by James Lincoln Warren
Jim Morrison, the famous Dionysiac rock’n’roll star, claimed that his cult band the Doors was named after a line in the mad genius William Blake’s pseudo-Biblical prophetic manifesto, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.
Yeah, all right, Morrison was an English major at UCLA, so maybe he actually did read Blake—but I’ve always thought the more likely explanation was that they got the name from Aldous Huxley’s memoir of messing around with mescaline, which was something of a cult favorite in the late 60s, when Timothy Leary was importuning the youth of America to turn on, tune in, and drop out, by which he meant frying one’s brains on LSD. Huxley’s book was called The Doors of Perception, and he was nothing if not erudite, so I have no doubt that he actually did get the title from Blake.
There have been many interpretations of Blake’s book on many different levels—theological, psychological, philosophical, and so on—but the one theme that almost all of its critics seem to agree on is that Blake was writing about the tension between authority and control on the one hand (Heaven), and chaos and freedom on the other (Hell). This rather reminds me on a very small scale of my frequent claim that a good mystery story comprises a marriage of convention with invention.
And that was also my intention when I got the idea for Criminal Brief. When we started, short crime fiction was probably at its nadir in terms of readership and general popularity. I wanted CB to be a place where dedicated mystery short story authors could make their case for their art to the public in an accessible manner, to encourage people to seek out and read short stories. To be honest with you, I’m not at all sure that I succeeded in my ambition, but there’s no doubt that the regular contributors—Melodie Johnson Howe, Robert Lopresti, Deborah Upton-Elliott, Steven Steinbock, Leigh Lundin, John M. Floyd, Angela Zeman, Janice Law, and of course, yours truly—performed in what can only be described as a stellar manner. On top of that, we had a slew of guest contributors whose words resonated throughout the mystery community on the internet, including Ed Hoch’s only entry into the blogosphere, but also including such worthies as Doug Allyn, James Powell, Jas. R. Petrin, R.T. Lawton, Stephen Ross, David Dean, Daniel Stashower, and a host of others. We also reprinted a number of classic short stories that were intended to give the Gentle Reader a sense of the mystery short story’s heritage. What a privilege it has been.
I’m not sure that we cleaned the doors of perception well enough to open the gates of infinity, but we certainly polished them up a little. I have renewed hope for the renaissance of the mystery short story, and I’d like to think that we contributed to it if only minutely. But the time has come to close the door on CB.
Alexander Graham Bell had some thoughts on this topic: “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
I do not want the Gentle Reader to look regretfully upon the demise of Criminal Brief. Therefore, it will remain up on the web as an archive resource for the forseeable future. I do not rule out a resurrection of the site as a live presence sometime in the distant future, and if it does it will not come back as a rotating essay-oriented blog, but its dedication to the mystery short story will continue. As in all things, time will tell. For now, the song has been sung—but the melody remains.
In the meantime, the Gentle Reader is directed to Sleuth Sayers, the successor blog to CB. Unlike Criminal Brief, Sleuth Sayers is not intended as an advocacy site for short crime fiction, having a broader mandate, but it is peopled by many of the usual suspects. I wish it nothing but success, and intend to drop in from time to time.
So let the curtain fall, and excuse me if I ask all the wonderful people who have made the journey to take a bow, contributors and commenters alike, as well as all those readers who chose not to enter the conversation but still decided to read what we had to say.
It has oft been said that writing is the most solitary of occupations. I don’t think so—not with the community we have here. So that last clap you hear as the applause fades is made by my hands. And I’m on my feet.