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Carr on Cobb

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  • William F. Deeck
    I may have posted this here before. However, here it is again. A letter from John Dickson Carr to the Unicorn Mystery Book Club News (Vol. 3, No. 4, 1950): I
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 18, 2003
      I may have posted this here before. However, here it is again.

      A letter from John Dickson Carr to the Unicorn Mystery Book Club News (Vol.
      3, No. 4, 1950):

      "I hope that I may be allowed to comment on the remarks of Mr. Belton Cobb,
      who is English and calls himself a writer of detective stories. (At least,
      he does in his books.) Murder, both unprinted and unprintable, rises in this
      old hack's soul when I read:

      " 'Authors are well advised to include the murderer prominently in the first
      chapter so that he will be chosen by as many of those readers (38%) as
      possible; then, when they have finished the book, they will go about telling
      their friends how clever they were, thus advertising the book.'

      "If Mr. Cobb seriously meant this, it is the most nauseating statement since
      the days of Calvin Coolidge.

      "The author's job is not to advertise his book. His job is to write it. He
      must write it as well as he can; he must give the reader all the clues known
      to the detective; and he must try, if possible, to stun them with a
      thunderbolt surprise-ending. Admittedly, this is hard to do. Readers are
      very wary and sophisticated. But I venture to state, with some assurance,
      what a writer does not do.

      "He does not toady to his readers. He is not Smiles's Self-Help. He does not
      smite his chest proudly with the recollection of what an ass he has made of
      himself in the very first chapter. On the contrary, he is there to befool,
      confuse, and bamboozle as many readers as he can. Even when he fails, he has
      run a noble course. His motto, in the best and most cordial sense of the
      term, should be: the public be damned.

      "If he has written a first-class detective novel, that public will discover
      it. Mr. Cobb's despised critics are not without their influence. Should all
      else fail, I am happy to give Mr. Cobb a few suggestions. Suitably disguised
      and saying he is working his way through knowledge, he could peddle the
      books from door to door. He could stand on his head in Trafalgar Square,
      juggling a dozen copies with both feet. These expedients, I must admit,
      would be less crafty. But they would be far more honest."
    • vegetableduck
      Well, Cobb had been in book publishing, so no doubt he had practical considerations in mind (his father, Thomas Cobb, was a popular novelist who wrote
      Message 2 of 2 , Jun 1, 2007
        Well, Cobb had been in book publishing, so no doubt he had practical
        considerations in mind (his father, Thomas Cobb, was a popular
        novelist who wrote mysteries as well). It's interesting to see his
        style change over the years, as he tries to keep up with trends.
        His later books often seem to involve young ladies in various dates
        of undress. One is called Death of a Peeping Tom. Of course Carr
        had a few of those ladies himself, as I recall!

        Curt

        --- In GAdetection@yahoogroups.com, "William F. Deeck"
        <billdeeck@...> wrote:
        >
        > I may have posted this here before. However, here it is again.
        >
        > A letter from John Dickson Carr to the Unicorn Mystery Book Club
        News (Vol.
        > 3, No. 4, 1950):
        >
        > "I hope that I may be allowed to comment on the remarks of Mr.
        Belton Cobb,
        > who is English and calls himself a writer of detective stories.
        (At least,
        > he does in his books.) Murder, both unprinted and unprintable,
        rises in this
        > old hack's soul when I read:
        >
        > " 'Authors are well advised to include the murderer prominently in
        the first
        > chapter so that he will be chosen by as many of those readers
        (38%) as
        > possible; then, when they have finished the book, they will go
        about telling
        > their friends how clever they were, thus advertising the book.'
        >
        > "If Mr. Cobb seriously meant this, it is the most nauseating
        statement since
        > the days of Calvin Coolidge.
        >
        > "The author's job is not to advertise his book. His job is to
        write it. He
        > must write it as well as he can; he must give the reader all the
        clues known
        > to the detective; and he must try, if possible, to stun them with a
        > thunderbolt surprise-ending. Admittedly, this is hard to do.
        Readers are
        > very wary and sophisticated. But I venture to state, with some
        assurance,
        > what a writer does not do.
        >
        > "He does not toady to his readers. He is not Smiles's Self-Help.
        He does not
        > smite his chest proudly with the recollection of what an ass he
        has made of
        > himself in the very first chapter. On the contrary, he is there to
        befool,
        > confuse, and bamboozle as many readers as he can. Even when he
        fails, he has
        > run a noble course. His motto, in the best and most cordial sense
        of the
        > term, should be: the public be damned.
        >
        > "If he has written a first-class detective novel, that public will
        discover
        > it. Mr. Cobb's despised critics are not without their influence.
        Should all
        > else fail, I am happy to give Mr. Cobb a few suggestions. Suitably
        disguised
        > and saying he is working his way through knowledge, he could
        peddle the
        > books from door to door. He could stand on his head in Trafalgar
        Square,
        > juggling a dozen copies with both feet. These expedients, I must
        admit,
        > would be less crafty. But they would be far more honest."
        >
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