Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What Became of the Princes in the Tower?

It is doubtful professional cold case investigators, no matter what evidence they might find, could ever solve irrefutably a probable murder more than half a millennium ago. Absolutely nothing—not even an indisputably authenticated confession by his successor on the throne--would be enough to absolve Richard III, King of England, from the accepted popular assumption he arranged the murder of his two nephews in the Tower of London.
This was foretold sadly by Scotland Yard's Alan Grant in 1951 after his exhaustive probe into historical records pointed the accusing finger instead at Henry VII. Grant is a fictional character, but this matters not in the least. The evidence he and his fictional assistants dug up were found in nonfictional records by his creator, Scottish playwright/novelist Elizabeth MacIntosh, while researching a play set in that period. Under the nom de plume Josephine Tey she devoted the fifth in her series of Inspector Grant mysteries to perhaps England's oldest and most controversial real murder mysteries, known down the ages as The Princes in the Tower.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Bacon's Blood (51)

Blow waited until he heard the Bacon brothers' footsteps on the walkway before he went to the door. He watched through the glass panes as they entered the black SUV, slammed the doors and backed the bulky vehicle off the asphalt parking pad unto the side street. He watched them head up to the main street, cross it and drive out of sight beyond the next block.
He locked the door, closed the blinds and texted ready to Rose. He left the office through the back door to the hallway and went down past the library to his bedroom. He changed into his Tim Bascom disguise and lay back on the bed to wait for Rose.
His head roiled with conflicting emotions. For the first time since he'd taken the case he sensed a faint pulsing of optimism his client might in fact be innocent of murder. The evidence that Elvin Bacon had been set up was only hearsay, but it seemed plausible. Blow understood part of his positive turn of mind might be to brother Leonard's credit as the personality yin to Elvin's yang. Leonard's testimony should have the same effect on a jury. Gobble would want Lucas King on the stand for the sleaze factor. MacKenzie, of course, would deny everything. It was imperative to have his Dear Rat letter in order to give Lucas's story substance. Without it their seed of doubt had little chance to sprout.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Flannery Forgotten? (A Good Man is Hard to Find)

Imagining being forced at gunpoint to nominate someone for the title of Ultimate Forgotten Crime Writer, only one name comes to mind: Flannery O'Connor.

You ignorant cretin,” the literary gunsel likely would snarl, waving his delicately engraved Mauser pocket pistol in my face as other literati circled around, agape. My attacker would add, voice rising to include the onlookers, “How did you get in here, anyway? Surely you weren't invited?”

Yeah,” a voice would thunder from within the gathering herd, “Forgotten, hell! I'm focusing my seminar this term on her work.” A soprano shrills above the swelling rumble of crisply sophisticated mutterings: “Crime? How dare you disparage Miss O'Connor as a genre writer! Shame on you.” Another voice, a baritone: “Get the bricks! Let's stone this dumb bastard!”

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Mysterious Hiatus of a Troublesome Novel: Sarkhan by Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer

Eugene Burdick's death in 1965 of a heart attack ended a meteoric literary career on a mysterious note that remains unexplained to this day.

He is best known for the two novels he wrote as collaborations: The Ugly American, with William J. Lederer, and Fail-Safe, with Harvey Wheeler. Both novels, which became must-see movies,
nudged conventional thinking out of its comfort zone—one with American involvement in Southeast Asia, the other with unintentional nuclear holocaust. 
Burdick and Lederer were naval officers and published novelists when they met at a writing conference and decided to collaborate on The Ugly American, published in 1958. The mystery grew out of a second collaboration seven years later. Meanwhile Burdick and Wheeler wrote Fail Safe. Each was teaching at the time: Burdick at the Naval War College; Wheeler, at Washington and Lee University.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Bacon's Blood (50)

The tip had been anonymous, which meant they had to check it out.
"Louise, the receptionist, took the call," said Leonard. "She said it was a man. She didn't recognize the voice and he didn't identify himself. Asked for me, but I wasn't in. She asked him if he wanted to leave a message on my phone. He said no. Gave her this message to give me when I got back. It was simply that Dwight MacKenzie was into more than what he was being tried for, that he was into meth—manufacturing crystal speed, is how she said he put it. Then he hung up."
Blow looked up from the yellow pad he'd been making notes on. "That's all? All he said?"
Leonard nodded. "Not much, is it. But it was enough."
"Yeah, I suppose. Could have been a setup. You say the trial was looking good at that point?"
"We thought so. MacKenzie's a charmer. Classic con man. Commonwealth's case was a little shaky. Hard to prove fraud anyway, and MacKenzie was playing the victim, claimed his associates, as he called his sales staff, were the ones falsifying appraisals and credit reports. Without his knowledge, of course.”
You knew better? I mean, you didn't buy that?”
I didn't have to. I was defending him. Attacking their evidence and protecting my flank, making sure nothing blew up in my face. You know how that works.”

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Forgotten Books: Some Came Running, by James Jones

As serendipities go this was a dilly. A dipsy doodle of a dilly, a chance coincidence that has gifted me back half a century to a novel that lodged itself more pervasively throughout my psyche than any other. Reading that last sentence scares me a little as I'm not often so definitive, preferring instead to hedge and dillydally leaving as many doors and windows—escape hatches--open as I can without appearing blatantly chickenshit. But I've given this some thought, and I cannot think of another novel that has stayed with me as has Some Came Running.

And I have read a lot of novels.
Funny thing is I didn't know how deeply and thoroughly Some Came Running had embedded itself until yesterday, when I started reading it again. It will take at least a week or more for me to finish it, again, but I knew within the first couple of sentences of my second read in fifty-some years how important this masterpiece of James Jones's is. To me. I rarely read novels more than once. And those I have, for the most part, have shown their age—or have reminded me too poignantly of mine. With this in mind, remembering how much I had enjoyed Some Came Running the first time around, I approached a reread with the caution one might feel on the verge of meeting a long-ago good friend after much life has burnished and reshaped memories that could evaporate in a blink.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Bacon's Blood (49)

Blow quickly picked up on a curious dynamic between the Bacon brothers. Elvin was bigger, better looking and with the more forceful persona, the kind of male that presumed the alpha role in most any setting. As he did now toward Leonard, ostensibly. After entering the office first and handling the introductions, and not waiting for an invitation, he gestured to the two wooden courtroom chairs facing Blow's desk. Leonard played along, giving his younger brother a half smile before sitting.

Within moments Blow could see a slick irony at play in Elvin's deference to the older man. It appeared as simple civility, appropriate on the surface, but also natural cover for something less obvious.