Tuesday, April 23, 2019



How did you get into mysteries? What led you to the genre, and what led you to love it?

For some, it might have been Sherlock Holmes. For others a classic movie, like Laura, or The Third Man, or Vertigo, or a TV show, like Columbo, or Peter Gunn, or Murder She Wrote. For an awful lot of people, it might have been reading about Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys as kids.

My gateway drug to the mystery genre was a comic strip to which I was introduced before I could even read. Every Sunday, my dad would read me the Sunday comics, and one of my favorites, perhaps my very favorite, was Dick Tracy.

From Tracy, I graduated to Holmes, to Perry Mason, to Sam Spade and the Continental Op, to Gideon of the Yard, the 87th Precinct, James Bond, Phil Marlowe, and Mike Hammer. But Tracy was my introduction to the genre, the reason I became a mystery fan, and, eventually a mystery writer.

In fact, it’s likely that Tracy had some influence on my non-writing career, too. Of course, having a lot of cops in my family had its effect, but, in my heart of hearts, when I first pinned on a badge, it was Dick Tracy I was trying to emulate.

So when, some years after moving to Chicago (Dick Tracy’s City, though this is never explicitly stated), I was offered the chance to be part of the team that put the strip out, of course I jumped at the chance.

When, upon the retirement of Dick Locher, the Pulitzer-winning cartoonist who had illustrated the strip since 1983, and written it since 2005, Mike Curtis was hired to write the strip, and Joe Staton to illustrate it, Mike brought me in as the strip’s police technical advisor, which meant that, among other things, I would write the copy for the weekly “Crimestoppers Textbook” panel.

 I’ve since left the strip, but was recently invited back as a guest writer.

Mike Curtis likes to try new things, and he had the idea of interspersing the long, complex storylines that play out over several months, with occasional short sequences in which guest writers and artists would have a chance to take a crack at the iconic character in the medium in which he was first introduced to the world.

Mike calls them “Minit Mysteries,” storylines that play out in only a week or two, “fair-play whodunits” (in contrast to the longer storylines, which are typically pursuits, with the villain known to the audience) in which readers are invited to compete with Tracy in figuring out the correct solution.

He based the notion on the “Minute Mysteries” that used to appear as back-up features in the last few pages of the old Dick Tracy Monthly comic book. The regular stories in DTM were reprints of the newspaper strip, reconfigured to fit a comic book page. But the “Minute Mysteries,” sometimes featuring Tracy, sometimes another sleuth such as “The Count” or clues-spotting legal secretary Myra Wilson, were original stories, created specifically for the comic book. Here’s an example from a 1949 issue of Dick Tracy Monthly.

Naturally, I jumped at the chance to write a story about the character who introduced me to the genre we all love, one that would appear in newspapers all across the world. Potentially, it might give me a wider readership than any other story I’d ever written.

Aside from that, it would put me in heady company. Last year I had a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, “The Adventure of the Manhunting Marshal,” published in Sherlock Holmes – Consulting Detective, Vol. 11 (Airship 27, 2018). Writing about the two most famous detectives in fiction would put me on a very short list. In fact, the only other writer I know of who has done this is the late and legendary Edward D. Hoch.

My “Minit Mystery” is called “The Occam’s Razor Case,” and in it, Tracy is being interviewed by a pair of writers who are collaborating on a biography of the square-jawed cop, Patrick Culhane (who looks an awful lot like Max Allan Collins, another one-time Tracy writer) and Austin Black (a fictional counterpart for A. Brad Shwartz, who collaborated with Al on a biography of Eliot Ness). In the course of the interview, Tracy reminisces about his tenure, early in his law enforcement career, as the reform police chief of a gangster-ridden suburb called “Homeville” (a fictional analog for Cicero, IL). He recounts to the two writers the story of how he had to solve a puzzling cop-killing. The issue wasn’t who killed Officer Adrienne Hart. She was murdered by a contract killer named Rev O. Lucian, a professional assassin who specializes in cops (a target most hit men avoid like the plague).

The mystery is trying to figure out who hired Lucian.

The sequence begins Sunday, 28 April 2019, and runs through Sunday, 12 May 2019. 

If your paper doesn’t happen to carry Tracy, you can follow the story on the Internet here:


The one mystery Tracy can’t solve? How can a “Minute Mystery” (or “Minit” to use Mike’s preferred spelling) last two weeks?


By the way, while I’ve got your attention, my first novel, An Obscure Grave (Pro Se Press, 2018) is still getting five-star reviews over at Amazon. If you’ve got Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free.

1 comment:

Mark Williams said...

Wonderful, and fun, thanks!