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.


Sandra Ruttan said...

Living close to Banff as I do, I would say the tragedy of your vacation was missing out on Kananaskis. They have free live theatre there in the summer, and some of the most beautiful... well, I guess it's true of anywhere. The locals will tell you the places you don't hear as much about but shouldn't miss.

In my opinion, best time to go is October, just after Thanksgiving. Take in Wordfest, skip the crowds, get the sale prices.... but I really dislike crowds.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Thanks, Sandra. I shall take account of your suggestions during my next visit to your corner of the world.