Friday, January 17, 2020

Revue of Reviewers, 1-17-20

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











Thursday, January 16, 2020

Let’s Not Forget These Items

• Scottish crime novelist Ian Rankin has been tapped as programming chair for the 2020 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, which is to be held in Harrogate, England, from July 23 to 26. Helen Donkin, the Harrogate International Festivals literature festival manager, explains that “The Programme Chair, which changes each year, is responsible for the various themes the discussion panels debate, as well as which authors sit on them. And by having a different chair each year this helps keep the festival fresh and exciting.”

• Deadline is reporting that “Amazon Studios has greenlit Jack Reacher, a drama series based on the character from Lee Child’s international bestselling series of books. Produced by Amazon Studios, Skydance Television and Paramount Television Studios, the television series will be written by Nick Santora (Scorpion, Prison Break), who will also executive produce and serve as showrunner for the series. The first season will be based on the first Jack Reacher novel, The Killing Floor.” So who should be cast as Reacher for this forthcoming program? CrimeReads offers a few ideas.

• A calendar note from In Reference to Murder:
Coming up this weekend, Baltimore will celebrate the 211th birthday of the inventor of the detective novel and an early master of the horror genre, Edgar Allan Poe. Festivities include the free PoeZella Birthday Bash with food and a display of Poe-themed photographs (courtesy of the Baltimore Camera Club); a free Edgar Allan Poe House Literary Landmark Dedication; and the Edgar Allan Poe Birthday Celebration at Poe’s final resting place, Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, with the Poe Project’s “Poe-pourri!” staged adaptations of three of Poe’s works: “The Coliseum,” “Eldorado” and “The Raven.”
• News this week that 18-year-old singer Billie Eilish will perform the title song in this year’s 25th James Bond film, No Time to Die (set to premiere in April), provoked The Spy Command to research the ages of previous Bond vocalists. Not surprisingly, Eilish is the youngest among them. The next closest in age was Sheena Easton, who was only 22 years old when she recorded the title number for the 1981 Roger Moore 007 flick, For Your Eyes Only. Learn more here.

• I’ve added a new name to The Rap Sheet’s right-hand-column list of “Crime/Mystery Podcasts”: Doings of Doyle, which “celebrat[es] the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Professor Challenger, Brigadier Gerard and Sherlock Holmes.”

• No wonder American voters crave change: As Donald John Trump’s impeachment trial begins in the U.S. Senate, presidential historian Douglas Brinkley tells CNN that its impossible to measure Trump against previous Oval Office occupants. “We always are trying to compare presidents to each other,” he says, “but we haven’t had an outlaw president before, and that’s what you have with Donald Trump.”

• Thank you to The Stiletto Gumshoe. In its post about how stock photos have reduced the novelty of today’s book covers, the blog has some complimentary things to say about The Rap Sheet.

• And I forgot to mention this earlier: “The family of 20th-century killer Dr. Crippen—who gained a reputation as one of the most notorious murderers in British history—want his body to be returned to the United States where he was born,” reports the UK’s Daily Mail. “Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen murdered his opera singer wife Cora in their home in London in July 1910, and then told everyone she had gone to America before fleeing Britain with his mistress Ethel Le Neve. Now, nearly 110 years after he was hanged for the killing, Dr. Crippen's family want his body to be exhumed from the grounds of Pentonville Prison in Islington, north London and returned to Dayton, Ohio, in the U.S.” The newspaper adds: “In a letter addressed to the Prime Minister and seen by The Daily Telegraph, a descendant of Dr. Crippen, retired marketing executive Patrick Crippen, writes that his ancestor is innocent and that he wants the body buried in the family plot.”

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Bullet Points: Bonus Edition

• Let us all bid a fond farewell to Edd Byrnes, who played wisecracking, comb-wielding hipster and wannabe private investigator Gerald Lloyd “Kookie” Kookson III on the ABC-TV series 77 Sunset Strip. He passed away at age 87 on January 8. As Terence Towles Canote explains in his blog, A Shroud of Thoughts, “Edd Byrnes was born Edward Byrne Breitenberger on July 30, 1932, in New York City. His father died when he was 13 and he took the name of his grandfather, a New York City firefighter. He eventually took an interest in acting and following his graduation from high school he worked in summer stock. He moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. Mr. Byrnes made his television debut on [a 1955] episode of Crossroads.” TMZ notes that he later played a teen-dance show host Vince Fontaine in the 1978 film Grease.

• First television gave us Hannibal (2013-2015), featuring the depraved forensic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter from Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel, The Silence of the Lambs. Now, according to the Web site Deadline, “CBS has just closed deals for Clarice, a crime-drama series project based on the famous Thomas Harris character Clarice Starling, which is set after the events in The Silence of the Lambs. The project, written and executive produced by Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet, has received a big series commitment. … Clarice is set in 1993, a year after the events of The Silence of the Lambs. The series is a deep dive into the untold personal story of [FBI agent] Clarice Starling, as she returns to the field to pursue serial murderers and sexual predators while navigating the high stakes political world of Washington, D.C.”

• Here’s an intriguing question, addressed by philosopher Daniel C. Dennett: “Did HAL Commit Murder?” You will, of course, remember that HAL 9000 was the artificial intelligence antagonist in the 1968 science-fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

• I keep forgetting to mention that blogger Evan Lewis has been posting, since November 1, installments from the 1956-1958 newspaper comic strip Nero Wolfe, based on Rex Stout’s famous detective series. Click here to see them yourself.

• This comes from B.V. Lawson’s In Reference to Murder:
Synchronicity Films has optioned Craig Russell’s “Lennox” book series and will adapt the period Scotland-set thrillers for TV, with Robert Murphy (DCI Banks, Inspector George Gently, Vera) attached to handle the adaptation.

The series is set in tough inner-city Glasgow in the 1950s where the titular Lennox is a private eye billed as “a damaged man in a hard city at a hard time,” who finds himself caught between three Glasgow crime bosses.
• Los Angeles sure was a smoggy place before 1970, when “President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, which led to air pollution regulations, and allowed California to make even stricter provisions within its state.” It’s hard to believe that Donald Trump is now moving to relax government requirements that have for so long kept the air Americans breathe both cleaner and safer.

• It’s equally incredible that someone went to the trouble of putting together this 25-minute video “compilation of all guest star introductions from the television series Cannon” (1971–1976).

• Author Jess Nevins is offering, in his blog, this excerpt from his forthcoming book, Horror Fiction in the 20th Century: Exploring Literature's Most Chilling Genre (Praeger).

• Meanwhile, BOLO Books carries this extract from Hilary Davidson’s Don’t Look Down (Thomas & Mercer), due out in February.

• Did you know that author Steve Hamilton has a new Alex McKnight short story, Riddle Island (Blackstone), awaiting release to e-readers on February 4? Yeah, neither did I.

• CrimeReads recently posted Paul French’s survey of crime fiction (and some true-crime books) set in Saint Petersburg, Russia. One of the titles he includes, and with which I was previously unfamiliar: “Andrei Bely’s Petersburg (first published in serial form in 1913 and then as a revised edition book in 1922). Sadly not much read these days but considered by Vladimir Nabokov as one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century, after Joyce’s Ulysses and Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and before Proust.”

• The Killing Times assembled this lengthy rundown of TV crime and mystery dramas set to debut in Britain during 2020. Some, though, not the entire assortment, will likely also become available to U.S. viewers. I’m particularly interested in watching the eight-part adaptation of Eleanor Catton’s award-winning novel, The Luminaries, and the small-screen version of Ian McGuire’s Arctic historical thriller, The North Water, both of which are coming from BBC Two.

• The literary magazine NB (short for New Books) has published a fine overview of the three novels British screenwriter Jimmy Sangster wrote about James Reed, described as “an ex-Scotland Yard detective who became the bodyguard, then lover, then husband, then ex-husband of Hollywood superstar Katherine Long.” The first of those titles, 1986’s Snowball, was republished last summer by Brash Books.

• As the latest James Bond film, No Time to Die, is being readied for distribution to theaters in April, the car company most closely associated with Agent 007, Aston Martin, “faces a lot of [financial] uncertainty,” says The Spy Command.

• Finally, Shotsmag Confidential has posted this incomplete inventory of “crime fiction bookish events” taking place in the United Kingdom between now and June 1.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Who’s Right for the Leftys?

Organizers of this year’s Left Coast Crime convention, “Murder’s a Beach”—scheduled to be held in San Diego, California, from March 12 to 15—this morning announced their nominees for the 2020 Lefty Awards, in four categories. Winners are to be declared on Saturday, March 14, during a ceremony at San Diego’s Marriot Mission Valley. The lists of contenders featured below were selected by registrants for both the 2019 and 2020 LCC gatherings.

Lefty for Best Humorous Mystery Novel:
Fatal Cajun Festival, by Ellen Byron (Crooked Lane)
Murder from Scratch, by Leslie Karst (Crooked Lane)
The Subject of Malice, by Cynthia Kuhn (Henery Press)
Scot & Soda, by Catriona McPherson (Midnight Ink)
Drowned Under, by Wendall Thomas (Poisoned Pen Press)

Lefty for Best Historical Mystery Novel (for books set before 1970):
Murder Knocks Twice, by Susanna Calkins (Minotaur)
The Pearl Dagger, by L.A. Chandlar (Kensington)
A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder, by Dianne Freeman (Kensington)
The Body in Griffith Park, by Jennifer Kincheloe (Seventh Street)
The Satapur Moonstone, by Sujata Massey (Soho Crime)

Lefty for Best Debut Mystery Novel:
The Ninja Daughter, by Tori Eldridge (Agora)
Miracle Creek, by Angie Kim (Sarah Crichton)
One Night Gone, by Tara Laskowski (Graydon House)
Three-Fifths, by John Vercher (Agora)
Murderabilia, by Carl Vonderau (Midnight Ink)

Lefty for Best Mystery Novel (not in other categories):
Your House Will Pay, by Steph Cha (Ecco)
Borrowed Time, by Tracy Clark (Kensington)
Lost Tomorrows, by Matt Coyle (Oceanview)
They All Fall Down, by Rachel Howzell Hall (Forge)
Heaven, My Home, by Attica Locke (Mulholland)

According to a press release, “this year’s Guests of Honor are authors Rachel Howzell Hall and T. Jefferson Parker. Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore is the Fan Guest of Honor, and author Matt Coyle will serve as Toastmaster.”

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Bullet Points: Heavy on Nostalgia Edition

• A much-deserved accolade, mentioned yesterday in Literary Hub: “John le Carré, perhaps history’s greatest spy novelist, was this morning announced as the latest recipient of the $100,000 Olof Palme Prize, an award given for ‘an outstanding achievement in any of the areas of anti-racism, human rights, international understanding, peace and common security.’ In their citation, the prize organizers praised le Carré ‘for his engaging and humanistic opinion-making in literary form regarding the freedom of the individual and the fundamental issues of mankind,’ and called his career ‘an extraordinary contribution to the necessary fight for freedom, democracy and social justice.’”

• There are plenty of interesting pieces in the latest edition of Mystery Scene magazine, among them profiles of authors William Kent Krueger and Elly Griffiths, and Kevin Burton Smith’s “2019 Gift Guide for Mystery Lovers” (still worth perusing, even with the holidays now past). However, I was most drawn to Michael Mallory’s retrospective on the 1973-1976 late-night ABC-TV anthology series Wide World of Mystery. As Mallory recalls, that succession of original “mysteries, horror stories, and science-fiction tales”—all of which began at 11:30 p.m.—was ABC’s several-nights-a-week alternative to The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. “While the show’s stories and settings ran the gamut,” Mallory writes, “other things remained constant. One was the 90-minute length—actually 70 or so minutes plus commercials. Another was the fact that they were all recorded on videotape rather than being filmed, as were then-popular prime-time movies of the week. Because of this, viewers were occasionally treated to the occupational hazard of live-on-tape shows: bloopers.” Ed Asner, Lynda Day George, Christopher Reeve, Susan Sarandon, and Tom Selleck were all cast in WWoM installments, only a handful of which are available on DVD (with one—1975’s “Alien Lover,” introducing Kate Mulgrew, to be found on YouTube). I wasn’t a big late-night TV viewer as a boy, but I do remember seeing a few of those teleflicks, notably the March 14, 1975, presentation “Nick and Nora.” An unsuccessful “backdoor pilot” for a separate ABC series, it starred Peter Gunn’s Craig Stevens and small-screen fixture Jo Ann Pflug as Dashiell Hammett’s tippling snoops, Nick and Nora Charles, who in this movie “investigated the death of a man found floating in the pool of a posh L.A. hotel,” according to Mallory.

• By the way, The Stiletto Gumshoe notes that in this new issue of Mystery Scene, “publishers Kate Stine and Brian Skupin officially announced the magazine’s switch to a quarterly starting this year. It’ll be tough to wait longer between issues, but the promise of an increased page count while keeping the subscription price untouched was welcome news.”

• Found recently among my mail, too, was the fifth edition of Down & Out: The Magazine. This was long overdue: the previous issue came out in August 2018. In his editor’s note, Rick Ollerman chalks this delay up to multiple personal mishaps—which wouldn’t have been as big a problem at a larger publication, where other employees could have filled in for the recuperating editor, but at shorthanded Down & Out, it spelled trouble. The sad part is that this tardiness probably cost the periodical subscribers, who thought they could no longer trust in its regularity and future. I can only hope that enough readers will give Down & Out: The Magazine a second chance, because it’s new issue is guaranteed to please, with fiction from the likes of Walter Satterthwait, April Kelly, and Brendan DuBois, plus a column I wrote about Erle Stanley Gardner’s Doug Selby mysteries.

• The original 1968 Ford Mustang GT driven by Steve McQueen in the Warner Bros. film Bullitt, was sold at auction recently for a whopping $3,400,000. That car is renowned for having participated in this thrilling on-screen chase scene.

• In 1985, author Ross Thomas won the Edgar Award for Best Novel with Briarpatch. Now that standalone thriller has been adapted as a USA Network series, set to premiere on February 6. Taking the lead in Thomas’ novel was Ben “Pick” Dill, a white former reporter. However, the gender and race of the protagonist in USA’s series have both been flipped, with Rosario Dawson starring. The Hollywood Reporter explains: “Briarpatch follows Allegra Dill (Dawson), an investigator returning to her border-town Texas home after her sister is murdered. What begins as a search for a killer turns into an all-consuming fight to bring her corrupt city to its knees. The series is described as a blend of crime and pulp fiction.” If you’re interested, you can watch a short trailer is here. (Hat tip to Craig Pittman.)

• Also headed for television: Jonathan Lethem’s first novel, 1994’s Gun, with Occasional Music. “The novel,” says Deadline, “is a blend of sci-fi, noir and satire, set in the near future in a trippy world. Evolved animals are part of society, the government placates its citizens with free mind-numbing drugs, and the police monitor people by their karma levels. The protagonist is Conrad Metcalf, a down-and-out P.I. on a loser of a case. His last client—a prominent doctor—just turned up dead, and in order to clear his name and stay out of the deep freeze, the P.I. works for free to get to the bottom of it all. Turns out there is no bottom to this one, though, and Metcalf soon finds there’s nothing simple about this murder.” Deadline adds that “The series will be produced by Aggregate Films’ Jason Bateman, Michael Costigan and Daniel Pipski, along with Francey Grace.”

• Better late than never, let me direct your attention to the second annual Charlie Chan Family Home newsletter. Ohio Chan fan Lou Armagno notes that the newsletter (available here as a PDF document), addresses “two new book releases; a fall ‘Chan’ class taught at the University of Las Vegas, NV; ‘The Other Guys,’ an article on Mr. Wong and Mr. Moto; a recap of my first year blogging at The Postman on Holiday; and a ‘very special’ narrative by Charlie Chan Family Home webmaster, Rush Glick, on his adventure (20 years ago) to pursue the four lost Chan film-scripts. Finally, [there’s] a look at the upcoming Chinese New Year (The Year of the Rat, January 25) and three Charlie Chan events happening at various locations in 2020.”

• Among the “artists, innovators, and thinkers” we lost in 2019, The New York Times honors Peggy Lipton, co-star of The Mod Squad.

• The blog Up and Down These Mean Streets points out that Angel Eyes, Ace Atkins’ recent novel starring Boston private eye Spenser, features a few nods to the work of Dashiell Hammett.

• Speaking of Hammett, Nick Kolakowski records the multiple efforts over the decades to adapt 1929’s Red Harvest for the silver screen. “Red Harvest,” he opines, “seems doomed to remain the Schrödinger’s cat of noir adaptations: often made—and yet never made.”

• This item comes from In Reference to Murder:
The Audio Publishers Association announced that they will be presenting bestselling author Stephen King with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Audie Awards in March in New York City. King is known for his horror novels such as The Shining and Carrie but also for his crime novels, the Mr. Mercedes Trilogy (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch), The Outsider, The Colorado Kid, and Joyland.
• I’m not usually a Marie Claire reader, but this recent piece in the magazine had me at the headline: “Megan Abbott Wants You to Feel Everything,” with a subhead reading, “With the premiere of her TV series ‘Dare Me’ on December 29, the novelist-turned-showrunner is taking her knack for humanizing the dynamics of gender, rage, and power beyond the page.” Good job, Megan!

• In the blog Mystery*File (which last month celebrated its 13th anniversary), critic Michael Shonk identified his favorite TV series of the last decade, mostly crime dramas, a couple of which I’d never heard of before. So what was his top 2010-2019 pick? “The underrated Person of Interest” (2011-2016).

• Have you seen these Bonnie and Clyde photos?

• Almost a year ago, I mentioned on this page that the 1978 CBS-TV pilot for an unsold series titled The Jordan Chance, starring Raymond Burr, had been posted on YouTube, but that a previous Burr pilot, 1976’s Mallory: Circumstantial Evidence, remained unavailable. Suddenly, though, that latter movie has popped up on the video sales site Modcinema. Here’s its plot synopsis: “Raymond Burr stars again as a lawyer, this time named Arthur Mallory. No Perry Mason here, Mallory has been on the outs since being falsely accused of encouraging a witness to lie on the stand. Eventually cleared, Mallory lives hand to mouth as a public defender, with a heightened sense of fair play when it comes to the downtrodden. In this pilot film for the never-sold TV series Mallory, the attorney defends a jailed car thief (Mark Hamill) who has been framed for the killing of another prisoner.” You can buy the video here.

• It’s hard to believe that California-born actress Karen Valentine will turn 73 years old this coming May. As an early birthday present (to the rest of us), Comfort TV blogger David Hofstede has compiled briefs on some of her most prominent small-screen roles, including in Room 222, her short-lived eponymous TV series from 1975, and an ABC Movie of the Week titled The Girl Who Came Gift-Wrapped (1974)—that last being a flick I recall liking, but hadn’t thought about in years. Here’s Hofstede’s description of the story: “A magazine publisher (Richard Long) receives a bikini-clad girl (Karen Valentine) as a birthday present. Sounds like a set-up for a skit on Love, American Style. But there’s a lot more going on in this surprisingly touching (and funny) TV movie with a wonderful cast—Farrah Fawcett, Tom Bosley, Dave Madden, and Reta Shaw. This may be the best remembered of Valentine’s TV movies—and that’s not a bad choice if it is.” Sadly, you can’t watch The Girl Who Came Gift-Wrapped online; but I see that Modcinema (again, a site after my own heart) has copies for sale here.

• Incidentally, I glanced through Karen Valentine’s IMDb page and discovered that she was cast not only in comedies, but also in a number of crime, mystery, and legal dramas as well—everything from Eischied and The New Mike Hammer to Murder, She Wrote and Family Law. The site says her last TV performance was in the 2004 teleflick Wedding Daze, in which she co-starred with John Larroquette.

• Before we venture too deep into 2020, let’s look back for a moment at 2019’s “best” book covers, as judged by the sites Literary Hub, Spine, and The Casual Optimist. What do you think?

• Hah! Just as we thought all along:Why Do So Many Book Covers Look the Same? Blame Getty Images.”

• “Craig Stevens discusses his life and career, including his classic role on Peter Gunn, as well as his long marriage to Alexis Smith, in this 1993 interview with cable TV host Skip E Lowe.”

• If you missed Killer Cover’s end-of-the-year tribute to Anglo-Scots painter and book-cover artist Tom Adams—who created iconic fronts for novels by Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler, among others—you can catch up with that whole series here.

• David Zucchino recalls the notorious, long-ago white-supremacist takeover of Wilmington, North Carolina. He writes:
Throughout that summer and autumn, white men had been buying shotguns, six-shot pistols, and repeating rifles at hardware stores in Wilmington ..., a port city set in the low Cape Fear country along the state’s jagged coast. It was 1898, a tumultuous mid-term election year. The city’s white leadership had vowed to remove the city’s multi-racial government by the ballot or the bullet, or both. Few white
men in Wilmington intended to back their candidates that November without a firearm within easy reach. There was concern among whites in Wilmington, where they were outnumbered by blacks, that stores would run dry on guns, and that suppliers in the rest of the state and in South Carolina would be unable to meet demand.
• Chicago-born author Mike Resnick died this last Thursday of lymphoma at age 77. Although he’s most often thought of as a prolific and multiple award-winning producer of science-fiction stories, The Gumshoe Site’s Jiro Kimura observes that Resnick also penned “several mystery novels and fantasy novels with mystery elements. John Justice Mallory is a hard-boiled private detective in a fantastical New York, where humans co-habit with vampires and fairy tale beasts such as dragons. Mallory was introduced in Stalking the Unicorn (Tor, 1987) and featured in two more novels and a collection of short stories, Stalking the Zombie (American Fantasy, 2012). The Eli Paxton series features a Cincinnati private eye who appeared in Dog in the Manger (Alexander, 1995) and two more novels.”

• And while I had my attention turned elsewhere, The Rap Sheet somehow registered its 7,600th post.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

PaperBack: “Ashenden”

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



Ashenden: Or the British Agent, by W. Somerset Maugham (Avon, 1966). Published originally in 1922, this collection of roughly connected short stories was inspired by the author’s experience as a British Intelligence agent in Europe during World War I.

Cover illustration by Robert K. Abbett.


SEE IT NOW: In 1991, the British network BBC One adapted several stories from Ashenden into a four-part TV series. At least for the time being, you can watch those episodes on YouTube.

Well Worth Remembering

Back in the old days, before there were quite so many insistent calls upon my time, I used to find some free hours at the end of each year in which to compile short obituaries of people—linked to crime, mystery, and thriller fiction—who had expired during the previous 12 months. Nowadays, I’m lucky to mention such deaths in my irregular “Bullet Points” news wrap-ups.

Before we leave 2019 behind, though, I want to draw your attention to four recent passings that deserve mention on this page. I didn’t know any of these people, as I suspect most of you did not, but that doesn’t reduce the significance of their departures from this world.

• M.C. Beaton, whose real name was Marion Chesney Gibbons, died on December 30, 2019, at age 83. She was the Scottish author of the Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth mystery series, both of which have been adapted for television. Britain’s Guardian newspaper featured two fine remembrances of Beaton and her various fictions, the first by Alison Flood, the second by sometime Rap Sheet contributor Mike Ripley. Lists of Beaton’s numerous works can be found in Wikipedia.

• P.J. Nunn was a “former college instructor and freelance writer [who] founded a public relations firm named BreakThrough Promotions, mostly for mystery authors, in 1998,” The Gumshoe Site recalls. “She released her first novel, Angel Killer (Dark Oak Mystery, 2013) and followed it with Shadow in the Pines (Tidal Wave, 2013).” Nunn was just 63 when she perished from a heart attack on December 19.

• Earl Staggs, who passed away on January 3, “earned a long list of five-star reviews for his novels Memory of a Murder and Justified Action, and twice received a Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year,” explains Mystery Fanfare. “He served as managing editor of Futures Mystery Magazine [and] president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, [and] is a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery …” A remembrance of Staggs can be found in the blog Meanderings and Musings.

• Steven Kerry Brown, an FBI agent turned private investigator, died in Florida on Christmas Day, aged 72 years. Again according to Jiro Kimura’s Gumshoe Site, Brown “wrote three books: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating (Alpha, 1st ed. 2002; 2nd ed. 2007; 3rd ed. 2013); 5 Things Women Need to Know About the Men They Date (Hard Row, 2013); and Redeeming the Dead, a novel (Hard Row, 2014). The novel features Mormon private investigator Winchester Young, with a sequel to come.”

Monday, January 06, 2020

Viewpoints May Vary

2019 may be safely behind us now, but there are still several “best books of the year” rolls left to mention and ponder. First off, I want to cite the choices made by Wall Street Journal critic Tom Nolan. Since I don’t subscribe to the Journal, I have been unable to read his comments about each of the 10 books he applauded in mid-December, but he was kind enough to e-mail me his list:

Big Sky, by Kate Atkinson
Your House Will Pay, by Steph Cha
Confessions of an Innocent Man, by David R. Dow
The Sentence Is Death, by Anthony Horowitz
Lady in the Lake, by Laura Lippman
Heaven, My Home, by Attica Locke
A Better Man, by Louise Penny
The Darwin Affair, by Tim Mason
Conviction, by Denise Mina
The Good Cop, by Peter Steiner

Sadly, I didn’t find time over the last year to read a few of Nolan’s picks. But I’m most pleased to see Mason’s The Darwin Affairone of my own favorite historical crime novels—make the cut.

Meanwhile, the British site Crime Fiction Lover appears to have concluded its rollout of reviewers’ reading choices. That page’s final selections include William Shaw’s Deadland, Elizabeth Haynes’ The Murder of Harriet Monckton, Philip Kerr’s Metropolis, Ann Cleeves’ The Long Call, and Adrian McKinty’s shocker, The Chain.

Over at Shotsmag Confidential, Ayo Onatade presents a terrific catalogue of 2019 preferences, among them Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s Blood & Sugar, James Lee Burke’s The New Iberia Blues, and John Curran’s The Hooded Gunman: An Illustrated History of Collins Crime Club. MysteryPeople weighs in with two lists, one from Scott Montgomery (mentioning William Boyle’s A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself, Jake Hinkson’s Dry County, etc.), the other by a part-time bookseller named Meike (cheering Lisa Lutz’s The Swallows, Mark Pryor’s The Book Artist, etc.). And the blog Raven Crime Reads presents a top 10 inventory that extends from James Delargy’s 55 and Alan Parks’ February’s Son to Ilaria Tuti-Flowers’ Over the Inferno and Nicolás Obregón ’s Unknown Male.

The anonymous blogger at For Winter Nights includes tales beyond crime fiction in his/her list, but the choices made from this genre (Jane Harper’s The Lost Man, Fiona Cummins’ The Neighbour, and others) are certainly estimable. Reviewer/blogger L.J. Roberts offers both “bests” and “honorable mentions” in her rundown, with Tuti-Flowers’ Over the Inferno being her “#1 book of the year.” In Murder, Mayhem and Long Dogs, Australian Jeff Popple turns thumbs up on Garry Disher’s Peace, Dervla McTiernan’s The Scholar, Adrian Magson’s Terminal Black, and more. Finally, The Nick Carter & Carter Brown Blog salutes five works not published this last year, including Jonathan Valin’s Final Notice and Frank Kane’s The Lineup.

To find additional “best crime fiction of 2019” assortments, click here, or refer to this compilation in Mystery Fanfare.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

A “Lost” Dennis Novel Makes Its Debut

(Editor’s note: You have to admire the single-minded determination and industry of Calabasas, California, author Lee Goldberg. After being first introduced, in 2013, to the work of deceased and long-forgotten novelist Ralph Dennis—and finding that he loved it—Goldberg set out to resurrect Dennis’ literary output through his own independent publishing company, Brash Books. Over the past couple of years, Brash has reissued all 12 of Dennis’ crime novels starring Jim Hardman, an Atlanta, Georgia, cop turned private eye—with a previously unpublished 13th installment in the series, All Kinds of Ugly, due out in early February. In addition, Goldberg has brought back into circulation a handful of Dennis’ non-series novels; and drawing from “a suitcase full of unpublished manuscripts” the author left behind at his death more than 30 years ago, he has expanded Dennis’ oeuvre. One of those “new” novels was The Spy in a Box, published in December. The other is Dust in the Heart, a “disturbing” police procedural that’s finally being released today. In the essay below, Goldberg recalls the circuitous path Dust in the Heart followed to finally seeing print.)

Dust in the Heart was Ralph Dennis’ final manuscript. It was completed only a few months before his death in 1988. He was a writer no longer at the top of his game, beaten by his demons and his failures, and it showed in the typewritten manuscript.

I’ve now read most of Ralph’s published and unpublished work. So, for me, reading and editing this book was a revealing glimpse into Ralph’s personality and creative process. Dust in the Heart is a Frankenstein’s monster of sorts, made up of bits and pieces of his other unpublished manuscripts, primarily a book entitled Just Child’s Play, which itself was stitched together from his prior published and unpublished work.

The hero of Just Child’s Play is Phil Hannah, an ex-Atlanta police detective who moves to a small-town force after the long, grueling death of his wife from cancer (a relationship that is lifted from the back story of a key character in his 1975 novel Atlanta, which Brash Books republished last year as The Broken Fixer). The detective investigates the rape and murder of a teenage girl and has a very rushed romance, the substance of which is lifted almost entirely from Ralph’s 1979 novel MacTaggart’s War (and that I largely omitted from our revised edition of the book, entitled The War Heist). The hero is aided in his detecting by a young deputy, who is almost identical to the young deputy in Dust in the Heart.

Many of the relationships and politics of the town in Just Child’s Play are replicated in Dust in the Heart, which also borrows a key plot point from Kane #2, an unpublished sequel to Ralph’s 1976 novel Deadman’s Game (both of which I combined and republished as A Talent for Killing). In Kane #2, the hero pursues the man who raped and murdered two young boys, and who is being protected by the government. Ralph lifted the same situation for Dust in the Heart.

Just Child’s Play is a deeply flawed and often incoherent book that justifiably never attracted a publisher. But there must have been something about the central concept—the heart-broken, small-town police detective seeking redemption and love while pursuing a child-murder investigation—that intrigued Ralph, because he ultimately gave it a second shot.

(Left) Author Ralph Dennis

For Dust in the Heart, Ralph recast the Atlanta detective as Wilt Drake, an injured war hero who is abandoned by his wife. And Ralph swapped out the romance for a new one that he seemingly lifted from Gunsmoke. But that wasn’t the only thing Ralph may have lifted from that long-running TV western series. In Gunsmoke, Marshal Matt Dillon enforces the law in Dodge City, Kansas, with the help of his eager young deputy, Chester Goode … and is romantically involved with Miss Kitty, the local madam and saloon owner. He also often seeks the wise counsel of ornery old Doc Adams, the town’s physician.

In Dust in the Heart, Wilt is Matt Dillon, Deputy Joe is Chester, stripper Diane is Miss Kitty, and Doc is, well, Doc. Ralph even gave Wilt the limp that actor James Arness, who played Dillon, had as a result of a real-life war injury.

And perhaps there’s also a message in the hero’s name. The hero of Ralph’s first novel (1974’s Atlanta Deathwatch) was Jim Hardman. The hero of his last book is Wilton “Wilt” Drake. From a Hard man, to a Wilted man. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

I struggled over whether to publish Dust in the Heart or to keep it in a drawer. The original manuscript was nearly 100,000 words and it was a mess … and yet, there was still something haunting, melancholy, and powerful about the book that wouldn’t let me go. I knew that Ralph was passionate about this novel. He told a newspaper reporter, and several people who were close to him, that he’d put a lot of work into it and had high hopes that it would be his comeback. It was also his final novel. Given all of those factors, I felt we had to release it to complete the full arc of his literary career.

So I dove into the manuscript, found the essence of the characters and the spine of the story … and began reshaping the book around that. I cut more than 30,000 words, including many long, irrelevant asides unrelated to the characters or the story, as well as several gratuitous, explicit sex scenes between a deputy and his rich, older lover, and other scenes with secondary characters that took place outside of the hero’s point of view, or that were repetitive, didn’t further the plot, or slowed the pace. I also fixed some tracking errors and other common mistakes that all writers make in their initial drafts.

I believe that the final, published draft of Dust in the Heart is a strong police procedural, dark and haunting, and a worthy capstone to Ralph’s career. But what really makes it special, at least for scholars and admirers of this author’s work, is the fascinating insight it offers into Ralph Dennis himself, an alcoholic who never found a woman to love him, who was reduced to working as a clerk in a used bookstore after a decade of being rejected by publishers, and who would soon die without achieving the recognition that he deserved.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Drawn Out and Delightful

Thanks to recent holiday disruptions, we are a bit tardy in bringing you the winners of the 2019 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, “a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose opening sentences to the worst of all possible novels.” We trust your enjoyment of the results will in no way be lessened by that delay.

There are 12 categories of victors, the most pertinent to this blog’s readers being Crime/Detective. Top honors go to Jeremy Das of Loughborough, England, for the following above-the-call-of-duty tale:
Realising that his symptoms indicated a virtually undetectable, fast-acting neurotoxin, CIA coroner Quinn Abner frantically wrote up the details, lay on the floor and, as a professional courtesy, did his best to draw a chalk outline of himself.
There are also half a dozen Dishonorable Mention recipients in that same category, our favorite three being these:
Olivia followed her breasts into my office where I was studying the dead flies on the window sill and dropped a large brown envelope on my desk, which rearranged the dust as it came to rest next to my right elbow, causing me to lose interest in the flies as I watched her walk away, watched carefully while wondering if the motion of her hips could bring a dead man back to life, which led to wondering what she could do to a man who was still alive. — Will Dennehy, Cambridge, Maryland

Detective Wilhelm Schmidt’s raspy voice poured through the telephone receiver like a dump truck of gravel unburdening its load—much like the trucks that worked around the clock at Rohrer’s Quarry off of 1-81, transporting payloads of lime, sandstone, crushed rock, and gypsum—though with Detective Schmidt’s heavy German accent, excavation on its own would not suffice, and a second, albeit entirely different industry would need to be invoked to really paint a crystal clear picture of his voice. — Cody Hanna, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Prisoner #4420991 selected two large snow cones for his pre-execution last meal, much to everyone’s surprise, but #4420991 knew that death by lethal injection would come as sweet relief when balanced against the snow cone headache he expected to have. — Greg Homer, Diamond Springs, California
As you’ll recall, this competition—now in it 37th year—is 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.” So naturally, there’s a Dark & Stormy category. 2019’s honoree in that field is Andrew Lundberg of Los Angeles, California, for this entry:
It was a dark and stormy night, and since this was Miami in July and everyone had left their convertible tops down, the rain fell in Cadillacs.
However, we’re quite fond of this Dishonorable Mention:
It was a Dark & Stormy Night; the rain fell in torrents outside the Breast Western—the country-themed strip club where the exotic dance duo of Stormy and Dark rattled the house (for it was a Tuesday), and fiercely agitated the lustful flames of the patrons who struggled in the darkness to rearrange their Wranglers. — Coby J. Scott, Hollywood, California
By the way, the Bulwer-Lytton contest’s 2019 Grand Prize winner is Maxwell Archer of Mount Pleasant, Ontario, Canada, for this gem:
Space Fleet Commander Brad Brad sat in silence, surrounded by a slowly dissipating cloud of smoke, maintaining the same forlorn frown that had been fixed upon his face since he’d accidentally destroyed the phenomenon known as time, thirteen inches ago.
Again, you can enjoy all of this year’s finalists here.

Adams Raises the Dead

Today begins the second and final full week of Killer Covers’ tribute to Anglo-Scots painter and book-cover artist Tom Adams, who passed away on December 17, at age 93. Click here to see his illustration for the 1979 British edition of Peter Straub’s novel Ghost Story. And you can catch up with the whole series here.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas from The Rap Sheet!



Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, by Agatha Christie (Fontana, 1959). Originally published in Britain in 1939, this novel has since appeared under the titles Murder for Christmas and A Holiday for Murder. Sadly, the cover art is uncredited.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Never Be Afraid to Try New Writers

Sigh … Just last January on this page, I lamented that I had reached a fresh low in the quantity of books by new-to-me authors that I’d consumed during the preceding 12 months—29. Yet, here I am, declaring that in 2019, I again read works by only 29 writers whose talents I had not previously sampled. (My statistical high point so far came in 2015, when I counted 47.) Part of this discouraging coincidence may be due to the reality that at this point in my life, I have simply enjoyed a great many more books than I had when I initially undertook the task, in 2008, of cataloguing my annual author “discoveries.” Part of it may also have to do with the fact that this year, as was true of 2018 as well, I was on assignment to compose several stories for other publications that compelled me to consume tales by wordsmiths already familiar to me (notably Ross Macdonald), and multiple novels by single authors, such as Aaron Marc Stein (writing as both Hampton Stone and George Bagby) and Roderick Thorp.

Despite many other responsibilities, and a stairway accident in September that left me with broken bones (and seriously hampered my ability, for many weeks, to read comfortably in bed), I still managed to polish off 81 books this year, not all of them crime or thriller yarns. Most, however, were penned by writers with whose talents I was already quite familiar. Those included novels by Philip Kerr (Metropolis), James Sallis (Sarah Jane), John le Carré (Agent Running in the Field), Lisa Grunwald (Time After Time), Martin Cruz Smith (The Siberian Dilemma), Edward Marston (Fear on the Phantom Special), Max Allan Collins (Killing Quarry), Jon Clinch (Marley), Laura Lippman (Lady in the Lake), and William Shaw (Deadland); and volumes of fine non-fiction by the likes of H.W. Brands (Heirs of the Founders: Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants) and Jeff Guinn (The Vagabonds: The Story of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison’s Ten-Year Road Trip).

That more of my reading time wasn’t spent exploring writers new to me is a minor failure that I can only hope to make up for in the approaching twelvemonth. We’ll see how it goes.

Enough with all of this ruminating, though. Let us move on to the lists of my 2019 discoveries. I’ll begin with the novelists, listed below. Debut works are boldfaced. Only one of these books—Finding Dorothy—does not belong on the crime, mystery, and thriller shelves.

K.K. Beck (We Interrupt This Broadcast)
Stuart Brock (Just Around the Coroner)
• Curt Colbert (Rat City)
Agnete Friis (The Summer of Ellen)
• Frank Goldammer (The Air Raid Killer)
• Chris Hammer (Scrublands)
Mick Herron (Joe Country)
Elizabeth Letts (Finding Dorothy)
Bonnie MacBird (The Devil’s Due)
• John McMahon (The Good Detective)
• Tim Mason (The Darwin Affair)
• Niklas Natt och Dag (The Wolf and
the Watchman
)

• Laura Shepherd-Robinson
(Blood & Sugar)

James Runcie (The Road to Grantchester)
• Craig Russell (The Devil Aspect)
• Crawford Smith (Jackrabbit)
Hampton Stone (The Corpse in the Corner Saloon)
Jon Talton (Deadline Man)
• Roderick Thorp (The Detective)

I try each year to integrate non-fiction works—especially those dealing with historical events and characters—into my reading array. This field introduces me frequently to new authors, as I am generally more interested in the subject matter than I am in keeping up with the intellectual output of particular writers. In 2018, I sampled non-fiction books by only nine authors with whom I wasn’t formerly acquainted; this year, I count 10—a small increase, but nonetheless satisfying. That number includes the mysterious author of A Warning, a frightening book—reportedly composed by “a senior Trump administration official”—that confirms the American public’s worst fears about Donald Trump being impulsive, erratic, narcissistic, dishonest, vindictive, bigoted, shortsighted, unwilling to listen to contrary points of view, and equally unwilling to learn anything from his numerous mistakes. I can only assume that I haven’t read books by “Anonymous” before, as I have no special insight into his or her identity.

• Anonymous (A Warning)
• Christopher Benfey (If: The Untold Story of Kipling’s American Years)
Philipp Blom (Nature’s Mutiny: How the Little Ice Age of the Long Seventeenth Century Transformed the West and Shaped the Present)
• David Grann (The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly
Obsession in the Amazon
)

Claire Harman (Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens’s London)
Stacy Horn (Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century
New York
)
Peter Manseau (The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost)
Hallie Rubenhold (The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack
the Ripper
)
Milton Shaw (Joseph T. Shaw: The Man Behind Black Mask)
Steven Ujifusa (Barons of the Sea: And Their Race to Build the World’s Fastest Clipper Ship)

So what new author discoveries did you make over the course of 2019? I hope you’ll let everyone know by dropping a brief note into the Comments section at the end of this post.

If You Need Last-Minute Present Ideas …

It seems that no matter how much I try to step away from The Rap Sheet, if only to enjoy a bit of relaxation during the holidays, it keeps drawing me back to work. Today I am called to update the extensive lists, by multiple blogs and Web sites, of the best books of 2019.

The Real Book Spy’s Ryan Steck has finally issued his selections of the “best thrillers of 2019,” breaking them down into seven obvious categories. Among his choices are Joseph Kanon’s The Accomplice, John le Carré’s Agent Running in the Field, Sandie Jones’ The First Mistake, and Alex Segura’s Miami Midnight. However, Steck’s pick for the Best Book of 2019 is Backlash, by Brad Thor.

At the same time, CrimeReads adds to its previous lists one spotlighting what it says are the best historical crime novels of the year, including C.J. Sansom’s Tombland, Sara Collins’ The Confessions of Frannie Langton, Alix Nathan’s The Warlow Experiment, and Sujata Massey’s The Satapur Moonstone. In his Sons of Spade blog, Jochem Vandersteen identifies his favorite private-eye novel of 2019 as Behind the Wall of Sleep, by James D.F. Hannah. And Andrew Nette, co-editor of the fascinating new book Sticking It to the Man: Revolution and Counter Culture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950 to 1980, cites his own top 10 reads of the last 12 months, not all of them new.

Friday, December 20, 2019

The Book You Have to Read:
“To Kiss, or Kill,” by Day Keene

(Editor’s note: This is the 161st installment in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books.)

By Steven Nester
Barney Mandell once had it all. A for-real heavyweight contender who scored 42 knockouts in a row, he was “sex in purple boxing trunks and six-ounce gloves” in the ring, and “a big beautiful Polack” to his friends and fans. Yet Barney is far from well. Just released from a sanitarium after a self-imposed stay of two years, which followed his catching his wife in flagrante delicto, he begins the process of integrating himself back into Chicago society, but finds things may never be the same.

Urged by his doctor to quit the “sweet science” in order to maintain his mental health, Barney agrees, and he takes the change with equanimity and punch-drunk simplicity. “I took one punch too many, see? And it did something to my marbles,” explains Barney. To Kiss, or Kill is a non-PC tale from 1951 that elicits plenty of empathy from attentive readers as they watch Barney, step by step, get set up for a fatal fall; and plenty of admiration for the talents of author Day Keene (real name Gunnar Hjerstedt) as he makes that happen.

However eager Keene’s protagonist is to be reunited with his beautiful, wealthy wife, the lusty and sharp-tongued Gale Ebbling—who for seemingly no good reason avoids him—the certifiably sane Mandell is filled with trepidation at their impending reunion, with cause. How can he convince his hot-blooded socialite spouse that he’s sane when he believes he’s back-sliding into mental illness, and the circumstances around him support such a conclusion? It ain’t easy, as Barney discovers, especially when supposed friends keep his sanity out of reach … and dead bodies turn up wherever he goes.

Barney’s first stop after he’s liberated from the asylum is a bar, where he self-medicates with whiskey, and it’s there that his travails begin in earnest. He’s propositioned by one Cherry Marvin, a drop-dead-gorgeous brunette who’s slathered in the same perfume his wife favors; but no dice, he’s a one-woman man, and he turns Cherry down. Soon thereafter, he returns to his hotel room, only to be pistol-whipped and robbed. When he awakens, the woman from the bar is with him, naked and beaten to death—only now she’s a blonde.

It’s at this point that Keene launches his characters into their misinformation campaign to keep Barney on edge and the reader on high alert, looking for hints that will reveal the motives behind the relentless and inspired gaslighting to which Barney is subjected.

Mandell is held by Chicago police, but is quickly sprung by a very intriguing character, an agent with the U.S. Treasury Department who’s been trying to locate him, and whose motives for doing so are unclear. Just as soon as Barney believes explanations are forthcoming, his hopes disappear: that enigmatic agent is murdered (with a gun belonging to Barney), not long after he’d dropped the name of Barney’s long-missing Uncle Vladimir, a physics professor with very deep pockets. It’s obvious that Barney is a wanted man, but by whom and for what reason is what holds readers’ interest. When the red-hot typewriter of Day Keene starts banging away in high gear it gets one thinking that Gale Ebbling, so noticeable by her absence, is at the core of this mysterious and murderous matrix. Gale can only run for so long before the reader, the plot, and the author require that she appear with explanations to make this narrative come together.

Barney finally catches up with Gale at her hotel, and at first listen, never has the sweet music of love sounded so ominous. Barney hears the cries of vigorous lovemaking in the room, but they turn out to be coming from a parrot, Gale’s replacement for the bird Barney throttled when he found her in bed with another guy. This new feathered mimic is obviously repeating something it heard back when Mandell’s marriage was in limbo. But Barney can’t seem to put two and two together—unlike readers, who will be spinning theories on why these mismatched people became a pair in the first place.

As a society woman, Gale could have had her pick of eligible men—she’s the one with dough and class—yet she chose an addled and weary pug, a guy whose only virtue is his appeal as arm-candy. Barney’s no Gene Tunney, the close-but-no-cigar-intellectual heavyweight champ who married an heiress to the United States Steel fortune in 1928, so there must be something about her attraction to “a punk from the wrong side of the tracks made boudoir-presentable by limelight” than isn’t obvious. It only starts to make sense when the couple travel to Gale’s family’s estate to visit her socially prominent but cash-strapped father.

As adept as Keene is at scattering breadcrumbs for readers to follow, his expertise as the author of more than 50 novels and countless radio-drama scripts is belied by his sex scenes, which leave plenty to be desired. Behold this howler, which would more likely prompt Barney to call an exterminator, when he should instead be imploring the Greek god Eros for strength and stamina as Gale rips the clothes off his body: “…[H]er fingers felt like little white mice with hot feet racing across his chest.” And there’s no mistaking, even to an all-talk high school Casanova, just what is getting bigger when Barney observes Gale naked in the shower “with growing interest.” For sure, one wouldn’t read this book for edification or to prepare for a GMAT in English Literature; it’s value is that it offers a brief escape into imagined danger, and then a sense of relief as the story concludes. Keene had a genuine talent for compelling readers to turn pages.

How the crime/detective genre came to dominate the pulp-fiction market during the mid-20th century is a story for another time. It should be remembered, though, that Keene, like countless others—including the great Edgar Allan Poe, from whose agony and innovation all pulp-fiction writers sprang—wrote principally to make money, not art. He was among a legion of authors-for-hire who, at the fastest pace possible, created portable and captivating entertainment that could fit into the pocket of a commuter’s gray flannel suit. While the pulp-book trade is often deemed to be lowbrow in nature, such smirking snobbery fails to note that it was this genre, and others like it, that often provided an essential stop on a reader’s journey from Dick and Jane to, perhaps, Finnegan’s Wake. Helping readers to make take that step, that leap was an art in itself.

READ MORE:Nothing But Lip Service,” by J. Kingston Pierce
(Killer Covers).

Adams’ Worth

Renowned Anglo-Scots painter and paperback cover artist Tom Adams died on December 17, at age 93, and today the Killer Covers blog begins a tribute to his abundant work, slated to run through the end of 2019. At least one new Adams-illustrated book front will be posted there every day, beginning with this afternoon’s offering: Death in the Clouds, by Agatha Christie (Fontana, 1976)

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Bullet Points: Impeachment Edition

• With the end of 2019 now two weeks away, “best books of the year” selections are rolling out onto the Web in increasing number. CrimeReads offers several different themes. It’s “10 Best Crime Novels of 2019” listicle includes Lisa Lutz’s The Swallows, Don Winslow’s The Border, Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, and Alan Bradley’s The Golden Tresses of the Dead. Also offered are choices for best international crime fiction, best psychological thrillers of 2019, best debut works, the year’s finest espionage fiction, best true-crime books, best traditional mysteries, and the foremost noir fiction of the last 12 months.

• Meanwhile, the British site Crime Time is up with its own “books of the year” choices. As is true also of CrimeReads’ lists, there are few unexpected picks among Crime Time’s top 10. But if you read down a bit further, into the preferences of individual contributors, there are some more interesting suggestions, among them Andrew Williams’ Witchfinder, Robert Jeffrey’s Man at the Window, Ray Celestin’s The Mobster’s Lament, and Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s Blood & Sugar (which I highlighted in my own top-five rundown).

• Abby Endler, author of the blog Crime by the Book, provides Criminal Element with a catalogue of 12 titles—one chosen from every month of 2019—that she believes deserve particular applause. Winning her approval are Alex Michaelides’ The Silent Patient, Alice Feeney’s I Know Who You Are, Riley Sager’s Lock Every Door, Sara Shepard’s Reputation, and eight others.

• MysteryPeople, the crime-fiction department of Austin’s famously large and commercially independent BookPeople store, is up with its “five favorite Texas crime novels of 2019.”

• The various contributors to Crime Fiction Lover are still in the process of announcing their “top five books of 2019.”

• And in its concluding episode of 2019, the Paperback Warrior podcast “revisit[s] the greatest books we read this year.” Keep in mind that the Paperback Warrior blog’s focus is on older works (predominately crime and thriller fiction), so don’t expect any overlap between its “greatest books” and those mentioned above.

• Mystery Fanfare’s Janet Rudolph reports that “with just days to go before it would have to close its doors forever, San Diego’s science fiction, fantasy, young adult, mystery, and horror bookstore Mysterious Galaxy has found a new location and new owners: Jenni Marchisotto and Matthew Berger have bought the store and will run it at its new home, 3555 Rosecrans St., Suite #107, San Diego, CA 92110. Everyone’s keeping their jobs, too. It’s a Christmas miracle.”

• Speaking of Mystery Fanfare, Rudolph has updated her extensive catalogue of Christmas-related crime fiction. There are three parts, divided according to author last names: A-E, F-L, and M-Z. She’s also added titles to her set of Hanukkah/Chanukkah mysteries, and to her inventory of Christmas short stories, novellas, and anthologies.

• Back in August, we alerted you to the start of the third annual Six-Word Mystery Contest, sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. It offered prizes to writers who could condense a crime story into just half a dozen words. The victors in five categories have now been announced, but the overall winner is Jeffrey Lockwood, an author and professor of natural sciences and humanities at the University of Wyoming. His punchy submission:
36D, 44 magnum, 20 to life
A press release says that “forty writers from 10 states and Australia submitted 211 six-word mysteries to this year’s competition.”

• Actor Danny Aiello may be remembered best for his roles in movies such as Moonstruck (1987) and Do the Right Thing (1989), but when I heard that he died last week at age 86, my thoughts jumped immediately to his 1997-1998 CBS-TV crime drama, Dellaventura. Yes, that 13-episode series—in which he played Anthony Dellaventura, a former New York City police detective turned private eye, who “rounds up a bunch of crackerjack crime-fighters to right wrongs that are beyond the reach of the criminal justice system”—was derided variously as a knock-off of either The Equalizer or Telly Savalas’ Kojak. However, the Daily News’ Denis Hamil argued in 1997 that the Dellaventura role was “a perfect fit” for Aiello. And as you can see in this episode of the program, “Above Reproach” (the only one I could find on YouTube, with a guest appearance by Tony Franciosa), it boasted an engaging dark air leavened by moments of humor. Aiello seemed fully comfortable leading a cast that also included his son Ricky and Anne Ramsey from Mad About You. And the opening title sequence—featuring a version of Dion DiMucci’s classic “I Was Born to Cry,” and embedded below—set the show’s tone splendidly.



• While searching around for Dellaventura installments, I stumbled across this video collection of memorable clips from the 1984-1987 CBS series Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, in which star Stacy Keach catches too-brief looks (in multiple episodes) at an alluring young brunette—referred to simply as “The Face”—“who popped into frame and just as quickly popped out again, much to the chagrin of Mike Hammer, who was dying to meet her.” As the blog TV Character Nicknames reminds us, “The general public was also kept in the dark as to her identity until her credit line appeared on an episode of ABC’s Perfect Strangers. It revealed that ‘The Face’ was model-actress Donna Denton. Finally, after three years of just glimpses, Mike Hammer got to meet the mysterious woman in the spring 1987 episode entitled ‘A Face in the Dark.’” (Actually, the title was “A Face in the Night,” and it was broadcast originally on May 13, 1987). Of all the women Keach’s Hammer knew—or, in this instance, didn’t know—Denton’s persistently elusive lovely remains my favorite.

• A very sad change for Seattle: First and Pike News—formerly Read All About It—a newsstand landmark in the city’s historic Pike Place Market, is slated to close on December 31 after four decades in business. Back in the days when I covered the media business for Seattle Weekly, this corner shop was one of my most regular stops, a place where I could pick up not only U.S. magazines and newspapers, but also foreign publications. Want to learn more about that enterprise? Read all about it here and here.

• In Reference to Murder brings this film news:
Universal Pictures is developing Tapping the Source, based on the “surfer noir” novel by Kem Nunn. The story follows a man who heads to Huntington Beach [California] to look for his missing sister and for the three men who may have murdered her⁠—a search that takes him on a journey through a twisted world of crazed Vietnam vets, sadistic surfers, drug dealers, and mysterious seducers.
You can check out Rap Sheet contributor Steven Nester’s review of Nunn’s 1984 first novel by clicking here.

A note in Elizabeth Foxwell’s The Bunburyist leads us to a post on the British Film Institute’s Web site in which freelance writer Pamela Hutchinson selects “10 great whodunnit mysteries,” suspect-packed pictures “in which the audience plays sleuth.”

• The site Best Thrillers has named what it contends are “The 21 Best Legal Thrillers of the 21st Century,” including Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer, Marcia Clark’s Blood Defense, Max Allan Collins’ Supreme Justice, and Lisa Cottoline’s Corrupted.

• If you’re planning to attend next year’s Bouchercon in Sacramento, California (October 15 to 18), consider registering by December 31. Until then, the cost is $200; on January 1, it will climb to $225.

• This item comes from The Killing Times:
Acclaimed screenwriter and Endeavour creator, Russell Lewis, has adapted two of international bestseller Peter James’ award-winning novels for ITV from the Roy Grace series, starring John Simm in the lead role of the tenacious detective.

Entitled
Grace, the two feature-length screenplays will narrate the first two stories in the series, Dead Simple and Looking Good Dead, which introduced Brighton based Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, a hard-working police officer who has given his life to the job.,
For Criminal Element, Andrew Nette, co-editor of the new book Sticking It to the Man: Revolution and Counter Culture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950 to 1980, highlights “six pulp, crime, and popular fiction writers from the counterculture era who may have slipped your radar, but are ripe for rediscovery.” And yes, “Mike Barry” (aka science-fiction author Barry Malzberg) ranks among them.

• Lastly, yesterday added a sad but necessary event to America’s timeline: the impeachment of Donald John Trump. Sad, because the office of the U.S. president is traditionally due respect, but Trump’s corrupt and unconstitutional efforts to pressure a foreign country (Ukraine) to interfere in the 2020 presidential campaign for his personal gain, and then his going to extraordinary lengths to cover up that perfidy, brings shame upon the office. Necessary, because as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-New York) put it, “We cannot rely on the next election as a remedy for presidential misconduct when the president threatens the very integrity of that election. He has shown us he will continue to put his selfish interests above the good of the country. We must act without delay.” I didn’t vote for Republican Trump in 2016, and I never shall; I don’t believe he’s fit, either emotionally or intellectually, to fill the position he holds. What I have learned about him over the last few years—that he’s a bigot, a misogynist, a narcissist, and a serial sex abuser; that he cheats on his wives and demands loyalty from others, but will turn on anyone when the going gets tough; that he’s a braggart and a bully, a whiner and a con man; that he’s petty and paranoia, driven by grievance and a sucker for conspiracy theories; that he’s a habitual liar—none of those characteristics commends him as a leader or a role model, or even as a man. Trump’s mendacity is particularly pernicious. It drew special attention earlier this week, when The Washington Post counted the lies he’s told over the last three years, and came up with 7,688. One of those became Politifact’s 2019 Lie of the Year: his assertion that the still-anonymous whistle-blower who first drew public attention to Trump’s Ukraine scandal was “almost completely wrong.” A more honorable, more thoughtful, and more experienced president would not be due such condemnations.