Book Blogger / Guest Post / Post

The Chicks Check in With Book Bloggers: Les Blatt

Ever wonder about the behind-the-scenes stories of the book publishing industry? Well, wonder no more, because each month we’re featuring an interview with a well-known book blogger, editor, or agent. For March, we’re thrilled to welcome Les Blatt, from the popular blog, Classic Mysteries!

Please tell us about your blog. Why did you decide to write it? What are some of the challenges and/or successes you’ve experienced along the way?

First off, thanks for inviting me, folks. I am delighted and honored to be here with you.

I am the producer, “talent,” engineer, sound editor, chief cook and bottle washer of the Classic Mysteries podcast and blog. When I retired from my former life, first as a television Les Blatt Photo 2journalist and later as a specialist in on-line public relations, I wanted to do something in retirement that involved:

1) Writing (because that’s what even “retired” writers do);

2) Reading (because I love books—I’d better; I’m married to a now-retired school librarian whose first name, by the way, is also Leslie—same as mine); and

3) Talking about traditional or classic mysteries, because those are the ones I’ve been reading all my life.

So the Classic Mysteries podcast was born, in 2007. For nearly twelve years now, I have written, recorded and published a new review every Monday. The blog followed soon thereafter as another popular format in which to reach readers. So far, as of the week of February 25, I have reviews of 611 books on both the podcast and the blog. There’s a backlist on the site which lists all the books, alphabetically by author. There are links to each book’s audio review.

The books I review, overwhelmingly, fall into the “traditional” genre, which I’d define as “puzzle-plot” mysteries. Some are very well-known authors indeed—people like Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Margery Allingham, Dorothy L. Sayers, Josephine Tey, Ellery Queen, John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson, Edmund Crispin, Elizabeth Daly, Craig Rice, Georges Simenon, Arthur Upfield, Stuart Palmer, Ellis Peters and Catherine Aird. Over the past few years, as small publishers began rediscovering and republishing unjustly forgotten classics from the “Golden Age of Detective Fiction,” usually defined as the years between the two World Wars of the 20th century, I’ve added a lot of names to that list.

When I started, there weren’t very many publishers re-issuing these books. The Rue Morgue Press (now sadly defunct) had a fine collection of classics. Crippen and Landru Publishers specialized in short stories. A few other small houses kept some of the better-known names alive. And, of course, some writers, like Agatha Christie, have never been out of print. But a few years ago, to my delight, some new publishers joined in the rush to rediscover more of these traditional mysteries—The British Library, with its Crime Classics series (published in the U. S. by Poisoned Pen Press), Dean Street Press, Ramble House, Open Road Media, Otto Penzler’s American Mystery Classics series, the Collins Crime Club/Detective Club imprint and more. It has made my life a lot easier, with so many very-good-to-excellent writers being brought back out of obscurity.

What are some of the best or most surprising experiences you’ve had related to your blog?

I guess I’d have to say that I’ve genuinely been surprised at the number of publishers who have sent me copies of many of these rediscovered traditional mysteries for me to review. As a reviewer, I really try to publish only reviews of books that I have enjoyed. If I dislike a book, I generally won’t review it. Like every reader, there are books I enjoy and books I don’t enjoy, and I’m always aware that the fact that I dislike a particular book doesn’t mean others won’t enjoy it. So I’ll write about the books I enjoy and leave the ones I don’t enjoy for others to review.

I’m also surprised at the number of real experts online these days and writing about traditional mysteries who have been kind enough to point me at authors who are new to me. I attend several of the major conferences of mystery authors and fans every year and I am always surprised at the generosity and good fellowship I find among the attendees. By the way, folks, if you want to meet most of the “Chicks” who keep this site going, I look forward to seeing them at the Malice Domestic conference in the Spring. Fine writers, great people! [And we look forward to seeing you, Les! (say the Chicks)]

What advice would you give to new bloggers and/or authors who would like to connect with book bloggers?

If I had to boil it down to a single precept, it’s this: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. I’m always amazed at how many publicists (and, I regret to say, new authors) try to pitch books to me that are clearly out of my expertise and/or my readers’ interests. We’re book bloggers, for Heaven’s sake! Go to our sites and spend a few minutes looking at what we say, how we do our reviews, what type of books we’re likely to enjoy. For example, if you see that I prefer classic, puzzle-plot mysteries, don’t try to pitch me on your latest “inside-the-mind-of-a-serial-killer” thriller!

If you could have dinner with one character from a Classic Mystery novel, who would it be and why?

Difficult choice. I guess I’d have to go with Nero Wolfe, although I’d hope he would invite me to dine on a night when Archie Goodwin was home and maybe some of the other characters from the 35th Street Irregulars were on hand too. Perhaps Fritz Brenner would feed us on Saucisse Minuit or shad roe. No business is ever discussed at Wolfe’s table, of course, but I suspect I’d still learn a great deal from the conversation!

What’s the difference between a “cozy” mystery and a “traditional” mystery?

I’m glad you asked. I see far too many “critics” who seem to think that traditional, plot-oriented mysteries are all “cozies.” No, they aren’t. I’ve seen Agatha Christie called a “cozy” writer! No she isn’t—try And Then There Were None, or Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, for example, for distinctly non-cozy treatment of traditional mystery themes.

Granted, there are a lot of similarities between the genres. Both traditional and cozy mysteries emphasize the plot, often over either setting or characterization, and—generally—provide carefully hidden clues that could lead the careful reader to solve the mystery before the protagonist. The cozy always, and the traditional mystery often, keeps both sex and violence offstage. “Traditional” is a much broader umbrella definition than “Cozy.” You could argue that virtually all cozies are traditional mysteries but not all traditional mysteries are cozies.


Please read more about Les below and say hello in the comments.

For nearly twelve years now, Les Blatt has been the host of the Classic Mysteries blog and podcast, presenting weekly audio reviews of mystery classics, with more than 600 reviews posted so far and available for reading, listening or downloading. The blog also offers additional reviews and conversations about great “traditional” mysteries, from the Golden Age and before, as well as new mysteries written in the classic tradition. He spent most of his working life as a TV network news producer, writer and editor, and he hopes that this will not be held against him.

Links:

Classic Mysteries Blog URL: https://www.classicmysteries.net/

Classic Mysteries Podcast (XML link): https://classicmysteries.libsyn.com/rss

42 thoughts on “The Chicks Check in With Book Bloggers: Les Blatt

  1. Les, this was a fascinating interview. Thank you for all the reviews. That is amazing, the number. And it keeps growing! We appreciate what you do, keeping mysteries alive and well, as most of my friends have no clue what a traditional mystery ( or cozy for that matter) is. If it’s not a thriller or major suspense, they’ve never heard of it!
    I hope to meet you at Malice as well.
    BTW, how many Chicks are going to Malice in April? Inquiring minds (mine) want to know!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Les, love your blog — and what a great resource for traditional mystery lovers, especially appreciate the Golden Age mystery coverage! Thanks for being our guest on the Chicks — it’s a real treat to have you here!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Terrific interview, Les. Thanks for pointing out the similarities and differences between traditional and cozy mysteries. I look forward to seeing you at Malice.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks, Grace. Mystery conferences like Malice offer great opportunities for both writers and fans to meet each other and talk about our favorite mysteries. The panels are interesting (and, very often, the discussion is hilarious) and they often great opportunities for readers to meet their favorites and for authors to broaden their readership. What’s not to like?

      Like

  4. Nice to meet you, Les.

    I still point to Agatha Christie as an example of a cozy for people who aren’t familiar with the term just because it is something that everyone is familiar with. I agree with And Then There Were None. I point to it as the grandmother of the slasher genre, actually.

    Liked by 4 people

    • The feeling’s mutual, Mark. As for ATTWN, it’s one of Christie’s best and absolutely chilling and frightening in a very un-cozy way. Never thought of it as “the grandmother of the slasher genre,” before – interesting!

      Like

      • It’s especially obvious if you watch some of the movie versions. We get shots from the killer’s point of view. Lots of people die in very creative ways. And, no matter which ending you get, there is a final girl.

        Like

  5. Les, thanks so much for visiting and such thoughtful, detailed responses to our questions. Here’s a question. Is there anything you think classic authors nail that’s missing from today’s mysteries?

    Liked by 6 people

    • Hard to say, Ellen, because I think there are a lot of very talented authors writing mysteries and crime stories today. I do think the classic authors often were more concerned with their plots and puzzles rather than they were in creating “psychological” novels – and I love a book which really fools me – but that’s a very broad generalization. Certainly, when I find an author who pulls the rug out from under me – and does so by fairly misdirecting me with careful planting of clues or other means – I’m more likely to be reading an author from the Golden Age. But that’s not always the case, and good mysteries of the kind you and the others here create can be just as enjoyable as a book by a classic author.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Another blog to check out! Les, when I saw that you and your wife share the same first name, it reminded me of my cousin, a man who married a woman with the same last name as him. People were always asking if they shared some blood relation. I imagine you wouldn’t have the same issue, but I’m sure your situation comes with its own set of challenges!

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Les, welcome and thank you so much for visiting! Wonderful interview, and I very much enjoyed reading that you’d like to dine with Wolfe. If you and Leslie would allow a third wheel, I’d love to come along!

    On a personal note, you and Leslie were among the first people I met at my first Malice Domestic conference. I will always remember your warmth, kindness and welcoming spirit–not to mention our great conversation about what we were reading at the time. Thank you for being you and for all you do for the mystery community!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Kathleen, Leslie and I have always found this community of authors to be gracious and warm. (It may, as one panelist at a Malice gathering observed, be the result of being in a gathering of a large number of people who know ingenious and untraceable ways to kill you, but let’s be charitable… 😉

      We’d love to have you share the bounties of Nero Wolfe’s table with us! By the way, for Nero Wolfe fans, I hope you and they are somewhere where there’s a raceme – orchid-growers’ term – of The Wolfe Pack, the international fan club. Worth checking out at http://www.NeroWolfe.org – our book discussions and the annual Black Orchid Banquet and Nero Award ceremony are great fun.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I have to admit that I asked the other Chicks if I could be the one to invite Les to be on the blog, as I figure we Leslies all have to stick together, yes? (And may I request another group-Leslie-photo this year at Malice with you and Leslie this year, Les,? Last year’s came out totally blurry, lol.)

    Thanks so much for visiting today. I especially appreciated you pointing out that cozies are a subset of the traditional genre, which many folks seem not to understand.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Susan. If you check out my blog, look for the link to “the backlist” page – as I said earlier, there are more than 600 short reviews there, alphabetically by author. I hope you’ll find some good leads there!

      Like

  9. Les, Thank you for this wonderful post, and for visiting us Chicks today. Greatly enjoy your reviews, and I would like to engrave your description of the differences between cozies and the larger, traditional umbrella somewhere. Looking forward to seeing you again at Malice!

    Liked by 3 people

    • It’s always a pleasure seeing you at these get-togethers, Lisa. I’m having a lot of fun with this visit, and I really appreciate the invitation from all the Chicks.

      Like

  10. Great to see Les and his work spotlighted (spotlit?) here! And was just enjoying his take on Rex Stout’s novellas over at Classic Mysteries too—I’m a fan as well! (…of the novellas and of Les both, I mean!)

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Hi Les! *waving* Like Kathy, I think you and Leslie were among the first people I met at Malice, as well! And I’ll see you at the next one, too.

    Thanks for your blog. I know it’s a labor of love for you, but it’s an excellent resource for the mystery community, too.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s