Monday, July 16, 2018

Hollywood’s Adaptations Keep Coming

Since I very much enjoyed Andy Weir’s 2017 science fiction/crime fiction crossover, Artemis, I was interested to see this news item from the blog In Reference to Murder:
Geneva Robertson-Dworet is set to adapt Artemis, ...
the novel by
The Martian author Andy Weir that Phil Lord and Chris Miller will direct. Artemis is described as an adrenaline-charged crime caper that features smart, detailed world-building based on real science. It centers on Jasmine Bashara, aka Jazz, a twenty-something living in a small town named Artemis—and it’s the first and only city on the moon. Her budding career as a smuggler isn’t exactly setting her up as a kingpin, so when the chance at a life-changing score drops in her lap, she finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself.
Another Hollywood tidbit from the same source:
Rosario Dawson is set as the lead of USA Network’s crime drama pilot Briarpatch, from Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail. Written by Andy Greenwald and based on the Ross Thomas novel, Briarpatch centers on Allegra “Pick” Dill (Dawson), a tenacious and highly-skilled investigator working in Washington, D.C., for a young, ambitious Senator. When her ten-years-younger sister, a homicide detective, is killed by a car bomb, Allegra returns to her corrupt Texas hometown. What begins as a search for the murderer becomes a fraught and dangerous excavation of the past Allegra has long sought to bury.
You’ll find more movie and television news here.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

PaperBack: “Death in the Wind”

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

Death in the Wind, by Edwin Lanham (Permabooks, 1957). Originally serialized in The Saturday Evening Post in 1955. Cover illustration by James Meese.

Get Your Thrill On

Last evening, during a ceremony at ThrillerFest in New York City, the winners of the 2018 Thriller Awards were announced, as follows:

Best Hardcover Novel:
Final Girls
, by Riley Sager (Dutton)

Also nominated: Ill Will, by Dan Chaon (Ballantine); The Long Drop, by Denise Mina (Little, Brown); The Breakdown, by B.A. Paris (St. Martin’s Press); and Fierce Kingdom, by Gin Phillips (Viking)

Best First Novel: The Freedom Broker, by K.J. Howe (Quercus)

Also nominated: Deep Down Dead, by Steph Broadribb (Orenda); Ragdoll, by Daniel Cole (Ecco); The Red Line, by Walt Gragg (Berkley); and The Lost Ones, by Sheena Kamal (Morrow)

Best Paperback Original Novel: Grievance, by Christine Bell
(Lake Union)

Also nominated: Stillhouse Lake, by Rachel Caine (Thomas & Mercer); The Resurrector, by Layton Green (Layton Green); Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly, by Adrian Mckinty (Seventh Street); and The Day I Died, by Lori Rader-Day (Morrow)

Best Short Story: “Charcoal and Cherry,” by Zoë Z. Dean (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, May/June 2017)

Also nominated: “Too Much Time,” by Lee Child (from No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories; Delacorte); “What Could Possibly Go Boing?” by Mat Coward (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, July/August 2017); “The Kill Switch,” by Willy Vlautin (from The Highway Kind: Tales of Fast Cars, Desperate Drivers, and Dark Roads, edited by Patrick Millikin; Hachette); and “Test Drive,” by Ben H. Winters (from The Highway Kind: Tales of Fast Cars, Desperate Drivers, and Dark Roads)

Best Young Adult Novel:
The Rains, by Gregg Hurwitz (Tor Teen)

Also nominated: The Boy She Left Behind, by Gregg Olsen (Polis); To Catch a Killer, by Sheryl Scarborough (Tor Teen); The Delphi Effect, by Rysa Walker (Skyscape); and Proof of Lies, by Diana Rodriguez Wallach (Entangled)

Best E-Book Original Novel:
Second Chance, by Sean Black (Sean Black)

Also nominated: Resurrection America, by Jeff Gunhus (Seven Guns Press); Trojan, by Alan McDermott (Thomas & Mercer); Witness, by Caroline Mitchell (Thomas & Mercer); and A Fragile Thing, by Kevin Wignall (Thomas & Mercer)

Silver Bullet Award for Service: James Rollins

Thriller Master Award: George R.R. Martin

Congratulations to the victors and other nominees alike!

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Another Course of Morse

Tomorrow night, Sunday, will bring the fourth episode of Endeavour, Season 5, to PBS-TV’s Masterpiece series. But if you’re in the mood for a fresh Inspector Morse investigation right now, note that Chris Sullivan has posted “In the Shadows,” a full new, 90-minute BBC Radio 4 episode starring Morse and his colleague, Sergeant Robbie Lewis, in his blog, Morse, Lewis and Endeavour.

Of this audio drama, Sullivan writes:
Terrible things happen even in beautiful places and among highly educated people. Morse, Lewis and [Superintendent Jim] Strange are back on their criminally fertile Oxford patch—dealing with a mysterious pair of Oxford students who appear to be fish out of water, a Don found dead in the river, and an attractive philosopher who pleads with Morse to drop his investigation to save her career.

It’s still the early 1990s when computers, mobiles, digital media, and sophisticated forensic techniques are not yet in use. Morse’s detection methods rely on instinct, acutely honed observational skills, and dogged gumshoe perseverance. Colin Dexter’s Oxford detectives feature in a story devised by former
Morse TV writer Alma Cullen, adapted by Richard Stoneman.
Click here to listen to the whole program.

The Big Easy Falls Hard for Minnesotans

Minnesota author Ellen Hart has won the 2018 Pinckley Prize for Distinguished Body of Work. Hart is the author of the Jane Lawless (A Whisper of Bones) and Sophie Greenway (No Reservations Required) mystery series. As explained in a news release from the Women’s National Book Association of New Orleans, Louisiana (WNBA-NO), which established the Pinckley Prize in 2012:
Hart’s novels deal with LGBT issues and have received six prestigious Lambda Literary Awards. In 2017, she was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, its highest honor; she is the first LGBT writer to achieve this recognition. Hart lives in Eden Prairie, Minn.

The judges praised Hart’s persistence over a long and distinguished publishing career, her generosity to other writers, and her success in creating believable and lovable characters.
Meanwhile, another Badger State resident, Marcie Rendon, will receive the Pinckley Prize for Debut Novel for her book Murder on the Red River (Cinco Puntos Press). “An enrolled member of the White Earth Nation,” explains the Pinckley Prize Web site, “Rendon is a playwright, poet, and freelance writer. She has published four non-fiction children’s books … Rendon is a community arts activist who supports other native artists/writers/creators in pursuing their art. The judges, facing a formidable field of entries this year, were impressed with Rendon’s sense of place and her creation of an unforgettable character who forges her own way in a challenging world.”

These two commendations will be presented on Saturday, October 6, during a ceremony at the George and Joyce Wein New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Center in New Orleans. Both winners will receive “a $2,500 cash award, as well as a beautiful paper rosette fashioned from the pages of their books, created by New Orleans artist Yuka Petz.”

The Pinckley Prize is named in honor of Diana Pinckley (1952-2012), a founding member of the WNBA-NO and a longtime director of University Relations at Tulane University.

Past winners of these prizes are listed here.

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

Friday, July 13, 2018

Revue of Reviewers, 7-13-18

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

Jones Grabs the Hammett

Stephen Mack Jones’ August Snow (Soho Crime) may have missed out earlier this week on scoring Best First Novel honors in the 2018 Strand Critics Awards contest, but that book more than made up for it today by being declared the winner of the 2017 Hammett Prize. The Hammett is given out by the North American Branch of the International Association of Crime Writers to “a work of literary excellence in the field of crime writing by a U.S. or Canadian author.”

Also nominated for the Hammett this year were: The Marsh King’s Daughter, by Karen Dionne (Putnam); The Tragedy of Brady Sims, by Ernest J. Gaines (Vintage); and Two Days Gone, by Randall Silvis (Sourcebooks Landmark)

As Mystery Fanfare reports, “Mr. Jones was awarded a bronze trophy, designed by West Coast sculptor Peter Boiger. The award was announced during a lunch for the finalists at New York’s Algonquin Hotel on July 13.” Previous Hammett recipients are listed here.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Getting a Cluedo About CrimeFest

Author and former Crime Writers’ Association chair Alison Joseph returns to CrimeFest in company with novelist Lee Child.

(Editor’s note: My apologies for the fact that this wrap-up of CrimeFest 2018—held from May 17 through 20—is only now appearing. The Rap Sheet’s chief UK correspondent, Ali Karim, sent it to me during my vacation last month, and I’ve been swamped with work ever since. Only this week was I able to clear enough time in my schedule to finish editing Ali’s fine post. I hope you enjoy it.)

By Ali Karim
It was wonderful to help celebrate CrimeFest’s 10th convention recently. We were treated in the tourist-friendly town of Bristol, England, not only to glorious weather, but to an eclectic assortment of events ideal for devotees of the crime-fiction genre.

For the sake of precision, I should probably make clear that this was actually the 11th Bristol-based conference mounted by Adrian Muller, Myles Alfrey, Liz Hatherell, Donna Moore, and the rest of their team. CrimeFest’s roots date back to 2006, when Left Coast Crime was held on this side of the pond. That event enjoyed strong backing from the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) and the then-fledgling International Thriller Writers (ITW). And just two years later—time enough to recover and regroup—Muller, Alfrey, and company decided to launch an annual gathering of their own, again in historic Bristol (an apt location, considering it was the birthplace of thriller writer Geoffrey Household, he of Rogue Male and Watcher in the Shadows fame).

In any case, Shots editor Mike Stotter and I—having both been extremely busy of late—weren’t about to miss this opportunity to mingle with fellow readers and with published authors of varying renown. We looked forward, as well, to seeing our colleague, columnist Mike Ripley (aka the Talented Mr. Ripley), who was once more returning to the convention with his “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Cluedo” panel quiz, scheduled to close out the festivities. Sadly, Shots’ Ayo Onatade was unable to attend, as she was gearing up for this fall’s Bouchercon in Florida, during which she will be fêted as Fan Guest of Honor.

Thursday, May 17
After first checking in at the convention hotel (the historic Bristol Marriott Royal), Stotter and I reviewed the weekend’s abundant panel-discussion offerings. As someone who created the programming for another such convention (Bouchercon 2015, in Raleigh, North Carolina), I know how hard that task is—definitely not for the faint of heart. And I must say that Donna Moore’s panel arrangements were top-notch and wonderfully diverse, with something of interest for every fan of the genre. The success of her efforts may very well have been reflected in the extraordinary attendance at this year’s CrimeFest and the fact that there were so many new faces in the crowd.

Felix Francis, the author son of jockey-turned-novelist Dick Francis, seated with British suspense writer “Susan Moody” (aka Susan Elizabeth Horwood).

Just a couple of friendly historical mystery-makers hanging around: Andrew Taylor (The Fire Court) and “Tom Harper” (aka Edwin Thomas, author of Black River).

Jeffery Deaver with Hodder Books publisher Ruth Tross.

One potential problem this time around was the hotel’s renovations program in progress. Concern over noise and construction hassles had left conference organizers with huge anxieties. But as it turned out, the CrimeFest folks and hotel managers succeeded in keeping disruptions to a minimum. In fact, if you drank enough gin—as I felt compelled to do—there were no obvious problems whatsoever.

Thursday’s panel load was relatively light, but nonetheless satisfying. It included the introduction of debut authors (led by The Sunday Times’ Karen Robinson), an exchange on “Crime Through the Millennia” (moderated by novelist Antonia Hodgson), and a discussion about “forgotten writers” such as Adam Hall, Pamela Branch, and Winston Graham. (CWA chair Martin Edwards managed that last panel, and was joined by John Lawton, Chris Curran, Christine Poulson, Sarah Ward, and Nick Triplow.) Those “forgotten writers” discourses are always quite popular at CrimeFest (as they are too at Bouchercon), and I can’t help but smile when I see younger readers in the audience: there are so many decades-worth of excellent crime, mystery, and thriller fiction they have yet to discover. And so many books still to be published, as the crime-fiction field appears to be in rude health, compared with some other publishing genres.

Quicker than expected, it was time for that evening’s concluding event: the annual CrimeFest Quiz. Fez-wearing writer Peter Guttridge and Burt Bacharach impersonator Adrian Muller were charged with keeping this competition under control. Authors Susan Moody, Felix Francis, and Maxim Jakubowski were among those who joined Stotter and me on what we figured was a victory-bound team. However, our valiant efforts at answering obscure literary questions weren’t sufficient to overcome the challenge posed by Martin Edwards and his teammates: Sarah Ward, Karen Meek, Priscilla Masters, Kate Ellis, Christina Poulson, and Mike Linane. Our energy and knowledge finally sapped, we congratulated the champs and then retreated to the bar, where we fell easily into the sorts of conversations so familiar to crime-fiction fans—about books that have made us think about life and death and the absurdity of existence.

Beware of criminal connivers in the hallway! The line-up, left to right: writer and current CWA chair Martin Edwards; authors Jeffrey Siger and Charles Todd; longtime Bouchercon board member David Magayna; and Shots editor Mike Stotter.

Frequent convention-goers Bill and Toby Gottfried.

Andrew Taylor with John Harvey (Body and Soul).

Friday, May 18
This was a particularly busy day, panel-wise. Karen Robinson acquainted her listeners with a new set of debut authors (among them Felicia Yap, T.A. Cotterell, and Olivia Kiernan) … former CWA chair and moderator Alison Joseph dissected crime-fiction subgenres … Jeffery Deaver led a discussion about the “special (dis)abilities” of some fictional protagonists … Ruth Dudley-Edwards and her guests (C.J. Carver, Elly Griffiths, Johana Gustawson, and Priscilla Masters) addressed the matter of detectives duos … Caroline Todd conducted a round table titled “Crime in Time of War” … Jeffrey Siger rode herd on writers tackling the subject of “Power, Corruption and Greed: Just Another Day at the Office” … and that was all before lunch!

A quick sandwich, washed down with gin, and I was ready to tackle that afternoon’s hectic schedule, which included: moderator Kat Hall exploring the topic of German crime fiction with Oliver Bottini, Simone Bucholz, Dirk Kurjuweit, and Andreas Phluger; Kevin Wignall managing a spirited debate touted as “Life with the Dull Bits Cut Out,” about penning thriller fiction; a back-and-forth dealing with writing pairs, featuring Charles and Caroline Todd (who produce historical mysteries as “Charles Todd”), as well as Stanley Trollip and Michael Sears (who concoct the Africa-set Detective Kubu series as “Michael Stanley”); and a gathering of Michael J. Malone, Tana Collins, Lesley Kelly, Douglas Lindsay, and Caro Ramsay to chat about this fall’s Bloody Scotland conference (September 21-23). Oh, there was also the launch of the anthology Ten Year Stretch: Celebrating a Decade of Crime Fiction at CrimeFest, with signings by contributors such as Simon Brett, Lee Child, Martin Edwards, and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir.

But for me, Thursday afternoon’s highlight was Maxim Jakubowski’s joint public interview with author John Banville (aka Benjamin Black) and John Simenon, the son of Belgian writer Georges Simenon, whose 75 novels starring French detective Jules Maigret are still in the process of being reissued by Penguin Books—a great treat.

The day’s closing events? The unveiling of the Crime Writers’ Association’s longlisted nominees for the 2018 Dagger Awards (check those out here), and the announcement that Russell Day had won the 2018 Margery Allingham Short Story Competition with his yarn, “The Value of Vermin Control.” Works shortlisted in the Daggers race should be made known in July, with winners to be declared during a special dinner held in London on Thursday, October 25.

From that CWA reception, we hied off to dinner, during which we made a point of toasting the award contenders. And then—at some hazy stage—it was time for bed.

Saturday, May 19
This time, it was The Daily Telegraph’s Jake Kerridge who led off the day with a lineup of debut authors, introducing Alex Dahl, Will Dean, Iain Maitland, Vicky Newham, and Lloyd Otis. Beyond that, Saturday’s panel schedule offered more clashes than a Joe Strummer revival. An attempt to list them all would be tantamount to insanity.

Red-letter events, though, included Kerridge’s center-stage interview with Lee Child and Jeffery Deaver; the standing room-only launch of Barry Forshaw’s Historical Noir and his group debate (featuring Abir Mukherjee, M.J. Carter, and others) over whether historical mysteries can ever be described as “noir”; a presentation on the British Golden Age of Thrillers, featuring Kiss Kiss Bang Bang author Mike Ripley, C.J. Carver, Lee Child, and Zoë Sharp; and Peter Guttridge’s interview with Peter James and Martina Cole. The evening was highlighted by the CrimeFest awards dinner, during which half-a-dozen prizes were handed out, including those for best humorous crime novel and best biographical or critical book related to crime fiction.

Stotter and I joined Guttridge, Maxim Jakubowski and his wife, Delores, for dinner, after which we adjourned to a nearby traveling carnival for fairground rides made all the more exciting by the quantity of drink we’d consumed during our meal.

German fictionist Andreas Phluger (In the Dark).

Mike Ripley, the winner of this year’s H.R.F. Keating Award (for his history of British crime thrillers, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and master-of-ceremonies for “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Cluedo.”

Quiz teammates Andrew Taylor, Lee Child, and Jeffery Deaver, with CrimeFest organizer Myles Alfrey leaning on the far right.

Sunday, May 20
This concluding day of the convention opened a tad early for those of us who were still working off the manifestly debilitating effects of the previous night’s revelry. Panel presentations were few, but significant, with Kerridge again welcoming debut authors (Peter Beck and S.S. Mausoof, among them), and Zoë Sharp leading a talk on the subject of independent publishing.

Saturday’s two principal highlights were Barry Forshaw’s on-stage conversation with former Petrona Award winners Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Gunnar Staalesen, followed 90 minutes later by the convention’s final event, Ripley’s surreal tournament, “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Cluedo.” As I point out in this piece for the Shotsmag Confidential blog, Ripley’s game is another crime-fiction quiz, pitting two teams of three authors against one another. 2018’s face-off found a women’s team led by Ruth Dudley-Edwards (backed up by Alison Bruce and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir) challenged by a male squad captained by Lee Child (and also featuring Andrew Taylor and Jeffery Deaver). The competition was, per usual, friendly and played mostly for laughs (of which there were plenty), as you can see in an eight-part video found at the aforementioned link. Yet it was a comfortable way to end CrimeFest. The close of a gathering such as this can be rather melancholic, for it means that attendees must return to the straight-jackets of their real lives. Scheduling “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Cluedo” at the end sent everyone out the door with a smile on their face.

Still, there was some sadness as this 10th CrimeFest came to a close. Adrian Muller announced that Myles Alfrey and Liz Hatterell have decided—reluctantly, so I understand—to retire from the management team. Muller thanked them vociferously for their years of work to make CrimeFest popular, and those of us assembled to hear the news gave the pair a standing ovation. We all look forward, I’m sure, to hearing what CrimeFest XI will offer in the way of both events and additional organizers.

Next stop: the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, to be held in Harrogate, July 19-22. I hope to see some of you there.

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

Strand Decides, Sisters Deliberates

As was promised several months ago, last evening brought the announcement of this year’s Strand Critics Award winners during an invitation-only affair in New York City. The victors are:

Best Novel:
Wonder Valley, by Ivy Pochoda (Ecco)

Also nominated: A Legacy of Spies, by John le Carré (Viking); The Late Show, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown); Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz (Harper); My Darling Detective, by Howard Norman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); and Bluebird, Bluebird, by Attica Locke (Mulholland)

Best First Novel:
The Lost Ones, by Sheena Kamal (Morrow)

Also nominated: My Sister’s Bones, by Nuala Ellwood (Morrow); Quicksand, by Malin Persson Giolito (Other Press); August Snow, by Stephen Mack Jones (Soho Press); Lola, by Melissa Scrivner Love (Crown); and See What I Have Done, by Sarah Schmidt (Atlantic Monthly Press)

Lifetime Achievemant Awards:
Jonathan Gash (aka. John Grant) and J.A. Jance

Publisher of the Year Award:
Tom Doherty of Tor/Forge Books

The Strand Critics Awards are judged by reviewers from various publications and given out annually by The Strand Magazine.

(Hat tip to The Gumshoe Site.)

* * *

Meanwhile, In Reference to Murder brings us this news:
Sisters in Crime Australia announced the shortlists for this year’s Davitt Awards, which celebrate the best crime books by Australian women in the categories of adult, young adult, children, non-fiction, and debut books. The finalists for the Best Adult Crime Book [are] Sarah Bailey, The Dark Lake; Sara Foster, The Hidden Hours; Candice Fox, Crimson Lake; Sulari Gentill, Crossing the Lines; Jane Harper, Force of Nature; Emma Viskic, And Fire Came Down.
A list of all the nominees can be found here.

Winners will be announced and awards presented during a ceremony at Swinburne University, in Melbourne, on Saturday, August 11.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Story Behind the Story: “The Big Somewhere,” edited by Steven Powell

(Editor’s note: This is the 79th installment in The Rap Sheet’s “Story Behind the Story” series. Today’s essay comes from Steven Powell, a British scholar and author of The Venetian Vase, a crime fiction-oriented blog. He wrote Conversations with James Ellroy [2012] and James Ellroy: Demon Dog of Crime Fiction [2015], and edited the encyclopedic work 100 American Crime Writers [2012]. In the essay below, Powell recalls the process he went through to create his brand-new contribution to Ellroy scholarship, The Big Somewhere: Essays on James Ellroy’s Noir World [Bloomsbury Academic]).

When I began my Ph.D. on the work of James Ellroy in 2006, there was relatively little critical material on this author who called himself “the demon dog of American crime fiction.” There were a number of good articles by critics such as Lee Horsley and Lee Spinks, and the first book about Ellroy, Peter Wolfe’s Like Hot Knives to the Brain: James Ellroy’s Search for Himself, had been released the previous year. On the whole, I was surprised that such a fascinating and controversial figure, who has arguably done more than any other author to reinvent and redefine crime fiction over the past half century (and has always had the knack for generating publicity), had not received more scholarly attention. In the past few years, this has changed. More and more journal articles about Ellroy have appeared, as well as books by Jim Mancall and Anna Flügge. I have contributed to this growing body of scholarship by editing Conversations with James Ellroy, writing several articles, and finally composing a book titled James Ellroy: Demon Dog of Crime Fiction. After the last book, I could have perhaps moved on to other projects. But I had this nagging feeling that there was unfinished business between the Demon Dog and me, and once an idea for a book lodges in your brain—sometimes it’s just impossible to walk away.

I conceived an idea for an anthology of essays about Ellroy in a project that would bring together the most prominent scholars on the subject (Woody Haut, together with the aforementioned Jim Mancall and Anna Flügge), and also allow some new voices to be heard. With the help of my wife, Diana, and some friends and colleagues at the University of Liverpool, I began organizing the James Ellroy: Visions of Noir conference with a view that the outcome of the conference could be the foundation for an Ellroy anthology. The conference was held in July 2015 at the beautiful School of the Arts Library in Liverpool, the former home of Confederate banker Charles Kuhn Prioleau. It was a wonderful event that lived up to my hopes as its organizer. All of the delegates gave fascinating papers. We had two keynote speakers: Woody Haut, who gave a political commentary to Ellroy’s work from his debut novel onwards, and Martin Edwards, who took part in an author interview onstage and discussed his then newly release study, The Golden Age of Murder. When I was listening to the talks on Ellroy, I was struck, not for the first time, by the dense complexity of his plotting: two speakers addressed the subject of L.A. Confidential, but from their interpretation and focus, you could have been forgiven for thinking they were remarking on two different novels. Such is the richness of Ellroy’s plotting and prose that so much story can be packed into just a few pages, and when this style of narrative unravels over a 500-page novel, the effect is quite extraordinary.

With such an expanse of material to choose from, my next challenge was deciding on the theme for the anthology. I’ve always been inclined towards comprehensive studies; James Ellroy: Demon Dog of Crime Fiction covered almost all of the author’s writing career, and much of his life before that. But I am aware of the dangers of such an approach, that if a book is too overarching it might stray into survey territory. Given the interwoven nature of Ellroy’s thematic approach, I didn’t want to edit a collection dubbed “James Ellroy and Government” or “James Ellroy and Voyeurism.” Ellroy’s portrayal of the Surveillance State is very much influenced by his own obsessions—one might say struggles—with sexual voyeurism. As it seemed impossible to disentangle these themes, I hit on the idea of Ellroy’s narrative worlds being a “Big Somewhere” which could be defined, as it says on the back-cover of the book, as “a conglomeration of the cinematic, historical, and fictional worlds that influenced Ellroy, from film noir to the Kennedy era in American politics, and on which he, in turn, has left his mark.” The title refers to half-a-dozen classic film noirs that employed the prefix Big, not to mention Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet novel The Big Nowhere, often considered his greatest work.

(Right) Author Joseph Wambaugh

I was also extremely fortunate that in Haaris Naqvi at Bloomsbury, I found an editor who believed in my vision of an anthology of essays on Ellroy, which would be, from the beginning, both comprehensive in scope and incisive in analysis. The anthology begins with an examination of the writers who influenced Ellroy, and why. Jim Mancall contributed a superbly composed chapter arguing that Joseph Wambaugh was a major, almost unacknowledged influence on Ellroy. This appealed greatly to me as an editor, because there is very little critical work on Wambaugh, and it was exciting to see original material coming together that assessed his impact on the genre, while noting that Ellroy has surpassed him as a stylist. For my part, I composed a chapter examining Raymond Chandler’s influence on Ellroy’s work. I tried to dispel a few myths Ellroy has created about Chandler, an author he has been very rude about. Ellroy has always claimed that Chandler’s reputation in crime writing is overrated, and that Chandler was only an influence on his debut novel, Brown’s Requiem (1981), after which Ellroy turned his back on him stylistically. I make the case that as a source of inspiration, Chandler’s hold on Ellroy ran deep into the L.A. Quartet at the very least. The anthology ends with an examination on how Ellroy has influenced a new generation of crime novelists such as David Peace and Megan Abbott. Between these opening and closing sections there are chapters focused on the cinematic aspects of Ellroy’s writing, his portrayal of race issues, and the evolution of his most famous—or is it infamous?—character, police detective Dudley Smith.

When you have Ellroy scholars as talented as Anna Flügge, Rubén Peinado Abarrio, Joshua Meyer, and Rodney Taveira as your contributors, editing an anthology is a pleasure and a privilege. I spent many hours poring over their work with movie soundtracks playing in the background—including, appropriately enough, Jerry Goldsmith’s masterful score to L.A. Confidential. In fact, that’s what’s playing as I write this: track 11—“The Victor.” It’s a beautiful piece of music that takes you into Ellroy’s narrative world and serves as a reminder that sooner or later we’re all drawn back into Ellroy’s Big Somewhere. I hope readers of Ellroy, and fans of the crime-fiction genre in general, will find much to admire and discover about the Demon Dog’s work in The Big Somewhere: Essays on James Ellroy’s Noir World.

Scudder’s Retirement Isn’t Working

Here’s a surprise for Lawrence Block fans: His beloved recovering alcoholic detective, Matthew Scudder, will be returning to the streets of Manhattan in A Time to Scatter Stones, a novella due out from Subterranean Press in January 2019.

This won’t be Scudder’s first resurrection in fiction. Remember, we thought he was gone after the Shamus Award-winning novel Eight Million Ways to Die (1982), only to see him return four years later in an equally powerful, sixth series installment, When the Sacred Ginmill Closes. And now comes this note from Block’s blog: “Just between us, I never expected to write more about Matt Scudder after A Drop of the Hard Stuff [2011]. I surprised myself once, with a final short story (“One Last Night at Grogan’s”), which closed out The Night and the Music [2011], and in a way that certainly suggested there’d be no more. And, really, how could there be? Matt’s the same age I am [80], and just as he’s way too old to leap tall buildings in a single bound, so am I a little old myself to be hunched over a keyboard, trying to coax cogent thoughts out of what remains of my mind.”

Despite all of that, we can look forward to seeing more of Scudder in about six and a half months. Subterranean Press gives this plot synopsis of A Time to Scatter Stones:
Well past retirement age and feeling his years—but still staying sober one day at a time—Matthew Scudder learns that alcoholics aren’t the only ones who count the days since their last slip. Matt’s longtime partner, Elaine, tells him of a group of former sex workers who do something similar, helping each other stay out of the life. But when one young woman describes an abusive client who’s refusing to let her quit, Elaine encourages her to get help of a different sort. The sort only Scudder can deliver.

A Time to Scatter Stones offers not just a gripping crime story but also a richly drawn portrait of Block’s most famous character as he grapples with his own mortality while proving to the younger generation that he’s still got what it takes. For Scudder’s millions of fans around the world (including the many who met the character through Liam Neeson’s portrayal in the film version of A Walk Among the Tombstones), A Time to Scatter Stones is ... a valedictory appearance that will remind readers why Scudder is simply the best there is.
I don’t see a listing on Amazon for this novella. However, the Subterranean Web site allows you to “pre-order” a copy of A Time to Scatter Stones in either a $45 signed-and-numbered limited edition, or a regular $25 hardcover edition.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Women Set to Rule the Ngaios Race?

About six weeks after releasing their longlist of Best Novel nominees for the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Awards, organizers of this now nine-year-old New Zealand competition have announced the titles of 11 books shortlisted in two separate categories. They are as follows:

Best Crime Novel:
Marlborough Man, by Alan Carter (Fremantle Press)
See You in September, by Charity Norman (Allen & Unwin)
Tess, by Kirsten McDougall (VUP)
The Sound of Her Voice, by Nathan Blackwell (Mary Egan)
A Killer Harvest, by Paul Cleave (Upstart Press)
The Hidden Room, by Stella Duffy (Virago)

Best First Novel:
The Floating Basin, by Carolyn Hawes
Broken Silence, by Helen Vivienne Fletcher (HVF)
All Our Secrets, by Jennifer Lane (Rosa Mira)
The Sound of Her Voice, by Nathan Blackwell (Mary Egan)
Nothing Bad Happens Here, by Nikki Crutchley (Oak House Press)

A press release notes that “after Fiona Sussman became the first woman to win the Ngaio Marsh Award last year, this year sees a significant majority of female finalists for the first time in Ngaios history.” It also quotes awards founder Craig Sisterson as saying 2018 has “been a year of record-breaking numbers of entries, and our judges were faced with tough decisions among a really diverse array of tales spread across varying styles, settings, and sub-genres. Some books our judges loved missed out, which underlines the growing strength and depth of our local writing. Kiwi readers devour tales of crime, thrills, and mystery. They’ve got lots of great choices here to encourage them to give our own storytellers more of a try.”

Winners will be declared on September 1, during a special event at New Zealand’s WORD Christchurch Festival (August 29-September 2).

FOLLOW-UP: While writing this post, I realized there were no Best Non-Fiction nominees, as there had been in 2017. I sent an e-mail note to Craig Sisterson, asking him about that, and he wrote back: “We decided when we introduced that award last year to make it biennial at this stage, so there’ll be a Best Non-Fiction in 2019 (for books from 2017 and 2018).” So now we all know.

PaperBack: “Thank You, Mr. Moto”

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

Thank You, Mr. Moto, by John P. Marquand (Bantam, 1957). This is the second of Marquand’s half-dozen novels featuring the probably pseudonymous I.A. Moto, a Japanese secret agent.
Cover illustration by Sandy Kossin.

How Money Changed Mason

I, for one, had never read this sort of background information before. It comes from a Francis M. Nevins piece, in Mystery*File, about Erle Stanley Gardner’s incipient, Hammett-esque crime fiction:
The earliest published stories of Erle Stanley Gardner, dating back to the middle 1920s, were written in a style that might best be described as non-existent. Around the end of the decade he began to be heavily influenced in terms both of style and story substance by Dashiell Hammett, and he remained more or less in Hammett’s shadow during the first few years he was writing novels including the earliest cases of Perry Mason, which began to appear in 1933.

Mason as portrayed in the first nine novels about him could almost be a Hammett character: a tiger in the social Darwinian jungle, totally self-reliant, asking no favors, despising the weaklings who want society to care for them. Then a sea-change came over the character.
The Saturday Evening Post offered Gardner a ton of money for permission to serialize the Mason novels before their book publication, but part of the deal was that the character had to be toned down to conform to the magazine’s “family values” ideology.

Money talked. Mason from then on became a much tamer character, still skating on the thin edge of the law but always as advocate for a client we knew was innocent, so that we readers could delight in his legal tricks without the moral qualms we might experience if we thought the client might be guilty.
You can read all of Nevins’ fine piece here.

In the Running for the David

With this year’s Deadly Ink Mystery Conference coming up in mid-August (just around the corner!), organizers have released their roster of nominees for the 2018 David Award. They are:

The Question of the Absentee Father, by E. J. Copperman and
Jeff Cohen (Midnight Ink)
Unsub, by Meg Gardiner (Dutton)
The Black Kachina, by Jack Getze (Down & Out)
The Persian Always Meows Twice, by Eileen Watkins (Kensington)
Blind to Sin, by Dave White (Polis)

The David Aware is named in memory of Deadly Ink stalwart David G. Sasher Sr. This year’s Deadly Ink conference is set to take place in Woodbridge, New Jersey, from August 10 to 12.

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Revue of Reviewers, 7-5-18

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

A Cheerleader for Crime Fiction

Lesa Holstine, a blogger and veteran library administrator based in Evansville, Indiana, has won the 2018 David Thompson Memorial Special Service Award. She was chosen by the Bouchercon board, and will receive her prize during the Anthony Awards ceremony at Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, Florida, on September 8.

As Mystery Fanfare explains, this commendation honors “the memory and contributions to the crime-fiction community of David Thompson, a beloved Houston bookseller who passed away in 2010. Winners are recognized for their ‘extraordinary efforts to develop and promote the crime fiction field.’” That piece goes on to say,
Lesa Holstine has been sharing her passion for books—especially mysteries—with readers since 2005. Her blog, Lesa’s Book Critiques, is a go-to destination for readers. Her reviews now appear in Mystery Readers Journal,, and in Library Journal. Lesa is also the blogger for Poisoned Pen Bookstore, and she started the Authors @ The Teague program in the Glendale, Arizona, Library System.

Lesa is the author of the “Mystery Fiction” chapter in
Genreflecting: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests (7th ed.) and has been a panelist for Sisters in Crime at the Public Library Association’s conference and has served on panels at Left Coast Crime and Bouchercon. She has also moderated crime fiction panels at the Tucson Festival of Books.
Among the previous recipients of the David Thompson Award are George Easter, Marv Lachman, Otto Penzler, Bill and Toby Gottfried, and The Rap Sheet’s own British correspondent, Ali Karim.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

The Story Behind the Story: “Low Down Dirty Vote,” edited by Mysti Berry

(Editor’s note: This is the 78th installment in The Rap Sheet’s “Story Behind the Story” series. Today’s contribution comes from San Francisco resident Mysti Berry, who works as a technical writer for a cloud-based software company. Her first short story, “Johnny Depp Kick Line of Doom,” appeared in the June 2016 edition of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Her first novel, about missing casino millions and murder, is making the rounds of agent’s offices, and she is about to start work on her second novel, a crime story set during Hawaii’s Hilo Massacre of 1938. Berry is the editor of the brand-new Low Down Dirty Vote: A Crime Fiction Anthology, about which she writes below.)

This book was born in a diner somewhere in Northern California. My husband and I had been talking about how I should probably spend less time ranting on Twitter, and it got me to thinking. When I was a child, voting seemed to be such a simple thing. If you were born in the United States, or naturalized here (and at 8 years old, I wasn’t really sure what that meant), then you got to vote in every election.

Of course it was never that simple for people of color in this country. Worse still, ever since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down provisions of the Voting Rights Act a few years ago, politicians have been undoing much of the good that Act required of us. Between gerrymandering and the spread of repressive voter-identification laws, by early 2017 voting no longer felt simple, it felt dangerously partisan. And my ranting on Twitter wasn’t moving the needle at all.

In the diner that late-summer day in 2017, I pushed my diet soda glass around in its condensation puddle, feeling sad and frustrated about the overall tarnish that seemed to have crept over one of my favorite civic duties. And in that moment a title came to me, unbidden: Low Down Dirty Vote. It didn’t take long for me to figure out what to do with that title. I’d create an anthology of crime stories by my favorite writers, on the theme of fighting voter suppression. Fund-raising felt like a much better use of my time than spouting off on Twitter.

I chose crime fiction for four reasons—three perfectly good ones, and the real reason. The perfectly good reasons are simple. First, the title was ideal for a crime-fiction collection. Second, I write and love to read mystery and suspense stories. And third, I am lucky enough to be acquainted with some generous, talented crime writers. But the real reason I decided the anthology should focus on crime stories is this: the voting process in the United States has lately become a slow-motion crime scene, and I want to do something about that.

As usual, my biggest problem was confidence. The expression of ego required to believe that my stories will interest the world has never felt natural to me. In order to complete this project, could I now double down in the ego department? Could I corral a fistful of talented crime-fiction writers to contribute? Could I beg, borrow, or plead my way into their busy writing schedules? Would storytelling imaginations be inspired by a theme as odd as fighting voter suppression? My husband pointed out that the worst-case scenario was just that people would say “no,” so I decided to give my idea a try. Maybe the universe would teach me to leave the charity anthologies up to the professionals.

But my writer friends did not say no, not many of them. After my first few queries, I knew the signs that preceded a “yes”: a sudden intake of breath, eyes staring into the distance as their creativity rose to the fore, and a quick “yes! And I know just what I want to write!” Apparently this idea of mine wasn’t entirely crackers. Those writers who didn’t have any room in their schedules at least gave me great advice and encouragement. As it turns out, the crime-writing community is not only generous, but a huge fan of democracy.

In addition to direct requests to the authors, I opened the submission process to anyone else who was interested, and a few of the writers in this collection came to me via the Internet. I paid all of the contributors, because I didn’t want them to have to work for free. Ironically, though, most of the writers have donated their fees to a charity that helps fight voter suppression. One author even asked to be paid for her work in books, so she could share them.

The publishing schedule for Low Down Dirty Vote, my first book to reach print, was aggressive. I’ve spent most of my professional life as a software technical writer, so I knew I could physically produce a book in a short period of time. My writers were given just 90 days to produce a story, and I had 90 days to massage all of their submissions into an organized volume. Now, nearly 180 days later, everything is in place, and I am just waiting for a foreword from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) before hitting the “publish” button for print and e-book formats. The Scrivener software made it possible for me to submit professional-quality PDFs to the printer and to e-book outlets.

The writers whose work is featured in this book helped me so much. Whether it was Ray Daniel patiently beta-testing the writer contracts, David Hagerty doing double-duty as digital-marketing maestro, Kris Calvin finding a contact at the ACLU to produce our foreword, Catriona McPherson calming my nerves over writing this book’s preface, or all them finding typos in the advance reader copies and performing other acts of publishing kindness—just know, I couldn’t have done it without them!

(Left) Editor Mysti Berry

The quality of these stories was the biggest surprise to me, though it shouldn’t have been, considering the talents of the authors involved. The passion each contributor brought to his or her take on the theme radiates from the pages. Their work reminded me of something the actor Tom Hanks once said—that doing voice-over work is harder than acting, because you have to do everything you usually do with your whole body using only your voice. He described that effort as standing on your toes for 12 hours a day, stretching, reaching for the perfect performance. As I read the stories I received for the first time, I felt each writer stretching up on their toes. Some of these tales experiment with voice, others with point of view. Some have even stretched the very form of storytelling to its logical limits. Now that the day has come to share these collected yarns, I hope readers will feel as enriched as I have felt.

As you read them, you may notice that no one mentions Democrats, Republicans, or any particular political party. The stories revolve around people fighting for their constitutional right to vote. The book is political, but it is not partisan. Great stories don’t generally spring from dogma. The variety of literary takes on the subject of voter suppression was the second surprise to me. Characters run the gamut, as do settings—from 19th-century Wyoming to late 20th-century Edinburgh. There’s a spectrum of sub-genres here, too, from noir to humor and several stops in between.

The miracle of the title popping into my head still puzzles me. I am almost never in possession of a good title for my own projects—I have a tin ear for them. However, this book’s title is strong and just popped into my consciousness without invitation. It captures the dilemmas we face today, and the sense of humor we can apply to fixing what’s so broken. Perhaps this title was on its way to the imaginations of Dave Eggers or Laurie R. King, but it got lost and dropped into my head by accident? However it happened, I’m grateful.

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of women earning the right to vote in the United Kingdom, and the stories contained in this anthology illustrate the struggles of women and men of all races to claim and preserve their voting rights. I’m glad we can celebrate with our friends across the pond on this important anniversary.

By the way, 100 percent of the proceeds from Low Down Dirty Vote will be donated to the ACLU Foundation to help fight voter suppression, starting with a $5,000 advance to the ACLU against sales of this book. With America’s mid-term elections fast approaching on November 6, I hope the stories in this anthology will encourage others to make their voices heard (beyond Twitter) in support of our right to vote.