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David Morrell’s Inspector of the Dead is set on the harrowing streets of 1855 London. A gripping Victorian mystery/thriller, its vivid historical details come from years of research. Here are photo essays that David prepared about the novel’s fascinating locations. Read the first post about Mayfair and Belgravia, the second post about Constitution Hill, the third post about Lord Palmerston’s House, and the fourth post about Jay’s Mourning Warehouse.
The first world’s fair took place in London in 1851. Championed by Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, it demonstrated the might and majesty of the British Empire. Officially called the Great Exhibition, it quickly became known as the Crystal Palace exhibition because of the amazing building in which it occurred.
Essentially a large greenhouse, the Crystal Palace was composed of 900,000 square feet of glass plates secured in a wrought-iron framework. It occupied a massive fifty-eight acres of Hyde Park and stretched twelve stories high, so tall that full-grown elm trees were left in place as interior landscaping.
So vast was the space that two huge organs, two hundred other instruments, and six hundred singers could barely be heard when the queen and Prince Albert attended the opening ceremony. Inspector of the Dead dramatizes that ceremony and a fateful historical incident that happened there, involving a real-life mysterious figure who emerged from the crowd and approached the queen.
When the world’s fair ended in October of 1851, the Crystal Palace was disassembled and recreated at Sydenham Hill, a semi-rural area south of the Thames.
There it remained, in a gradually deteriorating condition until fire destroyed it in 1936.
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Mike Ripley's new - and, he says, final - "Getting Away with Murder" column has now been published in Shots Ezine. As usual, it contains a wide-ranging ramble through the current mystery scene, particularly as it appears in the U. K. Among the topics this month:
And a possible farewell of sorts. This is column #100 for "Getting Away with Murder." Ripley, who has insisted that column #100 would be his last, runs down a list of people who, he says, are some of the candidates to replace him - well, that's what he says, though the biographies are, er, highly dubious at best. I hope it's somebody with Ripley's quirky sense of humor, very much on display again here, which has made his columns required reading for me. It occurs to me, however, the next column being dated April 1, and therefore quite possibly an appropriate time to introduce any of these candidates, that it would be wise to withhold lavish displays of grief. At least for now...
An amazing book. A serial killer who travels through time. One of his victims who lived has to find him. It does have some very grisly murders, which are hard to read and scary. The best thing about it is that it uses the time travel to explore the history and people and social issues, all couched in a thrilling tale.
It was difficult this past week to hear of the death of Leonard Nimoy. Like so many others, I was a pretty serious fan of Star Trek from its first airings (yeah, I'm old), and Spock always appealed more than the other characters to me.
He had that conflict between his natural tendency to see everything in terms of cold, objective logic and the need to understand his human side, which would react to things more emotionally than the character might want to admit. He was a beautifully conceived character, but he wouldn't have worked half as well if he'd been played by another actor (as we've seen in recent years).
The need to keep raging emotions in check while understanding their importance was what kept the character interesting. And Nimoy, who must have understood him on a basic level, once told director Nicholas Meyer (Wrath of Khan and Undiscovered Country, among others) that he never played Spock as a character with no emotions.
Instead, he played the alien as a man trying to keep his emotions in check. That makes all the difference.
Yes, some of the plots were downright silly and the special effects on a TV budget and schedule in the 1960s could be laughable. But Spock was never anything but dignified and in the parlance of the time, cool. He could outperform humans on almost every level, but was content to live among them and observe.
Leonard Nimoy brought that to the role. Did he bristle at being thought of as Spock and nothing else? On occasion, he did; it's true. But he did not disparage the role or the people who had embraced it, sometimes to the point of embarrassment.
Hey. I was nine years old and it was Star Trek. Cut me some slack.
Many years later when I was going through my unsuccessful screenwriter phase, I wrote a screenplay that had some connections to Star Trek, although it took place in contemporary America and didn't use any of the original characters because I wasn't stupid. I'd probably shudder to look at that piece of work today, but at the time I thought it was pretty good and I was hoping to get it noticed somewhere in Hollywood.
So I sent a letter to Leonard Nimoy asking if he'd like to consider directing the script.
To my astonishment, I received a letter (this was back when there were letters) from Mr. Nimoy's company saying he'd very much like to read the script. And you can believe that a copy was in the mail that very day.
I don't remember how long it took to receive a response, but I'm sure at the time I thought it was an eternity and I did my best not to pester anyone at Nimoy's company about it (I'm sure Josh can picture me waiting by the phone, only younger). But eventually another letter did arrive.
It's probably not a huge surprise that Nimoy passed on the script, since when you scan my IMDb page, you'll see I don't have one. But he did send a personal note.
He wrote, "I read your script with great interest, and your fondness for the material is evident. Although I am not going to proceed with it, I'd advise you to keep writing." I quoted that from memory.
It was a time when I needed any little bit of encouragement, and getting Mr. Spock to tell me I should keep writing did the trick. It was something he didn't have to do--most other Hollywood types would have sent a form letter or gotten an assistant to write the note--but he clearly saw that the script meant a lot to me, and wanted to connect personally.
I never forgot that, obviously.
Rest in peace, Mr. Nimoy. You were a good actor who had one iconic role, which is more than most get. You were a talented director, a good writer and I don't know much about photography, but I'm willing to bet you had some talent there too. You were kind to me at a time I needed it, and even though I tried to explain that the one time we met for about a half a minute, I don't think I sufficiently communicated that thought. Thank you. You will be missed.
His name was Jay Otto. He was not quite three feet tall. He was an entertainer, performing as "The Big Midget." The audiences, apparently, loved him. As for the people around him...well, here's what one woman had to say:
"He looked exactly like any other peson, only tiny. And he hated everybody. He hated everybody so much that the hate seemed to ooze out of him, like sweat."
So perhaps it wasn't surprising that Jay Otto was murdered. And that's when he really started making trouble for Chicago lawyer John J. Malone and his two close friends, Jake and Helene Justus, in one of Craig Rice's screwball comedy-mysteries from 1942 called The Big Midget Murders. It's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
Jake and Helene are now the owners of a Chicago casino, and Jay Otto is performing there when he is murdered backstage. Now we all know the first thing one is supposed to do on discovering a murder scene is call the police – and never to touch the body or disturb the crime scene. That rule is pretty well ignored by Malone, Jake and Helene, who don’t want a dead body discovered in their casino. So they put the body into a case designed for a big bass fiddle – I told you this was a screwball comedy mystery – and go outside to discuss what to do next. When they go back inside, they discover that the fiddle case – and the body – have disappeared. And that's just the beginning of the complications. Somehow, Rice manages to keep us laughing - though the laughter often has a very dark edge - while increasingly surreal events surround the "now-you-see-it, now-you-don't" appearances and disappearances of the body. it’s to her credit that she maintains the black comedy while providing an interesting and complex plot and a fair number of memorable characters.
"The Big Midget Murders" appears to be out of print, but there is an e-book version available. It's grim but funny, as with so many of Rice's books. If you're in the mood for something a little off the beaten path, this book deserves your consideration.
The 2015 Bingo Challenge
As you probably know by now, I am participating in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. The Bingo card has 36 squares to be filled by reading a book appropriate to each square's instructions. The Big Midget Murders is my entry for the square (second row, fourth column) which calls for a book with a lawyer, courtroom, judge, etc. Malone will fill that square very nicely.
“RABBIT FOOT.” An episode of Schlitz Playhouse, CBS, 9 July 1954 (Season 3, Episode 45). Stephen McNally, Paul Langton, Harry Shannon. Screenplay: Lawrence L. Goldman. Director: Christian Nyby.
When the series went into syndication, the Schlitz had to go, so they called it Herald Playhouse, under which guise this episode ended up on a DVD of old television mysteries from Alpha Video.
What’s remarkable, something that I didn’t realize before, is that Schlitz Playhouse was on CBS for eight years, first at 60 minutes, then 30, then alternating with Lux Playhouse for its final season. If I added up the numbers correctly, there were nearly 350 episodes in all.
I wonder where that puts it in the ranking of longest-running anthology series? It’s a lot of different sets, different actors, and a brand new script from scratch every week. I know there had to be some comedies and straight dramas in the mix, but I imagine a good percentage of the episodes were crime-oriented, such as this one.
Everyone involved with this episode had long careers in movies and on TV, with the star, Stephen McNally, probably the most recognizable name today. But Harry Stanton has the almost unique distinction of being the only person involved in the making of both Citizen Kane and High Noon, being in the cast of each. (The other is William H. O’Brien, but he almost doesn’t count, since he was an uncredited member of the cast of each; in fact, almost his entire career was uncredited.)
I’ll leave you to check out the careers of the others in this particular cast. What caught my eye was the name of the scriptwriter, Lawrence L. Goldman, whose name came up on this blog as the author of Black Fire, one half of an Ace Double paperback that I reviewed here not too long ago.
I should say something about the story, which has only three sets, the couple of storefronts along the main street of a small southern town, inside the local police station, and a swamp somewhere outside of town, filled with bubbling quagmires and alligators, and when you see that at the beginning, I think you know immediately what the ending is going to be.
And you’d be right. A bedraggled stranger comes into town with a satchel of stolen bank loot, claiming to be a detective from a couple of towns over who has killed the real robber in the swamp. We the viewer sense something is wrong with the story right away, and with less than 30 minutes of running time, it doesn’t take the police chief and his second-in-command to catch on either. But they need proof, and by means of a lucky rabbit’s foot, prove it they do.
Not so lucky for the rabbit, of course. It never is.