Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864): The Roots of the Modern Mystery Novel
by Ellen Larson
Though considered a writer of Gothic fiction who leaned toward dark romanticism, Nathaniel Hawthorne was above all a student of the dark places in the human mind. It is thus possible to view his work, filled as it is with murders and themes of morality, guilt, and atonement, as a precursor to the modern psychological mystery.
Hawthorne came by his preoccupation with justice—and injustice—honestly. Born in Salem, MA, he was the great-great-grandson of John Hathorne, the lone judge at the infamous Salem witch trials who never renounced his actions. Witchcraft is a theme in Hawthorne’s great novels, and his short stories explore the twisted, repressed nature of Puritan New England.
But Hawthorne wrote in an age that was throwing off the ancient bonds of non-rational thought. The Second Industrial Revolution captured the imagination of the Earth and crowned science king. As a minor side effect, it created a new literary genre, one that shifted the focus from the emotional ramifications of crime onto the intellectual thrill of hunting for a logical solution. Hawthorne contemporary and Boston native Edgar Allen Poe (1809–1849) wrote “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” the first modern mystery, in 1841. By the end of the decade, the word “detective” was used for the first time as a noun.
Though Hawthorne never made Poe’s leap to the detective as protagonist, he reached the brink of the modern psychological mystery with The House of Seven Gables (1851). The book begins with the release of a broken man unjustly imprisoned thirty years before and ends when his innocence is finally proved and the murderer punished. And the plot of The Scarlett Letter (1850) is driven by the attempt to solve the mystery of who fathered Hester Prynne’s child. The absence of modern mystery elements such as clues and red herrings keeps both these books in the Gothic column, but to understand the structure and the roots of the modern mystery, one need look no further than the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
by Jed Power
Crime novelist Dan Marlowe was born July 10, 1914 in Lowell, Massachusetts. After his mother died when he was five, he was raised by his grandmother and two aunts in Woburn, Massachusetts. He attended St. Charles Parochial School for his first eight years of education. That’s where he and my father became close friends.
Dan finished high school in Connecticut. He never attended college but did receive an accounting certificate from Bentley School of Accounting. Unable to find work, he spent the next seven years as a professional gambler and bookie.
By 1945 he appeared to be settling down–he took a job as office manager of a Washington, D. C. tobacco wholesaler and married 24-year-old secretary, Evelyn Chmura. This life continued until July 31, 1956, when his wife suddenly died.
Dan took it hard. Childless, he walked away from a house he owned, all his possessions and began to drink heavily. Hoping to save himself before it was too late, he fled to New York City, where at the age of forty-two he hoped to reinvent himself as a crime fiction writer, a dream he’d buried long ago.
“Doorway To Death,” his first crime novel, was published by Avon in 1959. Five others followed. In a effort to escape the temptations of liquor, and possibly kinky sex, he moved temporarily to my parents’ home in Woburn, determined to finish what he felt would be his breakout novel. That novel, “The Name of the Game is Death,” the story of Earl Drake, a professional bank robber and murderer, was published in 1962 by Gold Medal to critical acclaim. Nineteen other crime novels followed.
Shortly after the publication of “Name,” Dan started a friendship with professional bank robber and FBI Most Wanted criminal, Al Nussbaum. Not only was Dan instrumental in getting him paroled from a lengthy federal prison sentence, he mentored Nussbaum in his own successful crime fiction career. In return Nussbaum helped Dan inject realism into his crime novels. They shared an apartment for a long period. Both were deeply involved with Mystery Writers of America and the Southern California mystery writing community.
In 1977 Dan suffered a mysterious case of amnesia that he never fully recovered from. He continued writing but could not reach the quality levels he had in the past. He died in Los Angeles on August 22,1986. He was 72.
I highly recommend the new Dan Marlowe biography, “Gunshots In Another Room,” by journalist Charles Kelly.
Robert B. Parker
by Bob Branco
Massachusetts born and raised, Robert Parker gained early life experience as a Morse code radio operator serving in the Army in Korea after graduating from Colby College in 1954. After completing a PhD in English at Boston University, Parker launched his beginnings as a professor at Northeastern University. His great admiration for Raymond Chandler British-born master of hard-boiled crime fiction, and the influence of Hemingway, Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald, led to an amazing career writing sixty crime fiction novels.
Thirty seven of his novels were about Spenser, the wise-cracking Boston crime detective and his brutal African-American sidekick Hawk who used to be his adversary. Parker began writing these stories about the tough detective with great street sense in 1971. Spenser had been fired as a detective for insubordination, but he quickly began his life as a private eye who became popular over all of America.
While detective Spenser stories were made into an ABC TV series “Spenser for Hire”, Parker later created small-town police chief Jesse Stone stories played by Tom Selleck that were broadcast as movies on CBS. Parker also wrote several novels about a woman detective named Sunny Randall.
His great stories about the troubling lives of his characters dealing with many challenging coworkers and enemies, made them very popular to mystery reading fans of all types. In 2002 he was chosen as the Grand Master of the Edgar Awards of the Mystery Writers of America, an honor shared with earlier masters such as Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen. Even though most of his stories were centered in Massachusetts, Robert B. Parker’s characters and plots were written with his great creation of universal stories that could fit into many parts of America.
Robert B. Parker passed away in January 18,2010 at the age of 77.
In Memory of Robert B. Parker–Some anecdotes
by Gary Goshgarian
I first met Robert B. Parker in 1969 when the chairman of Northeastern’s English Department introduced me as his new officemate. He was standing in the middle of the room dressed in jeans, sneakers, and a blue work shirt, swinging an invisible baseball bat while reciting a recipe for chocolate mousse to a colleague. Before the chairman left, he said for teaching tips just ask Bob. When the coast was clear, Bob said, “Give the all high grades, and they won’t come back.” And as Bogart said to Claude Raines at the end of “Casablanca” that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. A friendship that lasted for over forty years, sustained by an irreverent humor, a cynical view of most things, and mutual affection. We were the brothers that neither of us had.
We knew each other’s parents, wives, kids, cats, and dogs. Over the decades, we ate at the best restaurants in Boston, New York, London, and Tucumcari; ran, jogged, and walked along the Atlantic, Pacific, the Charles and Detroit rivers, and the Thames. We pumped, iron, chrome, stone, and a lot of furniture. And we laughed until we were hoarse.
Bob wrote the kind of dialogue that people wish they could say. He also talked like Spenser—spit-fire witty, precise, and fast. In fact, he had the fastest come-backs of anyone I’ve ever known. For most of his last 40 years, he struggled with weight, which is why we worked out almost daily at the NU track and gym and later at various local health clubs. On occasion he’d join me at the NU gym like the old days. Following one workout, we took lunch at the faculty cafeteria and met some old colleagues including the track coach—a man with a shiny bald head. After some chitchat, he said to Parker, “So how goes the weight loss?” Without missing beat, Bob said, “So how goes the hair restoration?”
Bob never suffered fools, but at times his come-backs went right over their heads. Back in the 1990s, Bob and Joan had purchased a condo in Westwood because people were considering making movies out of Bob’s books. Since Joan didn’t have a car out there, he and I drove to LA in separate vehicles, he in his SUV, I in Joan’s Mitsubishi 3000—a car that I later purchased from her. We did the trip in five days, meeting at designated motels each night. On the fourth night we arrived in at a motel in Flagstaff around midnight in the middle of a snow storm. We were exhausted, frustrated, and starving and threw ourselves at the desk only to learn that our reservations never got recorded. Flustered, the woman went through a pile of faxes and other paperwork. We watched, giving making wall-eyes at each other. Picking up on our near-lethal impatience, she said, “I’m sorry, but I’m doing the best I can.” To which Bob said, “Isn’t that a shame.” After all these years, I’m still chuckling.
On another road trip we were delivering to his son David in New York. Coincidentally it was the same week when a short story by Parker appeared in a “men’s” magazine—the kind with foldouts of naked women with staples in their navels. We had not yet seen a copy, so we pulled into a truck stop. But because he was too embarrassed, he asked me to go in and buy 5 copies, since I had no shame. I agreed, hoping they didn’t carry the mag. Unfortunately they did, and behind the cash register was a beautiful young sales woman instead of some unshaven big guy with tattoos. So there I was with 5 copies of a girlie magazine, feeling like I was stuck in a Woody Allen movie, the woman staring at me like I was Chester the Molester. I returned to the car and opened a copy to the Spenser story. “You’re a class act, Parker. Big international bestselling author.” On the opposite page was a full color ad for a crotchless mouse suit. He made a pervert face and growled, “Does it come in extra-large?”
On another occasion we drove to New York for his appearance on the “Today Show.” During the interview, the hostess asked if he’d seen a certain hot movie that was out. He said he didn’t go to movies. “I can’t believe you don’t go to movies,” she exclaimed. “I also don’t like turnips,” he said, and everyone behind the camera cracked up.
Although Bob enjoyed the benefits of celebrity, he was never taken by his or anyone else’s. If you met him and didn’t know who he was, he wouldn’t tell you. One night while we were dining at the Hotel Bel-Air, someone came up and asked if he was Robert B. Parker, and he said, “No.” He hated self-promotion. He groaned in anticipation of book tours, and long ago had wearied of interviews. But he did what he was supposed to do as Robert B. Parker. And he always came home Bob.
Over 40 years, we jogged hundreds of miles and shared hundreds of meals. And, although he has given the world some 75 books, I cannot recall a conversation about his writing that went more than a couple of sentences. “What are you working on?’’ “Spenser #42.’’ “What’s it about?’’ “Truth and beauty.’’ Books were what he did, and he seemed to turn them out once every two weeks.
Bob Parker wrote about the things that were most important to him: love, family, and human decency. Behind the scenes, he lived a quiet, simple, and ordered life, spending most of his days at his writing desk, surrounded by photos of Joan and his sons, his dog Pearl on the couch. It was a life well-composed, just as he had wanted it – and perhaps his most successful creation.
So was his death – in a brilliant flash at his keyboard.
William G. Tappley
by Bob Branco
Mystery author, teacher and outdoorsman William Tapply was born and raised in Massachusetts and is known for his thirty mysteries about lawyer and sleuth Brady Coyne. Bill graduated from Amherst College and earned a Master’s Degree in teaching at Harvard. He taught high school social studies for over twenty-five years before writing full time in the 1980’s. Later Tapply taught English at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.
In spite of the rejection of his first novel, Bill persisted and went on to become a prolific New England writer. He published his first novel in 1984, a Brady Coyne mystery, Death at Charity’s Point. A lawyer with detective skills, Coyne represented mostly well-to-do Brahmin clients in the Boston area.
Tutored in fishing and nature by his father throughout his childhood, Tapply put his love of trout fishing into his novels, and into ten nonfiction books. His fondness for New England wildlife inspired a memoir, Sportsman’s Legacy, first published in 1993 and reissued with additional material after Bill’s death in 2009. He was a contributing editor for Field and Stream magazine and a columnist for American Angler. Tapply is also the author of The Elements of Mystery Fiction: Writing a Modern Whodunit, a writing handbook used in classes around the country.
The local crime writing community will remember Bill from his participation in The New England Crimebake as well as his workshops with his wife, Vicki Stiefel, at Chickadee Farm in New Hampshire. He is noted for his crisp, well-plotted novels that inspired a generation of writers.
Between 2001 an 2007, Tapply collaborated with his friend and fellow New England crime writer Phillip Craig in three mystery novels, in which their main characters shared the sleuthing.
A bibliography of Tapply’s writing can be found at: http://www.williamgtapply.com/works.html