Friday, September 21, 2018

The Book You Have to Read: “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” by Horace McCoy

(Editor’s note: This is the 157th installment in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books. It comes from New York resident Gray Basnight. After a youthful dalliance with acting, he’s spent almost three decades in the broadcast news business as a writer, editor, producer, and reporter. He’s also the author of three novels: The Cop with the Pink Pistol (2012), a modern-day New York detective mystery; Shadows in the Fire (2015), a Civil War-era yarn about two young slaves living just on the edge of freedom as Richmond, Virginia, falls in April 1865; and Flight of the Fox, a run-for-your-life thriller released in July by Down & Out Books.)

Sometimes the most overlooked and criminally forgotten mystery novels hide in plain sight. That’s the case with They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy. Very few people today will recognize the author’s name. Yet his most popular title is widely known, primarily by baby boomers, because of the 1969 film starring Jane Fonda and Michael Sarrazin. Therein lies a problem typical to our era. We know the movie and we know the story, but we do not know the novel or the novelist.

This wonderfully hard-boiled and metaphoric narrative was originally published in 1935. It depicts two young Hollywood hopefuls, Robert Syverten and Gloria Beatty, struggling against double-downed odds. Not only do they hope to break into the film industry, but they’re trying to do it during the Great Depression. Broke in both means and spirit, these two opt to play the odds at another game: a weeks-long dance marathon wherein the winning couple—make that the surviving couple—is promised a thousand dollars. In today’s economy, that 1935 sum equals as much as one-hundred-thousand dollars in buying power.

From there, the set-up may be obvious even to those who have neither read McCoy’s novel nor seen the movie. The couple struggles mightily, only to ultimately lose everything, including, for Gloria, the will to continue living. The marathon, of course, is a dark allegory of life itself, where the game so frequently seems rigged and there are no true winners. Even those who establish the contest rules are caught in their own craven cycle of marathon defeat. To subtly emphasize its fatalistic pace, the story takes place on a pier with the constant roll of the Pacific Ocean in the background. It’s the same effect Matthew Arnold immortalized in his great poem “Dover Beach”:
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back …
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Maybe McCoy loved Arnold’s poem, because that’s his bare-bones narrative in a nutshell. As one of the greatest noir mysteries ever penned, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? also explores the “eternal note of sadness” that wounds all humanity. At fewer than 40,000 words in length, the story is so spartan that it’s a writer’s lesson in brevity. As such, it’s spiritually related to two other classics of the genre: The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain (published in 1934), and The Day of the Locust, by Nathanael West (1939). Both of those have been adapted for film as well, yet unlike Horses, they tend to retain greater prestige as standalone novels.

McCoy’s vivid writing nears perfection of the hard-boiled, Chandleresque style that he and other writers of their era followed and eventually helped to evolve:

HOURS ELAPSED …….. 752
Couples Remaining …….. 26
The derby races were killing them off. Fifty-odd couples had been eliminated in two weeks. Gloria and I had come close to the finish once or twice, but by the skin of our teeth we managed to hang on. After we changed our technique we had no more trouble: we stopped trying to win, not caring where we finished so long as it wasn’t last.

We had got a sponsor too: Jonathan Beer, Non-Fattening.
Near the end, when Robert and Gloria have opted out of the “dance,” the reader can feel the story readying to earn its title:
We sat down on a bench that was wet with spray. Up towards the end of the pier several men were fishing over the railing. The night was black; there was no moon, no stars. An irregular line of white foam marked the shore.

“This air is fine,” I said.

Gloria said nothing, staring into the distance. Far down the shore on a point there were lights.

“That’s Malibu,” I said. “Where all the movie stars live.”
Then there’s McCoy’s cutting-edge experimentation. As someone once said, there are no laws for writing a novel. Horace McCoy not only knew that, but he lived it in writing this manuscript. The plotting of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? turns formulaic tradition inside out before sending it to the future where the reader lives. The beginning is the ultimate ending. Though penultimate, the actual ending becomes the reader’s denouement.

Try to figure that out. Although convoluted, it’s simple and works beautifully. And if that’s not enough writerly iconoclasm for you, consider the chapter titles. Each heading tenders a retelling of the basic plot, while constituting a standalone subplot. And it does so in a font of increasing size half-a-century before Microsoft offered each consumer a home-based printing press via Microsoft Word:
THE
PRISONER
WILL
STAND

… IT IS
THE JUDGEMENT
AND SENTENCE
OF THIS COURT…

… THAT
FOR THE CRIME
OF MURDER
IN
THE FIRST DEGREE …

… MAY
GOD
HAVE
MERCY
ON YOUR
SOUL…
While we’re on the subject of formulaic rebellion, there’s that title:
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
I mean, it has punctuation! Two pieces of punctuation, to be exact. Name another title of any novel from any age by any author with both a comma and a question mark. (Betcha can’t.)

Then, after all that, this terrifically inventive crime writer blows off tradition once more with his last line of dialogue. No spoiler alert is necessary as McCoy took care of that from the title page. Robert speaks his final words for the reader when a police officer asks him why he killed her:
“They shoot horses, don’t they?” I said.
The good news for readers looking to discover McCoy’s debut novel is that They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? remains in print, as do many of his other, even lesser-known works. One reason for that, aside from the success of the 1969 film, may be that readers in France discovered Horses in 1948, embracing its metaphoric value for transcending the genre of crime noir and exploring, as it does, philosophy noir (aka existentialism). Novelist and feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir even crowned Horses America’s “first existential novel.” Coming from the life partner of Jean-Paul Sartre, that’s quite a recommendation. Too bad it’s never been used as a cover blurb for McCoy’s minor masterpiece. Perhaps the time has come to do so.

READ MORE:Tired of Living, Afraid of Dying: Horace McCoy’s Legacy,” by Chris Morgan (Los Angeles Review of Books).

One Way to Get Your Book Out

Today begins the inaugural Inkshares Mystery & Thriller Contest, sponsored by the Oakland, California-based “publishing and literary rights-management platform” Inkshares. The goal, I’m told, is to find “at least three novelists for publishing and rights representation.” People like Christopher Huang, the Singapore-born Montreal architect-author whose debut novel with Inkshares, A Gentleman’s Murder—released this last July—was reviewed favorably by Publishers Weekly and has already been acquired for TV series development.

As the company makes clear on its Web site, Inkshares is hunting for both mysteries and thrillers. “The mystery may take place in 1920s London, modern-day Missouri, or on a future Martian colony,” it explains. “What matters is that we need—desperately—to know what happened. The thriller could follow attorneys, spies, physicians, politicians, or absolute nobodies. It could take place entirely in a small town, or across metropolises on five continents and reaching the highest corridors of power.”

The rules for entering this competition, and the distinctive criteria by which books will be judged, are available here. Entries will be accepted between now and 11:59 p.m. PST on November 21, 2018.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Revue of Reviewers, 9-20-18

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















Before I Forget …

A few additions to yesterday’s wrap-up of crime-fiction news.

• The Spy Command reports that the as-yet-untitled 25th James Bond movie has “found its replacement director and will be pushed back to early 2020 … The new director is Cary Joji Fukunaga, who replaces Danny Boyle who departed the project last month. Filming now is scheduled to start March 4, 2019, according to the announcement. The previous start date was Dec. 3.” FOLLOW-UP: Variety writer Brent Lang says it’s a “risky bet” to give “true auteur” Cary Joji Fukunaga directing responsibilities on the next Bond picture.

• Los Angeles writer Ryan Gattis (Safe) has an interesting new piece out this week in CrimeReads about what he calls the “gang procedural. A story that focuses almost exclusively on gang- or mafia-related criminals trying to solve a crime themselves—without the aid of the state.” This concept brings to mind Day of the Moon (1983), an underappreciated novel by Bill Pronzini and Jeffrey Wallmann (writing jointly as “William Jeffrey”) that uses as its private eye-like protagonist a guy in San Francisco named Flagg, who works as a troubleshooter for the mob, investigating thefts, hijacking, and other offenses against that widespread criminal organization.

For The Paris Review, teacher-turned-private investigator Anne Diebel examines Dashiell Hammett’s unusual and unlikely path toward a fiction-writing career.

• Really, there’s going to be a Twilight Zone reboot?

• Two different authors supply background to their latest novels: For Shotsmag Confidential, American storyteller Andrew Gross explains what led him to write The Last Brother (published in the States as Button Man). And in The Guardian, the UK’s Dominick Donald talks about incorporating the real-life serial killer John Christie and London’s Great Smog of 1952 into his debut thriller, Breathe.

• Sad but true: I just discovered that Edward Biddulph has decided to “call it a day with James Bond Memes,” the blog he’s been writing for eight years. However, he assures us that “James Bond Memes will stay on the air, and so all my articles will remain available to read.”

• Finally, In Reference to Murder brings news that “The city of Wallingford in the UK may be getting its own Agatha Christie statue. The Queen of Crime lived in town, and the Wallingford Museum sponsors an annual Agatha Christie festival in the author's honor. Now, the same artist who created a memorial to Agatha Christie in London (a memorial in the form of a large bronze book, featuring the crime writer’s face) is being asked to complete a similar tribute in Wallingford which will likely take the form of the author seated on a bench reading a book.”

Bond Boners

I hate it (as I’m sure you do) when I am reading happily through a novel, only to stumble across what should have been an easily avoidable historical error. That happened to me two times this morning with Anthony Horowitz’s Forever and a Day, his generally excellent second James Bond adventure (after 2015’s Trigger Mortis).

On page 214, Horowitz refers to the Marie Celeste. He obviously intended to write Mary Celeste, the name of an American merchant brigantine that was found mysteriously adrift and abandoned off the coast of Portugal in 1872; the Marie Celeste was a fictionalized version of that vessel, featured in Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1884 short story, “J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement.” Three pages later, Horowitz has a character say, “As a matter of fact, I actually knew President Woodrow Wilson when he brought in the Neutrality Acts back in the thirties …” Well, as a matter of fact, Wilson—though he did, in 1914, declare that the United States would remain neutral as World War I erupted in Europe—died in 1921. It was President Franklin D. Roosevelt who was in office when, in the 1930s, Congress passed the Neutrality Acts (prior to America’s entry into World War II).

Just so you know, I was reading the British version of Forever and a Day (released in May). Let’s see if the copy editors at Harper, Horowitz’s American publisher, will correct these mistakes before the book appears on U.S. shelves in November. I’m skeptical, as Harper’s advance readers’ edition of the novel simply repeats the errors.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Bullet Points: Wednesday Supersize Edition

• There’s something odd about an article setting out to highlight crime novels “that don’t start with a dead girl.” Aren’t there thousands of such works? Well, apparently killing off young women at the beginning of books has become a trend recently, enough of one at least that Bustle’s Charlotte Ahlin wants to give readers some alternatives. “Look,” she makes clear right up front, “I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with a murder mystery that centers on a young, non-living lady. But every once in a while you might want to read a mystery novel that doesn’t star a grizzled male detective hunting down the killer of a super hot female corpse. Maybe, maybe even a thriller where the non-male lead makes it all the way to the end without getting killed or horrifically brutalized at all. I know it’s a lot to ask, but there are a few books out there that manage to be mysterious and gripping without killing a woman off in the first few pages.” Ahlin’s choices include novels by Brandi Reeds, Tara French, Sujata Massey, and Sheena Kamal. (Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

• While writing recently about the death of actor Burt Reynolds, I happened across a YouTube clip from a 1976 NBC-TV pilot film titled A Matter of Wife … and Death. Remembering nothing about that project, I promptly reached for Lee Goldberg’s fat and essential reference book, Unsold Television Pilots: 1955-1989, and looked it up. Goldberg explains that the 90-minute flick was a follow-up to Reynolds’ 1973 big-screener Shamus, in which he played a pool hustler-turned-New York private investigator, Shamus McCoy. The pilot placed Rod Taylor in Reynolds’ shoes, and also starred Dick Butkus, Joe Santos (who’d appeared alongside Reynolds in Shamus, but is better known for his role on The Rockford Files), and a 24-year-old Lynda Carter. This plot briefing was found on the Web’s Complete Rod Taylor Site:
The show opens with the apparent murder of a [small-time P.I.] friend of Shamus’. Shamus has to deal with an assortment of underworld types as he uncovers a gambling scheme.

In the course of the story, his romancing of (a) Zelda (Lynda Carter—the future Wonder Woman) and (b) Carol (Anne Archer) is continually cut short when duty calls. Shamus also shows off his prowess at playing pool and making scrambled eggs. He also changes his shirt a lot.

A big difference between the Burt Reynolds movie and the Rod Taylor TV show is the location. “We’ve moved the locale from New York to Los Angeles, and we have more high comedy than low,” Rod said in an April 1975 interview. But then, here’s a similarity between the actor and his character: “Shamus is a guy who is gentle with women and tough with guys.”
I have no memory of ever sitting down to watch that Taylor pilot, but it’s apparently available on the Walmart Web site for $17.99. Does anyone have an opinion on whether it’s worth buying? Maybe YouTube’s clip—embedded below—will summon up a recollection or two.



• Speaking of failed pilot films, North Carolina’s Winston-Salem Journal notes, in a wrap-up of new DVD and Blue-ray sets, the release this month of Television’s Lost Classics, Volume 2: Rare Pilots (VCI Entertainment), a collection featuring four vintage, half-hour tryout flicks that never generated small-screen series. Among those is Cool and Lam, a 1958 production based on Erle Stanley Gardner’s novels starring mismatched Los Angeles gumshoes Bertha Cool and Donald Lam, which he published under the pseudonym A.A. Fair. Gardner himself explains, in the TV pilot’s short introductory message to would-be sponsors, that “the Cool and Lam books have been successful for many years” (beginning with 1939’s The Bigger They Come). Sadly, neither that fact nor the lighthearted performances of stars Billy Pearson and Benay Venuta was enough to convince CBS, the network for which this pilot was made—already the home of Gardner’s Perry Mason—that Cool and Lam deserved placement on its weekly broadcasting schedule. If you get a chance to watch Cool and Lam either on YouTube (where a version of marginal quality can be found) or on VCI Entertainment’s new discs (which promise a “high-definition restoration” of the film), it’s easy to imagine CBS execs grousing that the plot was simply too complex for its half-hour format.

• That Cool and Lam pilot, incidentally, appears to have been shot from a script based on Gardner’s much-superior 1940 novel Turn on the Heat, which was re-released by Hard Case Crime just last year.

• Oh, and before we deviate too far from the subject of Burt Reynolds, let me direct you to Vox’s picks of half a dozen performances that defined the late actor. And for your viewing pleasure, YouTube has available full episodes from Reynolds’ 1989-1990 private-eye series, B.L. Stryker. Episodes of his previous crime drama, 1966’s Hawk, can be found here—at least as of this writing.

• One more thing: Don’t miss reading Ace Atkins’ tribute to Reynolds, found on the Web site of the South-focused Garden & Gun.

• Considering how difficult these things are to maintain at an active level, I am always quite impressed when a blog survives for more than two or three years. So hats off to The Nick Carter & Carter Brown Blog, which last week celebrated its eighth anniversary.

• If it’s such a hard, unremunerative enterprise, why do mystery/crime-fiction bloggers go to all the effort? For Sisters in Crime’s bimonthly First Draft publication, Eona Calli asked that of four familiar figures in this field, including Classic Mysteries’ Les Blatt. (Although she never spoke with yours truly, Calli was kind enough to list The Rap Sheet among crime-fiction blogs worth checking out.)

Why mystery-fiction readers make difficult jurors.

• A good books-related question, posed by Terena Bell of The Guardian: “Why does the U.S. change so many titles?” Bell points out that those renamed books are “disproportionately” mysteries, and that altering their titles is usually a marketing decision. She adds, however, that “sometimes publishers themselves don’t know” why a book has been given a new name. Bell continues:
For example, Hitler’s Scapegoat by Stephen Koch will be released ... in the US next year as Hitler’s Pawn. I asked their publicity manager why, but she wasn’t sure and said the editor didn’t know either. Ask the Brits, she suggested.

Then there’s
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, a Stuart Turton novel renamed The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle in the States because, apparently, Americans die more frequently. When asked about the change, US publisher Sourcebooks initially joked: “Our editorial team decided to supersize it.” We’re lucky [Agatha] Christie’s Three Act [Tragedy] wasn’t upgraded to 3¼ or—horror of horrors—Tragedy 3.0. After all, this is the country that slapped the title Little Women II on Louisa May Alcott’s Good Wives.
• Coincidentally, Matthew Bradford’s post last week, in Double O Section, about how Sony and Eleventh Hour Films will be bringing Anthony Horowitz’s teenage super-spy, Alex Rider, to the small screen, provides yet another example of a dumb book-title change.

• I always enjoy a good “listicle” piece, and here are three that caught my attention recently: For CrimeReads, author Stephanie Gayle picks seven of her favorite race-against-time thrillers; that same Web site features Steve Goble, author of The Bloody Black Flag and the new The Devil’s Wind, writing about seven “pirate novels that might appeal to lovers of crime fiction”; and The Guardian hosts Sarah Ward’s choices of the “top 10 trains in novels,” including those in Ian Fleming’s From Russia, with Love and Graham Greene’s Stamboul Train. (If you’d like more suggestions of train-based mysteries, track down a copy of the Summer 2017 issue of Mystery Scene, which offers bookseller Ann Whetstone’s piece on that very subject.)

• I mentioned a couple of weeks back that, in December, U.S. publisher Brash Books will begin re-releasing Ralph Dennis’ fondly remembered Hardman series of private-eye novels. In advance of that, you can also read a “long-lost short story” by Dennis titled “Wind Spirit,” available from Amazon for just 99 cents. “It’s not vintage pulp,” says Brash co-creator Lee Goldberg, “but it might be of interest to fans of Ralph’s work for what it may reveal about his own life at the time (the late ’60s). The parallels are striking.”

• Shotsmag Confidential reports that Belfast’s NOIRELAND International Crime Festival, launched back in October 2017, will become a spring gathering next year, with events set to take place in the Northern Ireland capital from March 8 to 10, 2019. “The festival programme,” explains blogger Ayo Onatade, “will be announced and the ticket office will open on 16 November 2018.”

• I recently made the tough decision to give up Esquire, after subscribing to the magazine for more than half of my lifetime. (I just didn’t feel I fit the slick’s demographic profile any longer.) So I’m still susceptible to a bit of Esquire nostalgia. Which drew me to this short piece by Samuel Wilson of the True Pulp Fiction blog, recalling that mag’s role—primarily between 1947 and 1952—as a venue for “pulp-esque genre fiction.” One thing I hadn’t known before was how important Esquire was in promoting Henry Kane’s swingin’ Manhattan private eye, Peter Chambers. As Wilson recalls, Chambers “made his debut in February 1947 [with ‘A Matter of Motive’] and remained an Esquire exclusive through the end of the decade.”

• Leave it to Jimmy Buffett to find fun in imminent disaster. As The Washington Post reported last week, in advance of Hurricane Florence’s brutal touchdown in the southeastern United States, the singer-songwriter finally got to live out his 2009 song lyric about “goin’ surfing in a hurricane.”

• New York author and music critic Jim Fusilli announced on Facebook last week that publisher Open Road Media will soon be reissuing his three well-regarded Terry Orr private-eye novels—at least in e-book format. Kindle editions of Closing Time (originally published in 2001), A Well-Known Secret (from 2002), and Tribeca Blues (2003) are all scheduled go on sale on October 9.

The trailer for The Ballard of Buster Scruggs looks fantastic! That anthology-format Western film (more details here), directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, will begin streaming on Netflix on November 13.

• “Reading fiction from around the world can be key to understanding larger geopolitical questions,” opines Tobias Carroll. “Reading procedurals, which innately focus on questions of the law, societal norms, and questions of history, is especially edifying.”

• Some of the all-time-worst covers have been made for Kindle e-books. (Hell, there’s a whole Tumblr blog devoted to such design disasters.) But the front of Tom Leins’ Slug Bait (Dirty Books)—shown on the left—is powerful and ugly enough to draw attention from a dead man. It also seems appropriate for a violent story that reviewer David Nemeth says “is like immersing yourself in a vat of feces, vomit, and blood.”

• I don’t know who’s behind the pseudonym “dfordoom,” but he or she deserves my Big Thumbs-Up of the Week, based on this Cult TV Lounge post extolling the virtues of the 1975-1976 NBC-TV series Ellery Queen, which starred Jim Hutton as mystery writer/sleuth Ellery and David Wayne as his father, Inspector Richard Queen. I, too, remain a fan of that show (developed by Columbo creators Richard Levinson and William Link), as I slowly but surely make my way through the many Ellery Queen novels.

• This is excellent news! From The Hollywood Reporter:
Vincent D’Onofrio is headed to Epix.

The actor, who has been recurring on Netflix’s Marvel drama
Daredevil, has booked a co-starring role on the premium cable network's forthcoming series Godfather of Harlem.

Picked up straight to series in April,
Godfather of Harlem tells the true story of crime boss Bumpy Johnson (Forest Whitaker), who in the early 1960s returned after 10 years in prison to find the neighborhood he once ruled in shambles. With the streets controlled by the Italian mob, Bumpy takes on the Genovese crime family to regain control. During the brutal battle, he forms an alliance with radical preacher Malcolm X—catching his political rise in the crosshairs of social upheaval and a mob war that threatens to tear the city apart.

The project is described as a collision of the criminal underworld and the civil rights movement during one of the most tumultuous times in American history.
From the blog Vintage Everyday: “The Story Behind the Iconic Farrah Fawcett Red Swimsuit Poster That Wound Up Plastered on Millions of Bedroom Walls.”

• “Stephen King knows crime,” explains Max Booth III. “He grew up mainlining pulp legends like Richard Stark and John D. MacDonald. He was a goddamn noir geek, if you want to know the truth. When MacDonald agreed to write the introduction for King’s debut collection, Night Shift, he nearly pissed himself.” Booth’s look at the broad diversity of King’s crime and mystery fiction is here.

• Julia Roberts has sure come a long way since her role in 1990’s Pretty Woman. In the upcoming Amazon Prime psychological drama Homecoming—based on a podcast of the same name created by Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg—she plays Heidi Bergman, described by the Killing Times blog as “a caseworker at the Homecoming Transitional Support Center, a Geist Group facility helping soldiers transition back to civilian life. … Four years later, Heidi has started a new life, living with her mother (Sissy Spacek) and working as a small-town waitress, when a Department of Defense auditor (Shea Whigham) comes to her with questions about why she left the facility. Heidi begins to realize there’s a whole other story behind the story she’s been telling herself.” Homecoming will debut on November 2.

• The presence in American culture of Richard Boone’s 1957-1963 CBS-TV Western series, Have Gun–Will Travel, extended well beyond the small screen. Paul Bishop presents the evidence.

• I have launched a fun new series in my Killer Covers blog, looking at how vintage artists might differ substantially in what they emphasized when painting fronts for the same book. We’re only two installments into this series so far, found here and here.

How to look like … Modesty Blaise!

• Those darn crime-fiction writers, they just keep on talking, don’t they! Here are some interviews that have turned up recently around the Web: Scott Von Doviak chats with MysteryPeople’s Scott Montgomery about his “one-of-a-kind” debut novel, Charlesgate Confidential; Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train) answers questions from The Guardian; NPR Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon speaks with Sarah Weinman about her new non-fiction book, The Real Lolita; Nancie Clare’s latest podcast conversation is with Margaret Mizushima, the author of Burning Ridge, her fourth Timber Creek K-9 mystery; January Magazine’s Linda L. Richards goes one-on-one with Dietrich Kalteis (Poughkeepsie Shuffle); The New York Times manages a chinwag with the ever-elusive “Robert Galbraith” (J.K. Rowling), author of the new Cormoran Strike mystery, Lethal White; Saskatchewan lawyer/blogger Bill Selnes conducts a short exchange with Jayne “J.E.” Baynard, who penned When the Flood Falls; and Crimespree Magazine quizzes Warren C. Easley about Moving Targets, the sixth of his Oregon-set Cal Claxton mysteries.

• Author Scott Von Doviak is a resident of Austin, Texas, but his new novel, Charlesgate Confidential (Hard Case Crime), is set in Boston, Massachusetts. That makes him eligible to comment on “How George V. Higgins Invented the Boston Crime Novel,” as he does for CrimeReads; and about five writers—younger than either Higgins or Robert B. Parker—who are “taking Boston noir in exciting new directions,” his topic for the Strand Magazine blog.

• By the way, the story Von Doviak rolls out in Charlesgate Confidential was inspired by the mysterious and shocking theft, in March 1990, of 13 irreplaceable works of art from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. If you’d like to learn more about that “largest unsolved art heist in history,” note that The Boston Globe and public radio station WBUR-FM have just launched a podcast, “Last Seen,” which is re-examining and unearthing new details about the 28-year-old crime. You can listen to the episodes here.

• And for its next issue, Mystery Readers Journal is on the hunt for articles about “mysteries that take place in the Far East.” The deadline is October 10. For additional submission details, click here.

Monday, September 17, 2018

PaperBack: “When She Was Bad”

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



When She Was Bad, by William Ard (Dell, 1960).
Cover illustration by Robert McGinnis.

Bond Bounces Back

As part of her latest “Media Murder for Monday” wrap-up, B.V. Lawson of In Reference to Murder mentions some “good news for James Bond fans who feared chaos after the departure of Danny Boyle from the upcoming Bond 25 film. Screenwriter Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who’ve been aboard the 007 franchise as story writers since 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, are now turning their approved Bond 25 treatment into a script with elements from Boyle’s script and working them all into a new movie. A search is still underway by Eon and MGM for a new director and Deadline has heard that such names as Edgar Wright, Yann Demange, and David Mackenzie’s have been floated.”

The Spy Command has more on this subject here, here, and here.

Be on the Lookout

The Guardian’s rundown of “the 50 biggest books of autumn 2018” features several crime and mystery novels, among them Ann Cleeves’ Wild Fire (her final Shetland novel) and C.J. Sansom’s Tombland (which will not be available in the States until April of next year).

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Rest of the Fest


(Left to right) Ali Karim snaps a selfie with Scottish author James Oswald (Cold as the Grave) and Shots editor Mike Stotter.


(Editor’s note: Several weeks ago, I posted on this page a selection of photographs taken by Rap Sheet correspondent Ali Karim at the 2018 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, which was held in Harrogate, England, from July 19 to 22. Ali promised to write more about that gathering once he’d had time to arrange his thoughts and dispense with a variety of day-job responsibilities. Unfortunately, at the time he sent me his report, I was hip-deep in unrelated assignments, so it took me a while to get all of this together. Below—finally—are Ali’s recollections of the event.)

By Ali Karim
Each year I attend the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival … and each year, it seems, I report back that the latest event was the best of its kind yet. After the 2018 convention, I couldn’t help making a bet with its principal sponsor, distinguished brewer Simon Theakston, and Harrogate International Festivals director Sharan Canavar that they couldn’t outdo themselves in 2019.

We’ll have to wait to see who wins.

Theakston’s Harrogate has come to resemble America’s Bouchercon in terms of scale. To enjoy the gathering in its full complexity, one would have to bring along a clone, or perhaps two, because to sample all of the events on offer would be impossible. Unlike Boucheron, however, Harrogate still schedules a single track of panels, which means the main hall is always at standing-room capacity, or pretty close to it. Lee Child was responsible for this year’s programming. He had to figure out how to provide the greatest interest and diversity in terms of panel-discussion topics, and how to satisfy publishers hoping to get their authors onto those panels. Due to the hot competition for such placements, and the fact that presentation facilities at the usual convention venue (the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate) were booked to capacity, many side events this year took place in hotel rooms, large canvas tents peppering the inn’s grounds, or adjacent lodging facilities and bars—resources that have become available as the spa town of Harrogate has become the tourist attraction it is today.

(Right) Abir Mukherjee with Stotter.

Due to other personal commitments, I left my friend and colleague, Shots editor Mike Stotter, in charge of planning our assault on this year’s festival. After we’d checked in to our hotel, the historic and nearby Cairn, I unpacked the selection of books I hoped to have signed during the weekend, along with two liters of gin I’d brought to help lubricate our stay. Stotter, meanwhile, pulled out his planner, which resembled nothing so much as a giant Snakes and Ladders game, complete with Harrogate party invitations, lunch appointments, meetings with publishers, and much more besides. On top of those commitments, I’d scheduled get-togethers with several authors, among them the legendary Joseph Kanon (Defectors), Joseph Finder, Linwood Barclay, Shari Lapena (An Unwanted Guest), and International Thriller Writers executive director Kimberly “K.J.” Howe, the last of whom had just returned from ThrillerFest 2018 in New York City, and was preparing for the UK launch of her second novel, Skyjack.

It’s hard to ever see or spend time with all of the people one wishes to encounter at Harrogate. This year’s festival attracted familiar stars of the genre (Sophie Hannah, Val McDermid, Abir Mukherjee, Ruth Ware, A.A. Dhand, etc.), as well as some new writing talents (such as Derlva McTieran, C.J. Tudor, Stuart Turton, and Will Dean). There were abundant literary agents milling about (Euan Thorneycroft, Judith Murdoch, Isobel Dixon, Phil Patterson), as well as a diversity of my fellow book critics, among them Deidre O’Brien of the Daily Mirror, Karen Robinson of The Sunday Times, Jon Coates of the Sunday Express, and John Dugdale of The Guardian and Sunday Times. I succeeded, too, in catching up with a number of old friends, including Dutch publishers Steven Moat and Chris Herschdorfer, who attend the Harrogate fest each year. My only real disappointment this time was to not bump into David Stuart Davies. That raconteur, author, actor, Sherlock Holmes scholar, and illustrious editor of Red Herrings, the in-house publication of the British Crime Writers’ Association (CWA), made only a flying visit to this year’s assembly.


This year’s Harrogate program director, novelist Lee Child, with English radio presenter and writer Simon Mayo.



Britain’s reigning “gangster fiction queen,” Martina Cole, with American copy editor and blogger Peter Rozovsky.



Daily Mirror books critic Deidre O’Brien squeezes in between authors Robert Scragg (What Falls Between the Cracks) and Kevin Wignall (To Die in Vienna).



Linwood Barclay inscribes a copy of his latest novel, A Noise Downstairs, to Mike Stotter.


The festival kicked off officially on Thursday evening, July 19, with a party welcoming the latest recipient of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award, Stav Sherez. He won that prize for his prescient and disturbing work, The Intrusions, which marked the third appearance of Sherez’s fictional Metropolitan Police detectives Jack Carrigan and Geneva Miller. The Intrusions beat out stiff competition from Mick Herron’s Spook Street, Denise Mina’s The Long Drop, Mukherjee’s A Rising Man, Sue Steiner’s Persons Unknown, and McDermid’s Insidiious Intent. All of those contenders are excellent reads; but I was especially delighted to see Sherez, a former music journalist who has become a close friend of mine since the publication of his first novel, The Devil’s Playground (2004), triumph in the end. He and I have traveled together, and his amusing perspective on life matches my own. Sherez is an ardent supporter of his fellow readers and writers, evidenced by his incisive book reviews in The Catholic Herald, for which he serves as literary editor.

By the way, I was seated at the back of the auditorium during Sherez’s award acceptance speech. And I noticed that behind me were his Faber and Faber editor, Angus Cargill, along with U.S. authors Alafair Burke and Laura Lippman, the latter of whom I could hear whispering, like an incantation, “Thank Jane, thank Jane, thank Jane”—a reference to Stav’s delightful partner. When, at the end of his address, Sherez said, “But mainly, this one’s for Jane,” we all clapped loudly. You can watch my rather overexposed video of Sherez’s speech here.

Other publicly staged events of particular note held during these four days: Laura Lippman in conversation with Linwood Barclay; Stav Sherez talking with Denise Mina; Lee Child quizzing American legal thriller author John Grisham; and the intense interview former CWA chair N.J. Cooper (aka Daphne Wright) conducted with another U.S. writer, Don Winslow (The Force)—a task she managed with aplomb.

Then, of course, there was the hotly contested Theakston Crime Writing Quiz. As in previous years, I was leading one of the competing teams, The Journos. But this time my co-captain, writer and broadcaster Mark Lawson, had instructed our fellow members—Jon Coates, Mike Stotter, John Dugdale, and Joe Finder—to keep a close watch on my activities. It seems our team suffers a reputation for always being the runners-up, thanks to my tendency to imbibe a bit more gin than is good for our odds. Apparently, I am pretty good with the stuff until the halfway point of the game, at which time I start talking sheer gibberish. I cannot confirm these accusations, as I am always drunk by the end of competition. Hoping to avoid that result again, Lawson and Stotter permitted me only a single beer (and no gin) while we watched Cooper question Winslow, and then blocked my access to the bar, since the quiz was coming up right afterward. The result was that I remained sober throughout the tournament … and yet we still finished out of the winner’s circle. Oh, well, it was all in good fun. I recorded the conclusion of the quiz, which you can watch here. Pay special attention the fact that—in dubious honor of my tippling practices, and much to my surprise—Lawson decided to give our team a rather more amusing name this year than The Journos.

The weekend also brought an announcement of which books and authors had won this year’s Dead Good Reader Awards, sponsored by the British books site Dead Good. And it boasted an abundance of lunches, parties, publisher events, and general merriment. It was pleasant to meet up again with Martina Cole (Damaged), the Queen of London Gangster Fiction, who made an impromptu appearance at Harrogate, which entailed considerable laughter. Cole is a concocter of very dark fiction, yet like so many writers in this genre, she can be one of the most amusing and kindest people around.


Always the bridesmaids, never the bride: Harrogate Quiz teammates Joseph Finder, John Dugdale, Jon Coates, Mark Lawson, Ali Karim, and Mike Stotter.



Peter Rozovsky chats with Sharan Canavar, the chief executive of Harrogate International Festivals.



During an event at Bettys Café Tea Room, Stotter and Karim ham it up on either side of American thriller writer Gregg Hurwitz.



Retreating to one of the large canvas tents set up on the grounds of the Old Swan Hotel are Joseph Kanon, Peter Rozovsky, New Zealand blogger Craig Sisterson, Mike Stotter, and Joseph Finder.


I had the chance to lunch with Laurence Howell, the director for content at audio entertainment company Audible, and his team, who had come to this festival to present the inaugural Audible New Writing Grant: The Crime Edition, touted as “the first of its kind recognizing writing for the ever-growing audio format.” It was enjoyable, too, to see copy editor and Detectives Beyond Borders blogger Peter Rozovsky, a frequent Bouchercon-goer, who was making his debut appearance at Harrogate. Plus, Stotter and I were invited to “high tea” at Bettys Café Tea Room by Rowland White and his team from publisher Penguin Random House. This afforded us the opportunity to learn something about what U.S. thriller writer Gregg Hurwitz will be offering in Out of the Dark, the next installment in his nerve-shredding Orphan X series, to be released by Minotaur in January 2019.

Another highlight of my Harrogate adventure was being asked, along with Stotter, to spend a wonderful afternoon with American spy novelist Joseph Kanon. It was delightful to share with Kanon anecdotes about legendary publisher Peter Mayer, who had passed away in mid-May, and had been so instrumental in securing me an interview with Robert Littell back in 2006. And I was glad, as always, to share a breakfast with Lee Child and broadcaster Simon Mayo, thanks to the folks behind Penguin Random House’s Transworld imprint.

As this gathering finally wound to a close on Sunday, I thanked festival head Sharon Canavar for a terrific weekend, one that had allowed all of us to escape reality—at least for a short while. And I promised to return again next year, when I’ll find out whether I won that bet with Canaver and Simon Theakston. Topping the 2018 convention is going to be one hell of a task! Learn more about the 2019 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival by clicking here.

(All photos in this post copyright © Ali Karim 2018.)

Another version of this report appeared in the August issue of
Red Herrings, published by the British Crime Writers’ Association.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

PaperBack: “File on a Missing Redhead”

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



File on a Missing Redhead, by Lou Cameron (Fawcett Gold Medal, 1968). The cover artist isn’t identified. However, a Facebook commenter says that a close inspection of the illustration reveals a faint signature just to the left of the nude’s foot and right knee which may be that of Roger Kastel, who also created the original paperback cover and movie poster for Jaws. If you’d like to enjoy more redhead book covers, click here.

(Hat tip to Tim Hewitt.)


READ MORE:Forgotten Books: File on a Missing Redhead, Lou Cameron,” by Bill Crider (Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine).

Strangeways Gets Another Shot

Many years have passed now since I last read a novel by “Nicholas Blake,” aka British poet Cecil Day-Lewis. My recollection is that in my 20s, I pored through four of five of his books starring gentleman sleuth Nigel Strangeways, but haven’t picked up any more since. So I was intrigued to find this item in blogger B.V. Lawson’s latest wrap-up of crime-fiction projects for the large and small screens:
The BBC is developing a detective drama series based on the classic 1938 mystery novel The Beast Must Die by Nicholas Blake, the nom de plume of poet Cecil Day-Lewis, father of Daniel Day-Lewis. The adaptation is being written by Gaby Chiappe, who has written on a number of British crime dramas, including ITV’s Vera as well as BBC’s Shetland. Nathaniel Parker, the actor who played the lead role in The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, is an executive producer for the project, which is likely to be five or six episodes. Deadline added that the “series could turn into a long-running franchise for the BBC as Blake/Day Lewis wrote 15 books featuring the detective.”
Actually, I think there are 16 Strangeways novels. But regardless, just getting one adapted for television should be a treat. And as Sergio Angelini remarked several years ago in his excellent blog, Tipping My Fedora, The Beast Must Die “is regarded by many to be the author’s finest work and … certainly must rank as his most distinctive.”

Just Ask

I’ve spent my entire career as a journalist interviewing people. Yet I hate being interviewed myself. I fear I am going to say something shallow or incorrect, and then have to live forevermore with the memory of my error. So I am always impressed by the ability of other authors to speak both authoritatively, clearly, and candidly.

With this season bringing forth so many new crime, mystery, and thriller works, it’s understandable that we should be offered an abundance of fresh conversations with their writers. Scott Montgomery has recently posted two such exchanges in the MysteryPeople blog: one with British thriller novelist Sarah Pinborough (Cross My Heart), the other with Reed Farrel Coleman, whose fifth police chief Jesse Stone novel, Robert B. Parker’s Colorblind, is just out today.

Meanwhile, you can click right over to Criminal Element to find Traci Lambrecht talking about The Guilty Dead, the first entry in the Monkeewrench series that she’s penned since the death of her collaborator and mother, Patricia “P.J.” Lambrecht, in 2016. Finally, one of the best author interviewees I know, Max Allan Collins, chats with Jonathan Maberry, new president of the International Association of Media and Tie-in Writers, about his sideline of writing books based on films, TV series, and other entertainment sources.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Revue of Reviewers, 9-10-18

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