Thursday, May 15, 2014

Mysteries Unlocked: Essays in Honor of Douglas G. Greene (2014)

Mysteries Unlocked, a collection of essays on detective fiction in honor of Doug Greene, will be out in late July, in both paper and electronic versions, so expect to hear more about the book over the next few weeks!  I thought I would discuss the book some here today.  I plan to follow this with interviews with some of the contributors over the next six weeks or so.

The book is what is known in the academic world as a festschrift, a collection of essays relating to the field of research of the honoree.  Our honoree in this case, Doug Greene, professor emeritus at Old Dominion University, is one of the most distinguished names in mystery genre history, with a long list of writings on the subject going back to the 1970s, the best known of which is his landmark biography of locked room mystery master John Dickson Carr, John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained and Miracles (1995).

Doug also wrote a series of introductions for International Polygonics, Ltd.'s reprints of classical mysteries in the 1980s and 1990s.  Chances are if you're of a certain age, let us say, and you loved classic crime, these IPL editions will be fondly remembered by you. They are by me!  Since the 1990s Doug's name has become synonymous with the publishing firm he founded, Crippen & Landru, which publishes volumes of previously uncollected mystery short stories.

Mysteries Unlocked has a prologue by Steven Steinbock and an afterword by Boonchai Panjarattanakorn, where they talk about Doug on a personal level.  In the introduction I assess Doug's place in mystery genre history and discuss the essays in the volume.

Of course when one puts out a call for essays, one never knows quite how things are going to end up and how the book will finally be organized.  I wanted to get essays on Victorian/Edwardian crime fiction and Golden Age detective fiction, of course, but hard-boiled was fine as well, because Crippen & Landru had supported hard-boiled crime fiction.

When everything was finally submitted (with time conflicts some people were not able to participate from the start) there were a few issues with content suitability, release forms and other publishers, so we lost a few essays (including what would have been a great piece on Fergus Hume by Lucy Sussex) and some adjustments had to be made.

To keep the sections as evenly balanced as I could balanced, I added a Raymond Chandler essay and one on Carolyn Wells (written about ten days before deadline but I think a good piece).  Having the Carolyn Wells essay also got another woman writer in the mix.  This book is designed as a tribute to Doug, both directly and personally but also by making a contribution to mystery scholarship in its own right.

So here is what the table of contents looks like (right click to print or image in new tab to get  abetter look).  There are five sections, on Edwardian crime fiction, British classic detective fiction, American classic crime fiction/intellectuals and crime fiction, hard-boiled (or semi-hard-boiled) crime writers and a final section dealing with different forms of mystery fiction, the short story, radio mystery and pastiche.  There's also a wonderful coda essay on the Detection Club by Peter Lovesey.

One thing I hope this book gets across--something which Doug's work over the years has shown--is the sheer variety and adaptability of mystery fiction to different forms and styles. I think the mystery tale, despite its dependence on having a puzzle or problem at its core, is really an amazingly protean form of fiction.


  1. This sounds like a wonderful smorgasbord of thinking about detective fiction, with some things to appeal to everyone and lots to appeal to specialized palates. Congratulations upon its publication!
    I agree with you 100% about the protean nature of mystery fiction; people like the basic nature of the underlying story. It can contain backgrounds ranging from Robert Van Gulik's Judge Dee stories in ancient China to, say, Larry Niven's "The Patchwork Girl" set on the moon. The forms in which the basic story can be told are endless: the whodunit, whydunit, howdunit, howcatchem, inverted, procedural, impossible, cozy, comedy, thriller, forensic ... films, books, graphic novels, audio, live theatre, games, dossiers ... You and I share a pleasure in the classic Golden Age mystery, which is rather in decline, but I suspect we agree that mystery stories will continue to be told as long as there is fiction.

  2. Looks like an amazing collection Curtis - congratulations, in advance.

  3. Sounds like a great book; I am sure I could learn a lot from it. Congratulations. Must have been a lot of hard work.

  4. so exciting - and feels tantalizingly close now. Well done Curtis