3 Minor Crime Writers of the 20th Century.

Arthur Gask pic
British born, Australian crime writer, Arthur Gask

Arthur Cecil Gask (1869 – 1951)

https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/gask/arthur/

Arthur Gask was a British dentist and agnostic. He divorced his wife in 1909 and later that year, married his children’s nanny, and emigrated to Adelaide, South Australia in 1920 with his two children from his second wife, and one from his first. There’s a story there. He practiced on North Terrace and was one of the first to use gas on his patients. While waiting for them to arrive he started writing stories and paid for his first novel, The  Secret of the Sandhills (1921) to be published. It was an instant success.

Thirty of his thirty four novels feature the detective Gilbert Larose. From his first success he, on average, published a book a year until his death; the last one, Crime Upon Crime, came out in 1952, the year after he died. His works were successful in the UK and Europe and many were serialised in newspapers, including the Adelaide Advertiser.

He was  greatly admired by Bertrand Russell and H. G. Wells, who thought The Vengeance of Larose (1939) as his “best piece of story-telling…It kept me up till half-past one.”

All the clues and information are expressed throughout the story in the time-line of when they happen; none of this denouement in a drawing-room when the hero explains everything – Agatha Christie-like – to an assembled crowd every one of which could be the murderer. There is a murder plot, drug smuggling, stolen submarine-plans, corrupt diplomats, fiendish villains, and, of course, an exemplary, multitalented, detective, a master of languages, disguises, and deduction. There are few women either mistresses or wives, and all the men are either a knights, aristocrats, or have a house in the country. The style is full of coincidences and some quite unbelievable: in order to hatch a plan with his Japanese co-accused the undercover detective says – within ear-shot of their captors, “You understand Italian? Ah, I thought you would.”

If you have a habit of waking up in the middle of the night with an overactive brain and find it hard to get back to sleep, these novels are the perfect solution.

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American poet an novelist, Anna Katherine Green

Anna Katherine Green (1846 – 1935)

https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/green/anna_katharine/

Anna Katharine Green  was an American poet and novelist. She was one of the first writers of detective fiction in America and distinguished herself by writing well plotted, legally accurate stories. Born in Brooklyn, New York, her early ambition was to write romantic verse, but she was unsuccessful. She is credited with shaping detective fiction into its classic form, and developing the series detective. Her main character was detective Ebenezer Gryce of the New York Metropolitan Police Force, but in three novels he is assisted by the nosy society spinster Amelia Butterworth, the prototype for Miss Marple and other creations. She also invented the ‘girl detective’: in the character of Violet Strange, a debutante with a secret life as a sleuth.

I am not an inquisitive woman, but when, in the middle of a certain warm night in September, I heard a carriage draw up at the adjoining house and stop, I could not resist the temptation of leaving my bed and taking a peep through the curtains of my window.

So begins Green’s first Amelia Butterworth mystery, That Affair Next Door (1897), and because of the narrator’s insistence on her incuriousness you know immediately what kind of woman she is.

This work is a delight. An intriguing story and a delicious character. Another perfect read for that long holiday flight.

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G. K. Chesterton, English writer.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874 – 1936)

https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/chesterton/gk/

English writer, poet, philosopher, dramatist, journalist, orator, lay theologian, biographer, and literary and art critic. But the most successful association of fiction with social judgment is in Chesterton’s series on the priest-sleuth Father BrownThe Innocence of Father Brown (1911), followed by The Wisdom… (1914), The Incredulity… (1926), The Secret… (1927), and The Scandal of Father Brown (1935). In spite of his literary accomplishments, he considered himself primarily a journalist. He wrote over 4000 newspaper essays, including 30 years worth of weekly columns for the Illustrated London News, and 13 years of weekly columns for the Daily News. He also edited his own newspaper, G.K.’s Weekly. Chesterton was equally at ease with literary and social criticism, history, politics, economics, philosophy, and theology.

Father Brown is introduced to crime fiction in a short story called the The Blue Cross, which became the leading story in the first Father Brown collection:The Innocence of Father Brown (1911). The main character in this story, and the second, The Secret Garden, is a French instinctive detective, Aristide Valentin, head of the Paris Police, possibly the inspiration for Christie’s Hercule Poirot, who first appeared in 1920. The master villian, M. Hercule Flambeau, similar to Sherlock Holmes nemesis, James Moriarty, is also introduced and appears in 48 Father Brown Stories. Father Brown is a minor character in both these stories but takes the main role in the third and subsequent works because … because … well, I won’t tell you why in case you read it; no spoilers here.

The crime is usually seemingly unsolvable: a corpse with a severed head found in a walled, inaccessible garden while the dinner guests mingle and smoke cigars. The victim is a stranger. How did it get there? Who is he? How was his head severed so neatly? How did the murderer get into and out of the garden. The solution rests on a single piece of information the reader isn’t initially told but one that mild-mannered Father Brown deduces.

Fun and good, if flowery writing – typical of the period, and curious as these stories contain many elements of crime fiction that we now take for granted.

All the works of these three writers can be obtained for free from ebooks.adelaide.edu.au

This archive contains a dizzying collection of a wide variety of genres, styles, and writers, all of which are now in the public domain. I highly recommend this addition to your library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Touchy Subjects by Emma Donaghue

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Irish-Canadian writer, Emma Donoghue

In April 2008 in the Lower Austrian town of Amstetten a woman called Elizabeth Fritzl told police that she had for the past 24 years been held prisoner in an underground room under her father’s house. He had systematically raped her, she bore him seven children, and kept her from the world; even his wife didn’t know she was there.

This was the inspiration for Donoghue’s 2011 Man-Booker long-listed novel, Room, which went on to be filmed, with a script by Donoghue, in 2015, starring Brie Larson, who won an Oscar for Best Actress.

This book is a collection of short stories, her third, and came out in 2006. She tackles the foibles of modern people in stories told by various voices, genders, and sexualities: the desperate, but hilarious, lengths a forty-something woman will go to, to beat her biological clock; a cool romance set against the rough and back-slap masculinity of football where two rookies find more than the ball during their training sessions; and a touching and romantic story about the meeting of two minds and two bodies told in two narratives that weave and tangle with each other just like their hands do in the back of a van in the middle of a dark night, lost in the back lanes of Connemara. And that’s just three of them.

There’s a thread here running through these stories: of inner thoughts shared only with the reader that gives Donoghue’s writing the personal warmth and favouritism of dramatic irony; an intimacy with the reader that draws you in and makes you part of her intent.

Donoghue not always, but mostly, instills in the reader a confidence that you are in good literary hands. This is a book that could sit comfortably in your bedside book pile so you can dip into it again and again. Some stories will become favourites.

You can get the book, in various formats, here.

 

Dubliners by James Joyce

james-joyce pic Intelligent

 Irish writer, James Joyce (1882-1941)

The first-person narrator, a boy, walks past the house of his dying priest night after night, wondering whether he is dead yet, but this night knows it to be true.

“Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word paralysis. It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word gnomon in the Euclid and the word simony in the Catechism.”

So begins the first story, The Sisters, in James Joyce’s collection Dubliners (1914) but in it is a clue to the theme of the book itself. Joyce wanted to write about the people of Dublin because to him it was the “city of paralysis” and the shadow of this word permeates the whole collection. For Joyce “paralysis” meant the inability to life meaningfully. Joyce spent most of his life on the continent, far away from Dublin, so strong was his belief that the city was tainted.

Here the “paralysis” is both literal, in the case of a dying priest after his third stroke, and moral: “simony” takes aim at the Catholic church’s corrupting stranglehold on Irish society; “gnomon” is somewhat different, being more about form than content (a gnomon is a parallelogram with a section removed, as well as the shadow-casting part of a sundial). The word is a cryptic warning to the reader that these stories contain many absences, not least traditional plot, character and scene-setting. These absences are part of what Joyce referred to as the style of “scrupulous meanness” with which he wrote Dubliners, meaning the frugality he applies to language, image and emotion.

Freytag’s pyramid, or dramatic arc or structure, suggests that a clear beginning consisting of a proper introduction of the setting and the characters, a middle discussing the conflict that would lead to a climax, and an end that ties the story together with a denouement are indispensable to any written work of fiction.

So was the literary thinking in 1914 – and in some circles it still is today. Joyce ignored it all, which may be why it took him 6 years to get this collection published.

In the story A Little Cloud, a shy and fragile clerk, known as Little Chandler, since “he gave one the idea of being a small man” meets in a bar, after 8 years, his friend Ignatius Gallaher, who once “known under a shabby and necessitous guise had become a brilliant figure on the London Press.” Little Chandler yearns of becoming a famous writer and dreams about the rave notices he would get for his work. He is delighted to see his old friend and Gallaher shouts him several whiskeys and regales the little man with innuendo and suggestions of his racy experiences in London and Paris: no married life for him. Of course, Little Chandler is late getting home to his young wife and child and had not brought the tea and sugar she had urged him not to forget. “She was in a bad humour and gave him short answers” and decides to go out and get the tea and sugar herself. “She put the sleeping child deftly in his arms and said: ‘Here. Don’t waken him’.” Little Gallaher cradles the child and stares at a photograph of his wife wearing an expensive blouse he had bought her. The image of his wife weaves no comparison to the “rich Jewesses” with “dark Oriental eyes” of Gallaher’s salacious plans and stories. Little Chandler feels nothing but entrapment, paralysis, in his mean little cottage with debt-laden furniture and no way of writing the book that “might open the way for him.” He reads some melancholy verse by Byron while nursing the child and wonders where he can find the time to write like that; he has so much to say. The baby wakes and cries and will not stop no matter how hard he tries to sooth him. Everything is useless. He is “a prisoner of life!” He loses his temper with the child and shouts at him which scares the infant and causes him to scream and “sob piteously”. His wife arrives and rescues the babe and glares at her useless husband and he listens to the child’s sobbing grow less and less in the arms of his loving mother. The story ends with Little Chandler just standing there as “tears of remorse started to his eyes.”

The reader is left with a feeling of pity and yearning for this little man who did the right thing, that every man should do, marry, start a family, and work to keep and protect them; while his friend did the other thing: travelled, wrote and became famous and whored around in London and Paris. This is the ending that Freytag’s pyramid espouses but it is a thought, not on the page but in the mind of the reader.

This was radical for 1914, when this collection first appeared. However, is it true today that more and more writers of fiction are leaving aspects of descriptive, consequential, and circumstantial narrative out of the text and up to the reader.  This is so true that it is not the writer’s place any more to answer the question, “And what did you mean by writing that?” After a story is in print – or, for that matter any creative work that is finally in the public domain – the meaning of what the reader reads is all to do with the reader – it means what the reader thinks it means – and has nothing to do any more with the writer and what was meant by the writer in the first place.

Although Dubliners is considered one of the greatest short story collections ever written, it is Anton Chekhov, the Russian playwright, who is generally considered the father of the modern short story. “The revolution that Chekhov set in train – and which reverberates still today – was not to abandon plot” – or Freyberg’s Pyramid – “but to make the plot of his stories like the plot of our lives: random, mysterious, run-of-the-mill, abrupt, chaotic, fiercely cruel, meaningless”. Chekhov’s short stories had been available in English since 1903, but Joyce didn’t get Dubliners published until 1914. He claims not to have read them. Many critics think this a little implausible since Dubliners seems to owe a lot to the work of the Russian. However, Joyce finished the collection by 1907, and with Chekhov’s work having been available in English only for a few years when Joyce was working as a teacher in Europe, it is entirely possible that he did not read it. Although William Boyd, American novelist and short story writer asserts that Chekhov liberated Joyce’s imagination as much as Joyce liberated writers that followed and “that the Chekhovian point of view is to look at life in all its banality and all its tragic comedy and refuse to make a judgment”. The Joycean view seems to look at life from the inside of his characters: to chart his country’s “moral history” in Dublin; and he does this by turning the plot inwards. It’s the landscape of dreams, desires, hopes and disappointments that bind the 15 stories together into a whole, which in itself is unique, creating a form of a novel in fifteen disparate but morally interconnected chapters: the early stories are from childhood, the centre charts the middle years, and the final devastating story, The Dead, his masterpiece, culminates in a mature realisation of man’s insignificance in the universe. In fact, the first image of the first story: a boy looking up at a window behind which lies a dead man, is reflected in the last image of the last story where a man looks out of a window contemplating all the dead that have gone before him and which one day he will join. Images like bookends.

Joyce’s narrator varies from story to story: first person in the first, but usually in the third-person but not of the omniscient kind:

“…as he set himself to fan the fire again, his crouching shadow ascended the opposite wall and his face slowly reemerged into the light. It was an old man’s face, very bony and hairy.” (Ivy Day in the Committee Room). The narrator doesn’t know the face until it is seen as everyone else sees it, including the reader. It’s like the narrator and the reader see and know everything at the same time; as if you and he are watching the scene together.

It is the final story, The Dead, that marks Joyce a masterful writer and it is easy to argue that it is the best short story ever written. It is the quintessential modern story although it’s structure is almost classic. It opens with a scene featuring minor players in the story; a device used by Shakespeare in the opening scenes of many of his plays: it’s a way to introduce the scene and action before the principle players emerge, creating setting, background, and expectation. The bulk of the story is the colouring of the situation: the interconnecting relationships, the characters, the party as life’s metaphor, building tension and expectation, preparing the reader for what will happen.

Lily the house maid is “run off her feet” tending to guests as they arrive for the annual dance party given by the aging Misses Morkan, Kate and Julia, and their niece Mary-Jane, a music teacher to some of the “better-class families on the Kingstown and Dalkey line.” All eyes and ears are attuned to the arrival of Gabriel Conroy, the old ladies’ nephew, and his wife, Gretta, but they are also worried that the local drunk, the course-featured Freddie Mullins, might make a too-soon appearance and spoil the party. All arrive as expected and the party is in full swing; shoes shuffle and skirts swish and sway to the dance music on the polished floor of the upstairs parlor under the chandelier and a piano recital is given by Mary-Jane and songs are sung by the talented tenor, Mr Bartell D’Arcy. The strata of Dublin society are represented: the proud and successful Gabriel and his unhappy wife, Gretta; the Morkans drenched in their good-natured, middle-class hospitality cocooned in their well-established morality; and the likes of Freddie Mullins who prizes a drink over employment, filial duty, and nationalistic pride.

And then there are the galoshes. Gabriel wears them and urges his wife to, but she refuses. They are a symbol of modernity, recently arrived from London and “Gabriel says everyone wears them on the continent”. They are a sign of progress but, of course, the locals don’t wear them, much to Gabriel’s disappointment, thinking that he may have been able to bring the modern world into the lives of his community and family; Aunt Julia isn’t even sure what they are; Gretta thinks they’re funny and “says the word reminds her of the Christy Minstrels”. The social boundaries are clearly drawn.

On the dance floor, Gabriel, preoccupied with his forthcoming speech and worrying that his planed quotes from Browning “would be above the heads of his listeners”, is half-jokingly harassed by his dance partner, Miss Ivors, who “has a crow to pluck” with him. She chastises him for writing book-reviews for an English newspaper; refusing to holiday in his “own land” among his “own people” and to speak his “own language” and therefore labels him a ‘West Briton”.

Gabriel is a dignified man. He is angered by Miss Ivor’s assertions regardless of her light-hearted tone; considers Dublin, like Joyce, a back-water of pseudo-happy and ignorant people; looks to England and Europe for artistic, fruitful, and intellectual sustenance; but, despite all this,  tonight he is excited by the idea of Gretta and he spending the night, without the children, in a local hotel. Their marriage has soured over the past few years into something that he sees as all too common in this society. He is hoping for, maybe even lustful, but at least an intimate night alone with his wife.

After all the singing, dancing, and a minor ruffle between the Catholics and “the other persuasion”, the goose is carved at the head of a fine, happy, and plentiful supper table. Gabriel’s speech is a great success.  The champagne flows freely. The annual party is drawing to a close and Gabriel while putting on his coat asks after his wife. He finds her standing high on the landing in the semi-darkness gazing at nothing in particular but seemingly listening to something. There is a plaintive singing voice “in the old Irish tonality” and distant chords on a piano that seemed to render his wife transfixed. This is the peak of the drama. What is happening to Gretta, what is going on in her mind, will bring down the story’s protagonist. But Joyce stretches the tension. There is the walk with others into the city, then to the hotel, then to their room, and their preparation for the night. Here, he, all expectant and eager, is willed finally to ask why she is so melancholy. Her reply, his reaction, and the devastating realisation because of it, ends the story.

What begins as a classically structured tale of Dublin life, full of Chekhovian realism bolstered by detail, humour, character, emotional connections, and social hierarchy, the epitome of life itself, ends as a modern fable, not based on action, but internal thought. And like all good writers, Joyce ends with an image: a disappointed and humbled man gazing through a window on to a darkened city as snow gently begins to fall all over Ireland.

“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

-oOo-

The works of James Joyce, Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegan’s Wake, are out of copyright and can be downloaded, via various formats, for free here.

My Brother, My Love & Other Stories

This collection of stories is now globally available here

This book is available for download with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device, and with iTunes on your computer. Books can be read with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device. Cost $6.99

This has been made possible through the Melbourne based publishing platform Tablo

In the coming months I will move my other publications from the American platform I’ve been using (smashwords) to this convenient and very user-friendly Australian platform.

If you are interested in writing and hassle-free self-publishing…

Give Tablo a Go.

 

Collecting Stories by Michael Freundt

My writing desk
My writing desk

Collecting Stories, my first short story collection, goes live online on Monday August 3rd.

You can find it here

The stories have been written over the last 25 years; the latest, A Marriage of Convenience, was written last month. Inspiration comes from some unlikely sources: a bus ride from Balmain, a conversation in a foyer, something a friend said, and among others, an opening paragraph from a magazine article which I read again and again, after returning from my laptop where I recorded the thought, but darned if I could find what it was among those few printed words that sparked the thought in the first place. Apparently the history of my sparking synapses leaves no footprint; or is that just another sign of my age?

I have not included every story from my collection; a few now seemed trite, uneven, and dull so I left them where they are.

And friends, if you think that I have used you for literary purposes you’re right and if you object, then let’s talk about it.

More often than not, the stories are of the What If? kind. Nothing more needs to be said because I will always steer away from expaining to an inquisative reader what I meant by a story, a line, or an idea for two reasons: usually I don’t remember what I meant in the first place, my synapses being what they are, but more importantly I believe that what the reader thinks it means is what it means.

Sometimes stories tumble out like washing from a dryer; at other times they are few and very far between. I’m in the middle of one now which augers well for volume 2.

I hope you enjoy volume 1 and if you do, and even if you don’t, tell me about it.