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“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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Years ago the lending libraries showed early signs of what books were going to be big sellers.

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Years ago the lending libraries showed early signs of what books were going to be big sellers. Women were particularly addicted to lending libraries. My own mother went to a lending library two or three times a week until the drink killed her.

The lending libraries and the public libraries at that time guaranteed a certain number of books (more that 2,000) would be bought.

 When Boots closed its lending library there were hard times for authors. They used to get their novels published sure of a reasonable level of sales, but after the closure publishers couldn’t afford to take a chance on them. Public libraries used to buy 2,000 books; now it has fallen to 800. Instead they keep closing, or filling the space with noisy kids playing computer games.

 In Britain, for some mysterious reason, novels were made into bestsellers by being bought by the women of Scotland. In America there was a small bookshop off Wall Street which   produced the bestsellers. That is, people would start buying the book in this shop and lo and behold the public started to buy it everywhere. Back in the 1920s the publishers first knew Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises was going to be big when 20 copies were sold in the Wall Street shop.

 There must still be some particular readers like the Scottish ladies who can decide what will be a bestseller. I have been out of the book business for some time and I’m not up to date.

 Anyway now there is something new and more modern to predict mass sales. These are the chat shows. Richard and Judy (don’t that sound a hundred years ago?) had only to mention a novel on their TV programme for it to start selling.

 And in America, Oprah Winfrey could make an author an overnight millionaire by just saying she liked a novel.

 I’ve had no such luck with Murder In a Cold Climate. But for some unknown reason it has been doing well in Bath. I wonder if Bath is now full of Scottish ladies. Murder In a Cold Climate has nothing to do with Bath or any town that is like Bath. It is set, like all my classic works of American crime fiction, in a small town in rural New England.

Come to think of it the town has no public library; I must give it one.

 

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Most clichés are true and some are getting truer.

1781486344Most clichés are true and some are getting truer. Like, for example, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

No author is ever happy about his cover, especially if it attempts to illustrate a character in the book. No, he says, she didn’t look nothing like that.

Some authors have suffered so much they stopped complaining. I speak of the Master, P.G.Wodehouse. The Empress of Blandings, Lord Emsworth’s prize pig, is a Berkshire Black, but illustrators present all sorts of white pigs; some with black or brown spots.

A newish edition of Leave it to Psmith  has the Efficient Baxter, Lord Emsworth’s pain in the ass secretary, outside Blandings Castle hurling flower pots through Lord Emsworth’s bedroom window. This truly classic comedy was first published in 1923 so you’d think illustrators would know what’s what by now. Not a bit of it, the excellent cover is ruined because Baxter is wearing green panamas. In the story Baxter is wearing lemon-coloured panamas and they are important because the light colour made Baxter visible to Lord Emsworth.

Another error of colour is the hair of Jane Abbott, the main gal in Summer Moonshine (1937). Wodehouse describes Jane as having “fair hair”, but in the otherwise exceptional drawing her hair is red. Joe, the hero of the book, sometimes calls Jane Ginger. Jane hates that name but I guess that was the reason for the red hair.

From my years at Punch, I learned that cartoonists did not read books; or read at all. The only illustrator who was spot on was Posy Simmons. When I wrote a column for the Guardian she often illustrated it. I was sometimes unhappy about the way Posy drew me. I wanted something more dramatic. “Let’s face it,” she said, “no matter what you do you’ll always be Mr Chips.”

Evelyn Waugh illustrated his first novel, Decline and Fall.  He would dislike the covers Penguin put on the Sword of Honour trilogy. Men at Arms has a soldier who is obviously other ranks and Officers and Gentlemen  has a photograph of sailors running about on the deck of a battleship. This is absolutely wrong. This is a novel about Commandoes, not the Navy.

The final novel, Unconditional Surrender, is not so bad, but also not so good. Penguin fell back on a photograph of a much bombed street. It is the cliché shot. They just about got away with it, but it lacks imagination.

There must be many other examples. I remember Penguin’s first edition of The Natural, a novel about a baseball player. The cover showed men playing softball. It was almost like showing men playing croquet in a novel about cricket.

And what about your covers, Mr Stan?

I hated all the British and American covers of Better Dead Than Red, both the hardback and paperback. For the hardback the cover took longer to do than I took to write the book. The German and Italian covers had excellent illustrations; the German edition took longer to translate than I took writing it; I knocked it off at top speed, twenty hours a day, in one week.

That was when I was a boy in my twenties. My next book, Death Dyed Blonde, was supposed to have a dead, hardly-clothed blonde on the cover. They wrapped her in a rug.

The new number, Murder in a Cold Climate, which predicts the snow America is now having, has a cover which shows a country house that has been turned into a hotel. People are skating on the ice in front of the hotel.

There is a flaw and it is mine and not the illustrator’s. Where is the hottie ice-skating nude? Well, she wasn’t in the book. It is a mistake I will not make again.

From now on I’ll have a looker in the altogether, maybe with a gun in her hand, in all future epics.

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Murder in a Cold Climate

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December 23, 2013 · 10:09 am

I have a prescription. Read P.G.Wodehouse.

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People now say they are stressed where long ago, before Cosmopolitan magazine in the 1970s, they used to say they were unhappy. Cosmopolitan  back then said a girl must get around and have it all, work, good times and love affairs, but she must not be unhappy. It was not easily done. They had to invent stress.

Some I know are suffering from stress. What can be done?

I have a prescription. Read P.G.Wodehouse. I open a page of one novel. There I see: “You’re all dolled up like a gangster’s corpse.” This from a fat man who was wearing a tweed suit “which might have been built by Omar the Tent Maker.”

The above is not from vintage Wodehouse. That is, not from Jeeves and Wooster or Life at Blandings. It is from an “also ran”. From Laughing Gas (1936).

When he was not writing lyrics for Broadway musicals, like “Just My Bill” with Jerome Kern for Showboat, and early musicals of George Gershwin, Wodehouse pumped out 90 novels and many short stories. All of them humorous. Nothing serious. He had a kink that apparently made it impossible to take things seriously.

This was the reason why he made broadcasts on German radio in the early years of the War. He had been captured by the Germans when they invaded France, where he was living. He did not flee to England because he would have to leave his dogs behind. The Germans put him into a prison camp.

An old friend from Hollywood days, a German, suggested Wodehouse speak to his American readers. The talks were never heard in England, but this did not stop people, like Winston Churchill and A.A.Milne, calling him a traitor.

Wodehouse had already shared his feelings about dictators. In Code of the Woosters in 1938 he made fun of Roderick Spode, would-be dictator, leader of the Black Shorts.

In one broadcast he told of how annoying it was as a camp prisoner to be counted every day. He said after the War he was going to buy a German, keep him in a back garden shed, and count him every day.

Now it is quite obvious if Germans were for sale after the war then Germany would lose the war. That is not Nazi propaganda.

Nevertheless Wodehouse was advised not to return to England after the war. He went to America and never set foot in England  again.

The Queen Mother was a great reader of Wodehouse and she let it be known that she couldn’t see why the morons were picking on the great man. She also saw to it that he was knighted in the 1975 New Year’s Honours. He died in February 1975 at the age of 93, working on a novel called Sunset at Blandings.

One thing that is pleasant about Wodehouse was that he didn’t take himself seriously.  He said:

“I believe there are two ways of writing novels. One is mine, making a sort of musical comedy without the music and ignoring real life altogether; the other is going  right deep down into life and not caring a damn…”

Evelyn Waugh said Wodehouse had created an Eden which we could all escape to from an increasingly  horrible world.

Waugh is not quoted on the covers of the latest editions of Wodehouse. He is, apparently, no longer fashionable. Each generation produces its own celebrities who come up with praise for the master. Sebastian Faulks in the Independent on Sunday: “Wodehouse wrote the best comic novels of the century.”  And Douglas Adams in the Guardian: ‘I have devoured his work respectfully……not merely because he is a great comic writer, but because I think he is arguably the greatest magician of the English language.”

There is a difficulty in ordering up a dose of Wodehouse for stressed (unhappy) women. I am told the ladies don’t like Wodehouse all that much; the Queen Mother wasn’t that typical.

Why this is I do not know. I beg the gals out there now falling upon my every word to have a go.

There is one other novel I know of that has had a genuine good effect on one stressed lady. She is a once great beauty and famous journalist who was taken ill and rushed unconscious to hospital. When she came to, she asked for a book she had already read but would like to read again because it made her feel good.

What was this book?  I blush with modesty. It was my own Murder In A Cold Climate.

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I have hardly ever read Virginia Woolf

sHere at Blog Manor, pouring vintage pre-phylloxera port, only slightly crusted, down the red lane, it comes as a surprise to moi that I have hardly ever read Virginia Woolf.

I wonder what was the reason?

I sent Harrington, the only slightly lame second footman, to the bookshop to correct this fault.

I discover that Ginnie was a gal after my own heart. In Mrs Dalloway (1925) she relates that things went to hell when water closets started to be talked about; and written about in otherwise respectable magazines. Did she mean Plumbers Weekly or the Gentleman’s Quarterly Cistern?

Even more telling was the road to hell being littered by skirts short enough to expose the ankles – particular Arabs will know from whence the Woolfette was speaking. They like their gals wrapped up in cloth with only the eyes looking through.

As well as writing educated chick-lit Virginia was not as other women. Unlike the liberated rug-chewers of today she kept quiet about it.

      An Old Lady enters the Blog

      Old Lady: Young man, must you be so disgusting.

      Me: I’m working my way out of it.

Virginia Woolf is amazing. She should have written poetry. In fact, she does. The first chapter of Night and Day (1919) is like T.S.Eliot; like, in fact, Eliot’s Portrait of a Lady (1917).

Eliot: “Among the smoke and fog of a December afternoon/ You have the scene arrange itself…”

Woolf: “It was a Sunday evening in October. . . the remaining parts of her mind leapt over the little barrier of day which interposed between Monday morning and this rather  subdued moment…”

She is very popular among some, mainly intellectual, ladies who are usually professors and make a living out of her. Night and Day and her first novel, The Voyage Out (1913)
were published by her step-brother’s firm Duckworth. After that Virginia started self-publishing with her husband Leonard Woolf at the Hogarth Press at 52 Tavistock Square London WC. To The Lighthouse (1927) was perhaps her best-known and loved novel; a granddaughter of mine did it for A Level.

One of Virginia Woolf’s most talked about novels is Orlando (1928). This is because it was written for Vita Sackville-West and the morons think it might be pretty steamy lesbo fare. It isn’t. It’s fun with history, starting with a page to Queen Elizabeth I and working its way, (with gender changes) to the 20th Century. Orlando stands history on its head and rewrites literature with wit, vigour and exuberance.

Virginia’s one and only big bestseller was The Years (1937); a novel hardly known these days, even by fans.

It sold 40,000 copies and went to number one in the New York Times  bestseller list. It topped the list in June, remained number one in July and only fell off the list in late October.

The Years is the story of the Pargeter from Victorian years (1880 and 1891)to the 20th Century: 1907 to 1918 to “the Present Day”.

Leonard Woolf didn’t like all this success. He said it was the worst thing she ever wrote. One wonders how good he was for Virginia’s brain. All her life she suffered nervous breakdowns. Fearing another coming on in 1941 she filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself.

What, if anything, does this have to do with Murder In A Cold Climate, that jovial stocking-filler now weighing down the library shelves at Blog Manor awaiting the Christmas rush?

Not much. But I counted them and I seem to have eight women in Murder In A Cold Climate, all playing big parts, a couple of them major roles.

      A LITTLE OLD LADY re-enters

OLD LADY: Are there any little old ladies? Do they appear in chemis?

THE AUTHOR: Only young nifty numbers in their step-ins and other unmentionables.

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December 12, 2013 · 2:16 pm

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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