Next Saturday, Jan. 21, 2 p.m., I’ll be a panelist on “The Craft of Mystery Writing” at the Perry Hall Branch, Baltimore County Public Library, 9685 Honeygo Blvd, Perry Hall, MD.
This event was planned a couple of months ago, but it is on the day of the Women’s March on Washington. I will be at the march in spirit and send a check to Planned Parenthood.
Back to the panel discussion, we authors will share our experiences on the craft of writing a mystery and how it has changed throughout the years. Other panelists are Michelle Markey Butler, Austin Camacho, Kate Dolan, Dick Ellwood, and Millie Mack.
My friends all know that one of my favorite things to do is sit around the table with others at any meal and discuss whatever comes up. Not partial to politics, though, especially now, but just about anything else. I’ve always bemoaned the fact that I couldn’t join Samuel Johnson, James, Boswell, Oliver Goldsmith, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and other highlights of the 18th century in their carousing at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in London. I also missed out on Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Robert E. Sherwood, and others of “The Vicious Circle’ at the Algonquin Round Table, but probably I wouldn’t have survived that.
So I enjoyed reading The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards about “the mystery of the writers who invented the modern detective story.” This is a history of the Detection Club of distinguished authors of detective stories from 1930 through 1949. It opens with a description by New Zealand mystery writer Ngaio Marsh, a guest at one of the club meetings in 1937. As she says, it began with a sumptuous banquet. Then the
group adjourned to another room that had a large chair at the far end. On the right side was a little table and on the left, a lectern and a flagon of wine. The lights went out, and “The Orator” appeared in scarlet and black robes. She marched towards the lectern, holding a taper to light the way. In the folds of her gown, she carried a pistol.
The Orator lit a candle and in the flickering candlelight, a visitor could see unsmiling faces with four members carrying flaming torches. Others clutched such weapons as a rope, blunt instrument, sword and a phial of poison. One man bringing up the rear carried a human skull on a black cloth over a cushion.
Then the Orator spoke to the man elected to preside over the meeting and he made this pledge:
To do and detect all crimes by fair and reasonable means; to conceal no vital clues from the reader; to honour the King’s English…and to observe the oath of secrecy in all matters communicated to me within the brotherhood of the Club.
At the end of the ritual, the Orator lifted her revolver and fired a single shot. Then her colleagues let out bloodcurdling cries and waved their weapons in the air. The eyes of the skull lit up with a fierce glow.
And I missed it. By the way, the Orator at this meeting was Dorothy L. Sayers.
I guess lunches with Sisters in Crime will have to do for now. If you are a fan of mysteries, you might join a local chapter of Sisters in Crime. You’ll meet some the authors, other fans, and learn from the programs. Through Sisters in Crime, I was able to go to the Baltimore County Medical Examiner’s Office and learn the difference between a medical examiner and a coroner, witness some crime scenes set up for training, and watch an autopsy. I also learned about The Citizens’ Police Academy. I signed up and spent 12 weeks at one night a week in a fascinating free course given by the county police department. It taught me about the various aspects of police work and included riding along with a patrol officer, firing a police issue semi-automatic Glock pistol, and much more.
From Sisters in Crime, I also learned more about poison plants than is healthy and got a crash course in medical serial killers.