This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,234) on Friday, May 13, 2022.
Like millions of others in the 1990s and beyond, I was caught up in the television depictions of “crime scene investigation” and the way in which “forensic science” is used to convict people accused of crimes. Calling something a “science” gives it an aura of infallibility, just like assigning a number to something gives it a definition that is difficult to refute. Both “science” and “numbers” lead us to believe that we know something that we really do not know. We simply stop thinking about it.
Fortunately, for our society, there are people still willing to question what we “know,” and that is especially true these days in the area of “forensic science.” Some knowledgeable people have even taken to calling it “junk science,” which includes hair microscopy, voice spectrometry, “toolmark analysis,” comparative bullet lead analysis, and “forensic odontology” (bite mark evidence). Even fingerprint analysis is based on the never-proven assumption that all fingerprints are different.
The Guardian has an excellent article about this topic that centers on the case of an Alabama man convicted nearly 40 years ago of murdering his wife based on the “expert witness” (another loaded term) testimony of a bite mark. This nation has far too many people—more than two million—in its jails and prisons, and far too many of those people have been put there by the “junk science” that we take for granted as evidence.
Have a great weekend.
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Ray Bradbury was bitten by the story bug
My stories run up and bite me in the leg—I respond by writing them down—everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off. Ray Bradbury, science-fiction writer (22 Aug. 1920-2012)
“Become yourself, have fun, and then love what you are doing,” he would tell audiences over and over again—especially audiences of writers or potential writers. Bradbury described himself as a “collector of metaphors,” the ones that described his own life. He advised writers to “look for the metaphors that describe your life.”
How do you do that?
“Stuff your head,” he said. Read a short story every night. Read at least one poem every night. Read one essay a night.
“At the end of a thousand nights, you’ll be full of ideas and metaphors,” he said.
This, of course, is good advice for anyone, not just wannabe writers.
Bradbury’s most famous novel, Fahrenheit 451, is classified as science-fiction, but it has crossed over into the realms of Great American Literature. Bradbury also wrote in the horror and mystery genres. For the vast majority of his 91-plus years, he wrote every day. He had his first short story published when he was a teenager, and his first novel, The Martian Chronicles, was published in 1950; the book was actually a series of short stories that he re-worked and strung together at the suggestion of an editor.
So, if you want to take Bradbury’s advice, start reading a short story every night—one of his would be good. For instance: Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales.
Here’s another collection: October Country.
The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce: Tights, Tomb, Tope
TIGHTS, n. An habiliment of the stage designed to reinforce the general acclamation of the press agent with a particular publicity. Public attention was once somewhat diverted from this garment to Miss Lillian Russell’s refusal to wear it, and many were the conjectures as to her motive, the guess of Miss Pauline Hall showing a high order of ingenuity and sustained reflection. It was Miss Hall’s belief that nature had not endowed Miss Russell with beautiful legs. This theory was impossible of acceptance by the male understanding, but the conception of a faulty female leg was of so prodigious originality as to rank among the most brilliant feats of philosophical speculation! It is strange that in all the controversy regarding Miss Russell’s aversion to tights no one seems to have thought to ascribe it to what was known among the ancients as “modesty.” The nature of that sentiment is now imperfectly understood, and possibly incapable of exposition with the vocabulary that remains to us. The study of lost arts has, however, been recently revived and some of the arts themselves recovered. This is an epoch of renaissances, and there is ground for hope that the primitive “blush” may be dragged from its hiding-place amongst the tombs of antiquity and hissed on to the stage.
TOMB, n. The House of Indifference. Tombs are now by common consent invested with a certain sanctity, but when they have been long tenanted it is considered no sin to break them open and rifle them, the famous Egyptologist, Dr. Huggyns, explaining that a tomb may be innocently “glened” as soon as its occupant is done “smellynge,” the soul being then all exhaled. This reasonable view is now generally accepted by archaeologists, whereby the noble science of Curiosity has been greatly dignified.
TOPE, v. To tipple, booze, swill, soak, guzzle, lush, bib, or swig. In the individual, toping is regarded with disesteem, but toping nations are in the forefront of civilization and power. When pitted against the hard-drinking Christians the abstemious Mahometans go down like grass before the scythe. In India one hundred thousand beef-eating and brandy-and-soda guzzling Britons hold in subjection two hundred and fifty million vegetarian abstainers of the same Aryan race. With what an easy grace the whisky-loving American pushed the temperate Spaniard out of his possessions! From the time when the Berserkers ravaged all the coasts of western Europe and lay drunk in every conquered port it has been the same way: everywhere the nations that drink too much are observed to fight rather well and not too righteously. Wherefore the estimable old ladies who abolished the canteen from the American army may justly boast of having materially augmented the nation’s military power.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
The 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade: Jane Burleson, the grand marshal of the parade
Here’s an interesting snippet from the book Seeing Suffrage, a book that I wrote several years ago and was published by the University of Tennessee Press:
The 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade was led by Jane Burleson, the grand marshall of the parade. Burleson was a well-known horsewoman in Washington, and her confidence in the saddle is evident from this picture.
More about the parade can be found in Seeing Suffrage: The 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade, Its Pictures and Its Effect on the American Political Landscape here: https://www.jprof.com/?p=1741.
Burleson herself came to a sad end. In the 1930s she shot and killed the wife of her ex-husband and spent several years in a South Carolina prison. Afterwards, she lived in Galveston, Texas, until she died in the 1950s. As a convicted felon, she was unable to vote.
12 authors and the libraries they love
Even if you have read this before, it’s worth re-reading.
The New York Times asked a dozen authors to write about their experiences with libraries. What they say is fabulous.
Here’s part of what Barbara Kingsolver wrote:
Everywhere I’ve gone since (childhood), I’ve found libraries. Those of us launched from bare-bones schools in uncelebrated places will always find particular grace in a library, where the temple doors are thrown wide to all believers, regardless of pedigree. Nowadays I have the normal professional reliance on internet research, but my heart still belongs to the church of the original source. Every book I’ve written has some magic in it I found in physical stacks or archives. Source: 12 Authors Write About the Libraries They Love – The New York Times
If you love libraries, if you think they’re valuable, if you want to see them help other people as they have helped you, read this and enjoy.
Then go check out a book.
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 is https://books.bookfunnel.com/pka-crime-thriller-giveaways/glkpa6m4vw.
A second BookFunnel.com giveaway also includes Kill the Quarterback. This one is the Free 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 is https://books.bookfunnel.com/fictiongateway-crimethriller/11nxy99fxh.
Finally, a third giveaway that you might be interested in is the Crime 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 (see below the signature)
Jennifer S.: Thanks for another wonderful newsletter! I always look forward to its arrival in my inbox.
Your discussion of walking reminded me of the many “rambles” I made during the year I lived in England in the 1990s. There are a number of walking paths criss-crossing the entire nation, including those along the canals as part of a right-of-way, but also just trails, some of them ancient, through meadows. It is expected that the public have the freedom of these paths, and in turn the walkers are expected to exhibit basic courtesy as to crops and livestock along the way. Some friends and I had hoped to walk the entire Cotswold Way, a 102-mile trail through the heart of the beautiful English midlands, but we never got ourselves organized to do it. (In our defense, we were in graduate school, which did place some demands on our time!) Now I live in a community that is just as beautifully gifted with natural surroundings, but where I have to drive in order to get to a place where I can safely walk. Maybe I can use your recommendation of Chris Arnade’s website and my own lovely memories of the walking life in England to inspire me to do it more often!
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Sax Man
Best quote of the week:
“A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight.” Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018), author
If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try pray-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 troubled, talented Raymond Chandler, 3 new group giveaways, the value of the long walk: newsletter, May 6, 2022
Murder Most Criminous (Volume 1): resurrecting the father of true crime writing
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 contain
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.
During March and April, 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.
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