Today, the intimate coterie of online Golden Age Detection fans, the women and men who argue, discuss, bolster each other and in all ways thrive together – today, we lost a dear friend. Noah Stewart traded in bookselling for many years. He knew a lot. He had a delightful sense of humor. His blog site was not only a fount of wisdom; it was always an enjoyable read. And he encouraged others, not least a neophyte online traveler searching across the blogosphere for his people.
I started Ah Sweet Mystery on September 24, 2015. My first entry, “Is This Thing On?,” inspired twelve comments, including one brief message from Noah: “Welcome aboard!” Over the course of the next three years, I visited his place and he visited mine. Every comment of his was a gift, revealing many things we had in common. For instance, I grew up with basset hounds. Noah loved basset hounds:
Having been enslaved by a basset for many years, I’m always in favour of any situation with added bassets; they cannot help but leaven the mood.
When I wrote about my love of old-time radio detectives, Noah responded enthusiastically, offering several examples I had not included. We shared an antipathy for modern mysteries, which we both approached with humor. As you can see from Noah’s comment below, he was always funnier than me:
I haven’t read Gone Girl On The Train Next Door, or indeed heard of half of them, and I don’t think there is any implied issue in not much wanting to read things written after my birth, which is my habit. It struck me, though, that what you are so very perceptively describing is a literary mini-movement that is very much like the film career of M. Night Shyamalan. One wonderful tricky and satisfying piece at the very outset, and then a lot of trying to recapture that level of flipping the narrative and not managing to bring it off as satisfyingly.
There are also crime fiction works where the first-person narrator is unreliable, but in such a way that the reader is meant to see that the narrator is fooling him/herself about something. In other words, we are told what the narrator wishes us to believe is true, but in such a way that we can see what’s really going on. I find those books very enjoyable but few and far between. I think Malice Aforethought might qualify — and a favourite book of mine, King and Joker by Peter Dickinson.
When I told Noah a couple of years ago that I had started learning to play bridge, I discovered that I was in the presence of a master (who had a completely different blog dedicated to the game!). Noah was as excited about my excitement as I was and constantly encouraged me in my studies, as when I wrote about Cards on the Table from the new perspective of a bridge player:
I hope your bridge experiences continue to please you! Yes, it does take about 50 years. Just play 100 hands a day against the computer and you’ll get there. As far as the book goes, that really is what happens at rubber bridge when someone is playing a grand slam. Christie had been there and done that, I’m sure. And it’s a good lesson to avoid the cancellation style of score-keeping, not that anyone uses tallies any more.
For the past few years, Noah and I took part in a mystery blogger Secret Santa game. Last year, I got a package from him of two books about Sherlock Holmes, Bridge Detective. Actually, I got two packages last year – because Noah wasn’t my Secret Santa! He just wanted me to have this amalgam of two of my favorite things. That’s the kind of thoughtfulness he showed a virtual friend.
I guess that, like many of my blogging friends who are reeling today from this news, I didn’t know a great deal about Noah’s life. At least, I can celebrate the great discussions we had about books. He knew so much about them, not just the content, but the industry. His posts about book covers were legend. And when we all wrote about this or that book or author, he would reply with cogent insights, and often with advice (much of it hilarious) that I knew would be wise to heed:
Harry Stephen Keeler — good luck with that. I would describe him as the Florence Foster Jenkins of GAD. He’s so astoundingly atrociously AWFUL that he’s funny. The experience of your first Keeler novel is an indescribable one so I won’t spoil it for you. As Salvador Dali once said, “I don’t use drugs — I AM drugs.” Keeler is drugs!
In November of 2017, Noah, Jim Noy (JJ of The Invisible Event) and I began an online discussion about a possible blogging collaboration. That project never saw the light of day, but the discussion went on for months and months. It quickly veered from book to book, mystery subject to subject, with humor and verve. If one of us went out shopping or stepped into a shower (JJ teased me about taking a shower while we were chatting) or dropped off to bed, the other two would continue it. That’s the advantage of having an international coterie: the various time zones allow any combination to chat in whole or part at all times of day or night. We three made a nice combination during that time.
One day, Noah gave me the greatest compliment I’ve ever received on here:
I should also add, really excellent article, Brad! I have found it’s very difficult to mix the personal with the scholarly and have the right amount of each, and you did a great job. I’ll hope to meet this standard in the future.
To receive this from a writer whose words and opinions I admired so much gladdened me to no end. And while Noah had no need to adjust his standard, I deeply wish I could have known him better – and for real. I’m sure a psychologist could have a field day with all these online friendships, the shared intimacies between strangers, even the intellectual ones. But I maintain that I have felt part of a community as real as the neighbors who dwell in the houses all around me, and the GAD community has been much more fulfilling. So much so that I have started planning a summer week in London in 2019 to attend the Bodies in the Library conference and finally meet some of the people that I hold so dear. But I always had a dream of meeting up with Noah, maybe at a bridge tournament, of dealing out the cards, playing some hands, then relaxing over a good meal and talking mysteries well into the night.
My heart goes out to Noah’s family and friends in Canada. I envy that you had this dear man in your lives. Please know that his influence extended across the globe and that his online friends were many.
Rest in peace, my friend.