When plotting a murder (figuratively speaking), the mystery writer has at hand any number of M.O.s, including such tried and true conventions as the locked room, the unbreakable alibi, the double bluff, the mistaken identity, and many others. Indeed, one of the challenges (and great sources of pleasure) for a mystery writer is to visit a well-known plot construction--to try their hand at "the locked room" or "the caper"--perhaps to honor a writer or story they admire, perhaps to try to top them. Now, in Murderous Schemes, renowned mystery writer Donald E. Westlake and J. Madison Davis (current president of the International Association of Crime Writers) offer an illuminating look at eight such mystery conventions, illustrating each with five short stories written by some of the masters of the form. The resulting collection of forty tales spans a hundred and fifty years of crime fiction and includes virtually every style imaginable, from the hard-boiled detective story to the cozy armchair mystery. Here Westlake and Davis provide the avid mystery reader (and the budding mystery writer) with a glimpse behind the curtain, allowing them to compare for themselves how some of the great crime writers worked their magic on a particular convention. In the section "Armchair Detective," for instance, readers can compare works by Baroness Orczy ("The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railroad"), Agatha Christie ("The Sunningdale Mystery"--in which Christie makes passing reference to Baroness Orczy's story), Ellery Queen ("The Adventure of Abraham Lincoln's Clue"), Margaret Maron ("Lieutenant Harald and the Impossible Gun"), and P. D. James ("Great Aunt-Allie's Flypapers"). These tales highlight not only differences between individual writers, but also the differences between American and British detective fiction, and they illuminate the evolution of crime writing over time. And the other chapters--including "I Confess," "Hoist on their Own Petards," "Over the Edge," and "Come Into My Parlor"--are equally enlightening. But the best thing about Murderous Schemes is certainly the stories themselves. Here is a glorious treasure chest of tales that cover every crime in the book, written by a who's who of crime fiction--Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle, G. K. Chesterton, Raymond Chandler, Ellery Queen, Dorothy L. Sayers, P. D. James, Chester Himes, Edward D. Hoch, and Lawrence Block, to name but a few. Bringing together a century and a half of superb crime stories, from Poe's 1844 tale of forced confession in "Thou Art the Man," to the modern mastery of Lawrence Block's story of thinly veiled evil, "Someday I'll Plant More Walnut Trees," Murderous Schemes is a glorious collection. It will inform and delight anyone who loves mystery and mayhem.
About Donald E. Westlake
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Published January 1, 1996
by Oxford University Press.
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Literature & Fiction.