In GAD We Trust – Episode 4: Magic, Mummery, and Misdirection [w’ John @ Pretty Sinister Books]

In GAD We Trust

Lockdown rolls on, and so does my GAD-focussed podcast, which this time around sees me picking the brains of John Norris who blogs at Pretty Sinister Books and is surely one of the most widely-read members of our GAD coterie.

This episode sees us discussing the utilisation of magic in crime fiction, from its slightly disappointing pulpish roots up to the full dress detection of the Golden Age.  We look at how magic and misdirection are essentially two halves of the same coin, examine the works of a few luminaries, and then veer into mummery, psychics, and other aspects of the dark arts, and after that it’s all something of a blur.  I guess you’ll just have to listen below to find out more — or, if the player is, er, playing up for you, try clicking here to open it in your browser.

One thing’s for certain: John has some authors you’ve doubtless not heard of up his sleeve, so watch very closely…

My thanks to John for giving up his time to talk, and to all y’all for listening.  Hope this finds you and your families well.

I’ve been reminded that I didn’t provide a link to my post on seances in fiction which is mentioned in the above discussion; you can find it here.

More podcast in a fortnight, stay safe!

21 thoughts on “In GAD We Trust – Episode 4: Magic, Mummery, and Misdirection [w’ John @ Pretty Sinister Books]

  1. Thanks, JJ, for bringing John to the airwaves! It’s always gratifying to hear the voice of someone you’ve read for so long and to get such a strong sense of both their knowledge and enthusiasm.

    It doesn’t take much prodding to get me to boast that my family is related to Harry Houdini. I watched the movie starring Tony Curtis over and over and was more interested in his passion for the occult. My brother was the one who embraced his “inner magician,” and for several years he would make a little money entertaining kids at birthday parties. There was a popular magic store that we would visit often, and while I spent my allowance on things like Garlic Gum, he would consult quite seriously with the shop owner about sleight of hand techniques and playing with multiplying balls. (Oh, and my mom went to high school with Bill Bixby, and it threw me that she called him Bill!)

    The part of this podcast that made me really sit up and take notice was when JJ was describing the book The Hand of Mary Constable. It sounded so familiar, and I remembered an ABC Movie of the Week from the late 1960’s called Daughter of the Mind with Ray Milland and Gene Tierney. None of those TV movies hold up particularly well, but this one was great fun, the wax hand and everything, and little Mary calling out, “Daddy! Daddy! Why won’t you find me? Don’t you love me anymore?” I loved that stuff!


    • I did mention that movie but it got cut out in the editing. Well, actually said “It was a 1970s TV movie with Ray Milland”. Not the exact title which, of course, came to me much later. But it was all about movies so out it went. I was surprised the TV show discussion stayed in. JJ did a phenomenal job. of paring this long discussion that jumped all over the place into a neatly compact show that stays pretty much on GAD detective fiction. Admirable job! Plus — most of my truly awful fumbling and stuttering is gone so I’m very happy about that too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • As a kid, I was a big Pamelyn Ferdin fan. She played Mary, and she was also in one of the creepiest Star Trek episodes, the one with Mel Belli as Gorgon, the Friendly Angel. I think she was one of the kids in Yours, Mine and Ours, too.


      • The chief difficulty in editing this was ensuring that I said something from time to time — John provided more than enough material for a Norris Monologue, but my ego demanded that my own interruptions feature from time to time.

        Weirdly, I thought I’d left the mention of the movie in, but the editing took me longer than I had allowed and so I haven’t had time to listen back to the full episode yet. Hopefully it all makes sense…


      • We can save him for the next podcast when we discuss alternate universes and historical mystery elements in GAD mysteries. But you will have to read The Longbow Murder (1941) by Victor Luhrs before we tackle Lord Darcy in his weird world where magic displaces science. I have an extra copy that I am willing to ship to you. This is an assignment the professor will not allow to be overlooked. ;^)

        Thanks for the compliments, Sergio! We all miss you!


  2. I had a high hopes for this episode and I am glad to say I wasn’t disappointed! Lots of books I haven’t read or even heard of. I expect no less from John.
    Is it just me or is anyone else slightly concerned for neighbour who was part of John’s magic tricks. He seemed to move swiftly off the topic once the barbeque skewers were mentioned…
    Oh and I’m glad I’m not the only one who ended up spelling out names to JJ!


    • Kate, my partner was appalled that I used that girl’s full name. I hope she never hears this. My brother will be laughing hysterically if he does. The name just slipped out like that. Sleep well and be assured that no humans were harmed in any of my teenage magic tricks. Humiliated perhaps, but no long lasting PTSD, and certainly no ER visits. The cardboard wardrobe box we used in that trick I mentioned, however, was destroyed and my mother was furious. My magician obsession lasted only a single summer then I gave it all up because I was not very good at it all. Wrecking the props and embarrassing your brother’s friends does not bode well for a future in stage illusions.

      Liked by 2 people

      • We got away from youthful magic enthusiasms pretty quickly, but I had meant to mention at the time that I got quite caught up in Martin Gardner’s mathematical magic for a while. I met the magician and comedian Jerry Sadowitz on a night out and — much to my shame, unaware of who he was — saw that he had a pack of cards and showed him a trick I had learnt. He was very tolerant, and invited me to the magic chop where he was working at the time and introduced me the Gardner’s books on the subject.

        I lasted about a single summer, too, and probably couldn’t recall a single trick I learned, but some of the principles were fascinating. I doubtless have the books somewhere, so might fig them out over the summer and see what I can recall.


      • Well that is a relief! Though if you ever make it off to the Bodies from the Library conference I’ll be wary of any suggestions to see if I can fit in a box…

        I thought I had some kind of impossible situation going on with my chickens a few years ago. I had a cockeral which kept disappearing and then reappearing. Now he couldn’t get out of his enclosure, nor to my knowledge could he hide anywhere in the pen. So where did he keep going to? I wondered. Sometimes he would disappear during the day and I would find him seemingly the next morning. Or I would have locked him in for the night with the others and he wouldn’t be there in the morning.

        The solution alas was something akin to a secret passage. Unbeknown to me there was a big enough gap for a chicken to squash itself behind the nest boxes. Now this cockeral seems to have gone in to that space at random points, hence the random disappearances, but I think because it was so dark back there he didn’t always know when I had opened the shed door for the chickens to come out again, so again hence the randomly timed reappearances.

        Maybe he just wanted some alone time?


          • You punster! Reminding me that I missed your joke about the Magic Circle with the pentagram in the section of the podcast when Bruce Elliot was discussed. My late apology for not hearing it and saying “oh you clever boy” 😉


  3. A really enjoyable discussion! Almost all of the titles were new to me but you have given me some great ideas for books to try and find.


  4. So glad all of your enjoyed this. JJ had quite a task to get this to a manageable cohesive discussion. We went all over the place. I’m very pleased with how it all turned out. And, most importantly, I had fun and wasn’t as nervous as I feared I might be. We laughed a lot as I expected we would.

    The Ken Crossen book I read was never really talked about in this discussion. Not even in the sections that were edited out. I’ll be posting a review on Murder Out of Mind next week to carry on this discussion for those interested in reading more about magic in GAD fiction. And there’s a review of Clayton Rawson’s No Coffin for the Corpse up today at Pretty Sinister Books as further temptation to overdose on this topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a very wide-ranging discussion, as is to be expected when you sit down to pick John’s brain on GAD. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to do it again sometime — I’m toying with the idea of continuing this podcast past lockdown, but I suppose that depends on being able to find time to edit it whilst also working full time. Still, we shall cross that bridge when we come to it.


  5. I was thinking of mysteries were apparently supernatural things take place and how I enjoy those kinds of elements. My favorite non-series Christie book is “The Pale Horse”. It has nothing to do with magic, but kind of does. I found that really enjoyable.

    Tried looking for the seance post you were talking about, but couldn’t find it. I remember liking Christie’s “The Sittaford Mystery” where a seance is an important plot point.


    • Ah, thank-you for the reminder — I meant to put a link to my seance post but forgot; shall add it forthwith.

      I loved The Pale Horse, and it’s a great example of the uncanny or magical being used in GAD. A real shame Christie never returned to that sort of tale, because she writes it magnificently. The Sittaford Mystery is the closest we ever get to magic or the otherworldly cropping up in her stories…and, again, she writes it really well.

      Oh, maaaaaaan….!


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