Monday, August 31, 2009

Does Height Influence Crime?

In researching for my newspaper column on local history I came across an article about a psychological study conducted in 1934 at Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania.

The article was of interest for several reasons. One, because the penitentiary involved is in my home territory. Another was because of the quirky nature of the some of the results reported in the study.

The examination involved some 800 inmates and was conducted by the Public Health Service under the leadership of Dr. Michael J. Pescor. Dr. Pescor was a respected clinician who developed a reputation as an authority on criminology and drug addiction.

The study at Lewisburg used as its basis a personality test originated by Professor R. E. Woodworth of Columbia University. To quote the report: “Every phase of the prisoner’s life before his entrance to the penitentiary is unfolded as the doctor puts pertinent questions to him which bring out his psycho-neurotic tendencies. They delve into the prisoner’s family history, his medical record, his experience in early childhood, and even ask him to what degree he can tolerate offensive odors.”

The study found that a majority of the prisoners gave answers about the same as ordinary citizens, except “…most worry easily, are irritable, have little or no sense of humor, and complain often of a bodily pain which does not exist in reality.”

Personally, I’d say those exceptions were pretty broad, though they might have been influenced by the fact of incarceration. The study also appears not to have taken into consideration the possibility the men were lying or boasting in response to some questions.

Regarding those inmates who were found to be emotionally unstable, the report said these were primarily composed of habitual criminals, chronic drunkards and men who had a disrupted home life before they were 16. Nearly all blamed their trouble on drinking.

Here’s the conclusion I found most interesting: “This group (the emotionally unstable) averages about an inch less in height than the stable group, and also average slightly more than seven pounds less in weight.”

So, does being short in height and light in weight indicate a propensity for a life of crime?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Good Translation

Some books fail in translation to the screen. The same is true of plays. One notable exception is Anthony Shaffer’s “Sleuth.”

I watched the 2005 film version last night and found it a superb bit of nasty entertainment. This was the remake of the 1972 film and I’m not commenting here on that version which stands on its own. This version’s success is primarily due to the scripting by Harold Pinter and the marvelous performance of Michael Caine and Jude Law. Kenneth Branagh's cinematography deserves a plug, also.

Caine plays the role played by Sir Laurence Olivier in the 1972 film and Law that played by Caine in the previous version.

Whether you agree with Pinter’s politics or not, no one can deny the man was a master wordsmith. He turned out 32 stage plays, 22 screenplays, numerous TV scripts and won the Nobel for literature in 2005.

There’s no denying Caine and Law are among the best of modern performers and both are in top form in this film.

In brief, Caine plays Andrew Wyke, an aging mystery writer, whose wife has left him for a younger man (Law). Law portrays Milo Tindle, a struggling actor and part-time waiter (or is it, hairdresser, as Wyke asserts?). Wyke has invited Tindle to his high-tech country mansion to discuss their situation. Tindle accepts, hoping to convince Wyke to grant his wife a divorce. Wyke is more interested in playing mind games, which become more and more dicier as they proceed.

Caine/Wyke wins the first round. Law/Tindle the second. Like the play, this adaptation is built on three acts, each raising the stakes for the protagionists. The whole is decidedly a dark and nasty bit. But, for my money, worth the price of admission.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Killer Nashville

I had the opportunity last weekend to attend the 4th annual Killer Nashville mystery writers' conference. I was fortunate earlier in winning a competition sponsored by Tony Burton's Crime and Suspense magazine, which paid my registration fee.

Accompanied by my 17-year-old grandson, Michael, we drove to Tennessee (more than 800 miles one way), not knowing what to expect. Let me say right off the top, it was worth the effort.

The event attracts writers, filmmakers, publishers, agents and fans from across the nation and Canada. It includes programs on various phases of writing and publishing as well as seminars on investigative techniques and forensics by representatives of law enforcement agencies.This year’s guest of honor was New York Times best-selling writer J.A. Jance, author of four popular crime fiction series and winner of the American Mystery Award. She gave an interview and presentation Saturday followed by a book signing and dinner in her honor.

One of the key presenters this year was Lee Lofland, nationally acclaimed expert on police procedure and crime scene investigation, who conducted six sessions. I attended several of those, had opportunity to talk one-on-one with Lee and bought a copy of his book, "Police Procedure and Investigation."I also attended seminars on blood spatter, the mind of the psychopath, poisons and poisoners and another on the state of the publishing business.

Something I wasn't expecting to do (but enjoyed) was being a panelist on The Dark Muse: Inspiration and the Mystery Crime Writer. The panel was moderated by Philip Cioffari, filmmaker and author of "Catholic Boys." Others on the panel were Radine Trees Nehring, author of the Carrie McCrite mysteries, and Dr. A. Scott Pearson, author of the medical thriller, "Rupture."

Not only did I meet some people I've only corresponded with in the past--like Tony Burton, Chester Campbell and others--I talked to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation special agents, attorneys, a private investigator and many other writers.

In addition to all the writerly activities, I also spent some quality time with my eldest grandson and had dinner with Becky and Rick Crow, who drove in from Missouri to meet us. Becky and I share ancestry but had never met in person.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Killer Nashville

In just a few days my grandson Michael and I will be on the road to Tennessee for Killer Nashville.

Michael, a budding musician, is anxious to see the Music City and agreed to be navigator/companion for the 'Old Guy' on this road trip. Neither of us have been to Nashville before, but we're eager for the adventure.

I won admission to the conference in a competiton held by Tony Burton's Crime and Suspense magazine. It's an opportunity to promote my books, smooze with other scribes (some of whom I know through correspondence but have not met personally), pitch an agent and editor and attend seminars on various writing and forensics subjects. I'm especially eager to attend some of those seminars being conducted by Lee Lofland, nationally acclaimed expert on police procedure and crime scene investigation. Guest of honor for the affair is J. A. Jance.

I've also been invited to participate in a panel, "The Dark Muse: Inspiration and the Mystery Crime Writer."

Another plus will be the chance to finally meet in person a family connection made through genealogical correspondence.

It should be an interesting couple of days.