Mysteries in the New York Times

imagesWannabee mystery writers looking for inspiration will find three possibilities in the news section of this Sunday’s New York Times.  I couldn’t help wondering why the elderly man was standing at the news stand, reading the front page – until I bought the paper.

The cover story – Twist in 97-Year-Old’s Murder: His Knifing was 5 Decades Ago – tells of a man knifed near Times Square over 50 years ago who survived until the old wound “done him in”  in old age.  Would he have lived to 100, were it not for that hapless encounter?  And whodunnit?  No clues – everyone is long dead.

Alan Cowell’s article – After Long Legal Fight, Inquest Is Set to Begin in Death of Putin Critic – recounts the mysterious death of a Russian who dared to criticize.  Death by poison in his tea by spies?  Could be fodder for the next John Le Carre thriller.

And best of all, the tale of a young editor at Dell, Vivian Grant, a frequent visitor to the Ayn Rand Murray Hill salon, who died of a botched abortion – but she was never pregnant.  This story may already be taken: Joanne O’Connor lives in Grant’s former Manhattan apartment and is researching the details – including finding her cat.

Great Sunday for “truth is stranger than fiction.”

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Alphabet Sue (Grafton) at Left Coast Crime

When my mother was 87 years old, she discovered mystery writer Sue Grafton, starting with “Q is for Quarry.” Since Grafton published biannually, my mother backtracked through the alphabet to catch up in the interim years, but made it to “U is for Undertow” before she died. My mother would have enjoyed meeting the feisty creator of detective Kinsey Millhone.

As the key attraction for the Left Coast Crime conference in Monterey this year, Grafton recounted her career as a screenwriter and her divorce from her first husband – both motivating her to write murder mysteries – much safer to kill off an old boss or husband in a book. Grafton was funny, likeable, and clearly a “crazy hot” 74 year old writer – the title bestowed on her from characters in the TV series “The Office.”

Grafton’s next letter is X, and she says she’s stuck. If she can’t write a murder about a xylophone, readers may never see the end of the alphabet. She claims that her best work comes when her “shadow side”writes the book: “Shadow comes from someplace much more primitive…”

I have her newest – “W” on my library list, but I haven’t read any of her others. Have you read any of Sue Grafton’s popular books?

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Amanda Cross – The Collected Stories

As an academic, Carolyn Gold Heilbrun was a Guggenheim Fellow, a Senior Researcher at the National Endowment for the Humanities, President of the MLA (Modern Language Association), an English professor at Columbia University, and author of texts as well as a biography of Gloria Steinem, but most fans of her mystery stories know her as Amanda Cross, creator of fictional sleuth and English professor Kate Fansler.

Although she kept her identity secret from her colleagues, Cross used her erudite characters to reveal the cynicism inside the ivy-covered walls – and maybe get a little quiet revenge. The Kate Fansler mystery series started in 1964 with The Last Analysis and ended in 2002 with The Edge of Doom.

In 1997, Heilbrun had promised herself to not write fiction until she finished her memoir – The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty. But Kate would not be denied, and a series of short stories emerged – written by Amanda Cross and published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery magazine and other collections. “The Disappearance of Great Aunt Flavia” caught my eye, the name reminding me of that perspicacious eleven-year-old star of Alan Bradley’s mysteries. Cross has her elderly Flavia saving the residents of Merryfields nursing home from an unscrupulous television evangelist of The Divine Church of the Air who traded heaven for their money. Cross offers ten short mysteries in this collection; you can dip in anywhere.

With her academic background and reluctance for using her real name when writing outside the Canon – colleagues can be brutal critics –  Cross has a special appeal for me.

Next, I’m revisiting her Death Without Tenure.  Have you read any of her books?

Related posts: Flavia de Luce mysteries

Add a Little Mystery to Christmas

Mystery books at Christmas should be fun and clever – a little salty with the sweet – and not too gory.  I’m reading David Morrell’s The Spy Who Came for Christmas – a quick read set in Santa Fe on Christmas Eve, with the Russian mafia in hot pursuit of Agent Paul Kagan.

Other paperback mysteries with the Christmas theme –

  • All Through the Night by Mary Higgins Clark
  • I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
  • Hercule Poirit’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
  • Gingerbread Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke
  •  The Christmas Night Murder by Lee Harris
  • A Holly Jolly Murder by Joan Hess

                    

Try them for a quick diversion from shopping and baking, or as a gift to your favorite crime-solving addict.