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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“Shanks Holds the Line” by Robert Lopresti

Robert Lopresti writes the very popular Shanks stories for AHMM, but this one is a little different. He sent it to us with the request that it go on our blog immediately. He explained that it is “based on a scam that recently did major damage to the mother of a friend of mine. . . . I consider the story a kind of public service, since it warns people about this thing.” Here it is. Enjoy, and be warned!

“Please hang on,” said Leopold Longshanks. “I’ll have to start up my computer. It’s down in the basement.”

“Of course,” said Jake. “I’ll wait.”

“You’re too kind,” said Shanks. He was in his home office, checking his e-mail. His publisher had replied, in a cranky mood, concerning Shanks’s complaint about the proposed cover for his new novel. The artist had apparently been unaware that only the bullet is fired out of a gun, not the entire cartridge. You would think the publisher would be grateful Shanks caught it before they all got laughed at, but no.

There was also an email from the organizers of a conference, reminding him that he had agreed to speak. Shanks was happy to do so, good publicity, but was less than thrilled by the topic they had assigned him. He was supposed to find something new to say about that old classic: Why do people read mysteries?

The question we should be asking is why more people don’t. If we could double the readership I could buy a better computer, and a new smartphone—

Phone. He picked it up. “Jake? You still there?”

“Yes, sir.” He had a slight accent. East Asian, perhaps?

Jake had called a minute earlier, identifying himself as being “from the technical support division of Windows. We have reports that your computer is sending out malicious messages. Apparently it is infested with malware.”

“My gosh,” Shanks had said. “That’s terrible.”

“Yes sir. Your computer could crash at any moment. But I can fix it for you.”

“Really? That’s wonderful! How can you do that?”

“I have to take control of your computer for a few minutes. Are you in front of it now?”

And so it began.

• • 

Frustration. That was the thesis for Shanks’s speech. People are drawn to mysteries because they are frustrated by injustice. Crimes unsolved. Felons unpunished.

He had planned to use bankers in the mortgage collapse as a showpiece—nobody in that whole crowd had done anything indictable?—but now he was thinking there might be a better, local example.

Namely Betty Shawcross, right across the street. Nicest neighbor you could ask for, although she was getting up there, close to eighty.

One day, about six months ago, she had come rushing over in tears. Seems she had received a phone call about malware on her computer and let the authority figure on the other end take control of her machine. By the time Shanks and his wife arrived the machine was spitting out its contents to some distant interloper and neither the off button nor CTRL-ALT-Del would stop it. Shanks had had to yank the plug out of the wall.

The computer technician they brought the machine to said flatly that he wasn’t going to mess with the infected thing. “Replace it.”

But Betty didn’t want to.

“How much money did she lose?” Shanks asked later.

“Not much,” said Cora. “That wasn’t as bad as having to get new credit cards, and change bank accounts. But here’s the worst part, Shanks. I told her ‘it could have happened to anyone,’ and you know what she said? ‘It would never have happened to me five years ago. There’s no way I would have fallen for that.’ Now she’s so afraid that she’s falling apart that she doesn’t want to buy another machine.”

“That’s terrible,” said Shanks. “She’s always talking about video-calling her grandkids.”

Cora nodded. “Her son is trying to talk her into buying another computer. Boy, I’d like to hurt those creeps.”

“Me too, my love. But there’s no way to get at them.”

• • 

“Jake? You still there?”

Amazingly, he was. “Yes sir. Are you ready now?”

“Almost, my friend.” Shanks sipped coffee. “Just hang in there.”

And here was an e-mail from his Hollywood agent, still trying to get a rational explanation from the studio about the allegedly disappointing net profits on their film.

Talk about felons unpunished.

Speaking of which, the phone was buzzing, signaling that Jake had hung up. Ah well.

Shanks opened a new file and began to type out some thoughts on his speech. He would have to disguise Betty’s identity, not that anyone at the conference would know her from Dorothy L. Sayers, but you couldn’t be too careful these—

The phone was ringing. Excellent.

“Hello?”

“There was a technical problem, sir. We were cut off.” Jake sounded a little grumpy.

“I’m so sorry. All right, my friend. I’m sitting in front of my computer now.”

“Very good. I just need you to—”

“Wait, wait, wait. I have one question for you first.”

“What is it?”

Shanks raised a bushy eyebrow. “Do you have a beard?”

A longish pause. “A what?”

“A beard.”

“Why would you want to know that?”

“I want to form some image of you. It’s a simple enough question.”

A sigh. “No, I don’t have a beard. Now, can we—”

“I’m guessing you use an electric shaver.”

“Listen, sir, your computer could break down at any minute. I will not be responsible if—”

“Then don’t waste time. Do you—”

“Yes! I use an electric shaver. Why?”

“I thought so,” said Shanks. “If I robbed people for a living I wouldn’t dare face myself in the mirror every morning with a razor in my hand. Jake? You there?”

Dial tone.

Shanks checked his watch as he hit the off button on the phone.

He had kept Jake from ripping anyone off for a full quarter of an hour.

It was one minute off his personal best. Not to worry; sooner or later one of Jake’s friends would call back and give him another chance.

© 2014, by Robert Lopresti

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Proud of Petrin

It’s a great pleasure to congratulate Jas. R. Petrin, whose AHMM story “Under Cap Ste. Claire” (October 2013) has been named a finalist for the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award, given by the Crime Writers of Canada. Petrin is a previous winner in this category with his AHMM story “Killer in the House” and he has been named a finalist for an AHMM story every year since 2010. The 2014 winners will be announced on Thursday, June 5 at the Arts & Letters Club in Toronto.

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