by Joe Benevento
Anyone familiar with mystery knows the “femme fatale,” a character who can prove literally lethal to the man she seduces away from clear thinking. Bridget O’Shaughnessy in Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon is an example, presenting herself as a “damsel in distress” in need of Sam Spade’s help and protection, but ending up his ultimate distraction and potential demise (see the character played by Jane Greer in the 1947 noir film, Out of the Past for another classic rendition of the type.) In spite of our familiarity with the function of a femme fatale, not all readers or writers of fiction realize how far-reaching the concept is, how flexible, and how ultimately crucial it can be to any plot involving the kind of thinking needed to unravel a complex crime. Continue reading Mystery Writers–Who (or What) is Your “Femme Fatale”?
by Joe Benevento
In Edgar Allan Poe’s third and final story featuring C. Auguste Dupin, “The Purloined Letter,” Dupin explains to the narrator why the police were unable to find the letter in question, even though it was left in plain sight (though somewhat disguised) on the culprit’s desk: “Had the letter been deposited within the range of their search, these fellows would, beyond a question, have found it.” The Paris police had undertaken a ludicrously exhaustive search of the Minister D’s premises and person, always seeking the stolen letter in the most ingenious of hidden nooks or hollowed out chair legs or other “secret hiding places” of that variety. Since they could not themselves conceive of anyone being so stupid (or, in this case, so smart) as to place the precious letter right where anyone could see it, they were almost physically and certainly mentally disabled from seeing it. However, because he knew what kind of thinker the Minister was (both Mathematician and Poet) and because he knew the Minister comprehended how the Police would approach uncovering the letter, Dupin was able to retrieve the letter without much complication. Continue reading The Range Of Search: A Key to Understanding (and Writing) Mystery Fiction