Thursday, March 5, 2015

Todd Downing's detective fiction and criticism

Lots of leads here for reading material:

Reading for a winter's night: The detective fiction of Todd Downing

Michael Dirda:
Downing’s newspaper column “Clues and Corpses” allowed him to write regularly about his favorite genre, usually 150 to 350 words (and sometimes more) for each of two or three current books. On March 1, 1931, he discussed “About the Murder of Geraldine Foster,” by Anthony Abbot. It’s somewhat formulaic, Downing says, but “what makes this story remain in the memory . . . is the element of horror which permeates the tale, from the finding of the several dead pigeons to the final revelation of the manner in which Geraldine met her death. The pigeons have died from drinking the blood of the dead girl, but the medical examiner has said that she has been dead only two days, while the pigeons have been dead ten. With this clue as a starting point, [Thatcher] Colt uncovers one of the most fiendish crimes ever committed in fact or fiction.” 

That section of “Clues and Corpses” is the highlight of the book. The biographical introduction may exasperate readers by presenting too much information about Downing’s ancestry and family. Admittedly, some of this is colorful: His grandfather was a bigamist with 17 children. In essence, though, Downing grew up in Atoka, Okla., taught languages at the University of Oklahoma, moved briefly to New York, worked in advertising in Philadelphia and eventually took up teaching again in 1950 for a brief while at Washington College in Chestertown, Md. He spent his last years as an instructor in French and Spanish at Atoka High School while living in his family home. Downing never married, and from the evidence, it seems likely that he was gay. His active literary career was largely confined to the 1930s. 

Downing’s newspaper column “Clues and Corpses” allowed him to write regularly about his favorite genre, usually 150 to 350 words (and sometimes more) for each of two or three current books. On March 1, 1931, he discussed “About the Murder of Geraldine Foster,” by Anthony Abbot. It’s somewhat formulaic, Downing says, but “what makes this story remain in the memory . . . is the element of horror which permeates the tale, from the finding of the several dead pigeons to the final revelation of the manner in which Geraldine met her death. The pigeons have died from drinking the blood of the dead girl, but the medical examiner has said that she has been dead only two days, while the pigeons have been dead ten. With this clue as a starting point, [Thatcher] Colt uncovers one of the most fiendish crimes ever committed in fact or fiction.”
This is intriguing on its own, but Evans’s substantial footnote further explains that Anthony Abbot was the pen name of Fulton Oursler — now mainly remembered for his bestseller about the life of Christ, “The Greatest Story Ever Told” — and then goes on to characterize his half-dozen mysteries, all of their titles beginning “About the Murder of . . . ” For the reader, this back and forth between Downing’s reviews and Evans’s historical expertise generates not just synergy but pointers to many forgotten books worth searching out. After Downing praises, with reservations, “Red Warning” by Virgil Markham, Evans’s footnote tells us more about Markham’s eccentric fiction, adding that one mystery fiction blogger named TomCat maintains that Markham’s “Death in the Dusk” (1928) rivals Joel Townsley Rogers’s “The Red Right Hand” (1945) and Fredric Brown’s “Night of the Jabberwock” (1950) “in the race for most outlandish detective story ever contrived.” Already owning the Rogers and Brown, I immediately went searching the Internet for “Death in the Dusk.”

Elsewhere, Downing writes of Edwin Greenwood’s “The Deadly Dowager” (1937) that “Not since Victoria Lincoln’s February Hill , have we spent such a hilarious and altogether mirthful evening as the one we spent getting acquainted with the old Dowager Arabella, Lady Engleton, and watching her insure the lives of her relatives and then start killing them.” I added “The Deadly Dowager” and “February Hill” to my book searches.

When Downing was once asked to name his favorite detective novels, he chose the following: Rufus King’s “Murder by Latitude,” S.S. Van Dine’s “The Greene Murder Case” (or “The Bishop Murder Case”), Agatha Christie’s “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd,” Mary Roberts Rinehart’s eerie “The Red Lamp,” Anthony Wynne’s “The Silver Scale Mystery” and Mignon G. Eberhart’s “From this Dark Stairway.” As the magazine advertisements used to say: How many of these have you read?
See also:

Curtis Evans' blog: The Passing Tramp 

Curtis Evans' book: Clues and Corpses


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Raylan Givens

I read one of the books in which Raylan is a character -- think it was Riding the Rap. Something to do with a swimming pool? Guess I won't call it memorable. Think I liked it, except for the brutality. But when you're writing about sociopaths and psychopaths, that comes with the territory.

But I see, since the great TV series Justified, Leonard has written a Raylan novel, entitled Raylan. So I'll read that. (Imagine, below, an image of Timothy Oliphant as you-know-who, which I'm too lazy to paste in.)

Brave New World

Another must-read. A world in which home and family are extinct, forbidden concepts, humans are mass-produced in bottles, engineered to suit their pre-determined societal functions, and the dirtiest word utterable is "mother."

The Time Machine

Read this last summer after reading Mark Steyn's excellent After America. Eloi,  morlocks and all that. Both must-reads.

More Wodehouse

Lots of fun:
Money in the Bank
Sam the Sudden

Not quite as good:
Heavy Weather

These are from the Fairfax County Library (George Mason branch), which has a respectable PGW collection:


:)

Nicholas Nickleby

Been meaning to read this for decades. Worth it.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

EM Delafield

Just read the three Provincial Lady books --

Diary of a Provincial Lady
The Provincial Lady in London
The Provincial Lady in America

Very enjoyable. I had read the third book years ago and am happy I finally filled in the gap by reading the other two.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My, how time flies

It's been a little while-- 18 months! -- since I've recorded any books here. I'm not going to be able to recover much, I'm afraid. But randomly, here's what I can remember:

Wodehouse: The Small Bachelor (meh), Love Among the Chickens (meh), all the Psmith books (awesome; had already read two or three).

Some not-so-hot Ian Rankin books: Hide and Seek, The Black Book, Mortal Causes, Strip Jack, and one -- Tooth and Nail -- which was so creepy I decided I was done with Rankin and Rebus, who I never liked much anyway.

Probably the best thing I read in 2010: Dombey and Son. Dickens was a genius who understood the human mind and heart. And what flat-out awesome prose he could produce:
Dombey was about eight-and-forty years of age. Son about eight-and-forty minutes. Dombey was rather bald, rather red, and though a handsome well-made man, too stern and pompous in appearance, to be prepossessing. Son was very bald, and very red, and though (of course) an undeniably fine infant, somewhat crushed and spotty in his general effect, as yet. On the brow of Dombey, Time and his brother Care had set some marks, as on a tree that was to come down in good time - remorseless twins they are for striding through their human forests, notching as they go - while the countenance of Son was crossed with a thousand little creases, which the same deceitful Time would take delight in smoothing out and wearing away with the flat part of his scythe, as a preparation of the surface for his deeper operations.
Sigh.

Monday, January 4, 2010

second reading comes to an end

I was sorry to see the end of Jonathan Yardley's Second Reading series, but all the reviews are available online. The Post didn't provide a link for each review, but I've linked up a few that I've read or would like to read. Here's the list:

-- "H.M. Pulham, Esq.," by John P. Marquand.

-- "The Daughter of Time," by Josephine Tey.

-- "W.C. Fields: His Follies and Fortunes," by Robert Lewis Taylor.

-- "The Autumn of the Patriarch," by Gabriel García Márquez.

-- "Happy All the Time," by Laurie Colwin.

-- "And Then We Heard the Thunder," by John Oliver Killens.

-- "Reveille in Washington," by Margaret Leach.

-- "The Twelve Caesars," by Suetonius, translated by Robert Graves.

-- "Cheaper by the Dozen," by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey.

-- "Lucky Jim," by Kingsley Amis.

-- "The Clock Winder," by Anne Tyler.

-- "The Dreadful Lemon Sky," by John D. MacDonald.

-- "The Woman Within," by Ellen Glasgow.

-- "Tom Jones," by Henry Fielding.

-- "Paper Tiger," by Stanley Woodward.

-- "The Reivers," by William Faulkner.

-- "The Earl of Louisiana," by A.J. Liebling.

-- "Notes of a Native Son," by James Baldwin.

-- "Rebecca," by Daphne du Maurier.

-- "Someone Like You," by Roald Dahl.

-- "The Long Season," by Jim Brosnan.

-- "The Count of Monte Cristo," by Alexandre Dumas.

-- "Speak, Memory," by Vladimir Nabokov.

-- "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter," by Carson McCullers.

-- "No Left Turns," by Joseph L. Schott.

-- "The Housebreaker of Shady Hill," by John Cheever.

-- "Penrod and Sam," by Booth Tarkington.

-- "The Boys on the Bus," by Timothy Crouse.

-- "The Sketch Book," by Washington Irving.

-- "The Catcher in the Rye," by J.D. Salinger .

-- "Crazy Salad," by Nora Ephron.

-- "A New Life," by Bernard Malamud.

-- "Cockfighter," by Charles Willeford.

-- "Cyrano," by Edmund Rostand, translated by Brian Hooker.

-- "The House on Coliseum Street," by Shirley Ann Grau.

-- "Appointment in Samarra," by John O'Hara.

-- "Victory," by Joseph Conrad.

-- "Pogo," by Walt Kelly.

-- "Office Politics," by Wilfrid Sheed.

-- "The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor," edited by Sally Fitzgerald.

-- "Generation of Vipers," by Philip Wylie.

-- "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant," by Douglass Wallop.

-- "The Death of the Heart," by Elizabeth Bowen.

-- "Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans," by Louis Armstrong.

-- "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin."

-- "Instant Replay," by Jerry Kramer with Dick Schaap.

-- "Look at Me," by Anita Brookner.

-- "Beat to Quarters," by C.S. Forester.

-- "The Fathers," by Allen Tate.

-- "Bleak House," by Charles Dickens.

-- "Sula," by Toni Morrison.

-- "St. Urbain's Horseman," by Mordecai Richler.

-- "Treasure Island," by Robert Louis Stevenson.

-- "Giant," by Edna Ferber.

-- "The Revolt of Mamie Stover," by William Bradford Huie.

-- "The Robber Bridegroom," by Eudora Welty.

-- "Fanny Hill," by John Cleland.

-- "Veeck -- As in Wreck," by Bill Veeck with Ed Linn.

-- "Poets in Their Youth," by Eileen Simpson.

-- "The Damnation of Theron Ware," by Harold Frederic.

-- "A Moveable Feast," by Ernest Hemingway.

-- "The Great Gatsby," by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

-- "The Mountain Lion," by Jean Stafford.

-- "Black Like Me," by John Howard Griffin.

-- "The Ox-Bow Incident," by Walter Van Tilburg Clark.

-- "My Life and Hard Times," by James Thurber.

-- "The Woman Warrior," by Maxine Hong Kingston.

-- "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House," by Eric Hodgins.

-- "Morte d'Urban," by J.F. Powers.

-- "The Stardust Road," by Hoagy Carmichael.

-- "I Was Dancing," by Edwin O'Connor.

-- "Little House in the Big Woods," by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

-- "Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920's," by Frederick Lewis Allen.

-- "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," by Joan Didion.

-- "Lie Down in Darkness," by William Styron.

-- "My Young Years," by Arthur Rubenstein.

-- "Cannery Row," by John Steinbeck.

-- "Scott Fitzgerald," by Andrew Turnbull.

-- "The Rector of Justin," by Louis Auchincloss.

-- "The Shooting Party," by Isabel Colegate.

-- "The Elements of Style," by William Strunk and E.B. White. (related post here)

-- "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream," by Hunter S. Thompson.

-- "Dale Loves Sophie to Death," by Robb Forman Dew.

-- "About Three Bricks Shy of a Load," by Roy Blount Jr.

-- "Act One," by Moss Hart.

-- "Black Boy," by Richard Wright.

-- "The Young Lions," by Irwin Shaw.

-- "The Proud Tower," by Barbara Tuchman.

-- "Never Love a Stranger," by Harold Robbins.

-- "The Spawning Run" and "My Moby Dick," by William Humphrey.

-- "Newspaper Days," by H.L. Mencken.

-- "Pride and Prejudice," by Jane Austen.

-- "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," by Mark Twain.

-- "Pomp and Circumstance," by Noël Coward.

-- "The Bridge of San Luis Rey," by Thornton Wilder.

-- "The Second Happiest Day," by John Phillips.

-- "The Collected Stories of Peter Taylor."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

karen

by Marie Killilea (her mom)

Published in 1960. Story of a girl with cerebral palsy. Inspiring.

Friday, November 6, 2009

review of dickens biography

Michael Dirda, Washington Post:
Many modern readers, I think, rather neglect Dickens, disdaining him as melodramatic and sentimental. Instead, we revere Jane Austen for her subtle wit or turn to Henry James for his delicate analyses of human motivation. But Dickens really is our prose Shakespeare. For proof, try almost any of his novels or just watch a DVD of the Royal Shakespeare Company or the BBC dramatizations of "Nicholas Nickleby," "Oliver Twist" or "David Copperfield." When Thackeray, whose "Vanity Fair" was then being published to wild acclaim, first read the scene of young Paul's death in "Dombey and Son," he famously -- and rightly -- cried out: "There's no writing against such power as this -- one has no chance!" For anybody who wants to know more about this dynamo of Victorian letters, Michael Slater's superb biography is the one to read.

catching up

Reading:

Shop Class as Soulcraft
*Update: finished this -- highly recommended.

Recently read:

Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians

Crazy for the Storm

Huck Finn

Tom Sawyer

Big Trouble
by Dave Barry (don't bother)