Thursday, August 30, 2007

“Richard Kimble Is Innocent”

You probably don’t remember this, but it was 40 years ago this week (actually, 40 years ago yesterday) that the final episode of The Fugitive was broadcast on American television, bringing to a dramatic close the story of Dr. Richard Kimble’s pursuit of the elusive One-Armed Man and supplying answers to the mystery of who murdered his wife--and then left Kimble to be accused of the heinous crime.

That ABC series, of course, featured David Janssen (later to headline the mid-’70s detective series Harry O). It was allegedly based on “a six-page format, inspired by Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables” and written by Roy Huggins (who also created the landmark series Maverick and The Rockford Files). After four years, The Fugitive finally concluded its popular run on Tuesday, August 29, 1967--better known by fans as The Day the Running Stopped--with the second installment of a two-part episode titled “The Judgment,” in which a dramatic confrontation between Kimble and the One-Armed Man at a Southern California amusement park ends with the cop who, for all this time, has been chasing after the wrongly accused doctor, shooting the real killer. When it originally aired, “The Judgment: Part 2” was the most-watched U.S. TV episode of all time, with 45.9 percent of American households having tuned in. (As of my last check, however, that show had fallen to the No. 18 spot, but remained the only program in the top-30 rundown that was broadcast prior to the year 1970.)

This is particularly ironic, when you consider that The Fugitive--with its William Conrad (Cannon) narration and tension-packed introduction--almost didn’t make it to the small screen. As Raleigh, North Carolina, News & Observer columnist J. Peder Zane recalled,
The moral question at the heart of the upheavals of the 1960s also infused “The Fugitive”: Should laws and traditions guide our actions or personal conscience? To appreciate how path-making the show was, consider the resistance creator Roy Huggins encountered when he first pitched his idea about “an innocent victim of blind justice” in 1959. Everyone from family and friends to network executives found the idea repulsive. ABC, the last-place network desperate for new programming, finally bought the series in 1963.

In most episodes, a moment comes when Kimble’s true identity is revealed to someone he has known a short while. The character must decide: Do I turn in a man society brands a wife killer, or do I trust my own instincts, which say the authorities are wrong, and help him escape?
However, The Fugitive turned out to have tremendous viewer appeal, for several reasons, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications:
Using the general format of an anthology show, but with continuing characters (in the manner of the contemporary Herbert Leonard series Naked City and Route 66), the producers, writers and directors were given license to deal with characters, settings and stories not usually associated with what was in essence a simple man-on-the-run theme. Under various nondescript aliases (but most frequently as “Jim”), Kimble traversed the United States in pursuit of the One-Armed Man and along the way became involved with ordinary people who were usually at an emotional cross-roads in their lives. ...

Not unlike the Western hero, which U.S. television had embraced since the 1950s and with which it still had something of an infatuation, Kimble had the appeal of the rootless wanderer whose commitments to jobs, women or society were temporary, yet who at the same time deserved our sympathy as something of a tragic figure. The series’ and the introspective character’s success lay largely with the appeal of actor David Janssen’s intensity in the part (Janssen’s first television hit had been as the lead in the slick Richard Diamond, Private Eye series of 1957-60). The drama of the stories came not so much from the transient occupations of the fleeing hero, such as sail mender in Hank Searls “Never Wave Good-bye” or dog handler in Harry Kronman’s “Bloodline,” but from the dilemma of the Kimble character himself, something Janssen was able to convey with an almost nervous charm.
This month’s release of The Fugitive: Season One, Volume 1 on DVD is an excellent reminder of Janssen’s talents, and will likely bring this series to the attention of generations too young to have watched it the first time around. The same ones who associate The Fugitive only with the 1993 Harrison Ford film remake or the short-lived 2000 CBS-TV revival series starring Tim Daly (formerly of Wings).

More welcome reminders of the Janssen series come from a recent installment of Talking Television with Dave White, broadcast on “global radio station” Moderated by Ed Robertson, author of The Fugitive Recaptured: The 30th Anniversary Companion to a Television Classic (1993), this episode featured an enlightening discussion of The Fugitive and its final chapter (the follow-up to a Talking Television tribute to “Famous Final Episodes” that was broadcast in late July). It deals particularly with the networks’ hesitancy about buying The Fugitive, the copycat shows that came in the wake of its success, and the networks’ general resistance to offering final episodes of any TV series. You can listen to the show here. (Note: The first half deals with The Fugitive, while the latter half brings in Robert Newhart, son of Bob Newhart, who talks about the famous 1990 surprise ending of Newhart.)

To get a flavor of The Fugitive, or be reminded of its assets, here’s the opening segment from the last episode:

READ MORE:15 Greatest TV Characters of the 1960s: Richard Kimble,” by Rick29 (Classic Film and TV Café); “The Fugitive Broke New Ground to Become an Unlikely Hit,” by Stephen Bowie (A.V. Club); “Serge Krizman, 1914-2008,” by Stephen Bowie (The Classic TV History Blog).

Better Clear Off Some Shelf Space

Yet another set of crime-fiction awards? You bet your sweet bippy, as they used to say on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. This new commendation will be brought to you by Spinetingler Magazine and, according to editor Sandra Ruttan, will feature seven categories, including one for Best Cover Art. Ruttan says that the nominating process will open on October 1.

Due Diligence

“It is so easy to write a mystery or thriller that means little or nothing, that leaves no lasting impression in the reader’s mind. Therefore, it’s particularly delightful when someone such as William Lashner steps up to bat and blasts one clear out of the park ...” So writes first-time January Magazine reviewer Cameron Hughes in his obviously favorable critique of Lashner’s latest book, A Killer’s Kiss.

This generously twisted tale is the seventh outing for “greedy loser and professional reject Victor Carl,” a Philadelphia attorney (last seen in Marked Man, 2006). In these 336 pages, Carl must not only clear himself of suspicion in the murder of his ex-fiancée Julia Denniston’s millionaire, Chestnut Hill husband, but also stomach the “vile acts” Julia commits “on the way to saving her own skin.” Hughes remarks that he was particularly charmed by Lashner’s mining of his characters’ layers and his dexterity at keeping readers guessing. “Lashner challenges his readers to question seemingly obvious answers,” explains Hughes. “Carl finds that his own nice and neat solution to the millionaire’s murder isn’t so neat, either. As complications including Eastern European mobsters, a burned-out drug addict with the looks of a Greek god and a nearly 20-year-old high-school play and teenage romance gone horribly wrong all enter into this story, seemingly clear waters are made suddenly and deliciously murky.”

Read all of the review here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

It’s Over Down Under

While many of us in the Western Hemisphere were still snoring and drooling into our pillows, the Crime Writers Association of Australia was busy announcing the winners of this year’s Ned Kelly Awards. These commendations were handed out during the Melbourne Writers Festival. Unfortunately, many of the runners-up aren’t easily found outside of Australia, but--as luck would have it--Soho Crime just issued the “Best Crime Novel” of 2007 in the States last month.

Crime Down Under’s Damien Gay supplies the full rundown of “Neddie” winners:

Best Crime Novel: Chain of Evidence, by Gary Disher (Text)

Also shortlisted: The Night Ferry, by Michael Robotham (Little, Brown); The Unknown Terrorist, by Richard Flanagan (Macmillan); The Cleaner, by Paul Cleave (Random House); Undertow, by Peter Corris (Allen & Unwin); and Spider Trap, by Barry Maitland (Allen & Unwin)

Best First Crime Novel: Diamond Dove, by Adrian Hyland (Text)

Also shortlisted: The Betrayal of Bindi Mackenzie, by Jaclyn Moriaty (Macmillan); Better Dead Than Never, by Laurent Boulanger (C&C International Media Group); and Behind the Night Bazaar, by Angela Savage (Text)

Best True Crime: (tie) Written on the Skin, by Liz Porter (Macmillan), and Killing for Pleasure: The Definitive Story of the Snowtown Murders, by Debi Marshall (Random House)

Also shortlisted: Justice for the Dead, by Malcolm Dodd and Beverly Knight (Hachette Livre); Overboard: The Stories Cruise Ships Don’t Want Told, by Gywn Topham (Random House); Intractable, by Bernie Matthews (Macmillan); Silent Death, by Karen Kissane (Hachette Livre); Australian Outlaw, by Derek Pedley (Sly Ink); The Dodger, by Duncan McNab (Macmillan); and Things a Killer Would Know, by Paula Doneman (Allen & Unwin)

If you’d like to look through the longlist of this year’s Neddie nominees, click here.

“Only Someone With Nothing to Be Sorry About Smiles at the Rear of an Elephant”

Good news for fans of the 1970s mystery series Banacek: TV Shows on DVD reports that the second (and final) season of that show, which starred George Peppard as smoother-than-thou, Polish proverb-quoting insurance investigator Thomas Banacek, is due out on DVD in January. This set will include the 1972 pilot film that launched the series.

And Robak Weeps

Bill Crider alerts us to the death earlier this week of Joe L. Hensley, a former Indiana state legislator, trial judge, and science-fiction writer turned crime novelist, who for the last 30 years, has been developing an exceptional series of novels featuring a wily Indiana circuit judge named Don Robak. Reviewing the 12th and most recent installment of that series, Robak in Black (2002), January Magazine critic Karen G. Anderson wrote:
The perils of writing a thriller are legion--from hyperbolic prose to an inconvenient pileup of dead bodies that beggars belief--but author Hensley squeaks past with the grace of an attorney winning a case by virtue of a well-spotted loophole. You’re not quite sure how he did it, but you want to applaud. Hensley, who’s been crafting Robak stories since 1971 (Deliver Us to Evil was the first entry in this series), is in a class with masters like Archer Mayor, K.C. Constantine, Sue Grafton and James Lee Burke when it comes to capturing the menace of small-town conspiracies and the courage of a small-town sleuth.
According to a shockingly brief obituary in The Indianapolis Star, Hensley was 81 years old when he died on the morning of Monday, August 27. In a separate note, renowned science-fiction author Harlan Ellison worries that Hensley, who he describes as “a staunch, talented friend I could not have loved more were he my brother,” has already been forgotten by readers.

Well, not by this page. Not on this day.

UPDATE: More details having to do with Hensleys career and funeral arrangements can be found here. And Ed Gorman shares his memories of the late author here. Pulpettis Juri Nummelin has a unique take on Hensleys demise here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Hey Kids! Let’s Put on a Show!

There’s something endearingly amateurish (and more than a bit inspiring) about The Smiling Man, an indie short now available on DVD and starring nobody you’ve ever heard of.

This moody little bit of cinema--all 45 minutes of it--is brought to you by B.J. West and the Bay Area Writer’s Group. Last year saw the release of their first anthology, Fog City Nocturne, a collection of short stories all featuring post-World War II San Francisco gumshoe Nick Chambers. It boasted the subtitle “One Detective--Six Authors.”

Nick was created, appropriately enough, “over cocktails” (possibly several) as a writing exercise in which the group’s members could all take part. They came up with a “noir-style anti-hero, with a decidedly post-modern nihilistic outlook that borders on misanthropic.”


They figured out his back-story, agreed on what makes him tick, and defined his current situation, and then established two unbreakable rules that all the writers would have to follow:

1. Thou shalt not kill Nick. But you can go ahead and beat him to within an inch of death.

2. No “Big Wins.” When the story is done, Nick’s situation shouldn’t be markedly improved in any permanent way.

The stories intentionally stuck pretty close to the formula, for the most part; Nick’s appropriately hard-boiled and appropriately down on his luck, struggling to eke out a living on the “cold, dark, fog shrouded streets” of postwar (and appropriately corrupt) San Francisco. Need I mention the fedora and trenchcoat?

But Fog City Nocturne was a nicely packaged little book, and a pretty solid collection; certainly one of the better self-published efforts I’ve seen. It was very interesting to me on several levels--as P.I. fiction, as PR and, of course, as a writing exercise. The stories were, to say the least, all over the place in terms of tone and perspective, and shone a light on how non-fans view this genre.

And now, continuing the DYI ethos of the book, we have The Smiling Man, a short indie film based on one of the stronger--if quirkier--tales (written by Keoni Chavez). This film follows Nick through the oddly empty (and very, very clean) streets of San Francisco in search of a man only identified by a photograph, on behalf of a smug, enigmatic client, Derek Halycon, who knows more than he’s letting on.

The movie as directed by West, the book’s mastermind, and it stars most of its writers, including Chavez, who plays the mysterious client. As expected, then, the acting varies from OK to great (the bartender’s a natural) and the direction is very much fly-on-the-wall and unobtrusive.

But somehow, it works. Short on thrills, but long on mood, it’s an engaging little head-scratcher of a piece. It wouldn’t have been out of place on an old episode of The Twilight Zone or maybe Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

No, it’s not going to bump The Maltese Falcon or Chinatown off any P.I. fan’s top-10 list, but this is a fine little tribute to, and addition to the genre.

Cashin in on New Acclaim

Hey, it’s not like Australian novelist Peter Temple really needs any more publicity, having already picked up his fifth Ned Kelly Award and won this year’s Duncan Lawrie Dagger for his novel The Broken Shore. Yet Bob Cornwell provides him with excellent exposure in a new interview at the Tangled Web site. My favorite responses are those that show Temple’s idiosyncratic approach to writing.

On the annoyance of deadlines: “I’m deadline-driven so I usually have to wait until someone threatens me to get on with it. And I’m endlessly tinkering. So I can never say I’m halfway. I’m not halfway, I’m halfway going back to have another stab at it. And [The Broken Shore] took exceptionally long because I was losing interest, in writing generally and existence as such, and I put it away. It dragged on and on and on and eventually my publisher rang me: ‘we need a publication date for this thing.’ So then I put my back into it. But at that point I’d been at it so long that I had no opinion left of it at all.”

On turning one-off protagonists into series leads: “It’s a form of imprisonment, a form of slavery. You shackle yourself to these people. I wrote Bad Debts, the first Jack Irish, with no intentions of writing a series. I thought it would be nice to write a book. I had a two-book contract and [HarperCollins] said, when’s the next Jack book coming out. I said, it’s not a Jack book, I’m writing something else. We’d never discussed the second book. They said hang on, you can’t write something else. So we had a polite disagreement and eventually I prevailed. So I wrote An Iron Rose, and then I wrote Black Tide, Jack No.2, and then I wrote another standalone, Shooting Star. That said, I became more attached to [Joe] Cashin [the protagonist in The Broken Shore] than my other standalone characters. But also it began to dawn on me that because I had left so many threads dangling, there was the possibility to go on. But I didn’t want to go on with Joe. Readers can bear just so much pain ...”

On why he writes crime novels: “I still don’t know how people settle down to write a literary novel. I would always drift towards something dramatic quite soon. I’ve always liked crime, and I’ve always been very critical of crime. A lot of it is very sloppy, very badly written. I liked the Americans, a lot of British writers. But I always thought: I could do that. And if I bring my editing skills to bear, I could do that better. I didn’t really choose crime, that was always what I was going to do.”

On the concept of outlining stories first: “Couldn’t bear it, that’s writing by numbers. If I was capable of sketching a plot out on a white board, I’d take the whole board down and send it the publishers and get someone else to write it.”

Temple adds that his next novel, due out from Quercus in 2008, will be called Truth, and will feature Inspector Villani, Cashin’s superior from The Broken Shore.

You will find all of Cornwell’s interview here.

READ MORE:The Languid Throwing of a Line,” by Jenny Davidson (Light Reading).

Croyden Calling

Today on Murderati, the inimitable Ken Bruen (Cross, Ammunition) presents us with a gorgeous piece that reads like a prose poem and feels like a gift:
After my friend is released from hospital, I buy a large bunch of flowers, go to see Mairead and her bed is vacant, I ask the nurse where they moved her, she says, her whole body screaming

knackered !

from too many shifts and without any malice or bitterness, just the facts, the words

“Oh she died.”

She is too tired to be nice

Moves on
The Murderati piece is here.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Mister Blue’s Literary Debut

An early novel by Edward Bunker, the career criminal turned author turned actor who played Mr. Blue in Quentin Tarantino’s seminal Reservoir Dogs, has turned up two years after the actor’s death.

A press release lets us know that a thriller named Stark was written by Bunker in the early 1960s and was “a harbinger of the books that brought him critical acclaim such as No Beast So Fierce and The Animal Factory, yet it remained unpublished in his lifetime and the forgotten manuscript was only recently discovered in the vaults of British independent crime publisher, No Exit Press.” Cool.

Cut to, “From September 3rd the book is available for the first time in hardback and paperback editions with a specially commissioned foreword by U.S. crime writer James Ellroy and an afterword by the author’s widow, Jennifer Steele.”

The author died on July 19, 2005, at the age of 71.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Can We Retire These Photos Yet?

Ever since we started posting about copycat covers on crime novels, we’ve become extra sensitive to the appearance of such replications. We’ve also noticed that some photographs aren’t used just one or two times, but may illustrate the fronts of three or four novels, if not more. Even accepting that book designers on tight budgets can’t be expected to have seen how every stock photo on the market was employed previously, and thereby avoid repeating use of those images, shots that threaten to become ubiquitous should certainly also become familiar to folks whose careers depend on their paying more attention to these matters than the rest of us are obliged to do. And those overused photographs ought then to be dumped from the pool of acceptable artwork--if not retired by the stock agencies that own them, then at least given a wide berth by designers.

One of the most hackneyed images appears on the forthcoming Walker paperback edition of Reggie Nadelson’s Disturbed Earth, her 2004 novel starring Russian immigrant-turned-New York City private eye Artie Cohen. This photograph is credited to Richard Olenius and the National Geographic Image Collection (#394824). It’s not a bad nighttime shot of Chicago, Illinois, with the foreground and shadowy image of a man crossing what may be an open-air skyway or building balcony. Unfortunately, though, this is the very same likeness that decorated the hardback edition of British novelist H.R.F. Keating’s A Detective in Love (2002) as well as the 2002 front of Sam Reaves’ Dooley’s Back. Oh, and it was also employed on the 2006 mass-market paperback edition of George Pelecanos’ terrific Drama City. (Incidentally, of those books only Reaves’ is actually set in Chicago.)

That photo has now graced the jackets of four American crime novels, and nobody but those of us here at the Rap Sheet have so much as noticed? Gimme a break. Readers are more intelligent than that, and publishers and designers ought to be, too. Was there no other stock shot that could have substituted in at least one of these cases? And was there no money available for an original photograph, if only to avoid the embarrassment associated with duplications such as these?

Another instance of egregious overuse involves the image of a seemingly young brunette, dressed in a full-length skirt and holding a birdcage in her left hand. I first noticed this lass when she appeared on the 2006 U.S. paperback edition of John Crowley’s Little, Big. But she then proceeded to insert herself--with a little Photoshop help, no doubt--into the cover of Pearl Luke’s 2006 novel, Madame Zee, this time with what looks like a beach background, rather than a roadway and imposing residence behind her. More recently, she elbowed her way onto the cover of Joel Rose’s The Blackest Bird, a historical suspense novel (featuring author-cum-investigator Edgar Allan Poe) that was released earlier this year. Only on this occasion, she and her cage are found in what might be a European backstreet.

A little Web detective work reveals the genesis of that cover-hopping babe. The shot was taken by Lorraine Molina and is available from Seattle-based Getty Images (#6421-000003). The original photo shows Molina’s subject standing in what might be a country lane, and bears the closest resemblance to the Crowley cover.

After shaking our heads over those two repeat performances, it seems almost insignificant that--with the help of Tom Nolan, editor of The Archer Files: The Complete Short Stories of Lew Archer, Private Investigator--we should have tumbled to yet another example of copycat covers, this time involving a photo that’s only been used twice (that we know of, anyway). It doesn’t take a frickin’ genius, glancing over the pair of covers on the right, to tip to the fact that the same fedora-wearing gent who fronts the 1996 Vintage Crime/Black Lizard paperback reprint of Ross Macdonald’s The Chill also appears (though in reverse) on the jacket of the U.S. hardcover debut edition of British novelist John Baker’s first P.I. Sam Turner novel, Poet in the Gutter. And both books were published in the same year. Talk about regrettable coincidences!

We won’t delude ourselves into thinking that, by pointing out these duplicate applications of stock art, publishers on either side of the Atlantic will suddenly cease relying on photo agencies and go back to their previous practice of paying for fresh artwork to use on book fronts. Very few publishers nowadays (with the notable exceptions of Hard Case Crime and a few other comparatively small houses) go to the trouble or expense of commissioning unique cover images. Nonetheless, it should give designers and their bosses pause to realize that by overexercising stock shots, they are making their products not more distinctive in the public marketplace, but instead less so. And that cannot be good for sales.

READ MORE:Are Publishers Cheap?” by Peter Rozovsky (Detectives Beyond Borders).

Still Catching Up

Nicolas Cage will star in a film remake of the 1980-1988 TV detective series Magnum, P.I.? That’s the latest rumor, following on previous gossip that pretty boy Ben Affleck would play Ferrari-driving Hawaiian gumshoe Thomas Magnum, a role originally taken by Tom Selleck. According to TV Squad, the 43-year-old Cage is “considering the role”--which is a long way off from his actually accepting the part, or the movie actually being made. We won’t hold our breaths.

• Is there anything Duane Swierczynski doesn’t do? Weekly newspaper editor, novelist, and now comic-book writer? He explains in his Secret Dead Blog that “This November, I’ll be making my Marvel Comics debut with a one-shot issue of Moon Knight called “Date Night.”

• Following on the release of his new novel, Anarchy and Old Dogs, the fourth installment of his series featuring 73-year-old Laotian national coroner Dr. Siri Paiboun, British-born author Colin Cotterill tells Salt Lake City, Utah’s Deseret Morning News that he writes about septuagenarian characters in his novels “because they’re being wasted.” And for would-be mystery authors, he relates the basics of his writing process: “To start another book, he goes to an isolated bungalow south of Bangkok, ‘a place where I won’t be disturbed, where I pretend I don’t speak English, and I just write for 13 hours a day.” Hmm. Maybe that isn’t really so helpful to the rest of us.

• UK writer John Baker (White Skin Man) has recently been filling his blog with guest-posts from novelists, each one telling “What phases are involved in the creation” of their own work. What caught our eye in particular, though, was a contribution from Robert Wilson, the Gold Dagger-winning author of A Small Death in Lisbon (1999) and the Javier Falcón series (The Hidden Assassins, 2006). In it, Wilson offers somewhat more useful advice to struggling writers than Cotterill does. Writes Wilson:
When it comes to writing a text what I am trying to do is to move everything forward at the same time. That is plot, setting and character have to evolve together, not one after the other. This is especially important at the beginning of a book where you are trying to draw a reader into your world. The writer must give them as little excuse (or time) to slip away as possible. If a reader feels they are putting in too much time on stormy weather, baroque architecture or rocky escarpments their mind can wander. If you go into dense characterization or, worse, heavy back story, you will hear the thunder of readers hooves moving off to new pastures. I reckon you have a maximum of ten pages in which to position your central character in his/her life with friends, family and relationships, in an atmospheric setting with a plot up and running. You can (partially) fail on the first two counts but you must not fail with plot.
Read all of what Wilson has to say here.

• George W. Bush picking a fight with spy novelist Graham Greene? The Huffington Post’s Chris Kelly says it’s not a good idea.

• Interviewed by Texas’ Austin American-Statesman, thriller writer Olen Steinhauer explains that he’d “originally planned to include himself as a character in [his new novel,] ‘Victory Square,’ which started out as a 1,000-page Joycean epic called ‘Falling Sickness.’ His editor made it clear this wasn’t going to work--Barnes & Noble wouldn’t stock a big brick of a book by a midlist author--so Steinhauer stopped at the 400-page mark and reined it in. (An autobiographical element remains, though: Early in the book, the Militia detective Gavra Noukas travels to America on the trail of a defector and visits Clover Hill High School in Virginia--which is Steinhauer’s alma mater.)” Later in this newspaper piece, Steinhauer tells what we can expect next from his pen: he has “sent his agent the first draft of a contemporary CIA thriller that he hopes will be his commercial breakthrough. ‘I’m thinking trilogy,’ he says.” You’ll find the whole piece here.

• And we almost missed noting the recent death of Max Hodge, a Hollywood screenwriter with a long history of working on TV crime-fiction series. The Internet Movie Database has him down as a contributor to such classics as Mission: Impossible, Cannon, Ironside, Barbary Coast, and Police Woman, as well as The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. (on which he also served as producer), The Wild Wild West, Alias Smith and Jones, and The Waltons. In addition, notes TV Squad, Hodge in the 1960s was “a writer for Batman and created the Mr. Freeze character.” That last credit alone should’ve made him famous. He died in Woodland Hills, California, on August 17. Hodge was 91 years old.

Friday, August 24, 2007

What I Missed on My Summer Vacation

I made no prior public announcement of my plans, but I’ll tell you now that I just returned from a week spent driving through western Canada. Trying to find some vacation time in the midst of writing assignments, my wife and I decided to take a road trip northeast from Seattle to Banff, Alberta, a pleasant upscale mountain burg in Canada’s Banff National Park.

I’d first visited Banff with my family when I was about 12 years old (which was more than a couple of years ago). At the time, my architect father wheeled us through the town and then out to the Banff Springs Hotel, an elegant accommodation built in the 1880s by the Canadian Pacific Railway and perched high above the Bow River Valley (see the photo above). I was captivated by the monumentality of the place, which back then still had buffalo heads mounted around its lobby. (That original lobby has since become a bar and dining area, while a new stone entry space has been grafted onto the historic hostelry.) Unfortunately, my father--ever the definition of a pinch-penny--refused to spring for the cost of the Banff Springs, and we had to stay instead in a clean but lesser property on the edge of town. I swore, however, that I would someday return to the area and check in to the Banff Springs Hotel.

Which is exactly what my wife and I did last week, finding a well-appointed room that overlooked the river valley as well as the hotel’s original circular driveway. During the few days we spent there, we explored Banff’s numerous eateries, filled ourselves with Sunday brunch at the not-far-away Chateau Lake Louise (another Canadian Pacific-built lodge, now owned--like the Banff Springs--by the Toronto-based Fairmont Hotels chain), and spent hours behind steaming cups of coffee and books we’d acquired especially for this adventure. (I packed along Mike Dash’s captivating Manhattan criminal history, Satan’s Circus: Murder, Vice, Police Corruption, and New York’s Trial of the Century; picked up, while in Banff, Canadian crime writer Giles Blunt’s Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award-nominated novel, 2006’s By the Time You Read This; and also made it through Robert Goddard’s suspenseful Never Go Back. Never let it be slandered about that I don’t know how to make good use of relaxation time.) About halfway through this excursion, I called my brother to reminisce over our long-ago family outing to Banff, and he asked me whether we’d been out riding horses, or paddling canoes over Lake Louise, or maybe hiking into the Alberta Rockies. He was disappointed--but not terribly surprised--when I informed him that yes, we were having a grand time, but were spending it far away from horse flesh and hiking boots. Maybe next time ...

This is a roundabout way of saying that, thanks to my 1,400-mile drive and concerted efforts to avoid visiting a computer while away, I haven’t been managing The Rap Sheet of late. Fortunately, January Magazine editor and author Linda L. Richards was available to take up the reins, and she handled them with aplomb. In all likelihood, most blog readers didn’t even notice that I was gone, thanks to Linda as well as to contributors Ali Karim, Stephen Miller, and Anthony Rainone, all of whom came through with posts this week. But I was acutely aware of being disengaged from stories having to do with mystery and crime fiction. And I returned to discover not only that Ian Rankin had got himself into hot water and Manhattan’s renowned Black Orchid Bookshop had closed its once-welcoming doors for the last time, but that author Magdalen Nabb (The Innocent) had perished in my absence.

So much for quiet Augusts, eh?

Even now, at the spent end of a business week, the tidbits roll in:

• We’ve had more than a few nice things to say in recent months (see here and here, for instance) about editor Tom Nolan’s handsome new volume, The Archer Files: The Complete Short Stories of Lew Archer, Private Investigator. But finally, the mainstream press seems to have “discovered” Nolan’s assemblage of Ross Macdonald’s abbreviated detective fiction. In the Los Angeles Times, Scott Timberg recollects Macdonald’s history, while noting not only the publication of Nolan’s work but Vintage Books’ plan to reissue more of the late author’s novels in handsome paperback editions. Meanwhile, bookstore proprietor, anthologist, and critic Otto Penzler (who knew Macdonald) opines in The New York Sun on Macdonald’s contributions to detective fiction and the enduring importance of his P.I. protagonist, Lew Archer. Writes Penzler:
Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer is as close to the quintessential American private detective of America in the 1960s as it is possible to get. Although his adventures began in 1949 and did not toll their final peal until 1976, his attitude and personality reflected a combination of California hipness and hippie-ness that could have existed nowhere else, nor at any other time.

While Archer started out as a tough guy with idealism in his bones, he slowly morphed into a tough guy whose idealism took a turn into the kind of sympathetic understanding and forgiveness that one is more likely to associate with a man of the cloth than of a former cop whose job is to identify and locate people who have killed other people.

I cannot think of many authors I admire more than Kenneth Millar, who used the Ross Macdonald pseudonym for most of the Archer novels and stories.
• In our effort to present a thoughtful, if not comprehensive assortment of crime-fiction-related sites available on the Web, we have added to our “Authors” listings a new page devoted to Leslie Charteris, creator of Simon Templar, aka “The Saint.” Ian Dickerson, honorary secretary of The Saint Club, says it’s a “Web site for [Charteris] and his work sanctioned by his Estate” and adds that it “should, shortly, contain news of some new books.” We wait impatiently for such word.

Mark Billingham’s 10th and latest newsletter reports not only that he has completed initial work on his first standalone suspenser, In the Dark (no pub date yet), but is currently involved in the production of a radio show about that classic U.S. TV detective series Columbo. Explains Billingham:
I’m currently working on a documentary about this seminal TV show which I will be presenting for BBC Radio 4. For anyone who doesn’t know, aside from being ground-breaking in all manner of ways, Columbo was almost a training ground for some of the most remarkable talents in TV and film of the last thirty years. Making the programme, I’ve had the privilege of talking to the likes of Steven Bochco and Jonathan Demme, but the icing on the cake was of course an interview with the man himself, Peter Falk. It was great to talk to him, not least because it means that I now have that iconic, gravelly voice, on tape, saying: “Just one more thing Mr. Billingham, I know what you did!”

The documentary, which is called (as you would expect) “Just One More Thing,” will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday, September 11th at 11.30 am. Those outside the UK will be able to “listen again” on the Radio 4 website a day or so afterwards on:
What a treat! I hope that Billingham will share with us some more of his insights about Columbo and Falk, either before or after his show is broadcast.

Michael Marshall, whose latest novel, a standalone entitled The Intruders, recently reached bookstores in the States, has been guest-blogging this week at the Powell’s Books site. You’ll find all of his rather short contributions here.

• Peter Spiegelman (Red Cat) is reading books about bullfighting? That’s what he writes at Marshal Zeringue’s Writers Read site. The full story’s here.

• Following up on Ali Karim’s spring assessment of Stephen King’s last “Richard Bachman” novel, Blaze, the aforementioned Linda L. Richards remarks in her January Magazine review of this book that
nothing I say or do here will alter your decision with regards to Blaze. You’re either already a big King fan and have read Blaze or ordered your copy or, at most, are waiting for the book to come out in paper. Or you’re one of those tight-lipped types who were warned about cholesterol when you were 12 and thus avoid it. You were told there were things that were better for you. And while King novels, like stuff with cholesterol, might be delicious, the possible downside haunts your joy, so you don’t stand in that line. And, either way, my words won’t alter your resolve. You’ll either read this and nod your head in agreement or toss your hair in indignation. I’m fine with either reaction. Or both. But, either way, most of the time I figure my energy is better spent telling you about books you might not have gotten wind of, rather than those you come to with predetermination.
But did she like the book? You’ll just have to click here to find out.

• For fans of Loren D. Estleman and Detroit, this new work looks like a must-have.

• Grilled by Shannon Clute and Richard Edwards at Behind the Black Mask, Jason Starr spills the beans on his new novel, The Follower. Listen to the podcast here.

• Speaking of interviews, one of our favorite UK writers, Simon Kernick, shoots the shit with Pulp Pusher about having his novel Relentless picked as a summer read by influential TV hosts Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan; how an injury cut short his “promising career” in construction; and the “craziest thing” he’s learned in doing research for his fiction: “That the average mark-up on a coffin is 1,000%. No wonder it costs so much to die.” Read the whole exchange here.

• I was apparently out of town when the winners of Crimespace’s “World’s Sexiest Writer 2007” competition were announced. Megan Abbott, Lee Child, Robert Crais, and Iryna Bennett were all in the running. But, remarks Vincent Holland-Keen, who originated the idea for this beauty contest, “the World’s Sexiest Writer 2007 poll wasn’t a competition, it was a walk-over, with the number one choice receiving almost three times as many votes as anyone else. It would be churlish of me to suggest that this is purely down to his being Canadian--Canada universally acknowledged as being the sexiest country on earth due to all the elk--so I’ll put it down to the beard instead.” As it happens, the victor is the same guy who wrote the book I bought in Banff: Giles Blunt. You’ll find the complete results of this contest here.

• And finally, it doesn’t have anything to do with crime fiction ... but allow me to complain for a moment that it’s lowest-common-denominator, fool-me-twice pseudo-journalism of this order that makes me think I should have gone in for a career in historical research, instead.

You Between the Covers

I’m a sucker for online assessments designed to tell you which Dickensian character you most resemble or which celebrities could be your twin, or that measure your blog according to today’s movie-rating standards. So, naturally, after I heard from Bill Crider about the Blue Pyramid site’s survey meant to tell you which book best exemplifies your character, I had to take it.

You have to answer six questions, and there are supposed to be 64 books with which you might be matched. I was of course hoping to be associated with some seminal crime-fiction creation. (When Crider took this survey, he was linked with J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.) However, the software says that in book form, I would be Barbara Tuchman’s 1962 military history, The Guns of August. Explains Blue Pyramid:
Though you’re interested in war, what you really want to know is what causes war. You’re out to expose imperialism, militarism, and nationalism for what they really are. Nevertheless, you’re always living in the past and have a hard time dealing with what’s going on today. You’re also far more focused on Europe than anywhere else in the world. A fitting motto for you might be “Guns do kill, but so can diplomats.”
Hmm. I’m “interested in war”? Well, only insofar as it’s affected societal evolution. Otherwise, I’m no more of a war or armaments enthusiast than U.S. presidential robo-candidate Mitt Romney is a “lifetime hunter.” And to say that I’m “far more focused on Europe” is simply to acknowledge that I love traveling abroad and am hardly America-centric. On the other hand, I am certainly a history lover. And I shouldn’t complain too loudly, as I could have been associated with much less interesting works than Tuchman’s.

Try the survey for yourself here.

But Still More in Sight

Declan Burke of Crime Always Pays brings the sad news that Irish novelist Siobhan Dowd, named by the UK’s Waterstone’s bookselling chain as one of its top 25 “authors of the future” and the author most recently of the children’s book The London Eye Mystery, “died on Tuesday [of this week] after a long struggle with breast cancer.” She was only 47 years old. The only good news for Dowd’s fans comes from her friend Gara LaMarche, who reports on his blog that “she was extraordinarily prolific in the last few years, publishing The London Eye Mystery in June and having finished two more novels with a fifth underway at the time of her death.”

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Write Your Novel. Now

There’s something about crime fiction that invites participation. Or so it would be seem. What else would explain the healthy number of honest-to-goodness aficionados of this popular genre who also have a novel in the works?

Of course, not everyone who’s ever wanted to write a novel has actually pulled it off. I’m fairly certain I know why this is so: it’s really, really hard work. And never mind the intricate crafting required to pull off the plotting demanded by today’s sophisticated readers. Just the basics can seem very daunting. You get your bum in the chair and then the vastness of your task can engulf you. The world you need to create. The people you need to bring to life. The narrative voice you need to choose and establish. The research you need to do. You not only have to show and not tell, you have to figure out what that means. With all of that in mind, it’s a wonder any first novels get written at all.

And then along comes Walter Mosley with a bright orange--yet elegant--little book called This Year You Write Your Novel. On first contact, you just know that this is a book that’s been written for the ages; for the generations. One of those instant classics confused young writers will be picking up 50 years from now in order to reduce the furrows in their brows. Because Mosley takes that which appears very difficult and reduces it to the point of understanding and simplicity. And because he is Walter Mosley and not Joe Schmo, he does this with a beauty and elegance beyond what is required. Honestly, I could just read This Year You Write Your Novel all day for the lovely way Mosley approaches language and for the truths peppered throughout this little text.
Our social moorings aren’t the only things that restrain our creative impulses. We are also limited by false aesthetics: those notions that we have developed in schools and libraries, and from listening to critics that adhere to some misplaced notion of a literary canon.
But there’s more than beauty here. If you or someone you know wants to write a novel--really wants to write a novel--I’m fairly certain that this book will help them get there. “I don’t promise a masterpiece,” Mosley warns in his introduction, “just a durable first novel of a certain length.” And later in the introduction, he underlines this point. “I can’t promise you worldly success, but I can say that if you follow the path I lay out here, you will experience the personal satisfaction of having written a novel. And from that point, anything is possible.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Rankin 101

You may have noticed a great deal of writing in the press lately about the creator of John Rebus, what with his comments about violence in crime fiction, his mischievous sense of humor, and of course his latest--and last--Rebus book.

I received e-mail note this morning from Helen Richardson, the publicity director at Orion Publishing UK, giving Rebus readers a little snippet about Exit Music. In keeping with the all Ian Rankin, all the time feel we’ve had going here over the last few days, I thought I’d share it with you:
Ian Rankin announced at the Edinburgh Book Festival last week that the title of his new Rebus novel is Exit Music.

The book had been previously known under the working title of
Rebus XX.

Exit Music

The year 2007 marks Detective Inspector Rebus’s last year in the Scottish police. Forced to retire by both the law and his--relieved--superiors, Rebus knows that his time in the blue ranks must now come to an end.

It’s late-autumn in Edinburgh and late-autumn in the career of DI John Rebus. As he tries to tie up some loose ends before retirement, a murder case intrudes. A dissident Russian poet has been found dead in what looks like a mugging gone wrong. By apparent coincidence a high-level delegation of Russian businessmen is in town, keen to bring business to Scotland. The politicians and bankers who run Edinburgh are determined that the case should be closed quickly and clinically, but the further they dig, the more Rebus and his colleague DS Siobhan Clarke become convinced that they are dealing with something more than a random attack--especially after a second killing. Meantime, a brutal and premeditated assault on local gangster “Big Ger” Cafferty sees Rebus in the frame. Has the Inspector taken a step too far in tying up those loose ends? Only a few days shy of the end to his long, inglorious career, will Rebus even make it that far?
Exit Music will be published in hardcover by Orion Books on September 6 at £18.99

Those readers who have yet to experience the Rebus novels might enjoy this Rankin 101 from the Times of London, which adds some perspective to the literary “spat” as well as being a decent primer on Rankin’s works:
Yet superficially John Rebus and Rankin could not be more different. The surly detective inspector sees the dregs of society through a whisky glass, returning to a house he can ill afford. SAS trained and obsessed with rock music, he has suffered a nervous breakdown, failed as a husband and father and turned to drink, fags and Christianity. Rankin, a tall man with green-brown eyes and a farmer’s haircut, lives in a seven-bedroom Victorian house in Merchiston, Edinburgh’s most exclusive area, with his wife Miranda and their two young sons. A Jacuzzi and a trampoline are in the garden with a life-sized pink cow.

His neighbours include Alexander McCall Smith, who penned the successful No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books, and J.K. Rowling, the squillionaire author of the Harry Potter series. Rankin’s wife spotted JKR the other day “scribbling away in a cafe”, he said last week, speculating whether she was “writing her Edinburgh detective novel”.

Rankin is often at pains to point out that he could afford to move to the area only four years ago. Besides swineherding, he has worked as a taxman, alcohol researcher, hi-fi journalist, college secretary and punk musician. “My wife and I struggled by on £5,000 a year at one point when I was trying to make it. For a long time I was earning £4,000 or £5,000 a book. I went up to £30,000 in 1997 after winning the Golden Dagger award.” Phenomenal sales and the Rebus television series starring John Hannah and latterly Ken Stott, now keep the wolf from the door.
The genesis of Rankin’s success as a writer is balanced by his own struggles through life, as The Times notes:
Rankin was born in 1960 in Cardenden (sometimes known locally as Cardeadend), a former mining town 30 miles north of Edinburgh which he recalled as a place “full of Slade fans and soccer hooligans”. His parents, Isobel, a dinner lady, and James, who worked in a grocer’s shop and then at the Rosyth naval dockyard, had married after the deaths of their previous spouses and had a daughter each.

Eschewing his rowdy chums, Rankin haunted the library. At Beath high school in Cowdenbeath he edited a magazine that was closed after one issue because the headmaster suspected something too exotic in the title, Mainline. Although his plan was to study accountancy, in the hope of buying a car like an accountant uncle, he opted to read English at Edinburgh University.

He has evoked “a rollicking good time” at university, where he first started writing books and undertook a PhD on Muriel Spark. But his wife, whom he met there, revealed that he was “often very depressed, if not suicidal”. His writing tutor Allan Massie, discerning that “there was certainly something there”, commended Rankin to his London publisher, who accepted the youngster’s first novel after five other publishers had turned it down.
Knots and Crosses, introducing Rebus, was published in 1987.

Rankin believed that he had written a modern-day gothic novel in the tradition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Frustratingly, everyone else thought it was a crime novel. He wrote another two novels before returning to Rebus.
The Times piece on Rankin can be found here.

Get Spanked

Today, in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, James R. Winter reviews Bloodshot, by Stuart MacBride. Says Winter:
With Cold Granite, MacBride established his series as a sort of dysfunctional version of Ed McBain’s famous 87th Precinct stories. That hasn’t changed. If anything, [Logan] McRae is a sane, somewhat bewildered Steve Carella in the middle of Scotland’s biggest group of law-enforcement misfits. Partly because of their British setting, the McRae books resemble Ken Bruen’s Inspector Brant series (Calibre) in many ways. But while Bruen’s characters command grudging admiration, MacBride plays his characters off to neurotic comic effect, counterbalancing the grim world they inhabit.
The full review is here.

Philanthropist Author Dead at 60

The British-born author Magdalen Nabb, creator of the Detective Marshal Salvatore Guarnaccia novels, died of a stroke at home in Florence, Italy, on Saturday. She was 60 years old.

Nabb’s publishers report that the author had recently completed the 14th book in her popular series. Vita Nuova will be published in 2008.

According to the Associated Press, Nabb said she began composing fiction after Georges Simenon stopped “writing his acclaimed novels about French detective Jules Maigret in 1972. A lifelong fan of Simenon’s, Nabb struck up a correspondence with the Belgian which continued until his death in 1989.”
Nabb’s publisher said the first copy of each of her books went to him, and “she couldn’t write as fast as Simenon read” because he asked her after each new novel where the next one was.
In addition to her crime novels and the books for children she was almost as well known for writing, Nabb dedicated part of her thoughts to what she called her “projects.”

“Every year I interrupt my work on novels about crime to write something for children,” Nabb explained on her Web site. “This year was different. At the time when I would normally have done that, I was drawn instead to the plight of Afghan refugee children and to the work done for them by Elisabeth Neuenschwander, whose school in Quetta, Pakistan, I saw on TV. This seemed to me the moment to do something different for children, so I arranged a meeting with Elisabeth in Switzerland with the idea of using the proceeds of my Josie Smith stories to buy books for her school.”

The International Herald Tribune and The Telegraph both offer up beautiful remembrances of Nabb today. Read more about her projects here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ian Rankin Plays the Minx

There’s been something of the minx about Ian Rankin lately. Late last year, in an interview with Danuta Kean of The Independent, one of his comments started what has become known as the “Case of the Bloodthirsty Lesbians” and has sparked controversy in the crime-fiction community. (Including here, where judging by the number of comments received, a piece by Ali Karim a few days ago seems to have fanned the flames.)

Now Rankin has told The Guardian that something he said at the Edinburgh Book Festival about J.K. Rowling’s new project was a “joke that got out of hand.”
A report that his wife, Miranda, had seen J.K. Rowling “scribbling away” in an Edinburgh café, supposedly hard at work on a detective novel set in the Scottish capital, was dismissed as a classic silly season story when the Guardian contacted him by telephone earlier today.

“This is a joke that got out of hand,” said Rankin, describing how the remark was made on stage during the course of a festival event.

“There were 600 people in the audience, and only one person didn’t laugh,” he added.
With rumors of Rowling’s work on a detective novel squashed in the gate, speculation on what her next project might be continues.

According to her agency, “J.K. Rowling is taking a well-earned break following the English language publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and there are no firm plans as yet as to what her next book may be.”

Which doesn’t mean that her millions of fans won’t continue to try and guess.

The Mystery Is in the History

Several months ago in this space, I was saddened to report that New Avengers star Gareth Hunt had passed away at the age of 65. In the course of writing briefly about Hunt’s career, I came across a reference to a movie the actor worked on near the end of his life. That film, called The Riddle, was a mystery and a thriller that sounded like it would be just the thing for Rap Sheet readers. As summed up by the International Movie Database:
A journalist investigates a series of murders that follows the discovery of an unpublished novel by Charles Dickens in the cellar of an old Thames-side pub. Gradually, he becomes obsessed with unraveling a century-old murder in the pages of the manuscript. Only when he has done so, with the help of a mysterious beach-combing tramp who stalks the Thames foreshore, is he able to solve the modern murders.
After the Hunt piece ran, I was contacted by Brendan Foley, the up-and-coming British writer/director/producer responsible for bringing The Riddle to the screen. Would I, Foley wanted to know, be interested in screening The Riddle with an eye to reviewing the film?

I said I would, and I have, though in the meantime, The Riddle has been gaining steam on its own, having been screened at the Berlin Film Market and at Cannes.

The Riddle would be worth talking about even if it wasn’t quite this good. For starters, the casting is great. Vinnie Jones (whom Foley has worked with on several projects, including Johnny Was and the upcoming Bog Body) stars as the journalist, Mike Sullivan. Derek Jacobi is enjoyable in a dual role: He’s Charles Dickens in historical sequences and a tramp in modern day. Julie Cox is good in her own dual role as Mike’s police contact and love interest. Vanessa Redgrave is pure nasty as a greedy publisher. The cast also includes Jason Flemyng, P.H. Moriarty, Vera Day, Mark Asante, Gareth Hunt (of course), and Long Bob.

The film itself puts one in mind of the high-paced high-jinks of Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels combined with more than a whisper of the type of questions asked by movies such as The Sixth Sense.

The Riddle is the whole package: a mystery thriller that’s smart, engaging, and keeps you guessing until the end credits roll.

Monday, August 20, 2007

For Your Eyes Only

Following the sad news earlier this month of Bond author John Gardner’s death, we have some happier Bond-related news to report: a Times-supported exhibition entitled “For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond” will run from April 25, 2008, to March 1, 2009, at the Imperial War Museum in London.

The Times has presented several features to mark this interesting exhibition. Firstly, Ben Macintyre reports a little about Bond creator Ian Fleming:
Ian Fleming had tried his hand as a stockbroker, a reporter on The Times and, during the Second World War, a spymaster in the Naval Intelligence Division. But shortly before the end of the war he told a friend: “I am going to write the spy story to end all spy stories.” By the time of his death, in 1964, Fleming had written 14 Bond books, sold more than 40 million copies, creating a character with a lasting grip on popular culture.

Working for The Times and then The Sunday Times, Fleming travelled to distant and glamorous locations. Like all the best journalists he was a magpie, gathering anything that caught his eye: gizmos, plots and personalities. Fleming often based his characters, including Bond, on people he had met, and he gathered names from his wide acquaintance. The villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, for example, was named after the father of the cricket commentator Henry Blofeld, who had been at Eton with Fleming.
The full Times piece can be found here. Meanwhile, Ben Hoyle, also of The Times, reports on the forthcoming exhibition:
For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond, which opens next April, will be the first comprehensive exhibition exploring the Bond phenomenon and the life of his creator.

Fleming’s research notes for From Russia with Love will be on display alongside prototypes of the flick-knife shoes worn by Rosa Klebb in the film, Goldfinger’s golf shoes, a “blood-splattered” shirt worn by Daniel Craig in Casino Royale and Halle Berry’s bikini from Die Another Day.

The centenary of Fleming’s birth will be reached on May 28 next year, and Bond will be fêted throughout 2008. A 22nd film is expected in November next year, with Craig reprising his gritty interpretation of the role. Sebastian Faulks, the author of Birdsong, will publish a new Bond book, Devil May Care, which has been commissioned by Ian Fleming Publications.

For Your Eyes Only will bring together Fleming’s personal effects with an unparalleled range of Bond memorabilia to discover where the identity of the debonair spymaster, journalist and bon vivant ended and the fictional secret agent began.

James Taylor, the curator of the exhibition, said that the author and his character had clear similarities. They were both Scottish, they both excelled at sport and they both lost their father[s] when they were young. Like Bond, Fleming loved luxury. His expenses claims as a reporter were preposterously extravagant. Mr Taylor said: “It was said of Churchill that he was easily satisfied with the best of everything, and I think you could say the same of Fleming.”

But there were also well-defined differences. “They were two different people. Bond is, in some ways, who Fleming would have liked to have been. During the war he worked in Naval Intelligence but it was a desk job. He wasn’t able to partake in any frontline operations. Bond also acts as a mouthpiece for Fleming’s own world view, particularly as regards Britain’s role in the world.”
The exhibition will explore how one middle-aged man’s idea generated an entire industry. Not only books and films, but also parodies, toys, games, and clothes that all fueled the development of a very British hero. The complete Times article is here.

Also in The Times: Do you fancy following in Fleming’s footsteps as a famous author of fiction for children? (Remember, Fleming penned Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.) Well, you can discover the very first step here, then follow that up with an entry form right here.

READ MORE:London Museum to Showcase Bond Paraphernalia,” by Jamie Portman (CanWest News Service).

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Dusting Off a True Classic

On the eve of The Black Orchid’s final anniversary party in New York City, Sarah Weinman’s moving tribute to that bookshop started me thinking about the various parts and components of the crime-fiction community. From the multitude of awards, to the proliferation and wide-ranging world of mystery blogs, the realm of crime-fiction fandom can trace its origin to a single reference work: Dilys Winn’s Murder Ink: The Mystery Reader’s Companion.

Murder Ink was the first of its kind: a hugely entertaining look at mysteries, their writers and readers. It made no claim to being comprehensive; indeed, the book is highly idiosyncratic and reflected the wit and taste of Winn, who opened the first mystery bookstore under that same name--a store that ultimately closed last year, a victim of rising rents in Manhattan.

The cover of the book tells you what you’re in for: a grim butler holding an ominous silver plate. Across the bottom of the image is written “Perpetrated by Dilys Winn.” The inside back cover, bathed in red, ends the book on a perfect coda: “This rich dark red exactly matches the color of arterial blood.” The black-and-white photographs that illustrate Winn’s work, heavy on silhouettes and shadows, add the perfect visual grace notes to the essays within, full of insight and love for the genre.

The contributors to Murder Ink are among the greatest (if often most under-heralded) names in crime fiction: William L. DeAndrea, Brian Garfield, H.R.F. Keating, James McClure, Marilyn Stasio, Lawrence Treat, Peter Dickinson, and Abraham Lincoln, whose 1846 short story “The Trailor Murder Mystery,” we learn, was published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1952.

Abby Adams wrote a whimsical piece about the trials of living with a highly prolific mystery writer who works under several names. (“I have lived with the consortium that calls itself Don Westlake for five years now, and I still can’t always be sure, when I get up in the morning, which of the mob I’ll have coffee with.”) Elsewhere in the book, Westlake and three of his various pseudonyms (Richard Stark, Tucker Coe, and Timothy J. Culver) gather for an interview to discuss “the state of their art.”

To my knowledge, Winn was the first writer to classify a traditional mystery tale with no sex, offstage violence, and a dearth of profanity, as a “cozy,” a term that was meant affectionately at the time, but is now just as often used as an unnecessary pejorative. However, Winn was not a pushover for just any hard-boiled writer. Of Raymond Chandler, she wrote, “Take your Chandler friend by the hand, put a piece of tape over his mouth, and tell him to just shut up and hear how it ought to be done. [Dashiell] Hammett’s style does not date, as does Chandler’s, and The Glass Key puts to shame every other hard-boiled writer.”

Murder Ink’s success led to a sequel, Murderess Ink: The Better Half of the Mystery, published in 1979. While just as stylish and interesting as its predecessor, Murderess Ink suffers the fate of sequels: diminished novelty.

There have been many mystery reference books since Murder Ink, including the fine 1993 entry, The Fine Art of Murder, edited by Ed Gorman, Martin H. Greenberg, Larry Segriff, and Jon Breen, which largely mimics the Murder Ink format. However, for my money, the first remains the best. Thank you, Dilys.

READ MORE:Winn Lost,” by J. Kingston Pierce (The Rap Sheet).