Unpublished Mark Twain short story to be released on the web

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Whodunit?

That'll be up to all you would-be writers out there.

Mark Twain wrote, ''A Murder, a Mystery, and a Marriage,'' in 1876 but never published it. It was the same year the author born Samuel Clemens started - and devoted most of his time to - a little thing called ''Huckleberry Finn.''

Now, an effort that touches both coasts will digitally publish the short-story about a modest Midwest family, a romance, a mysterious count and, as the title implies, a rather notorious crime.

The only catch is, readers will be left dangling, unable to taste one of Twain's famously twisting finales. The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, with permission from the Mark Twain Project in Berkeley, Calif., is asking readers to finish the story, for a shot at $25,000 in prizes.

''The story is really a perfect choice for the contest,'' University at Buffalo English professor Victor Doyno tells the Buffalo Evening News in its Sunday edition.

Doyno, who edited the 1996 Random House edition of ''Huckleberry Finn,'' which included previously unpublished parts of the novel, said Twain wrote an outline of ''A Murder ...'' as a sort of test for himself and the friends - like William Dean Howells - he shared it with.

Twain's version of the story is the only one that survives, he said.

''Twain had a way of writing himself into a situation where only he knew the way out,'' Doyno said. ''Midway through this one, even as a Twain scholar, I was thinking, ''How's he going to get out of this one?' I think he liked creating the situation ... then he was devious enough to find his way out.''

''The story's certainly not a great critical success by Mark Twain ... it's more of a running high jump,'' said Dr. Robert H. Hirst, head of the Mark Twain Project, a group based in Berkeley, Calif., that holds print rights to Twain's work but has transferred the digital rights to the Buffalo library. ''It's a challenge: How much of a genius can you be?''

And Twain's ending?

''Some people didn't cotton to it very well, that's for sure,'' said Hirst. ''It's extremely complicated ... but that's part of the fun of it.''

Negotiations for the digital release also included the Mark Twain Foundation in New York City. The digital publication of the story will tie in with a carnival of Mark Twain activities and events in Buffalo next year, including release of a ''Huckleberry Finn'' CD-ROM.

On the Net:

Buffalo & Erie County Public Library: http://www.buffalolib.org

Mark Twain Project: http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/BANC/MTP/


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