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The college admissions scandal: a modest proposal

What has practically every story you’ve read or heard during the last couple of weeks about the college admissions scandal had in common? The journalists and commentators have consistently used the terms elite colleges or elite universities. They have done without any critical assessment of the terms themselves, and therein lies a problem — possibly The Problem. We […]

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Emma Lathen: a dual force in mystery literature

If you were an avid reader of mystery novels in the 1960s, you were probably aware of three female mystery writers more than any others: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Emma Lathen. Emma Lathen? While Christie and Sayers have achieved immortality in the realms of mystery fiction, Lathen has all but disappeared. Yet her […]

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Dan Jenkins, 1928-2019, RIP

Back in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, if you had a sacred cow — particularly if it had to do with sports or anything connected — Dan Jenkins would come along and push it over. And make you laugh while he was doing it. Jenkins was one of an elite group of sportswriters who worked […]

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Dick Francis, forensics, jury trials, and Ole Bert: newsletter, March 15, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,875) on Friday, March 15, 2019.     The news of this week of a major scandal in the collegiate admissions process has captured, and in some cases (mine) captivated, the attention of the nation, and rightly so. Having spent much of my adult life […]

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Dick Francis, a top jockey and an even better mystery writer

When Dick Francis took his horse Devon Loch up over the last hurdle at the 1956 Grand National Steeplechase, he was on top of the British racing world — which was quite a place to be since racing, literally, was the sport of kings. He led the field, and the finish line was in sight. Devon […]

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The Belfast Project’s secret tapes, Facebook’s (and our) profound mistake, and more on America’s first female detective: newsletter, March 8, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,884) on Friday, March 8, 2019.     March is not the most reliable of months weatherwise in East Tennessee — not like January or July. More often than not, the first week of March is balmy, giving us a little pre-spring, if you will. […]

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Kate Warne, the first female detective (part 2)

Kate Warne wanted to become an actress. A Canadian by birth, she found herself in the mid-1850s in Chicago and recently widowed. Then she saw an advertisement, and it changed her direction and an entire profession. The ad was from the Pinkerton Detective Agency and said agents were being hired. It said nothing about “male […]

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Kate Warne, the world’s first female detective (part 1)

If the name of Kate Warne is unknown to you, you’re not alone. Most of the world has never heard of her, that is too bad — particularly with those of us in the detective-fiction-to-true-crime crowd. Kate Warne, as far as we can tell, is the first woman ever hired as a fulltime, true-to-life detective. […]

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Who was Jack the Ripper? That’s not the important question

Who was Jack the Ripper — possibly the most famous murderer in history? Decades of evidence and speculation have surrounded that question and provided no definitive answer. But for Hallie Rubenhold, author of the recently-published The Five, that’s not the important question. The really important question is this: Who were his victims? We know their […]

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The Belfast Project tapes and the murder of Jean McConville

The Troubles is how everyone refers to it — the violence that wracked Northern Ireland for much of the latter half of the 20th century. It was a vicious and violent time that produced few heroes and no honor. All three sides in the confict — the Catholics, the Protestants, and the British Army — committed […]

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Ireland, the first female detective, and Aristotle on storytelling: newsletter, March 1, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,980) on Friday, March 1, 2019.     Ireland (rather than Georgia) has been on my mind this week — purely by coincidence. I mentioned last week that I was reading my first Tana French book, Faithful Place, which is set in Dublin. Then I heard from […]

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The latest plagiarism controversy: The Woman in the Window

You could argue that everything is plagiarized. Nothing is original. Mark Twain did, as Alison Flood points out that the beginning of her excellent article on plagiarism in the Guardian this week (Secondhand books: the murky world of literary plagiarism | Books | The Guardian): “As if there was much of anything in any human […]

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Lincoln’s first inaugural, the best-selling mystery writer you’ve never heard of, podcasts and more: newsletter, Feb. 22, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,914) on Friday, February 22, 2019.   Still painting, still writing, still editing, still reading — if I can do those things, then the massive amount of rain that East Tennessee has been getting fades is not as significance as it might be otherwise. It’s also […]

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Galbraith, Rowling and the losing art of anonymity; football and P.D. James: newsletter, Feb. 15, 2019

  Books stack themselves up around me (I don’t have the faintest idea how this happens). Some books I start and give up on; some I start and continue, though intermittently; and some I start and interrupt all other reading until I am well on the way to finishing. Joyce Carol Oates’ Jack of Spades is the current […]

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Is American football dying? Not yet, but the longterm outlook is unclear

Football is still the most popular sport on American television, but the thrill of the game seems somehow diminished. Professional football has taken some serious hits during the past few years: divisive political controversies, misconduct of players, the continued and illogical denial by the NFL of links between on-field play and concussion effects, low ratings, […]

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Robert Galbraith and J.K. Rowling and the losing game of staying anonymous

When Robert Galbraith finished The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first of the C.B. Strike series, the book was sent to a publisher for consideration. It was rejected. That likely happened again — but we don’t know how many times. We do know that it was accepted by Sphere Books, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, and […]

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Pablo Casals on staying young, an interesting blast from the past, and post-prison rehab: newsletter, Feb. 8, 2019

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,912) on Friday, February 8, 2019.   This week’s newsletter takes a short break from writers and writing (mostly) and explores a couple of other topics, such as post-prison rehabilitation and the interesting story of a 1960s folk music classic. But you can […]

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Cellist Pablo Casals, at 93, told us how to stay ‘young’

If you feel that you are piling up the birthdays and that you are “growing old” — a phrase that has become part of our natural conversation these days — consider the words of Pablo Casals, the famous cellist: On my last birthday I was ninety-three years old. That is not young, of course. In […]

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Robert Caro’s interviewing trick; something new in Nashville; and reader recommendations for the cold winter: newsletter, Feb. 1, 2019

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (x) on Friday, February 1, 2019.   Despite snow interruptions in East Tennessee (and much, much worse elsewhere), this has been a busy week of discoveries and revelations. Another volume in the Baseball Joe series has been uploaded — see the list below […]

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Lyndon Johnson biographer Caro reveals a secret weapon of interviewing

Robert Caro’s magisterial four volumes on Lyndon Johnson is, in my view, one of the great works of nonfiction of the 20th and 21st centuries. They will stand for many decades as an amazing work of prose and scholarship. Volume 4, which covers Johnson’s vice presidency and his taking over the presidency after the assassination […]

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