Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Relishing Rader

Kill Me with Kindness, featuring a cover illustration by Paul Rader, was published by Ace Books in 1959. Though credited to “J. Harvey Bond,” this novel was actually written by Russell Winterbotham, who penned crime fiction as well as science fiction and Westerns. Kill Me with Kindness was packaged as a double-novel with Mike Brett’s The Guilty Bystander.

Today begins the final week of Killer Covers’ month-long tribute to renowned paperback cover artist Paul Rader (1906-1986).

This series began with an introduction to Rader’s career and influences, followed that up with an interview with Rader’s daughter, and has continued ever since with daily displays of some of my favorite works from the painter’s oeuvre. Still to come are more beautiful softcover fronts, plus a feature focusing on Rader’s second wife, Edith, whose likeness appeared enough times in his illustrations that she became known as “the Rader girl.”

You can keep up with the whole series by clicking here.

May Increases the Hebrides Murder Stats

As was probably the case for a great number of Rap Sheet readers, my introduction to Peter May’s crime fiction came with the U.S. release, in 2012, of The Blackhouse, the initial installment in what would eventually become his Lewis Trilogy, set on Scotland’s rugged Outer Hebrides archipelago. I’ve since followed his novels quite closely, choosing The Blackhouse (in 2012) and its first sequel, The Lewis Man (in 2014), as favorite novels of their respective release years in the States, and lauding his standalone Runaway earlier in 2016.

Now comes Coffin Road (Quercus), another Hebrides-backdropped suspense yarn, its story building around a 30-something man who washes up on an Isle of Lewis beach—with no idea of who he is or where he belongs. In short order, this protagonist discovers he’s been bedding his neighbor’s wife, has an interest in a mysterious colony of bees, and might well be a murderer. You can read more about Coffin Road in my latest Kirkus Reviews column, which is dominated by an interview I conducted recently with Scottish author May.

What often happens when I engage novelists in e-mail Q&As is that I draw more information from them than I can possibly fit into my regular Kirkus column. That was again the case with Peter May. So below, I am embedding the sections of our exchange that I had to leave out. It’s probably best to read the longer Kirkus piece first, then dash back here to learn about what else we discussed.

J. Kingston Pierce: This is a complicated story. Did you have trouble making all of the pieces fit properly?

Peter May: In a word, yes! It was probably one of the most complex and difficult storylines I have ever attempted. My process is that after researching and developing characters and an idea, I write a detailed story synopsis. That’s when I work out all the labyrinthine details. Halfway through my synopsis of Coffin Road I ran into a dead end. I knew where I wanted it to go, but had no idea how to get it there. I went through 24 hours of hell thinking that I was going to have to abandon the whole thing. Until suddenly, something clicked in my mind and, thankfully, the path to the denouement became clear.

JKP: You’ve spent much time in the Outer Hebrides over the years. Yet I understand that during your work on Coffin Road, you rented a cottage on the beach at Luskentyre, which is where the opening action in this novel takes place. How long did you stay on Harris, and what new things did you learn about the place while you were there?

PM: I have been to Harris many times over the years. I returned specifically to research the book in March 2015. I took the cottage (which became the model for the one in the book) for a week, during which time the worst imaginable weather assaulted us on every front—snow, sleet, hail, gale-force winds, and subzero temperatures. But because the constant wind moves the weather fronts through so quickly, sunshine is never far away, so to be down on the beach like that with a panoramic view from the cottage, was like being witness to God’s own light show. It was spectacular, and I learned that the Hebridean winter can be just as extraordinary as the summer.

JKP: Like your Lewis Trilogy, Coffin Road takes place in the Outer Hebrides. It doesn’t feature Fin Macleod, but the plot does bring back Detective Sergeant George Gunn (last seen in The Chessmen), who’s ventured out to Eilean Mòr to investigate a murder. Can we expect to see more of Gunn in your future novels, or was this a one-off?

PM: I needed a local cop for my story in Coffin Road, and since I already had a custom-made one from the Lewis Trilogy I thought, why create another? Whether or not he makes any further appearances remains to be seen.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Revue of Reviewers, 10-21-16

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

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Passing Comments

I have devoted a good deal of virtual ink lately in paying homage to Ed Gorman, the prolific Iowa writer and editor who died last Friday. However, his is not the only recent passing that demands observance.

As Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine editor Janet Hutchings notes,
On October 1, the mystery world lost Clark Howard, a five-time winner of EQMM’s Readers Award, an Edgar winner for best short story with five additional Edgar nominations in that category, and a recipient of the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer for Lifetime Achievement from the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Clark was also a noted writer of true or “fact” crime, and was twice nominated for the best-fact-crime Edgar. He had a larger-than-life personality, and he was generous to a fault—treating his editors and friends to elaborate dinners at five-star restaurants on the few occasions when he traveled to mystery events. Clark’s life is chronicled in his autobiography, Hard City, published by Dutton in 1990. It’s painful reading: As a boy he was parentless and homeless for a time, concealing himself in a bowling alley before closing each night so he’d have somewhere to sleep. While still a teenager, he served in the Korean War. Out of those tough beginnings he rose to become one of the best short story writers of his generation. He was one of a kind, and a friend to me and everyone else he knew at Dell Magazines.
The Gumshoe Site adds that the Ripley, Tennessee-born Clark “wrote 16 novels, six non-fiction books, and many short stories. His first sold story was ‘The Last Gunfight,’ published in the January 1956 of Stag Magazine, while his first sold mystery story was ‘Handcuffed,’ in the January 1957 [edition] of Crime & Justice. His first novel, The Arm (Sherbourn, 1967), became the 1987 movie The Big Town, starring Matt Dillon. Two of his non-fiction books were nominated for … true-crime Edgar[s]: Six Against the Rock (Dial, 1977) and Zebra (Marek, 1979), while five of his short stories were Edgar-nominated.” Clark was 84 years old at the time of his demise.

Also meeting his end last week was Larry Karp, the author of such novels as Scamming the Birdman (2000), The Ragtime Kid (2006), and A Perilous Conception (2911). A post on the Facebook page managed by the Puget Sound Sisters in Crime chapter explains:
Although Larry lived in the Seattle [Washington] area for much of his life, he grew up in [Paterson] New Jersey, as one might have guessed from the slight accent he retained. He began his career as a physician, specializing in high-risk and complicated pregnancies. He founded the Prenatal Diagnostic Center at the University of Washington as well as the Department of Perinatal Medicine at Swedish Medical Center. Residents of the Family Practice Programs at both Swedish and Providence hospitals voted him Teacher of the Year.

For years, Larry wrote articles for medical journals as well as three non-fiction works, two of which dealt with medicine and one that explored his passion for antique music boxes.

When Larry retired from medicine in 1995 he plunged into writing the mystery novels he loved, producing both standalones and two series; the Music-Box Mysteries and a trilogy of Ragtime mysteries. They are not only beautifully written, but meticulously researched. To the delight of many, he also authored a children’s book dedicated to his grandson Simon and illustrated by his friend Vic Hugo.
Seymour’s First Clarinet Concerto exemplifies Larry’s versatility as a writer. He recently completed a historical biography of Brun Campbell (Brun Campbell: The Original Ragtime Kid) and the book dearest to his heart—a mystery co-authored with his son Casey Karp. The Ragtime Traveler will be available in April 2017.
(Hat tip to In Reference to Murder)

Finally, The Gumshoe Site offers this sad news: “Graham Carleton Greene died on October 10. He was a son of Hugh Greene and Helga Greene, and a nephew of Graham Greene. His father edited … The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes [1971], among other [books], and his mother was Raymond Chandler’s agent, fiancée, and original executor. Graham C. Greene himself was chairman of the British Museum and the managing director of Jonathan Cape publishers in the ’60s and ’70s. He was most recently the literary executor of the Raymond Chandler estate and a director of Ed Victor Ltd., a literary agent, which takes care of Chandler’s literary properties. He was 80.”

Britain’s Telegraph provides its own obituary of Greene.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Story Behind the Story:
“The Kolkata Conundrum,” by Kalyan Lahiri

(Editor’s note: Welcome to the 67th installment in The Rap Sheet’s “Story Behind the Story” series. Our guest this time is Kalyan Lahiri, a resident of Kolkata, India, who—“well on his way to becoming a senior citizen”—has traded in a long career in the banking world for the life of a crime-fiction author. His first novel, The Kolkata Conundrum, was released earlier this year by Crime Wave Press. Below, Lahiri recounts his enthusiastic but oft-vexing entry into the fiction-writing field.)

When I stopped the daily 9-to-5 grind a couple of years ago, I happily started reading all of those thrillers and other novels that had been waiting in my to-be-read pile. Quite enjoyable as they were, still I found myself falling back again and again on works by Agatha Christie and Dick Francis, Ian Fleming and Lee Child. But there are no new Agatha Christies or Ian Flemings, and both for Dick Francis (now Felix Francis) and Lee Child one has to wait two years for a new two-day read.

So, one day it struck me: why not create my own stories? Make up the characters and let them take me wherever they want to. Construct a crime (or two) and let the characters get involved in it. Well, at times the characters I had recruited seemed to really take on a life of their own … but then they’d run away, doing whatever it was they wanted. I found myself suddenly saddled with a few thousand words of trash. After a while I realized that I had to be more severe, bend those fictional players to my will, and get them to do what I wanted them to. Following that, the hardest part was fashioning a believable plot.

I made my detective, Orko Deb, a young fellow, the son of a mechanic, just out of college and possessing no quirky traits, no baggage, no love interest. Just a straightforward, educated, athletic young man from an Indian village, eager to discover a big city—the West Bengal capital of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta)—and looking forward to the business of life. He has to have some support system, which I’ve given him in the form of his uncle, an ex-army commando, who’s trying to run a commercial enterprise that provides private security guards—a company for which Orko Deb soon goes to work. I have also given Orko a lawyer friend for some basic legal help.

The decision to leave Orko free of any distinctive quirks, or some kind of traumatic past, was quite deliberate on my part. In the best tradition of Bengali detective fiction—and this is a genre that has its roots in the 19th century—the detective is a straight-laced, regular guy. Bengali detective fiction was really brought to the forefront by the great filmmaker Satyajit Ray. His protagonist, Prodosh C. Mitter (aka Feluda), originally created in 1965 as a figure in children’s literature, is the quintessential Bengali sleuth, although he has had to share the stage with another equally famous fictional crime solver, Byomkesh Bakshi, created in 1932 by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. Both of those authors have passed away, however; Saradindu in 1970 and Ray in 1992. And no new fictional detective in Bengali literature has caught the reading public’s fancy in the same way they did.

Both Feluda and Byomkesh were based in Kolkata, though the former enjoyed adventures all over India and even in other countries. Byomkesh’s adventures were mostly in Kolkata. My man Orko Deb, too, has started his career in Kolkata. The city supplies the backdrop to The Kolkata Conundrum, and readers familiar with this place will recognize some of the well-known places and landmarks I mention. But the suburb where the main action in my story occurs is a fictitious one. It is, though, a generic sort of Kolkata suburb—there’s nothing at all remarkable about it. Similarly, the rural areas I describe are fairly classic-style Bengal villages, located close to railway stations, but with fictitious names.

Friends who have read my novel, or at least excerpts from it, often ask me whether the names I chose for the various cast members were based on real people. They were not. For the most part they are typical Bengali names that just popped into my head during the writing. As to the naming of my detective, though, I must confess there was some agonizing involved. I discarded a number of options before finally settling on Orko Deb. I had to be comfortable with my final choice. After all, if things go well, I’ll be employing his name, as well as the names of his close associates, in my fiction for some time to come.

(Right) Author Kalyan Lahiri

The most difficult part for me was the plotting of this first novel. After starting off rather lightheartedly and all aglow at having successfully created a plausible detective and placed him in a promising setting, I was stopped short by having to think up a worthy crime for Orko Deb to solve. It had to be a murder, of course, and furious walks in pursuit of inspiration eventually produced a solution to that quandary. But rather deep into my storytelling, it occurred to me that there should be another crime involved, a subplot. The central murder I had planned takes place rather late in my yarn—at the end of the third chapter, around page 20—so the subplot, which I decided would be a jewelry store robbery, had to be introduced earlier as a hook for the reader. This meant some of my first few thousand words had to be scrapped and the rest rewritten. Then came the matter of distributing the clues—who, what, when, where, how. All of the pertinent mysteries in both plot lines had to be raised and explored, and eventually, solved. This entailed a bit of back-and-forthing to get the whole thing just right. At one point I toyed with the idea of introducing a first-person narrator, like Hercule Poirot’s Captain Hastings or Sherlock Holmes’ Doctor Watson. Even my protagonist’s role models, the Bengali detectives, had other people narrating their adventures—Byomkesh his Ajit and Feluda his Topshe. In the end, though, I re-read a few Miss Marple and Jack Reacher stories, and decided to stick with my original third-person narrative and the sleuth’s straightforward point of view.

Finally, I conceived of no fewer than three different conclusions to The Kolkata Conundrum, discarding them all before settling on a fourth and then tying up loose ends.

The plot elements I’ve used did not come from any real-life experiences; they are completely imaginary. I have never met any mysterious glamorous woman in my life, such as the homicide victim in The Kolkata Conundrum. Nor do I have any first-hand knowledge of the workings of a private security agency or a police department. But the various banking details to be found in this book are obviously drawn from my own work experience. And the city of Kolkata has been my home all my life.

Once I had written “The End” on the last page, I was both eager to have the novel read and mightily apprehensive as to what the reaction might be. A couple of friends, who are avid readers, gave the work an initial critique. Their reactions were rather mixed. They were generally encouraging, yet thought I still needed to do some more work. They thought the plot was fine, the characters were well drawn, the situations plausible, and the narrative smoothly executed—but … So I sweated a bit and then combed through all of my pages with “an editor’s eye” (without really knowing what that entailed). The new draft I came up with was, I thought, not only tighter, but more consistent and polished.

Thereafter began the heart-breaking and soul-destroying process of sending my novel away to agents and publishers, only to collect rejection slips in return. One fine day, though, Tom Vater, a fellow author and the co-owner of Hong Kong-based Crime Wave Press, simply sent me a publishing contract. He wound up renaming my story The Kolkata Conundrum, gave it a beautifully evocative and mysterious cover, and launched it first into cyberspace and then print. Seeing my story out in the world at last gave me a new high, and encouraged me to begin the second Orko Deb adventure.

READ MORE:Short, Sharp Interview: Kalyan Lahiri,” by Paul D. Brazill.

A Happy Homebody

I took up the sad task on Sunday of eulogizing genre novelist Ed Gorman, who passed away last Friday at age 74. Today, it was Max Allan Collins’ turn. Writing in his blog, Collins (Better Dead) delivered remembrances of his years-long association with his fellow Iowa author that are both humorous and endearing. I am particularly fond on this section in which he remarks on Gorman’s phobias:
It took me a while to learn that Ed rarely traveled, and that he was in fact something of a hermit. Because we both lived in Iowa, and had writing styles that were not dissimilar, I for a time had the honor of being accused of using “Ed Gorman” as a pseudonym. What a writer that would make me.

“Is it true,” people would ask me, “that you’ve actually met Ed Gorman?” I actually had.

The thing is, being around people made Ed nervous. This still strikes me as strange because he made his pre-writing-career living as an ad man, PR guy and also writer of political speeches (politics being a lifelong interest, even obsession).

Stranger still is how charming and effortlessly social he was on the telephone. Scores of writers are bound to now come forward and say how well they knew him, but admit that they never met him. …

Once, responding to my efforts to get him to a Bouchercon, Ed told me didn’t like driving long distances because he’d once been in a car crash. I asked him why he didn’t fly there. He said he’d also been in a plane crash. I asked him why he didn’t take a train. He said he’d been in a train crash. Asking him why he always took the stairs in tall buildings, he said he’d once been in an elevator when it fell. There’s also a story about an escalator, but you get the drift.

Was he kidding me? I’m not sure. Really I don’t think so. He was a self-described bundle of neuroses, yet as grounded a writer as I’ve ever known. He worked hard and well and fast, and never compromised his craft and art. Now and then he would rail on about some writer whose work he disliked, but never in public, and no one had more generous, enthusiastic things to say about other writers and their work than Ed.
You can, and should, read the whole piece here.

FOLLOW-UP I: Gorman’s hometown newspaper, Iowa’s Cedar Rapids Gazette, has posted its own obituary. It acknowledges Gorman’s “literary success as a mystery and crime novelist and short story writer,” but the most memorable part might be its conclusion, which portrays this author as “an engaging and outspoken figure.”
“We were married for 34 years, and he was still one of the most interesting people I know,” [his wife] Carol Gorman said. “He was very funny, he had quirky tastes and made everyone laugh. Even the people at the oncology department, he loved them all and they loved him.”

[Iowa City author and book reviewer Rob] Cline, who worked at a Cedar Rapids used bookstore years ago, first met Gorman as a frequent customer there—buying new authors, selling his old books and wanting to chat about what he was reading.

“As much as I loved his writing, what I’ll always remember is how much I liked him,” Cline said.
FOLLOW-UP II: Gravetapping blogger Ben Boulden, who knew Gorman both as a colleague and a friend, writes this about the late author:
Ed Gorman was a great writer. It is true he was a great mystery writer. A great western writer. A great suspense, both dark and straight, writer. He was all that, but he was, simply, a great writer. He could write anything and he frequently escaped the genre where he wrote and created something very much like literature. His stories always said something about the human condition, the world we live in. His characters, always vivid, were three dimensional. He never wrote a wholly good hero, or a completely stained villain. He wrote about us—our experience in the world—in stories that were larger than life with players so real we can very nearly see them in our bathroom mirrors.
READ MORE:R.I.P., Ed Gorman,” by Mike Stotter (Shotsmag Confidential); “We’ve Lost Ed Gorman, a Great Friend to Writers,”
by Lee Goldberg.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

“He Leaves Behind a Great Literary Legacy”

There seems to be a discernible change, a shift, a reorientation of the world today, the day I learn that Ed Gorman—the prolific author of mysteries, horror novels, and Western fiction—has passed away, his long fight with an incurable cancer, multiple myeloma, finally over. Actually, according to his Wikipedia page, Gorman died this last Friday, October 14, at age 74, but most of us just heard the news today. “I am heartbroken,” one author who knew him wrote this morning on Facebook. “This is miserable news,” another remarked on the same site. “Ed Gorman was a national treasure.” While a third added that “Ed had a huge heart, genuine humility, and an immense talent.”

(Left) Ed Gorman with his wife, Carol.

Edward Joseph Gorman Jr.’s résumé is both extensive and downright impressive. He started his career scratching out advertising copy, later labored in public relations and penned political speeches. But in his mid-40s, he witnessed the publication of the first of what would eventually be his many novels, a book called Rough Cut, which introduced a Midwestern private eye named Jack Dwyer. He went on to release five more Dwyer books, as well as series featuring Sam McCain (Riders on the Storm), a small-town investigating attorney in 1950s Iowa, and political consultant-troubleshooter Dev Conrad (Elimination). Gorman always considered himself a genre writer, but he didn’t stick to one genre, instead concocting Westerns (some of which featured “aging bounty hunter” Leo Guild), and other fiction in the fields of horror, science fiction, and fantasy.

Author James Reasoner observes, “Ed was one of those guys who could write just about anything. His mystery novels and standalone thrillers were all top-notch. He could do excellent ‘house-name’ books, although he preferred working on his own stuff, and who can blame him for that. But for my money, his best novels are his Westerns. Intricately plotted, tinged with melancholy, full of painfully sharp observations about the human condition. … We might as well just go ahead and say that Ed Gorman was the best author of Western noir of all time.”

With fellow writer Martin H. Greenberg, Gorman edited a variety of short-story anthologies, including several dedicated to “cat crimes,” and during the opening decade of the 21st century he assembled collections of what were deemed The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories. Together with author Robert J. Randisi, Gorman created Mystery Scene magazine in 1985, and for many years contributed a regular “Gormania” column to that periodical. From 2008 to 2009 he served as president of the Private Eye Writers of America. Along the way he received the Shamus Award, the Bram Stoker Award, the Spur Award, and The Eye, the PWA’s lifetime achievement award.

I can’t say for sure whether it’s a complete account of his literary production (Gorman himself wasn’t sure how many novels he’d penned—somewhere between 70 and 100), but the online resource Stop, You’re Killing Me! offers this listing of his book credits. The Thrilling Detective Web Site’s record of his work features Gorman’s numerous short stories. Meanwhile, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) says three of his yarns were adapted to film.

Like so many of the people eulogizing Gorman today, I never had the chance to meet that author, editor, anthologist, and supporter of so many other hopeful wordsmiths. My association with him came primarily through The Rap Sheet, which he was kind enough to applaud both in print and in private e-mail messages to me. In the pages of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine he said ofthis blog: “Part pure journalism, part critique, and part just plain fun, The Rap Sheet is a tribute to the intelligence and wit of a single person. Pierce gives opinionating a good name.” He was equally supportive of my paperback-art site, Killer Covers, writing at one point: “I want to thank you sincerely for all your eminently readable and fascinating scholarship visited on both forgotten writers and cover artists. Honest to God, Jeff, when you finally put this material in a book it will become a staple for generations to come. I ain’t just woofin’, either.”

It always felt good to have such an authority on the crime-fiction genre looking over my shoulder, even when I wasn’t always aware of it, gently encouraging my explorations of the field and its numerous contributors. Sometimes his praise made me laugh, as when he commented on the abundance of my blog posts: “I honestly don’t know how you do it unless you’re secretly Larry Block’s character who never sleeps.” Other times he was capable of raising a blush upon my cheeks, as when—in response to a piece I composed about Los Angeles critic Tom Nolan and his work on last year’s compilation of Ross Macdonald’s early novels—he commented: “This is [a] major piece on Ross Macdonald with the man who wrote the definitive book on his life and his work. I hope this appears in the front of your someday Collected Pieces, which will certainly win the Edgar.”

Gorman’s generosity extended beyond the occasional thumbs-up, however. In 2009, he kindly promoted my modest contributions to the reading public’s understanding of crime fiction by interviewing me for his “Gormania” column. In 2013, I tried to return the favor by interviewing him at considerably greater length, part of our exchange appearing in my Kirkus Reviews column, the remainder finding a home in The Rap Sheet. Not long after that, I e-mailed him, asking which of his many novels he thought were the best. About a week later, a package arrived on my doorstep, filled with Ed Gorman books, all personally inscribed, among them a hardcover copy of The Autumn Dead (1987), and paperback editions of Blood Moon (1994), The Midnight Room (2009), and Death Ground (1988, which he described as being “my favorite of my Westerns”).

Among today’s landslide of online tributes to Gorman, I most like Bill Crider’s obit, which reads like the work of an unabashed fan.
He leaves behind a great literary legacy. I hardly know which titles to recommend to you. Just about anything has sharp writing, empathetic characters, and a deep compassion for flawed people. Sometimes, as in the western werewolf novel, Wolf Moon, he pulls off something you’d think nobody could. His series of Sam McCain mysteries is a wonderful portrayal of an era of the recent American past. If you’ve never read one of his books [before] this week, honor his memory by giving one a try. Just about anything you pick up will reward you.
So this is the first weekend in a changed world, the first weekend A.E. (After Ed), the first weekend I live with his gentle, encouraging voice silenced. Despite the fact that I have myriad newer novels to read and review, I have just cracked open my copy of The Autumn Dead. Reading it again seems like a small way of paying Gorman back for all he’s done for crime fiction, and for me. But, humble man that he was, I know he would enjoy the gesture.

READ MORE:Ed Gorman, 1941-2016,” by Todd Mason (Sweet Freedom); “Ed Gorman Passes,” by Jon Jordan (Crimespree Magazine); “R.I.P., Ed Gorman,” by Sandra Seamans (My Little Corner); “Ed Gorman,” by Patricia Abbott (Pattinase); “R.I.P., Ed Gorman,” by Jake Hinkson (The Night Editor); “A Giant in the Field Has Left Us: Ed Gorman (1941-2016),” by Steve Lewis (Mystery*File); “Riders on the Storm: Ed Gorman’s Sam McCain Novels,” by Tom Nolan (Mystery Scene); “Prolific Ed Gorman Continues Writing While Battling Cancer,” by Dale Jones (The Gazette).

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Book You Have to Read:
“Junky,” by William S. Burroughs

(Editor’s note: This is the 143rd installment in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books.)

By Steven Nester
With the exception of Junky (1953), nothing William S. Burroughs ever wrote was as fascinating as the life he led. Burroughs (1914-1997) was a founding member of the Beat Generation, and Junky, a fictionalized yet faithful retelling of his childhood and time as a petty criminal and drug addict, is required reading. But be forewarned: Unlike the ecstatic declaiming of Allen Ginsburg (“angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night”) or the spectacular yearnings of Jack Kerouac (“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time”), the work of Burroughs (“I could feel the Federals moving steadily closer”) is much different. Junky is sinister and wary, an episodic, illuminating, and sometimes ennui-producing book.

Burroughs was a complicated man. An outsider and a misanthrope, he represented the dark side of a social and literary movement which was, in addition to being a rebellion against conformity and the status quo, a predominantly joyous celebration of life. From the beginning of Junky, narrator William Lee (the same name Burroughs used as his byline when this book was originally published) knows he’s a different sort of cat; he doesn’t fit in anywhere, even in his earliest memories, as Burroughs knew of himself. As a boy he was a “chronic malingerer” and a vandal. As he matured, he acknowledged his homosexuality but found that “queer behavior” gave him “the horrors.” Only a modest trust fund enables Lee to keep aloof and independent of a society that spurns him, and which he rejects as well. As a child, the nightmare-prone Lee hears an Irish maid say that opium will cause “sweet dreams.” He vows to try the drug, but once he becomes an addict, the dreams are not so sweet.

The underworld of drug addicts has its own rituals, ethos, codes of conduct, and social structure, and Lee accepts it with open arms; but it comes with a chokehold. Lee quickly discovers that “junk is not a kick. It is a way of life.” He realizes he is chained to his addiction and beholden to the bottom feeders who are now his cohorts. As horrible as it sounds, for a time addiction gives structure and a sense of belonging to Lee’s desultory existence. Henceforth, readers are treated to a boots-on-the-ground view of the day-to-day struggle of an opiate addict during the 1950s; and folks, it isn’t pretty.

Lee’s days and nights are devoted to stealing from drunks on the subway (“lush working”), scoring his next fix, hoodwinking doctors into writing him fake morphine prescriptions, fencing stolen goods, eluding police, drug dealing to feed his habit, and plenty of listless waiting in coffee shops for dealers to show up. In addition, he must cope with a community of deplorables—“mooches,” “fags,” “four-flushers,” “stool pigeons,” “bums,” “Jews,” “pimps,” “rats,” “panhandlers,” “fruits,” “croakers,” and “characters who could not be classified,” all of them his comrades in needle-scarred arms.

Readers will perk up when Junky reveals an early whiff of the sci-fi-lite surrealism of Burroughs’s later work, as encountered in the groundbreaking and hallucinatory Naked Lunch (1959), among others. For instance, Lee observes: “One afternoon I closed my eyes and saw New York in ruins. Huge centipedes and scorpions crawled in and out of empty bars and cafeterias and drug stores on Forty-second Street.” The description of a character’s eyes as “black with an insect’s unseeing calm,” brings to mind “insect lust,” a recurring phrase in Naked Lunch (which Burroughs apparently lifted from Alexander Pope’s satiric masterpiece, The Dunciad, Book IV line 415).

Burroughs’ humor is sly, and readers will grin at the dry satire in Junky as Lee, on the lam, opines, “Safe in Mexico I watched the anti-junk campaign. I read about child-addicts and senators demanding the death penalty for dope peddlers. It didn’t sound right to me. Who wants kids for customers? They never have enough money and they always spill under questioning.”

The theme of control is constant in Junky, symbolized by addiction as Lee surmises that “junk takes everything and gives nothing but insurance against junk sickness.” The narrator’s much-maligned fellow gays are “ventriloquist dummies” that “jerk around like puppets on invisible strings” as they too, represent those who have somehow forfeited their freedom.

If there’s any upside to all this, it’s that when subsumed into the collective psyche of the addict, Lee develops a finely tuned focus of mind which manifests itself in a superpower of sorts: Lee can find dope anywhere, or at least knows where it can be found. “I don’t spot junk neighborhoods by the way they look, but by the feel, somewhat the same process by which a dowser locates hidden water,” the protagonist explains. “I am walking along and suddenly the junk in my cells moves and twitches like a dowser’s wand: ‘Junk here!’” However, the irony runs deep in this meretricious characteristic: Lee knows where to go to score, but that’s just an indication of how profound is his transformation from normal citizen to dope-dependent automaton. Although he’s no longer up to his neck in addiction, the condition has completely taken over and changed Lee into another kind of entity, and this causes other problems as well.

After being run out of New York by narcotics detectives, Lee detoxes in Kentucky, then meanders between Texas and New Orleans. New Orleans becomes a drag after Lee is busted; and the last straw is when Louisiana passes a law making addiction a crime. Lee finds this move—“penalizing a state of being”—incomprehensible, and an egregious invasion of one’s essential nature, with the implication that addicts should be compelled to conform to society’s laws or face disciplinary action simply for what they are.

Interestingly, Junky is a fairly decent noir-styled narrative—if only there was enough action and plot structure to create dramatic arc and tension. Burroughs is inclined toward the tough and terse in his phrasing, and his prose is consistently concise and flawless.
Three young hoodlums from Brooklyn drifted in, wooden-faced, hands-in-pockets, stylized as ballet. They were looking for Jack. He had given them a short count in some deal. At least, that was the general idea. They conveyed their meaning less by words than by significant jerks of the head and by stalking around the apartment and leaning against the walls. At length, one of them walked to the door and jerked his head. They filed out.
Norman Mailer nailed it when he famously called Burroughs “the American Genet,” Jean Genet being a fellow traveler of Burroughs, a French writer, criminal, homosexual, and public conscience of a sort. Of lawbreakers and their milieu, Genet, like Burroughs, had much to say, including: “Repudiating the virtues of your world, criminals hopelessly agree to organize a forbidden universe. They agree to live in it. The air there is nauseating: they can breathe it.”

Sooner or later, men such as Genet and Burroughs, if they are lucky enough to have survived the repugnant world they’ve constructed, and escape to tell others about it, can sometimes create great art. While far from perfect, Junky is one of these beautiful efforts wrenched from the depths and brought into the light.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Revue of Reviewers, 10-13-16

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

But It’s Not Even Halloween Yet …

While it might seem a tad early in the year to be issuing a Best Crime Novels of 2016 list, The Strand Magazine has done just that. According to posts on Facebook, and confirmed by Strand managing editor Andrew F. Gulli, here are its choices:

1. Every Man a Menace, by Patrick Hoffman (Mysterious Press)
2. The Second Girl, by David Swinson (Mulholland)
3. Dr. Knox, by Peter Spiegelman (Knopf)
4. The Hanged Man, by Gary Inbinder (Pegasus)
5. Rough Trade, by Todd Robinson (Polis)
6. The Invisible Guardian, by Dorores Redondo (Atria)
7. Wilde Lake, by Laura Lippman (Morrow)
8. Die of Shame, by Mark Billingham (Mysterious Press)
9. Missing Pieces, by Heather Gudenkauf (Mira)
10. Friday on My Mind, by Nicci French (Penguin)
11. The One Man, by Andrew Gross (Minotaur)
12. Heart of Stone, by James W. Ziskin (Seventh Street)

Loading Another Bond in the Chamber

I quite enjoyed British author-screenwriter Anthony Horowitz’s 2015 James Bond novel, the playfully titled Trigger Mortis. So I am pleased to hear—via In Reference to Murder—that Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. has invited him to pen a second official Agent 007 yarn.

“As yet untitled, the setting will be ‘period Bond’ and the story will again feature previously unpublished material by Fleming,” the blog explains. “Horowitz is the fourth author in recent years to be invited by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. to write an official Bond novel, following in the footsteps of William Boyd (2013’s Solo), Jeffery Deaver (Carte Blanche in 2011), and Sebastian Faulks (Devil May Care, 2008).”

One interesting question is whether Horowitz will resurrect another famous “Bond girl” for his second 007 outing. For Trigger Mortis, of course, he brought back Pussy Galore.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Story Behind the Story:
“Gunshine State,” by Andrew Nette

(Editor’s note: This 66th installment in The Rap Sheet’s “Story Behind the Story” series comes from Australian author, critic, and pulp-fiction scholar Andrew Nette. In addition to being one of the founders of Crime Factory Publications, a Melbourne-based small press specializing in crime fiction, and the co-editor of a forthcoming history of late-20th-century pulp fiction and youth counter-culture, Nette writes the blog Pulp Curry and has penned two novels: Ghost Money [2012] and the brand-new Gunshine State, which has won review plaudits here and here.)

There’s a definite line between being influenced by the work of a crime writer and doing a pastiche or straight-out copy of his or her work. Being careful to allow myself the former without falling into the trap of the latter is something I was very conscious of as I was composing my second novel, Gunshine State (280 Steps)

Gunshine State is my attempt to write a quintessentially Australian take on the heist-gone-wrong novel. This is a subgenre of crime fiction I love, but which hasn’t been done too often in Australia. Gunshine State’s main character, Gary Chance, is a former Australian army driver, ex-bouncer, and thief. His latest job takes place in Queensland’s Surfers Paradise, where he’s part of a gang run by an aging stand-over man, Dennis Curry, who runs off-site, non-casino poker games, and wants to rob one of his best customers, a high roller called Frederick “Freddie” Gao.

There are several literary influences behind Gunshine State. I am, for instance, a big fan of the Crissa Stone books by Wallace Stroby (Shoot the Woman First, The Devil’s Share). I was also conscious that what I was creating could be viewed as a darker version of Australian writer Garry Disher’s Wyatt novels, which are already pretty hard-boiled. But my most obvious inspiration—and one of my favorite crime-fiction protagonists ever—is the master thief known as Parker, created by Richard Stark, aka Donald E. Westlake.

For anyone who’s not familiar with him, Westlake was a prolific writer. While he is best known for his crime fiction, he also did science fiction and Westerns, and was one of several crime writers (including Lawrence Block) who penned smut pulp in the early 1960s. He worked under a myriad pseudonyms, of which Richard Stark—the byline he used for the Parker books—remains the most familiar. He also did a number of screenplays, including the excellent 1990 adaptation of Jim Thompson’s The Grifters.

Sixteen Parker novels appeared between 1962 and 1974, after which Westlake grew tired of his creation and the fact that the pseudonym Richard Stark had become better recognized than his own, and he gave his thief a rest until 1997, after which another eight Parker books appeared. Several of those tales became films, the best known of which is Point Blank (1967), based on the first book in the series, The Hunter, and starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson. (It was remade in 1999 as Payback, with Mel Gibson in the leading role.)

At their core, all of the Parker novels (and most of the films) are about the same thing: a heist gone wrong and the consequences. They also concentrate heavily on the mechanics of planning and conducting each crime. Parker is a craftsman. It just so happens his chosen trade is illegal, and Westlake was expert at portraying him at work.

(Left) Author Andrew Nette

Disher, whose Wyatt character also owes a significant debt to Parker, nailed it when I asked him in a 2010 interview, what it was about the heist-gone-wrong subgenre of crime fiction and film that never seems to go stale.
“Well, there is always the promise that it might go right for a Wyatt or a Parker. There’s also the tension of the actual crime, and when it falls apart when he robs a bank or whatever and things go wrong. Can Wyatt retrieve the situation? Can he get the money back? Can he find out who betrayed him? That’s where the tension lies. Wyatt finding out where it has gone wrong and how he is going to get his revenge or get the money back or both.”
One of my favorites among the early Parker books is The Sour Lemon Score (1969). In it, Parker pulls a heist, but one of his gang members, George Uhl, steals the take—$33,000—and kills all of his partners except for Parker. Parker then spends the rest of the novel traveling up and down the eastern U.S. seaboard searching for Uhl and the cash. As is usually the case, things get complex when a couple of hoods pick up on the scent of the money and try to muscle in.

As is the case with all the Parker books—and Westlake’s work, in general—The Sour Lemon Score is a crash course in how to plot and write a lean noir novel. A phone call is made, a contact visited, someone talks to a friend of a friend. Each transaction leaves Parker with just enough information to move one more step ahead. There is a constant feel of tension and disorientation.

The other notable aspect of the Parker books—and one that I borrowed for Gunshine State—is Westlake’s skill at introducing apparently normal people and places, and transforming them with the slightest twist into something much darker. In The Sour Lemon Score, a second-hand furniture shop run by an old lady is a front for an illegal firearms seller, while a down-at-heel motel is owned by an ex-hooker who lets people from “the life” stay there when they need to lie low.

The best example of this from The Sour Lemon Score, though, comes when Parker visits the widow of Benny Weiss, a long-term criminal associate and one of the men killed by Uhl. Parker had been there a couple of times before, and he remembered how Benny had built himself a completely different at-home image. He was a semi-retired Little League umpire, a maker of model planes, an amiable little man in baggy pants, with his glasses slipping down his nose. The difference was so complete that the first time Parker had come to visit Benny, he thought he had changed too much, grown too old, and couldn’t be used for the heist he was planning. But Benny let Parker know that he could still be his old self on the job, and he was.

As for the point I started this piece with—how successful I have been in allowing Gunshine State to be influenced by authors such as Westlake, without copying them? Only the reader can tell me that.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Variations on a Theme

By Gaslight, by Steven Price (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016); The Jekyll Revelation, by Robert Masello (47North, 2016)

READ MORE:Grit and Literary Grace Drive This Victorian Suspense Yarn,” by J. Kingston Pierce (Kirkus Reviews).

Daggers Find Their Destinations

Hyattsville, Maryland, author Bill Beverly must be an extremely happy man this evening. During a well-attended presentation, held in London and organized by the British Crime Writers’ Association (CWA), he won not just one, but two different 2016 Dagger Awards for his novel Dodgers. Below, you will find the full run of tonight’s winners, thanks to reporting by peripatetic Rap Sheet contributor Ali Karim, who attended the shindig in full tuxedo-mode.

CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger (for the best crime novel of the year): Dodgers, by Bill Beverly (No Exit Press)

Also nominated: Black Widow, by Christopher Brookmyre (Little, Brown); Blood Salt Water, by Denise Mina (Orion); and Real Tigers, by Mick Herron (John Murray)

CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger (for the best crime thriller of the year): The Cartel, by Don Winslow (William Heinemann)

Also nominated: The English Spy, by Daniel Silva (HarperCollins); Rain Dogs, by Adrian McKinty (Serpent’s Tail); Real Tigers, by Mick Herron (John Murray); and Make Me, by Lee Child (Bantam Press)

CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger (for the best debut crime novel): Dodgers, by Bill Beverly (No Exit Press)

Also nominated: Fever City, by Tim Baker (Faber and Faber); Freedom’s Child, by Jax Miller (HarperCollins); Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh (Jonathan Cape); and The Good Liar, by Nicholas Searle (Viking)

CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger (for the best historical crime novel): Stasi Child, by David Young, (Twenty7Books)

Also nominated: The House at Baker Street, by Michelle Birkby (Pan); The Other Side of Silence, by Philip Kerr (Quercus); A Book of Scars, by William Shaw (Quercus); The Jazz Files, by Fiona Veitch Smith (Lion Fiction); and Striking Murder, by A.J. Wright (Allison & Busby)

CWA Non-fiction Dagger: You Could Do Something Amazing with Your Life (You Are Raoul Moat), by Andrew Hankinson (Scribe)

Also nominated: The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story, by Martin Edwards (HarperCollins); Sexy Beasts: The Hatton Garden Mob, by Wensley Clarkson (Quercus); A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story of the Murder of Litvinenko and Russia’s War with the West, by Luke Harding (Guardian Faber); Jeremy Hutchinson’s Case Histories: From Lady Chatterley’s Lover to Howard Marks, by Thomas Grant (John Murray); and John le Carré: The Biography, by Adam Sisman (Bloomsbury)

CWA Short Story Dagger (for a short crime story published in the UK): “On the Anatomization of an Unknown Man (1637) by Frans Mier,” by John Connolly (from Nocturnes 2: Night Music, by John Connolly; Hodder & Stoughton)

Also nominated: “As Alice Did,” by Andrea Camilleri (from Montalbano’s First Cases, by Andrea Camilleri; Pan Macmillan); “Holmes on the Range: A Tale of the Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository,” by John Connolly (from Nocturnes 2: Night Music); “Bryant & May and the Nameless Woman,” by Christopher Fowler (from London’s Glory, by Christopher Fowler; Bantam); “Stray Bullets,” by Alberto Barrera (from Crimes, by Alberto Barrera Tyszka; MacLehose Press); and “Rosenlaui,” by Conrad Williams (from The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Moriarty: The Secret Life of Sherlock Holmes’s Nemesis, edited by Maxim Jakubowski; Constable & Robinson)

CWA International Dagger (for crime fiction translated into English and published in the UK): The Great Swindle, by Pierre Lemaître; translated by Frank Wynne (MacLehose Press)

Also nominated: The Truth and Other Lies, by Sascha Arango; translated by Imogen Taylor (Simon & Schuster); Icarus, by Deon Meyer; translated by K.L. Seegers (Hodder & Stoughton); The Murderer in Ruins, by Cay Rademacher; translated by Peter Millar (Arcadia); and Six Four, by Hideo Yokoyama; translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davis (Quercus)

CWA Dagger in the Library (for the author of the most enjoyed collection of work in libraries): Elly Griffiths, published by Quercus

Also nominated: Tony Black, published by Black & White; Alison Bruce, published by Constable & Robinson; and Quintin Jardine, published by Headline

Debut Dagger (for the opening of a crime novel by an author with no publishing contract): Wimmera, by Mark Brandi

Also nominated: Dark Valley, by John Kennedy; The Devil’s Dice, by Roz Watkins; A Reconstructed Man, by Graham Brack; and A State of Grace, by Rita Catching

Also during tonight’s formal affair, best-selling author Peter James was presented with this year’s Diamond Dagger.

If you’d like brief descriptions of each book in the competition, refer to the CWA Web site.

READ MORE:U.S. Debut Writer Wins Gold Dagger at UK’s Top Crime Writing Awards,” by Alison Flood (The Guardian).

Hard-boiled History

Bouchercon-goers in New Orleans last month, who asked me to name my favorite recent read will undoubtedly recall me extolling the multiple virtues of By Gaslight (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a Victorian-era suspense novel penned by Victoria, British Columbia, author Steven Price. It isn’t often that I find cause to go on and on about a 730-page yarn, but this one I consider extraordinarily well-written and ambitiously conceived. I endeavor to defend those opinions in my brand-new Kirkus Reviews column, which calls Price’s book “absorbing, persistently surprising,” and “poetically composed.” You can (and should) read the whole piece here.

There’s no question in my mind that By Gaslight will find a prominent spot in my Best Books of 2016 tally.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Revue of Reviewers, 10-7-16

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

The “Plots” Quicken

Plots With Guns is the e-zine that just won’t die! And we should all be pretty darn grateful for that fact. After definitely, most positively calling it quits two years ago, publisher Sean O’Kane and his merry band got together to produce a surprise new issue this last spring, and they’ve just followed that with a freshly posted fall 2016 edition. Among the contributors of short, sharp yarns this time are Jeff Kerr, Andrea Gibbons, and The Rap Sheet’s own Steven Nester.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Rader on Our Radar

Find My Killer, by Manly Wellman (Signet, 1957), with a cover illustration by Paul Rader.

Several months ago, I realized that the 110th anniversary of Brooklyn-born paperback artist Paul Rader’s birth was approaching. I didn’t know what the exact date was, and I couldn’t seem to find that information online, so I submitted the question to a closed Facebook group of which I’m a member, and which focuses on vintage book and magazine illustrations. Nobody there seemed to know the date of Rader’s birth, either … but one member did know how I could contact the painter’s only daughter, Elaine, who is now a jewelry maker in her early 60s. Needless to say, I wrote Elaine Rader as soon as possible, and have been corresponding with her off and on ever since.

Well, as it turns out, Paul Rader was born 110 years ago today—on October 5, 1906. In recognition of that fact, I have just launched a new series of posts, in my Killer Covers blog, celebrating his life and “virtuosic” creativity. From now until Halloween, I’ll be installing on Killer Covers at least one of my favorite Rader paperback fronts each day. Most of those will likely be drawn from his wealth of sexier cover artistry (for which he may be best known), but others demonstrate his equal skill at crafting jacket art for crime novels and romantic tales. I guarantee, none of the examples to be shown will be boring!

So make it a habit to check Killer Covers every day in October.

Hard Case Goes Graphic

Embroiled as I have been in a large project for my Killer Covers blog (more about that shortly), I haven’t been posting here lately as much as I would prefer. Fortunately, though, B.V. Lawson remains hard on the beat. This comes from her blog, In Reference to Murder:
The Guardian profiled the new line of crime comics from Hard Case Crime and Titan Comics. The stellar lineup starts off today with the release of Triggerman, the tale of a convict in Prohibition-era Chicago on a mission to save the girl he left behind, from Walter Hill, director of 1979 cult classic gang movie The Warriors. That will be followed a week later by Peepland, written by crime authors Gary Phillips and Christa Faust (herself a former peep show employee) about the seedy goings-on at 1980s Times Square peep show booths.
READ MORE:CIS: Christa Faust and Gary Phillips Interviewed
(Crime Fiction Lover).

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Book You Have to Read:
“A Dandy in Aspic,” by Derek Marlowe

(Editor’s note: This is the 142nd installment in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books.)

By Jim Napier
An obscene number of today’s crime-fiction readers will not be familiar with the works of Derek Marlowe. And that’s a shame, for he was one of the bright lights of espionage fiction during the peak of the Cold War. He died in 1996, but between 1965 and 1982 Marlowe turned out a small number of impressive novels, beginning with 1966’s A Dandy in Aspic, which he wrote in just four weeks. His roommate at the time, the playwright Tom Stoppard, was convinced that it would be a flop; after all, John le Carré had himself debuted just a few years earlier with the first of what would be many definitive works on the spycraft trade, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. But when Stoppard heard the premise of Marlowe’s book, he was forced to admit it was brilliant: a double agent working for both the Russians and the British is assigned to kill his other self! American rights and film rights followed swiftly, and Marlowe was suddenly a global success. The novel is deservedly a classic, but, to quote Stoppard, “to be out of print is not a value judgment in itself, more like a hazard of the writing life.” It took this book’s reissue in 2015 by his son, Ben Marlowe, to bring A Dandy in Aspic to the attention of the current generation of readers.

The tale introduces us to Alexander Eberlin, an unprepossessing, Oxford-educated man in his mid-30s who spends much of his leisure time in his rooms, reading or contemplating the view from his rear window, or taking uneventful walks through Hyde Park, then dining alone in his flat.

Eberlin’s postgraduate education in Medieval Warfare has not proved especially useful in his career with British Intelligence, but leaving a cocktail party one evening he meets two Russians who address him as Comrade Krasnevin, and direct him to a nearby car containing their superior, a man named Pavel. Having just finished an assignment to kill a man, Eberlin indicates that he is disenchanted with his work for the British. Trained at the Soviet Military College near Kiev, where he was also given his present identity as Alexander Eberlin, he asks to return to the USSR. Pavel demurs, arguing that Eberlin is more useful in Britain, and his request is denied.

The following morning, Eberlin is summoned to a conference during which an offensive mandarin named Brogue informs him that a most senior British agent, Emmannuel Gatiss, is expected back from Istanbul, Turkey. Eberlin fears that Gatiss will be able to unmask him. Despondent, he returns home and considers his prospects. It is not a pretty picture. He says, “I added up my friends the other day. It was a difficult task but finally, after much drastic deliberation, I narrowed the number down to none.”

(Left) The original, 1966 U.S. cover of Marlowe's A Dandy in Aspic.

And then the other shoe drops: Eberlin is ordered to attend a high-level meeting in the English countryside, at which he learns that his next assignment is to execute a Russian assassin that the members of British Intelligence have had their eyes on for some time. They don’t know much about him—what he looks like, or where to find him; in fact, the only lead they have is the man’s name: Krasnevin.

Eberlin, it seems, is being ordered to kill himself.

Among readers aware of the intrigues of Anthony Blunt and his jaded Cambridge conspirators in the 1950s and ’60s, Eberlin’s crise will doubtless strike a familiar chord. But it’s not merely the ripped-from-the-headlines aspect that gives Marlowe’s tale its appeal. The delicious irony of his plot is grounded in fine, dark writing that explores the tension between the inexorable machinations of British Intelligence and the all-too-human cog who has been ordered to carry out an assignment he cannot possibly accomplish. The outcome reveals a splendidly cunning resolution to Eberlin’s dilemma.

However, Marlowe does not rest his tale on plot alone, as fine as it is. One need only sample his incisive writing at random to appreciate its enduring appeal:
The sexual undulations of Lady Hetherington were, in fact, well known in her section of London society, as well as on a small, but impishly pert Greek island in the Adriatic. She had, it seems, lost her virginity at an early age and had been offering herself as a reward for its recapture ever since.
Derek Marlowe died in California in 1996, of complications following a liver transplant. Although he left behind a limited number of works, they remain jewels in the British literary crown, his droll wit setting him apart from most of his peers. A Dandy in Aspic is a literate, originally told tale, that in 50 years has not lost its power to entertain.

* * *

Jim Napier is the creator of the award-winning Web site Deadly Diversions, which features more than 500 reviews and interviews with leading crime-fiction writers. His own first crime novel, Legacy, is scheduled to appear in the spring of 2017. It will be the first in a series of contemporary Britain-based police procedurals.

For the Love of Noir

If you’re hoping to attend this year’s NoirCon, but haven’t yet registered for that event, you’ll want to do so soon. Very soon, in fact, since the convention is set to take place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from October 26 to 30. You will find links to programming and registration information here.

Taking part in the festivities will be Hard Case Crime editor-publisher Charles Ardai; authors such as Vicki Hendricks, Jason Starr, Leigh Redhead, Charlie Stella, and Wallace Stroby; and critics on the order of Sarah Weinman and Cullen Gallagher. Also on hand will be Australian blogger, author, and friend of The Rap Sheet Andrew Nette (Gunshine State), who explained recently that “I’ll be presenting on the morning of Friday, October 28, on the history of Australian pulp paperback publishing. I’m also reading at the Noir at the Bar as part of NoirCon, which will take place from 6:30 p.m. at the Pen & Pencil Club, 1522 Latimer Street, Philadelphia, hosted by the inevitable Philly crime fiction identity, Peter Rozovsky. I have wanted to read at a Noir at the Bar event for ages, so this is a wish I can now mark of the bucket list.”

Someday I hope, too, to make it to NoirCon. In the meantime, though, I can at least encourage others to partake of the fun.

For more information, click here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Revue of Reviewers, 9-28-16

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

Excellence Should Be Appreciated

One of the things that the British Web site Crime Fiction Lover does best is, every September, it rolls out a succession of posts hailing some of this genre’s classic works and authors. This month has brought forth an especially diverse selection of such pieces, covering everything from Len Deightons’s The IPCRESS File and “the lasting legacy” of Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine’s 75th anniversary, “10 Literary Classics That Are Also Crime Stories” (yes, both Crime and Punishment and The Name of the Rose are included), Erskine Childers’ The Riddle of the Sands, and a list of what CFL thinks are “10 of the Best Pulp Crime Books.”

You should find links to all of this year’s “Classics in September” stories here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Pleasant New Orleans Hangover

Following up on my two-part photo report (here and here) from this month’s Bouchercon in New Orleans, I have devoted my new Kirkus Reviews column to that same subject. My coverage this time, though, includes remarks on two panel presentations, one successful and the other not; the odd lurking presence of best-selling British thriller author Martina Cole at the September 15-18 gathering; and my most embarrassing personal moments from this convention. Learn about all of those things and more by clicking here.

READ MORE:Bouchercon 2016: Blood on the Bayou,” by Jordan Foster (Publishers Weekly); Bouchercon 2016—The BOLO Books Recap, by Kristopher Zgorski (BOLO Books); “Bouchercon 2016—Jon’s Take,” by Jon Jordan (Crimespree Magazine); “Bouchercon 2016—The Feels,” by Dan Malmon (Crimespree Magazine); “Bouchercon 2016, Part I: Crime with Alligators,” Bouchercon 2016, Part II: One Book, Lots of Pictures,” “Bouchercon 2016, Part III: One Panel and Another Mess of Pictures,” Bouchercon 2016, Part IV: Music on the Streets and in the Bars of New Orleans,” and Bouchercon 2016, Part V: What Do Rachitic Newts Like? Plus Even More Pictures,” by Peter Rozovsky (Detectives Beyond Borders); Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention: Why Crime Thrillers Are Still Popular, Despite Crime Levels Going Down,” by Andy Martin (The Independent); “Bouchercon 2016, New Orleans: An Oral History,” by Lisa Levy (Lit Hub).