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

March 4, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, fiction, newsletter, writers, writing.

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 newsletter reader Frank C., who lives in Dublin (see below) and who recommended an author he likes who uses Dublin as the setting of his novels. In a follow-up email, Frank provided some good info about the Dublin police force.

After all that, I happened to read a review of Patrick Radden Keefe’s new book Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland. Keefe takes the 1972 murder of Jean McConnville, the mother of 10 children, and weaves it around a history of the Troubles, the half century of hate and violence that has wracked the sad province of the six counties in Ireland that remain under British control. I downloaded the sample of the ebook version and found it compelling, so much so that my weekend reading is set.

What are you reading this weekend? I am always happy to hear from newsletter readers and delighted to pass on their recommendations.

Whatever you are reading, have a great weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,913 subscribers and had a 36.3 percent open rate; 21 people unsubscribed. The open rate for last week is the highest of the year so far and one of the highest I have ever had. Thanks to all of you faithful readers.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

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.

That happened in 1856 when she walked into the Chicago office of Allen Pinkerton, founder of the world’s most famous detective agency. Pinkerton had advertised that he was hiring detectives, and Kate, a widow, decided to apply for a job.

Pinkerton was taken aback. He had not expected that a woman would apply for so male an undertaking, and his first instinct was to dissuade her from this foolish a venture.

Kate was obviously prepared for that reaction because she set about, in modern parlance, raising his consciousness. A woman would do and say things and go place a man would not or could not do or say. Women were naturally observant. Women saw things that men did not see. She told him, as Pinkerton would later write, that she “could worm out secrets to many places to which it was not possible for male detectives to gain access.”

Pinkerton was taken by Kate herself, not just her arguments. Little is known about Kate before she joined the agency. She was born in Canada and had been recently widowed. She had at one time wanted to be an actress. She was small and feminine, and later when she was a detective, she passed herself off as a young man.

We don’t know when she got the idea of becoming a detective, but by the time she showed up at Pinkerton’s, she had set her goals and was determined to reach them.

Despite opposition from his brother, Pinkerton decided that what Kate had said made sense. He hired her, and he never regretted it. Kate became one of the agency’s most valuable assets, and she was involved in some its biggest and most famous cases.

We’ll have more to say about that next week.

Bent Coppers: a short history of police corruption

The BBC website contains an excellent audio documentary on the history of police corruption and investigations into it. The documentary is called Bent Coppers, and it demonstrates how difficult it is to find and root out corruption in a police force. It also raises troubling questions about whether or not an honest force can be obtained. It’s well worth the hour of listening.

Source: Archive on 4 – Bent Coppers – BBC Sounds

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”

From the JPROF archive: Aristotle figured out the storytelling 2,300 years ago

An article in the March (2008) issue of The Writer magazine lays out what Aristotle thought about storytelling about 2,300 years ago. The article, written by William Kowalski, points out that the Greeks didn’t have the novel, but they did have the theater. From that, Aristotle decided to outline what he thought made a compelling story:

  • All stories are made up of five elements: setting, character, plot, dialogue and thought (intentions/motivations).
  • Plot is everything.
  • Characters come second.
  • Keep the audience interested by making reversals.
  • Use discoveries to move the plot.
  • The perfect plot is simple, not complex.

Kowalski adds some excellent commentary to each of these points, including this one:

By the way, was it smooth sailing once our ancient student of writing achieved the goal of all literary hopefuls — publication, or in the case of dramatists, production? Not quite. “Because there have been poets before him strong in the several species of tragedy, the critics now expect the (writer) to surpass each of his predecessors,” Aristotle intones.
In other words, 25 centuries ago, authors were already awaiting their reviews with butterflies in their stomachs. Some things never change.

(The Writer magazine article is not available online. This item was originally published on JPROF in December 2008.)

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 utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism!” opined Mark Twain more than 100 years ago. “The kernel, the soul – let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of allhuman utterances – is plagiarism.”
Twain was writing to his friend, the deaf-blind author Helen Keller, after reading her autobiography, in which she recounted her own experiences of being accused of – and admitting to – plagiarism.

The current controversy that sparked Flood’s article is that of the novel The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (a pseudonym for Dan Mallory), which shot to the tops of best-seller lists when it was published in January 2018. The novel bears a close resemblance to Saving April by Sarah Denzil, which was self-published in March 2016.

Mallory has recently been the subject of a long New Yorker article, exposing the many times through his career that Mallory has lied about his work, his experience, and his career. According to Flood,

The New Yorker profile identified another work similar to The Woman in the Window: the 1995 film Copycat, starring Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter. The film and the novel both see a psychologist become trapped in her home by agoraphobia, drink too much, be mistrusted by the police and join a forum that turns out to be dangerous. The director of Copycat, Jon Amiel, told the New Yorker that the debt was “not actionable, but certainly worth noting, and one would have hoped that the author might have noted it himself”.
Mallory himself has been open about being inspired by other works, including Gillian Flynn, Kate Atkinson and the Hitchcock film Rear Window, which he says he had just finished watching when the idea came to him.

Neither the controversy nor the exposure has done Mallory much damage. The Woman in the Window is still among the top 30 books in two of Amazon Kindle’s thriller lists.

Four publishing projects

My duties as writer-in-residence for the Blount County Public Library now include spearheading four publishing projects:

Foothills Voices: Echoes of Southern Appalachia (volume 2). A dozen local writers have worked together and separately to write chapters about the area and its people. Many of these are family stories; others are about aspects of the East Tennessee region. All are mightily interesting. We expect publication by April. Foothills Voices (volume 1) can be found here.

Ole Bert: Sage of the Smokies by C.W. “Woody” Brinegar. Bert Garner was a mountain man, but not in the Jeremiah Johnson sense. He was more of an Appalachian Henry David Thoreau. Garner died in 1970, and his friend Woody Brinegar inherited his journals; Brenigar used these and his memories to write a biography/memorial to this unique character. We’re publishing a new edition of the book, which should be out before the end of March.

The One I Knew the Best of All by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Burnett (The Secret Garden, Little Lord Fauntleroy) was English, but she spent her teenage years in East Tennessee and began her writing career there. This is a delightful autobiographical novel of her growing up years, including the time she lived in Knoxville. The book was originally published in 1893, and we’re bringing out a new edition with some interesting annotations, which we hope will be available by the end of March.

Among Loyal Mountaineers by Will McTeer. East Tennessee was a Unionist stronghold during the Civil War, and many of its people were roundly abused by the Confederates when they occupied this region. One of those was teenager Will McTeer, who, under cover of darkness, made his way past rebel patrols to join Union forces at the Cumberland Gap. McTeer’s story is exciting and important, and we plan to have it available later this spring.

I have been ably assisted in these projects by many people including faithful newsletter readers Brennan L. and Sarah W., who, among their many talents, are excellent rabbit-hole chasers. They love the hunt.


Gilbert W.: Love your watercolors of Blount County.  I like to look at old photos of Maryville when I was growing up  here. The present generation can look at Maryville in watercolor.  THANK YOU!  

Frank C.: I am reacting to your reference to a Dublin crime novel (Faithful Place) you are reading. I recommend to you an author Caimh McDonnell (A Man With One of those Faces who has written some hilarious crime novels based in Dublin. As a Dubliner, I am especially sensitive to false notes, and Caimh (though not currently based in Ireland) gets it just right. I really like his books.

Glenn S.: I believe I commended to you last year Hank Klibanoff’s fine series Buried Truths. The second season began this week, and it seems equally interesting and informative.…

Bonnie R.: The two series I enjoy reading and re-reading are by Elliott Roosevelt (Murder at the President’s Door) and Margaret Truman (Murder in Georgetown). Enjoy them more after spending time in Washington, D.C.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Maryville City Hall

Best quote of the week:

Stories are always really, really hard to write. I think it’s totally rational for a writer, no matter how much experience he has, to go right down in confidence to almost zero when you sit down to start something. Why not? Your last piece is never going to write your next one for you. John McPhee, writer

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

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




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