Friday, August 16, 2019

The Book You Have to Read:
“La Donna Detroit,” by Jon A. Jackson

(Editor’s note: This is the 159th installment in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books.)

By Steven Nester
Retiring from the mafia is not easy—even if one survives to old age. A Detroit mob boss with the stomach-churning name of Humphrey DiEbola wants to do just that in La Donna Detroit (2000), the eighth entry in Jon A. Jackson’s Detective Sergeant “Fang” Mulheisen series. Fang himself doesn’t appear often until nearly the end of this book, but readers won’t miss him all that much—plot-wise there’s no need for his presence. La Donna Detroit is a character study and a post-mob handbook for aging torpedoes, which on the surface reads as a basic mafia back-stabbing revenge drama. Fortunately, the tale never veers towards that, nor towards a flat-footed procedural, even when Mulheisen shows up. The action here focuses on DiEbola’s plan, which will require plenty of patient scheming as he gets all his ducks in a row as nicely if they were floating past in a shooting gallery. The first and most crucial step is to find and groom someone to take over the business once he fakes his death; and DiEbola believes he has his patsy.

Helen Sedlacek is a successful, intelligent young woman with “gallons of black hair” and the scruples of a robber baron. She is without a doubt her father’s daughter, her old man being the Serbian crime boss whose murder is the MacGuffin in this book. Helen has been able to make a decent living in a man’s world without getting involved in the family business, but that soon changes. This tough little cookie is drawn into the perilous action after her father is murdered, prompting her and lover Joe Service, a freelance hit man, to deliver some street justice to the capo who ordered thar killing. Revenge is served even colder when the pair makes off with millions of dollars in mob cash—but as usual, a recovery team of thugs is hot on their trail. With unexpected results.

Seven installments of the Mulheisen series were published prior to this one, so La Donna Detroit backtracks just enough for late-arriving readers (such as me) to be clued in; for instance, the hit on Helen’s dad was made and the money taken in a previous book, allowing this one to be read as a standalone. There are, however, enough plot twists and complications here to compel readers to stay on the ball. In flashbacks, we see Service hospitalized after he and Helen take it on the lam. Helen grabs the loot while Joe is laid up, and DiEbola—who’s already next in line to be king—fills the interregnum and locates Helen. He’s not out for revenge; he just wants to talk business. Like an angel of redemption, DiEbola brings Helen back into the fold and cuts a deal.

DiEbola has known Helen all of her life. Without her, he wouldn’t have risen to capo di capo, so at the very least he owes her something for that. He’s been an uncle to her (“Unca Umby”), and Helen trusts DiEbola not to harm her. He tells Helen that he tried to dissuade the killers from making the hit on her father, and that he has big plans for her. DiEbola wants to take Helen to the head of the class, starting with her running his knock-off cigar company—maker of the premium La Donna Detroit brand—as well as other of his legitimate businesses. However, as Sedlacek is introduced to louche Detroit society—the slobs and the players—and their doings, a group of rogue government law-enforcement agents are leaning on the hospitalized Service for intel on the international drug trade. Their selling point is simple: Service is a fugitive from the law and a man wanted by the mob, with law enforcement guarding his recovery room 24/7. With no one to turn to save for this renegade group, Service is finally convinced to escape from the hospital, and is eventually talked into blowing up a jet with a drug kingpin on board—as well infiltrating the mob and killing DiEbola. However, luck, opportunity, and old-school allegiance to the criminal organization prevail, and after fleeing the rogue agents, Service makes his way back to DiEbola and Helen, who by this point is DiEbola’s right-hand woman. All the while, DiEbola has been putting together the components of his escape, and in organized crime, there’s no such thing as a clean getaway.

(Left) Author Jon A. Jackson

DiEbola hosts a poker game that ends in a massacre, during which he makes his getaway. Among the dead is one of DiEbola’s henchmen, whose corpse is DiEbola’s stand in. Service returns to the fold to aid DiEbola’s flight aboard a cabin cruiser, across Lake Michigan to Canada. This is Mulhiesen’s cue to enter the stage. He assembles the clues to the massacre at the poker table and DiEbola’s possible involvement, and he’s also able to solve a murder that happened decades in the past, one that involves an adolescent Humphrey DiEbola.

The old days of mafia honor are disappearing, and the machinations of La Donna Detroit show the new ways taking hold. Classic thugs and enforcers are out, along with blackjacks and cement overcoats; gangsters with MBAs are rushing to fill the void. Author Jackson delivers the story of this nefarious evolution with humor and insight and a curiosity that should lead newcomers to search out other entries in his series, which began with 1977’s The Diehard.

Friday Finds

• Series 7 of Endeavour has begun filming, according to The Killing Times, and an eighth season of that popular historical crime series has already been commissioned by British television network ITV. Endeavour shows in the States under PBS-TV’s Masterpiece Mystery! umbrella. The Killing Times has this to say about stories to come:
The seventh series will consist of three, brand-new interconnecting feature-length films. Each film will once again be written by Russell Lewis who has penned all 27 Endeavour screenplays to date. …

The new trilogy of films mark Endeavour [Morse, played by Shaun Evans] and his colleagues entering a new decade and era of change. Opening on New Year’s Eve 1970, normal order has been resumed, and the team reunited at Castle Gate CID, with Chief Superintendent Bright [Anton Lesser] back in charge. However, the events of the past year have left their mark, and the new series will see old friendships challenged and new relationships blossom.

In the dawn of women’s liberation, social progression and scientific growth, the 1970s begin for Oxford’s finest with the discovery of a body at the canal towpath on New Year’s Day. With the only clue in the investigation a witness who heard whistling on the night of the crime, the team have their work cut out to uncover their culprit.

With a strong, overarching plot connecting the three films, the seventh series will test Endeavour’s moral compass to breaking point, both personally and professionally.
• Here’s one non-fiction book I’m looking forward to reading this fall: Barry Forshaw’s Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide (Oldcastle). As press materials explain, that 448-page work strives to be quite comprehensive in its treatment of the genre: “Every major writer is included, along with many other more esoteric choices. Focusing on a key book (or books) by each writer, and with essays on key crime genres, Crime Fiction: A Reader's Guide is designed to be both a crime fan’s shopping list and a pithy, opinionated but unstuffy reference tool and history. Most judgements are generous (though not uncritical), and there is a host of entertaining, informed entries on related films and TV.” British critic Forshaw’s last, shorter book, Historical Noir, was a splendid resource, and I expect Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide to be equally enlightening. Amazon shows that it’s due out in Britain on November 21, and in the States next summer.

• It appears The Seattle Times is doubling up on its crime-fiction coverage. Adam Woog has been writing about this genre for many years, but now arts critic Moira Macdonald has posted the first installment of her new monthly column, “The Plot Thickens.” My initial impression is that she’s interested primarily in best-seller material, but let’s watch to see how her column develops over time.

• Criminal Element’s new entry in its series looking back at 65 years worth of books that have won the Edgar Award for Best Novel focuses on L.R. Wright’s The Suspect (1985). Writes Doreen Sheridan:
The first Canadian winner ... features, perhaps stereotypically, ... a Mountie and a librarian politely declining to discuss a murder where they both know whodunnit. The Mountie is Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg, a divorced forty-something who misses his daughters back in Calgary but has no intention of leaving his posting on Canada’s Sunshine Coast, a beautiful if difficult-to-access stretch of shoreline just north of Vancouver. The librarian is Cassandra Mitchell, also in her forties, who moved to the town of Sechelt to be close to her aging mother. Cassandra and Karl connect through a lonely hearts ad she posted but find their burgeoning romance tested by their individual relationships with George Wilcox, the titular suspect who kills a man on the very first page of this novel.”
• And William Lampkin is posting photos from PulpFest 2019 in his blog, Yellowed Perils. PulpFest is currently underway in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It strikes me as an annual event I really should attend sometime, though given the number of collectible items on sale, my bank account might be better off if I stay home.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Revue of Reviewers, 8-12-19

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

A Monday Morning Medley

• Double O Section brings word that, five years after its development was initially announced, the William Boyd-created, Cold War-backdropped series Spy City finally appears to be taking off: “Originally set up as a 10-part series at Gaumont, Deadline reports that Boyd’s vision will finally come to life as a 6-part series for Miramax and Germany’s H&V Entertainment and ZDF.” The show will star Dominic Cooper (of Agent Carter and Fleming fame) as “a British agent dispatched to Berlin in 1961 to root out a traitor in the UK Embassy or among the Allies, shortly before the construction of the Berlin Wall. ‘The city, declared by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev as “the most dangerous place on earth,” is teeming with spies and double agents. One wrong move could trigger the looming threat of nuclear war as American, British and French troops in West Berlin remain separated from their Soviet and East German counterparts by nothing more than an imaginary line.’” No debut date has yet been publicized.

• Maine author Lea Wait, who penned the Mainely Needlepoint Mysteries series, the Shadows Antique Print mysteries, and the Maine Murder Mystery series, died on August 9 of pancreatic cancer, according to this obituary in Janet Rudolph’s Mystery Fanfare. Wait was 73 years old. Her latest Needlepoint Mystery, Thread on Arrival, was published in April 2019, and she has another, Thread and Buried, due out this coming November. In The Gumshoe Site, Jiro Kimura recalls that Lea Wait was “the single mother of four adopted daughters,” and Shadows at the Fair (2002)—the first novel in her Shadows Antique Print series featuring Maggie Summer—was nominated for the 2003 Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

• Somehow, I missed seeing this news before: Brash Books, which has already published a couple of novels by the late British screenwriter and director, Jimmy Sangster (Touchfeather and Touchfeather, Too), is bringing back into print Sangster’s trilogy of hard-boiled thrillers starring former Scotland Yard detective and now self-styled beach bum James Reed. The first of those books, Snowball (1986), came out at the end of July. Hardball (1988) is due for re-release later this month, with Blackball (1987) to follow. Meanwhile, Brash paperback editions of Sangster’s two John Smith espionage novels, The Spy Killer (aka Private I, 1967) and Foreign Exchange (1968), should turn up in stores come September.

• Although he died in February 2018, author Bill Crider is far from forgotten. Designer Richard Greene notes in Facebook that Issue 104 of Paperback Parade (left)—currently being printed—features a tribute to the Texas creator of Sheriff Dan Rhodes.

Happy 10th anniversary to Do Some Damage!

• I learned this last weekend that publication of the non-fiction book Sticking It to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950 to 1980, edited by Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre (PM Press)—a work to which I contributed a piece—has been postponed until October 1. Grrr!

• The Web site BookRiot is proving to be a useful cheerleader for Polis Books’ brand-new crime-fiction imprint, Agora, which it says will “focus on diverse voices, putting out between six and ten books per year.” Under the direction of Polis founder Jason Pinter and editor Chantelle Aimée Osman, the Agora line is being readied for a September launch. BookRiot takes a peek at some of those Agora titles due out this fall, as well as others for 2020—fresh works by John Vercher, Patricia Smith, Gary Phillips, and others.

• This is an unexpected turn. From In Reference to Murder:
In one of the biggest surprises this past pilot season, ABC’s NYPD Blue reboot did not go to series but was kept in midseason contention with a possibility for redevelopment. It now appears that particular iteration of NYPD Blue, a sequel to the original Emmy-winning series, is dead. However, it’s not the end of NYPD Blue’s comeback at the network, which aired the iconic 1990s cop drama series. According to ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke, “There are conversations about continuing it but possibly in a different iteration.” The recent NYPD Blue pilot starred newcomer Fabien Frankel and co-starred original cast members Kim Delaney and Bill Brochtrup. The sequel centers on Theo (Frankel), the son of Dennis Franz’s Detective Andy Sipowicz character from the original series, who tries to earn his detective shield and work in the 15th squad while investigating his father’s murder.
• Will Lee Child join the judging panel for the 2020 Booker Prize? The Bookseller quotes Child biographer Andy Martin as saying that the author of the Jack Reacher thriller series, who “also won Author of the Year at this year’s British Book Awards and has sold 13.2 million books for £80m, would be a ‘natural’ judge. ‘Lee’s a natural because he reads so many books already (300 a year roughly). Although he is a commercial writer, there is an intellectual, professorial side to him. As he says, he is “100% commerce, 100% art.”’”

• Editor Elizabeth Foxwell alerts me to the fact that the latest installment in her McFarland Companions to Mystery Fiction series—this one focusing on the works of Ian Rankin—is due out in February 2020. The volume, she explains in her blog, “provides a comprehensive examination of Rankin’s writing career, including short stories that the Scottish author had forgotten he had written and interesting sidelights such as the Rebus play Long Shadows.

• The sixth and newest episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast examines “the mysterious career of author and publisher Peter McCurtin,” notes host Tom Simon. “We examine McCurtin’s Escape from Devil’s Island as well as [offer] two new reviews—[of] Duel in the Snow by German author Hans Meissner and the debut Malko novel, West of Jerusalem by Gerard De Villiers.” Listen here.

It was on this date in 1964 that “Ian Fleming, a World War II naval intelligence officer, journalist and author of the James Bond thrillers, died.” He was only 56 years old.

• Following last week’s news that the 1981-1991 British TV series Bergerac may be rebooted for modern audiences, World of Shaft author Steve Aldous has posted a short review of the original show’s first episode, starring John Nettles.

• Classic Film and TV Café revisits 1973’s “gritty, urban cop picture,” The Seven-Ups, starring Roy Scheider and featuring a 10-minute car chase that’s arguably “the best … in movie history.”

• In the wake of America’s most recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio—and Republican Donald Trump’s resistance to gun reformsThe Washington Post’s Ronald G. Shafer looks back in this piece to the 1930s, when a rash of gangsters wielding Thompson submachine guns convinced a very different president, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, to champion what was known unofficially as the “Anti-Machine Gun Bill.” As Shafer recalls, “Rather than a federal ban on machine guns, the Roosevelt administration proposed taxing the high-powered weapons virtually out of existence. It would place a $200 tax on the purchase of machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. The tax—equal to about $3,800 today—was steep at a time when the average annual income was about $1,780.” Although “Congress eventually stripped the bill of regulations on pistols and revolvers,” it “passed the firearms act in June [1934[, and Roosevelt signed it into law along with more than 100 other bills.” Why do the White House and Congress today lack the same sort of courage to take decisive action in defense of American lives?

Friday, August 09, 2019

PaperBack: “Sweet Cheat”

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

Sweet Cheat, by “Peter Duncan,” aka Butler Markham Atkinson Jr. (Dell, 1959). Cover illustration by Ernest Chiriacka.

READ MORE:Forgotten Books: The Tell-Tale Tart—Peter Duncan,” by Bill Crider (Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine).

A Few More Items of Interest

• For those who don’t remember it well, Bergerac was a 1981-1991 British television series set on the English Channel island of Jersey, in which John Nettles (later of Midsomer Murders) starred as Jim Bergerac, a rather unorthodox police detective who eventually became a private eye. Even 28 years after the program went off the air, Bergerac remains popular, so it comes as no surprise that a reboot is currently in the works. Deadline reported on that development back in February, and now The Killing Times brings word that “the scripts for a new show are 99 per cent there, and officials are hoping the green light could be given in September.”

• Karen Abbott, author of the new non-fiction book, The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America (Crown), revisits, in CrimeReads, the central conflict fleshed out in her yarn, between U.S. Assistant Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt—charged with enforcing Prohibition during the 1920s—and “George Remus: teetotaling bootlegger, erudite madman, and, reportedly, a real-life inspiration for Jay Gatsby.”

• While reading Abbott’s book, I was reminded of a previous use of Remus as a character, in Craig Holden’s 2002 novel, The Jazz Bird, about which I wrote a favorable review for January Magazine.

• OK, I’ll admit it: James Ellroy’s newest historical crime saga, This Storm (Knopf), is still sitting quietly beside my desk, waiting to be read. I am just not yet ready to dive into another of Ellroy’s grim explorations of America’s violent, racist past. But pieces such as this one, from The Stiletto Gumshoe (an anonymously composed blog that focuses on crime-related artistic endeavors almost as much as it does books), might finally push me into its pages.

• Enjoy this new map of London literary locations.

• On the occasion of what would be Dorothy B. Hughes’ 115th birthday—tomorrow—Dwyer Murphy, my editor at CrimeReads, has collected “some of her finest, most unsettling lines” from Hughes’ many novels. “Together,” he remarks, “they offer up a glimpse of her dark world view, and they begin, but only begin, to capture that deep sense of dread that was such a trademark of Hughes’ fiction.” One of my favorites among these quotations comes from Dread Journey (1945): “She carried her head like a lady and her body like a snake.” You’ll find Murphy’s whole piece here.

• Scottish author Jay Stringer (Marah Chase and the Conqueror’s Tomb) writes in Do Some Damage about how he found his way back from a period of personal and professional darkness.

Was John Stenbeck once a CIA spy in Paris?

• Two more author interviews worthy of notice: Stephen Hunter (Game of Snipers) talks briefly with MysteryPeople; and Mysteristas quizzes Ann Aguirre, author of The Third Mrs. Durst.

• Finally, Nicolás Suszczyk offers a tribute, in The Secret Agent Lair, to Rhode Island-born actor David Hedison, who died on July 18, aged 92. Hedison may be best remembered, of course, for his roles as Captain Lee Crane in the ABC-TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-1968) and as CIA operative Felix Leiter in the James Bond flicks Live and Let Die (1973) and Licence to Kill (1989). “Those who have met him …,”: writes Suszczyk, “talked about his sympathy and sense of humour. There are others who didn’t share that luck, but it just takes watching a few seconds of any of his performances to perceive that warmth and kindness that went through the screen. He made us feel that, besides being a friend of James Bond, he was almost a friend of ours. Maybe this is why, despite his advanced age, we are still surprised and saddened for his departure.”

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Bullet Points: Pre-Book Lovers Day Edition

• In late July, the British Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) announced its shortlists of nominees for the 2019 Dagger Awards, in nine categories. Now comes news that the CWA is adding a 10th category to that set of annual prizes: the Dagger for Best Crime and Mystery Publisher of the Year. Shotsmag Confidential says that “Publishers and specific imprints are being nominated by a representative group of leading book reviewers, booksellers, festival organizers, bloggers, literary agents and journalists,” and a shortlist of contenders for this new Dagger will be made known “later this summer.” The winners of all the 2019 Dagger Awards are supposed to be declared during a special ceremony, in London, on October 24.

• British author and critic Mike Ripley has now posted two different tributes to Marcel Berlins, the French-born lawyer and law professor who reviewed crime fiction for The Times of London for 37 years, before dying on July 31 at age 77. The first of those can be found in The Guardian, and covers all the highlights of Berlins’ long career; the second, more personal remembrance was posted in Shots.

• While we’re on the subject of passings, let me mention that Chris Sullivan, who writes the blog Morse, Lewis and Endeavour, states on his Facebook page that Barrington Pheloung—best known to Rap Sheet readers for composing the hypnotic theme for the TV series Inspector Morse and its spin-offs—died (also on July 31) from influenza. “Death from influenza at Barrington’s age,” remarks Sullivan, “normally means there was some underlying health problems.” No specific cause of death had previously been released.

• Well, I have finally done it: added a “Crime/Mystery Podcasts” subsection to The Rap Sheet’s already extensive blogroll. You will find it by scrolling down past the “General Crime Fiction” section in the right-hand column. For the time being, there are only 19 podcasts listed there—those that were recommended by readers. But I’m willing to add more, as the field grows and additional podcast discoveries are made. I hope you like this addition to the page.

• The fifth and final episode of Grantchester, Season 4, will air in the States this coming Sunday evening as part of PBS-TV’s Masterpiece Mystery! series. (Don’t panic: the program has already been renewed for a fifth season.) I’ve watched that cozyish historical mystery drama ever since it debuted on this side of the Atlantic back in January 2015, and have enjoyed it for the most part. Enough so, in fact, that I recently picked up The Road to Grantchester (Bloomsbury), author James Runcie’s prequel novel to the show inspired by his six previous mysteries. I wrote a short review of said work for the newsletter distributed by Madison Books, a Seattle neighborhood bookshop with which I am associated, and am embedding it below:
The Road to Grantchester
By James Runcie
Now, during PBS-TV’s latest run of the British mystery series
Grantchester, is an ideal time to dive into this prequel novel, which recalls the circuitous path protagonist Sidney Chambers took from being a Cambridge classics student to becoming an Anglican vicar-cum-sleuth. As World War II consumes Europe, Chambers and his irrepressible friend Robert Kendall join the Scots Guards and are sent to the Italian front, where their ability to maintain optimism amid unrelenting carnage is sorely tested. Crucial to Chambers’ efforts is “Rev Nev” Finnie, an Episcopal chaplain with whom he engages in philosophical discussions—talks that prepare him for Kendall’s subsequent battlefield death and his own return home. Back in England, Chambers finds himself guilt-ridden for having survived, and at a loss to deal with Kendall’s coquettish younger sister, Amanda. Others expect Chambers to become a teacher or diplomat, but his search for peace leads him instead into the priesthood. There’s little crime-solving here, but author Runcie excels at evoking the climate of warfare, and his investigations of the human mind and heart will feel familiar to any Grantchester fan.
Happy 10th anniversary to The View from the Blue House!

Happy 100th birthday (belatedly) to Jerusalem-born actor Nehemiah Persoff, whose face was once ubiquitous in U.S. films and TV shows—everything from The Untouchables and The Twilight Zone to The Name of the Game, The Mod Squad, McMillan & Wife, Columbo, and even Star Trek: The Next Generation. According to Wikipedia, Persoff experienced health problems in the 1980s and “retired from acting in 1999” to devote his full time to painting. “He currently lives with his wife, Thia, in Cambria, California.

• And though this also comes late, I want to acknowledge the 75th anniversary of the release of Double Indemnity (1944), co-written by director Billy Wilder and author Raymond Chandler. “That great movie …,” explains blogger George Kelley, “ignited a series of noir movies in the post-World War II era. The screenplay was based on James M. Cain’s 1943 novel of the same name (which originally appeared as an eight-part serial in Liberty magazine, starting with the February 1936 issue). Fred MacMurray portrays an insurance salesman who fails for the Wrong Woman. Crafty Barbara Stanwyck plays a provocative housewife who wishes her husband were dead (and that she had the insurance money, too). Savvy Edward G. Robinson plays an insurance claims adjuster whose job is to investigate suspicious claims.” With a cast like that, how can a movie go wrong?

National Public Radio celebrates Double Indemnity, too.

• Can’t get enough of Steely Dan—both the classic rock band and new stories influenced by its song catalogue? Then you’re definitely in luck: Brian Thornton, the Seattle-based editor of Die Behind the Wheel: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of Steely Dan (Down & Out) has let it be known on Facebook that a sequel is being readied for late October publication. Also to be published by Down & Out, under the title A Beast Without a Name: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of Steely Dan, this second volume will feature contributions by a “Merry Band of Dan Enthusiast[s]” including Steve Brewer, Bill Cameron (writing as W.H. Cameron), Reed Farrel Coleman, Naomi Hirahara, Richie Narvaez, Kat Richardson, Peter Spiegelman, Jim Thomsen, and Thomas Hottle (writing as Jim Winter).

• Short-story writer Carol Westron considers the sport of fishing as it was portrayed in Golden Age Detective Fiction.

LaBrava is among my favorite Elmore Leonard novels (a preference shared by author-screenwriter Nora Ephron), so it was good to see Christi Daugherty revisit that 1984 yarn recently as part of Criminal Element’s series on works that, over the last 65 years, have won the Edgar Award for Best Novel. “Among the books that did not win the year LaBrava was given the Edgar,” Daugherty observes, “were John le Carré’s The Little Drummer Girl and Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, both of which are considered classics now. Both are books I’ve read and loved. In fact, to be perfectly honest, I came into this review with a bit of a chip on my shoulder, expecting to find LaBrava somehow inferior. How could this dingy little tale of a sociopath planning to set up a fading film star be better than those giants of twentieth-century fiction? Reading this book changed my mind.”

• Curtis Evans (Murder in the Closet) offers an excellent piece, in CrimeReads, about “The Rise and Fall and Restoration of Anna Katharine Green’s The Leavenworth Case.”

• While you’re browsing CrimeReads, don’t miss Derek Milman’s essay on “How North by Northwest Changed Cinema Forever.”

This comes from In Reference to Murder:
The cast has been set for Agatha Christie Limited’s The Pale Horse, the latest TV adaptation from Dame Agatha for the BBC. The Pale Horse centers on Mark Easterbrook (Rufus Sewell) as he tries to uncover the mystery of a list of names found in the shoe of a dead woman. His investigation leads him to the peculiar village of Much Deeping and also to The Pale Horse, the home of a trio of rumored witches. Word has it that the witches can do away with wealthy relatives by means of the dark arts, but as the mount up, Easterbrook is certain there has to be a rational explanation.
• Meanwhile, blogger Jerry House draws my attention to a 1982 adaptation of that same 1961 mystery novel by Christie, produced as part of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater series (1974-1982). As House explains, this 45-minute version “features the talents of Earl Hammond and Mandel Kramer, with Elspeth Eric and Marianne Sanders, and was introduced by Tammy Grimes. ‘The Pale Horse’ was produced and directed by Himan Brown. The script by Roy Winsor veered from Christie’s original novel. Winsor was an established radio soap-opera writer before he went on to create some of television’s most well-known soaps: Search for Tomorrow, Love of Life, and The Secret Storm. He also co-created Another Life and was the head writer for Somerset. Winsor also wrote three mystery novels and received an Edgar Award for The Corpse That Walked in 1975.” You can listen to this radio version of “The Pale Horse” either on YouTube or on the CBS Radio Mystery Theater Web site.

• Someday I hope to find time enough to listen to all 1,399 episodes of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. Like any radio or TV series, it wasn’t perfect, but I remember being mesmerized by many of those old episodes. I used to listen to them at night after going to bed, my earplug firmly planted into whichever ear wasn’t most easily seen, should my mother decide to double-check that I was actually asleep. Host E.G. Marshall (formerly of The Defenders and The Bold Ones) was an ideal—and appropriately spooky—host for most of the program’s run, and the episodes attracted a wide variety of talent, many performers having blossomed during the so-called Golden Age of Radio (the 1920s through the 1940s). Thankfully, all of those episodes are still available today—for free!—through the aforementioned CBS Radio Mystery Theater Web site. Too bad I’m no longer young enough to stay awake into the wee hours of the night, listening.

• Quinta Jurecic, the managing editor of Lawfare, suggests in The New York Times that people read the Mueller Report as a detective story. It “may turn out to be more of a film noir than anything else,” she writes. “The detective successfully uncovers the plot, only to discover that the society around him is too rotten to do anything about it. For all the missing pieces in this story, the issue is less whether it can be told and more whether anyone cares to listen.”

• Author interviews worth your time: Fresh Air host Terry Gross speaks with Laura Lippman about her impressive new Baltimore-set novel, Lady in the Lake; Hallie Ephron (Careful What You Wish For) is Nancie Clare’s latest guest on Speaking of Mysteries; John Parker chats with John Connolly (A Game of Ghosts) for Shotsmag Confidential; and MysteryPeople has a few questions for S.J. Rozan (Paper Son).

• Finally, it’s true: tomorrow is National Book Lovers Day here in the States. But really, every day is Book Lovers Day for yours truly.

Monday, August 05, 2019

“Yesterday’s News” Is Today’s News

New York City journalist-author R.G. Belsky has won the 2019 David Award for his novel Yesterday’s News (Oceanview). That prize—named in honor of David G. Sasher, an early Deadly Ink supporter—was presented to Belsky this last weekend during the Deadly Ink Mystery Conference in Parsippany, New Jersey.

Also nominated for the award were Died in the Wool, by Peggy Ehrhart (Kensington); The Consultant, by Tj O’Connor (Oceanview); Misty Treasure, by Linda Rawlins (Riverbench); Second Story Man, by Charles Salzberg (Down & Out); and Feral Attraction, by Eileen Watkins (Kensington). Congratulations to all of this year’s David contenders!

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Revue of Reviewers, 8-4-19

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

Time for Some Housecleaning

Just a couple of months back, author Dana King (Ten-Seven)—weighing the value of his having composed One Bite at a Time for more than a decade—lamented the arduousness involved. “Anyone who has maintained a regular blog schedule,” he wrote, “can tell you it’s a lot of work. Blogs are most effective when they have some kind of regular schedule and it’s the regular schedule that can be a grind. Writers have other obligations and other deadlines both hard and soft; the blog is just one more thing to try to stay ahead of.” Furthermore, there’s rarely any money to be made from blogging, and very little in the way of reader response. It’s generally a solitary enterprise.

Is it any wonder, then, that blogs—including those devoted to crime, mystery, thriller, and and suspense fiction—come and go? As King notes, it’s much easier to maintain a presence on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. None of those social-media platforms demand as much writing effort, and pages there enjoy at least as much attention from friends, strangers, and the occasional trolls.

I was thinking about all of this recently, knowing that The Rap Sheet was near to achieving yet another milestone: its 7,500th post, which went up yesterday morning. Over the 13 years I’ve been writing and editing this blog, I have seen many similar sites spring into life, demonstrate energy and talent, but then suddenly vanish. In some cases, it’s because their administrators died, but in most it is simply because those folks got tired of the constant work involved and moved on to other, perhaps more satisfying projects.

Yesterday, I checked through the hundreds of blogs and assorted Web sites listed in the right-hand column of this page, looking to see whether any had sputtered out since my last such examination. Indeed, a few have disappeared entirely, among them The Navi Review, Tony Black’s Pulp Pusher, Chantelle Aimée Osman’s The Sirens of Suspense, and the once-invaluable British site Tangled Web. Others seem to have gone dormant, including:

Art & Literature
At the Scene of the Crime
Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine
Black Mask
The Bloodstained Bookshelf
British TV Detectives
The Corpse Steps Out
Crime Scene NI
Dave’s Fiction Warehouse
Death by Killing
Detectives Beyond Borders
The Education of a Pulp Writer
Escape and Suspense!
Film Noir of the Week
The Groovy Age of Horror
The House of Crime and Mystery
The Inquisitive Introvert
Kirkus Reviews: Mysteries and Thrillers
Mike Dennis
Mysterious Writers
Noir Journal
Permission to Kill
Somebody Dies
The Thriller Guy
The Thrilling Detective Blog
Tipping My Fedora
Vanished Into Thin Air

Some of these will be moved to The Rap Sheet’s Archive Sites page, because I believe they possess lasting value. (Peter Rozovsky’s Detectives Beyond Borders, for instance, as well as Sergio Angelini’s Tipping My Fedora and my own former Kirkus Reviews column.) Others I’ll keep watch over for a while, just to see if they suddenly get a second wind. (It’s been known to happen!)

One other plan I have in mind: adding a subdivision to the blogroll devoted to crime-fiction podcasts. I’m not a regular podcast listener, but even I know there are many outstanding ones available—and probably more than I recognize. If you have suggestions of podcasts you think should be included, please drop a note about them into the Comments section at the end of this post.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Matching Music to Morse

Chris Sullivan, the blogger at Morse, Lewis and Endeavour, has posted a couple of tributes to Barrington Pheloung, who composed the hypnotic theme for Inspector Morse and died earlier this week. The first offers an analysis of Pheloung’s musical accomplishments and cites influences on his work. The second features Andy Brown, music director of the London Metropolitan Orchestra, interviewing Pheloung in 2011.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Bullet Points: Broad Scope Edition

• Sad news, indeed. The Bookseller reports that Marcel Berlins, the French-born lawyer and law professor who reviewed crime fiction for The Times of London for 37 years, died on July 31 from a brain hemorrhage. He was 77 years old. “Berlins started his career at the Times as a legal correspondent in 1971,” The Bookseller explains. “During his decade covering law, Berlins also wrote his first books, including Caught in the Act with Geoffrey Wansell (Penguin, 1974), a study of young offenders. His weekly legal column later moved to the Guardian.” The Rap Sheet’s Ali Karim says Berlins’ book critiques were “always insightful. … He was one of the greatest London critics, providing such elegance in his literary commentary.” And fellow critic Barry Forshaw offered this encomium in Crime Time:
I don’t have to talk here about Marcel being the doyen of British crime fiction critics (though he was French), writing for The Times for many years—all the many obits will talk about that. What I will miss most was a friend of many years: wry, alert to all the arts and always immensely knowledgeable. … I’ll also miss those phone calls when we’d both received proof copies from a publisher—he’d usually discover new talents ahead of me, and was the perfect early warning system: ‘Have you read X?’, he’d enthuse. ‘He/she is terrific!’ (‘Terrific’ was a favourite Marcel adjective.)

But finally, I can’t avoid saying what everyone who knew
him will say—however much of a cliché it is. The most distinguished of writers on crime fiction will be missed. Much missed, both for his personality and his championing of so many crime writers.
The City University of London, where Berlins had once been a Media Law lecturer, has posted this additional tribute.

• Also gone is Australian-born composer Barrington Pheloung, who, observes London’s Classic FM Web site, was “best known for his dark, hypnotic music for Inspector Morse, for which he was nominated for Best Original Television Music at the 1992 British Academy Television Awards. He also composed the themes for the sequel Lewis, and the prequel Endeavour.” (Listen to the Morse theme here.) The BBC recalls that Pheloung was “born in Manly, New South Wales, in 1954, … started playing the guitar at the age of five and moved to London in his teens to study at the Royal College of Music.” He was just 65 years old when he passed away yesterday in Australia.

• I missed mentioning earlier this week that the Australian Crime Writers Association has promulgated its longlists of contenders for three different 2019 Ned Kelly Awards. Vying in the Best Fiction category are The Rip, by Mark Brandi; Kill Shot, by Garry Disher; Gone by Midnight, by Candice Fox; The Spotted Dog, by Kerry Greenwood; Scrublands, by Chris Hammer; The Lost Man, by Jane Harper; The Other Wife, by Michael Robotham; Preservation, by Jock Serong; Under Your Wings, by Tiffany Tsao; and Live and Let Fry, by Sue Williams. Click here to see all three of the longlists.

• Meanwhile, London’s Goldsboro Books has announced its shortlist of nominees for the 2019 Glass Bell Award, which honors “compelling storytelling with brilliant characterisation and a distinct voice that is confidently written and assuredly realized”:

Snap, by Belinda Bauer (Transworld)
Our House, by Louise Candlish (Simon & Schuster)
The Puppet Show, by M.W. Craven (Little, Brown)
Vox, by Christina Dalcher (HQ)
Swan Song, by Kelleigh Greenberg- Jephcott (Cornerstone)
The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris (Bonnier Zaffre)

The winner is to be declared on September 16. He or she will receive “£2,000 and a beautiful, handmade, engraved glass bell.”

• In Reference to Murder brings word of the finalists for the 2019 Library of Virginia Literary Awards. They include James A. McLaughlin’s Bearskin, “which also won the Edgar Award for Best Debut Novel.”

• And let’s not forget the 2019 Amazon Publishing Readers’ Awards, which are designed to celebrate “the crime and thriller genre and in a UK festival first, recognize excellence in film and television as well as books.” Among the many finalists are novels by Philip Kerr, Manda Scott, Anthony Horowitz, Louise Candlish, and Laura Shepherd-Robinson. The victor in each of nine categories will be proclaimed on September 26, during London’s Capital Crime Festival.

• Happy 200th birthday today to author Herman Melville, who—thanks to works such as Typee and Moby Dick—became a literary giant of the 19th century, yet “died in obscurity” at age 72.

The New York Times has more on Melville here.

• Dan Moldea, a Washington, D.C.-based investigative journalist “specializing in organized-crime and political-corruption investigations,” has his own theories about what happened to American labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa 44 years ago this week, and he shares them with the news Web site Deadline Detroit.

• “The body of John Dillinger, the notorious 1930s bank robber from Central Indiana, will be exhumed from his Crown Hill Cemetery burial site in Indianapolis as part of an upcoming History Channel documentary.” The Indianapolis Star has that story.

• Episode 4 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast examines the brand-new Stark House Press release, The Best of Manhunt, and also considers the influence of the TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. on spy fiction of its time. Listen to the whole show here.

• Blogger B.V. Lawson mentions this development:
Jeffery Katzenberg and Meg Whitman’s Quibi short-form streaming service has picked up Skinny Dip, a comedy series based on Carl Hiaasen’s 2004 satirical novel. The project had been set up as a drama pilot at the CW in the 2018 cycle but did not move forward there. The series is described as a darkly comedic odyssey of revenge where a jilted woman miraculously survives a night in the open ocean after her husband suddenly flings her overboard on their anniversary cruise. Plucked to safety serendipitously by a retired cop, the two team up to gaslight her husband.
• Someday I want to visit Buenos Aires, which I’ve heard is a beautiful, European-styled city. For right now, though, the closest I can come to there is Paul French’s piece in CrimeReads exploring a range of mystery and thriller fiction set in the Argentinean capital.

• Max Allan Collins notes in his blog that he and co-author A. Brad Schwartz are hard at work on The Untouchable and the Butcher, a second non-fiction book about 20th-century law-enforcement agent Eliot Ness. The pair previously penned Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago (2018).

• Finally, New Mexico’s Albuquerque Journal reports that Santa Fe author James McGrath Morris, “who has written books about newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, authors Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos and African-American journalist Ethel Payne,” is currently conducting research for a new biography of Tony Hillerman. Hillerman, who died back in 2008, was of course the creator of the “popular mystery novel series featuring Navajo tribal policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.” (Hat tip to The Bunburyist.)

PaperBack: “The Kissing Gourami”

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

The Kissing Gourami, by Kin Platt (Charter, 1980). Originally published by Random House in 1970, this was evidently the second of seven mysteries starring Max Roper, a Los Angeles-based operative for a nationwide private investigation/security firm. Cover illustration by David Plourde, who’s probably better known for having painted science-fiction novel fronts.

Bland Award Endorses New Talent

The Sisters in Crime (SinC) organization announced this morning that Orcutt, California, writer Jessica Martinez has been named as the winner of the 2019 Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award, “which provides a [$2,000] grant to an emerging crime-fiction writer of color (female or male) who has not yet published a full-length work.” SinC’s press release goes on to explain that Martinez’s “novel-in-progress features Teia Santiago, a police detective whose father-in-law blackmails her into kidnapping a textile manufacturing heiress—who also happens to be her sister-in-law.”

Martinez is quoted as saying, in response to this news: “I was so excited to learn that I had received the 2019 Eleanor Taylor Bland Award from Sisters in Crime. It feels great for someone to recognize my work as having potential. This award is affirmation for me to continue writing and to finish fleshing out this specific story of mine.”

The prize was created in 2014 and named for “pioneering African-American crime fiction author” Eleanor Taylor Bland, a Chicago-area author of police procedurals. Bland died in 2010. Past winners have been Mia Manansala (2018), Jessica Ellis Laine (2017), Stephane Dunn (2016), Vera H-C Chan (2015), and Maria Kelson (2014).

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Who Will Land the Marshes?

Today brings the announcement of which books and authors have been nominated for New Zealand’s 2019 Ngaio Marsh Awards, in three categories. The winners are set to be declared on Saturday, September 14, as part of this year’s WORD Christchurch Festival.

A press release quotes awards founder Craig Sisterson saying, “It’s been a really remarkable year for our international judging panels across all three categories. For one, we never could have envisaged when we began in 2010 and chose to honour our legendary Kiwi queen of crime with our awards name that years later a book that Dame Ngaio herself began more than 75 years ago would become a finalist.”

Here’s the list of a dozen nominees:

Best Novel:
This Mortal Boy, by Fiona Kidman (Penguin)
Money in the Morgue, by Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy (HarperCollins)
The Quaker, by Liam McIlvanney (HarperCollins)
Call Me Evie, by J.P. Pomare (Hachette)
The Vanishing Act, by Jen Shieff (Mary Egan)

Best First Novel:
One for Another, by Andrea Jacka (Red River Pony)
Crystal Reign, by Kelly Lyndon (Remnant Press)
Call Me Evie, by J.P. Pomare (Hachette)

Best Non-fiction:
The Great New Zealand Robbery, by Scott Bainbridge (Allen & Unwin)
The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Jane Furlong, by Kelly Dennett (Awa)
Behind Bars, by Anna Leask (Penguin)
The Cause of Death, by Cynric Temple-Camp (HarperCollins)

Congratulations to all of the contenders!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Berney Takes the Hammett

Oklahoma City author-educator Lou Berney will receive the 2018 Hammett Prize for his latest novel, November Road (Morrow). The Hammett, named of course for Sam Spade creator Dashiell Hammett and given out annually by the North American Branch of the International Association of Crime Writers, recognizes “literary excellence in the field of crime-writing, as reflected in a book published in the English language in the U.S. and/or Canada.” Berney will be given his prize on November 1 at Bouchercon in Dallas, Texas.

Also nominated for this commendation were The Lonely Witness, by William Boyle (Pegasus Crime); Under My Skin, by Lisa Unger (Park Row); Cut You Down, by Sam Wiebe (Random House Canada); and Paris in the Dark, by Robert Olen Butler (The Mysterious Press).

Previous winners of the Hammett Prize include Stephen Mack Jones (August Snow), Domenic Stansberry (The White Devil), Lisa Sandlin (The Do-Right), and Stephen King (Mr. Mercedes).

Revue of Reviewers, 7-28-19

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