Tribute to an Outstanding Blog – Two, actually: Do You Write Under Your Own Name, by Martin Edwards, and Lost in Books by Lourdes, with a digression on the subject of short stories

March 29, 2008 at 7:01 pm (Blogroll of honor, books, Film and television, Mystery fiction, Short stories, The British police procedural)

martin.jpg Ever since Martin Edwards started Do You Write Under Your Own Name in October of last year, it has been one of my favorite destinations in the blogosphere. If you love crime fiction, this is a site to die for! But even if that genre is not one you favor, you can still enjoy Martin’s thoughtful observations of the cultural scene in the UK. Of course, the writing is wonderful – Martin himself writes crime fiction. If you have yet to read the three titles (so far) in his series set in England’s gorgeous Lake District, lakes.jpg then you should rush out and get them ASAP!

coffin.jpg cipher.jpg arsenic.jpg

Here are some of the delights you can expect to encounter on Martin’s blog:

1. Unjustly forgotten writers from the past. This entry on Margot Bennett will make you want to read her as soon as possible. Good luck trying, though; the books are out of print, at least in the U.S., and our library does not carry them. Ah, well, abebooks or interlibary loan – here I come!

2. Praise for his contemporaries. simon-brett-colour.jpg unprompted.jpg I really enjoyed this post on Simon Brett. Brett entertained us wonderfully at Claridge’s in London during our Smithsonian Mystery Tour in 2006. I enjoy his Charles Parris series; I especially recommend Murder Unprompted, which, besides being hugely entertaining, offers intriguing insights into the theater scene in England.

3. Appreciation for those writers who have recently left us. Here’s his memorial for Edward D. Hoch. Although Hoch had been writing for decades and was named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 2001, he’s never been that well known. This, I think, his because he wrote primarily short stories rather than novels. Now crime fiction lovers have simply GOT to realize that many mystery short stories are absolute jewels and eminently worthy of your attention. (It’s so much fun to get into finger-wagging nanny mode once in a while!) Writing this has reminded me of all the terrific stories I read while I was teaching a class on mystery fiction at the local community college. (Now I think about it, I kind of miss doing that…) I’ve written about Best American Mystery Stories of the Century and The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps; in addition, I posted Mystery short stories: classics, with links to the full text of those famous tales. Here are some other anthologies that I used in that class:

worlds-finest.jpg The World’s Finest Mystery & Crime Stories: Second Annual Collection, edited by Ed Gorman. I particularly liked “Spinning” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, about an obese young woman’s struggle to lose weight. A big part of her effort involves attending a “spinning (cycling) class. She describes how when she first joins the group, member stared at her grotesquely overweight body with ill-concealed disgust. At one point in her struggle, “She wanted a piece of chocolate cake so badly that it hurt….Comfort food. She wanted comfort food because she needed comforting.” Do I empathize with this poor girl or what?!

“Spinning” is the first story in this generous volume. Other outstanding entries are “Let’s Get Lost” by Lawrence Block, a true master of the form; and “The Country of the Blind” by Doug Allyn, which will appeal to fans of medieval history.

Writers of short stories can be remarkably resourceful when evoking past eras and bringing them to life in the space of relatively few pages. Anthologist Mike Ashley has been collecting these tales for a number of years in the “Mammoth”series published by Carroll & Graf. I’m especially partial to The Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunnits, published in 1993. mammoth.jpg The book is divided into four sections: The Ancient World, The Middle Ages, Regency and Gaslight, and Holmes and Beyond. Some of the standouts in this collection:

The Ancient World: “The High King’s Sword” by Peter Tremayne, and “He Came with the Rain” by Robert Hans Van Gulik, who, in addition to writing detective fiction, was an artist, translator, and celebrated Sinologist. gulik.jpg Van Gulik’s tales of Judge Dee, an actual historical personage who was a magistrate in eighth century China, are simply astonishing. (For a great listening experience, get the recordings made by Frank Muller.)

judge-dee.jpg [Judge Dee, as rendered in pen and ink by Robert van Gulik]

The Middle Ages: “The Price of Light” by Ellis Peters, of fond memory. (This is an early Brother Cadfael story.)

ellis.gif [Ellis Peters, with Sir Derek Jacobi as Brother Cadfael]

Regency and Gaslight: “Murder Lock’d In” by Lillian de la Torre, whose tales, now almost impossible to find, recreate the life and times of the famed eighteenth century lexicographer Samuel Johnson; “The Doomdorf Mystery” by Melville Davisson Post; and one of my all time favorites, “The Gentleman from Paris” by the endlessly cunning John Dickson Carr.

oxford.jpg Finally, there’s The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories edited by Patricia Craig, who also contributes an insightful and enlightening introduction. The first story in this collection, “The Stir Outside the Cafe Royal,” was written around the turn of the twentieth century and concerns a female police officer who goes under cover in order to facilitate the arrest of a criminal for whom she harbors a personal animus. Clarence Rook, the (rather obscure) author, is described in Gale’s Contemporary Authors Online as “…a shadowy figure whose writing rested uneasily between fiction and journalism.”

Many splendid stories fill out this fine anthology. Arthur Morrison’s “The case of Laker, Absconded” depicts in careful detail the way in routine banking transactions were carried out in the early part of the last century. (Yes, you have to trust me here – this really is interesting!) Other stories of note: “The Oracle of the Dog” a lovely, poignant tale by G.K. Chesterton, featuring one of the earliest of the clerical detectives, Father Brown; Agatha Christie’s sensational courtroom drama “The Witness for the Prosecution;” and “Thornapple,” one of the most chilling tales ever written by that past master of the dreaded – and dreadful – outcome, Ruth Rendell.

hoch.png Finally, to return to Edward D. Hoch: “Anything in the Dark,” which appears in Crime Through Time (a collection edited by Miriam Grace Monfredo and Sharan Newman) is a miniature tour de force in which the author contrives to solve two mysteries in the space of just a few pages: the disappearance of British envoy Benjamin Bathurst in Perleberg, a small city near Berlin, in 1809, and the death of Meriwether Lewis in the same year in Tennessee.

Okay – end of digression! Martin Edwards’s blog, on which you’ll also find news about crime shows on television and reflections on trends in crime fiction. And here’s a video clip of an interview with Martin about The Arsenic Labyrinth.

I’d like to thank Lourdes of Lost in Books for pointing me to this video, and also for the many terrific news items, reviews, and recommendations regularly found on her blog. And I do love the quote from Louisa May Alcott: “She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.” Ah, so that’s my problem…

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