Saturday, February 17, 2018

What Would Nonnatus House Nurses Say?

What could the British historical drama Call the Midwife possibly have to do with an upcoming TNT-TV series described as an “intense, morally complex thriller”? Well, it seems they share a writer, Harriet Warner, who scripted 10 episodes of Midwife before creating this New Orleans-set project tentatively titled Deadlier Than the Male.

Deadline Hollywood says that Warner’s pilot “revolves around a trio of characters, each with a mysterious and troubling past: Emma [Lily Rabe] is a young woman who once looked into the eyes of a dangerous killer, John [Hamish Linklater] is a former serial predator desperate to find redemption, and Mary [Judging Amy’s Amy Brenneman] is a grieving mother obsessed with finding her missing daughter. As each of them is pushed to the edge, the truth about their pasts and motives grows ever murkier, blurring the lines between victim and perpetrator.”

The same online news source notes, “Deadlier Than the Male is the second TNT drama pilot from the network’s most recent batch to get a series order. It joins the recent pickup of Snowpiercer.”

(Hat tip to The Killing Times.)

Friday, February 16, 2018

Revue of Reviewers, 2-16-18

Critiquing some of the most interesting recent crime, mystery, and thriller releases. Click on the individual covers to read more.







Thursday, February 15, 2018

Recapping Crider’s Career

I did my best in putting together a Bill Crider obituary earlier this week, but Jiro Kimura’s recollections of that much-loved Texas mystery novelist add a variety of valuable details to my overview. Here’s what Kimura wrote today at The Gumshoe Site:
As most of you may know by now, Bill Crider (full name: Allen Billy Crider) died of prostate cancer on February 12 at his Alvin, Texas, home in hospice care. He earned a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, writing a doctoral dissertation on hard-boiled detective fiction, and taught English at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, and Alvin Community College. He had been a book collector and knew everything—well, almost everything—about old paperback books. I have known his name since he was a regular contributor for several mystery fanzines in the 1970s, such as The Armchair Detective, The Poisoned Pen, and The Mystery Fancier.

His first published novel was
The Coyote Connection (Charter, 1981), a Nick Carter spy novel, [written] under the house name of “Nick Carter,” co-written with his friend Jack Davis, while his first sold short story was “A Right to Be Dead” (printed in [the] now-defunct Canadian Black Cat Mystery Magazine, 1981), co-written with his Texas friend Joe R. Lansdale. His real first novel under his own name was Too Late to Die (Walker, 1986), the first Sheriff Dan Rhodes book, which won the 1987 Anthony Award. The prolific writer created a number of series characters, including Carl Burns (a college professor in Texas introduced in One Dead Dean, 1988), Truman Smith (a private eye in Texas introduced in Dead on the Island, 1991), Dr. Sally Good, the head of the English department of a Texas college introduced in Murder Is an Art, 1999), Stanley Waters (a retired weatherman introduced in Murder Under Blue Skies, 1998; co-written with Willard Scott, a weatherman), Ted Stephens (a homicide detective sergeant in Texas introduced in Houston Homicide, 2007; co-written with Clyde Wilson, “Houston's most public private eye”), and Bill Ferrel (a pre-war Hollywood private eye/troubleshooter featured only in short stories). He also wrote horror novels (Keepers of the Beast, l988) under the Jack MacLane pseudonym, YA books (Mike Gonzo and the UFO Terror, 1997), western mystery novels (Ryan Rides Back, 1988), as well as standalone novels (Blood Marks, 1991).

In the 2000s, I asked him to write a series of mystery essays for
Giallo, a Japanese quarterly mystery magazine for which I was an editorial consultant, and he kindly accepted my offer. His most recent Sheriff Rhodes novel was Dead, to Begin With (St. Martin’s, 2017), and I heard the next and probably last Rhodes novel will be out sometime this year. His most recent Rhodes short story, “Tell the Bees,” was printed in Vol. 1, Issue 2 of Down & Out: The Magazine. Oh, I forgot to tell you that he was a tremendously nice guy. He was 76.
Meanwhile, you will find Crider’s official obituary here.

Ali Karim points me toward this video, shot during Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina, that shows Crider’s participation in a rather wonderful panel discussion titled “The Masters That Influenced the Masters” (also featuring Karin Slaughter, Lawrence Block, Megan Abbott, and moderator Mark Coggins).

And blogger-author Evan Lewis showcases Crider’s lesser-known talents as a musician singer. See his posts here and here.

Finally, I just rediscovered something Crider wrote for January Magazine back in 2005, when that publication (which I help edit) was celebrating The Maltese Falcon’s 75th year in print. I believe his remarks about that novel are worth sharing again:
I first heard of Dashiell Hammett when I was a kid in the late 1950s. One of my cousins married a man whose last name was Dashiell and who was supposedly related to Hammett, to whom he referred as “that goddamned commie.” I didn’t think much of it at the time, but by the early 1960s I was reading a lot of paperback originals, particularly the Gold Medal books. A couple of them mentioned Hammett in the blurbs, and I figured it was time for me to find out what kind of books he wrote. I looked around the paperback racks for his novels but didn’t find any, so I went to the library and checked out Red Harvest.

It’s no exaggeration to say that reading that book was a life-changing experience for me. I can’t explain it now any better than I can explain Einstein’s theories, and I know that plenty of people who read the book for the first time these days are left cold by it. But for me, this story of small-town corruption told in the first-person by the Continental Op really hit home. I immediately checked out the rest of Hammett’s novels, and was amazed at how different they were from one other.

The one I liked best was
The Maltese Falcon. I was convinced that it was more than just the best private-eye novel I’d ever read. It was literature of a high order, and Hammett, “that goddamned commie,” was a hell of a writer.

Years later, I went on to write mystery novels of my own. None of them come within light years of Hammett’s work, but
The Maltese Falcon and his other novels remain touchstones for me, the books I judge others by. And if the others, including my own, come up short, it’s only because they’re being compared to the top of the line.
READ MORE:The Passing of Bill Crider,” by S.D. Parker.

Gathering Amid the Gray

Sigh … Another promising crime-fiction event I shall have to miss because I don’t like in Britain. From In Reference to Murder:
Ayo Onatade has a handy listing of all the events coming up during the Granite Noir festival in Aberdeen, Scotland, February 23-25. Val McDermid and Anne Cleeves will be featured in separate conversations, plus there is a plethora of crime fiction-themed panels for aspiring writers including one for kids aged 8-10, as well as screenings of Double Indemnity, The Big Clock, and The Big Easy; an exhibition of crime scene and police photography; an interactive tour of sites associated with medieval and beyond crime and punishment in Aberdeen; a Noir at the Bar; the Crime Writers Pub Quiz; and much more.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

PaperBack: “Seed of Doubt”

Part of a series honoring the late author and blogger Bill Crider.


Seed of Doubt, by “Day Keene,” aka Gunnar Hjerstedt (Dell, 1962). Cover illustration by Clark Hulings.

“Bosch” 4 Takes “Flight”

No sooner are we alerted to the date on which Michael Connelly’s Bosch will return for its 10-episode fourth season on the Amazon TV streaming service—Friday, April 13—than Deadline Hollywood reports that this crime drama has already been cleared for a fifth season. “Executive producer Eric Overmyer, who developed Bosch for television and served as showrunner for the first three seasons before leaving to become showrunner on another Amazon drama series, The Man in the High Castle, is returning,” says Deadline. “He will serve as co-showrunner alongside executive producer Daniel Pyne, who succeeded Overmyer as Bosch showrunner for Season 4.”

Click the link above to watch a trailer for the coming season of Bosch. On his Web site, Connelly explains that its 10 new episodes “will continue the unfinished plot lines from season 3 and will pull elements from Angels Flight,” his 1999 Harry Bosch novel.

Beads Not Included

Today is Mardi Gras, aka Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday—time to check out Janet Rudolph’s lengthy list of Mardi Gras mysteries.

Bill Crider, R.I.P.

Bill Crider warned us more than a year and a half ago that his remaining time among the living might be quite short, writing in his blog that he’d been diagnosed with “very aggressive” prostate cancer. “Looks bad,” he remarked in a July 2016 post. Yet it still came as something of a surprise last night when I read this Facebook message from his younger brother, Cox Robert “Bob” Crider:
My brother, Bill Crider, passed away this evening at 6:52 p.m. CST, Monday, February 12, 2018. It was a peaceful end to a strong body and intellectual mind.
During his three-decades-long writing career, Crider penned novels and short stories in a variety of genres. This English teacher turned author is probably best known for his humor-tinged mysteries starring Dan Rhodes, the necessarily resourceful sheriff of rural—and fictional—Blacklin County, Texas. (The opening entry in that series, 1986’s Too Late to Die, won him the Anthony Award for Best First Novel. A final, 24th installment, That Old Scoundrel Death, is due out later this year.) However, he also wrote science fiction, westerns, and horror yarns; produced a handful of books for younger readers (including 1990’s A Vampire Named Fred and its e-book sequel, A Werewolf Named Wayne); concocted, with Jack Davis, an entry in the long-running Nick Carter: Killmaster thriller series (1981’s The Coyote Connection); and even conspired with comedian/TV weatherman Willard Scott on a couple of cozy whodunits featuring—of course—a nationally recognized weather forecaster by the name of Stanley Waters. In an online interview from last November, Crider said, “I’ve written close to 100 books under both my own name and various pen names.”

Is it any wonder that media profiles of this Alvin, Texas, author so often referred to him as “prolific”?

Crider’s influence on the genre of crime and mystery fiction, though, actually pales in comparison to his impact on many of his fellow authors and readers. A frequent guest at the annual Bouchercon gatherings, and an avid supporter of other scribblers (I count myself as fortunate for having received a number of complimentary and encouraging e-mail notes from him over the years), Crider made numerous friends within the crime-fiction community. Mystery Fanfare’s Janet Rudolph describes him as “quiet, with a dry wit, warm, a true gentleman … Bill was always a class act and a true Renaissance man.” His Facebook page is awash today with memories of how Crider—seemingly always compassionate, attentive, generous, and knowledgeable—touched people’s hearts and made them laugh. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a kinder, gentler, more well-liked writer,” says author and Brash Books co-publisher Lee Goldberg. Another wordsmith, Richard Helms, calls Crider “a pal, a hell of a writer, one of the best of us.” And Seattle’s Vince Keenan, the co-author (with his wife, Rosemarie) of the Lillian Frost/Edith Head mysteries—published under their pseudonym, Renee Patrick—has this memory to share: “Bill was at the first-ever event Renee Patrick did on the road, making a point of driving in to Houston’s Murder by the Book so Rosemarie and I could count on seeing at least one friendly face. That’s the kind of person he was. I’ll miss talking books, movies, and baseball with him; I know how much it meant for him to see his Astros finally win a World Series last year. Safe travels, Bill. I’ll keep your books close at hand.”


Bill Crider poses in front of Edgar Allan Poe’s grave during Bouchercon 2008, held in Baltimore, Maryland.

Born in Mexia, Texas, on July 28, 1941, Bill Crider—cat lover, vintage music fan, all-star book collector, movies enthusiast, ardent blogger, voracious reader, poseur old grouch (his “Keep Off My Lawn” posts were persistently enjoyable), certified Dr Pepper addict, and the Web’s most popular authority on alligators and crocodiles—was 76 years old at the time of his demise. He outlived his wife, Judy, by slightly more than three years, but never forgot what it meant to be so loved.

I can’t think of a more fitting way to conclude this obituary than to quote something British writer Gary Dobbs said this morning: “Bill led a full life, died a courageous death, and his memory will be cherished not only by those who knew him personally but the many, many thousands of us to whom he offered the hand of digital friendship.”

FOLLOW-UP: Bill’s daughter, Angela Crider Neary‎, has posted this notice on his Facebook page: “A memorial service for Bill Crider will be held on Monday, February 19, at 1:00 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Alvin, Texas. In lieu of flowers, a donation to a public library of the donor’s choice would be appropriate.”

READ MORE:Bill Crider,” by Jacqueline Carmichael (Mystery Scene); “Bill Crider (1941-2018),” by Jerry House (Jerry’s House of Everything); “Interview: Bill Crider,” by Ben Boulden (Gravetapping); “Bill Crider, and Some of His Work and Play, Including Some Short Stories: The FFB Crider Celebration Week” (Socialist Jazz).

Monday, February 12, 2018

Coming to a Screen Near You

There are a couple of interesting developments on the crime-dramas front. This first item comes from In Reference to Murder:
NBC has given a pilot order to the drama Suspicion, based on the book by Joseph Finder, from The Path creator Jessica Goldberg, Universal TV, and Keshet Studios. Created/written by Goldberg, Suspicion is described as a Hitchcockian thriller about how far one man will go to save the people he loves.
Meanwhile, Mystery Fanfare brings word that the lovely and talented Alicia Vikander (of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. fame) has been signed to star in a big-screen adaptation of Karen Dionne’s 2017 thriller, The Marsh King’s Daughter. It quotes Deadline thusly:
The scripted adaptation is by Elle Smith and The Revenant scribe Mark L. Smith. Vikander will play Helena Petterier, who on the surface leads an ideal life with a great husband and a young daughter. She keeps secret her shocking back story: her mother was kidnapped as a teen, and she was the product of the relationship between captive and tormentor. She lives for 12 years in a life carefully controlled by her kidnapper/father, until he [is] caught and sent to prison.

An escape that leaves two prison guards dead forces her to confront her secret history and she becomes determined to bring down her father, who gave her all the tools she will need. He is the one called the Marsh King, the man who kept a woman and her young daughter captive in the wilderness for years. Sensing the danger this monster poses for her husband and young daughter, she vows to hunt him down.
The Hollywood Reporter notes that the film version of Dionne’s yarn “is set to be produced in summer 2018. Producer credits are shared by [Teddy] Schwarzman, Keith Redmon, [Morten] Tyldum, and Mark L. Smith. Bard Dorros and Vikander are executive producing.”

Hitchcock Gets a Makeover

Just when you thought there was no new way to celebrate Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, suspenseful motion pictures, along comes Mondo (a U.S. company “known for releasing limited-edition screen-printed posters for films, television shows, and comics”) with fresh imagery promoting his best-known movies.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

PaperBack: “Unfinished Crime”

Ever since early December 2017, when Texas educator-turned-author Bill Crider announced in his blog that he was entering home hospice care with terminal cancer, his fans and fellow authors have been cooking up ways to honor this generous, well-loved man and his three-decades-long fiction-writing career. One of the largest celebrations of his work came in mid-December, when Patti Abbott organized a Web-wide series of articles about his books and other stories.
Bill Crider’s Bookshelves
Since then we have also seen Evan Lewis roll out a succession of photos showing Bill and Judy Crider’s appearances at multiple Bouchercons over the years. And Spinetingler Magazine’s Brian Lindenmuth recently launched a new blog, Palomino Mugging, that he calls “a spiritual successor to Bill Crider’s blog.”

As Rap Sheet readers know, I am a longtime fan of Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine, the blog this 76-year-old fictionist wrote from July 2002 until last December. I count my paean to that site as one of my favorite posts of 2017, no matter how sad it was to assemble. But writing it never seemed like a sufficient salute. So I’ve decided to continue a feature on this page that Crider originally debuted on his own. Consider this my small way of extending his legacy.

From what I can discern, Crider’s first “PaperBack” post appeared—with no fanfare or explanation—on September 7, 2010. It showed the rear cover, but not the front, from the 1955 Graphic Mystery edition of Unfinished Crime, by “Helen McCloy” (née Helen Clarkson). He would continue inserting such back-jacket art into his blog on a regular basis until March 10, 2011, when he posted both the fore and aft sides of The Lustful Ape, by “Russell Gray,” aka Bruno Fisher (Lion, 1950). “When I started this feature,” Crider explained at the time, “my idea was that the front covers of paperbacks were easy to find (BookScans is a great place) but that back covers were another story. However, I’ve been flooded with requests (okay, maybe trickled with requests) to show both front and back covers. I’m going to try it for a while and see how it goes.” He never went back to presenting only the reverse sides of books; his final “PaperBack” post showcased The River and the Dread, by Raymond F. Jones (Laser, 1977).

Now, I don’t have a vintage paperback library nearly as extensive as Bill Crider’s. However, I definitely own more than my fair share of such works, and I can also claim thousands of scans in my computer files showing books that are not on my shelves. Armed with those resources, and in salute to Crider—who I hope will, despite his failing health, be told of this venture—I am today restarting his “PaperBack” feature in The Rap Sheet. I don’t know how long this project will continue, and I will not be posting these façades on a daily basis (as Crider did), but I’ve given myself a full year to experiment with this idea. To repeat Bill’s words, we’ll “see how it goes.”

Let’s begin where Crider did, with McCloy’s Unfinished Crime. Only this time, you’re getting both the front and back faces of that edition.



As we move forward, I shall draw from my own collections and concentrate on crime and thriller fiction, though other novels may sneak into the mix now and then. Whenever I know the artist responsible for a cover illustration, I’ll make mention of it. Please tell me what you think of this new Rap Sheet series as it progresses.

READ MORE:Bill Crider, R.I.P.,” by J. Kingston Pierce
(The Rap Sheet).

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Calling It a “Day”

So now we finally now: Anthony Horowitz’s second James Bond continuation novel—due out in the UK on May 31—will be Forever and a Day. As The Spy Command explains, that book will be “a prequel to Casino Royale [1953], Fleming’s first Bond novel” and will “explore the origins of the world’s most famous secret agent.” Like Horowitz’s initial foray into the Bond universe, 2015’s Trigger Mortis, this new thriller will include at least a modicum of previously unpublished material penned by Agent 007’s creator, Ian Fleming.

I very much enjoyed Horowitz’s opening Bond yarn, and if he can do as fine a job of capturing both the original character of Britain’s best-known fictional superspy and Fleming’s prose style (more or less) in Forever and Day, I’ll probably find reading his forthcoming novel no less satisfying. My only problem is with the book’s humdrum appellation. Forever and a Day lacks the verve and wit of previous Fleming titles such as Live and Let Die, From Russia, with Love, and You Only Live Twice. Trigger Mortis may have borrowed the name of a1958 Frank Kane novel (albeit unintentionally), but at least its moniker suggested the intrigue inherent in other Fleming titles. What of Forever and a Day? If you search the Amazon sales site for books with that same name, you come up with a variety of romance novels—not exactly a ringing endorsement of Horowitz’s choice.

The author might have considered putting a playful spin on the colloquial expression he’s employed as a title. But then, I guess that would have left him with something like Forever and a Death, which Donald E. Westlake already used on a novel—his last one ever published, as it turned out—that had its roots in a treatment for a never-made James Bond film. Or he could have gone with Never and a Day, which offers a bit of originality as well as humor, and alludes to the 1983 Sean Connery picture, Never Say Never Again (itself not originally a Fleming title). Oh, well. Better luck next time.

FOLLOW-UP: The Book Bond brings word that Forever and a Day “will be released by HarperCollins in the U.S. on November 6, 2018. Harper was also the U.S. publisher of Trigger Mortis.”

READ MORE:James Bond Returns in Forever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz,” by Nicolas Suszczyk (The Secret Agent Lair).

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Bullet Points: All That and More Edition

Please forgive the recent paucity of fresh posts on this page, but I’ve been busy finishing up a couple of large projects over the last two weeks, one of which I was particularly pleased to have tackled. (More about that soon.) Having now put both of those endeavors behind me, I can return to my collection of crime fiction-related links around the Web. Here are a few of the things I’ve turned up lately.

• The site ComingSoon.net reports that Willem Dafoe has been tapped to co-star, opposite Edward Norton, in Motherless Brooklyn, a forthcoming big-screen adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel of that same name. Norton has apparently written the script already, and will be one of the picture’s producers. For anyone who hasn’t read Lethem’s Brooklyn-set yarn, here’s Wikipedia’s plot synopsis: “Lethem’s protagonist, Lionel Essrog, has Tourette syndrome, a disorder marked by involuntary tics. Essrog works, along with Tony, Danny and Gilbert, who call themselves the Minna Men, for Frank Minna—a small-time neighborhood owner of a ‘seedy and makeshift’ detective agency—who is stabbed to death.” Motherless Brooklyn won both the 1999 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction and the 2000 Gold Dagger from the British Crime Writers’ Association.

• Series 5 of Endeavour began showing last weekend in Great Britain. In the first of six new episodes (two more than previous seasons offered), “It’s 1st April 1968, and Morse [played by Shaun Evans] is now a Detective Sergeant and lodging with [DS Jim] Strange [Sean Rigby], though his position in the reorganised nick is hardly secure,” explains the UK TV blog Killing Times. “He’s investigating a handbag snatching, but there’s more skullduggery going on, including the auction of a Faberge egg, that old cliché of caper movies, and a shooting in a taxi. … Joan Thursday (Sarah Vickers) is back in town, her dalliance in exotic Leamington evidently having come to a sticky end, but there seems no prospect of her resuming any relationship with Morse, or indeed her dad, Fred [Roger Allam].” The blog Morse, Lewis, and Endeavour provides further hints at what to expect from this excellent program in the weeks to come, and in a separate post, says that Endeavour showrunner Russell Lewis is planning some sort of on-screen tribute to Colin Dexter, who created Inspector Morse and passed away last year. Watch the Season 5 video trailer below.



• I have not so far come across any reliable news as to when Endeavour Series 5 will reach American television screens, but if history can be our guide, it should begin broadcasting as part of PBS-TV’s Masterpiece Mystery! lineup in late summer of this year.

• In the wake of sexual-misconduct allegations leveled against Kevin Spacey, who played its pitiless central character, politician Frank Underwood, the Netflix drama series House of Cards has made some casting changes. According to The New York Times, Spacey is out, while Diane Lane and Greg Kinnear will join returning star Robin Wright for the show’s sixth and final season. Shooting of House of Cards’ concluding episodes commenced in late January.

From In Reference to Murder:
More than a decade after the release of the feature film adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s best-selling novel, Gone Baby Gone, Fox has ordered a pilot for a TV series adapting the story of working-class Boston detectives investigating a young girl’s kidnapping. Written by Black Sails creator Robert Levine, the pilot will be a one-hour drama following private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, who are “armed with their wits, their street knowledge and an undeniable chemistry” as they attempt to tackle cases that the law can’t in the working-class Boston borough of Dorchester. Levine and Lehane are both set to executive produce the pilot, which is aiming for Fox’s 2018-2019 TV season.
• The same source brings word that CBS-TV has greenlighted a small-screen version of L.A. Confidential, “a new take on the James Ellroy detective novel that inspired the Oscar-winning 1997 film.” As we reported last September, author Jordan Harper (She Rides Shotgun) will be responsible for writing the pilot’s script.

This comes from Tor.com: “The first full-length trailer for the second season of Jessica Jones has the hard-drinking superpowered detective taking on an incredibly personal case: her own, delving into the car accident that killed her, and the shadowy people who brought her back to life. The powers, it turns out, were a side effect.” Jessica Jones will return to Netflix on Thursday, March 8.

• OK, just one more bit of movie news: Cinelou Films has grabbed up the cinematic rights to Jar of Hearts, a thriller novel set for release by Minotaur Books in June, and written by Jennifer Hillier, a quondam Seattleite now residing in Toronto, Canada. Amazon’s brief on the plot line of Hillier’s tale says, “This is [the] story of three best friends: one who was murdered, one who went to prison, and one who’s been searching for the truth all these years.” I have not yet received a copy of Hillier’s book, but it sounds promising.

Tampa Bay Times journalist Craig Pittman, who last year wrote about Elmore Leonard’s LaBrava for The Rap Sheet, has a fun piece in Slate speculating that the parents on television’s The Brady Bunch “murdered each other’s spouses and married each other. And that’s the way they all became the Brady Bunch.”

Are we really seeing an Arab detective-fiction renaissance?

• Editor Janet Rudolph has let it be known that the latest edition of Mystery Readers Journal—the second in a row to focus on “Big City Cops”—is now available for purchase, either in a hard-copy version or as a downloadable PDF. If you missed the previous magazine, you can order it and other back issues by clicking here.

• A belated happy birthday to Ida Lupino. As Terence Towles Canote observed in his blog, this last Sunday, Febrary 4, marked the 100th year since Lupino’s delivery in London, England. “It seems likely that most people know Ida Lupino only as a beautiful and talented actress from the Golden Age of Hollywood,” Canote writes. “Classic movie buffs know otherwise. We know that she was not only a talented actress, but a talented director as well. Over the years she directed several films and several hours worth of television. As only the second woman to join the Directors Guild of America (Dorothy Arzner was the first), Ida Lupino was a true pioneer.” She died in 1995, aged 77.

• And happy 20th anniversary to the James Bond-obsessed site MI6. Looking back over its history, the editors write: “The future of the 007 franchise was more certain 20 years ago than it [is] today, although nobody knew back then what would be in store with [Pierce] Brosnan’s unceremoniously leaving the franchise, MGM’s bankruptcy and repeated financial troubles, Daniel Craig’s controversial casting, and the ‘new normal’ of longer breaks between films. Whatever lies in store as we approach the fifth—and probably final—Daniel Craig outing, MI6 will be here to cover it.”

• The entertainment Web site WhatCulture.com lists 10 things it expects from the coming, 25th 007 flick—“essential signifiers that James Bond, in all its glory, has truly returned.”

The Gumshoe Site reports the sad news that Kansas-born, Southern California-reared author Gaylord Dold “died after complications from the flu and was found on January 29 at his mother’s home in Fort Scott, Kansas.” The blog goes on to explain:
The former lawyer wrote the Mitch Roberts private eye series starting with Hot Summer, Cold Murder (Avon, 1987). Modeled on Robert Mitchum, Dold’s favorite actor, Roberts gumshoes around in 1950s Wichita, Kansas, Dold’s hometown, in the first six paperback original books … then he turns international in A Penny for the Old Guy (St. Martin’s, 1991) and three following hardcover novels, sleuthing around Europe till Samedi’s Knapsack (Minotaur, 2001). He also wrote standalone crime novels (such as The Last Man in Berlin; Sourcebooks, 2003; retitled Storm 33; Kindle, 2014), a memoir (Jack’s Boy; Kindle, 2014), two travel guides ([including] The Rough Guide to the Bahamas; Rough Guides, 2007), [and] two Jack Kilgore novels ([including] The Nickel Jolt, Premier Digital, 2013; Kilgore being ex-Marine Intelligence agent). He was 70.
To learn more, check out Dold’s Web site.

In Mystery*File, Francis M. Nevins notes the passing, this last October, of Donald A. Yates, an authority on Spanish and Latin American literature (he helped, for instance, to bring the works of Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges to U.S. audiences). Yates translated crime stories for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and edited Latin Blood (1972), “an anthology of mystery tales from Central and South America, which includes three stories by Borges.” In addition, Yates was a Sherlock Holmes enthusiast and a fan of locked-room mysteries, and he penned “several detective short stories” of his own over the years. He was 87 years old when he died at his home in Deer Park, California.

MysteryPeople chooses three new novels its editors think deserve your attention in February: The Gate Keeper, by Charles Todd (Morrow); Help I Am Being Held Prisoner, by Donald E. Westlake (Hard Case Crime); and Cut You Down, by Sam Wiebe (Quercus). To those, I would add the five books I most look forward to reading this month: Mephisto Waltz, by Frank Tallis (Pegasus); Down the River Unto the Sea, by Walter Mosley (Mulholland); Force of Nature, by Jane Harper (Flatiron); Chicago, by David Mamet (Custom House); Green Sun, by Kent Anderson (Mulholland); and Sunburn, by Laura Lippman (Morrow). No doubt about it—this is a bang-up time for crime fiction.

• No sooner had I finally listened to all of Nancie Clare’s Speaking of Mysteries podcasts, than three new episodes appeared. Her latest author interviewees: Karen Cleveland (Need to Know), Jody Gehrman (Watch Me), and Adam Walker Phillips (The Perpetual Summer).

• Elsewhere, Alafair Burke talks with BOLO Books about her new novel, The Wife; Robert Crais (The Wanted) and Mark Pryor (Dominic) chat with MysteryPeople; Crimespree Magazine addresses questions to Nick Petrie (Light It Up), Dennis Palumbo (Head Wounds), and Steph Post (Walk in the Fire); Tod Goldberg (Gangster Nation) goes one-on-one with the Los Angeles Review Books; L.A. cop-turned-author Paul Bishop recalls his work as an expert interrogator; and Gravetapping’s Ben Boulden asks John Hegenberger about his latest novel, The Pandora Block, and his two series characters.

• Another thing I haven’t been keeping up with: Crime Friction, the rookie podcast hosted by Jay Stringer and the delightful Chantelle Aimée Osman. Episode 4 is just out, featuring Gary Phillips talking about Culprits: The Heist Was Just the Beginning (Polis), a new serial anthology he co-edited with Richard J. Brewer.

• It’s been a while now since we had an update on Bill Crider’s health, supplied by family members through his Facebook page. As you will remember, the 76-year-old Alvin, Texas, author-blogger, suffering from prostate cancer, is undergoing hospice care. The last I remember reading, Bill was weak but resting peacefully. Meanwhile, his three beloved cats—rescued from a drainage ditch near his home in 2016, and known ever since as the VBKs (Very Bad Kitties)—have gone to live with his goddaughter, Liz Romig Hatlestad, at her home in the central Texas town of Brownwood. They also now have their own Facebook fan page! And to commemorate Bill’s writing career, fellow blogger Evan Lewis has been posting photos of Bill and Judy Crider from their appearances at multiple Bouchercons over the years.

• Speaking of the honorable Mr. Crider, Spinetingler Magazine’s Brian Lindenmuth recently launched a new blog, Palomino Mugging, that he calls “a spiritual successor to Bill Crider’s blog, Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine. Bill’s blog was like a personalized RSS feed of interesting things, interspersed with reviews and other writings. That’s the approach I plan to take.” There isn’t much new crime-fiction content on Lindenmuth’s site yet; most of the posts so far appear to have been picked up from Lindenmuth’s older Web offerings. But as a longtime reader of Crider’s blog, I look forward to seeing how successfully Lindenmuth’s efforts will measure up.

• I have often thought how wonderful it would be to spend more time in Great Britain, which seems to be regularly rife with crime-fiction events. Just look at this list, put together by the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA), of writing festivals and workshops being offered “across the pond” over the next couple of months.

• Also from the CWA comes a reminder that its annual Margery Allingham Short Story Competition is accepting submissions from both published and unpublished wordsmiths. The deadline is midnight on February 28. The CWA explains that “There’s a limit of 3,500 words and a fairly open brief—your mystery story needs to fit Margery Allingham’s definition of a mystery: ‘The Mystery remains box-shaped, at once a prison and a refuge. Its four walls are, roughly, a Crime, a Mystery, an Enquiry and a Conclusion with an Element of Satisfaction in it.’ It costs £12 to enter and the winner walks away with £500, a selection of Margery Allingham books and two passes for international crime writing convention CrimeFest in 2019.” This year’s winner will be announced during CrimeFest 2018 (May 17-20).

• An Indian media site called Scroll carries Jai Arjun Singh’s intriguing account of baffling disappearances (of people, footprints, weapons, cars, etc.) in need of investigating in classic mystery fiction.

• Prolific crime-novelist John Lutz recalls for the SleuthSayers blog how and why he created Thomas Laker, the secret agent hero of a brand-new series being introduced this month with The Honorable Traitors (Pinnacle). Compounding my interest in that post is Jan Grape’s introduction, in which she says she first met Lutz at the Baltimore Bouchercon convention in 2008. As it happens, that was also the only time I remember encountering the author. It was during a late evening, and I’d gone down to the convention hotel bar for a nightcap and some conversation. After receiving my drink, I looked across the well-lit, too-shiny room and saw Lutz and his wife, Barbara, seated at a small round table in the far corner. They were chatting amiably, not inviting company. But, being fairly new to the conventioneering game and—after years spent as a reporter—comfortable with approaching strangers (even famous ones), I sidled over to their table, apologized for the interruption, and then went into an overlong appreciation of Lutz’s Fred Carver private-eye series. The author seemed very humble in the face of my adulation, but let a small smile ride his lips the whole time. After I was done prattling, he thanked me for reading his novels, and I retreated to my own table. The Lutzes left soon afterward. In retrospect, it was a small moment, but it reminded me of how much I appreciated Lutz’s work. Within the next six months, I had re-read most of the Carver yarns. It just goes to show what impact meeting an author can have on a true fan.

• For the ninth year in a row, government information librarian/author Robert Lopresti has chosen his favorite crime-fiction short stories of the year, this time for 2017. “The big winners,” Lopresti explains, “were Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, tied with five stories each. Akashic Press and Mystery Weekly Magazine each scored two. … Six of the stories are funny (says me); four have fantasy elements. Only one is a historical. I think one could be described as fair play.” You will find his 18 top choices in the blog SleuthSayers.

• Late last month brought word that author and screenwriter Bridget Lawless was launching the Staunch Book Prize, to be given to the best thriller novel “in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped, or murdered.” She explains on her competition’s Web site that “As violence against women in fiction reaches a ridiculous high, the Staunch Book Prize invites thriller writers to keep us on the edge of our seats without resorting to the same old clichés—particularly female characters who are sexually assaulted (however ‘necessary to the plot’), or done away with (however ingeniously).” Lawless’ contest, which offers £2,000 in prize money, will be open to “stories across the thriller genre—crime, psychological, comedy, and mysteries—and to traditionally published, self-published, and not-yet-published works.” Submissions will be accepted from February 22 through July 15, with an announcement of the winning entry scheduled for November 25, “coinciding with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.” While many readers have cheered Lawless’ move, there have been objections—including from Britain’s Sophie Hannah, who wrote in The Guardian:
The prize clearly has good intentions, and wishes to take an important stand against violence towards women. The problem is that it’s not the violence that’s on the receiving end of that stand; it’s writers and readers.

Brutality is not the same thing as writing about brutality. After suffering a trauma, some people find it consoling and empowering to read, or write, about fictional characters who have survived similar experiences. If we can’t stop human beings from viciously harming one another, we need to be able to write stories in which that harm is subjected to psychological and moral scrutiny, and punished. On some occasions, perhaps the fictional perpetrator will go unpunished, if the author is writing about the failure of the legal system to deliver justice. There is no life-changing experience that we should be discouraged from writing and reading about.

The Staunch prize could instead have been created to honour the novel that most powerfully or sensitively tackles the problem of violence against women and girls. Reading the eligibility criteria, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the prize actively sets out to discourage crime fiction, even of the highest quality, that tackles violence against women head-on.
• Nominees for this year’s RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards have been proclaimed in a range of categories. Click here to see the mystery fiction and romantic suspense works vying for honors. Winners will be named during a May 27 ceremony in Reno, Nevada.

• It’s time to suit up again for SleuthFest, which is set to be held in Boca Raton, Florida, from March 1 to 4. Mystery Fanfare shares the details on special guests, registration, and more.

• I, for one, have never seen “The Deep End,” a 1964 episode of Kraft Suspense Theatre that Elizabeth Foxwell features in The Bunburyist. She says the show, which finds Clu Gulager starring in a private dick role, was “likely” adapted from John D. MacDonald’s 1963 standalone novel, The Drowner.

• George C. Chesbro devotees, please take note. A decade after his death in 2008, Open Road Media has made available e-book versions of 23 of that author’s mystery and private-eye novels. They include most of his books headlined by dwarf criminologist/gumshoe Robert Frederickson, aka “Mongo the Magnificent.”

• Congratulations are owed to a couple of new columnists at different publications: Craig Sisterson, who has launched Crimespree Magazine’s new “Māwake Crime Review,” “featuring some great crime writers and crime novels from beyond the borders of North America and Europe”; and Dean Jobb, the author of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine’s new “Stranger Than Fiction” column, about true-crime books.

• The aforementioned Mr. Sisterson has also created a Facebook page for Rotorua Noir, which he says is “New Zealand’s first-ever crime-writing festival,” and is set to take place in the North Island city of Rotorua from January 27 to 27, 2019. “We have already secured a great venue, and four amazing international Guests of Honour, who will be joining an array of crime writers on a terrific programme of writer workshops, author panels, and other cool events.”

• Although this critique of Sarah Trott’s non-fiction work, War Noir: Raymond Chandler and the Hard-Boiled Detective as Veteran in American Fiction (University Press of Mississippi), could have benefited from more careful proofreading, it leads me to believe I would enjoy the book. Trott’s thesis is that Chandler’s service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during World War I influenced “his prose style and can chiefly be identified in his most famous character, private investigator [Philip] Marlowe; namely in the way he thinks, talks and acts.” It’s just a shame Trott’s volume is so expensive, $65, making most readers think twice before purchasing.

• We are still a week away from Valentine’s Day, but Mystery Fanfare has reposted its extensive list of Valentine’s Day mysteries, only a handful of which I can honestly claim to have read.

• And here’s a series I never thought I would see again: The Lazarus Man, a 1996 TNT-TV Western/mystery that starred Robert Urich (Spenser: For Hire) as an amnesiac who escaped a premature grave in Texas in the mid-1860s, then wandered about the West trying to figure out who he was and why he was plagued by recollections of being attacked by a man in a derby hat. The show was actually renewed for a second season, but was subsequently cancelled after news broke that Urich had been diagnosed with the rare cancer synovial cell sarcoma. (He would die in 2002.) Twenty episodes were shown, but two never unaired. Now, the Web site TV Shows on DVD informs me that The Lazarus Man—The Complete Series will be released on February 13 by the Warner Archive Collection. That site says the DVD set will comprise five discs, but is vague on whether it will contain those never-broadcast last two eps. The Turner Classic Movies site, though, says all 22 episodes will be included in the set. Amazon lists the retail price of The Lazarus Man—The Complete Series as $47.99.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Revue of Reviewers, 2-6-18

Critiquing some of the most interesting recent crime, mystery, and thriller releases. Click on the individual covers to read more.







The Man Behind Our Memories

Fans of vintage American TV shows—including crime dramas—are going to love looking through Ralph Senensky’s Web site, Ralph’s Cinema Trek. The now 94-year-old, Iowa-born director and screenwriter worked on such classic programs as Star Trek, Route 66, Arrest and Trial, The Fugitive, The F.B.I., Judd for the Defense, The Wild Wild West, Mannix, Search, Mission: Impossible, Dan August, Barnaby Jones, City of Angels … and, well, the list goes on and on (and then on some more). Senensky shares his recollections of his experiences behind the camera, and inserts into his write-ups rarely seen video clips from the episodes on which he labored over the years. Great fun!

(Hat tip to The Spy Command.)

Hear Them Out

The Audio Publishers Association (APA) has broadcast its list of finalists for the 2018 Audie Awards. There are more than 25 categories of nominees, but here are two likely to interest Rap Sheet readers.
Mystery:
The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, by David Lagercrantz, narrated by Simon Vance (Random House Audio)
Glass Houses, by Louise Penny, narrated by Robert Bathurst (Macmillan Audio)
Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz, narrated by Samantha Bond (HarperAudio)
On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service, by Rhys Bowen, narrated by Katherine Kellgren (Audible Studios)
Telling Tales, by Ann Cleeves, narrated by Julia Franklin (Macmillan Audio)

Thriller/Suspense:
The Breakdown, by B.A. Paris, narrated by Georgia Maguire (Macmillan Audio)
Don’t Let Go, by Harlan Coben, narrated by Steven Weber (Brilliance)
The Chemist, by Stephenie Meyer, narrated by Ellen Archer (Hachette Audio)
The Fourth Monkey, by J.D. Barker, narrated by Edoardo Ballerini and Graham Winton (Recorded Book)
A Legacy of Spies, by John le Carré, narrated by Tom Hollander (Penguin Audio)
Mississippi Blood, by Greg Iles, narrated by Scott Brick (HarperAudio)
Winners are to be honored on May 31 during a “gala” ceremony at the New-York Historical Society.

Welcome to the Dahlia House?

After reading historian Larry Harnish’s debunkings of the theory that Los Angeles physician George Hodel was responsible for the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short, aka the Black Dahlia, I’m quite skeptical of Hodel’s guilt in that never-solved crime.

Still, I was interested to read in January Magazine that the famous Sowden House—where Hodel lived in the latter half of the 1940s, and which has been postulated as the site of Short’s slaying (her body was supposedly transported from there to a vacant lot in south L.A.)—“recently sold for $4.7 million.” Quoting from a piece in Britain’s Daily Mail, January explains that “The home has now been bought by Dan Goldfarb, founder of Canna-Pet, which makes non-psychoactive cannabis supplements for animals. He told the L.A. Times he plans to make the property into a ‘cannabis oasis.’”

READ MORE:The Sordid and Possibly Murderous Secrets of Los Angeles’ Sowden House,” by Hadley Meares (Curbed Los Angeles).

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Happy Birthday, Robert McGinnis!


(Above) The Velvet Knife, by Irving Shulman (Popular Giant, 1960).
Illustration by Robert McGinnis.


As Evan Lewis reminds us in his blog, today is the 92nd birthday of acclaimed American paperback artist Robert McGinnis.

I’ve written in The Rap Sheet before about McGinnis, including in this rewarding interview with his biographer, Art Scott. And I have showcased many examples of McGinnis’ work in my other blog, Killer Covers. So rather than rehash all of that, I shall simply post the two classic McGinnis-painted book fronts shown above and below, and suggest you visit those existing resources.


Where Did Charity Go? by Carter Brown (Signet, 1970).
Illustration by Robert McGinnis.

First and Down Forever

I may not be a big fan of football (or any other spectator sport, for that matter), but I know plenty of crime-fiction readers who are. So for their benefit—and with Super Bowl LII set to be played tomorrow between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles—let me just remind everyone about Janet Rudolph’s long list of football-related mysteries. You should have enough time to find one of these books and at least start reading it before the kick-off on Sunday.

Monday, January 29, 2018

No Sex or Gory Violence, Please

Organizers of the Malice Domestic conference, which is set to take place this year in Bethesda, Maryland, from April 27 to 29, have announced their nominees for the 2017 Agatha Awards. According to press materials, “The Agatha Awards honor the ‘traditional mystery.’ That is to say, books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie as well as others.” Below are the six categories of contenders.

Best Contemporary Novel:
Death Overdue, by Allison Brook (Crooked Lane)
A Cajun Christmas Killing, by Ellen Byron (Crooked Lane)
No Way Home, by Annette Dashofy (Henery Press)
Take Out, by Margaret Maron (Grand Central)
Glass Houses, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)

Best Historical Novel:
In Farleigh Field, by Rhys Bowen (Lake Union)
Murder in an English Village, by Jessica Ellicott (Kensington)
Called to Justice, by Edith Maxwell (Midnight Ink)
The Paris Spy, by Susan Elia MacNeal (Bantam)
Dangerous to Know, by Renee Patrick (Forge)

Best First Novel:
Adrift, Micki Browning (Alibi)
The Plot Is Murder, by V.M. Burns (Kensington)
Hollywood Homicide, by Kellye Garrett (Midnight Ink)
Daughters of Bad Men, by Laura Oles (Red Adept)
Protocol, by Kathleen Valenti (Henery Press)

Best Non-fiction:
From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women Who Created an Icon, by Mattias Boström (Mysterious Press)
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, by Martin Edwards
(Poisoned Pen Press)
American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land,
by Monica Hesse (Liveright)
Rewrite Your Life: Discover Your Truth Through the Healing Power of Fiction, by Jess Lourey (Conari Press)
Manderley Forever: A Biography of Daphne du Maurier, by
Tatiana de Rosnay (St. Martin’s Press)

Best Short Story:
Double Deck the Halls, by Gretchen Archer (Henery Press e-book)
“Whose Wine Is it Anyway” by Barb Goffman (from 50 Shades of Cabernet; Koehler)
“The Night They Burned Miss Dixie’s Place,” by Debra Goldstein (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, May/June 2017)
“The Library Ghost of Tanglewood Inn,” by Gigi Pandian
(Henery Press e-book)
“A Necessary Ingredient,” by Art Taylor (from Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea, edited by Andrew McAleer and Paul D. Marks; Down & Out)

Best Children’s/Young Adult:
City of Angels, by Kristi Belcamino (Polis)
Sydney Mackenzie Knocks ’Em Dead, by Cindy Callaghan (Aladdin)
The World’s Greatest Detective, by Caroline Carlson (HarperCollins)
Audacity Jones Steals the Show, by Kirby Larson (Scholastic Press)
The Harlem Charade, by Natasha Tarpley (Scholastic Press)

Winners are set to be declared on Sunday, April 29.

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

READ MORE:Agatha and Other Awards,” by Martin Edwards (‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’).

Here We Go Again

As hard as this may be to believe, ABC-TV has greenlighted a pilot film for a reboot of the 1974-1975 crime drama Get Christie Love!, which starred Teresa Graves as a (literally) kick-ass Los Angeles undercover cop. According to Deadline Hollywood, this not-quite-remake will star Canadian-American actress Kylie Bunbury.
The new Get Christie Love (no ! in the title), written by [executive producer Courtney] Kemp, is an action-packed, music-driven drama that centers on Christie Love (Bunbury), an African-American female CIA agent who leads an elite ops unit. She transforms into whomever she needs to be to get the job done, especially when it’s down to the wire and the stakes are life and death. The high-adrenaline missions of the series are anchored by an emotional mystery about Christie’s first love—unearthing the truth about this relationship will be the biggest mission impossible of her life.
Adding further to 2018’s reboot fever, In Reference to Murder blogger B.V. Lawson notes that “CBS also ordered pilots for the Magnum P.I. and Cagney & Lacey reboots. The original Tom Selleck Magnum series ran from 1980 to 1988, while Tyne Daly and Sharon Glass’ female-fronted police procedural was on the air from 1982 to 1988.”

READ MORE:New Magnum P.I. & Lacey Likely to Be Diverse as Broadcast Networks Eye Most Inclusive Pilot Leads Ever,” by Nellie Andreeva (Deadline Hollywood).

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Book You Have to Read:
“Hollywood and LeVine,” by Andrew Bergman

(Editor’s note: This is the 154th installment in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books.)

By Steven Nester
Private investigator Jack LeVine possesses the “wise and forgiving heart of a Talmudic sage,” but he’s no antiquated milquetoast. Screenwriter/director Andrew Bergman’s trench coat-clad retro-noir novel Hollywood and LeVine (1975), the second book in a trilogy, avoids caricature and cliché, giving its story the power to intrigue the most demanding readers of noir; yet its locale, its place in history, along with its plot circumstances and stage dressing, will satisfy anyone who craves the invigorating company of a slap-some-sense-into-you, old-school shamus.

For a while at least, the end of World War II seemed like a great time to be in the P.I. business. New York City’s LeVine has been making bank checking up on how the wives of GIs returning from the battlefields amused themselves while their husbands were off protecting democratic values. However, as quickly as the soldiers came home and the party started, those vets “combed the confetti from their hair … and commenced to brood.” Peacetime inflation set in, and with the champagne ceasing to flow, a deep sense of paranoia descended slowly upon the land.

By early 1947, Jack LeVine is finally down to his last dollar. It’s then that he is approached in his Manhattan office by an old friend, Walter Adrian. The pair had been fellow travelers two decades before at the City College of New York, a hotbed of leftist thinking ever since the days of Sacco and Vanzetti. The practical LeVine had eventually cooled toward “Uncle Joe” Stalin and his brutality, got his gumshoe license, and chosen to save civilization one worried or confused client at a time. Meanwhile, Adrian has become a successful (if never Oscar-winning) screenwriter, spreading hope for a better world through popular culture. Shortly after they reunite, Adrian invites LeVine out to Los Angeles for a visit—and a paycheck.

Yet when LeVine arrives in Southern California, he discovers Adrian and his Hollywood clique running scared.

Remember, the United States’ early postwar years brought not only a turn away from political isolationism and the kickoff of the nation’s “baby boom,” but also the birth of the Cold War and the concurrent fear campaign remembered as McCarthyism. Led by a self-promoting U.S. senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, that last effort made the federal government complicit in a witch hunt for homegrown communists and “red” spies—real and imaginary—wherever they might exist. McCarthy’s dubious investigation focused principally on government employees, college educators, and labor union activists, as well as members of the entertainment industry, especially those living and working in Tinseltown. McCarthy and his nationalist-crusader cohorts sought to “blacklist” anyone at the major film studios who they’d convinced themselves were “communist sympathizers,” thus undermining those people’s careers.

It’s against this backdrop that Walter Adrian draws Levine west. Adrian suspects that Warner Bros., the studio for which he’s worked since 1938, is giving him the cold shoulder. His contract is up for renegotiation and he is being offered considerably less money than was included in his previous agreement. What’s more, a theatrical play he’s written is attracting exactly zero interest from producers, and he is concerned that he’s being followed. Adrian declines to offer an explanation for his perceived fall from grace, but the balding, divorced, and Blatz-drinking LeVine is no chump. He figures Adrian is concealing crucial information, and he’s seasoned enough to realize that such secrecy may bring unfavorable results. “I didn’t think he was holding out on me for any malicious reason,” explains Levine. “That’s what bothered me: it’s the ones with good intentions who get pushed off the tops of buildings.”

When Adrian in fact ends up swinging from a rope on a deserted movie set, his death is labeled a suicide. LeVine doesn’t buy that explanation for a minute. More likely, Adrian was among the first to have felt the wrath of the anti-communist blacklist, and fell on his sword—or he might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. This being an era marked by secrets and betrayals, perhaps Adrian knew too much about something he wished he knew nothing about. To get to the truth, LeVine dives headfirst into Hollywood culture, and the discrepancies he finds can be ludicrous.

“If this was communism, it looked pretty good to me,” LeVine opines as he calls on the palatial homes of Adrian’s well-paid socialist pals. Nonetheless, the disdain studio managers exhibit toward writers—the bedrock of the movie business—is painful. Those wordsmiths are deemed disposable, a perception made clear to the P.I. when a talent agent “stuck a polished shoe up on his desk, careful to place the heel on a script.” Readers who’ve dug deeper into Hollywood history may recall a resounding put-down of screenwriters attributed to legendary studio chief Jack Warner, who allegedly called them “schmucks with typewriters.” Is it any wonder that Hollywood scripters of that time often felt like doormats in a B movie?

The case unfolds swiftly and engagingly. LeVine finds Adrian’s beautiful red-headed wife, Helen, to be a grieving yet very merry widow, but not somebody he considers capable of any foul play. In an obligatory confrontation, L.A. police warn LeVine to stay clear of their inquiries, which of course only intensifies his interest in them. Author Bergman, whose screenplay Tex X was the basis for Mel Brooks’ classic Western satire, Blazing Saddles (1974), possesses a sly sense of humor. He combines historical context with spot-on parody when, in this novel, he introduces a young Republican congressman from California named Richard Nixon. Eager to build a reputation, Nixon—in “a stern hand-on-the-Bible voice”—questions LeVine and Warners studio boss Johnny Parker on behalf of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), an investigative body of the U.S. House of Representatives that, just like McCarthy’s Senate council, was charged with rooting out subversives. Amid all of this, LeVine learns of the theory that Adrian was murdered to prevent him from naming fellow Communist Party members in the movie biz. That solution would give the matter closure, placing any resolution behind the impregnable “Iron Curtain.” However, patience and some solid snooping lead our man LeVine in a different direction.

The shamus spots cowboy actor Dale Carpenter rushing into Johnny Parker’s house. In the process, a scrap of newspaper falls from a folder in Carpenter’s hands, and this supplies LeVine with a critical first piece of the puzzle. He follows that clue to a small-time Colorado cop who has blackmailed his way into federal law enforcement and the Hollywood craft unions, and then to a man that cop arrested years ago for rape—someone who’s now a studio executive. When LeVine closes in on Adrian’s killer, the FBI agent who has been leaning on Parker to identify commies in the motion-picture industry suddenly accuses Helen Adrian of being a Soviet agent responsible for her spouse’s slaying. And as it becomes clear that Helen is slated for extermination as well, Bergman really pulls out the stops. He teams LeVine with Humphrey Bogart at a party where Helen is abducted. Bogart, a stand-up guy no matter what fiction he might appear in, aids LeVine in a middle-of-the-night car chase to rescue her from a certain death, and to flush out the guilty parties—even though some of them are bound to escape punishment in the end.

The palpable divisiveness of our political scene in 2017 might lead readers to feel a sense of relief that, as bad as some things are nowadays, at least they’re better than in the early postwar years, when fear and intolerance bred mob rule, censorship, and tyranny. Hollywood and LeVine reminds us of just how bad those old days could be. Putting the message ahead of the fictional narrative in this fashion may seem underhanded, unfair to unsuspecting and impressionable consumers. But altruism takes many forms. Percy Bysshe Shelley advised artists of their responsibilities, saying that “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Temper this with Ernest Hemingway’s admonishment, that if “you want to send a message, call Western Union,” and perhaps a coexistence between fact and fiction can be reached. As a work of fiction, Hollywood and LeVine perfectly blends entertainment with edification.

READ MORE:Hello Dahlia!” by J. Kingston Pierce (January Magazine).