A doctor by trade, although better known for his classic plays like The Seagull and Uncle Vanya, Anton Chekhov actually began his literary career writing stories, many of which were in the psychological suspense vein. They were published in a wide variety of periodicals and literary publications, many under the pseudonym of Antosha Chekhonte and mostly written to pay the bills to help put him through medical school. It's not a big a leap as many would suspect—Chekhov worked for a time with police assisting with autopsies in criminal investigations.
Peter Sekirin, who works at the Center for Russian Studies at the University of Toronto, collected 42 of these stories and compiled them into A Night in the Cemetery, published in 2008. As Otto Penzler pointed out for the New York Sun, these are not mystery stories as may think of them, containing "A lot of drunken behavior, frequently resulting in forgetfulness, which leads to a kind of 'mystery,' as in: What happened? There are occasional policemen, and they invariably leap to erroneous conclusions. Apparent crimes have other, frequently humorous, explanations. Terrors brought on by seemingly supernatural occurrences derive from comical misunderstandings."
Present throughout the collection, even among these early works, are Chekhov's penetrating psychological insight and microscopic views into the absurdity of human nature. His characters here, as in his mature works, are more often than not passive, weak and irrational, although they yearn to make things better or find ways to justify their existence.
In "The Swedish Match," which pokes fun at deductive reasoning, a pair of bumbling detectives find their suspect list growing as they investigate a bizarre murder case after finding "evidence" that the victim was strangled and carried out the window, then later stabbed in the garden to finish him off. The trail leads to the police superintendent's young wife, although not everything is at it seems; in the comically macabre tale, "A Night of Horror," a man finds a pink-glazed coffin in his apartment. His distress only increases as he runs to one friend and then another to find more coffins appearing in apartments.
Other offerings include "A Crime: A Double Murder Case," which is short, but interesting as an early example of noir; "Thieves," a simple-minded doctor's assistant falls among a temptress and robbers which leads to a personal meltdown as "He realized that it was only due to his lack of opportunity that he had not become a thief or a cheat."; and "The Drama at the Hunt," one of the longest stories in the collection, which revolves around three men who love the same woman, ultimately leading to betrayal, humiliation and murder.
As with all translations, I find it frustrating not to be multilingual so I can read them in the original language (I once tried to teach myself Cyrillic, with less-than-steller results), wondering about all the subtleties and authorial voice I'm missing. These stories generally show signs of a young writer coming into his own, but even a young Chekhov in translation creates characters who will stay with you.
(This is a "classic" FFB repost from 2010.)
Some good magazine news: BJ Bourg, former editor of the now-defunct Mouth Full of Bullets ezine, announced he's spearheading a new quarterly called BJ Bourg's Mystery Mag. He's seeking mystery/crime flash stories on the hard-boiled side of 500 to 750 words in length, and interested authors can find more details on his Righting Crime Fiction blog. (Hat tip to Sandra Seamans.)
The next Noir at the Bar event will take place in Staten Island this Sunday, with authors Rob Hart (New Yorked), Josh Bazell (Beat the Reaper), Todd Robinson (The Hard Bounce), Eddie Joyce (Small Mercies), Terrence McCauley (Sympathy for the Devil), and Hilary Davidson (Blood Always Tells) on hand for readings and signings.
Via the Bang2Write blog, one lucky person will win 10 British crime fiction novels in honor of BritCrime’s first free online crime fiction fest in July. The deadline for entering is before midnight July 10.
The New York Times reported on the mostly-forgotten story of Samuel J. Battle, the first black officer in the New York Police Department, a story brought to the attention first of poet Langston Hughes and later reporter Arthur Browne. One rather poignant part of the article still relevant via contemporary headlines, is that Battle was the son of former slaves from North Carolina who entered the department in 1911 "following intense lobbying by Harlem’s elite ministers and newspaper editors, who saw integration as a remedy for police violence against blacks."
The Bookseller's Stuart Bache took note of "The Resurgence of Golden Age Crime." From The British Library’s Crime Classics, Orion’s e-only The Murder Room imprint to HarperCollins’ revival of the Collins Crime Club, it shows the readership for the golden age detective novel is as hungry as ever for crime that stands the test of time.
Writing for Kirkus Reviews, J. Kingston Pierce tried to answer one reader's complaint about the "drunken and damaged protagonists" in detective fiction with a recap of authors and crime series that prove there's quite a variety of sleuths being written today.
Author Don Winslow (Cartel) offered up a list of "6 great books that explore the inner lives of cops."
The Books Live: Crime Beat blog posted a link to an essay by University of Pretoria academic Elizabeth le Roux, titled "South African Crime and Detective Fiction in English: A Bibliography and Publishing History." The essay focuses on crime fiction titles published up to 1994, concentrating on the period before June Drummond and James McClure, including a goodly number of South African crime novels prior to the 1950s.
The BBC blog discussed the letters revealing Arthur Conan Doyle's involvement in the 110-year-old mystery of a horse mutilation that are going on display in Portsmouth.
The latest issue of Suspense Magazine has an an excerpt from new books by Ingrid Thoft and Nelson DeMille; the latest forensics notes from D.P. Lyle; interviews with CJ Box, Patrick Kendrick, and Nelson DeMille; Q&As with debut authors Christine Carbo, Neal Griffin, and Simon Gervais; and the latest book notes and reviews.
Scientific American reported on the use of stingray technology by local and state law enforcement agencies, setting up fake cell towers to gather mobile data without a court order. Allegedly, agencies like the Baltimore PD used a cell site simulator thousands of times and signed a nondisclosure agreement with the FBI instructing prosecutors to drop cases rather than reveal the department’s use of the stingray.
Forensic scientists at Austria's University of Salzburg have developed a new method for establishing an exact time of death after as long as 10 days by evaluating the breakdown of protein building blocks of muscle.
Think you know your detective fiction? Guardian Books has a quiz on detective duos for you.
The new crime poem at the 5-2 is "Scholastic Musical Chairs" by David S. Pointer, and there's also a new noir poem, "Sick in the Head" by David Barber at Beat to a Pulp.
In the Q&A roundup, Patti Abbott chats with the Mystery People about her debut novel, Concrete Angel; the MP also invited Brad Parks to talk about his latest mystery to feature Newark, NJ reporter Carter Ross; The Seattle Times discussed the "real life horrors" in Don Winslow's new drug trafficking novel, Cartel; and Omnimystery News welcomed Channing Whitaker to talk about his new book, Until the Sun Rises.
The summer issue of Prose 'n Cons is out with a profile of true crime writer and novelist Carla Norton, who wrote a NYT bestseller on the Cameron Hooker kidnapping and bondage case titled Perfect Victim. After writing about real-life victimization took its toll, Hooker decided to switch to novels, penning two books that allow a kidnapping victim to reclaim her life on her own terms.
The issue also has a look at the upcoming PulpFest; a profile of Ray Celestin's new novel The Axeman; the best day trips and destinations for true-crime lovers; an examination of the new technique of brain fingerprinting that could help police read the minds of criminals; the lure of murder mystery parties; new short fiction from Jake Teeny and Salena Casha; and much more. You can also catch the latest News Headlines from yours truly.
Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow's next project is Book of Henry, based on an original screenplay written by best-selling crime novelist Gregg Hurwitz. The plot is being kept under wraps although production will start this fall in New York.
A Most Violent year director J.C. Chandor is in talks to helm the Paramount action thriller Triple Frontier, set in the notorious border zone between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil where the Iguazu and Parana rivers converge and provide a haven for organized crime.
The first international trailer for the psychological thriller The Red Spider hints at the story that's based on a real series of serial-killer murders in the late ’60s Cold War-era Eastern Europe.
The first trailer was released for the thriller Secret in Their Eyes (based on the Eduardo Sacheri novel La pregunta de sus ojos), starring Julia Roberts as a detective who discovers her daughter has been murdered and left for dead in a dumpster. The Daily Mail had a mini-profile.
A trailer was also released for London Has Fallen, the sequel to 2013's Olympus Has Fallen. The follow-on film once again follows Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) and President Ben Asher (Aaron Eckhart) fighting for their lives after a terrorist group targets world leaders in London for a state funeral.
The 1985 cult film To Live And Die In L.A. is headed to the small screen via WGN America. The TV adaptation will be directed/produced by Oscar winner William Friedkin, who created the project with fellow Oscar winner, Bobby Moresco (Crash). The story, based on the novel by former Secret Service agent Gerald Petievich, follows a fearless agent in L.A. who will stop at nothing to bring down the counterfeiter who killed his partner.
NBC has cancelled American Odyssey after one season. The drama starred Anna Friel, Peter Facinelli, Jake Robinson, Trent Williams in the tale of an Army Sgt. as she struggled to make it home after discovering a dangerous government secret during a raid in the west African Republic of Mali.
Deadline reported that the 1987 film Fatal Attraction is getting a reboot limited-run series at Fox. The project will closely follow the movie plot where Michael Douglas starred as a man who had an affair only to be stalked by the woman (Glenn Close) when he dumps her.
The same Deadline report above on Fatal Attraction noted that Paramount is mining its archives for TV adaptations, including plans to develop an HBO series based on Shutter Island with the involvement of both Martin Scorsese (who directed the 2010 film) and author Dennis Lehane.
Lifetime has greenlighted a movie based on the Charles Manson Family murders. With Jeff Ward playing Manson, the story hinges on Linda Kasabian (MacKenzie Mauzy) who joins Manson's commune looking for acceptance only to get drawn into criminal activities.
Kevin Alejandro (Arrow, True Blood) is joining the Fox series adaptation Lucifer, playing the role of a grumpy LAPD homicide detective who's suspicious of Lucifer's intentions that have to do with his family. Alejandro is replacing Law & Order SVU star Nicholas Gonzalez, who played the role during the pilot of the series.
Billy Magnussen, who will be playing Kato Kaelin in FX’s upcoming 10-hour series American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, has been hired for another FX project, a pilot about the beginnings of the crack cocaine epidemic in Los Angeles in the 1980s.
Amazon has zipped up licensing rights for several PBS shows, including the 1950s detective drama Grantchester.
WGN had a little fun with the detective dramas Elementary and Person of Interest, with a promo featuring Elementary stars Miller and Lucy Liu and POI’s Emerson and Jim Caviezel facing off in a test to determine who’s the better twosome and why.
I'm not sure how this is going to work, but a musical based on Ian Fleming's suave super spy James Bond is headed to Broadway, after Executive Producer Merry Saltzman (daughter of legendary Bond film producer and impresario Harry Saltzman) secured the rights for the project. James Bond: The Musical, will have a book by novelist Dave Clarke and music and lyrics by country composer Jay Henry Weisz.
A new Hitman video game is coming, and a few short clips were recently leaked. It's part of the series featuring Agent 47, a cloned assassin-for-hire, with the movie adaptation based on the character being released in August. The new game will be available for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One this December holiday season.
Born in 1899, she was called America's Agatha Christie by her biographer, Rick Cypert, and was once the third highest paid female mystery writer (after Christie herself and Mary Roberts Rinehart). Her name is Mignon Good Eberhart and she was nothing if not a prolific writer, with 59 novels and numerous short stories, novellas and plays, many adapted for film in the 1930s and 1940s. It didn't hurt that she got an early start on her career as a teenager, mostly, as she later said,
"Because I preferred writing to studying Caesar's Commentaries and algebra. There was one halcyon period during which I traded work on English themes for the solution of geometry problems, with an obliging classmate, but, perhaps for the best, this was very brief. There was a long novel to which I could add chapters at will, and numerous plays, all of which were advisedly destroyed. In my early twenties I gathered up courage and postage stamps and sent a book-length typescript to an editor. It was accepted. The story was a murder mystery and thus started me on a hard but rewarding writing path. The writer hopes that a mystery novel is entertaining to read but it is not easy to write."
That first book was The Patient in Room 18, introducing nurse Sarah Keate and police detective Lance O'Leary (who both appeared in four more novels), later made into a movie starring Ann Sheridan and Patric Knowles. Female sleuths abound today, but it was still somewhat revolutionary for the time. Eberhart wasn't necessarily an early feminist, however—she said of her creation, "I loved her because she had a good sharp tongue." It was only a year after the publication of this book that Agatha Christie followed suit and introduced Miss Jane Marple for the first time in a novel. Another of her popular heroines was Susan Dare, a precursor to Jessica Fletcher of Murder She Wrote. Dare, quite possibly Eberhart's best creation, only appeared in short stories, some of which you'll find in the 2007 Crippen and Landru collection titled Dead Yesterday.
Eberhart's books primarily feature female heroines in often-exotic locations; in fact, her primary contribution is quite probably to the development of the romantic-suspense subgenre in crime fiction, one reason she's often said to resemble more Rinehart than Christie. Another reason for that comparison is Eberhart's dedication to character development and her interest in scientific detection, as seen through her nurse-protagonist and medical themes. Plus, Rinehart herself had her own Nurse Pinkerton.
Some contemporary readers will find formulaic elements and eye-rolling elements in Eberhart's novels, particularly the early ones where female heroines tend to show poor judgement and even faint (does anyone really faint all that often? Did they ever?), but she was adept with the elements of suspense and atmosphere in what Thrilling Detective said was "spare but almost lyrical" writing. Mike Grost added that that "suspense passages in Eberhart often show the heroine with a heightened sensory awareness of her surroundings, and are almost hallucinatory in their intensity."
These qualities are seen in her closed community mystery from 1946, Five Passengers From Lisbon. Five passengers and three crewmen survive a sinking Portugese cargo ship via a lifeboat, but when they're picked up by a U.S. hospital ship, the Portugese mate is found murdered. Against a backdrop of Portugal being a haven for espionage with undertones of Nazi and Resistance alliances, Eberhart spins a claustrophobic web first as the group floats in the darkness:
There were no signs of other lifeboats; although once a barrel floated past and they thought at first it was a man, and another time it was a man, on his face, dead when they reached him. Alfred Castiogne bent down to drag the floating, dark bulk a little out of the water, and to cast it back again. Marcia remembered the way his thick shoulders hunched over, and the moment while the boat drifted and Gili's whimper. But nobody said anything; it seemed too natural an event, so precisely and unexpectedly part of the pattern of the night.
and again along the dim windowless corridors and decks shrouded in fog:
The deck below seemed deserted, too. She reached the last wet black step and turned sharply around the stairway. But the deck was not deserted; it was, instead, horribly inhabited. Marcia stopped, holding the railing. The foghorn began again, so waves of sound broke over the deck, shaking the ship and all the impenetrable grey world about her with dreadful tumult. It kept on sounding, while Marcia stood, looking down at the dark swarthy little man who lay with his eyes no longer suspicious and wary but blankly open, staring upward. He was Manuel Para and his throat had been cut.
A very long time seemed to have passed when suddenly she knew that someone was coming down the stairway immediately above her, following the steps her feet had taken. She looked up. It was a man in a red bathrobe. She could see him, and he had no face, but only white bandages with holes for eyes.
In H. R. F. Keating's Crime and Mystery: The 100 Best Books, he describes Mignon Eberhart as the heir and successor to Mary Robert Rinehart and a "star writer" in the first person single feminine tradition. Gertrude Stein described her as one of the "best mystifiers in America." She received the Scotland Yard Prize in 1930, became the Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America in 1971, and 1979, received a MWA special Edgar to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of her first novel.
There's been a lot of news lately from a variety of annual crime fiction awards, but what if those awards only happened every four years? That's what you face in the world of piano competitions, including the Van Cliburn and the just-completed Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Since I have a piano background and the crime consultant in my Scott Drayco series is also pianist, it's been fun to watch snippets of the live-streaming from the competition. The Gold Medal was given yesterday to 27-year-old Russian Dmitry Masleev, with Lithuanian Lukas Geniušas and American 19-year-old George Li awarded Silver Medals. You'll be hearing a lot more from all of these talented artists.
Here's a snippet from one of wunderkind George Li's first-round performances:
At a banquet last evening, the Crime Writers Association announced more of its annual Dagger Awards. The International Dagger went to Camille, by Pierre Lemaitre, translated by Frank Wynne; the Short Story Dagger was handed out for “Apocrypha,” by Richard Lange (from Sweet Nothing: Stories, by Richard Lange; Mulholland Press); The Non-fiction Dagger: In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile, by Dan Davies; The Endeavour Historical Dagger: The Seeker, by S.G. MacLean; The Debut Dagger: Last of the Soho Legends, by Greg Keen; and the Dagger in the Library for body of work went to Christopher Fowler. (Hat tip to The Rap Sheet.)
Foreword Reviews announced the winners in its 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards, including the mystery and thriller categories.
The Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award is an annual grant of $1,500 for an emerging writer of color, sponsored by the Sisters in Crime organization. An unpublished writer is preferred, although publication of one work of short fiction or an academic work won't disqualify an applicant. This grant is intended to support the recipient in activities related to crime fiction writing and career development. Deadline for applications is July 5, with the winner to be selected and announced in the fall.
Seattle Mystery Bookshop announced the sad news that the shop's founder, William D. Farley, died this week. Farley and his wife B Jo opened the bookshop in the summer of 1990. As the store blog noted, "It was his intention that the Seattle Mystery Bookshop be a place where readers and writers could meet, that it be a resource for those with questions or simply looking for a new author to read, that it be a place for someone new to the novels as well as the serious buyers looking to extend their collections."
The latest edition of Thuglit is out and available for download for the Kindle. Check out new original short fiction from Michael Pool, Mike Madden, Matthew J. Hockey, Dan J. Fiore, Joseph Rubas, Amanda Marbais, Luis Colón, Garnett Elliott.
Mike Ripley's latest "Getting Away with Murder" column for Shots Ezine includes a wrap-up of the annual Crime in the Court party thrown by Goldsboro Books, plus a look at recent awards and the usual variety of book reviews and news.
Crime fiction author James Patterson has been making headlines donating money to bookstores and libraries. The efforts include a $1.75m program to help fund school libraries and independent booksellers, and he recently announced the first round of awardees for those grants.
Since we're on the topic of bestselling crime fiction authors making donations, Peter James has donated £15,000 to a Sussex Police crime prevention campaign aimed at highlighting the danger of cyber crime and how the public can keep themselves safe.
The Indiana University library at Bloomington has a little exhibit they're featuring this summer. Titled "Death by Gimmick!," the four cases display gimmicks that pushed the fiction of some authors into the territory of the bizarre. Mapbooks are there, as is Dennis Wheatley's Crime Dossiers, which included print material such as cablegrams and transcripts of interview to each reader to help them solve the crime.
The Guardian picked a list of the top ten books about the mafia, "some fact, some myth, and some both."
The island country of Malta decided that one way to boost the country's profile was to have crime thrillers set there. So, the Malta Tourism Authority spent a week hosting authors Chris Kuzneski, Boyd Morrison and Graham Brown in hopes they'll help promote the Maltese islands in the U.S. market by using the archipelago as a backdrop in their books.
The Sydney Morning Herald profiled the new book Blockbuster! The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Lucy Sussex. It details the story of Ferguson's 1886 crime thriller set in Melbourne and how it became a global publishing phenomenon. (WaPo discussed it last year, and it was one the subject of an IRTM Friday's "Forgotten" Book.)
The Guardian examined the Sherlock Holmes canon via a series of charts to help explain his enduring appeal. Meanwhile, the Den of Geek blog profiled "10 Offbeat Takes" on Sherlock Holmes.
In more classic crime fun, the International Crime Fiction Resesarch Group blogged about the "Semantics of murder: A look at the titles of the 66 novels by Agatha Christie."
Mashable offered up a list of "10 influential pulp novels that are criminally good," from the pulp tradition of the early 20th century, from Doc Savage to Raymond Chandler, to Dashiell Hammett.
You've heard that no two fingerprints are alike, but now scientists think that each person may have a unique sense of smell. They hope that a sort of "olfactory fingerprint"' test will not identify individuals but rather may help with everything from an early diagnosis of degenerative brain disorders to a non-invasive test for matching donor organs.
It's official: "twerking," the dance movement popularized by Miley Cyrus, has been officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary. But, surprise! The OED editors say that "twerk" actually dates back to 1820 when it was spelled "twirk," meaning a twisting or jerking movement or twitch.
The new poem at the 5-2 is "Elegy for a Lost War" by Dennis Weiser.
In the Q&A roundup this week, the latest "9mm interview" from Crime Watch featured Rosie Claverton, author of a series of cybercrime thrillers and an in-progress historic fantasy mystery set in Victorian times; mystery author Channing Whitaker stopped by Omnimystery News to talk about his new supernatural mystery; Jame DiBiasio took Paul D. Brazill's "Short, Sharp Interview" challenge to discuss the sequel to his debut thriller, Gaijin Cowgirl; and the Mystery People snared Don Winslow to talk about his new drug-trafficking novel, Cartel.