Would Nero Wolfe be appalled by a microwaved panini? Would Lord Peter, who collected rare books, be aghast at a Kindle? Would Sherlock Holmes forbid Watson from tweeting while the game was afoot? And if Alan Grant fled to Scotland to for a much-needed rest, would he be disturbed by the ring of his cellphone? What about Kinsey Milhone, still living in 1982 – would she use Google maps or be disdainful of them?
How would YOUR favorite detective react to life in 2010?
Recently packing for a trip to Alaska, I had to decide which books to take for reading on the plane. I don’t like to fly – not quite a white-knuckler, but still not a happy flyer. I wanted something funny and distracting, so I chose Jeffrey Cohen’s A Night at the Operation. It was a good choice!
So which book(s) would you take on a long plane ride and why?
See below for a photo of me with Terry Miller, managing editor of the Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News and a fellow Dorothyler.
There are some teams that should never be: pairs of people who are destined to drive each other crazy. Which two detectives should never work together and why? Nero Wolfe and Kinsey Milhone? (He doesn’t think much of women and she would hate his blustery ways as well as his misogyny.) Lord Peter Wimsey and John Rebus? Sam Spade and Miss Marple? Does it have to be a hard-boiled detective teamed with a traditional/cozy one, or are there other disastrous pairings that you can think of?
I think I’d nominate Amanda Cross’s Kate Fansler and Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel as an awful mismatch. Though neither is really hard-boiled, I’m sure Kate would abhor Andy’s coarse mannerisms, and he would find her way of talking (in semi-colons) incredibly off-putting – much worse than Ellie Pascoe – and her associates much too ‘poncey.’
Supposing you were unjustly arrested for a crime. Which detective would you hire to prove your innocence? Would you pick a professional PI like Spenser or Nero Wolfe or Kinsey Milhone? A gifted amateur like Lord Peter Wimsey or Albert Campion? Would your answer be different for different crimes?
For myself, I think I’d choose Lord Peter. No matter what the crime, he would get me off. And it would be such fun to hear him talk “piffle”!
Golden Age mysteries were not supposed to include much romance. Yet many detectives of that period did fall in love and even marry. Lord Peter courted Harriet Vane through three books, beginning with Strong Poison, and finally married her in the fourth. Albert Campion had that silly infatuation with Linda Sutane in Dancers in Mourning, but he finally came to his senses and married Amanda Fitton.
But my favorite and the one who, I believe, started it all, is Philip Trent in Trent’s Last Case. Written in 1913, TLC is thought by some critics and mystery fans to be the first real Golden Age mystery ( a few years before the “Golden Age” began). I love the book, and I love the havoc that Trent’s passion wreaks on his solution of the case. [The “nom” that I use on the DorothyL e-list is Mabel Manderson, who just happens to be Trent’s beloved.]
So who is your favorite detective in love? It doesn’t have to be a Golden Age detective – and it certainly doesn’t have to be a male sleuth. Just tell us who he/she is and why he/she is your favorite detective in love.
If your detective has a Watson-like narrator, consider interviewing someone else. Wouldn’t Mycroft Holmes be able to tell you things that John Watson never knew about Sherlock? Assuming Archie Goodwin has told us everything he knows about Nero Wolfe, would an interview with Saul Panzer or Inspector Cramer be more informative?
Some fictional detectives may be a real challenge. Could you find some of the men in Spenser’s division in Vietnam? Does anyone know anything about Spenser’s boyhood, other than what he may have told Susan about it? Could you learn about Kinsey Milhone’s childhood from her estranged cousins? What about that policeman who worked with her father?
I’d like to do a biography of Lord Peter Wimsey. I’d interview Lady Mary about Peter’s boyhood and Bunter about his war experiences; then I’d try to find some of his Balliol classmates to learn about his university years. I think I’d also like to find Barbara, the woman who jilted him.
You could choose a couple like Nick and Nora Charles, in which case you’d better have a lot of liquor on hand. Or if you’re in matchmaker mode, how about having two unattached detectives? Would Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone get along with Rex Stout’s Archie Goodwin? (And while I’m thinking about Archie, let’s assume that you don’t have to cook; we’ll have Fritz Brenner cater the event.) Or it could be just two men or two women whom you would find entertaining. Imagine sitting and listening to Lord Peter Wimsey and Albert Campion converse! (Could you get a word in edgewise?)
For myself, I’d like to have Josephine Tey’s Alan Grant to dinner – he’s so charming, witty, and kind-hearted – and EC Bentley’s Philip Trent, who was the first “human” detective. I think I’d feel comfortable chatting with both of them. And I bet they’d really like each other.
Do you have a favorite mystery movie? There have been a few truly great ones, some based on books, others from original screenplays. I think my favorite of all time is Laura (1944), based on the Vera Caspary novel. The screenwriters stuck quite closely to the book, except for changing Waldo’s physique from fat to thin in casting Clifton Webb. I love that the police detective is completely obsessed with the murder victim and her portrait, and would be pretty close to a breakdown if not for a twist of the plot (which I won’t reveal here). Years after falling in love with this film (and the title song written by the great Johnny Mercer and the almost unknown David Raksin), I found out that the star, Gene Tierney, had gone to Miss Porter’s School where I taught – though she went there before I was born – and that her tragic life was the inspiration for Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d.
My favorite mystery film from an original screenplay is The Last of Sheila (1973) written by composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins. It’s a great example of writers playing fair with the viewer.
What’s your favorite mystery movie?
Do you ever read a mystery and think what a great movie it would make? I do. I love Lawrence Block’s Burglar books and wish someone would film them. (The only one ever filmed had Whoopi Goldberg as Bernie and was just awful.) But with a good actor in the lead and a writer/director who adhered closely to the original books, I think some of them could be fabulous movies. Whom would I cast as Bernie? Perhaps David Strathairn or Richard Jenkins – someone whose face had a lot of character. I think I’d start with The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart.
Just as I enjoy thinking about two movies that would be fun to see in a double feature (The Great Impostor and Catch Me if You Can are the first ones that come to mind at this moment), I sometimes think about books by different authors that would be fun to read one after the other. There are the obvious pairings of one book that is an homage to another earlier book: Colin Dexter’s The Wench is Dead, which so closely parallels Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, and Peter Lovesey’s Bloodhounds, which uses John Dickson Carr’s The Three Coffins as a plot device, are examples. Then books with similar themes: E.C. Bentley’s Trent’s Last Case and Dorothy L. Sayers’s Strong Poison both feature a detective who falls in love with a murder suspect. Or a book by Donna Leon with a book by Magdalen Nabb (Venice and Florence settings), or…