Monday, August 20, 2007


In between reading Massimo Carlotto, doing some reviews for Eurocrime, and waiting for the next Camilleri to be translated I have been dipping into Mystery Muses, 100 Classics That Inspire Today's Mystery Writers edited by Jim Huang and Austin Lugar.

This is a follow up to the Agatha and Anthony Award -winning collection of essays, 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century. A book I have not read but perhaps should when I have time.
The editors asked 100 published writers; "Did a mystery set you on your path to being a writer? Is there a classic mystery that remains important to you today?"

I was surprised at how many of the choices I had read, and a bit ashamed that I have not read some of the real classics.

These short essays are a pleasant diversion and an education on how some writers have worked on basing their style on their heroes . Most of these writers began as voracious readers at a young age, and many did not become full time writers till many years after they read their inspirational novel. Is there still hope for my writing career?

Some of the choices were fascinating such as Linda Fairstein chose Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, while Nancy Pickard chose Double Indemnity by James M Cain.
Chronologically the books chosen ranged from The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe [1843] to Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane [1998]. I have not counted up the most mentioned authors but Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers seem to feature a lot.
What book or books set you on the path to be a reader?
Well among the books I used to read as a young boy were the "Biggles" books by Captain W.E.Johns, and the Tom Merry school adventures by Frank Richards, creator of Billy Bunter. I do remember waiting so expectantly for each book to be published, and reading each book right through the first day I got them.

Like virtually everything else I read as a child these books were at one time withdrawn from public libraries as being politically incorrect.

I then made the considerable jump to read Alexandre Dumas, and I read of course The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. But I then went on to read Twenty Years After, and The Vicomte De Bragelonne, including Louise De La Valliere and The Man in the Iron Mask.

I was totally hooked on that historical period and at aged thirteen I bought my first serious non-fiction book [apart from school books of course] The Thirty Years War by C.V. Wedgewood. This very battered 50 year old paperback which I have probably read about four times and cost 5 shillings in old money is still on my bookshelf.

I don't think I will read it again as the print has strangely got much smaller than it was, and I actually think it will fall to pieces if handled.


Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You might be interested in a series of books (there are at least two) called Master's Choice that pair stories by contemporary crime writers with the stories that the writers say inspired them.

The books that turned me into a reader were Dr. Seuess', especially the Sleep Book and The Star-Bellied Sneetches and Other Stories, though I think these may have been read to me before they were read by me.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

12:30 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks. I can't really remember the books that were first read to me, probably the Little Grey Rabbit or Noddy and Big Ears books. Although of course it could have been Grey's Anatomy, the book not the TV series, as I had ambitious but wonderful parents.

1:13 AM  
Blogger Dave Knadler said...

I think creepy short stories like Shirley Jackon's "The Lottery" and Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game" convinced me as a kid that reading was best entertainment value around. It also made me think a lot about how a story should unfold.

Unfortunately, the benefits of that education have not really shown up in my own writing. But as a reader, I think I can hold my own...

7:09 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I think I was put off reading creepy stories by the fact that the house we lived in rather creepy. Behind the house were a series of sheds and then an overgrown garden area that backed on to a scrap metal yard.
That yard became famous in what was known as the Torture Trial.
No wonder I read Little Grey Rabbit!

11:19 AM  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I bought a handsome Anchor/Doubleday paperback of The Thirty Years War in my local used bookshop today. The only thing that makes me suspicious of C.V. Wedgewood's bona fides is that she could write so clearly and so well.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

10:49 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

CV Wedgwood obtained a first in History at Oxford in 1931, when that meant something.
But I agree academics can be either very clear and straightforward in their writing such as Wedgwood,or incredibly obtuse. I either breeze through history books or just get bogged down and never finish them.

7:06 AM  

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