This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,070) on Friday, September 29, 2023.
The word “influencer” has been surfing on my brain waves lately. It’s a new word, but of course, an extremely old concept.
It showed up recently in a Washington Post article that examines the way the lobbying organization for the food, beverage, and dietary supplement industries is paying dozens of registered dietitians to promote the benefits of aspartame, an ingredient in many of the diet drinks we buy. The World Health Organization, in a report this summer, raised serious concerns about this artificial sweetener saying that it is not effective as a weight-loss product and it is “possibly carcinogenic.”
The beverage industry has struck back by investing millions of dollars to promote positive messages about the supplement, and many of those millions have gone to registered dietitians who give advice about eating and food to millions of their online followers. They are prime examples of today’s “influencers.”
Apparently, according to the Post article, these folks have been giving out their messages without also disclosing that they are getting paid by the beverage industry. Now, who could’ve predicted that?
The role of the influencer in our modern society needs to be taken seriously and examined seriously.
Meanwhile, have a great and literate weekend.
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Austin Freeman and the inverted detective story
The typical mystery story begins with a murder.
There is a victim, who may or may not be identified. There are the circumstances of the murder, which may or may not be apparent. There is a motive, which may be unknown, hinted at, or glaringly obvious.
The story ends when the murderer is revealed.
But what if from the very beginning the identity of the murderer was known, along with the method and the motives? What if all of these items were described in detail within the first few paragraphs or chapters of the book? Would there be a story left to tell?
Austin Freeman, a medical doctor who became a mystery writer around the turn of the 20th century, believed that you could construct an interesting story in this way. He said that doing so was possible, and he became the inventor of what is known as “the inverted mystery.”
The first examples of Freeman’s inverted mysteries can be found in The Singing Bone, a collection of stories published in 1912. Each of the four stories begins with a detailed description of the criminal, his crime, his motivation, and his method. Then, the story switches to how the crime was solved.
This structure met with great success when the stories were first published. For instance, a reviewer in the Scotsman said that Freeman had “proven that a tale which tells the story of the crime first, leaving us to follow the sleuth as he tracks the criminal down, may be at least as absorbing as the old yarns which left us in the dark until the end.” Freeman was also praised for his “great narrative skill” in keeping readers interested in the story even after they knew how it ended.
Freeman was born in 1862 in London, England, and he studied medicine at Middlesex Hospital Medical School in order to become a qualified physician and surgeon. He entered the colonial service in 1887 as an assistant surgeon and served for a time in Africa.
In addition to being a doctor, Freeman was also a naturalist and surveyor. He accompanied an expedition to the Ivory Coast, and while the political goals of the expedition were a failure, the collections he amassed were considered a success. Unfortunately, during that expedition, he came down with blackwater fever and was eventually discharged from the service. He returned to England and set up a medical practice in London.
His health was never strong, and it eventually broke down completely. It was at this point that he took to writing full-time.
In addition to inventing and developing the inverted mystery story, Freeman also introduced to readers one of the very memorable “rivals” to Sherlock Holmes: Dr. John Thorndyke. Thorndyke, unlike Sherlock Holmes, was both a lawyer and a doctor. He was often accompanied by a Watson-like character, Dr. Jervis, who partnered with him in his pursuit of criminals.
Freeman’s stories rely on detailed medical knowledge and minute descriptions of the methods of both the criminal and the protagonist. Arthur Conan Doyle was undoubtedly a better and more engaging writer, but the Thorndyke stories have a reality that is more satisfactory than many of the Sherlock Holmes speculations.
Freeman was an amazingly prolific writer, both fiction and nonfiction, throughout the rest of his life and up until his death at the age of 81 in 1943. His stock among readers of detective fiction has both risen and fallen, but a measure of his worth is that he is often rated about as close to the Sherlock Holmes stories as you can get.
Part of the criticism of Freeman comes from his full-throated support for the eugenics movement and his anti-Semitism, neither of which are overtly apparent in his fiction. His social and political attitudes are, of course, unacceptable to many modern readers, but his fiction remains interesting and engaging to read.
Kim Cross: In Light of All Darkness
This item is repeated from last week’s newsletter. You have only a few days left to pre-order this book.
Update: Kim appeared last week as the “central storyteller” on a two-hour edition of ABC’s 20/20 news magazine. The episode was devoted entirely to the Polly Klaas kidnapping and investigation. If you missed the broadcast, you can find parts of it on YouTube or you can stream the entire show on Hulu.com.
One of the great pleasures of teaching is watching the students who have passed through your classes become successful. One prime example of that for me is Kim Cross, who for the last couple of decades has been making her way as a writer, editor, and general polymath.
Kim has written several books, but this next one is a big deal. The title is In Light of All Darkness: Inside the Polly Klaas Kidnapping and the Search for America’s Child, and you can pre-order it at the link above. The official publication date is October 3, but pre-ordering is important to the success of the book.
The book is the first full-length account of the 1993 kidnap and murder of Polly Klass, a 12-year old girl whose face captured the heart of the nation. The FBI investigation, at the beginning of the age of the internet, transformed the Bureau’s approach to solving these crimes.
Kim has written the following about why she took on this topic:
I am the daughter-in-law of Eddie Freyer, Sr., the FBI case agent in charge of the Polly Klaas investigation. This case has been featured in dozens of podcasts, documentaries, and TV shows (including Season 1, Episode 1 of the FBI Files). But there was no book of record about the case or how it changed the FBI.
Unfolding in 1993—the dawn of the Internet age—this case harnessed new technology in pioneering ways, setting precedents that would be useful to future investigators and searchers. It became a testing ground for new forensic tools, techniques, and procedures, from fluorescent powder and forensic light to the embedding of an FBI profiler with the bureau’s brand-new Evidence Response Team. As ERT member Tony Maxwell put it, “It changed the way the FBI does business.”
Because of Eddie’s blessing, I had access to many people and documents that would have been off-limits (or very, very hard to get) for most journalists. Eddie opened the door for me to conduct more than 300 interviews with 24 FBI agents and 24 cops who worked on the case. Many of them have never talked to the press.
This book promises to be both interesting and important, and I expect to see it on the New York Times bestseller list before long. Therefore, I urge you to pre-order today (as I have already done).
Kim was in some of my classes at the University of Alabama, but I can’t claim to have had much influence on her. She was one of those students whose talent and drive were obvious from the very beginning. With those rare birds, the good teacher tries not to get in their way and to simply give them an assist when the opportunity comes around.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Grace for All: A daily devotional podcast
One of the great privileges I have had over the last few months is working with a dedicated group of folks to produce a daily devotional podcast series for 1st United Methodist Church in Maryville, Tennessee.
Our first season (15 episodes, plus maybe a bonus one or two) is up and running now and can be heard at https://1stchurch.org/podcast or wherever you get your podcasts (Apple, Spotify, Google, etc.). The episodes are about five minutes and are meant to enlighten and inspire.
The episodes are also on YouTube, if that is your preferred way of receiving these things.
My colleagues in this venture are Greta Smith, Jonathan Jonas, Clayton Hensley, Jason Norris, and Mark Blodgett, among several others.
Give us a listen, and if you are on a platform that asks for ratings, give us a rating and a comment. And please let me know if you have any feedback.
Group giveaways for September
Each of these giveaways includes more than 20 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.
Jacques Futrelle: The Mystery of a Studio
This is the final installment in our presentation of the Jacques Futrelle mysteries. It is the novel-length The Mystery of a Studio, featuring Futrelle’s memorable and incomparable Thinking Machine character. Futrelle is an author who died too young (he went down with the Titanic in 1912) and is considered by modern critics as one of the chief “rivals” to Sherlock Holmes.
WHERE the light slants down softly into one corner of a noted art museum in Boston there hangs a large picture. Its title is “Fulfillment.” Discriminating art critics have alternately raved at it and praised it; from the day it appeared there it has been a fruitful source of acrimonious discussion. As for the public, it accepts the picture as a startling, amazing thing of beauty, and there is always a crowd around it.
“Fulfillment” is typified by a woman. She stands boldly forth against a languorous background of deep tones. Flesh tints are daringly laid on the semi-nude figure, diaphanous draperies hide, yet, reveal, the exquisite lines of the body. Her arms are outstretched straight toward the spectator, the black hair ripples down over her shoulders, the red lips are slightly parted. The mysteries of complete achievement and perfect life lie in her eyes.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Leaders of the band
Best quote of the week:
Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work. Stephen King, novelist, 1947–)
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
Earthquakes in Turkey, fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee: 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: Edward Stratemeyer, a book about the Polly Klaas case, and more about AI: newsletter, September 22, 2023
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