This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,5xx) on Friday, October 30, 2020.
Back to the (Zoom) Future. In the last few days, I attended a poetry reading of a friend’s new book on Facebook; I helped another friend launch a book on Zoom; and I attended a memorial service on YouTube for a friend who died recently. Each of these experiences was different, but they all had at least this in common: they allowed me to participate. (And as I thought about these things, I didn’t remember that I attend a Sunday school class every week using Zoom.)
I would have attended one of the events, the book launch, had it been in person. For the other two, it would have been prohibitively difficult for me to be present at the live event. We will undoubtedly be able to gather together in person again for events such as these, but one of the things the pandemic has taught us is that remote attendance is not only our present but also our future.
So, again, as I was a couple of weeks ago, I am grateful that today we live in a “zoom world.” It beats not being there. Have a great, though remote, weekend.
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Jacques Futrelle, a turn-of-the-century mystery writer whose life was cut tragically short
The last time anyone saw mystery writer Jacques Futrelle, he was standing next to John Jacob Astor smoking a cigarette while Astor puffed on a cigar. It was April 15, 1912, and the two were on the deck of the Titanic.
Futrelle was 37 years old and well on his way to becoming one of the giants of mystery fiction on this side of the Atlantic.
Futrelle had created as the main character in his mysteries Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. S. F. X. Van Deusen a.k.a “The Thinking Machine.” Van Deusen was less flamboyant than Sherlock Holmes in solving the problems presented to him, but the problems he had to solve were far more intricate than the ones that Holmes tackled.
Futrelle was born in 1875 in Pike County, Georgia into an educated family with a love of literature. Futrelle began working at an early age as a printer’s devil and spent much of his formative years in newspapers, in Atlanta, New York, and Boston. He was also the manager of a theater in Virginia where he wrote, directed, and acted in plays the theater produced.
He is credited with forming the first sports department for the Atlanta Journal and was a telegraph editor for the New York Herald during the Spanish American War.
While in New York, he and his wife Lily May Peel, also a writer, lived in the Gramercy Park neighborhood that included novelist Edith Wharton and short story writer O. Henry.
All this time, Futrelle was writing and developing his stories and his main character. In 1905, his first collection of stories was published featuring the Thinking Machine. It was titled The Problem of Cell 13, taking the title from the first story in the book. The next year Futrelle quit the newspaper business altogether to live in Massachusetts and devote himself full-time to writing novels.
In an effort to expand the market for his work, Futrelle and his wife traveled to Europe in January 1912, but they cut their trip short to return to America aboard the maiden voyage of the world’s largest passenger ship. When the ship began to sink, Futrelle insisted that his wife take a final seat in a lifeboat while he stayed aboard the ship.
In a short article about Futrelle on CrimeReads.com, Olivia Rutigliano describes the last moments of Futrelle’s life:
Mrs. Futrelle gave a statement to The New York Times upon arriving to safety: “Jacques is dead, but he died like a hero, that I know. Three or four times after the crash, I rushed up to him in class to be in my arms and begged him to get into one of the lifeboats. ‘For God’s sake go!’ he barely screamed at me as he tried to push me away, but I could see how he suffered. ‘It’s your last chance, go!’ Then one of the ship’s officers forced me into a lifeboat, and I gave up all hope that he could be saved.”Later that year, she arranged for the publication of his final book. But she wrote the dedication, herself: “To the heroes of the Titanic, I dedicate this my husband’s book.” Source: Mystery Writer Jacques Futrelle Died Onboard the Titanic, but His Greatest Detective Creation Lives On | CrimeReads
His stories are entertaining and well worth reading, especially if you are already a Sherlock Holmes fan.
Podcast recommendation: Detective Trapp
The folks who brought you the podcast “Dirty John” — the Los Angeles Times, Wondery, and reporter Christopher Goffard — have done it again. They have produced another compelling, multi-episode podcast titled “Detective Trapp.”
Julissa Trapp is the only woman on the Anaheim homicide squad, and she is
. . . not like other detectives. She’s . . . a skilled chameleon: undercover cop in vice stings, crime-scene commander, patient confidante of killers. A master interrogator, she invokes her personal experience – and deepest griefs – as a tool to elicit confessions. When a young woman’s body is found at a trash-sorting plant, Trapp learns the murder may be linked to the disappearance of three other women in nearby Santa Ana. Source: Detective Trapp on Apple Podcasts
The podcast follows Trapp as she tracks down what proves to be a set of serial killers who prey upon women generally forgotten by society. Trapp promises the mother of one that she will find her daughter’s killer “if it’s the last thing I do.”
It’s a line you hear on TV shows but not much in real life.
Trapp makes good on the promise, and Goffard, Wondery, and the LA Times allow us to follow along on that journey. Listen to all six episodes. You won’t be sorry.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
When the owner of The Strand bookstore in New York City announced last week that the store’s revenues were down 70 percent and it was in danger of closing because of the pandemic, the reading public reacted.A dozen people were waiting in line when the store opened up on Sunday.That was good but not significant.
What was significant was what happened online:
Ms. (Nancy Bass) Wyden said the call for help produced a boom in business on Saturday: a single-day record of 10,000 online orders, so many that the website crashed. That day was also the best single day in the month of October that the flagship store, near Union Square, has ever had, and the best day ever at the Strand’s Upper West Side branch, which opened earlier this year. In the 48 hours since the plea went out, the store processed 25,000 online orders, compared with about 600 in a typical two-day period. Source: The Strand Calls for Help, and Book Lovers Answer – The New York Times
During the pandemic, reading and book sales have gone up, but “brick and mortar” stores have suffered.
What happened to The Strand is heartening, and it should be happening in other parts of the nation. What’s going on with your local bookstore?
Drew Pearson and his enemies (part 2)
Columnist Drew Pearson once received a letter, delivered by the U.S. Postal Service, in an envelope that had only one line on it:
The mail carrier read the envelope and knew exactly who the recipient of the letter should be: Drew Pearson.
The columnist and reporter was a hard-charging journalist with a reputation for being tough on those with whom he disagreed. This sobriquet, The S.O.B., was emblematic and famously laid on him by someone he thought of as a friend, Harry Truman. Just after the election of 1944 when Truman was first elected vice president, Pearson described Mrs. Truman standing in a reception line in what the new vice president thought unflattering terms. Even though Pearson did not mean what he wrote to sound critical, Truman took it that way.
Pearson actually tried to apologize, but Truman was unforgiving and rarely spoke to Pearson during his vice presidency or presidency. Despite Truman’s obstinacy, Pearson remained sympathetic to Truman while he was in office, although he gave Truman plenty of grief for some of the policies he advocated and for the people he kept in his administration.
Harry Truman was never an enemy of Drew Pearson, but there were plenty of people who filled that role.
Two of the most well-known were Joseph McCarthy and the man who had saved Pearson from a beating by McCarthy, Richard Nixon.
Beginning in 1950 McCarthy terrorized Washington by claiming that he knew the U.S. government with filled with members of the American Communist Party, and he knew their names. Anyone who challenged McCarthy risked being publicly denounced and added to McCarthy’s supposed list. Pearson, a man who advocated cooperation rather than confrontation with the Soviet Union, had no qualms about standing up to McCarthy and the bullies who surrounded him. Repeatedly, in his columns and on his radio broadcasts, Pearson excoriated McCarthy and his tactics.
McCarthy turned his guns on Pearson, calling for the public to boycott the advertisers on his radio show and labeling Pearson a “communist tool.”
Pearson never backed down from McCarthy’s charges, and as the senator’s denunciations grew wilder and more wide-ranging, others began to voice their opposition to his tactics. In 1954, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution condemning him, and while he remained a senator for two more years, he had lost both his credibility and his audience.
Pearson’s feud with Nixon was long-running and bitter. Nixon came to Washington as a fierce, Red-baiting congressman — the kind that Pearson detested. Pearson smelled a rat with Nixon; he was a cold, calculating politician, intent on taking any advantage he could even if it meant ruining the reputation of others.
Pearson’s impression of Nixon was confirmed in 1950 when Nixon ran for the U.S. Senate seat held by Helen Douglas, a liberal Democrat whom Nixon smeared as a “pink” Communist sympathizer. Pearson wrote several columns critical of Nixon’s tactics, and Nixon — ever sensitive to any criticism — took umbrage. When Nixon secured the vice-presidential nomination in 1952 by undercutting Gov. Earl Warren’s presidential campaign, Warren took his revenge by leaking information to Pearson and other journalists about a secret fund set up by California businessmen to support Nixon with extra money. Pearson pursued the story, and Nixon found out that Pearson was on the trail.
Nixon, through a mutual friend, told Pearson that if he didn’t back off, Nixon would have to denounce him as a Communist sympathizer. Rather than scaring Pearson, the threat emboldened him to pursue the story even more aggressively. Pearson was scooped on the first publication of the story by other journalists, but he soon weighed in on what he knew about it. The story resulted in Nixon’s famous “Checkers” speech, which secured his place on the Eisenhower ticket and confirmed his paranoia about journalists, Pearson in particular.
During the next two decades, Pearson would write an occasional good word about Nixon, but for the most part, he saw Nixon as the enemy, and Nixon returned the favor in kind. Nixon emerged from the political wilderness in 1968 to be elected president, and when he took office in 1969, it opened a new phase in the Pearson-Nixon wars. That phase was cut short, however, eight months later when Pearson died from complications of a heart attack.
He was 71 years old, and the legacy that he left as a journalist was decidedly mixed. More than 40 years after his death, a prominent media critic called Pearson “one of the skuzziest journalists to ever write a story.” (https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2010/09/he-bribed-he-blackmailed-he-extorted-he-lied-was-jack-anderson-a-reporter-or-a-spook.html)
Finally . . .
Best quote of the week:
Words, when written, crystallize history; their very structure gives permanence to the unchangeable past. Francis Bacon, essayist, philosopher, and statesman (1561-1626)
Helping those in need
Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — 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 (UMCOR.org) 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.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Political debates and a few thoughts about the election, Harold Bloom on reading, and a century of Christie: newsletter, October 23, 2020
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