In Extremis

Mystery stories are often driven by people in dire straits—such as an accountant standing on a skyscraper ledge, waving a pistol. That’s the crisis facing Loren D. Estleman’s resourceful Four Horsemen police squad in “Tin Cop.” Meanwhile, broken ex-Wall Streeter Pit Geller finds himself holed up in Las Vegas with a family torn apart by a dead guy in John Gregory Betancourt’s “Pit and the Princess.” Jay Carey imagines policing a future Sarasota, Florida ravaged by global warming, destructive storms, and crumbling infrastructure in “We Are Not Insured Against Murder.” A literary publisher finds himself at the end of a rope—specifically, a noose—in John C. Boland’s “The Man Who Stole Trocchi.” A curious “curator” roaming Europe is unaware of the wolves at his heels in Stephen Ross’s “Gallery of the Dead.” And B. K. Stevens closes out her long-running series featuring Lieutenant Walt Johnson and Sergeant Gordon Bolt this month in “True Enough: Bolt’s Last Case.” To mark this transition, watch this blog space for the author’s reflections on her decision to say goodbye to one series and start another.

Plus we bring you a bit of espionage when radio producer Margo Banning visits a munitions factory in “Margo and the Locked Room” by Terence Faherty. John H. Dirckx, well known to AHMM readers for his Cyrus Auburn procedurals, translates and introduces this month’s Mystery Classic, “Justice by the Book” by Pedro de Alarcón. Finally, Robert C. Hahn introduces us to a new crop of bibliomysteries in his Booked & Printed column.

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Hearing Voices: Joseph Goodrich

Being a playwright and actor in addition to a mystery writer, Joseph Goodrich has a nuanced view of voice, which he discusses here. He won an Edgar Award in 2008 for his play “Panic,” inspired by the life and work of Alfred Hitchcock. His plays include “Calamity Town,” based on the 1942 Ellery Queen novel of the same name, and most recently “The Red Box,”  based on a 1937 Nero Wolfe novel, which debuted this summer in Minneapolis to great acclaim. He edited Blood Relations: The Selected Letters of Ellery Queen, 1947–1950.

As a playwright and a writer of fiction, I spend a lot of time alone in a room talking to myself. It’s only natural that the question of voice fascinates me.

When I talk about voice, I’m talking about two things, really: the voice of an author, and the voices of an author’s characters.

The first is a subtle combination of subject matter, language, experience, and perspective—the sum of all the choices a writer makes in the creation of a work. Those choices are as singular as fingerprints, and also serve as identification. It’s why Hammett doesn’t sound like Christie, and why Christie doesn’t sound like Highsmith. Another word for this is style, which Raymond Chandler once defined as “the projection of personality.”

A character’s voice is a lot like an author’s: It reflects the age, background, likes and dislikes of that character, and serves to distinguish one character from another. For me—and this is a result of years of working in the theater—the key to a character’s voice is sound. Marty Kaplan, the narrator of my short story “Red Alert” (AHMM, November 2014), is an East Coast wisecracker of a certain age who was once in show business. His sound is snappy, irreverent—and what he says is (I hope) entertaining.

When I’m moving words around at my desk, or contemplating notes scrawled in a Moleskine, or walking down the street with a head full of jangling story fragments, one of the things I’m doing is listening for the sound of the piece in question. Sound isn’t separate from sense, of course. The two are related. But “Call me Ishmael” creates a different effect than “Hey, it’s Ishmael. How are ya?”

Voice is what draws us to certain writers and characters. It’s the single most important factor in appreciating (or not appreciating) an author’s work.

An editor once cut some lines from one of Raymond Chandler’s stories because they didn’t advance the action. Chandler begged to differ. He believed that what readers really cared about was

the creation of emotion through dialogue and description;
the things they remembered, that haunted them, were not
for example that a man got killed, but that in the moment
of death he was trying to pick a paper clip up off the
polished surface of a desk, and it kept slipping away from
him, so that there was a look of strain of his face and his
mouth was half opened in a kind of tormented grin, and
the last thing in the world he thought about was death.

We’re all aiming for that golden combination of language, psychological truth, and urgent circumstance that makes for great reading.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said that character is fate. Our fictional creations reveal their fates through the language they use. Voice is fate.

I’d better get back to mine.

It’s time again to start listening . . .

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A Gentleman and a Scholar

I was delighted to learn recently of the publication of Mysteries Unlocked: Essays in Honor of Douglas G. Greene, edited by Curtis Evans. It collects 24 original essays (and reprints two classics) in honor of the 70th birthday of mystery scholar and publisher Doug Greene.Mysteries Unlocked Cover

A retired professor of history at Old Dominion University, Doug is a great scholar of the genre and the founder and publisher of Crippen & Landru. So far, I have only dipped into this fascinating festschrift, but I have already enjoyed reading about Doug’s passion for John Dickson Carr (whose biography he wrote), the numerous volumes he has edited, and the many friends and colleagues he has assisted with his incredible knowledge of the field. In particular, Doug hasbeen a tireless and effective advocate for the mystery short story; Crippen & Landru specializes in story collections, and its Lost Classics series has returned many deserving but forgotten authors to print.

In person, Doug is as genial and generous as he is learned, and he has been a dear friend to me and Janet Hutchings at EQMM. Over the years he’s offered invaluable assistance to me with AHMM’s own Mystery Classic feature. As Michael Dirda, one of the contributors to this volume says, “[Doug Greene] is one of those key figures that emerge periodically in genre literature.”

Other contributors include John Curran, Steve Steinbock, Peter Lovesy, and more. If you love Golden Age detective fiction, this is a book for you. If you enjoy reading essays by people writing about literature they love, this is a book for you.

Mysteries Unlocked was a brilliant way to say Happy Birthday to a friend.

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Behind the Scenes at 267 Broadway: Jackie Sherbow

Jackie Sherbow is the senior assistant editor for EQMM and AHMM. This post will also appear at Something Is Going To Happen.

My recent contribution to SleuthSayers, an inside look at the submissions process, had me wondering if people wouldn’t be interested in a literal inside view of our offices. So, come on in!

267 Broadway

267 Broadway

267 Broadway has been the NYC home of Dell Magazines since 2009. Its residents include the editorial staff for AHMM, EQMM, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Dell Horoscope, and a variety of Dell’s puzzle titles. We work closely with our two other outposts, both in southern Connecticut (Milford and Norwalk).

The view across Broadway: City Hall Park

The view across Broadway: City Hall Park

When you arrive at Dell, you’re greeted by Mary Grant, our office manager, editorial assistant, and receptionist. She runs day-to-day operations here as well as provides administrative and editorial support to each department, and has been making lives easier for Dell employees for thirteen years.

Mary Grant

Mary Grant

 

The mystery team includes—along with myself and the editors—Deanna McLafferty, our Editorial Administrative Assistant. Along with working for all the other departments (yes, all of them), Deanna takes care of many day-to-day tasks for EQ and AH—anything you can think of on the administrative to editorial spectrum, Deanna has probably helped with it. You might recognize her as the kind soul who poured you a drink at the EQ/AH pre-Edgars Cocktail Party for the past couple of years.

Deanna McLafferty

Deanna McLafferty

To me, the reference room is the richest part of our floor, and a spot where you can easily lose a chunk of time exploring the multitudes of specialized dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other literary goodies.

From the reference room

From the reference room

This shelf is a strange one now for us, as it features the dwindling slush pile of AHMM after its switch to electronic submissions (which I also talk about in the SleuthSayers post). As a comparison, I’ll include a photo of older stacks, from Linda’s home office.

AHMM's dwindling hard-copy slush pile.

AHMM’s dwindling hard-copy slush pile.

Paper manuscripts in Linda's home office.

Paper manuscripts in Linda’s home office.

Here are the card catalogs, which list all the authors and stories printed in the magazines.

EQ cards

And here are our back-issue archives, stored on shelves built specifically to fit our volumes.

EQMM back-issues archive.

EQMM back-issue archives.

 

AHMM back-issues archive.

AHMM back-issue archives.

And there you have it! Perhaps not as mysterious as you’d have thought, but chock-full of mysteries all the same.

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On the Job: the November 2014 Issue

Tragedy is part of life—but comedy can be murder. This month’s issue is bookended by Harriet Rzetelny’s “Tag Line” and Joseph Goodrich’s “Red Alert,” both set in the high-intensity world of television sketch comedy. In their different ways, both suggest that working relationships can be fraught—and sometimes deadly.

Also on the job, Eric Rutter’s police sniper finds that certain personal interests can undermine his focus in “The Shot.” P.I. Jack O’Shea, the “deception specialist,” returns to our pages in John Shepphird’s “Of Dogs and Deceit” to unpack a con he’s familiar with—sort of. And “The Bride Wore Blood” by Elaine Viets, an expert on job-related mayhem, reveals the challenges a cruise ship’s crew faces when a volatile bride and groom destroy their suite on their wedding night. Meanwhile, another young bridelife is upended on her honeymoon when her groom is killed in the remote Oregon Caves in Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s historical “Crossing the River Styx.”

After reading this month’s stories, you may never look at your coworkers the same way again.

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Jerry Healy

I returned from a brief vacation to learn with sorrow of the death of Jeremiah “Jerry” Healy, longtime friend and supporter of the magazine.

Jerry’s first story for AHMM, “Till Tuesday,” appeared in the April 1988 issue, and his January/February 2005 story “Two Birds with One Stone” was a finalist for the Shamus Award for Best Private Eye Short Story. While some of his stories featured his popular series characters, Jerry also took the opportunity of his appearances in Hitchcock to stretch and try new things.

Not just a contributor, Jerry was an enthusiastic advocate for both AHMM and our sister magazine Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. At conferences his larger-than-life presence and infectious laughter were a pleasure to all who were near. Generous with his time, support, and goodwill, Jerry will be missed not just by our staff, but also by many in the mystery community.

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Cooking the Books: Robert C. Hahn on reviewing mysteries for AHMM

Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine’s Booked & Printed columnist, Robert C. Hahn, passed a milestone recently with his 100th column. Here he shares his thoughts about the health of the mystery field.

Starting with the January 2003 issue of AHMM and reaching to the July/August 2014 issue, I have written over a hundred columns covering roughly 350 books for this iconic magazine. It has been, and remains, a pleasure. Over the past 25 years I have reviewed well over 2,000 books, primarily mystery and suspense, for AHMM, Publishers Weekly, the now defunct Cincinnati Post, and other publications.

Some observations on how the publishing world has changed:

The advent of e-books has opened the doors for many new authors to be published and reach an audience effectively ending the monopoly print publishers had on the gateway to publishing success.

While big publishers continue to market bestsellers and create new bestselling authors, a growing number of niche publishers are giving new authors a start and allowing them to build impressive backlists.

One of the saddest developments has been the emphasis on big sales that led to many so-called mid-list authors being dropped by the houses that had published them. Thankfully, some niche publishers have discovered that these authors often have devoted followings, which make for dependable, if not spectacular, sales, and they have picked up some of the slack.

Some changes have been obvious: the plethora of new and expanded roles for women in all areas of the genre, the supplanting of the USSR as the major enemy for thriller heroes to tackle, to name a few.

The number of quality mysteries from foreign countries (other than the United Kingdom) has greatly increased, introducing American audiences to a host of memorable sleuths from Scandinavia, Thailand, Italy, Greece, etc.

Geriatric detectives are no longer an oddity as our population continues to age and remain productive so too to the sleuths who are solving crimes.

My respect for authors has grown, rather than lessened, through this experience, but at the same time my expectations have grown as well. The diversity of types of mysteries within the genre is amazing but so is the depth. If a reader wished to limit his (or her) reading to just historical mysteries, or just cozies, or just procedurals, he could do so and still have a wealth of choices. And in spite of the sheer numbers of new titles being published, the imagination of today’s authors manages to keep coming up with new variations, new twists, new ways of making the old seem new again.

The difficulty for readers is finding a way to separate wheat from chaff, to find gold, not fool’s gold. Among the tools readers can use for that task are publications like AHMM and EQMM, where readers can be exposed to many authors each issue as well as offering critical reviews of new publications. Likewise the excellent annual anthologies sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America and the Year’s Best Mystery series edited by Otto Penzler are an excellent way to discover new favorites.

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