David M. Riley


Murderous Anniversary

On this date in 1841 Edgar Allan Poe’s Murders of the Rue Morgue was published for the first time, in Graham’s Magazine.  The image to the left is not it.  Rather that’s the cover for the 1932 Photoplay edition, evidently a tie-in the Universal’s movie released the same year.  It was the most lurid cover I could find.

The tale is one of the most famous and influential short stories in literature.  However, I must say that as a “tale” Murders of the Rue Morgue is lacking.  For me, anyway.  I never cared for stories where the monkey did it.

That aside, it is the first detective story, although when Poe wrote it, the word “detective” did not yet exist.   What Poe created was the persona of the detective, the private ones and amateurs.  A character whose traits and methods became the model for many a detective character to come.    This is the character of C. August Dupin, the master of ratiocination.

Dupin is the father of Sherlock Holmes. He’s an eccentric genius who uses his powers of observation and deduction to solve crimes.  Dupin’s cases are chronicled by his admiring and nameless companion.  With Dupin and his brilliant reasoning, Poe established the basis for the detective-as-aesthete “school,” that would dominate crime fiction well into the 1920’s and beyond.

Sherlock Holmes, the most famous detective of all time, called Dupin “a very inferior fellow,”  Yet, Holmes was not above using Dupin’s methods or copying his lifestyle.  Dupin is interesting because he is mysterious.  As for Holmes, I have never really understood the appeal.  He’s so insufferable, that were I Dr. Watson, I would throw the know-it-all out the window.

Sam Shepard: A Spy of the First Person

Sam Shepard first appeared on my radar in the early 80s with the publication of Rolling Thunder Logbook, a journal of his time spent on the road with Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review (1975-76).  Being a Bob Dylan fan and having caught the penultimate Rolling Thunder Review concert (known as the “Hard Rain” concert), naturally I bought the book.  For the next forty years, I followed Shepard’s career as a playwright, screenwriter, actor, and director, and I was saddened when he passed away at the age of 74 last July.

At the time of his death, Shepard was working on his final work, a novel.  Suffering from ALS, he got to the point where he was unable to hold a pen, so he dictated his words into a tape recorder, and when he could no longer hold the recorder, he dictated to his daughter and his sisters.  He did not complete this work, one of only two novel he wrote.  One-time lover (and still friends), Patti Smith, rocker and poet, helped finish and edit the novel.  The result is A Spy of the First Person.

It’s short (96 pages) and it’s… well, it’s Sam Shepard:  impressionistic, oblique, and beautifully written in the sort of spare style that I love.  The anonymous narrator, crippled by some unknown condition, spends his days confined to a rocking chair on a wraparound screened-in porch, eating, drinking, observing and thinking.  Actually, there seems to be two narrators and it is confusing sometimes which one is speaking but that doesn’t get in the way of aprreciating this novel (or nevella).

Here’s a couple of excerpts:

If you were traveling in a foreign country and you lost your dogs and you lost your car and you lost your note from home that your mother pinned on your collar and you lost your clothes and you were standing there naked and somebody came up to you and said, where do you belong, how would you answer? Would you ask the one ancestor who happened to be Portuguese? Or would you ask the Spanish Armada? Somebody has forgotten…

In this desert I was originally referring to, the painted desert, you walk across Zen-like sculpted gardens full of carefully raked sand and cactus to get to the Clinic. And these sculptured gardens are full of little signs. They look like dominos from a distance. Signs that read Watch Out for Rattle Snakes. Beware of Rattle Snakes. People come from all over the world to get the cure from the Clinic… But just outside in Arizona it’s 112 degrees and there are sculptured gardens full of sand and cactus and rattle snakes. Bigger than life itself.

Considering the themes that Shephard deals with – life, death, fathers and sons, America’s frontier, memory, time – it’s not hard to imagine that in the hands of another author the result would have a 500 page tome.  But I think Shepard’s brevity had more to do with his style rather than a matter of running out of time to complete the work.

It’s worth reading… an honest, eloquent valediction from a dying artist.

Tribute to Bill Crider

I mentioned the other day how I got the idea of featuring vintage ads from Bill Crider, who, as I said, is a well-respected crime fiction writer and blogger.  Another blogger Patti Abbott hosts “Forgotten Fridays” where bloggers post articles about books that have been lost or forgotten in people’s minds.  This week is a tribute to Bill Crider.  Check it out here.