2017, though in terms of my family life the worst since I became an adult frankly (I won't start), began happily, in terms of my work (a great thing to always have work there for you), with another book, following Mysteries Unlocked, which I edited and contributed essays to, Murder in the Closet, which deals with queer themes in pre-Stonewall crime fiction. I've come across so many LGBTQ writers of pre-Stonewall crime fiction, never acknowledged by history as such, in my researches into crime fiction that it seemed to me I was well-positioned to spearhead such a book. It addresses what seems to me is still rather an overlooked subject within mystery fiction studies.
2017 ended with Pulitzer Prize and Edgar Award winning critic Michael Dirda, in his holiday book roundup in the Washington Post (wherein in part he mentioned Coachwhip's Roger Scarlett [Dorothy Blair and Evelyn Page] mystery reissues, for which I wrote the extensive introduction), calling me "the leading American scholar of the fair-play detective story." This was very nice of Mr. Dirda, and it is a great compliment coming from someone of his standing. I just wish I was able to get more done than I have, because I know I have it within me to do it. Michael Dirda is one reviewer who always takes care to pay attention to what small presses, not just the behemoths, are doing, which is mightily appreciated by hard-working and rather able small presses, I can tell you.
With Coachwhip I also wrote introductions for The Rumble Murders, by Mason Deal (TS Eliot's older brother Henry Ware Eliot, Jr.); Murder a la Mode, by Eleanore Kelly Sellars; Anonymous Footsteps, by John M. O'Connor; The Hex Murder, by Alexander Williams; The Owner Lies Dead, by Tyline Perry; Johnny on the Spot, by Amen Dell; and The Fires at Fitch's Folly, by Kenneth Whipple. I hope to do much more with Coachwhip next year. I also will be doing something with HarperCollins.
I continue to work with Dean Street Press and with them helped bring out, and introduce, the important, though most unjustly forgotten, Thirties and Forties crime novels of Peter Drax. Books like those of Drax, which don't fit the accepted paradigm of the period in which they were published, seem to me to get get punished by posterity for not fitting people's preconceptions. It has been locked into so many people's minds for so long that between-the-wars British crime fiction was all about bludgeoned bodies of baronets in country house libraries or genteel spinsters politely nosing out bloody murdah in quaint country villages, that there is still resistance to much-needed revision, though many bloggers and website writers, including myself, have been speaking out for years about people like Drax (not the Guardians of the Galaxy guy).
Since the British Library and HarperCollins have gotten into the game, with a slew of experts on English mystery on their team and most enviable publicity, more and more people who weren't in the know before are realizing both the variety and quality of classic crime fiction (which was not just British, although, when it comes to big presses, it seems to be Otto Penzler who is doing all the work with Americans). But the British Library takes more of a scattershot approach. Dean Street Press has committed to releasing entire bodies of work of British vintage mystery writers, including extremely prolific writers like ER Punshon and Christopher Bush.
DSP completed the Punshon reissues last year and reissued the first ten Christopher Bush books in October. They will follow with the second ten in February. All of these books carry a general introduction by me, as well as specific ones, which try to illuminate particular aspects about each book in interesting ways for readers. I hope people enjoy the next set, I certainly did! I also enjoyed writing introductions to DSP's reissues of the excellent detective novels by the sadly short-lived author Elizabeth Gill.
Family problems, some of which I have alluded to on this blog (really, I won't start!), have made my doing as much with the blog as I would like something of a challenge, but I think some of the more interesting pieces I was able post this year are my 2011 Crime Kings essay; a piece on con man Maurice E. Balk, who plagiarized Roger Scarlett; book reviews and life details about Bryan Flynn, the late Marian Babson, Bill Crider, Ruth Sawtell Wallis, ECR Lorac, Armstrong Livingston, Ursula Curtiss, Alan Clutton-Brock, George Orwell, Josephine Bell, Rex Stout, Jessie Louisa (Mrs. Victor) Rickard, Marion Mainwaring, the late James Yaffe, Rufus King (an old favorite here), Lawrence Blochman, Michael Gilbert, book jacket artist Joan Kiddell-Monroe, Andrew Garve, William Faulkner, actress Philippa Bevans, the Lipstick Killer and the book and film based on his murderous doings; the film The Gazebo; and more on Patricia Wentworth, another old favorite here.(I don't have time to link all this, but you can find it all with the seach book on the blog.)
For me writers like Rufus King and Patricia Wentworth provide great escape reads when you need it. For all those out there who derive escape or diversion from crime fiction, cozy or otherwise, I hope I will still prove a useful guide to some of it in 2018.
Postscript: Having learned a couple of days ago of the death from cancer of American mystery writer Sue Grafton (she of the beloved alphabet series), I hope to write a bit about her in the coming days. My sympathies go out to her family and her many, many fans, whom she entertained for more than three decades.