This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,234) on Friday, May 6, 2022.
While I am no expert on government secrecy, particularly the laws that govern countries other than the United States, that in no way stops me from having opinions. My considered, possibly uninformed, opinion is that one of the worst things that the British government has done in the last century is enact its Official Secrets Act.
Those thoughts came to me as I was listening to a podcast (link here) on Operation Mincemeat. That was the operation during World War II whereby the British government convinced the Axis powers that an invasion of Greece, rather than Italy, was imminent. The operation was a success and reportedly saved many lives. But details of the operation were kept under wraps through the Official Secrets Act for many decades.
The justification for government secrecy is that military and espionage operations should not be disclosed. Fair enough. But no government I know of stops there. Government secrecy is an insidious, invasive concept that officials at every level not only tolerate but love. This attitude deprives the public of many things, including good stories.
Have a great weekend.
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Raymond Chandler: a troubled author who raised the level of hard-boiled detective fiction
The educated, troubled Raymond Chandler learned how to write detective fiction by doing what he knew best how to do. He studied.
In 1932, he found himself past 40, out of a job, and in the middle of the Great Depression. His demons were alcohol, women, and chronic absenteeism—all of which had gotten him fired from his well-paying job at the Dabney Oil Company. He escaped Los Angeles by traveling to Seattle and then driving up and down the West Coast, doing nothing in particular.
But something about the stories and the writing struck a chord with Chandler and his English public school education. He was fascinated. He read them closely. The realization came to him that this genre of writing and storytelling had possibilities that no one else had conceived.
Chandler decided that writing this kind of fiction would be a good way to make a living, and he set out to do just that.
He studied Erle Stanley Gardner, famously the author of the Perry Mason series, and later wrote to him:
“I learned to write a novelette on one of yours about a man named Rex Kane…I simply made an extremely detailed synopsis of your story and from that rewrote it and then compared what I had with yours, and then went back and rewrote it some more, and so on. It looked pretty good.”
Chandler was neither a fast nor a facile writer. He labored mightily over sentences, phrases, and paragraphs. He would write a scene and then re-conceive the scene and write it again. But when he finally called a piece finished and sent it off to an editor or publisher, it was like nothing anyone had ever read before. Chandler took what Dashiell Hammett had started— the character of the lone “private detective” or “private eye”—and gave him new dimensions and a new relationship to the world around him.
Chandler’s detective Philip Marlowe was an Everyman, pitted against the forces of greed, avarice, and deception. He not only had a code of personal conduct but also a social conscience that cemented his independence.
Hammett’s writing was spare and terse, and his dialogue was crackling. Chandler greatly admired those qualities, and the same could be said for much of his prose. But Chandler could wield a metaphor or simile with precision and depth that revealed a range of familiarity for the greats of literature from William Shakespeare to Charles Dickens.
Chandler’s writing eventually caught on, and he published his first bookThe Big Sleep, in 1939. During the next 20 years, Chandler wrote more books and short stories. He worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter and with big-name directors and stars. He made a lot of money, spent a lot of money, chased a lot of women, and drank way too much alcohol. In 1953, he published his last novel, The Long Goodbye. Here’s what his biographer William Marling had to say about that:
An immediate critical and sales success, The Long Goodbye(1953) launched a new era in hard-boiled fiction – that of the socially, politically, racially, sexually, or environmentally conscious detective. (Detnovel.com)
But Chandler’s talent and energy were spent, and he died in 1959 with a second-rate novel half-written.
Frank MacShane, The Life of Raymond Chandler (New York: Dutton, 1976)
William Marling, Raymond Chandler (Boston: Twayne, 1986)
Raymond Chandler, Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler, Ed. Frank MacShane (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981)
This item was originally posted in this newsletter in 2018.
The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce: Yankee, Year, Yesterday, Yoke, Youth
YANKEE, n. In Europe, an American. In the Northern States of our Union, a New Englander. In the Southern States the word is unknown. (See DAMNYANK.)
YEAR, n. A period of three hundred and sixty-five disappointments.
YESTERDAY, n. The infancy of youth, the youth of manhood, the entire past of age.
But yesterday I should have thought me blest
To stand high-pinnacled upon the peak
Of middle life and look adown the bleak
And unfamiliar foreslope to the West,
Where solemn shadows all the land invest
And stilly voices, half-remembered, speak
Unfinished prophecy, and witch-fires freak
The haunted twilight of the Dark of Rest.
Yea, yesterday my soul was all aflame
To stay the shadow on the dial’s face
At manhood’s noonmark! Now, in God His name
I chide aloud the little interspace
Disparting me from Certitude, and fain
Would know the dream and vision ne’er again.
It is said that in his last illness the poet Arnegriff was attended at different times by seven doctors.
YOKE, n. An implement, madam, to whose Latin name, jugum, we owe one of the most illuminating words in our language—a word that defines the matrimonial situation with precision, point and poignancy. A thousand apologies for withholding it.
YOUTH, n. The Period of Possibility, when Archimedes finds a fulcrum, Cassandra has a following and seven cities compete for the honor of endowing a living Homer.
Youth is the true Saturnian Reign, the Golden Age on earth
again, when figs are grown on thistles, and pigs betailed with
whistles and, wearing silken bristles, live ever in clover, and
cows fly over, delivering milk at every door, and Justice never
is heard to snore, and every assassin is made a ghost and,
howling, is cast into Baltimost!
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Walking, seeing, learning, experiencing
If you are like me—a person who loves to walk—you won’t want to miss Chris Arnade’s website,Walking the World.
The author brilliantly describes his love for walking just about anywhere in the world he happens to be. He talks about how much he sees, how much he experiences, and how much he learns by simply walking from place to place.
Arnade says he plans his walks carefully using Google maps and other resources. But once he is on the ground, those plans often fall by the wayside. He sees something he likes, and he heads that way to take a closer look.
By walking through a city, you meet the people who live there, and engage with them and their culture, on their terms in their environment. It allows you a small window into how they live. How they think about and experience the world. Consequently, it can change how you see the world. . . .
Arnade, in his postWhy I Walk, tells of the time in the 1990s when he first moved to Brooklyn. He took a subway ride from Brooklyn Heights to Coney Island, but then he decided to walk the 10 miles back.
I had never been in Brooklyn before and wanted to see what the town I was moving to was all about. While there was certainly tons of travel guides available, I figured the best way to understand it was to walk its length.
It worked. In that first walk I learned Brooklyn was a loose confederation of very different working class neighborhoods, held together by subways and buses. Russians and Ukrainians dominated Brighton Beach, African Americans in East NY, Orthodox Jews Midwood, Caribbeans Flatbush, Mexican and Chinese Sunset Park, and even a small lingering Norwegian community in Bay Ridge.
His experience mirrors mine when I spent a couple of summers in Chicago more than 20 years ago. I walked everywhere I could throughout that city and enjoyed every minute of it.
The author accompanies his writing with wonderful photographs that capture the essence and the spirit of what he is experiencing during his walks. This website is well worth a few minutes of your time if you love to walk.
Kill the Quarterback is part of a group giveaway, May’s Free Mystery and Suspense, a BookFunnel giveaway that runs through the month of May. This giveaway is exclusively for all sorts of crime-related books and novels.
The giveaway includes more than 40 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors. The link for this giveaway ishttps://books.bookfunnel.com/pka-crime-thriller-giveaways/glkpa6m4vw.
A second BookFunnel.com giveaway also includes Kill the Quarterback. This one is theFree Crime Thrillers-Fiction Giveaway. There are more than 50 books in this one, so it is well worth the look. The link for this giveaway ishttps://books.bookfunnel.com/fictiongateway-crimethriller/11nxy99fxh.
Finally, a third giveaway that you might be interested in is theCrime and Police Procedurals, also from BookFunnel.com. This giveaway has more than 40 books in this genre, so have a look and download anything that looks interesting. Remember: they’re all free; the price is your email address. The link for this one is https://books.bookfunnel.com/crimeandpoliceprocedurals/7bf1f98hsl.
Both of these giveaways are open through the month of May. It helps me if you use this link to take a look at the offerings even if you don’t select any of these books.
Murder Most Criminous (Volume 1): resurrecting the father of true crime writing
The father of modern true crime writing is back.
William Roughead, the Scottish barrister who attended and reported on every major British murder trial for nearly six decades and wrote about each of them in detailed and yet interesting accounts, is returning from obscurity. Roughead died in 1952 but not before he built a huge following for his work both in America and Great Britain.
His name and work, unfortunately, have fallen into obscurity. First Inning Press is bringing him back to life.
Murder Most Criminous: The Cases of William Roughead, Father of Modern True Crime Literature (Volume 1) has just been published. It is the first of several anticipated volumes of Roughead’s work. The editors, Jim Stovall and Ed Caudill, have worked not only to reproduce this great writer’s work but also to give it new life for modern audiences.
The first volume of this series includes four of Roughead’s cases, all from a time before he was able to attend their trials. They include:
- Mackcoull and the Begbie Mystery
- The Secret of Ireland’s Eye: A Detective Story
- The Ghost of Sergeant Davies
- The Parson of Spott
Each case has unique features that Roughead interprets with his unique and fascinating writing style. The links above will take you to a JPROF page that contains the editors’ introduction and the first few pages of the chapter.
We have done a lot of work with editing these cases and trying to make them presentable to modern readers.
We have introduced some typographical innovations that include footnotes, more readable paragraphing, and subheads—all of which we believe will aid the reader. The essential Roughead is still there, and we believe the reader will be captured by his exquisite phrasing and point of view.
For a short time, the first volume of this series is being offered to readers at a special ebook price of $1.99. It can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other ebook platforms. Paperback and hardback editions of this work are also available.
Volume 2 in this series, which will include the Oscar Slater case, is due out later this spring.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor (from the archives): Bone Tones
Best quote of the week:
If we are to have another contest in the near future of our national existence, I predict that the dividing line will not be Mason and Dixon’s but between patriotism and intelligence on the one side, and superstition, ambition and ignorance on the other. Ulysses S. Grant, military commander, 18th US President (1822-1885)
If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, trypray-as-you-go.org. The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.
Helping those in need
Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, 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: The disappearance of an inventor, the Supreme Court doesn’t decide, free speech on campus, and continuing giveaways: newsletter, April 29, 2022
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