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.

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.

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.