Thursday, December 13, 2018

Favorite Crime Fiction of 2018,
Part I: Jim Napier

Jim Napier is a crime-fiction critic based in Quebec, Canada. Since 2005, his reviews and interviews have appeared in several Canadian newspapers and on various crime-fiction and literary Web sites, including January Magazine and his own award-winning review site, Deadly Diversions. His debut crime novel, Legacy, was published in the spring of 2017, and the second book in that series, Ridley’s War, is scheduled for release in the spring of 2019.

The Witch Elm, by Tana French (Viking):
Dubliner Toby Hennessy—who’d previously believed himself to be a fortunate, happy man—is attacked in his flat by two burglars. He suffers a massive beating. Days later, he awakens to find himself in a hospital bed, barely able to function. His balance is iffy, his coordination and speech are impaired, and his memory of the violence recently visited upon him is fragmentary, at best. Now flash forward two months: Toby is only marginally better. Anxious to put his apartment and its bleak memories behind him, he looks forward to moving, if only for a few months, to Ivy House, the domain of his uncle Hugo. When Toby learns that Hugo has cancer and is dying, he is determined to make the most of things, to be useful in caring for his relative. Toby’s thoughts also turn to the nexus of friends dating back to his youth. As the group of them had often spent their summers at Ivy House, Toby invites them to return for a weekend visit. They do, and for a moment it seems that things are taking a turn for the better in Toby’s life. But the casual closeness of this group masks important underlying tensions. Envy and suspicion, along with secrets and slights, rise to the surface, where their long friendships will be put to the test. Then a human skull is discovered in Ivy House’s backyard, and Toby is left to reassess everything he thought he understood about his life and family. Told in the first-person, this standalone yarn from the author of the Dublin Murder Squad series (The Trespasser) provides an intriguing exploration of the human psyche. French forces readers to confront the issue of who we are, individually, and what we are capable of doing under extreme conditions. Like some of her earlier works, The Witch Elm violates cardinal rules of writing, but she manages to hold readers firmly in her grasp. A superb story, destined to become a classic.

Two Kinds of Truth, by Michael Connelly
(Grand Central Publishing):

Like so many other people nowadays, Harry Bosch finds himself still working after nominally retiring. Yet it’s not for the money; he’s driven by his crime-breaking labors, the satisfaction they give him. After being ousted from the Los Angeles Police Department, he’s now volunteering with Southern California’s San Fernando PD, operating out of a repurposed office that was formerly a drunk tank, and pouring over old files, looking to bring justice to the victims of unsolved crimes—and closure to their families and friends. But his day doesn’t get off to the best start when he learns that Preston Borders, a man he put on Death Row three decades ago, is seeking to have his conviction overturned on the basis of previously unexamined DNA evidence, claiming that Bosch planted damning “proof” of his guilt at trial. Bosch knows it’s BS, but he’s stumped to prove it. And before he can make any headway in ensuring Borders’ continued incarceration, he’s called out to the scene of a double homicide: father and son pharmacists have been brutally gunned down in their place of business, in what looks more like an execution than a robbery gone wrong. As Bosch dives into this fresh case, he’s drawn into the shadowy world of prescription painkillers and the organized criminals who traffic in them. Bosch agrees to go undercover—a risky role that he has largely avoided during his long career—and as a consequence, is compelled to fight not only for his reputation, but also for his life. Meticulously researched and packed with sordid ambience, Two Kinds of Truth is a grim and gritty exposé of a major scourge of modern-day America, wrapped up in a compelling drama that reaffirms Connelly’s place as quite simply his country’s finest crime writer. This 20th Bosch novel was originally published in late 2017, but the release of a paperback edition in 2018 qualifies it (barely) for The Rap Sheet’s list.

Though the Heavens Fall, by Anne
Emery (ECW Press):

1995: When Halifax, Nova Scotia, lawyer Monty Collins travels to Northern Ireland to perform some work on behalf of his firm, his good friend Father Brennan Burke takes advantage of the opportunity, and tags along. Much of Burke’s family remained in Northern Ireland during the euphemistically termed “Troubles.” Now, however, events are inching toward reconciliation, and a compromise solution seems to be on the horizon. Father Brennan’s cousin Ronan Burke spent some time behind bars during the decades of conflict, but he’s now a free man, hugely popular among the Republicans and an odds-on favorite to play a leading part in the proposed joint political assembly, once it’s established. Lurking not far beneath the surface of all this, though, are age-old enmities, and deeds gone unpunished on both sides of the turmoil. Brennan is drawn into the intrigue, and when his involvement is discovered, he’s thrown into prison, there to await trial in a courtroom where the customary safeguards of rights for the accused no longer apply, and under threat that he could spend the the rest of his days in a place of unspeakable degradation. Though the Heavens Fall chronicles the times leading up to a ceasefire between opposing forces in Northern Ireland, and the eventual Good Friday Agreement. With its many harrowing tales based on fact, this is a dark novel, by far the darkest yet in Emery’s 10-book series, guaranteed to leave even the most casual reader deeply disturbed that these sorts of things could be allowed to happen in a nation that regards itself as civilized. Though the Heavens Fall is a fine example of how, in the hands of a skilled and dedicated writer, a novel can enlarge our understanding of complex issues in the real world. Clearly one of the finest reads of 2018.

Chasing the Wind, by C.C. Humphreys
(Library and Archives Canada):

Roxy Loewen is a feisty, indefatigable, yet refreshingly fallible aviatrix in the America of the 1930s. Friends with Amelia Earhart no less, she will, before this story ends, match wits with Nazi leader Hermann Göring in a bid to prevent him from possessing a previously unknown, yet priceless, painting—not because of her political views, but because she needs that work of art, or rather the wealth it represents, to extricate herself from crippling family debts and secure her independence. Roxy is aided in her quest by fellow pilot Jocco Zomack, who couldn’t be more different from her. Jocco is an idealist, with sympathies for communist causes and the rebels fighting a civil war in Spain. Theirs is an uneasy alliance, and one which will come back to haunt the intrepid Roxy before this book’s final page. Together, the pair face a truly sinister adversary named Sidney Munroe. He’s responsible, at least indirectly, for Roxy’s father’s death, and he too wants the painting, together with all of Roxy’s family inheritance. Munroe is also a friend of Herr Göring. Not an easy man to like, then. Deftly combining the politics of the day, art history, and the catastrophic fate of the airship Hindenburg, Chasing the Wind blends escapist fun into an action-packed yarn that begs for a film treatment to do it justice.

Insidious Intent, by Val McDermid (Atlantic Monthly Press):
Barely squeaking onto this list with a December 2017 publication date, Insidious Intent is one of the best crime novels of this or any other year. In Bonny Scotland, the bodies of young women are being found in burned-out cars, all apparently unconnected with one another, and Detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan (last seen in 2015’s Splinter the Silence) is certain there is a serial killer on the loose. The culprit is cunning, though, and even with his formidable skills, profiler Tony Hill has nothing to work with. Maddeningly, just as the team does move toward identifying a suspect, it seems that person—aided by a formidable lawyer—will walk free with the chance to murder again. As always, Jordon’s turbulent personal life lurks not far beneath the surface of this plot. After a night of drinking, she’d been involved in a traffic accident. Members of her team had derailed the resulting inquiry by claiming that the breathalyzer used to establish the DCI’s alcohol level had been faulty. The resulting acquittal, bad enough in it’s own right, had led to similar verdicts for several other drunk-driver defendants, and one of them had gone free only to kill himself and others in yet another incident. Now an energetic reporter, aided by a disgruntled police officer who is nursing his own grudge, is on the trail of the cover-up, and it seems to be only a matter of time before Jordan’s professional life—as well as those of several officers involved in the cover-up—are in tatters. Reading one of Val McDermid’s novels is like taking a master class in creative writing, her nuanced characters and layered back-stories encompassing profound moral themes wrapped in a gripping story line. Her body of work firmly establishes her as one of our age’s foremost crime fictionists.

Hey, Can We Play, Too?

As other media outlets have recently rolled out their rundowns of what they deem to be the foremost crime-fiction releases of 2018, The Rap Sheet’s small cadre of critics have been making their own lists and checking them twice. Later this morning, we will begin posting those “Favorite Crime Fiction of 2018” selections, and will continue publishing them over the next couple of weeks.

Please let us know what you think of our choices, and whether there are also other new-in-2018 works you especially enjoyed.

You Can Quote Me on That

Kenneth Millar, who would grow up to become the detective novelist known as Ross Macdonald, was born on December 13, 1915—103 years ago today. To honor his life and literary works, CrimeReads has compiled “30 unforgettable lines” from his books. They include this haunting quote from his 1964 Lew Archer private-eye novel, The Chill: “Some men spend their lives looking for ways to punish themselves for having been born.” And among the Macdonald lines I’d most like to steal is this description taken from 1961’s The Wycherly Woman: “She was trouble looking for somebody to happen to.”

Macdonald has enjoyed a good amount of coverage in The Rap Sheet. Last year I put together a list of those stories, found here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

PaperBack: “The Color of Murder”

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

The Color of Murder, by Julian Symons (Dell, 1959).
Cover illustration by Robert Maguire.

’Tis the Season for Reading

I keep thinking that Christmas is still many weeks away, but in fact there are only 13 days left now before presents will be ogled beneath decorated trees all over the world. Fortunately, Janet Rudolph seems to be keeping better track of the calendar than I have been. She has already posted her alphabetized and updated list of Christmas-related crime and mystery novels, in three parts—authors A-E, authors F-L, authors M-Z. Plus, she’s assembled a separate catalogue of Christmas mystery short stories and novellas, which you’ll find here.

These works might be just right, should you plan to bring Iceland’s Christmas Eve book-giving tradition into your own home.

Good-bye, Keanu

Readers of Bill Crider’s blog as well as The Rap Sheet will likely recall the story of how that Alvin, Texas, author adopted three kittens he had discovered in the drainage ditch across the street from his house in the spring of 2016. That mischievous trio—Keanu, Ginger Tom, and Gilligan—quickly became famous on the Internet as the “VBKs” (or Very Bad Kittens). Shortly before Crider died last February, his goddaughter, Liz Romig Hatlestad, adopted the cats and moved them to her home in the central Texas town of Brownwood. She also created a Facebook page where we could keep track of their continuing antics.

Sadly, Hatlestad reports on Facebook that little Keanu—who Crider first introduced here and here—has died. She wrote on December 6:
We’re not sure how or why but she died in an accident in a neighbor’s fenced-in yard.

We had taken to calling her Teensy at our house, because she was so petite compared to her brothers. Lately we had been finding her right next to [Hatlestad’s baby daughter] Alice’s crib when we came in the nursery in the morning, keeping the baby company. She was our sweetest and most beautiful kitty, and we loved hearing her meow. …

I know from many stories that she was the first one to be found [by] Bill, and we are just sick that she had to be the first one to leave us. I hate so much to have to make this post and I just dread telling all the VBK family out there about this loss. This group has been a source of joy for me but today is very hard.
You can enjoy some photographs of Keanu on the VBKs (Very Bad Kittens) Fan Page on Facebook.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Le Carré Prepares His “Field” Notes

Word that renowned British spy novelist John le Carré has a new novel—his 25th—due out in October 2019 has made a predictably large splash in the press. The Guardian reports:
John le Carré is set to confront “the division and rage at the heart of our modern world” in a new novel set in London in 2018 that will be published next year. Agent Running in the Field follows a 26-year-old “solitary” man who, “in a desperate attempt to resist the new political turbulence swirling around him, makes connections that will take him down a very dangerous path,” according to publisher Viking. …

Mary Mount, the author’s publisher at Viking, said that the times called for writers like le Carré. “In his plot and characterisation le Carré is as thrilling as ever, and in the way he writes about our times he proves himself once again to be the greatest chronicler of our age,” she said. “At a moment like this we need writers like him.”

Agent Running in the Field was the original working title for le Carré’s 1986 novel A Perfect Spy, according to Adam Sisman’s 2015 biography of the author.
Double O Section blogger Matthew Bradford adds that le Carré (whose real name is David Cornwell) “may be in the second half of his Eighties now, but, happily, the undisputed master of the spy genre keeps going strong. While either a personal memoir (2016’s The Pigeon Tunnel) or a novel revisiting his most famous character, George Smiley, one last(?) time (2017’s A Legacy of Spies) both seemed like they might be fitting moments to retire, le Carré clearly still has more to say.”

We’ll have to wait another 10 months to find out how much more.

Plainly, Readers Can’t All Agree

Less than a week after asking its critics and contributors (including yours truly) to list their favorite crime-oriented books of the year, CrimeReads editors today express their own opinions on that same pressing matter. Their 20 choices include Lou Berney’s November Road, Leila Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny, James McLaughlin’s Bearskin, Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, The Serial Killer, Jonathan Lethem’s The Feral Detective, and Lucy Atkins’ The Night Visitor. If you haven’t yet read all of these works, don’t feel bad—neither have I.

* * *

Speaking of critical preferences, note that Crime Time continues its seeming annual tradition of asking prominent British reviewers to identify the crime, mystery, and thriller works they believe showed off the genre’s strengths best this year. Philip Kerr’s Greeks Bearing Gifts, Belinda Bauer’s Snap, Mick Herron’s London Rules, Manda Scott’s A Treachery of Spies, Jack Grimwood’s Nightfall Berlin, and Derek B. Miller’s American by Day all earn mentions.

Happy Birthday, Rita Moreno!

The Puerto Rico-born actress turn 87 years old today. After a seven-decades-long career, Rita Moreno may be best known for filling supporting parts in films such as The King and I and West Side Story, as well as her long-running participation on the children’s TV series Electric Company. But her crime-fiction credentials are also solid. They include her essential role in the 1969 James Garner film Marlowe and her regular spot on The Cosby Mysteries (1994-1995), as well as her guest appearances on small-screen series such as Burke’s Law, The Rockford Files, B.L. Stryker, and In Plain Sight.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Tana French Series Heads to TV

As Tana French’s latest novel—a standalone titled The Witch Elm—finds a place on more and more “best crime fiction of 2018” lists, In Reference to Murder blogger B.V. Lawson highlights this news about her series of Dublin Murder Squad yarns:
Starz has acquired the eight-episode crime drama series Dublin Murders, adapted from Tana French’s first two novels in the Dublin Murder Squad crime series, In the Woods and The Likeness. Dublin Murders follows Rob Reilly (Killian Scott)—a smart-suited detective whose English accent marks him as an outsider—who is dispatched to investigate the murder of a young girl on the outskirts of Dublin with his partner, Cassie Maddox (Sarah Greene). Reilly is pulled back into another case of missing children and forced to confront his own darkness even as Cassie is sent undercover for another murder case and forced to come face to face with her own brutal reckoning.
U.S. TV viewers should see Dublin Murders premiere in 2019.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Revue of Reviewers, 12-9-18

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

How Many Can You Read Before 2019?

As 2018 spins to a close, the proliferation of “best crime books of the year” lists is increasingly dramatically. For Open Letters Review, Steve Donoghue presents 10 books—all published over the last dozen months—that he believes are worth special attention. Among those are Anne Perry’s Dark Tide Rising (her latest William Monk mystery) to Philip Kerr’s Greeks Bearing Gifts (his penultimate Bernie Gunther thriller), and Wendy Webb’s Daughters of the Lake.

Meanwhile, National Public Radio offers up 24 “great reads” from the Mysteries and Thriller shelves, including Sara Gran’s The Infinite Blacktop, Lawrence Osbourne’s Only to Sleep (his Philip Marlowe continuation novel), Tana French’s The Witch Elm, and Anthony Horowitz’s The World Is Murder. In its rundown of the “Best Thrillers of 2018,” The Real Book Spy mentions Jack Carr’s The Terminal List, J.T. Ellison’s Tear Me Apart, Lou Berney’s November Road, and Daniel Silva’s The Other Woman (“Of all the great, must-read new thrillers that hit bookstores in 2018, nobody delivered more than Daniel Silva.”). Book Marks highlights the best-reviewed mystery, crime, and thriller novels of the year. And The Christian Science Monitor weighs in with a more generalized selection of “Best Fiction Reads of 2018” that features two works drawn from this genre’s riches: Kate Atkinson’s Transgression and Kerr’s Greeks Bearing Gifts.

2018 marks the beginning of a new practice by several blogs specializing in vintage crime fiction, to choose reprints of the year. The process will evolve in four stages, as explained here. The winner “has to be a reprint published this year and not a title released for the first time,” explains Kate Jackson in Cross-Examining Crime. “We’ve not been draconian about setting a time period for the original publication dates, but in the main our choices unsurprisingly focus more on pre-1960s texts.” Saturday brought the start of this competition, and you will find links to all of the participating blogs here. An ultimate victor will be announced on December 29.

Finally, a quite different kind of “best of the year” list: Emily Stein of CrimeReads has selected what she says are “The Best New Crime Podcasts of 2018.”

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

CrimeReads’ Critical Judgment

The editors and contributors at CrimeReads weigh in today with their choices of favorite mystery, crime, and thriller novels published in 2018 (plus a handful of non-fiction works about crime). There are 62 books mentioned in all—one of which is Philip Kerr’s penultimate Bernie Gunther historical thriller, Greeks Bearing Gifts, about which I was asked to comment. There are plenty of excellent reading choices here, if you’re still looking for holiday presents for book lovers.

You can enjoy the full CrimeReads feature here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

King Rules Again

After three rounds of online voting, beginning on October 30, users of the “social cataloguing” site Goodreads have selected their favorite books of 2018. Stephen King’s The Outsider (Scribner) won in the Mystery & Thriller category, with 62,170 votes. Click here to see the top-20 vote-getters among that group. Or go here to find the honorees in all of this year’s Goodreads Choice Awards categories.

READ MORE:Goodreads Choice Awards: An Annual Reminder That Critics and Readers Don’t Often Agree,” by Ron Charles (The Washington Post).

Monday, December 03, 2018

PaperBack: “Renegades of Time”

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

Renegades of Time, by Raymond F. Jones (Laser, 19750.
Cover illustration by Kelly Freas.

I can pretty much guarantee that you’re not the only one looking at this latest installment in The Rap Sheet’s “PaperBack” series and wondering, How in the heck did a science-fiction novel manage to worm its way into this mix? I thought the “PaperBack” choices were all from the crime, mystery, and thriller shelves.

The change of pace is provoked by a couple of unfortunate anniversaries occurring this week. First, it was exactly one year ago today—on December 3, 2017—that Texas mystery writer and longtime blogger Bill Crider posted the front and back covers from Raymond F. Jones’ 1977 novel, The River and the Dream (which, I just noticed, he misspelled The River and the Dread). That was the concluding installment in Crider’s own “PaperBack” series, which he’d debuted in his blog back in 2010—and which The Rap Sheet picked up, in his honor, just before the author’s death in February 2018.

I had thought originally to highlight a different book front here today, from the only Jones work I know is in my possession: his 1965 TV tie-in novel, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (Whitman). As a boy, I was a huge fan of the 1964-1968 Irwin Allen series on which Jones based that adventure yarn, and have managed to hold onto my copy of the book ever since. However, after digging through the boxes in my basement to find said “authorized edition”—shown on the left (click for an enlargement)—I discovered it was a hardcover book, not a paperback. So I have substituted Renegades of Time, instead.

This week’s second sad occasion falls on Wednesday, December 5, which will mark one year since Crider—then 76 years old and suffering from a very aggressive prostate cancer—announced he was giving up blogging after an impressive decade-and-a-half-long run. He wrote:
Things could change, but I suspect this will be my final post on the blog. I met with some doctors at M.D. Anderson [Cancer Center] today, and they suggested that I enter hospice care. A few weeks, a few months is about all I have left. The blog has been a tremendous source of pleasure to me over the years, and I’ve made a lot of friends here. My only regret is that I have several unreviewed books, including Lawrence Block’s fine new anthology, Alive in Shape and Color, and Max Allan Collins’ latest collaboration with Mickey Spillane, The Last Stand, which is a collection of two novellas, “A Bullet for Satisfaction,” an early Spillane manuscript with an interesting history, and “The Last Stand,” the last thing that Spillane completed. It saddens me to think of all the great books by many writers that I’ll never read. But I’ve had a great life, and my readers have been a big part of it. Much love to you all.
Bill Crider passed away quietly a little over two months later. And there’s probably not a day that has gone by since, when I didn’t read something about a brand-new novel, or hear about a news event involving crocodiles, Nicolas Cage, or the passing of another celebrity, and think, I wonder how Bill would’ve treated that in his blog.

Ripley’s Smörgåsbord

The December edition of Mike Ripley’s popular Shots column, “Getting Away with Murder,” includes notes about Canongate Publishing’s new paperback imprint, Blackthorn; Vintage’s reissue of Fletcher Knebel’s 1965 thriller, Night of Camp David; new book releases by Lina Bengtsdotter, Richard Crompton, and Peter Murphy; and Ripley’s rundown of the books that gave him the most pleasure reading in 2018. Click here to read about these matters, and more.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Reason to Read by Candlelight

Tonight, Sunday, marks the beginning of this year’s Hanukkah celebration, which will last for eight days—“plenty of time,” as Janet Rudolph remarks, to read the dozens of Hanukhah-related novels and short stories she lists in her blog, Mystery Fanfare.

Nero Favors Jones

Detroit-area author Stephen Mack Jones has won the 2018 Nero Award for his debut novel, August Snow (Soho Crime). That announcement was made last night during the Black Orchid Banquet held at Arno Ristorante in Manhattan. The Nero has been presented annually, ever since 1979, by the New York City-based Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin fan organization, The Wolfe Pack, to “the best American mystery written in the tradition of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe stories.”

August Snow faced several strong contenders for this year’s prize: The Dime, by Kathleen Kent (Mulholland); The Lioness Is the Hunter, by Loren D. Estelman (Forge); Gone to Dust, by Matt Goldman (Forge); and Blood for Wine, by Warren C. Easley (Poisoned Pen Press).

Jones’ novel was previously honored with the 2017 Hammett Prize, presented this last summer. The author has a sequel, Lives Laid Away, due out from Soho in early January of next year.

(Hat tip to The Gumshoe Site.)

ADDENDUM: Thanks to Les Blatt at Classic Mysteries, we now know who received the 2018 Black Orchid Novella Award, which The Wolfe Pack also presented on December 1, in association with Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. The winner is California writer Mark Bruce, whose story, “Minerva James and the Goddess of Justice,” will be published in AHMM sometime next summer.

Honorable mention went to a trio of other stories in contention for this year’s Black Orchid prize: “Angling for Justice," by Jennifer Jones; “Spring Fever,” by Jean-Pierce Forget; and “Monday's Mirage,” by Gabriel Valjan. Congratulations to all!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

MWA Withdraws Fairstein’s Award

Just two days after the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) announced that author Linda Fairstein would be one of its two Grand Master Award recipients for 2018 (along with Martin Cruz Smith), the organization has chosen to rescind its award to Fairstein.

This follows complaints, expressed online by Edgar Award-winning novelist Attica Locke and others, that Fairstein—who, prior to her literary career, headed up the sex-crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office—had been instrumental in “the wrongful incarceration of the Central Park Five,” a group of teenage boys who were prosecuted in 1990 for allegedly attacking a woman jogger in New York City’s Central Park. The five boys were African American and Hispanic; the woman was white. Their convictions were vacated in 2002 after another man admitted to having committed the attack.

The MWA has issued the following statement:
On Tuesday, November 27, Mystery Writers of America announced the recipients of Grand Master, Raven & Ellery Queen Awards, special awards given out annually. Shortly afterwards, the MWA membership began to express concern over the inclusion of Linda Fairstein as a Grand Master, citing controversy in which she has been involved.

When the MWA Board made its selection, it was unaware of Ms. Fairstein’s role in the controversy.

After profound reflection, the Board has decided that MWA cannot move forward with an award that lacks the support of such a large percentage of our members. Therefore, the Board of Directors has decided to withdraw the Linda Fairstein Grand Master award. We realize that this action will be unsatisfactory to many. We apologize for any pain and disappointment this situation has caused.

MWA will be reevaluating and significantly revising its procedures for selecting honorary awards in the future. We hope our members will all work with us to move forward from this extremely troubling event and continue to build a strong and inclusive organization.
To read more about the Central Park Five case and this Grand Master controversy, refer to this story in today’s New York Times.

It’s Time to Step Up and Help Again

Damn! It seems that small American bookstores specializing in crime, mystery, and thriller fiction can never rest secure of their finances these days. In Reference to Murder’s B.V. Lawson brings the unwelcome news that “Once Upon a Crime, an independent mystery bookstore in Minneapolis for 31 years, has launched a GoFundMe page after suffering financial difficulties.”

Proprietors Dennis Abraham and Meg King-Abraham, who bought that shop in the spring of 2016 (and have since put their daughter, Devin, in charge of managing its impressive stock), report that decreases in sales have left them carrying somewhat more debt on the venture than they’d expected, “in addition to the original loan allowing us to purchase the store.” To pay off a portion of said debt, their new GoFundMe campaign is hoping to raise $50,000 necessary to keep the shop running. After three days, it has already brought in promises of (at last count) $16,238 of that total, contributed by 243 people.

I have a good friend who lives in Minneapolis, and I visit Once Upon a Crime on every occasion I roll into town. Last summer I finally discovered the store’s down-the-hall Annex, which is chock-a-block with first-edition hardcover works and vintage paperbacks. Several books from that trove came home with me, and I’ve since asked that more out-of-print books be sent my way. Once Upon a Crime is a splendid example of a friendly, knowledgeable business catering to the sometimes-eccentric demands of mystery-fiction readers. It would be a terrible shame to see it fail, while corporate booksellers survive.

If you can it in this hour of need, please do.

Nugent’s Double Helping of Accolades

Thanks to this short blog post by our old friend Declan Burke, we now know that author Liz Nugent has been honored with the 2018 Irish Independent Crime Fiction Book of the Year prize for her latest psychological thriller, Skin Deep (Penguin Ireland). That same work scored Nugent RTÉ Radio 1’s The Ryan Tubridy Show Listeners’ Choice Award. These wins were two of 16 announced on Tuesday night in association with this year’s An Post Irish Book Awards.

In 2014, Nugent won this same annual contest’s Crime Fiction Book of the Year commendation for her first novel, Unravelling Oliver.

Also vying in the 2018 Irish Crime Fiction Book of the Year category were A House of Ghosts, by W.C. Ryan (Zaffre); One Click, by Andrea Mara (Poolbeg Press); The Confession, by Jo Spain (Quercus); The Ruin, by Dervla McTiernan (Sphere); and Thirteen, by Steve Cavanagh (Orion). Click here for a full list of 2018 Irish Book Award winners.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

PaperBack: “The Limping Goose”

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

The Limping Goose, by Frank Gruber (Bantam, 1956; later republished as Murder One), is the penultimate entry in Gruber’s series starring con artist Johnny Fletcher and his strongman sidekick, Sam Cragg. Cover illustration by Barye Phillips.

Which Works Had “Lasting Impact”?

I fear this venture will ultimately overwhelm me, but at least for now I am endeavoring to keep track of all of the “best crime/mystery fiction of 2018” lists being published. Today, for instance, BOLO Books blogger Kristopher Zgorski posted his 10 top reads of the year rundown, including works by Ragnar Jónasson, Megan Abbott, and Laura Lippman. He also named his favorite debut novels, favorite anthology, and favorite book not yet available in the United States.

Dear John’s

Anyone who’s read Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (and who among us hasn’t?) knows about John’s Grill in downtown San Francisco. Located on the edge of the Tenderloin neighborhood, just north of Market Street and convenient to a BART Station and the Powell Street cable-car tracks, that wood-paneled and photograph-filled eatery was founded in 1908, just two years after the city’s ruinous earthquake and fire. According to its Web site, John’s Grill “was the first downtown restaurant to open after the quake.” Hammett used to eat there in the 1920s, when he was working for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in the nearby John Flood Building, and he went on to immortalize the joint in his only Sam Spade novel.

In any case, Bay Area newspaper reporter Peter Hegarty—a Rap Sheet reader—just sent me the following news release about tomorrow’s 110th anniversary party for John’s Grill, suggesting that others might find it interesting, as well:
San Francisco — The 110th Birthday of Historic John’s Grill will be celebrated beginning at 12:00 noon, Thursday, November 29th, with Dashiell Hammett’s granddaughter Julie Rivett and over 200 friends and patrons of John’s Grill. Celebrity watchers will not be disappointed.

Historic John's Grill was one of the first restaurants to rebuild out of the rubble and ashes of San Francisco’s Great 1906 Earthquake & Fire and is the 27th “Literary Landmark” in the United States. Just off Union Square, John’s Grill was made famous internationally by Dashiell Hammett’s 1927 “Maltese Falcon” mystery novel (later a classic Humphrey Bogart movie): “Sam Spade went to John’s Grill, asked the waiter to hurry his order of chops, baked potato, sliced tomatoes and was smoking a cigarette with his coffee when …” was written by Hammett, who ate at John’s while working next door in the Flood Building as a Pinkerton agent. Detectives, politicians, reporters, and celebrities have been coming to John’s Grill for the past century. Their pictures adorn the walls above their tables and you never know whom you might see at John’s Grill. Be sure to visit the Grill’s Hammett museum located on the third floor and see the 150-pound lead-filled bronze statue of the famous Maltese Falcon.

WHO: Fifty-Piece Washington High School Marching Eagles, San Francisco Mayor London Breed Former San Francisco Mayors [Willie] Brown and [Frank] Jordan, Dashiell Hammett's granddaughter Julie Rivett, John’s Grill owner John Konstin and family; 200 well-known San Franciscans, Politicians, Politicos, Newsies, detectives and Maltese Falcon fans.

WHAT: The 110th Birthday of Historic John’s Grill

WHERE: John's Grill, 63 Ellis Street (between Stockton & Powell streets)

WHEN: 12 Noon — 2:00 PM, Thursday, November 29th
John’s Grill is one of my customary stops whenever I’m visiting San Francisco. Unfortunately, I won’t be there tomorrow to help celebrate its latest anniversary, but I shall be sure to tip a glass in honor of its continuing existence and the novel that made it famous.

READ MORE:John’s Grill Marks Its Centennial,” by John Coté
(San Francisco Chronicle).

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Making Masters of Smith and Fairstein

Authors Martin Cruz Smith and Linda Fairstein (shown above) have been selected by the Mystery Writers of America as the winners of its 2018 Grand Master Awards. To quote from an MWA news release:
MWA’s Grand Master Award represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as for a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality. Ms. Fairstein and Mr. Smith will receive their awards at the 73rd Annual Edgar Awards Banquet, which will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on April 25, 2019.”
Previous Grand Masters include William Link, Peter Lovesey, Jane Langton, Max Allan Collins, Ellen Hart, Walter Mosley, James Ellroy, Robert Crais, Carolyn Hart, Ken Follett, Margaret Maron, Martha Grimes, Bill Pronzini, Sara Paretsky, and James Lee Burke.

At the same time, the MWA has announced that veteran New York Times mystery-fiction columnist Marilyn Stasio will be the recipient of this year’s Raven Award (honoring “outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing”). And Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine editor Linda Landrigan is to be given the 2018 Ellery Queen Award, which recognizes “outstanding writing teams and outstanding people in the mystery-publishing industry.”

Congratulations to all of these prize winners.

UPDATE: The MWA seems to have stirred up more than a bit of controversy with its decision to name prosecutor-turned-novelist Linda Fairstein as one of this year’s Grand Masters. Author Attica Locke (Bluebird, Bluebird) wrote this morning on Twitter:
As a member and 2018 Edgar winner, I am begging you to reconsider having Linda Fairstein serve as a Grand Master in next year’s awards ceremony. She is almost single-handedly responsible for the wrongful incarceration of the Central Park Five. … For which she has never apologized or recanted her insistence on their guilt for the most heinous of crimes, ‘guilt’ based solely on evidence procured through violence and ill treatment of children in lock up.”
Locke is referring here to a case brought by Fairstein, in her then-role as head of the sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, against five teenage boys—four African Americans and one Hispanic—who allegedly attacked a white female jogger in Central Park on the night of April 19, 1989. Charges were leveled against Fairstein that she and police detectives had intimidated the arrested teens into making false confessions. In 1990, all of the Central Park Five, as they became known, were convicted on charges of assault and sexual battery; but those convictions were vacated in 2002 after another man, “convicted serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes,” confessed to having attacked the woman instead.

This afternoon, the MWA put out the following message: “We are taking seriously the issues raised by Attica Locke. Our Board is going to discuss these concerns as soon as possible and make a further statement soon.” Stay tuned for more on this matter.

READ MORE:Writer Linda Fairstein’s Past as a Prosecutor Overseeing the Central Park Five Case Causes Award Controversy,” by Steph Cha (Los Angeles Times).

Front of the Pack

It’s that time of year again, when book critics are pleased to highlight what they think were the best crime, mystery, and thriller novels published over the course of the last 12 months.

The latest two opinionated judges: Barry Forshaw, whose choices (including Manda Scott’s A Treachery of Spies and Abir Mukherjee’s Smoke and Ashes) appeared originally in the Financial Times; and Oline H. Cogdill, whose “Best Mystery Novels of 2018” feature can be found on the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Web site (and gives thumbs-up to Lou Berney’s November Road, Laura Lippman’s Sunburn, Megan Abbott’s Give Me Your Hand, and 13 other works).

Monday, November 26, 2018

Prize Positions

Three weeks ago, we received the shortlist of nominees for the premiere Staunch Book Prize, designed to honor the best thriller novel “in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped, or murdered.” And finally, today brought an announcement that Australian author Jock Serong has captured that prize with his third novel, On the Java Ridge. Text Publishing, that Australian house that handles Serong’s books, offers the following plot synopsis:
On the Java Ridge, skipper Isi Natoli and a group of Australian surf tourists are anchored off the Indonesian island of Dana. In the Canberra office of Cassius Calvert, Minister for Border Integrity, a federal election looms and a hardline new policy on asylum-seekers is being rolled out.

Not far from Dana, the
Takalar is having engine trouble. Among the passengers on board fleeing from persecution are Roya and her mother, and Roya’s unborn sister.

The storm now closing in on the
Takalar and the Java Ridge will mean catastrophe for them all.
“This is exactly the quality of thriller that Staunch set out to find, and we’re proud to name it as our winner,” The Guardian quotes Staunch prize founder Bridget Lawless as saying. “It’s a good thriller, with all of the usual jeopardy and ups and downs. There is very strong writing, it’s very brutal, and there is violence, but there is nothing gratuitous. And one of the adversaries is nature, which we don’t see enough of.”

On the Java Ridge faced off against five other contenders in this competition to capture the first Staunch Prize: The Appraisal, by Anna Porter (ECW Press); East of Hounslow, by Khurrum Rahman (HQ); If I Die Tonight, by A.L. Gaylin (PRH); The Kennedy Moment, by Peter Adamson (Myriad Editions); and Cops and Queens, by Joyce Thompson (seeking a publisher). In addition to earning bragging rights, Serong’s Staunch Prize win brings him £2,000 in award money.

Text Publishing notes that Serong has some solid history of scoring literary commendations. His novel Quota evidently picked up the 2015 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction; and The Rules of Backyard Cricket was not only shortlisted for the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Award for Fiction, but was a finalist of the 2017 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.

* * *

Meanwhile, the shortlist of nominees for the 2018 Costa Book Awards has been announced, and among the quartet of contenders in the First Novel category is a mystery yarn titled The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton (Sourcebooks Landmark). The Costa Book Awards are handed out annually in five categories to works by UK- and Ireland-based authors. Winners in each category are scheduled to be declared in January of next year.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Revue of Reviewers, 11-21-18

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

A Stunt for the Ages

“This Day in TV History,” a regular feature of David Bianculli’s fine TV Worth Watching blog, notes that it was on this date, November 21, back in 1980 that boob-tube addicts finally learned “the resolution of one of television’s most unforgettable cliffhangers”: who shot J.R. Ewing, the patriarch on CBS-TV’s enduring series, Dallas.

“The previous season of the soapy primetime drama … ended with an unseen gunman shooting Larry Hagman’s J.R. Ewing—twice,” recalls TVWW. “Viewers were left wondering which of Ewing’s many adversaries had pulled the trigger (not to mention whether J.R. had survived the assault). Over the summer, ‘Who Shot J.R.?’ became part of the pop-culture lexicon, with references popping up in other television shows and even the 1980 presidential campaign.”

The Rap Sheet got in on the act, too—though not until 2013. That’s when I dug from my numerous file boxes a copy of the September 1980 edition of Panorama, a short-lived monthly magazine that promised to address “quality television” and was produced by TV Guide’s parent company, Triangle Publications. As I explained back then,
What interested me most about that edition of Panorama was a piece, tucked into the middle of its 112 pages, in which several prominent crime-fictionists of the time speculated on who had shot J.R. Ewing, Hagman’s manipulative oil baron character on the popular CBS-TV nighttime soaper, Dallas. That shooting took place at the conclusion of the March 21, 1980, season finale episode of the series, and a resolution to the crime would not be delivered until the November 21, 1980, episode. In the meantime, Panorama editors enlisted an all-star panel of “experts” to figure out whodunit: P.D. James, Nan and Ivan Lyons (Someone Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe), John D. MacDonald, Emma Lathen, and Collin Wilcox. ...

I can tell you right now that none of the authors who contributed their speculations to
Panorama got the answer right. Yet there’s fun to be had in seeing what reasons they came up with for getting the murderer’s identity wrong.
Of course, I scanned all of the relevant Panorama pages and posted them here for posterity. By the way, if you don’t know or don’t recall who drew that gun on the despicable J.R., click here to find out.