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January 17, 2008

A Short Dictionary of Detection Terms

A short dictionary of detection terms:

Caper -- A story built around the detailed planning and execution of an elaborate crime. More popular in movies than books, but Donald Westlake has written some corkers.

Cozy -- A "traditional" mystery whose best-known practitioner is Agatha Christie. Common elements include: a domestic setting such as a country house or quiet neighborhood; a limited roster of suspects, all part of the victim's social circle; little or no description of violence or sex; a mildly romantic subplot; and an amateur sleuth or eccentric professional.

Fem-jep -- Short for "female in jeopardy," a sub-genre most often seen in movies of the week, wherein a lovely young women is placed in a perilous situation, e.g. stalked by a crazed killer, and the rest of the plot is devoted to her rescue by a white knight. Also known as WIP, or woman in peril.

Golden Age (of mysteries) -- The period between the World Wars, when detective novels became extremely popular and the "conventions" of the genre were established. Many Golden Age writers are still in print, including Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Marjorie Allingham, Ngaio Marsh.

Had-I-but-known (HIBK) -- An early form of gothic or romantic suspense, in which the eponymous phase is used by the first-person heroine addressing her readers.

Hard-boiled -- Another traditional sub-genre, originally found in the "pulp" detective magazines but reaching literary excellence in the works of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Features a lone-wolf private detective, cynical yet quixotic; the mean streets of the inner city; characters from both the professional criminal class and the criminally rich; and liberal additions of violent action and disassociated sex.

Inverted mystery -- A story in which the reader knows whodunit, but the suspense arises from watching the detective figure it out. This is a popular form for mystery TV-movies; the best-known example is the Columbo series.

Macguffin -- An object which is pursued by the characters in a story purely for the purposes of propelling the plot, without having any intrinsic relationship to the solution of whatever mystery arises in the course of the pursuit. Best-known example: the Maltese Falcon. The term originated with Alfred Hitchcock.

Noir -- Usually applied to movies with dark lighting and darker outlook, a particularly bleak variety of hard-boiled crime story, where everyone is a villain, betrayal is inevitable, and frequently no-one is left standing at the end.

Police procedural -- A sub-genre focusing on the work of a team of police officers, usually investigating more than one case simultaneously, and traditionally emphasizing the technical aspects of investigation. Modern police procedurals often develop the characters and interactions of the police in great depth.

Red herring -- A "clue" that leads the detective on a wild goose chase away from the real perpetrator (from the practice of anti-foxhunting protestors dragging smelly fish across the trail to distract hounds from pursuit of the fox).

Romantic suspense -- Something of a hybrid between mystery and romance, with an adventurous heroine and stalwart hero who together solve a mystery and fall in love. Well-known writers of this form include Barbara Michaels and Mary Higgins Clark. Usually not part of a series.

Source:Clue Lass.

January 14, 2008

Co-Inventor of the Modern Spy Novel - Eric Ambler

If Eric Ambler was not the inventor of the "modern" spy novel - that title must go to the English novelist Somerset Maugham for a single, autobiographical work, Ashenden - he was certainly among the first few authors to establish the boundaries and possibilities for such a genre.

Sporting left-wing sympathies (and, after World War 2, a jaded middle-of-the-road political stance), he brought an iconoclastic sensibility to what had been a hidebound form of popular fiction, either mindless action and intrigue or earnest patriotic adventure. He was also, not incidentally, colorful, insidiously amusing, and ineffably cool.

Ambler, whose first novel was published in 1936, and who was still working in the 1990's, bridged the gap between the old world spy fiction of E. Phillips Oppenheim and his ilk - Riviera casinos, tuxedoed secret service agents, mysterious Balkan border crossings - and the more complex and cynical espionage stories of the cold war and beyond, most popularly represented by the works of John Le Carre. Ambler shared his historical and literary position with fellow Englishman Graham Greene: both writers favoured colorful, exotic settings, anti-establishment heroes, an outsider's perspective, and an atmosphere of seediness. But Ambler was more generous, funnier and less pretentious (feeling no need to label his entertaining books as "entertainments" the way Greene did), and his sharp, lucid prose was just as good.

Born in London England, Ambler also used the pseudonym Eliot Reed for books co-written with Charles Rodda. His best known works are probably The Mask of Dimitrios, which became a classic film noir in 1944, and The Light of Day, filmed in 1964 as Topkapi, and subsequently lampooned in The Pink Panther. He was also a successful screenwriter who, in his later years, lived and died in Los Angeles.

Portions of the first few paragraphs taken from the Encyclopedia of Pulp Fiction Writers by Lee Server.

September 28, 2007

Edgar Awards

Did you know: that the Edgar Awards are named after the Mystery Writers of America patron saint, Edgar Allan Poe, and are awarded to authors of distinguished work in various categories of the mystery/detetctive/crime/thriller genre.

Some past winners include:

Best Novel:

Margaret Millar - 1956
Charlotte Armstrong - 1957
Ed Lacy - 1958
Eric Ambler - 1964
John le Carre - 1965
Jon Cleary - 1975
Joe R. Lansdale - 2001

September 27, 2007

The Saint Comes To America

From A Letter from The Saint, July 26, 1946.

It became increasingly clear to me that America was the Promised Land in which I should have to seek fun and fortune.

It was 1932 before I had enough money all at one time to figure I could pay my passage even on a small steamer and arrive with $25 in my pocket, which the American Consulate declared was the minimum permissible grub steak. So at last I set out on my great adventure.

I had my first sidelight on another America when I filled out the form for the ship's manifest. After a lot of routine items about where you were born and when and why, the questionnaire ended up with "Are you an anarchist? A polygamist? Do you believe in the overthrow of the Government of the United States by force?"

It seemed a little unnecessary to ask whether one was an anarchist, since everybody knew that anarchists could be identified by sight by their untidy whiskers and the round black bombs with spluttering fuses which they always carried behind their backs. As for being a polygamist, it seemed slightly unfair to pick on me when I had read of state visits by quite a large selection of sultans, rajahs, beys, pashas, and effendis, all of them busy polygamizing on their home ground with full religious sanction; while I had also the lingering idea that somebody named Brigham Young was spreading a similar gospel in Utah. The forcible overthrow of the United States Government was not on my schedule at the time, but the question did seem rather foolish, since I could not understand why anyone would expect me to announce it in advance if it had been. I had yet to learn that a technique was being evolved of nailing otherwise untouchable gangsters for failing to pay their income tax; so that on the same basis it might be possible to deport a revolutionist, not for launching a rebellion, but for making a false affidavit of his intentions.

Also on the boat I saw Lee Tracy in a picture called NIGHT MAYOR, from which I learned that all American politicians were grafters and spoke in a machine-gun stream of wisecracks.

But even with this buildup, it was still a case of love at first sight. The buildings of New York were even taller and shinier than I had imagined them. I sat in my cheap hotel room on Lexington Avenue and looked across at the soaring white towers of the Waldorf, so clean and graceful in contrast to the smoke-grimed stodginess of the London architecture I had just left, rising sheer and white against the kind of spotless blue sky that London almost never sees. I was taken to speakeasies where sinister types (now highly respected head waiters) inspected you coldly from behind iron-grilled peepholes before they let you in. I got used to the rattling hard-boiled pace of New York dialogue, which while its wisecracks might not always seem so fresh and witty as those I had heard from the screen still had a totally different tempo fro the English. I had an electrifying stimulation from it, a sense of the same nervous urgency that radiated from the scurrying crowds on the sidewalks and the pressing honking traffic in the packed streets, a sense of infinite energy driving at terrific pressure toward unlimited opportunities. The elemental force of it infected me, spurred me to try and match the pace, dazzled me with the same prospect of infinite horizons.

I still remember that, even though I have since lost much of my eagerness for it and chosen for my own taste the more leisured and graceful complacency of the West. But I was younger then, and no doubt more full of fire and ambition. It was still a part of my assimilation of and by America.

I liked it even when in March 1933, after this new zest had brought several unexpected stories out of me and raised my $25 ante to some $500, the now historic Bank Holiday cut me off again at the roots--with the added excitement that this accumulating fortune happened to be deposited in the only New York bank which failed to open again. Because fatefully at that time, when I was literally down to my last borrowed nickel, I received my first offer from a Hollywood studio; and with no leeway to haggle about salary I found myself on my way here [Hollywood] within a couple of days, with my fare paid by Paramount and a few dollars to eat with on the train borrowed from an indulgent publisher.

And after that there was another dream come true, and I was driving daily up to the gates of Paramount Studios with the famous trade mark emblazoned on a water tank overhanging them, and every time I was reminding myself a little incredulously "This is Hollywood, and I'm here. This is the place where they make those pictures, and I'm going in there and be part of it." It wasn't quite as good as that, because my depression salary was very small, and the picture I helped to make was very unimportant, and I went through nearly all the conventional frustrating experiences of all the other writers who have come to Hollywood expecting fame and glamor. In fact I became so exasperated that in the end I fought with everyone and finally pulled out in disgust, swearing that I would never come back; but that anger too was partly disproportionate and afterwards was partly mellowed by time, so that eventually a day was bound to come when I'd be back. Days were always bound to come when America would bring me back; and they did come, under many pretexts, for trips of inevitably increasing duration. In 1935, when I came over with Charles Laughton, who was on his way to do mutiny on the bounty with a full set of uniforms from Captain Bligh's original tailor, when I was still supercilious about Hollywood and glad that I only had to talk to the American magazine about some stories. In 1936, when I flew over on the maiden trip of the Hindenburg, a newspaper correspondent then, with Webb Miller who was killed in a London blackout and Ralph Barnes who was shot down over Berlin. In 1937, when I landed in Florida and saw those Everglades, and then drove across to California and saw everything in between. In 1938, when I had decided that the only way to see the country was in a trailer, and I built the trailer which I still have and lived in it for eighteen months, and learned America from San Diego to the Canadian border, from Miami to New Jersey, and east to west in between.

After this, there was no possible choice at all, except one which had been made by my parents a long time ago, and by the Congress of the United States in 1924, when they enacted the Oriental Exclusion Act, defining Orientals as all people with 50% or more of "Oriental blood" and forbidding them admittance to the Promised Land.

The "Oriental blood", or any other kind of blood definition, seems to have been pretty well washed out during the last war's campaign for blood donors; but the racial distinction never does seem to have been settled, since I still get form inviting me to state my "race", and I still don't know the answer, because there are no stock names for a 50-50 split and in the case of a tie it seems that no prizes are awarded.

In 1939 I hadn't even realized that this was an immigration problem. By that time I had lost most of my English accent, both in speech and thinking. My dearest friends were scattered about America from coast to coast, and England was the country I only visited, without too much enjoyment, and feeling more of a stranger there every time. So that when I made my last trip to London, armed with a letter from the late General Theodore Roosevelt to Ambassador Joe Kennedy to expedite my quota application, I had no idea that there would be any hitch and I'm sure it hadn't occurred to Ted either.

I came back as before, on one of those transient visas, good for another six months at home; and that seemed to be the hopeless end of that. It hadn't occurred to me that the laws of a country like this might be flexible, since there is no such thing as a flexible law in England; or that the Congress of the United States might take time out to review an individual case. And yet one day there was a bill introduced by the late Senator Hiram Johnson, which after more than a year of kicking about between the two Houses and their committees finally took the following form.

[The act was signed by President F.D. Roosevelt on December 8, 1942, and allowed Leslie Charteris and his daughter, Patricia Ann Charteris permanent residence, and therefore the right to eventually become citizens of the United States. Further in this letter, Charteris went on to talk about his quest for citizenship, and ended with the following paragraphs]

This morning, in the company of a crowd of other candidates who must have started with the same aspirations and passed the same tests, I was shepherded before a judge, and together we repeated: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

I am an American.

From The Saint.org

September 26, 2007

Mike Shayne - The Toughest Red-Head Ever

MICHAEL SHAYNE By Brett Halliday

I FIRST SAW the man I have named Michael Shayne in Tampico, Mexico, many, many years ago. I was a mere lad working on a coast-wise oil tanker as a deckhand when we tied up at Tampico to take on a load of crude oil. After supper, a small group of sailors went ashore to see the sights of a foreign port. I was among that group.

We didn't get very far from the ship, turning in at the first cantina we came to. We were all lined up at the bar sampling their tequila when I noticed a redheaded American seated alone at a small table overlooking the crowded room, with a bottle of cognac, a small shot glass, and a larger glass of ice water on the table in front of him. He was tall and rangy and had craggy features with bleak gray eyes which surveyed the scene with a sort of quizzical amusement. He appeared to be in his early twenties, and while I watched him, he lifted the shot glass to his mouth and took a small sip of cognac, washing it down with a swallow of ice water. I don't know what caused me to observe him so closely. Perhaps there was a quality of aloneness about him in hat crowded cantina. He was part of the scene, but apart from it. There was a Mexican playing an accordion in the middle of the room and several couples dancing. There were other gaily dressed senoritas seated about on the sidelines and some of the sailors went to them to request a dance.

I don't know what started the fracas. Possibly one of the sailors asked the wrong girl for a dance. Suddenly there was a melee which quickly spread to encompass the small room. There were curses and shouts and the glitter of exposed knives. We were badly outnumbered and getting much the worst of the fight when suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the redheaded American shove the table away from him and get into the fight with big fists swinging.

Each time he struck, a Mexican went down--and generally stayed down. I was struck over the head by a beer bottle and was trampled on by the fighting men. I must have lost consciousness for a moment because I was abruptly aware that the fight had subsided and I was lying in the middle of a tangle of bodies with blood streaming down my face from a broken head. Then I was dragged out of the tangle and set on my feet by the American redhead. He gave me a shove through the swinging doors and I stumbled and went down, to be picked up by my comrades who were streaming out the door behind me.

We got away from there fast, back to the ship where we patched up broken heads and minor knife cuts.

We went to sea the next morning and none of us knew what had happened to the redhead after we left the cantina.

I didn't see him again until many years later in New Orleans. I had quit the sea as a means of livelihood and was barely eking out a precarious living by writing circulating library novels. I stopped by at a smoke-filled bar in the French Quarter for a drink and I glanced back over the rest of the room as I ordered a drink at the bar.

There I saw him! Sitting alone at a booth halfway down the room with a shot glass and a larger drink of ice water before him. There could be no question that it was he. Several years older and with broader shoulders than I remembered, but with the same look of aloneness in his bleak gray eyes.

I paid for my drink and carried it back to his booth with me. He looked puzzled when I slid into the booth opposite him, and I quickly reminded him of the fight on the Tampico waterfront and told him I was the sailor whom he had dragged out of the fight and shoved outdoors. A wide grin came over his face and he started to say something when a sudden chill came into his features. He was looking past me at the front door and I turned my head to see what he was seeing.

Two men had entered the bar and were making their way toward us. He tossed off his cognac and slid out of the booth as they stopped beside us. He said harshly to me, "Stay here," and started down the aisle with one burly man leading the way and the other following close behind. Thus they disappeared in the French Quarter, and I've never seen him again.

But I have never forgotten him.

Article taken from Halliday's essay on Mike Shayne in Otto Penzler's The Great Detectives (Little, Brown, 1978).

September 25, 2007

Lemmy Caution, Slim Callaghan? No. Peter Cheyney!

Peter Cheyney was Britain's leading writer of hard-boiled fiction. He created three memorable characters: Lemmy Caution, a ruthless machine-gun toting FBI agent; Slim Callaghan, a British private eye; and himself. According to his friend and fellow writer Dennis Wheatley "he was the greatest liar unhung but a magnificent story teller."

Born Reginald Evelyn Peter Southouse Cheyney in London's Whitechapel, he was the youngest of five children, and was originally known as Reg. He tried various names including Evelyn and Everard, before finally settling for Peter. His father was a thoroughbred Cockney who worked at the Billingsgate fish market, a man who preferred drink to work. His wife eventually sent him packing. She was an industrious woman who would earn enough from making corsets to send young Reg to good schools. Her ambition was for him to become a solicitor.

War intervened and Cheyney was commissioned as a Lieutenant. According to Who's Who, he had been 'seriously wounded', but this was not a view shared by the medical board which soon rescinded his pension. He had lost part of an ear lobe.

Life in a solicitor's office didn't appeal to Reg who wanted to follow his oldest brother into show business. He picked up a few small parts, wrote some sketches and songs, and married a dancer. His wife then won a leading part in an Edgar Wallace musical Whirligig. Wallace was the leading popular novelist of that period and Cheyney tried his hand at fiction but without making any impact.

The turning point for Cheyney occurred in 1926, when he volunteered to serve the semi-official Organisation of the Maintenance of Supplies (OMS) which had been set up in anticipation of the General Strike. The strike only lasted nine days, thanks in part to OMS which assembled 100,000 volunteers to handle essential services, including a daily newspaper - The British Gazette - edited by Winston Churchill.

OMS was managed by Sir George Makgill who also ran the Industrial Intelligence Board (IIB), a very secret intelligence service funded by big business. The IIB had strong links with Special Branch, MI5 and Britain's first fascist party - the British Fascists (BF) - which was founded in 1923.

During those nine days with OMS, Cheyney endeared himself to Colonel Ralph Bingham, one of Makgill's men who had been a member of the General Council of the BF. According to Bingham, 'Cheyney was very efficient · but he made a lot of enemies'.

Fortunately for Cheyney, Bingham - who was very well connected - had taken a shine to the younger man, and he made the right introductions. After Cheyney had met a senior police officer, he started ghosting true-crime stories for publication. Soon, Cheyney was running his own agency that handled both literary work and investigations.

Cheyney stayed involved with political work and he continued with his mixture of private eye work - both fact and detective fiction - until he hit pay dirt with This Man is Dangerous (1936). Thereafter, he continued to write at least two books a year until his health gave way.

Cheyney was a big man (6'2") who soon went bald. He was a flamboyant character and he sported a gold monocle, a red carnation, an ornate cloak and a double-barrelled name when such things were in fashion. He was good at golf, fencing, judo and boxing, and he ran a snazzy sports car.

He always tried to distance himself from his humble beginnings, as evidenced by his entry in Who's Who. Also, he only listed the last of his three wives, even though his second wife had brought two children with her. He never had any children of his own. After living in great style, he still left £53,000 - which was pretty serious money in those days.

Taken from an article by Brian Clough & Philip Eagle.

September 22, 2007

Who was - Edward S. Aarons ?

Born 1916 and died 1975, Edward S. Aarons (also wrote as Edward Ronns) was a writer of lending-library, paperback, and pulp crime and espionage fiction for virtually his entire adult life, taking only a few years off to attend Columbia University and to serve in World War II.

His early mystery novels were credited to Edward Ronns, and published by the low-rung Phoenix Press. Phoenix's editorial standards were notoriously even lower than it's advances, and Aaron's work for them was crude, if colorful. In The Corpse Hangs High (1939), for example, private eye "Beauty" Black gets slugged unconscious in a classic sub-Chandler riot of metaphors that verge on the ridiculous: " A red, red nose blossomed before my eyes, spread out until it filled the universe, and then rurned rotten and decomposed into a mountain of red works that wriggled wildly away into the darkness."

Aaron's postwar work was better, including tough suspense novels like Nightmare (1948) and Dark Memory (1950). He became one of the first writers to work for Fawcett's Gold Medal line of paperback originals, beginning in 1952 with a melodrama, Escape To Love.

In 1955, Fawcett published the novel Assignment To Disaster, the first in the "Assignment" series, which would last for 20 years and 40 volumes. The series hero was Sam Durrell, a bayouu-born (raised on his grand daddy's paddlewheeler), Yale-educated, patriotic, two-fisted CIA agent, assigned - twice a year by the Gold Medal schedule - to the world's hot spots, from Karachi to Budapest to the Sulu Sea. At each location Durrell would find a looming threat to U.S. security or world peace, a deadly villain, a beautiful female, and lots of action.

Taken from The Encyclopedia of Pulp Fiction Writers by Lee Server.