Literary Daybook, Jan. 8

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

Published January 8, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Today in fiction

On Jan. 8, 1985, Kinsey Millhone lunches with her cousin Tasha.
-- "M is for Malice" (1996)
by Sue Grafton

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
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Today in Literary History

On this day in 1824, the Victorian mystery novelist Wilkie Collins was born. Though many of Collins' 25 novels are now little-read, his "gaslight thrillers" were once very popular. Two of them -- "The Woman in White" (1860) and "The Moonstone" (1868) -- have not only stayed in print but have grown in reputation. Critics and historians view Collins as a master of suspense and plotting, the first in English crime fiction. T. S. Eliot thought "The Moonstone" was "the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels," and Conan Doyle borrowed heavily from it. Collins attributed his popularity to the old adage, "make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, make 'em wait," which he said he borrowed from the music hall, though it might just as easily have come from his good friend Charles Dickens. Among Collins' many contributions to the crime genre was his creation of the idiosyncratic detective hero. In "The Moonstone," the Yard's Sergeant Cuff buries his back-of-my-hand urges under upper-crusty politeness; he has steely gray eyes, a melancholy voice and a nose for roses and fools:

"I haven't much time to be fond of anything ... but when I have a moment's fondness to bestow, most times, Mr. Betteredge, the roses get it."

"The great Cuff, on his side, looked at Superintendent Seegrave in that quietly expecting way which I have already noticed. I can't affirm that he was on the watch for his brother officer's speedy appearance in the character of an Ass -- I can only say that I strongly suspected it."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," email Steve King.

By the Salon Books Editors

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