If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

Check out our February author interviews: 2/7-debut author Keenan Powell (Alaskan lawyer), 2/14-Leslie Wheeler (Rattlesnake Hill), 2/21-bestselling author Krista Davis, who unveils a new series, 2/28-Diane Vallere answers my questions about Pajama Frame. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.

Our February Saturday Guest Blogger Schedule: 2/3-Saralyn Richard, 2/10-Kathryn Lane. WWK's Margaret H. Hamilton will blog on 2/17, and Kait Carson on 2/24.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

In addition, our prolific KM has had the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," appears in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fifth Course of Chaos.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Remembrance of Books Past: Alfred Hitchcock’s Solve-Them-Yourself Mysteries

In this installment of the Weird Books I Still Have On My Bookshelves, I offer for your enjoyment Alfred Hitchcock’s Solve-Them- Yourself Mysteries, an anthology promising five exciting cases to test the wits of young detectives with solutions, by the master of suspense himself, at the end of each story.

Let me tell you, this book, which I got my hands on as an eight-year-old mystery lover, delivered.

The cover promises “young detectives” the chance to solve mysteries, but the only characters solving mysteries in this anthology were young white boys named Jerry, Peter, Joe, Jeff, and Andy. A girl named Bettye does get to be kidnapped with her brother Nick in “The Mystery of the Four Quarters” and she does get to pull off a good diversion, but mainly Bettye’s there to play Watson to her brother’s Sherlock. Publishers didn’t have a clue about gender equality or diversity back in 1963.

Did this stop me from loving this book? Hardly. These dark tales were catnip to a 60s kid who cut her teeth on Dark Shadows and The Avengers.

Alfred Hitchcock was a creative dynamo, but he did not edit or author the Solve-Them-Yourself Mysteries or any of the other dozen mystery, suspense, and supernatural anthologies that were published under his name in the 60s and 70s. That task was ably performed by ghost editor Robert Arthur, Jr., a mystery writer who was honored twice by the Mystery Writers of America for his radio dramas. Arthur was known for his stories in magazines such as Black Mask and Thrilling Detective. Today he’s probably best known as the author of the beloved children’s series The Three Investigators. Arthur also worked on Alfred Hitchcock’s television show Alfred Hitchcock Presents. This familiarity with Hitchcock enabled Arthur to perfectly capture the director’s distinctive cadence and arch style of speech.

The Solve-Them-Yourself Mysteries were especially enticing for their adult tone. There was nothing childish about the stories or the art. Check out the end papers. Snakes! Swords! Skeletons! Hard to believe the illustrator of this deliciously dark vision was Frederick Banbery, who did the artwork for the Paddington the Bear books. Of course, when you examine the endpapers you eventually discover the giant shoe. A giant shoe? OK, now it seems a bit weird, but then you read the first story in the anthology, “The Mystery of the Five Sinister Thefts” and your eight year old self thinks, “Ah, of course! A giant shoe!”

The element that sets this anthology apart from others is the running commentary by “Alfred Hitchcock.” “The Mystery of the Three Blind Mice” begins with this:

ALFRED HITCHCOCK SPEAKING: Now that you are properly a-tingle with the excitement of the chase, I shall be brief in introducing the dark deeds that lie ahead. You are about to meet a three-hundred-pound millionaire who lives in a haunted castle, collecting stamps, but his real hobby is making people hate him. Some of you, I am told, take great pride in guessing the ending of mystery stories, movies, and television programs. I take a grave view of this trend. But if you do insist on guessing, I ringingly challenge you to guess all the twists and turns our story will take as we unfold The Mystery of the Three Blind Mice.

Dark deeds? A haunted castle? Was I a-tingle? You bet!

Arthur not only has “Hitch” introduce the stories, he had him break in to offer help/encouragement/taunts in finding clues. He broke in to “The Mystery of the Seven Wrong Clocks” to offer:

I wasn’t going to tell you, but carried away by a spirit of generosity, I shall reveal that an extremely suggestive clue made a brief appearance early in our drama and will not be seen again. Having said that much, my lips are sealed.”

This commentary acted as training wheels to a beginner mystery reader and writer. Whenever “Hitch” pointed out that I’d just sped past a clue, I’d flip madly back through the pages to see The Clue I Had Missed. This gave me an appreciation and understanding of the elements of a good mystery story. Despite the dozens of ways Arthur spun solutions out of my reach, missing clues didn’t give me an inferiority complex. The whole thing was done in such a spirit of fun that I simply marveled at the myriad ways a writer could pull the wool over a reader’s eyes.

In “The Mystery of the Man Who Evaporated” our detective, young Jeff, is invited to a meeting of the Mystery Writers of America. He muses that, when he thought of mystery writers at all, he “thought of them as being strange individuals who probably lived in lonely old mansions, peering at their typewriters through thick glasses and occasionally getting up to pace their bookshelves to consult some ancient volume on rare poisons.” Well, at least Jeff got the glasses part right.

Locked room mysteries, murder, jewel theft, circuses, black magic, codes, disguises, séances, and even cameos by Earl Stanley Gardner and Ellery Queen – this anthology has it all.


James Montgomery Jackson said...

What a fun book, and I love the authorial intrusion as a construct rather than accident. I can even hear the voice…

~ Jim

Kait said...

I'm haunting Abe books looking for this. It sounds wonderful. And how like Alfred (even if it wasn't him) to pop in at unexpected times. He did that in his movies too. I always look out for Alfred. Now Stephen King seems to do the same.

Gloria Alden said...

Shari, they came along when I was grown, but my oldest son loved the Alfred Hitchcock mysteries. I think I'll have to look it up to see if I still have it and read it.

When I was teaching third grade, many of my students loved the solve the mystery books. I kept several separate and would read a story aloud to the students and have them try to figure out whodunit. I'd write the clues different ones would point out on the board. We'd have a group discussion, and if no one solved the crime, I told them who it was and the clues that led to tue detective on the case to solve it.

KM Rockwood said...

I like the solve-it-yourself mysteries, although I never ran across the Alfred Hitchcock ones. My kids loved Encyclopedia Brown mysteries when they were young.

Shari Randall said...

Hi Jim, Kait, Gloria, and KM - Thank you for stopping by today! I had jury duty so I wasn't able to keep up with the blog as well as I would have liked. Hope you all had a great day! My exercise of civic duty was a bit duller than I had hoped - I didn't get a trial - but maybe next time.

Kara Cerise said...

You have wonderful books on your shelves, Shari. I would have enjoyed solve-them-yourself mysteries with dark deeds and a haunted castle when I was a child. Like Jim, I can hear Alfred Hitchcock's distinctive voice.