Friday, July 21, 2017

Revue of Reviewers, 7-21-17

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







Thursday, July 20, 2017

Grippando Scores Lee Accolade

This is a busy period of crime- and mystery-fiction awards pronouncements. Earlier today, we brought you the winner of the 2017 Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year competition. Now comes The Gumshoe Site with news that James Grippando’s Gone Again (Harper) has been honored with this year’s Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.

As The Rap Sheet reported back in May, Grippando’s 12th novel starring Miami criminal defense lawyer Jack Swyteck was pitted in the Harper Lee contest against both The Last Days of Night, by Graham Moore (Random House), and Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult (Ballantine). The Harper Lee Prize is given out annually by the University of Alabama School of Law and the ABA Journal.

Gumshoe Site editor Jiro Kimura explains that Grippando “will receive his award on September 14 at the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.”

READ MORE:My Choice for the 2017 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction,” by Bill Selnes (Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan).

“Black Widow” Nabs Its Prey

Thanks to the indefatigable Ali Karim, our man on the ground in Harrogate, England, we can now report that Scotsman Chris Brookmyre’s Black Widow (Little, Brown) has won the 2017 Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award, given out this evening during the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival.

The other finalists for Crime Novel of the Year were: Lie With Me, by Sabine Durrant (Mulholland); Out of Bounds, by Val McDermid (Little, Brown); After You Die, by Eva Dolan (Harvill Secker); Real Tigers, by Mick Herron (John Murray); and Missing, Presumed, by Susie Steiner (Borough Press). A preliminary longlist of 18 contenders for that commendation was announced this last April.

In addition to Brookmyre’s triumph, British author Lee Child was presented with the festival’s Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award, and literary agent Jane Gregory—one of this annual event’s founders—received a prize for Special Services to the Festival.

Congratulations to all of tonight’s victors!

READ MORE:Brookmyre Nabs a Theakston Barrel to Go with His McIlvanney Prize,” by Craig Sisterson (Crime Watch).

Monday, July 17, 2017

Night of Thrillers

I have been more or less off the time clock for the last several days, visiting with my best friend from college here in Seattle. As a consequence, I am a bit late to the party when it comes to announcing the winners of the 2017 Thriller Awards. Those commendations were handed out this last Saturday evening during ThrillerFest XII in New York City. Mystery Fanfare brings us the results.

Best Hardcover Novel: Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley
(Grand Central)

Also nominated: You Will Know Me, by Megan Abbott (Little, Brown); Where It Hurts, by Reed Farrel Coleman (Putnam); Arrowood, by Laura McHugh (Spiegel & Grau); and Underground Airlines, by Ben H.
Winters (Mulholland)

Best First Novel: The Drifter, by Nicholas Petrie (Putnam)

Also nominated: Deadly Kiss, by Bob Bickford (Black Opal); Type and Cross, by J.L. Delozier (WiDo); Recall, by David McCaleb (Lyrical Underground); and Palindrome, by E.Z. Rinsky (Witness Impulse)

Best Paperback Original Novel: The Body Reader, by Anne Frasier (Thomas & Mercer)

Also nominated: In the Clearing, by Robert Dugoni (Thomas & Mercer); The Minoan Cipher, by Paul Kemprecos (Suspense); Kill Switch, by Jonathan Maberry (St. Martin’s Griffin); and Salvage, by Stephen Maher (Dundurn)

Best Short Story: “Big Momma,” by Joyce Carol Oates (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], March/April 2016)

Also nominated: “The Business of Death,” by Eric Beetner (from Unloaded: Crime Writers Writing Without Guns, edited by Eric Beetner; Down & Out); “The Peter Rabbit Killers,” by Laura Benedict (EQMM, July 2016); “The Man from Away,” by Brendan DuBois (EQMM, July 2016); and “Parallel Play,” by Art Taylor (from Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley; Wildside Press)

Best Young Adult Novel: Steeplejack, by A.J. Hartley (Tor Teen)

Also nominated: Morning Star, by Pierce Brown (Del Rey); Holding Smoke, by Elle Cosimano (Disney-Hyperion); Thieving Weasels, by Billy Taylor (Dial); and The Darkest Corners, by Kara Thomas
(Delacorte Press)

Best E-Book Original Novel: Romeo’s Way, by James Scott Bell (Compendium Press)

Also nominated: The Edge of Alone, by Sean Black (Sean Black); Untouchable, by Sibel Hodge (Wonder Women); Destroyer of Worlds, by J.F. Penn (J.F. Penn); and Breaker, by Richard Thomas (Alibi)

2017 ThrillerMaster: Lee Child

The Thriller Legend Award: Tom Doherty

Silver Bullet Literary Award (for charitable work): Lisa Gardner

Congratulations to all of the winners and nominees!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Women Prevail in Strand Contests

Authors Tana French and Heather Young were celebrated last evening during the presentations, in New York City, of the 2017 Strand Critics Awards. Those commendations—“recognizing excellence in the field of mystery fiction”—were given out by The Strand Magazine.

French’s twisty cop yarn, The Trespasser (Viking), won the Critics Award for Best Novel, a category in which it was pitted against five other well-regarded works first published in 2016: You Will Know Me, by Megan Abbott (Little, Brown); The Wrong Side of Goodbye, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown); What Remains of Me, by Alison Gaylin (Morrow); Out of Bounds, by Val McDermid (Atlantic Monthly Press); and The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware (Gallery).

Meanwhile, Young’s The Lost Girls (Morrow) had to fight off competition, in the Best Debut Novel category, from these books: The Widow, by Fiona Barton (NAL); IQ, by Joe Ide (Mulholland); The Madwoman Upstairs, by Catherine Lowell (Touchstone); A Deadly Affection, by Cuyler Overholt (Sourcebooks Landmark); and The Homeplace, by Kevin Wolf (Minotaur).

In addition, prolific thriller novelist Clive Cussler was presented with The Strand’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

(Hat tip to The Gumshoe Site.)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Shamus Festivities Nixed

One of my favorite events taking place during each year’s Bouchercon is the Shamus Awards Banquet. Organized by the Private Eye Writers of America (PWA), which created the Shamus in 1982, this generally unpretentious affair takes place away from the convention hotel, draws a star-studded mix of writers with a taste for fiction featuring private investigators (or gumshoe-like protagonists), and always offers considerable camaraderie and humor.

Unfortunately, no such banquet will take place in association with Bouchercon 2017, which is to be held in Toronto, Ontario, from October 12 through 15. I was first alerted to this development by The Gumshoe Site. Yesterday it updated an item about the latest Shamus Awards nominees with a sentence saying that winners would be “announced in September,” but that the dinner had been called off. I subsequently e-mailed PWA co-founder Robert J. Randisi, who usually serves as the master of ceremonies at these events, to ask what had gone wrong. He wrote back that “The banquet has been cancelled due to unforeseen difficulties in setting it up in Canada.”

So when, then, might 2017 Shamus Award nominees learn whether they’ve won or not? Randisi says “an exact date” for that announcement “has not yet been decided on. We’ll keep you informed.” I shall let Rap Sheet readers know when I hear more.

Thriller Masters Score TV Deals

This item comes from In Reference to Murder:
BBC Studios is lining up TV adaptations of author Ken Follett’s World War II novel Jackdaws and Frederick Forsyth’s terrorist thriller The Kill List. Jackdaws will be pitched to partners as a returning series rather than as a one-off, with the action moved back several years from the book, with Follett’s approval, to provide room for the story to develop over multiple seasons. A film version of The Kill List was in the works, but BBC Studios is prepping a TV series based on the 2013 novel, which may be Forsyth’s last as he switches his focus to non-fiction.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Still Savoring CrimeFest Memories


Barry Forshaw (far left) and Mike Ripley (far right) discuss the relative virtues of American noir fiction and vintage British crime thrillers during a presentation refereed by Peter Guttridge.

By Ali Karim
Yes, I know: It has taken me more than a little while to deliver a full assessment of CrimeFest 2017. In the meanwhile, Rap Sheet editor J. Kingston Pierce featured an array of photographs from that May 18-21 event, and reported both on the winners of seven different prizes handed out during CrimeFest and the announcement of longlisted rivals for a number of 2017 Dagger awards (sponsored by the UK Crime Writers’ Association, aka CWA). But after weathering both a computer crash and scheduling difficulties, I’ve finally found free time enough to deliver a recap of this year’s convention.

CrimeFest, born in the wake of the popular 2016 Left Coast Crime convention, has always been held in one of England’s most invigorating cities—Bristol—and at the same four-star venue (the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel). This allows returning attendees to feel at home immediately upon arrival, for the hotel is centrally located, on College Green, with bars and restaurants all within easy walking distance, and an attentive, helpful staff.

Yet each year’s conference feels a wee bit different, if only because of the programming. This year’s wonderfully eclectic schedule was credited to author Donna Moore, who gave us an assortment of panel discussions (three tracks of them on Friday and Saturday!), covering the field of crime and mystery fiction from edge to edge—from Golden Age works to English-translated yarns and most everything in between. As always, organizers Adrian Muller and Myles Alfrey deserve particular applause, for their annual event creates great camaraderie among writers, and between authors and readers. More importantly, it encourages literacy—something that is essential to a functioning society.

* * *

I arrived in Bristol at high noon on Thursday, May 18, accompanied by Shots editor, Western fiction writer, and CWA Dagger liaison officer Mike Stotter. Immediately, I was reminded of what an international affair CrimeFest has become over the years, for greeting us were not only Detectives Beyond Borders blogger and man of mystery Peter Rozovsky, from Philadelphia, but also thriller novelist Karin Salvalaggio (Silent Rain), who hails from the U.S. state of Montana. This made me smile, as I resided in neighboring Wyoming for a time during the 1980s. Then I laughed when I was reminded that Karin has been living in London for a number of years, so her journey to Bristol was unlikely to have left her suffering with jet-lag.

One of Thursday’s opening panel presentations focused on debut authors, while that afternoon closed with a discourse on “forgotten writers,” during which CWA chair Martin Edwards and authors John Lawton, Jane Corry, Sarah Ward, and Andrew Wilson looked back at genre stylists such as Lionel Davidson and Elizabeth Daly. As a reviewer, I often like to refresh my palate with older works of fiction, so this was a most welcome interchange. I was delighted, too, with the opportunity to meet Wilson, who penned the definitive 2003 Patricia Highsmith biography, Beautiful Shadow, as well as a historical mystery novel titled A Talent for Murder (soon to be released in the States by Atria), which fictionalizes Agatha Christie’s 1926 disappearance.


(Left to right) CrimeFest 2017’s extremely able organizers, Donna Moore, Myles Alfrey, and Adrian Muller.


British crime-writing stars Andrew Taylor and Peter Lovesey find a quiet corner to catch up with each other.

Then it was time for some gin and the annual CrimeFest Quiz, which this year took place within the Marriott and found writer-critic Peter Guttridge holding forth once more as quizmaster. You can always count on this game to offer merriment (as when Felix Francis asked Guttridge, with a smirk, whether there was “any chance next year of having some equestrian questions”). It was no less expected to see the team made up of trivia authorities Martin Edwards, Cathy Ace, Kate Ellis, and Dea Parkin declared the winners. Fortunately, Adrian and Myles had many prizes to dispense to the runners-up, all of which were handed ’round by Mike Stotter.

We concluded the night with casual networking. After a few glasses of gin, my recollection of what exactly was said turned somewhat hazy. However, I do remember complimenting Andrew Taylor on the fact that his remarkable latest novel, set during the 17th century and titled The Ashes of London, has enjoyed a long-term stay on UK best-seller charts. Andrew is one of the most modest writers I know, and he simply smiled and put the success of his yarn down to a remarkable cover and the support of bookseller Waterstones—but we all understand the real reason is Ashes’ quality of writing.

* * *

As usual, Friday morning arrived way too soon for me and my fellow barflies. But thanks to an excellent breakfast at the hotel (which included copious quantities of industrial-strength coffee), and short visits to the swimming pool and steam room, Mike and I eventually composed ourselves for the long day ahead.

The three-track set-up of panel presentations held wide appeal for fans of debut novelists, serial-killer tales, legal thrillers, fictional police duos, and everyone interested in how journalists approach fiction writing and how to make a happy ending appear credible in this genre. Especially worthwhile was an early afternoon session called “Wunderbar! The Hidden Wonders of the German Krimi.” Sponsored by the Goethe-Institut London, it gathered together a variety of authors—Mario Giordano, Merle Kröger, Volker Kutscher, Melanie Raabe, and moderator Kat Hall—who enlightened readers as to the diversity and quality of modern crime fiction from Deutschland.

That evening’s events closed with the much-anticipated announcement of which books and authors had been longlisted for several 2017 Dagger awards (a process managed robustly by Mike Stotter and CWA secretary Dea Parkin). The CWA is currently narrowing the competition, with expectations that the shortlists of contenders will be broadcast on Wednesday, July 26, and the winners proclaimed during a festive dinner in the British capital on Thursday, October 26. (Look for both sets of results in The Rap Sheet.) For now, I can only prod you to investigate the books that have managed to get through the first stage of CWA evaluation, as they are all entertaining and enlightening reads.


During the dinner honoring Peter Lovesey, Martin Edwards and Adrian Muller share their taste for Burt Bacharach’s music.

With the Dagger pronouncements completed, and cheers having been offered to the honored challengers, some convention-goers headed off to a drinks reception sponsored by Orion Books and celebrating novelists Steve Cavanagh, Mason Cross, and Steve Mosby. Others departed the Bristol Marriott to sample menus at the abundance of surrounding restaurants. For our part, Mike Stotter and I were lucky to have been invited to an exclusive celebratory dinner for Peter Lovesey, CrimeFest 2017’s Featured Guest Author. This meal was organized by Thalia Proctor of Little, Brown UK and took place at a quaint little Italian restaurant. It was a pleasure to spend time in the company of Lovesey, who, despite his deserved success over the years remains—like Andrew Taylor—a grounded and fairly humble wordsmith. I also discovered, during our chatting at that feast, that both Martin Edwards and Adrian Muller are quite knowledgeable on the subject of American Burt Bacharach’s musical career. Who knew?

Then it was back to the CrimeFest bar for further conversation, which centered on the merits of works comprising this year’s CWA Dagger longlists. As there was some grumbling about the unusually large selection of Ian Fleming Steel Dagger contestants, and since I had been one of the judges responsible for choosing those 18 books, I found it advisable to maintain a low profile while sipping my drink.

* * *

Saturday kicked off with still more hot coffee (thank heavens!), followed by Telegraph critic Jake Kerridge’s 9 a.m. panel, “Debut Authors: An Infusion of Fresh Blood.” Among the featured experts was American teacher Bill Beverly, who last year received the CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger for his first novel, Dodgers. (Later that same day Beverly took part in another colloquy, about “noir” fiction.)

Once more, the three concurrent tracks of presentations made it difficult for attendees to choose where to plant themselves during any given hour. How could we know in advance whether we would be happier to attend a discussion of, say, “What Makes the Straitlaced Victorians a Criminal Goldmine?” than we would to sit through one titled “A Little Bit Creepy: Scaring Your Readers with Death”? And would we rather listen to the wisdom of Christopher Fowler and Barbara Nadel than that of Ragnar Jónasson or Gunnar Staalesen? Our dance cards were quickly booked … and overbooked.

Among the red-letter events on Saturday were Peter Lovesey’s onstage conversation with Martin Edwards (watch it here); Tom Adams and John Curran talking about the long shadow Agatha Christie continues to cast over the mystery-fiction genre; critic-author Barry Forshaw interrogating novelist-screenwriter Anthony Horowitz; and Kerridge interviewing this year’s CWA Diamond Dagger winner, Ann Cleeves.


Sophie Calder and Kate Mills from HarperCollins UK.

Later, Mike and I joined head publicist Sophie Calder and publisher Kate Mills at the HQ Harper Afternoon Tea. For me, one of the most pleasant characteristics of book conventions such as this is encountering old friends. I’ve known Sophie since her days at Titan Books, and Kate from her work with Orion. Over steaming cups of Earl Grey they offered us some background on HarperCollins’ new genre imprint, HQ, and introduced us to their editorial team as well as some of the authors with whom they’re working.

Thus fortified in mind and spirit, we returned to our hotel room, changed into lounge suits, and with daylight in serious retreat, located our tables for the CrimeFest Awards Dinner. As ever, the food and service provided by the Marriott were exemplary, and we found ourselves thoroughly entertained by the evening’s master of ceremonies, Barry Forshaw. Droll and knowledgeable, Forshaw also demonstrated a skill for organizing, as he coordinated this event’s schedule. Among the highlights were speeches by Ann Cleeves and Peter Lovesey, as well as the handing out of seven different CrimeFest awards (including the bestowal, by Forshaw and author-reviewer Sarah Ward, of the 2017 Petrona Award; and of the 2017 H.R.F. Keating Award by Forshaw alone). However, what I’ll probably remember best about that night was an impromptu oration by Anthony Horowitz (Magpie Murders) called “The Curious Murder of Felix Francis,” which cleverly used author Dick Francis’ younger son in an examination of British Golden Age mystery fiction. You can watch that here.

* * *

Normally, Sunday panel events are subdued, as the convention winds down. But this year there were half a dozen excellent exchanges, among them one showcasing “Iceland’s Queens of Crime” and another that looked at crime/mystery/thriller short stories, which seem to be very much in vogue again as readers’ free time and attention spans dwindle, and audiobooks increase in popularity. CWA stalwarts Janet Laurence, L.C. Tyler, Ann Cleeves, Peter Lovesey, and Martin Edwards all weighed in on the future of short-form crime fiction.

Finally, capping off this year’s CrimeFest, was a thoroughly witty public conversation having to do with distinctions between U.S. and British contributions to this genre, moderated by Peter Guttridge and featuring both Barry Forshaw, author of the new book American Noir, and Mike Ripley, who wrote Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, a study of classic British thrillers. (Video footage of their tête-à-tête can be enjoyed here.) One of CrimeFest’s most commendable aspects is how well it manages the melancholic feeling one is left with after late nights, lack of sleep, too many chilled libations, and days spent in near-constant conversation. Organizers always close with an amusing last presentation, so you’re left saying good-bye to friends old and new with a smile on your face.

If you haven’t attended CrimeFest before, I strongly encourage you to do so. Many regulars (myself included) have already registered for next year’s convention, which has booked Lee Child and Jeffery Deaver as Featured Guest Authors. For more information, click here.

(An abridged version of this piece is set to appear in the Crime Writers’ Association’s Red Herrings magazine later this month.)

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Revue of Reviewers, 7-5-17

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





Past Obsession

Several crime novels have found their way onto the longlist of nominees for the 2017 Endeavour Ink Gold Crown award, sponsored by Britain’s Historical Writers’ Association (HWA): Andrew Taylor’s The Ashes of London, Rachel Rhys’ A Dangerous Crossing, Ian McGuire’s The North Water, and M.J. Carter’s The Devil’s Feast. They are competing against seven other works in that same category. See the full list of Gold Crown competitors, as well as the rivals for two other HWA prizes by clicking here.

The shortlist of this year’s contenders is expected on July 13, with winners to be announced at the end of October.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Mystery Morsels

Happy Canada Day, everyone! Since my maternal grandfather was born and reared in Victoria, British Columbia, I have always felt some affinity toward the United States’ estimable northern neighbor. Today marks 150 years since the Canada we now know became “a single Dominion within the British Empire.” To celebrate this occasion, Crime Fiction Lover has posted a selection of what it contends are “The Best Canadian Crime Novels of All Time.” Consulted on this matter was Montreal resident Jacques Filippi—editor of the still-on-hiatus House of Crime and Mysteryso you’re guaranteed that the 10 highlighted works of fiction (which include novels by John McFetridge, Louise Penny, and even Ross Macdonald) won’t disappoint.

• To learn more about Canada’s crime-fiction heritage, check out a two-part study I did of the matter for Kirkus Reviews a few years back. Part I is here, Part II is here. And don’t miss my 2013 interview with Marilyn Rose, a professor in the Department of English at Ontario’s Brock University and the co-creator of the online database CrimeFictionCanada, or Kevin Burton Smith’s essay “on why crime fiction from north of the border does not receive more attention from U.S. readers.”

• Speaking of Canadian crime … Brian Busby, the editor of Véhicule Press’ noir mystery imprint, Ricochet Books, tells me that The Pyx, the 1959 debut novel from Montrealer John Buell—about the case of “a heroin-addicted call girl” who “dies in a fall from a swanky penthouse terrace”—has been reissued in Canada by Ricochet, and will become available in the States on September 1. Busby has opined that “No Canadian novelist has been so unjustly neglected as John Buell. He was published by Farrar, Straus, he was praised by Edmund Wilson, and he has been out of print for more than a quarter century. I never once heard John Buell's name in the years I studied at Concordia University … the very same university at which he was teaching.”

• London’s small but prominent Goldsboro Books has announced the longlist of contenders for its inaugural Glass Bell Award for Contemporary Fiction. They include at least three books that can be classified as crime/thriller fiction: The North Water, by Ian McGuire (Scribner); Pendulum, by Adam Hamdy (Headline); and I See You, by Clare Mackintosh (Sphere). A roster of finalists is expected by September 1, with the winner to be declared on September 28.

• Uh-oh! The rebooted Hawaii Five-0 is losing two members of its original, central cast—Daniel Dae Kim and the lovely Grace Park—“in a pay dispute,” The Spy Command Reports. “The two ‘had been seeking pay equality with stars Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan, but were unable to reach satisfactory deals with CBS Television Studios, which produces the series,’ Variety said. “Kim and Park were believed to be making 10-15% less than O’Loughlin and Caan.”

• It’s July 1—time for a new installment of Mike Ripley’s “Getting Away with Murder” in Shots. This month’s column includes mentions of new or forthcoming books by Simon Scarrow, Bonnie MacBird, Peter Murphy, Michael Connelly, and Holly Seddon.

• Deadline Hollywood reports that the big-screen version of Don Winslow’s The Force (Morrow), his new novel about camaraderie and corruption within the New York Police Department, should be released by 20th Century Fox in March 2019. David Mamet has been charged with penning the screenplay.

In a fine “By the Book” column for The New York Times Book Review, Winslow explains what kind of works he reads (paper or electronic?) and how he reads them:
Paper, definitely. I have to hold that book, although I actually prefer paperbacks to hardcovers, maybe from the time when I couldn’t afford the latter.

I read several books at a time; they’re scattered around the house like coffee cups, and I read them depending on where I am. I usually read at night because most of my daytime reading is work-related research. The exception is Sunday, when I make it a rule to do nothing but read for pleasure. My wife and I do a four- to six-mile hike, and then I come home, sit outside and read until it’s dark. It’s the best.
This sounds like a history volume I ought to own.

• We now have two more lists of “the best books of 2017 … so far.” This first one comes from the Chicago Review of Books and includes four works I’d classify as crime, mystery, or thriller: Danny Gardner’s A Negro and an Ofay; J. Robert Lennon’s Broken River; Kristen Lepionka’s The Last Place You Look; and Lori Rader-Day’s The Day I Died. Meanwhile, Powell’s Books’ mid-year round-up mentions only one title that fits neatly into this genre, Peter Heller’s Celine, but its other picks are interesting, as well.

• Finally, Sarah Schmidt, Australian author of the forthcoming historical suspense novel See What I Have Done (Atlantic Monthly Press), finds a spot in Publishers Weekly’s list of “Writers to Watch Fall 2017: Anticipated Debuts.”

Friday, June 30, 2017

Chasing the Macavitys

Mystery Readers International today announced its contenders for the 2017 Macavity Awards, in five categories. Nominations for these annual prizes are made by MRI members, “friends of MRI,” and subscribers to Mystery Readers Journal. The winners are set to be declared on Thursday, October 12, during the opening ceremonies at Bouchercon in Toronto, Ontario. And the contestants are ...

Best Novel:
You Will Know Me, by Megan Abbott (Little, Brown)
Dark Fissures, by Matt Coyle (Oceanview)
Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley (Grand Central)
Real Tigers, by Mick Herron (Soho Crime)
Wilde Lake, by Laura Lippman (Morrow)
A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)

Best First Novel:
The Widow, by Fiona Barton (NAL)
Under the Harrow, by Flynn Berry (Penguin)
Dodgers, by Bill Beverly (No Exit Press)
IQ, by Joe Ide (Mulholland)
Design for Dying, by Renee Patrick (Forge)

Best Short Story:
• “Autumn at the Automat,” by Lawrence Block (from In Sunlight or in Shadow, edited by Lawrence Block; Pegasus)
• “Blank Shot,” by Craig Faustus Buck (from Black Coffee, edited by Andrew MacRae; Darkhouse)
• “Survivor’s Guilt,” by Greg Herren (from Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016, edited by Greg Herren; Down & Out)
• “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” by Paul D. Marks (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], December 2016)
• “The Crawl Space,” by Joyce Carol Oates (EQMM, September-October 2016)
• “Parallel Play,” by Art Taylor (from Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley; Wildside Press)

Sue Feder Memorial Award for Best Historical Novel:
A Death Along the River Fleet, by Susanna Calkins (Minotaur)
Jane Steele, by Lyndsay Faye (Putnam)
Delivering the Truth, by Edith Maxwell (Midnight Ink)
The Reek of Red Herrings, by Catriona McPherson (Minotaur)
What Gold Buys, by Ann Parker (Poisoned Pen Press)
Heart of Stone, by James W. Ziskin (Seventh Street)

Best Non-fiction:
Mastering Suspense, Structure, and Plot: How to Write Gripping Stories that Keep Readers on the Edge of Their Seats, by Jane K. Cleland (Writer’s Digest)
Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, by Ruth Franklin (Liveright)
Sara Paretsky: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction, by Margaret Kinsman (McFarland)
Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man Who Wrote Dracula, by David J. Skal (Liveright)
The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer, by Kate Summerscale (Penguin)

Mystery Readers International organizer Janet Rudolph explained in a blog post earlier today that Macavity recipients are selected through an online vote. “If you’re a member of MRI or a subscriber to [Mystery Readers Journal] or a friend of MRI,” she said, “you will receive a ballot on August 1, so get reading.”

Congratulations to all of this year’s nominees!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Relishing Classic Crime’s New Vogue

(Editor’s note: The Rap Sheet is pleased to once again feature the work of Martin Edwards, an award-winning British novelist and the still newly installed chair of the Crime Writers’ Association. Stopping here early in a blog tour he’s put together to promote his latest non-fiction work, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, Edwards remarks below on how his once-unhip fascination with vintage mystery tales has finally paid off. The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books will be published in the UK on July 7 by the British Library, and in the United States on August 1 by Poisoned Pen Press.)

My crime novels are set, with one exception, in the present day, but I’ve been fascinated by classic detective fiction ever since I first came across Agatha Christie when I was just short of my ninth birthday. I borrowed my grandmother’s copy of The Murder at the Vicarage, and was hooked. As a fan, and also as a would-be writer, for even at that tender age, I dreamed of telling stories, stories of the type that I enjoyed. I especially liked detective shows on the television (one of my schoolbooks as a 6-year old contains a couple of sentences enthusing about “The Chrome Coffin,” apparently an episode of 77 Sunset Strip, which was running on British TV at the time).

It took me a long time to publish my first detective novel, but even longer to find a suitable outlet for my passion for Golden Age mysteries. That first book, All the Lonely People (1991), introduced the down-at-heel Liverpool lawyer Harry Devlin, and my aim was to write a series which combined a realistic urban backdrop and contemporary characters with plots that had much of the trickiness I associated with Christie and her peers. Not just “least likely person” culprits, but other tropes such as “dying message clues,” “impossible crimes,” and so on. The reviews were fine, and I was shortlisted every now and then for awards. The snag was that none of the kind reviewers noticed the Golden Age elements. Classic crime was really out of fashion.

When, more than a decade ago, I started writing a non-fiction book about the Golden Age, my then agent, a great supporter of my work, was dubious. She thought I shouldn’t allow myself to be distracted from my novels. But I kept on working at the manuscript, and after she retired, I persuaded the guy who took over the agency that there might be some potential in what would become The Golden Age of Murder (2015). What I didn’t expect was an Edgar Award, an Agatha, a Macavity, and very good sales as well as lovely reviews from all around the world. For pretty much the first time in my life, my tastes coincided with what was suddenly fashionable all over again.

I’m still, first and foremost, very much a novelist, but I felt there was much more to say about classic crime. Thankfully, the British Library agreed, and as a result I’ve composed The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books. This is a companion to the British Library’s series of Crime Classics, but it’s rather more than that. The aim is to explore the ways in which the genre developed over the first half of the last century.

(Left) Author Martin Edwards

Of course, the focus is on British books, but I’ve also squeezed in a sampling of American titles (as well as some from elsewhere in the world) to give the story an international context. It’s not an academic work, but an attempt to entertain as well as inform. And I hope that even the most widely read connoisseur will come across unfamiliar titles that seem well worth exploring. Reading or solving a mystery entails a voyage of discovery. And anyone who reads The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books will find that it takes them on a journey with plenty of unexpected ports of call.

* * *

My thanks to Jeff Pierce for hosting this guest post in The Rap Sheet. Over the next few days, I’ll be traveling elsewhere around the blogosphere, talking about different aspects of this new book, and of classic crime. Here’s a list of all the stops on my blog tour:

Wednesday, June 28: Lesa’s Book Critiques
Thursday, June 29: The Rap Sheet
Friday, June 30: Pretty Sinister Books
Saturday, July 1: Confessions of a Mystery Novelist (interview)
Sunday, July 2: Euro Crime
Monday, July 3: Tipping My Fedora
Tuesday, July 4: Desperate Reader
Wednesday, July 5: Clothes in Books
Thursday, July 6: Emma’s Bookish Corner
Friday, July 7: Random Jottings

When Temps and Tempers Boil

With summer having firmly arrived in the United States (Seattle has already recorded a 90-degree day this month!), it was to be expected that crime-fiction critics would commence trotting out their selections of what people ought to be reading over the next three months.

The Rap Sheet offered up its own long list of titles for perusal. But those were all new works, most of them still on the horizon. By contrast, Janet Rudolph’s rundown of summer mysteries features older books, all of which have a distinct seasonal connection. And Otto Penzler’s choices, for Literary Hub, of five crime and mystery yarns to be enjoyed on a beach blanket or sun-scorched deck are split between recent books (such as Lee Child’s No Middle Name) and genre classics (on the order of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley).

Should you be in the mood, as well, to gander longingly at a beautiful assortment of vintage paperback crime-fiction fronts linked to summer, click over to this extensive gallery in my Killer Covers blog. Artists represented include Barye Phillips, Robert Bonfils, Robert McGinnis, Paul Rader, Mitchell Hooks, Charles Copeland, J. Oval, George Ziel, Harry Barton, and Charles Binger.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Revue of Reviewers, 6-28-17

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







Chat’s Out of the Bag

I am always attracted to interviews with crime, mystery, and thriller novelists. And lately there seems to have been a particular profusion of those popping up around the Web. Here are just a few I forgot to mention in my latest “Bullet Points” wrap-up.

For Criminal Element, John Valeri talks with William Shaw, author of the brand-new standalone The Birdwatcher. The Strand Magazine blog delivers two—count ’em, two—writers for the price of one, as espionage-fictionist Olen Steinhauer quizzes Mark Mills about Where Dead Men Meet, which Steinhauer calls “a thrilling ride through Europe on the cusp of World War II.” The Irish Times fires off a series of questions to Anthony Quinn, whose fourth Inspector Celcius Daly mystery, The Trespasser, was released in paperback this month in the UK (but won’t be out in the States till November). S.W. Lauden grills James W. Ziskin about his fifth Ellie Stone mystery, Cast the First Stone. And Crimespree Magazine gets the lowdown from the pseudonymous Chevy Stevens on Never Let You Go.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Bullet Points: Taxing Tuesday Edition

• We’re still nine months away from the centennial of Mickey Spillane’s birth (March 9, 2018). But his friend and fellow crime-fictionist, Max Allan Collins—who’s spent the last decade, ever since Spillane succumbed in 2006, editing and finishing work he left behind—is already looking at ways to celebrate this occasion. It seems he’s been holding back some of Spillane’s most interesting unpublished material, with the intention of releasing it in association with what would’ve been The Mick’s 100th birthday. As he explains in his blog, these hidden riches include an adventure yarn titled The Last Stand and another book, Killing Town. Collins says the latter “represents Mickey’s first go at doing Mike Hammer, probably circa 1945 … predating I, the Jury. I will tell more of the story behind it later, but it’s a novel that takes place in an industrial town in upstate New York with Mike Hammer running a dangerous errand for an army buddy. It could not be more typically vintage Spillane in tone and approach.”

• Sink your fangs into this! With a premiere date for Season 5 of Sherlock so far uncertain (and probably not to be expected anytime soon), that program’s creative team of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat are turning to another Victorian-era work of fiction for inspiration: Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Variety says, “Work on the new series has yet to begin in earnest, as Gatiss and Moffat are currently working on solo projects. But talks are already underway with the BBC—which enjoyed huge success with Sherlock—on broadcast rights in the UK. Dracula will adopt the same format as Sherlock, with a miniseries run of feature-length episodes.”

• Among the best elements of Mystery Scene’s Summer 2017 issue are: Jake Hinkson’s profile of film-noir authority Eddie Muller; Craig Sisterson’s study of Michael Connelly’s new protagonist, Renée Ballard (The Late Show); Tom Nolan’s look at the socially relevant work of Denise Mina; and Kevin Burton Smith’s feature on gumshoe yarns bearing locked-room mystery components.

• During the Western Writers of America Conference, held last week in Kansas City, Missouri, it was announced that Carol Potenza’s as-yet-unpublished Hearts of the Missing has won the 2017 Tony Hillerman Prize for best first mystery novel. As part of her award, Potenza—presently an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at New Mexico State University—will receive a publishing contract from Minotaur Books, which has already slated Hearts of the Missing for a fall 2018 release. Previous Hillerman Prize beneficiaries include John Fortunato (Dark Reservations), C.B. McKenzie (Bad Country), and Andrew Hunt (City of Saints).

• Author Ilene Schneider (that’s Rabbi Ilene Schneider to you) has captured the 2017 David Award for her novel Yom Killer (Aakenbaaken & Kent). Named in memory of David G. Sasher Sr., this commendation is given out annually by organizers of the Deadly Ink conference, which took place this last June 16 to 18 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Also nominated for the David Award were: Blonde Ice, by R.G. Belsky (Atria); Written Off, by E. J. Copperman (Crooked Lane); Death of a Toy Soldier, by Barbara Early (Crooked Lane); and Seconds to Live, by Melinda Leigh (Montlake Romance).

• There will be more to read here later this week about Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, as The Rap Sheet takes part in a blog tour for that new volume of non-fiction. Meanwhile, though, Cross-Examining Crime offers this review of the work, which includes a list of lesser-known yarns Edwards cites by way of examining “100 books which have something to say about the journey crime fiction took in the first half of the 20th century.”

• In my previous “Bullet Points” post, I cited two publications producing selections of the “Best Books of 2017 … So Far.” Now comes another such rundown, this one from Mystery Tribune. Among its 20 picks: Lisa Gardner’s Right Behind You, Philip Kerr’s Prussian Blue, Peter Heller’s Celine, J.P. Delaney’s The Girl Before, Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders, and Malin Persson Giolito’s Quicksand.

• How did I forget to mention that there’s finally a trailer for The Alienist, TNT’s psychological thriller series based on Caleb Carr’s 1994 novel of that same name? No firm launch date for the program is yet available (“late 2017” remains the best guess), but the International Movie Database (IMDb) entry suggests there will be 10 episodes. And we know that this drama, set in New York City in 1896 and focusing on the pursuit of a serial killer targeting “boy whores,” will star Daniel Brühl as pioneering psychologist Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, Luke Evans as crime reporter John Moore, Dakota Fanning as “intrepid police secretary Sara Howard,” and Brian Geraghty as Theodore Roosevelt, then New York’s police commissioner. We await further info.

• If you’ve wondered what became of former Who’s the Boss? star Tony Danza, then this item from In Reference to Murder is for you:
Tony Danza is returning to television in the Netflix dramedy The Good Cop for ten one-hour episodes. Danza will play a disgraced former NYPD officer who never followed the rules and lives with his son—who is currently a detective for the NYPD and the complete opposite personality type from this father. Andy Breckman, who created Monk, will be the showrunner and executive producer for the series, and Randy Zisk, who worked on Bones, will direct the first episode.
• Shades of 007: What was the real “Operation Goldfinger”?

• It’s good to see Leslie Gilbert Elman back on the Grantchester beat for Criminal Element. Last week she reviewed that show’s third-season (and much out of season) Christmas special, and yesterday she posted her critique of Episode 2, which I thought was a rather unusual but especially compelling entry in this British historical mystery series. I’m also pleased to see that screenwriter Daisy Coulam has been able to reunite small-town vicar Sidney Chambers (James Norton) with his longtime love, Amanda Hopkins (née Kendall, played by Morven Christie), while also making it seem impossible that their relationship can endure. Of these turns, and more, Elman asks: “Should Sidney be worried? Yep, it seems Sidney should be worried.”

• Following up on the recent death, at age 88, of Batman star Adam West, Elizabeth Foxwell tracks down a partial episode of The Detectives, the 1959-1962 TV crime drama in which West played Sergeant Steve Nelson opposite Robert Taylor. Watch it here.

• R.I.P., Bill Dana, former Get Smart hotel house dick.

• Also gone: Michael Nyqvist, the Swedish actor who played investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist in the original succession of movies based on Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy. He passed away on June 27 at just 56 years of age.

• Rap Sheet reader Patrick Balester shot me a message not long ago, asking whether I’d ever come across a syndicated 1957-1958 TV crime drama called Decoy, which the New Jersey Web site NJ.com recently noted was “the first TV series with a female cop as its protagonist,” “the first series to be shot on location in New York City,” and “one of the earliest cop dramas to delve into social issues, rather than cavalierly divide the world into good and bad people.” Yes, in fact, I have heard of Decoy—aka Decoy Police Woman—a half-hour black-and-white production that starred Beverly Garland (perhaps better known today for her roles on My Three Sons and Scarecrow & Mrs. King). As Wikipedia explains, she played Casey Jones, “a female police officer who is often assigned to work undercover (hence becoming the ‘decoy’ of the title). The cast changed each week with Garland the only main continuing character, although there were several recurring characters, mostly her commanding officer and immediate colleagues. The series was inspired by Jack Webb’s Dragnet … [It] used a similar format to that series, with Jones portrayed as a serious, by-the-book, yet sympathetic cop with no personal life outside of her job. In the episode ‘The Sound of Tears,’ she reveals that the man she loved was a police officer who was shot and killed by the man he was sent to apprehend.” At least four Decoy episodes can be found on YouTube, and a low-cost DVD set containing all 39 episodes is available here.

• While we’re on the subject of mostly forgotten small-screen productions … Just the other day I happened across this short opening segment from the 1983 teleflick Travis McGee, featuring Sam Elliott in the title role, with Gene Evans, Katharine Ross, Vera Miles, Barry Corbin, and Richard Farnsworth helping to fill out the cast. This unsuccessful ABC-TV pilot film had still more talent behind it, with a script by Stirling Silliphant (Route 66, Longstreet, Marlowe) and George Eckstein (The Fugitive, The Name of the Game, Cool Million, Banacek) in the producer’s chair. It’s story was adapted from John D. MacDonald’s 1978 novel, The Empty Copper Sea. However, those components didn’t add up to a satisfying whole. The Thrilling Detective Web Site grouses that “Somnolent Magnum, P.I./Marlboro Man-lookalike Sam Elliot wasn’t even a half-good choice to play McGee, even if he could wake up,” and it questions the choice to move MacDonald’s story from Florida to California. At the time of is original broadcast, Washington Post critic Tom Shales opined that Travis McGee “brings the detective hero created by John D. MacDonald to life, but just barely. It really brings him to more of a catatonic state.” Nonetheless, I’d be interested to watch this pilot. And apparently, I can, so long as I fork over $19.95 to Roberts Hard to Find Videos, an online retailer currently selling Travis McGee in DVD format.

• And one more YouTube find: Twelve out of 13 episodes of the 2002, Michael Mann-produced CBS-TV series Robbery Homicide Division. The show has been described as “an intense, no-nonsense look at the present-day Los Angeles Police Department’s Robbery Homicide Division. Lt. Sam Cole [played by Tom Sizemore] is the driven chief detective of a squad that is dedicated to solving some of the worst crimes the city has to offer.” I remember Robbery Homicide Division as being quite good. Now’s my chance to screen it again.

• Nancie Clare’s two most recent guests on her Speaking of Mysteries podcast are well worth your listening to: Don Winslow, author of The Force, about camaraderie and corruption in the New York Police Department; and Martin Walker, whose latest Bruno, Chief of Police mystery, The Templars’ Last Secret, was released earlier this month.

• Speaking of Winslow, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported last week that “for the second time in three years, … [he] has taken out a full-page ad in a national newspaper criticizing the government’s war on drugs, an issue that has formed the backbone of several of his bestselling books. The Julian resident’s newest salvo is in Sunday’s New York Times, framed as a series of posts on Twitter from Winslow to President Donald Trump, who uses the social media platform often to air his thoughts.” I can’t find an online image of that advertisement, but I assume its text is similar to this essay, titled “Trump’s Catastrophic Drug Policy,” which was posted on Winslow’s Web site the same day, June 25. It reads, in part:
The president wants to return to a bygone era of mass incarceration and a full-blown War on Drugs that significantly contributed to the current American prison population of 2.2 million, the largest in the world. Apparently, that isn’t enough for the “law and order” president and his accomplice, Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Trump and Sessions think the War on Drugs has been a very good thing. They are either woefully or willfully ignorant of the facts. …

We know that rehabilitation programs and treatment are vastly more effective at reducing drug use than imprisonment. In fact, our jails and prisons are rife with illegal drugs, and those who go in as addicts usually come out as addicts. If mass incarceration worked, wouldn’t our drug problem now be better instead of worse?

But rather than make a real effort to address the drug problem at its roots—at a time when more Americans die from opiate overdose than from car accidents—Trump and Sessions hand us fantasies such as the border wall, which will do absolutely nothing to slow the flow of drugs, and facile, intellectually lazy, “lock `em up” sound bites that make for good politics but horrible policy.
• Are rumors of a Downton Abbey movie true? Yes!

• Crime Fiction Lover chooses half a dozen British-Asian crime novelists “to watch,” among them Abir Mukherjee (A Rising Man), Rosie Claverton (Terror 404), and Amer Anwar (Western Fringes).

A recent profile in her own newspaper cast critic Marilyn Stasio—who has been penning The New York Times Book Review’s crime-fiction column since 1988—as “a kind of mystery herself, removed from the book events, parties and online debates that bind so many crime and mystery fanatics together. She would rather be reading, surrounded by her fortifications of novels.” Sounds good to me!

• In a piece for Britain’s Telegraph, John Banville (aka Benjamin Black) insists the best crime and mystery fiction is the urban sort. “The city is God’s gift to the crime writer,” he writes. “Yes, there is just as much scope, if not more, for blood-letting, skulduggery and devilment in the countryside as there is in town. However, the urban wilderness lends itself with particular aptness to noir fiction, whether it be Maigret’s Paris, Philip Marlowe’s Bay City, a lightly fictionalized version of Santa Monica, or Dostoevsky’s St. Petersburg.”

• Scroll.in contributor Nicholas Rixon looks back at how Raymond Chandler’s 1939 first novel, The Big Sleep, marked a sea change for detective fiction. “Nearly six decades after his death,” remarks Rixon, “Chandler’s novel remains exactly what the man intended it to be: hard-boiled detective fiction that doesn’t just walk tenderly across the tightrope between literariness and pulp. It hops and summersaults with wild abandon to the other side.”

• And finally, 37 years after its debut, Crime Fiction Lover revisits Gorky Park, Martin Cruz Smith’s “wonderfully textured, vivid look behind the Iron Curtain,” which it goes on to call “a tense, atmospheric and memorable crime story with an outstanding detective character—Arkady Renko.”

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Arrested Development

After hitting it big with its 1960s-set police drama, Endeavour, a prequel to the long-running Inspector Morse, British broadcaster ITV decided to try mining the history of yet another familiar small-screen sleuth, London Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison, who was played so memorably by Helen Mirren throughout the 1991-2006 procedural series Prime Suspect. The resulting program, titled Prime Suspect: Tennison and starring 20-something actress Stefanie Martini, is scheduled to begin a three-episode run tonight as part of PBS-TV’s Masterpiece Mystery! lineup, beginning at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

Wikipedia summarizes this series—“which is set primarily in Hackney”—by saying that it “portrays a young Jane Tennison … as she begins her career as a WPC [Woman Police Constable] with the Metropolitan Police Service in 1973. The series is set at a time when women were beginning to be gradually integrated into the police force. In a workplace dominated by chauvinistic male police officers, Tennison assists in the investigation of the murder of a young prostitute. Tennison has to deal with sexism, as well as difficulties in her home life as her family disapprove of her career choice.”

The story is based on Tennison, a 2015 novel by Lynda La Plante, who created the original Prime Suspect. Unfortunately, ITV’s hope that La Plante would also script its prequel drama fell through as a result of “creative differences” between the author and the television producers. That unhappy twist might now be portrayed as a forewarning of further troubles. While Prime Suspect: Tennison (called Prime Suspect 1973 in the UK) has won plaudits from some critics for its portrayal of “the dingy 1970s London milieu” and for dutifully sourcing the woes (rage, loneliness, hard drinking) that will bedevil Tennison as she rises through the ranks, others have been far less generous. When it was broadcast this last spring in Great Britain, The Guardian knocked this drama’s sometimes clunky dialogue and its cast of characters, which it called “mere ciphers compared with their counterparts” in Mirren’s Prime Suspect. More recently, The New York Times denounced replacement screenwriter Glen Laker’s decision to make “Tennison’s crime-solving instincts … consistently infallible” and “the script’s narrow focus on prequelizing. It doesn’t have any ideas beyond establishing the endemic sexism Tennison will still be facing 20 years on, and connecting dots to her later alcoholism (in three different scenes) and bad decisions about sex.” Meanwhile, Salon’s Melanie McFarland disparaged this program’s emphasis on the criminal case at hand rather than Tennison’s character. “Because of this,” she wrote, “little is illuminated about Jane Tennison’s early years, effectively negating its value as a prequel.”

Even in the face of such carping, ITV insists in a statement that it is “grateful to Lynda La Plante for allowing us to adapt her brilliant book Tennison, and we were very happy with how Prime Suspect 1973 performed and the audience reaction to the series.” Yet the network announced last month that it would deny the show a second season. The existing episodes—six as shown in the UK, but three 90-minute installments in the U.S.—are all that viewers will be able to enjoy. People who want to learn more about Jane Tennison’s early years will have to search out La Plante’s novels. Since 2015’s Tennison, she has composed two sequels: Hidden Killers (2016) and Good Friday (to be released this August in the UK by Zaffre).

Prime Suspect: Tennison will continue as part of Masterpiece Mystery! through the next two Sundays, July 2 and 9, following fresh installments of Grantchester. Watch a video trailer for the series here.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Book You Have to Read:
“Beverly Gray in the Orient,” by Clair Blank

(Editor’s note: This is the 148th entry in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books. Today’s contribution comes from mystery and suspense author Carmen Amato, who writes the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco [and optioned for television]; Pacific Reaper—released in April—is the newest book in that series. Emilia Cruz is the first female detective on the Acapulco police force, confronting Mexico’s drug cartels and legendary government corruption. Amato, originally from New York, pens books that draw on her experience living in Mexico and Central America, as well as her various travels around the globe. Learn more by visiting her Web site or following her on Twitter @CarmenConnects.)

It’s 1937.

She’s an investigative reporter for the New York Tribune.

She lives in New York City with her three best friends.

She has “a knack of attracting adventure and a flair for solving mysteries.”

Her name is Beverly Gray, and every girl wants to be her.

Including me.

Over the course of 26 novels published between 1934 and 1955, girls from all over the United States thrilled to Beverly Gray’s adventures, first as a freshman at Vernon College (a thinly disguised Bryn Mawr) and then as an intrepid reporter, novelist, and playwright. Written by Clair Blank, the pen name of Pennsylvania native Clarissa Mabel Blank Moyer (1915-1965), the Beverly Gray series galloped across the globe as Beverly and friends clashed with villains, exposed imposters, escaped kidnappings, and inherited cursed castles and haunted ranches.

In Beverly Gray in the Orient (1937), the dark-haired and indomitable Beverly cruises her way through danger in India and China. Blank grouped novels within her series, making Orient the seventh book in the sequence but also the second of three set aboard the yacht Susabella. Beverly and her roommates Lenora, Shirley, and Lois—all Vernon alumni and members of the Alpha Delta sorority—are guests of yacht owner Roger Garrett. Three male friends and Roger’s aunt Miss Ernwood, their chaperone, complete the travel group.

The Susabella first visited England in the preceding, 1936 novel, Beverly Gray on a World Cruise, in which another of our heroine’s touring companions, Jim Stanton, found half of a treasure map. A bogus bit of European royalty, Count Alexis, proved he would do anything to get his hands on it. A mystery man named Black Barney had possession of the map’s other half.

Now, as the Susabella continues her voyage, Blank delivers another dose of her signature blend of dreamy descriptions, realistic dialogue, and campy drama. First, Beverly chases off stowaway Count Alexis with a jar of cold cream. He escapes. The yacht arrives in India. In Bombay, Beverly meets up with Larry Owens, a “government agent” boasting “reckless blue eyes and [an] engaging grin.”

Wanting to experience all that India has to offer, Beverly and friends take a river boat ride. In an authentic and terrifying scene, the craft sinks. Beverly is plunged into a watery vortex of panicked people and thrashing cattle. She survives, only to then be chased through the jungle by a tiger. Luckily, she finds a famous American explorer’s camp and is reunited with her friends aboard the Susabella.

Count Alexis then abducts Beverly and Jim as they buy souvenirs. But in another stroke of luck, the Count’s driver recognizes Beverly from a previous encounter in New York. Rescued again!

The Susabella proceeds to Hong Kong and Canton, China. Pirates attack and hijack Beverly and Shirley. The two women are thrown into a Chinese junk and taken to a pirate camp. Who is the leader of these pirates? Why, the elusive Black Barney.

Sporting a convincing disguise, agent Larry Owens has infiltrated the gang. For the next 40 pages, Beverly and Shirley spy on their captors and in the course of it discover that Count Alexis and Black Barney are in cahoots. After Beverly surreptitiously traces Black Barney’s half of the treasure map, Larry steals the Chinese junk and delivers the girls back to the waiting Susabella.

(Left) Author Carmen Amato.

The big showdown with Count Alexis and Black Barney occurs in Shanghai. In a pitch-black cellar under a famous restaurant, Beverly teams this time with Roger Garrett, and the villains are finally arrested.

Now in possession of the full treasure map, the gang votes to go after the concealed riches. Larry comes aboard the Susabella, bringing a guide named Shanghai Pete. The yacht sets sail for Fiji and the next novel in the series.

Beverly Gray in the Orient is completely improbable and shows little regard for geographic accuracy, yet it is surprisingly well-written, with engaging characters and romantic descriptions. Author Blank lends emotional heft to places most of her readers will never see. As one example, here is her description of Beverly visiting India’s 17th-century Taj Mahal at night: “She stood bareheaded in the moonlight and feasted her eyes on the white marble of the tomb … Probably next year she would again be in New York working. But the Taj Mahal would remain peacefully at rest beneath the indigo sky, changeless as the flow of years.”

Beverly’s “voice” is engaging, full of hopes and dreams. Her heartstrings sing, for instance, when she receives a copy of her newly published novel and “held something of her own creation, something that would endure, something she had molded from nothing at all.” Blank, who published the first four books in this series while still in high school, likely drew on her own feelings for that line.

Friends are vitally important to Beverly and every reader could imagine herself a member of the tight circle; joking with Lenora, drawing with the quiet Lois, or dreaming of success on the stage with Shirley. Lenora is the most well-developed character besides Beverly in Beverly Gray in the Orient, with a saucy attitude and peppery banter that is genuinely funny. She trades jibes with soul mate Terry Cartwright, a Brit given lines such as “Rot,” and “Oh, I say!” In the 1940s, midway through the series, Blank’s only nod to World War II will be Terry in uniform and his friends worrying for his safety.

Romance is always a series subplot. Like Lenora and Terry, eventually all the characters are paired off. Indeed, Beverly Gray in the Orient establishes the romantic tension between Beverly, Larry Owens, and Jim Stanton that will unspool over the next few books. When Jim declares his love for Beverly she walks “on moonbeams,” but is unsure if she feels the same about him. She’ll ultimately choose Larry, who in a few books will morph from footloose secret agent to Long Island-based aeronautical engineer.

In addition to the Beverly Gray series, Clair Blank produced the three-volume Adventure Girls series and one adult novel, Lover Come Back (1940). All featured characters closely resembling Beverly.

Blank never enjoyed Beverly’s free-spirited adventures, but instead lived her entire life in Allentown, Pennsylvania. She attended secretarial school and worked for a pipeline company. During World War II, she served in the American Women’s Voluntary Services. In 1943 she married George Elmer Moyer, an Allentown welder, and reared two sons.

I was a teen when I first encountered Beverly Gray in a used bookstore. Over the years, I’ve found all but one of the 26 novels, many crumbly and brown with age. Never reprinted, the series faded into obscurity after the last installment, Beverly Gray's Surprise, was published in 1955 by Clover Books. Previous publishers were the W.L. Burt Company and Grosset and Dunlap. The latter found greater success with the Nancy Drew series.

Deep down I know that Beverly inspired me to be a writer. Like her, I went to college, had some thrilling adventures around the world, and fell in love with a man named Larry.

And possibly inherited her “flair for solving mysteries.”