29 February 2012

There's a Hitch in it, somewhere

Sometimes a road trip can change your life.  I took one with my parents in the late sixties to upstate New York.  I think we went to Lake George, but I don't remember that at all.  What I remember is seeing a fat, familiar face on a newsstand.
I wish I remembered which issue it was.  I looked on this helpful but incomplete page and the oldest story I can be sure I read in the magazine was from the October 1969 issue ("Scream All The Way," by Michael Collins. I remember the illustration - a dramatic drawing of  a man falling out of a building - so I know it wasn't a reprint in a book).  But I am confident that I was reading it before then.

What attracted me?  I don't think at that age (roughly fourteen) I had ever seen a Hitchcock movie, although I had certainly enjoyed his TV show, and his children's anthologies,

 and the Three Investigator books,
   and I believe I had discovered the anthologies that often included stories from the magazine. 

Quite a cottage industry Hitch had going,  huh?  All of them might as well have been gateway drugs, preparing me for mystery magazines, I guess.

There were two other features back in those days that made AHMM unique.  First, each issue began with a note in solemn tones signed by Hitchcock himself, introducing all the stories.  I don't think that even at that tender age I imagined Alfred had anything to do with writing the notes, but it was another way of tying the mag to one of the most famous people in the world.

They also used to tuck him into a story illustration in most of the issues, like his famous cameo appearances in his movies.  There would be a tubby patrolman in the back of a crime scene, or a rotund waiter in a restaurant.   Or see this one, from 1981.

 By then AHMM  had been sold by H.S.D. and was published by Davis, the same company that owned  Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

Over the years I have heard the question a hundred times: what's the difference between Hitchcock and Queen?  My answer used to be: Hitchcock sometimes buys my stuff.  But since Queen gave in and bought one of my stories that distinction isn't as helpful anymore.  I usually say Hitchcock is fonder of humor, suspense, and twist endings.  Queen leans toward longer, darker, stories,  and is more concerned with the history of the field, so it features pastiches, fair play mysteries, and the like.

But I'm sure the main reason I have been published more often in AHMM than in EQMM (18 to 1, to be exact), is that I grew up on the former. My tastes in mystery stories were shaped by AHMM, so it is hardly surprising that my writing tends to match up with theirs.

How good are the stories in AHMM?  Well, here is a brief summary of the awards the magazine has collected:
*more than 20 Edgar nominations, including three winners.
*eleven Robert L. Fish Awards for best first short story.
*more than thirty Shamus nominations, and eight winners.
*more than twenty Derringer nominations, including three winners.
*nominations (and some winners) for the Spur, the Anthony, the Macavity, the Barry, the Agatha, the Arthur Ellis, and the Herodotus, the last of which I had never heard of.  

Impressive, you might say.  But you might also ask why I bring up this particular magazine in the first place.  If you don't already know all shall be revealed in the next few days, starting on Friday, when we will come back to AHMM in a big way. Until then, keep reading and writing.


  1. Rob, thanks for the walk down memory lane. I loved all the cover art.

    Believe it or not, my elementary school library carried several of those Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Tales collections for children! I loved them and recently bought one at a yard sale just for memory's sake. The stories were still surprisingly good and spooky.

  2. Rob, loved the history. I still have a few earlier copies of AHMM around here somewhere, but not even close to the old issues you're talking about.

  3. I find it interesting that AHMM and EQMM have, for a long time, been sister publications when they started out so differently. Reading the new book of correspondence between Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee, Blood relations by Joseph Goodrich, one finds constant worries from Dannay, expressed in his letters, about getting the publication out on time. By contrast, my assumption is that Hitchcock never really had anything to do with AHMM other than lending his name.

    And now, of course, it is interesting that AHMM still has the Hitchcock name, which is still a draw among readers. By contrast (and unfortunately) many have to be reminded who in the heck Ellery Queen was.

  4. I have a few old copies as well, those that contain my stories. They take up about 1/2 inch of shlef space.

  5. You're too modest, Herschel. I happen to know you've had half a dozen stories in AHMM over the years.

    Great column, Rob. Love those old issues. I found one awhile back with Daphne Du Maurier's "The Birds" in it.

  6. Someone asked me recently if I was familiar with The Three Investigators, and when I said no, the someone compared them to The Hardy Boys series, which I read avidly. Is that an accurate comparison?

  7. Thanks, Rob! Loved it! Now I have a certain piece by Gounod running through my head! (I'll exit in sillouette, stage left, sucking in my gut!)

  8. brad, i prefered the Three Investigators, but they were much the same idea as the HBs. jupiter Jones was an overweight genius who lived in a junkyard and his two friends, well, one wore glasses and one didn't. I can' t recal any other differences. all in early teens. at the end of each bok they visited Mr Hitchcock and explained the stpry to him...


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