Thursday, July 30, 2015

Sink Your Fangs Into This

While writing earlier this week about the sad demise of Jeff Rice--whose then-unpublished horror novel, The Kolchak Papers, spawned the wildly popular 1972 ABC-TV Movie of the Week, The Night Stalker--I started to dig through my file boxes for the 1974 Fall Preview edition of TV Guide. It was in that issue, I knew, that Darren McGavin’s hour-long drama based on the ’72 teleflick (as well as its 1973 sequel, The Night Strangler) was introduced. Unfortunately, I was not able to find the magazine--until this afternoon.

The page below comes from TV Guide’s September 7-13, 1974, edition. What we now remember as the short-lived series Kolchak: The Night Stalker is listed here simply as The Night Stalker--the title it carried through its first several episodes. Whoever penned the mag’s preview of McGavin’s Friday chiller had some fun with its concept. “This show is a scream,” he or she wrote. “And a moan and a gasp and a shriek. Not to mention eyes widening in terror, hands clutching throats, bodies slumping to floors, and figures lurking in shadows.” You can read the rest by clicking on this image:

The 1974 fall TV season had its bright spots: Valerie Harper’s Rhoda and James Garner’s The Rockford Files both premiered in September of that year, as did Little House on the Prairie, Police Woman, and David Janssen’s underrated private-eye drama, Harry O. But that fall also welcomed short-timers such as The New Land (“a Swedish Waltons”), The Texas Wheelers (starring Jack Elam and Mark Hamill), and Clint Walker’s Kodiak, which cast the former Cheyenne star as an Alaska State Patrol officer charged with keeping the peace on 50,000 square miles of backwoods. Kolchak: The Night Stalker probably wouldn’t be remembered if it hadn’t become a cult favorite.

READ MORE:Claim That Tune,” by J. Kingston Pierce (Limbo).

Things Will Get Bloody in Stirling

Organizers of this year’s Bloody Scotland convention, to be held in Stirling from September 11 to 13, have announced their shortlist of nominees for the fourth annual Bloody Scotland Crime Book of the Year award (formerly known as the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year). Those contenders, said to have been “chosen by an independent panel of readers from a longlist of 55 books,” are as follows:

Paths of the Dead, by Lin Anderson (Pan)
DM for Murder, by Matt Bendoris (Contraband)
Dead Girl Walking, by Chris Brookmyre (Little, Brown)
Thin Air, by Ann Cleeves (Macmillan)
The Ghosts of Altona, by Craig Russell (Quercus)
Death Is a Welcome Guest, by Louise Welsh (John Murray)

The winner will be declared during a “gala dinner” to be held on Saturday, September 12, as part of the Bloody Scotland festival program. This year’s prize recipient will receive £1,000 and nationwide promotion in Waterstones bookshops. If you’d like to be on hand in Stirling when the 2015 Bloody Scotland Crime Book of the Year is announced, buy tickets to the awards dinner here.

In the past, this commendation has gone to Peter May’s Entry Island (2014), Malcolm Mackay’s How a Gunman Says Goodbye (2013), and Charles Cumming’s A Foreign Country (2012).

Up for Honors Down Under

Sisters in Crime Australia has announced its shortlist of contenders for the 2015 Davitt Awards, which are named in honor of Ellen Davitt (1812-1879), Australia’s first crime novelist. These commendations are supposed to identify the best Aussie crime fiction by women, for both adults and children. The nominees are listed below.

Adult Novel:
Through the Cracks, by Honey Brown (Penguin Australia)
Forbidden Fruits, by Ilsa Evans (Momentum)
A Murder Unmentioned, by Sulari Gentill (Pantera Press)
A Morbid Habit, by Annie Hauxwell (Penguin Australia)
Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty (Pan MacMillan)
Present Darkness, by Malla Nunn (Atria)

Young Adult Novel:
Intruder, by Christine Bongers (Woolshed Press)
The Astrologer’s Daughter, by Rebecca Lim (Text)
Every Word, by Ellie Marney (Allen & Unwin)
The Ratcatcher’s Daughter, by Pamela Rushby (HarperCollins Australia)

Children’s Novel:
The Adventures of Stunt Boy and His Amazing Wonder Dog, Blindfold, by Lollie Barr (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Kitten Kaboodle Mission 1: The Catier Emerald, by Eileen O’Hely (Walker)
Withering-by-Sea, by Judith Rossell (HarperCollins Australia)
Friday Barnes: Big Trouble, by R.A. Spratt (Random House)
Truly Tan 4: Freaked!, by Jen Storer (ABC)

Love You to Death: A Story of Sex, Betrayal and Murder Gone Wrong, by Megan Norris (Five Mile Press)
Last Woman Hanged, by Caroline Overington (HarperCollins Australia)
Have You Seen Simone?: The Story of an Unsolved Murder, by Virginia Peters (Nero)
The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama, by Julie Szego (Wild Dingo Press)

The Adventures of Stunt Boy and His Amazing Wonder Dog, Blindfold, by Lollie Barr (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Hades, by Candice Fox (Random House)
What Came Before, by Anna George (Penguin Australia)
Gap, by Rebecca Jessen (University of Queensland Press)
Intruder, by Christine Bongers (Woolshed Press)
Have You Seen Simone?: The Story of an Unsolved Murder, by Virginia Peters (Nero)
The Ratcatcher’s Daughter, by Pamela Rushby (HarperCollins Australia)
Tell Me Why, by Sandi Wallace (Clan Destine Press)
The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama, by Julie Szego (Wild Dingo Press)

In addition, the 650 members of Sisters in Crime Australia will have the opportunity to select a Readers’ Choice winner.

Recipients of all these prizes will be announced on Saturday, August 29, during a ceremony at the Thornbury Theatre in Melbourne.

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Pierce’s Picks

A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

Broken Promise, by Linwood Barclay (NAL), is the first book in a trilogy built around widowed reporter David Harwood (from 2010’s Never Look Away). Here Harwood lands back in his preternaturally peaceful hometown of Promise Falls, New York, determined to make a fresh start with his 9-year-old son. But things start going wrong immediately. The small newspaper that has just hired Harwood closes its doors shortly thereafter, and he is forced to find lodging again with his aging parents. Then Harwood’s mother asks that he carry some food over to his cousin Marla, who’s not been doing at all well since her miscarriage … only to discover the supposedly childless woman caring for an infant she insists was given to her by an “angel.” Harwood determines to identify the baby’s real mother, only to find her stabbed to death--leaving the reporter with more mysteries and related tragic events than he knows how to handle, at least initially. Blood, Salt, Water (Orion UK) is the fifth entry in Denise Mina’s series about Glasgow Detective Inspector Alex Morrow (following last year’s The Red Road). Morrow and the other members of her team have been tracking a Spanish woman named Roxanna Fuentecilla, who’s suspected of being mixed up in a large drug-smuggling and money-laundering scheme. After Fuentecilla suddenly vanishes and her family turns evasive under questioning, the DI hopes that an odd call from Fuentecilla’s cell phone to a number in a parochial seaside community, Helensburgh, will help crack the case open. However, picturesque Helensburgh has secrets all its own, including those involving a small-time thug with blood on his hands, a corpse in a local lake, and a former scout leader who has returned after many years, supposedly to sort out the affairs of her recently deceased mother--even though the mother actually died long ago.

Click here to see more of this season’s most-wanted books.

Photographic Evidence Sought

Craig Sisterson, judging convenor for New Zealand’s annual Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, tells me that the winner of the 2015 prize might be announced as late as early October. Here are the five books shortlisted for that commendation.

In the meantime, Sisterson has put together a “Reading Kiwi Crime” contest that offers readers “the opportunity to win personally autographed copies of this year’s Ngaio Marsh Award finalists.” He explains the simple rules for participating:
[A]ll you need to do is take a picture of yourself reading any New Zealand crime, mystery, or thriller title--from old classics like Ngaio Marsh, Fergus Hume, Elizabeth Messenger, and Laurie Mantell, to the latest from award winners like Paul Cleave, Paul Thomas, and Neil Cross. Then share it with the Award organisers by:

1. Tweeting the pic and tagging @ngaiomarshaward; OR
2. Posting the pic to the Ngaio Marsh Award Facebook page; OR
3. E-mailing the pic to

If you follow the Award’s Twitter account or like the Facebook page, you’ll get a bonus entry in the draw.

Just to clarify: the book in your photo doesn’t have to be set in New Zealand, just written by an author connected to New Zealand (citizen, resident, grew up here, etc). If you’re scratching your head for choices, here’s a long list of possibilities.
The cutoff date for entering this contest is October 4.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Say Good-bye to Kolchak’s “Father”

Just the other day I was thinking that it had been a long while since I’d last watched the 1972 made-for-television vampire flick, The Night Stalker, starring Darren McGavin as journalist-turned-monster hunter Carl Kolchak, and that it was probably time for me to revisit that picture, along with its 1973 sequel, The Night Strangler. But now comes news that Jeff Rice, who created the Kolchak character, died on July 1 in Las Vegas, Nevada, at age 71. John L. Smith, a reporter for the Las Vegas Journal-Review reports that Rice had “suffered from severe depression throughout much of his adult life” and adds that, “In an eerie tribute to the mysteries that surrounded his fiction and life in Las Vegas, the cause and manner of death is pending the results of a toxicology test by the Clark County coroner’s office.”

Jeffrey Grant Rice was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1944 but spent part of his childhood in Beverly Hills, California. He was the son of Bob Rice, characterized by Smith as “a mob-associated costume jewelry maker … and early investor” in Vegas’ old Dunes Hotel and Casino. “Through those family’s connections, the son gained access to the neon glitz and subterranean shadow of Las Vegas. He even worked for a time at local newspapers. Some of that experience seeps into the pages of his story just as it surely crept into his consciousness.”

The story of Rice’s connection to McGavin’s original Night Stalker film has been repeated so many times, it’s probably now part legend; it’s certainly a cautionary tale. Here’s one synopsis, cribbed from Mark Dawidziak’s 1997 book, The Night Stalker Companion:
True-life newspaperman (and actor!) Jeff Rice created Carl Kolchak in The Kolchak Papers, a 1970 horror novel which Rice submitted to [screenwriter] Richard Matheson’s agent. Then, in a shocking example of Hollywood sleaze, the agent sold the unpublished novel’s TV movie rights to ABC--without first signing Rice!--trapping Rice in a done deal he’d never agreed to!

Heart-breakingly, Rice had hoped to write the TV script himself, but the agent had already secured the teleplay assignment for Matheson. Dawidziak adds: “It’s important to note that Rice does not in any way blame Matheson for what he views as shady Hollywood dealings.”
“Rice sued the network…,” explains Smith, “and [ABC] gave creative credit on screen to Rice. But that left him well short of Easy Street. By the time all the Hollywood double dealing was resolved, Rice’s novel was published in 1973 after the hugely successful TV movie. A series followed, and Rice also found success with a second novel, The Night Strangler, co-authored with Richard Matheson.”

I don’t remember when it was that I saw The Night Stalker; I was pretty young when that teleflick first aired, so the likelihood is that I caught up with Carl Kolchak--along with his newspaper boss, the irritable Tony Vincenzo (played by Simon Oakland), and his winsome dancer of a girlfriend, Gail Foster (Carol Lynley)--in reruns. However, I was hooked from the beginning, as a blood-sucking vampire started knocking off the otherwise carefree visitors to Vegas’ showy Sunset Strip. When I later discovered there was a second Kolchak adventure, The Night Strangler (which took place in a highly fictionalized Seattle Underground and found McGavin’s seersucker-wearing newsie confronting a Civil War-era doctor who kept himself alive with an elixir featuring blood taken from murdered women), I could hardly wait to watch that, too. And after I read (in this very article, from a 1973 edition of my then-hometown newspaper, the Portland Oregonian) that an ABC-TV series featuring McGavin and Oakland would debut on September 13, 1974, you can bet I cleared my calendar of other commitments. Sadly, I was disappointed at first with Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which moved the action to Chicago, found Kolchak and Vincenzo working for a wire news agency, and came up with some truly cheesy monsters for our tape recorder-carrying hero to combat--everything from an android and a lizard-man to a headless and homicidal motorcycle rider. (Interestingly, that last episode, “Chopper,” was scripted by future Rockford Files writer and Sopranos creator David Chase.) Only in recent years have I come to better appreciate Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1973-1974) for its humor and McGavin’s portrayal of a lonely, rumpled reporter who accepts the world’s horrors--actual, metaphorical, and outright fictional--with more courage and pragmatism than those around him.

Jeff Rice is to be thanked for bringing monsters out from under my bed, putting them on my TV screen, and making me appreciate them as much as I did. I only wish his own life had been a happier one. Although he is said to have found a grateful Internet following in recent years, Smith notes that Rice was also “extremely troubled and increasingly afraid of straying from his home near Desert Inn Road. In leaner times, Rice had rented a room from [his ‘close friend’ Bobbie] Carson and on occasion slept on her couch. She helped him through emotional and mental crises. He cared for her after the 78-year-old fell and broke her hip. The two met 14 years ago. In keeping with the local working-class subculture, they had a loan shark in common and struck up what became an enduring friendship.”

There are apparently no memorial services planned for Carl Kolchak’s creator. Yet you never know--maybe some vampires, werewolves, headless motorcyclists, and other ghouls will shed a tear to know that someone who might have been able to tell their stories, too, has disappeared from this world.

* * *

At least for now, 1972’s The Night Stalker--based on Jeff Rice’s book--is available for viewing on YouTube. Watch it all here.

READ MORE: It Couldn’t Happen Here: An Episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker a Day As Seen Through the Eyes of Peter Enfantino and John Scoleri.

Keeping Track

• We’ve written before on this page about Undershaw, Arthur Conan Doyle’s once-endangered former home in Hindhead, England (see here and here), including bringing you the news that the once-stately residence, where Conan Doyle produced 13 Sherlock Holmes adventures, had been saved from redevelopment. Now comes word of a plan to raise money for Undershaw’s renovation as a school for children with learning disabilities. “Sixty of the world’s leading Sherlock Holmes authors have come together to create the largest ever anthology of new stories about the Baker Street detective. …,” reports Radio Times. “All the royalties from the anthology, which will span three hardback volumes and cover 1,200 pages, will go towards the new owners of the building, Stepping Stones--a small specialist education provision--who are restoring [Undershaw] back to its former glory, including the restoration of Conan Doyle’s study. One of the pledges from Stepping Stones [managers] to their Sherlockian supporters is that outside term time they will be making the house accessible to fans as much as possible; allowing them to visit the study and look out the very windows Conan Doyle did when he wrote stories such as The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Britain’s MX Publishing is scheduled to release all three of these new Holmes and Dr. John Watson collections, edited by David Marcum, on October 1. Learn more about them here: Volume 1, Volume II, and Volume III.

The Gumshoe Site brings the unwelcome news that Gerald A. Browne, a former fashion photographer and the author of such thrillers as 11 Harrowhouse (1972), Green Ice (1978), and 19 Purchase Street (1982), “died on July 24 at his home in Oceanside, California.” Born in Connecticut in 1924, Browne was 90 years old. Click here to read a story People magazine did about him in 1986, shortly after the publication of his novel Stone 588.

• OK, let’s have a quick show of hands. Who remembers the 1987-1989 ABC-TV comedy-drama Hooperman, starring John Ritter (formerly of Three’s Company) as San Francisco plainclothes police detective Harry Hooperman? That program (which I wrote about in this wrap-up about Bay Area crime series) was created by Steven Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher, and I remember it as being a lot of fun, partly because it featured nice romantic tension between Ritter and the lovely Debrah Farentino, who played the manager of a decrepit apartment building Hooperman had inherited. Sadly, the two-season Hooperman still hasn’t received a DVD release, but somebody signing him- or herself “JackTripper491” has begun posting episodes on YouTube. Twelve are up already, with (I hope) more to come.

• Another YouTube find: This is the 1976 TV movie adaptation of Dorothy Uhnak’s 1973 novel, Law and Order, about three generations of a family in the New York City Police Department. It stars Darren McGavin, Keir Dullea, Suzanne Pleshette, and Robert Reed.

• I’m a regular follower of Television Obscurities, which focuses on forgotten or at least insufficiently acclaimed small-screen programming of the past. That blog marked its 12th anniversary last month, and as part the celebration its author, who signs himself only as “Robert,” has started “writing about my 12 favorite obscurities from each decade.” This month’s selection includes Mr. Lucky, a 1965-1966 CBS adventure-drama created by Blake Edwards (of Peter Gunn fame) and starring John Vivyan and Ross Martin (this was before Martin co-starred in The Wild Wild West). I’m not all that familiar with Mr. Lucky, having watched only a few episodes, but Robert knows more, as evidenced by this fine backgrounder on the series. To watch some of the show for yourself, check out MatineeClassics’ YouTube page.

• In Artistic License Renewed, Julian Parrott considers “The Peculiar Parallels of Ian Fleming and Raymond Chandler.” He concludes:
Fleming and Chandler were kindred spirits. They were bonded by shared experiences, values, and sensibilities. But what really linked the two men, who only really knew each personally for three years was, was the common belief that their novels, although commercially successful, were simply not taken seriously. Each saw in the other a fellow craftsman someone worthy of the respect of authors and literati alike. Fleming and Chandler both believed that Marlowe and Bond should transcend the limitations of their respective genres.

Although their novels never attained the plaudits they felt they deserved in their home countries both men have left indelible stamps on global culture.
• Author Gary M. Dobbs is in the midst of a project I’ve long thought to tackle: a re-reading of the four novels in Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove” saga, in chronological order of their evolving story, rather than in the order those books were published. This month Dobbs enjoyed Dead Man’s Walk (1995) and Comanche Moon, McMurtry’s prequels; he’ll soon be moving on to the classic Lonesome Dove (1985) and its sequel, Streets of Laredo (1993).

• The Monkees always remind me of my childhood. So I was interested to look through Comfort TV’s list of “The 20 Best Monkees Songs--and the 5 Worst.” I don’t have any arguments with blogger David Hofstede’s choices, but his post does remind me that there are a lot of songs by that TV-born rock group that I have forgotten over the years. “Gonna Buy Me a Dog”? “P.O. Box 9847”? (I’ve posted thoughts about the Monkees before, which you can find here.)

• Welcome to a new literary blog, The Seattle Review of Books.

• It had slipped my mind that FOX-TV will broadcast a six-episode revival of The X Files, beginning in January 2016, complete with David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, and--by some strange alchemy--the Lone Gunmen. But this super-brief teaser makes clear that the “event series” is actually going to happen.

• UK critic Jake Kerridge offers this short but winning profile of Swedish author Maj Sjöwall in The Telegraph. Sjöwall, of course, was the co-author with her journalist husband, Per Wahlöö, of the highly influential 10-book Martin Beck series of detective novels (Roseanna, The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, etc.). Kerridge mentions that a documentary film of Wahlöö’s life is currently being made, with hopes of it being “ready for Sjöwall’s 80th birthday in September.”

• Last month, film and television historian Stephen Bowie wrote an excellent piece for A.V. Club about The Senator, Hal Holbrook’s 1970-1971 political drama shown as part of the “wheel series” The Bold Ones. (The Senator was recently released in a DVD set by Shout! Factory.) Now he follows that up with this post in his Classic TV History Blog, using much of the material he didn’t have room for in his previous piece. “I’ve compiled it here in the form of an oral history,” Bowie explains. “It covers the standalone pilot film, A Clear and Present Danger; the development of the series; and then the individual episodes, at least half of which are little masterpieces from a period when quality television drama was scarce.”

• I am sorry to hear that Ann Rule, the Seattle-area resident who became famous writing true-crime books, has died at age 83. This follows allegations that she had been “bilked out of more than $100,000 by two of her sons, one of whom demanded money while she ‘cowered in her wheelchair.’” Seattle’s KING-TV quotes Rule’s daughter as saying that “her mother had gone to the emergency room last week and had a heart attack while she was there. She says her mother passed away a few days later.” Rule was probably best known for having penned The Stranger Beside Me (1980) about serial killer Ted Bundy. I had occasion to meet and talk at some length with her in the late 1980s, when I was an editor of Washington Magazine. I assigned her at least two pieces for the mag, including an essay about how multiple murderers like Bundy and the Green River Killer represented the dark side of America’s pleasant Pacific Northwest. Rule could be blunt and abrasive at times, hungry for approval at others, but she definitely knew her stuff when it came to the subject of real-life criminals. She was a Seattle fixture, and anyone who knew her will surely raise a glass in her memory tonight. UPDATE: The Seattle Times published a Rule obituary here.

• A brand-new episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show? How can that possibly be? Well, TV writer Ken Levine (M*A*S*H, Cheers, Frasier, etc.) recently decided it would be a fun experiment to put together an installment of the 1961-1965 CBS-TV sitcom for his popular blog. Here’s are the results: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Did you know there was Jack Reacher fan fiction?

• Finally, here are several author interviews worth your tracking down: Gary Phillips has a good talk with CrimeFiction.FM’s Stephen Campbell about Day of the Destroyers (Moonstone), the pulpish new anthology he edited featuring stories linked by a real-life 1930s conspiracy (the so-called Business Plot) designed to overthrow President Franklin D. Roosevelt; Wallace Stroby discusses his latest Crissa Stone thriller, The Devil’s Share (Minotaur), with podcaster Paul Brubaker from The Backgrounder; Sara Paretsky chats with Jordan Foster of The Life Sentence “about her role as [Mystery Writers of America] president, what she’d like to achieve during her tenure, and how the crime fiction genre can address challenging issues confronting it; and Crime Fiction Lover has a conversation with Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason about his new-in-the-UK novel, Oblivion (which will be published next February in the States as Into Oblivion).

Friday, July 24, 2015

Bullet Points: Donald Trump-less Edition

• Why does it not surprise me to learn that the film rights to Don Winslow’s latest thriller, The Cartel (Knopf), have already been sold to Fox, with Ridley Scott tapped to direct and Leonardo DiCaprio being courted to play DEA agent Art Keller?

• Meanwhile, Winslow seems to have won no end of favorable publicity for this still-new sequel to his 2005 novel, The Power of the Dog. Slate has a podcast interview with The Cartel’s author, while Cinephilia & Beyond has posted this appreciation of Winslow’s storytelling. Reviews of The Cartel appear in Crime Fiction Lover and The Big Issue, as well as on the Mystery People site and even in High Times, not to mention a gazillion other sources.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web, David Lagercrantz’s fourth installment in the Millennium thriller series (originally penned by Stieg Larsson)--due out on August 27 in Great Britain, and on September 1 in the States--has been heavily embargoed. However, publisher MacLehose Press has finally released some details about its plot. The Guardian reports:
The novel continues the story of [Lisbeth] Salander and [Mikael] Blomkvist, last seen at the ending of Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, published in Swedish in 2007 and in English in 2009.

Despite the ending of Larsson’s novel, the misfit hacker Salander and the crusading journalist Blomkvist “have not been in touch for some time”, revealed MacLehose Press. The novel opens as “renowned Swedish scientist Professor Balder” contacts Blomkvist, asking him to publish his story.

And “it is a terrifying one,” said the publisher. “Säpo, Sweden’s security police, have offered him protection, but what Balder hopes for is to preserve his life’s work”--he has made “world-leading advances in artificial intelligence”--by going public.

Balder has also been working with Salander, it then emerges. The hacker has been using her old codename of Wasp, and has been attempting to crack the NSA--“a lunacy driven by vengeance, and fraught with every possible consequence”, said MacLehose.

She is also being targeted by “ruthless cyber gangsters who call themselves the Spiders”, and “the violent unscrupulousness of this criminal conspiracy will very soon bring terror to the snowbound streets of Stockholm, to the Millennium team--and to Blomkvist and Salander themselves”.
• This is a historical curiosity: an alternative opening to Season 6 of The Avengers, which that year (the series’ last, 1968-1969) replaced Diana Rigg (as Emma Peel) with Linda Thorson (as Tara King).

• Last weekend brought an end to the 2015 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, but the blogger who styles herself “Crime Thriller Girl” has only now concluded her recapping of festival events. See Part I here, Part II here, and Part III here.

• Earlier today, in the Killer Covers blog, I posted the latest entry in my “Friday Finds” series, highlighting book fronts of which I’m especially fond. The star this week is Jonathan Craig’s Frenzy, a 1962 edition of his novel Junkie!

• While you’re on the Killer Covers page, check out this “Two-fer Tuesdays” installment about paperback novels “that feature women in danger, concealed behind the flimsiest of drapes or screens.”

• With just over four months yet to go before the release of Spectre, the 24th James Bond motion picture, we’ve now been given a fairly dramatic, 2.32-minute trailer hinting at what to expect not only from star Daniel Craig, but also from new “Bond Girl” Léa Seydoux and the flick’s villain, played by Christoph Waltz. Watch below.


• The Archive of American Television has recently posted a slew of interviews on its Emmy TV Legends YouTube page with actors, writers, and producers who are familiar to followers of small-screen series. Among the offerings is this multi-part exchange with Barbara Feldon, who played Agent 99 on the 1965-1970 spy satire, Get Smart.

• It seems unclear when, where, and even if, we’ll ever see Cleo Valente’s noirish TV series, The Port of San Pedro (there’s currently a GoFundMe campaign trying to raise money so this project can proceed). Yet a trailer is now circulating; and while its dialogue seems a bit stilted, the clips it offers suggest the program--set in the Los Angeles community of San Pedro--might offer good entertainment for crime-fiction enthusiasts. Criminal Element has posted the trailer here, along with this précis of the program:
The Port of San Pedro is a clear homage to the glory days of noir, from its black-and-white stylization to the schemings of the duplicitous femme fatale, Luli-May Tang. Throw in Nick de Salvo (Steve Polites), an undercover detective who’s teamed up with his corruptible police captain, Sebastian Montenero (Luke Fattorusso), and you’ve got yourself a classic tale that knows where its roots first grew.

The series’ synopsis informs us that Luli-May Tang (Melodie Shih) is a Chinese woman who’s running an illegal currency forgery operation in Macao and has started to look into new ventures at the port of San Pedro. Luli-May is assisted by Mike Moretti (Mark Mikita), a mute sociopath who serves as her bodyguard. For Nick and Sebastian, their progress is impeded by Augustine “Quint” Quintero (Jesus Guevara), a morally ambiguous man who’s attracted equally to both new opportunities and the deadly femme fatale.
• Speaking of trailers, Jedidiah Ayres has posted a bunch of new ones in his blog, Hardboiled Wonderland, including a teaser for the sophomore season of FX-TV’s Fargo. That comedic crime drama is scheduled to return this coming October.

• Sometimes I wonder if Americans will ever take action against gun violence--action that isn’t simply the National Rifle Association prescription of arming still more people. Blogger Steve Benen notes that “As of yesterday, there have been 204 days so far this year. There have also been 203 mass shooting events so far this year.”

• The Web site Mental Floss presents15 Mysterious Facts About The Hardy Boys, the first of which is this remarkable statistic: “Not including graphic novels and planned releases, there have been well over 450 Hardy Boys titles published since their 1927 debut. This rough sum includes 38 titles from the original series that were entirely rewritten after 1959, releases by Grossett & Dunlap and digests from Simon & Schuster publishers, and the spin-offs Clues Brothers, Undercover Brothers, Casefiles, Super Mysteries, and Adventures series, among others.”

• This comes from In Reference to Murder:
BBC One is partnering with Lifetime for a miniseries based on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. The UK will premiere the program as a three-episode series later this year to coincide with Agatha Christie’s 125th anniversary, with the U.S. premiere on Lifetime as a two-part miniseries in 2016. The iconic novel follows ten strangers with dubious pasts lured to an isolated island where they're accused of crimes and start to die mysteriously, one by one.
• When asked to list his "Top 10 Books About Spies” for The Guardian, Stephen Grey, author of The New Spymasters: Inside the Modern World of Espionage, included The Riddle of the Sands, by Erskine Childers, and Agents of Innocence, by David Ignatius.

• Poet-novelist Carlos Zanón, whose nihilistic tale, The Barcelona Brothers, was released in an English translation back in 2012, has won Spain’s Premio Dashiell Hammett award for Yo fui Johnny Thunders (2014). The Premio Dashiell Hammett is supposed to showcase the best crime fiction published in Spanish.

• Ralph Dibny? Dirk Gently? Really, are they two of “The 12 Greatest Fictional Detectives (Who Aren’t Sherlock Holmes)”?

• I, for one, had never heard “Sax Rohmer,” whose real name was Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward, and who created the extensive Fu-Manchu series, speak--until today. “Among the goodies just uploaded to YouTube by British Movietone,” explains writer-editor Elizabeth Foxwell, is this undated footage of Rohmer “talking about the levels of U.S. versus British crime.”

• And my Kiwi pal Craig Sisterson, author the newly retitled blog Craig’s Crime Watch (formerly just Crime Watch), has posted the first half of a list of 10 New Zealand fictionists he cheekily suggests “should be locked to their desks until they deliver us another crime novel.” Among his choices so far are Vanda Symon, Alix Bosco (Greg McGee), and Stella Duffy. Part II of his roster is due next week.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pierce’s Picks

A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

Set in October 1943, Clandestine, by J. Robert Janes (Mysterious Press/Open Road), dispatches the unlikely investigative duo of Chief Inspector Jean-Louis St-Cyr of the French Sûreté and Detektiv Inspektor Hermann Kohler of the Nazi Gestapo to a crumbling, ancient Cistercian abbey in northern France, where a bank delivery van has been hijacked. The vehicle’s two male occupants are found shot some distance away, while the stacks of cash and black-market foodstuffs that were being transported have been ransacked--but only a suspiciously small quantity of each is missing. Equally bewildering is the discovery of a woman’s high-heeled shoes on the scene. Who was their wearer, why was she in the van, and where has she gone? An excellent entry in Janes’ long-running series, taking place at a time when the defeat of Adolf Hitler’s war forces appears inevitable. Believe No One, by A.D. Garrett (Minotaur)--the sequel to Everyone Lies (2014)--finds British Detective Chief Inspector Kate Simms on sabbatical in St. Louis, Missouri, where she’s to share knowledge with the local cops and enjoy some necessary distance from Scottish forensics authority Nick Fennimore. But Fennimore, on a concurrent U.S. speaking tour, winds up rejoining Simms to pursue a serial slayer who has been murdering young mothers along the Midwest’s Interstate 44, and abducting their children. For Fennimore this case has a personal connection: his wife was killed five years ago in a similarly grisly fashion, and his daughter taken.

Click here to see more of this season’s most-wanted books.

Gates of Gotham

A month after crime novelist Robert Terrall died in April 2009 at age 94, I posted a substantial feature about him in The Rap Sheet. At the time, I’d read considerably more about Terrall than I had read of his actual fiction. Since then, however, I have managed to collect all five of the novels he wrote (under the pseudonym Robert Kyle) about New York City private eye Ben Gates. It was just recently, in fact, that I finally tracked down a first-edition copy of Model for Murder, Terrall/Kyle’s third Gates outing, which featured the Robert McGinnis artwork I showcased recently in my Killer Covers blog.

After enjoying Model for Murder, I decided the prolific Terrall needed a bit more attention, since most of today’s younger readers aren’t familiar with his work. So I have devoted my brand-new Kirkus Reviews column to the creator of Ben Gates.

I know there are readers who don’t like the two dozen Michael Shayne novels Terrall ghost-wrote (starting with 1958’s Fit to Kill and continuing through 1976’s Win Some, Lose Some) after the creator of that redheaded Miami shamus, Brett Halliday (aka Davis Dresser), was clobbered by writer’s block. (The change in storytelling style might have had something to do with the fact that Terrall thought “the character of Shayne had no redeeming characteristics,” according to his son). But let’s put that argument aside for the moment, and concentrate on the Ben Gates novels, which--as I remark in my Kirkus column--“boast intricate plots made easier to digest by the gumshoe’s sardonic humor, as well as by the author’s taste for quirky but credible supporting players and his linear, first-person storytelling style.” I think they’re well worth tracking down in used-book stores or online. So does novelist Ed Gorman, who once called Terrall a “really fine craftsman” who was “especially good with dialogue,” and whose “sex scenes are really sexy and they’re good clean fun as well.”

You can read my latest Kirkus column here.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Garner Gone, Not to Be Forgotten

It was a year ago today that actor James Garner, who starred in the TV series Maverick and The Rockford Files, and also played Raymond Chandler's best-known private investigator in the 1969 film Marlowe, died of a heart attack at age 86. As a small tribute, here are links to four pieces I wrote about Garner for The Rap Sheet. Enjoy!

A Legend at His Best” (July 20, 2014)
Reflecting on Garner’s Life and Career” (July 21, 2014)
Grilling Garner” (October 28, 2011)
Happy Birthday, Jimbo” (April 7, 2007)

(Hat tip to Jim Suva’s Blog.)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Story Behind the Story:
“Deep North,” by Barry Knister

(Editor’s note: This 58th installment in our “Story Behind the Story” series introduces to The Rap Sheet Barry Knister, who spent a career in the classroom at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan, before retiring in 2008 to pen fiction. His first novel, a gritty thriller about Vietnam vets titled The Dating Service [1987], was published by Berkley. His second novel, Just Bill [2008], was an eccentric departure, a fable for adults about dogs and owners living on a Florida golf course. Knister’s third novel, The Anything Goes Girl [Blue Harvest, 2013], was the opening entry in his Brenda Contay suspense series. Below he writes about his new, second Contay novel, Deep North, which is due out next week in both print and e-book versions.)

Big, not to say daunting challenges confront everyone these days who aspires to write crime fiction. The number of titles being released is in itself enough to make a writer change his mind in favor of opening a cheese shop.

But that’s not the principal hurdle I faced when I first got the idea for writing Deep North (Blue Harvest), a suspense novel set in northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters.

The first challenge was the standard of excellence already in place. Do you admire Michael Connelly’s detective Harry Bosch? For anyone reading The Rap Sheet, that’s a rhetorical question, one to which the answer is already known. The same holds true for asking whether readers admire Patricia Cornwell’s medical examiner, Kay Scarpetta, Sue Grafton’s P.I., Kinsey Millhone, Elmore Leonard’s federal marshal, Raylan Givens, Scott Turow’s lawyers and prosecutors, or Thomas Harris’ psychological profilers.

Part of our respect and admiration for these characters has to do with the writing skill of the authors, but part is also related to expertise. Each author knows a great deal about one or more aspects of the world of crime, and equips his or her characters with that knowledge. We are placed alongside authentic police, legal experts, and forensic scientists, watching them do their stuff.

But that’s not how real life works. Average persons--civilians--experience most crime as a bolt from the blue, a shocking, sudden intrusion of violence or discovery that stabs into the predictability of daily life, leaving the victim or witness stunned.

According to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, family violence accounted for something like 11 percent of all reported and unreported violent crimes committed between 1998 and 2002. Of the 3,500,000 such crimes carried out against family members, 49 percent were committed against spouses, 11 percent against sons or daughters “victimized by a parent,” etc. Most tellingly, 22 percent of homicides committed in 2002 were “family murders.”

These numbers and what they represent point to a rich vein of do-it-yourself criminals. They offer the writer of crime fiction an abundance of possibilities. At least they do me.

Add to this that I’m in no position to compete with crime-fighter expertise: I’m a former college English teacher. I can write reasonably well, and I enjoy reading and writing crime fiction. But I am not able or willing to “go to school” to train myself in arts and techniques that have been mastered by so many writers before me, and that avid crime-fiction readers are fully versed in.

However, I can imagine stunning moments, and how my fictional characters might react to them.

My solution has been to start from the point of view of the civilian. For the central character in Deep North and the series of suspense novels it belongs to, I feature Brenda Contay, a tabloid “live action” TV reporter turned freelance journalist who keeps finding herself in dicey situations. Those situations involve financial and political crimes, and always murders.

But Contay, a resident of the Detroit suburb of Southfield, Michigan, is seeing what happens from the point of view of an outsider (and usually not even as a reporter), rather than as a crime fighter. Neither is she an amateur sleuth. In each instance, her encounter with crime is a matter of happenstance, the way it is for ordinary people who find themselves involved in or witnessing criminal acts.

By taking this approach, I free myself--and my main character--from the burdensome history of expertise and specialized knowledge that so many excellent writers have developed and refined for decades.

The approach is also well-suited in another way to Deep North. This story finds Brenda Contay going fishing with three other women, on a trip won in a raffle--but none of them knows anything about fishing. Brenda and her friends will need to rely on someone who does know, and this clears the way for lots of possibilities.

(Guess what teacher-turned-author goes fishing for just one week a year, in the Boundary Waters, said person relying on actual fishermen to keep him from falling out of the boat?)

Here’s something else that many writers can do far better than I can: devise plots that lead the reader through a labyrinth of twists and turns, plots that leave the actual agent of crime in doubt to the very end of the book.

(Right) Author Barry Knister

I am talking mostly about mysteries, whodunits. The trouble is, I don’t read very many such novels. I respect the ingenuity and craft of mystery writing, but the genre appeals most strongly to people who love puzzles. My wife tells me I’m insecure, that I shy away from mysteries because I don’t like being unable to figure out whodunit before the end. She’s smart, loves mysteries herself, and is very good at crossword puzzles, so she would say that. My younger stepdaughter--also a mystery reader--is relentless when it comes to jigsaw puzzles. I don’t like those either. They frustrate me. About halfway through a rainy-day jigsaw puzzle, I find myself saying, “Who cares about these damn pieces anyway?”

That may be why I’m drawn to suspense stories in which the criminal or criminals are known to the reader well before the end (but not to the hero), stories that place the protagonist and criminal on trajectories aimed at each other.

In fact, with one exception in my suspense series, those who commit crimes will not be professional criminals. They will be other civilians. Bitter or obsessed in some way, or arrogantly convinced that their intellectual superiority places them above the law, they, too--like my freelance journalist--will be amateurs.

So, the basic story dynamic in my suspense series is different. My effort to suspend the reader in a state of pleasurable anxiousness shifts from guiding her to watch and listen for clues, to watching the central character as she operates in ignorance of what’s coming.

In such stories, the reader is no longer in a squad car, or a medical examiner’s lab, or in a courtroom waiting to learn the truth about a crime. Instead, tension is generated by watching a sympathetic character as she moves ever closer to a fatal encounter.

How will she react? What will happen to her understanding of others after that encounter? How will the disaster alter the importance with which she has invested friends and enemies? Can she salvage something positive from a terrible experience? If so, at what cost?

In such stories, the Big Bang--the climax--is not the end of the novel, and the denouement takes on more importance: the reader needs to know what the aftermath will bring.

To succeed in bringing off this alternative approach to generating suspense in Deep North, I have to make the characters--all of them, not just the central point-of-view character and the “bad guy”--matter to the reader.

Yes, characters matter in any good novel, but in some sense their importance is diminished by the level of engagement the reader feels with the plot. It’s a delicate balance: plot and structure are of central importance to all well-written novels. But for me as a writer, figuring out how to keep structure strong, while at the same time expanding the meaning and value of characters, is the challenge.

In other words, two trains have to stay firmly on the track, but those riding inside them must be important enough to the reader to make him or her stick around for the whole ride. Not to find out whodunit, but to learn what happens when two trains headed for each other collide. Who will still be alive, and what will they do next?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Dead Good Hooks Some Live Ones

This evening, during the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival being held in Harrogate, England, half a dozen authors and their novels beat out some powerful competitors to capture the first-ever Dead Good Reader Awards. Here are the winners.

The Dead Good Recommends Award for Most Recommended Book: The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins (Transworld)

Also nominated: I Am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes (Transworld); The Defence, by Steve Cavanagh (Orion); I Let You Go, by Clare Mackintosh (Sphere); The Lie, by C.L. Taylor (Avon); and No Other Darkness, by Sarah Hilary (Headline)

The Lee Child Award for Best Loner or Detective:
Vera Stanhope, created by Ann Cleeves (Pan Macmillan)

Also nominated: Cormoran Strike, created by Robert Galbraith (Little, Brown); John Rebus, created by Ian Rankin (Orion); Harry Hole, created by Jo Nesbø (Vintage); Lacey Flint, created by Sharon Bolton (Transworld); and David Raker, created by Tim Weaver (Michael Joseph)

The Val McDermid Award for Fiendish Forensics:
Time of Death, by Mark Billingham (Sphere)

Also nominated: Bones Are Forever, by Kathy Reichs (Cornerstone); Die Again, by Tess Gerritsen (Transworld); The Ghost Fields, by Elly Griffiths (Quercus); Flesh and Blood, by Patricia Cornwell (Harper); and Rubbernecker, by Belinda Bauer (Transworld)

The Reichenbach Falls Award for Most Epic Ending:
The Skeleton Road, by Val McDermid (Sphere)

Also nominated: The Defence, by Steve Cavanagh (Orion); The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins (Transworld); The Nightmare Place, by Steve Mosby (Orion); I Let You Go, by Clare Mackintosh (Sphere); and Personal, by Lee Child (Transworld)

The Dr. Lecter Award for Scariest Villain:
You Are Dead, by Peter James (Macmillan)

Also nominated: The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes (Harper); Into the Darkest Corner, by Elizabeth Haynes (Myriad); An Evil Mind, by Chris Carter (Simon & Schuster); The Stand, by Stephen King (Hodder); The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson (Quercus)

The Patricia Highsmith Award for Most Exotic Location:
Amsterdam, The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die, by Marnie Riches (Maze)

Also nominated: Bardsey Island, The Bones Beneath, by Mark Billingham (Sphere); Boston, The Kind Worth Killing, by Peter Swanson (Faber); Greece, The Long Fall, by Julia Crouch (Headline); Nepal, The Lie, by C.L. Taylor (Avon); and Oslo, Police, by Jo Nesbø (Vintage)

Those commendations were presented by the UK crime fiction-oriented Web site Dead Good. Winners were chosen through online polling as well as by a vote among attendees at the Harrogate festival.

Congratulations to all of the winners and runners-up!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Hilary Captures Peculier Crown

“Debut author Sarah Hilary has scooped the [2015] Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award for Someone Else’s Skin [Penguin],” according to this report from The Bookseller. “Hilary was presented with the award by title sponsor Simon Theakston and broadcaster Mark Lawson at the opening night of the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival ... (16th July) in Harrogate [England].”

Hilary’s novel had been up against five other high-profile, shortlisted works in contention for this prize: The Facts of Life and Death, by Belinda Bauer (Black Swan); The Axeman’s Jazz, by Ray Celestin (Mantle); The Outcast Dead, by Elly Griffiths (Quercus); The Devil in the Marshalsea, by Antonia Hodgson (Hodder & Stoughton); and Entry Island, by Peter May (Quercus). The original longlist of 18 titles, announced this past May, can be found here.

The Bookseller adds that this evening’s awards event also included the presentation, to author Sara Paretsky, of the sixth Theakstons Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award. “When I created V.I. Warshawski,” Paretsky is quoted as saying, “she created a few seismic shockwaves for being a female detective with gumption. I’m proud of that, and today it’s amazing to be recognized for that legacy and to see so many female characters in the genre who are more than just a vamp or victim. This is such a prestigious award, not least because of the previous winners in whose footsteps I follow--P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, Reginald Hill, and Colin Dexter. It’s amazing to be the first American to infiltrate this list.”

READ MORE:Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year Award 2015,” by Ayo Onatade (Shotsmag Confidential).

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Dressing Up a McBain Classic

One of the more intriguing “new” crime-fiction releases this week is So Nude, So Dead, by Ed McBain. I’ve placed “new” in quotations marks, because this isn’t really a new novel at all. It was originally published in 1952 as The Evil Sleep! and its author was listed as Evan Hunter--McBain’s legally adopted name (he’d actually been born Salvatore Alberto Lombino). The Evil Sleep! was in fact Hunter’s first adult novel to see print. Four years later, in 1956, Crest Books reissued The Evil Sleep! under the much more tantalizing title, So Nude, So Dead, this time offering the byline “Richard Marsten,” another of Hunter’s pseudonyms. But only now--a decade after the author’s death back in 2005--has publisher Hard Case Crime finally attached Hunter’s best remembered nom de plume to this book, in a handsome trade-size paperback with cover art by Gregory Manchess.

There have been a number of write-ups posted recently about So Nude, So Dead, including this fine one by Cullen Gallagher and this other one by Ron Fortier. But the blog Crime Fiction Lover provides one of the most concise synopses of its plot:
The novel has a familiar beginning. A young musician and addict called Ray Stone wakes up in a strange room with little memory of the night before. In the bed beside him is a dead girl. Eileen Chalmers was an addict too. Through the panic, and withdrawal symptoms that gradually grow more intense, Stone is able to piece together a little of the night before. Eileen sang with a combo, and Ray met her between sets at a nightclub. They shared a cab back to her hotel room and got high together. Eileen had shown Ray 16 oz. of pure heroin before they fell into a narcotic-induced slumber. Examining her corpse, Ray discovers she was shot twice in the stomach and worse, from his selfish point of view at least, the heroin is gone.

Ray may be naïve but he knows he’s been set up. His first call is to his father, who agrees to meet him with some money. But dad still entertains hopes of getting his son back on the straight and narrow, and when the two meet Ray finds his father ;has invited the cops along too. Ray knows that if he goes along with them he’s more likely to be sent to death row than hospital for a detox, and barely makes his escape. Walking the mean streets of New York with the police after him, Ray knows he’ll have to find Eileen’s murderer himself. And he needs to do it quick, because when cold turkey really sets in he won’t be any use to anyone.

So Nude, So Dead carries us off into the seedy world [of] hophead jazz musicians, a world where a reefer stick can send a promising young pianist into the arms of heroin, and the arms of any number of amorous young women, be they half-Chinese strippers, supper club singers or just hangers-on. Of course it has dated. There is nothing in this book which would be remotely scandalous now, but there is enjoyment to be had in this. Never before have I read a book where so many women think they can rid an addict of his habit with a romp between the sheets.
What’s also interesting about So Nude, So Dead is the comparison between its Hard Case Crime cover and the front it bore for Crest back in 1956. The façade at the top of this post carries, of course, Manchess’ new painting, which shows an evidently deceased young brunette (odd, since Eileen Chalmers is described in McBain’s yarn as being blonde), sprawled upon a bed beneath a bare light bulb. Lower and on the right is the cover the great Mitchell Hooks (1923-2013) did for Crest, featuring not only the murdered Eileen, but also a very shaken Ray Stone, obviously in the midst of fleeing the scene of this crime. It’s tough to make the call on which of these images is the more engaging one. What do you think?

Wanna Own a Bookshop?

Having already passed up the opportunity to purchase a small, independent Seattle bookstore in the not-too-distant past, taking on this far-away endeavor wouldn’t be up my alley. But I do hope somebody else out there sees running Minneapolis’ Once Upon a Crime shop as a promising venture. This story comes from the St. Paul, Minnesota, Pioneer Press:
Once Upon a Crime, the little Minneapolis bookstore with a big reputation, is for sale.

Pat Frovarp and Gary Shulze, who have owned the store at 604 W. 26th St. for 13 years as of Aug. 1, said they made this difficult decision because “We're not getting any younger,” and Shulze is undergoing cancer treatments.

“Regardless, we knew the day was coming soon when someone else should own Once Upon a Crime,” Shulze said Monday. “The store continues to thrive and we hope there is someone out there who will eagerly take the reins.”

Once Upon a Crime, which has only 800 square feet of sales space, carries new mysteries, thrillers and crime fiction as well as rare, used and hard-to-get volumes.
I’ve had the good fortune to visit Once Upon a Crime on a number of occasions, since my best friend lives in Minneapolis and he--through no fault of mine, of course--has become a crime-fiction enthusiast over the years. Frovarp and Shulze (who won a Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 2011) have set up a pleasant, well-stocked literary haven that’s become an important stop on writers’ swings through the Twin Cities. It would be a terrible shame to see Once Upon a Crime go out of business.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Pierce’s Picks

A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

The Murder Road, by Stephen Booth (Sphere UK), is the 15th novel featuring Derbyshire police detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry. The stranger-leery hamlet of Shawhead, accessible only via a single thoroughfare, is shocked when a transport truck is found on that route, jammed beneath a railway bridge, its driver nowhere to be found and its cab marked with blood. After the only person thought capable of solving this mystery turns up dead in a nearby town, Detective Inspector Cooper--already agitated by staffing changes at E Division, and uncertain of his footing in this case--may feel compelled to seek help from Detective Sergeant Fry, who is currently working with Nottingham's Major Crimes Unit. Sympathy for the Devil, by Terrence McCauley (Polis), is an adrenaline-charged spy thriller starring James Hicks, the director of a particularly clandestine government anti-terrorism agency called the University. After barely surviving a shootout in New York City’s Central Park, during which one of his “assets” is killed, Hicks determines that he’s been betrayed by one of his most trusted agents. Worse, he unearths a conspiracy that could release biological disaster upon the world. Although Hicks could have used some more dimension and less pulpish dialogue, Sympathy will appeal to readers fond of technology-enriched escapist fiction.

Click here to see more of this season’s most-wanted books.

Good Gaul-ly!

Today is of course Bastille Day, marking the 136th anniversary of the public storming of Paris’ Bastille Saint-Antoine and the start of the French Revolution. By way of celebrating this occasion, I’ve put together--in my Killer Covers blog--what I think is a rather handsome selection of more than 50 book fronts that owe their inspiration to France or, specifically, Paris. Click here to enjoy the whole set.

READ MORE:Bastille Day: Mysteries Set in France,” by Janet Rudolph (Mystery Fanfare).

Monday, July 13, 2015

Tribute to an Internet Friend

I never had the chance to meet Eden, North Carolina, resident George Randall “Randy” Johnson, who died yesterday at age 65. But we exchanged a bit of correspondence over the years, about both politics and books, and as far as I’m concerned, he made the announcement of his passing in exactly the manner a longtime blogger should: by posting a farewell message in Not the Baseball Pitcher, the blog he’d been writing ever since at least May 2008.

Headlined “It’s Been Fun,” his final note explained:
By the time you read this, I will be gone. My health is not what it should be these days, the result of a lifetime of doing all the wrong things.

I just want to take the time to say good-bye to those of you out there I’ve come to know in the internet land. I’ve never met any of you and never expected to, but I consider you friends and hope you do the same. The same likes and interests brought us together.

It made my life better to a degree to follow your blogs each day, to laugh or cry at the things you posted on, to participate in discussions on various subjects. My disability kept me confined to the house for the most part. I can go in my car on a limited basis to any place where I didn’t have to get out (kind of limits destinations, though). Mostly it is just trips to doctors.

I live alone. Family members or friends call or come by every day to help out (I don’t know how I’d have made it without them), but I’m alone most of the day. So mostly my world consisted of books, my computer, and television in that order.

One thing I’ve missed the last few years is going to the brick-and-mortar bookstores. My little town had a Waldenbooks, but it closed a few years back, and there are no others, not even a used store. The nearest city with bookstores is thirty-eight miles away. It has the usual chains and a couple of independents as well, though bookstores in general are slowly starting to disappear.

The internet and Amazon made it possible for me to get books delivered here. That was only good for things I knew about, though. That stumbling across the occasional little gem was a thing of the past except for all you folks’ blogs. Especially Patti Abbott’s Forgotten Books on Fridays. That brought a wealth of new finds for me (I wish I could have afforded all of them). But I found recommendations from all of you that I might never have tried otherwise.

Thank you!

It’s been a lot of fun. I’m saving this post and will have a family member post the particulars when the time comes.

Good-bye to all!
Randy’s small blog always provided a bright spot to my day, whether he was commenting on new books he’d received (and there always seemed to be plenty of those), or Western movies he’d viewed lately, or his favorite musicians. Only occasionally did Randy write about himself or his health (it seems he was diabetic and lost his left foot to infection several years back), yet his posts always reflected his personality, which I found to be spirited, supportive, and generally hopeful. I was aware that he had retired sometime in the past, but I knew few other concrete facts about him or his family until his sister posted this short obituary on his Facebook page earlier today:
George “Randy” Randall Johnson, 65, passed away July 12, 2015, at his home. A memorial service will be held [at] 2 p.m., Saturday, July 18th, at the First Church of the Bretheren in Eden with burial [to] follow in Danview Cemetery at a later date.

Randy was born October 24, 1949, to Billy Ray Johnson and Elaine Radford Burchett in Rockinham Country, NC. He was a member of The First Church of the Bretheren and worked as a clerk for Pillowtex.

Surviving are his mother, Elaine R. Burchett, and [her] husband John of Eden, NC; sister Jean Craven and husband Jacob of Eden, NC; brother Alan Burchett of Eflin, NC; nieces Diane Burgess, Mandy Silvers and husband Allen, Olivia, Hilary, and Merideth, a nephew Tracy Craven, and five great nephews--Ryan, Avery, Zane, Trey, and Gabriel. Preceding him in death are two sisters, Linda Sparks and Sue Lynch.

Visitation will be held one hour prior to the memorial service, from 1 until 2 p.m., and other times at the home of his sister Jean Craven, 801 Hampton St., Eden. Memorial donations can be made to the First Church of the Bretheren: 730 Church Street., Eden NC 27288. Online condolences can be made to
I shall miss reading new posts in Not the Baseball Pitcher (which Randy named to avoid confusion with former sports star Randy Johnson, aka The Big Unit), though I’ll still find pleasure in catching up with his many “forgotten books” posts. And I hope that if there really is a heaven to which people go after they die, it’s chockful of bookstores, because my friend Randy will want to visit those, pronto!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bullet Points: Harper Lee Week Edition

My life can be lonely at times, but it certainly wasn’t last week, when my best friend, Byron Rice, flew in to Seattle to join me for some mutual entertainment and a week away from my quotidian responsibilities. Byron and I met in college (oh, so long ago) and have remained close ever since, winging our ways back and forth across the country in alternating years to catch up on what’s new, swap funny stories, share fine cigars and malted beverages, and generally delight in each other’s company. With some people, you become locked into a time warp; no matter how long you’ve know them, you never quite understand how they have matured, and you talk about the same things over and over again. That’s not the case with Byron. Both of us have changed greatly since college, and we recognize and respect that evolution; yet we still haven’t lost the ability to talk and laugh outrageously and have quirky adventures together, just as we have always done. (Hell, he even helped me paint my front and back porches during last week’s visit. That’s a friend for you!) It’s too bad Byron lives way out in Minnesota, and I’m settled here in the Pacific Northwest. But at least we can see each other on a regular basis. Good memories fill the space between those encounters.

So anyway, after my week playing hooky from work, I’m now reinstalled at Rap Sheet headquarters to collect sundry bits of crime-fiction news and info, such as those that follow.


• If I’m not mistaken, the last trailer for this summer’s Man from U.N.C.L.E. movie was released on June 11 and ran just under three minutes long. However, a new preview--embedded above--was showcased at last week’s San Diego Comic-Con. Although we have seen some scattered clips from the trailer before, its length (more than five minutes!) offers several new hints at the picture’s delights.

• Another preview worth watching, this one from the upcoming, Victorian era-set Christmas episode of BBC’s Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and a broadly mustachioed Martin Freeman.

• ThrillerFest X took place last week in New York City. Because I wasn’t on hand for the festivities (as I suspect most of you were not), I must depend on Criminal Element contributor Thomas Pluck for reports from the scene. He penned two posts (here and here) about the convention’s “pre-game” CraftFest component, during which he says “thriller masters such as David Morrell, and agents like Donald Maass (also an author), host[ed] panels on the craft [of fiction writing].” And here you’ll find Pluck’s notes from Day One of the main event, which included a public interview with author Greg Iles.

• Speaking of Criminal Element, it has finally posted the winning entry in its latest short-story contest, “The M.O.” Titled “The Cocoon,” the tale was written by Louis Rakovich.

• Neda Semnani’s excellent Life Sentence piece about Chester Himes reminds me that I really must get back to reading his work.

• The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers (IAMTW) announced the winners of its 2015 Scribe Awards on Friday, July 10, during San Diego Comic-Con. Included among those victors were Max Collins and Mickey Spillane (for their Mike Hammer short-story collaboration, “It’s in the Book”), Christa Faust (for her original speculative novel, Fringe: Sins of the Father, and Andrew Kaplan (who won Best Original Novel honors for Homeland: Saul’s Game).

• Meanwhile, Collins talks here about his long friendship with the late Mr. Spillane and his work on “It’s in the Book.”

• There’s still more prize-related news: The Shirley Jackson Awards, named for the author of The Haunting of Hill House, and honoring “outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror and the dark fantastic,” were handed out during Readercon (July 9-12) in Burlington, Massachusetts. Todd Mason has the rundown of winners in his blog, Sweet Freedom.

• And SCIBA, also known as the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association, has broadcast its shortlists of contenders for the 2015 SCIBA Book Awards. In the running for this year’s T. Jefferson Parker Mystery Award are:

-- Marry, Kiss, Kill, by Anne Flett-Giordano (Prospect Park)
-- The Replacements, by David Putnam (Oceanview)
-- The Cartel, by Don Winslow (Knopf)

Winners in all the categories will be announced on October 24.

• As a way to commemorate what would have been novelist Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday (on September 15, 2015), organizers of the Bloody Scotland convention are holding a special short-story competition. Writers are invited to submit “up to 3,000 words of unpublished work,” written in English and “inspired by Christie and her writing.” The deadline for submissions is this coming July 27. More details about the contest can be found here.

• I was very sorry to hear that Welsh-born actor Roger Rees--who picked up Olivier and Tony awards for his performance in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, but was probably better known in the States for playing an English tycoon on Cheers--perished on Friday from stomach cancer. He was 71 years old. No matter his many other roles (in The Return of Sam McCloud, M.A.N.T.I.S., Law & Order, Elementary, etc.), my personal favorite was his recurring portrayal, on The West Wing, of delightfully arrogant British Ambassador Lord John Marbury. You can enjoy clips of that work here.

• The blog Almost Holmes recalls Rees’ ties to Sherlock Holmes.

• Good-bye as well to Omar Sharif. The Egypt-born, Golden Globe Award-winning actor, best known for his roles in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965), and Funny Girl (1968), died on July 10 at age 83. In addition to those other big-screen flicks I mentioned, Sharif appeared in the 1969 Western Mackenna’s Gold, the 1974 thriller Juggernaut, and The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976).

The Wall Street Journal’s Brenda Cronin has posted a complimentary assessment of Meanwhile There Are Letters, the abundant collection of correspondence between American authors Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald (aka Kenneth Millar), edited by Suzanne Marrs and Tom Nolan (the latter of whom was also behind the recent omnibus, Ross Macdonald: Four Novels of the 1950s). An excerpt from Meanwhile can be found here.

• Anthony Horowitz’s James Bond continuation novel, Trigger Mortis, will reach bookstores in early September. Two months after that, you can expect to see the release of License Expired, an unauthorized, 400-page “anthology of collected stories from various Canadian authors, based on Ian Fleming’s fourteen published Bond novels …” So far, it appears that License Expired will be available only in Canada.

• Wallace Stroby talks with Stephen Campbell of the Crime Fiction FM podcast about his new, fourth Crissa Stone novel, The Devil’s Share.

• Did you know that UK author Jay Stringer (Ways to Die in Glasgow) also does a podcast series in which he interviews crime and mystery writers? Yeah, neither did I until today, but you can find the latest episode here.

• A fresh interview with Stringer himself is here.

• Crime Fiction Lover looks at five films noir that it says are better than the books on which they were based. “Chuck Palahniuk famously said he preferred David Fincher’s Fight Club movie over his own book,” writes Zachary Colbert. “But reading calls on us to use our imaginations and subsequently put ourselves into the story to a greater extent than watching a movie, therefore consumers often become more attached to books than movies. Yet, as deftly and as sharply as some novelists write, sometimes there’s nothing more incisive than the image of a smoking gun in grainy black and white.”

• And what’s “The Noir-est of All Film Noir Flicks”?

• Seattle-based online retail giant, which originally promoted itself as “Earth’s biggest bookstore” and sold its first book in July 1995, is all set to celebrate its 20th anniversary this week. But Salon has put together “5 Reasons to Wish Amazon an Unhappy Birthday,” topped by this important one:
The most direct and tangible effect of Amazon’s arrival in the bookselling market has been to shutter actual brick-and-mortar bookstores that allow people to browse through books, connect with the literary zealots who work there, and see authors read. If you have a favorite indie--Powell’s or the Tattered Cover or Politics and Prose or Carmichael’s or The Regulator or Skylight--you know how valuable these places are.

And there are about half as many indies as there were when Amazon arrived, from about 4,000 to about 2,000, according to George Packer’s virtuoso
New Yorker essay, “Cheap Words.” In this time the U.S. population has added more than 60 million people. And the number of indies has plummeted.
• By the way, here is how Amazon looked in its early days.

• I love this quote about Erle Stanley Gardner’s best-selling Perry Mason yarns, taken from a vintage review in Mystery*File: “[T]he stories he tells--I can’t resist ’em. They’re low on action and high in idea content. The plot and red herrings are simply mind-dazzling--if only you could sort them out!” Oh, how true …

Andrew Kaplan’s choice thrillers, “and what makes them great.”

• Stacia Kissick Jones checks out Spenser: For Hire, Season Two.

• I hope the wait is worth it. This report comes from the entertainment Web site Consequence of Sound: “The road to Showtime’s Twin Peaks is long and winding and … murky. First David Lynch signed on. Then he signed off. Then he signed back on. Then they doubled the episode count from nine to 18. Now, it appears the highly anticipated third season of the series won’t arrive until 2017. Well, at least if co-creator Mark Frost is to be trusted.”

• Last but certainly not least, this is destined to be Harper Lee Week, as her second novel, a To Kill a Mockingbird sequel titled Go Set a Watchman, is finally brought to market after a more than half-century delay. It’s official publication date is Tuesday, and I already have a copy on order. Meanwhile, The Guardian previews the book’s first chapter, National Public Radio examines “How Harper Lee Went from Wannabe Writer to the Jane Austen of Alabama,” and The New York Times has this early review.