Classic mysteries?

My upcoming novel, The Yankee Club, would not crack the top ten list I recently posted about the great mysteries of the Classic age of mysteries. But those ten certainly influenced my writing.

The Yankee Club is far different from those classics, and, in spite of the story taking place in Prohibition era, New York, it isn’t noir fiction either.  What makes it different?

The novel blends humor and romance with the suspense. And it’s based on actual events that took place in New York in 1933. Here’s a little more about it.

Yankee Club with the rose crop 4With all the style and of the classic “Thin Man” movies, The Yankee Club follows a detective turned mystery writer and a Broadway actress in 1933 as they investigate the murder of their childhood friend, along the way uncovering a Nazi plot against newly elected President Franklin Roosevelt.

Pre-order the Yankee Club now, and it will be downloaded when it’s released, August 12.

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Top ten mysteries of the Golden Age.

Wow, compiling a list of the top ten mysteries of the Golden Age was much harder than I thought starting out. My two previous posts on this subject lists and supports my arguments for picks two through ten.

Pick number one? Have you guess it yet?

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. It had to be

The hard-boiled novel first introduced famed detective Phillip Marlowe. Beneath his wise cracking, hard-drinking, tough private eye exterior, Marlowe is contemplative and philosophical, enjoying chess and poetry. The storyline of The Big Sleep is noted for its complexity, with characters double-crossing one another and secrets being exposed throughout, but it’s about Marlow and Chandler’s way of writing.

Raymond ChandlerLike Dashiell Hammett, Chandler wrote for the pulp magazine, Black Mask in the 1930′s. Stylistically, he had a significant influence on American popular literature, not just mysteries.

Chandler had me at wise cracking. Just from this book are a few of his memorable quotes.

“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”

“You can have a hangover from other things than alcohol. I had one from women.”

“She lowered her lashes until they almost cuddled her cheeks and slowly raised them again, like a theatre curtain. I was to get to know that trick. That was supposed to make me roll over on my back with all four paws in the air.”

“Hair like steel wool grew far back on his head and gave him a domed brown forehead that might at careless glance seemed a dwelling place for brains.”

Chandler’s fame grew in the forties, though he still qualifies for the golden age with 1939′s The Big Sleep.

So that’s my top ten list. How many have you read, and how many of your favorites made the list?




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More of my top ten list of the Golden Age of Mysteries

So far my list looks like this:

Five.  Mary Roberts Reinhart’s Miss Pinkerton.

Six. Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout

Seven. The Three Coffins, also released as The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr

Eight. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers.

Nine. Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.

Ten.  Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man.

My pick to join the top ten list, at number four is another British author, Anthony Berkley.

Four. The Case of the Poisoned Chocolates.Poisoned Chocolates Berkley wrote under several names. His first novel, The Layton Court Mystery, was published anonymously in 1925 and introduced Roger Sheringham who showed up in subsequent novels including this one. Berkley joined my list because this novel contains so many of the elements that made mysteries written during this period, truly the golden age.

Scotland Yard is stumped so six amateur sleuths, a group called the Crime Circle, seek to solve the crime. Sheringham utilizes several different methods of detection including deductive and inductive reasoning. Berkley’s writing contains subtle humor, always a plus for me, and he keeps the reader guessing until the final page.

Three.  Agatha Christie joins the top ten list for a  second time with one of my all-time favorites, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.Roger Ackroyd 2

It’s difficult to talk about this classic without giving away the ending. If you haven’t read it, it’s a must. Christie at her imaginative best!

Two. Dashiell Hammett also makes the top ten list for the second time with his classic, The Maltese Falcon. Maltese FalconThe story is secondary here. It’s all about Sam Spade. Hammett must have liked this character because he gave him his first name (Samuel Dashiell Hammett.) When you read the book, you’ll note that Hammett did not have Humphrey Bogart in mind as Sam Spade, but few can think of the character without Boggy coming to mind. Although the story is secondary, the writing, particularly the dialogue is brilliant. Here’s one exchange I enjoyed.

Brigid O’Shaughnessy: I haven’t lived a good life. I’ve been bad, worse than you could know.

Sam Spade: You know, that’s good, because if you actually were as innocent as you pretend to be, we’d never get anywhere.

So there you have it, nine of the top ten novels of the Golden Age. Thanks to all of you who gave me suggestions. I hope your favorites made the list. One more, the novel I consider the top novel of the Golden Age. Can you guess?





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Top Ten Mysteries of the Golden Age continued

Last’s week’s post began my list of the top ten mystery novels written during the golden age of mysteries, the 1920′s and 30′s. Some great authors have already made the list, Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie. Let’s add to this list with picks five, six and seven.

Seven. The Three Coffins also released as The Hollow Man, by John Dickson Carr. Carr was master of the locked room mystery, in which a detective solves a seemingly impossible crime. This novel is considered his masterpiece and was selected as the best locked-room mystery of all time by a panel of 17 mystery authors and reviewers.

The Three CoffinsAfter a promising start, I found the novel to be overly complex and forced into the locked room gambit. Therefore the solution was less than satisfying to me, but who am I to argue with so many experts? After all I promised my top ten list wouldn’t be just my favorites.

Six. Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout.  Stout’s literary career began writing for pulp magazines, publishing romance, adventure and detective stories. In Paris, in 1929, he wrote his first book How Like a God, an unusual psychological story written in the second person. He returned to America in 1934 and began writing detective fiction. His first was Fer-de-lance which introduced large than life, Nero Wolfe and his assistant and narrator, Archie Goodwin.

The fer-de-lance is among the most dreaded snakes known to man, which almost stopped me. Fer-de-lance2When someone makes a present of one to Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin knows he’s getting dreadfully close to solving the devilishly clever murders of an immigrant and a college president.  Wolf plays a snake charmer in a case with twists and turns and a whistling a seductive tune he hopes will catch a killer who’s still got poison in his heart.

Five. Miss Pinkerton by Mary Roberts Reinhart. Reinhart has often been called America’s Agatha Christie, although she published her first novel in 1914, fourteen years before Christie’s first. A prolific author, she was famous before the golden age and remained popular well beyond that era. She’s considered the source of the phrase, “The butler did it,” which came from her novel The Door, in which the butler actually did commit murder, though she never used the phrase. She also is considered to have invented the “Had I but known” school of mystery writing.

Miss PinkertonI enjoyed Miss Pinkerton, a classic who-done-it and often classified as one of the first cozy mysteries. Herbert Wynne is found dead, with a bullet in the forehead. The obvious explanation is murder. But how could it be when the only possible suspect is Herbert’s frail Aunt Juliet? The police solicit Nurse Adams, bored by hospital routine she tends to Aunt Juliet and is jokingly given the title of Miss Pinkerton, after the famous detective agency. The nurse probes into the mystery and a second body is soon found. Mystery fans will love this novel.

This completes the second half of the top ten list of golden age mysteries. How many make up your top ten?




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Top Ten Mysteries of the Golden Age

Picks eight through ten.

Compiling a top ten list of the best mysteries of the Golden Age, the 1920′s and 1930′s, proved to be more difficult than I anticipated. There are hundreds of worthy novels and dozens of authors still popular today. Though I’ve read each of the novels that made the top ten, I wanted to make sure the list wasn’t Michael Murphy’s favorites. Many of you have contributed to the compiling of the list and I thank you all.

The blog would be far too long to list all ten, so today, I’ll start with picks eight through ten. Each week I’ll work my way to the top until I reveal my pick for the top mystery of the golden age.

Ten. The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett. The father of the hard-boiled detective novel, Hammett wrote The Thin Man as a lark, and for financial gain. It’s lighter and more whimsical than his others, but it gives us Nick and Nora Charles. The novel inspired six movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, as well as radio dramas and a television series starring Peter Lawford that lasted 72 episodes from 1957 through 1959.


William Powell, Myrna Loy, Asta

William Powell, Myrna Loy, Asta

The novel may not make other’s top ten list, but I found it to be funny, romantic, suspenseful, a logical, complicated mystery with plenty of suspects. While the movies, particularly the performances of Powell and Loy inspired my upcoming novel, The Yankee Club, I enjoyed the complexity of the novel and seeing how Dashiell Hammett created suspense while blending humor.

Nine.  And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, a baffling and ingenious masterpiece, and also the world’s best-selling mystery. I loved this novel for its incredible ending! It was originally released in May 1939 as a Saturday Evening Post serial, and qualified as a Golden Age novel by a matter of months. It’s suspenseful, complex and intricately written with an ending few readers ever saw coming.

And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None

The story begins when ten people arrive in a house with a recorded message from an unseen host. Each is accused of committing a murder and one by one, they are killed off and Christie brilliantly reveals the killer.

Also released as Ten Little Indians, the novel, like The Thin Man, inspired Hollywood, with radio and television versions, even a video game. It was not only popular with the public, but the New York Times in 1939 said, “The whole thing is utterly impossible and utterly fascinating. It is the most baffling mystery Agatha Christie has ever written.”

In 1914, Agatha married a British aviator. During the First World War, she worked as a hospital nurse and in a hospital pharmacy, a job that influenced her work, as many of the murders in her books are carried out with poison. Following the breakup of her marriage, she married archaeologist Max Mallowan. Christie’s travels with Mallowan contributed background to several of her novels set in the Middle East.

Eight. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers. I’d never read Dorothy Sayers until her mysteries were recommended by several people at the Library Thing. Thank you all. I started with The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club published in 1928, and just finished it. The novel was Sayers’s fourth featuring her famous fictional detective Lord Peter Wimsey, a British gentleman, expert at food wine and fashion, and who solves crimes for the fun of it.

The novel is a classic old-style mystery with the reader along for the ride with a charming sleuth. At times, the novel seemed a bit too stuffy for my tastes, but I found myself engulfed in the intricately woven plot and couldn’t put it down. I enjoyed Wimsey and look forward to getting to know him better with her other novels.

The Unpleasatness

Dorothy L. Sayers wrote novels and short stories mostly between World War I and World War II. Her career was overshadowed by the success of Agatha Christie, but many critics consider her writing to be superior. Although best known for her mysteries, she also wrote plays and essays. She considered her translation, late in life, of Dante’s Devine Comedy to be her best work. I think you’ll enjoy her old-school style.

Did these three make your top ten list of the Golden Age? Next week I’ll post picks five through seven. Will your favorites be on it?

Looking forward to your comments.


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The Golden Age of Mysteries

Top tenI’m working on a list of Mystery and History’s top ten detective novels from the golden age of mystery novels, the 1920′s and 1930′s. If you’ve read my blog, you might be able to guess some of my favorites, but this isn’t about my top ten.

I’ve already received a lot of suggestions, so let me know your favorites and why they should be on the list, by leaving me a comment.



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How Dashiell Hammett Influenced The Yankee Club

I admit it. I messed up. In my last post I mentioned Dashiell Hammett was a major influence on my writing, particularly in my upcoming historical mystery, The Yankee Club.

Dashiell Hammett

When the novel is released in August, The Yankee Club will be my ninth published novel. A few months later, comes the second in the series, novel number ten. In my novels, even in those that fall into a series, my main character experiences a journey of growth and are driven by a sense of justice.

My writing is not unique in this approach at all. I create characters this way, because I’ve always been influenced by life’s injustices, and I’m always looking to grow and evolve in my personal life. There’s always room for improvement!

Dashiell Hammett’s characters resolutely cling to their core values. In spite of the challenges the characters face, and even if they acknowledge their faults, they refuse to change. This approach to fiction writing also is not unique. Think of any John Wayne movie. Or High Noon, or Dirty Harry.

Neither Sam Spade nor Nick Charles attempted journeys of self-discover or tried to restore justice or order in a chaotic life. They made sense out of life’s chaos by clinging to their values. This character philosophy also characterized Hammett’s pragmatic philosophy of life.

This philosophy was rooted in Hammett’s experience as a Pinkerton detective. As a detective his job wasn’t to consider the justice or injustice of the actions he was taking on a particular case, much like Sam Spade or Nick Charles.

Beginning in midlife, Hammett evolved and embraced the cause of oppressed workers, even socialism. He was no doubt influenced by his own wealth accumulating at a time the country was sinking into depression and others’ wealth and jobs were vanishing.

Unfortunately we were not able to see this change reflected in his writing because his last novel was The Thin Man published in 1934 when Hammett was forty.

So if our approach is so different, how did Hammett influence my writing?

I loved Hammett’s vivid settings and characterizations. He said himself that his characters were based on real people he encountered as a Pinkerton.

My favorite Hammett novel was The Thin Man, because of the humor and the romance between a married couple, Nick and Nora Charles.

This influence helped me create my historical mystery, The Yankee Club. The novel takes place in New York, in the mid-thirties. Scenes are sprinkled with humor and romance between my two main characters, Jake Donovan and Laura Wilson. I think Dashiell Hammett would approve.




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Dashiell Hammett’s Influence

Raymond Chandler once said of Dashiell Hammett, “He was spare, frugal, hardboiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.”

Both authors influenced my return to writing mystery and suspense novels. Hammett’s era led to my historical mystery series set in 1933. The first novel, The Yankee Club will be published in August by Random House Alibi.

Despite only having published five novels, Hammett became a world-renowned author and is responsible for the creation of a new subgenre of fiction, hard-boiled detective novels.  He created some of the most compelling leading characters in literature, such as Sam Spade and Nick and Nora Charles. His work had a permanent effect on literature, film and television.

Dashiell Hammett

Hammett’s detective fiction, known for its realism and colorful characters can be attributed to his years as a Pinkerton detective. He based many of his characters, heroes, villains and secondary characters on some of the shady characters he encountered as a Pinkerton. When the U.S. became involved in World War I, he quit his job, enlisted in the army, but contacted tuberculosis. When the disease went into remission he resumed work as a Pinkerton. When it flared up again in 1921 he quit for good.

Hammett took a writing course and sold short stories to magazines. His first novel was the critically acclaimed Red Harvest. In 1929 Hammett moved to New York and achieved fame with the release of The Maltese FalconThe Thin Man was published as a magazine serial in 1933 and as a novel in 1934 the same year as the launch of the successful movie series starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. Hammett tried his hand as a screenwriter for Paramount Pictures and moved to Hollywood, where he met Lillian Hellman who became a successful playwright and the love of Dashiell’s life.

With money coming in from magazine, book and movie royalties, Hammett’s writing slowed and stopped after age forty. He became involved in worker rights and took up the cause against McCarthyism in the 1950s. Hammett was succeeded by Raymond Chandler and today is considered one of the twentieth century’s leading writers.

As an author I found the hard-drinking former detective Dashiell Hammett so charismatic and his writing so uncompromising that he became a character in my upcoming novel The Yankee Club.

Dashiell Hammett once said of his own writing. “I’ve been as bad an influence on American literature as anyone I can think of.”

Of that, I wholeheartedly disagree. If you’re a writer, what writers have inspired you and why?


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What happened to Woodstock?

For those of you who’ve followed and enjoyed my blogs about Woodstock, I’ve appreciated your interest. Woodstock inspired my novel, Goodbye Emily, and from your feedback many of you have enjoyed the novel and the look back.

I’ve returned with my writing focused on my mystery and suspense roots. In August, Random House Alibi will release the first in a humorous historical mystery The Yankee Club. Next January comes the second in the series, All That Glitters, as the two main characters travel to Hollywood.

The Yankee Club takes place in 1933 New York. Inspired by The Thin Man novel by Dashiell Hammett and the Thin Man movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, The Yankee Club follows detective turned mystery writer, Jake Donovan, and Broadway actress Laura Wilson, as they investigate the murder of Jake’s former detective partner, Mickey O’Brien.

Humor and romance blend with the mystery and suspense. Along the way, you’ll meet Cole Porter, Babe Ruth and even Dashiell Hammett himself.

Like the sixties, the thirties was a troubled time that inspired me to write a novel. Before the release of The Yankee Club, I wanted to share some of my inspiration about the times and troubles of the era and the mystery novels that sprang from the times.

I’ll write about novels written during and about the times. I hope you introduce you to other authors who write historical mysteries.

My next blog will be about Dashiell Hammett. Hope you enjoy.



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Free download of Woodstock novel

Still a few more days to obtain a free ebook of Goodbye Emily, only at the Kindle Store. Experience the magic, the music and the memories of Woodstock with my novel.

Country Joe McDonald said, “Michael Murphy’s novel, Goodbye Emily, is an  entertaining and poignant adventure. Well written  and easy to read. The book revisits the Woodstock  Music Festival through the minds and lives of several  men who were there and plan to return to the  original site. All characters have their own reasons  for the journey but it is easy for anyone of that  generation to identify with them and their struggle  to deal with present and the past. A very enjoyable  and timely and fun read. It is a great book but would  also make one hell of a great movie.”

Wavy Gravy: “What we have in mind is a sweet look back at the  good old days. We must have been in heaven, man.”

One final roadtrip

One final roadtrip



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