Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: Raymond Chandler

Whodunit: murder mysteries 101


Who has sold the most mystery books? Where did the line, “the butler did it” come from? And who wrote the first detective novel?

Begun more than 170 years ago, the detective story is a staple of American literature and equally popular overseas. American writers are joined on best seller lists by mystery authors from the UK, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Italy and other countries. In essence, killing people on paper is popular the world over.

This begins an occasional series on the history, subject matter, authors, techniques and trivia of this genre.

Fedora,-gun-etc.-Sepia--Es-The modern detective story was born in 1841 with the publication of The Murders in the Rue Morgue in Graham’s Magazine in Philadelphia.

First in an occasional series

Edgar Allen Poe’s story describes the analytical power used by detective Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin to solve a series of bizarre murders in Paris. Like the later Sherlock Holmes stories, the tale is narrated by the detective’s roommate. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but a monkey did it. Yes, it is a bizarre twist to have a murderous monkey, but consider who wrote the story.

Following the publication of Poe’s tale, detective short stories and novels gradually became popular. English novelist Wilkie Collins published The Moonstone in 1868, a detective novel that includes several features of the typical modern mystery, including red herrings, false alibis and climactic scenes. Continue Reading →

So what kind of mystery is it?


That’s a good question and one I hear frequently when I tell people I’ve published a mystery novel. Mysteries come in so many varieties that telling someone you wrote a mystery is only slightly more informative than saying you wrote a novel.

Yes, there are certain conventions–dead bodies, for example–that mysteries have in common, but the characters, style, language, length, point of view and many other elements differ from one mystery to another and especially from one sub-genre to another. And sub-genres are plentiful, from hard-boiled PI novels to cozy, drawing room mysteries.

But to answer the question of how to categorize Death in Nostalgia City, let me begin with Agatha Christie.   She was the first mystery author I read as I was growing up. I liked the short stories in Alfred Hitchcock’s and Ellery Queen’s mystery magazines, but the mystery novel was defined for me by Christie. I loved the complex puzzles, the multiplicity of clues and the usually large cast of characters. It made me think. But Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot almost always figured out whodunit before I did.

Gradually, however, my taste changed and I wanted a little more action, a little more suspense to keep me turning the pages. I read, not only to find out who were the bad guys, but to follow imperiled protagonists and see them safely through the story. In sum, I like Two-brochuresWeb-opti--5902mystery stories with intricate puzzles, twists and turns that challenge my cognitive abilities (such as they are), but also those with swift action and continuing threats to the detectives (amateur or professional) that appeal to my emotions.

Raymond Chandler, the famous detective novel writer–creator of Philip Marlowe–said he didn’t care for manor-house mysteries because the entire value of the book is contained in the final chapter, the denouement. He said each chapter of a mystery should be rewarding itself, without regard to whodunit.

One of the ways a mystery novel can do that, in addition to providing compelling characters, believable dialog and necessary action, is to include secondary mysteries and physical challenges for the protagonists. I like to read mysteries that continually throw obstacles in the way of the main characters so they must solve intervening questions before they can ultimately succeed.

To me then, the best mystery stories appeal to the head and to the heart.

That’s what I tried to do in Death in Nostalgia City. The book has 74 chapters in just more than 300 pages. Each chapter is not self-contained, but it includes something unique, something that puzzles, challenges, or startles the reader or keeps the plot moving quickly forward.  Anxiety ridden–some say crazy–ex-cop Lyle Deming and Kate Sorensen, the gutsy theme park PR director and former college basketball player, are constantly tested and their progress hindered by circumstances and the mystery they’re trying to solve. At times they’re also in physical jeopardy.

There’s always something happening.


Next time: Checklist of elements for a good mystery

Your vote: what are the best noir films?


Anyone who thinks of Fred MacMurray mainly as the jovial father on the 1960s TV series My Three Sons or the screwball title character in The Absent Minded Professor film, doesn’t know the real Fred MacMurray.

The real Fred MacMurray was the scheming insurance salesman and murderer in the 1944 film, Double Indemnity. In so many scenes, from his first meeting with Barbara Stanwyck, the wife of the man he would ultimately kill for his life insurance money, to a secret rendezvous in a grocery store, MacMurray has an undisguised devious look in his eyes yet a guarded set to his lips.Crow-gun-Web-opt-w-title619 (It’s a different, yet equally dishonest countenance he bore as Lt. Tom Keefer in The Caine Mutinty.)

Combine MacMurray’s persuasive performance with his two assured costars, Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson plus a script by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, based on the James M. Cain novel, and you have what many people think is the finest noir film ever made.

What do you think?

What are the best noir films?

Mystery fiction scholar Francis M. Nevins defines noir as, “…the kind of bleak, disillusioned study in the poetry of terror that flourished in American mystery fiction during the 1930s and 1940s and in American crime movies during the forties and fifties. The hallmarks of the noir style are fear, guilt and loneliness, breakdown and despair…” Although many noir films were stylish, often featuring avant garde cinematography, as Nevins points out, happy endings were rare.

If you do a Google search for “favorite noir movies” you immediately see a spread of movie posters in this order:

  1. Double Indemnity
  2. The Maltese Falcon
  3. The Third Man
  4. Out of the Past

It would be difficult to argue with that selection. The Internet Movie Database says Sunset Boulevard and Night of the Hunter edge out Out of the Past and Double Indemnity, though the latter film is ranked number five.

Films based on novels by the leading detective writers of the period rank high in many ratings. In addition to Double Indemnity, Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice is another highly rated noir flick. The Maltese Falcon novel was written by noir master Dashiell Hammett and Chandler novels also became classic noir films such as The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely.

The writer who I would count as the fourth of the great noir authors, Cornell Woolrich, had more than two dozen of his novels and stories made into movies, many, unfortunately were forgettable adaptations. His most famous, Rear Window, was a superb suspense movie with many noir elements, not the least of which was the villainous Raymond Burr.

Other films I think you should consider for your top ten include: Brighton Rock, Lost Weekend, Touch of Evil and Kiss Me Deadly. Sydney, Australia, blogger, Tom D’Ambra, has one of the most comprehensive noir film websites you can find. Among his many suggestions: Journey Into Fear, I Wake Up Srcreaming and The Seventh Victim.

Many noir fans have favorite lines from films. One of mine comes from Sidney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon. He stares at Humphrey Bogart as he says, “By gad, sir, you are a character.”

So, think of some noir characters yourself, and let me know your favorite films of the noir era.



Tom D’ambra on noir films

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