The First Two Pages: “The Forlorn Penguin” by Daniel Stashower

In April 2015, B.K. Stevens debuted the blog series “The First Two Pages,” hosting craft essays by short story writers and novelists analyzing the openings of their own work. The series continued until just after her death in August 2017, and the full archive of those essays can be found at Bonnie’s website. In November 2017, the blog series relocated to my website, and the archive of this second stage of the series can be found here.

This week continues to celebrate the new anthology School of Hard Knox from Crippen & Landru, with stories which systematically break Father Ronald Knox’s ten rules for writing detective stories, originally published in Best Detective Stories in 1939. I was honored to assist on the planning for this project, alongside Donna Andrews, Greg Herren, and Crippen & Landru publisher Jeffrey Marks Crippen & Landru, and thrilled with the list of contributors we managed to recruit for the book, including Frankie Y. Bailey, Nikki Dolson, Martin Edwards, Naomi Hirahara, Toni LP Kelner, Richie Narvaez, Gigi Pandian, S.J. Rozan, Daniel Stashower, Marcia Talley, and—with poem?!?!—the legendary Peter Lovesey.

Last week in this space, we hosted S.J. Rozan, chatting about her story “Chin Yong-Yun Goes to Church” (and with a longer introduction to Father Knox’s rules from me as well; find that post here). And what a pleasure to welcome Daniel Stashower this week, with “The Forlorn Penguin,” a Holmes and Watson tale that takes some surprising twists even in those First Two Pages. See Dan’s essay explaining how and why below.

Dan has long been one of the writers I most admire in the mystery world—such a great writer of both fiction and nonfiction and such a fine friend too, generous and gracious always. Dan began his career writing Sherlock Holmes pastiches, similar to today’s story (OK, not similar at all, as it turns out!), then distinguished himself as a Sherlock Holmes scholar, with books including the Edgar Award-winning biography Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle. More recently, Dan has written a number of terrific historical books, including The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder, The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War, and—most recently—American Demon: Eliot Ness and the Hunt for America’s Jack the Ripper.

Find out more about American Demon and Dan at his publisher’s website here, and enjoy the essay below on his new short story in School of Hard Knox.

Please use the arrows and controls at the bottom of the embedded PDF to navigate through the essay. You can also download the essay to read off-line.