NPR : A Brutal, British Mystery Novel for Boxing Day
Jonathan Hayes, a New York City forensic pathologist, describes how a BBC broadcast of Dorothy Sayers’s novel The Nine Tailors made him appreciate Sayers’s influence on the mystery genre:
In Nine Tailors, the violence is not bloodless, but brutal, and the characters are made of flesh and blood — even Whimsey, the hero, is struggling with the emotional aftermath of the Great War. Sayers helped nudge the English mystery novel out of the drawing room and into the real world, particularly in her later novels. Of course, in the 1930s, the real world in crime fiction was increasingly a modern American world, with hard-boiled writers like Chandler and Hammet rising to prominence, but I think Sayers does deserve real credit for toughening up and broadening the reach of the British detective story.
Hayes says that Sayers transformed the traditional “cozy” mystery, sometimes referred to as an English drawing-room mystery, in which the murder happens quickly and off stage; the rest of the mystery covers the detective’s investigation and thought processes in determining who the murderer is. As Hayes puts it, in a British cozy “The crime is reduced to a trite riddle, self-contained and without broader implication.” His experience as a forensic pathologist has taught him that murder is anything but cozy; it is brutal, not bloodless. This is a reality that Sayers was willing to face, and her work has had a lasting influence on the mystery genre.
NPR : The Ones That Got Away: Books Not to Miss
NPR’s Lynn Neary talks with book writers — Laura Miller of Salon.com, and blogger Mark Sarvas of The Elegant Variation — about worthy books that got overlooked by the mainstream book-review sections in 2007. Here’s a rundown of their recommendations.
From The Writer’s Almanac, a publication of Prairie Home Productions, presented by American Public Media:
Literary and Historical Notes:
It’s Christmas Eve, the setting for many works of fiction including O. Henry’s (books by this author) “Gift of the Magi,” a short story about Jim and Della, the impoverished young couple, in which each one is trying to find the perfect gift for the other. They have just two prized possessions. Jim has a very valuable gold watch and Della has luxurious brown hair and she decides to sell it so she can get Jim a platinum watch chain and Jim sells his watch so that he can get her the beautiful tortoise shell combs for her hair.
Christmas Eve is also the setting for the beginning of Charles Dickens’ (books by this author) A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, a story credited with reviving Christmas in England, which begins:
“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”
Scrooge is the famous bitter old miser who holds Christmas in contempt but on Christmas Eve he gives Bob Cratchit Christmas day off. He dines alone in his usual tavern, and returns to his lodgings, where on the door knocker her encounters an image of the face of Marley, his old business partner. Marley warns him that he will be visited by three spirits and if he does as they tell him, then he can escape Marley’s fate, which is to walk the earth bound in chains because he had no concern for mankind during his life. The ghosts come and Scrooge awakens “‘I don’t know what to do’ he cried, ‘laughing in the same breath…I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody!'” The boy stops under the window and he sends him down to the poulterer’s shop to buy the enormous turkey to send to Bob Cratchit’s family. Scrooge dressed himself all in his best and got out into the streets. The people were pouring forth and walking with his hands behind him Scrooge regarded everyone with a delighted smile. He looked so pleasant that three or four good humored fellows said, “Good morning, sir. A merry Christmas to you.’ And Scrooge said afterwards that they were the most delightful sounds he had ever heard in all his years. He went to church and walked up and down and found that everything could yield him pleasure.
I have just taken a drastic action: I deleted all previous Notes in the Margin Weblog entries in order to install and use WordPress from now on.
It was quite a nostalgic moment for me. My earliest entries were from January 2002. Yes, that’s right–almost six years ago. I’m sure that just as much has happened in your life as has happened in mine since that time.
For me, the biggest change in that time was my return to school full time in September 2005. When I decided to work on my doctorate in psychology, I had to let new postings to my main site, Notes in the Margin, lapse. There were two reasons for this: (1) I didn’t have time to write book reviews, and (2) I had almost no time for pleasure reading, which meant I didn’t have much to write about anyway. I’m still in school, and my pleasure reading is still limited to audiobooks, which I listen to while driving and while plodding away on the treadmill most afternoons. But I am beginning to see the light at the end of my educational tunnel, and I’m hoping to be able to return to Notes in the Margin in earnest within the next year or so.
I think of this change in the Weblog as the beginning of that process. I hope you’ll continue to look here for news and notes related to all things literary.
Thanks for reading.
The foundation and source of writing well is to be wise.