Friday, June 30, 2006

Dead at the Sands

A new exchange at the Chatterific site between novelist Robert J. Randisi (Eye in the Ring, Arch Angels, etc.) and a trio of interviewers, including moderator Gerald So, reveals that Randisi is preparing to debut a new mystery series featuring Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and other members of the notorious 1950s-1960s “Rat Pack” of American entertainers. He explains that the first entry, Everybody Kills Somebody Sometime (due out in late October from St. Martin’s Minotaur), is “set in Vegas during 1960, when the Rat Pack was shooting Ocean’s 11 ... Dean Martin is threatened, hence the title.” Randisi has also contracted to write a sequel, Luck Be a Lady, Don’t Die, which will focus on crooner Sinatra. If the series prospers, the third installment “would be a Sammy Davis book.” Although Dean, Frank, and Sammy will appear in all of these novels, “along with other real people,” Randisi points out that the main character will actually be “a fictional pit boss named Eddie G.” Cool, man.

Summery Judgment II

Even though I can become quite cranky when it comes to reading lists, I admit to being just inconsistent enough on this subject to disclose which books are on my reading stand. Since I’m scrambling to get out of town to a wedding (mine), I will be brief. I just hope my wife-to-be fully realizes what a noir bastard she’s marrying.This is also the time to disclose that I’m chronically six months behind in my reading. Between the books I read in order to publish reviews and interviews, and the magazines that pour into the house, it just happens. Anyway, my reading choices for this summer:

Bust, by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr

Rain Dogs, by Sean Doolittle

The Meanest Flood, by John Baker

The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, by Paul Malmont

And because this man does not live by crime fiction alone …

Jefferson and Monticello: The Biography of a Builder, by Jack McLaughlin

See you all after the Fourth of July holiday.

READ MORE: J. Kingston Pierce’s Summer Reading Picks; Linda L. Richards’ Summer Reading Picks.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Daggers Hit Their Marks

Novelist Ann Cleeves walked away from a black-tie dinner in London this evening £20,000 richer for having won the very first, 2006 Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award (formerly the Gold Dagger Award), presented by the British Crime Writers’ Association (CWA). During the ceremony, conducted at the Waldorf Hilton, winners in half a dozen other categories were also announced.

The full rundown of victors and nominees is as follows:

Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award
(“For the best crime novel written in English.”)

Winner: Raven Black, by Ann Cleeves (Macmillan)

Also nominated: The Chemistry of Death, by Simon Beckett (Bantam Press); Red Leaves, by Thomas H. Cook (Quercus); Safer Than Houses, by Frances Fyfield (Little, Brown); Wolves of Memory, by Bill James (Constable); and A Thousand Lies, by Laura Wilson (Orion)

Duncan Lawrie International Dagger
(“For crime, thriller, suspense novels or spy fiction which have been translated into English from their original language, for UK publication.”)

Winner: The Three Evangelists, by Fred Vargas; translated by Sian Reynolds (Harvill)

Also nominated: Excursion to Tindari, by Andrea Camilleri, translated by Stephen Sartarelli (Picador); Autumn of the Phantoms, by Yasmina Khadra, translated by Aubrey Botsford (Toby Crime); Dead Horsemeat, by Dominique Manotti, translated by Amanda Hopkinson and Ros Schwartz (Eurocrime); Borkmann’s Point, by Håkan Nesser, translated by Laurie Thompson (Macmillan); and Blood on the Saddle, by Rafael Reig; translated by Paul Hammond (Serpent’s Tail)

The CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger
(“[F]or the best adventure/thriller novel in the vein of James Bond.” Sponsored by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd.)

Winner: Mr. Clarinet, by Nick Stone (Penguin)

Also nominated: The Lincoln Lawyer, by Michael Connelly (Orion); Sweet Gum, by Jo-Ann Goodwin (Bantam Press); Pig Island, by Mo Hayder (Bantam Press); The English Assassin, by Daniel Silva (Penguin); The Mercy Seat, by Martyn Waites (Pocket); and Contact Zero, by David Wolstencroft (Hodder & Stoughton)

The CWA Non-Fiction Gold Dagger

Winner: The Dagenham Murder, by Linda Rhodes, Lee Sheldon, and Kathryn Abnett (Borough of Barking and Dagenham)

Also nominated: A Death in Belmont, by Sebastian Junger (Fourth Estate); The Story of Chicago May, by Nuala O’Faolain (Michael Joseph); The Death of Innocents, by Sister Helen Prejean (Canterbury Press); Under and Alone, by William Queen (Mainstream); and And Then the Darkness, by Sue Williams (John Blake)

The CWA New Blood Dagger
(“[A]warded in memory of CWA founder John Creasey, for first books by previously unpublished writers.” Sponsored by BBC Audiobooks.)

Winner: Still Life, by Louise Penny (Headline)

Also nominated: Immoral, by Brian Freeman (Headline); and Ice Trap, by Kitty Sewell (Honno Welsh Women’s Press)

The CWA Dagger in the Library
(“[A]warded to ‘the author of crime fiction whose work is currently giving the greatest enjoyment to readers.’” Sponsored by Random House.)

Winner: Jim Kelly, author of The Moon Tunnel and The Fire Baby

Also nominated: Anthony Horowitz, Lesley Horton, Margaret Murphy, Danuta Reah (aka Carla Banks), C.J. Sansom, and Cath Staincliffe

The CWA Debut Dagger
(“[O]pen to anyone who has not yet had a novel published commercially.” Sponsored by Orion.)

Winner: D.V. Wesselmann (aka Otis Twelve) (USA), Imp

Also nominated: Celina Alcock (UK), The House on Fever Street; Paul Curd (UK), The Belfast Boy; Diane Janes (UK), Moonshadow; Sarah Kotler (USA), Special Delivery; Iain Rowan (UK), One of Us; Elizabeth Saccente (UK), Ikumo; Michael Sears (South Africa) and Stanley Trollip (USA), A Carrion Death; Richard A. Thompson (USA), Fiddle Game; and Megan Toogood (UK), A Random Act of Generosity

Still to come are the shortlists for this year’s Ellis Peters Award and Short Story Award. Both of those commendations will be presented to winners later in the year.

READ MORE:And on the Subject of Awards,” by Sarah Weinman (Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind).

Summery Judgment

OK, so nobody actually asked me to list off the crime novels I’m most looking forward to reading this summer. But since others (including Lee Child, Ken Bruen, David J. Montgomery, and Jim Fusilli) have made their own thoughts on this subject known elsewhere, it seemed like good ground to cover myself. The fact is, though, that there are myriad interesting books in this genre due in stores between now and Labor Day, and picking just a handful isn’t at all an easy assignment. But I’ll give it my best shot, anyway:

Scared to Live, by Stephen Booth (HarperCollins UK). The seventh of Booth’s novels to feature British Peak District cops Ben Cooper and Diane Fry finds the pair dealing with seemingly innocent victims--a wife and her children burned in a house fire, an elderly woman assassinated--and looking to a remote corner of Europe to discern the unexpected connection between these tragedies. A June release.

Darkness & Light, by John Harvey (Harcourt/Penzler USA). Retired Nottingham copper Frank Elder is back again (after 2005’s Ash & Bone), this time at the insistence of his ex-wife, whose friend’s older sister is missing. Not unexpectedly, the case soon leads the troubled Elder into a murder probe, with which he gets some help from Charlie Resnick, the protagonist from Harvey’s better-known previous series (Lonely Hearts, Last Rites, etc.) A June release.

The Limehouse Text, by Will Thomas (Touchstone USA). The third entry (after To Kingdom Come, 2005) in Thomas’ series starring Victorian enquiry agent Cyrus Barker and his assistant, Thomas Llewelyn. On this occasion, the London duo retrieve a pawned and innocent book, left behind by Barker’s late assistant, only to discover--surprise!--that the volume isn’t nearly so innocent in nature. In fact, it contains lethal martial arts techniques, and must be protected from a killer intent on learning those secret practices. A June release.

The Hidden Assassins, by Robert Wilson (HarperCollins UK). I just can’t get enough of Wilson’s intense, tragic novels starring Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón, the chief homicide cop in Seville, Spain, who was last seen in The Silent and the Damned, one of January Magazine’s favorite books of 2004. In Assassins, he begins by looking into the discovery of a mutilated, faceless corpse at the city’s municipal dump, but winds up trying to tamp down Seville’s escalating terrorist fears, after an explosion at an apartment building unearths a mosque in the basement. A July release.

Iron Ties, by Ann Parker (Poisoned Pen Press USA). The follow-up to Silver Lies (2003) places 1880s Leadville, Colorado, saloon proprietor Inez Stannert in the position of trying to defend her photographer friend, Susan Carothers, whose reliability is questioned after she witnesses an explosion and shooting along a high-country rail line. A July release.

The Princess of Denmark, by Edward Marston (St. Martin’s Minotaur USA). This 16th installment in Marston’s humor-filled series about the trouble-prone Elizabethan theatrical troupe Westfield’s Men finds resourceful bookholder Nicholas Bracewell and his petulant actor charges setting forth for Denmark, accompanied by their patron, Lord Westfield, who seems determined to wed a woman he’s only seen in a tiny painting provided to him by his business agent. If it isn’t bad enough that the company faces pirates and storms at sea, they must then contend with the murder of Westfield’s agent in remote Elsinore. An August release.

The Night Gardener, by George Pelecanos (Little, Brown USA). The real strength of Pelecanos’ stories is found in their characters. That’s proven once more in this tale, which begins with a 1985 investigation into the murder of a 14-year-old girl in Washington, D.C.--the latest victim of a killer the media have dubbed “The Night Gardener.” But then the novel moves ahead 15 years, to find one of the three detectives from that case looking into the murder of one of his teenage son’s pals, while his two former compatriots observe, at first, but eventually work together--not just to find answers to these crimes, but to expunge their individual demons. An August release.

The Interpretation of Murder, by Jed Rubenfeld (Henry Holt USA). Technically, this is a September release. But with so much hype surrounding the thriller, it’s likely to be released somewhat in advance of that. Inspired by Sigmund Freud’s only visit to America, in 1909, The Interpretation of Murder focuses on a Freud disciple, Stratham Younger, who’s called in by the New York City police to help an intended homicide victim recover her memory and expose her attacker. Naturally, with Freud in Manhattan at the time, Younger enlists the Austrian neurologist to consult on the case. Joined by an adventuresome detective named Littlemore, this trio must get to the bottom of a conspiracy that sends them into the darker, more secret corners of Gotham and threatens the life of a woman who’s attracted Younger’s eye and heart. Comparisons with Caleb Carr’s The Alienist are inevitable.

While those eight titles are guaranteed of winning my eye over the next couple of months, I’ll also want to leave some time to tackle Madison Smartt Bell’s Straight Cut, Matthew Pearl’s The Poe Shadow, William Brodrick’s The Gardens of the Dead, Lila Shaara’s Every Secret Thing, Norman Green’s Dead Cat Bounce, Max Allan CollinsThe Last Quarry, and, come early September, Steve Hamilton’s latest Alex McKnight adventure, A Stolen Season. I guess I won’t be getting a whole lot of sleep this summer.

READ MORE: Stephen Miller’s Summer Reading Picks; Linda L. Richards’ Summer Reading Picks.

More Crime Across the Pond

Australian crime writer Peter Temple has a new novel out this month, a standalone called The Broken Shore. It’s the story of a homicide detective, Joe Cashin, who escapes city living to become the sole cop in his small hometown, only to have his peace upset quickly by an attack on a prominent local--a crime perhaps perpetrated by members of the area’s Aboriginal community, and sure to unearth the hamlet’s hidden past.

What’s notable here, though, isn’t simply that Temple fans have more to read, but that The Broken Shore comes from a new UK crime-fiction publisher, Quercus. I hadn’t heard much about Quercus, but Ali Karim provides some background in a short feature for Shots. It seems that Quercus was founded by “four ex-staff members from the Orion Publishing Group”--a prominent British house--“including the original founder of Orion, Anthony Cheetham.” The ubiquitous Otto Penzler, he of The Mysterious Bookshop fame, has signed on to help Quercus put together its American mystery list. One of the forthcoming works credited to Penzler’s involvement is Pulp Fiction: The Crimefighters, an anthology of pulp magazine stories from the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, including work from Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner, Cornell Woolrich, Raymond Chandler, Frederick Nebel, Paul Cain, and Norbert Davis.

Quercus’ Web site says that its crime-fiction list is to be published as a joint venture with Harcourt, a U.S. house. Yet while several of the Quercus titles, such as Thomas H. Cook’s Red Leaves (new in paperback) and Andrew Klavan’s Damnation Street (the third entry in his Weiss and Bishop series, due out in September), are also appearing under the Harcourt imprint, neither The Broken Shore nor Pulp Fiction seems so far to have a publication date in the States.

UPDATE: Peter Temple wrote to tell me that, in fact, U.S. publisher “Farrar, Straus & Giroux have bought The Broken Shore. Publication is in your spring next year. I’m delighted to be published by such a distinguished house (and by such a distinguished and charming publisher, Jonathan Galassi).”

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Crime Lab Call to Action

Novelist Jan Burke (Bloodlines, Eighteen) sent out a call today on behalf of The Crime Lab Project, an organization she helped found:
Those of you who are Americans can help to improve forensic science services in all 50 states and the U.S. territories by making two phone calls, one to each of your U.S. Senators.
Burke covered all the bases, blasting this message out via her personal blog and the Crime Lab Project blog, as well as a carefully considered e-mail note sent to members of the Crime Lab Project.

On the Crime Lab Project’s blog, Burke gives especially good information on how to find and contact your senator and--just as importantly--why she feels you should.

Mickey’s Miles

Author Max Allan Collins has been quoted as saying, “Anyone who doesn’t recognize [Mickey] Spillane’s importance is an idiot.” Well, obviously, the residents of Georgetown County, South Carolina, aren’t idiots, because they’ve just decided to name a stretch of U.S. Highway 17 in honor of the man who gave us that immortal tough-guy, New York City private eye Mike Hammer (I, the Jury, Kiss Me, Deadly, Black Alley, etc.). Spillane lives in that county, specifically in the town of Murrells Inlet, with his third wife, Jane.

(Hat tip to Sarah Weinman.)

READ MORE:Spillane ... ’Nuff Said,” by Bruce Grossman (Bookgasm).

Evanovich on Top

Though no one suggested that the popularity of crime fiction is slipping, occasionally you get a sign that indicates you were more right than you ever knew.

According to The Book Standard, Janet Evanovich’s dozenth novel in the Stephanie Plum series, Twelve Sharp, debuted with the top single-week sales thus far for 2006, beating out even the mass market edition of The Da Vinci Code and the much-talked-about A Million Little Pieces by fictionist wannabe James Frey.
The latest in Evanovich’s numbered Stephanie Plum series, Twelve Sharp, sold 163,000 in its debut week, landing it at the No. 1 spot on The Book Standard’s Overall and Fiction Charts, to be updated tomorrow for the week ending June 18.
Though Evanovich hardly needs the plug, this time out, Stephanie is battling her usual demons of which guy to choose, which family member makes her the least crazy and which car will she manage to not blow up. Publisher’s Weekly says:
The mixture of slapstick and gunplay that has put Evanovich’s series about a sassy, less than competent New Jersey bounty hunter at the top of bestseller lists once again works its magic in Stephanie Plum's latest caper.
The Book Standard item is here.

The Ability to Thrill

With ThrillerFest beginning tomorrow in Phoenix, Arizona, it’s appropriate to note that today marks what would have been the 97th birthday of Eric Ambler (1909-1998), the English author who did so much to develop the modern spy novel.

The son of entertainers, Ambler studied engineering at London University and wrote plays, before embarking on a career composing novels. As noted in The Oxford Companion to Crime & Mystery Writing, “In the mid-1930s Ambler set out to redeem the then-lowest form of popular fiction, the thriller, by making it a vehicle for serious treatment of the European political situation, increasingly polarized between fascism and communism. ... In six novels between 1936 and 1940”--beginning with The Dark Frontier (1936) and concluding with 1939’s The Mask of Dimitrios (aka A Coffin for Dimitrios)--“Ambler revolutionized the thriller, bridging the gap between ‘popular’ and ‘serious,’ ‘entertainment’ and ‘literature.’”

Although he wrote two dozen books over his career, including Epitaph for a Spy (1938), Passage of Arms (1959), The Light of Day (1962), and Waiting for Orders (1991), some of which were turned into films, it’s usually Dimitrios that’s remembered as his greatest work--“one of the classics of spy fiction,” to quote Bruce F. Murphy from The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hot Tempers, Cold Climate

Caroline Cummins’ combined review of two new crime novels from Swedish writing stars--Torso, by Helene Tursten, and Sun Storm, by Åsa Larsson--was posted this morning in January Magazine. You can read her fine critique here. Cummins opines that Torso, which springs from the discovery of a tattooed torso on a beach, and incorporates both sexual predation and necrophilia in its plot, “matches its predecessor, Detective Inspector Huss (2003), in tone and quality.” Of Sun Storm, which finds a Stockholm tax lawyer plumbing the murder of a charismatic young preacher, Cummins writes: “Purple though this story might be--the preacher, mutilated in fearsome fashion, had started a cult, and whispers of sexual deviation are everywhere--Larsson gets her snowball rolling from the book’s first page and doesn’t let up until she’s built a solid, if slightly ludicrous, snowman of a novel.”

It’s Never Too Late to Tie the Knot

Although U.S. actor Hugh O’Brian is certainly better known for his starring role in the 1955-1961 TV series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, a highly romanticized read on one of the American West’s most memorable characters, he was also among the rotating leads in a 1972 high-tech thriller series called Search. In that single-season show, O’Brian played Hugh Lockwood, one of three special agents working for Probe, an international private investigations firm (Tony Franciosa and Doug McClure shared the limelight in alternating episodes).

The series was heavy on jet-setting adventures and “cool” turtlenecks and callipygous lovelies blessedly short on inhibitions. Lockwood, like his fellows, wore a camera cleverly hidden in a medallion; and between that and an earpiece that allowed him access to a huge central database of information, he stayed in contact with Probe headquarters, while his supervisors kept a watch on his sometimes off-the-reservation antics.

I bring all of this up, only because TV Squad is reporting that the now 81-year-old O’Brian just got married--for the very first time. The bride was his longtime girlfriend, 54-year-old Virginia Barber. With the theme “A Wedding to Die For,” the ceremony was not your everyday affair. Writes TV Squad’s Joel Keller:
Adhering to the morbid theme, it was held in a cemetery. Among the 300 attendees were look-alikes of deceased notables Elvis Presley and Pope John Paul II. Debbie Reynolds (not a look-alike; she's still with us) sang, and the ceremony was conducted by the Rev. Robert Schuller, pastor of the Crystal Cathedral. Wow. I know people sometimes say that after you get married, a little part of you dies, but this is ridiculous.
What would ol’ Wyatt have thought?

READ MORE:TV’s ‘Wyatt Earp’ Marries for First Time” (AP).

Picking Up Pieces of Bosch

Elmore Leonard did it first. Now, Michael Connelly is set to try his hand at the very same venture. The challenging task in question, of course, is composing a serial novel for weekly publication in The New York Times Magazine.

Leonard’s “Comfort to the Enemy,” set in 1944 and starring Oklahoma Marshal Carl Webster of The Hot Kid fame, established the standard when it was introduced last September in the Sunday mag’s then-new 10-page section, “The Funny Pages.” It has since been followed by genre fiction from Patricia Cornwell and Scott Turow (whose “Limitations” is currently unfolding). Now, Connelly reports on his Web site that the Times Magazine will begin publishing “an original Harry Bosch novella,” The Overlook, in August 2006. The tale is set to be serialized every Sunday for 13 to 14 weeks.

For readers who want still more of Bosch, his next novel-length appearance will be in Echo Park, which is due out in bookstores in late September/early October.

READ MORE:Installation Art: Rebooting the Serial Novel,” by Mark Swatz (The Village Voice).

Monday, June 26, 2006

A New Irish Tradition?

So, the latest issue of Mystery News (June/July 2006) came sailing through my mail slot today. Dominating the paper’s front page is an interview with Jacqueline Winspear (Pardonable Lies), while inside, there’s a lengthy profile of Wyoming novelist Craig Johnson (The Cold Dish, Death Without Company), a look back at the mid-20th-century works of Thomas Kyd (aka Alfred B. Harbage), and, best of all--at least to my way of thinking--an interview with Irish playwright-turned-novelist Declan Hughes. Hughes’ debut novel, The Wrong Kind of Blood, ranks as one of the 2006 books that I least anticipated but most enjoyed. It’s the tale of an Irish-born private eye in Los Angeles, Ed Loy, who heads back to the ol’ sod to attend his mother’s funeral, but winds up looking for the missing husband of a former lover, longing for answers to his father’s disappearance, and bumping elbows with Dublin criminals petty and prosperous. Although it owes a few rather obvious debts to Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, and strains a bit here and there to maintain its hard edge, The Wrong Kind of Blood stands out because of its protagonist’s mordant approach to life, its sharp dialogue, and ... well, the fact that it’s Irish. While there are myriad English crime stories, and a growing number of Scottish ones, Ireland hasn’t produced such an abundance within this genre. Hughes explains why, in his exchange with Mystery News’ Stephen Miller:
Well, first of all there is no “traditional” type of mystery in Ireland; the UK has its own tradition, but Ireland (a separate country in so many respects) has no great history or tradition of crime writing; it’s only in the last ten years or so that the genre has begun to take root. The kind of English mystery within a settled society where everyone knows his place and the solution to the murder restores order always sat uneasily in an Ireland that was making itself up as it went along. In terms of the kind of noir or hard-boiled P.I. novel I want to write, it’s been among other things a question of waiting until the conditions were right. There’s been an economic boom the last ten years in Ireland, leading to a lot of money being made very quickly, often with no questions asked. There has always in Ireland been the “family gothic” aspect--secrets being kept, skeletons in every family closet--the motto for years was “whatever you say, say nothing”--but in recent years these secrets have begun to be unearthed, whether they relate to clerical sex abuse, widespread planning corruption or the simple incarceration of an inconvenient family member in a mental hospital. The time seemed ripe for a detective who could be an outsider--having been away for twenty years, Ed Loy finds much of what is new in Ireland astonishing and disturbing--but also an insider--through his upbringing, he is connected to a wide range of people, from lawyers and police to petty criminals and gangsters. Loy--literally, a spade or a shovel--is there to dig up the truth, uncover the secrets and lies that Ireland has lived by.
Unfortunately, Miller’s interview with Hughes isn’t available online. But it’s worth the $4.50 single-copy price to buy this latest Mystery News and read the thing through.

Finnish Lines

I’ve often been impressed with Bob Cornwell’s in-depth profiles on the Tangled Web UK site, whether his subject was Julian Rathbone, Newton Thornburg, or Robert Ferrigno. Now he’s posted an exchange with Matti Yrjänä Joensuu. Despite his being described as “Finland’s most distinguished crime writer,” I must confess that I had not previously heard of Joensuu, a onetime journalist who is set to retire soon from the Helsinki police force after 35 years on the job, most recently having been assigned to the Arson & Explosives Unit. This ignorance on my part seems all the more shocking, when you consider that Joensuu has been penning police procedurals ever since 1976, and that he’s been shortlisted twice for Finland’s major literary award, the Finlandia Prize. According to Cornwell, his work has been praised for its “social criticism, strong sense of drama, his logical narration and precise use of language.”

Joensuu is the creator of Helsinki policeman Detective Sergeant Timo Harjunpää, who’s so far starred in 11 novels, most recently Harjunpää and the Priest of Evil, published in Finland in 2003, but made available in Britain only last month under the title The Priest of Evil (translated by David Hackston). Of Priest, Cornwell writes:
Dealing with Harjunpää’s investigation into the apparent suicide of a young man who has thrown himself under a Helsinki underground train, it is a thoughtful and provoking work in which all of Joensuu’s qualities as a writer are evident, along with the striking realism that comes from a lifetime’s experience as a working policeman. Also apparent, as noted elsewhere, is his increasing tendency to move into ‘the inner worlds of his characters, into their dreams, their thoughts and delusions.’
Cornwell goes on to ask the Finnish novelist about his decade-long creative hiatus, mental illness and the welfare of children, his fondness for Georges Simenon, evidence of autobiographical parallels in his fiction, and Helsinki’s network of underground tunnels, which helped inspire the action in The Priest of Evil. He even delivers a little history of Finnish mystery fiction. All in all, a piece well worth reading--especially if you’re a newcomer to Joensuu’s prose.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

It’s a Shamus, Ain’t It

The Private Eye Writers of America (PWA) has announced its nominees for the 2006 Shamus Awards, which honor excellence among works in the private-eye genre. Winners will be announced and awards presented during the PWA’s 25th anniversary banquet, to be held on September 29 in Madison, Wisconsin, during this year’s Bouchercon. And the nominees are ...

Best Hardcover:
Oblivion, by Peter Abrahams (Morrow)
The Lincoln Lawyer, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)
The Forgotten Man, by Robert Crais (Doubleday)
In a Teapot, by Terence Faherty (Crum Creek Press)
The Man with the Iron-On Badge, by Lee Goldberg (Five Star)
Cinnamon Kiss, by Walter Mosley (Little, Brown)

Best Paperback Original:
Falling Down, by David Cole (Avon)
The James Deans, by Reed Farrel Coleman (Plume)
Deadlocked, by Joel Goldman (Pinnacle)
Cordite Wine, by Richard Helms (Back Alley Books)
A Killing Rain, by P.J. Parrish (Pinnacle)

Best First Novel:
Blood Ties, by Lori G. Armstrong (Medallion)
Still River, by Harry Hunsicker (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Minotaur)
The Devil’s Right Hand, by J.D. Rhoades (St. Martin’s Minotaur)
Forcing Amaryllis, by Louise Ure (Mysterious Press)

Best Short Story:
• “Oh, What a Tangled Lanyard We Weave,” by Parnell Hall (in Murder Most Crafty, edited by Maggie Bruce; Berkley)
• “Two Birds with One Stone,” by Jeremiah Healy (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine [AHMM], January-February 2005)
• “The Big Road,” by Steve Hockensmith (AHMM, May 2005)
• “A Death in Ueno,” by Michael Wiecek (AHMM, March 2005)
• “The Breaks,” by Timothy Williams (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, September-October 2005)

I’m pleased to see Steve Hockensmith’s nomination here (duplicating picks for the same short story by the Barry and Macavity nominating committees). I very much enjoyed Hockensmith’s first novel, Holmes on the Range, which made it to bookstores earlier this year, and I hope to see much more of his writing in the near future. And I must confess to having not sufficiently recognized the talents of Lee Goldberg, whose first adventure featuring Southern California P.I. Harvey Mapes book, The Man with the Iron-On Badge, is up for a Best Novel commendation. That book came into my hands at an extremely busy time, and I set it aside, thinking I might or might not return to it later. Given this Shamus nod, I evidently misjudged the novel’s value. I’ll have to go find it again now. But that’s always one of the best things about awards nominations: They make you sit up and take notice of works you might otherwise have overlooked.

Of Cult Writers and Casinos

A few pieces worth checking out elsewhere on the Web: Mark Billingham, whose new Detective Inspector Tom Thorne novel is Buried (Little, Brown UK), submits to a grilling by Shots contributor Catherine Hunt on subjects ranging from his fondness for country-western music to his plans for a standalone novel, about which he claims to know little, other than that “the central character will be a heavily pregnant woman.” ... Daniel Woodrell (Tomato Red, The Death of Sweet Mister) is nicely profiled in the UK’s Independent newspaper by John Williams, who believes that this Missouri-born author is about to lose his reputation as “one of the best-kept secrets in American literature,” thanks to the publication of his eighth novel, Winter’s Bone (just released in Britain by Sceptre, and due out in the States in August from Little, Brown), a story “as beautiful and harsh as an Appalachian folk song.” ... And The New York Times looks at the business of authors, including Janet Evanovich (Twelve Sharp), who’ve found success in reading at--of all places--casinos. (There’s more on this subject at the blog Anthony Rainone’s Criminal Thoughts.)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Say Good-bye, Aaron Spelling

Aaron Spelling, the prolific television producer who gave viewers such crime series as Charlie’s Angels, Hart to Hart, Vega$, Starsky and Hutch, and The Mod Squad, passed away on Friday after suffering a stroke on June 18. He was 83 years old.

Reared in one of the more decrepit corners of Dallas, Texas, Spelling joined the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, and after returning home, attended Southern Methodist University, where he composed and directed plays. Post-graduation, he sought acting jobs in New York and Los Angeles, appearing in episodes of Dragnet, Gunsmoke, and I Love Lucy. However, following his marriage (the second of three) to actress Carolyn Jones, who later played Morticia Addams in The Addams Family, Spelling began to make a bigger name for himself as a TV writer and producer. Teaming up with actor-producer Dick Powell, he created the series Burke’s Law (1963-1966), which starred the ever-suave Gene Barry as a wealthy LAPD chief of detectives who was chauffered between clue-packed crime scenes in a Rolls-Royce. A few years later, he scored big with The Mod Squad (1968-1973), a police drama featuring a racially mixed trio of “hip” young crime-fighters. Spelling went on to create some of the best-remembered crime shows of the 1970s and ’80s, including those mentioned before, as well as The Rookies, S.W.A.T., Matt Houston, and T.J. Hooker (1982-1985), the last of which starred William Shatner and a seductive young Heather Locklear as street cops. Over this last decade, he was behind both the regrettably short-lived Buddy Faro (1998, starring Dennis Farina) and Kingpin, a 2003 dramatic mini-series about Mexican drug-traffickers.

He was responsible, too, for a wide range of non-crime serials, such as Dynasty, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Hotel, Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, Charmed, and 7th Heaven. As every obituary of this writer-producer seems to note, there was a time during the ’70s when Spelling had so many series running on the ABC-TV network, that folks joked about its initials standing for “Aaron’s Broadcasting Company.”

Chided for having introduced “jiggle TV” (a reference to the skimpy attire and deliberate sexual objectifying of Charlie’s Angels), Spelling sought to counter his low-brow reputation with a few TV series and movies-of-the-week that boasted greater social merit. He won Emmy Awards for both Day One (1981), about the dawn of nuclear warfare, and the AIDS-related movie And the Band Played On (1993). Spelling was also behind Family, a 1976-1980 drama series that built around particularly topical issues, such as breast cancer, teen sex, and alcoholism. But it seemed inevitably to be his cheesier, commercial ventures that made him the most money--enough to build the largest single-family home in California, a $12 million, 123-room mansion in Los Angeles’ Holmby Hills, complete with bowling alley, swimming pool, gymnasium, tennis court, screening room, and a quartet of two-car garages. And, much to his dismay, those projects rarely stirred the admiration of critics. “There is good and there is bad Spelling,” the Los Angeles Times Magazine proclaimed in 1996, “but there is never great Spelling, only degrees of terribleness.”

Not exactly the sort of inscription a guy wants forever plastered on his frickin’ headstone.

READ MORE:TV Mogul Spun Fluff Into Gold,” by Brian Lowry (Los Angeles Times); “Aaron Spelling, 83; Prolific TV Hit Maker,” by Adam Bernstein (The Washington Post); “Aaron Spelling, Prolific TV Producer, Dies at 83,” by Bill Carter (The New York Times).

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Thriller Awards Draw Controversy

With little over a week to go before ThrillerFest, the first convention to be hosted by the not-quite-two-year-old International Thriller Writers, a controversy has erupted around the first-ever set of ITW awards, The Thrillers, due to be given out during the convocation.

The furor began--at least in public--at the group blog The Lipstick Chronicles, where author Elaine Viets said:
It’s tough to define an award-winning thriller, but the new International Thriller Writers has succeeded:

It’s anything written by a man.
Viets said other things, as well, but it was all boiled down pretty well in those 22 words.

Unsurprisingly, Viets’ post--which was published under the heading “For Men Only” and has, at the time of this writing, generated more than 70 comments--has started a firestorm in the blogosphere, drawing the attention of everyone from Sarah Weinman--whose posting came with the clever label “The Gender Divide, Rinse and Repeat”--to author Lee Goldberg who, ever the shrinking violet, said, “The judges were men and women. So was it sexism ... or did men simply write the best work this year? You tell me. I didn’t check, but how many Jews were nominated? Jews write lots of crackling thrillers. Hmm.”

Sandra Ruttan’s Sandrablabber was one of the first blogs to publish ITW co-president Gayle Lynds’ public response to allegations of sexism on the part of International Thriller Writers. Lynds, speaking as an individual and not in an official capacity with ITW, says, in part:

As an author (not as a woman who has spent her life battling sexism), I could complain that no women were nominated. At the same time, I could also complain that no people of color were. I’m not sure whether any Muslims or religions other than Christian or Jewish were nominated, but I think they weren’t either. There also might be a preponderance of nominees from one section of the United States, which could be taken as a prejudice favoring that area.

As long as awards are given in whatever field, there are always going to be those who say, “I wish it were otherwise. And because it isn’t, it’s prejudice.”

The only time there’s really an institutional problem, at least in my mind, is when there is a history of one group of people being disenfranchised.

Since this is ITW’s first year, the organization can have no track record of institutional prejudice. ITW has worked diligently to avoid prejudice. The judges by their actions have indicated they have also been diligent in trying to create a level playing field.
The “World’s First International Festival of Thrillers” runs June 29 to July 2 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa in Phoenix, Arizona. The first annual ThrillerFest Awards banquet takes place in the Biltmore ballroom on Saturday, July 1, at 7 p.m.

If these things can be judged by an opening act, it seems quite possible that the awards presentation may be thrilling, indeed.

READ MORE:Responsible Blogging,” by J.A. Konrath (A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing).

The Passing of James McClure

Every once in a while, the discovery that somebody has died really throws you off kilter--not just because you realize they’re no longer a factor in the world’s development, but because you didn’t even know they were still alive. For me, crime novelist and journalist James McClure was just such a person. The author of eight police procedurals set in apartheid-era South Africa and starring a racially mixed pair of sleuths, Afrikaan Lieutenant Tromp Kramer of the Murder and Robbery Squad and his Zulu assistant, Sergeant Mickey Zondi, McClure apparently perished due to respiratory failure on June 17 in Oxford, England. He was 66 years old.

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1939, McClure became a newspaperman and moved to Britain in 1965, where he joined the Scottish Daily Mail and later The Oxford Times. In 1971, he saw published his first novel, The Steam Pig, which introduced Kramer and Zondi in an apartheid-inspired story revolving around a character who turns to crime after he and his family are reclassified from white to “coloured,” losing their standing as well as many of their privileges in the process. The book won the Gold Dagger Award from the British Crime Writers’ Association (CWA), and that acclaim, combined with the critical success of his second Kramer-Zondi adventure, The Caterpillar Cop (1972), convinced McClure to retire from newspapering in 1974 in order to become a full-time novelist. He went on to compose Snake (1975), The Sunday Hangman (1977--the only one of his novels to be banned in South Africa), and his final installment in that mystery series, The Song Dog (1991), which was also a prequel, revealing how Kramer and Zondi originally got together in 1962.

In addition, McClure wrote three non-series novels, including one set in South Africa, Rogue Eagle (1976), which picked up the CWA Silver Dagger. He also penned a trio of non-fiction books, the last of which was Copworld: Policing on the Streets of San Diego (1985). After that, though, he returned to journalism. In 2000, McClure became the editor of The Oxford Mail, but was compelled to retire in 2003, due to poor health. According to Wikipedia, he was working on a novel set in Oxford at the time of his demise.

McClure was a pioneer of sorts, exposing the natural beauty and ugly social contradictions of apartheid-era South Africa through the framework of crime fiction. He was by no means responsible for the overthrow of racial segregation at the southern end of Africa, but he did give the world a look at the roots and consequences of those practices that helped people elsewhere understand what was happening, when the legal apparatus of apartheid eventually collapsed in the early 1990s. Without James McClure’s authorial groundbreaking, there’s no telling whether readers would have been quite so receptive to the later work of South African novelists such as Deon Meyer (Dead Before Dying).

READ MORE: Obituary: James McClure” (The Guardian); “James McClure, 1939-2006” (Mystery*File); “The Book You Have to Read: The Song Dog, by James McClure,” by Stanley Trollip (The Rap Sheet).

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Madison Square’s Trial of the Century

One hundred years ago this month, on June 25, 1906, New York architect and “man about town” Stanford White was killed during the premiere performance of the musical revue Mamzelle Champagne in the rooftop theater of Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden, a building he had designed 15 years before. White was shot three times, point-blank in the face, by Harry K. Thaw, the son of a Pittsburgh coal and railroad tycoon, and the husband of Evelyn Nesbit, a popular actress and artist’s model, whom White had seduced when she was 15 years old.

According to Wikipedia, “when it became apparent that White was dead, hysteria ensued. William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers sensationalized the murder, and it became known as the Trial of the Century.” Thaw was tried twice for his heinous crime. The jury was deadlocked after the first trial. But in the second, Thaw’s defense team was able to make a stronger case that he had been irrational at the time of the slaying; and with Nesbit’s assistance (won through a promise of a divorce and a $1 million compensation, the latter of which she never received), the wealthy scion was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was incarcerated in an asylum. He was released in 1913, and two years later, another jury found him sane, after all. Thaw died in 1947, 20 years before Nesbit went to her own grave.

The anniversary of White’s death kicks off a new free reading series in Madison Square Park. Throughout this summer, each Thursday evening will be devoted to a different aspect of New York City life and history.

This coming Thursday--June 22, from 6:30 until 8 p.m.--White’s great-granddaughter, Suzannah Lessard, will read from her memoir, Architect of Desire: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family. That same evening, Paula Uruburu will share selections from her forthcoming biography of the woman at the center of the scandal, American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White: The Birth of the “It” Girl and the Crime of the Century, and Miriam Berman, author of Madison Square: The Park and Its Celebrated Landmarks, will introduce the program.

On July 13, Paul Malmont will read from his debut historical thriller, The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril. The book is set in the Great Depression as experienced by the pulp-fiction writers who frequented Greenwich Village’s White Horse Tavern. Finally, on July 27, Amanda Stern (The Long Haul) and Darin Strauss (Chang and Eng, The Real McCoy) will read from Truman Capote’s 1958 novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Other readings will take place throughout the summer at the same location--the foot of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Farragut Monument, located mid-park at 25th Street--though most don’t have a crime fiction connection. You can see the full schedule here.

READ MORE:Murder on the Roof Garden” (Crime Library).

Eat His Dust, Energizer Bunny!

In celebrating the long career of short-story writer Edward D. Hoch, 76, British mystery anthologist Mike Ashley explains at the Crime Time Web site:
Once upon a time, when there were more pulps than you could click a mouse on, it was probably quite easy to write and sell a thousand stories. There are plenty of authors whose story count exceeds this--Hugh B. Cave, Ray Cummings, Arthur J. Burks, for example--and plenty more authors who would produce that equivalent wordage and shoot way beyond it by producing lead novels for magazines and long-running series--Lester Dent, L. Ron Hubbard, Walter Gibson, Paul Ernst, Norvell Page, Robert J. Hogan, H. Bedford-Jones, Frederick Faust, etc., etc.

But not any more. The near death of the all-fiction magazine and the slightly shaky state of the paperback market means that outlets for short stories are limited and the opportunity to sell regularly to those markets, let alone make a living out of it, is extremely rare. Well, not rare--unique.

I only know of one writer still working today who makes a living almost solely from producing short stories and is still able to sell them regularly to the magazine and anthology markets. As I write Ed Hoch is working on his 909th short story.
Wow! For those of you who’ve never read one of Hoch tales (most recently collected in The Iron Angel, 2003), this means you have a hell of a lot of catching up to do.

Parker Talks

Thanks to novelist Bill Crider for the lead to Elizabeth Foxwell’s interview with Robert B. Parker on “It’s a Mystery,” a weekly production of WEBR in Fairfax, Virginia.

I had a chance to interview Parker a quarter-century ago, after the publication of his eighth Parker novel, Early Autumn (1981), and the interesting thing is to hear just how refined he’s made his standard answers over the years. It would be great to have another chance to sit down with him, as I did so long ago in Cambridge, and subject him to a thorough, probing January Magazine-style interview. Unfortunately, his publishers haven’t responded to my entreaties over the years. Parker’s now 73--maybe I can corral him before he reaches the three-quarter-century mark.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Real Life Is Messy

In a post to her blog that we referenced in this space last week, Laura James of Clews wrote:

I’m a true crime fan, and I have been known to enjoy a good mystery, but I’ve been puzzled by the strong walls separating the readers and writers of mystery fiction from the readers and writers of true crime.

James’ post got me thinking about those walls. One of the things I’ve been pondering is the fact that real life and real crime are messy, unlike the nice, safe, and ultimately controlled crime in a work of fiction. This is the reason, for instance, that I can watch one of those open-chest autopsy scenes they’re always showing on Crossing Jordan and not miss a sip of my latté, but if someone even thinks about doing lyposuction on Plastic Surgery Beverly Hills, I feel like diving behind the sofa. As gruesome as the Jordan scene might be, I know it isn’t real. On the other hand, I know that is real fat they’re suctioning out of someone’s booty on the surgery show. There’s something pretty awful about that.

Over the weekend I encountered a graphic example of this phenomenon in a news item in New York’s North Country Gazette. You probably already heard about it. Check the headline: “Man Driving With Wife’s Severed Head Causes Fatal Crash.”

You can read the piece yourself, but the upshot is this: a Boise, Idaho, man, 50-year-old Alofa Time, crashed his pickup into a car, killing the occupants: a 36-year-old woman and her 4-year-old daughter. The driver of the pickup was uninjured, but he had his wife’s head in the truck with him. The impact sent “the severed head of his wife airbound onto the roadway.” Says the Gazette:

Time was not seriously injured in the accident. Police said he was carrying a suicide note. A search of his property led to the discovery of the decapitated body of his estranged wife in the garage of their home.
There’s more. All of it equally horrific. And you can imagine this whole scenario all nicely and safely presented on some flavor of Law & Order, with everything placed in comforting context, so that you end up with a better understanding of human nature and a higher appreciation for good storytelling skills.

But in real life? We may be fascinated but, at the crucial moment, most of us turn away. In real life, it’s uncomfortable thinking about your neighbor--or your husband!--removing his wife’s head and then driving around the county with it on the passenger seat of his truck. In real life the whole awful tale can’t be placed in some sensible context that concludes on an enlightening note after 56 minutes and the prescribed number of commercial breaks.

Real life is messy.

Now, all of that said, those with a taste or an interest--or both--for real crime have some great options on the Web, a medium that lends itself to collecting material that might otherwise be hard to contain.

The Crime Library is a good true-crime starting point. Founded in 1998, Crime Library is partly owned by AOL-Time Warner. Even so, it’s surprisingly good. It’s a growing collection of more than 600 “feature stories on major crimes, criminals, trials, forensics, and criminal profiling by prominent writers. The stories focus mostly on recent crimes, but an expanding collection also delves into historically notorious characters, dating back to the 1400s and spanning the globe.”

Another great resource is The Crime Lab Project and its companion, The Crime Lab Project Blog. The CLP was spearheaded by crime fictionist Jan Burke who has since been joined by many prominent authors of crime fiction, who “are concerned about the gap between the public’s beliefs about the current state of forensic science and the reality faced by the many underfunded, understaffed labs and coroners’ offices throughout the country. We see the lack of support given to labs as a matter that has a growing negative impact on law enforcement, justice, and national security.”

The organization’s excellent Web site includes a full listing of both its members’ concerns and their supporters. For innocent bystanders, it provides some great resources as well as a clearer view into what the inside of a contemporary crime lab really looks like.

And, of course, there's the aforementioned Clews: The Historic True Crime Blog. Not only does Laura James’ blog provide a wealth of true-crime links, but James herself offers readers a steady diet of well-stated thoughts on matters of interest to true-crime buffs, though--naturally enough--with a bent to the historic end of things.

On the lighter side, if you like stupid people tricks as enacted by the rich and famous, check out the Web site of Justice magazine. It shares masthead space with People magazine, so expect the same level of riveting journalism, but it’s often good for a giggle or two. After too much real crime, that might be just what the doctor ordered.

Macavity Award Nominations Announced

Mystery Readers International has announced its nominees for the 2006 Macavity Awards. Members of that organization both nominate contenders and choose the winners. In the running this year:

Best Novel:
One Shot, by Lee Child (Delacorte Press)
The James Deans, by Reed Farrel Coleman (Plume)
The Lincoln Lawyer, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)
Vanish, by Tess Gerritsen (Ballantine Books)
Strange Affair, by Peter Robinson (Morrow)
The Power of the Dog, by Don Winslow (Knopf)
Solomon vs. Lord, by Paul Levine (Bantam)

Best First Novel:
Immoral, by Brian Freeman (St. Martin’s)
All Shook Up, by Mike Harrison (ECW Press)
Baby Game, by Randall Hicks (Wordslinger Press)
The Firemaker, by Peter May (St. Martin’s Minotaur)

Best Non-fiction:
Tracks to Murder, by Jonathan Goodman (Kent State University)
Behind the Mystery: Top Mystery Writers Interviewed, by Stuart M. Kaminsky; photography by Laurie Roberts (Hothouse Press)
New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Novels, edited by Leslie S. Klinger (Norton)
Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, by Melanie Rehak (Harcourt)
Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, by Mary Roach (Norton)

Best Short Story:
• “It Can Happen,” by David Corbett (in San Francisco Noir, edited by Peter Maravelis; Akashic Books)
• “Everybody’s Girl,” by Robert Barnard (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], May 2005)
• “The Big Road,” by Steve Hockensmith (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, May 2005)
• “There Is No Crime on Easter Island,” by Nancy Pickard (EQMM, September-October 2005)

Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award:
In Like Flynn, by Rhys Bowen (St. Martin’s Minotaur)
Spectres in the Smoke, by Tony Broadbent (St. Martin’s Minotaur)
The War of the World Murder, by Max Allan Collins (Berkley Prime Crime)
Night’s Child, by Maureen Jennings (McClelland and Stewart)
Pardonable Lies, by Jacqueline Winspear (Henry Holt)

This year’s Macavity winners will be announced during the opening ceremonies at Bouchercon, to be held in Madison, Wisconsin, in September.

Unhappily Ever After

“Nearly every convention in the crime-fiction playbook is on display in Berkowitz’s new novel,” writes Stephen Miller in his excellent review of Family Matters, the debut work of advertising executive-turned-crime-fictionist Ira Berkowitz.

Although Miller finds Family Matters to be a “thoroughly average detective yarn,” he says it contains “some flourishes of a promising new writer.” His review appears today in January Magazine. Read it here.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Patricia Guiver Passes

Animals in need and mystery fans lost a passionate voice last week with the passing of novelist and columnist Patricia Guiver on June 13. Guiver suffered complications following heart surgery at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, California.

Guiver, who wrote six Delilah Doolittle mysteries, the latest of which was The Beastly Bloodline (2003), was a lifelong journalist and animal activist. Born in Surrey, England, she grew up there during World War II. The San Gabriel Valley Tribune, which ran Guiver’s column, “Creature Connection,” had this to say:
Guiver wrote for London newspapers, worked for the United Nations in Geneva, and later lived with her actor husband in New York City, where she was a correspondent for British women’s magazines.
Meredith Phillips, Guiver’s editor at Perseverance/Daniel Publishing, has said that there will, unfortunately, be no more entries in the Delilah Doolittle series “as the one we’d announced as forthcoming, The Scarpered Sea Lion, was not completed due to health problems.”

A memorial service for Guiver is planned, but details have yet to be announced.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Higgins, Get Me Rewrite!

When are movie makers going to realize that it’s almost always a bad idea to try turning a TV series into a big-screen feature? I mean, remember the embarrassing 1999 remake of The Wild Wild West? Or the quick-disappearing 2002 film version of I Spy? After Bewitched, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Brady Bunch, The Dukes of Hazzard, McHale’s Navy, Scooby-Do, Starsky and Hutch, and S.W.A.T., how many more times can American filmmakers drain the well of TV history for their future big-budget projects? Can’t Hollywood come up with any new ideas anymore? Apparently not, as there are already plans being made for silver-screen versions of It Takes a Thief and Have Gun--Will Travel in the works, and the Michael Mann-directed movie release of Miami Vice is due in theaters next month.

Then there’s the feature adaptation of Magnum, P.I. The original action/comedy series ran on CBS-TV from 1980 to 1988, and made the mustachioed Tom Selleck (who’d previously guested as a too-good and too-lucky private eye, Lance White, on The Rockford Files) into a Hawaiian investigator with sex appeal and a red Ferrari. There was talk soon after the series went off the air about Selleck reprising his role in a big-budget picture. Later, rumors spread that the suave George Clooney might fill out Thomas Magnum’s Aloha shirts and sneakers. But nothing ever came of those suggestions. Now, however, is reporting that a big-screen version of Magnum is actually in the works, with a 2007 release date--and Ben Affleck starring. Huh? The same Ben Affleck who tortured the role of Daredevil a few years back (and subsequently went on to marry his curvaceous co-star, Jennifer Garner)? Yep, him. adds that Selleck “might only have himself to blame for losing the role in the film version.” It quotes Charles Floyd Johnson, one of the TV series’ producers, saying that Selleck “was asked to do six or eight TV movies and at that time he really wanted to do [Magnum] as a feature, so he held out on it and probably now they will consider him too old to do it.”

Still, though, Ben Affleck playing Navy Seal-turned-gumshoe Magnum? Although my father was a regular watcher of the show, I was never really a fan of Magnum, P.I. in its heyday (I much preferred Rockford and Harry O); yet even I can tell you that the protagonist had a cool confidence that boyish Ben can never hope to achieve. Sure, he might be able to pull off the flowered-shirts-and-shorts wardrobe, and he might not look like a total goofball in a ’stache. Throw in a few fast cars, faster women, and some helicopter hijinks, and there would undoubtedly be old fans of the series ready to plunk down a 10-spot to see what director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball) and producer Brian Grazer (A Beautiful Mind, Arrested Development) can make of the original concept. However, there was a charm Selleck brought to his detective role that would be hard for most younger actors, not just Affleck, to duplicate. And after seeing Affleck’s wooden performances in Daredevil, The Sum of All Fears, and Pearl Harbor, I’m not optimistic about his turn in Magnum.

(Hat tip to Gerald So.)

The Mystery of the Sodden, Droopy Prose

It all began on June 4, when New York Times crime-fiction critic Marilyn Stasio reviewed a St. Martin’s Press true-crime book called Safe Harbor: A Murder in Nantucket, by Brian McDonald. The book deals with the death of millionaire New York businesswoman Beth Lochtefeld and love gone wrong on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. Stasio, who is not known for her desire to make friends in the author community, didn’t like Safe Harbor. But, in the review, she seemed to take the whole thing a bit further, tarring a whole genre with a brush aimed at this single volume:
A Murder in Nantucket is Brian McDonald’s account of an actual killing that took place there in 2004, but it reads like a mystery, so it might go into my laundry basket--except that the language of true-crime is so inelegant it seems to dishonor the dead. Unlike the civilized fictional villainy on the Vineyard, the real-life murder of Elizabeth Lochtefeld, who was stabbed to death, was cold and cruel. Both the victim and the man accused of killing her came from good families and had money, but as Asey Mayo says in another, fictional, context, “re-fined people do murders sometimes.” Yet McDonald doesn’t say it anywhere near as well; his book is sodden with the droopy prose and weepy sentiments that afflict most true-crime accounts of murder.
Um. Ouch. But you can’t go around saying stuff like that--especially in the Times--without expecting some type of backlash or, at least, talk back. Unsurprisingly, this has come in the form of the raised voices of the blogosphere, beginning--to my knowledge--with a brace of true-crime authors who were inspired by Stasio’s review, Gregg Olsen and M. William Phelps, who, in the first posting of their brand-new blog, Crime Rant: Deliberating Crime Coast to Coast, took the reviewer to task:
Moreover, it is unprofessional, if not lazy, for a reviewer to sweep an entire genre underneath a fictional rug to make a larger point.
In her Clews: The Historic True Crime Blog, Laura James makes some well-considered points, then levels her pen at crime fictionists:
Hmm. ... Maybe it’s just me, but I get the strong impression that a lot of mystery authors have never read much true crime. And I’m afraid to say that it really, really shows.
James follows this up with lists of some of the heavy hitters from true-crime history--Ann Rule, John Berendt, Truman Capote, and Norman Mailer among them. As James points out, “They don’t give out Pulitzer Prizes for ‘droopy prose.’”As near as we can tell, the fallout continues to fall.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

But Good News Travels at a Snail’s Pace

Los Angeles author (and graphics designer) Gar Anthony Haywood seemed to be on a roll there for a while. After penning two quite different crime series--one starring gumshoe Aaron Gunner (All the Lucky Ones Are Dead, 1999), which won a Shamus Award, and the other focusing on a pair of Airstream trailer owners-cum-crime solvers, Joe and Dottie Loudermilk (Bad News Travels Fast, 1995)--he shifted to writing standalone thrillers, turning out Man Eater (2003) and Firecracker (2004) under the pseudonym “Ray Shannon.” But then ... well, he pretty much disappeared, at least from the radar of reviewers. Expectations of a third Shannon thriller came to naught.

Just the other day, though, I noticed that Haywood’s Web site now provides a link to “Gar’s latest work in progress,” a novel called Cemetery Road. Describing this forthcoming book, the author writes:
Unlike [my] previous Ray Shannon standalones, CEMETERY ROAD will be a gritty urban drama in the tradition of his Aaron Gunner novels, and will appear under [my] own name upon publication.

CEMETERY ROAD tells the story of Errol “Handy” White, a man in his early fifties who makes his living fixing things no one else will touch, as he returns to his native Los Angeles after a long exile in Minnesota to attend the funeral of his old friend R.J. Burrow.

Twenty-six years earlier, Handy, R.J., and their partner O’Neal Holden were three young thieves who pulled a heist that went horribly awry, and Handy’s been waiting for something like R.J.’s brutal murder to promise payback for all three ever since. Both the police and “O’,” as Holden has always been known, seem convinced that R.J.’s death was the result of a drug sale gone sour, but Handy can’t buy it, and neither can R.J.’s widow Frances. O’ is now the slick politician Handy always knew he’d become, and he has reasons of his own to want R.J.’s murder to go away as quickly as possible. Starting with a desperate need to keep a lid on the terrible secret O’, Handy, and R.J. have been haunted by for over two decades.

Could that need have been desperate enough to bring O’ to murder R.J. himself? Or was R.J.’s killing totally unrelated to the tragedy lurking in the trio’s past? Handy won’t go back home to St. Paul until he knows one way or the other--even if it means putting himself next in line for a bullet.
Sounds terrific. But can we expect to take a ride down Cemetery Road at any time in the near future? “[I]t’s just a work-in-progress right now,” Haywood tells me in an e-mail note. “I’m not working with a contract at the moment, so Cemetery Road will be shopped on spec when it’s a completed manuscript. I’m shooting for a completion date of September 2006, and with any luck, I’ll have some sales info to give you by the end of the year. Keep your fingers crossed.” Excellent news, indeed.

* * *

Speaking of missing mysterymakers, the Ohio weekly West Life catches up today with the award-winning Les Roberts, whose last novel featuring Cleveland P.I. Milan Jacovich, The Irish Sports Pages, was published in 2002. Seems he has a new memoir out in bookstores, We’ll Always Have Cleveland, which, according to reporter Charles Cassady, “describes how the Chicago-born Roberts, after more than 30 years active in the Los Angeles movie and television industry, first came to Cleveland in 1986 for a consult on an Ohio Lottery game show (Roberts came well-prepared; he produced the classic Hollywood Squares). Something in the recession-hit, oft-punch lined Cleveland resonated with Roberts, and eventually he defied traditional migratory patterns to relocate permanently from Los Angeles to northeast Ohio. The area ignited his literary imagination as well.” Describing this latest book on his Web site Roberts explains that “It’s not an autobiography or a kiss-and-tell book, but it’s all about how Cleveland welcomed me, changed me, and turned me into a very different writer. Lots about family, friends--and a few enemies, too.”

(Hat tip to Sarah Weinman.)

You Hit That on the Head

With Rusty Nail, the third entry in his well-received series featuring Chicago police lieutenant Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels, due out early next month from Hyperion, J.A. Konrath talks all too briefly with PublishersMarketplace about the writing game (“The secret to getting published is simple: Write a plagiarized memoir about DaVinci.”), his forthcoming anthology of hit-man tales, and his book-writing routine (“I get up in the late afternoon, disentangle myself from whatever celebrity super model I picked up the previous night, do a bunch of drugs, and then go cash whatever big check arrived in the mail that day. Being a mid-list author is a white hot roller coaster ride of glamorous sin, depraved debauchery, and unhealthy self-obsession. Plus, binge drinking.”). Did I mention that Konrath specializes in humorous storytelling?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Calamity Town

George W. Bush and his fellow Republicans might not be looking forward to this fall’s first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastating impact on New Orleans and America’s Gulf Coast (since it could well affect the U.S. midterm elections two months later), but crime-fiction readers have at least one reason to do so. It seems that Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine has planned a special New Orleans-themed issue for September. In a note published in author Jan Burke’s blog, editor Janet Hutchings explains that “EQMM’s publisher, Dell Magazines, has donated all advertising for this special hurricane-recovery issue to organizations with rebuilding or relief efforts ongoing in the areas affected by Katrina.” Hutchings adds:
Headlining the issue, which bears a November publication date, is fiction celebrating New Orleans’ rich ethnic and cultural diversity. Short stories by crime-fiction pros John Edward Ames, O’Neil De Noux, Tony Dunbar, Tony Fennelly, Barbara Hambly, Greg Herren, Edward D. Hoch, Dick Lochte, William Dylan Powell, Sarah Shankman, and Julie Smith span more than a century and a half of the Crescent City’s history, from pre-Civil War days to the post-Katrina present. This is New Orleans depicted by New Orleanians: Ten of the issue’s authors, including poetry contributor James Sallis, hail from the beleaguered city. Several lost homes or property in the storm.

The work of other notable New Orleans writers is discussed in a book review column by Jon L. Breen, focusing exclusively on the region’s mystery writing.
There will come a day soon, I hope, when New Orleans doesn’t need financial assistance or other help from the rest of the world. But we aren’t at that point yet. EQMM undoubtedly has a profit motive here--if not related to single-issue sales, then certainly in terms of building long-term interest in the digest. However, that shouldn’t detract from the fact that this themed issue represents a small but important way to do something good for the city--and also please those of us who love crime fiction.

To order a copy of EQMM’s New Orleans edition, go to the magazine’s Web site.

Fold Up the Tents, Retire the Elephants

Bad news from British novelist John Rickards (Winter’s End): His Mystery Circus blog isn’t long for this cold, cruel world. In a note posted earlier today, Rickards wrote: “Unless someone has some spectacularly cunning plan, I’m going to close down the Circus in the next couple of days. While the switch in format caused an initial slow climb in traffic and conversation, that climb’s over and the numbers are not good.” Well, damn. And double damn. Mystery Circus boasted a pretty impressive goal: “To bring together some of the sharpest minds in crime fiction in one place, to let them sound off about the issues that interest them, to stimulate debate and encourage discussion.” And for the most part, the blog lived up to its hype, regularly combining the posting talents of notables such as Mark Billingham, Laura Lippman, Ray Banks, and Steve Mosby. It’s too bad to see the Circus go. On the other hand, blogging is a much more difficult and time-consuming task than people on the outside realize, and if Rickards didn’t think he was attracting sufficient readership, then he needs to go on to something that will.

If you haven’t already been a reader of Mystery Circus, check out the contents right now, before Rickards pulls the plug.

Bruen and Starr Go “Bust”

Anthony Rainone’s review of Bust, the new crime-fiction collaboration between acclaimed Irish novelist Ken Bruen and New York writer Jason Starr, was posted this morning in January Magazine. You’ll find it here. “I have to state immediately,” Rainone remarks in his excellent critique, “that this book is laughable--literally. Bust is a black-comedy caper of the darkest and raunchiest order, and the comedic team of Bruen and Starr is one to be reckoned with, along with the historic likes of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, or perhaps Cheech Marin and Thomas Chong. These two authors will have readers laughing at the vilest of moments, making those readers concerned for their own sanity, if not the authors’. Don’t dismiss Bust as not having bona fide mystery aspirations, however; there are several vicious murders in these pages, as well as a heaping helping of blackmail intrigue, a love interest and a pair of plodding detectives who would feel right at home in the meatiest of crime-fiction offerings.”

Pince-nez and Party Favors

Today marks what would have been the 106th birthday of Dorothy L. Sayers, the British-born, Oxford-educated author-translator who wrote 11 novels and 21 short stories featuring amateur detective Lord Peter Wimsey. The tall, aristocratic, and garrulous Wimsey (whose middle name just happened to be “Death”) appeared first in Whose Body? (1923), which turns on the discovery of an unclothed corpse found in an architect’s bathtub. Sayers’ last Wimsey novel was Busman’s Honeymoon (1937), though two additions to the series--Thrones, Dominations (1998, based on an unfinished Sayers novel) and A Presumption of Death (2002)--were made by another English novelist, Jill Paton Walsh.

Although Lord Peter ranks among the most renowned, if eccentric figures in detective fiction (Sayers once described him as a mixture of Fred Astaire and P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster), and his stories continue to sell well, even half a century after the author’s death in 1957, Sayers herself thought her translation of Dante’s Divina Commedia was her finest written work.

ADDENDUM: If you’ve never read Sayers’ Wimsey stories, now’s your chance. An online version of Whose Body? can be found here.