31 December 2022

2022 in Review


Around this time every year I usually take a look back at what I've written, submitted, published, and so forth, and put that into a SleuthSayers post--probably because it requires very little effort or imagination on my part. (The imagination machine in my head this late in the year is usually panting and wheezing and ready to put all four feet in the air.)

One problem, though, with my previous summary reports is that I've always included lots of statistics and percentages--probably too many. So this time I'm doing more of a casual observation. The only numbers I'll mention are these: I wrote fewer new stories in 2022 than in 2021--34 vs. 38--and had about half as many stories published this year as last--33 in 2022, 61 in 2021. I can't account for either difference, except that (1) I seem to be writing longer stories now, and (2) many of those stories that were scheduled to come out in 2022 have apparently been postponed until '23. (Best-laid plans and all that.) I currently have 35 stories that have been accepted but not yet published, in AHMM, EQMM, Woman's World, Mystery Magazine, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Weekly, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and others--and about a dozen anthologies and podcasts.

Having said all that . . . here are some observations I might make about this past year's literary output:


- I had more publications in magazines this year than in anthologies. I think one reason was that I saw fewer calls for anthologies--but another is that I might not have been as inclined to (or as able to ) produce stories with the themes needed by those anthos I did see.

- Most of my magazine stories published this year were in AHMM, Woman's World, Mystery Magazine, and Black Cat Weekly

- Most of my anthology stories were published in response to invitations by editors rather than via open calls for submissions.

- For a change, I had more "series" stories published this year than standalone stories. They were installments in five different series.

- This year I published (and wrote) more stories based on real historical events. Some of that is due to anthology calls/requests for stories set in a certain time period or certain location, but others--including those in magazines--were just personal preference. I've found I like reading those kinds of stories, so it made sense to start writing more of them.

- All the stories I had published this year were set in the U.S. (Unusual, for me.)

- As always, none of my published stories were written in present tense. I don't usually like reading those, so I don't like writing them. Give me the old past-tense, once-upon-a-time style.

- I did more tuckerizing this year (using friends's names as character names in stories, at their request).

- More of my stories published in 2022 were undiluted mystery/crime/suspense than in years past. Less than a dozen this time were cross-genre, and by that I mean mystery/western, mystery/fantasy, mystery/horror, etc. Far as I know, there was no reason for that; it just happened.

- I had fewer western-themed stories published this year--half a dozen of them, mostly standalone stories in Mystery Magazine and one in AHMM

- I had more stories than usual published this year that were written in first-person POV. Again, I don't know why. Up until now, most of my writing was in third-person (usually third-person multiple), because it often seems to be easier to build suspense and tension via third-person ("As the hero left the apartment, the villain watched him from the window across the street," etc.). But even my crime stories this year were written more in first-person than third.

- My published-in-2022 stories were usually longer (higher wordcount) than in previous years. Some of that was due to fewer stories sold to Woman's World and other flash markets, but also to the fact that I now just seem to be creating stories with more scenes and characters than before. Maybe I can blame that on my watching more cable series like Ozark, Yellowstone, etc., instead of two-hour movies. (Just kiddin.')

- I had fewer stories published this year in online-only publications and in non-paying publications. Almost all were in print markets and in paying markets.

- More of my stories than usual this year were published outside the U.S.

- I had fewer reprints published in 2022 than I normally do--most were original stories. I think that's because (1) more of my anthology stories this year were written specifically for the antho's requirements and (2) I've sold more stories recently to magazines that require previously-unpublished work.

How about you, and your own literary year? Was it a good one, or not-so? Do you see any changes or trends in what you're writing or how you're writing it or where you're submitting and publishing it? Nosy SleuthSayers want to know. 

Now, to the important stuff:

I wish all of you a happy and healthy and prosperous 2023!

See you next year.

30 December 2022

2022 Rearview

Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0,
via Wikimedia Commons

By the time you read this, I will be finishing up the 104th book I've read this year. This includes Audible. It's rare I can read that many books in a year. Had I not learned to speed read, I probably would not have pulled this off. With the ability to speed read certain books, I actually could give them the attention they deserved (or didn't.)

The Herculean reading list was driven in part by wanting to finish Stephen King's canon. Assuming only one book in 2023 for Mr. King, I probably will wrap up this years-long project with Holly in October. As I finish up the two latest, Gwendy's Final Task and Fairy Tale, I'll turn my attention to the Bachman books. Rage, which is now out of print by King's request, will likely be the most difficult to read in this era of school shootings. Road Work, though short, will probably be the slog I remember when I first read it twenty years ago.

I also rotated through some classics – Twain, Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, as well as Harold Bloom's list of novels from How to Read. One from this last list proved to be a massive disappointment. Another I decided to save for later due to its sheer length and a lack of an Audible version that wasn't a glorified radio drama. So what did I read this year?

I'll skip science fiction unless it fits a category here.

First Book: Galway Girl by Ken Bruen. Until this year, I made it a point to start with one of Bruen's Taylor novels. Due to a release date issue, I read is last in November. But Galway Girl seems to be a mulligan for Em's fate in a previous book. A new foil, a virtual clone of Em (deliberately so, as we find out), comes to menace Jack. It's not bad, but gone are Ridge and Maeve. Father Malachy is a more reluctant antagonist. And Clancy is nowhere to be seen except in a couple of scenes. We're left wondering just how much more Jack can take at the hands of his creator, meaning Bruen. We find out in the follow-up, A Galway Epiphany, which I also read this year.

Last Book: We can look at it two ways: on the day I'm writing this, I finished King's On Writing, one of a handful of books I reread annually or every other year. But on the day you read this, I'll be wrapping up an ARC of Right Between the Eyes by Scott Loring Sanders. So far, Right Between the Eyes is turning into a cross between a Stephen King novel with its small-town New England setting and an SA Cosby book, semi-rural crime with lots of secrets and lies.

On Writing, of course, is a must-read for any writer. The book never seems the same to me twice. Maybe because, while I reread it more than other books, I don't read that often.

Best Book Read This Year: Under Color of Law by Aaron Philip Clark. Clark's Detective Trevor Finnegan is setup to fall as he investigates the death of a brother officer. Finn, as he's called, decided to be a cop to "make a difference," even giving up a promising art career to do it.

Rather than a tirade on race, Clark paints a nuanced portrait of LA's racial tension. He does point a finger at the LAPD of the nineties for the present undercurrent of distrust. But Finn is uniquely positioned to see both sides. Yes, police brutality and systematic racism are very real, but Clark manages to convey something that gets lost in the narrative. With each shooting of an unarmed civilian and each violent protest that follows, police officers feel something they're paid not to show: Fear. And each incident makes it worse. Yet Finn understands why a black man also feels fear, so it's double for him with a foot in each world. 

Clark gets the whole picture, all the while having Finn confront the same corrupt department politics we normally see. His solution doesn't give his would-be rivals the satisfaction they crave.

Biggest Disappointment: Portrait of a Lady. And some heads are probably exploding over this one. Too bad. I pulled this one from a list of novels recommended by the late Harold Bloom in his book How to Read. Harold owes me an apology. The book begins with the author doing his own literary criticism, which left me screaming, "That's not how this works! That's not how any of this works!" And then we're treated to fifty pages of the problems of rich people. I am aware I said this as someone who also watches The Crown and Succession. The former, though, is history through people who are supposed to represent it. The latter is watching the 1% trip over themselves trying to rule the world. (And let's be honest, it's a joy to watch Brian Cox work.) This started with a bunch of bankers sniffing disdainfully at how it must be sad not to be a rich Victorian. I barely got to see the lady of the title before I bailed. 

This is one of those books we're supposed to read, and somehow, King found it praiseworthy. King also likes Roger Corman films whereas I generally skip them unless they have three silhouettes at the bottom making wise-ass comments. (Mind you, Corman has mentored generations of filmmakers, so he can make a movie about Prince Harry's grocery list for all I care. The next Tarantino may learn something from it.)

Biggest Surprise: Ohio: A Novel. This one hit a little close to home. These were Millennials growing up in a town not too dissimilar to the burb where I grew up. It's even set in NE Ohio, my old stomping grounds. My mind's eyes supplied Lucas, Ohio, a town near where my parents spent their final years, as the set surrounding this drama involving five local kids who return as adults for the funeral of a classmate who died a war hero. Ohio captures the despair of the Rust Belt from a generation that doesn't remember when Big Steel and Big Auto ruled. A sixth member of the group is missing. It seems she's gone to Southeast Asia and disappeared, but her actual fate is teased out over the novel It becomes clear that Ohio is less about a fallen war hero who was not the paragon from his eulogy and more about this missing woman who mysteriously still writes home.

Newest Addiction: SA Cosby. This year, I read Blacktop Wilderness and Razorblade Tears. Had to wait until December for the rerelease of My Darkest Prayer, which will be second read of the new year. Cosby does what Ken Bruen does: Paints a dark portrait of a very real place. Instead of Galway, we get Virginia, away from the Beltway and the DC suburbs. Like Pelecanos's DC, which ignores the "visitors," Cosby writes about the south, how religion and race and poverty all go into the stew that is southern culture. Some pieces are quite unpleasant, but the whole is not. And if we're going to call it a stew, then SA Cosby is a master chef.

29 December 2022

A Personal History of Technology

I have noticed, over time, that technologically things can get better.  And I am deeply grateful. 

Writing this in the middle of a cold snap (it was -18 air temperature, with -45 wind chills folks, with a  four day straight ground blizzard), I truly, truly, truly appreciate central heating. I remember with absolutely no nostalgia whatsoever the coal furnace that came with our first home in Bristol, TN.  We couldn't afford both a down payment and a new furnace, so we just laughed and said we'd find out what life was like in the 19th century, and we did.  It sucked

Coal smells bad, like living next to 1970s steel factories.  (Unlike peat, the traditional Irish fuel, which has a sweet smell to it.)  It's also dirty to handle and the heat comes out of the vents with soot that sticks to everything. And you can't just dust it off, or even wipe it off - that oily smut requires scrubbing. It is the reason spring housecleaning used to be mandatory, and required fun things like lye.  So yes, give me central heating and air conditioning any day.  

The same is true of the tools of the writing trade.

I began writing, not quite like John-Boy Walton with his Big Chief pads of paper and a pencil, but by hand on legal pads. Did that for years, in fact. But at one point it dawned on me that the days of sending in handwritten ms were over, and I bought a typewriter.  

My first was an old Royal typewriter - remember them?  Sturdy little beasts, as long as you didn't fling them out the window in a fit of despair. 

Then I upgraded in the late 70s to a used Selectric typewriter.  Wow!  Bunch of cartridges and Secretary's White Out, and I was in business!  So what if it hummed so loudly, so strongly that the desk shook (it was a flimsy desk, okay?), and the typeball was a bit noisy - I was a professional!

How little I knew about decibels.  Yes, Selectrics were noisy, but not as noisy as my next upgrade (around 1989):  the daisy-wheel dedicated Brother word processor.  Printing my Master's thesis drove away every woodpecker for miles.  

And then, some time in the 1990s, we got our first computer - a Gateway, if I remember correctly, and it cost about $3,000.  Thankfully, we were fully employed by then.  

But from then on, we never looked back.  The last time I bought new computers, one for each of us, they cost less combined than my old used Selectric did back in the day.  Technology not only gets better but cheaper.  

But what isn't getting cheaper (or as far as I can tell much better) is the "ergonomic" chairs and desks that supposedly would help you set up the perfect workstation in which you'd never again get any of the muscle / back aches or pains that plague mankind.  Seriously, when they're advertising $1,600 ergonomic chairs as the best for your money - I'm like, well... Surely there's a workaround for that.

And there is. In fact, more than one.  

This year I acquired the following items I never want to live without:


Because I have the ability to distract myself with nothing but my own mind, much less things like the  squirrels that love to run up and down the fir tree outside my window, and that's even before I turn on the freaking computer with its news items and message alerts, I really cannot be trusted with 24/7 access to the internet.  Every once in a while I need to fence that off from myself, and the free Freedom software does that for me.  Huzzah!  

Stands of all Kinds: 

Everyone needs a paper stand next to their desk, because.  

A cell phone stand. Because sometimes you're on a long call and need to look something up on-line, or you just get sick of holding the damn thing, etc., etc., etc.  

Everyone needs a lap reading pillow, because sooner or later, your neck is going to be as arthritic as mine, and you need to raise that book / Kindle up a lot higher than your lap.  They're available all over Amazon, Wal-Mart, etc., and come in many colors.  And they run anywhere from $10-$50 bucks.  Enjoy!

BTW, I have two lap reading pillows, one for each of my favorite reading spots.  I also use them as a stand for a tablet during Zoom meetings, so I can sit in a comfy chair instead of always at my desk.

Speaking of arthritic necks, you should check into 

A portable monitor.  

Why did I get one? Because when my old clunker died on me after years of faithful service, I found out that all the new regular monitors are behemoths designed for the gamers* and movie-watchers of the world.  I bought one, but it was so large, that I couldn't get used to it. The percentage of the screen that was dedicated to say, reading the latest substack newsletter or my actual writing was small, and I couldn't expand it or get it where I wanted it, and I finally gave up.  And they were still heavy enough that trying to get them to the right height for my neck was... difficult.  

So I got an Asus ZenScreen, 15.6" monitor, which weighs 1.6 pounds. USB ports, no glare, super-fast refresh rate, supersharp picture, etc.  I can lift it one-handed and place it anywhere I damn well please. And it comes with its own stand. I love it.

*But gaming equipment is not all bad - in fact, some of it is unbelievably good, and here's my favorite:

A split keyboard.

I bought a Kinesis Gaming Freestyle Edge RGB Split Mechanical Keyboard, and I can't rave about it enough. Check out the colors!


But the real reason I love it is that the two ergonomic halves of the keyboard can separate as far as 20 inches, so that you type not hunched over in the traditional position, with your hands right next together and your elbows out like you're about to do a sitting chicken dance, but sitting up, with your hands directly below your shoulders. Or wherever you like them. It's great. I've had pain in my upper back, under my shoulder blades for years from typing almost as obsessively as I've read, and... it's not there anymore. Seriously. 

Caveat:  The keyboard does take a while to get used to - for one thing, while the typing keyboard is the same, the direction keys are in different places. And I mean different. The "DEL" key is above the "HOME" key, and I'm still going home half the time when I want to delete something, and deleting something half the time I want to go home.  But it's getting better, and I don't think I'll ever go back to a traditional keyboard.  Plus the colors are a lot of fun. (They change as you type.)

All of these are available on-line or at your favorite electronics store.  So take those gift cards and put them to good use and welcome the New Year in with physical comfort and the snazziest keyboard around!  

Oh, and stock up and settle in for your next snowstorm (which is happening here in South Dakota as you're reading this), with a hot drink, a good mystery, and a warm house!


28 December 2022

Be a Good Beaver

This is an Andrei Voznesensky poem that appeared in the New York Times fifty years ago, on New Year's Eve, 1972. I've treasured it ever since.

— [Translation by Theodore Shabad, NYTimes Moscow Bureau]

Be a Good Beaver

by Andrei Voznesensky

My strongest impression of 1972 was an encounter with a beaver who barred my way and began to weep. I don't know about your beavers, but ours have two dark-red front teeth.  I wish the beavers of all countries well and a Happy New Year.

On a swampy path one evening

I met a beaver.  He broke into sobs.

His red enamel front tooth

  protruded dejectedly like an emergency brake.

They've found a way, those crafty sobbers, 

Just try to approach their lodge, 

  and they will come out and sob before the bulldozer, 

  causing the driver to take pity and retreat.

They'll come out in crowds and hold their paws.

They'll come out in crowds and hold their paws pleadingly

  to protect their homes against the engine:

  "You've got the power - 

  but we've got our tears."

Our sobs against your engines roar!

In the eyes of this aging child

  tears stand in my way.

What do you think you are?  A village pump?

Come on, let me pass.

Are you crying to save your stream?

What else would you be pleading for?

Are you avenging your domain's ruination?

Tears are standing in my way.

Why are my knees now giving way?

I have never been stopped so far

  either by women weeping on the phone 

  or by a fool's raging arrogance.

Or is it that the river reeds and grasses

  have edged in to block the road, 

  bearing the weeping holy icon

  to make me repent, me, the sinner.

Be a good beaver, you New year, 

  and bring us not grief, but the will to fight.

You splendid, reproachful weepers,

  be good beavers, be good beavers.

Be a good beaver, and your conscience,

  silent and fearless as it awakens in the dawn, 

  will become a teary, though defiant demonstrator:

  "no pasaran, no pasaran."

The way is barred to intrusions,

  the way is barred,

  barred, oh lord,

  barred by tears …

27 December 2022

Deer in the Headlights: 2022 in Review

As I write this year-end review, there’s still a week left in 2022. I doubt anything significant will happen before the new year, so I’m jumping the gun.


Though my productivity remained low this year, I managed to write fifty percent more stories than in 2021, completing nine versus only six the prior year. The shortest was 1,300 words and the longest 14,100 words, for an average of 4,567. Eight were crime fiction. The ninth was a horror story I rough-drafted in January 2006, and all it really needed were some minor tweaks and a title to reach completion.


Even though productivity was low, I placed 72 original and reprint stories.

Eleven stories, including a collaboration with Sandra Murphy, appeared in Black Cat Weekly, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Fried Chicken and Coffee, Groovy Gumshoes, Haus, Malice Domestic: Mystery Most Diabolical, Starlite Pulp Review, and Vautrin. Four of the 11 were reprints, with one story being reprinted twice.

Only two editors are represented multiple times: Janet Hutchings published two original stories in EQMM and Cynthia Ward reprinted two in Black Cat Weekly. I included one of my stories in Groovy Gumshoes, a private eye anthology I edited. Six editors or editorial teams each published a single story.

Including stories accepted this year and those accepted in previous years, I have stories forthcoming in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 4 (a collaboration with Stacy Woodson), Mystery Tribune, Prohibition Peepers, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Starlite Pulp Review, Tough, and Weren’t No Other Way To Be.

Also forthcoming: three collections of erotica containing 58 stories—two originals and 56 reprints—all written back in the days when erotica represented a significant portion of my fiction output.


“The Downeaster ‘Alexa’,” published in Only the Good Die Young, received a Derringer Award.

“Aloha Boys,” published in Hallmarks Of The Job / Aloha Boys: A P.I. Tales Double Feature, was short-listed for a Derringer Award.

“Blindsided,” co-authored with James A. Hearn and published by Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, was short-listed for an Edgar Award.

“Disposable Women,” published by Tough, was short-listed for a Shamus Award.

“Dead Man’s Gorge,” published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, was named “Best Short Story of the Week,” by Anne van Doorn, who reads a short story each day and picks his favorite each week, much like fellow SleuthSayer Robert Lopresti does at Little Big Crimes.


Nine rejections. The only way to avoid these pesky things is to stop submitting.


As mentioned earlier, editing occupied a significant amount of time this year. I over-committed myself, and, though I don’t think I missed any, I spent much of the year staring at oncoming deadlines as if I were a deer caught in the headlights.

This year saw the release of two issues of Black Cat Mystery Magazine (issues 11 and 12). As Associate Editor of Black Cat Weekly, I was responsible for acquiring and editing 52 short stories, one for each weekly issue. This year also saw the release of Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties, and Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 3.

I also edited two additional issues (13 and 14) of BCMM, both of which should appear in the first half of 2023; edited the anthologies Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 4, More Groovy Gumshoes, Private Dicks and Disco Balls, and Prohibition Peepers, all of which will appear in 2023 or early 2024; and co-edited (with Barb Goffman) an anthology to be identified later. This is the first time I’ve edited an anthology without having a publisher lined up in advance, so I’m learning how to pitch a finished project.

I also co-edited (with Trey R. Barker) the last season of the serial novella anthology series Guns + Tacos.

Outside the mystery world, I edited six issues of Texas Gardener, a bi-monthly consumer magazine, and 52 issues of Seeds, a weekly electronic newsletter for gardeners that, incidentally, published three short stories. I also continued my part-time position as marketing director of a professional orchestra, creating, editing, and managing a variety of advertising, marketing, and promotional materials for print, radio, television, and social media.

Adding all the editing projects together, I had the honor of directly or indirectly shepherding 120 short stories and novellas through to publication.


This year, several stories from projects I edited or co-edited were recognized:

“Two Tamales, One Tokarev, and a Lifetime of Broken Promises” by Stacy Woodson, published in season three of Guns + Tacos, received a Derringer Award.

“Burnin Butt, Texas” by Mark Troy, published in Black Cat Mystery Magazine, issue 10, was short-listed for a Derringer Award.

“An Ache So Divine” by S.A. Cosby, published in Jukes & Tonks, was selected for inclusion in The Best American Mystery and Suspense and was included in the Honor Roll in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year.

“Return to Sender” by Gar Anthony Haywood, published in Jukes & Tonks, was selected for inclusion in The Best American Mystery and Suspense.

“Everybody Comes to Lucille’s” by John M. Floyd, published in Jukes & Tonks, was included in the Honor Roll in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year.

“The Last Gasp” by H.K. Slade, published in Black Cat Mystery Magazine, issue 10, was included in the Honor Roll in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year.

“Washed Up” by Nils Gilbertson, published in Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 2, was included in the Other Distinguished Mystery and Suspense list in The Best American Mystery and Suspense.

I had the honor of publishing several equally amazing stories in 2022 and hope to see many of them recognized during this coming year’s award season.


In February, I’ll be reading submissions for Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 5, and I will soon be editing the novellas for Chop Shop, the serial novella anthology series that replaces Guns + Tacos. Work on Black Cat Mystery Magazine and Black Cat Weekly continues, as does efforts to place the anthology Barb Goffman and I co-edited.

I have several anthology concepts I plan to pitch, but first I need to take a bit of a breather. I have several short stories that are near completion, and I’d like to get them off my to-do list and into the hands of editors before I again dive deep into editing.

Additionally, I was elected to the Board of the Mystery Writers of America, will attend orientation in January, and will soon learn what my duties and responsibilities will be during my term in office.

I hope you all had a productive 2022, and I look forward seeing what 2023 brings us.

25 December 2022

Murder in Wackyland: "The Frozen Ghost"

 My friend Michael Mallory is the author of 30 books, fiction and nonfiction (including Universal Studios Monsters: A Legacy of Horror), and 160 short stories, mostly mystery. His most recent mystery novel is Dig That Crazy Sphinx!, part of his Dave Beauchamp Hollywood mystery series. A former actor, he works as an L.A.-based entertainment journalist, and as such has written more than 650 magazine, newspaper, and online articles.  -Robert Lopresti


by Michael Mallory

With the possible exception of the Western, there was no more plentiful motion picture genre in the 1940s than the murder mystery. Literally countless mysteries, crime thrillers, and whodunits were churned out during the decade, ranging from the breezy, and pseudo-romcom puzzlers of the decade’s early years to the hard-hitting noir crime dramas that came to prominence after the war.

Of them all, none was as wild, wacky, and brazenly loony as 1945’s The Frozen Ghost…at least none that was not intended as a vehicle for a comedian. A delirious, almost surreal convolution of a B-movie,

Lon Chaney, Evelyn Ankers, Martin Kosleck, and Elena Verdugo.

The Frozen Ghost was released by Universal Pictures as part of its low-low budget “Inner Sanctum” series, which was inspired by both the eponymous Simon & Schuster book imprint and the then-popular radio show. Their primary purpose was to promote Lon Chaney, Jr., who was usually encrusted in monster make-up, as a romantic leading man.

While most of the Inner Sanctum films tend to be a bit dull, that criticism cannot be leveled at The Frozen Ghost, which speedily blasts through enough plot for three movies in as many genres. Fronting the picture is the series’ trademark opening, a shot of a creepy séance room containing a crystal ball, inside which a disembodied head (played by cadaverous David Hoffman) who lectures us about how anyone can commit murder. For the next hour, the filmmakers try to get away with it.

The story centers on Alex Gregor, a.k.a. “Gregor the Great” (Chaney), a wealthy radio hypnotist whose act consists of placing The Amazing Maura (scream queen Evelyn Ankers) in a state of “telepathic receptivity” from which she reads the minds of the studio audience members. Since neither Gregor nor Maura speak into a microphone, their every move is described by an announcer. Somehow, this less than riveting presentation is judged one of the hottest acts on radio. 

During one fateful broadcast a belligerent drunk from the audience disrupts the act, provoking Gregor to mutter (off mic): “I could kill him!” He then turns his hypnotic gaze on the heckler…and the man falls over dead! 

Gregor confess to murder, but Homicide Inspector Brant (Douglass Dumbrille) isn’t buying it since the coroner ruled the death a heart attack. But Gregor’s overwhelming guilt cannot be assuaged. Unable to face Maura, who is also his girlfriend, or anyone else, he goes into hiding. His business manager George Keane (Milburn Stone) recommends the perfect sanctuary for one with a troubled, guilty mind: a dark, cold, creepy old wax museum!

Gregor promptly seeks asylum (in all senses of the world) there and is accepted with open, hungry arms by the proprietress of the place, Madame Valerie Monet (Viennese actress Tala Birrell). Also living at the place are Valerie’s virginal, teenage niece Nina (Elena Verdugo) and a person no wax museum should ever be without, a wild-eyed, lunatic sculptor named Rudi (German actor Martin Kosleck). When he’s not slavering after Nina, Rudi talks to the figures as though they are alive and throws knives at everyone else.

While ostensibly good for business, having Gregor serve as the museum’s tour guide (so much for hiding) wreaks havoc on the personal lives of the museum staff. Both Valerie and Nina have fallen madly in love with him and when the jilted Maura suddenly shows up to reclaim him for herself, she and Valerie have it out. On top of that, Rudi maliciously lies to Valerie that Gregor has the hots for Nina, which causes her to angrily confront the oblivious mentalist, who in turn levels his “murder gaze” on her. She immediately falls down dead! At least she looks dead. Returning home, guiltier than ever, Gregor tells his manager Keane that he has killed yet another person with his eyes, but Keane scoffs at the idea, going so far as to tell Gregor that he never believed in his abilities (but thanks for the 10%). Returning to the wax museum, the two learn that Valerie Monet has vanished without a trace, and now Inspector Brant does suspect Gregor.

Evelyn Ankers, Milburn Stone, and Lon Chaney 

Things really start rolling at this point. 

Rudi, it turns out, is not just your average artistic, blade-lobbing whack job; he’s a former plastic surgeon who changed careers after making a society matron look like Quasimodo. But his talents don’t stop there: he is also an expert at putting people into a state of suspended animation, making them…frozen ghosts. What’s more, Valerie has not disappeared at all; she’s now a figure in the museum, plainly visible to the audience if not the police. 

There are plenty more plot machinations before The Frozen Ghost’s sixty-one minutes run out, and without spoiling the mystery, the upshot is that it’s all a plot to gaslight Gregor. However, by the time the culprit is finally revealed, any presumption of logic has gone through the shredder (particularly how one goes about staging death-by-staring murders on cue).  

Somehow the cast of The Frozen Ghost gets through it all with straight faces, even though most are playing the wrong roles. Urbane Douglass Dumbrille is better suited for the manager part, while Milburn Stone should have played the detective. A decade before Stone took on the role of crusty Doc Adams on TV’s Gunsmoke, he looked like a detective. Similarly, the roles played by Elena Verdugo and Evelyn Ankers would have made more sense if switched, with the teenager the lovesick assistant and Ankers a more mature niece to the matronly Birrell. As for Lon Chaney (who was stripped of the designation “Jr.” by the studio a couple years earlier), he achieved his goal of proving he could function without being covered in yak hair or mummy wrappings, or incessantly asking about rabbits. But the idea that all women from 15-to-50 take one glance at his craggy face and burly frame and start fighting over him like they might Errol Flynn is simply too much to swallow.   

None of the above should be construed to imply that The Frozen Ghost is unwatchable. On the contrary, it is a howling hoot of a whodunnit/horror film/wax museum thriller whose sheer nonsense makes for fine entertainment. Perhaps not in the way Universal intended, but fine nonetheless.

Following in John's Footsteps

Back on November 5th, John Floyd wrote a SleuthSayers blog about three stories he had published in AHMM this year. In the article's conclusion, he asked several questions concerning what elements of writing other authors published in AHMM had used, such as Point of View, sub-genre, series vs. standalones, etc.

As I lag along in John's footsteps, you can easily see the difference in the size of our prints. For one thing, I only have about 160 published short stories, whereas John has about eight or nine times that many. In any case, I was going to answer some of his questions in the comment section, except that my answers kept getting longer and longer, therefore I turned those answers into my own blog and here it is.

The first story I sold to AHMM was a standalone set in the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia and is not part of the much later 9 Tales from the Golden Triangle series. At the time, the AHMM website said that then editor Kathleen Jordan was looking for stories set in an exotic location. In my mind, the area of the Golden Triangle (Burma, Laos and Thailand) fit the bill for an exotic location, so I submitted my story and she published it. I was launched.

After that, I had to come up with something new in hopes that I wasn't just a one-trick pony. The result was the 9 Twin Brothers Bail Bond series. Ten stories in AHMM, in which the reader solves each mystery at the same time the story characters do and with the same clues. It seems the Proprietor in this series only accepts special clients, who subsequently end up falling from high places, being run over by an errant taxi cab (but then they were outside the painted lines of the crosswalk at the time), go deep water swimming without the proper breathing apparatus, get crosswise with their homicidal partner, or are otherwise rendered deceased, yet the bail firm always made a profit. These stories are told in 3rd Person from the POV of the lowly and long-suffering bail bondsman, Theodore. All titles contain some form of the words bail or bond in them. Sayings of Mahatma Gandhi are prominent in many of the stories, however the meanings of these sayings are now sinister, not at all what the great pacifist had intended.

The next series was The Armenian, a trader of goods along the Cossack cordon on the Terek River and south of the river into Chechen country. As a neutral party in the long-standing conflict between Muscovy forces and Chechen hill tribes, The Armenian is often tasked with finding a resolution for local crimes. 9 published stories in all, 6 of them published in AHMM. All were told in 1st Person from the viewpoint of either The Armenian or the Little Nogai Boy. These historical mysteries are set in the 1850s when Russian Tsars were expanding the empire. (9 Historical Mysteries Vol 1 & 2)

Next was the 1660s Paris Underworld series involving a young, orphan, incompetent pickpocket trying to survive in a criminal enclave. Naively considering himself to be good at his profession, he is often drawn into the schemes and scams of others. 9 published stories in all of which 8 were published in AHMM. All are historical mysteries told in 1st Person POV. (9 Historical Mysteries Vol 1 & 2)

Since humor keeps me sane, I soon turned to humorous capers with the Holiday Burglars series. 13 stories total with 12 published in AHMM. All the capers and titles concern well-known holidays, plus there is a double meaning on the titles. Told in 3rd Person, story characters Beaumont and Yarnell become involved in several bungled burglaries. (9 Holiday Burglars Mysteries)

My 9 Tales from the Golden Triangle series could be considered as an historical thriller set in the mountain jungles and opium fields of Burma, Laos and Thailand during the Vietnam War. Two half-brothers from different cultures vie to see who will inherit their warlord father's opium empire. 9 stories of which 7 were published in AHMM. All are told in 3rd Person POV with much of the plot based around old country Chinese proverbs.

And then, there is my Prohibition Era series of which one story has been published in AHMM and one has been bought but not yet published. The 3rd story was rejected, so it cannot truly be called a series yet. However, I recently submitted another story in this hoped-to-be-series. All are told in 3rd Person POV.

One of my standalones won the 2022 Edgar, but the storyline and background are not conducive to turning this story into a series.

Of course, there were also potential series which died aborning. They didn't get past the 2nd submission before I saw the rejection handwriting writ upon the wall.

There was the EZ Money  Pawn Shop series. Two rejections and out. I even interviewed a real pawn shop manager, and believe me, he was uneasy about the whole deal. Not sure what he had to hide. Stories told in 3rd Person.

For the Bookie series, I interviewed a real bookie. Again, two rejections and out. Told in 1st Person. I was surprised the bookie consented to be interviewed, but then he did almost marry into the far edge of our extended family. He might have erroneously thought it was good for one Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card.

The 1900s French Indo-China series, using the old capitol of Hue along the Perfume River as background. Told in 1st Person. Two and out, with a 3rd one abandoned in mid-story. 

The Exterminator series concerning a scheming family of bug exterminators working their scams through their fake business. One and out with two more on the plotting board. Told in 3rd Person.


Even with 49 stories sold to AHMM, I guess some stories just aren't destined to become a series.

One last set of facts. Most of my AHMM stories run from 3,500 words to about 5,000 words, with two topping out in the neighborhood of 8,000 words. Each story took as many words as was needed to tell that particular story.

Reading back over this article, I think the AHMM editor and I would agree that if I ever got that first story (a standalone at that point) published, then more than likely I would try to turn those characters and their situation into a series. Why not?

     HAPPY HOLIDAYS to  all !!!

24 December 2022

Not Even a Mouse!
If Santa doesn't bring smiles, this might...

 Merry Night Before Christmas Everyone!

Several readers (thank you!) have asked about my previous life as a writer of comedy.  My humour is goodnatured rather than biting (I was called the Carol Burnett of Crime Writing not so long ago.)  I don't draw from those files often for Sleuthsayers, although maybe - in light of how serious our world has become - I should. 

To that end:  Thinking about The Night Before Christmas reminded me of mice, which reminded me of this monologue I used to do back in the day, which I have re-titled, 

Not Even a Mouse  (Merry Christmas, Everyone!)

I wanted to buy a new front door the other day.  This has become necessary because the old front door is no longer functioning as a door in the usual sense.  "Wind Tunnel" or "Interstate highway for neighbourhood field mice" might be a better description.

But as always, things have changed in the world of destruction and aggravation (aka construction and renovation.)  Apparently, you can't buy a door anymore. They don't make them, according to the sales clerk (excuse me..."Customer Service Associate.")  Apparently, you now buy an "Entry System."

"But I already have an entry system," I explained.  "The mice are entering all the time.  What I want is something to keep them out.  Like a door."

"Let me show you how this works," he offered.  He then demonstrated how to insert a key in the lock and turn the doorknob to activate the Entry System.  Not unlike my old door, in fact.  I pointed this out.

"But this is a great improvement," he argued.  "See?  It's Pre-hung."

'Pre-hung' - for construction illiterates - means you don't have to undo three hinges to slip the old door off and install the new door.  Instead, the new door already comes with a frame (and sometimes side windows) attached.  To install, you simply demolish the old door frame and rebuild the entire entranceway to fit the new pre-hung frame.  It requires three men and a boy, and at least two weeks of labour.  But you don't have to touch those pesky hinges, which makes this a big improvement.

Not surprisingly, Entry Systems cost a lot more than mere doors.  This, I pointed out, was not an improvement.

One more thing bothers me about all this fancy renaming business.  If they insist on calling doors 'Entry Systems,' just what will they end up calling toilets?  Exit Systems?

Melodie Campbell will be sitting by the tree waiting for Santa tonight.  The door will be open.


23 December 2022

Mysteries at the Heart of the Season

Speak comfort to me, Jacob Marley— Southern Comfort!

December vexes me. Like Charlie Brown in the old TV special, I am always trying to wring some vestige of meaning from a season that is needlessly overwrought and overburdened with cheap sentiment.

Without intending to do so, some years ago I became an obsessive student of Christmas. I spent five years of my life and 500,000 words trying to write the ultimate Yuletide novel. Was I successful? Eh. Let’s just say that in the process I learned a lot about the holiday. I learned that when the season turns dark and cold, we at least have great writing (not mine) to sustain us.

Some pieces I love: The Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford is solid, narrative nonfiction about the writing and publication of A Christmas Carol by that canny self-published author, Charles Dickens. I like A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. The old recording of A Child’s Christmas in Wales, read by Dylan Thomas himself, is a perfect way to embrace the close and holy darkness. If there is a church nearby that is mounting a production of Handel’s Messiah, I will always go to hear the Hallelujah Chorus one more time. But if you are short on time, you can do no worse than “The Gift of the Magi,” by O Henry. For that matter, as long as you’re going short, my fellow Sleuthsayer David Edgerley Gates wrote a post on Christmas Eve, 2014, that chokes me up every time I read it. Each year, late in December, I navigate to this very website and that particular post to re-read his critical graf:

“Taken at face value, unto us a child is born—no room at the inn, the shepherds tending their flocks by night, the journey of the Magi—it still works its magic. You don’t have to believe it’s the hand of God, necessarily. Probably doesn’t do any harm, either. The hopes and fears of all the years. We bring a lot of baggage to any story. Maybe we bring more to this one than most. It's an investment. We all believe in a child’s native innocence. The loss is our grief. If, for sake or argument, we don’t know the story’s end, but only how it begins, then the birth of Christ is the stirring of hope. We embrace the myth because it’s our own, each of us born, each of us begun. Destiny waits to be chosen.”

He’s marvelous, isn’t he?

Of course, if you’re me, maybe you end up scrolling to this web page maintained by the National Institutes of Health. There you will find numerous peer-reviewed academic papers that attempt to solve the mystery at the heart of Christmas: What ails Tiny Tim?

Tiny Tim is the third-most important child of December. The first, of course, is the child you know and love. Your children and grandchildren, say. The second is the child who gives Christmas its name. Then comes Tim, in his threadbare jacket, limping along on his crutch.

For 179 years this poor child has appeared in stage and screen productions of the Dickens novella and the entire world knows his pain. From Day 1, astute readers should have anticipated that eventually actual doctors would begin to wonder just what was wrong with the tyke. That is the essence of those NIH papers: Modern masters of the differential diagnosis are having a blast trying to figure out just what illness nearly killed poor Tim.

Here are the facts: The boy suffers from an unnamed ailment that renders him lame, forcing him to wear a brace and a crutch. In the fictive glimpse provided by the Ghost of Christmas-Yet-to-Come, Tim dies. After Scrooge’s redemption, however, we are told that Tiny Tim “did not die.” In other words, Tim’s affliction could in fact by cured by a judicious expenditure of Ebenezer’s silver.

Did Tim have rickets? Or was it tuberculosis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or renal tubular acidosis (RTA)? All of these diseases can be ameliorated, apparently, with the right kind of medical attention. Every year, when the now-practically-annual article about Tim’s illness appears in my newsfeed, I read the story eagerly, wondering if someone has definitively cracked the case. No such luck. Indeed, it’s beginning to look a lot like we will never know the truth, and that Dickens took this one to his grave, along with the solution to Drood.

One of the best articles I’ve found on this medical mystery concludes with the observation that Charles Dickens, reformer that he was, truly understood that the horrors of poverty are fundamentally socioeconomic. Who knows? Maybe Tim was never completely cured, but if his family had just a little more coin, they alone could have ensured that Tim lived a comfortable and long life. (The writer Louis Bayard wrote an entire novel entitled Mr. Timothy on the premise that Tim survived into adulthood.)

And maybe that is just as well. Because we have plenty of other Christmas mysteries to solve. In recent years I have begun seeing articles in which doctors attempt to puzzle out the mystery that appears in Stave V of A Christmas Carol. After his encounter with the third spirit, Scrooge awakes in his bed, clinging to his bedpost, “laughing and crying in the same breath.” Later, Dickens tells us:

“Really, for a man who had been out of practice for many years, it was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh. The father of a long, long line of brilliant laughs!”

Several actors over the years have tried to bring this laugh-cry to life. Patrick Stewart has probably done it best. Here. Watch:

Here’s what some medical detectives are wondering: does that laugh/cry indicate a troubling respiratory condition?

And that, dear friends, is when I realize that I’ve spent entirely too much time researching and fretting about Christmas and too little time enjoying it.

I wish you the best in this season—and beyond.

Besides the links I’ve shared in this post, you might enjoy this post from an illustrators’ blog about best illustrated versions the Dickens classic.

22 December 2022

Not Another End-of-the-Year List! (No Really! It's NOT!)

Image Courtesy of NASA.
 Happy Winter Solstice! Shortest day! Longest night! (At least if you're reading this in the Northern Hemisphere! For all of our Southern Hemisphere friends, Happy Summer Solstice!).

Since this will be my final time ringing the bell before the calendar turns to 2023(!?!?), of course the temptation is to drop in one of those terrific end-of-the-year lists and call it good. I'm not gonna do that.

I will, however, link to a couple of really good lists of this variety written up and curated by folks whose tastes I quite like and respect. For a terrific list of historical crime fiction from this year, take a look at what Crime Reads has to say here. Goodreads also weighs in more generally with a solid list of the most popular mystery and thriller books of the year right here.

And then there's historical nonfiction. The Wolfson Prize committee has done solid work year in and year out singling out great writing founded upon solid scholarship over the past several years. You can find their short list featured here. I have only read one of the books on this list (The Ottomans: Khans, Caesars, and Caliphs by University of Chicago professor Mark David Baer–and not surprisingly based on Baer's previous corpus of work, it is superb), but the rest of the list takes pride of place on Thornton's Mt. TBR (Seriously, it's too tall, broad and imposing to settle for merely going by the diminutive of "List.").

Alright now that the requisite list-dropping is out of the way, let's move on to the main thrust of this post. It's about EMPATHY. Something I am finding in distressingly short supply these days. Social media seems designed to divide us (looking at you, Twitter.). And the news media seems dead set on framing every news story within its potential for some form of conflict. 

Remember the old adage, "If it bleeds, it leads"? Sure seems true these days. And that's a real shame for a lot of reasons. I follow the reporting of many first-rate journalists, independent, establishment, foreign and domestic, and I don't see them doing the framing. It seems to emanate from a variety of media corporations counting on conflict reportage for more "record profits."

I'm no fan of our most recent former president, and agree with the assessment of a long-time friend of his, who has famously described POTUS 45 as someone who would "lie just to keep in practice." However, one way in which he seems to have been both truthful and spot-on is when he talked about how the media loved him because he was ratings gold and made them truckloads of money.

I'll try not to bludgeon my readers here at this blog over the head with my general point. Rather I'll point out that I have extended family and lots and lots of friends who agree politically with "the other side." Want to know how many friendships I have lost because of these differences? Or how many family members I no longer speak with because of them? Both answers are the same: ZERO.

I like to think that it's mostly because when we take the time to talk, we have so many other, more important things to talk about (especially bragging about kids or about sports teams. Mariners BROKE THE CURSE! WORLD SERIES IN 2023!!!!). And it's also because as hard I work to see the good in my family and friends, I firmly believe they're doing the same with me. God love them. ALL OF THEM.

Don't forget: THIS happened!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And when it comes to my family, I'm positive the majority of my relatives are as ready as I to turn the page on 2022. We lost not one, but two of my aunts, and one of my cousins this year. One of my aunts was in her eighties, the other in her sixties, and my cousin was in her thirties. Man, it's true what they say: take your loved ones and hold them close and never let them forget how much you cherish them.

And you need not be related by blood to consider someone a "loved one" (duh, I hear you say). One of my  parents' best friends passed away suddenly (at least it seemed so to us) after a brief battle with cancer. We were gutted, my parents, my brother, my wife and son, too. His spouse is now out there navigating a world without him, and our hearts go out to them as well.

Today I stopped in at the corner espresso stand where my wife loves to get her coffee. When I was there the other day their espresso machine had just broken down (so she got drip coffee that day-no complaints from her, either way). I checked in with them on whether the espresso machine was still down. 

Turns out it was, but they had an espresso machine wizard there fixing it. 

While that was good news I worried how this would affect these baristas during this, the week before Christmas. I don't drink cofee, so I ordered a huge iced tea (in 26 degree weather- that Thornton, he's a bright one, for sure!) and tipped the heck out of them. Hey. Every nickel helps. And tips are not optional.

I just so happened by this particular coffee stand on my way home from an appointment with my new doctor. My family recently changed insurance, and after years with a particular HMO, I started over today.

And man, was it an eye-opener. I felt seen. I felt heard. I felt like the opposite of the "just one more number" I had not even realized I'd felt like for so very long with my other provider.

And it wasn't just my doctor. All of the staff there were patient, informative, helpful, and (here's that word again) EMPATHETIC.

Not even going to pretend it didn't choke me up a bit.

Actually, being more empathetic, really listening to and hearing others has been my secret resolution for all of 2022. I've still got work to do. And I fall down more than I stay on my feet with it. But the benefits I receive in return for trying to do just this little bit for others? They are boundless.

So in this season where it is customary to wish for "Peace on Earth, Good Will to Humankind," let me take a moment and extend that wish to you, our readers. 

Whatever your spiritual practices, your political beliefs, or your favorite sports teams (yes, even to you Yankees fans out there!), from my family to yours: may you find joy and comfort and love and fellowship and rest and ease, and surprises and excitement in whichever mix best suits you.

See you in the new year!

Once more for good measure! Go Ms in 2023! World Series-bound!

21 December 2022

Breaking into Showbiz 4


We've played this game three times before.  Below you will find  ten familiar figures from popular culture.  But where did they start their careers? In many cases you may know the answer, but they will turn out to be more complicated than you expect.

See the white box on the side?  Your choices lie within.

Frankie and Johnny

Little Orphan Annie


Frank Furillo

Humpty Dumpty


Peter Pan

Jimmy Valentine

Maynard G. Krebs


And here are the answers:

Frankie and Johnny.  Real life.  The classic murder ballad was inspired by the real killing of Allen (Albert) Britt by his sweetheart Frankie Baker in St. Louis, in 1899. She shot him after finding him with a prostitute but was found not guilty, pleading self-defense.  Bill Dooley wrote a song called  "Frankie Killed Albert." In 1912 Bert and Frank Leighton revised that to "Frankie and Johnny" and Albert has gone by that name ever since.  It has been recorded too many times to count.

Mary Alice Smith

Little Orphan Annie.
Comic Strip. Harold Gray created the comic strip in 1924.  It ran until 2010, spawning a Broadway musical and a bunch of movies.  But the name, or a variation thereof, is even older. James Whitcomb Riley wrote a poem in 1885 called "The Elf Child." In later editions he changed the title to "Little Orphant Allie" but a typesetter thought otherwise and the protagonist has been Annie ever since.

The poem is about a young orphan who comes to live with a family and tells the children scary stories that encourage good behavior.  "The goblins will get you if you don't watch out."

Riley based the poem on Mary Alice Smith, who lived with his family growing up.  So the real little Allie inspired the poem which led to the comic strip.  Got it?

Lassie.  Short story.  Ah, but which one?  British author Elizabeth Gaskell wrote "The Half-Brothers" in 1859 in which a female collie leads a search party to two boys lost in the snow.  Sound familiar?

But in 1938 Eric Knight wrote a story called "Lassie Come-Home" about a doggie making a long journey to her master.  This led to a novel of the same name. Several movies followed, followed by a radio show, and finally the TV series many of us remember. Dave Barry complained that the family in that show spent so much time trapped in wells that they only survived on federal farm subsidies, and Lassie had to fill out the applications.

Frank Furillo.  Television. But you can get a good argument going about it.  Lieutenant Furillo was the protagonist of the classic series Hill Street Blues.  But some people claimed the show was, let's say, heavily indebted to Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels, which starred a cop named Carella.  

I don't see it myself.  McBain's books are all about a detective squad while the series covered all levels of a precinct.  

What did McBain himself think?  In his novel Lightning he has a character furiously argue that the show is based on the lives of him and some of his associates.  But in a brilliant bit of fourth-wall-bending, the author manages to have his cake and eat it too.

You see, the complainer is Fat Ollie Weeks, a bigoted cop and hardly the first person whose opinion you would trust.  So is McBain mocking the theory of the connection?

Not quite.  Steve Carella, definitely a reliable voice, is skeptical about Ollie's view but he says that saying the name Ollie Weeks is like (TV character) Charlie Weeks is similar to claiming that the name (TV character) Howard Hunter is like Evan Hunter.

Evan Hunter is Ed McBain's real name.  And Hunter/McBain thought about suing the producers, but decided it was too expenaive.

Humpty Dumpty.
  Nursery rhyme.  I have run into people who think ol' H.D. started life in  Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass.  He first appeared a  century earlier, 1791, in a nursery rhyme.  John Tenniel in Looking Glass gave him his familiar appearance. while Carroll, gave him his the obnoxious personality many of us remember:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."

That argument has been quoted by judges in more than 200 legal  decisions.

By the way, it is generally agreed that the nursery rhyme was meant to be a riddle.  It was identified as such by at least 1843.  It is easy to forget that it is a riddle because we all know the answer so well. In the same way, the surprise twist of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has not surprised anyone in a very long time

Columbo.  Television.  But much earlier than you might think.  Richard Levinson and William Link wrote "Enough Rope," which in 1960 appeared as an episode of The Chevy Mystery Show. It included Bert Freed as the famously inquisitive cop. 

In 1962 L&L turned their TV episode into a play, Prescription: Murder.  In 1968 the story that wouldn't die was turned into a TV movie.  But who would play the hero?  Lee J. Cobb was not available. Bing Crosby (!) was considered but he thought it sounded like too much work.  Then came Peter Falk who said he would kill to play the part.  If he had, I'm sure Columbo would have caught him.  

The show was a huge hit, of course, and the show went onto a long but irregular career: There were almost 70 episodes, spread out over more than 30 years.

Oh, one more detail: Remember I said Columbo began on TV?  Technically true, but back in 1960 Levinson and Link published a story in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine called "Dear Corpus Delecti."  Their original title was "May I Come In?" which should give you a hint about one of the characters.  But the police lieutenant in this story was named Fisher.

And speaking of names, What was Columbo's given moniker?  It is never mentioned in the show but sharp-eyed viewers noticed that his police ID said it was Frank.

Not surprising that no one called him by his first name.  The man, especially in early years, was practically a phantom.  I theorized that he wasn't a cop at all but a nut who had gotten his hands on a badge.  I mean, in the first episodes we never saw him in a police station and he had to introduce himself to every police officer he encountered...

Peter Pan.
  Novel.  The Little White Bird is an adult novel by J.M. Barrie (1902) about an aging bachelor trying to establish a relationship with a young boy.  I hasten to add that "adult novel" only means that it was not aimed at children.  Let's not take this the wrong way.

In the middle of the book Barrie wrote an odd section about a week-old baby who travels to Kensington Gardens where he is taught to fly by fairies and birds.  This baby's name is... Frank Columbo.

Sorry.  Got my notes mixed up.  It was Peter Pan.  Two years later Barrie returned to the character with the play Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, which brought in Wendy, the lost boys, Neverland,  Captain Hook, etc.  Then there was a novel, and who can keep up with all the variations that followed... 

Jimmy Valentine. Short story.  The most famous safecracker in fiction is sort of like Professor Moriarty, in that he has taken on a much larger life than his creator ever dreamed or intended.  O. Henry wrote precisely one tale about Valentine, "A Retrieved Reformation," but it is such a classic that it has led to five movies and a radio show.  Stick to the short story; it's a treat.

Maynard G. Krebs. 
TV. The lovable beatnik, played by Bob Denver, who shrieked in horror at the sound of the word "work," appeared on the TV series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, which was based on the novel of the same name by Max Shulman.  Maynard, however, does not appear in the novel.  He is a creation of the scriptwriters and is probably television's first example of a breakout character, paving the way for Fonzie and Steve Urkel, among many others. 

  Real life?  Now, hear me out.  Certainly Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, slayer of monsters, and seeker after immortality, was the legendary protagonist of an epic poem, one of the oldest surviving works of literature .  But once again, it's more complicated than that.  What follows is from David Damrosch's excellent The Buried Book.

We have a list of the kings of the Sumerian region.  The recent (and by "recent" I mean about 3,000 years old) kings are recorded to have ruled for reasonable lengths of time, say six to thirty years.  But the oldest kings supposedly ruled for hundreds of years.

Unless you believe those early monarchs had a really fabulous health care system, we can assume that they are mythical, or no more than names the chroniclers dutifully recorded.

Now guess who stands squarely between the mythical old and the realistic new?  Gilgamesh, supposedly ruling for 126 years.  Which suggests to many scholars that he was the first king for whom they had authentic records.  But I doubt he really slayed the bull of heaven.  That sounds like p.r.

Interestingly, the Epic of Gilgamesh vanished from the record for two millennium until 1872 when George Smith, an engraver and self-taught amateur scholar, translated the cuneiform tablets in the British Museum.  Victorian England was shocked that the epic included the story of a world flood which only one man's family survived - and the man's name was not Noah. 

And that's enough.  As Little Orphan Annie probably never said, see you in the funny papers.