Tag Archives: Raymond Chandler

What you do when you’re writing a Phillip Marlowe novel

Raymond Chandler died in 1959, leaving the fans of his detective anti-hero Phillip Marlowe wanting more. In the ensuing years, two excellent writers, Robert Parker and John Banville, have attempted to satisfy those desires.

Parker took up Chandler’s unfinished novel and finished it as Poodle Springs in 1989. Then he wrote a second Marlowe novel, Perchance to Dream, published in 1991. John Banville’s The Black Eyed Blond (under the pen name Benjamin Black) came out in 2014.

Now Lawrence Osborne has taken up the Marlowe sequel challenge, and he tells how that came about in an article in the New York Times. His book, Only to Sleep, came out earlier this year (reviewed by the Times here). Osborne recalls his days as a newspaper reporter on the California-Mexico border and the experiences that he integrated into the novel:

I was surprised by how little I remembered writing any of “Only to Sleep.” Had it come out so automatically, without the usual torments, as if channeled not by the ghost of a dead American writer but by the ghost of my own failed and pathless younger self? Apparently so.

The article is a fascinating read and a great insight into the mind of a top-rank author.

Source: Impersonating Philip Marlowe – The New York Times

Who killed Julia Wallace? The classic locked-door mystery

When Wiliam Herbert Wallace returned to his Liverpool home from work one January night in 1931, he found his wife Julia dead on the floor of the parlor, her head caved in by a heavy object and her blood spread across the room.

Deanna Cioppa, a writer and editor and fan of true-crime stories, has all of the details of this fascinating case in a recent article on MentalFloss.com. She also summarizes some of the theories of the case that have developed from subsequent examinations of the case.

A fortnight’s investigation by local police resulted in the arrest and trial of Wallace for the murder of his wife. Wallace, a stoic, showed little emotion during his trial, and some believe that was a big reason why the jury convicted him after only an hour of deliberation. He was sentenced to be hanged, but in an unprecedented move, the Court of Criminal Appeals set aside the verdict because of a lack of evidence.

The freed Wallace went back to his job at the Prudential Insurance Company, but the case had generated such publicity and emotion that he could not resume as a salesman. Nor could he live at his residence. Prudential officials, who believed in his innocence and paid for his defense, gave him an off-the-street clerk’s job.

Two years later, however, he was dead of natural causes.

The mystery of his wife’s murder did not die. One group it continued to fascinate was top-tier mystery writers such as Dorothy L. Sayers, P.D. James, and Raymond Chandler.

James analyzed all of the evidence in the case and came to a conclusion that she offered in the Sunday Times in 2013. (Here’s an article in The Guardian about that analysis; the Sunday Times article is not available.)  Sayers wrote a chapter about the case for the 1936 book The Anatomy of Murder. which is available on archive.org.

The Trial of William Herbert Wallace by W.F. Wyndham-Brown, a 1933 book about the case, is also available for a free download from archive.org.

If you are interested in the case, start with Cioppa’s article and go from there.

Female writers, #MeToo, and the love for Raymond Chandler 

What’s a female crime-writing author, who owes so much to Raymond Chandler and who loves him dearly, to do in this age of #MeToo? Megan Abbott (Give Me Your Hand) has some interesting observation in a delightful and insightful essay on Salon.com.

Abbott is unabashed in her love for Raymond Chandler and the noir world that he creates so superbly in novels like The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye.

But the misogynistic attitude that Chandler’s characters exhibit is on full display. That Abbott concedes:

And yet, even reading Chandler’s harsher passages, I find myself not turning away but moving closer. Trying to understand something. Am I still entranced? Even as I resist the faintly gendered connotations of the term, its suggestion of female helplessness in the face of male potency, I still feel the pull. What fascinates and compels me most about Chandler in this #MeToo moment are the ways his novels speak to our current climate. Because if you want to understand toxic white masculinity, you could learn a lot by looking at noir. Source: Raymond Chandler in the age of #MeToo.

Look closely, she says, rather than rejecting it. Chandler still has something to tell us.

A good sub-10-minute read.

The first real-life private eye; Neil Sheehan; more crimes against English; newsletter, Jan. 26, 2018

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email (4,302) list on Friday, January 26, 2018.

Hi, 

Unseasonably warm weather in East Tennessee last weekend allowed us to check on the beehives, and I am happy to report that both of my hives have bees! This is good news. The biggest challenge a beekeeper has these days is keeping a hive alive during the winter. We’re not done with winter yet, but this is a good sign.

Viewing tip: Click the display images link above if you haven’t done so already.

Eugene Francois Vidocq, the first real private eye

Dashiell Hammett is commonly and rightly thought of as the genesis of the of the modern American private eye. It was his Continental Op and Sam Spade who started the line of detectives of mystery literature such as Phillip Marlowe (Raymond Chandler), Lew Archer (Ross Macdonald), Kinsey Milhone (Sue Grafton), Travis McGee (John MacDonald), Spenser (Robert Parker), and many others. But the private detective was not original to Hammett.

Nor was it original to Edgar Allen Poe, who is said to have written the first detective story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

The concept of the private detective began a century before Hammett and comes from a remarkable Frenchman named Eugene Francois Vidocq. Not only was Vidocq the first professional private detective that we know of (he practiced in Paris in the 1830s), but he pioneered many modern criminology procedures such as undercover work, criminal identification, crime scene investigation and crime recreation, ballistics, and even finger-printing (although he did not have much success at this).

Vidocq is well worth reading and knowing about, and I have posted a short article about his life and work on JPROF.com

Neil Sheehan: A Bright and Shining Lie

Anyone who has read or knows anything about the war in Vietnam is familiar with Neil Sheehan. Sheehan covered the war as a reporter for the New York Times and was one of the correspondents who could see that the American government’s description of the war and what was actually happening there were quite different.

Sheehan’s great Vietnam book is A Bright and Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. In this book Sheehan focuses on an Army officer (and later a civilian working in Vietnam) who was both gung-ho and highly critical of America’s involvement and actions in southeast Asia.

It took Sheehan 14 years to write the book. A recent article in the New York Times recounts some of what Sheehan had to go through to finish the book:

The years it took to complete “A Bright Shining Lie” consumed Sheehan. It was extremely hard on his wife, Susan, and their daughters; the girls were barely in elementary school when he started, and out of the house by the time he finished, with no family vacations to speak of along the way.

“I set out to write a normal-length book in a few years time, but Vann turned out to be the most extraordinarily complicated man I ever met,” Mr. Sheehan, 81, said from his Washington home. “I never thought I wouldn’t finish the book, but it was extremely draining.”

You can read the entire interview here on the New York Times website.

True crime podcasts: In the Dark

I keep thinking that I will stop recommending true crime podcasts, and then I find another one that I think you would enjoy. So it was again this week.

In the Dark (season 1) recounts the story of the disappearance of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling from his home in rural Minnesota in 1989. It comes from American Public Media, and these folks know how to do audio. Madeleine Baran does most of the reporting and the narration for this series, and she tells a compelling story about what became one of the most massive manhunts in the history of American crime. In the words of the podcast description, the story

. . . reveals how law enforcement mishandled one of the most notorious child abductions in the country and how those failures fueled national anxiety about stranger danger, led to the nation’s sex-offender registries and raise questions about crime-solving accountability. Read the story.

Despite the world-wide nature of the investigation, it took 27 years to solve the crime, and Baran does an excellent job of telling us why. In addition, the website has lots of extras about the case, including one I found personally fascinating: The misunderstood police sketch.

I highly recommend this one.

See what other real crime podcasts we’ve recommended here on JPROF.com.

Giveaways

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery/

https://www.instafreebie.com/gg/HCqRcAvQK0Pr9IpLcGT4Addictive Suspense and Thrillers Giveaway.This giveaway, which includes Kill the Quarterback, is a carefully compiled selection of high-octane, fast-paced mystery-suspense-thrillers, full of action, suspense and drama from debut to bestselling authors. Some of the books are already available while others are coming soon. Take a moment to check them out and claim any that intrigue you for absolutely free.

Crimes against English (continued)

I have an odd hobby. I collect redundancies. They’re fun, and they don’t take up much shelf space.

I began this hobby many years ago when I was in the U.S. Navy, and a chief petty office wrote us a memo that contained this memorable line: “We must not forget to remember . . . “

My collection has grown over the years, and you can read more about it in this post on JPROF.com. What’s your favorite redundancy?

Meanwhile, more members of our Baker Street Regulars (as opposed to Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars) reported in this week with crimes they had detected:

Alice C: I really enjoy reading your Crimes against English segments. I did, however, want to bring to your attention that according to Merriam-Webster’s second definition of trajectory, the word can mean: “a path, progression, or line of development resembling a physical trajectory,” as in an upward career trajectory.

I will try to learn my lesson and not repeat my misuse of podium.

Nina pointed out that I had misspelled lectern in last week’s newsletter. Everyone needs an editor, and I sincerely appreciate it when readers take the time and effort to correct my mistakes. Thanks, Nina.

***

Thanks again to all for their these witty and perceptive emails. What are your thoughts?

 

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Eugene Francois Vidocq (caricature)


Caricatures, a couple of which you saw last week, still continue to be lots of fun for me. I hope they’re fun for the viewer, too.

Ok, what’s the surprise?

UPDATE: All of the paintings in this giveaway have been claimed. They were snapped up within three hours of my sending out the original email on Friday afternoon. I will organize another giveaway soon.

Friday afternoon:

Last week I said I had something very special planned that involves some watercolors and drawings you may have see in the newsletter or on JPROF.com over the past few weeks. So here it is. And please remember that this is an experiment. It may all blow up, and if it does, I’ll let you know.

I want to give away some of my original watercolors, and some I am offering a few of them on this page on JPROF.com. Right now, the offer is only to readers of this newsletter, and the post is password protected. The password is watercolor.

If you would like one (or more) of the paintings or drawings that are being offered, fill out the form. If it is available (first come, first served), I will let you know and ask that you send me $10 for shipping and other expenses through PayPal. Once you have sent the $10, I will ship it out to you. More details are on the form page.

Why am I doing this?

Two reasons. One is that I doubt that I will ever have a show or try to sell any of these. So, rather than have them languish in my closet, I would like to get them into the hands of people who might life them. That’s part of the experiment. I’m not really sure if anyone wants them, and this is a way to find out.

Second, I want to use this to encourage you to do what I mention each week — that there are many, many people in need these days and we should be trying to help them out. One way to do this is to contribute to our favorite charities that have been established just for this. Mine is the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org). If you get a painting, consider making a contribution. It’s that simple.

If all goes well, I will do this again before long. (I have lots of paintings and drawings.)

Best quote of the week:

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. John Donne, poet (1573-1631) 

Do not forget the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate. Add to these those devastated by the California wildfires — and now floods. These and many other disasters mean that people need our help. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.

Keep reading and have a great weekend.

Jim

Jim Stovall 
www.jprof.com

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


More on JPROF.com

Don’t miss this NYT interview with Philip Roth

Author Philip Roth, now nearly 85 and retired from writing, has given an interview to New York Times journalist Charles McGrath, and it is fascinating.

New theories on why we can’t – or don’t – read

Scientists and scholars are taking a closer look at that question these days and are coming up with some interesting, and occasionally surprising, answers.

The ‘private eye,’ in the beginning: Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett knew what a private detective should be. He knew because he had been one, and he had been taught by the very best. 

The 100 best nonfiction books of all time: a list from The Guardian

Robert McCrum, the co-author of The Story of English (1986), has compiled a list of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time, and the list was recently published in The Guardian, a well-respected newspaper and news website in Great Britain.

Alabama vs. Georgia, 50+ years ago: The Saturday Evening Post-Wally Butts-Bear Bryant libel case

More than 50 years ago, the Alabama-Georgia matchup resulted, not in a national championship, but in a legal ruling that expanded the First Amendment protections we now enjoy.

Unsubscribe | 2126 Middlesettlements Road, Maryville, Tennessee 37801 

The ‘private eye’ in literature begins with the real-life character of Eugene Francois Vidocq

The genesis of the private eye lies with a 19th Frenchman named Eugene Francois Vidocq.

Eugene Francois Vidocq

Vidocq’s life and legends, some of which he created through his partially fictionalized memoirs, were the inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe’s character C. Auguste Dupin in Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), which is considered the world’s first detective story.

All of the famous detectives of literature — including Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer, and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone — owe something to the real-life Vidocq.

As a young man in the 1790s, Vidocq appeared to have a promising career in the army ahead of him. His trouble was that he was too imaginative – and maybe too hot-headed – to follow the rules. He strayed to the wrong side of the law, and there he remained for the next decade and a half.

Committed to prison by the courts several times, Vidocq always managed an escape. He had a generous, affable nature that sometimes got him into trouble — such as the time he forged a pardon for a fellow prisoner. He was a master of disguise, which also aided him in eluding the authorities. He was made an escaped by marching out of town in a funeral procession.

In 1809 he found himself in the hands of the police against, this time facing a long, harsh prison sentence. He boldly switched sides, telling the police that he could go undercover (to use a modern term) and help them capture dangerous and highly sought-after criminals.

For nearly two years, he did this with some noted success. He later wrote in his memoirs:

I believe I might have become a perpetual spy, so far was every one from supposing that any connivance existed between the agents of the public authority and myself. Even the porters and keepers were in ignorance of my mission with which I was entrusted. Adored by the thieves, esteemed by the most determined bandits (for even these hardened wretches have a sentiment which they call esteem), I could always rely on their devotion to me.

Eugène François Vidocq, Memoirs of Vidocq, p. 190

Vidocq also – obviously – had a talent for self-promotion, which he used to great effect for the rest of his life.

[button link=”http://jprof.com/category/private-eye” color=”red” window=”yes”]See other posts on the ‘private eye’ in literature on JPROF.com[/button]

And that life was, indeed, remarkable. It included

  • establishment of a plain-clothes criminal investigative unit for the French police, which inspired a similar unit for  Scotland Yard in Great Britain and eventually the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States;
  • identification techniques of criminals that relied on extensive record-keeping;
  • criminal investigation procedures that included ballistics examinations, crime-scene analysis, and even the beginnings of finger-printing;
  • founding of the first private detective agency, which he did in 1833 after tiring of constantly squabbling with police.

Vidocq was never shy about proclaiming his successes, taking credit for his accomplishments, and comparing his genius to the bumbling methods of the uniformed police. His fame spread through Europe and the United States, particularly as he cultivated close friendships with famous French authors of the day such as Honore de Balzac, Victor Hugo, and Alexander Dumas, just to name a few. Each of these writers created characters for their novels based on Vidocq.

Today, Vidocq is not well-known, not as much as he should be. As Mike Ashley has written

As with so many originals, Vidocq’s life has become so overshadowed and masked, not only by those he inspired, but by his own legend as well, that today, if he is mentioned at all, it is to dismiss his achievements as fiction. But he was real, and he was a true living legend.

Source: The Great Detectives: Vidocq – Strand Mag In this article from issue 4, Mike Ashley looks at the life of Vidocq, a thief turned detective who was to prove the inspiration for many great fictional detectives.

[button link=”http://jprof.com/category/private-eye” color=”green” window=”yes”]See other posts about the ‘private eye’ in literature on JPROF.com[/button]

Biographies of Vidocq:

  • Edwards, Samuel (1977). The Vidocq Dossier: The Story of the World’s First Detective (1st ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-25176-1.
  • Hodgetts, Edward A. (1928). Vidocq: A Master of Crime. London: Selwyn & Blount.
  • Morton, James. The First Detective: The Life and Revolutionary Times of Vidocq. Ebury Press. ISBN 978-0-09-190337-4.
  • Stead, John Philip (1954). Vidocq: Picaroon of Crime.

Readers track down more crimes against English; Ross Macdonald; newsletter, Jan. 19, 2018

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,379) on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018.

Hi, 

Winter has settled in in a big way in my part of the world. Plenty of time for indoor activities, the most important of which is reading. But that’s not the only one. Some writing and some painting (see below) and drawing have also been on the schedule. I hope that things have gone well with you this week.

Viewing tip: Click the display images link above if you haven’t done so already.

Ross Macdonald and the expansion of the ‘private eye’ genre

No writer among the many dozens who have entered the field explored and expanded the private eye genre as did Ross Macdonald. Macdonald lived a tumultuous life that had many similarities to his predecessors Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The difference was that despite the difficulties of his personal situation, Macdonald was able to sustain a production of novels over a 20-plus year period that established his detective, Lew Archer, as the quintessential private eye.

I have posted a review of the work of Ross Macdonald on JPROF.com as a continuation of our weekly look at the development of the private eye in American letters.

Philip Roth on writing, reading, and politics in America

Author Philip Roth is approaching 85 and has been retired from writing for several years. He recently conducted an email interview with New York Times journalist Charles McGrath. As always, Roth is interesting, persuasive, and insightful. In a post of JPROF.com, I have included what he had to say about

  • his writing life (“Exhilaration and groaning. Frustration and freedom. . . .), 
  • the current political situation in light of the novel he wrote titled The Plot Against America (“However prescient “The Plot Against America” might seem to you, there is surely one enormous difference between the political circumstances I invent there for the U.S. in 1940 and the political calamity that dismays us so today. . . . “)
  • and how he is currently spending his time (I” read — strangely or not so strangely, very little fiction. . . “).

You can read the entire interview here on the New York Times website.

True crime podcasts

Many of the true crime podcasts that I recommended to you before and during the holiday season took some time off during the holidays with the promise that they would be back with new episodes when the new year arrived. Unfortunately, those promises have yet to be fulfilled for most of those podcasts. I am disappointed, but I will be patient. A good podcast is not an easy thing to produce; it takes effort, talent, and time.

One surprise, however, that I just discovered is a new episode of Dirty John, which was one of my personal favorites in the true crime podcast realm. Dirty John is the story of John Meecham and his manipulation, criminal and otherwise, of a number of women and their families. The podcast centers on what happened to the family of Debra Newell If you have not listened to it, you should. Now there is a new podcast that includes an interview with John’s first wife. The story of Dirty John is both horrifying and gripping.

See what other real crime podcasts we’ve recommended here on JPROF.com.

Giveaways

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery/

https://www.instafreebie.com/gg/HCqRcAvQK0Pr9IpLcGT4Addictive Suspense and Thrillers Giveaway.This giveaway, which includes Kill the Quarterback, is a carefully compiled selection of high-octane, fast-paced mystery-suspense-thrillers, full of action, suspense and drama from debut to bestselling authors. Some of the books are already available while others are coming soon. Take a moment to check them out and claim any that intrigue you for absolutely free.

Crimes against English (continued)

More responses from readers who have identified crimes against English poured in this week. Thank you for each and every one. They are fascinating and delightful:

Genelle T.: I hate when people who write or talk misuse the pronouns “I” and “ME”. I hear this misuse all of the time on TV shows and even news broadcasts. One is subjective, and the other is objective. But too many times, when using these pronouns as a compound subject or object, people mess them up. “You and ME” are not going to the store…You and I are. “Someone is calling you and I” is not correct, they are calling “you and ME.” It’s easy to figure which to use. Just eliminate the other part of the compound subject or object, and just use I and then ME. You can immediately see which pronoun to use. Me is not going to the store, I am. And someone is not calling I, they are calling ME. SIMPLE.

Angie: I’m from SC now living in NC. The people here are like people from the northeast. They use way too many R’s. Someone mentioned to me that she needed to put “arr in her tirres” not air in her tires. I cringed…or someone talking about a creek running, but using the word crick…OMG .. I hate that.

Tod: I totally agree with Jim S.(last week’s newsletter) regarding the lecturn/podium issue. I first became aware of it back in the early 80s when my job had me flying around the U.S. and internationally. Hearing the gate agents use the PA and request that Passenger X “Please come to the podium” made me wonder if they were handing out an award and Pax X would be standing on a podium. Nope. Turns out they got it wrong. It was not a podium. It was not even a lecturn. It was a plain ordinary counter!

Now for two more of my “crimes…” It’s truly jail time for people who commit these – mostly talking heads on news or commentary shows.

1. A special place in hell for those anonymous people who take ordinary words and use then in unconventional ways with no regard to their etymology. E.g. optics (what are the optics in the Oval Office?), arc and trajectory (where does the arc/trajectory of this story lead?), contours (the contours of the tax plan), atmospherics (same as optics), and many others.

2. This is actually a narrow subset of #1 – creating new verbs out of thin air. The list is long but believe me, I’ve heard or read every one.
1. He course-corrected, downstaired and outdoored onto the street, where he sidewalked south.
2. We always used to course-deviate,
3. Sensing a bad winter, she anti-froze the car.
4. The front gate had been security-guarded.
5. But was he seriously saying he was going to helicopter us out of there?
6. I’m thinking we should raincheck the heavy drinking…
7. CBS News asked me if I wanted to go to the White House Press Briefing and live draw it.
8. David was extremely apologetic when I excused-me him.
9. I sat back down and Google-mapped Towne Auto Salvage.
10. I reached out with my left hand, my body still behind the wall, and rapid-fired three shots.
11. Is this a figure-outable thing?
12. Were they trying to remote-control-organize?
13. We were no-commented when we asked.
14. Make sure to room-temperature that cheese.
15. They decided to second-draft that document.
16. The Soviet Union used to own and state-control the aluminum industry.
17. You can now PayPal friends…
18. Learn more about layouting. . . .

Tori J.: I read your last e-mail with some trepidation as I was sure that someone would bring up the spelling differences between American and Commonwealth English.

I was born in the U.S. My father had been in the U.S. Army. However, he was born in London and emigrated to the U.S. with extended English and Irish family in the 1950s. My mother emigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s. We moved back to Jersey (NOT New Jersey) when I was very young and at some point I started school there. In those days school started much earlier, at least a preschool, than it did in the U.S. When we moved back to the U.S. I was too young to start school here and even too young for kindergarten. My mother was not a U.S. citizen until I was 5 years old.

I am quite used to the alternate spellings of certain words, and it does not bother me a bit. In fact, my mother went to the school at one point after a spelling test where I had been marked down for my spelling of colour. She pointed out to the teacher that it was a perfectly acceptable spelling via the OED. I received my points back. After which my mother reprimanded me for not spelling things in American English as I was in America.

To me, a greater problem is when people do not know the difference between there and theiryour and you’re, and its and it’s. And all the kerfuffle about where to place the place the final comma in a list over the last few years is ridiculous. Our children cannot read or write, we have decided that they don’t need to write in cursive because it is too difficult for them, and if they have to read a book with more than 50 pages with no pictures, it is a catastrophe. I read Gone With the Wind and War and Peace in 5th grade for monthly book reports (and yes, it was because I wanted to).

Really Tod, are we going to worry about what type of English people use? There are so many other problems with the written language today, I hardly think that is of great impact. At least they are correctly spelled words somewhere. I’ve read books purchased on Amazon that have so many spelling and grammatical errors it hurt my heart to wade through them.

***

Thanks to all for their these witty and perceptive emails. What are your thoughts?

 

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: The Lincoln-Douglas debates (caricature)

I haven’t done much caricature lately, but last weekend was one of those too-cold-to-go-outside weekends, so I thought I would have a little fun. Caricatures are usually line drawings, but these are watercolors — again, just for the fun of it.

And since you made it this far in the newsletter: Next week, I have something very special planned that involves this watercolor and other watercolors and drawings you may have see in the newsletter or on JPROF.com over the past few weeks. Watch for it.

Best quote of the week:

Be kind to thy father, for when thou wert young,

Who loved thee so fondly as he?

He caught the first accents that fell from thy tongue,

And joined in thy innocent glee.

Margaret Courtney, poet (1822-1862)

Do not forget the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate. Add to these those devastated by the California wildfires — and now floods. These and many other disasters mean that people need our help. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.

Keep reading and have a great weekend.

Jim

Jim Stovall 
www.jprof.com

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


More on JPROF.com

New theories on why we can’t – or don’t – read

Scientists and scholars are taking a closer look at that question these days and are coming up with some interesting, and occasionally surprising, answers.

The ‘private eye,’ in the beginning: Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett knew what a private detective should be. He knew because he had been one, and he had been taught by the very best. 

The 100 best nonfiction books of all time: a list from The Guardian

Robert McCrum, the co-author of The Story of English (1986), has compiled a list of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time, and the list was recently published in The Guardian, a well-respected newspaper and news website in Great Britain.

Jeannie Rousseau, a diminutive spy and an extraordinary tale of courage

She was small, too small to be a danger to anyone. And she was attractive, a good-time girl, maybe even a little flighty. Plus, she had a talent for getting people, particularly men, to talk to her. Those traits hid her steely courage, creativity, resourcefulness — and, maybe most importantly, a photographic memory.

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Ross Macdonald takes hard-boiled fiction to new levels of style and plot

Just when the reading world thought that the hard-boiled detective novel had reached its zenith with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, along comes Ross Macdonald.

Ross Macdonald

The similarities among the lives of Hammett, Chandler, and Macdonald (whose real name was Kenneth Millar) are striking and significant:

  • All had difficult and disruptive childhoods.
  • Each, for a time, received a good-to-excellent education.
  • Chandler and Macdonald spent a significant part of their childhoods outside the United States.
  • Stability eluded them as young adults.
  • Hammett had been a detective, working under one of the best detectives in the business. He wrote about what he knew. Chandler read Hammett and determined that he could expand the concept of the private eye. Macdonald read both Hammett and Chandler and believed he could build on their contributions and add to them.
  • All three writers had turbulent adult lives even after they had become famous and wealthy.

Ross Macdonald created a private eye named Lew Archer. The surname is taken from Miles Archer, the dead partner of Hammett’s Sam Spade, but Macdonald said the model for the character came from Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe.

Both Chandler and Macdonald took hard-boiled fiction beyond the spare and terse style of Hammett. Macdonald was every bit Chandler’s equal in the use of elegant description and multi-level metaphors and similes.

For instance:

  • She appeared at his shoulder and leaned on him, waiting for somebody to second here self-administered flattery.
  • Her body was very assertive in shorts and a halter.
  •  . . . hair stuck up on her head like a yellow fright wig.
  • . . . her eyes were the color of gin.

All those examples come from just one paragraph is the book, The Chill (1964).

Like Chandler did with Phillip Marlowe, Macdonald imbued Archer with psychological dimensions and a social consciousness that went beyond anything that readers of hard-boiled detective fiction had experienced before. In addition, Macdonald wove complex plots that were dramatic and wrenching. Then he would resolve them in ways that were often surprising and enlightening.

[button link=”http://jprof.com/category/private-eye” border=”#212121″ window=”yes”]Take a look at additional articles on the ‘private eye’ on JPROF.com[/button]

Both Macdonald and his wife Margaret Millar had achieved some success as novels before Macdonald moved into the hard-boiled genre. Macdonald’s first Lew Archer novel, The Moving Target, was published in 1949 and would later be made into the movie Harper, starring Paul Newman. (Archer actually appeared first in a 1946 short story, “Find the Woman.”) Macdonald would go on to write 17 more Lew Archer novels before his death in 1983. Each novel received good reviews and often moved critics to say the one just published was the best Lew Archer novel yet.

One instance of this was when Macdonald’s good friend Eudora Welty reviewed The Underground Man for the New York Times in 1971:

“The Underground Man” is Mr. Macdonald’s best book yet, I think. It is not only exhilaratingly well done; it is also very moving.

Ross Macdonald’s style, to which in large part this is due, is one of delicacy and tension, very tightly made, with a spring in it. It doesn’t allow a static sentence or one without pertinence. And the spare, controlled narrative, built for action and speed, conveys as well the world through which the action moves and gives it meaning, brings scene and character, however swiftly, before the eyes without a blur. It is an almost unbroken series of sparkling pictures.

The style that works so well to produce fluidity and grace also suggests a mind much given to contemplation and reflection on our world. Mr. Macdonald’s writing is something like a stand of clean, cool, well‐branched, well-tended trees in which bright birds can flash and perch. And not for show, but to sing. (quoted from http://www.nytimes.com/1971/02/14/archives/the-underground-man-by-ross-macdonald-273-pp-new-york-alfred-a.html-subscription required)

That Macdonald could continue such stylistic magnificence over more than 20 years of writing is one genre testifies to his greatest as a writer and justifies those who argue that his work should be included in what is considered to be the best of American literature.

And in the tradition of hard-boiled detective writing, just as Macdonald and Lew Archer were leaving the scene in the early 1980s, a new writer and a new detective appeared to expand the genre even more. Sue Grafton created female detective Kinsey Millhone in A is for Alibi and gave full credit for her creation to Ross Macdonald and Lew Archer.

***

Sources:

 

 

Raymond Chandler and the development of the ‘private eye’; newsletter, Jan. 12, 2018

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,500) on Friday, Jan. 12, 2018.

Special note: If you have unsubscribed to this list previously, I apologize for this email. I had some problems with the list over the past couple of weeks — due mainly to my incompetence — and some unsubscribers may have been added back in. Click on this link Unsubscribe or the one at the bottom of the email to get off this list, and I will do my best to see that you don’t get any more emails from me.


Hi, 

This second week of the New Year brought some interesting items my way, and I am sharing a few of them with you in this newsletter. I hope that your New Year has gotten off to a great start.

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Raymond Chandler takes the ‘private eye’ to a new place

He was a man troubled by many demons — among them alcoholism, promiscuity, and possibly depression. Despite those problems, Raymond Chandler has become a gigantic influence in the development of the “private eye” character of modern fiction. Chandler is the author of books such as The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye, in which detective Phillip Marlowe went beyond Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade as an expressive and complex character.

Raymond ChandlerChandler was educated in the English public school system, and when he decided to write detective fiction, he studied the genre intensely. His writing is imbued with similes and metaphors that give his scenes and characters a depth that few other “hard-boiled” writers have achieved.

I have written a short post about Chandler’s contributions on JPROF.com. (And if you like this post, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. Just click on the buttons to the right of the post.)

***

Word of Sue Grafton’s death last week brought several responses from readers, these among them:

Morag F: So sad to hear about Sue Grafton, I have read a number of her alphabet books. Such a great writer.

Janet E: I too was shocked to hear the news of Ms. Grafton’s death. I am probably the only person in the world, maybe, the universe, who has not read any of her books that go by the alphabet. I plan to start doing so, very soon.

Peggy G: Thank you for your email regarding the death of Sue Grafton. I am at a loss. I developed my love of mysteries and mystery solving reading her books. So sad. Just a thought but, after a time maybe her fellow mystery writing friends and colleagues could each write a chapter of her unwritten “Z is” book as a tribute and (please excuse the trite) closure.

Helen P: Sorry to hear about Sue Grafton’s death. She was one of my favorite authors. Although Spencer has lived on with other authors, I cannot see that happening with Kinsey. I will miss her as I do Amelia Peabody Emerson and other characters who took on a life of their own. RIP

Here’s another tribute to Sue Grafton that her readers might enjoy: Victoria ComellaG is for Gratitude: Remembering Sue Grafton.

Alabama vs. Georgia, 1962: Not a national championship but more protection against libel suits

Bear BryantWhen Alabama played Georgia during the regular season of 1962, Alabama won handily, 35-0. The following spring, the Saturday Evening Post published a story saying that the game had been fixed because of collusion between the two coaches, Georgia’s Wally Butts and Alabama’s Bear Bryant (right). Both Butts and Bryant sued the magazine for libel. Butts won his suit in a trial, and Bryant later reached a settlement with the Post.

But the cases were appealed and eventually made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. They became part of a set of cases that the court used to rewrite libel laws in the United States to promote free expression and more open debate.

You can read more about this case and its outcome in a post I’ve written on JPROF.com.

True crime podcasts: Atlanta Monster

Atlanta Monster. Just when I was about to retire my podcast recommendations (at least for a while), a new one pops up that I need to tell you about. Atlanta Monster looks at the puzzling case of the Atlanta Child Murders.

In the late 1970s, young African-American boys in the Atlanta area began to go missing. When bodies of some of the missing children were found, police concluded that one person (or set of persons) was responsible. In other words, Atlanta had a serial killer on its hands. The search for the killer was widely covered by local, national, and international news media. This podcast reviews what happened during that difficult time and who was eventually brought to justice. Here’s how the producers of Atlanta Monster describe their podcast:

From the producers of Up and Vanished, Tenderfoot TV and HowStuffWorks present, ‘Atlanta Monster.’ This true crime podcast tells the story of one of the city’s darkest secrets, The Atlanta Child Murders. Nearly 40 years after these horrific crimes, many questions still remain. Host Payne Lindsey aims to find truth and provide closure, reexamining the disappearance and murder of over 25 African American children and young adults.

The first episode is now available and more should be coming soon.

See what other real crime podcasts we’ve recommended here on JPROF.com.

Giveaways

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery/

https://www.instafreebie.com/gg/HCqRcAvQK0Pr9IpLcGT4Addictive Suspense and Thrillers Giveaway.This giveaway, which includes Kill the Quarterback, is a carefully compiled selection of high-octane, fast-paced mystery-suspense-thrillers, full of action, suspense and drama from debut to bestselling authors. Some of the books are already available while others are coming soon. Take a moment to check them out and claim any that intrigue you for absolutely free.

Crimes against English (continued)

I continue to receive responses from readers who have identified crimes against English. They are endlessly interesting, and I appreciate them all. Please keep sending them. Here are a couple that have come in in the last two weeks:

Jim S.: You asked for misused words that irritate. I have one.

First, I need to refer to something told to me soon after I quit smoking many years ago. They said, “No one is more irritating than a reformed smoker.”

I guess the word I selected falls into that category since I used to use it incorrectly. While I was part of a Toastmasters group, I heard someone else use the term Podium when they meant Lectern. After their talk, they were corrected for their misuse. 

Being a person who loves words and such a nerd as to getting engrossed in reading parts of the dictionary, I felt self-chastised for my blatant misuse of the word Podium.

Podium is a stage on which people stand or sit. A Lectern is a stand, sometimes on a Podium, where a first time speaker places his notes and nervously grips the edges.

So, now, being a reformed mis-user of Podium, I cringe and grind my teeth when I see its abuse.

The word Podium is so frequently used in place of the word Lectern that i would not be surprised to see its meaning changed in the near future. I was really surprised when I found Grisham using the word Podium several times to refer to a Lectern in a courtroom. My edit groups would never let me get away with that, at least I hope they wouldn’t.

This is a lot of words to refer to the misuse of one word. That’s me, blah, blah, blah.

 

Tod: Ever since I can remember I’ve often thought about the notion of simplifying English spelling rules, after reading Dolton Edwards’ story “Meihem in ce Klasrum” in Astounding (1946), and some of Mark Twain’s comments on simplification. http://www.angelfire.com/va3/timshenk/codes/meihem.html

In the early 1800s Noah Webster compiled his first dictionary of (American) English, and one of his goals was to prefer spellings that matched the verbal pronunciation. From then through the early 20th century, various dictionaries and style guides influenced the evolution of American English from British English (no examples needed, I’m sure).

So my “crime” is how we find stories, articles, and other compositions written by American authors using American spellings that are “translated” by overzealous editors of Commonwealth printing or publishing outfits such that “color” becomes “colour,” “traveled” becomes “travelled,” and the suffix “-meter” becomes “-metre.”

I have repeatedly come across this bizarre and eccentric (and totally unnecessary) correction of words just because they don’t conform to the local standards. Take a news story from the New York Times or Atlantic magazine that has sections quoted by writers writing for The Times of London or The Economist and there will be words that some copy editor redlined. Or entire books: I’ve bought paperbacks of American authors like Asimov and Griham and every flavor and fetus becomes flavour and foetus.

So, to copy editors in the Commonwealth, don’t mess with our American language. You lost in 1776 so get over it! Go niggle the French if you have to pick on a language.

Thanks to both Jim S. and Tod for their thoughts. What are your thoughts?

 

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Spring Training

Now that collegiate football is out of the way for a few months (congratulations to Alabama on winning yet another national championship and to Georgia for a great game), we can move on to the really important stuff: baseball. Spring training is less than two months away. Enjoy these two watercolors that celebrate the game.

Best quote of the week:

What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. J.D. Salinger, writer (1919-2010)

Do not forget the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate. Add to these those devastated by the California wildfires — and now floods. These and many other disasters mean that people need our help. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.

Keep reading and have a great weekend.

Jim

Jim Stovall 
www.jprof.com

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


More on JPROF.com

The ‘private eye,’ in the beginning: Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett knew what a private detective should be. He knew because he had been one, and he had been taught by the very best. 

The 100 best nonfiction books of all time: a list from The Guardian

Robert McCrum, the co-author of The Story of English (1986), has compiled a list of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time, and the list was recently published in The Guardian, a well-respected newspaper and news website in Great Britain.

Jean Ritchie: 60-plus years of contributions to American music and culture

If you play the dulcimer, you owe Jean Ritchie a debt of thanks. If you have heard a dulcimer, seen one — or even know what one is, Jean Ritchie is the person responsible.

Jeannie Rousseau, a diminutive spy and an extraordinary tale of courage

She was small, too small to be a danger to anyone. And she was attractive, a good-time girl, maybe even a little flighty. Plus, she had a talent for getting people, particularly men, to talk to her. Those traits hid her steely courage, creativity, resourcefulness — and, maybe most importantly, a photographic memory.

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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.

Raymond Chandler

Nothing except reading detective pulp magazines, mainly because they were cheap.

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 Earl 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 Phillip 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 book The 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)

G is for Grafton: Mystery writer Sue Grafton succumbs to cancer at age 77

Writing A is for Alibi was Sue Grafton’s “ticket out of Hollywood.” It was a one-way ticket. She never allowed her work to return there.

Grafton, author of the Kinsey Millhone alphabet series, died at her home in California on Dec. 28, 2017, after a two-year battle with cancer and HCA from https://homecareassistance.com/los-gatos/. Two months before that, she had published the latest in her mysteries that played off the alphabet: Y is for Yesterday.

Grafton was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1940 and made her way west to California in the 1960s. After publishing a couple of novels, she became a screenwriter for television. She achieved some success in that medium, but the experience soured her permanently.

Sue Grafton

She would never sell the rights to the Kinsey Millhone series for any movie or television series.

“Ask me if I’d ever sell the film or TV rights to these books,” she said in a 2013 interview with The Minneapolis Star Tribune promoting “W Is for Wasted.” “No, I would not. I would never let those clowns get their hands on my work. They’d ruin it for everyone, me more than most.” (New York Times obituary: Sue Grafton, Whose Detective Novels Spanned the Alphabet, Dies at 77 – The New York Times

During her second divorce and the resulting custody battle, Grafton said she began to think of ways to kill people. Rather than act on those impulses, she thought about writing murder mysteries. She studied the greats — Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler — but it was Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer character that had the most effect on her.

What if Lew Archer were a female? How would that work?

Thus Kinsey Millhone was born, and Grafton brought her to life in A is for Alibi, which was published in 1982. Millhone was a tough-talking single woman (twice-divorced, no children) who expected very little out of life and didn’t always play by the rules. She was also vulnerable in ways that she revealed throughout her novels.

“I’m female, 36, twice divorced, childless and otherwise unencumbered . . . . I was a cop for two years early in my twenties, and through personal machinations too tedious to explain, I realized law enforcement didn’t suit me. I was way too crabby and uncooperative to adjust to department regulations . . . . Plus, the shoes were clunky and the uniform and the belt made my ass look too wide.” (from P is for Peril in 2001; quoted from the Washington Post obituary of Grafton)

A is for Alibi was an instant success — the world was obviously waiting for a tough-talking-but-tender PI, and Grafton never looked back. She was rarely off the best-seller lists, and her novels were translated into many languages.

[button link=”http://jprof.com/category/private-eye” color=”red”]More ‘Private eye’ posts on JPROF.com[/button]

Grafton wrote with a simple, straightforward style that was neither fancy nor Chandler-esque. The voice she used perfectly suited the first-person character of Kinsey Millhorne. You could hear Kinsey talking to you in the words and phrases that Grafton employed.

As Grafton grew more confident about her writing, she grew more revealing. Her website has portions of the different journals she kept while she was writing her novels, and those are fascinating. Here’s a sample of what she wrote while putting together H is for Homicide:

1-12-90

Well, here I am, letting it all hang out…starting with a clean slate on “H”. I’ve floppied and deleted all my previous files, plus the two chapters I’d written.

Right Brain kept telling me the story wasn’t right. Not complex enough, not the proper chemistry. No visible route to action or tension. I’ve been arguing the point with myself for weeks, going first this way and that. RB would tell me I should dump the book and I’d agree. Then I’d go back and read my notes, read the two chapters I’d done and decide that it was workable despite my misgivings. Now I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be foolish to ignore my intuitions when the message has been so strong and so persistent.

Must go back and think about the focus for “H”.
Set aside some clippings from my previous go round.

“H” could be for:
Hot Prowl
Hit & Run
Hostages
Hypnosis
Hunters

This morning RB suggested that maybe Kinsey meets a husband and wife bounty-hunter team on the trail of someone. Both are slain.

Might still play with the idea of someone who was an executioner for the state.

Must find the two page analysis I did on KILLSHOT. That might give me some direction…Found the break-down in my “G” directory. Really useful notes. (quoted from SueGrafton.comhttp://www.suegrafton.com/journal-display.php?ISBN13=9780312945657)

Grafton managed to live through 25 novels, getting all the way to Y is for Yesterday, published just a couple of months before her death. Her family said she had already selected the title for her next novel, Z is for Zero but had not begun any real work on it.

Sue Grafton, RIP.

More on the ‘private eye’ and Dashiell Hammett; lots of reader response this week

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,431) on Friday, Dec. 29, 2017.

Hi, 

A lot of you readers took the time to respond to various parts of the newsletter last week, and I have included some of those responses here. Thanks to you all. Your responses make great reading, and I am happy to share them with everyone.

Viewing tip: Click the display images link above if you haven’t done so already.

The ‘private eye’: In the beginning, there was Dashiell Hammett

Our concept of the “private eye,” one of American literature’s most enduring characters, begins with the short stories and novels of Dashiell Hammett. He created the characters of the Continental Op (an anonymous detective who worked for an agency) and Sam Spade, a private detective who worked on his own, for his stories. From those characters, particularly Spade and his depiction on the movies by Humphrey Bogart, have sprung a legion of fictional heroes and heroines whose job is to find the truth, protect the good from the bad, and right wrongs.

Hammett’s concept of the private eye came from his own experience as an agent for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Hammett’s terse writing style set an extremely high standard for the many fictionalists who have followed him. Read more about Dashiell Hammett’s contributions in this short post of JPROF.com.

I am writing a series of blog posts on JPROF.com about the private eye and the writers who have used him. You can find the first one here,

Next week: Raymond Chandler.

And, in response to the private eye series, I got this from newsletter reader Dan C., good friend and proof-reader extraordinaire:

Who Is he?
My favorite fictional PI didn’t even refer to himself as a PI. He is a self-described “salvage consultant” who recovers other peoples’ property for a fee of 50%, from people to jewels and everything in between. He lived in a marina on a boat he won in a poker game, the Busted Flush.
He was in 21 books, with a color in the titles.

The answer is below the signature of this newsletter.

Best book of 2017?

My call for your Best Book of 2017 got this from reader Suella:

The Amendment Killer, by Ronald S. Barak, has risen to the top in my mind for this past year. Well-written, flawlessly formatted, edited and proofread it stands tall. Add the story told by this meticulous writer and I was left with ongoing thoughts that linger today. The emotions tumble through my body as I recall hope, despair, fear, excitement, dread and wonder at the subtle message contained therein this work. All citizens should read this book. Some would lash out, but more would take heart from knowing they are not alone in their worries for our country. I will clarify that remark by saying that is my own personal hope.

And this from Vicki:

I have read so many books this year it is hard to pick a favorite, but I really enjoyed Girl Divided by Willow Rose. It won’t be released until Jan. 3, 2018.

And this from Sharon K:

What I read through 2017 was the Apocalyptic Fears sets 1-6 (a multi-author anthology of short stories). There were a lot of books in these sets so it took awhile to read all of them. I am now going through the books I got this year to be read pile and picking new books to read.

Finally, from Mike C.:

Not sure you realize just how hard a question you asked this time! I have 16 books I read this year that I gave an excellent rating to. Six of those were by very well-known, big name authors. So I decided to look at the remaining ten and see if, somehow, I could pick just 1 winner. And I did! I think I picked it because it was the only one to receive an excellent rating that was out of my normal genre(s). Drum roll please…my favorite book of 2017 was The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. It was also the only one that appealed to my life long avocation/pursuit: Philosophy. This book contained some elements very interesting from a philosophical standpoint. The book was very well written and easy to read. It is a memoir that somehow grabbed me and totally immersed me in its story. While telling her life story, she also draws lessons and talks about life itself – that is where the philosophy comes in. I found it quite compelling. Life is a sequence of thousands – no millions – of little choices — all of which have consequences over time. It has been made into a movie, but, as is often the case, it falls far short of the book and leaves out the philosophy completely.

True crime podcasts (continued): The Vanished

The Vanished. What about people who go missing, usually under suspicious circumstances, and are never found? They simply vanish. If that fascinates you, this is the podcast you will want to listen to regularly. Host Marissa Jones does a fine job of researching, interviewing, and writing this show on a weekly basis. The podcast is partnered with Wondery and has an excellent audio quality. The latest episode involves a young Atlanta-area woman, Jenna Van Gelderen, and has a maddening account of how law enforcement agencies in the area bungled the investigation of her disappearance.

See what else we’ve recommended below the signature of this newsletter.

 

College football heads for its zenith

Having spent my career and much of my life on American college campuses, I know how important football is in the minds of some people. I taught at the University of Alabama for 25 years and at the University of Tennessee for the last 10 years of my career. On Monday evening, the college football playoffs begin, and those games will eventually determine the national champion. Alabama is one of the four teams that will compete. (Tennessee fans long for the Volunteers to be one of these final four teams, but, alas, the team had a less-than-stellar year.)

Many of us on the academic side of campus (including me) spend a lot of time grousing about the over-emphasis on football and the enormous salaries that many big-time football coaches make compared to, say, the governor of a state. The grousing is not misplaced, but we forget, ignore, or are unaware of the deep historical roots that the game of football has on the nation’s campuses. Some higher ed historians argue that that many colleges in the late 19th and early 20th century could not have survived if football had not been there to attract students and create a brand to which alumni and others, particularly doners, could be loyal. (See an article by David Labaree arguing this point.)

A final note: When I arrived at Alabama in 1978, the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant was still the head coach of the football team. I was able to meet him once and talk very briefly with him.


Giveaways

A New Year & A New Gift Card Giveaway. We about to start a giveaway that has a $350 Amazon Gift Card prize. The giveaway is set to run Jan. 1-15, and it’s one simple entry. On Monday, click on this link below for your chance at a $350 Amazon Gift Card: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/77deea0969/? Now you have a chance to get what you REALLY wanted for Christmas.

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery/

https://www.instafreebie.com/gg/HCqRcAvQK0Pr9IpLcGT4Addictive Suspense and Thrillers Giveaway.This giveaway, which includes Kill the Quarterback, is a carefully compiled selection of high-octane, fast-paced mystery-suspense-thrillers, full of action, suspense and drama from debut to bestselling authors. Some of the books are already available while others are coming soon. Take a moment to check them out and claim any that intrigue you for absolutely free.

Crimes against English (continued)

A couple of weeks ago, I asked you to let me know your pet peeve about misuse of English. This came in from Glenn S. in Florence, AL, this week:

I’m irritated by what seems to me a growing use of “that” in place of “who.” Such as, “I saw the man that won the lottery,” I’m hearing this more and more in both spoken and written communication. (Don’t even get me started, though, on the apparent confusion over “that” and “which.”)

Glenn is a good friend of many years and former newspaper editor. One of the best, in fact, so pay attention to what he says.

And this from Robin K.:

As for English language pet peeves, I also have many. Especially errors I hear in TV news and other program. It’s noun- verb agreement when using collective nouns like team or staff. “The team are going to rescue the dog.” No, no, no! The team IS going to rescue the dog. A collective noun uses a singular verb!

If you have a pet peeve about English usage (I know that you do), let me know what it is.

 

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Dashiell Hammett

I am still practicing portraits.

Best quote of the week:

People call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute. Rebecca West (1892-1983)

Do not forget the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate. Add to these those devastated by the California wildfires. These and many other disasters mean that people need our help. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.Keep reading and have a great weekend.

Jim

Jim Stovall 
www.jprof.com

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


Who is he? (the answer)

The Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald. Published from the early 60s to the 80s. In the first book, in 1962 the character was named Dallas McGee. After JFK’s assassination, MacDonald changed the name.

 

True crime podcasts recommendations so far:

Crimetown. This multi-episode podcast takes a close look at former mayor Buddy Cianci and organized crime in Providence, Rhode Island. Cianci began his political career as a reformer but found that even though he had been elected mayor, real power in Providence lay outside city hall. The podcasts are hosted by Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier, and they use a wealth of audio interviews with city officials, lawyers, friends of Buddy, crime bosses, mistresses, show girls, and wise guys to tell a mesmerizing story. And unlike many podcast episodes which last an hour or more, most of these are 30-45 minutes long.

S-town. The makers of This American Life and Serial have done it again. They have created a podcast series that begins in one direction and zigs and zags through a variety of fascinating scenes, situations and characters. You think it’s about murder or small-town corruption, but by episode 3, it’s headed off somewhere else. The story comes from Woodstock, Alabama — just up the road from Tuscaloosa where I used to live — and begins with John B., an unhappy resident there, calling reporter Brian Reed and asking him to investigate the cover-up of a murder that has occurred in Woodstock. Once you have listened to episode 1, you’ll be on the roller coaster and won’t be able to get off.

Casefile, a well written and well delivered podcast from Australia, deals with stories of real crime under the moniker: “Fact is scarier than fiction.” Casefile is this week’s true crime podcast recommendation. Casefile deals with crimes from all over the world, not just Australia, but their native cases are often the most interesting and intriguing. The narration is delivered by Anonymous Host, an unnamed voice whose Australian accent is positively charming. The podcasts are well-researched and tightly written and are a pleasure to listen to. Casefile has a large following around the world and has gathered a number of prestigous awards. After listening to a few episodes, it’s easy to see why. Start with Episode 66: The Black Widow and get hooked.

True Crime All the Time , hosted by Mike Ferguson and Mike Gibson, or “Gibby,” presents some fascinating cases, and the hosts are well informed (though not experts of any sort). Both have engaging personalities, and a big part of the fun is just hearing them play off of each other. Try episode 45, the case of Adolpho Constanzo and Sara Aldrete. It’s typical of Mike and Gibby’s approach. (Be careful; some of this episode is graphic and hard to take.)

Real Crime Profile, with three excellent hosts, have discussions of criminal cases that are riveting and insightful. The link provided above is to a list of some of the recent podcasts. Start anywhere. You will be fascinated. (Real Crime Profile on Facebook.)

Dirty John: Christopher Goffard, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, has written and narrates a series called Dirty John. It’s the story of Debra Newell and John Meehan and is a true crime podcast of the highest order. It will take you a while to get through it, but once you start, you’ll likely be hooked. The reporting is thorough, the interviews are fascinating, and the story is full of twists, turns, and surprises. The ending is well worth the journey. Here’s a link to part 1, “The Real Thing.”

Sword and Scale. This website and podcast, according to its own description, is about “the dark underworld of crime and the criminal justice system’s response to it.” The folks associated with Sword and Scale have spent a lot of time producing interesting and informative podcasts about serious crimes. One episode I listened to was episode 90. It was an hour well spent.

Do you have any true crime podcast recommendations to share with fellow readers?

 

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The ‘private eye,’ in the beginning: Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett knew what a private detective should be.

He knew because he had been one, and he had been taught by the very best.

Dashiell Hammett (watercolor, Jim Stovall, 2017)

Born in Maryland in 1894, Hammett had failed at most everything he tried in the first two decades of his life. Intelligent, tall, and handsome, he did not finish school, could not hold a good job, and had no real direction in his life until 1915. In that year, things began to change.

He became an agent for the Baltimore office of the  Pinkerton Private Detective Agency, and he was surprisingly good at it. Despite his height, he could tail a person all day long without being caught. He could write a terse, energetic report. Most important of all, he could listen and learn. It was at this point that he needed — and fortuitously received — a good teacher.

Heading up the Pinkerton’s Baltimore office was the legendary James Wright, who taught Hammett the “morality” of being a private detective. Some of the tenants of this morality were

— favor good people over bad ones, and try to protect the good people;

— don’t be bound by the rules, particularly if it prevents you from doing the right thing for the good people;

— don’t get emotionally involved with a case; don’t hate the criminals and bad people and don’t fall in love with the good ones;

— stay anonymous, and don’t seek publicity or credit; Pinkerton agents rarely if ever signed their reports;

— develop discipline and patience; Pinkertons might have to tail a suspect for weeks without faltering;

Hammett internalized all of these qualities, and although he did not always exhibit them in his personal life, he imbued his famous detectives, the Continental Op and Sam Spade, with them. These characters carried on tough, edgy conversations with clients and the people involved in their cases. The detectives never shied away from trouble. They could see people and situations for what they were, not for what others hoped them to be.

The Private Eye (watercolor by Jim Stovall)

In addition, Hammett wrote with a disciplined terseness that perfectly reflected the dark streets of San Francisco where his stories were set. His pitch-perfect dialogue not only put readers at the scene but also made them part of the conversation. Writer Raymond Chandler — whos work was deeply influenced by Hammett — wrote of Hammett:

“He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.”

* * * 

Hammett lived an eventful and difficult life that included a 30-year affair with writer Lillian Hellman, great wealth, abject poverty, a stint in prison for refusing to rat on his friends, and continuing bouts of tuberculosis, alcoholism, and other illnesses. He was born in 1894 and died in 1961.

It was his vision of the private detective — the “private eye” —  that inspired so many writers of his and subsequent generations.

For those of us who love what he did, he wrote too little and died too soon.

* * *

This post owes much of Prof. William Marling and his website, DetNovel.com, and particularly his entry on Dashiell Hammett.

See also:

Layman, Richard (1981). Shadow Man: The Life of Dashiell HammettHarcourt Brace Jovanovich. p. 239. ISBN 0-15-181459-7.

Layman, Richard (ed.) 2001. With Rivett, Julie M., Introduction by Josephine Hammett Marshall. Selected Letters of Dashiell Hammett 1921 – 1960 ISBN 1-58243-081-0, p. 142f

Johnson, Diane. (1983) Dashiell Hammett: A Life

Trouble is their business: the ‘private eye’ and the writers who created them

The opening scene of Raymond Chandler’s story Trouble is My Business tells you a lot in a very few words about Chandler’s “private eye,” Phillip Marlowe.

Marlow is talking to a woman who runs a detective agency, a big one with several agents. But none of her people is suitable for the job she has. She wants to hire Marlow for this one case. During their edgy conversation, she says something about a previous case of Marlowe’s, and he takes umbrage.

I started to get up out of my chair, then remembered that business had been bad for a month and that I needed the money.

I sat down again.

“You might get into trouble, of course,” Anna said. “I never heard of Marty bumping anybody off at high noon in the public square, but he don’t pay with cigar coupons.”

“Trouble is my business,” I said. “Twenty-five a day and guarantee of two-fifty, if I pull the job.”

“I gotta make a little something for myself,” Anna whined.

“O.K. There’s plenty of coolie labor around town. Nice to have seen you looking so well. So long, Anna.”

I stood up this time. My life isn’t worth much, but it’s worth that much. . . . (quoted material)

 

The Private Eye (watercolor by Jim Stovall)

Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James Cain are credited with creating one of modern fiction’s most enduring character, the private detective, a.k.a. the “private eye.”

Just who is the private detective of this “hard-boiled” fiction genre?

— He’s male and middle-aged and has a history.

— He’s alone. Whatever wife or family he’s had are long gone, a distant memory, maybe part of the history.

— He drinks, but not to excess.

— He’s cynical, and one thing he’s good at is spotting people’s real motives. In his experience, people are rarely truthful about what they want or how they feel.

— He likes women, particularly good-looking dames, but he keeps his distance, if not physically then emotionally.

— You can count on him to do what he says he’s going to do — usually.

— He lives by a code. His ethics may not conform exactly with yours or mine, but they’re there, and they govern his behavior.

In the years since Phillip Marlowe (Chandler) and Sam Spade (Hammett) came onto the scene, there have been many versions of this character. Sometimes they’re not male. Sometimes they’re not private detectives. Sometimes they are happily or unhappily married. The iterations go on and on.

But one thing stays the same:

Trouble is their business.

Next: It began with Dashiell Hammett.