Back in 2012 I began digitising the five detective novels of Simon Nash, all of which were published in the 1960s. I still have three more to finish off (the third one won’t be long I hope), but recently there has been a flurry of interest in this forgotten writer. In March 2014 CADS (Crime and Detective Stories) magazine published a great piece by John Cooper on Simon Nash in issue 67. CADS doesn’t seem to have a website, but it’s published by Geoff Bradley, who can be contacted at Geoffcads [AT] aol.com. The magazine has an old-style fanzine look about it, but the content seems very good indeed.
Steve Powell has an interesting post at the Venetian Vasequoting Chandler telling Ian Fleming how a gangland killing might be arranged. The interview took place in London, and Chandler refuses to be drawn on whether there is anyone in England he might like to kill. Chandler was drunk from the start, and much of the interview is indistinct, but the post pulls out one of its great moments. Link
So the summer is almost over and I thought it might be useful to put down, in public, what I’m planning to get done this autumn. I’ve never done this kind of thing before, so deep breath:
Finish off writing entries for the 100 American Crime Writers and 100 British Crime Writers books which I handed over to Steven Powell and Esme Miskimmin when I was at a low ebb late in 2009. Steve has put a lot of work into the Venetian Vase blog, and it’s becoming quite a nice thing.
Teaching–among other things–a course on the History of American Ideas (up to about 1865) at the University of Liverpool.
Once the crime fiction pieces are done I’m planning to get back to the Scoresby project, finish off my outline, and start writing. Very excited about this.
I’m also going to revisit my PhD thesis on Raymond Chandler. I think there’s a book in there somewhere, and dammit I aim to find it.
Put together some teaching materials in the form of a series of short non-fiction e-books. This is partly because I need to get the material together, and partly because I want a trial run to see how e-books work from a production point of view. I’m probably going to begin with a short annotated and introduced collection of Edgar Allan Poe Tales, to go with my Poe lecture. There will be Melville and Thoreau material coming along too, if all goes well.
Start working on a series of short pieces on researching and writing essays and articles, to go with a study skills/composition course.
And somewhere, somehow, I need to think about what happens when my contract at Liverpool ends in January. There will be some occasional teaching, but I’ll need more work. A return to freelancing? We’ll see.
No promises, but those are the plans. There are a lot of ‘starts’ there, so it will be interesting to see which ones work out.
Yesterday I was researching a short piece on Melville Davisson Post, the magazine short story writer who created Uncle Abner, a Jeffersonian-era detective from the backwoods of what was then Virginia. For a time at the start of the twentieth century Post was apparently the best-paid magazine short story writer in the United States. His first creation, a crooked lawyer named Randolph Mason, drew criticism because many people felt his techniques for evading justice would give the criminal fraternity ideas. In fact Post, who started out as a lawyer, used the Randolph Mason stories to expose loopholes in the law. Here are a few examples of his stories.
So far so good I thought, but I hit problems when I tried to establish and verify Post’s birth and death dates. My first port of call was Wikipedia, which claimed he was born on April 19, 1869 and died on June 23, 1930. Of course you can’t stop with Wikipedia, so I looked at several other sources, including Webster’s Biographical Dictionary (1995 edition), the venerable Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection by Chris Steinbrunner and Otto Penzler (1976), which I bought in a book shop in Santa Rosa, California a few years ago, and Howard Haycraft’s Murder for Pleasure (1941), which gives brief biographies of detective fiction writers. They disagreed. Webster’s claims he lived from 1871-1930, Steinbrunner and Penzler picked 1869-1930, while Haycraft, whose book was published only 11 years after Post’s death, says 1871-1930. Finally, I looked at Find a Grave, an excellent website which helps you do exactly that. Find a Grave listed 1871 as his birth year.
After all that I was thoroughly puzzled. I asked on Twitter to see if anyone had any ideas, but still couldn’t get confirmation. In the end I resorted to emailing Katina Peters, who lives in West Virginia and provides photographs of headstones to people researching the whereabouts of their ancestors through Find a Grave. She very kindly sent me two links to pages at http://wvculture.org which states its mission “is to identify, preserve, protect, promote, and present the ideas, arts, and artifacts of West Virginia’s heritage, building pride in our past accomplishments and confidence in our future”. It carries free online copies of birth and death records for West Virginia residents, including Melville Davisson Post. And here they are:
Note that the death certificate claims he was born in 1871; that’s probably where the error crept in. This kind of discrepancy is surprisingly common in official records and after years of working on this kind of thing I have come to the conclusion that a great deal of what we believe to be true about the past is actually invented. Curiously many sources claim Post died after falling from a horse, but whether he had a fall or not, he also had some kind of cirrhosis which his doctor cited as the primary cause of death.