Dec 022012

This season holds particular significance for followers of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. It was 125 years ago, in 1887, that Holmes and his chronicler, Doctor John Watson, made their first appearances in A Study in Scarlet,
a novel published in the paperback magazine Beeton’s Christmas Annual. That yarn had previously been called A Tangled Skein and featured sleuth Sherrinford Holmes, who shared rooms at 221B Upper Baker Street in London with a character called Ormond
Sacker. However, author Arthur Conan Doyle, at the time a physician with
a not terribly successful practice in Portsmouth, England, changed all of those
names prior to publication. Thank goodness.

Conan Doyle was paid a remarkably modest £25 for his work, which appeared again a year later in book form, complete with illustrations by the author’s father. Favorably reviewed by the prominent newspapers in Scotland, A Study in Scarlet would be followed by three more Holmes novels and 56 short stories, and help make Conan Doyle one of the world’s best-selling crime novelists.

If you’ve never read A Study in Scarlet … first of all, shame on you! But if you would like to at least hear it being read, an audio recording of the book is available on YouTube. Click here for Chapter One.

READ MORE:Sherlock at 125,” by Les Blatt (Classic Mysteries).

You Must Remember This

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Nov 262012

• It was 70 years ago today that the now-famous film Casablanca premiered at New York City’s elegant Hollywood Theater “to coincide with the Allied invasion of North Africa and the capture of Casablanca.” During that 10-week showing
audiences were first introduced to nightclub proprietor Rick Blaine
(Humphrey Bogart), his ex-lover Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), her Resistance
leader husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), and club pianist Sam (Dooley
Wilson), who made the song “As Time Goes By” a classic. The film didn’t go into general release, however, until January 23, 1943. Casablanca wasn’t a huge hit to begin with, but it made Bogart a romantic leading man and it has weathered well among young lovers. Click here, here, and here
to read more about this 70th anniversary.

• Actress Noomi Rapace, of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo fame, guest stars in The Rolling Stones’ new “Doom and Gloom” music video.

• Because I was away for Thanksgiving, I missed last week’s news that Broken Harbour, by Tana French, won the 2012 Irish Book Award in the Crime Novel category. Also contending for that honor were Slaughter’s Hound, by Declan Burke; Vengeance, by Benjamin Black; The Istanbul Puzzle, by Laurence O’Bryan; Too Close for Comfort, by Niamh O’Connor; and Red Ribbons, by Louise Phillips.

• Speaking of commendations, Uriah Robinson (aka Norman Price) of Crime Scraps Review alerts us that author Åsa Larsson’s Till offer åt Molok has won the Swedish Crime Academy’s 2012 award for Best Swedish Crime Novel. Meanwhile, Peter Robinson’s Before the Poison captured
the Academy’s Best Foreign Crime Novel prize.

Happy 60th anniversary to The Mousetrap.

• And here’s just the thing for writers in search of a next line.

“Dr. Watson, Mr. Sherlock Holmes”

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Nov 082012

We’re approaching the 125th anniversary of Sherlock Holmes’ introduction to the reading world. His first adventure, in A Study in Scarlet, was serialized in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in late 1887. Gregory McNamee commemorates this occasion with a short piece for the Kirkus Reviews Web site. It begins:

It was an inspired but utterly accidental moment when Arthur Conan Doyle, a Scottish doctor struggling to establish himself both as a physician and as a writer in late Victorian London, drew upon the habits of an irascible medical school mentor to concoct a character that he pegged as a “consulting detective,” an utterly newfangled job description.

You can enjoy the full article here.

Licensed to Thrill

 Anniversaries 2012, Bondiversaries, Ian Fleming  Comments Off on Licensed to Thrill
Oct 052012

The film trailer for Dr. No

Like millions of other people, you probably missed the memo, but today happens to be Global James Bond Day. It was 50 years ago, on October 5, 1962, that the film Dr. No–the first big-screen Bond movie, and the earliest of Sean Connery’s seven Agent 007 pictures–commenced showing at the London Pavilion. That thriller went on to debut in other theaters around England over the next several days, before finally reaching American movie houses in May 1963.

READ MORE:50 Classic James Bond Moments,” by Natalie
Bochenski (; “Best James Bond Opening Sequences,” by Kevin Fallon (The Daily Beast); and don’t miss The HMSS Weblog’s six-part series about this Dr. No anniversary.

The Matchless Mitchell

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Aug 162012

Although it has nothing to do with crime and mystery fiction, I want to draw your attention to a quite wonderful, two-part feature in January Magazine about the longtime New Yorker magazine writer and author Joseph Mitchell (1908-1996). It commemorates 20 years since his omnibus work, Up in the Old Hotel, was first released.

The piece was put together by Matthew Fleagle. Now a technical writer for a small software company in Seattle, Washington, Fleagle began his career with an interest in journalism. I hired him on as an intern at the old Washington Magazine, and then watched his talents grow as he took on assignments for Eastsideweek, Northwest Health, and assorted other local periodicals. He’s been away from journalism for some while–he says that the Mitchell feature is “the first article I’ve written specifically for publication in a dozen years.”–but his writing and reporting skills seem not to have suffered tremendously as a result. I’m proud to have done what I could to encourage him to compose this piece about Mitchell and help get it posted. I hope to encourage more of his contributions to January in the future.

Anyway, check out both installments of Fleagle’s piece. Part I is located here, while Part II can be found here.

“Lizzie Borden Took an Axe …”

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Aug 042012

It was 120 years ago today, on August 4, 1892, that Lizzie Borden, a 32-year-old resident of Fall River, Massachusetts, allegedly took up a hatchet and with it murdered her banker father and her stepmother in their home at 92 Second Street. The ensuing police investigation and court trial attracted media attention from around the country, and most people seemed sure that Lizzie had done the ugly deed. However, she was acquitted on June 20, 1893, after her jury had deliberated for a mere hour and a half.

Lizzie Borden subsequently moved (with her older sister, Emma, from whom she eventually became estranged) to another house in Fall River, this one on more fashionable French Street. Following gallbladder surgery, Lizzie died on June 1, 1927. She was 66 years old.

Today, the house where Andrew Borden and his second wife, Abby, met their bloody ends operates as a bed and breakfast as well as a museum. The story of their long-ago homicides has been the inspiration for many novels (among them 1984’s Lizzie, by Evan Hunter [aka Ed McBain], and 1989’s Miss Lizzie, by Walter Satterthwait) as well as television dramatizations (including the haunting 1975 film The Legend of Lizzie Borden, which starred former Bewitched actress Elizabeth Montgomery–who was reportedly related to Lizzie–and can be viewed in its 90-minute entirety here). But those events of August 1892 may be best remembered as a result of a familiar skipping-rope rhyme of now-forgotten origin:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.

The likelihood of the Borden murders ever being moved from the “active” into the “solved” files ranks right up there with the chances of someone finally unmasking notorious Jack the Ripper. But that’s OK. Some mysteries are best left as just that: mysteries.

READ MORE:The Borden Murders, 120 Years Unsolved,” by Robert Wilhelm (Murder by Gaslight): “Ax Lizzie for the Tour,” by Katherine Ramsland (Psychology Today).

Watergate Lives On

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Jun 172012

It was 40 years ago today that operatives linked to Republican President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign broke into Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., looking for material that could be used to damage then presidential candidate Senator George McGovern (D-South Dakota) and his fellow Dems. Police arrested five men for the crime. Those five, and others, were subsequently tried on charges of conspiracy, burglary, and violation of federal wiretapping laws. The Watergate break-in, and the White House cover-up that followed, led to Nixon–who was facing impeachment and removal from office–becoming the only U.S. president ever to resign.

Click here to read more.

Covering a Landmark

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May 252012

This coming Sunday, May 27, will mark the 75th anniversary of the opening of San Francisco’s magnificent Golden Gate Bridge. To commemorate this occasion, The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley has put together a guided Web tour of that heavily traveled span as displayed on the covers of mystery, crime, and detective novels. There are book jackets dating back to 1940, though most of them are of much more recent vintage.

Bancroft librarian Randal S. Brandt (who also manages the Web sites Golden Gate Mysteries and A David Dodge Companion) offers a short intro to the exhibit in Mystery Fanfare. Or click here to go directly to the tour, which is titled “Shrouded in Mysteries.”

Being a longtime supporter of and frequent visitor to San Francisco, I wish I could say that I’ve read all of the books Brandt has collected for this Web tour. I haven’t … but that only means I have a pleasant challenge ahead of me before the 80th anniversary …

Fatal Night, Fertile Debate

 Anniversaries 2012  Comments Off on Fatal Night, Fertile Debate
Apr 092012

It’s not crime fiction related, but I have a new article posted on the Kirkus Reviews Web site, looking at some of my favorite books about the now century-old sinking of the British luxury liner Titanic–a tragedy that cost more than 1,500 people their lives.

You will find that piece here.