fifth installment in my series on the history of mystery fiction. Don't worry; I have 361 more to go before I run out.
March 4, 1881. According to William S. Baring-Gould's The Annotated Sherlock Holmes,
it was on this date that one of the most famous fictional relationships
began, when Dr John H.Watson's new roomie invites him to participate
in a case.
March 4, 1881. On the same day, but thousands of miles to the southwest, T.S. Stribling was born in Tennessee. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Store, but we are more interested in his mystery stories about psychologist Dr. Henry Poggioli.
March 4, 1959. On this day somebody started leaving severed hands around the streets of Isola. So begins the plot of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novel appropriately entitled Give The Boys A Great Big Hand.
March 4, 1982. The premiere of Police Squad. It only lasted six weeks because you actually had to watch it to get the jokes. Fortunately movie-goers pay more attention so the spin-off Naked Gun movies were more successful.
March 4, 2014. The publication date for Murder in Pigalle, Cara Black's fourteenth novel about Aimee Leduc. In it she is five months pregnant and her neighbor's thirteen year old daughter goes missing.
04 March 2020
15 January 2020
This is the fourth installment in my occasional march through the history of our field. Make sure you have your comfortable shoes on.
Under the name William Arden, Lynds also wrote fourteen books in The Three Investigators series, which I always enjoyed much more than the Hardy Boys.
January 15, 1945. On this date the Alfred Knopf publishing house started the Black Widow Thrillers, series. It was perhaps the first attempt to canonize mystery fiction, creating a set of standard issue reprints of classic novels. The first to arrive were Hammett's Maltese Falcon, Chandler's Big Sleep, and Ambler's Coffin for Dimitros. Hey, Hammett is in three entries in a row. Is that a trend?
January 15, 1965. On this date a certain famous person rang a certain famous doorbell...
January 15, 1973. This was the year ABC gave up on trying to find a talk show host who could compete with Johnny Carson. They chose instead to fill their late night slot with ABC's Wide World of Entertainment. On this night they introduced one segment of it, a series of 90-minute movies called Wide World of Mystery.
While many of the stories bordered on the bizarre, none were stranger than "The Werewolf of Woodstock," which aired January 24, 1975. Set in 1969 (obviously) it concerns a bitter, alcoholic farmer who loathes the younger generation, particularly those who attended Woodstock, which was staged near his property and left the place trashed. During a freak electrical storm he takes a direct hit from a lightning bolt; instead of killing him... it turns him into a werewolf! In his new bestial form he goes on a rampage against anyone he deems a "hippie," chiefly the members of a garage band who come to the site to record their own album (so they can claim it was "recorded at Woodstock").
If this makes you desperate to see the movie (produced by Dick Clark!) there are excerpts available here and here. Perhaps that is as much as a human being can stand. The series ended in 1976, and personally I don't miss it a bit.
January 15, 1981. I remember exactly where I was that evening: watching the premiere of a great cop show on TV. Remember Hill Street Blues? It received 98 Emmy nominations. Hell, even its theme song was a hit.
January 15, 1993. This day saw the publication of Generous Death, Nancy Pickard's first novel. (Well, her first published one. She wrote one before this but, as she said, it "just sat there like a dead trout.") Since then she has won multiple awards including the Shamus, Macavity, Anthony, and Agatha
31 July 2019
This is the third installment in my occasional stroll through the calendar. Enjoy.
July 31, 1930. The Detective Story Magazine Hour began broadcasting on radio today. This is mainly significant because of the show's announcer, a sinister presence played by an actor whose identity was kept firmly hidden. He was known only as The Shadow and proved so popular that he spawned his own show, a magazine, and tons of novels written by Walter B. Gibson. Bwaa ha ha!
July 31, 1948. The issue of Saturday Evening Post with this date featured the first installment of The D.A. Takes A Chance, the next to last novel Erle Stanley Gardner wrote about district attorney Doug Selby. Alas, the prosecutor was never as popular as that other lawyer Gardner created, the defense attorney whose clients always turned out to be innocent.
July 31, 1951. On this date Mr. and Mrs. Rackell came to Nero Wolfe to seek the murderer of their nephew. "Home to Roost" is probably the high point of Rex Stout's literary attacks on American Communists. You can find it in his collection Triple Jeopardy.
July 31, 1986. Stanley Ellin died on this date. He was one of the greatest author's of mystery short stories ever. If you don't believe me, try "The Specialty of the House," "The Payoff," or "You Can't be a Little Girl All Your Life."
July 31, 2001. This date saw the publication of Nightmare in Shining Armor, part of Tamar Myers' series about a shop called the Den of Antiquity. I haven't read it, but I'm guessing it's a cozy.
15 May 2019
For the second time I am pillaging my files to report on highlights of this day in our field's history. Enjoy.
May 15, 1923. The issue of Black Mask Magazine published on this date featured "Three Gun Terry," by Carroll John Daly. It's not such a great story, even by Daly's standard, but it is a huge piece of mystery history: it is considered the first hard-boiled private eye story. "For every man I croak--mind you, I ain't a killer, but sometimes a chap's got to turn a gun--I get two hundred dollars flat."
May 15, 1926. Two great playwrights were born on this day. Coincidentally, they were in the same room. Okay, no coincidence. Anthony and Peter Shaffer were twin brothers.
Anthony won two Edgar Awards: Best Play for Sleuth, and then Best Screenplay for same. He also wrote screenplays for Frenzy and The Wicker Man.
He co-wrote three mystery novels with brother Peter, who was best known for non-mystery plays such as Equus and Amadeus.
May 15, 1933. Dime Detective Magazine for this date proudly contained "The Brain Master," by John Lawrence, a pulp writer whom Frances M. Nevins, Jr. referred to as "king of the unremembered." This was part of a series featuring New York private eye Sam Beckett, not to be confused with the guy who waited for Godot.
May 15, 1948. Jeremiah Healy was born on this date in Teaneck, NJ. He was best known for his novels about Boston private eye John Francis Cuddy. Half of these books were nominated for the Shamus Award for Best Novel. The Staked Goat won.
May 15, 1961. The second episode of Whispering Smith appeared on NBC. This was a western but definitely a detective story. Audie Murphy played a nineteenth century Denver cop. (If you aren't familiar with Murphy, look him up. During World War II he won practically every medal available to a U.S. soldier, including the Medal of Honor.)
So why should we care about the second episode of a long forgotten TV show? Well, first of all, I can't tell whether the first episode ever showed. The source of all wisdom (i.e. the Internet) says the show premiered on May 8 and also says it missed its premiere date. So who knows?
But more importantly, the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency was so disturbed by the violence in the May 15th episode, "The Grudge," that they actually showed it at a hearing. According to Wikipedia the assembled senators got to see: a fistfight, a mother horsewhipping her son, a false charge of sexual assault, a report that a man laughed after shooting another guy six times in the stomach, and a woman accidentally killing her daughter while aiming at someone else. All it needs is dragons to pass for an episode of Game of Thrones.
Oh, the actor who got horsewhipped was a kid named Robert Redford. Whatever happened to him?
May 15, 1993. This date saw the publication of Charles Willeford's book The Shark-Infested Custard. I know nothing about this crime novel, but I love the title. Don't you?
15 March 2019
A few years ago I started a website called Today in Mystery History, listing one event in our field for every day. It turned out that the amount of Fame and Glory generated was not sufficient to balance the effort, so I stopped adding to it. But that left me with a whole lot of date-specific data. I decided I will occasionally use some of it here. So, take a gander at what happened on this date in previous years...
March 15, 1946. On this day Kenneth Millar left the navy. A year later he published his first novel, Blue City. Eventually he settled on the pseudonym Ross Macdonald.
March 15, 1948. On this date the great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote to his friend the mystery writer Norbert Davis: “Your mags are wonderful. How people can read Mind if they could Street and Smith [Detective Story Magazine] beats me."
March 15, 1972. Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather was released. It went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture.
March 15, 1985. On this date Ian Rankin conceived his great character, Inspector John Rebus.
March 15, 1989. Sue Grafton's F is for Fugitive was published.
March 15, 200? On this date 22-year-old singing star Cherry Pie suffers yet another overdose in Miami Beach. Thus begins Carl Hiassin's Star Island..
So that's one date. 364 to go.
07 January 2015
First of all, happy new year to you and all. I hope you have gotten over your hangovers and filled up on black-eyed peas.
Now that that is out of the way, I am happy to announce that I have started a new blog.
No, I am not deserting SleuthSayers; you are all stuck with me for the unforeseeable future. But I have added a new blog to my quiver, and what a terrible metaphor that makes.
The name is Today in MYSTERY HISTORY, and that pretty much tells you what it's about. Tune in every day for a peek at something that happened on that date in our field. And that, by the way, is what the illustrations on this page are for; each representing something that has appeared on my blog since it started on January first.
* Movie releases
* Statue unveilings
* Songs hitting Number One
* Plot events in novels
And many more. This, by the way, is where you can participate. Feel free to contact me with suggestions for events you would like to see commemorated. I have 358 more days to fill, and that's just this year.
I hope you enjoy it.