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Mystery Writers' Calendar Reveals Men Whodunit

September 23, 1993|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hands casually thrust in his pockets, Peter Robinson (Mr. March) is shown standing before the rolling English countryside. Alan Russell (Mr. June) is seen holding a volleyball on a Southern California beach, and Sam Llewellyn (Mr. July) is pictured aboard a sailboat.

And in what is unquestionably the most provocative photograph, a fully clothed Jeremiah Healy (Mr. April) is posed in bed--amid copies of his books.

They are the Men of Mystery.

That's what a group of Orange County women mystery writers are calling the new calendar they have created to raise money for the nation's financially beleaguered libraries.

In addition to the four aforementioned authors, the 13-month calendar features Earl Emerson, Jerome Doolittle, Parnell Hall, Gar Anthony Haywood, Peter McCabe, Grant Michaels, Robert Randisi, Jesse Sublett and Stephen White.

And the cover boy?

Comedian Tommy Sledge, "the stand-up detective," posing in his trademark '40s vintage private-eye garb: fedora, trench coat and loud tie. But don't think Sledge has merely crashed the proceedings: The funny flatfoot is a legitimate author, of the private-eye parody "Eat Lead, Clown!" and a new book due out soon, "Kiss It or Die!"

The calendars, which will be officially released Oct. 1 at the World Mystery Convention (Bouchercon) in Omaha, will retail in bookstores for $10 to $15. They will also be available through Friends of the Library groups--the first at a used-book sale at the Mesa Verde branch library in Costa Mesa on Oct. 16.

In addition to the striking black-and-white photos of the authors, the calendar features passages from their mysteries and, on the back, brief biographies. It also highlights dates of interest to mystery fans, such as birthdays for Edgar Allan Poe, Dashiell Hammett, Arthur Conan Doyle and Manfred Lee (half of Ellery Queen).

But as with all calendars, it's the pictures that will make or break the Men of Mystery.

We're not necessarily talking bulging biceps and taut pecs here. These are authors, after all, not Chippendales hunks.

And Garden Grove mystery writer Patricia McFall, the calendar's editor, wants to make one thing perfectly clear: "This is not a beefcake calendar. It's been subject to misinterpretation that way because it's a calendar by women about men."

McFall says the idea for the Men of Mystery Calendar actually started as a kind of a "feminist protest."

While reading a columnist's 1992 top-10 list in a mystery trade magazine earlier this year, she noticed that only one woman author was listed--and that she was described as "the Sports Illustrated Swimwear Edition Most Attractive Author."

"There was nothing about her books; I was very miffed," said McFall, who decided to write a letter to the editor. But figuring if she wrote a serious letter "they will just say women don't have a sense of humor about these things," she decided to get her point across with humor.

Tongue firmly planted in cheek, she wrote that she and "the burly, humorless feminists in (her) radical collective" decided "if you can't lick 'em, join 'em, so we decided to come out with an actual calendar of gorgeous male mystery writers."

McFall was still working on the letter when she attended the Left Coast Crime mystery conference in Anaheim in February, where some of her female mystery writer friends, such as Maxine O'Callaghan and Noreen Ayres, "put our heads together" to decide which male mystery writers were qualified to be included on the bogus calendar.

"So we were being bad," conceded McFall with a laugh.

Later in the day, she told St. Louis mystery writer Robert Randisi about her letter to the editor, joking that Randisi had been "selected" for the calendar as being "cuddly, if not a real hunk."

Recalls McFall: "Bob is the world's most extroverted author; he's originally from Brooklyn and has no inhibitions. Of course, what Bob immediately did was put on his conference badge: 'Ask me about my calendar.' "

Before McFall knew it, other male authors at the conference were coming up to her asking, "Am I in the calendar you're doing?"

And from there, she said, "we decided the best thing to do was go ahead and make the calendar. But do it for a good reason, not for money."

Collectively, she said, the women decided "that we ought to try to help the public libraries." (The Orange County Public Library--for one--has had $6 million slashed from its budget, with a 75% cut for the purchase of books and other materials.)

"People who write books love books, so it's been really upsetting," said McFall, adding that all profits will go to buy mystery novels "and we'll give them to public libraries directly. We thought if we gave them the money they'd pay the light bill or something."

McFall said the mystery authors, none of whom were paid, all agreed to appear on the calendar after learning it would benefit libraries. All of the photos used on the calendar were sent in by the authors themselves--about half of them sent book jacket photos and half had pictures taken especially for the calendar.

"The men had a lot of control over the project," said McFall, adding that it was Del Mar author Alan Russell's idea to put a brief passage from one of their books next to the pictures in order to provide a flavor of their writing.

The calendar is available at Book Carnival in Orange, Mystery Ink in Laguna Beach, It's A Mystery To Me in Yorba Linda and Green Door Mystery Bookstore in San Juan Capistrano. Two hundred and fifty copies also have been signed by the calendar boys. For more information, call Mystery Ink at (714) 376-0244.

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