Friday, August 18, 2017

Bullet Points: Pre-Solar Eclipse Edition

• Things are definitely shaping up for this year’s Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival, set to take place in Stirling, Scotland, from September 8 to 10. We already welcomed the longlist of nominees for the 2017 McIlvanney Prize, and pored over the general convention program. Now comes the list of “exciting new authors” in the genre who’ve been asked to participate in Bloody Scotland’s “Crime in the Spotlight” presentations, meaning they’ll act sort of like warm-up bands for better-known wordsmiths. Shotsmag Confidential observes that “Two years ago Graeme Macrae Burnet appeared ‘in the spotlight’ immediately before Ian Rankin, one year later he was shortlisted for the Man Booker. It’s a great opportunity to perform in front of a vast audience of potential fans.”

• It’s regrettable news, indeed, that an upcoming movie featuring Ernest Tidyman’s renowned black Manhattan private eye, John Shaft, “is going to be definitely not straight action. We’re going action-comedy or comedy-action, I’m not exactly sure which one comes first,” explains this big-screen reboot’s director, Tim Story. As Steve Aldous, UK author of The World of Shaft, grumbles in his blog: “I hold no confidence [this production] will add anything positive to the Shaft legacy.”

• On the other hand, a trailer for The Deuce—a David Simon/George Pelecanos-created drama scheduled to premiere on HBO-TV come Sunday, September 10—looks fabulous! As Criminal Element explains, the eight-episode first season of this series “explores the rise of the porn culture in New York during the 1970s and ’80s, as a cultural revolution in American sexuality met a change in the legal definitions of obscenity to create the billion-dollar industry it is today.” James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal star in the show, but also noteworthy is that novelists Richard Price, Megan Abbott, and Lisa Lutz have all taken a hand in writing for the program.

• Was recent hand-wringing in the press over whether Daniel Craig would return to star in the as-yet-unnamed 25th James Bond film unwarranted? Had Craig pledged himself to the project long ago? The Spy Command sifts through the evidence.

R.I.P., Blanche Blackwell, described by The Washington Post as “a member of one of Jamaica’s richest families but … best known as the mistress and muse of Ian Fleming, the rakish author who was the creator of James Bond.” She died on August 8 at age 104.

In an interview with BBC Radio, Ian Fleming's actress niece, Lucy Fleming, remarks on how the on-screen 007s have evolved over time “to reflect the generation they are made in.” Today, she says, “you need a tougher, more ruthless Bond than we did in 1960s.”

• And The Book Bond brings news that Vintage Classics is readying yet another fresh series of covers for Fleming’s spy novels.

• In the wake of last week’s announcement of finalists for Australia’s 2017 Ned Kelly Awards, the Australian Crime Writers Association—in partnership with the crime-fiction Web site Kill Your Darlings—has broadcast its shortlist of contenders for this year’s S.D. Harvey Short Story Competition, honoring the late Sydney journalist/TV producer Sandra Harvey. The nominees are:

— “Rules to Live By,” by Louise Bassett
— “The Ridge,” by Katherine Kovacic
— “The Enthusiastic Amateur,” by Melanie Myers
— “Shafted,” by Roni O’Brien
— “Flesh,” by Stephen Samuel
— “How to Cease Being a Man Killer,” by Roger Vickery

A winner as well as a runner-up will be declared on September 1 during the annual Ned Kelly Awards Presentation in Melbourne, Victoria.

• This item comes from In Reference to Murder:
The Malice Domestic conference announced that Brenda Blethyn will be the Poirot Award Honoree for the 2017 conference. Ms. Blethyn is an Academy Award- and Emmy-nominated, Golden Globe-winning actress who stars as DCI Vera Stanhope in the series Vera, based on the books by Ann Cleeves. She joins the already-announced lineup that includes Guest of Honor Louise Penny; Toastmaster Catriona McPherson; Lifetime Achievement Award winner Nancy Pickard; Amelia Award winner David Suchet; and Fan Guest of Honor Janet Blizard.
• Only after posting my list of favorite crime-fiction blogs last week did it occur to me that I had neglected to mention Sarah Weinman’s The Crime Lady. Of course, that’s not a blog or a Web site, but is instead a once-or-twice-a-month newsletter, and I wasn’t focused on such things when compiling my recommendations. Nonetheless, The Crime Lady deserves reader attention. The New York-based Weinman, who for a long time wrote the excellent blog Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, and subsequently edited Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & ’50s, addresses crime and mystery fiction in her newsletter, as well as true-crime subjects, and always brings insight to her writing. You will find an archive of The Crime Lady here, and you can subscribe to it by clicking here.

• Speaking of Weinman’s bulletins, the last edition featured an interview with Mattias Boström, the Swedish author of From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women Who Created an Icon (Mysterious Press). She describes his new book as a “narrative history paced like a suspense novel, and packed full of information about [Arthur] Conan Doyle, the early wild success of Holmes & Watson, and the century-plus since of how the characters were transformed in books, film, television, radio, podcasts, and fanfic.”

• Other recent author interviews worth your time: Augustus Rose talks with the Chicago Review of Books about his new novel, The Readymade Thief; Rose is also interviewed for the Speaking of Mysteries podcast by Nancie Clare, whose other latest program guest was Rachel Howzell Hall (City of Saviors); Mystery Playground chats with Karin Slaughter about The Good Daughter; Boston native Adam Abramowitz is quizzed by both DigBoston and Jewish Boston about his debut thriller, Bosstown; and MysteryPeople engages in conversation with Traci Lambrecht about Nothing Stays Buried, the last Monkeewrench gang yarn she co-wrote—under the pseudonym P.J. Tracy—with her mother, P.J. Lambrecht, who passed away late last year.

• Whodunit writer Bonnie “B.K.” Stevens died “suddenly” on August 14, according to The Gumshoe Site. It goes on to explain:
The former college professor had the old dream of becoming a fiction writer and started writing mystery short stories. The fourth story, “True Detective,” introducing Lt. Walt Johnson and Sgt. Gordon Bolt, was sold and printed in the June 1988 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (AHMM). She contributed a number of short stories mostly for AHMM and sometimes for Woman’s World, featuring Johnson & Bolt, female private eye Iphigenia Woodhouse, and temp secretary/amateur sleuth Leah Abrams. She published both her first novel, Interpretation of Murder (Black Opal Books), featuring sign language interpreter Jane Ciardi, and her second one, Fighting Chance (Poisoned Pen Press), a martial arts mystery for teens, in 2015. Her recent novella, “The Last Blue Glass” (AHMM, April 2016) has been nominated for Agatha and Anthony Awards.
Mystery Fanfare’s obituary of Stevens includes her husband’s painful Facebook announcement that “the greatest wife, friend, and companion a man could have” collapsed at the Suffolk, Virginia, Mystery Writers’ Festival “and never recovered.” Our sympathies go out to all of Stevens’ family.

• Art Taylor offers up his own fine remembrance of B.K. Stevens, in SleuthSayers. “Both professionally and personally,” he concludes, “Bonnie Stevens was one of my dearest friends, and her death is sudden and sharply felt—a loss to all of us in the mystery community. I will miss her in so very many ways.”

• Also gone is Brooklyn-born actor Joseph Bologna, who The New York Times said “looked like the quintessential tough guy but couldn’t seem to resist writing and playing sensitive male characters who longed for love and commitment in films like ‘Lovers and Other Strangers’ and ‘Made for Each Other.’” Over the course of his career, Bologna appeared as well on TV series such as L.A. Law, Burke’s Law, Marshall Law (do you detect a pattern here?), Everwood, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. He died on August 13 at 82 years of age.

• Now, that’s incredible! The underappreciated 1973-1974 NBC-TV drama The Magician—which I initially wrote about in The Rap Sheet 11 years ago—is finally set to receive a complete video release, according to TV Shows on DVD. The on-sale date is supposed to be next Friday, August 25. I don’t yet find it available on Amazon, but Toronto-based home video distribution company VEI has made the show available for “preorder.” As TV Shows on DVD recalls, this series starred “Bill Bixby … as master stage magician Tony Blake [originally Anthony Dorian], a playboy philanthropist who uses his talents as an illusionist to solve crimes and help others in need. After being falsely imprisoned, Blake escapes and uses his unjust imprisonment as a motivator to seek justice for others.” Only 21 hour-long weekly episodes of The Magician were made, along with a 90-minute pilot, and the show underwent serious mid-season adjustments, during which Blake lost his private Boeing 720 jet and relocated from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Still, I enjoyed Bixby’s series enough that several years ago I tracked down and bought bootleg copies of all the episodes. Should I now add the official DVD release to my collection of vintage TV shows? Click here to watch the pilot’s opening title sequence.

• “American movies changed 50 years ago, when two seemingly unassailable outlaws met a parade of bullets and became the ultimate antiheroes.” So writes Matthew Jacobs in The Huffington Post, noting it was on August 13, 1967, that the Warren Beatty/Faye Dunaway film Bonnie and Clyde opened in theaters. The violent, sexy yarn director Arthur Penn wove had only a scant relationship to the real story of small-time Depression-era outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. But as Jacobs asserts, it has become a “hip and bold” classic.

• Thanks to the podcast Serial, literary true crime/memoir hybrids are currently on the rise, according to Slate’s Laura Miller.

• I like to think of myself as being quite well read in the field of classic mystery novels, but this lengthy list from BuzzFeed reminds me that I still have more work to do.

• Mystery Tribune reports that television’s “Hallmark Channel is looking for original mystery and suspense manuscripts.” It goes on to note that “The channel is particularly interested in romances and mysteries that also celebrate friendship, family, and/or community ties.” Then it delivers this cause for head shaking: “All stories must have happy endings.” Yeah, that’s the Hallmark Channel for you.

• Philip Kerr’s The Other Side of Silence, his 11th historical thriller starring Berlin ex-cop Bernie Gunther, was originally released in hardcover in 2016. But the paperback edition came out this year—much to critic Jim Napier’s delight, as he explains in January Magazine.

• Bill Crider submits his new Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery, Dead, to Begin With (Minotaur), to Marshal Zerigue’s infamous Page 69 Test.

• Most book trailers are pretty lame, in my opinion. But this one, promoting Australian Sarah Schmidt’s creepy new literary look back at the 1892 Lizzie Borden homicides, See What I Have Done (Atlantic Monthly Press), is positively haunting.

For the Strand Magazine blog, Jason Pinter—the publisher of Polis Books and the author most recently of a well-received political thriller titled The Castle (Armina Press)—names half a dozen other works in that same subgenre that he thinks we should all read. And yes, David Baldacci’s Absolute Power is included.

• Finally, there’s still no word yet on whether Grantchester, the 1950s-set British mystery TV series that concluded its Season 3 run on Masterpiece Mystery! last month, will return with a fourth set of episodes. A blog called Telly Visions (yeah, I hadn’t heard of it before either) quotes author James Runcie (not “Ruchie”) as saying the problem lies primarily with star James Norton, “who has ‘gotten too popular.’ Speaking to The Sun, he complained that since Norton’s turn on [the BBC One crime drama] Happy Valley, the actor is now a ‘hot property.’” So we continue to wait on tenterhooks for updates.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Revue of Reviewers, 8-15-17

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





Technical Difficulties

Ever since its launching in 2006, The Rap Sheet has offered readers the opportunity to subscribe to our posts via a Google-owned Web feed management provider called FeedBurner. All one need do is provide his or her e-mail address in a “Subscribe to The Rap Sheet” box located near the top of the right-hand column on this page. Hundreds of readers have taken advantage of this convenient service, receiving our new articles via daily e-mail messages, and I have rarely (maybe never?) heard complaints about it.

However, yesterday a Rap Sheet follower named Deb wrote me saying: “You should tell people who receive your newsletter and who are utterly frustrated by the format which fails to combine comments with the photos, to go to the blog where all is together!”

She was complaining specifically about the e-mail subscription presentation of a longish post headlined “Harking Back to Harrogate,” in which British correspondent Ali Karim recounted events late last month at England’s Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. It seems the text came through just fine, but the many photographs gathered at the end of the original post were not always clearly associated with their captions in the e-mailed transmission. This is a problem having to do with differences in formatting—especially column width—between the Web edition of The Rap Sheet and the FeedBurner version. And sadly, it’s something I haven’t the power to fix. (FeedBurner doesn’t allow individual bloggers to specify e-mail column dimensions.) I can only repeat Deb’s suggestion: On those rare occasions when a Rap Sheet post does not come through clearly in a subscription e-mail note, please click on the article’s headline to reach the Web display of that material, instead.

As always, I thank you for your support and understanding.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Expanding Appreciation for Kiwi Crime

There’s plenty of new blood (appropriately) to be found among the finalists for New Zealand’s 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards. As awards convenor Craig Sisterson explains, “None of our previous winners were in the running. In fact, 18 of the 19 different Kiwi authors who’ve been finalists for our awards in the past were missing.” This prize competition, which Sisterson founded in 2010, is meant to “recognize the best in New Zealand crime writing”—fiction and now, for the first time, non-fiction as well.

Sisterson says the shortlist of this year’s contenders was drawn from among 54 submissions (the longlist of Best Novel rivals to be found here). “Entries in our fiction categories were up 50 percent,” he explains, “and the quality and variety has been really outstanding. New Zealand readers love crime, and our local authors are offering plenty of world-class writing, both traditional detective tales and books stretching the borders.”

Without further ado, here are the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Award contenders:

Best Crime Novel:
Pancake Money, by Finn Bell (e-book)
Spare Me the Truth, by C.J. Carver (Zaffre)
Red Herring, by Jonothan Cullinane (HarperCollins)
Marshall’s Law, by Ben Sanders (Allen & Unwin)
The Last Time We Spoke, by Fiona Sussman (Allison & Busby)

Best First Novel:
Dead Lemons, by Finn Bell (e-book)
Red Herring, by Jonothan Cullinane (HarperCollins)
The Ice Shroud, by Gordon Ell (Bush Press)
The Student Body, by Simon Wyatt (Mary Egan)
Days Are Like Grass, by Sue Younger (Eunoia)

Best Non-Fiction:
In Dark Places, by Michael Bennett (Paul Little)
The Scene of the Crime, by Steve Braunias (HarperCollins)
Double-Edged Sword, by Simonne Butler with Andra Jenkin
(Mary Egan)
The Many Deaths of Mary Dobie, by David Hastings (AUP)
Blockbuster!, by Lucy Sussex (Text)

The winners in each category will be declared during a special WORD Christchurch event in New Zealand, to be held on October 28.

Congratulations to all of the nominees!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Harking Back to Harrogate


(Left to right) Authors Robert Goddard and Simon Kernick.

By Ali Karim
Although the North Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate has much else to commend it—such as exquisite public gardens, elegant historical architecture, and its renowned Bettys Café Tea Rooms—crime-fiction fans may recognize it best as the place where top-selling mystery writer Agatha Christie was finally located, following her 11-day disappearance in 1926. (Whether the author had intended her escapade to be a publicity stunt, or part of a scheme to save her collapsing marriage remains unclear.) So it wasn’t surprising that her former publisher, HarperCollins, should have mounted a first-ever display of correspondence between Christie and HarperCollins chairman Billy Collins at the town’s Old Swan Hotel late last month.

The Old Swan was the ideal venue, of course, for it was at that distinguished retreat—formerly known as the Swan Hydropathic Hotel—where sleuth Hercule Poirot’s creator lived for 10 days as “Mrs. Teresa Neele,” before being recognized and returned to her former life. And the fact that the exhibition of Christie’s letters, as well as “candid photographs,” took place from July 20 to 23 was no coincidence, either; that was when this year’s Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival was held in Harrogate. The Christie display was predictably popular with convention participants.

2017 marked the Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival’s 15th year, and drew an international assortment of genre celebs. People such as Kathy Reichs, Dennis Lehane, and Joseph Finder from America; and from the European mainland, writers of the caliber of Swedish fictionist Arne Dahl (aka Jan Arnald), Germany’s Melanie Raabe (The Trap), and my favorite Dutch publishers, Chris Herschdorfer and Steven Maat of AmboAnthos, who attend this Harrogate event annually. The programming for the festival was adroitly managed by British novelist Elly Griffiths (aka Domenica de Rosa), who interspersed emerging talents among the stars—much to the satisfaction of Val McDermid, who likes to champion up-and-coming writers during what has become a regular “New Blood” presentation. (It’s her way of acknowledging the help she herself received from established wordsmiths early in her career.)

Things got rolling fast at last month’s festival. An opening-night gala party included the announcement that Scottish fictionist Chris Brookmyre had won the Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award for Black Widow (Little, Brown). He was later quoted as saying: “I’m really quite taken aback. I’ve been shortlisted three times before for this award, always the bridesmaid, today I get to walk up the aisle. A book is not just the work of the author behind it. I’d like to thank my editor, Ed Wood, for his caliber and daring that made a good book greater. I’m mainly just very proud.”

That same evening, it was a particular delight to watch as festival director Sharon Canavar and Simon Theakston, the executive director of Theakston Brewery and this event’s principal sponsor, bestowed upon London-based literary agent Jane Gregory a commendation for Special Services to the Festival. Gregory was instrumental, back in 2003, in helping to set up this ongoing and wonderful event. Honored along with Gregory was Lee Child, who collected the festival’s Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award.

So that was Thursday night. Friday brought a second volley of accolades: the 2017 Dead Good Reader Awards. Featured among the recipients of those were Michael Connelly (whose The Wrong Side of Goodbye was honored with the Case Closed Award for Best Police Procedural), C.L. Taylor (winner of the Hidden Depths Award for Most Unreliable Narrator for The Escape), and Hollie Overton’s Baby Doll (which picked up the creatively titled Cat Amongst the Pigeons Award for Most Exceptional Debut).

Cheering on prize winners is a familiar exercise at mystery-fiction celebrations such as this one. So, too, are opportunities—both calculated and serendipitous—to meet and catch up with wordsmiths, critics, and other questionable characters who might otherwise be hiding in their day jobs. Retailer W.H. Smith capitalized on this gathering by setting up an expansive book room in a tent, and publishers scheduled special receptions throughout the weekend, hoping to curry favor with authors and reviewers alike. It was especially nice to see Laurence Howell, the content director for audiobook retailer Audible, as he and his team were promoting their annual Sounds of Crime Award (given out during CrimeFest).


British writers Luca Veste, Mark Billingham, and Chris Brookmyre, the last of whom walked away with this year’s Old Peculier
Crime Novel of the Year award.


Saturday evening brought a different brand of enjoyment in the form of the annual Theakston Crime Writing Quiz. I’ve often participated in this challenge, and did so again this time around, teamed with UK broadcaster Mark Lawson and a squad we dubbed “The Journos.” Other members of that group were Mike Stotter, my longtime friend and colleague from Shots; author Joseph Finder; The Guardian’s associate media editor, John Dugdale; and Jon Coates of the Daily Express. As the competition grew heated, we looked to have the win firmly in hand … only to be pipped at the post, losing by one point to Jane Gregory’s team, “The Velociraptors,” which boasted a roster rounded out by Jake Kerridge of The Daily Telegraph, and authors Danuta Kean, Natasha Cooper, Sarah Hilary, and Mick Herron. As quiz masters Val McDermid and Mark Billingham presented the winners with their trophy, I shot video footage of the moment, which you can watch here.

Later, Lawson and I recapped our inconsistent history with this trivia contest. As team captains, we’ve both notched up victories in the past; but last year our gang had also to be content with second place. Lawson joked about my ability to choke in the home stretch. “Karim,” he said, “you were great until about halfway, and then you talked gibberish. Next year you are banned from swigging all that gin.” At which point the rest of our team roared with laughter!

In the interests of brevity (and because the aforementioned gin has left my recollections of Harrogate a tad hazy), I shall end my report here and move on to additional photographs taken during last month’s gathering. This annual event is always enjoyable, and worth your time if you wish to take part someday. Information about the 2018 Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival can be found here. I urge you to book early, as these get-togethers tend to fill up fast.


Scottish fictionist Ian Rankin ... in disguise, of course.



Young German journalist-turned-author Melanie Raabe.



Dennis Lehane signs copies of his novels, with help from Zoë Hood, the deputy publicity director with Little, Brown UK.



Thriller writer Kathy Reichs with Shots editor Mike Stotter.



Jane Gregory makes off with her Special Services award.



Transatlantic best-sellers Joseph Finder and Arne Dahl.



UK mystery authorities Ann Cleeves and Martin Edwards.



ThrillerFest executive director and author Kimberley “K.J.” Howe (The Freedom Broker) with fellow American Karen Dionne
(The Marsh King’s Daughter).



Mike Stotter goes head to head (sort of) with Simon Toyne.



Smile for the camera!: Zoë Sharp and Lee Child.



Sneaking up on a couple of Neils—Broadfoot and White.



Festival programmer Elly Griffiths.



They missed it by that much: Theakston Crime Writing Quiz second-place finishers John Coates, Ali Karim, Mike Stotter, Joseph Finder, Mark Lawson, and John Dugdale lick their wounded pride …



… While the trivia quiz winners—Natasha Cooper, Mick Herron, Danuta Kean, Jake Kerridge, Jane Gregory, and Sarah Hilary—are unhesitant in showing off their trophy.



Noted Dutch publishers Chris Herschdorfer and Steven Maat.



And what do you know, there’s Mike Stotter again, this time palling it up with mystery-fiction promoter/blogger Lizzie Hayes and Dea Parkin, secretary of the British Crime Writers’ Association.

(Photographs © Ali Karim, 2017)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Narrowing the Field of Neddies

Earlier today, during the Mudgee Readers’ Festival in New South Wales, the Australian Crime Writers Association announced its shortlist of contenders for the 2017 Ned Kelly Awards, in three categories.

Best Fiction:
An Isolated Incident, by Emily Maquire (Picador)
Crimson Lake, by Candice Fox (Bantam)
Out of the Ice, by Ann Turner (Simon & Schuster)
Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly, by Adrian
McKinty (Serpent’s Tail)
The Golden Child, by Wendy James (Commercial Women’s Fiction)
The Rules of Backyard Cricket, by Jock Serong (Text)

Best First Fiction:
Burn Patterns, by Ron Elliott (Fremantle Press)
Goodwood, by Holly Throsby (Allen & Unwin)
Only Daughter, by Anna Snoekstra (Harlequin)
Something for Nothing, by Andy Muir (Affirm Press)
The Dry, by Jane Harper (Pan)
The Love of a Bad Man, by Laura Elizabeth Woollett (Scribe)

True Crime:
Code of Silence, by Colin Dillon with Tom Gilling (Allen & Unwin)
Denny Day, by Terry Smyth (Ebury)
Getting Away with Murder, by Duncan McNab (Vintage)
Murder at Myall Creek, by Mark Tedeschi (Simon & Schuster)
The Drowned Man, by Brendan James Murray (Echo)

Winners will be declared on September 1 during the annual Ned Kelly Awards Presentation in Melbourne, Victoria.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Top Dogs Among Crime Blogs

After working for many years as an editor of magazines, newspapers, and online publications, I have developed a healthy skepticism toward “bests” lists of any sort. As you might suspect, most such inventories—whether they be of doctors, residential neighborhoods, travel destinations, hamburgers, beauty salons, or books—aren’t based on meticulous scientific analysis, but instead reflect the limited experiences of their creators. On rare occasion, a periodical will go to the trouble of sending a brief survey out to, say, local attorneys, asking them who among their peers they would recommend readers hire. However, that’s usually as far as the research goes. Much more frequently, editors and writers simply solicit their fellow employees, friends, and other contacts for recommendations, and then present the results as authoritative.

So when I read recently that the online journal produced by MysteryPeople, the crime-fiction department of Austin, Texas’ “largest independent bookstore,” BookPeople, had been featured among Feedspot’s “Top 50 Mystery Blogs and Websites for Mystery Lovers and Authors,” I was immediately suspicious—not because the MysteryPeople blog doesn’t deserve such acclaim (it most certainly does), but because I’d never heard of Feedspot. As I subsequently learned, it’s a newsfeed aggregator that collects the latest posts—in a wide variety of subjects—from blogs and other Internet sites. The selections are extremely uneven in quality, though that’s what you would expect from an aggregator. Feedspot’s “Top 50 Mystery Blogs” choices reflect a similarly arbitrary approach. While a number of them merited recognition, I’d never heard of others mentioned (and remember, this is my field of expertise!). Furthermore, there were only 41 sites included, rather than the headline-promised 50. What was to be made of all this?

I pay scant notice to most rankings of this sort, judging them to be vanity ventures. However, I was puzzled that The Rap Sheet had been excluded from Feedspot’s roster. I took advantage, therefore, of a “Submit Your Blog” button on the left side of the “Top 50 Mystery Blogs” page. It allowed me to suggest The Rap Sheet as a site worthy of Feedspot’s attention, and also supply my name and e-mail address. What the hell, I figured, let’s see if anything happens.

Well, the very next day I received an e-note from one Anuj Agarwal, who identified himself as the “founder of Feedspot.” He wrote: “I would like to personally congratulate you as your blog The Rap Sheet has been selected by our panelist as one of the ‘Top 50 Crime Novel Blogs’ on the web. … I personally give you a high-five and want to thank you for your contribution to this world.” Huh. This was a different Feedspot register on which The Rap Sheet had finally found a place (one listing 49, rather than the avowed 50 honorees), but that seemed just fine. Especially since the “Top 50 Crime Novel Blogs” index included more sites with which I was familiar, arranged in a manner that—while confounding to the rest of us—must surely make sense to that unidentified but purportedly discriminating “panelist” Agarwal cited in his missive. The Rap Sheet had won the No. 11 spot. So what if Feedspot misreported that this blog updates only once a week, instead of the four or five times it actually does?

Then within an hour after that initial message, a second one dropped into my e-mailbox, also from Agarwal. It led with flattery (“You have an impressive blog with high quality and useful content on Mystery”), and went on to inform me: “If you subscribe to Feedspot Gold subscription, we will feature your blog in our ‘Top 50 Mystery Blogs’ post”—the one I had wondered about originally. A subscription to Feedspot Gold, it turns out, would cost $23.88 a year, although the site was willing to provide me a 12-month trial free of charge.

Now, I understand that people today are quite obsessed with making money, and entrepreneurs are still searching for foolproof ways to turn a buck online. But trying to convince the general public that your Web site can be trusted to name only the “best” of anything, while simultaneously offering blogs placement on those supposedly exclusive lists for a price, doesn’t seem even close to kosher.

The Rap Sheet’s Feedspot listing includes the number of its Facebook fans and Twitter followers, and its Alexa ranking. (Click the image to open an enlargement).

What bothers me, in addition, is that other bloggers have not been similarly hit up for Feedspot subscriptions, yet their sites were awarded choice positions among the “Top 50 Mystery Blogs and Websites” or “Top 50 Crime Novel Blogs.” Steve Lewis, the editor of Mystery*File—which appears in the former inventory—explains in a note that he’d “never heard of this list. It’s news to me. I see I’m ranked number four, which ordinarily would be quite an honor, but most of the other [sites] I’ve never heard of.”

Asked about the process involved in assembling his “bests” lists, Agarwal tells me, “We have a team of over 25 editorials [sic] working on making the best list. … We consider social metrics, Google ranking, post frequency, and of course our editors personally review the blogs before featuring them.” And how does he defend his practice of selling subscriptions in exchange for spots on his lists? “Of course, taking a subscription is not mandatory,” Agarwal avers, “but it helps us covering the cost of the project. (We are not a funded company.)”

My point here is not to steal away the satisfaction MysteryPeople, The Crime Segments, and other blogs might have derived from being mentioned among Feedspot’s crime-fiction resources; we can all use greater validation of our online efforts. I also don’t find any joy in slamming Feedspot in particular, as it’s bit player on the huge Internet stage. Nor am I naïve enough to believe similar business practices aren’t employed elsewhere, both on- and offline. However, I do think it a disservice to bloggers as well as trusting readers that a site such as Feedspot should contend that its “bests” lists represent reputation, quality, and social-media impact, while simultaneously selling slots on those registers. Feedspot suggests, on the one hand, that it’s a credible editorial product, while making clear on the other that any influence it wields can be cheaply purchased. Caveat emptor? Sorry, but Web readers aren’t fools, and they shouldn’t be treated as such.

* * *

This brings up a question sent my way recently by an anonymous reader. He/she wanted recommendations of crime-fiction blogs and Web sites, other than The Rap Sheet, that I think are worth frequenting. As is obvious from the extensive blogroll on this page’s right-hand side, I have made a study over the years of just such compendia of knowledge, covering both classic and current works. And though I’m hesitant to single out the “bests” among them, perhaps that exercise could prove valuable, if only to counter Feedspot’s more dubious such endeavor. Below, then, are 66 Web pages—listed alphabetically, and all currently active—that I visit most frequently for news, reviews, and other information related to this genre.

Again, these are my personal choices. I would expect those of other writers and reviewers to differ, at least somewhat. Finally, let it be said that no site has paid a red cent to be included here.



Euro Crime Blog (and its parent site, Euro Crime)
Pattinase (home of “Friday’s Forgotten Books”)
Shotsmag Confidential (and its parent site, Shots)

Which other blogs and Web sites do you turn to for crime-fiction book reviews and developments in this genre? Please click the “Post a Comment” link below and tell everyone about them.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Revue of Reviewers, 8-8-17

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









A Rhinestone Cowboy Leaves the Arena

His death doesn’t come as a complete shock: Singer, songwriter, and film actor/TV host Glen Campbell announced back in 2011 that he’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and Wikipedia says “symptoms of the disease had been occurring for years, becoming more and more evident as the years progressed.” Still, the man who rose from an Arkansas sharecropping family to become a star and release more than 70 albums of country and rock music had been with us so long, he seemed a permanent part of the American cultural landscape. Until today. From Rolling Stone:
Glen Campbell, the indelible voice behind 21 Top 40 hits including “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Wichita Lineman” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” died Tuesday. He was 81. A rep for Universal Music Group, Campbell's record label, confirmed the singer's death to Rolling Stone. During a career that spanned six decades, Campbell sold over 45 million records. In 1968, one of his biggest years, he outsold the Beatles. …

Campbell was a rare breed in the music business, with various careers as a top-level studio guitarist, chart-topping singer and hit television host. His late-career battle with Alzheimer’s—he allowed a documentary crew to film on his final tour for the 2014 award-winning
I’ll Be Me—made him a public face for the disease, a role President Bill Clinton suggested would one day be remembered even more than his music.

“He had that beautiful tenor with a crystal-clear guitar sound, playing lines that were so inventive,” Tom Petty told
Rolling Stone during a 2011 profile of Campbell. “It moved me.”
I know, this news is far off my usual crime-fiction beat (though Campbell did guest-star in a 1967 installment of The F.B.I.). But so what; it still demands attention, for Campbell was a familiar figure from my youth. His hit songs—including not only those cited above, but also “Galveston” and “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.)” were part of the soundtrack of my most difficult growing-up years. I have never been a country music fan, but partly as a result of the fact that my family rarely missed seeing an episode of his 1969-1972 CBS-TV variety series, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour (some episodes of which can be watched here), I still appreciated Glen Campbell.

READ MORE:Glen Campbell, Country Music Legend, Is Dead at 81,” by Blake Farmer (National Public Radio); “Glen Campbell, Whose Hit Songs Bridged Country and Pop, Dies at 81,” by Michael Pollak
(The New York Times); “Glen Campbell Dies at 81; Country-Pop Singer Battled Alzheimer’s,” by Adam Tschorn (Los Angeles Times).

Monday, August 07, 2017

If at First You Succeed …

I keep hearing about how we are living through a particularly creative, fertile period for filmmakers and television producers. Why, then, do so many Hollywood releases offer little more than warmed-over concepts and deliberate retreads?

Case in point: Bruce Willis’ Death Wish, a remake of the 1974 movie of that same name starring Charles Bronson as Manhattan architect-turned-vigilante Paul Kersey. In Willis’ version, due out in November, Kersey is re-imagined as a bald Chicago doctor—“a man divided, a grim reaper for bad guys who, as a surgeon, removes bullets from the bodies of suspected criminals,” explains Deadline Hollywood. The trailer features more humor than was to be found in the original Bronson picture (or its four sequels), but otherwise the novelty of this remake appears in notably short supply. It doesn’t even rise to the level of Edward Woodward’s The Equalizer, a 1985-1989 CBS-TV series about a much more urbane purveyor of street-level justice.

Equally worthy of a giant eye-roll is news that NBC-TV wants to bring back Miami Vice, the stylish 1984-1989 crime drama starring Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as a pair of boundaries-pushing Miami-Dade police detectives. Deadline Hollywood reports this series reboot will have “the Fast & Furious duo of Vin Diesel and Chris Morgan producing. The remake, which had been in the works since last season, will be written by Peter Macmanus (The Mist, Satisfaction) and produced by Universal Television, Chris Morgan Productions and Diesel’s One Race TV. No executive producers have been locked in yet, but Morgan and Ainsley Davies of Chris Morgan Productions are expected to serve as EPs along with Diesel and Shana Waterman of One Race and Macmanus. Both Morgan and Diesel have deals with Universal TV.” Deadline Hollywood says this new Miami Vice is “already in the works for next season.”

What’s next, guys, the revival of Magnum, P.I.?

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Here’s Looking at You Again, Kid

video

Just when I think I’ve seen the 1942 American film Casablanca about as many times as a human being should be allowed to do, along comes an event—such as this morning’s reassessment of the movie on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Saturday—that sends me back for another viewing. Maybe it’s also time for me to buy a copy of Noah Isenberg’s We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood's Most Beloved Movie (2016), which I can enjoy reading and later place on my bookshelves next to a 1973 hardcover copy of Howard Koch’s Casablanca: Script and Legend.

There are many great scenes in Casablanca, and NPR’s Scott Simon referenced a few of those this morning, including the one in which German and French patrons of Rick's Café Américain in Casablanca, Morocco, compete in the singing pf patriotic songs (a segment I previously mentioned in relation to actress Madeleine LeBeau’s death last year). But the one everyone remembers best, of course, is the one embedded above, featuring Dooley Wilson, Ingrid Bergman, and Humphrey Bogart. “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.’”

That damn song always makes my eyes tear up a bit.

Friday, August 04, 2017

“Down & Out” Is In

I haven’t even yet seen a copy of the premiere issue of Down & Out: The Magazine—and that publication (as I explained recently in The Rap Sheet) features my new “Placed in Evidence” crime-fiction column. But you can now pick up your very own print edition of this promising periodical at Amazon. It’s available, too, in a Kindle version.

I’ll be curious to hear your opinion of it.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Terrible … or Terrific?

It’s become a most pleasant tradition here at The Rap Sheet to announce each year’s winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which solicits the worst (e.g., funniest and most outlandish) opening sentences from never-to-be-finished books. As Neatorama explained in a post earlier today, this competition, “running 35 years now, was named in honor of Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton, who in 1830 began a novel with the phrase ‘It was a dark and stormy night,’ which has been parodied endlessly ever since.”

Twenty-six-year-old outdoor retailer Kat Russo of Loveland, Colorado, has been declared the overall winner of the 2017 Bulwer-Lytton competition, after submitting this start to a fantasy tale:
The elven city of Losstii faced towering sea cliffs and abutted rolling hills that in the summer were covered with blankets of flowers and in the winter were covered with blankets, because the elves wanted to keep the flowers warm and didn’t know much at all about gardening.

Novelist, playwright, and politician Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Moving on to the Crime/Detective category, we find that Doug Self of Brunswick, Maine, has nabbed top honors with this oddball entry:
Detective Sam Steel stood at the crime scene staring puzzled at the chalk outline of Ms. Mulgrave’s body which was really just a stick figure with a dress, curly hair, boobs, and a smiley face because the police chalk guy had the day off.
My personal favorite among the Crime/Detective contenders, though, comes from the Dishonorable Mention pile and was sent in by Beth Armogida of Sierra Madre, California:
“It’s a classic,” she muttered, as she flicked the hair from the old fur coat purchased from eBay for sixty-eight dollars plus overnight shipping for the purpose of this very moment when she stuck out her hip, pulled the trigger, and shot him in that stupid face of his.
Click here to find all of the 2017 winners, in 13 categories. The deadline for submissions to the 2018 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is June 30 of next year.

(Hat tip to Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine.)

Of Spies, Sales, and Speculations

Today’s quick hits from around the crime-fiction world.

• The August edition of Mike Ripley’s “Getting Away with Murder” column for Shots includes brief mentions of London’s “Summer of Spies” promotion, HarperCollins UK’s decision to reissue Desmond Bagley’s adventure thrillers, an “absolutely magnificent” John le Carré book cover, Mattias Boström’s thorough study of Sherlock Holmes’ rise “from fictional creation to media megastar,” and new novels by Will Dean, Brooke Magnanti, Karen Ellis, and others.

• Worrisome news from In Reference to Murder:
[T]he Seattle Mystery Bookshop is up for sale. Founded by Bill Farley 27 years ago, the shop has hosted a veritable who's who of crime-fiction authors through the years for talks and signings. The store sells both new and used books within the genre, from noir to cozy, espionage, classics, [and] historical, and also specializes in hard-to-find, collectible, and signed first editions and Northwest mysteries.

Current owner J.B. Dickey hastened to add that the store isn't closing … yet. But they already had to resort to a GoFundMe drive which brought in enough funds to pay off overdue bills and sock away enough to last through this past winter. As Dickey noted, “It bought us a year—but barely, and that has taken its toll. While we could do another such fundraiser, that’s not a viable way to continue in business.”
My fingers are crossed that Seattle Mystery Bookshop will find a buyer able to steady that store’s financial outlook for the long term.

• If you remember CBS-TV’s Q.E.D., you may be among the few people who do. As explained by Wikipedia, it was “a 1982 adventure television series set in Edwardian England, starring Sam Waterston as Professor Quentin Everett Deverill. The Professor was a scientific detective in the mold of Sherlock Holmes, and the series had a smattering of what would later be called steampunk [devices]. In the show, the lead character was known primarily by his initials, Q.E.D; the reference here is that Q.E.D. usually stands for quod erat demonstrandum, a statement signaling the end of a proof.” I barely recall this show, and I’m not sure I ever watched it when it was originally broadcast. But suddenly, I have a second chance. Somebody signing himself “Howard Carson” has posted all six of the hour-long Q.E.D. episodes on YouTube. Enjoy them while you can!

• Oops! Britain’s Daily Mirror newspaper is enduring a public thrashing over its allegedly “fabricated story” (cited recently in The Rap Sheet) about the next, 25th James Bond motion picture being set in Croatia and based on U.S. author Raymond Benson’s 2001 Bond continuation novel, Never Dream of Dying. “What has yet to be uncovered in this tale,” writes the Bond blog MI6, “is the original source of the false rumour. Most likely, someone e-mailed the Mirror’s showbiz tip line with the claims of having inside information.”

In a piece for The Paris Review, Megan Abbott remarks on In a Lonely Place, Dorothy B. Hughes’ 1947 genre-bending noir novel, which is set to be reissued by publisher NYRB Classics on August 15.

• Meanwhile, New York journalist-turned-fictionist Julia Dahl (Conviction) writes in the Columbia Journalism Review about her years as a freelancer for the tabloid New York Post—an experience that, as she has written elsewhere, “changed my life in more ways than I could have ever imagined.” Click here to read her recollections in CJR.

• For the list fanatics among us: Kirkus Reviews’ rundown of the “10 Most Overlooked Books of This Summer” includes Riley Sager’s Final Girls and Bill Loehfelm’s The Devil’s Muse. Among the Chicago Review of Books’ “12 Books You Should Definitely Read This August” are Ryan Gattis’ Safe, Christopher Swann’s Shadow of the Lions, and Augustus Rose’s The Readymade Thief. For the Strand Magazine blog, British Columbia author Sam Wiebe names his “Top 10 Vancouver Crime Novels.” And U.S. novelist Warren Adler delivers to Crime Fiction Lover a selection of his “Top 5 British [TV] Crime Shows.”

• Finally, congratulations are due The Spy Command and its managing editor, Bill Koenig, for reaching their first million pageviews. Koenig’s spy fiction-oriented blog debuted in 2008 as The HMSS Weblog, but was renamed in 2015, following the failure of its associated Web site, Her Majesty’s Secret Servant.