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James Thurber, best remembered today as the creator of Walter Mitty, is one of the group of staff writers who earned The New Yorker its reputation as the "greatest magazine in the world, perhaps the best that ever was," as the old commercial used to inform us.  There were several different types of writers in that group, the infamously long essays were turned out by folks like Joseph Mitchell and Berton Roueche (my two favorites), while shorter pieces, drawings, poems, etc., were the province of Thurber, Robert Benchley, E. B. White and several other polymaths.  Considering the range of his duties, that he was writing for a weekly magazine, and the length of his career (the pieces in this collection span a period from 1929 to 1961), you could probably fill numerous volumes with Thurber's work and indeed there are plenty of collections of his varied output available, many published during his life but many others posthumous.

Though he would not be considered a crime writer, this book happens to be organized around the topic of crime, and that serves to give it a thematic coherence that a random anthology would lack.  Included are drawings, stories, and articles that cover a whole range of topics, fiction and nonfiction.   Plenty of folks only look at the cartoons in The New Yorker, and if you enjoy that style of humor, you'll enjoy Thurber's drawings.  His artwork borders on the amateurish--and since he eventually went blind, it got worse as he went along--but it's certainly distinctive.

Most all of the stories are written with the wry wit for which Thurber was best known--in his Introduction, Donald E. Westlake calls it "gentle comedy."  There's an especially good true tale about an employee who stole tens of thousands of dollars from Harold Ross, the magazine's publisher, before being caught.  Though ostensibly an attempt to understand the thief, who ended up committing suicide, Thurber turns it into an opportunity to poke fun at Ross.

But far and away the best thing in the book, and one of the best stories I've ever read, is "The Macbeth Murder Mystery."  An American woman visiting an English hotel accidentally grabs The Tragedy of Macbeth instead of one of the cheap mysteries she intended.  Undaunted, she simply reads the play as a whodunit, and to the narrator's astonishment, decides that the Macbeths are not guilty.  Her explanations, full of perfectly rational references to the traditions and conventions of the detective genre, eventually ensnare the narrator and the reader, and when, by the end of the story, he's offered his own solution to the mystery and is ready to take on Hamlet, we too are carried away by the demented logic of the tale.

The book's worth reading for that story alone; the rest is gravy.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

James Thurber Links:

    -SHORT STORY: A Visit from Saint Nicholas (In the Ernest Hemingway Manner) (James Thurber, 1927-12-24, New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of The Letters of James Thurber (Janet Maslin, NY Times Book Review)

Book-related and General Links:
    -James (Grover) Thurber (1894-1961) (kirjasto)
    -ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA : "thurber, james"
    -ESSAY : The Bear Who Let It Alone (James Thurber)
    -ESSAY : The Shore and the Sea (James Thurber)
    -ESSAY : The Little Girl and the Wolf (James Thurber)
    -Thurber House
    -Ritter's Thurber Page
    -Tribute to James Thurber (Royal Prune University)
    -The San Antonio College LitWeb James Thurber Page
    -Literary Research Guide: James Thurber (1894 - 1961)
    -LINKS : James Thurber Pathfinder
    -ESSAY : OBSERVER : He Knew When To Stop (Russell Baker, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : MALICE AND REUNIONS (Edmund Wilson, NY Times)
    -EXCERPT : James Thurber : His Life and Times  By Harrison Kinney
    -ARCHIVES : "thurber" (NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW : of Thurber on Crime (JACK CURTIN, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of JAMES THURBER Writings and Drawings. Edited by Garrison Keillor (Lynn Karpen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of SELECTED LETTERS OF JAMES THUR- BER. Edited by Helen Thurber and Edward Weeks (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of  SELECTED LETTERS OF JAMES THURBER Edited by Helen Thurber and Edward Weeks (William Zinsser, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of COLLECTING HIMSELF James Thurber on Writing and Writers, Humor and Himself. Edited by Michael J. Rosen (Edward Sorel, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of People Have More Fun Than Anybody A Centennial Celebration of Drawings and Writings by James Thurber (MARGO JEFFERSON, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of JAMES THURBER His Life and Times. By Harrison Kinney (Ben Yagoda, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of JAMES THURBER: HIS LIFE AND TIMES, by Harrison Kinney (Robert David Sullivan, Boston Phoenix)

    -INFO : "james thurber" (Imdb)