Mystery Minutes Archive

April 2022 Mystery Minute

by ZJ Czupor

She created the first Black female amateur sleuth

The first published African American mystery is credited to Pauline Hopkins (1859-1930). She was an African American journalist, playwright, historian, and novelist. Born in Portland, Maine, she wrote four novels and numerous short stories.

She made history when she penned a short story called “Talma Gordon,” which appeared in the October 1900 edition of The Colored American Magazine, which was also America’s first monthly periodical covering African American arts and culture. Hopkins also edited the magazine and addressed Black history, racial discrimination, economic justice, and women’s role in society.

Her short story concerns the murder of Puritan descendant Jonathan Gordon. At trial, his blonde and blue-eyed daughter, Talma, is implicated. Despite being declared innocent, the townsfolk believe Talma killed her father after he discovered her mixed racial heritage.

However, it would be another 92 years, 1992, before the first Black amateur female sleuth would appear in an American novel.

The author is Barbara Neely (1941-2020). read more…

March 2022 Mystery Minute

by ZJ Czupor

The Rage of a Writer

If you stopped to chat with this famous author on the street, you might decide he had few redeeming qualities and keep walking. And you might, on second thought, think that with his sketchy past, he was a lost cause. Just look at his early record:

  • As a student at Ohio State University, he spent more time with prostitutes and pimps than he did in class. He took some students to a whorehouse where a fight broke out and after word got back to the dean, he was expelled.
  • He was arrested for using a fake ID and for cashing a bad check.
  • Out on bail, he stole a car, drove to a wealthy neighborhood, and robbed a couple at gunpoint. He stole four rings worth $5,000.
  • The next day, he was caught at a pawnshop, found guilty, and sentenced to twenty years in prison.
  • In the blink of an eye, at the age of nineteen, he went from being a college student to a prisoner in the Ohio State Penitentiary.

While in his cell, he began writing short stories on a typewriter he bought from his gambling winnings and did so while sitting on a convict’s bunk, with a folding table, next to a urinal. One of his cellmates, Prince Rico, whom he said had a Mona Lisa smile, also encouraged his writing, and became his love interest. In later years, he confessed that he wrote to earn respect from guards and fellow inmates and to avoid violence. He never considered himself to be homosexual and was honest with his later female partners about what happened in prison.

More importantly, his writing in prison changed his life. read more…

January 2022 Mystery Minute

by ZJ Czupor

The Nightmare Life of William Lindsay Gresham

At the end of 2021, a disturbing film was released to the public. Tagged as a neo-noir psychological thriller and directed by Guillermo del Toro, it quickly won nine major awards and received forty-two nominations. The film is Nightmare Alley, a remake of the 1947 film both of which are based on the crime novel by William Lindsay Gresham.

Gresham’s novel (Rinehart & Company, 1946) and the two adapted films observe shady characters from a two-bit carnival in 1930 populated by grifters, hustlers, femmes fatales, alcohol, and repressed desire. Like any well-crafted noir, the novel follows the protagonist, Stan Carlisle, in his ascension toward greatness and his descension into the abyss.

Washington Post book critic Michael Dirda said, “It’s more than just a steamy noir classic. As a portrait of the human condition, Nightmare Alley is a creepy, all-too-harrowing masterpiece.” (2010). read more…

November 2021 Mystery Minute

by ZJ Czupor

A Mystery Within A Mystery

In the canon of mystery novels lies an unfinished but published mystery—the last written by an iconic author—and the mystery is still waiting to be solved. American librarian and author Edmund Pearson (1880-1937) called it “the foremost problem in fiction.”

The unfinished novel in question is The Mystery of Edwin Drood written by that great Victorian author, Charles Dickens. Yes, that Dickens. The intriguing mystery was cut short by the author’s untimely death. How could this have happened? Let’s examine the evidence. read more…

October 2021 Mystery Minute

by ZJ Czupor

Versatile and Ahead of Her Time

This mystery author was born on Christmas Day, 1907 in San Antonio, Texas. She was the daughter of W.H. Robbins and Myrtle Statham. In addition to the fifty novels she published in her lifetime, under four different names, she has enough first and last names to fill a short paragraph. Along with her six given names at birth, her mother’s two additional marriages, and her own two marriages she officially is known as Julia Clara Catherine Maria Dolores Robbins Norton Birk Olsen Hitchens.

If you’re keeping score: Norton and Birk are from her two stepfathers and Olsen and Hitchens are from her two marriages.

This prolific American mystery writer is better known as Dolores Hitchens (1907-1973) whose novels appeared during the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Her contemporaries were the better-known mystery and suspense authors Dorothy B. Hughes (1904-1993), Margaret Millar (1915-1994), and Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995). read more…

September 2021 Mystery Minute

by ZJ Czupor

The Mystery of a Hansom Cab

In the Gilded Age of the late 1800s, late one Thursday night in Melbourne, Australia, a drunken gentlemen wobbles down a dimly lit street. Another gentleman sees the drunken man and hails a cab for them both. While in passage, the sober man kills the drunken man with chloroform, hops out of the cab, jumps into another cab, and vanishes.

Thus begins the novel, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, (1886), which became the best-selling mystery novel of the Victorian era. John Sutherland, a British journalist and author, called it “the most sensationally popular crime and detective novel of the century.” (1990). It was so popular, it inspired Arthur Conan Doyle to write A Study in Scarlet, (Ward Lock & Co.,1887) which introduced the world to his famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. read more…

August 2021 Mystery Minute

by ZJ Czupor

He’s a Complicated Man — No One Understands Him But his Woman — Shaft

Fifty years ago, on June 23, 1971, a New York City private eye debuted on the big screen at the Palms Theatre in Detroit. His name was “John Shaft,” a tough and cool Black detective. The film starred Richard Roundtree in his first movie role and gave Gordon Parks (1912-2006) his directorial debut.

Shaft (MGM, 1971) was an American crime action film about a Black private detective who is hired by a Harlem mobster to rescue his daughter from the Italian mobsters who kidnapped her. The film also explored themes like the Black Power Movement, race, masculinity, and sexuality.

Due to Shaft’s popularity, new opportunities were created for black filmmakers, actors, and technicians. The movie set off a movement known as “Blaxploitation” which dominated cinema for the next several years. read more…

June 2021 Mystery Minute

by ZJ Czupor

Mignon G. Eberhart

 

Who Was This “First Lady of Mystery?”

 

This prolific award-winning mystery author has an impressive resume and a name you may not know. Her novels have been translated into more than twenty languages and during the 1930s eight of her novels were adapted into films and her books continue to be published worldwide.

In her 60-year writing career, she was the most highly paid author after Agatha Christie. In fact, she was one of two writers dubbed “America’s Agatha Christie,” a title she didn’t like. It was a Miami News book reviewer who gave her the title and her paperback publisher took advantage quoting the Miami News on subsequent covers. Instead, she preferred the title, “First Lady of Mystery.”

Who is this author with the impressive resume? read more…

May 2021 Mystery Minute

by ZJ Czupor

A Storyteller’s Story of Tenacity and Tragedy

Through grit, determination, and tenacity this author overcame dyslexia. He was rejected by the U.S. Marines Corps. He self-published his first book. He was often panned by critics, never won a literary award but earned the loyalty of millions of readers. He was once asked by President George W. Bush where he got his information for the President thought the details in his thriller novels were too close to national secrets.

He was born in St. Paul, Minnesota to an Irish-Catholic family, the fifth of seven children. His mother was a successful wildlife artist and his father a high school English teacher and coach. By the time he reached fourth grade he was diagnosed as dyslexic and struggled with reading and writing all his life. read more…

April 2021 Mystery Minute

by ZJ Czupor

Forgetting is an Integral Part of Remembering

Perhaps you know this story: an unconscious man is picked up out of the Mediterranean Sea by Italian fishermen. He has two gunshot wounds in his back. A frame of microfilm has been implanted in his hip. His face has been altered by plastic surgery. He suffers from retrograde amnesia, meaning he has memory loss for past information, events, even his name. After he recovers his health, he races off to elude assassins while attempting to regain his memory and his identity.

That, of course, is the plot line for The Bourne Identity, (Ricard Marek, publisher), the 1980 spy thriller by Robert Ludlum read more…