Sunday, January 20, 2019


CONVERSATIONS (CwHD) is a weblog about words and language and other nonsense. CwHD began May 1, 2017. Besides thematic essays, the site provides a vehicle for sharing my own words and language. In July, 2017, I opened The Bookstore. This page provides an overview of my published work. Print and ebook copies are available through my publishing website (link in sidebar):


Last week I listed the six most influential author's of detective stories. This week's post begins the biographies of those writers.

William Wilkie Collins
(1824 - 1889)

William Collins was born and raised in the fashionable London district of Marylebourne. Wilkie, as he was affectionately known, then spent the remainder of his life within the same few blocks. Curiously, the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes also was located in the district at 221B Baker Street.

By any standard, Collins led an unconventional life. Early on he became a story-teller. At boarding school, the short, stout boy with the disproportionately large head and shoulders with a lump on his forehead, and with small hands and feet, began spinning tales to appease a bully. His ungainly physical attributes, however, seemed no burden to Collins. He seems to have used himself for the model of Count Fosco, one of the principle characters in The Woman In White.

Initially a journalist, at 24 he entered law school and passed the bar in 1851; but he never practiced. He had begun writing fiction in 1843 and his first story appeared in a popular illustrated magazine. His first novel, inspired by the death of his father, was The Memoirs of the Life of William Collins, Esq., R.A. The book was published in 1848, receiving good reviews. Wilkie never looked back.

Writing afforded him the financial wherewithal and the freedom to cultivate his bohemian preferences. He remained a lifetime bachelor, though he did live with several women. He indulged in good food, good drink, often to excess. Wilkie wore flamboyant clothes, frequently traveled to France and Italy, was widely read, and maintained a vigorous sense of humor. Despite his apparent joie de vivre, his health was often poor. To relieve the symptoms of his many ailments, he took larger and larger doses of laudanum, a tincture of opium, which was a common medication of the 19th century.

His wide circle of friends included Charles Dickens; and for many years Collins provided material for Dickens' magazines. The Woman In White, No Name, Armadale, and The Moonstone were his best known works. During his lifetime he wrote over thirty major books, hundreds of articles, short stories and essays, and a dozen plays. He was noted for his cynical regard for the Victorian establishment, and for championing the many victims of the prevalent social injustices.

As we shall see, that cynical regard for establishment would become a major theme in all subsequent detective fiction.

Sunday, January 13, 2019


CONVERSATIONS (CwHD) is a weblog about words and language and other nonsense. CwHD began May 1, 2017. Besides thematic essays, the site provides a vehicle for sharing my own words and language. In July, 2017, I opened The Bookstore. This page provides an overview of my published work. Print and ebook copies are available through my publishing website (link in sidebar):


What follows is a discussion of the six most influential authors of detective stories. In subsequent posts, brief biographies of those writers will make their appearance.

Top Ten

Top ten lists are ubiquitous. Any subject one cares to name probably has its list. Groups of ten are numerically satisfying. The metric system is a case in point. Such lists are brief, but still manage to capture the essence of the subject. Top ten novelists, top ten baseball players, top ten dogs, top ten automobiles: peruse the lists and one is immediately immersed in the subject. Which is not to mention the initial letter alliteration.

As my current project involves the equally ubiquitous detective novel, I thought it appropriate to list the most influential writers of this genre, and provide a brief biography of each. My list is not a top ten, nor a 'best' compilation. The list is comprised simply of six individuals who became benchmarks for all writers in this genre. The six will be listed in chronological order.

Wilkie Collins must certainly begin any such scheme. Two of his novels---The Woman In White (1859) and The Moonstone (1868) --- are still read and rank among the best written. Arthur Conan Doyle (A Study In Scarlet, 1886) next in line, is arguably the most influential of the group with his creation, Mr Sherlock Holmes. Agatha Christie (The Mysterious Affair At Styles, 1920) the most prolific of the group, has sold millions of books and her man, Hercule Poirot, is almost as well known as Holmes. Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon, 1930) and Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep, 1939) come up next. These two created what amounts to a sub-genre of detective fiction. No more Mr Nice Guy. With Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, the hard boiled detective takes center stage, and would set the tone for the next fifty years. Last on the list is Rex Stout (Fer-de-Lance, 1934). Stout, like Christie, was a word machine. He created Nero Wolfe in the 1930s; and took the concept of the locked room, a common motif throughout detective fiction, and turned it on its ear. Wolfe solves all his cases from the custom built chair in his office in the New York city brownstone where he resides.

Others beside these six might well have made the list. My time frame, however, is roughly 1850 to 1950. Many more minor --- they would not appreciate the label, I am sure --- writers have penned stories during this time frame: Philo Vance, Mickey Spillane and Charlie Chan's creator Earl Derr Biggers to name but three. But if 'influential' is the governing descriptor, I will stick with my 'big six.'

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Blind Geisha lll - 15

Pall Of Smoke

Pale dawning. She was alone on the beach with wisps of ground fog trailing the shuffle of her bare feet. The soft break of the low swell was glassy in the dead calm. Down the beach, a pall of smoke squatted above the laurel hedge, rising slowly above where the house once stood. Now charred timbers. One red truck remained; the crew of three probing debris and spraying hot spots. The pudgy neighbor stood gaping from his driveway.
"Not there, you say?" he said.
"That's right."
"But ... she's always there."
"What you see is what you get," the fireman said.
"But ... "
She had walked to the point in the darkness of early morning wearing just her gray night gown. Tide in, she thought, the rock pools all covered. Flood. Then ebb. The coarse sand of the upper beach, littered with pebbled stone from the cliff's wall, pricked and pained her tender feet; and she stopped, standing with a hand against the rough wall of rock. She stood quite composed looking out to sea, a smudge on her cheek.
With looping swirls of foamy sea water lapping her feet, she had turned and retraced her steps, the fire's glow in the distance, a siren's wail. At the little creek, she walked across the swale of drifted sand to sit in a hollow in the lee of driftwood and flotsam, the detritus of gales past. She sat on a log and remembered that she had not looked up the bird---a tern, was it? Smaller than a gull--- and then said, "My glasses."
Swirls of fog, a bit of breeze rising. She ran a hand through tangled, lank hair. Tendrils, she thought. Fragments ... vacant thoughts ...
Hunched, her body now slack, leaning against the shabby, rumpled bed, in the distance the whaler's stench coming down the breeze, a gull dancing the tide, turning now, sudden rush of water hissing up the sand, a horn sounding, yelling in the street, crow caws, and down the beach, the child calling