Tag Archives: Literature

Invitation To A Few Murders

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“He couldn’t believe how thick she was. But beautiful, and horny.”

That opens the batting for my fifth volume of the Boomer Daniels New England hick location  murder saga.

No one is going to read it. I blame education.

I’ve got a daughter-in-law and a granddaughter with high class university degrees and with noses constantly in a book. Well, in Jinny Woolf’s books.

Two of my three sons don’t read nothing. A third, No 2 son, says he’s too busy writing his own stuff for leisure reading. He read the first Boomer, Death Dyed Blonde, and reckoned, by using foul lingo and a bit more blood, he could make a motion picture out of it.

He’s too busy in America getting interviewed on TV and the radio to knock off a script of my little effort.

Also I don’t want to be a film.

And I also don’t mind not being read.

My latest book, with that snappy opening I quoted, is called Invitation To A Few Murders. It is an aid to Christmas cheerfulness.

Unlike current crime bestsellers, Invitation To A Few Murders  doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s what used to be called a dime novel in America, and a shilling shocker in England. It was meant to make you feel OK. With the world the way it is I wonder why the eejit masses are reading about serial killers, vampires and zombies written in words of one syllable. Do they make them feel good? No, it’s because they need a bloody good jolt to get them to read at all. Give them something good to read and their minds start wandering.

My next Boomer Daniels adventure, I’m going at least to make short. A novella. That may assist them. Except, of course, it might be a short book full of long words.

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The Summer Stock Murders by Stanley Reynolds

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March 13, 2014 · 2:37 pm

“By the waters of the Parrett we sat down and wept remembering a dredged river,”

m2 (2)“By the waters of the Parrett we sat down and wept remembering a dredged river,” I sang to Handel’s Messiah.

I was far away in the Balkans doing my latest study of the leg-dancers of Bosnia when word of a flooded West Country came to me in the Continental edition of the Langport Leveller. I rushed back to a soggy cottage and decided to come to the rescue with Blog 25.

My television, however, that late night and early morning, was filled with men in helmets bumping into one another and then stopping for what seemed like an eternity before doing the bumping into one another all over again. I then saw that this was being performed before 100,000 persons live in a stadium somewhere in New Jersey (“the short-change state”) while 100 million watched it on their television sets. It was not a form of primitive religion.  No, this was American grid-iron football. Or put it another way: Yes, this was American grid-iron football. The Super Bowl.

It was too late outside to escape and go out to what I like to call a ragamadolion with an off-duty waitress from the Pork and Punter public ‘house. One particular waitress is such the ruggedest voluptuary that even the cops cheer the assorted sex stimuli on display.

I digress, but what the hell else can I do in weather like this?

I suppose I could plug my thrilling tale of blood and lust in the snowbanks of rural New England, Murder In A Cold Climate, or my other amazing murder mystery, Death Dyed Blonde. As you can see by that last title, this is pretty high-hat intellectual stuff up there with Kafka and a few more of the boys down at the existential bistro. When the books were not to be translated into the Grecian and Norwegian I was disappointed. Secondary education in or out of Euroland is not what it was.

Never mind, as a member of the British Davis Cup team, which had a victory over America for the first time in 80 years, said, “Colonel Reynolds has a way with words.” And this was before he read the book.

“Definitely a suitable party piece for any country manor house party,” said Lady Marjorie Truman Capote, authoress of Lunch at Boston’s Shrive, Crump and Lowe, and Brunch at Harry Winston’s.

Does what I modestly call my stuff need further booming? No, what about the rain?

Well, there is a moment in one of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, written when he was two years old, which seems to embody all this West Country flooding – a sense of water, of rainfall repetition, the cry of the wind over an interminable watery expanse. These are the subtler emotions which cannot be translated into words, but are to be hinted at by chords and harmonies.

Will this do?

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In last week’s exciting blog

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 In last week’s exciting blog I wrote that William Faulkner was working at a lumber mill when he wrote As I Lay Dying in 1930. This was wrong. He had a job as a night-time coal-heaver at the local power station. Local being Oxford, Mississippi. I might be fun also to learn that his family said they didn’t want him writing his moronic novels under the family name; so he changed Falkner to Faulkner.

Also in a recent blog on the Milk Marketing Board “bull” should have read “cow” throughout.

I quoted some glowing reviews for my two murder mysteries: Death Dyed Blonde, still available in hardback, and the paperback edition of the thrilling Murder In A Cold Climate.

I seem to have gotten praise everywhere for these books. It was pretty much the same  with my first novel, Better Dead Than Red, published when I was still in my twenties and working as a humour-column-heaver at the Guardian. “Up there  with Dr Strangelove,” the Guardian said.

And “A magnificent social and political satire,” said the Irish Times in a page-one review.

But the one I enjoyed the most was from the Daily Telegraph. I don’t read the Telegraph anymore, ever since I stopped writing amusing obituaries for it – when the Telegraph specialized in amusing obituaries.

In ye olde days when my first novel was published the Daily Telegraph was a most objectionable imitation fascist sheet. It appealed to a large readership by telling stories about how everyone was always doing and saying nasty things about England.

This, for some reason, cheered up Telegraph readers. They also thought “foreigners” when not being insulting were very funny.

In the novels that the Telegraph liked there was a former whodunit.

In my novel everyone was nasty and also funny. That was because I, a barefoot boy liberal with cheeks of tan, was destroying the extreme right-wing with savage satire.

I didn’t think it would be reviewed by the Telegraph, but there it was; reviewed by its Literary Editor just as if it were an important book.

There was one line in the review which I loved so much I considered getting it tattooed on my sit-upon.

“Sheer vulgarity,” it said, “covered with muck.”

I wanted to get that quoted in advertisements and in paperback and foreign editions.

Unfortunately the various publishers were not bored by reading glowing reviews.

The German edition, translated by the linguistic genius who also translated James Joyce into German, got an amazing review. “The best thing about this novel,” it wrote, “is the photograph on the back cover of the Adonis who wrote it.”

Apparently 16 blondes in downtown Frankfurt fainted just looking at my young and lovely self.

I am now ending my career as a blogman.

Adios chickadees.

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January 31, 2014 · 10:11 am

Reviews for ‘Murder In A Cold Climate’

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Reviews for ‘Murder In A Cold Climate’

Agnes Eve
Beyond `Golden Age’ of Crime Writing.

My heart sinks whenever a new crime novel promises to transport me back in time to the Golden Age of crime writing, and so it was with joy and surprise that I discovered the work of Stanley Reynolds whose column in the Guardian I loved, and whose brilliant, satirical first novel `Better Dead than Red’ is in my top ten.

There is nothing arch or derivative in `Murder in a Cold Climate’, no laboured period detail nor over-researched references to brand names etc to unsuspend one’s disbelief, just the natural product of a fine mind and talented writer with an obvious deep love and knowledge of literature applying his skills to this genre and creating the most beautifully written crime novel I have ever read.

For those with a predilection for fictional heroes, unlikely Police Chief, Parker `Boomer’ Daniels is one to fall in love with. together with fellow lost soul and misfit, acting pathologist Dr Phyllis Skypeck. In this, the second novel in what I hope will be a much longer series, no one is what they seem. All the characters have true depth not just in their enigmatic, slowly emerging back-stories (fascinating as these are) but also in the actions that stem from their personalities and how that drives the plot; in fact it is only in Moll, the adorable SBT, that what you see is just what you get. Inhabitants of and visitors to the evocatively described, snow-covered New England small town of North Holford hide their secrets, all as seemingly impenetrable as the glacially frozen lake.

The versatility of style is masterfully handled moving from haunting to poetic to thrillingly exciting (the twists of the plot race along compellingly, at a rate of knots) and often comic especially in the scenes with Sergeant Davy Shea who with Parker makes up one of the oddest couples ever.

In fact it is reductive to go on about the Golden Age at all; this novel is, like all good writing, timeless.

Amie Lister

The Prologue kicks off with sex and literature, but the story soon turns into sex, literature and murder most foul. MURDER IN A COLD CLIMATE is also funny; and an easy read in the great American crime novel style of Raymond “Big Sleep” Chandler and Dashiell “The Maltese Falcon” Hammett. An absorbing read.

Helen Highwater

Set in a poetically described New England town (I mean this literally, the ice cream parlour is called ‘The Emperor of Ice Cream’) during a harsh and snowy winter, this intricate crime novel both lets you in and keeps you guessing just the right amount to make a truly satisfying murder mystery–something of a rarity in recent times.

‘I’m not a real cop’ Parker “Boomer” Daniels speaks this mantra throughout Stanley Reynolds’ subtle and evocative crime novels. And I believe him. He doesn’t always carry a gun, he gets too close to the suspects, he well…muddles along really. But as the crimes are solved, so the characters grow. While Boomer may not be a real cop, his character does resonate as a real person– flawed, emotionally battle scarred, carrying on as best he can.

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It is getting near 35 years since John O’Hara, the drunken American writer, staggered up to the Big Bartender in the sky

ad1It is getting near 35 years since John O’Hara, the drunken American  writer, staggered up to the Big Bartender in the sky, and yet he is still able to spark tremendous hate mail; more than anyone else ever it seems.

I came upon this curious literary scandal when I bought three O’Hara books published by Vintage Classics and looked O’Hara up on the memory machine.

The books were his first two novels, Appointment in Samarra (1934) and Butterfield 8 (1935) and a book of Selected Stories from 1933 to 1947.

It seems the critics didn’t like his politics. He was not a fashionable leftwing liberal. He backed Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. This was like having a good word for old blue eyes himself, Adolph Hitler. O’Hara also thought Martin Luther King shouldn’t get the Nobel Peace Prize. Maybe O’Hara, born an Irish Catholic, remembered that Martin Luther King was not going to vote for Jack Kennedy because he was a Catholic.

Or maybe O’Hara, who was writing a weekly column for Newsday, thought he would write something that would stir them up.

His first Newsday column opened with “Let’s get off to a really bad start.”

In the early 1950s he also wrote a weekly book column called “Sweet and Sour” for the Trenton (New Jersey) Times Advertiser and a bi-weekly column called “Appointment with O’Hara” for Collier’s Magazine. They were, one critic said, “garrulous and outspoken.” O’Hara’s biographer Sheldon Grebstein said O’Hara was “Simultaneously embarrassing  and infuriating in his vaingloriousness, vindictiveness, and general bellicosity.”

Grebstein probably never had to come up with the goods writing columns. You’ve got to keep them awake and not turning to the sports page.

Also: what novels and short stories have these critics written? Nothing that I’d want to read.

“A minor writer and a well-known lout” said Michiko Kakutani (Who he?) of the New York Times.

Writing in the Atlantic Monthly in March 2000, Benjamin and Christina Schwarz claimed: “So widespread is the literary world’s scorn for John O’Hara that the inclusion of Appointment in Samarra on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 best English language novels of the 20th Century was used to ridicule the entire project.”

O’Hara’s short stories don’t seem to be so subject to attack by the morons. He had 200 of them published in the New Yorker, more than any other writer. John Updike, another short story champion of the New Yorker,  said O’Hara was as good as Chekhov.

E.L.Doctorow said O’Hara took over the classic short story form developed by James Joyce (Dubliners) and perfected by Ernest Hemingway (In Our Time). In these stories there is some sort of revelation, what Joyce called an epiphany. The start of the action is also close in time to the denouement.

That’s the mark of the great short story writer; nowadays the wannabes have regressed in time to the rambling yarns of the 19th Century.

His enemies also make fun of the way O’Hara was bitter about not going to Yale. What happened was his father died and there was no money. O’Hara had to go to work. He became a journalist, first on a small-town paper in his native Pennsylvania and then for the New York Herald Tribune. In 1928 he broke into the New Yorker. Then his first novel made him rich and famous and this continued through fourteen further novels.

One of them was Pal Joey which was turned into a hit musical with Gene Kelly and later into a movie with Rita Hayworth and Frank Sinatra.

O’Hara should have forgotten Yale. He couldn’t, it was an obsession. All his life he kept going on about it. It coloured his writing, but it made him the best writer about Ivy League characters. One critic said “he was F.Scott Fitzgerald.”

Ernest Hemingway said, “Someone should take up a collection to send John O’Hara to Yale.”

This is my blog so what has this got to do with me?

Well, I didn’t got to Yale although three of my friends did. I also didn’t go to Harvard although two of my friends did, or to Princeton although four of my friends did. Some are dead and the others are all dead drunk.

I worked on a newspaper and went to night school. The hero of my crime novels, Death Dyed Blonde and Murder In A Cold Climate, is like me, a guy with a two dollar education. The Prologue to Murder In A Cold Climate is intended to be like one of the short stories by Joyce, Hemingway and O’Hara that I’ve been talking about.

Unless you get the wrong idea I should perhaps mention that in a sober moment I applied to Harvard. Turned down, I returned to the bar-room and my collection of scarab-cartouches of the Ptolemaic dynasties. They were dulcet years although I recall a bleak time when Bone, my father’s man, who had a cruel mouth something like Bronzino’s portrait of Cosimo de Medici when it wasn’t like Vasari’s medallion portrait of Lorenzo de Medici in the Vecchio Palazzi in Florence, came up from the wine cellar with a bottle of 1878 port and we had to cut the bottle open because the old fool forgot to have it re-corked in 1918.

Murder In A Cold Climate contains no tragedies like these. It is writing from the hip. I keep my monocle in my waistcoat pocket while dictating it to my factotum.

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Cricket is in the news.

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After winning the Ashes in the summer, England went Down Under and were poisonously defeated in the First Test.

Of course the Aussies were cheating. They had bats.

There were also verbals. Sledging, making less than charming remarks to the opposition, was invented by Australia.

It has been around a long time. A bespectacled friend of mine, an opening bat for the fearsome Manchester Guardian XI, was asked at the last minute to play for a team in the Lancashire League. He went in wearing his glasses and faced a hurricane West Indian pace bowler. Out of fright, my friend let his bat get in the way of the first lightning delivery. It went for six.

The West Indian paceman ended two feet from my friend and said:

“The next one’s for your glasses, white man.”

I have witnessed extreme behaviour in a match I played in one glorious summer afternoon.

I was fielding in the slips alongside a visiting Australian. A man was batting the ball all over the place. He was obviously heading for a century.

A ball came between me and the Australian. He picked it up off the ground and hurled it. Not at the wicket but at the running batsman, who fell to the ground spurting blood.

He lay unconscious. The Australian turned and looked at me.

“That was the only way we could get him out,” he said.

An ambulance took the man sway, but like a Boys’ Own story he returned with a bandaged head and scored the century.

That was a quiet friendly match on an English summer afternoon.

Those were the heavenly years I spent at a cricket club drinking beer with my fellow cricketers around me talking about how drunk they were the night before and how late they were going to be getting home for the dinner the little woman was cooking for them.

As a former third baseman for the Highland Bulldogs in leafy Massachusetts, cricket was not my native ballgame. I took it up when I learned  that the bar stayed open all day when a match was being played. This was in the dear dead days of early closing.

Cricket and beer used to go together like fish and chips. Centuries of cricket and beer  proved this sacred truth.

Just before the First World War poetry was added to beer and cricket.

Apparently you could not go to a rural cricket match without half of the XI being well-known poets. Beer and cricket were supposed to be manly and poets were supposed to be manly fellows. This ended in 1918.

There has been some very good writing about cricket. When I joined the Guardian Neville Cardus was the cricket man. Later John Arlott took over. He had been a 12th man for Hampshire but he never got in to bat. The best sportswriters in the past had never played the game professionally. Now they have and none of them are the equals of the men of long ago summers.

Cricket has also featured in many books. England, Their England (1933) by A.G.MacDonell is a major one. Set in the 1920s it is written as if it is the travel memoir of a young Scotsman. Cricket is only part of the book but it is the best part and the only reason why England, Their England is still around.

Incidentally when I looked this up I got England, My England by mistake. This was written by D.H.Lawrence and for a moment I thought I was going to get Lady Chatterley’s  wicket-keeper.

Love On A Branch Line (1959) by John Hadfield, perhaps remembered as editor of Saturday Books, has a famous  cricket match. Jasper Pye, the hero, goes in to bat nearly dead drunk after being locked in a wine cellar..

The Go Between has a good match and Siegfried  Sassoon had  perhaps the most pleasant match in The Flower Show Game, in which a young boy goes in to bat for the village for the first time.

Americans do not continue to play baseball after they leave school. Fat old men play softball instead.

Because of this there are no comic baseball games in American novels.

In fact the only baseball novel I know is The Natural (1952) by Bernard Malamud. The story of Ray Hobbs is based on a true incident when Eddie Waitkus of the Philadelphia Phillies was shot by a woman during a game. This was not the first such incident. Billy Jurges, the short stop for the Chicago Cubs, was shot while  playing by a  showgirl with whom he was as they say, romantically linked.

Malamud’s story has a magical twist. Hobbs has a handmade bat called Wonderboy – shades of King Arthur’s Excalibur.

In my fantastical disclosure of life, love and murder in a small New England town, Murder In A Cold Climate, it is winter and no one is playing baseball, but Police Sergeant Davy Shea dreams about the Boys of Spring. And my hero, Boomer Daniels, wishes he had a love for a game that Davy has. It is beautiful – get out and buy!

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“When a man stops believing in God he doesn’t believe in nothing, he believes in everything”. Who said that before me?

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“When a man stops believing in God he doesn’t believe in nothing, he believes in everything.”

Who said that before me?

G.K.Chesterton, I think.

It happened to Conan Doyle (1859-1930). His father was of Irish descent and his mother, Mary Foley, was Irish. They were Catholics; Conan Doyle’s full name was Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle – the Ignatius is the giveaway; Catholics force the most awful middle names on their kids.

The old man drank. They lived in a run-down tenement in Edinburgh, but a well-off Doyle uncle, a cartoonist who drew the famous cover for Punch (they used it every week until the 1950s) paid for the kid to go to a Jesuit  prep school and Stonyhurst College, the famous Jesuit school.

He then went to another Jesuit school in Austria for a year and then to medical school at Edinburgh University.

He gave up religion then, but far from believing in nothing he started believing in fairies.

That is an amazing belief for the man who invented Sherlock Holmes, the greatest brain in sleuthdom, to have.

Another odd belief of Conan Doyle’s was that Sherlock was not literature and the high-class prose he was after.

It is well known that when he killed Sherlock readers started wearing black mourning armbands. Sherlock had to return. (The only other black armband outbreak that I remember was when The Field magazine stopped being a weekly. Alec Douglas Home wore the mourning band in Parliament.)

You and I of course know that Dr Watson didn’t actually write the 56 Sherlock stories that appeared in The Strand magazine. But there were people out there when Sherlock was first appearing who said naturally they read the Sherlock Holmes adventures but they’d never heard of Conan Doyle.

It is something of a triumph for a writer to have his characters become more famous than himself, but it is usually young readers who pay no attention to the author. What girl, for example, knew the name of the woman who invented Nancy Drew? And what boy bothered about the author of The Hardy Boys? I also had no idea that someone other than Robinson Crusoe wrote about Friday and the cannibal island.

To return to the long-suffering Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Everyone knew what Sherlock Homes looked like but Sir Arthur could toddle down to the greengrocers and be undisturbed.

There is a dramatic statue of Sherlock Holmes in Edinburgh opposite the birthplace of Conan Doyle. The birthplace was torn down in 1970; no one complained.

There is a statue of Sir Arthur in Crowborough, East Sussex. It is not as big as Sherlock’s statue. Also most people wouldn’t know who the statue was supposed to be. It doesn’t look like the photograph of Doyle: a man with a big moustache and even bigger face. “The Gentle Giant,” the French called him.

These thoughts about Sir Arthur came upon me when I discovered a novel of his that was news to me. This was The Tragedy Of The Korosko. The Korosko is a Nile steamer taking a group on a sightseeing cruise up the river. They are a highly civilized bunch, but when they are kidnapped by a band of “Dervish camel-men”  their beliefs are turned upside down; their lives are also threatened.

Written in 1898 it is a magic mixture of humour and melodrama. It is published by Hesperus,  a marvellous collector of forgotten tales by famous authors. For example, Charlotte Bronte’s The Green Dwarf; Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Rappaccini’s Daughter; Pushkin’s Dubrovsky; Flaubert’s Memoirs of a Madman, Pope’s Scriblerus; Tolstoy’s Hadji Murat etc.

Non-Sherlock Conan Doyle has had its fans. Winston Churchill preferred them. They do have  more humour. For example The Lost World (1912) which inspired Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park starts describing a man as “a fluffy, feathery, untidy cockatoo of a man”. This is a far cry from the cosy world of Dr Watson suddenly being upset by Holmes saying, “Come, Watson, the game’s afoot.”

There are any number of terror stories – The Ring of Troth; The Lord of Chateau Noir; The Case of Lady Sannox; The Brown Hand; The Nightmare Room – which critics claim are much better than the Holmes stories. I doubt it.

Meanwhile back at the ranch I wonder if the statue of Boomer Daniels will be bigger than mine. Boomer Daniels – who he? He’s the mild-mannered detective in my Christmas novel Murder In A Cold Climate.

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A snap quiz, crime fans.

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Who wrote this?

“…He was objectin’ to this gentleman spittin’ on the floor.”

Or here’s an easier one:

“I gave half a crown to a beggar because I saw him yawn; he was a fellow-sufferer.”

This is the novel form of the great movie line game.

The answer here is John Buchan’s The Thirty-nine Steps. Everyone knows the Hitchcock film version with Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll.

Buchan’s wife hated the film but Buchan was easygoing. He thought it an excellent movie.

The trouble with a movie is that it doesn’t have time for dialogue like this:

“I got the first hint in an inn on the Achensee in Tyrol. That set me inquiring, and I collected my other clues in a fur-shop in the Galician quarter of Buda, in a Strangers’ club in Vienna, and  an little bookshop off the Racknitzstrasse in Leipzig.”

Of course the big thing you miss in the movie is Buchan’s never equalled description of Scotland’s rural landscape. One picture, even by Hitchcock, is not worth  a thousand words of John Buchan.

These thoughts furrowed my brow this week after viewing Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case on TV. He and Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) were back at Styles where it all started during the First World War. The Mysterious Affair at Styles was published in 1920 and Agatha Christie produced one or two books every year until 1975.

Curtain  seemed a most difficult novel to dramatize, but it worked out OK; at least what I saw before I fell asleep. It wasn’t distorted all out of proportion like so many TV versions. The Sittaford Mystery, published in 1931, had Miss Marple played by Geraldine McEwan, that actress who looks like something out of a Wonga ad. Miss Marple was not in the book. Instead a young woman named Emily Trefusis solves the crime; the young man she is to marry was arrested for the murder of his uncle. The Body in the Library, first published in 1942, was given a crude re-writing for the Geraldine McEwen version.

During her lifetime Mrs Christie saw Margaret Rutherford play Miss Marple in a series of films loosely based on her tales. Apparently she did not mind. She became quite friendly with Margaret Rutherford.

But what would the exceedingly straight-laced Agatha think about lesbians suddenly entering her story? They don’t add anything to it. In Murder At the Vicarage, published in 1930, with Miss Marple played by the Wonga lady again,  the adaptors seemed to go crazy. We see Miss Marple being in love with a man who was killed in the First World War. She kisses his photograph. Worse than this Miss Marple is seen reading Raymond Chandler’s The Simple Art of Murder, and then his Farewell My Lovely. She would never do that. Chandler didn’t like Agatha Christie. St Mary Mead was the exact opposite of Bay City, California.

Well, Poirot is gone now. But what about Miss Marple? I think I would like to write a new Marple. Agatha used many of her experiences to give her settings for her books. Her second marriage to Max Mallowan sent her off on several archaeological  expeditions in the Middle East, but she never used her youthful obsession with surfing. Mrs Christie was what could be called a pioneer of surfing. When she first married the dashing aviator Archie Christie she went with him to Africa where she discovered   surfboard riding. They then went to Australia where she pursued the sport. Colonel Christie then had to go to Canada, but Agatha didn’t go with him. She went to California instead, for the surf.

I wonder what the Colonel thought of that. This trip should have been a second honeymoon and there she was dodging off to ride surfboards , and with whom? No wonder Archie did a bunk. And where was Agatha? Her whereabouts is a mystery. I think she went surfing somewhere.

Anyway, I’ll make my Miss Marple a youthful looker visiting California. She will solve several murders of silent movie stars.

Look out for it – Miss Marple Rides the Banzai Pipeline.

Meanwhile my Murder In A Cold Climate is available to buy now – while stocks last.

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Speaking frankly as a doddering old fool leaning  on two sticks, plus shawl, I am still twelve years old in my head. At least I’ve returned to adventure stories.

John Buchan of Thirty-nine Steps fame wrote many more. I was glued to one and had read fifty or so pages about the kidnapping of a wealthy newspaper owner in a university students’ rag when I was suddenly struck, jaw-droppingly so, by a single word. Like most of these words it was a four-letter one.

What had happened to the newspaper magnet Thomas Craw was “rape”.

The novel was published in 1930 and obviously the years have twisted the meaning of rape.

A glance down the pages of the Oxford Concise Dictionary let me know that Buchan was correct. One meaning of rape is “carrying off by force”. (Also any of the six ancient divisions of Sussex.)

Another meaning still in common use which sometimes causes misunderstandings is when a countryman says, “The fields are full of rape.” This is a reference to what we call Brassica napus, also called Colza; rape to its plant pals: food for sheep, also producing oil used for a lubricant and in foodstuffs.

When it’s in flower rape’s a startling yellow that hurts the eyes.

Anyway, Buchan’s rape is gone from everyday use. But you’ll find it in Buchan’s story Castle Gay. Ah, yes, and there we have another word that’s Gone West.

It’s a shame because gay was such a jolly festive word.

Its new meaning has created much difficulty for new readers of old books.

For Whom The Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway’s novel about the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) has a long tribute to the bravest fighters in the war. They are, Hemingway says, “the gay, always the gay”.

Old Ernie didn’t mean what the innocent young reader would think he did.

Or maybe he did. I have my sources and it is queer to learn that  that famous trip young and handsome Hemingway made to Spain the first time to see the running of the bulls in Pamplona that he used in his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, was paid for by an old gent who went with him. Just the two together. No skirt at all, especially not the English hottie he features in the book.

No old gents ever asked me to Spain. Did they ever ask you? And if they did, what would you think?

Also, we learn that Hemingway and his second wife used to have their hair cut in the same way and wear the same clothes. I don’t think dresses, but shirts and slacks. This features in a novel published after Papa Hemingway’s death, The Garden of Eden.

This has come a long way from “rape” and “gay”. There are other expressions that have lost their original innocent meanings. I refer of course to “making love”.

Originally when a man made love to a women it meant he flirted with her, telling her how lovely she was.

The first time I got a shock from this was watching a Fred and Ginger film on TV. After that wonderful scene where they dance singing “Isn’t it a lovely day to get caught in the rain, you were on your way now you’re glad to remain . . .” Ginger goes back to her hotel.

“Did he make love to you?” her friend asks.

“Yes,” she says.

How amazing, the first time contemporary viewer would say.

Ginger was wearing jodhpurs.  How’d she get them off? Also the dozens of late Victorian and Edwardian ladies who wore all those long dresses and yards of underwear. (I’ve always wondered how Anna Karenina went about it. But never mind.)

That’s about it for the lesson for today, kiddies.

Before Uncle Two-Sticks Stan dodders off I must plug my novel, Murder In A Cold Climate, which features snow. But “snow” is another story.

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October 11, 2013 · 6:35 am