Tag Archives: detectives

Talking with Multi-Genre Writer Walter Mosley

Jean Estel, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Since publishing his first novel Devil in a Blue Dress in 1990, Walter Mosley has consistently written some of the most beloved crime fiction depicting the ongoing struggle at the heart of America: racism and race relations. Mosley is best known for his series featuring black Los Angeles detective Easy Rawlins, but he’s also written album notes, science fiction, short stories, screenplays, and won a PEN Lifetime Achievement Award. In the spring issue of The Paris Review, Thomas Gebremedhin spoke at length with Mosley about how he started writing, literary longevity, black male heroes, publishing, and the mystery genre.

INTERVIEWER

Do you plot your novels in advance?

MOSLEY

No, I just start writing. I don’t have any plan. I wait to find out where it goes. Sometimes I do an outline, but even then, that’s not really a plan, because I don’t really follow it. The novel is bigger than your head. A novel is a gigantic, rambling, incredible thing. All you can do is start. Roy Lichtenstein, who I knew quite well actually, would say the reason most painters fail at art—not at painting, but at art—is because they know what the picture is going to be before they approach the canvas. So the whole idea that there are things you should say or want to say or have to say—fuck that.

INTERVIEWER

Charcoal Joe is your fourteenth Easy Rawlins book. You once said that the eleventh novel in the series, Blonde Faith, was going to be your last, yet you continued writing. Why do you keep returning to Easy? What is it about him?

MOSLEY

When I finished Blonde Faith, I couldn’t see another book coming out of Easy. I couldn’t even imagine it. I realized, finally, that I’d reached the border of my father’s life and was entering into the world of my life. I decided if I wrote from that vantage point, from that point of view, I could write the novels exactly the same but with my experience forming it, rather than the experiences of my father and his generation.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have an end in mind?

MOSLEY

I don’t know if I have an end plan. It depends who lives longer, Easy or me.

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The Spectacle of Crime: On Detectives, Mysteries, and Dead Girls

Photo: Carla216

When I was little, mystery books were my favorite. I read the Boxcar Childrenthe Bobbsey Twins and the Happy Hollisters. In school, there was Cam Jansen, Sammy Keyes and Harriet the Spy. When I visited my grandparents, I read my mom’s childhood books: Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden. My mom gives my grandfather the latest Mary Higgins Clark release every Christmas.

In high school and college I abandoned mystery novels and turned to spooky TV shows instead. My family was “Monk”-obsessed; when “Monk” ended, we watched “Psych.” I threw myself into “Lost” during finals and “Criminal Minds” on school breaks. Post-college, I binged “Fringe,” “The X-Files,” “The Killing,” “The Fall,” “Miss Fisher’s Mysteries”—the list goes on. Now that I work in a bookstore, I’ve started to read mystery novels again. To celebrate, here’s a reading list about fictional detectives and the authors who mastermind their literary crime-solving, as well as real-life detectives searching for the truth. Read more…

Who Is the Man on the Moor?

Photo of Saddleworth Moor by Smabs Sputzer (CC BY 2.0)

In an immersive BBC News story that unfolds on screen like a true detective case, Jon Manel tells the tale of a man found dead in Saddleworth Moor, in Peak District National Park in Northern England, last December. A cyclist found him in a peculiar position, in clothing inappropriate for a walk, and with no belongings or forms of identification.

Six months later, after tracing his final route across England from London to Manchester with CCTV footage, and examining the few clues the man left behind — including a small container holding strychnine, a poison — detectives have been unable to identify him, or figure out why he traveled 200 miles to die on the moor.

Why did the man travel all the way to the moorland track where he was found? Why there? Why poison? Why strychnine?

Some count the area where the body was discovered as being part of Saddleworth Moor.

It is very popular, especially on a bright summer’s day. Not only walkers but cyclists and climbers come here, and sailors on Dovestone Reservoir.

But it is also a place associated with a number of deaths over the years.

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‘The World Is Full of Obvious Things’: A Sherlock Holmes Reading List

Image by Julian Breme (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Sherlock Holmes feels uncannily contemporary these days — from his dizzying array of post-hipsterish quirks (Cocaine user! Virtuosic violin player! Exotic tobacco aficionado!) to a social aloofness that feels straight out of a Millennial INTP‘s playbook. (His knack for Twitter-ready aphorisms doesn’t hurt, either.) I’ve been rereading Conan Doyle’s stories for almost 20 years, and the guy has never felt more fresh.

After more than a century of massive, ever-splintering fandom, Holmes is still a commercial juggernaut, a literary character at once instantly recognizable and endlessly customizable. How many fictional creations could plausibly be portrayed, in the span of four years, by Robert Downey, Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, and Ian McKellan (whose Mr. Holmes will be out in theaters later this month)?

The Holmes universe has long fractured into an ever-expanding multiverse, one in which the original canon is but one galaxy (and a minor one, at that) among many apocryphal ones. From Sherlockian cosplay in the Swiss alps to a family’s archives in Illinois, here are five stories that speak to the ubiquity and longevity of one Victorian detective.

1. “Sherlock Holmes And The Adventure Of The Impudent Scholars.” (Jenny Hendrix, The Awl, November 2011)

What do Franklin Roosevelt, Isaac Asimov, and Neil Gaiman have in common? They were (and in Gaiman and Asimov’s case, still are) members of the Baker Street Irregulars, a semi-secret, tightly-knit scholarly society dedicated to The Game — the study of Sherlock Holmes as if he were a real, non-fictional figure. Jenny Hendrix digs into the history of this strange literary club.

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He Looked Like a Detective in the Movies

The door opened. Two men in suits walked in. The man in front was a broad-shouldered, barrel-chested, thin-waisted, thick-haired fellow with deep-set, dark eyes and an icy glare. The precinct detective knew this man. He’d seen him around the precinct. It was hard to miss him. He looked, colleagues often said, how a detective in a movie looks. And he played the part well. His suits were tailored. He always seemed to be chomping his trademark cigar, whether at the station, on the streets, or at the bar after hours. He had a booming voice thick with a Brooklyn accent. He had a hearty laugh and a respectable handshake. He loved to buy others drinks and trade stories. He was the friendliest and warmest man many of his peers had ever met, and he was quick to cut himself down with abundant doses of self-deprecation. It was hard not to love Detective Louis Scarcella.

Behind Scarcella stood his partner, Detective Steve Chmil, a stout man with a trim mustache, a brown comb-over, and skeptical, probing eyes. Where Scarcella seemed to seek the spotlight, Chmil was fine working in the shadows. The Robin to Scarcella’s Batman, cops around the borough joked. Scarcella and Chmil had come to assist on the precinct detective’s homicide case. He was expecting the company. Scarcella and Chmil were members of the Brooklyn North Homicide Squad, a roving, 40-man task force formed to relieve the borough’s murder epidemic. Precinct detectives faced dozens of robberies, burglaries, rapes, assaults, and shootings each month. The heavy caseloads made it tough to stay on top of a murder investigation for more than a few weeks. So homicide-squad detectives worked with the precinct detectives to help investigate murders. And perhaps no detective in New York City was better known for solving murder cases than Louis Scarcella.

Albert Samaha, writing for the Village Voice about the embattled career of Brooklyn detective Louis Scarcella. In recent years, many of Scarcella’s tactics have been questioned, and convictions made with his help have come under scrutiny.

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Photo: Flickr, Michael Cory