Sunday, January 18, 2015

Of Mysteries Unlocked and Closeted Murders

Last year I was much pleased to be able to shepherd into print with McFarland Press, Mysteries Unlocked: Essays in Honor of Douglas G. Greene, about which Jon L. Breen has written very kindly here.  "One of the finest essay collections on the detective-story genre ever published" certainly are nice words to hear from a reviewer, especially one as distinguished as Jon Breen.  The work of Doug Greene was a great inspiration to me back in the 1990s, when I started thinking seriously about mystery genre history; and it was wonderful that everything came together over 2013-14 to allow the "Doug Book" to be published, with a raft of really fine contributors.

I have decided to try my hand at editing another McFarland essay collection.  Although I have, like Doug, a PhD in history, I try, like Doug, to adopt a somewhat more "popular" approach to my mystery genre history writing, while preserving the scholarly apparatus.

While I don't look as in depth at personal lives as it sounds like Martin Edwards does in his forthcoming book on The Detection Club, The Golden Age of Murder, I always have been very interested in the personalities of crime writers and how this impacts their writing (Doug's biography of the great Golden Age mystery master John Dickson Carr is a model in this regard).

I have so much biographical detail about mystery writers on my hands, I am always thinking about what to do it with all.  One thing I discovered in my various researches is that there are a good number of gay and lesbian mystery/crime writers from the more closeted era before the Stonewall Riots (1969) who have never been acknowledged as such in mystery genre histories (along with, of course, some who have been, like Patricia Highsmith and, in my view more questionably, Cornell Woolrich).

I thought looking at these writers, as well as, more broadly, gay, lesbian and transgender themes in the works of both gay and straight mystery/crime writers might be of considerable interest in the academic world, and, perhaps, the fan world as well.  So I have launched another multi-contributor essay collection on this subject, which will be out next year.  A dozen contributors have signed on so far.  I believe this book can make a noteworthy contribution to mystery genre studies and I look forward very much to its publication in 2016, as we near the half-century anniversary of Stonewall.


  1. It does sound interesting. It's a sign of how things have changed that Val McDermid can be interviewed, and the topic being discussed is her books rather than her sexuality. It would be interesting to know how many were 'out' within the mystery writer's community without being outed amongst the general public, as was often the case in the world of the theatre.

  2. I think it's a subject area that really hasn't been explored much, and definitely should be of interest. Very few of these writers have ever been acknowledged as gay or lesbian and the themes in their books have not received much attention in this regard. Part of it is, as you suggest, many of these writers were never "out" as such, in those days when it definitely wasn't the thing.

  3. Sounds like a very interesting book. I look forward to hearing more about it.