Saucers of Mud

June 2, 2008

A Brief Review of Mystery Series with Thematic Titles

Filed under: Uncategorized — matt w @ 12:04 pm

John D. MacDonald (the original?) ran into trouble. There are arbitrarily many color terms, but past the big eleven they start to sound somewhat silly. Let’s face it, “indigo” is just there to fill out the acronym in “Roy G. Biv,” and “The Dreadful Lemon Sky” sounds pretty desperate.

Janet Evanovich, obviously, is set for this life and the next. Well done, Janet! Though I have to say I read one of these and I don’t think the title had anything to do with the story.

Sue Grafton is probably fine; I don’t think she wants to write twenty-seven of these. [In fact that article says she doesn’t.] I just hope that she’s got something good in mind for ‘X’.

Harry Kemelman completely played himself.



  1. “indigo” is just there to fill out the acronym

    You mean to say the place in the spectrum between blue and violet is a nullity?

    Comment by The Modesto Kid — June 3, 2008 @ 1:17 pm

  2. (Oh and also, did you know about this book?)

    Comment by The Modesto Kid — June 3, 2008 @ 1:22 pm

  3. The John D. MacDonald titles are highly variable. I’ve long thought highly of “The Empty Copper Sea” (though not quite highly enough to actually read the book), which is one of the late ones, but though some of the early ones are good (“Bright Orange for the Shroud”), some are lame – “A Purple Place for Dying” sounds like Rod McKuen’s lost screenplay for the “Saw” series.

    Sue Grafton has a Reichenbach Falls problem.

    Harry Kemelman cleverly insured against the possibility that his offspring, if they needed cash, might hire someone to ghost “Rabbi Small novels” after his death, diluting the quality of the original in a what-George-Lucas-did-to-George-Lucas manner.

    Comment by Ben — June 3, 2008 @ 10:13 pm

  4. I initially misread “John D. MacDonald” for “Ross Macdonald” and wondered if “Zebra-Striped” could qualify as 1) a color and 2) part of a title of a book in a series.

    Comment by andrew — June 5, 2008 @ 1:20 am

  5. It does qualify as 1) awesome and 2) philosophically significant. (I’m supposed to be finishing that paper I allude to.)

    Ben, you’re right about “A Purple Place….” I vaguely remember reading (in Dilys Winn’s Murder Ink anthology) that John D. wanted to call a book “A Dingy Way to Die” and the publishers wouldn’t let him, thinking “Dingy” sounded too much like “Dinghy” — though this would be in keeping with his nautical theme. Actually I’m not sure that it was John D. — it’s apparently a quote from Under the Volcano, though John D. did use it himself. I’d like to believe that this was how he wound up with “Purple Place,” though that entry suggests that the quote is from a later book. Anyway: dingy = not a color. Grafton doesn’t get to call one “Omicron is for Omerta.”

    In theory, since Kemelman broke the “Someday”/”That Day”/”The Day”/”One (ugh) Fine Day” barrier, his heirs could keep on that way, but the sad truth is that the other year I was in Otto Penzler’s Mystery Bookshop and I saw the Rabbi books in the out-of-print/import section. I was shocked. Those are classics!

    This whole post was inspired by Veronica Geng’s introduction to Dwight Macdonald’s anthology of parodies, where, thinking that “Macdonald had pretty much said it all on the subject of parody in his preface and appendix,” she took Donald Fagen’s suggestion to pretend she thought he was John D. MacDonald. “ROBERT BROWNING&emdash;the beach-bum Apollo with the beautiful fiancée and every reason to live&emdash;until along came murder….” Unfortunately the edition I’m reading doesn’t have these. Geng says that David Denby “told [her] it was ‘cowardly’ to write this piece instead of an essay,” which makes him a killjoy on the level of Leon Kass, scourge of ice cream cones everywhere.

    Comment by matt w — June 5, 2008 @ 6:23 am

  6. That Veronica Geng piece was brilliant. It’s collected in “Love Trouble is My Business.”

    David Denby doesn’t have a parodic bone in his body. He is anti-parodic. No, scratch that. David Denby is incommensurate with parody, in the Kuhnian sense of incommensurate – the two don’t exist in the same system of thought, the way that you can’t explain Aristotelian physics in Newtonian language. I’m not even sure it is possible to parody David Denby. That the New Yorker has Denby but no more Geng is a sign of our debased times, although one can hardly blame this one on David Remnick (who does a pretty good job with what he has to work with).

    Leon Kass reminds me of Candy Darling in “Candy Says”:

    Candy says
    I’ve come to hate my body
    And all that it requires
    In this world …

    Don’t you bet they knew each other?

    Comment by Ben — June 5, 2008 @ 11:47 pm

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