As you may already have heard, American author Gore Vidal has died. He will be (and, in today's obituaries, he is) remembered for a great many books, plays, memoirs, etc., not to mention the celebrity and notoriety that he courted in his long and productive life. For mystery lovers, he may be remembered for the three mysteries he wrote early in his career under the name "Edgar Box."
When Vidal wrote his mysteries, he did so - as he quite often observed in later years - to survive. He had managed to offend the New York Times - which, for a young writer, was not a good thing to do - and found himself writing a series of mysteries as a way of putting food on the table. I reviewed the first of them, Death in the Fifth Position, on this blog last year. They might be described as medium boiled, but they are also influenced by the traditional mystery - in his own words, he "worked very hard at being a mystery writer, somewhat heavily reliant upon Agatha Christie." Each of the three books, he said, was written in eight days at the rate of ten thousand words a day, and, he says, he lived on them for the next dozen years.
It's worth noting that the New York Times has published a lengthy obituary/appreciation for Gore Vidal today. You have to get about halfway down the article before it mentions Vidal's run-in with the Times over an earlier book, The City and the Pillar:
"Mr. Vidal later claimed that the literary and critical establishment, The New York Times especially, had blacklisted him because of the book, and he may have been right. He had such trouble getting subsequent novels reviewed that he turned to writing mysteries under the pseudonym Edgar Box and then, for a time, gave up novel-writing altogether."
Gore Vidal was an interesting and often controversial (and occasionally outrageous) voice, particularly in his later works, but those early mysteries remain light and enjoyable reads. Vintage Books has republished all three under its Vintage Crime/Black Lizard imprint in paperback editions.