Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Dahl’s Pursuit of Justice—in Fact and Fiction

(Above) Author Julia Dahl (photo by Chasi Annexy)

Julia Dahl has been chasing stories ever since she was in high school back in the mid-1990s. And more often than not, she’s caught them—first as a student journalist, later as an intern for a national magazine, then as a tabloid “stringer” and a criminal justice reporter for CBSNews.com’s Crimesider blog, and now as a prize-amassing crime novelist. Along the way this Fresno, California, native has learned a thing or two about herself, including: she’s more comfortable than many people would be with researching the seamier side of life (“As a crime reporter, I bear witness to a lot of evil”); she doesn’t need to outline her novels before beginning their composition (“Since I’ve been writing mysteries, I start each book knowing who dies, who did it, and having a loose idea of why.”); and life can occasionally provide all the inspiration one needs for fiction.

Dahl emphasized that last point during a lengthy conversation she had with a Chicago magazine contributor several years ago, around the time her first novel, Invisible City (2014)—about a young tabloid reporter’s struggle to solve a murder committed within New York City’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community—first reached U.S. bookstores. After explaining that she’d relocated to America’s East Coast in order to attend college in Connecticut (at Yale University, if you must know), and then settled in Gotham in 1999, Dahl recalled:
My family on my mom’s side is Jewish, but I had no idea that the ultra-Orthodox even existed in the U.S. Then I moved out east. … If you’re in New York City, you see men with black hats and women in wigs on the subway all the time, but it wasn’t until I moved to Brooklyn that I started seeing them a lot, and a couple of things happened that piqued my interest and made me focus on the community. It was something that I wanted to explore in fiction. One was just that I saw these people and thought they’re so like me and yet so unlike me. So there was just this sense of wanting to know more about them. In the fall of 2007, I had just started working at the New York Post, and my then-boyfriend—he’s now my husband—and I were looking for an apartment in Brooklyn. We went to visit an apartment that looked great on paper. It had a great price, it was right by the park in a neighborhood we like. On the way there, the broker told us that he felt like he needed to tell us that the previous occupant of the apartment had committed suicide there.

So, we went and we saw the apartment. It was a great apartment, and there certainly were no signs that anyone had committed suicide there. We decided to take it, and after we moved in, I went to sign the lease. It turned out that the building was owned by an old Orthodox man in Borough Park. When I met him he said he was really glad we took the apartment, that the man who lived there was “really sick” and so on. He didn’t really tell me any more, and then I started talking to the neighbors and I found out that the man who lived there had been an ultra-Orthodox Jew who had a wife and children, but he was gay. He was shunned by the community, and he ended up alone in this apartment where he died. I started having this kind of imaginary relationship with this guy who used to live in the apartment. I would get his mail because, as you know, you often get mail from the previous tenant. These people didn’t know he was dead. I never opened the letters, but I would keep them all with the idea that maybe I would give them to his family or—I don’t know. I just kept them and started building this idea of who the guy was.

At about the same time, the
Post sent me out to Borough Park to cover a story where an ultra-Orthodox young man had gotten married—they tend to get married very young—and jumped out of his honeymoon suite the night after his wedding and died. He had committed suicide, basically. So they sent me out to Borough Park to try to talk to his family. Both of those things happened at about the same time. I was also living in a neighborhood that was on the border of a very ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, so it kind of just became this thing that I kept bumping into. I was just really curious about who these people were and how they lived, and when writers get curious we start to write. I was also covering crime and it sort of came together.
In Invisible City, Dahl introduced readers to Rebekah Roberts, an anxiety-bedeviled, 20-something journalism-school graduate from Florida, currently laboring in the role of overworked, underpaid stringer for the fictional New York Tribune. (No relation to the famous Manhattan newspaper of yore.) Building on her study of the city’s influential but insular Hasidic Jewish subculture, the author imagined the nude body of a Hasidic woman being pulled from a Brooklyn scrap yard. Rebekah, who Dahl has described as “braver than I am, and angrier,” determines to figure out who the deceased was and why her life was so cruelly ended. This newsie is particularly interested in the case, because her long-vanished mother, Aviva Kagan, was also Hasidic. However, the odds are against our intrepid heroine succeeding. The New York City Police Department is quite deferential toward the ultra-Orthodox population, and Hasidic leaders are prone to stymie close examination of misdeeds within their community, even going so far as to let the dead woman in Invisible City be buried without an autopsy. In the end, Rebekah’s efforts to cut through obstruction and obfuscation, and to peel back the layers of the closed society that had ushered her own mother into the world, led her to solve the murder mystery. They also won Dahl a Barry Award for Best Novel, a Macavity Award for Best Mystery Novel, and the Private Eye Writers of America’s Shamus Award for Best First P.I. Novel.

Making further good use of her research into the history and practices of New York’s Hasidic minority, Dahl came back in 2015 with a sequel, Run You Down. That tale found Rebekah scrutinizing the bathtub demise of a Hasidic housewife, facing off against neo-Nazi hatemongers, and locating a surprisingly large contingent of ultra-Orthodox Jews who’d rejected their religious upbringing. Oh, and Run You Down reintroduced Rebekah to her mother, who narrates alternating chapters of the novel.

Now—just this week, in fact—comes Conviction (Minotaur), the third installment in the Rebekah Roberts series. The story starts with Dahl’s protagonist being exasperated by her insecure position with the scoop- and scandal-hungry Tribune, and prospecting around for a bigger news story that might propel her onto the staff of a superior publication. Conveniently, a lead may have just landed in her lap, via a note that causes the reporter to re-examine the 1992 slaying of a black family in Brooklyn. The problem is, memories of that bloodshed are short and undependable, and even people who were once conversant in its details (such as her ex-cop friend Saul Katz) don’t want to revisit the incident. Worse, Rebekah’s digging has drawn the unwanted notice of folks with secrets they’d prefer not to share, and who might go to deadly lengths to protect them. In its brief assessment of Conviction, New York magazine says “Dahl writes deftly about race, religion, and politics in NYC, both then and now.” Kirkus Reviews adds: “The novel’s authenticity is enhanced by Dahl’s painfully spot-on grievances about the deteriorating newspaper industry and her cogent observations about Brooklyn in both its post-millennium growth and its past lives—which somehow never seem all that far in the past.”

After first meeting Julia Dahl at Bouchercon 2015, in Raleigh, North Carolina, and then reconnecting with her last year during Bouchercon in New Orleans, I took the opportunity recently to ask her questions (via e-mail) about her reading history, her reporting career, and how becoming a mother in her late 30s has affected her fiction writing.

J. Kingston Pierce: Do you come from a family of readers?

Julia Dahl: Absolutely. Growing up, my mother’s motto was, “bring a book.” To the dentist, to the grocery store, to camp. If you have a book, you’ll never be bored. My parents are both retired now, and they take classes at their local university. My mom just finished a class in the detective novel. We talk about what we’re reading all the time. She is usually reading more than one book at a time—one “serious” (like Flannery O’Conner), one “fun” (like Liane Moriarty). My parents have been doing cross-country road trips since the 1970s, and when they drive, they read to each other. And all four of my grandparents were readers, too. My grandmother died just two years ago, at 93, and read novels voraciously until the very end.

JKP: What were your early reading experiences like?

JD: I read everything, from the Oz books. by L. Frank Baum, to Agatha Christie and Stephen King. But I think the first time books expanded my empathy toward other human beings—which is, I think, what art is supposed to do—was when I read The Diary of Anne Frank with my elementary school best friend. During fifth and sixth grade, we read probably a dozen biographies and historical novels about the Holocaust, and as a Jew, it became “read: these girls could have been me.”

JKP: Did you show a bent toward writing at an early age, or did you develop that interest later in life?

JD: Other than bad poetry, I wrote almost exclusively non-fiction until my mid-20s. I had a lot of opinions, so I wrote editorials and reviews in high school and college. I lacked the creativity—or maybe the courage—to make things up. At some point I realized that good fiction reflects and examines the truth. Once I figured that out, I was hooked. I’ll be making up stories until the day I die.

JKP: Unlike your protagonist, Rebekah Roberts, your move to New York City did not launch you immediately into tabloid reporting. You started, instead, as a freelance reporter/fact checker for Entertainment Weekly, then moved to Redbook and Marie Claire magazines. How did you make the leap from Yale into Manhattan journalism circles?

JD: Basically, I got an internship. I applied to dozens of magazines and newspapers—from Vogue to The Village Voice—and Entertainment Weekly hired me. I had no real path I was trying to follow during those first few years in New York. I went where the opportunities took me, and I’m glad I did. I got my first assignment writing about crime for Seventeen magazine from an editor I’d known while at Marie Claire. That story changed my life.

JKP: Rebekah is often frustrated with the assignments she receives as a stringer for the fictional New York Tribune, and disturbed by what editors there do with her copy. Is all of that a reflection of your own experiences in the tabloid world? Was the Post the model for the Trib? And does it function in similar fashion?

JD: Not really. But after going to journalism school I knew I wanted to test myself, to write and report every day, and that was why I took a job at the New York Post. Would I have rather gotten the same gig at the Times? Sure—but they weren’t hiring. And if it weren’t for my work at the Post I don’t think I’d have the career I have as a novelist. Being a good reporter means being good at talking to people, and at the Post I talked to every possible kind of person you can imagine—often about things they did not want to be discussing. I had to be respectful and aggressive, simultaneously. I had to be fearless, and I had to constantly check in with my gut: was I about to do something I considered immoral in the name of getting the quote for my editor? It would have been easy to just say, I’m doing my job. But that’s not the kind of person I am, and that challenge was one I wanted the protagonist in my novels, Rebekah, to grapple with.

JKP: What was the oddest assignment you were given by the Post?

JD: When Isiah Thomas was still coaching the Knicks, I was sent to Madison Square Garden with two homemade signs that said “Fire Isaiah” and told to hold them up until I got kicked out. It was horrible. Somehow they’d finagled floor seats, so I was down there with all the people who’d paid hundreds of dollars to watch the game and I’m silently holding this sign, wishing I could just run away. Somebody finally ripped them from my hands and I bailed. The next day, my editor apologized. I think it was the only time an editor has ever apologized to me.

JKP: What is it about Rebekah Roberts that makes her the ideal protagonist for the stories you wish to tell? And if you could do it all over again, are there elements of her character that you would have changed?

JD: Honestly, when I began writing Invisible City in 2007 it didn’t occur to me that 10 years later I would still be writing about Rebekah. I didn’t conceive the book as a series, but as soon as I finished writing it, I knew I had more to tell. I’m actually pretty happy with how I’ve drawn her. She started very young, just out of college, so she has a lot of room to make mistakes and mature.

JKP: I’ve read that you originally wanted to call Invisible City something else. What was that other title?

JD: The Stringer.

JKP: Your stories about New York’s Hasidic community paint it in both favorable and questionable tones. How has that community reacted to your representations of its traditions and practices?

JD: I haven’t heard much from those deep in the community, but what I have has been mixed. One woman I used as a source told me she was hanging out with some frum women who were talking about how much they “hated” me—though she didn’t think they’d actually read the books. But another Hasidic man I know recently told me that his wife loved my books. I thought maybe he was kidding, but he swears it’s the truth!

JKP: A big component of Invisible City was Rebekah’s search for her missing mother, Aviva Kagan. But that search ended in your first novel, and since then, Aviva’s importance to the stories has become rather less clear. How do you see their relationship, and Aviva’s role in your stories, evolving over time?

JD: Run You Down focused heavily on Aviva’s life, and I think that now that she and Rebekah have met, even though their relationship is fraught and evolving, it won’t be as central to the plots of the novels. Honestly, there are just other stories about other people that I want to tell.

JKP: Conviction is your first novel to employ third-person storytelling. Your previous two books were both told in the first-person, either by Rebekah or, in Run You Down, also by Aviva. How do you think the decision to use third-person narration in this new novel benefited the story, and perhaps also benefited you as its author?

JD: Because I didn’t anticipate writing a series, I didn’t write Invisible City thinking I was locking myself in to a particular style for the next three books. As I started conceiving Conviction I knew I wanted to create different points of view, not just Rebekah’s. I ran the idea by my editor at Minotaur and she basically said, if it works, you can do whatever you want! So I did. And I’m really happy with the result. I’m working on the fourth book in the series now doing the same thing. It’s made the writing process more exciting and more of a challenge.

JKP: I understand that you owe a debt to Gillian Flynn, of Gone Girl fame, for turning you into a crime-fictionist. Can you explain?

JD: I met Gillian when I was an intern at Entertainment Weekly and she was a TV writer. We didn’t know each other well at all, and years later I remember seeing [her 2006 novel] Sharp Objects in the bookstore and thinking, “I remember that girl!” I read it and something clicked in me. I’d been reading mysteries and watching crime shows and writing articles about true crime, but somehow it had never occurred to me that I could write crime fiction. So she inspired me, and then, when I finished Invisible City, I e-mailed her, saying I wasn’t sure if she remembered me but that I’d written a novel and wondered if she had any advice. She wrote back and recommended I contact her agent. I did, and she’s been my agent ever since. Then, she was kind enough to give me a pretty amazing blurb. She didn’t have to do any of that but, like so many people I’ve met in the crime-fiction world, she is generous and supportive.

JKP: Can you see yourself eventually penning novels that don’t include Rebekah? Might you already have one or two of those in mind?

JD: Yes! I have two ideas percolating, but that’s all I’ll say for how.

(Left) A pregnant Julia Dahl accepts the Shamus Award at Bouchercon 2015

JKP: How much of a boost was it to your self-confidence and profile as an author to win the Shamus Award for Best First P.I. Novel?

JD: A huge boost. Being recognized by my peers is the highest honor. When I won that award I looked around the room and thought, all these people write books I want to read, and they chose me. It was unreal.

JKP: I assume that in addition to all of the positive things reviewers have said about your fiction, you’ve also received negative responses here and there. Are you somebody capable of ignoring knocks, or do you obsess over less-than-enthusiastic assessments and swear to one day get back at those critics in wholly satisfying ways?

JD: I’m pretty sensitive and bad reviews hurt. I can handle them, even ones I consider unfair, but it takes me awhile. All I can do is try to feel as good about the good reviews as I feel bad about the bad ones.

JKP: When you began writing fiction, you were single, pushing 30. Now you’re married and the mother of a son, Mick, who’s just over one year old. Has motherhood changed your approach to fiction writing?

JD: Motherhood has changed my writing only insofar as it has dramatically decreased the amount of time I have to write. Suddenly, there is a human being who lives in my home and must be watched 12 hours every day. I’m nervous about getting this fourth book done on time, but I’ve been nervous about that before, and somehow I’ve always managed to pull it off.

JKP: Can you say something about your intentions with that fourth Rebekah novel, or the direction of its plot?

JD: It revolves around a missing New York University student whose family is one of the wealthiest in Manhattan, and who lives in the same dorm as Rebekah’s brother.

JKP: Your husband, Joel Bukiewicz, designs and creates “world-class kitchen cutlery.” Does this mean that you have kitchen drawers filled with beautifully sharpened knives for every possible use? Or are you still the one-knife-for-all-occasions sort of person?

JD: Joel’s been making knives since 2004, and I’ve learned a lot since then. One thing I’ve learned is that most people really only need one or two knives. A big chef’s knife and a smaller paring knife. If they’re sharp, they can do anything you need.

JKP: Finally, what novel that doesn’t already bear your byline would you most like to have written, and why?

JD: I would love to have written almost anything by Joan Didion. Play It As It Lays or Slouching Toward Bethlehem, if I had to narrow it to two. She sees people so clearly, sees right into them. She looks at the world and its inhabitants with both tenderness and real concern. I admire her prose, of course, but it’s her vision, her anger, her bravado that I admire most.

READ MORE: An excerpt from Conviction can be enjoyed here; “Julia Dahl: Crime Fiction Among the Pious,” by Lisa Levy (Lit Hub); “To Expose Injustice,” by Hella Winston (Los Angeles Review of Books).

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Revue of Reviewers, 3-25-17

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

Edie Has Now Left the Stage

First it was British author and Inspector Morse creator Colin Dexter, who passed away this last Tuesday. Now comes word that Lola Albright, the model turned actress who starred with Craig Stevens in the 1958-1961 TV crime drama Peter Gunn, has died at age 92. According to The Hollywood Reporter:
Albright died Thursday in a home in the Toluca Lake enclave of Los Angeles, her friend, Eric Anderson, confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter. News of her death was first reported by the Akron Beacon Journal; she was born and raised in the Ohio city.

Albright was perhaps best known for playing the sultry singer Edie Hart, the girlfriend of private eye Craig Stevens, on all three seasons of the Blake Edwards NBC-ABC series
Peter Gunn. She received an Emmy Award nomination in 1959 for her work.

While the series was on the air, Albright released the album
Dreamsville, backed by Henry Mancini’s orchestra (he, of course, composed the theme song for Peter Gunn), in 1959. She had done an album two years earlier, Lola Wants You.

On the big screen, the blue-eyed blonde was memorable in a leading role as an aging burlesque stripper who seduces a teenager (Scott Marlowe) in
A Cold Wind in August (1961), and she received the best actress award at the Berlin Film Festival for portraying Tuesday Weld's suicidal mother in Lord Love a Duck (1966).
Variety adds that “Albright had an extensive TV career and substituted for Dorothy Malone on ABC’s prime-time soap opera Peyton Place in 1966. Other credits included Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Gunsmoke, Rawhide, The Dick Van Dyke Show, My Three Sons, The Beverly Hillbillies, Bonanza, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Kojak, Columbo, McMillan & Wife, Starsky & Hutch, and The Incredible Hulk.”

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Bullet Points: Myriad Morsels Edition

• Why am I not surprised by this? “Lisbeth Salander, the cult figure and title character of the acclaimed Millennium book series created by Stieg Larsson, will return to the screen in The Girl in the Spider’s Web, a first-time adaptation of the recent global bestseller written by David Lagercrantz,” reads a news alert from MacLehose Press. “Fede Alvarez, the director of 2016’s breakout thriller Don’t Breathe, will helm the project from a screenplay by Steven Knight and Fede Alvarez and Jay Basu. … The new film will feature an entirely new cast, and the announcement marks the kickoff of a global search for an actress to portray in the iconic role of Lisbeth Salander. The production will begin principal photography in September of this year with a release date scheduled for October 5, 2018.”

• Two months after the death of actor Mike Connors, TV Shows on DVD has announced that a complete series set of Mannix, the 1967-1975 private-eye drama with which he is best associated, will be released by CBS/Paramount on May 9. Reads a press release: “Here are all 194 episodes together, that bring the action, the music, and the style of an era back to life. Developed for television by executive producer Bruce Geller (TV’s Mission: Impossible), Mannix cruises the mean streets of Los Angeles, cracking cases that feature an array of ne’er-do-wells, from the most dangerous of criminals to the syndicates of high society.” The 48-disc set will retail for $129.98.

Via Eurocrime comes news that Booker Award-winning author Eleanor Catton’s third novel (following The Luminaries) will be Birnam Wood, “a psychological thriller, set in a remote area of New Zealand where scores of ultra-rich foreigners are building fortress-like homes, … following the guerilla gardening outfit Birnam Wood, a ragtag group of leftists who move about the country cultivating other people's land … [Their] chance encounter with an American billionaire sparks a tragic sequence of events which questions how far each of us would go to ensure our own survival—and at what cost.” The book has been sold “to Farrar, Straus (U.S.); McClelland & Stewart (Canada); Granta (UK/Australia); and Victoria University Press (NZ).”

And this from In Reference to Murder: “Mystery Fest Key West has announced a call for submissions for this year’s Whodunit Mystery Writing Competition. The winner will claim a book-publishing contract with Absolutely Amazing eBooks, free Mystery Fest Key West 2017 registration, airfare, hotel accommodations for two nights, meals, and a Whodunit Award trophy to be presented at the 4th Annual Mystery Fest Key West, set for June 16-18 in Key West, Florida. For more information and deadlines, follow this link.”

• I feel like I’m always behind in listening to Nancie Clare’s Speaking of Mysteries podcasts. That may be because they tend to come out irregularly, yet in bunches at a time. Since I last made note of Clare’s work here, she has added exchanges with Scott Reardon (The Prometheus Man), David Mark (Cruel Mercy), Suzanne Chazin (No Witness But the Moon), David Joy (Weight of this World), Rhys Bowen (In Farleigh Field), and Kate White (The Secrets You Keep). Clare’s count of podcast interviewees now exceeds 110, and the previous installments remain available for your listening pleasure.

• Speaking of Nancie Clare, she sent me an e-mail note not too long ago, posing a question that I have so far been unable to answer on my own, so let me seek assistance from The Rap Sheet’s extraordinarily well-read audience. Her note reads: “A friend of mine is trying to recall a series of mysteries set in Boston. The detective/fixer works for a bank executive (who has something over him) and looks into things that the bank’s clients wouldn’t, or couldn’t, go to the authorities for. He describes them as funny and a bit quirky, Joe Lansdale-esque (that’s my interpretation anyway). Any, ahem, clue?” If you think you know which mystery series Clare is describing here, please drop me a message in the Comments section at the end of this post.

• In advance of marketing its paperback edition of Patrick E. McLean’s The Soak in May, publisher Brash Books has released its very first audiobook: an adaptation of McLean’s novella prequel, The Lucky Dime, read by none other than the author himself.

• Here’s a work I look forward to reading: Mike Ripley’s Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang: The Boom in British Thrillers from Casino Royale to The Eagle Has Landed (HarperCollins). In a preview for Shots, Ripley explains that “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang—or KK-BB as it is known in certain circles in honor of Len Deighton—has been many years in its gestation, you might say about 50 years since, as a callow youth, I realized that I was reading my way through a purple path of British thriller writing. Was it a ‘Golden Age’? Well, that is, as with all ‘Golden Ages’ a matter for debate, but it was undeniably a boom time for British thriller writers, who dominated international bestseller lists.” Ripley’s volume seems destined to find a choice spot on my overcrowded bookshelves beside Martin Edwards’ The Golden Age of Murder.

• The third episode of Writer Types, a podcast hosted by S.W. Lauden and Eric Beetner, is now ready for your inspection. Lauden touts the contents thusly: “Check out interviews with Johnny Shaw and Sue Ann Jaffarian. Spend a night at Noir at the Bar—L.A. with Glen Erik Hamilton, Nolan Knight, Sarah M. Chen, Travis Richardson, John Lansing, and Stephen Blackmoore. Go to rock school with Alex Segura, Joe Clifford, and Corey Lynn Fayman. And listen to a haunting short story from Jen Conley. Plus, reviews from Kate Hackbarth Malmon and Dan Malmon.” Lots to keep you interested.

• I’ve added a couple more vintage TV show intros to The Rap Sheet’s YouTube page—from the Elmore Leonard-inspired Maximum Bob (1998) and Stephen J. Cannell’s Broken Badges (1990-1991).

Foreword Reviews has broadcast its lists of finalists for the annual INDIES Book of the Year Awards, including contenders in both the Mystery and Thriller categories. The winners in each category will be declared on June 24 during the 2017 American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago.

• Say good-bye to Blasted Heath. That small press, spearheaded by Al Guthrie and Kyle MacRae, is closing up shop. Which is a damn shame, because ever since it was launched in November 2011, it’s been turning out intriguing crime fiction by the likes of Anthony Neil Smith, Elaine Ash (aka Anonymous-9), Nigel Bird, Gerard Brennan, Ray Banks, and others. As Brennan notes in his blog, “the books are going to be available for a few more days, I think. You can’t keep good talent down, so they won’t be unavailable forever, but if you want the Blasted Heath version of any of their great titles, you need to move your hole.” Oh so quaintly put.

• While Crimespree Magazine celebrates the 30th anniversary of the release of Ian Rankin’s Knots and Crosses, the novel that introduced maverick Detective Inspector John Rebus, the author himself brings us new details about the program for the inaugural RebusFest, to be held in Edinburgh, Scotland, from June 30 to July 2.

• Also online now is the schedule of events being put in place for this year’s Newcastle Noir (April 29-30), “a festival dedicated to promoting crime fiction under all its guises from all over the world.” Authors taking part include William Ryan, Erik Axl Sund, Quentin Bates, Sarah Ward, and Michael J. Malone.

• I did something last week that was fairly unusual for me: I registered early for this year’s Bouchercon, which is set to take place in Toronto, Canada, from October 12 to 15. If memory serves, I finally signed up for Bouchercon 2015 sometime late in the summer preceding that Raleigh event, and for Bouchercon 2016 only two months prior to festivities beginning in New Orleans. This could well be the last Bouchercon I attend for a while (subsequent conventions in St. Petersburg, Florida, Dallas, Texas, and Sacramento, California, aren’t big draws for me), so I wanted to make sure I had all of my ducks in a row as soon as possible. See who else will be at Bouchercon 2017 by clicking here. And if you’d like to register yourself, you can do so here.

• From Kevin Burton Smith of The Thrilling Detective Web Site:
Adam Lerner and Bill Boyle have launched a fund-raising IndieGoGo campaign to get Raymond Chandler a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with the approval of the Chandler Estate and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. This would make Chandler the first writer (who is not also a director, producer, or animator) to get a star.

They argue that “If there were no Raymond Chandler there would certainly be no Philip Marlowe. and if there were no Philip Marlowe there would arguably be no Hollywood Noir or Hollywood Walk of Fame.”

I’m not sure if I buy all that argument, but if there’s a writer who deserves that star, it’s definitely Chandler. Let’s help give him his due.
• As part of a piece in The Guardian about the 21st-century relevance of fictional private eyes, author Christa Faust argues that the hard-boiled essence of such protagonists remains vital. That is, she says, “if you mean a complex, conflicted loner with a generally cynical worldview who gets mixed up in criminal endeavors but maintains a strong, though often unconventional, moral code. A wise-cracking, ruggedly handsome middle-aged white guy in a fedora and trenchcoat who slaps women and then kisses them? Maybe not so much.”

• Hooray for the return of Dan Wagner’s The Hungry Detective!

• A few author interviews worth reading: In Criminal Element, Ardi Alspach questions Lyndsay Faye about her new Sherlock Holmes short-story collection, The Whole Art of Detection; Melissa Scrivner Love chats with Mystery Tribune about her debut thriller, Lola; Crime Fiction Lover quizzes Iceland’s Arnaldur Indridason on the subject of his new novel, The Shadow District, which is the opening entry in a new series; an Australian Web site called Daily Review does a quickie interview with Peter Robinson, whose next Alan Banks yarn, Sleeping in the Ground, is due out in the States come August; and Do Some Damage’s Steve Weddle talks briefly with Kieran Shea about his soon- forthcoming “space heist” yarn, Off Rock.

R.I.P., Robert Day, the UK director behind four Tarzan flicks, who devoted a majority of his efforts during the mid-20th-century to TV projects. According to Deadline Hollywood, he helmed “multiple episodes of The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Avengers, The F.B.I., The Name of the Game, Cade’s County and earn[ed] a DGA [Directors Guild of America] nom for 1970’s The Bold Ones: The Senator. He continued to direct TV dramas throughout the ’70s, including episodes of such classics as Police Story, The Streets of San Francisco, McCloud, Kojak, and Dallas.” Day was 94 years old.

Talk about depressing charts!

• And this news, reported last year, reminds me of another, older TV series of the same name. According to Deadline Hollywood, “The Mark Gordon Company has put together big TV series package The Barbary Coast. The series will be directed and co-written by Mel Gibson, with Kurt Russell and Kate Hudson set to star. Gibson also will have a recurring role on the series. The project is inspired by Gangs of New York author Herbert Asbury’s book The Barbary Coast, about the birth of San Francisco. … The Barbary Coast begins with the [California] Gold Rush in 1849 which saw the biggest influx of gold-seekers, gamblers, thieves, harlots, politicians. and other felonious parasites to the infant city. Thus arose a unique criminal district that for almost 70 years was the scene of more viciousness and depravity—yet at the same time possessed more glamour and intrigue—than any other area of vice and iniquity on the American continent.” I wonder whatever happened to this project. I’ve seen only one small update since.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

On the Passing of Colin Dexter

It was with sadness that I learned today of the death, at age 86, of British educator-turned-author Colin Dexter. Born in Stamford, Lincolnshire, England, back in 1930 as Norman Colin Dexter, he went on to create the often-cantankerous and Oxford-based mystery-series protagonist Detective Chief Inspector Endeavour Morse, who first appeared in 1975’s Last Bus to Woodstock. Dexter’s 13 Morse yarns and additional short stories later provided the basis for the 1987-2000 ITV detective drama Inspector Morse starring John Thaw, and inspired a small-screen sequel, Inspector Lewis (2006-2015), as well as the prequel Endeavour (2012-present). According to the Daily Mail, Dexter “died peacefully at home in Oxford this morning.”

In its obituary of Dexter, The Guardian writes:
Though he thought of himself primarily as a school teacher, Colin Dexter will be remembered as the crime writer who created the curmudgeonly but entertaining Inspector Morse. Morse, the beer, crossword and Wagner-loving detective who drives a vintage Jaguar around Oxford, solves murders by deep thinking, often about chance remarks made by his sidekick, Sergeant [Robbie] Lewis.

Dexter … claimed that he was no writer, but could revise his “bad starts” into something that worked. The formula was certainly a success for some dozen Morse novels and many original scripts for television, the medium that delivered the doings of the idiosyncratic Morse to an audience across 50 countries. “I just started writing and forced myself to keep going,” he said. “And it’s been the same ever since.” …

Dexter happily went along with publicity strategies to boost Morse because he felt he owed a debt of gratitude to his publishers but, like Morse, he hated cant and pretentiousness. He made millions out of Morse but lived in the same four-bedroomed house in Oxford that he had occupied since moving to the city in 1966.

He was neither impressed by displays of wealth nor anxious to live up to his income, his main sybaritic expenditure being on red wine, Flowers beer, whisky and his car. The last of these was as elderly as Morse’s, but of a lesser make. The one extravagance to which Dexter would admit was his purchase of the first editions of the works of [English scholar-poet] A.E. Housman. He had planned to write a book on Housman when he finished with his detective, but found by that time that other writers had cornered the market.
The Guardian adds this touching note:
Dexter was often asked whether he wrote for a readership or for himself. His answer was that he wrote for his old English teacher Mr. Sharp. He would write a page and then ask himself, “Would Mr. Sharp like that?” His aim was to feel that Mr. Sharp would give it at least eight out of 10.
Among the encomia delivered today in memory of Dexter are these remarks from UK crime-fiction critic Barry Forshaw:
“Dexter’s Oxford copper is one of the defining figures in British detective fiction—a multifaceted, fascinating protagonist who readers have followed avidly through a series of beautifully turned and ingenious novels. In a line of descent that extends back to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (notably via the laser-sharp intellect), Inspector Morse is a character who can stand shoulder to shoulder with the very best in the genre. Interestingly, his creator shared several characteristics and traits with his hero; he was classically erudite (with a particular love of the poetry of Housman, as mentioned above), and shrewdly analytical in terms of the varied personalities he encountered. But Dexter was the polar opposite of Morse in terms of his character: extremely affable, immensely charming and humorous—and (most of all) sensitive to the feelings of those around him. An anti-Morse, in fact.”
And this piece in The Bookseller adds more to Dexter’s story:
In later life, Dexter had type 2 diabetes, a condition that he also gave Morse in the last few books of the series. Morse was killed off in Dexter’s final book, The Remorseful Day, which published in 1999.

Dexter was awarded an OBE [Order of the British Empire] for services to literature in 2000 and was given the Freedom of the City in Oxford in 2001. He also won the CWA [Crime Writers’ Association’s] Diamond Dagger award and the Theakstons Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction. ...

“I’m extremely sorry to hear of the death of Colin Dexter. He was the first crime writer I really discovered, having been led to his books through an obsession with the Morse television series,” [Waterstones fiction buyer Chris] White told
The Bookseller. “The intelligence, wit and melancholy which were the hallmarks of his writing established a legacy of page-turning erudition which will ensure his books are bought and read long into the future.”
All of us here at The Rap Sheet offer our sympathies to Colin Dexter’s family and friends in the wake of his passing.

READ MORE:Inspector Morse Creator Colin Dexter Dead at 86,” by Sian Cain (The Guardian); “Colin Dexter, Creator of Inspector Morse, Who Sleuthed in Novels and on TV, Dies at 86,” by William Grimes (The New York Times); “Inspector Morse Creator Colin Dexter Dead at 86” (The Sydney Morning Herald); “How Colin Dexter Changed the Face of Crime Fiction,” by John Dugdale (The Guardian); “Colin Dexter—Goodbye to an Old Friend,” by Mike Ripley (Shots).

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Get Your Leftys Right Here

Last evening, during a special event held as part of this year’s Left Coast Crime convention, in Honolulu, Hawaii, the winners of the 2017 Lefty Awards were announced in four categories. Mystery Fanfare reports the rundown of victors as follows:

Lefty for Best Humorous Mystery Novel: Body on the Bayou, by Ellen Byron (Crooked Lane Books)

Also nominated: Die Like an Eagle, by Donna Andrews (Minotaur); Fields Where They Lay, by Timothy Hallinan (Soho Crime); The CEO Came DOA, by Heather Haven (Wives of Bath Press); Floodgate, by Johnny Shaw (Thomas & Mercer); and A Disguise to Die For, by Diane Vallere (Berkley Prime Crime)

Lefty for Best Historical Mystery Novel (Bruce Alexander Memorial), for books covering events before 1960: The Reek of Red Herrings, by Catriona McPherson (Minotaur)

Also nominated: Crowned and Dangerous, by Rhys Bowen (Berkley Prime Crime); A Death Along the River Fleet, by Susanna Calkins (Minotaur); The Murder of Mary Russell, by Laurie R. King (Bantam); and What Gold Buys, by Ann Parker (Poisoned Pen Press)

Lefty for Best Debut Mystery Novel: Murder in G Major, by Alexia Gordon (Henery Press)

Also nominated: Cleaning Up Finn, by Sarah M. Chen (All Due Respect); Terror in Taffeta, by Marla Cooper (Minotaur); Decanting a Murder, by Nadine Nettmann (Midnight Ink); and Design for Dying, by Renee Patrick (Forge)

Lefty for Best Mystery Novel (not in other categories): A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)

Also nominated: Dark Fissures, by Matt Coyle (Oceanview); Michelangelo’s Ghost, by Gigi Pandian (Henery Press); The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake, by Terry Shames (Seventh Street); and Heart of Stone, by James W. Ziskin (Seventh Street)

Congratulations to all of the nominees!

The 2018 Left Coast Crime gathering, aka “Crime on the Comstock,” will be held in Reno, Nevada, from March 22 to 25.

READ MORE:Weekend with Lefty,” by Les Blatt (Classic Mysteries).

Friday, March 17, 2017

Revue of Reviewers, 3-17-17

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

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Flocking of the Lammys

Lambda Literary, “the nation’s oldest and largest literary arts organization advancing LGBTQ literature,” has announced its finalists for the 29th annual Lambda Literary Awards, aka the “Lammys.” There are 23 categories of contestants this year, but Rap Sheet readers might be most interested in the following two:

Best Lesbian Mystery:
Blood Money Murder, by Jessie Chandler (Bella)
Bury Me When I’m Dead, by Cheryl A. Head (Bywater)
Collide-O-Scope, by Andrea Bramhall (Ylva)
Final Cut, by Lynn Ames (Phoenix Rising Press)
Pathogen, by Jessica L. Webb (Bold Strokes)
Requiem for Immortals, by Lee Winter (Ylva)
Under Contract, by Jennifer L. Jordan (Clover Valley Press)
Walk-in, by T.L. Hart (Bella)

Best Gay Mystery:
Bitter Legacy, by Dal Maclean (Blind Eye)
Homo Superiors, by L. A. Fields (Lethe Press)
Lay Your Sleeping Head, by Michael Nava (Korima Press)
Nights in Berlin, by Janice Law (MysteriousPress/Open Road)
Speakers of the Dead, by J. Aaron Sanders (Plume)

The winning works in all categories will be declared on Monday, June 12, during a special ceremony to be held at the New York University Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in Manhattan.

Congratulations to all of the nominees!

School’s Out, the Heat Is On

Well, this is a rather significant video find. One Archibald Von Unknowski (real name or alias?) has posted, on YouTube, the 72-minute pilot and all five episodes of Richie Brockelman, Private Eye, a 1978 NBC-TV series starring Dennis Dugan as a surfer turned low-budget Los Angeles gumshoe. I wasn’t a big fan of this show when it first aired (even though it was created by Stephen J. Cannell and Steven Bochco, and launched from The Rockford Files). However, I’m prepared to give it a second watch after all these years.

READ MORE:Never Send A Boy King to Do a Man’s Job,” by Marty McKee (Johnny LaRue’s Crane Shot).

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Illuminating Mystery Fiction’s Twilight Side

(Editor’s note: Tennessee scholar/book dealer Curtis Evans writes The Passing Tramp, an excellent blog about classic crime fiction. He is also the author of Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery: Cecil John Charles Street, Freeman Wills Crofts, Alfred Walter Stewart, and the British Detective Novel, 1920-1961 [2012], Clues and Corpses: The Detective Fiction and Mystery Criticism of Todd Downing [2013], and The Spectrum of English Murder: The Detective Fiction of Henry Lancelot Aubrey-Fletcher and G.D.H. and Margaret Cole [2015]. Evans’ latest book is Murder in the Closet: Essays on Queer Clues in Crime Fiction Before Stonewall, about which he writes below.)

In her 1943 writing guide, Mystery Fiction: Theory and Technique, editor and occasional mystery author Marie F. Rodell advised prospective crime writers during the height of the Second World War that the depiction of sexuality in crime fiction was a metaphorical minefield, a virtual Iwo Jima of infractions:
The morality of the average mystery fan is apparently pretty strait-laced. He will countenance murder, but not sexual transgressions … booksellers will tell you it is true. …

Sexual perversions, other than sadism, are definitely taboo. And sadism must be presented in its least sexual form. Homosexuality may be hinted at, but never used as an overt and important factor in the story. An author may, in other words, get away with describing a character in such fashion that the reader may conclude the character is homosexual, but he should not so label him. All the other perversions are absolutely beyond the pale.

Even references to normal sex relationships must be
carefully watched. Except in the “tough” school, unmarried heroines are expected to be virgins, and sympathetic wives to be faithful to their husbands. … Abortion is considered legitimate mystery material if it is handled carefully and, of course, condemned. Apparently it is regarded by the fans as closer to murder than to sex.
Rodell allowed that these taboos limited the “field of potential material for murder fiction,” but she reminded her audience of hopeful neophyte mystery-makers that their chosen line of writing was escapist literature and that shocks and controversies savoring of real life “are among the things the [mystery] reader is trying to escape from.” Rodell advised, no doubt bloodcurdlingly to many modern crime writers: “If you have a message, if you want to write fiction with a purpose, try some other form. Mystery fiction will not serve.”

Today Rodell’s book gives bemused readers of modern crime and mystery fiction—a genre in which, to borrow from Cole Porter, anything goes—a hint of the confining strictures under which crime writers once labored. It has become accepted everyday wisdom that in crime fiction published before Stonewall—the 1969 street demonstrations sparked by an early morning police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood, an event recognized as an epochal turning point in the fight for LGBTQ rights—comparatively little was written about LGTBQ life and that what was written was uniformly disapproving.

Traditionally, pre-Stonewall LGBTQ history has been seen through the powerful negative image of the closet, that dark place where all “the gay” had to be hidden away from public view, confined to its own restricted world of twilight (to use a common code word in pre-Stonewall fiction for homosexuality). Scholar Michael Moon defines the closet as “a powerful social mechanism for regulating the open secret that same-sex desires and relationships existed, but did so largely invisibly and inaudibly.” Violating what he calls the “code of the closet” could bring about “exposure, public disgrace, social ostracism, criminal prosecution.”

Across much of the 20th century, writers of popular fiction such as crime novelists undeniably faced, whether they considered themselves queer or “normal,” pressure to hoe straight rows in their writing, adhering to accepted social standards of what was deemed proper for inclusion in literature of escape. Yet historians, having come to appreciate that the pre/post-Stonewall binary paints too limited a picture of pre-Stonewall queer life, have revised the confining construct of the closet, arguing that it falsely reflects, as scholar George Chauncey has put it, “the Whiggish notion that change is always ‘progressive’ and that gay history in particular consists of a steady movement toward freedom ... ”

During the period between the two world wars, for example, queer people became for a time much more publicly visible in the western world, both simply as themselves, at such popular urban venues as nightclubs and drag balls, and as creative constructions in films, plays, and the more daring mainstream fiction. (Chauncey has charted the course of this phenomenon in his 1995 book, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940, through documentation of the Prohibition-era “pansy craze.”)

Similarly, during service in the Second World War “large numbers of young gay men and women came to discover their sexual identity,” and not long after the conflict seemingly everyone was reading, or at least reading about, the landmark Kinsey Reports on human sexuality, with their deeply intriguing scale of sexual responses indicating that homosexual activity was much more widespread than had previously been suspected. In those years queer subject matter began appearing more frequently in fiction, both in the form of hardback books and in what had become ubiquitous paperbacks, the latter frequently decked out with provocatively sexualized covers. That movement toward greater sexual frankness in entertainment media became something of a pride parade by the mid- to late Sixties, as legal impediments to free speech fell.

* * *

This complex queer history is in fact reflected in crime fiction published prior to the Stonewall riots, a fact amply illustrated in a new essay collection which I had the honor of editing: Murder in the Closet: Essays on Queer Clues in Crime Fiction Before Stonewall (McFarland). Aggregately, the essays in Murder in the Closet lend support to the view that in crime and mystery fiction published before Stonewall, more queer things made it out from behind seemingly secured closet barriers onto printed pages than many people have been inclined to credit. Like the clever culprits in their books, mystery writers knew a thing or two about getting past locked doors.

In Murder in the Closet, 17 contributors—in 23 essays—explore queer aspects of crime fiction published over the course of eight decades, from the late Victorian era to the height of the Swinging Sixties. The study ends with early mysteries by American writers Joseph Hansen and George Baxt, whose telltale titles included Known Homosexual (1968) and A Queer Kind of Death (1966), both of which indicated that by the mid- to late Sixties the closet door was hanging precariously on its hinges.

“Locked Doors,” the first section of this book, covers authors who established themselves in detective fiction from the 1880s to the 1930s. Australian writer-academic Lucy Sussex, for instance, looks at the “The Queer Story of Fergus Hume,” an author made famous by his Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886), though in fact he wrote scores of additional mysteries and other works, never replicating that initial great success. Sussex, who also composed Blockbuster!: Fergus Hume & the Mystery of a Hansom Cab (2015), highlights quite a few queer threads in the tapestry of that fictionist’s life and work.

In the book’s other essay concerning a pre-World War I wordsmith, “A Redemptive Masquerade,” John F. Norris examines a fascinating find from the hand of the muckraking American journalist and author Samuel Hopkins Adams (best known among mystery-fiction fans for his “rival of Sherlock Holmes” short-story collection, Average Jones): a rather queer novel indeed called The Secret of Lonesome Cove (1912).

The next group of essays gets into the Golden Age of Detective Fiction proper. A half-dozen pieces—by Noah Stewart, John Curran, Michael Moon, Brittain Bright, Jamie “J.C.” Bernthal, and Moira Redmond—queerly illuminate crime fiction by perennially popular British Queens of Crime: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Gladys Mitchell, and Josephine Tey. Following those are essays by Michael Moon and yours truly, which appraise a couple of trebly initialed male English mystery writers: C.H.B. Kitchin and G.D.H. Cole, the latter of whom appears prominently in Martin Edwards’ The Golden Age of Murder (2015) and in my own The Spectrum of English Murder.

Then, in “Two Young Men Who Write As One,” I take the latest look at the British expatriate couple Richard Wilson Webb and Hugh Callingham Wheeler, who wrote some of the finest mid-20th-century American crime fiction, under the pseudonyms Patrick Quentin, Q. Patrick, and Jonathan Stagge. More and more has been trickling out about Webb and Wheeler over the last few years, as can be seen in an essay by Mauro Boncompagni in Mysteries Unlocked: Essays in Honor of Douglas G. Greene (2014), as well as in the introduction and afterword (written, respectively, by me and Joanna Gondris) to publisher Crippen & Landru’s Patrick Quentin short-story collection, The Puzzles of Peter Duluth (2016).

The final three essays in this section of Murder in the Closet are devoted to the vintage American mystery writers Todd Downing, Rufus King, Clifford Orr, and Mignon Eberhart. Downing was a part-Choctaw Oklahoman whose mystery fiction, once praised, had for a time fallen into neglect. However, his books have recently been rediscovered and reprinted (see numerous posts in my blog, along with my book Clues and Corpses), and they are the subject of “Queering the Investigation,” an essay by Charles Rzepka.

In “A Bad, Bad Past,” I retrace the queer college backgrounds of both Rufus King, one of the most important (and unjustly neglected) pre-war American crime writers, and Clifford Orr, who produced only two detective novels before becoming a columnist for The New Yorker; and I relate those backgrounds to their crime fiction.

In the last essay in section one, titled “Foppish, Effeminate, or ‘A Little Too Handsome,’” Rick Cypert recalls one of the most read U.S. mystery writers, Mignon G. Eberhart (dubbed, more on account of sales than real similarities, “America’'s Agatha Christie”). Specifically, Cypert analyzes how this very popular author—a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award winner—treated men and masculinity in her books, particularly those males who are just “a little too handsome.”

The second section of Murder in the Closet, titled “Skeleton Keys,” primarily covers writers from the post-World War II era. However, its opening two essays—James Doig’s on the outré Australian serial-killer novel Twisted Clay (1934), and Drewey Wayne Gunn’s on real-life, 1940s Canadian-American killer Wayne Lonergan and his murder scandal’s influence on crime fiction—focus on precursors to the more explicitly LGBTQ fiction of that period.

Tom Nolan’s “Claude Was Doing All Right” scrutinizes kinder and gentler but still hard-boiled detective fictionist Ross Macdonald’s evolving attitude toward homosexuality, both in his fiction and in his own life, while my “Elegant Stuff … Of Its Sort” details the provocative mid-century crime-fiction career of “Edgar Box,” aka Gore Vidal.

Going back across the pond to Great Britain, J.F. Norris’ “Adonis in Person” studies the crime fiction of gay man of letters Beverley Nichols, while Bruce Shaw’s “More Than Fiction” spotlights the life and writing career of iconic lesbian Nancy Spain. Finishing the collection are three essays—by Nick Jones, Josh Lanyon, and again, Norris—on the writers Patricia Highsmith, Joseph Hansen, and George Baxt, whose fiction reflected cultural changes as the world moved toward Stonewall. Mystery fiction certainly was not in Kansas anymore, if you will—though in truth it never really quite was, despite Marie F. Rodell’s admonishments.

I am very proud of Murder in the Closet and I think the essays it contains make a significant contribution to LGBTQ history, mystery genre history, and cultural history in general. I hope mystery-fiction fans will give it more than a passing glance.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Owl Be Seein’ You

The 7th Canon, a courtroom thriller by Seattle lawyer-turned-author Robert Dugoni, has won the 2017 Spotted Owl Award, according to “The Blood-Letter,” an irregular bulletin from the Portland, Oregon-based fan group Friends of Mystery, which sponsors the commendation. This is the first time Dugoni has captured the Spotted Owl, which is supposed to be given annually to the “best mystery written by an author whose primary residence is in the Pacific Northwest.” “The Blood-Letter” reports that this year’s Spotted Owl judges ranked their nominees for the award in this order (including several ties for placement):

1. The 7th Canon, by Robert Dugoni (Thomas & Mercer)
2. House Revenge, by Mike Lawson (Atlantic Monthly Press)
3. The King of Fear, by Drew Chapman (Simon & Schuster)
4. Not Dead Enough, by Warren Easley (Poisoned Pen Press)
4. Salvation Lake, by G.M. Ford (Thomas & Mercer)
4. Blood Flag, by Steve Martini (Morrow)
7. Ping-Pong Heart, by Martin Limón (Soho Crime)
8. Judicious Murder, by Val Bruech (Smoking Gun)
9. The More They Disappear, by Jesse Donaldson (Thomas Dunne)
9. Downfall, by J.A. Jance (Morrow)
9. Violent Crimes, by Philip Margolin (Harper)

By the way, Dugoni’s The 7th Canon is also vying for a 2017 Edgar Award in the Paperback Original category.

Previous recipients of the Spotted Owl include Jon Talton, Chelsea Cain and Johnny Shaw, Mike Lawson, Bill Cameron, and Alan Bradley. The prize was first presented back in 1996.

Gold Among the Green

With St. Patrick’s Day now quickly approaching (uh-oh, where did I stash away my all-green wardrobe?), Mystery Fanfare’s Janet Rudolph has posted an updated selection of crime and mystery novels that either employ said annual holiday in their stories or are related in some fashion to Ireland and the Irish. Titles range from Andrew Greeley’s Irish Gold and Debbie Viguié’s Lie Down in Green Pastures to the inevitable St. Patrick’s Day Murder, by Leslie Meier.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Revue of Reviewers, 3-9-17

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

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Bullet Points: “Day Without a Woman” Edition

Today has brought forth a wide variety of protests by American women, highlighting the importance of women in the modern workplace, spotlighting ridiculous disparities in pay between male and female workers, and opposing anti-woman policies proposed by Donald Trump, who’s notorious for saying that women will let famous guys “do anything … Grab ’em by the pussy.” Obviously, not all women in the United States have the support of their employers to take this day off from their jobs, but many are doing just that. “[A]ll across the country,” observes New York magazine’s Eric Levitz, “women are abandoning their posts. Classes have been canceled; children, left to their fathers; boardrooms, left unmanaged; dinners, left uncooked; blog posts, left unwritten.” It’s to those women enjoying a bit of extra leisure time today that I offer this expanded version of The Rap Sheet’s irregular crime-fiction news wrap-up.

• After my recent viewing of the British TV miniseries The Night Manager, adapted from John le Carré’s 1993 novel of the same name, I’ve been picking up a few le Carré novels that I have not already read. Now it looks as if my choices will increase in number. The author’s U.S. publisher, Viking, told the Associated Press that le Carré’s next novel, A Legacy of Spies (due out on September 5), will star his series espionage agent, George Smiley. According to the AP, “the novel tells of how Smiley and such peers as Peter Guillam receive new scrutiny about their Cold War years with British intelligence and face a younger generation that knows little about their history.”

• Double O Section’s Tanner (aka Matthew Bradford) offers this backgrounder on Smiley’s participation in the le Carré novels.

• The full schedule of events has been announced for this year’s CrimeFest, which will be held (as usual) in Bristol, England, from May 18 to 21. Click here to see which authors will be in attendance, and when they are set to participate in panel discussions.

• Meanwhile, organizers of Left Coast Crime 2019 have spread the news of who will appear as the guests of honor at their “Whale of a Crime” convention in Vancouver, Canada.

• Turner Classic Movies’ brand-new offering, Noir Alley—ably hosted by Film Noir Foundation president Eddie Muller—debuted this last Sunday with a presentation of that 1941 Humphrey Bogart private-eye classic, The Maltese Falcon. The cable station will follow that up this coming weekend with the 1945 movie Detour, starring Tom Neal and Ann Savage. If you would like to learn what the future holds for Noir Alley, click here to see the broadcast schedule through July. All of Muller’s films begin at 10 a.m. on Sundays.

• The third season of Bosch, the TV drama based on Michael Connelly’s best-selling series of novels featuring Los Angeles police detective Harry Bosch, won’t begin streaming on Amazon Prime Video until Friday, April 21. However, Entertainment Weekly recently posted an ominous trailer for that new 10-episode season, which draws its plot from Connelly’s novels The Black Echo and A Darkness More Than Night. And the author talks in this Q&A from his Web site about what to expect from the forthcoming story arc. By the way, work is already gearing up on Season 4 of Bosch, which will be based on Connelly’s 1999 novel, Angels Flight.

• For the Strand Magazine Web site, Alfred Hitchcock biographer Tony Lee selects what he says are the “Top Ten Alfred Hitchcock Movies of All Time.” (Yes, Notorious makes the cut.)

• I somehow missed the February release, in Great Britain, of Taking Detective Stories Seriously: The Collected Crime Reviews of Dorothy L. Sayers. But Kate Jackson’s critique of that book, at Cross-Examining Crime, makes me want to track down a copy as soon as possible—if only in hopes of sharpening up my own reviewing style. “[T]his is a must-read for all fans of golden age detective fiction,” Jackson opines. “Get it for the laughs, get it to find out what Sayers thought of her friends’ work, or get it to find some new authors to track down. But above all get it!”

• There has been a variety recently of excellent essays penned about crime-fictionists old and not-so-old. Britain’s Guardian, for instance, carried this article by Brian Dillon about how Raymond Chandler’s renowned shamus, Philip Marlowe, “found his voice.” UK crime-culture researcher and author Sarah Trott (War Noir) delivered a two-part analysis, on the Strand Magazine site, of Chandler’s literary legacy; Part I is here, Part II can be enjoyed here. Sarah K. Stephens recounts in the online publication The Millions “how P.D. James and detective fiction healed my broken heart.” And in a review for Literary Web of the new big-screener Tomato Red (watch the trailer here), William Boyle applauds the “genius” of Daniel Woodrell, the “Battle-Hardened Bard of Meth Country.”

• In Reference to Murder’s B.V. Lawson brings the news that author-editor Rick Ollerman “will be launching a new digest-sized magazine this summer called Down & Out: The Magazine. The first issue features a new Moe Prager story by Reed Farrel Coleman, and the second a new Sheriff Dan Rhodes story by Bill Crider.” Yours truly, by the way, has been asked to contribute review columns to this fledgling periodical. Wish me luck on the venture.

• What a terrific project! With the benefit of hefty financial grants, Northern Illinois University is busy digitizing 19th-century “dime novels” for widespread public consumption. “These dime novel format books sold in hundreds of thousands of copies—they were the best sellers of their day,” explains Lynne Thomas, the curator of NIU’s Rare Books and Special Collections. “They were read by more average Americans than anything that is taught in literature classes of the period, including things like Moby Dick or the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne.” Start your exploration of the growing collection here. (Hat tip to Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine.)

• Congratulations to former President Barack Obama for winning the 2017 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. In a statement, Kennedy’s grandson Jack Schlossberg gave this explanation of why Obama deserved the commendation: “Faced with unrelenting political opposition, President Obama has embodied the definition of courage that my grandfather cites in the opening lines of Profiles in Courage: grace under pressure. Throughout his two terms in office, he represented all Americans with decency, integrity, and an unshakeable commitment to the greater good.” Obama was presented with the award last evening, May 7, at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. No doubt Donald Trump will launch one of his whiny tweetstorms in response ...

R.I.P., men’s adventure magazine writer Walter Kaylin.

• Which long-running CSI TV series is your favorite? Criminal Element wants to know. (In case you’re curious, at last check the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation had amassed the greatest number of votes in this survey—61 percent.)

• Black Gate contributor Bob Byrne has more than a few nice things to say about the 2001-2002 A&E-TV series A Nero Wolfe Mystery, which starred Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin and Maury Chaykin as Rex Stout’s agoraphobic, beer-loving Manhattan sleuth, Wolfe. “[E]ven if you’ve never read any Wolfe,” Byrne remarks, “it’s a pretty good period detective series and you should give it a try.”

• I came in on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea after its original prime-time run, but loved weekend repeats of that 1961-1964 Irwin Allen sci-fi TV sea adventure. Apparently I was not alone in my admiration, as the blog Cult TV Lounge proves here and here.

• Lee Goldberg, who wrote three episodes of the 1985-1988 ABC-TV series Spenser: For Hire, inspired by Robert B. Parker’s detective novels, has posted this promotional spot for that program’s 1985 fall premiere, featuring a theme song that Goldberg describes as “a cringe-inducing twisting of Randy Newman’s ‘I Love L.A.’”

• Although nefarious misdeeds are usually solved and their perpetrators captured in crime fiction, Vox informs us that, in fact, “fewer than half of violent crimes and about a third of property crimes in the U.S. are reported to the police each year. Meanwhile, less than half of violent crimes and less than one-fifth of property crimes that are reported are actually cleared by police and referred to prosecution. (Keep in mind that the clearance rate is not even the solved rate, because prosecution doesn’t always lead to conviction.)”

• Since I didn’t happen to tune in for last month’s Oscars presentation, I missed the fact that Robert Vaughn, the Man from U.N.C.L.E. star who died last November, was not mentioned in the broadcast’s “In Memoriam” segment—although some 45 other people were, according to The Spy Command. A damn shame!

The March edition of Mike Ripley’s “Getting Away with Murder” column for Shots includes witty remarks about Pan Macmillan’s Thin Blue Spine initiative, the proliferation of crime-novel titles featuring the word “Girl” (“American blogger Steve Donoghue ... has identified no less than 41 titles as his ‘Worst Books of 2016—Fiction’”), the coming debut of Michael Connelly’s new series protagonist (in The Late Show), and other anticipated works by Russel D. MacLean, Philip Kerr, Leonardo Padura, and Chris Brookmyre.

• I have to admit, I was not familiar with Harold Blundell (1902-1985), a British banker and crime novelist who—under the nom de plume George Bellairs—concocted a succession of books featuring Scotland Yard Detective-Inspector Thomas Littlejohn. So I was somewhat flummoxed to learn that Mysterious Press is now bringing out e-book versions of those Littlejohn yarns. The half-dozen initial releases include The Case of the Seven Whistlers (1944) and Outrage on Gallows Hill (1948). Blundell/Bellairs kept Littlejohn active through 1980, so there are plenty more stories to put back on the market, should the early ones find new interest among readers.

• Excellent news! Walter Mosley has a new novel, Down the River Unto the Sea, being readied for publication in February 2018. Entertainment Weekly reports that “the novel centers on a former New York City police detective, now working as a Brooklyn P.I., who is investigating the case of a Black civil rights activist convicted of murdering two city policemen. At the same time, he’s still trying to piece together the conspiracy that caused his own downfall at the hands of the police.”

• Having survived last year’s Independent Bookstore Day, I very much look forward to participating again in that competition to visit as many local indie bookshops as possible. This year’s competition is slated for Saturday, April 29. According to Shelf Awareness, “457 stores from around the country are participating, up from around 430 last year and 365 in 2015. Forty-eight states are represented, with only Hawaii and Arkansas missing, and a searchable map featuring the locations of all participating bookstores can be found here.”

A belated “happy fifth birthday” to Bitter Tea and Mystery!

• A few author interviews worthy of attention: Eliot Pattison answers Criminal Element’s questions about his ninth Inspector Shan Tao Yun mystery, Skeleton God; for Crime Watch, Craig Sisterson quizzes Brad Parks, whose new novel is a standalone titled Say Nothing; for Shots, Kimberley “K.J.” Howe chats with the ubiquitous Ali Karim about her debut thriller, The Freedom Broker; Dave White interrogates Alex Segura about the latter’s forthcoming novel, Dangerous Ends; meanwhile, White fields queries from S.W. Lauden about his own fresh work of fiction, Blind to Sin; John B. Valeri plumbs the life of Rhys Bowen (In Farleigh Field); and Sharon Long interviews Elaine Viets (Brain Storm) for Mystery Playground.

• From The Spy Command comes word that the TV streaming service Hulu has released a trailer for Becoming Bond, a 90-minute “documentary/narrative hybrid chronicling the stranger-than-fiction true story” of how Australian non-actor George Lazenby became British spy James Bond—at least for one movie, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Den of Geek says this documentary “promise[s] a bit of everything—drama, comedy, romance, drugs, sex, twists, turns, the whole shebang.” Becoming Bond makes its Hulu debut on May 20.

• Speaking of all things 007 … Anne Billson’s Multiglom blog features a nice tribute to Eva Green, who of course played the stunning Vesper Lynd, opposite Daniel Craig, in 2006’s Casino Royale.

• Finally, because I can’t actually imagine spending many days without women (what fun would that be, really?), let me direct you to this online list—from Elle magazine—of “The 10 Best Thrillers and Crime Writing by Women” … and this lengthy rundown—from Goodreads—of the “Best Female Crime/Mystery/Thriller Writers.”