The Hitler diaries hoax, a Saul Bellow stamp, and the rules for writing detective stories, :newsletter, November 10, 2023

November 10, 2023 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, fiction, history, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,070) on Friday, November 10, 2023.

The beautiful fields that surround us here in East Tennessee have turned brown. Late this summer, they were green and lush, so much so that we commented on them almost daily. Then it stopped raining, and we haven’t had a substantial rain in two months.

Since the drought began at the end of the growing season, it didn’t affect our garden very much, but now that the garden is completely finished (we had our first heavy frost last week), it seems that everything that was alive and green is gone. It is frankly depressing, and we have to work to keep our spirits up.

With this area’s amazing fertility, it wouldn’t take much rain for it to spring back to life—even the life that fall and winter offer.

So, we wait, check the weather forecast, and look for dark clouds on the horizon. Funny, sometimes, what we wish for.

Meanwhile, have a great and literate weekend.


Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 3,098 subscribers and had a 35.8 percent open rate; 7 persons unsubscribed.

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.


The Hitler Diaries: A scoop that turned to dust (part 1 of 3)

The documents promised to be the journalistic scoop of the post-World War II era. They would, at the very least, rewrite the history of the war in Europe.

In 1983, when they first came to light, no one could imagine hidden World War II documents that would be more important than the personal diaries of Adolf Hitler. 

The editors of Stern magazine in Germany thought they had such documents.

Instead, what they had were worthless pieces of paper for which they had paid millions of dollars and left their reputation in tatters.

The Hitler Diaries was a hoax—the major journalistic hoax of the late 20th century.

The hoax began with a small-time con man named Konrad Kujau. In the late 1970s, Kujau smuggled Nazi war memorabilia from East Germany to West Germany, where he found a ready market for such items. He soon realized that he could make even more money by forging Nazi memorabilia, including documents supposedly signed by Adolf Hitler.

One person who was particularly interested in Kujau’s wares was Gerd Heidemann, a senior editor at Stern magazine. Kujau convinced Heidemann that the documents he was selling were real, and eventually convinced him that the most valuable prizes of all would be Hitler’s personal diaries.

There was little historical evidence to suggest that Hitler had ever kept personal diaries. He was known to be an exceptionally private person, but there was no record of him ever writing extensively in his own hand. Nevertheless, the idea that Hitler’s diaries might exist was tantalizing to Heidemann and the editors of Stern magazine. If they could publish the diaries, it would be a worldwide scoop.

Kujau concocted a plausible story about how the diaries had come into his possession. He claimed that they had been kept in an iron trunk and transported by plane in the very last days of the war. The plane had crashed in what became East Germany, and the diaries had survived, hidden in an attic for nearly 40 years.

Heidemann presented this story to his editors at Stern magazine. At first, they were skeptical, but Kujau produced a few pages of the diaries, which he had forged himself. The editors were convinced that the pages could be the real thing, and they decided to keep the entire matter a secret.

Stern’s inability to verify the diaries’ authenticity led to disaster.

Illustration (top): The cover of Stern magazine on April 28, 1983 announcing the discovery of Hitler’s diaries.

Illustration (below): Kujau used the top row of initials on the cover of the diaries he provided to Stern magazine. The initials were meant to read AH but instead read FH. This imprint should have been a tipoff that the diaries were a fake. Instead, the Stern editors took it as confirmation that the diaries were genuine. Both sets of initials are in Engravers Old English font.

Next week: Rupert Murdoch, The Sunday Times, and Hugh Trevor-Roper get involved—and get burned.


Saul Bellow on a postage stamp in 2024

If any 20th century American writer deserves to be pictured on a U.S. postage stamp, it is Saul Bellow. Winner of three National Book Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and the Nobel Prize, Bellow lived and wrote mostly in Chicago. It is Bellow and his beloved Second City that will be pictured on a new stamp to be issued next year.

Below is a short article about Bellow that previously appeared on JPROF:


Saul Bellow is one of the giants of 20th century American literature—a writer of the first order who could mesmerize the reader with his prose. Yet personally, he could be—and often was—a jerk, demanding, demeaning, and thoroughly foul-tempered.

What’s a biographer to do?

The answer comes from Zachary Leader, who has just published the second of a two-volume biography, this one covers the last 40 years of Bellow’s life. Leader, according to New York Times reviewer and English professor Mark Greif, not just covers Bellow’s life but manages to make him, somewhat, sympathetic.


The vein that successfully keeps one focused on Bellow, and enchanted, is the novelist’s excerpted prose. It knocks you back on your heels. Not just in the novels and stories, but in letters to every sort of addressee, from intimates, to fans, to politicians, Bellow’s prose is electric. Was Saul Bellow a Man or a Jerk? Both, a Monumental Biography Concludes – The New York Times

Greif describes one of the elements that made Bellow a great writer:

I have always found Bellow’s artfulness to cloy over the length of his longest novels. He made himself a fiction writer by force of mind, hard work and sheer will, plus study of the greats. He remained a lifelong student of the highest caliber: co-teaching with philosophers, metabolizing esoteric doctrines, even directing the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago.

Read the review, read the biography if you’re interested, but by all means read Bellow if you have never done so. Read his words and sentences and find out what Greif is talking about.


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



Group giveaways for November

Kill the Quarterback and Murder Most Criminous are part of several group giveaways this month:

November’s Free Thriller & Suspense Books

Jaw-Dropping Mysteries and Thrillers

Noirvember Mysteries & Thrillers

Mysterious Delights Giveaway

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.

S.S. Van Dine’s 20 rules for writing detective stories

S.S. Van Dine’s twenty rules for mystery writing were published in his 1928 essay, “Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories.” The rules are as follows:

  1. The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery.
  2. No willful tricks or deceptions may be played on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.
  3. There must be no love interest in the story.
  4. The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit.
  5. The culprit must be determined by logical deductions—not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession.
  6. The detective novel must have a detective in it; and a detective is not a detective unless he detects.
  7. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. No lesser crime than murder will suffice.
  8. The problem of the crime must be solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic seances, crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo.
  9. The detective must be the one to solve the mystery, and not the author.
  10. The detective’s solution must be presented to the reader at the same time that it is presented to the other characters in the story.
  11. The detective must not be a paragon of virtue and intellect. Like all human beings, he should have his weaknesses and his blind spots.
  12. The detective must never have any private knowledge that is not shared with the reader.
  13. The author must write fairly. He must not conceal any information that would help the reader to solve the mystery.
  14. No red herrings may be introduced without purpose. The reader must be given a clue for every fact.
  15. The detective novel must be of reasonable length.
  16. The style of the detective novel must be clear and concise.
  17. The story must be plausible. No incident must be introduced into the story simply because of its dramatic value.
  18. The detective novel must be exciting and suspenseful.
  19. The detective novel must have a surprise ending.
  20. The detective novel must leave the reader with a feeling of satisfaction.

Van Dine’s rules were highly influential at the time, and they are still followed by many mystery writers today. However, some writers have criticized the rules for being too restrictive and for stifling creativity.

It is also important to note that Van Dine himself did not always follow his own rules. For example, in his novel The Bishop Murder Case, the detective, Philo Vance, does have a love interest. Additionally, in several of his novels, Vance uses his knowledge of psychology to trick the criminals into confessing.

Despite their limitations, Van Dine’s twenty rules for mystery writing remain a valuable resource for aspiring mystery writers. They provide a good foundation for understanding the basic elements of the mystery genre and how to write a well-crafted mystery novel.




Check out last week’s newsletter

Dan C.: Pomona College is one of the five colleges that made up the Claremont Colleges when I was a student at Claremont Men’s College (now Claremont McKenna College). The most famous PC graduate was Kris Kristofferson about a decade before me. He was the Army ROTC Battalion Commander. His last orders were for him to get a Masters and become a professor at West Point. He turned down the Army to go to Nashville and be a singer-songwriter.

As for DaVinci drawing babies in a mother’s womb, he probably did that under the threat of the Church’s death penalty for human anatomy drawing. The only way he could get the subjects for his anatomy drawings was through the use of grave robbers.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: St. Julian of Norwich


Best quote of the week:

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. Pablo Picasso, painter and sculptor (1881-1973)

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 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 onYouTube, if that is your preferred way of receiving these things.

Pray-as-you-go podcast

If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, 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 ( 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: Lord Peter Wimsey’s American cousin, Leonardo’s journals, healthy foods, and the first Vietnam Voices:newsletter, November 3, 2023



Get a FREE copy of Kill the Quarterback

Get a free digital copy of Jim Stovall's mystery novel, Kill the Quarterback. You will also get Jim's newsletter and advanced notice of publications, free downloads and a variety of information about what he is working on. Jim likes to stay in touch, so sign up today.

Powered by ConvertKit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *