Thursday, January 09, 2014

Peter Crowther Cold Comforts Part 3

Cold Comforts

‘The Good Book’ is a more straightforward PI yarn which, again, was an
almost obscene amount of fun to write. And to balance things out, I’d like
to dedicate this to my own dad who passed on in 1972.
Marilyn Monroe was a dish. I’ve never really taken to the current vogue
of women who are so slim they’re bordering on anorexic, and so when
Carole Nelson Douglas gave me the opportunity to write a story featuring
Norma Jean, I jumped at it. This is another of those situations (pretty much
all of them are when I stop to think about it) that I accept a job and then
wonder what the heck I’m going to do. But the solution came to me without
too much difficulty—it had to cover the suspicious circumstances of
Marilyn’s death and it had to include something about JFK . . . and, with
the current popularity of conspiracy theories, the rest more or less took care
of itself. The result was ‘The Cost of Freedom.’
People always ask me why I write stories set in America when I’m
English.Well, I don’t have a good answer except to say that I love America
and, generally speaking, I love Americans. But every now and then I get a
specific request to set a story in England—‘Cat On An Old School Roof ’
 introduc t ion
and ‘The Allotment’ are the products of two such requests. ‘School Roof ’
was written for a Cat Crimes anthology with the sub-theme of different
times, and I was asked by that loveable editorial trinity of Gorman,
Greenberg, and Segriff to do something quintessentially English. Long
an admirer of the school adventures of the likes of Billy Bunter, Tom
Merry, and even Tom Brown, I decided that that’s where I’d set my story—
an archetypal English boarding school in the dog days of the 1890s . . .
complete with an obligatory school bully and, of course, a cat.
‘The Allotment’ came about as a result of a request from author and
editorMartin Edwards to write something quintessentially North English for
an anthology project of such tales for the Crime Writers’ Association. I
accepted the challenge and set to work on something that transferred to
England the American small town darkness and meticulously researched
social detail of Stephen King, mixing in a liberal dose of Peter Lovesey’s
slowly unveiling suspense-style in the process. I created my own Calder
Valley town of Luddersedge and filled it with a potentially huge cast of
everyday bit players . . . and the result was a great success—so great that,
within a couple of weeks, the story sold in the U.S. to Ellery Queen’s Mystery
Magazine. However, Editor Janet Hutchings asked for a couple of changes
for its appearance in EQMM—changes I was happy to make and which in
no way affected a reader’s enjoyment—but it appears here in its original
For many, the abuse of children is the most heinous crime imaginable . . .
even more horrific and unforgivable, in its brutal theft of innocence, than
the taking of actual life. The U.S. lawyer and author Andrew Vachss has
made this field his life work, both in the courtroom and, with the creation of
his anti-hero Burke, on the fiction bookshelves, and I thought I’d like to
have a shot myself. ‘A Time To Dance’—a truly short story (fewer than
2,000 words—a record for me! I have titles that long!)—sees Koko Tate take
on a cycle of retribution which he believes to be the only hope for a young
boy but one with which he is considerably less than comfortable. The story
originally appeared in the short-lived (and truly dire) English magazine,
Dark Asylum.
‘TheMain Event’ always goes down a storm with audiences. It’s virtually
a one-act play with but a single set, and its central premise—a most unusual
method of poisoning—is, I believe, entirely preposterous. But I’m informed
(reliably, I hope) that it works incredibly well and moves like an express
train. I’ll let you be the judge. It appeared in an anthology entitled Murder
Most Delicious and has since been reprinted four times.
Peter Crowther
First Lady Murders was the title of an anthology of (yes, you’ve guessed it)
murder stories featuring real First Ladies. The brief, offered by Nancy
Pickard, asked only that contributors picked their First Lady and let Nancy
know—I chose Edith Bolling Wilson and decided to set the action in the
White House gardens. My one small problem was that I didn’t know too
much about theWhite House gardens (apart from the fact they were probably
bigger than mine), so I searched bookstores for reference material and
spent what seemed like hours on the web, both to no avail. In desperation,
I called the White House. Within one week, a booklet detailing the White
House’s grounds plopped through my mailbox. The story pretty much
wrote itself from then on.
When the Berlin Wall came down, I foresaw problems. At the time, I
jotted down a few notes outlining a potential story set in and around the
newly-liberated East and left it at that. A few years later, another Cat Crimes
project reared its furry head and I rescued the notes and wrote ‘Reunification.’
It was considered a little too downbeat and a little too ‘nothing much
happens’ (actually, nothing at all happens) and the editors passed on it.
Since then, it’s appeared in A Treasury of Cat Mysteries, and I confess to a
lasting fondness for it.
Which brings us to the final story in this book.
‘Cold Comforts’ was, I think, either my third or fourth Koko story.We’d
just gotten through a particularly hard winter in England, with news reports
filled with true horror stories of old people dying of hypothermia in
unheated homes and run-down tenements.My own mum was fairly poorly
even though—living in a self-contained apartment at the top of our
house—she was very warm and well looked after. Anyway, I got to thinking
about old folks—which, so long as we don’t die young, we’ll all be ourselves
one fine day—and about maybe someone taking responsibility for their
‘comfort’ into their own hands. It mixes in a large amount of poetry—
something I’ve done elsewhere from time to time, most notably in the
off-beat vampire tale ‘Too Short A Death’—and includes winter in New
York (my favorite time in that city) plus, of course, Koko Tate.
And that’s it for this time.
Anyone who knows me or who may have read my various articles and
columns or who has possibly listened to me ramble on at conventions (both
on and off the stage) will know of my great and enduring love of short
fiction. This is my sixth collection of the stuff and there’s another one
(Jewels in the Dust) due later this year . . . so if you enjoy this lot, the good
news is there’s more to come and still more being written.
 introduc t ion
Right now—Saturday 4th of February 2012 (about 10 years and 11
months after my younger self first penned an earlier version of this Foreword)—
I’m looking out of my office, seeing a dusting of snow on the
church roof next door. I’m busy working on a zombie story for my chum,
Stephen Jones; the second book in my alien invasion trilogy, Forever Twilight;
and, when I can get back to it, my big mainstream novel (set in New York,
of course), Thanksgiving.
All sorts of adventures await me . . . as, of course, they await you, too. So
let’s stay in touch. By all means drop me a line sometime (p.crowther3@ and let me know what you think of these tales. Writing is
such a lonely life that it’s always nice to know there’s someone out there,
living your stories.
Meanwhile, look after yourselves and those you care for . . . and keep on
Peter Crowther
Grosvenor House in Hornsea, England
February 2012
From an original version by Peter Crowther
Harrogate, England
March 2001

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