This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,431) on Friday, Dec. 29, 2017.
A lot of you readers took the time to respond to various parts of the newsletter last week, and I have included some of those responses here. Thanks to you all. Your responses make great reading, and I am happy to share them with everyone.
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The ‘private eye’: In the beginning, there was Dashiell Hammett
Our concept of the “private eye,” one of American literature’s most enduring characters, begins with the short stories and novels of Dashiell Hammett. He created the characters of the Continental Op (an anonymous detective who worked for an agency) and Sam Spade, a private detective who worked on his own, for his stories. From those characters, particularly Spade and his depiction on the movies by Humphrey Bogart, have sprung a legion of fictional heroes and heroines whose job is to find the truth, protect the good from the bad, and right wrongs.
Hammett’s concept of the private eye came from his own experience as an agent for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Hammett’s terse writing style set an extremely high standard for the many fictionalists who have followed him. Read more about Dashiell Hammett’s contributions in this short post of JPROF.com.
I am writing a series of blog posts on JPROF.com about the private eye and the writers who have used him. You can find the first one here,
Next week: Raymond Chandler.
And, in response to the private eye series, I got this from newsletter reader Dan C., good friend and proof-reader extraordinaire:
The answer is below the signature of this newsletter.
Best book of 2017?
My call for your Best Book of 2017 got this from reader Suella:
And this from Vicki:
And this from Sharon K:
What I read through 2017 was the Apocalyptic Fears sets 1-6 (a multi-author anthology of short stories). There were a lot of books in these sets so it took awhile to read all of them. I am now going through the books I got this year to be read pile and picking new books to read.
Finally, from Mike C.:
Not sure you realize just how hard a question you asked this time! I have 16 books I read this year that I gave an excellent rating to. Six of those were by very well-known, big name authors. So I decided to look at the remaining ten and see if, somehow, I could pick just 1 winner. And I did! I think I picked it because it was the only one to receive an excellent rating that was out of my normal genre(s). Drum roll please…my favorite book of 2017 was The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. It was also the only one that appealed to my life long avocation/pursuit: Philosophy. This book contained some elements very interesting from a philosophical standpoint. The book was very well written and easy to read. It is a memoir that somehow grabbed me and totally immersed me in its story. While telling her life story, she also draws lessons and talks about life itself – that is where the philosophy comes in. I found it quite compelling. Life is a sequence of thousands – no millions – of little choices — all of which have consequences over time. It has been made into a movie, but, as is often the case, it falls far short of the book and leaves out the philosophy completely.
True crime podcasts (continued): The Vanished
The Vanished. What about people who go missing, usually under suspicious circumstances, and are never found? They simply vanish. If that fascinates you, this is the podcast you will want to listen to regularly. Host Marissa Jones does a fine job of researching, interviewing, and writing this show on a weekly basis. The podcast is partnered with Wondery and has an excellent audio quality. The latest episode involves a young Atlanta-area woman, Jenna Van Gelderen, and has a maddening account of how law enforcement agencies in the area bungled the investigation of her disappearance.
See what else we’ve recommended below the signature of this newsletter.
College football heads for its zenith
Having spent my career and much of my life on American college campuses, I know how important football is in the minds of some people. I taught at the University of Alabama for 25 years and at the University of Tennessee for the last 10 years of my career. On Monday evening, the college football playoffs begin, and those games will eventually determine the national champion. Alabama is one of the four teams that will compete. (Tennessee fans long for the Volunteers to be one of these final four teams, but, alas, the team had a less-than-stellar year.)
Many of us on the academic side of campus (including me) spend a lot of time grousing about the over-emphasis on football and the enormous salaries that many big-time football coaches make compared to, say, the governor of a state. The grousing is not misplaced, but we forget, ignore, or are unaware of the deep historical roots that the game of football has on the nation’s campuses. Some higher ed historians argue that that many colleges in the late 19th and early 20th century could not have survived if football had not been there to attract students and create a brand to which alumni and others, particularly doners, could be loyal. (See an article by David Labaree arguing this point.)
A final note: When I arrived at Alabama in 1978, the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant was still the head coach of the football team. I was able to meet him once and talk very briefly with him.
A New Year & A New Gift Card Giveaway. We about to start a giveaway that has a $350 Amazon Gift Card prize. The giveaway is set to run Jan. 1-15, and it’s one simple entry. On Monday, click on this link below for your chance at a $350 Amazon Gift Card: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/77deea0969/? Now you have a chance to get what you REALLY wanted for Christmas.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery/
Addictive Suspense and Thrillers Giveaway.This giveaway, which includes Kill the Quarterback, is a carefully compiled selection of high-octane, fast-paced mystery-suspense-thrillers, full of action, suspense and drama from debut to bestselling authors. Some of the books are already available while others are coming soon. Take a moment to check them out and claim any that intrigue you for absolutely free.
Crimes against English (continued)
A couple of weeks ago, I asked you to let me know your pet peeve about misuse of English. This came in from Glenn S. in Florence, AL, this week:
Glenn is a good friend of many years and former newspaper editor. One of the best, in fact, so pay attention to what he says.
And this from Robin K.:
If you have a pet peeve about English usage (I know that you do), let me know what it is.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Dashiell Hammett
I am still practicing portraits.
Best quote of the week:
People call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute. Rebecca West (1892-1983)
Do not forget the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate. Add to these those devastated by the California wildfires. These and many other disasters mean that people need our help. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.Keep reading and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Who is he? (the answer)
The Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald. Published from the early 60s to the 80s. In the first book, in 1962 the character was named Dallas McGee. After JFK’s assassination, MacDonald changed the name.
True crime podcasts recommendations so far:
Crimetown. This multi-episode podcast takes a close look at former mayor Buddy Cianci and organized crime in Providence, Rhode Island. Cianci began his political career as a reformer but found that even though he had been elected mayor, real power in Providence lay outside city hall. The podcasts are hosted by Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier, and they use a wealth of audio interviews with city officials, lawyers, friends of Buddy, crime bosses, mistresses, show girls, and wise guys to tell a mesmerizing story. And unlike many podcast episodes which last an hour or more, most of these are 30-45 minutes long.
S-town. The makers of This American Life and Serial have done it again. They have created a podcast series that begins in one direction and zigs and zags through a variety of fascinating scenes, situations and characters. You think it’s about murder or small-town corruption, but by episode 3, it’s headed off somewhere else. The story comes from Woodstock, Alabama — just up the road from Tuscaloosa where I used to live — and begins with John B., an unhappy resident there, calling reporter Brian Reed and asking him to investigate the cover-up of a murder that has occurred in Woodstock. Once you have listened to episode 1, you’ll be on the roller coaster and won’t be able to get off.
Casefile, a well written and well delivered podcast from Australia, deals with stories of real crime under the moniker: “Fact is scarier than fiction.” Casefile is this week’s true crime podcast recommendation. Casefile deals with crimes from all over the world, not just Australia, but their native cases are often the most interesting and intriguing. The narration is delivered by Anonymous Host, an unnamed voice whose Australian accent is positively charming. The podcasts are well-researched and tightly written and are a pleasure to listen to. Casefile has a large following around the world and has gathered a number of prestigous awards. After listening to a few episodes, it’s easy to see why. Start with Episode 66: The Black Widow and get hooked.
True Crime All the Time , hosted by Mike Ferguson and Mike Gibson, or “Gibby,” presents some fascinating cases, and the hosts are well informed (though not experts of any sort). Both have engaging personalities, and a big part of the fun is just hearing them play off of each other. Try episode 45, the case of Adolpho Constanzo and Sara Aldrete. It’s typical of Mike and Gibby’s approach. (Be careful; some of this episode is graphic and hard to take.)
Real Crime Profile, with three excellent hosts, have discussions of criminal cases that are riveting and insightful. The link provided above is to a list of some of the recent podcasts. Start anywhere. You will be fascinated. (Real Crime Profile on Facebook.)
Dirty John: Christopher Goffard, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, has written and narrates a series called Dirty John. It’s the story of Debra Newell and John Meehan and is a true crime podcast of the highest order. It will take you a while to get through it, but once you start, you’ll likely be hooked. The reporting is thorough, the interviews are fascinating, and the story is full of twists, turns, and surprises. The ending is well worth the journey. Here’s a link to part 1, “The Real Thing.”
Sword and Scale. This website and podcast, according to its own description, is about “the dark underworld of crime and the criminal justice system’s response to it.” The folks associated with Sword and Scale have spent a lot of time producing interesting and informative podcasts about serious crimes. One episode I listened to was episode 90. It was an hour well spent.
Do you have any true crime podcast recommendations to share with fellow readers?
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