Tuesday, January 5, 2010

It's A Mystery To Me

   As a teenager, I grew up reading the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and the genteel English murder mysteries of Agatha Christie. On TV, I watched Perry Mason win an endless number of court cases, usually by inducing pained confessions from the witness stand. America, it seemed, was fascinated by the seamier side of human nature and the audacity of the criminal mind and many books and magazines were published in the mystery genre. Here are just a few examples of the lurid covers found on these paperbacks.

My favorite Agatha Christie detective is Hercule Poirot, the fussy Belgian featured in "Death on the Nile" and many other books. The film of this book was one of the better Christie movie adaptations.

Dashiell Hammett was king of the "hard-boiled" detective novels. He created many memorable characters such as Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon) and Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man).

Ellery Queen is both a fictional character and a pseudonym used by two American cousins from Brooklyn, Daniel Nathan and Manford Lepofsky who wrote novels under the Queen name for 42 years.

The 12 mystery novels of Philo Vance describe him as a foppish, New York intellectual who uses his skills to solve difficult murder cases. The stories are chronicled by his friend S.S. Dine (much like Dr. Watson did for Holmes) who was actually the author Willard Huntington Wright.

Raymond Chandler was an author who had a great influence on shaping the image of the private detective. Along with Hammett's Sam Spade, Chandler's Philip Marlowe was a wise-cracking, tough guy who was not afraid to break a few rules to get the bad guy.

In the 1950s and 1960s, John McDonald specialized in hard-boiled crime thrillers. His 1957 novel "The Executioners" was turned into a film twice under the name "Cape Fear."

Mickey Spillane (Frank Morrison Spillane) offered another tough detective named Mike Hammer to the genre. His first novel, "I, the Jury" was written in 19 days and eventually sold over 6 and a half million copies.

If the dead don't care, why should we?

This book is actually a novelization of a 1970 movie directed by Billy Wilder. The story deviates somewhat from the original tales written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and stresses some of the darker sides of the Holmes character like his cocaine use.

Erle Stanley Gardner was a lawyer who gave up a law career for that of an author. His most popular character, the wily lawyer Perry Mason, appeared in over 80 novels and eventually was featured in a popular TV show starring Raymond Burr.

Starting in 1953, Carter Brown wrote over 150 crime novels and had more than 30 million books in print by the late 1960s.

Another Mike Hammer thriller.

Chandler's "The Big Sleep" was turned into a movie twice, once in 1946 and again in 1978.

A nude woman and a murder plot - what else could you want in a mystery novel?

Richard Prather wrote 31 novels featuring his own detective, the white-haired Shell Scott.

Michael Shayne is a fictional private detective character created during the late 1930s by writer Brett Halliday. The Shayne franchise extended to 50 novels as well as a series on radio and TV.

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