Long before Saint Patrick planted his staff in Ireland, pre-Christian Celtic people populated much of Europe, and it was their custom to divide the year by four major holidays. According to their calendar, the first day of the year fell on the day that would later correspond to our November 1st. The date marked the onset of winter and folks hunkered down for the lean times.
The festival observed at this time
was the most significant of the Celtic year and it was called Samhain (pronounced
Sah-ween). It was during this specific day that the ghosts of the dead were
able to mix with the living, because it was at Samhain the souls of the dead
travelled to the other world. As Christianity spread thoughout the world, the
church's policy was to mingle ancient rites with Christian holy days, and
November 1st became the Christian Feast of All Saints, while October 31st,
All Hallows Eve, eventually came to be called Halloween.
Mexico and other countries around
the world call this day the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), and they trace
their holidays back to an Aztec festival honoring the goddess Mictecacihuatl––but the holiday focuses on honoring the deceased. According to Wikipedia, there
are similar celebrations in Asian and African cultures. Some cultures honor their dead by
eating their brains to absorb their lives and memories. In Papua New Guinea
this practice was endemic and so was the degenerative disease called Kuru––much
better known to us in a form called Mad Cow disease.
I'll opt for a more
straightforward way to honor the death of those mystery writers who passed on
to the other world this year, and to thank them for providing enrichment to many
lives. Here it is––the timeless in memoriam list:
Jeremiah Healy (1948-2014)
Healy wrote two series that I have
enjoyed over the years. John Francis Cuddy, a Boston-area
PI, was Healy's best-known character. Cuddy began his career as a military
police lieutenant in the dark days of the Vietnam conflict. He made his living
solving cases that had fallen through the cracks of the judicial system. He was
honest and of good character, but he could be violent if it was called for. Later, under the pseudonym Terry Devane, Healy penned a short series about lawyer Mairead O’Clare that I am looking forward
But in his real life, Jerry had his
own demons to fight. From Sandy
Balzo, his wife: "My heart breaks to send you all this news. As you may know,
Jerry has battled chronic severe depression for years, mostly controlled by
medication, but exacerbated by alcohol. Last night he took his own life."
Joseph D. McNamara (1935-2014)
Before McNamara became the author of several crime novels, he
walked a beat on the mean streets of Harlem. Along his way, he earned a Ph.D. from
Harvard. After a long and illustrious career as a police chief in California, he
wrote novels dubbed "cop noir." Many of his novels deal with the sin
that Dante considered worse than murder––betrayal by someone trusted.
Dorothy Salisbury Davis (1916-2014)
Dorothy Salisbury Davis's first novel was published in 1949. She specialized in the psychological thriller, laced with morality, motives and manners. Davis could appreciate the evil minds that lurked behind the façade of
an ordinary face. She was one of the founders of Sisters in Crime, an organization
whose goal was to overcome the tendency for many reviewers to concentrate on
male writers. She wrote more than 25 novels in a writing career that lasted more than five decades.
My first acquaintance with Meyers was through the series he
wrote in collaboration with his wife, Annette Meyers, under the name Maan Meyers.
It took place in colonial New York City during the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. These stories really captured my imagination and I was never
able to get hold of all the books in the series. The series began with The Dutchman and the main protagonist
was Pieter Tonneman, the last Dutch sheriff of New Amsterdam and the first
sheriff of New York. Meyers wrote other series as well, but it's the Dutchman
series that I will read again.
Authors who find their way into writing after many years
have passed pursuing other interests always impress me. Allin's first mystery
book was published when she was 55 years old. Awesome! Her first series features Belle Palmer, a realtor in
Northern Ontario. And her second is about the activities of Holly Martin, a
corporal in the RCMP on Vancouver Island. I have some of these on my TBR shelf
because the location, the job and the woman herself intrigue me.
Sadly, it was pancreatic cancer that ended Allin's career.
Her last book, Contingency Plan, won the 2013 Arthur Ellis Award for best novella.
Thompson was best known for his amazing novels that fell
under the category of Finnish noir. He wrote the Inspector Kari Vaara novels, the first of which, Snow Angels, was a
sensation and was short-listed for the Anthony and Edgar Awards. Vaara was the police chief in a
town in Lapland, but moved on to Helsinki where he was a homicide inspector.
An anthology edited by Thompson and containing one of his
stories, Helsinki Noir, will be
published posthumously in November. His last book, Helsinki Dead, was scheduled for release but it was unfinished at
the time of his unexpected death.
Stewart was one of the most widely-read fiction authors of
our time. While she was well known for her Arthurian fantasies, she also made
her mark as the author of romantic suspense novels, which took place in exotic
locations. Her books continue to be republished because interest in her stories
My favorites are The
Moon Spinners and Airs Above the
Melville's real name was Roy Peter Martin. After a varied
career in teaching and politics, he travelled to the Far East, representing Great
Britain as a cultural diplomat. In 1979, he went to Japan as the head of the
British Council and there he began writing his fascinating series featuring Tetsuo
Otani, the Superintendent of Police in Kobe. Melville presented a portrait of
Japanese life caught as it was between the drive for modernism and the desire
to preserve a very traditional past.
Ironically, he died just as Ostara Crime
publishing was bringing his books back into print. I always felt his books were
keepers and I still have copies of several of them.
Under the name Hampton Charles, he took on the
responsibility of continuing the Miss Seeton mysteries originally written by Heron
Carvic. These gentle stories were loosely based on Agatha Christie's Miss
Partnered by her husband David, Aimée co-wrote three different mystery
series, each chronicling the adventures of protagonists who were very different
from each other. The first featured Ella Clah, an ex-FBI agent now working for
the Navaho police on a reservation.
The second starred Sister Agatha, a nun who was once an investigative
journalist, and this made for an unusual approach to crime solving. More
recently, they wrote about an extraordinary vampire police officer in New Mexico
called Lee Nez. These books are something I'd like to get my teeth into.
(1952 – 2014)
Bruno was known for his series of "Bad" novels––Bad Guys, Bad Blood, Bad
Luck and more, featuring two FBI agents on the town in New York City. Later he
wrote about partner parole violator searchers in New Jersey, Loretta
Kovacs and Frank Marvell. Bruno is also the author of the
crime novel Seven, based on the Brad
Pitt-Morgan Freeman movie. Bruno's life was cut short by a
Even though they were not writers
of crime fiction, it is important to honor two great authors who were known to
readers and non-readers alike.
Poet and writer Dr. Maya Angelou (1928-2014) died at the age of 86, leaving a legacy of greatness that included
writing, acting, lecturing and civil rights activism. She wrote: "All my work, my life,
everything I do is about survival, not just bare, awful, plodding survival, but
survival with grace and faith. While one may encounter many defeats, one must
not be defeated."
One of her best-known works is I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. I
still recall the impact the book had on me when I read it.
Gabriel Garcia Márquez (1927-2014) was a Nobel Laureate whose death was mourned around the world. He was widely
recognized as the voice that enlightened us about the passions, superstitions,
violence and social inequality of Latin America. Two of his well-known books are Love
in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude.
“Fiction was invented the day Jonah arrived home and told his wife that he was three days late because he had been swallowed by a whale."