Sidney Paget

The Dastardly Past:  Sidney Paget.

Today (October 4th) marks the anniversary of the birth of illustrator Sidney Paget in 1860.  If his name is not immediately associated with that of Sherlock Holmes, his images surely are.  In the course of his successful career, he created 356 Holmes illustrations–mostly for The Strand magazine.  They have been a source of inspiration for actors throughout the past century, giving life to the postures, mannerisms, and expressions of Holmes, Watson, LeStrade, et al.

Sadly, Paget passed away at the age of 47 from a mediastinal tumor–a tumor located between his lungs, sternum, and spinal column.  The area also touches on the heart, esophagus, and aorta, and is therefore a tricky place to operate.  Such tumors are rare and, in the early twentieth century, they represented a death sentence.  In his short life, however, he created work that seems destined to remain immortal.

Edmund Crispin

The Dastardly Past:  Edmund Crispin.

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On October 2, 1921, Robert Bruce Montgomery, pen name Edmund Crispin, was born.  Crispin attended St. John’s College, Oxford, and began producing his breezy mystery novels at a young age.  Employing a facetiousness that bordered on the farcical, Crispin is a writer you either love or you don’t.  He lampoons academia, indulges in outrageous puns, and uses exaggeration in a way more reminiscent of P. G. Wodehouse than P. D. James.  Detractors have referred to his style as “coy.”

Crispin’s best known work is The Moving Toy Shop, which relies on outrageous plot devices yet remains beloved of mystery aficionados the world over.  Sadly, Crispin ran out of writing steam in the 1950s.  Afterwards he concentrated on music and became a prominent critic of detective fiction, often writing for the Sunday Times.  Nevertheless, his novels have remained in print and fans return to them again and again, if not for the puzzles they contain, then for the tone and wit in which he presents them.