Brian Garfield - Events
and latest publications
Brian Garfield's most recent public appearance was at the "Left Coast Crime" gathering in Santa Fe, NM, on March 24th-27th 2011.
Garfield will also appear at the Orange County Men of Mystery gathering in October 2011, in Irvine, California; for details see website < http://www.menofmystery.org/ > .
Also keep an eye on your local event listings.
A recent remake of Brian's and the late Donald E. Westlake's 1987 movie "The Stepfather" showed in theaters around the country. It received mixed notices, and is available on DVD. The original film, which won awards and became a cult favorite, finally was released on DVD recently. Its performance in the lead role by Terry O'Quinn is mesmerizing.
Garfield and Westlake were longtime friends who collaborated on several ventures -- the comic novel "Gangway!", the movie "The Stepfather", the installation (with Lawrence Block and Justin Scott) of bookcases in Otto Penzler's original Mysterious Bookshop in New York, the Gregg Press edition of Westlake's novel "The Outfit" (under the pen-name Richard Stark; Garfield wrote the Introduction), and Garfield's as-yet-unproduced screenplay for 20th Century Fox based on Westlake's novel -- again under the pen-name Richard Stark -- "Butcher's Moon".
For more about the sorely missed Donald E. Westlake, see websites http://pressblog.uchicago.edu/2011/04/04/post_78.html and www.donaldwestlake.com/index1.html.
One of the author's more recent appearances was at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, in June 2009, during its three-day book festival.
Previously Brian Garfield appeared in Boston at an April 2009 meeting of the Wardroom Club of the USS Constitution, where he talked about World War II in the Aleutians (subject of his nonfiction book "The Thousand-Mile War").
For future events check back with this site, and/or write to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE MEINERTZHAGEN MYSTERY
(It's pronounced MINE-erts-hag'n)
Please note: the book is substantial in size, but a great deal of information about Meinertzhagen's service and travel in Africa (particularly at the turn of the 20th century and again during the First World War) had to be left out. That material is available (text by Brian Garfield with sources and descriptive footnotes), for those who are interested in it, by email from Jerry Rilling -- email@example.com .
<< Thanks, Jerry. >>
Here's the publisher's summary; below it, see reviewers' comments, followed by complete review from The Wall Street Journal.
"THE MEINERTZHAGEN MYSTERY"
Tall, handsome, charming Col. Richard Meinertzhagen (1878–1967) was an acclaimed British war hero, a secret agent, and a dean of international ornithology. His exploits inspired three biographies, movies have been based on his life, and a square in Jerusalem is dedicated to his memory. Meinertzhagen was trusted by Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, Chaim Weizmann, David Ben Gurion, T. E. Lawrence, Elspeth Huxley, and a great many others.
He bamboozled them all. Much of the Meinertzhagen legend is a fraud.
Many of the adventures recorded in his celebrated diaries were imaginary, including a meeting with Hitler while he had a loaded pistol in his pocket, an attempt to rescue the Russian royal family in 1918, and a shoot-out with Arabs in Haifa when he was seventy years old.
In fact he was a key player in Middle Eastern events after World War I, and made several important new discoveries in the natural sciences -- at times he was a figure of genuine stature. During the 1930s he represented Zionism's interests in negotiations with Germany.
But he also set up Nazi front organizations in England, committed a half-century of major and costly scientific fraud, and -- oddly -- may have been innocent of many killings to which he confessed (e.g., the murder of his own polo groom -- a crime of which he cheerfully boasted, although the evidence suggests it never occurred at all), while he may have been guilty of at least one homicide of which he professed innocence.
A compelling read about a flamboyant rogue, The Meinertzhagen Mystery shows how recorded history reflects not what happened, but what we believe happened.
“Brian Garfield has done a marvelous job of unraveling the skein of lies, fakes, and fictions woven by one of the greatest scientific frauds of the twentieth century. He has created a nonfiction version of Thomas Mann's Felix Krull-a portrait of a self-invented man. Garfield also offers a unique point of view on many historic events of the twentieth century, while at the same time inviting the reader to wonder how much of what we've read about these events is true. All in all it's an astonishing read.” -- John Seabrook, New Yorker staff writer and author of Nobrow: The Culture of Marketing, the Marketing of Culture
"A fascinating, well documented tour de force through the back streets of British imperial history during the first half of the twentieth century. In his methodical search for the elusive and authentic character of Richard Meinertzhagen hidden behind the public persona, Brian Garfield has produced a rare, intimate, and sobering picture of those who ruled the 'empire on which the sun never sets' from its peak to its demise." -- Jay Shapiro, Israel National Radio
"Brian Garfield's patient detective work finally slots Richard Meinertzhagen's mug-shot in the grandiose section of the British rogues' gallery. . . ." -- The Literary Review, United Kingdom
". . . .a compelling story about a flambouyant rogue, and this book, by its example, cautions us that recorded history sometimes reflects not what actually happened, but what we are told happened." -- http://scienceblogs.com
“Colossal -- the term is no exaggeration for the magnitude of Meinertzhagen's frauds. Garfield has sifted through myriads of files and fallacies, and now, in a book I could not put down, demolishes the exploits that Meinertzhagen self-promoted into the history books.” -- Pamela C. Rasmussen, Ph.D., renowned ornithologist and assistant professor, Department of Zoology, Michigan State University
"Shredding his way through both Meinertzhagen's four-million-word diary and the layers of sensational anecdote that grew up around him, Mr. Garfield exposes countless self-flattering inflations, from Meinertzhagen's claim to own Darwin's pipe to his boasts of having casually killed any number of men with his bare hands... Mr. Garfield manages both to prosecute Meinertzhagen convincingly and, by means of his lively prose, to keep us engaged." -- The Wall Street Journal, Saturday/Sunday, February 10-11, 2007
PRAISE FOR OTHER BOOKS BY BRIAN GARFIELD:
"Garfield is one of the best. Anyone settling down with a Garfield book is in for a good time." -- New York Times (reviewing Hopscotch)
"A scintillating, talented writer." -- Newsday (reviewing Death Wish)
"Engrossing and exciting . . . I couldn't put it down." -- Robert Ludlum (commenting on Recoil)
The Wall Street Journal
Saturday/Sunday, February 10-11, 2007
SOLDIER, BIRDER, WRITER, FAKER
THE MEINERTZHAGEN MYSTERY
By Brian Garfield
Potomac, 353 pages, $27.50
By Ben Downing
AMONG history's missed opportunities, the most regrettable of all must be the one that Richard Meinertzhagen, a British army colonel, let slip through his fingers in Berlin on June 28, 1939. According to his diary, on that day he paid his third and last visit to Hitler, with whom he pleaded, as before, on behalf of Germany's Jews. Having smuggled a pistol into the chancellery, Meinertzhagen could easily have taken out the Fuhrer, but he lost his nerve at the last moment.
If this dramatic scenario of failed derring-do seems improbable, it is worthwhile to remember that Meinertzhagen was perhaps the one person who might have brought it off. An ardent Zionist (though not Jewish himself), he also happened to be a founder of the Anglo-German Fellowship, which promoted stronger business ties between Britain and Germany. Thus he had access to Hitler. And he was known to pack heat even at London dinner parties, so the pistol bit is plausible.
But in fact the tale IS nonsense, as is a great deal else that Meinertzhagen set down in his diaries, parts of which were published to acclaim in the 1950s and '60s. That, at least, is the contention of Brian Garfield in "The Meinertzhagen Mystery." Mr. Garfield builds an entertainingly damning case against Meinertzhagen, showing him to be a self-aggrandizing fraud.
Though Meinertzhagen died, at age 90, in England in 1967, his fabrications have only recently come to light. One reason for the delay is that Meinertzhagen was no Walter Mitty, a milquetoast who merely dreamed of greatness. Meinertzhagen could rightly lay claim to a range of accomplishments. His Zionism, for instance, was real enough to get a square in Jerusalem named after him: As chief political officer in Palestine during the British Mandate, he argued vociferously for Jewish interests at a time when most British officials leaned toward the Arabs. He counted among his friends the likes of Winston Churchill, T. E. Lawrence and Chaim Weizmann. In fact, he attended the 1919 Paris Peace Conference as part of the British delegation. On the side, he was a respected ornithologist who wrote definitive books in his field. Not least, he exuded a piquant and slightly sinister charm--it did not hurt that he stood a trim 6-foot-500that won over Ian Fleming (who saw him as a 007 type) and many others.
Apparently, this was not enough. Meinertzhagen amassed one of the largest bird-specimen collections in the world. But as reported in the New Yorker magazine lat year, many of his prize "skins (birds stuffed for study rather than display) turned out to be falsely labeled or stolen from other collections--a disaster, it seems, for ornithology itself. Mr. Garfield writes: "It has taken researchers many years and vast expenditures of labor--and they still haven't finished the job--to redraw maps of bird distributions in order to undo Meinertzhagen's misinformation."
Mr. Garfield would appear to have caught Meinertzhagen making other swerves into bogusness, from his claim to have attempted a rescue of the Russian czar and his family in 1918 to his insistence that on a visit to Israel in 1948--at age 70--he had p icked up a rifle and joined a battle to help save the nascent state. Perhaps most damaging to his legend is Mr. Garfield's demolition of the story that first won him fame, the celebrated "haversack ruse" of 1917. Still considered a classic of military deception, it supposedly involved Meinertzhagen, alone in the Negev Desert in Palestine during the war, drawing fire from Ottoman soldiers by pretending to be hurt and dropping, in his escape, faked topp-secret plans. These tricked the Turks into diverting troops, the legend went, making Beersheba and Gaza vulnerable to British forces. According to Mr. Garfield (who refers to Meinertzhagen by his initials), "the ruse was devised, but not by RM. The bag was dropped, but not by RM. It had no effect on the enemy's plans or decisions."
Shredding his way through both Meinertzhagen's four-million-word diary and the layers of sensational anecdote that grew up around him, Mr. Garfield exposes countless self-flattering inrflations, from Meinertzhagen's claim to own Darwin's pipe to his boasts of having casually killed any number of men with his bare hands. The only murder Mr. Garfield suspects Meinertzhagen of actually having committed is one that the colonel denied--namely, that of his second wife, Annie, who died of a bullet wound to the head that was ruled accidental.
A best-selling mystery writer, Mr. Garfield is clearly drawn to Meinertzhagen less for punitive reasons than for the pleasures of detection. He admits that Meinertzhagen "used to be one of my heroes," but he appears not to have an as to grind. He seems to have been consumed by the quest to pick apart his subject's elaborate self-mythology. In his extensive acknowledgments he thanks dozens of Meinertzhagen debunkers, including a researcher affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution who "continues to investigate and clarify the Meinertzhagen bird frauds" and a publisher who withdrew a fast-selling reprint of Meinertzhagen's "Kenya Diary" in the early 1980s because, Mr. Garfield reports, he "had suddenly come to believe it was full of lies."
With such a subject, the biographer's dilemma is that he must be scrupulous in his debunkings without suffocating the reader in detail. While Mr. Garfield does occasionally lay the detail on with a trowel, he manages both to prosecute Meinertzhagen convincingly and, by means of his lively prose, to keep us engaged.
Meinertzhagen was a person of genuine distinction--he made many non-frautulent contributions to ornithology, "he did his best to defend Zionism's interests in the Paris Peace Congress of 1919," Mr. Garfield observes, and a handbook he wrote as an intelligence officer during World War I remains "to this day one of military intelligence's most useful texts." Why, precissely, this man felt the need to embellish his life story so extravagantly is--despite Mr. Garfield's admirable labors--destined to remain a mystery.
Mr. Downing is the co-editor of "Parnassus: Poetry in Review."
Published in November 2003:
Brian Garfield's "THE HIT and THE MARKSMAN," two crime-suspense novellas. In hardcover from Five Star Press (Gale).