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The Knife Slipped
Back in 2010, I spent part of the summer at the University of Texas – Austin. I was researching a biography of Erle Stanley Gardner courtesy of a fellowship from the estate which was administered by the school.
I had 635 boxes of material to review and take notes on to have a complete picture of the author. Gardner never did anything by halves, so it was not surprising that his life had been boxed up and donated to the Harry Ransom Center.
By now, I know most of you have heard me tell the story of my father bringing home a copy of The Underdog and Other Stories by Agatha Christie, and thinking I might enjoy it.
However, in becoming a biographer, there were other influences that occurred around the same time. The first of these was brought back to mind by the EQMM conference I spoke at on Friday. Since I am writing about the men who wrote the Ellery Queen stories, I was there primarily as a biographer. During the discussion of the magazine covers, I recalled a series of covers from the 1970s, featuring a number of famous mystery authors. Those photos intrigued me. Who were these people? Why had they written?
The Devil's in the Details
Beyond the regional flavor of the books, Taylor reflected the era in her details. The books set before the war deal with the hardships of the Great Depression. From 1941 to 1945, the reader gets a glimpse into the world of ration coupons that went on across the country, blackouts, people missing while serving at war. Taylor’s fictional world is such a mirror of the times that the reader can play historian and archaeologist as well as sleuth.
This level of accuracy is leveraged well in the books. The reader is so entrenched in the minutiae of the book that it becomes easier to accept the more preposterous events that take place over the course of the novel. Were the book not so well grounded in real details, the reader might not be willing to move along with the plot..