I went to see Sweeney Todd last night (and it’s difficult to think of a play that’s more deserving of a Felony post than the tale of “the Demon Barber of Fleet Street”). This was in fact the fourth production I’ve seen of Sweeney, beginning with the staggering original starring Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou. The indelible impression from that one, of course, was Lansbury: As Mrs. Lovett she was a bizarre and inspired combination of adorable and completely depraved.
For readers who might not be familiar with the play, Sweeney is a grief-maddened barber who is determined to exact vengeance on those who have wronged him – a group that soon grows, in his mind, to encompass…well, certainly the entire population of London, for starters.
“There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit
We’re saluting mystery series this week, and many people associate the word “series” with television. Who are we to buck a trend? So this week’s quiz is about TV sleuths, snoops, and coppers.
1. Huggy Bear dressed like a pimp, ran a bar, and provided “street intelligence” for which cops?
2. What groundbreaking show about two female police officers premiered in 1982 and was originally written as a feature film?
3. Peter Falk famously played Columbo in a series that ran from 1971 to 1978. What was the character’s first name?
4. Name the cop-show that debuted in 1968 and was pitched with the tagline “One White, One Black, One Blonde.”
5. Name the innovative series that rescued a former model’s career, propelled a former bartender to stardom and made history by way of its nominations, by the Directors’ Guild of America, for both Best Drama AND Best Comedy…in the same season.
6. What Miami-based series, only recently off the air, featured one of the leading actresses from Question 2 (extra credit if you can ID the actress).
7. In 1967, the brilliant Sydney Poitier debuted the first of three films he would make featuring the character Virgil Tibbs. Nearly 20 years later, the first of these films was made into a TV series with Howard Rollins and Carroll O’Connor. Name the film or the series.
Another of Les Blatt’s audio reviews, this one for Ngaio Marsh’s Vintage Murder, a novel that is often overlooked in discussions of the Alleyn series, and which also holds the distinction of taking place in New Zealand. The “Vintage” in the title, by the way, is a reference to a bottle of champagne. But we won’t give any more away…
Much has been written about Ngaio Marsh, from her own autobiography, Black Beech and Honeydew, to countless blog posts. She was the subject of two biographies; first in 1991, by Margaret Lewis, and then again in 2008, by Joanne Drayton. She was a winner of the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award (in 1978), and was made Dame of the British Empire in 1966. In 2010, the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel was established in New Zealand. Given all this, saying something new about Ngaio Marsh is a bit of a tall order, so instead we’re leaving you with this three-part New Zealand TV documentary from 1977 on the life of Ngaio Marsh, which contains a long interview, excerpts from the TV series, and, in the third part especially, a discussion of Ngaio Marsh as a theater actor and director.
Fun fact from the documentary: her first play was titled “Cinderella” (OK, so she was 10 years old).
The marvelous Peter Dickinson – and we’ll run a special on his books very soon, because you simply MUST read them! – once wrote a marvelous essay on why the country-house party, held between the two world wars, is the ideal setting for a murder mystery. Dickinson himself used this as a setting, to great advantage, in The Last Houseparty (now, sadly, out of print, but watch this space). And it can be no accident that both Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh began their series (with The Crime at Black Dudley, and A Man Lay Dead, respectively) at parties stuffed with flappers and philosophers and Bright Young Things.
Of course, they were actually writing during the period in question (Black Dudley was first published in 1929, and A Man in 1934), so the roadsters and rouged knees were as contemporary, as commonplace to them as cell phones and Frappuccinos would be to a novelist today. And that ease with period-detail is part of what makes these books so delightful, the relaxed assumptions about elements from clothes to cars to the political climate that to us seem unspeakably exotic. As Winter winds down, could you use a brief vacation? Take it in the 1930s, and take it (mostly) on us: This week only, A Man Lay Dead is our Felony of the Week and 25% off.
At last year’s Bouchercon we asked crime writers Zoë Sharp, author of the “Charlie Fox” series, and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, author of the “Thóra Gudmundsdóttir” series, to name the biggest challenge of series writing.
Lets hear it for the B-players, the hero’s-best-friends, the Dr. Watsons! Here are some of the best sidekicks in mystery fiction: Name the protagonists they bandage up, talk down, argue with, listen to, and generally love and support:
1. Mouse Alexander
2. Ida Fischman
3. Pete Merino
4. Stanislaus Oates
5. Barbara Havers
6. Henry Pitts
There’s an old joke based on the realization, by a Chinese guy, that the Jews had been around, as a civilization, for centuries longer than his own. Well gollies, says the Chinese fellow (or words to that effect), “What were you people eating for a thousand years?”
I have something of the same reaction when I realize that I didn’t start reading mysteries until I was about to graduate from college. Just what was I reading for all that time? The answer is “pretty much anything I could get my hands on.” I grew up in a very bookish household, so I devoured all of Dickens, Jane Austen, P.G. Wodehouse, Fitzgerald, and Philip Roth by the time I was about 14. Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room was a major book for me: I remember finishing it, in a coffee shop in Harvard Square, and immediately starting again from the beginning. The Golden Notebook made a big impression, as did – in rather a different way – the collected oeuvre of Jackie Collins. Basically, I liked whate’re I looked on, and my looks went everywhere. (more…)