Showing posts with label Valentine's Day. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Valentine's Day. Show all posts

17 March 2015

The St. Patrick’s Day Crime Blotter, and a Whole Lot of Blarney***


Crime Blotter d1

Valentine_Day_massacre
In honor of my post falling on St. Patrick’s Day and in keeping with the crime nature of this blog, I thought I should pay homage to the day with the St. Patrick’s Day Crime Blotter.

Everybody knows the famousinfamousSt. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. So one might think St. Patrick got short shrift. I mean in a world where “my massacre is bigger than your massacre” is important stuff, one might think St. Paddy and St. Val would come to blows over who has the better holiday and, of course, who has a more impressive spot on the crime blotter.

After all, See’s Candy makes marshmallow-shaped hearts for Valentine’s Day, but what do they do for St. Patrick’s Day? A handful of chocolates in green boxes and green tinfoil and chocolate “potatoes”. Major slight. Which reminds me of the line from the Ernst Lubitsch classic To Be or Not to Be, where Colonel Ehrhardt (Sig Ruman) says, “They named a brandy after Napoleon, they made a herring out of Bismarck, and the Fuhrer is going to end up as a piece of cheese!”

Well, the chocolate potato is like the cheese, especially compared to marshmallow hearts. Where the herring fits in I’m not quite sure.

So, let’s take a little quiz:

Alex, I’ll take St. Paddy’s Day deaths for $100, please.

Who was the first St. Patrick’s Day death?

Uh, that’s a tough one, let me think. St. Patrick.

Right you are. That’s why the holiday is observed on the date of his death, March 17th.

*     *    *

Now, let’s see. It seems St. Val’s Day is in the lead what with the Massacre named after him, and seven murders from shotgun, pistol and Tommy gun blasts, the latter most likely emerging from Stradivarius violin cases.

So, it looks like St. Val is ahead in the Crime Blotter Race. But the fact is that St. Pat’s day can compete with St. Valentine’s Day. First, a couple minor examples:

On March 17, 1921, mafia hood Albert Anastasia was convicted of murdering GeorgePaul_Muni-scarface_1932 d1 Turino, a longshoreman. They’d quarreled. And I guess you don’t quarrel with one of the founding members of Murder, Inc. Due to a legal technicality, Anastasia was given a retrial in 1922, and because four of the original prosecution witnesses had somehow magically disappeared, Anastasia’s sentence was overturned.  The question is, were they given anesthesia by Anastasia before their disappearing acts? Like I said, I guess it doesn’t pay to quarrel with one of the founders of Murder, Inc.

March 17, 1996, the play Getting Away with Murder, by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth opened. March 31, 1996: the Broadway production of the play closes after seventeen performances one day for each day of March leading up to St. Pat’s day. Maybe not a record, but not bad. Even Sondheim couldn’t get away with this one.

And there’s a couple more pretty gruesome events that occurred on March 17th in history that my wife asked me to excise in the name of good taste, but if you look up Richard Ramirez, a.k.a. The Night Stalker, Rachel Manger Hudson and Uganda on this date you’ll get an idea.

*     *     *

The St. Patrick’s Day Massacre


Now here’s the KickerSt. Pat does have a massacre named in his honor. Bet you didn’t know that, did’ja?

St. Patrick: “I’ll see your St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and raise you one St. Pat’s Day Massacre.”

St. Valentine: “Ha.”

But let’s see.

March 16, 1926: Chicago gangster Jean Arnaud is having a St. Patrick’s Day party at his sister-in-law’s apartment. (Even though it’s the day before, it counts for St. Pat’s Day since it is in honor of that holiday and is, indeed, known as the St. Patrick’s Day Massacre.) Rival hood Alphonse “Scarface” Lambert wants to off Arnaud and his peeps. The party starts around 4:30pm and Scarface has several teams of gunmen hit the party by 5pm. Besides the in-house teams, sniper teams are on the buildings across the street. Scarface really wants this dude dead and gone. The whole attack takes less than ten minutes. There are no survivors, and the death count is never officially known, as some of the people who attended the party are never found.

A cop on the scene describes it as a "human slaughterhouse." And you thought your last party bombed.

All of the shooters, Scarface, and everyone involved in the crime escaped. No prosecutions follow.
And even with all that blood and gore, Scarface didn’t get what he wanted as one of Arnaud’s lieutenant’s took up the reigns of Arnaud’s crime family and then finked Scarface out to the cops. Equilibrium was restored and all was right with the world of crime again.

But for some reason St. Patrick’s Day gets the short shrift on this Massacre, which occurred before the more famous St. Val’s. So you see, it’s sort of like Betamax vs. VHS, and maybe the “best” massacre is forgotten. But, as we now know, St. Val ain’t got nothin’ on St. Pat in the Crime Blotter Department.

***Disclaimer: No already-dead people were hurt in the making of this article. Nor is itsAlice's Restaurant intention to cast aspersions on them or make light of their fate, or on the fate of the guilty, or innocent. Nor to cast aspersions on Thompson submachine guns, Betamax players, St. Patrick or his day, St. Val or his day, Irish people, Irish men, Irish women, Irish girls, Irish boys, Ireland, Jill Ireland, Kathy Ireland, John Ireland, Irish holidays, James Joyce, Ulysses, William Butler Yeats, J.M. Synge, Bono, Enya, Celtic Women (in general and the singing group), Danny Boy, my friend Denise, leprechauns, the blarney stone, blarney, the color green in all its variations, the Emerald Isle, Alphonse “Scarface” Lambert, Jean Arnaud, Stephen Sondheim, George Furth, Murder, Inc., the years 1921, 1926, 1929, 1996 (or any other years), chocolate potatoes, Alex Trebek, Jeopardy, Double Jeopardy, the Daily Double, Ernst Lubitsch, Sig Ruman, Col. Ehrhardt, Bismark, Napoleon, herrings, cheese, the massacree at Alice’s Restaurant, massacres in specific and massacres in general, and the specific massacres mentioned in this piece, but not limited only to those mentioned by name, Jack Webb or R.A. Cinader. No names have been changed to protect the guilty or innocent. Jack Webb had nothing to do with the writing of this article.

And yes, murder is bad, I get that. This article is satireGallows Humoras such it closes Saturday night.  But, we also know, Saturday’s alright for fighting.

Just one more thing, is it too late to buy stock in Murder, Inc.?

Oh, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone. Please pass the green beer.


St_Patrick's_Day

*     *     *

And from the Department of BSP: I’m happy and honored to announce that my story, “Howling at the Moon,” came in at #7 in the Ellery Queen Readers Award Poll. And that fellow Sleuthsayer David Dean has threeThree!stories in the top ten. Way to go, David.

Ellery Queen 2014 Readers Award Poll -- 3-13-15 -- D1

15 February 2013

A Day for the Heart


Okay, so it's the day after Valentine's Day, which means that my turn for an article comes up one day late to land directly on the 14th, but I hope you'll allow me a little leeway here. See, Valentine's Day is my wedding anniversary, so just pretend that everything is correctly aligned. Naturally, I'm supposed to be sentimental during this holiday of the year and thus, shall we say, exposing my softer side to my significant other. One further fact to know, if all goes according to plan, she and I should be lounging in Maui for the umpteenth time even as you read this. (I strongly suspect that Kiti slipped that little clause into the fine print of our marriage contract when I wasn't looking.)

Anyway, Valentine's Day speaks of lovers, romance, flowers, chocolates, roughly anything that melts the female heart and makes it go all gooey. At this point, you, the reader, will have to reflect back into your own Valentine's Days of the past and dwell pleasurably for a couple of moments on whatever worked for you.

In my case, my wife has a little red book stashed away in the lingerie drawer of her dresser. This particular hard-bound book is filled with hand-written poems composed by yours truly whilst gripped in the all encompassing embrace of infatuation. I'm sure most of you have been in some form of that condition at one stage or another of your life. To that end, I wrote all these poems in order to win the hand and heart of my lady love, and in the process filled up every page in that little red book. And no, you can't read it.

Most of the poems are very personal and/or have meaning only to the two of us. Realize that these scribblings aren't exactly sonnets by Shakespeare. Furthermore, need I remind you that when I returned to college shortly after my twelve month tour of Southeast Asia, I took my war poems into the WSU English Department seeking further guidance along these lines and was promptly not encouraged to continue any efforts in the field of poetry. But due to persistence (some would politely suggest hard-headedness) it turns out that the heart likes what the heart likes.

As a sample of my beginning strategy in this win-the-heart endeavor, here's part of an early poem during the courtship:

Please forgive my muddled mind,
it's seldom on the path.
It's not so good in English
and even worse in math.

But as I recall the contract
or the game as it is played,
one poem for one kiss
was the bargain that we made.

*  *  (okay, skip to closing)  *  *

I have no fear about the debt
for as I can plainly see,
you are a lady on your honor
and would not a debtor be.

Oh yeah, working on getting that kiss. Okay, so you had to be there. Shelley or Byron, it's not. Probably not even as good as the first recorded Valentine poem written by Chaucer in 1382 for King Richard the Second to give to his intended bride, and that one was composed in the language of Middle English, but mine are at least a step up from the "Roses are red, Violets are blue..." category. My main point being, hey, give the love of your life some personal hand-written poetry and watch their eyes light up. Go ahead, it's not too late even if Valentine's Day was actually yesterday. It doesn't need to be a professional job, it just needs to be from you, from your heart.

Yep, you can bet I got kissed with them poems. A lot. A whole book full, you might say.

14 February 2012

Valentine's Day -- Love Among the Clues


    Every once in a while my schedule of alternating Tuesdays coincides with a special day on the calendar.  Such is the case today:  Valentine’s Day.  A day of romance, a day that, while falling in the midst of winter, conjures spring.

    Trying to stay on topic here I decided to offer up my best recommendation for a Valentine’s Day mystery:  a story that will tug at your mind while also tugging at your heart.  Finding a candidate that fits that description is not, however, an easy task.  The Golden Age of detective fiction (my favorite hunting ground) is not exactly riddled with romantic mysteries.  This can be illustrated best by examining some favorite classical mystery authors whose works simply do not fit the bill.

   None of the Sherlock Holmes stories are potential Valentine’s Day nominees.  The closest we get to a romantic involvement for Mr. Holmes is Irene Adler, who actually appears in only one Holmes story, A Scandal in Bohemia..  Irene Adler has no romantic scenes with Holmes in any Arthur Conan Doyle story, and in fact A Scandal in Bohemia ends with her marriage to someone else.  Nonetheless she is frequently linked with Holmes, but in various pastiches, not in the original Arthur Conan Doyle canon.

    The source for these romantic conjectures involving Sherlock and Irene probably stems from a passage in  A Scandal in Bohemia where Watson sets the stage as follows:


To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind.
    This, plus the fact that Irene Adler is referred to, albeit fleetingly, in four other Holmes stories, A Case of Identity, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, the Five Orange Pips and His Last Bow, inspired other writers, notably Nicholas Meyer and J.S. Baring-Gould, to speculate as to a romantic involvement between the two.  But none of their stories, and certainly none of Arthur Conan Doyle’s, meets our Valentine’s Day requirements of a mystery that is also a romance.

    My favorite Golden Age detective, Ellery Queen, fares no better.  While Ellery engaged in some flirtations over the years, in The Finishing Stroke for example, no actual romantic involvement ever took place during the course of the Queen novels and short stories.  Two recurring female characters appear as quasi-romantic possibilities, but, again, neither suffices for our purposes.

    The first of these is Nikki Porter who for a time was Ellery’s secretary.  Nikki first appeared in the Ellery Queen radio series and movies and was later a character in two Queen novels, There Was an Old Woman and The Scarlet Letters .  Nikki also appears in several short stories, but she and Ellery were never portrayed as a couple.  (Just as Irene Adler inspired other writers to hypothesize romantic involvement with Holmes, so, too, Nikki inspired a similar hypothesis concerning her involvement with Ellery in The Book Case, a conjecture for which I am largely responsible!)

   The only other possible femme fatale in the Queen canon is Paula Paris, a reclusive Hollywood columnist who sparks Ellery’s interest in The Four of Hearts and who also appears in several Queen short stories set in Hollywood.  (Paula also makes a brief appearance in my Queen pastiche The Mad Hatter’s Riddle.)  But, again, whatever spark there might have been between Paula and Ellery ultimately fails to ignite.

David Suchet as Poirot
    What of Agatha Christie?  Well, slim pickings there too.  As far as I can determine there was never any reference to a love interest for Miss Marple, and no love story involving her ever played a part in the Miss Marple novels and short stories.  We get a little closer with Hercule Poirot.  Poirot was apparently smitten at least once --  by Vera Rossakoff , a Russian countess who appears in The Double Clue and then re-appears in The Big Four and The Labours of Hercules.  However, while there is infatuation that is evident on Poirot’s part, at least in the course of Christie’s written word any attraction between the two remains unrequited.  So no Valentine story there.

    With Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe we fare, if anything, even worse.  While there is the occasional female character who earns the grudging respect of Wolfe, by and large the detective is portrayed by Rex Stout as a misogynist.  Archie Goodwin describes Nero Wolfe’s views on women as follows in The Silent Speaker:


 The basic fact about a woman that seemed to irritate him was that she was a woman; the long record showed not a single exception; but from there on the documentation was cockeyed. If woman as woman grated on him you would suppose that the most womanly details would be the worst for him, but time and again I have known him to have a chair placed for a female so that his desk would not obstruct his view of her legs, and the answer can’t be that his interest is professional and he reads character from legs, because the older and dumpier she is the less he cares where she sits. It is a very complex question and some day I’m going to take a whole chapter for it.

    Well, interesting, all in all.  But not the stuff of which Valentines are made.

    As an aside, I should at least mention here the famous "e-o/o-e" theory propounded by John D. Clark, Nicholas Meyer, Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, writing as Ellery Queen, and W.S. Baring-Gould that the combination and order of the vowels in "Sherlock Holmes" and "Nero Wolfe" are a clue that Nero Wolfe is in fact the son of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler.  But, again, while there are Valentine possibilities here, the theory is derivative and appears only in homages and analytic works.

     We get much closer to the mark, however, with The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett.  While it is sort of hard to believe, given all of the movie and television sequels that this book spawned, Hammett only wrote one book starring Nick and Nora Charles.  In fact, it was the last book he ever wrote.  And, even more strange is the fact that the Nick and Nora did not even appear in the original version of the 1934 novel, which was first published in a shorter version in installments in Redbook.  In any event, the romantic and flirtatious interchanges between Nick and Nora push this novel much closer to a Valentine’s Day nominee.  Indeed it was Hammett’s novel that set the stage for later spins on the “romantic couple” as detectives, notably television’s MacMillan and Wife, starring Rock Hudson and Susan St. James, and even Richard Stevenson's characters Donald Strachey and his partner Timothy Callahan, who have been referred to as the gay Nick and Nora.

    Having said all of this, however, The Thin Man is no better than a near miss, as far as I am concerned, for today’s purpose.  While the detectives are a couple, the mystery itself doesn’t tie back to or otherwise derive from their romantic involvement.

    Well, as you have probably guessed, I do have a personal favorite to nominate for best Valentine's Day mystery story.   It is Random Harvest by James Hilton. 

    I know, I know, Random Harvest isn’t a classic Golden Age “whodunit” mystery.  But it is a classic.  And it is also, most certainly, a mystery.  Written in 1941, Random Harvest tells the story of Charles Rainier, a wealthy businessman and politician, who battles his way out of amnesia to search for his long-lost love.  The story is a wonderful and nostalgic depiction of life in England from the First World War to the brink of the second, but it is also one of the finest classic mysteries I can remember reading.

    There is a tendency to say too much when discussing Random Harvest, and this I refuse to do.  As I have said before, “no spoilers here.”  I will offer up a snippet from the New York Times review published back in 1941:  “a strange tale . . . harrowing and romantic and tender.”   The Chicago Tribune, in the same year, called the book “Mr. Hilton’s best novel to date.”  That is saying something since Random Harvest was preceded by Lost Horizon  and Goodbye Mr. ChipsRandom Harvest is, in any event, my Valentine’s Day nominee since, to my mind, it is one of the best blends of mystery and romance ever written.

    So if there are any readers out there who have somehow gotten to 2012 without reading Random Harvest, or watching the 1942 film version starring Ronald Coleman  and Greer Garson, this book is for you.  My advice, however, is that you should look no further for information concerning the book: don't watch the movie, don't search out reviews, don't read about it on Wikipedia.  Just get the book and then read it as James Hilton intended, from start to finish without the “help” of others.

    Happily, unlike many volumes from the 1940s Random Harvest is still readily available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  There is even a Nook edition for $3.99.  (Sorry, apparently it has yet to be “Kindled”!)

    Enjoy. 

    And Happy Valentine’s Day.