Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sweepings: Belize, BEA, and Blunt Edition

Barry Award nominee and Rap Sheet contributor Megan Abbott guest-blogs at Murderati, relating the fact of her “split life”--being a grant writer during the week and novelist on weekends, when she gets to write “about 1950s Hollywood, or after-hours gambling clubs or b-girls in trouble.” That piece can be read here.

• Whatever other value guest blogging may have, it serves to introduce readers to authors they’ve never heard of before, but whose work they ought to try. Such an example is Belize-reared Ian Vasquez, who’s responsible for filling up the bytes this week at St. Martin’s Minotaur’s Moments in Crime blog. I just happened to receive a copy of his first novel, In the Heat, and had set it aside without any opinion on its future, when I came across his Moments in Crime contributions. Vasquez’s musings on writing style, voice, and backdrop have convinced me to add In the Heat to my TBR pile. The fact that its action takes place in Belize, where I once spent most of a week (with a side trip to Guatemala, in order to see the Mayan ruins at Tikal) is an added attraction. The plot concentrates around a locally beloved boxer, Miles Young, who agrees--in exchange for being given a place on a premium fight card--to look for a missing daughter who’s run off with the ex-chief of police’s son. Let’s hope for the best. I’m reading this one at the same time as I do Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 and Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective. Tough competition.

• Martin Edwards (Waterloo Sunset) makes a pilgrimage to Agatha Christie’s grave, at Wallingford in south Oxfordshire.

• Jeri Westerson, author of the forthcoming “medieval noir” novel, Veil of Lies, is in Los Angeles this weekend, reporting from Book Expo America. “All I can say is: Oh my gawd! Books, books, and more books!,” she enthuses in her first post. “ Feeling a part of this crazy publishing thing for the first time, I wore a perpetual smile on my face as I beheld the amazing landscape of books and people intimately partnered with books.” Also blogging from BEA is Lee Goldberg (Mr. Monk in Outer Space).

• No matter how many times I look at this book, I keep reading the title as Careless in Bed. I’d almost be sorry to actually read the novel, because the premise I have already concocted around my alternative title seems so much more delightful.

• It seems there’s finally a release date--September 19--for Whiteout, the thriller (based on Greg Rucka’s 1998 graphic novel of the same name) that stars the ever-loved Kate Beckinsale as a U.S. marshal who must solve a murder in Antarctica.

The Wall Street Journal interviews Southern Californian Don Winslow, author of this coming week’s new “surf noir” novel, The Dawn Patrol. A review of that book should appear soon in January Magazine. Meanwhile, the Journal interview with Winslow is here.

• Jane Jakeman of The Independent catches up with Cuban crime writer Leonardo Padura on the occasion of his book Havana Gold--the second novel in his Havana Quartet, but the fourth to be published in English--reaching bookstores.

• James Reasoner revisits The January Corpse, by Neil Albert, a novel about which Kevin Burton Smith wrote here two weeks ago as part of Patti Abbott’s “forgotten books series.”

• After watching the book trailers for Tony Black’s soon-to-be-published first novel, Paying for It, and Tara French’s Edgar Award-winning In the Woods, Declan Burke asks “whether book trailers are doing what it says on their celluloid tins. Yes, they’re all zeitgeisty and whatnot in terms of viral marketing, but does anyone really watch them?” More here.

• I finally caught up with the film Charlie Wilson’s War, about a fun-loving Democratic Congressman from Texas who, quite under the radar, manages to finance the largest covert military operation in U.S. history, targeting the Soviets in Afghanistan. Written by Aaron Sorkin of The West Wing fame, it’s a smart, fast-moving, fast-talking, and often funny picture that uses Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman to best effect, and includes a languidly erotic scene that will never let you look at Emily Blunt again without going all gape-mouthed. Jeff Bob says check it out. By the way, the subject of that film turns 75 years old tomorrow.

• While we’re on the subject of films, Marty McKee looks back at one of my favorite James Garner movies, Skin Game (1971).

• And from the Brain Candy File: Factoring in inflation and the Republican recession, how much would it cost to build The Six Million Dollar Man today? Click here.

Only the Barry Best

’Tis the season for crime-fiction award nominations. The Hammett Prize, the Arthur Ellis Awards, the Last Laugh Award, the Ned Kelly Awards, the Duncan Lawrie Dagger Awards, and now comes the list of contenders for this year’s Barry Awards, given out by Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine. The envelopes, please ...

Best Novel (published in the U.S. in 2007):
Soul Patch, by Reed Farrel Coleman (Bleak House)
The Unquiet, by John Connolly (Atria)
Down River, by John Hart (St Martin’s Minotaur)
Dirty Martini, by J.A. Konrath (Hyperion)
What the Dead Know, by Laura Lippman (Morrow)
Red Cat, by Peter Spiegelman (Knopf)

Best First Novel (published in the U.S. in 2007):
Missing Witness, by Gordon Campbell (Morrow)
Big City, Bad Blood, by Sean Chercover (Morrow)
In the Woods, by Tana French (Viking)
The Spellman Files, by Lisa Lutz (Simon & Schuster)
The Collaborator of Bethlehem, by Matt Beynon Rees (Soho Press)
The Blade Itself, by Marcus Sakey (St. Martin’s Minotaur)

Best British Crime Novel (published in the U.K. in 2007, not necessarily written by a British writer nor set in the U.K.):
A Quiet Belief in Angels, by R.J. Ellory (Orion)
Pig Island, by Mo Hayder (Bantam Press)
One Under, by Graham Hurley (Orion)
The Death List, by Paul Johnston (Mira)
The 50/50 Killer, by Steve Mosby (Orion)
Damnation Falls, by Edward Wright (Orion)

Best Paperback Original:
Queenpin, by Megan Abbott (Simon & Schuster)
Black Widow Agency, by Felicia Donovan (Midnight Ink)
Choke Point, by Jay MacLarty (Pocket)
The Mark, by Jason Pinter (Mira)
Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand, by Fred Vargas (Penguin)
Who Is Conrad Hirst?, by Kevin Wignall (Simon & Schuster)

Best Thriller:
No Time for Goodbye, by Linwood Barclay (Bantam)
The Cleaner, by Brett Battles (Delacorte)
The Watchman, by Robert Crais (Simon & Schuster)
Volk’s Game, by Brent Ghelfi (Henry Holt)
Silence, by Thomas Perry (Harcourt)
Midnight Rambler, by Jim Swain (Ballantine)

The winners will be announced during Bouchercon in Baltimore, to be held from October 9 to 12.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Grand Slam, Part I

(Editor’s note: Longtime Los Angeles political activist and author Gary Phillips, who is an infrequent contributor to The Rap Sheet and the editor of the new anthology Politics Noir, appeared as master of ceremonies last night at an event focused on the gentrification of urban areas and the affect that’s having on crime-fiction storytelling. What follows is the first, setup part of his two-part report on that convocation. He promises that the second installment will appear on this page on Sunday.)

So it was about 20 minutes to eight last night, Thursday, in downtown Los Angeles at a space converted into an art gallery--Gallery 727, to be precise, on South Spring Street. We were right around the corner from the Cecil Hotel on Main. The gallery and the Cecil are in a part of town that once--way back when trolleys still snaked across the L.A. landscape--was booming, then decayed, then become the province of SROs, that is Single Room Occupancies. These are residential hotels that displaced Vietnam vets and now even some Iraqi war vets call home, as do folks on low incomes or General Relief. GR. We are on the border of Skid Row--a term, it seems, that was coined in The Rap Sheet’s hometown. In L.A., Skid Row means where the homeless reside, maybe getting shelter in the Midnight Mission or the Weingart Center. But those without means, and those who are members of the working poor, are getting pushed out as sweatshops and funky old buildings are converted into trendy, pricey lofts. Urban pioneers are moving into this district now, some of them finally swayed by the complimentary Mini Coopers that come along with signing long-term leases.

What kind of joint is the Cecil? It’s in an area of town that also includes several aging hotels, such as the Alexandria, where the City Attorney’s Office has ordered its owners to find the tenants they illegally evicted and pay them their legally mandated relocation fees.

The Cecil’s new owners, like those of the Alexandria, are part of the real-estate development set that’s bringing in the cool bars and eateries for the “cool” crowd relocating to downtown. They maintain that their properties are no longer SROs, but are now fit for the swells. However, one recent patron had this to say at TripAdvisor:
i turned up at the cecil hotel for a 3 night stay, and the lobby area seemed nice but as i approached my room things got worse! the door ... looked like it had been kicked in and had several bolts on the door that was un-nerving! despite the loud noise outside i slept ok the first night but [the] was second was more like a horror film. i was awoken in the middle of the night by a cockroach crawling across my face, and then finding around 10 more in my bed with me! i then found the room was swarming in them! i checked out soon after, and the hotel staff did not even seem concerned! The outside area was also the dodgiest place i’ve ever been to! do not go here!
Whatever. Downtown is a battleground of gentrification versus affordable housing. Not too far from Gallery 727, where we’re wondering whether people are going to show up for the night’s Write to the City event, billed as L.A.’s first writers’ slam on gentrification, is the L.A. Convention Center. Book Expo America (BEA) is being held there through this weekend. The Convention Center is located next door to Staples Center, which is not only building “Staples World” (well, really, it’s called L.A. Live), but is where the Lakers beat the Spurs last night, baby! Legitimately too, unlike that blatant Derek Fisher foul they got away with in Game Four in San Antone.

So anyway, months ago when Write to the City was in the planning stages, it was to be tied to BEA being in town. Mystery writers Sara Paretsky, Denise Hamilton, Gar Anthony Haywood, Robert Ward, and yours truly (as MC) were recruited. Additionally, non-genre writers Nina Revoyr (whose Southland was, though, nominated for an Edgar Award), Luis J. Rodriguez, Rick Dakan, Larry Fondation, and Jervey Tervalon (with whom I co-edited The Cocaine Chronicles) agreed to be in the mix. Months of e-mail messages, meetings, initially sought venues that turned out to be too expensive or unwilling to host the event, securing this or that permit, sending out press releases and e-blasts to this or that list, writers forgetting when the gig was, panicked last-minute cell-phone calls--all of it led to this point, at 20 minutes to eight last night. That was the point at which my wife, Gilda Haas, who’s also the executive director of a grassroots organization called Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE), Ramsey Kanaan, founder of the radical publishing and distributing collective AK Press (but now with PM Press), and the rest of the event personnel were sweating, despite the chill of the evening, nervous that nobody was going to show for our event, after all ...

(Part II of this report can be found here.)

A Dagger to the Art

Jumping the gun somewhat on next week’s official announcement of the nominees for the 2008 Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award (formerly the Gold Dagger Award), presented by the British Crime Writers’ Association, novelist Natasha Cooper reveals in the London Times the names on the shortlist. They are:

The Tin Roof Blowdown, by James Lee Burke (Orion)--one of January Magazine’s favorite books of 2007
The Coroner’s Lunch, by Colin Cotterill (Quercus)
Blood from Stone, by Frances Fyfield (Little, Brown)
Night Work, by Steve Hamilton (Orion)
What the Dead Know, by Laura Lippman (Orion)--which also made the January Magazine list
A Vengeful Longing, by R.N. Morris (Faber & Faber)

The winner of this award is set to be announced on July 10.

Regrettably, I’ve only read three of the half-dozen novels on this list. That includes A Vengeful Longing, by Rap Sheet contributor Roger Morris. Even picking from those three, though, would be awfully damn tough. It’s hard to imagine how the Duncan Lawrie judges are to tap just one of these six books for this year’s £20,000 prize--“the richest crime-writing prize in the world,” as Cooper observes.

(Hat tip to Sarah Weinman.)

Weekend Treats

Novelist Duane Swierczynski (The Blonde, Severance Package) will be the guest of honor at the kick-off of Philadelphia’s Noir at the Bar series of author readings/encounters. The festivities begin on Sunday at 6 p.m., at The Tritone (1508 South Street; 215-545-0475). This event is being hosted by Peter Rozovsky of the Detectives Without Borders blog. Should be fun.

Sunday will also see the debut of Mary McCormack’s new USA Network series, In Plain Sight, in which she plays (according to press materials) “[t]ough, sexy and smart Mary Shannon ..., a U.S. Marshal attached to the highly secretive Federal Witness Protection Program known as WITSEC, assigned to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her job of protecting Federal Witnesses--from career criminals to innocent bystanders--is tricky enough, but it’s even trickier when dangerous people want those witnesses dead. On top of the myriad responsibilities attached to her high-risk job, Mary must keep the true nature of her work secret from her family and friends in order not to endanger them, her witnesses, or herself.” This show begins at 10 p.m. ET/PT, so if you’re in Philly, you can go see the entertaining Mr. Swierczynski and then get home in time for the opening credits. Additional information and clips from In Plain Sight are available here.

The Book You Have to Read: “The Honest Dealer,” by Frank Gruber

(Editor’s note: This is the fifth Rap Sheet entry in author-blogger Patti Abbott’s new Friday blog series, highlighting “books we love but might have forgotten over the years.” The pick this week comes from Los Angeles writer Dick Lochte, the Nero Award-winning writer of Sleeping Dog [1986] and Croaked!, the latter being one of January Magazine’s favorite books of 2007.)

OK, I’m not sure you have to read The Honest Dealer. If Frank Gruber were still alive, I doubt that even he would consider his 1947 book a necessity. But every now and then, after working my way through a couple of dozen contemporary crime novels, with their elaborate back stories and casts of thousands and plots that call attention to social and/or political ills, I like to treat myself to the kind of mystery that initially lured me to this genre--a yarn written for the sole purpose of providing sheer, unpretentious reading pleasure.

The Honest Dealer does that in spades. The literary equivalent of a classic B-movie of the 1940s, it immediately draws you in, moves at a breathless pace, has the requisite moments of suspense and humor, and ends with a surprise villain, neatly thwarted. There are a lot of books from the ’30s and ’40s that meet those requirements, but, for my money, Dealer is one that does it best.

In The Pulp Jungle (1967), Gruber’s breezy memoir of his early days as a pulpster, he recalled that, having realized the time had come to write a mystery novel, he read about 50 of them, one after another. That experience led him to conclude that the ideal mystery should combine Erle Stanley Gardner’s complexity of plot and pacing with Jonathan Latimer’s humor. The result was The French Key (1940), which he completed in just seven working days.

That book was well-received and wound up on several Best Mysteries of the Year lists. It introduced perennially down on their luck crime-solving book peddlers Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg. Fletcher is the glib super-bright member of the team; Sam is the good-natured but dim muscle. When moths start flying out of their empty wallets, they set up shop on street corners. Sam takes off his shirt. Johnny straps a leather belt around his massive chest, and, holding up copies of Every Man a Samson, begins his pitch to the gathering gawkers on how the book can help them become as strong as Sam. To illustrate the point, Sam inhales, the belt pops apart, and books are sold until the cops arrive to chase this duo away.

As best I can count, and it’s not easy because many of the books have been reprinted under different titles, there are 14 Fletcher and Cragg novels. They’re all entertaining. But they do vary in quality. In some, the mystery element is all but ignored in favor of Johnny’s con-man schemes. In others, the mystery is so complex or the surprises are so out of left field, that the humor is overwhelmed. But Dealer, a mid-series entry, is the pick of the pack, possibly because of its interesting setting and effective, cohesive plot.

The book finds Johnny and Sam driving through California’s Death Valley at night, for no explained reason, when they see a man in distress by the side of the road. He’s dying of thirst and a bullet wound. Before he expires, he gives Johnny a deck of cards and a poker chip and tells him to take the items to “Nick in Las Vegas.”

The boys then head for Vegas where Gruber, not a man given to literary flourishes, uses minimalist strokes to paint a vivid picture of the gambling and divorce capital during its crowded, bustling post-World War II years. While searching through the city’s large population of Nicks, Johnny and Sam attract the attention of a colorful local cop when they try to sell books outside a casino. The lawman is an example of Gruber’s anti-stereotype stance. Instead of being the usual dumb antagonist, he’s an easygoing, shrewd gent known as Catch ’Em Alive Mulligan, a once-famous hunter, “the toast of New York and Hollywood,” who lost his taste for the high life. “[W]hen I was hunting wild animals in Africa, I gave it all I had,” he tells Johnny. “I always do--I’m a cop now ...”

Instead of arresting this pair for disturbing the casino action, Mulligan orders them to leave town. When Johnny explains that they’re destitute, their car running on fumes, Mulligan gives them a silver dollar to get them on their way. Against Sam’s pleas, Johnny takes that money to a casino crap table and uses it to begin a winning streak that amazes even him. In just a few hours, he’s up $2,000, enough to earn them a suite at the best hotel, an introduction to this novel’s key players, and a pass from Mulligan, who’s amused by what his dollar has wrought.

Even with help from Mulligan, a wheeler-dealer bellhop, a meek but efficient Vegas private eye and his overbearing, penny-pinching spouse, Johnny can’t locate the elusive Nick or discover the secret of the deck of cards and poker chip he was given in the desert. And there are several thugs who drop by to cause him bodily harm before experiencing Sam’s eventual hard-knuckle payback.

As the plot progresses, Johnny’s winnings increase and Gruber delivers the element in his novels that made critic Anthony Boucher a fan--the insider’s description of the way a business or institution operates. This can be just an added attraction--how commercial recordings are made (The Whispering Master, 1956) or comic strips syndicated (The Mighty Blockhead, 1945)--but here, the crisp explanation of Vegas house rules of gambling plays a key part in the solution to the mystery, which intensifies, by the way, when the Death Valley corpse suddenly winds up in Johnny’s suite.

As was typical of crime novels of the day, Dealer is Robert B. Parker-short, maybe 60,000 words. Three to four hours of cover-to-cover fun. And as tight as Gruber keeps his prose, he manages to squeeze in a reference to Johnny’s past, the only one I can recall in this series.

Johnny is questioning and flirting with an about-to-be-divorced blonde who reminds him of Lana Turner. She’s curious about him and tries to get him to open up. “You said you were a book agent ...” she begins.
“Salesman--not agent ...”

“What’s the difference?”

“Plenty. One year I made seventy-five thousand dollars. I was in love and ambitious.”

“And what happened?”

“She married somebody else ... and I bought a horse.”
This isn’t just a tough guy hiding his sadness with a flippant remark. One of the more endearing qualities of both Johnny and Sam is their eternal optimism. In this case, Johnny is explaining that one thing didn’t work out, so he did something else. No matter how much money passes through their hands in the course of each book, how many devious murderers they unmask, how many beautiful women they embrace, these two inevitably wind up facing the future broke and on their own. And, surprisingly, they’re still smiling.

I wonder what Gruber would think of some of today’s most popular series heroes--sociopaths, alcoholics, whiners, bitter loners, paranoiacs, and worse. Would he go with the market flow and come up with his version of the depressed detective? I’d like to think he’d pawn his typewriter and buy a horse.

And, speaking of horses and optimistic sleuths, let me pass on the Friday favorites baton to a writer well-versed in these matters, Steve Hockensmith, author of the splendid Holmes on the Range mysteries, featuring the Amlingmeyer brothers, “Old Red” and “Big Red,” the latest entry in that series being The Black Dove.

Remembrance of Books Past

In addition to Dick Lochte’s recollections here of The Honest Dealer, today’s Web-wide selections of “forgotten books” include: Michigan Roll, by Tom Kakonis, and The Quiet Game, by Greg Iles; Shooting Dr. Jack, by Norman Green; Too Much Poison, by Anne Rowe; The Rare Coin Score, by Richard Stark; The Dice Man, by Luke Reinhart (né George Cockcroft); The Long Walk, by Stephen King; Into the Road, by Adrienne Richard; and The Captain, by Seymour Shubin. Oh, and I mustn’t forget to mention Bill Crider’s latest candidate (he seems to be trotting out his extensive obscure-books collection for all to enjoy), The Hot Spot, by Fletcher Flora.

A list of participating blogs can be found here.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Weak Case

First, comedian Harvey Korman. Now, composer Alexander Courage, who was undoubtedly best recognized for creating the theme for the original Star Trek series. Courage, who also worked on music for the TV series Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and Daniel Boone--in addition to writing compositions for myriad movies--passed away on May 15 in Southern California. He was 88 years old and had apparently been in poor health for several years.

What makes Courage’s demise fodder for The Rap Sheet is a small note I stumbled over in the Associated Press’ obituary today. Reporter Robert Jablon recounts the composer’s TV experience, and then observes that “the only themes he created were for Star Trek and Judd, for the Defense. Some of you might have the same vague recollection of Judd that I do, which means that you probably don’t remember anything specific about that 1967-1969 series at all. Let Wikipedia refresh your memory:
The show starred Carl Betz, who had previously spent eight years in the role of the bland Dr. Stone, husband of Donna Reed in The Donna Reed Show. In his new role, reportedly based on high-profile lawyers such as F. Lee Bailey and Percy Foreman, Betz played Clinton Judd, a flamboyant attorney based in Houston, Texas, who often took on controversial cases across the country. Playing his top assistant, Ben Caldwell, was Stephen Young.

Even before the show premiered, Foreman threatened a lawsuit by saying that the program was “appropriating for commercial purposes my career as a lawyer.” Throughout the course of the two-year run of the show, there were never enough viewers to establish Foreman’s claim, although critics gave it positive reviews. Undoubtedly the skittishness of viewers was a result of the program’s dealing with then-taboo (though contemporary) subjects such as homosexuality, blacklisting and draft dodgers, as well as the open-ended conclusions in many episodes.

The show’s producer, Harold Gast, sought to break new ground with the program, using a number of new writers for scripts that veered away from previous television conventions. In addition, one personal experience involving credit card problems caused by computers became the basis for an episode entitled, “Epitaph on a Computer Card.” In 1968, Gast and writer Leon Tokatyan won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for the episode “Tempest in a Texas Town.”
I was hoping that the music Courage wrote for Judd would be somewhat more memorable than the show itself. Unfortunately, it sounds much like other crime-drama themes of the 1960s and ’70s--boldly orchestrated, but nowhere near as haunting as what he wrote for Star Trek. You can listen to it here.

READ MORE: One of Star Treks Unsung Heroes Is Gone,” by Joseph Merrick (Aint It Cool News).

And Away He Goes

So sad to read about the death of actor Harvey Korman, best known for his Emmy Award-winning work on The Carol Burnett Show through the 1970s. Korman was born Harvey Herschel Korman in Chicago on February 15, 1927.

I tried to find a crime-fiction connection on this story, but, surprisingly, there just isn’t one that I can see. Korman was the voice of The Flintstones’ Great Gazoo (I did not know that!) and he worked on several Mel Brooks projects, most notably Blazing Saddles (Korman was Hedley Lamarr). The closest thing I could find to a crime-fiction link was his role in 1976’s Pink Panther Strikes Again. Unfortunately, the scene was deleted from the finished picture. Still. We loved him. He made us laugh. He will be missed.

Korman died at the University of California-Los Angeles Medical Center. He was 81 years old. The Associated Press has more information on his life here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

“Bang, Bang, Bang, Kiss, Kiss”


The Writer’s Almanac reminds us--as if we really needed to be reminded--that today would have been the 100th birthday of journalist-author Ian Fleming, the creator of British secret agent 007, James Bond. Garrison Keillor writes:
[Fleming] wanted to be a diplomat, but he failed the Foreign Office examination and decided to go into journalism. He worked for the Reuters News Service in London, Moscow, and Berlin, and then during World War II, he served as the assistant to the British director of naval intelligence.

After the war, he bought a house in Jamaica, where he spent his time fishing and gambling and bird watching. He started to get bored, so he decided to try writing a novel about a secret agent. He named the agent James Bond after the author of a bird-watching book. Fleming said, “James Bond is ... the feverish dreams of the author of what he might have been--bang, bang, bang, kiss, kiss, that sort of stuff. It’s what you would expect of an adolescent mind--which I happen to possess.”

The first Bond novel, Casino Royale (1953), sold about 7,000 copies, and Fleming followed it with four more that sold less and less well. Critics said he was good at writing about places, but that was about it. Fleming had a newborn son at home, and he was disappointed that these books weren’t making more money to help support the family, so for his next Bond story, he wrote the book specifically for the movies. He filled it with more psychopaths and beautiful women than usual. No one in the movie industry was interested at the time, but the novel From Russia, with Love (1957) became a huge international best seller.
As I wrote before, there’s no point in trying to ignore the worldwide hype surrounding Fleming’s centenary and the release, today, of Sebastian Faulks’ new Bond novel, Devil May Care. So we might as well have fun with it. Everybody else seems to be.

• Sandra Parshall exploresThe Enduring Charm of James Bond,” in the Poe’s Deadly Daughters blog.

• National Public Radio talks with author Faulks about taking up “the challenge of continuing the Bond saga.” You’ll find that interview here.

• Bruce Grossman tackles three of Charlie Higson’s ambitious “Young Bond” novels in Bookgasm, while Material Witness’ Ben Hunt enjoys a fourth.

• Sarah Weinman collects the first, not wildly enthusiastic assessments of Devil May Care here.

• And at least in the spirit of the day, Pop Sensation’s “Rex Parker” looks back hilariously at a very different sort of secret agent, the particularly long-limbed protagonist in Bob Tralins’ 1966 novel, The Chic Chick Spy.

One final note: I had planned to introduce this post with a straightforward clip of the by-now-familiar and (for some of us) goosebump-inducing gun barrel opening sequence from the James Bond movies. But the video above--a montage of excerpts from the various films--is so much more fun, and suggestive of the extremes to which Hollywood has taken Fleming’s famous espionage agent, that I had to use it instead. Enjoy.

UPDATE: Deborah Lipp, author of The Ultimate James Bond Fanbook, fields an interesting observation in her blog:
Ian Fleming gave his greatest villain his own birthday. Ernst Stavro Blofeld was born on May 28, 1908. In The Bond Code, Philip Gardiner makes much of the relationship between Fleming and his villains; how he used them as alter egos to exorcise his own dark side. And certainly if Blofeld is your dark side, you’ve got some serious exorcism to do!
Meanwhile, Bish’s Beat points me at Steve Holland’s very cool collection of classic British James Bond covers. And List Universe serves up its list of the “Top 10 Badass James Bond Villains.”

READ MORE:Car Firms Clash Over Bond Credentials,” by Jorn Madslien (BBC News); “Bond Gadgets: Never Say They Will Never Work,” by Duncan Graham-Rowe (New Scientist Tech); “Top 10 Bond Cars,” by Brendan Plant (The Times).

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Go to the “Devil”

Can’t wait until tomorrow’s release of Sebastian Faulks’ new James Bond novel, Devil May Care? Then don’t. Three excerpts from the thriller are already available on the Web, courtesy of two different publications. The London Times has on offer a pair of “exclusive extracts” from the book, the first of which (introduced by Faulks himself) can be found here; the second is available here. Meanwhile, the American edition of Vanity Fair has its own (lengthy and lightly illustrated) excerpt here.

Other news stories related to Agent 007 and his creator, Ian Fleming:

The beautiful Beyonce Knowles seems to have replaced Amy Winehouse as the singer on the soundtrack of the next Bond flick, Quantum of Solace, due for release in the fall. More on that here.

• National Public Radio’s Morning Edition show has been flying largely under the radar with its Bond coverage, but some of it is quite good. Click here to find reports on London’s new Fleming exhibit, 007’s preference in martinis, and inventor Q’s real-life counterparts.

• There’s word on the release of a new edition of The Battle for Bond: The Genesis of Cinema’s Greatest Hero, by Robert Sellers, which was banned in March after it allegedly used copyrighted material controlled by the Fleming Trust. As CommanderBond.net reports, “Due to the banning, interest and demand in the book sharply rose paving the way for its publisher Tomahawk Press to release a second edition with the offending material removed.” That revision is due out in Britain late next month.

• And blogger Paul Bishop has put his already frequent Bond coverage into overdrive this week, highlighting the BBC’s recent radio dramatization of Dr. No, Robert McGinnis’ Bondian artwork, interviews with three of the villains from Solace, and “ Russia’s James Bond.”

Oh, By the Way ...

While most of the media seem obsessed this week with Ian Fleming’s birthday and the release of a new James Bond novel--both happening tomorrow--Garrison Keillor’s fine Writers Almanac reminds us of two other crime-fiction-related events that should be celebrated today:
It’s the birthday of hard-boiled detective novelist Dashiell Hammett ..., born in St. Mary’s County Maryland (1894). He’s the author of The Maltese Falcon (1930) and The Thin Man (1932), both of which were made into classic movies.

It’s the birthday of best-selling mystery novelist Tony Hillerman ..., born in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma (1925). Most of his books take place in the American Southwest, including People of Darkness (1980), A Thief of Time (1988), and The Sinister Pig (2003).
For more on Hammett, check out January Magazine’s quite extensive feature coverage from a couple of years back.

READ MORE:Still Foxy at 59,” by Marty McKee (Johnny LaRue’s Crane Shot).

Bringing Out the Neds

The Crime Writers Association of Australia has announced the longlist of nominees for its 2008 Ned Kelly Awards as follows:

Best First Fiction:
Golden Serpent, by Mark Abernethy
The Shadow Maker, by Robert Sims
A Fraction of the Whole, by Steve Toltz
The Low Road, by Chris Womersley
The Butcherbird, by Geoffrey Cousins
Bye Bye Baby, by Lauren Crow
Broken Swallow, by J.J. Burn
Green Velvet Shoes, by Christina Ann Alexander
Frantic, by Katherine Howell
Vodka Doesn’t Freeze, by Lea Giarratano
Iraqi Icicle, by Bernie Dowling
Maelstrom, by Michael MacConnell

Best Fiction:
Trick or Treat, by Kerry Greenwood
Cherry Pie, by Leigh Redhead
Endangered List, by Brian Westlake
Harem Scarum, by Felicity Yound
Sensitive New Age Spy, by Geoffrey McGeachin
Sucked In, by Shane Maloney
Night Has a Thousand Eyes, by Mandy Sayer
Orpheus Lost, by Janette Turner Hospital
Amongst the Dead, by Robert Gott
Appeal Denied, by Peter Corris
Open File, by Peter Corris
Gospel, by Sydney Bauer
Broken, by Ilsa Evans
Skin and Bone, by Kathryn Fox
Fan Mail, by P.D. Martin
El Dorado, by Dorothy Porter
Shattered, by Gabrielle Lord
The Calling, by Jane Goodall
Shatter, by Michael Robotham
Game as Ned, by Tim Peglar
The Tattooed Man, by Alex Palmer
Blood Sunset, by Jarad Henry
Redback, by Lindy Cameron

Best Non-fiction:
Bondi Badlands, by Greg Callaghan
Mr. Sin, by Tony Reeves
Underbelly: The Gangland War, by John Silvester and Andrew Rule
Killing Jodie, by Janet Fife-Yeomans
Red Centre, Dark Heart, by Evan McHugh
Big Shots, by Adam Shand
Lives of Crime, by Gary Tippet and Ian Munro
Fatal Flaw, by Roger Maynard
Ned Kelly’s Jerilderie Letter, by Carole Wilkinson
Wild Colonial Boys, by Paula Hunt

A shortlist of finalists is expected to be released within the next couple of months, and winners will be announced during the Melbourne Writers Festival in August.

Monday, May 26, 2008

On the Front Lines of Crime

To commemorate America’s Memorial Day holiday, B.V. Lawson of In Reference to Murder today posts a roster of military veterans who have contributed to the crime/thriller fiction genre. (You’ll find that here.) This is a follow-up to Lawson’s post of last year, which talked about fictional sleuths--Travis McGee, Easy Rawlins, and Aaron Gunner among them--who’d been members of the U.S. armed forces. (Look here for that latter list.)

Suspense on the Sand

Salon book critics Laura Miller and Louis Bayard (author of the forthcoming The Black Tower) conspire to choose what they think are the most suspenseful and satisfying thrillers being readied for this summer’s reading. Making their list: Harlan Coben’s Hold Tight, Michael Gruber’s The Forgery of Venus, Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 (of course), Will Lavender’s Obedience (“a full course-load of sinister fun,” to quote Miller), and Nikki French’s Losing You.

You’ll find their assessments of these titles here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Making the Most of the Bond Brand

We’re not even going to put up the semblance of a fight against the next seven days being James Bond Week. Said designation springs from the fact that Wednesday will mark what would have been the 100th birthday of Ian Fleming (had he not died so inconveniently in 1964), and it will be on that same day that Devil May Care, the new 007 novel by British author Sebastian Faulks, is released worldwide. Trying to resist the coming Bond saturation of the media would be like ... well, like Los Angeles TV stations trying to break away for commercials during O.J. Simpson’s live-on-camera Ford Bronco chase, or John “100 Years War” McCain trying to get a moment’s attention during one of Barack Obama’s mammoth campaign rallies. It’s just not going to be possible.

The Sunday Times of London, which has already done its fair bit in drumming up excitement around the Fleming centenary, kicks things off with an “exclusive” interview with Faulks, in which the author recounts how disinterested he was at first in trying his hand at composing a Bond adventure:
While Faulks was “intrigued” by the proposal, his initial response, he says, was: “I don’t think it’s very likely. It sounds great fun, and I did love the films, but it’s years since I read the books and I don’t imagine they’re much cop, really--though I loved them when I was 12 or 13.” He agreed, however, to look at the novels again--and did so in a characteristically systematic way, going through them in chronological order. “And,” he tells me in a tone that still reflects his surprise, “more or less straightaway I found I enjoyed them. They seemed to me to do that key thing a thriller needs to do, which is to give you a sense of real and present danger. James Bond is a very vulnerable man, with his nice suit and soft shoes and ludicrously underpowered gun. He finds himself in terrible situations, and he’s all on his own--you just worry for his safety.”

Hearing himself say this, Faulks laughs with incredulity. “I thought, how can I be so gullible that at my advanced age [he is 55] and great cynicism, I’m buying into this? But I did.”
Elsewhere in The Times, writer Robert Sellers marvels at the longevity of the Bond brand. He chalks it up, in part, to Fleming having been “a canny businessman.”
When he started writing his Bond novels, in the early 1950s, he set up his own company, Glidrose. It still exists, only it is now called Ian Fleming Publications. “We concentrate on keeping Ian’s books going,” says Corinne Turner, the managing director. “They’re the jewel in our crown, though it’s also our aim to expand the brand with other books.”

The Fleming family, which wholly owns the company, is heavily involved in its running. “They read everything we do,” Turner says. Perhaps that’s the secret of its longevity. Like Disney, Bond is a family business, so decisions aren’t made purely on a let’s-make-as-much-money-as-possible basis, but on whether they are right for the character. It is no coincidence that Eon, maker of the Bond movies, is also run by the heirs of the original 007 producer, Cubby Broccoli, his daughter Barbara and stepson Michael G. Wilson.
Meanwhile, The Guardian weighs in with a James Bond/Ian Fleming quiz that demands at least some knowledge of the author and his randier-than-thou creation to conquer.

And there’s likely to be no end to the dubious tie-ins with this coming centenary. Bish’s Beat lets us in on one of those: the introduction of a new fragrance, being carried into the marketplace upon the shapely back of Gemma Arterton, one of two Bond girls appearing in the next Daniel Craig film, Quantum of Solace. As Paul Bishop reports, “The stunning actress is fronting the newest fragrance campaign from Avon--Bond Girl 007--a partnership with James Bond entertainment, and what is said to be the biggest global fragrance launch of the year.” Look for that perfume in October. But you can check back here for more things Bondian as the week rolls on.

READ MORE:The Man With the Golden Pen,” by Wesley Wark (The Globe and Mail); “James Bond’s TLS,” by Andrew Lycett (The Times); “Not Your Typical James Bond Baddies,” by Devin Zydel (CommanderBond.net).

So Young, So Successful

Novelist and noted hot guy Michael Chabon (The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, The Final Solution, The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay) turns 45 today. On the newly redesigned Writer’s Almanac Web site, Garrison Keillor makes a bigger deal than usual of this event. Notes about Bob Dylan and Joseph Brodsky, who also get older today, are pretty much made in passing. But the Almanac offers a fairly long write-up on Chabon. It includes these interesting tidbits:
He was just 23 when he wrote his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. He turned it in as his master’s thesis in a creative writing program. He turned it in on a Friday. On Monday he heard that his professor had sent it to an agent. The book was published the following year, in 1988. It was a big success. He was compared to Fitzgerald and John Cheever. He was asked to model clothing for The Gap. People magazine wanted to include him in its list of “50 Most Beautiful People.” He turned down both offers.
I didn’t know a lot of that, including The Gap and People stuff. And I certainly didn’t know that being included on People’s list was something one could turn down.

The rest of the write-up is extensive, and it’s here.

Curiously, the Almanac doesn’t mention that Chabon is married to writer Ayelet Waldman, best known for her “Mommy Track” mysteries, and that the couple have four children.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Fight for the Title

While we’re on the topic of covers (Were we? Well, we always are here), even though it’s not strictly speaking crime fiction, the cover of David Gunn’s latest work of science fiction is confusing enough that it deserves to be mentioned.

The cover is itself fairly innocuous, but the typography is bloody confusing. What is the title of this book? The way it’s set up, it should read Death’s Maximum Offense Head, even if that makes no sense at all. But since there’s no clue as to what to read first on the cover, we don’t know if it’s Maximum Offense: Death’s Head or vice versa. I guess since Gunn “rocketed on the scene” with a book called Death’s Head last year, everyone on the planet (or off of it, since this novel is set on “the hard-boiled planet of Hekati”) is just supposed to be able to figure this out.

On a brighter, lighter note, Gunn wins the prize for most whimsical author bio: “Smartly dressed, resourceful, and discreet, David Gunn has undertaken assignments in Central America, the Middle East, and Russia (among numerous other places),” we’re told in this new novel. Since there’s no photo of the author, we don’t get to judge the “smartly dressed” part. Too bad.

Sweepings: Bond, Babes, and Bogey Too

The New York Times weighs in on London’s new exhibition, “For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond,” being held in association with the 100th anniversary of Fleming’s birth (on May 28). The piece’s most interesting elements might be its recounting of the author’s habits (he smoked “up to 80 cigarettes a day”) and of Fleming’s rather casual approach to his writing:
Rising early for a swim in the aquamarine waters in the cove below his idyllic Jamaican retreat, Goldeneye, Fleming tapped away at his Remington portable typewriter with six fingers for three hours in the morning and an hour in the afternoon--2,000 words a day, a completed novel in two months, all the while keeping up the sybaritic lifestyle that led Noël Coward, a frequent guest at Goldeneye and no puritan himself, to describe the Fleming household as “golden ear, nose and throat.”

Fleming, who saw 40 million copies of his books sold in his lifetime but died before the Bond franchise went stratospheric, had no literary pretensions. He described his first Bond book, “Casino Royale,” as “an oafish opus,” and offered further disparagement in a 1963 BBC radio interview. “If I wait for the genius to come, it just doesn’t arrive,” he said. Asked if Bond had kept him from more serious writing, of the kind achieved by his older brother, Peter, a renowned explorer and travel writer, he replied: “I’m not in the Shakespeare stakes. I have no ambition.”
The London Times had its own take on this exhibit last month.

• The historical thriller Child 44, much talked about here in the recent past, is apparently favored to win author Tom Rob Smith the Desmond Elliott Prize for first novels. That, according to Publishing News (via Euro Crime).

• Although it sounds as if its focus could be either on Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky or on George W. Bush and John McCain’s dubious defiance of international torture, in fact, Washington, D.C.’s brand-new Museum of Crime and Punishment takes a rather theme-parkish approach to recounting America’s history of headline-grabbing law breaking, both factual and fictional. As Marc Fisher observes in The Washington Post, “A museum of crime that explored why [American] culture is so fascinated with bad boys could be a rich and rewarding place. But this museum is satisfied to show off artifacts such as John Dillinger’s getaway car, paintings by mass murderer John Wayne Gacy and a machine gun actually used by Al Pacino in the 1983 movie ‘Scarface,’ and leave the whys and wherefores to some college sociology class.”

• Speaking of historical crime, the blog Nobody Move! reminds us that it was “On this day in 1934 [that Depression-era outlaws] Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were ambushed and gunned down by a posse led by (semi)retired Texas Ranger Frank Hamer.”

• Lawrence Block is writing a memoir?

Derringer Award-winning short-story writer (and “forgotten books” proselytizer) Patti Abbott is interviewed by Lonnie Cruse in Poe’s Deadly Daughters. Meanwhile, Julia Buckley asks Marcus Sakey (At the City’s Edge) about his “breathtaking looks,” in Mysterious Musings, and Ayo Onatade of Shots rings up the pseudonymous Ariana Franklin for a chat.

• After some concern over the future of NBC-TV’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent (which I think is the best of the three related Dick Wolf series now airing), NBC-affiliated USA Network has ordered 16 episodes of the show for next year. With luck, that means more Vincent D’Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe, the series’ best detective team (again, in my humble opinion).

• Following up his recent post about the death of screenwriter-novelist Zekial Marko, Mystery*File’s Steve Lewis notes the fact that Marko’s brother was novelist-artist Kenn Davis. In addition to writing eight books featuring African-American gumshoe and night-school law student Carver Bascombe, Davis also penned (with John Stanley) a 1979 novel, featuring leading man Humphrey Bogart, that first got me interested in what’s often called “celebrity crime fiction”: Bogart ’48. As that book’s back jacket explains it, the story involves “a nightmarish screenplay about to become a desperate reality of murder and suicide ... a chilling plot to blow up the Academy Awards ... a long black Packard and cold, watching eyes ... the immortal Bogey, the unrivaled Peter Lorre, a ravishing starlet named Norma Jean Baker and a pounding race against time.” Wow, just typing that makes me want to crack open the novel and commence reading all over again.

• I’m a bit late in calling attention to this (I think Independent Crime’s Nathan Cain was the first to mention it), but Print Magazine has put together a splendid collection of book, periodical, and poster designs that all use the backs of human legs--mostly women’s legs (and often very shapely women’s legs)--to frame their central images. I illustrated an early Rap Sheet post (about “rebooting” the James Bond movie franchise) with one of the examples Print cites, but had no idea that this motif was so commonplace. A gallery of limb-filled pulp fiction book covers is located here.

The Book You Have to Read: “When the Sacred Ginmill Closes,” by Lawrence Block

And so we’ve had another night
of poetry and poses,
and each man knows he’ll be alone
when the sacred ginmill closes.
--Dave Van Ronk

Ginmill was the sixth private eye Matt Scudder book in print, but the first one I ever read. I’ve since become as big a Lawrence Block enthusiast as anyone else in their right mind, but something about this sad and beautiful baby still holds my heart. To think that any crime fiction lover might have missed it in the glare of more publicized Blocks is, quite literally, unthinkable.

Maybe it was the title, from a Dave Van Ronk song (Last Call) which I actually heard Van Ronk sing in some smoky Greenwich Village club once upon a time. I don’t think it was the booze (I’m Jewish, and a 5706 Manischewitz was a great year for my mom and dad). But the bars I didn’t dare walk into became in my mind Gentile temples of pleasure and temptation as Scudder moved from Armstrong’s to Miss Kitty’s (definitely not named after the lady on Gunsmoke) to Morrissey’s, where the bad luck and trouble began.

And I was absolutely knocked over by Block’s ability to tell, in 1986 (looking incredibly youthful and wise on the jacket of his novel), a story that happened in 1975, when Scudder was still drinking, without dropping in a flashback or missing a beat. A scene in which Matt Scudder tries to remember anything else important that happened in 1975, but can come up with only a fistful of sports highlights, might just leave you breathless.

If you haven’t read When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, it starts with Scudder drinking at an after-hours bar called Morrissey’s (“The legal closing hour for bars in the city of New York is 4:00 a.m., but Morrissey’s was an illegal establishment and was thus not bound by regulations of that sort”), when two masked gunmen break in, holding a gun on one of the Morrissey brothers. The other gunman turns his pistol on the elder brother, Tim Pat, as they proceed to rob the place--cashbox on the counter, another box in a safe, even a collection jar for IRA loyalists.

The gunmen escape with their loot, Tim Pat consults with his brother, then makes a speech to the trembling patrons (ex-cop Scudder never carries a gun) about how the whole thing was just a joke. Nobody believes it. Tim Pat later asks Scudder to look into the robbery--sucking in the always broke unlicensed private eye with a handsome offer. Two more clients--friends met in bars--rapidly line up to pay for Scudder’s services in matters of murder and blackmail.

The mood of the book is as boozy and dark as its settings, but I’d forgotten until looking back at the book again how Block could slide in a guffaw from time to time without overloading the boat.
She looked at me sharply. “You a cop?”

“I used to be.”

Her laugh was loud, unexpected. “Wha’d you get, laid off? They got no work for cops, all the crooks in jail?”
With that, I’ll now pass the “forgotten books Friday” baton over to one of the best writers and reviewers in the business, Dick Lochte. Expect his book pick here next Friday.

From the Back Stacks

This idea of Patti Abbott’s, that every Friday bloggers should spotlight “books we love but might have forgotten over the years,” continues to generate a wealth of suggestions. In addition to Dick Adler’s pick of When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, today’s recommendations from around the Web include Day of the Moon, by Bill Pronzini and Jeffrey Wallmann; Cutter and Bone, by Newton Thornburg; Reputation for a Song, by Edward Grierson; Swann, by Carol Shields; Trouble Valley, by Lee Hoffman; The Scapegoat, by Daphne du Maurier; and Revenge, by Jack Ehrlich.

Abbott is keeping track of all the day’s entries here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Now We Are Two

Believe it or not, it was two whole years ago today (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s birthday) that The Rap Sheet cast loose from January Magazine and went out on its own, joining the ever-expanding world of crime-fiction-oriented blogs. Since then, we’ve learned a great deal about this business, made a few mistakes, earned a handful of plaudits, and generally satisfied ourselves that the decision to launch The Rap Sheet as an independent entity was a sane one, after all. Just this month, we registered our 300,000th visit and put up our 2,000th post.

Rather than begin and end our celebration today, we’re going to stretch out this second birthday for the next eight days, allowing it to merge with next week’s Ian Fleming centenary festivities. For now, I’d simply like to list a few of the posts I remember most fondly from these last two years. If you missed any of these the first time around, this is your chance to catch up. Or, if you’ve been reading all along, I hope these will be salutary reminders of why you started reading in the first place.

When Covers Are Two of a Kind,” the first entry in our now popular series about copycat covers.

Madison Square’s Trial of the Century,” about the 1906 murder of New York architect and “man about town” Stanford White.

What Goes Around Goes Around,” a lament about the repetitious nature of crime fiction TV franchises.

Turn It Up, Jake, It’s Chinatown,” about mystery and music.

Slippin’ Heaven a Mickey,” covering the death of Mickey Spillane.

The Eyes Have It,” regretting the end of TV’s private-eye era.

But Really, Sally McMillan Is Ageless,” on the 60th birthday of Susan Saint James.

Happy Birthday, Hitch,” a tribute to filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock.

Remembering My Mystery Friend,” about the death of a “a world-class fan of crime fiction.”

What Is the Secret of the Lost Girl,” Megan Abbott’s thoughtful analysis of the 1949 disappearance from Los Angeles of wannabe movie star Jean Spangler.

The Please-Come-Back Kids,” resurrecting memories of fine crime and detective novelists who just stopped publishing.

Warm Ocean Breezes, Ominous Wind Chimes,” a celebration of Body Heat’s 25th anniversary.

America’s Top Sleuths: I Was There,” Kevin Burton Smith’s look at the Sleuth Channel’s “America’s Top Sleuths” TV special.

Robert Crais, Exception and Rule,” an interview with the creator of Los Angeles gumshoe Elvis Cole.

The Third Act,” one of James Ellroy’s entries from his single day of guest blogging at The Rap Sheet.

A Christie for Christmas,” Stephen Miller’s encomium to the not-so-cozy Agatha Christie.

The King and I,” about Ali Karim’s meeting with Stephen King.

Talk About Dressing on the Run ...,” in which we highlighted one of our favorite movie action sequences.

The Surreal World,” Ali Karim’s interview with British author Michael Marshall (Smith).

Marlowe Redux,” analyzing the staying power of Philip Marlowe.

You Could Kill Him in the Rain ... or On a Speeding Train,” about the unlikely friendship between Raymond Chandler and Dr. Seuss.

Happy Birthday, Georges Simenon,” which is self-explanatory.

Happy Birthday, David Janssen,” looking back on the late star of The Fugitive, O’Hara, United States Treasury, and Harry O.

Raise a Glass of Jamie ...,” Jim Winter’s tribute to Ken Bruen.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Ellroy,” in which Megan Abbott praised “the sweep of James Ellroy’s vision.”

Judge Not, Lest Ye Be ... Oh, Never Mind,” Dylan Schaffer’s poetic musings on the judging of Edgar Allan Poe Award nominees.

My Lee Child Tradition,” part one of Ali Karim’s tribute to the creator of military policeman-turned-troubleshooter Jack Reacher.

Their Finest Hours,” applauding TV crime dramas.

The LongPen Is Mighter Than ...,” in which Ali Karim carried on a very long-distance pen-pal relationship with author Dean Koontz.

My Debt to Dostoevsky,” Roger “R.N.” Morris’ tribute to the great Russian author of Crime and Punishment.

M*A*S*H, Murder, and Morgan,” in which we looked back on the career of American actor Harry Morgan.

Happy Birthday, Jimbo,” which found us taking a deep bow to Rockford Files star James Garner.

Strike Up the Band,” a recollection of memorable TV theme songs.

The Ones That Got Away,” our first-birthday special, which had us asking more than 100 crime novelists, book critics, and bloggers from all over the English-speaking world to choose the one crime/mystery/thriller novel they thought had been “most unjustly overlooked, criminally forgotten, or underappreciated over the years.” Now conveniently available on one blog page.

Hey, Joe!,” Ali Karim’s interview with Joe Finder.

Praising Cain,” our two-part profile of pseudonymous thriller writer Tom Cain (The Accident Man).

A Stand-up Crime Writer,” in which we interviewed comic-turned-novelist Mark Billingham.

Fright Time in the Forests,” or “Don’t Fool with Mother Nature.”

The Defense Never Rests,” a celebration of Perry Mason and the man who brought him before the bar, Erle Stanley Gardner.

Not to Be Overlooked,” our fond look at Michael Connelly.

‘Heyday in the Blood’: A Never-Before-Published Lew Archer Tale,” by Ross Macdonald (from The Archer Files: The Complete Short Stories of Lew Archer, Private Investigator, edited by Tom Nolan).

Dusting Off a True Classic,” a recollection of Dilys Winn’s Murder Ink: The Mystery Reader’s Companion.

From Well Beyond the Grave,” in which Conan Doyle engaged in something of a very early screen test.

Off on the Right Foot,” a rediscovery of Lee Roberts (aka Robert Martin), author of If the Shoe Fits.

There Once Was a Gumshoe So Green ...,” the start of our unintended series on crime fiction limericks.

Get Wheel,” in which we pined for the NBC Mystery Movie.

‘I’m Just Another Cop. My Name Is Columbo,’” about Mark Billingham’s meeting with the man behind the famous raincoat (or at least the actor who played him).

The Girl from Guy,” our drooling ovation for The Fall Guy’s fetching Heather Thomas.

What Say You, Mr. Leonard?,” a short interview with the man known as Elmore.

Book Covers We Love

‘Thank God, It’s Over.’ Or Is It?,” a look back at the 97-year-old murder case of Hawley Harvey Crippen, convicted wife murderer.

Back to Black,” Mark Coggins’ series on The New Black Mask magazine, plus an interview with magazine co-editor and Dashiell Hammett authority Richard Layman.

The World Is Black, the World Is White,” Kevin Burton Smith’s musings on racism at the movies.

Voices from the Chorus,” Anthony Rainone’s interview with the authors behind that audiobook presentation, The Chopin Manuscript.

Heade of the Class,” an appreciation of the work by British “girlie” paperback cover artist Reginald Heade.

A Giant Turns 93,” remembering Madigan’s Richard Widmark.

Cover Me ... I’m Going In!,” announcing the winners of The Rap Sheet’s first “Book Covers of the Year” competition.

A Master of the Medium,” contributor Al Navis’ fond farewell to the late, prolific short-story writer Edward D. Hoch.

Children of the Storm,” which found guest-blogger Laurie R. King remarking on her historical-research methodologies.

A Quiet Belief in Himself,” our interview with too-long-underappreciated novelist Roger Jon Ellory.

This Is the Zodiac Speaking, Again,” which had Megan Abbott waxing fondly about the DVD release of the 2007 film Zodiac.

Man of Mystery,” Ali Karim’s four-part study of onetime horror master Robert McCammon’s interrupted literary career.

The BS Index,” in which Gary Phillips tackled bullshit and politics. Or are they really the same thing?

It’s a Shame About Ray,” a tough-love assessment of Judith Freeman’s hardly straightforward Raymond Chandler biography, The Long Embrace.

Lyons Ends His Roar,” our obituary of private-eye novelist Arthur Lyons, the creator of Los Angeles P.I. Jacob Asch.

Wilson’s War Hero,” a chat with historical novelist Laura Wilson.

Whew! That only touches on the wealth of posts this blog has supported over the last 24 months. But not a bad beginning, eh?