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In the Mag



Donald Westlake Essays

In this Issue...

When I was a little kid living in Greece, we went to watch my sister compete on Field Day. I remember cheering her on, climbing a tree, hanging from the monkey bars, and on the whole enjoying myself thoroughly … until I saw something eerie.

Standing amid the brightly clad crowd that had gathered for the afternoon’s big event was an older lady covered from head to toe in black. She was crumpling a handful of leaves and gazing dreamily at the grade-school kids as they sprinted across the grass, hopped frantically in sack races, and attempted to shoot free throws. Despite all the commotion on the field, I couldn’t help turning around again and again to look at her. My overactive imagination soon placed a knife in her hand and at some point, I started to cry. When my parents asked what was wrong, I replied, “That old lady is going to creep up and stab me, just like the lady who stabbed the guy in Catch-22.”

If my mom were alive, she’d kill me for giving the impression that I was raised haphazardly. I wasn’t, but I did have two brothers who were much older than me, and we had stayed up late the night before watching the film. Needless to say, the poor lady didn’t stab anyone. But the theater of the absurd in Catch-22 had left an indelible mark on me, and when I watched it again years later, my respect only increased for the director, the actors, and of course the original author. Which is one reason I am honored to publish in this issue “Almost Like Christmas” by the late Joseph Heller. I was going through the archives of Brandeis University’s Heller collection, and after reading several short stories, this was the one that stood out. To my knowledge, it had never been published. Indeed, a bibliography of Heller’s work, one of his biographers, and his estate representative confirmed this suspicion. Not much is known about this fine little tale except that it was written sometime between 1945 and 1969, demonstrates Heller’s trademark cynicism about the dark recesses of human nature, and gives readers a provocative glimpse of seething race-related prejudice in an otherwise respectable small town.

Another coup this issue is publishing a story from the father-son writing team of Michael and Matthew Palmer; “The Deal” follows a young man from attempted robbery to unexpected consequences. Meanwhile, author Matt Hilton puts his signature character, Joe Hunter, on the trail of a modern-day damsel in distress in “Hot Property;” and short-story wizard John Floyd spins a tale of double- and triple-crosses in “The Secret.” How might the namesake of an infamous traitor in the spy game deal with temptation? Novelist Jonathan Rabb gives us the answer in “A Game Played.” And in our latest Sherlock Holmes pastiche, Andrew Lane whets the Victorian detective’s appetite with the mysterious death of a famous restaurateur in “The Preservation of Death.”

In addition to our usual selection of book reviews this issue, we offer the inside scoop on nominees for this year’s Strand Critics Awards. Winners will be announced at a reception in New York City on July 10. I’m also delighted to reveal that Faye Kellerman is the recipient of our Lifetime Achievement Award. Not only is she a wonderful person who is very easy to work with, but she is also one of the best mystery authors working today.

Last but not least, one of my proudest editorial accomplishments to date is to offer our readers an exclusive interview with Len Deighton. Deighton’s spy novels forever changed my perspective on how spies should be characterized. His tightly written prose made a huge impact on me and continues to this day to serve as a model when reading manuscripts. Deighton has been writing prolifically for more than fifty years. His insights into everything from Sherlock Holmes to world politics to French cooking are treasures worth reading.

Have a wonderful summer, and don’t forget to visit our new blog at



Previous Issue of the Strand: Issue 39

Issue 38 of The Strand



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