24 May 2013

The Bank Robbery

by R.T. Lawton

First off, know that drug dealers not only have no scruples about breaking the laws of society, they also frequently have no qualms about cheating their customers. Sad to say, there is no quality control when it comes to dealers and illegal substances. Caveat emptor.

Second, in the old days, if an agent got burned by buying a powder or tablet which turned out not to be a controlled substance, then the agent either got the money back from the dealer, or he made up the lost cash out of his own pocket. (NOTE: In more recent decades, the law was amended to make any distribution of counterfeit substances an illegal act under statutes governing the attempt to distribute a controlled substance or under the appropriate conspiracy laws. But, back then you had to get your money back.)

Third, there once existed an unofficial group known as the Gronk Squad, lads who were usually first through the door on any armed felon arrest. They also acted as backup when it came to making up a burn.

Fourth, we'll call the dealer Larry. It's not his real name, but Larry won't mind.

So here's the tale. A young cop fresh to the fed task force had bought what he thought was coke, but the lab report came back procaine, not a controlled substance. Time to repossess the money.

Late that morning, the young cop and his also young partner drove over to Larry's house. The Gronk Squad set up mobile surveillance on the outside. Young Cop went in alone and was back out in under ten minutes. He got into his car and drove around the block to update us. Seemed Larry was still in bed, wasn't inclined to reimburse the cash and maybe What's His Name should come back some other time.

My partner, a 15 year veteran of the streets, took this response as a brushoff, so he decided to go in the house himself with Young Cop. I had a fair idea what would happen next. Sure enough, two minutes later and out comes Larry, hopping on one bare foot while trying to get his jeans on. Larry gets in the back seat of the two-door undercover car, then he, Young Cop and my partner drive over to the residence of Larry's source of supply. Jake, me and Young Cop's partner follow in my blue Cadillac. We set up surveillance from a location atop a hill where we can see everything.

Larry, Young Cop and my partner soon return to the U/C car from the source's residence. Apparently, the source isn't home. Larry gets in the back seat again. Now, a car of young males shows up and parks behind the U/C car. The driver's window comes down and a long black tube slides out. Looks like they brought a shotgun to the curbside gathering. Larry's friends, who had been left back at his house when Larry got dressed in the front yard, have evidently decided to ride to Larry's rescue. The driver, holding the shotgun, tries to encourage Larry to get out of the car he's in and then get into their vehicle. Larry's not sure he should do that, so he wisely stays where he is. You could aptly call this a Mexican standoff, except only one side has displayed weapons up to this point.

To better balance the scales, those of us on the hill invite ourselves to the baile (that's Spanish for dance). The blue Cadillac rushes down off the hill and sandwiches the vehicle containing Larry's friends. Perhaps feeling a bit cramped in their options, the Friends of Larry abandon Larry to his fate as they depart the scene in great haste. The Cadillac gives chase. No lights, no siren. We don't have the money back yet.

After a few blocks and turns, the Friends of Larry stop their vehicle. I stop the blue Cadillac about sixty feet back. Their driver gets out with his shotgun pointed in our direction. Their front passenger gets out with a pistol. Not to be outdone, I crouch behind my driver's door, automatic in hand in my best Broderick Crawford style. Jake does the same behind our front passenger door. My veteran partner and Young Cop with Larry in their back seat pull up behind us. The tableau becomes a slice of very long Time.

Unfortunately, we are all parked beside a bank on the corner.

The security guard, an off-duty cop working his second job to make ends meet, has been quietly sipping his hot coffee up until now. It's just another slow day for him. He glances out the side window at what has been a nice morning. Startled at seeing all the men brandishing weapons in the street, he spills coffee on himself as he frantically punches the Panic Button. To him, it's obviously a bank robbery about to be in progress.

The tableau breaks when the Friends of Larry's driver declines to make a last stand on such a beautiful sunlit morning. he throws his shotgun into the back seat and prepares to drive off. A blur flashes by on my left side. It's Young Cop on a dead run towards the Friends of Larry. Guess Young Cop had some pent up feelings about how things were going, so he decided to take a more active hand.

Reaching through the open driver's window, Young Cop tries to grab the keys out of the ignition. Unnerved, the driver puts the transmission in gear and steps on the gas. Young Cop, supported by his elbow inside the window frame, is now going for a ride on the outside of the car. I'm not sure who turned the steering wheel, but the vehicle takes an abrupt right turn.

The bank, being on a corner, has its front door located on an angle at that corner of the building. A canopy comes out over the sidewalk from the door and there are large, low-growing evergreens positioned for landscape.

The Friends of Larry's car passes under the canopy and between the front door and the outer canopy uprights. Young Cop realizes there isn't enough room for him to safely pass through, so he dives into the nearest large evergreen. All I see is a pair of brown Dingo boots sticking out. The Friends of Larry disappear down the street at a high rate of speed. I recover Young Cop into my car and we ride off into the horizon.

Seems Larry has seen enough and no longer wishes to participate in further actions. At Larry's request, my partner takes him to Larry's own bank where Larry withdraws sufficient funds to repay the buy money. Larry is then dismissed with an admonition about selling bad drugs. He promises to do better in the future.

We never broke cover. (Didn't burn the informant for other cases, plus who knows, maybe Larry would sell good stuff to us the next time. Dumber things have happened.)

Local police respond to the bank alarm, but the street is deserted.

I still have the newspaper article with the headline: Bank Robbery Thwarted.

Those were exciting days. Fortunately, wiser heads soon prevailed and laws and policies were changed for the better.

PS~ I tell these tales of the street as factually as I remember, just as though we were all a bunch of cops sitting in a bar, swapping stories for laughs and learning from each other, a matter of survival on the street. However, if you as a writer get your muse jogged by anything you think would make a character, a scene, an action from any of these previous or future tales, then feel free to use it for yourself. One way or another, we're all in this together.

23 May 2013

Random Observations

by Eve Fisher

Update:  (This was to have been published on 5/9/13, but current events got in the way.)

I've been on vacation for the last couple of weeks, and I only got a chance to check in a couple of times, but all I can say, from reading my co-writers' blogs, is that (1) they know a lot more about writing than I do and (2) I've got to start writing more.  I don't outline - although I may try to start doing that; I don't journal about my writing - though I may start doing that, too.  What do I do?  Well, I try to write something every day, even on vacation.  (I keep a journal, just not specifically about my writing.)  And I try to pay attention.  I watch.  I listen in.  I mull a lot.  And I try to describe it, at least to myself.


We were on a cruise in the Caribbean, which we had won on our last cruise, playing the cruise lottery.  It was a great cruise, but then I love cruises, because all you have to do is unpack once.  After that, it's up to you when you want to eat, what you want to do, and if you want to do nothing at all, there's the deck chairs, the poolside chairs, the top deck chairs, the library chairs, and, if worst comes to absolute worst, your room.  And I like doing nothing, when this means sitting in a chair and watching the ocean and watching people.

And 1200 people on a cruise ship can indeed represent the entire gamut of humanity.  As opposed to the endless "People of Wal-Mart" photos, the cruise clientele range from the Felliniesque to Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and everything in between.  Every weight - which rises over the course of the cruise, as we all know - every age, every height, every nationality.  And once in a while, something unique.  Something that says, check this out:

The very thin Asian girl, who was with a very pasty older Englishman, who came to breakfast, took 2 HUGE pieces of cake, went to a back table, and was gone 30 seconds later leaving an empty plate.  (Obvious questions: Was the cake in her bag or in her stomach?  Was she headed back to the room or to the bathroom first?)

The relentless smile on the face of an Indonesian steward, which relapsed into an existential exhaustion any time he was left alone for a few seconds.

The old man who sat for hours aft every day, looking out at the wake of the boat, with all the hunger of Edward for Bella.


The monarchs of the ship, the headliner entertainment, a married couple, strolling around the ship doing their best to look stylish and hot and powerful and above all the hoi polloi who were their audience.

An older woman, a deep dyed glorious blonde, generously proportioned, lavishly painted, dressed in a rainbow, with a laugh that would have made Bette Davis come over and offer her a cigarette.  (Fun to talk to, too.)

An Aussie who assured me that I needed to make the trip to Australia sooner than later, because time was fleeting...  and later told me the story of his wandering life as we stood thigh deep in the Caribbean.

The last didn't surprise me a bit - I heard a lot of people's life stories on the trip, and I always do when I'm traveling.  Maybe I look trustworthy, maybe not; maybe I just look interested.  (Which I am.  I am insatiably curious, and I am always willing to down tools and listen to someone's story or read a book.)  Maybe it's because I'm a stranger and they'll never see me again.  Maybe it's because they're traveling, and they need to assure themselves of who they are.  Or, in some cases, they're rehearsing a new persona.  Seriously. 

Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to go to a writer's colony (one and only time, at Ossabaw Island, Georgia), and while I was there, I had a memorable conversation with a woman.  She was married, and it was the first time she'd been away from the family in years, and she was at first bewildered, then bemused, and then bedazzled by the realization that, since no one knew her there, she could be anyone she wanted.  For the first time, she could choose who and what to be.  (I'd already done that years before, but that's another story.)  We agreed, it was interesting, and she should pursue the opportunity as far as she could.

File:MalteseFalcon1930.jpgHow far was that?  Hard to say.  The flip side of changing who you are - running off and becoming someone knew - is what is called nowadays "The Flitcraft Parable" in Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon" - Mr. Flitcraft, who is almost killed by a falling beam one day and leaves his job, wife, children, everything, without a word and vanishes:

"He went to Seattle that afternoon," Spade said, "and from there by boat to San Francisco. For a couple of years he wandered around and then drifted back to the Northwest, and settled in Spokane and got married. His second wife didn't look like the first, but they were more alike than they were different. You know, the kind of women that play fair games of golf and bridge and like new salad-recipes. He wasn't sorry for what he had done. It seemed reasonable enough to him. I don't think he even knew he had settled back naturally in the same groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma. But that the part of it I always liked. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling."

Or, in other words, you can run, but you can't hide, at least not from who you really are. Was Hammett right or not?  Can you reinvent yourself, or do you simply put on an existential wig?  Discuss, children, and we will talk more later. 


22 May 2013

Breaking the Code

by David Edgerley Gates

If you asked my uncle Charlie what he did in the Second World War, you got some evasive boilerplate about working for Army Intelligence. He'd tell you that during the Bulge, say, his unit searched abandoned German command posts for compromising material, and sometimes it was touch and go, because the battle lines shifted back and forth, but he was generally close-mouthed about it, and made his service out to be pretty much routine duty. He did in fact have an old Third Army sleeve insignia, a pin with the white A on a blue field, circled in red, so there might have been some truth to that Battle of the Bulge story. If there was, it was a very small part of the truth, because he was actually in on one of the biggest secrets of the war.

It was called ENIGMA, and the product was code-named ULTRA.

Enigma machine
ENIGMA was an encipherment system, used by the German military and diplomatic services. Polish intelligence did the initial heavy lifting, reverse-engineering captured German equipment, and passed their results on to the Brits in 1939. British code-breakers set up shop at Bletchley Park, north of London, and began reading Luftwaffe and Army traffic.

To simplify enormously, the Enigma machine was a transposition cipher device with a typewriter keyboard. There were three rotors inside, each with twenty-six characters. When you struck a key, the first rotor advanced one position, until it reached twenty-six, and then the next rotor advanced, like an odometer. In other words, any given letter was substituted with another, but the possible combinations were twenty-six to the power of three. The rotor settings were predetermined, but they changed every day, in theory. One weakness Bletchley Park exploited was that the German operators didn't always change the settings daily. Another was that messages were sometime sent in plaintext, for redundancy, and you could compare the coded transmission to the uncoded one. If not for German security breaches, the coded traffic might well have proved unreadable.

Rotors
Then they hit a bottleneck. German naval security had always been more rigorous than that of the Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht, and the Kriegsmarine introduced a machine with four rotors. The number of possible character substitutions multiplied, and the traffic went dark.

In the North Atlantic, the convoys that were Britain's lifeline had no effective air cover or escorts, in 1940 and '41, and crossed two thousand nautical miles of unpatrolled open ocean.  Here the wolfpacks hunted. The loss of Allied tonnage was crippling. Bletchley Park needed to break the U-boat codes or the resupply would founder.


Alan Turing
The guy who probably deserves the most credit was an eccentric mathematics done from Cambridge named Alan Turing, who'd been recruited by the Government Code and Cypher School even before the war began. Turing designed an analytical machine, a numb-cruncher, in effect one of the earliest computers, a bombe, so-called.  With it, they "unbuttoned," Turing's word, the German naval ciphers, and shortened the Battle of the Atlantic. It's no exaggeration to suggest they shortened the war.


Model of the Bombe
At its peak, Bletchley Park was reading 4,000 messages a day. The decrypts tipped the balance in every campaign from North Africa to D-Day. (They were never shared with the Russians, however. Churchill's mistrust ran deep.) The people who worked there didn't talk about it, then or later. They maintained their habit of silence, and the whole story didn't break until thirty years afterwards. It was a better-kept secret than the Manhattan Project.

Alan Turing died in 1954. He was queer, and MI-5 hounded him, as a security risk. He underwent chemical castration, and was eventually driven to suicide, his contribution to the war effort unrecognized at the time of his death. Some thirty years later, Hugh Whitemore's play "Breaking the Code" opened in the West End, with the astonishing Derek Jacobi as Turing. Sodomy hasn't been criminally prosecuted in Great Britain since the repeal of the gross indecency acts in the late '60's. A legislative motion was introduced in Parliament to grant Turing a statutory pardon, just this past year.

I don't want to wade into the question of gay civil rights, although it seems to me obvious that without legal protection, homosexuals are still fair game. Turing was blackmailed by the law. His reputation doesn't deserve just rehabilitation. This has already happened. The computer library at King's College, Cambridge, for example, is now named after him, and he's widely accepted as a pioneer in Artificial Intelligence (the Turing test), and secure speech, the Delilah program. I'm saying that he deserves a posthumous knighthood, or an Order of Chivalry, at the least. This odd, cranky-pantsed fairy did as much to beat Hitler as any divisions in the field.

Churchill was later to say: "ULTRA won the war."



Editor's note: Software developer Terry Long has created a free Enigma Simulator. If you happen to use a Macintosh, download it and try it out.

Enigma

21 May 2013

On Holiday . . . And the Pastiche, Revisited

by Dale C. Andrews

SummerSalt, Smuggler's Cove, Tortola
      I am sort of taking a flyer this week.  Things have been pretty busy around here.  My younger son, Colin, graduated from law school on Sunday and, in celebration, on Monday morning the four of us in our family -- Pat, me, Devon and Colin -- took off for the Virgin Islands, accompanied by Colin’s significant other Kyle.  We met my brother Graham and his wife Nikki in St. Thomas, ferried over to Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, and on the day of this posting we are all ensconced in a rental villa, SummerSalt, situated just above Smuggler’s Cove.   Nice thing about traveling with 7 people -- renting a villa turns out cheaper than staying in a hotel!  Where are we?  well, if you have never been to Tortola, it is just across Drake’s Passage from St. John's, which was the setting for David Edgerley Gates’ last article, The Beachcomber.
        Anyway, rather than throwing something together for SleuthSayers this week I am “on holiday.” So, instead, I am posting the article I wrote last summer for Something Is Going to Happen, the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine blog.  The article reviews the history of Ellery Queen pastiches that have appeared in EQMM over the years, and as such, is a bit of an introduction to my next Queen pastiche, Literally Dead, which (Janet Hutchings advises) should be included in the December, January or February issue of EQMM.  You can rely on the fact that I shall keep you posted as to the exact issue!
The Misadventures of Ellery Queen
by Dale C. Andrews
        Last May 25 a new anthology of Ellery Queen stories was published.  Before stalwart Queen fans, especially those in the English speaking world, set their hopes too high, this volume, The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, published by Ronso-Sya, has been released in Japan and contains stories that have been translated into Japanese.
It is worth a pause, here at the beginning, to reflect on how popular the works of Ellery Queen remain in Japan.  Iiki Yusan, the editor of the new anthology, is the president of the Ellery Queen fan club in Japan and has also authored book-length Japanese critiques of the works of Ellery Queen, including Ellery Queen, The Perfect Guide (2004) and Reviews of Ellery Queen (2010).  Unlike the United States, where it has been virtually impossible to find a newly published Ellery Queen novel or anthology, in Japan the entire Ellery Queen library is readily available in current editions.  
The Misadventures of Ellery Queen also contains no stories by the creators of Queen, Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee.  Rather, it is comprised of Ellery Queen pastiches, that is, mysteries that have been written by other authors, myself included, who have attempted to emulate the Queen style and formula in new stories featuring Ellery.    
        It is not unusual to find popular detectives re-born in stories penned by authors other than the original creator of the character.  The classic example is Sherlock Holmes, who has lived on over the years under the supervision of a host of authors other than Arthur Conan Doyle.  Indeed, in 1944 The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by none other than Ellery Queen, collected in one volume various Holmes pastiches.  While we still do not have a definitive English language companion collection of Ellery Queen pastiches, it is fitting that notable  Queen pastiches have at least now been collected in Japan, where there is a devoted following.  

Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee
        Let’s pause again here to reflect on what a pastiche is, and what it is not.  If you Google “pastiche” looking for a definition, one of the first you will find is this: “a work of art that intentionally imitates other works, often to ridicule or satire.” As seems true of a lot of internet research, to my mind the definition comes close but ultimately misses the mark.  Not surprisingly the definition I prefer is one penned originally by Frederic Dannay, writing as Ellery Queen. According to Dannay “a pastiche is a serious and sincere imitation in the exact manner of the original author.”  The readily apparent distinction between these two definitions is that the former includes the parody – since it invites “ridicule or satire.”  In the latter, Dannay correctly excludes both.   Nothing against parodies – by all accounts Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee liked parodies as well, and many Ellery Queen send-ups have appeared in EQMM over the years.  But while the parody can easily bring forth a laugh, it is the pastiche that has the potential to tug at the heart by offering up new life to beloved literary characters who we feared were lost to us forever.  

        The pastiche, then, consistent with Frederic Dannay’s definition, requires a more structured approach than does the parody.  My own rule for constructing a pastiche is also the cardinal principle of the medical profession – “first, do no harm.”  If you are writing new stories carrying forth someone else’s character, that character should be recognizable and ring true throughout the story.

        Frederic Dannay was a huge fan of the pastiche and did much to popularize the genre.  It should therefore surprise no one that Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine has a long history of publishing pastiches, including salutes to Sherlock in EQMM’s annual Sherlock Holmes edition. Equally unsurprising is the fact that EQMM over the years has provided a continued life to Ellery himself in a variety of pastiches that offer new adventures featuring the magazine’s namesake. This has provided the opportunity for a number of noted mystery writers to step up to the plate.  

Francis M (Mike) Nevins
Jon L. Breen
        Francis M. Nevins, who knew Frederic Dannay well (and has, in fact, described him as the grandfather that he never had) contributed one of the earliest Ellery Queen pastiches, the classic Open Letter to Survivors (EQMM May, 1972).  In Nevins’ story the entire plot derives from the following obscure sentence that appears in the 1948 Ellery Queen novel Ten Days' Wonder:  “There was the case of Adelina Monquieux, [Ellery’s] remarkable solution of which cannot be revealed before 1972 by agreement with that curious lady's executors."  In Nevins’ pastiche, which plausibly spins out the story hinted at in Ten Days’ Wonder, the young detective is never identified by name.  But it is evident that Nevins’ hero is Ellery.   Jon L. Breen has authored both parodies of Ellery Queen – his The Lithuanian Eraser Mystery" (EQMM March, 1969), featuring E. Larry Cune is an example – but has also penned true Queen pastiches, such as the Gilbert and Sullivan Clue (EQMM September, 1999), where Ellery uses his intellect to outsmart a murderer while at sea.  That same issue of EQMM, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the publication of the first  Queen novel, The Roman Hat Mystery, also offers an Ellery Queen pastiche by Edward D. Hoch, The Circle of Ink, which features Ellery and the inspector confronted with a murder in a university setting.  In his final Ellery Queen pastiche Edward Hoch revisited one of Ellery’s favorite locales in The Wrightsville Carnival (EQMM September/October 2005), a story offered as part of the magazine’s celebration of the centenary of the births of Dannay and Lee.  
       
Ed Hoch
       In each of these stories Ellery rings true:  we encounter him as we would an old friend.  To the reader he is the same character created by Dannay and Lee.  
 It has been one of the great joys of my life that I have had the privilege to meet and visit with Mike Nevins, Jon Breen and the late Ed Hoch.  In knowing them I feel that I have known Ellery as well.  

        As to my own involvement in the quest to keep Ellery alive, The Book Case (EQMM May, 2007), written in collaboration with my good friend Kurt Sercu, proprietor of Ellery Queen, a Website on Deductionfeatures an elderly Ellery solving one last case involving many characters from earlier Queen novels, including principally the 1967 mystery Face to Face.  My other contribution to the Queen pastiche library, The Mad Hatter’s Riddle (EQMM September/October, 2009), finds characters from the 1938 Queen novel The Four of Hearts, reunited, along with Ellery for the filming of an episode of the 1975 NBC Ellery Queen television series.  [And my latest pastiche, the upcoming Literally Dead, is a Wrightsville mystery, with Ellery once again engaged in a duel of wits with Wrightsville Chief of Police Anselm Newby as they each struggle to solve a locked room murder.]  

        With the exception of The Mad Hatter’s Riddle (which is premised, in part, on a poem that would lose a lot in the translation) and the then-unpublished Literally Dead, all of the foregoing Ellery Queen adventures (and more) are now available together in hardcover, at least in the Japanese market.  The rest of us just have to continue to wait and hope!

        What do each of the stories have in common, and what separates them, as pastiches, from parodies or satires?   The answer has already been suggested.  Further hints can be gleaned by examining some of the synonyms commonly used to define the word “pastiche.”  James Lincoln Warren, who has also authored pastiches, in his now-retired Criminal Brief blog often referred to this genre of fiction as “tributes.”  Another commonly used synonym for “pastiche”  is “homage.” These words, I think, help to add the requisite heart to the matter.  We who have chosen to write Ellery Queen pastiches are not parodying the Queen formula.  Perish the thought!  In fact what we do is reverential -- we are striving to emulate Queen, and thereby keep Ellery and the inspector around for just a little while longer.  Those of us who labor trying to bring back Ellery, or Sherlock, or Nero for new adventures do so because we simply can’t stand a world without them.  

         We are, after all, still in love.

20 May 2013

Why I Write Cozies

by Fran Rizer



The fifth Callie Parrish mystery was released by Bella Rosa Books this month. This is the first one after a two-year lapse during which I occasionally vowed to just quit writing entirely.  I'm not too modest to share the full cover with you here although one change was made to this mock-up. The Thirteenth Child by David Dean was italicized before the book went to press.

Callie Number Five

If the bleeding rose on the cover bears a resemblance to the idea of SleuthSayers' blog background, it's fully intentional.  I've loved that since Leigh created it, and I wrote a bleeding rose into this novel so that the cover could be based on that idea.  Two of my favorite things about my current publisher, Bella Rosa Books, are that they allow me to suggest my ideas for covers before paying people to produce them, and they use my titles.

Callie Number One
Okay, enough about my latest venture into the cozy world.  Let's talk cozies in general.  By definition, cozies are considered "gentle" mysteries even though most of them have a couple of murders.  There's no graphic violence, little or no profanity, and when sex occurs, the author closes the door and leaves the places touched and loud panting to the readers' imaginations.  Also, the protagonist is generally a female whose occupation might be caterer, bed and breakfast owner, quilter, cat fancier/owner, nun, gardener, librarian, book store owner, herbalist, florist, dog trainer, homemaker, teacher, needlepoint store owner or whatever the writer can imagine.  In my case, Callie Parrish is a mortuary cosmetician, but, like me personally, she was formerly a teacher.  I didn't put her currently in the classroom because first, an editor of The Saturday Evening Post told me years ago that editors generally tossed stories about teachers into the slush can and second, Tamar Myers told me to find an unusual occupation for my protagonist. Since Callie's birth, I've discovered a few other books with funeral home workers, and one mortuary cosmetician, but it's not common.

I tried really hard to fulfill those characteristics in my first Callie novel, A Tisket, a Tasket, A FANCY STOLEN CASKET.  I thought I'd written a cozy, but Berkley Prime Crime marketed the Callie books as "Mainstream Mystery."  I don't know why, and I never bothered to ask.  It may have been because of Callie's occupation. Although Callie treats her clients with respect and gentleness, maybe Berkley didn't see working in a funeral home as a gentle profession.  
                                                                       
Please allow me a few minutes to praise Berkley Prime Crime.  They published the first three of the Callie books, and they treated me quite well.  I had substantial advances and two great editors while I was there. My original editor even sent me flowers when I had my first heart attack.   I didn't suggest covers, but they did allow me to comment on them before the books went to press.  Berkley is a division of Penguin and they have specific ideas about what they publish.  Agents know this and it's unlikely yours will send them something that doesn't fit that category, but if so, they will decline it.  That doesn't mean you can't write; it just means that it's not a good fit for Berkley.  They offered me the opportunity to write a series about a lady who coupons, but I have no interest in couponing, so that wasn't a good fit on my side.  I'm working on a different series now, and the first publishers I want my agent to query will be Berkley and Bella Rosa.  (Actually, I have about sixty pages into a cozy-type series as well as about a hundred into a paranormal series, and a new thriller in the works.  For some reason, I keep putting those on hold and going back to Callie--maybe St. Mary is my comfort zone.)

Callie Number Four
Callie Number Two
Callie Number Three

Why do I write cozies?  First, I didn't even read cozies until after I retired.  My taste ran more to Jeffrey Deaver, James Patterson, Harlan Coben, and early Patricia Cornwell, as well as my old favorites Hercule Poirot, Ellery Queen, Mike Hammer, and the love of my youth Shell Scott.  (I had this gigantic crush on Shell Scott when I was ten-years-old, and he may be the reason I've always been attracted to blond and white-haired men).  A friend gave me one of Tamar Myers's Magdalena books, and I really enjoyed it, thought about it, and decided to try writing a cozy.  Until Callie, my works were published under a male pseudonym.  With Callie, I could write stories under my own name without offending not-yet-grown ex-students (Although I taught high school and junior college, when I retired, I was teaching fifth-grade.) nor embarrassing my then eight-year-old grandson.
                             
That's all well and good, but the truth is that now I like cozies.  I like the fact that they are easy to read and comfortable.  They are fun to write and fun to read.  I like the fact that most of them are series, and the main characters are like old friends.  Speaking of characters, cozies don't actually fit clearly into the plot-driven or character-driven categories.  A good cozy has both.  No, most cozies wouldn't make good action movies with lots of car chases and young, voluptuous actresses, but they do make good reads, especially at the beach or in the mountains or just on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Why else do I write cozies?  I love my readers.  They stand in line at book-signings and talk about Callie and Jane as though they are old friends. Some of them send birthday greetings to Callie since she celebrated her birthday in one of the books. They were upset when Jane used to shoplift and happy when she stopped.  Some of them want Callie to get married, and all of them are ready for her to get laid. (That may happen in the this new book, though, if it does, I'll close the door.)

The perfect place to read a cozy
I've received emails from Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and many other places I've never been, including one from a lady who bought a Callie at a used book store in Russia.  A woman whose husband died on Christmas Eve wrote me that she received a Callie book as a gift that year and didn't think she could read a book with so much about funeral homes, but she wound up reading it, and it actually made her feel better.  A fan letter from a lady in Japan before the tsunami resulted in my genuine worry for her safety at that time and a wonderful reply when I emailed my concerns to her after that horrible event.

Sitting with my then nine-year-old grandson at a sushi bar four years ago, he asked, "Grandmama, do any of these people know you write books?"
"I wouldn't think so," I replied.
"Is this your grandmother?" asked the lady sitting beside him, followed by, "What did she write?"
He named the first book and she had read it!  What a thrill for my grandson, and what an awesome moment for me.

Why do I write cozies?  Not to teach something.  Not to convince anyone or enlighten anybody about anything.  I write cozies to entertain those who enjoy Callie. The mortuary setting probably is a turn-off to some readers, and I respect that, but there are enough folks who like Callie to make it worth my while and my publisher's.

I'm back on a roll and have just finished the rough draft of a Christmas Callie that will be released in October, 2013.  I've laughed so hard at the people who make fun of cozies that include knitting patterns and recipes as though they personally offend them that I'm adding a Southern and Gullah recipe section to the Christmas book.  By gosh, I set out to write a cozy, and sooner or later, I'll get it right!

19 May 2013

The Digital Detective

by Leigh Lundin
bank vault


Due to the possibility of a publishing contract, I pulled the original story within hours of posting it. My apologies to one and all.

Look for Louis Willis next Sunday. Next month I return with a series on computer crimes.

18 May 2013

The Church Basements of New York


by Elizabeth Zelvin

The popular TV series “Cheers,” which ran for eleven years (1982-1993), took place in a congenial bar “where everybody knows your name.” It bore about the same relationship to real-life bars and their regulars that “CSI” does to real-life forensics labs. It must have been some time between 1988 and 1993 (the period during which I was driving my car to work at various alcoholism treatment facilities with the radio on) when the show was being discussed on some talk radio show—maybe one of the actors was a guest—and a guy called in to say that he’d looked for that conviviality in many a bar and never found it, but he’d found it in church basements. Anyone who knows anything about Alcoholics Anonymous would know he was talking about AA.

I’ve had stories in two anthologies by members of the New York chapter of Sisters in Crime. Both featured my recovering alcoholic series protagonist, Bruce Kohler. The anthologies were titled Murder New York Style, and the second had a subtitle, Fresh Slices. (Out of sheer curiosity, may I ask if anyone does not get the reference?) The call for submissions specified that the stories must be set in parts of New York City that don’t figure in the tourist guidebooks. I knew exactly what to write about: the church basements that house hundreds of AA meetings weekly.

In “Death Will Tank Your Fish” (a Derringer Award nominee), Bruce attends two different meetings, one housed in an Upper East Side High Episcopal church that attracts the carriage trade, the other a Kips Bay area basement that has meeting round the clock, where Bruce runs into a brain-fried childhood friend who’s just gotten out of Bellevue. He attends many other meetings in the course of three novels, a novella, and three additional short stories, each with its own flavor: a Greenwich Village meeting with a GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender) focus, a lunchtime meeting in the Wall Street area where all the men show up in suits and ties, a meeting that’s convenient for barely sober homeless folks who come for the free coffee and cookies—and some of whom stay for the fellowship and and a second chance.

Bruce, the quintessential New Yorker with a smart mouth and a not-too-well-concealed heart of gold, never expected to find himself threading the maze of meeting rooms where recovering alcoholics congregate to tell their stories (often to howls of understanding laughter), support each other’s sobriety, and talk about the remarkable changes in their lives. His sidekick Barbara,a nice Jewish girl and a world-class codependent, still can’t get over it that she sets foot in any church, not only to attend Al-Anon but to sneak into the occasional AA meeting with Bruce and Jimmy (her boyfriend, Bruce’s best friend), where she’s convinced they have a lot more fun.

In the old days, AA meetings were the second smokiest places in New York (after bars). Nowadays, the smoking takes place in the street outside. If you see a crowd wreathed in smoke outside the side entrance of a church, chances are a meeting has just let out or is taking a break. You never know (and you’d better not tell!) whom you’ll see inside: down-and-outers, writers, actors, musicians, stay-at-home moms, construction workers, Park Avenue matrons, lawyers, nurses, investment bankers, and a few celebrities just out of rehab, desperate for ongoing support, and trusting that the tradition of anonymity will be respected. Maybe you’ll see a mailman or a cop who dropped in to rest his feet and stayed because he heard another alcoholic tell his own story.

The final scene in “Death Will Tank Your Fish” takes place at a wedding. The ex-wife of the murder victim is remarrying, and it’s not a sober wedding. Here’s Bruce:

I had just snagged myself a ginger ale when Barbara joined us. Champagne fizzed merrily in the glass she clinked with mine.

“Cheers,” she said.

“Church basements,” I responded.

17 May 2013

The Big Pre-Release

by Dixon Hill

I turned 50 a couple weeks back.

On May 1st to be more precise.

Yes, God’s little joke is that I -- a rabid capitalist -- was born on May Day!

I don’t resent the date, however; I like May 1st. It’s a Spring day, and the desert sky overhead is nearly always bright blue on my birthday. In fact, I can’t remember it ever raining on May 1st, no matter where I lived at the time. Though I’m sure it was raining somewhere else in the world, the sky over my head was clear -- at least in my memory, if not reality.

Hitting the half-century mark, however, naturally tends to put a person’s mind through a series of retrospective gymnastics. And, Terence Faherty’s blog post, on Monday, about vintage detective films, reminded me of a surprising event I enjoyed two or three months ago.

The Setup

You remember that Calgon commercial from the 1970’s?

You DON’T!?! Well, that probably just means you’re younger than I am. (Or, that your mind is going. lol)

In the ad, a frazzled woman, driven to near-bursting from the anxiety created by traffic jams, her yelling boss, crying baby and overheated dog, would invoke the magic words: “Calgon, take me away…!” At which point, she’d be transported to a bubble bath in what resembled a mountain-top Greek temple, and transformed from a burnt-out working mom to a completely relaxed woman of luxurious leisure … all by using Calgon products in her bath.

A nice trick.

I’ve never used Calgon, myself (Certainly, this surprises you.), but a few things that do have this “Calgon Effect” on me are barbequing (beer and cigar being as important as charcoal and lighter fluid, here), or watching either The Big Sleep (Bogart-Bacall version) or Casablanca. For some reason, each of these films, or meat burning over coals, seems to exude an essence that calms and refreshes me.

When I really need to let my hair down, I burn a steak on the grill, then swill the charred-rare meat with a couple beers while wallowing in one film after the other, sometimes decanting a little Fonseca Tawny Porto during my “visit” to Rick’s CafĂ© Americain. (Blowing cigar smoke into a glass of port does something to the port that’s worth experiencing, in my opinion -- even if I can’t explain just what that “something” is.)

The McGuffin

The event I mentioned earlier -- the one Terence Faherty’s blog post reminded me of -- occurred while my dad was undergoing radiation treatment for his cancer, so I was in hectic “jump here, jump there, jump over to that place” mode, trying to balance the needs of different family members. My dad needed oversight as his energy levels dwindled and finally all but fizzled-out; my daughter needed me to explain Geometry to her, so she could pass a required class for graduation in mid-May; and my youngest son needed constant monitoring, simply because he’s a wild man. Which means, my sleeping hours got hacked away while my body and my gray cells took a pretty serious beating.

I needed a break, so when I finally got the chance I snagged The Big Sleep DVD off the shelf at our local library.

As I mentioned earlier, I was a bit addle-brained at the time. Consequently -- though I spotted something odd about the film, fairly early on – it took me a while to figure out what I was actually looking at.

And, frankly, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at, until I saw the scene in which Lauren Bacall, playing Vivian Rutledge, wears that veil when visiting Bogart’s character, Marlowe, in his office. You can see a shot of that scene on the left. If you don’t recognize it, that’s probably because you’ve only watched the version of the movie that was released in August of 1946.

An earlier version, called a “pre-release” was supposedly sent out to be screened by soldiers and sailors in the Pacific fairly early in 1945. But, Warner Brothers didn’t release the film to state-side theaters at the time, because certain concerns had been voiced.

For one thing, Warner had a back log of WWII films they wanted to trot out before they became passé to the movie-going public, now that the war was winding down. So, they decided to keep The Big Sleep in the big tin can for awhile, to give those other films a chance to make money while they could.

Additionally, Lauren Bacall’s agent, Charles Feldman, was concerned, because Bacall had received some negative reviews for her role in the recently released Confidential Agent. Feldman was bent on ensuring that The Big Sleep would present Bacall in a way that would highlight her talents and help cement his client’s reputation as a rising star. However, several things about the movie worried him, including that veil Baccal wore in the pic I posted above, left.

So, while the film was waiting to be released, Warner Brothers rounded up most of the talent and re-shot what would wind up being about twenty minutes worth of the final movie. The film was re-edited, and the revised version -- the one most of us know and love -- was released to theaters on August 23rd of 1946.

The Switch

This August 23rd, 1946 release was the one I thought I’d borrowed from my local library. In fact, I’d borrowed it from the library several times before, and knew that they had two copies in stock. One copy held the film, plus a copy of an original theater trailer advertising it, as well as a version of the film that had somebody’s comments imposed over the soundtrack.

The other copy held the film, the trailer, the comment version, and a documentary about the original version of The Big Sleep -- that 1945 “pre-release” supposedly shown only for a short period of time, to soldiers and sailors in the Pacific, which most people had never seen. This fascinating documentary had clips of the pre-release version, which it stated was being restored for potential release. It was here that I initially saw Bacall wearing that tell-tale veil.

And, when I saw it again, I finally knew what I was watching.

The Office

As previously mentioned, Bacall’s agent, Charles Feldman, didn’t like the veil his client wore in the office scene with Bogart. He felt it hid her beauty, while also distancing her character from Bogart’s. Both he and the studio wanted to capitalize on the on-screen chemistry between Bogart and Bacall, which movie-goers had claimed to clearly feel while watching the pair in To Have and Have Not. These weren’t stupid guys; they knew that the promise of more fireworks like that would draw movie-goers in droves. So, they literally got the intervening veil out of the way on the re-shoot, and parked a saucy beret on Bacall’s head (pic on right).

They also cut, re-wrote and re-shot to draw Bogart and Bacall into closer on-screen proximity, in order to splash those fireworks as high and wide as the censors would permit. Lines were added, including sexually suggestive banter about a racehorse. And, I think (though I can’t be sure) this is how my favorite line in all of movie lore was born.

After the bereted Bacall hops up on Bogart’s desk, she rubs the fabric of her skirt just above the knee, and Bogart’s character says, “Go ahead and scratch.”

"Go ahead and scratch."
I love that line. Scratching an itch: an activity not often mentioned in film or print because it’s so common. A suggestion that seems innocent on its surface, but which prompts Bacall’s character to hitch up her skirt, revealing some of her long legs in good light, so she can scratch. The jerking down of her hem line again, almost immediately, as if to tell Bogart’s Marlowe, “I know what I’ve got; I’m not afraid to flaunt it; but, you’re not getting close to it unless you play this game my way.”



A common act. Perhaps a common line. An explosion of unspoken sexual innuendo and tension.

Plus -- it’s funny: A man telling a woman to “Go ahead and scratch.” The laugh that bubbles up when it’s heard, but that can’t quite get out before the actual scratch, breaks tension at the crucial moment, serving to super-charge the ensuing sexual tension of the next moment to an otherwise improbable height.

And, a woman of the 40’s exerts her own power, to influence a business concern and possibly protect her family. We of the 21st Century may not like what she has to do, in order to level the playing field against that male PI, but we can understand that in 1945 and ’46 many women lacked even this opportunity to avoid having their concerns dismissed with a simple pat on the head. Bacall’s character, in this scene, is playing hardball. That’s a fact we can’t ignore.

Four simple words. A seemingly mundane line of dialogue. TRULY great writing.

Powerful stage business that caries the scene through future decades.

Well, I’ve run on long enough for one post. However, I’ll be back in two weeks with some additional differences between the films, which I found valuable in a writing sense.

See you in two weeks!

--Dixon

16 May 2013

The Book that Saved My Writing Career (Such As It Is)

by Brian Thornton

Last outing I promised a follow-up to my "historical cosplay" posting, one focused on anachronistic language in historical fiction. I'm pushing that one to next time around, and taking up something different.

Today I'd like to talk about the book that saved my writing career (such as it is).

Well over a decade ago, before I'd published anything, I was living in another state, working a new and stressful job, far away from family and friends, eaten up with frustration that my then work-in-progress was languishing half-finished on my computer, too beat down mentally by a (did I mention it was highly stressful?) new job to come up with a coherent thought, let alone any new words for the mystery novel on which I had been at work for the previous two years.

It looked like I might never finish my stalled book, let alone publish anything.
Enter Yale professor, literary critic (and arch literary snob), and apparently not-so-nice-guy Harold
Harold Bloom in one of his happier moments
Bloom. Well, not literally, of course. I came to know Bloom through his work. I've never met the man personally. 
 
By any measure Bloom, now in his early 80s, has had a storied career in literary criticism. He published his first book in 1959 (six years before I was even born), and is an acknowledged expert on everything literary from Shakespeare (one of his specialties) to the work of the post-modern author Toni Morrison (whose worldview he not very surprisingly disagrees with, all while acknowledging her prodigious talent as a writer).
 
I didn't know any of this when I came across his book HOW TO READ AND WHY at the local (late, lamented) Borders. I was completely unfamiliar with Bloom and his work, but the book looked interesting, so I picked it up and started on it.

Then as now I started a lot more books than I finish. Time was nearly as much of a priority then as it is now (which is saying something, because I've got a ten month-old crawling around underfoot cutely sucking up every single nanosecond of spare time available to me these days!).

But from the first page I knew I was going to finish this book.


Put simply, Harold Bloom might be something of a pompous ass who hates "popular fiction" written by the likes of Stephen King (and others), and can apparently be plenty insufferable. 

I don't care.

The man has serious chops. His language alone was worth the turn of another page, and another and another. His insight into some of the works on which he was commenting was both illuminating and a flat-out joy to read. Dipping in to Bloom's book, I began to enjoy immersing myself in figurative language again, remembered what fun it could be to be "playful" with it, for lack of a better phrase. (Hmmm, maybe I ought to have used "cavort"?).
 
(Warning: the coming description comes over ten years after having read the book in question. Please forgive me if the fog of time and middle age has blurred my recollection of the facts as I recall them)

This book starts up with some personal anecdotes about Bloom's life as a reader, and then begins to delve into which authors are worth reading, and why. Each of these summaries of the books on Bloom's "hit list" is brief, engaging, and written in evocative, soaring language that had me  captivated from the get-go.
Many of the giants of literature (Shakespeare, Austen, Proust, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Milton,
Hart Crane
Hemingway, Nabokov, etc.) have works included for assessment and exposition, as do poets such as Houseman, Walter Savage Landor, Keats, Byron, Shelley, Emily Dickinson , Tennyson and (of course) the obscure, doomed, brilliant poet Hart Crane- object of Bloom's first literary crush (And after delving into his stuff as a result of reading about it in Bloom's book, I confess that I too am an admirer. Quirky trivia point: Crane was born into a wealthy Ohio family. His father invented the Life Saver candy and made millions off of it.). There are also brief treatments of the work of so many others too numerous to mention.
Reading this book, an entry at a time, proved a palliative for my months' long writer's block. Within a week I was writing poems (I hadn't written so much as a laundry list for the better part of a year by this point). By the time I finished the book I was back hard at work on my novel, brimming with ideas and wracking up high daily word counts again. And although I've been blocked at various times since, it's never been for very long, as I've realized what cures it for me: reading a timeless work that inspires me, and helps break the log-jam across the stream of invention.
I've since gone on to read others of his works (SHAKESPEARE: THE INVENTION OF THE HUMAN, and the book he wrote on my favorite of the Bard's plays: HAMLET). I got a lot out of each of them, but for me, the most important is HOW TO READ AND WHY, obviously because of the personal connection and the joy of initial discovery.

Your mileage of course, may vary. But looking back now, with nine books published (eight still in print, knock wood), countless short stories sold, my first "mistake" novel finished (and never published, but actually finished!) and another near completion, I can look back on that arid period of creativity and see that the first oasis to cross my line of sight was a remarkable little book by the always difficult, definitely worth the considerable trouble, absolutely literary genius, Harold Bloom.


So let me throw it out to you, the readers of this blog, and ask, what is your own personal "Harold Bloom" moment involving a book that helped you through a rough patch?

Feel free to respond at length in the comments section. We Sleuth Sayers looooove us some comments!

15 May 2013

Addressing the Red Envelope

by Robert Lopresti

Back in December I promised that when my Black Orchid Novella Award winning story was published, I would tell you a little bit about how it came to be written.  I am delighted to report that the July/August issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine has arrived, featuring "The Red Envelope," so here goes.

Two years ago our old friend James Lincoln Warren told me he was writing an entry for the BONA competition, and asked if I would be one of his early readers.  I was happy to comply and voila, he won.

Now the cheap joke is that I concluded "if James can do it, it must be easy," or words to that effect.  I had no such illusion.  But as a great fan of Rex Stout and AHMM I thought I had a chance.  I spent most of a sunny day on my PlotCycle, pedaling around town and trying to think of a setting that would carry a 15- to 20,000 word piece of fiction.  In short, what did I know enough about to discuss, even in fictional terms, for that long?

Hmm.  Libraries?  Didn't want to go there.  Archaeology?  A passion, but I'm no expert.  Folk music?  Already wrote a novel about that.

But, say...  That aforementioned novel was set in Greenwich Village, 1963.  What if I jumped back a few years to the peak of the Beat movement?  My detective could be a beat poet.  And the inevitable gather-all-the-suspects-and reveal-the-killer scene could be done as improvised beat poetry!

As the old saying goes, it's so crazy it just might work.  And since the rules for the contest say "There needs to be some wit," crazy might be a real advantage.

To find out how I named the novella's characters you will have to look at the article I wrote for the Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine website, Trace Evidence.  

But I want to tell you about two things that I pulled from my memory to add to the plot.  One was an anecdote  I read in one of those "Humor in Real Life" columns from Reader's Digest back in the 1960s, about a young woman introducing her date to her father.  The other was something I learned while working on a non-fiction book about the Pacific Northwest.   How do they fit into a story about 1958 New York?  I can't tell you without spoiling the plot.

Which I sincerely hope you read. Otherwise, what was all this for?

14 May 2013

The Double Dippers

by Terence Faherty

I've always been as big a fan of old movies as I am of detective fiction, as anyone who's read my Scott Elliott series knows. In fact, I first discovered many literary detectives through movies and only later headed to the library to find their books. I was almost always blown away by the source material, but I never lost my fondness for the films.

Somewhere along the line, I spotted the odd fact that is the topic of this column and that I'm offering, free of charge, to anyone stuck for a doctoral dissertation subject. It is that an actor who played one famous detective from popular literature back in Hollywood's golden age often played a second.

Mr. Bogart
The most famous example is Humphrey Bogart, who played both Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. The success of Bogart's 1941 The Maltese Falcon certainly inspired his 1946 The Big Sleep. In the trailer for the latter, Bogart enters a bookshop and asks for something similar to the Hammett book. The helpful clerk hands him the Chandler. But Bogart by no means repeated his Spade performance when playing Marlowe. Where he was sardonic and cocky in the first film, he was stalwart and self-deprecating in the second. (Although, you might argue that this was just the way Bogart's screen persona had evolved.)

Mr. Powell
William Powell was a much bigger star than Bogart in the 1930s, though he's not as well- known today. When he is remembered, it is most often as Nick Charles (another Hammett creation) or at least as the man who's always standing next to Nora Charles, as played by Myrna Loy. But Charles was Powell's second detective persona. The first was S.S. Van Dine's Philo Vance. Powell first played Vance in the silent-turned-talkie The Canary Murder Case in 1929 and then in three more films. The best is the last, The Kennel Murder Case, released in 1933, only a year before The Thin Man. Powell's Philo Vance, a well-dressed and serious clubman (often in gloves), would never be mistaken for his brilliantly freewheeling Nick Charles. But the Vance role was probably more important to Powell's career, as it lifted him out of the ranks of silent-screen supporting players and made him a talkie star.
Mr. Rathbone

In the middle of Powell's run as Philo Vance, a rival studio brought out Van Dine's The Bishop Murder Case, starring Basil Rathbone as Vance. Rathbone, as well turned out sartorially as Powell, was much stiffer in the part. He would only find career-changing success as a film detective nine years later, in 1939, when he was given the role he'd been born to play, Sherlock Holmes, in The Hound of the Baskervilles. More on that epic performance at some later time.

Mr. Cortez
Ricardo Cortez is pretty much forgotten outside of film buff circles, but he was the screen's first Sam Spade. His Maltese Falcon was released in 1931, ten years before Bogart's, and, for an early talking picture, it wasn't bad. Cortez was especially good. He was an actor who smiled and laughed a lot, and his Spade was even better-humored than Bogie's. (If you're thinking that Cortez's performance was also a blow for Hispanic actors everywhere, don't let his stage name fool you. He acquired it when he arrived in Hollywood in the 1920s, during the scramble to find another Rudolph Valentino. Up until then, Cortez had been a New Yorker named Jacob Krantz.) Cortez played a second famous detective in 1936's The Case of the Black Cat, taking over the role of Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason, which had previously been played by Warren Williams. Cortez's Mason smiled a lot and acted like he'd actually cracked a law book or two.

Mr. Montgomery
There are further examples, like the aforementioned Warren Williams, who, in addition to playing Perry Mason, was yet a third Philo Vance, and George Sanders, who was both Leslie Charteris' Saint and Michael Arlen's Falcon (and good luck telling them apart), but I'd like to close with Robert Montgomery. When I was growing up, Montgomery was already fading from popular memory, being mostly known as the father of Bewitch's Elizabeth Montgomery. But old film lovers remember him as the star of classics like Here Comes Mr. Jordan and They Were Expendable. Montgomery also played two very famous literary detectives. He was another Philip Marlowe, in 1946's flawed but interesting Lady in the Lake. And earlier, in 1940, Montgomery had starred as Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey in Busman's Honeymoon. In both films, Montgomery was more or less miscast, but you have to admire the versatility of an actor who can play both Marlowe and Wimsey with even qualified success.

What does all this double dipping mean? What does it say about the film business or the actors named or the popular fictional detectives of the day? It's your doctoral dissertation; you work it out. And don't forget to send me a copy.

12 May 2013

Prophet and Loss

by Leigh Lundin

On Thursday, Eve Fisher set aside her usual article and wrote a heartfelt piece about opinion-mongers that judge the three young women who survived imprisonment by Ariel Castro. In a one-size-fits-all society, some people find it hard to understand different people react differently in differing situations. Patty Hearst paid for such judgment after her abduction because prosecutors and the public couldn't understand she'd been brainwashed and probably remains affected to this day.

A person can never tell how they'll react until events overtake them. My own reaction to armed robberies has been an out-of-body distancing: I felt like I was above it all looking down, not fearful or angry but sort of an unreasonable reasonableness. I patiently argued with them: No, I wasn't going to give up my watch and wallet. It wasn't the smartest response and there wasn't anything brave about it, but it was my reaction, one of an untrained man in a dangerous quandary who can't bear being pushed around. Perhaps that's part of the answer: in tense situations our innermost instincts emerge.

Subnormal or Supernatural?

money in the hand
As much as sick Cleveland abductor Ariel Castro disgusts me, another type of predator preys upon victims in the guise of 'helping' others. They call themselves…

Psychics.

Whenever a personal disaster strikes, slimy, slippery-tongued parasites crawl out of money-lined holes. They dispense advice and 'readings' to anyone who'll listen, hoping to make money from another's misery. Marc Klaas, father of a little girl who was raped and strangled, says "You become increasingly desperate and afraid. Every day the police don't find your child, you think they're not doing their job. So you go elsewhere, and psychics put themselves out there as a very viable solution." He goes on to say, "I call them the second wave of predators. First you lose your child and then these people descend. Every time."

Shock and Awww…

Contrary to public relations and opinion, study after study demonstrate predictions are almost always wrong. Nevertheless, psychics invariably find a way to reflect wrong predictions in their favor. In the Caylee Anthony case, close to ninety psychics descended upon Orlando to 'help direct' the search with spirit-guided 'blind driving'. A blathering Nancy Grace went on the air to beg the public to let the "professionals, the police and the psychics, do their job" to find the missing girl.

In fact the psychics, all 86 of them, got the location absolutely backwards, pointing the police in the wrong direction. Out of the first 2500 tips, all but two were from psychics, all of them wrong. And yet by the time of the trial, at least one medium managed to insinuate he'd been right although he hadn't managed to pinpoint the body even after Roy Kronk stumbled across the remains. Blind monkeys throwing darts at a map could have done better.

Nor is Caylee Anthony the only case occultists botched in Florida. The state boasts its own clairvoyant town– Cassadaga. You'd think with so many preternatural mediums gathered in one spot, crime should become a thing of the past, if not abolished at least rapidly solved. Sadly, that's not been the case.

Palmist Predators

In 1979, St. Cloud police relied upon Cassadaga fortune tellers rather than criminal science to assist in a then-rare homicide of a preacher's wife. They failed miserably. Years later, a new police chief and detective reopened the cold case in 2010 and, with proper investigation, came up with the killer.

But Cassadaga wasn't done embarrassing itself. In 2001, Lillian Martin and her grandson, Joshua Bryant, disappeared from nearby Deltona. Psychics tormented the family and variously predicted the grandmother had kidnapped the boy –or– the parents had killed them –or– they were abducted by a long-hauler at a truck stop. Psychics failed to predict they were apparently murdered by confessed killer Douglas McClymont and that the body of Joshua would be found three years later virtually on Cassadaga's doorstep.

But even Florida has its limits. After a dozen states complained, the Feds and the attorney general managed to take Miss Cleo, the actress with a fake Jamaican accent, off the air, but not before she'd conned a handsome living out of her bogus 'readings'.

Bacon Bits

The human mind has a way of convincing itself of things that aren't true. Therefore, I admit a few people may honestly believe they have prophetic dreams or psychic powers. They may be exceptionally good at reading people. I knew one of these for many years and she insisted she was never wrong, and indeed, she was right at least 49% of the time.

Her sister had an amazing talent too, that when she gambled, she never lost. Ever. And yet, when I was with her when she played slots or bought lottery tickets, I never saw her win once. Ever. And yet, she continued to insist, even to me, that she always won. Rob Lopresti quoted Francis Bacon who said the root of all superstition is the human tendency to remember hits and forget misses.

These sisters (two of five) were part of a family fractured by a radio psychic. Their mother's gold cross had gone missing. After months of anger and accusations, another sister phoned a 'world famous psychic' to ask about the missing cross, revealing suspicions about a nephew. The psychic agreed it was obvious the young son of yet another sister had stolen it. The old woman immediately disowned that daughter and her family. Years later, the case for the cross turned up– in the house of the sister who'd originally phoned the psychic.

The Magic of Mental Meddling

Multiple studies of paranormal predictions have discredited psychics and clearly proved several frauds. Subjects respond that scientific approaches and apparatus disrupt the metaphysical fabric of the other world and make it impossible for spirits to function on our side of the curtain. They claim the scientific community is out to get them. They claim the spirits won't speak in controlled environments.

But science professionals aren't the only fronts exposing fraud among spiritualists. A handful of magicians have taken on the task, most notably the Amazing Randi who offers a million dollars ($1,000,000) to any psychic who can prove their mettle. None has passed the test, including Uri Geller.

On Halloween night 2007, magician Criss Angel challenged Uri Geller's psychic ability, offering him a million dollars to prove he was the real thing. Geller could not. Criss Angel wasn't the first to discredit Geller and the list of his skeptics includes Johnny Carson. As far back as the 1970s, a French magician duplicated Geller's so-called feats of mentalism "even more convincingly than Geller." Eventually, Geller's stage manager, Yasha Katz, admitted Geller used simple stage tricks.

Geller blew his big crime chance when he was called in to investigate the disappearance of model Helga Farkas. Geller predicted she was alive and well, when in fact she'd been abducted and murdered.

And now, back to our story…

Sylvia Browne
And so we return to the case of the Cleveland kidnapper. To the disgust of many and the surprise of few, in 2004 infamous psychic Sylvia Browne told Louwana Miller, mother of Amanda Berry, her daughter was dead. The mother died the following year of, according to friends, a broken heart.

And yet after Amanda Berry's release, her cousin Sherry Cole "reached out to Browne" on Wednesday to offer support. "Our family in no way blames Sylvia. … We still love her and believe in her."

Jon Ronson, columnist for The Guardian, believes people are too polite to challenge the celebrity psychic. He's made sort of a project out of Sylvia Browne. Over the years, he's documented one failed prediction after another.
  • Browne claimed missing Texas 6-year-old Opal Jennings had been sold into slavery in "Kukouro, Japan," a place that doesn't exist. An autopsy revealed the little girl had been killed within hours of her abduction and buried in Fort Worth.
  • She told the parents of missing 11-year-old Shawn Hornbeck their little son was dead. The father said, "Hearing that was one of the hardest things we ever had to hear." Four years later, the little boy was found alive and well. Browne's ex-husband, Gary Dufresne, said of his wife: "I try to get her out of my mind as much as possible, but the damage she does to unsuspecting people in crisis situations is atrocious."
  • She claimed 19-year-old Ryan Katcher had been murdered and dumped in an iron mine shaft. Katcher was found in a pond, an apparent victim of accidental drowning.
  • She told Lynda McClelland's daughters in a 'reading' their mother was alive and had been abducted to Orlando, Florida by a man with the initials "MJ". McClelland's body was found buried near her home in Pennsylvania, killed by David Repasky, her son-in-law, who'd shaken Sylvia Browne's hand at the reading.
  • She changed her position three times within an hour in the rapidly unfolding events of the Sago Mine Disaster.
  • She predicted Michael Jackson would be found guilty of child molestation, when in fact he was found innocent.
  • She predicted Osama bin Laden had died in a cave in Iran when in fact he was subsequently killed in a compound in Pakistan.

The Big Lie

Extensive studies of Sylvia Browne proved false her claims she's more than 85% correct, concluding she erred in virtually every substantive prediction,  although in the majority of cases, Browne's 'help' was too vague and watery to be useful, e.g, "I see two boulders somewhere…"
  • Skeptic Robert Lancaster, creator of the web site StopSylvia.com, details a plethora of missing child cases Browne got wrong, noting James Randi calls her a "callous fraud".
  • Steven Brill is the founder of CourtTV, American Lawyer magazine, and the magazine Brill's Content, which examined fourteen cases of known outcomes. Law enforcement officials and victim family members evinced Browne was unable to provide any useful information.
  • Ryan Shaffer and Agatha Jadwiszczok of the Skeptical Inquirer found in 25 cases of known result, Browne was completely wrong.

In other words, if you find yourself blest or beset with a Sylvia Browne prediction, you can pretty much bank on the opposite outcome. Again quoting her ex-husband, Gary Dufresne, after a tarot reading party: "I said to her as we were washing dishes and she was wiping, I said, 'Sylvia, how can you tell people this kind of stuff? You know it's not true, and some of these people actually are probably going to believe it?' And she said, 'Screw 'em. Anybody who believes this stuff ought to be taken.'"

The Big Question

It's bad enough Nancy Grace puts psychics on an equal footing with police investigators, but it's truly embarrassing when police listen to psychics and follow up their 'leads'… which are almost invariably wrong.

The Guardian's Jon Ronson asked CIA psychologist Dr Ray Hyman why the agency and police departments bother to employ psychics. "People are basically nutty, which means there are just as many nutty people within our government and our law enforcement agencies as there are outside them."

Ah, so that explains it. Special Agent Chris Whitcomb of the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children maintain that to their knowledge, psychic detectives have never solved a single missing-person case, not one, not ever.

Unfortunately, I predict desperate families and police departments will continue to hire clairvoyants. I must be psychic.