having returned to his native Saudi Arabia, he found he no longer fit into that society. Didn't help that he married a Saudi princess and became embroiled in conflict with her father, the prince. A short prison term for our likable antagonist soon followed. Then, acting upon the words from the prophet Muhammad from his own troubles centuries before, Arif and his wife fled to Yemen. Now, Arif uses his software programming skills to anonymously harass and embarrass the Saudi government through the internet.

      "When disaster threatens, seek refuge in Yemen." ~ The Prophet Muhammad to his followers
       after retreating from Mecca.

Tension remains taut throughout the entire book, all of which is leading up to an escape and chase into The Empty Quarter, a vast desert in Yemen controlled by various tribal factions who often set up road blocks on the desert highway and demand bribes for any wishing to pass. Tribal bonds and blood feuds soon affect both the escapers and the pursurers. The escapers are an American low level diplomat (ex-Army Ranger Captain) who wrongly believes that Arif's wife is trying to go back to her father, a slippery Yemen Intelligence Colonel who lives in the world of spies, and Arif's wife who is strangely silent on the entire matter. The pursurers are a desparate Arif, a Yemen family of brothers who owe a death bed vow to assist this Saudi mujahedeen who has lived in their village for many years. A SEAL unit is on standby for extraction and the para rescuers are prepared to assist, but the plans of men often go awry with events beyond their control. It all collides at the ruins of an ancient building just off the desert highway, and it sometimes becomes difficult to tell who the real bad guys are.

The ending was not what I expected. If you don't get a lump in your throat at the conclusion of this book, then you are made of stern granite.

Enjoyed that novel so much that I went back to see what else David Robbins had written. To my surprise, I had already read one of his earlier books years ago, War of the Rats (1999) which is set in Stalingrad during World War II. Hitler has decreed that his army will capture this city named after the leader of the Soviet Union, while Stalin for his part has sent Krushchev to bolster the city's defenses down to the last man, woman and child, no surrender. The war for ground in the city slowly grinds down to a virtual stalemate. Snipers are called in to assist both sides.

If you are starting to think this scenario sounds familiar, you're correct. Robbin's book, War of the Rats, was made into a movie, Enemy at the Gates. I liked them both.

Realizing that Robbins likes to base his characters and story backgrounds on real people, events and existing organizations, I decided to try a third novel, The Assassin's Gallery (2006). This one is set in 1945 with most of the story taking place in the U.S. During the dark of night on New Year's Eve, a swimmer comes ashore from a submarine. She successfully lands on a beach outside a small town in Massachusetts and starts walking up the beach road to go to the house of her American contact. Unfortunately for her, two civilian coast watchers are parked up that road in an old pickup. Now, she must use all her talents as a professional assassin to cover her tracks.

Meanwhile in Scotland, an American who teaches at a university also secretly trains Jedburgh teams to be dropped behind German and Japanese lines to operate as assassins and saboteurs. This professor gets recalled to America by a member of the Secret Service whom he once trained as a Jedburgh. This particular Secret Service agent believes an assassin is en route to Washington, DC to kill the president.

The rest of the book matches wits between the alleged assassin and the professor. As the story progresses, the calendar keeps moving closer to April 12, 1945, the actual date of Franklin D. Roosevelt's death at the Little White House in Georgia. If you think you know the ending, you should consider two facts to go with this tale of fiction. One, shortly after Roosevelt's death, Josef Stalin sent a telegram to the U.S. State Department requesting that an autopsy be performed to determine if Roosevelt had been poisoned. And second, no chemist's report concerning what may or may not have been in Roosevelt's last meal is available even though the Secret Service ordered a test on the contents of that meal.

Ah, happy reading.

27 November 2014

Giving Thanks

by Brian Thornton

Wha-huh? It's Thanksgiving again ALREADY?

Where the heck did thus year fly off to?

Ah, well.

Here's what I'm grateful for (in no particular order):

My wife.

My son.

My parents.

My brother.

The rest of my far-flung, crazy family.

Wonderful friendships higher in terms of quality and sheer numbers than I have any right to command.

My two jobs. One I like, the other, I love. I'll leave it for you to sort out which is which.

Health, welfare, sense of humor. The whole package.

And lest we forget, you, the reader, for bothering with a trifle such as this little confection, on a day when there is so much heavy lifting to do on the eating side of things.

Happy Thanksgiving, one and all!

Brian

26 November 2014

Tinker Tailor, Soldier Sailor

by David Edgerley Gates

Musings, perhaps, less than a coherent whole, but bear with me.

I was a big fan of LeCarre's from the get-go, with THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, although I remember throwing the book across the room when I finished it. I later liked A SMALL TOWN IN GERMANY a lot, because by then I was familiar with the turf, both physical and internal, but I didn't much care for THE LOOKING GLASS WAR, and actually for similar reasons - I knew sources and methods, and I found the tradecraft in the book unconvincing. Then came TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, THE HONORABLE SCHOOLBOY, and SMILEY'S PEOPLE (collectively, the Quest for Karla), and next, my own personal favorite, THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL. "Sooner or later, they say in the trade, a man will sign his name."

LeCarre's been well-served, by and large, by movie and television adaptions.  THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, with Richard Burton and Oskar Werner, is bracing and intelligent. THE DEADLY AFFAIR (adapted from CALL FOR THE DEAD) is even better - James Mason as George Smiley, although the character's given a different name. LOOKING GLASS WAR? Well, okay, it's got Tony Hopkins, but I think it's a dud. LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL, the movie? Not a failure, by any means, just a little out of focus, and abbreviated, of necessity, with a 130-minute runtime. Which brings us to the two back-to-back triumphs, Alex Guinness playing Smiley in the BBC miniseries, first TINKER TAILOR and then SMILEY'S PEOPLE.

What did I think of the more recent feature version of TINKER TAILOR, with Gary Oldman? I have two contradictory reactions. If you didn't know the story, you'd get lost in the thickets. On the other hand, not knowing the story, you wouldn't realize what you're missing. Having read the book more than once, and seen Guinness more than once, I kept noticing holes in the plot - how did Smiley get from Point A to Point B, when they left out the roadmap? But again, if you came to the movie without preconceptions, it might slide right by, nothing in your peripheral vision. The biggest weakness of the Oldman feature isn't Oldman, of course: he's terrific. And the compression, eh, you can't do much about that. The real weakness is in the supporting characters, not the actors, but the parts they play.




Maybe it's comparing apples and oranges. Let's face it, if you give yourself two hours (the movie version), vice five (the BBC version), a lot of stuff is bound to fall by the wayside, but in the TV production, you get a very strong sense of Toby Esterhase and Bill Haydon and Roy Bland, and each of them seem solid, probable suspects - each of them having something to hide, of course - not to mention what a snake Percy Alleline is. That's really what I missed most in the picture, not the careful chess game Smiley plays, but the feeling he's up against a real adversary, or several of them, conspiring.

Obviously, it's easy to take shots at a movie when you don't think it measures up to the book, and there's the obverse, that you can make a better picture out of a generic potboiler than you can from a more heavyweight source. They're two very different mediums, anyway. If you've ever tried to do a screen treatment (I've done a couple), you find out first thing that you're in a foreign country, the environment is at right angles to a novel or a short story. But in either case, it seems to me that it's about gaining the confidence of the audience - maybe with a movie, the audience is more passive than a reader is, if your ideal reader is engaged, but you can't let them slip through your fingers, either way. They surrender their trust, and you have a responsibility to play fair, and give as good as you got.


I'm not, in this sense, complaining. I respected the Gary Oldman picture of TINKER TAILOR - I just wasn't invested in it.  It's likely I was just too ready to find it wanting, compared to the longer Guinness version, which has a lot of room to breathe. And maybe that's the issue. It's the difference between total immersion and a quick, chilly dip in the pool. Both have their virtues. In the case of TINKER TAILOR (and SMILEY'S PEOPLE, as well), I think the stories are better served by a circular, more ambiguous method. It's a matter of pacing. Not the shortest distance between two points, or the most direct, but the long way around, a different rhythm, where time is elastic, and memory an unreliable witness.

DavidEdgerleyGates.com

25 November 2014

Important Thinking On British Televsion Mysteries

By David Dean

Being a trained observer from my police days, it has not escaped my notice that many of my fellow  SleuthSayers are fans of British television mysteries.  It helped that several of you wrote articles on this very subject--these were my first clues.  I suspect that many of SleuthSayers' readers are fans, as well.  I don't have enough evidence to make an arrest, but I think that it's a reasonable suspicion.  So, knowing that I am in good company, I am ready to confess without benefit of counsel, that I, too, enjoy these programs from the misty home of the English language.

English TV Policemen with authentic accents
I've heard, or read, several very good reasons for liking the Brit mysteries (as well as some of their other programming such as "Call The Midwives"), and I have a few of my own which I'm anxious to share.  Firstly, everybody speaks with these really great accents, though sometimes they are difficult to understand.  I have advocated subtitling, but this has not yet been enacted.  What is it about their accents, anyway?  There are dozens of "English" accents being spoken around the globe, from the U.S. to South Africa, but not one of them sound as smart as Englishers themselves.  That's just not fair.  I want to sound smart, too.  But since I can't, I like to watch the British being cultured and savvy.  Sometimes I try on an English accent at home, but Robin either studiously ignores me, refusing to respond to any of my extremely pithy observations, or tells me to stop embarrassing myself.  I feel smarter when I do this, though she says that I don't sound, or look, smarter at all.  She is of Irish descent on both sides of her family and is unreasonably hostile to the English, I think.  Things only get worse when I switch to an Irish accent.



Dreaming Spires
So, the accents are cool, but that's not the only reason I like British television.  There's also the locations.  My absolute favorite is Oxford, the setting of the Inspector Morse, and latterly, the Inspector Lewis, series.  Notice how I worked in "latterly"?  That's how they talk.  Besides being an incredibly beautiful city with its "dreaming spires" (don't ask), it also puts the lie to British weather being lousy.  It's sunny nearly every episode--and this show (in both its manifestations) has a decades-long history!  I can't understand why all the Brits want to move to Spain when they've got Oxford.  If you follow the adventures of Rosemary and Thyme, you'll find that they too walk in beauty beneath a glorious sun and flawless sky.  As soon as Robin retires, we're saddling up for some of that gorgeous English weather!  To hell with Ft. Lauderdale!


Rosemary and Thyme
But the main reason that I like British programming may surprise you.  Yes, the wonderful acting is certainly a draw, but that's not it altogether.  It has to do with the casting.  Have you ever noticed that, unlike American television, British actors are not uniformly attractive?  In fact, in many cases even the actors and actresses in the leading roles of British shows are not in the least bit glamorous.  They're allowed to look like me over there, and still work.  Inspector Robbie Lewis would never be confused for an American television detective.  He might, however, be mistaken for an actual police officer.  Neither Lewis and Hathaway, nor the inspector/sergeant duo on Midsomer Murders appear as if they run ten miles a day and spend an hour every morning in the gym.  I've never seen any of them beat anybody up, which is a daily requirement of their American TV counterparts, and very calorie-consuming.  And since they don't carry guns, they can't shoot any villains.  They actually say that, you know--villains.  As for R and T, they spend all their time investigating murders at various castles, hotels, and estates across England while doing some light gardening, and taking numerous breaks to snack and drink wine.  These Brits appear to drink a lot of wine!  I always thought they were big on warm beer, but no, it's wine for these folks, and it's always being served at things called fetes, which no American knows the meaning of; though they look a lot like parties.  They seem to be held mostly on village "greens" or in gardens.  Though, when the weather doesn't permit (which is almost never--see above) they are held in drawing rooms.  No American knows what kind of room that is either, but it doesn't matter.  This is another thing I like about English life on the telly (sorry, Robin, old girl); they do a lot of partying!  The down side is that the guys almost always have to wear a tux, though they call them something else, I think.  Anyway, it's kind of nice to see men and women who could pass for what I call "normal" populating the screen, with nary a "six-pack" ab between them. 

So there you have it, all the good reasons to watch British television.  Oh...were you thinking it was the clever writing and convoluted plots that form the centerpieces of these programs?  How the hell would I know?  I can't understand half of what they're saying.  I just like how they say it.     
                   

24 November 2014

USC Scores

By Fran Rizer


The University of South Carolina scored big in October, 2014.  No, I'm not talking about the football team.  I'm referring to 150 boxes containing 2,400 linear feet of documents, a couple of typewriters, and some other writing equipment.

What makes this special?  The fact that the documents belonged to Leonard Elmore.

The following article appeared in Columbia, SC, weekly newspaper Free Times:


USC Scores Collection of Crime Writer Elmore Leonard
By Rodney Welch 

Elmore "Dutch" Leonard was a true son of Detroit, but this week Columbia became the eternal resting place for his literary legacy. At a Wednesday ceremony at Hollings Library, USC President Harris Pastides announced that the university had acquired the complete archive of Leonard, who died in August of last year at 87. The university would not disclose the cost of the acquisition.

Besides all of his published work, the collection includes over 450 drafts of Leonard's novels, short stories and screenplays. The collection also includes appointment books, research files, letters, photographs, director's chairs from movie sets, many awards, his desk, typewriters--and even some Hawaiian shirts and a pair of sneakers.

The collection covers a 60-year writing career that spans Westerns--including the screenplays for films like Hombre, 3:10 to Yuma and Joe Kidd--to crime fiction, where he made his name with novels such as Swag, LaBrava, Get Shorty, Rum Punch and Maximum Bob, among many others. Many of these drafts can be seen under glass at the Hollings Library, such as the handwritten draft on yellow legal paper of his oft-quoted "Ten Rules of Writing."  (Rule One:  Never open a book with weather.)

Elmore Leonard
1925-2013
"Each page is unique primary research material that will bring researchers from around the world," said Pastides. The acquisition is a considerable boost for the university's research collection, which also holds the papers of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and in recent years has acquired both a significant Hemingway collection as well as the Pat Conroy archive.

"Certainly, he's one of the most significant and influential writers of the second half of the twentieth century," said longtime crime and mystery editor Otto Penzler, who was at Wednesday's ceremony. "The number of very accomplished mystery writers who have tried, to some degree, to emulate Duch's style--in terms of quick, punchy dialogue, leaving out the parts people tend to skip, and that sort of thing, is enormous," Penzler said. "Almost everybody now, to some degree, has been influenced by Elmore Leonard and his style of writing."

One such devotee is writer-director Daniel Schechter, who found Leonard a deeply cinematic writer, which proved beneficial when Schechter made the recent Life of Crime, starring Jennifer Aniston, based on Leonard's novel The Switch. "It felt like I was given not just a good book, but a great script by Elmore Leonard.:

So just how did the university snag the collection? Because USC Dean of Libraries Tom McNally went after it, and Leonard liked what the university had to offer. When McNally first made inquiries, he half-expected that the well-heeled Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin--which has the manuscripts of everyone from James Joyce to David Foster Wallace--had already snapped up the rights.

Called "Dutch," Leonard
had his own
director's chair at filmings
"It came about as a surprise," said McNally, to discover that Leonard's collection was still in play.

"Elmore's big statement was 'I don't care about posterity, I care about now," said his longtime researcher Greg Sutter.  Sutter, who has been putting the archive into shape for some time, said there were extensive talks with Michigan State Univesity in Lansing.  But while Sutter was thinking Michigan, Leonard started getting calls from McNally.

"I called him every other week," McNally said. "I got to know him, started talking to him about his collection coming, asked him to come down as a speaker. I told him we wanted to give him the Thomas Cooper Society Medal."

Sutter was already familiar with USC.  He had visited in 2006 for the university's exhibit in honor of crime writer George V. Higgins, and thought of it as a model for a future Leonard retrospective. While the Higgings collection would turn out to have a major impact on Leonard's decision to leave his papers with USC, Leonard's son Peter said Wednesday that his father was a little leery of the award.

"I said 'Do you know who has received this award?" Peter recalls asking. "John Updike, Norman Mailer, William Styron." Elmore said 'I don't write like them.' I said, 'It doesn't matter. This is a prestigious thing.' " Elmore and Peter Leonard and Sutter arrived for the ceremony in May of last year, and the writer liked both USC and Columbia--especially the restaurant Saluda's.

"He loved the fact that they had grits and pork belly on the menu," Peter Leonard said.  His father, who was born in New Orleans, grew up on Southern cooking  What really sealed the deal, though, was Leonard's tour of the Irvin Rare Book Library, when Leonard saw that the university housed the works of the two writers who influenced him more than anyone else:  Ernest Hemingway and Higgins.

Hemingway collector Edgar Grissom, who donated his archive to the university in 2012, showed Leonard the first editions of Hemingway.  "Then Edgar pulled out a manuscript of For Whom the Bell Tolls," Peter Leonard said, "and I could see my dad's eyes light up."

Yes, I know smoking is harmful,
but I had to share this author
photo of Elmore Leonard.
Then there was the Higgins archive, and Leonard got a look at the manuscript of The Friends of Eddie Coyle.  That was the very novel, back in the 1970's that Leonard's agent had insisted that he read. "Elmore said it really influenced him," Peter Leonard said.  "He saw how Higgins was writing, and that book set him free, he said."

The destination of his archive was now clear.  "There was Hemingway, there was Higgins, and I think all of these things just had an impact," Peter Leonard said.

"He was swept away," McNally said, "by the collections, and what we're trying to do here in this library.  We don't have all the money that the Ransom Center has, but we take a real personal approach with our writers.  We make a real commitment to them, that we're not just going to take the collections and put them on a dusty shelf and forget about them."

On the plane back home, Peter Leonard asked his father what he thought of South Carolina.  "That's where I want my papers to go," he said.

Some of Elmore Leonard's works

Peter Leonard, who is also a novelist, admits South Carolina is not the first place you think of a writer whose novels are neck-deep in the crime and corruption of inner-city Detroit.  "Friends of mine have said, 'Why South Carolina?' Because it doesn't really make a lot of sense until you know everything."

"It's kind of hard, when you're a favorite son of Michigan, to leave it," Sutter said.  "It's not that they didn't have the facilities or the energy to do it.  This university is dedicated to creating multiple collections in crime fiction and this acquisition is only going to help them get more."

"I didn't know he had any particular connection to the University of South Carolina," said Penzler. "But I couldn't think of a greater library for those papers to go to. The fact he's associated with Hemingway and Fitzgerald and other significant American writers, I think really does show the level of respect and admiration that Elmore Leonard is getting and richly deserves."


The above is printed in full with permission.
www.free-times.com/blogs/usc-scores-collection-of-crime-writer-elmore-leonard-101614

For more, go to:

www.elmoreleonard.com

I wanted to share this with SS readers, but please don't think I "copped out" by simply copying and pasting Mr. Welch's feature story.  Since that frequently distorts format on SleuthSayers, I typed it out word-by-word.  I tried to remain true to the article, but if there are any typos, please be assured they are mine, not Mr. Welch's.  Since I live very near Columbia, SC, if any of you come to SC to see the collection, let me know and I'll take you out to eat some grits and pork belly.

Until we meet again, take care of . . . you.

23 November 2014

The Ku Klux Klan

by Leigh Lundin

For those who think the Ku Klux Klan is a relic of the past, I tell you it’s not. For example…

The Klan is alive and thriving in Florida. They are, in fact, growing. Occasionally the KKK make the news here as they quietly reconstruct their power base, even recruiting cops (one a deputy police chief) and courting politicians.

According to my tenant, a regular Baker Street Irregular, he claims to know of two Klan meeting places. I’m not sure if that implies two Klan factions or simply two KKK-friendly bars, but both white and black separatists operate in the area. Indeed, both thrive throughout the Sunshine State.

Only California reports more hate groups than Florida. But lack of breadth doesn’t mean a lack of depth. Klan and neo-Nazis dominate the militias ‘patrolling’ the southern border of the United States. White supremacists calculate Americans will be willing to overlook their extremist views as they sabre-rattle on the Mexican border, sometimes clashing with federal agents.

And then there's Missouri.

In many ways, Missouri never quite ended the Civil War. From the days of Border Ruffians and Bushwhackers, Missouri has a long and sordid history of neighbor-against-neighbor violence culminating in Quantrill's Raiders and the bandit and killer, Jesse James. Eventually, the Ku Klux Klan moved in and never left. Missouri’s history has more than a little to do with events in Ferguson.

Anon Again

In February 2011, I wrote about the group Anonymous that uncovered illegal activity amongst Bank of America, the major security firm HBGary, and a large Washington law firm, Hunton & Williams. At that time, I wrote:
“Anonymous appears to the outside world as a loose confederation of ‘hactivists’, activists comprised of computer hackers and crackers. Members claim ages of 16 through 66 and encourage an aura of anarchy, although a closer look offers a different story. They’ve waded into frays in China, Libya, and Yemen to help political dissidents. When not only extremists attacked WikiLeaks but corporations piled on as well, Anonymous sided with WikiLeaks by going after their attackers.”
Some have accused Anonymous of being nihilists or anarchists. No, I don’t think so. Coming from a hi-tech background with a low tolerance of bullies and violations of civil liberties, I understand the need for a merry band of (sensible) Robin Hoods. My background is similar both in advanced technology and belief in civil liberties, but I channel my wounded sense of justice into writing articles like this. While the public faces behind the Guy Fawkes masks appear in their twenties, underground reports suggest the inner core of Anonymous are in their fifties and sixties, technologists determined not to let Goliaths use their skills as a weapon against the weak, the impoverished, the unrepresented.
“As for Anonymous, I’m going out on a limb with an unpopular opinion and suggest the bandits perform a useful function, not only combatting tyranny in China, Lybia, Myanmar, and Yemen, but also in a free society. Can they screw up? Of course, and if they go too far, they’ll pay the price. They goose the body politic when it becomes too fat and complacent. They may not obey the law, but they follow a code. If we listen very, very closely, we can hear a tiny ping of conscience.”

The WWW v The KKK

In case you haven’t heard, the KKK focused its simmering rage on Ferguson, saying it intended to use 'lethal force' to keep residents in line and threatened a female reporter. That didn't sit well with Anonymous.

One week ago, Anonymous breached the servers of the Missouri Klan and hijacked their Twitter account, @KuKluxKlanUSA. They put up their own splash page and, on other sites, posted audio and video of their conquests, which were rapidly taken down by facebook and YouTube. Savor the irony: Social networks allow the Klan to post, but attacks upon the Klan are considered violations of ToS– terms of service. This video, posted under an alternate account, may or may not be working by the time you read this.


But wait… there’s more irony to come. The Klan set up a second account, @YourKKKcentral where it issued threats “to call the FBI!” Anonymous immediately seized control of that account too.

Anonymous operation #OpKKK didn’t stop there. They dug into the Klan’s secret membership database where they’ve been unmasking the quiet cowards who’ve hidden behind the robes. Nothing like shining a light to scatter the rats.

Exit

I’m not sure I’ve matured, but I have mellowed. Confronting white supremacists– telling them they’re stupid, they’re ignorant, they’re morally twisted– may make their opposition feel better, but it’s also an exercise in futility. It changes no one’s mind.

But Germany may be showing us a solution. An organization called Exit offers neo-Nazis a way out, a way of leaving their organization and receiving support in the mainstream world. One town, plagued by neo-Nazi’s annual march through its main street, now uses the demonstration to raise money for Exit.

More power to them!

22 November 2014

Personpower! (They let me off my leash again…)

by Melodie Campbell

Apparently, the current hot project for Those Who Don’t Have Enough To Do At City Hall, is making our language completely gender-neutral.  “Harbourmaster” is the latest word to fall under the gender axe.  While I wouldn’t dream of suggesting “Harbour Mistress” (this is a family column) I am not so sure about HarbourPerson either.

No doubt about it, that man in “woman” has got to go.  Probably the first place to be hit will be public washrooms.  Better get used to “Persons” and WoPersons”.

If that isn’t confusing enough, imagine what is going to happen to all of our great tunes?  Are we really going to be singing along to “Hey Mr/Ms Tambourine Person”?  Frankly, “When a Person…loves a Person” just doesn’t do it for me.  “I’m a Solitary Person” might squeak by, but “Pretty Person” doesn’t have a chance.

Not to mention the effect this will have on our great literature.  Hemingway will have won the Pulitzer for “The Old Person and the Sea.”  “Little Persons” will be read by persons of gender everywhere, and “The Person of LaMancha” may sweep Broadway.  My own personal <sic> favourite has got to be Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Persons.”

All this could result in a new branch of philology, with its own name, of course – SEpersonTICS…and since my Canadian government is so insistent on being politically correct, surely Winnipeg deserves to reside in “Personitoba?”

You see, the problem is personifold.  You can’t just draw the line here.  ALL things must be included and made equal.

It’s simple, when you get the hang of it.  Fireplaces will have persontels, the rich can live in personsions, and those of us with long fingernails can go for personicures.  “Manuella” may not be too happy about becoming Personuella, but what the heck.  We’ve got a persondate.


(This is a leash-free day, so go for it, and add your own gender-free word changes in the comments.)

When she is not cracking the whip as Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada, Melodie Campbell spends her time writing funny novels like The Artful Goddaughter, for Orca Books.

21 November 2014

The Joys of Miss Fisher

by Dixon Hill

Leigh's recent quips about cricket, coupled with Rob's mention of a "sexy cozy" triggered this post about Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, an ABC (um . . . that's: Australian Broadcasting Company, in this case) television series, which I've been watching on NetFlix.

Kerry Greenwood
This two-season (so far) TV series -- which I think could be accurately called a sexy and humorous cozy -- is set in Melbourne and based on a series of books by prolific Australian author and defense lawyer Kerry Greenwood.


Ms. Greenwood has penned no fewer than 20 books about Miss Fisher, plus several more novels spanning the YA, Sci-Fi and mystery markets.  If Wikipedia is to be believed, she's also a playwright.

The series' titular "Miss Fisher" is, point in fact, Miss Phryne ("Fry-nee") Fisher, a young upper-crust Australian woman of the 1920's who evidently served in the ambulance corps during the First World War.  It seems that the horror she encountered there stripped away her innocence, baring a wry and often humorous cynicism that I, as a viewer, find delectable.




In a word, I'd say she's "cheeky."
Delightfully so!




Dot quietly feels
Miss Fisher drives
far too recklessly. 
Having returned to Australia from England, in the first episode, young Phryne pronounces herself a lady detective.

And – stylish detective that she is – she even sports a gold-plated revolver, when needed. As well as a gorgeous Hispano-Suiza, which she drives at breakneck speeds.

The mysteries here are not mind-bendingly difficult to solve.



Nor do people running around with fancy metal-plated weapons usually entice me to watch a show.  Quite the opposite on both counts. But, if I'm honest, I'll have to admit I don't watch Phryne to test my wits against hers, as I might with a good Sherlock or Miss Marple. And, the fact is, the gold-plated revolver works in this case.  It's just the right weapon, with just the right feel of "decorative accessory," that would make it seem likely to strike the character's flair for the unique and stylish -- two things Phryne Fisher definitely personifies.  But, I really don't watch shows because of weapons.


So, why do I watch Miss Fisher?

Frankly, because the show is so much fun.

The characters are delightful.  First, there's Phryne's friend and assistant, Dorothy, often called Dottie or Dot.  Little Dot is devoutly religious, and frightened by technology.  One of my favorite scenes, which occurred in the first episode, involved Dot trying to answer a telephone.

.
As the young woman had earnestly explained to Phryne earlier, the priest at her church had told everyone that the electricity in the phone lines was building up in the center of the earth, and that – one day – one telephone connection too many would be made, causing the world to explode. Thus, as Phryne's phone rings, Dot, charged with answering it in Phryne's absence, is torn between doing her duty to her friend and employer, and her fear that answering the instrument might trigger a cataclysm that  destroys the entire planet.
The results had me rolling.

Then there's Phryne's female doctor friend: Dr. Elizabeth "Mac" Macmillan.  The good doctor dresses in men's clothing, as many women of the time actually did.  It had nothing, necessarily, to do with their sexual leanings; it was simply a style fad in the post-war years, according to my professor at ASU, when I took a class on this time period in Europe's history.

This taste in clothing may actually be associated with the view that women with bodies that looked "good for breeding" were thought of, at the time, as being similar to cows, or even "breeding machinery" (a connotation much distrusted in the wake of a war that saw the horrific effects of combat mechanization for the first time).  Consequently, "le garçon" arrived on the scene in Europe -- women whom the French called, literally: "the boy" because of their thin hips, flat chests and "masculine" behavior (such as smoking in public).  The wearing of men's clothing, according to one line of thinking, was an extension of such new social norms.

On the other hand, there is strong evidence (albeit off stage) that "Mac" may enjoy the company of women in her boudoir – something that bothers Phryne not one whit.  Mac also harbors a deep grudge against the male establishment, which would be perfectly understandable for a female M.D. of that time period. She's quick to anger, slow to trust, but is fast friends with Phryne, whom she evidently trusts implicitly.

Detective Inspector John "Jack" Robinson carries on a – so far – unrequited love affair with Phryne, though the femini Phryne doesn't appear to let this interfere with her bedroom gymnastics with other, more immediately willing, partners.  Robinson is quite conservative, but he clearly can't get this remarkable woman out of his mind.  And, the fact that she keeps showing up at the scenes of crimes that he's charged with investigating does little to alleviate this problem.

Robinson is assisted by Constable Hugh Collins, an innocent new police officer who soon begins dating Dot.


Add in Bert and Cec, two rather rough-around-the-edges manual
laborers with hearts of gold, who do some of Miss Fisher's heavy lifting, and Phryne's dowager aunt Prudence, along with a few other characters, and you've got a gold mine of humor, conflict and fun.

I highly recommend the show, if you haven't seen it already.

Phryne Fisher: Not only can she drive, and fly a plane…
She's also not afraid to fan dance!
See you in two weeks,
—Dixon

20 November 2014

David Dean: "The Purple Robe"

by Eve Fisher

What if you found out there was a place where miracles really happened?  Deep in the jungle, far away from any prying eyes.  Would you go?  And why?  Is it a miracle you want, or a miracle you fear?  Do you need to ask for it, or to stop it?  What is it that you want?  And what would you do if you found out it was all true...  but there is a price?  David Dean's new thriller, The Purple Robe, offers a wide range of answers to these questions and more.

The small quiet Yucatan town of Progreso, on the Gulf of Mexico, far from the tourist hot-spots, is under the bewildered care of young Father Pablo, awkward, uncertain and with a little bit of a drinking problem.  (They don't call him Father Tomato for nothing.)  His acolytes don't respect him; his congregation is dwindling; and then there are Dona Marisa Elena Saenz, a/k/a La Viuda Negra (the Black Widow), and the local police Captain Barrera, two people who always manage to make him feel...  inadequate, if not downright wrong.

Ironically, although Dona Marisa and Captain Barrera have nothing in common, both express a concern about the missing Alcante boy, some say lame, all say drug-addicted, and last spotted out at a rotting plantation in the jungle, perhaps walking...  Perhaps he's joined the insurrectos; perhaps he's found something else.  There are rumors about a ruined place with a holy relic, a secret site with secret pilgrimages:  much to Father Pablo's chagrin, the Archbishop asks him to investigate.  But where? How?  His main clue is a leaflet, given to him on a bus by a woman named Veronica:


"Ask and ye shall receive":  
the only words underneath a wood engraving of Jesus 
beaten and bloody in a purple robe; 
surrounded by Mayan warriors instead of Roman centurions.  


Veronica takes him deep into the jungle, to a nightmare of a plantation, the disintegrating mansion of a Yucatan Miss Havisham, Dona Josefa, a woman as old as time and either a mystic or mad, who holds a relic that she claims is a fragment of the purple robe worn by Christ at his trial.  Surrounded by Mayan guards, and ever-increasing numbers of pilgrims, including two wealthy Norte Americanos, Father Pablo finds himself in a world in which hope, faith, need, and desperation make people willing to do anything to achieve what they want:  healing, power, prayer, control, hope, fear, and even death.  

Especially if someone is willing to do anything to stop another miracle from happening...

The Purple Robe is a Catholic fable, an evocation of the Yucatan, a religious thriller, and quite a ride. And it's worth thinking about:  What if you found out there was a place where miracles really happened?  Deep in the jungle, far away from any prying eyes.  Would you go?  And why?

19 November 2014

Hold the anchovies

by Robert Lopresti

When I saw that someone was working on an "Anthology of Cozy Noir" my first thought was that that was the craziest idea I had heard in a while.

My second thought was "Hey! I've got a story that would fit there."

The fact that those two thoughts fit so closely together may explain why I have not quit my day job to live off my royalties yet.

Be that as it may, Andrew MacRae apparently agreed with my second thought because he bought my story and gave it the lead-off position in his book which has been published this month.  I am looking forward to reading the rest of the stories.  (In fact, I have read some of them now and here is the proof.)  But, selfish devil that I am, I am going to talk a little about my own.

"The Roseville Way" is about a couple who meet on the east coast and move to the wife's midwestern hometown to open a pizza shop.  Problem is, there doesn't seem to be much demand for New York style pizza in Roseville and things are not going so well.  


Then a couple of men arrive from the New York area, a retired businessman and his younger assistant.  Both of Italian ancestry, both looking like they have survived a few fights.  They love  the pizza.

Is it possible the old guy is a former mobster, maybe on the run, and the younger man is his bodyguard?  And do the shop owners want to argue with success?

I trust you can see how we have aspects both cozy and noir here.

I can tell you exactly where this story idea came from.  In fact, if you used to read the Criminal Brief blog, I did tell you about it.  (Please note that this was back in 2007.  When I say I am a slow writer, I mean it.) 



Sitting in a pizza parlor just off Dupont Circle I acquired an idea for a mystery story. Since I was in the capital city of a major nation, surrounded by power, intrigue, and scandal, naturally I came up with a story about blue collar people in a small town. The human mind is a strange beast.

And here is more evidence for the strangeness inside a writer's cranium.  There is a scene in my new novel, out next spring, set in a pizza parlor in Washington D.C.  How can one mostly nondiscript place inspire two completely different pieces of fiction?

Oddly enough, this double-dipping happened to me once before, as I explained here. 

Anyway, I hope this will inspire you to read a short story.  Or eat some pizza.  In either case, happy digesting.

18 November 2014

Postcards from the River

by Stephen Ross

A couple of years ago, I was living in a city called Hamilton. It's one of New Zealand's few inland cities; New Zealand is a long, thin slice of country and the ocean (Pacific Ocean to the right, Tasman Sea to the left) is never more than an hour or two's drive away. Although inland, Hamilton is not without water frontage, as the Waikato River flows through the center of the city and effectively splits it into two.

I lived a couple of blocks from the river, and the office building I worked in downtown was located riverside on London Street. Naturally, I often walked to and from the office each day along the river, taking advantage of the excellent system of paved city walkways that hugged the river bank.

Given the remoteness of some parts of the track, and the signs of nocturnal delinquency (graffiti, condoms, needles, etc.), I expected most mornings to find a body. I did "find" a couple of drunks and several shifty teenagers, but thankfully never anyone dead. My mind had other ideas. Although I've never used the riverbank walkway specifically as a setting, it has inspired two short stories: Boundary Bridge (where an angry, American TV writer shoves a young man off one of Hamilton's five bridges into the river); and The Riverboat (which curiously ended up being set in the early 20th century, in the deep south of the US).

The Waikato River flows through the Waikato Plains region of the North Island of New Zealand, and at 425 kilometers (265 miles), it's the country's longest waterway. The Waikato Plains are one of the country's dairy heartlands, and Hamilton is the region's largest city (the fourth largest in the country). Photo (c)2010 Stephen Ross

One Monday morning, however, there was a dead body at the end of my walk. It was in the alleyway next to the front entrance of the office building I worked in (located about 20 yards from the river).

Actually, the body was no longer there; there wasn't even a chalk outline (they don't actually draw those). There was, however, a police line, a couple of dozen evidence markers, a frozen police officer, and a sea of fingerprint powder residue -- every inch of the alley and the building's entrance, every rock, every piece of litter, all of it caked in the stuff.

The police officer was frozen because he was dressed in his uniform of a blue shirt and dark slacks. I, by contrast, was dressed for an Antarctic expedition -- it was the middle of winter. It doesn't snow in Hamilton, but we were down to about 2°C that morning (that's less than 36°F).

According to the slowly-turning-blue representative of the thin blue line, the dead body of a man had been discovered in the early hours of the morning. The street had been closed off and a forensics team brought in to examine the scene. Yes, the man had been murdered.

The body had been taken away about 30 minutes before I arrived. The remaining officer was standing watch, preserving the scene (possibly forever) as the detective in charge hadn't given the all clear, which meant access to the building was a no go.

"You're not going in there, mate," said the officer, who must have been made out of concrete -- or was slowly turning into concrete.

"When can I go in? I work on the second floor of that building."

"I think you might be getting the day off, mate."

That was nice of him.

My boss (who arrived a few minutes later), when informed of this hindrance in our approach to our desks, and at our being given a day's holiday by the constabulary, said, "This is not good enough." Actually, he didn't say that, but that was the implication I could extract from the obscenities.

After about an hour, the all clear was finally given and we were allowed to enter the building -- to thaw out from the cold. It was a gloomy day at the office; not a joke was uttered. Bad taste took that offered day's holiday. The media had a vulture's picnic on the doorstep, and the scene of the crime became a tourist destination for Hamilton's lowlifes.

Photo (c)2010 Stephen Ross "The Waikato River flowed through Hamilton like a dark freeway. I spent afternoons sitting at the table in the living room staring down at its cool, shady water. Any day, damn it, I was going to jump in and hitch a ride out of town."

BOUNDARY BRIDGE
Stephen Ross

In the afternoon, a friend said: "I suppose you'll use this murder in a story?"

My reply was "No".

I make a very clear separation in my mind between real murder and imaginary murder, and I don't have a lot to do with the real stuff. Sure, I read about such stories in the newspaper, but note them only in passing. I don't believe I've written any story inspired by real life events.

The thing about writing crime fiction (and the operative word here is fiction) is that I get to make it all up. And importantly, I get to serve up justice where and how I see fit. Murder in the real world isn't that neat and tidy, and most writers, I guess, write because we want to bring order to that chaos...  And I won't write anymore on that line of thought, as I'm sure there are at least 50,000 university papers already collecting dust.

Real murder is complicated. It's ugly and banal. The "wonderful" killers I get to write about don't exist in the real world (inventing "Moriarty" types is a big part of the fun of writing).

Hamilton, New Zealand, June 2010

The dead man in London Street was Donald Alfred Stewart. He was 74. Towards midnight on Sunday 27 June, he stopped his car to use a public restroom in the central city. He was murdered for his car keys. His killer, a boy aged 14, and his accomplices, aged 15 and 17, were caught within days. All three were tried, convicted, and jailed.

Click here for New Zealand Herald report
Photo (c)2010 Stephen Ross

Be seeing you…


https://www.facebook.com/stephen.ross.author