Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hey, That’s Life in the Big City

My recent post about this month marking the 50th anniversary of Peter Gunn’s television debut brought a reminder from a friend of mine that September 2008 also happens to be the half-century anniversary of Naked City, an influential ABC-TV police procedural inspired by a 1948 black-and-white big-screen film noir of the same name. That series--which was really two series, broadcast successively from 1958 to 1963--focused on the doings of detectives from New York City’s 65th Precinct. It was first shown 50 years ago today.

Designed, according to its executive producer, Herbert B. Leonard, as “a human interest series about New York told through the eyes of two law enforcement officers,” Naked City was originally a half-hour Tuesday night series. It was also the first network series shot completely in New York City. A majority of its original scripts were written by Stirling Silliphant, who is better known nowadays for penning In the Heat of the Night, Marlowe, and The Poseidon Adventure. (Silliphant was also responsible for giving us the film Shaft in Africa and the unsuccessful TV pilot Travis McGee, but let’s try not to hold those against him.)

In its first incarnation, the program starred James Franciscus and John McIntire as the same two cops who’d been featured in the semi-documentary film The Naked City. It was a compact little crime drama bookended by a narrator’s voice telling us, first, that the series wasn’t filmed in a studio, but “in the streets and buildings of New York itself,” and closing with the assurance that “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” Unfortunately, an Emmy nomination for Best Drama did not protect Naked City from cancellation after its first year.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. At least one of the show’s sponsors encouraged producer Leonard to try again, this time within an hour-long format, and ABC was persuaded to finance the experiment. After being off the air for 13 months, Naked City returned to ABC in October 1960, this time on Wednesday nights. Gone in this second series were McIntire (who left the show following a dispute with Leonard) and Franciscus (who would turn up later in another Sillipant-scripted series, the blind-private-eye drama Longstreet.) They were replaced by Paul Burke, as Detective Adam Flint, and Harry Bellaver, playing Sergeant Frank Arcaro. As Silliphant grew busy penning scripts for Leonard’s newer production, Route 66 (1960-1964), additional writers were brought in to work on Naked City, including Howard Rodman (who later created the David Janssen TV serial Harry O) and a young Gene Roddenberry. Opening the series up to other writing voices and plotting ideas proved valuable, according to a profile of this show at the Museum of Broadcast Communications (MBC) Web site:
With a company of serious writers and more time for story and character development, Naked City’s anthology flavor became even more pronounced. Stories became more character-driven, with a more central focus on transient characters (i.e., “guest stars”), and more extended psychological exploration. This dimension of the show was informed by a distinctive roster of guest stars, from well-known Hollywood performers like Claude Rains and Lee J. Cobb, and character players like Eli Wallach, Maureen Stapleton, and Walter Matthau, to such up-and-coming talents as Diahann Carroll and Dustin Hoffman. A 1962 Time profile called the series’ array of stars “the best evidence that Naked City is not just another cop show.” Its stories provided even stronger evidence. Naked City’s structure placed less emphasis on investigation and police work than did police-procedurals in the Dragnet mold--and less emphasis on the detectives themselves. As Todd Gitlin has put it, on Naked City “the regular cops faded into the background while the foreground belonged to each week’s new character in the grip of the city.”

With its stories generally emphasizing the points-of-view of the criminals, victims, or persons-in-crisis, Naked City exhibited a more complicated and ambiguous vision of morality and justice than traditional policiers, where good and bad were clear-cut. Most of the characters encountered by Flint and Arcaro were simply people with problems, who stumbled up against the law by accident or ill fortune; when the occasional hit man, bank robber, or jewel thief was encountered, they too were humanized, their motives and psyches probed. However, sociopaths and career crooks were far outnumbered by more mundane denizens of the naked city, thrust into crisis by circumstance: an innocent ex-con accused of murder; a disfigured youth living in the shadows of the tenements; a Puerto Rican immigrant worn down by poverty and unemployment; a lonely city bureaucrat overcome by suicidal despair; a junior executive who kills over a parking space; a sightless boy on an odyssey through the streets of Manhattan. Eight million stories--or at least 138 as dramatized in this series--rooted in the sociology and psychology of human pain.
Other now-familiar stars who once guested on Naked City: Peter Falk, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Robert Redford, William Shatner, Mildred Natwick, Jack Warden, and Dustin Hoffman. They were likely drawn to the show by its unusual storytelling techniques and its willingness to see criminals as three-dimensional figures, not simply stereotypes against whom to launch stern-jawed law-enforcement types. The other distinctive characteristic of Naked City, as the MBC article points out, was that while “every episode of Dragnet ended with the record of a trial (and usually a conviction), Naked City was seldom able to resolve its stories quite so easily. The series offered narrative closure, but no easy answers; it did not pretend to solve social problems, nor did it mute, defuse, or mask them. Although some episodes ended with guarded hope, happy endings were rare; resolutions were just as likely to be framed in melancholy bemusement or utter despair. Naked City’s ‘solution’ was to admit that there are no solutions--at least none that could be articulated in the context of its own dramatic agenda.”

Although it was finally canceled at the end of the 1962-1963 season, Naked City helped set the stage for a long succession of compassion-tinged urban crime dramas to come, among them The Defenders, Police Story, Homicide: Life on the Street, and NYPD Blue. Nowadays, many TV viewers either don’t remember Naked City (which, as a small boy, I thought must be about some metropolis-size nudist colony), or they don’t recognize its influence. Fortunately, three sets of the series are now available on DVD. If you haven’t gotten Naked in the last 50 years, maybe it’s time you gave it a shot.

Minnesota “Medicine” Man

For Pulp Pusher, author Anthony Neil Smith recounts the twisted tale behind the title of his latest novel, Yellow Medicine. Read his musings here.

Blue Eyes Till You’re Cross-eyed

To honor actor Paul Newman, who died last week after a battle with cancer, cable broadcaster TCM (aka Turner Classic Movies) has scheduled a marathon of 11 Newman pictures for Sunday, October 12. Included in that day’s offerings will be: Hud (1962), The Outrage (1964), Torn Curtain (1966), and Cool Hand Luke (1967). For more details, click here. (Hat tip to Patti Abbott.)

Can This Be True?

Angie Dickinson, former Esquire magazine cover model and star of the 1970s TV crime drama Police Woman, turns 77 years old today. (Hat tip to Bill Crider.)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Escape from the Ordinary, Part I

(Editor’s note: This is the opening segment of a two-part pre-Bouchercon report submitted by British correspondent Ali Karim. The second installment will follow later this week.)

A simple act of lunch: (counterclockwise) R.J. Ellory, Ali Karim, Mark Timlin, Chris Simmons, Angela McMahon, Jake Kerridge, and Barry Forshaw.

Needing at least a brief respite from news of the world’s economic woes, I took a day off work recently to wander the bookshops of London. This mini-holiday was also motivated by an invitation I had received, asking me to join Angela McMahon of Orion Publishing for a lunch with some of my fellow London crime-fiction reviewers, all to celebrate the debut of A Simple Act of Violence, by British wordsmith Roger Jon “R.J.” Ellory. After lunch, I planned to attend a cocktail party with representatives of iconic UK publisher Faber & Faber, and then share a late dinner with Shots editor Mike Stotter.

So after a morning spent browsing the shelves at Murder One on the Charing Cross Road, I headed to Covent Garden for the midday meal.

Many of you already know about my appreciation for Ellory’s work. I’ve been championing him ever since the release of his first novel, Candlemoth, which I added to January Magazine’s gift guide selection in 2003. Knowing of my fondness for his work, Orion was kind enough to send along an advance copy of A Simple Act of Violence, together with this synopsis of its story:
Washington [D.C.], embroiled in the mid-term elections, did not want to hear about serial killings. But when the newspapers reported a fourth murder, when they gave the killer a name and details of his horrendous crimes, there were few people that could ignore it. Detective Robert Miller is assigned to the case. He and his partner begin the task of correlating and cross-referencing the details of each crime scene. Rapidly things begin to complicate. The victims do not officially exist. Their personal details do not register on any known systems. The harder Miller works, the less it makes sense. And as Miller unearths ever more disturbing facts, he starts to face truths so far-removed from his own reality that he begins to fear for his life. This is a novel about trust, loyalty, and beliefs that are so ingrained which, when challenged, they leave people with nothing. Vast in scope, A Simple Act of Violence is an exposé of the brutality of covert operations, the power of greed and the insidious nature of corruption. It is also a story of love and trust that somehow managed to survive the very worst that the world could throw at it.
What I like about Roger Ellory is that, despite his now being an über-author, thanks in large part to his last novel, A Quiet Belief in Angels, having been tapped as a Richard & Judy pick, he still remembers the folks who reviewed him when he was starting out. In fact, Ellory will be accompanying me to Bouchercon in Baltimore next week. (Be sure to say hello if you find yourself in Charm City and spot us in the hotel bar.)

Angela McMahon had booked a table at the plush Bertorelli’s restaurant in Covent Garden. I was delighted to see, already seated across the table, two of my friends, Crime Squad editor Chris Simmons and Mark Timlin, a novelist and reviewer for The Independent on Sunday. While we waited for our hosts and the other guests, Timlin finally confessed to me that he is “Lee Martin,” the pseudonymous author of a racy work of crime fiction called Gangsters’ Wives (2007). Now, in hindsight, this doesn’t really seem so surprising, as Timlin has been prolific not only in writing thrillers, but also in composing erotic novels under several pen-names. Timlin went on to tell me that a sequel, Gangsters’ Widows, is nearing completion--and yes, like Gangsters’ Wives it features British-Asian cop Ali S. Karim. He also ribbed Simmons and me about our defeat at the hands of Mark Billingham and Robert Crais during this summer’s famed Harrogate quiz.

Not long after that, Angela McMahon, Ellory, Jake Kerridge of The Daily Telegraph, and Barry Forshaw of Crime Time joined us at the table. A wine list was presented (much to Timlin’s pleasure), and we peppered Ellory with praise for his latest novelistic accomplishment; despite its size--512 pages--A Simple Act of Violence is a fast and furious read. And Ellory, in turn, told us how pleased he is to find himself slated on a panel at
Bouchercon. (For those attending the events in Baltimore, he’ll be part of the “Born Under a Bad Sign” session, scheduled for Saturday, October 11, at 1:30 p.m.)

Ellory’s previous suspense novel, A Quiet Belief in Angels, has been nominated for a Barry Award--though he acknowledged that his competition in the Best British Crime Novel category is very tough, indeed. I assured him that just being nominated was a hell of an achievement, but that statement always sounds a bit hollow when you say it out loud. Quickly, our luncheon devolved into mutual congratulations. I wished Forshaw luck with his nomination for a 2008 Macavity Award (for The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction). He reciprocated with best wishes to both Rap Sheet editor J. Kingston Pierce and myself, as we’ve been nominated for Anthony Awards.

As Ellory signed my proof copy of Simple Act, the lot of us discussed this new novel. Timlin described it as a “doorstop,” based on its size and storytelling scope. Ellory indicated that the work had been heavily edited, since the original manuscript could have been published in two substantial volumes. And we chatted about conspiracy theories--a favorite topic both of mine and Ellory’s--since at the heart of Simple Act is a conspiracy involving U.S. security services. Such conversations among readers and writers of thrillers are not uncommon, as we’re often more prone to see real-life events through the lens of intentional conspiracies. Call it an occupational hazard.

Our meals were delightful, and as we dug into them McMahon made conversation by telling us that Linwood Barclay’s No Time for Goodbye, an Orion title, has already sold more than half a million copies in the UK, and it remains in the top-10 sections of bestseller lists on this side of the Atlantic. Furthermore, Barclay’s previous novel, Stone Rain (2007), has been nominated for a Shamus Award this year. It’s certainly been a good 12 months for Barclay. All of this reminded me to tell Ellory that our tickets for the Private Eye Writers of America Shamus banquet had arrived in the post. I look forward to seeing PWA honcho Robert J. Randisi again; it’s been five years since we last clinked glasses.

Then we discussed the recent Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. By this time, Timlin had consumed a goodly amount of wine and become rather loud. Hoping to get a rise out of yours truly, he kept asking again who had won the Harrogate quiz. And the sixth time he inquired, I gave him a surly and sinister whiplash smile worthy of Nick Sharman. It seemed to do the trick, though Timlin did get rather excitable at one point and his language turned blue, which the rest of us put down to his having given up the smokes and still wishing to perpetuate his bad-boy image.

We went on to rib Jake Kerridge about The Telegraph’s proclivity for making argument-producing lists, such as one of the top 50 crime writers you must read before you die, and last week’s rundown of the top 50 literary villains. He told us that his newspaper’s editorial staff always have great fun working on these lists. Kerridge admitted that in the end those lists are primarily designed to provoke a reaction and fuel debate--and looking at the comments on the Internet, it’s obvious they do just that.

Before I knew it, I looked at my watch and realized it was 4:30 in the afternoon. We’d been dining and talking for close to four hours. With a stomach full of wine and fine cuisine, it was time to say our farewells. After thanking Orion’s McMahon for an excellent repast, we all went our separate ways, some of us agreeing to meet up later that day at the Faber & Faber party.

As I tottered off, I reflected on how appropriate it is that the two panels I shall be sitting on at Bouchercon--one on Thursday, October 9 (“I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down”), about “booze, hootch, and firewater and its place in crime fiction,” and the other on Friday, October 10 (“Money Back Guarantee”), about “books we love that you should too”--relate to my enthusiasms for (a) alcohol in moderation and (b) crime fiction in excess. The first of those two panel discussions, by the way, should be especially interesting because Irish writer Ken Bruen has changed his travel plans in order to attend, and he’ll have sometime co-author Jason Starr in tow to talk turkey and, well, Wild Turkey. Considering the reputation Bruen and I have when it comes to discussing crime and cocktails, it should be a lively debate. Stop by if you’re at the conference. And don’t fret, as we have organized security for the event.

(To be continued)

Come Monday

A quick programming note: Tonight will bring the season premieres of two NBC series that we’ve come to believe are worth watching.

Scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. ET/PT is the second-season opener of Chuck, a well-written spy spoof (starring Zachary Levi) that’s become a weekly treat for some of us here at The Rap Sheet. And then at 10 p.m. will come the second-season premiere of Life, starring Damien Lewis and the lovely Sarah Shahi as a pair of quirky Los Angeles cops dealing with both new crimes and the still-unresolved question of who framed Lewis’ character for murder. A second new episode of Life is set to be broadcast this coming Friday at 10 p.m., with other new eps showing on successive Friday nights at that time.

Set your TiVo. Or if you can’t wait, you can catch the season two premiere of Chuck here and tonight’s episode of Life here.

Remembering James Crumley

In case you missed it, Montana’s Missoula Independent newspaper this past weekend put together an excellent collection of quotes about the late author, James Crumley. Some are funny, many are poignant, all are available here.

(Hat tip to Lee Goldberg.)

Music Man

Julia Buckley of the Poe’s Deadly Daughters blog reminds us that today is Grammy and Emmy award winning composer Mike Post’s 64th birthday. Post’s TV credits are abundant, and some of his series themes have become landmarks of the genre. Hill Street Blues, The Rockford Files, NYPD Blue, The A-Team, Murder One, L.A. Law, Magnum, P.I., Tenspeed and Brown Shoe, Riptide--he created all of those familiar themes, and more. (He didn’t, however, compose the theme for Remington Steele, despite Ms. Buckley’s suggestion. That was the work of the late, great Henry Mancini.)

Television would have been a less aurally pleasing medium without Mike Post’s contributions. Just thinking about his repertoire makes my head swim with music. I just might be whistling the theme from Hill Street Blues for the rest of the day.

My Cup Runneth Over--and Whoops, My Bookcase Just Collapsed

As I’ve written before, one of the best things about being a judge on a book prize panel is that you’re never short of reading material. My UPS man and my FedEx guy are my new best friends, dropping off kilos of goodies every day. Here are the best of the books I received and read just this week:

D.C. Noir 2: The Classics, edited by George Pelecanos (Akashic). Wonderful stuff, starting with a story by the famed African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, set in the nation’s capital in 1900, when corruption ruled even more than it does today. Pelecanos’ favorite crime writer, Edward P. Jones, is also a strong presence, as are Ward Just, Richard Wright, Ross Thomas, James Grady, and the editor himself, giving us a story you might remember called “The Dead Their Eyes Implore Us.” How many Akashic books do I dare nominate?

The September Society, by Charles Finch (St. Martin’s Minotaur). I liked Finch’s new, second book about an upper-class London detective called Charles Lenox even more than I did his first, the much-revered A Beautiful Blue Death (2007). It contains lots of great eating scenes, a worthy mystery, and an evocation of Victorian Oxford that makes me wish I’d been there then.

A Cure for Night, by Justin Peacock (Doubleday). As the book jacket blurbs on this debut legal thriller shout, this is the best courtroom drama in recent memory, as good as what Scott Turow and John Grisham gave us in their prime. It features two marvelous lead characters, both Brooklyn public defenders--a disgraced former up-and-comer turned uptown druggie and a tough, vulnerable woman who really believes she’s doing good.

More soon--if I can get that bookcase in shape ...

Saturday, September 27, 2008


We have lost one of the greatest actors of our time. Paul Newman “died Friday after a long battle with cancer at his farmhouse near Westport,” according to the Associated Press. He was 83 years old.

Newman’s presence on the screen was magnetic, whether he was performing in Exodus (1960), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), The Sting (1973), The Verdict (1982), Road to Perdition (2002), or ... well, the list could go on and on. As Britain’s The Guardian notes, “He appeared in about 60 films over a period of 50 years.” In two of those, Newman played Ross Macdonald’s fictional private eye, Lew Archer (renamed Lew Harper for Hollywood): Harper (1966, adapted from 1949’s The Moving Target) and The Drowning Pool (1975). And in a third film, the 1998 noir thriller Twilight, he played another ex-cop turned private detective, Harry Ross, who could have been Archer/Harper at an older age. (That film, by the way, also featured James Garner, whose creds in the fictional P.I. field are equally strong.)

In addition to his screen work, the handsome, blue-eyed Newman was famous for his charitable contributions and his political activism. A strong and determined liberal, he wound up on Richard Nixon’s “enemies list,” supported Ned Lamont’s candidacy in the 2006 Connecticut Democratic Primary race against turncoat Senator Joe Lieberman, contributed infrequently to The Nation, and would no doubt have loved to be around to see an end to George W. Bush’s presidency and the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. (Fingers crossed.)

This is a day for remembering all of Paul Newman’s fine work, in various arenas. But tonight will be spent at my house with Harper and Butch Cassidy in the DVD deck.

SEE MORE: For your viewing entertainment, here’s the trailer for Harper. And to watch a couple of clips, click here and here.

READ MORE:Paul Newman, 83, Magnetic Hollywood Titan, Dies,” by Aljean Harmetz (The New York Times); “More Than Just a Pretty Face,” by Stephanie Zacharek (Salon); “Paul Newman, 1925-2008,” compiled by Dana Cook (Salon); “Remembering Paul Newman, the Philanthropist,” by Saturday Night at the Movies,” by Taylor Marsh; “Actor Paul Newman Dies at 83,” by Lynn Smith (Los Angeles Times); “The Bluest Eyes: The Pleasures of Watching Paul Newman,” by Dana Stevens (Slate); “Newman’s Own Politics,” by John Nichols (The Nation); “The Graceful Exit,” by Scott Raab (Esquire).

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Book You Have to Read: “The Caves of Steel,” by Isaac Asimov

(Editor’s note: This is the 26th installment of our ongoing Friday blog series highlighting great but forgotten books. Today’s pick comes from UK novelist Jane Finnis, the author of a historical crime series set in 1st-century Roman Britain, featuring a woman innkeeper named Aurelia Marcella. The most recent entry in that series is Buried Too Deep (2008). It was preceded by A Bitter Chill (2005) and Get Out or Die (2003). Finnis also contributes to the mystery-fiction-oriented blog The Lady Killers.)

Isaac Asimov is best remembered nowadays for his books about robots and future galactic empires. But among his science-fiction tales are some cracking good mysteries, crime stories set against a background of future time and place. The Caves of Steel (1954) is one of the best.

It contains the basic ingredients of a classic whodunit: an honest investigator faced with confusing clues and a variety of suspects. The sleuth is Lije Baley, a likable plainclothes detective. He comes complete with a nagging wife, a demanding boss, and an over-bright sidekick whom he admires but doesn’t fully trust. He faces personal danger as he struggles to investigate brutal murders which could spark off a serious international incident.

The place is New York City. The year is AD 3421.

“The caves of steel” sums up Asimov’s picture of a future Manhattan, whose inhabitants live and work in a vast underground warren. They’ve become so used to this, that they are afraid to venture into the open air, and mostly they don’t have to; food is produced in subterranean farms (it’s rationed, but nobody starves), and energy comes from nuclear power plants. Water, air, transport, leisure--all are provided underground, using high-tech solutions which, as always with this author, may read like fantasy, but are grounded in real science. Yet the people and their motives--love, hate, loyalty, jealousy, idealism, fear--haven’t changed anything like as fast as their surroundings.

Asimov paints the background with as much care and detail as any historical writer describing the Tudors or the Romans. A good science-fiction story has a lot in common with a good historical one: they both draw us into an alien era, but one is looking to future time, the other to the past.

Lije Baley is pretty content with his lot; he has a family he loves and a job he likes, and the more promotion he earns, the better lifestyle he will have. His fellow New Yorkers, too, accept their somewhat ant-like existence. Mostly. A few, the Medievalists (what a beautifully anachronistic name!), are nostalgic for bygone days, when humans lived in cities open to the sky, and, they are sure, life was much better. And nearly everyone is hostile to the Spacers, who have a base near the city. When an important Spacer scientist is killed there, Lije Baley is ordered to investigate, because it’s assumed the murderer must have come from within the city.

These Spacers are humans whose ancestors emigrated from Earth generations back, to colonize other planets in the galaxy. By doing this they’ve become richer, freer, and longer-lived, and they despise the stay-at-home city dwellers, who in return loathe their arrogant superiority. The Spacers have to keep Earth-dwellers at a distance, for fear of disease, so if they need to visit New York they stay sealed in their own base nearby, guarded by fearsome security and quarantine barriers. Well, you get the picture: the two sorts of humans rarely mix, and hate one another.

Lije is torn between a desire for justice and a gut feeling that the dead Spacer probably had it coming. His sense of justice wins, even after he learns that the Spacer authorities have insisted on assigning one of their own men to work with him on the case. And even when he realizes that this new partner isn’t a man, it’s a robot.

Yes, a robot--well, this is an Asimov story after all. Lije and his fellow citizens hate Earth robots, which are primitive as robots go, but are still good for the simpler tasks, and as a result are gradually taking over people’s jobs. The New York police department has even hired a messenger-robot, Sammy, which has displaced a keen young trainee. But Lije’s new partner, R. (for “Robot”) Daneel Olivaw, is designed by Spacers, and is therefore a far more advanced model. He looks and behaves just like a human detective, so he can live and work in the city without arousing public anger. He has some useful add-on powers--a faultless memory, and great physical agility which saves Baley’s life at one point in this book. He has no emotions, of course, and this makes him an unnerving partner, but he’s also no threat to Lije or his fellow New Yorkers, because special circuits in his brain prevent his ever harming a human being. Or do they?

As Lije and Daneel comb the city looking for evidence and suspects, the policeman begins to feel a grudging respect for the robot. But his wife is horrified when she discovers Daneel’s true nature. How, though, did she find out? Lije had carefully not told anyone, and Daneel makes a convincing human cop. Somehow the Medievalists have got to know there is a robot at large. Is Lije’s wife a sympathizer? And is he in danger as a result?

There is indeed danger, including another murder, and Lije starts wondering just how reliable Daneel really is. Could he be a killer? Or could the murderer be another Spacer, trying to stop his colleague’s researches? Perhaps the backward-looking Medievalists are responsible, or even the youngster who lost his job to Robot Sammy.

Eventually the partners solve their case, and there are even hints of a way to end the conflict between city people and Spacers. It’s a satisfying conclusion.

I first read this book in the 1950s. Re-reading it now, I’m pleased to find I enjoyed it just as much, though not necessarily for the same reasons. The mystery is still good, and the depiction of a future New York, convincing in the ’50s, is in many ways still compelling, though inevitably it feels a bit dated, because some of the ideas have been overtaken by more recent events. The police procedure, for instance: Lije and Daneel have access to huge databases of information all citizens, and there’s some very fancy brain analysis and psychological profiling, but of course there’s no DNA analysis, no mobile phones, no Internet. To me, it doesn’t matter; far from it. It gives an added dimension to the story.

Undoubtedly, Asimov would have portrayed his caves of steel differently if he were writing about them today. Where exactly his vivid imagination would have taken him is an interesting speculation. And a mystery of an altogether different kind.

Gems Behind the Dust

As usual on Fridays, “forgotten books” organizer Patti Abbott has lined up a remarkable collection of recommendations from blogs hither and yon. In addition to Jane Finnis’ choice of The Caves of Steel, today’s crop includes: The Fast Buck, by Ross Laurence; The Out Is Death, by Peter Rabe; The Old Man in the Corner, by Baroness Orczy; Hell House, by Richard Matheson; and When in Rome, by Ngaio Marsh. Abbott also has a few more picks in her own blog, plus a list of all of today’s participants.

Bad Idea

From Britain’s Independent newspaper:
His name is Bond, James Bond: just don't expect him to introduce himself. For the first time in his 22 screen outings, Britain's best-known secret agent will not utter the words of introduction that have thrilled fans and appalled master criminals for 46 years.

Nor in his next adventure, Quantum of Solace, released in November, does 007 utter the other classic one-liner--“shaken not stirred”--when ordering his martini, according to the director, Marc Forster.

“There was a ‘Bond, James Bond’ in the script,” he said. “There are several places where we shot it as well, but it never worked as we hoped. I just felt we should cut it out, and Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson [the film’s producers] agreed, and Daniel [Craig, who plays Bond] agreed, too. It’s nice to be open-minded about the Bond formula. You can always go back to them later on.”

It is another radical departure for Bond who, in his last film, Casino Royale, found himself stripped of many on-screen staples.
Some traditions just shouldn’t be messed with.

(Hat tip to Notes from Hemingway’s Lounge.)

Dance, Psycho, Dance!

There aren’t a lot of big laughs in the only mildly funny The Tall Guy (1989), starring Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson. Some of the biggest ones come when the film spoofs what was then a new trend of turning unlikely books and plays and ideas into musical productions. In The Tall Guy, we’re faced with what at the time seemed an unlikely concept: Elephant Man: The Musical. It was so ridiculous, it could almost not be thought about.

We have, of course, come a long way over the last 18 years. So far, in fact, that we can read an announcement that Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 novel American Psycho is slated for musical treatment and regard it with only widened eyes, not open-mouthed shock. From The New York Times:
He sings, he dances, he commits horrific acts of torture, murder and cannibalism: Patrick Bateman, the disturbed protagonist of “American Psycho,” is slated to slice his way onto Broadway in a musical adaptation of the 1991 Bret Easton Ellis novel, Variety reported. Rights for a musical version of “American Psycho,” about a 1980s-era investment banker turned serial killer with an abiding affection for the music of Phil Collins, were acquired by the Johnson-Roessler Company; the Collective, a management and production firm; and XYZ Films.
The book has, of course, already been reimagined for visual media. You’ll recall a very good-though-disturbing film in 2000 starring Christian “Bat-Dude” Bale. Though the film version was notably devoid of singing.

Let’s think about this, if we dare: Can a warbling Dexter or honestly operatic Hannibal really be so very far behind?

(Tip of the hat to GalleyCat.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Best TV Crime Drama Openers, #14

Series Title: The Avengers | Years: 1961-1969 | Starring: Patrick Macnee, Diana Rigg, Honor Blackman, Linda Thorson, Ian Hendry | Theme Music: Laurie Johnson

It was The Avengers I had in mind when I remarked, in the opening installment of this weekly blog series, that I would be writing “almost exclusively” about the main title sequences of American TV shows. This is the exception, a stylish, quick-witted spy-fi drama that was apparently the last English series to appear on U.S. television during prime-time hours. The Avengers is also said to have been the longest-running TV espionage series in history, though Mission: Impossible (1966-1973) claims more episodes--171 versus 161. But hey, who’s counting?

Created by Canadian film and TV producer Sydney Newman, The Avengers went through several versions over its protracted course, with the only constant being John Steed (Macnee), a suave, bowler-hat-wearing, and umbrella-wielding secret agent who was on the payroll of an unnamed branch of British Intelligence. What most people won’t remember (I certainly didn’t) is that Steed was in fact introduced as a secondary character--sans chapeau and umbrella--during the first year of The Avengers. The original protagonist was a physician turned detective, Dr. David Keel, played by UK actor Ian Hendry, who’d appeared previously in a short-lived 1960 series called Police Surgeon. In the debut season of The Avengers, the realistic Steed came to the aid of the idealistic Keel after the latter’s receptionist-fiancée was murdered. The two men then set out together to avenge that killing--thus the series’ title. However, Hendry quit after the first season to go off and make movies (he played a small-time gangster in 1971’s Get Carter, opposite Michael Caine, for instance). And Macnee was promoted to The Avengers’ lead.

In 1962, the producers decided to pair Steed up with a woman. But not just any woman--a future Bond babe, Honor Blackman (Goldfinger, 1964). After road-testing Blackman’s judo-adept, widowed anthropologist character, Dr. Cathy Gale, along with a couple of lesser partners for Steed, the series finally made Gale its co-star, playing up her enviable self-confidence, her sometimes difficult relationship with Steed, and their double-entendre badinage. (There always seemed to be a sexual undercurrent at work between Steed and his younger female associates, though the show steered carefully away from overt romantic links.) In addition, the Steed character was modified a bit, made less rough and more sophisticated. It was all integral to the fine-tuning of this series.

The real change, though, came in season four (1965-1966), after Blackman, like Hendry before her, departed The Avengers for big-screen work and Cathy Gale was replaced by the partner with whom most fans of this series associate Steed: Mrs. Emma Peel.

Actually, there were two Mrs. Peels. The producers’ first choice to play the part was English actress Elizabeth Shepherd, who might have cut a fine figure, but lacked the sort of vital presence Honor Blackman had brought to her own role. After filming fewer than two full episodes, Shepherd was given her walking papers, and the casting director brought in a then little-known 27-year-old actress named Diana Rigg. Laurence Marcus and Stephen Hulse write at the Television Heaven site that, with Rigg’s arrival
a genuine television phenomena [sic] hit sixties television screens with all the impact of a high velocity bullet. Macnee and Rigg’s chemistry was wry, witty, sexually charge and immediate. Rigg’s character of Mrs. Emma Peel (derived from the show’s costume designer, who suggested that what was needed was someone with “M[an] Appeal”), was a sleek and stylish combination of intelligence, beauty and humour, who dovetailed so perfectly with the more seasoned Macnee’s John Steed character that the combined charisma produced was a near tangible force which ensnared the viewing audience instantaneously.

With the renewed duo of central characters firmly in place, and a production team and writers unafraid to experiment, The Avengers quite literally carved a totally unique world for its perpetually cool, unruffled, champagne-quaffing heroes which was as surreally ‘British’ in its own way as the distorted world which Alice had stumbled into beyond the silvered surface of the looking glass.
By this point, U.S. television networks were beginning to sniff around The Avengers. The popularity of the James Bond films engendered a growth of international espionage series on the boob tube, including The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy. In March 1966, ABC-TV added to those selections The Avengers, which with Macnee and Rigg as the stars had become less a serious spy drama and more a satire of spy dramas. Americans were no less charmed than their British counterparts by the deceptively dandified, wryly humorous John Steed and the curvaceous, leather-catsuited, and clever Emma Peel, a successful industrialist and martial-arts expert whose test-pilot husband was presumed to have perished after a plane crash (more on that shortly). They also took to the show’s increasingly tongue-in-cheek but enjoyable plots. Explains Wikipedia:
[M]any episodes were characterised by a futuristic, science fiction bent to the tales, with mad scientists and their creations leaving havoc in their wake. The duo dealt with giant alien carnivorous plants (The Man-Eater of Surrey Green), being shrunk to doll size (Mission ... Highly Improbable), pet cats being electrically altered into ‘miniature tigers’ (The Hidden Tiger), killer automata (The Cybernauts and Return of the Cybernauts), mind-transferring machines (Who’s Who???), and invisible foes (The See-Through Man). The series also poked fun at its American contemporaries with episodes such as The Girl From AUNTIE, Mission ... Highly Improbable and The Winged Avenger (spoofing The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible and Batman, respectively). The show still carried the basic format: Steed and his associate were charged with solving the problem in the space of a 50-minute episode, thus preserving the safety of 1960s Britain on a regular basis.
With its fifth season on British television, The Avengers finally became a color production. That change was heralded by the debut of a new main title sequence, which played up the playfulness of its principal characters (embedded above). The previous, black-and-white opener had certainly borne some style, with its photo fades and introduction of Emma Peel through the exchange of a carnation between the partners. It also had that fabulous and now very familiar theme music, originally called “The Shake” and composed by Laurie Johnson, that’s been described accurately as “brassy, fun, sexy, powerful, but also suave and cultured, like the show’s protagonists.” But the new introduction, beginning when Emma Peel shoots the cork out of John Steed’s champagne bottle, and then proceeds to share a glass of the bubbly, was considerably more mischievous and not at all self-conscious. Steed goes on in the sequence to demonstrate his sometimes deadly facility with a sword-concealing bumbershoot, repeating the exchange of a flower--this time inserted by Mrs. Peel into her partner’s buttonhole--while she strikes a chain of offensive fighting stances. There’s nothing particularly slick about this opener; it feels like something the two actors might have put together on a slow Saturday in front of a camera. Yet you know there was considerable thought behind its casualness. Rarely have I seen a main title sequence that is so artful in its artlessness.

Unfortunately, what we now think of as the “classic” period of The Avengers--the Emma Peel years (1965-1968)--didn’t last. Diana Rigg, evidently upset at the pay she was receiving for her work on the program, decided to leave it (she, too, later became a Bond girl, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969). But not before she shot a transition scene, in which her still-younger spy-doll replacement, Tara King (Thorsen), was introduced. The departure of Rigg’s character is explained by the story of how her long-lost pilot husband, Peter Peel, is found alive after so many years. She leaves active espionage duty in order to be with him. But not before dropping a coy mystery into John Steed’s lap. As Steed watches through a window, he sees her get into a car--driven by a man who looks remarkably like Steed himself. (YouTube has the clip here.)

ABC continued to run The Avengers through 1969, but its decision to put it up against the very popular Monday night show Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In on NBC doomed it. When ABC canceled the series, its UK production company threw in the towel too, as it had come to rely so heavily on the American subsidies.

The series was revived, though, in 1976 as The New Avengers. Steed was of course older by this time, so producers chose to pair him with not just one young partner, but two: accomplished marksman Mike Gambit (played by Gareth Hunt) and the single-monikered, ballet-trained Purdey (Joanna Lumley). The theme music boasted the same opening fanfare, but was otherwise altered, given a more hard-driving tone (you can watch the revised opener here). It was a good try, with the suggestive repartee handed over from Steed and Peel to Gambit and Purdey. However, it struck me as a patched old tire, still capable of spinning but with much of the air let out. The show was finally canceled in late 1997. American TV producer Quinn Martin (The Fugitive, Banyon, The Streets of San Francisco, Barnaby Jones, etc.) apparently invited one of the show’s producers, Brian Clemens, to develop a pilot for an Americanized version of The Avengers, titled Escapade (with Granville Van Dusen and Morgan Fairchild), but it didn’t sell.

Just as well. Some classics are best left untainted by modernization, and The Avengers--with its lighthearted opening sequence--is decidedly a classic.

READ MORE: The Forever Avengers; “Peeling Off the Trench Coats,” by Jason Whiton (Spy Vibe); “The Avengers: ‘A Touch of Brimstone,’” by David Foster (Permission to Kill).

Near and Far and Noir

Taking advantage of the flocking of writers to Bouchercon next month, Philadelphia’s next Noir at the Bar get-together will feature John McFetridge as well as Irish author (and recent Rap Sheet guest blogger) Declan Burke. Organizer Peter Rozovsky reports that this event will take place on Wednesday, October 8, at Fergie’s Pub on Sansom Street, beginning at 6:30 p.m. If you’re in town, drop by.

Pelecanos’ Picks

For Newsweek, author George Pelecanos (The Turnaround) identifies what he thinks are the five most important crime novels of all time, though his definition of “important” isn’t entirely clear from his too-brief write-ups about each book. You can look at his list yourself, but I’ll tell you right now that Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye (1953) and James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss (1978) both made the cut. And none of the books features a dog, a cat, a sheep, or any other kind of animal in the detective role.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Catch the Cold

A crime writer who I am very excited to meet at Bouchercon in Baltimore next month, and whose work I cannot recommend highly enough, is Arnaldur Indridason. I first became aware of this gentle giant from Iceland back in 2005, when he won the Crime Writers’ Association’s Gold Dagger Award for his novel Silence of the Grave (an event that courted some controversy and led to the establishment of a separate International Dagger Award). Indridason attended the Dagger Awards ceremony that year, and to show the importance of his victory, Icelandic TV sent a film crew over to England to cover the event. Further, I was asked to supply photos for a Scandinavian crime-fiction magazine, as his victory proved that Henning Mankell was no flash in the pan when it came to continental Europeans capturing the coveted Daggers.

At the time, I was not familiar with Indridason’s work, so I didn’t bother to say hello to him. That’s a slight I intend to rectify in Baltimore.

Once having read Silence of the Grave, though, I realized what a significant impact this author could have on the crime-fiction genre, so I went on to read Jar City (published in the UK as Tainted Blood), which is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the greatest police procedurals ever written. It still haunts me and its conclusion brought me to tears. The film version of that novel (which was titled Mýrin in Iceland) opened in London two weeks ago and I am very pleased to report that I sat in my seat at the cinema, captivated, and again the ending brought moisture to my eyes.

It seems I am not alone in my wonder at this remarkable film. As New York Times critic A.O. Scott has remarked:
“Jar City,” though, turns out to be intricate and pointed, conjuring a haunting, satisfying puzzle out of violence and chaos. The murder, of an old man named Holberg, opens up a nest of older crimes and brooding secrets. [Reykjavik Detective Inspector] Erlendur [Sveinsson] finds himself investigating a possible rape from 30 years before and unraveling a tangled history of police corruption and petty brutality. What it all has to do with Holberg is no more clear to the audience than it is to the detective. But Erlendur’s combination of bluntness and analytical acumen informs Mr. Kormákur’s storytelling technique, making “Jar City” an unusually forceful and thought-provoking thriller.

The main enigma, from the audience’s point of view, involves the connection between Holberg’s killing and the death, from a rare genetic disease, of a girl in a Reykjavik hospital. In resolving this mystery the film explores the intimate, slightly sinister relations among citizens of a homogeneous, isolated nation. Police and criminals, strangers and enemies all address one another by their first names and seem to swing abruptly from candor to hostility and suspicion.
After seeing this movie last weekend, I cracked the spine of Indridason’s fifth translated work, Arctic Chill. I was sad to hear about the death earlier this year of Indridason’s original translator, poet Bernard Scudder, which delayed publication of this wonderful and timely new novel. As Scudder had not completed the translation at the time of his passing, Random House’s Harvill-Secker division commissioned Victoria Cribb to complete the translation. Last week, Random House UK sent me a proof copy of Arctic Chill, along with this synopsis of its story:
On an icy January day the Reykjavik police are called to a block of flats where a body has been found in the garden: a young, dark-skinned boy, frozen to the ground in a pool of his own blood. The discovery of a stab wound in his stomach extinguishes any hope that this was a tragic accident.

Erlendur and his team embark on their investigation with little to go on but the news that the boy’s Thai half-brother is missing. Is he implicated, or simply afraid for his own life? The investigation soon unearths tensions simmering beneath the surface of Iceland’s outwardly liberal, multicultural society. A teacher at the boy’s school makes no secret of his anti-immigration stance; incidents are reported between Icelandic pupils and the disaffected children of incomers; and, to confuse matters further, a suspected paedophile has been spotted in the area. Meanwhile, the boy’s murder forces Erlendur to confront the tragedy in his own past.

Soon, facts are emerging from the snow-filled darkness that are more chilling even than the Arctic night.
I’ve reviewed two of Indridason’s novels--Voices and The Draining Lake--for January Magazine in the past. The latest edition of Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine features Indridason on its cover, with a story inside about Scandinavian crime writers. And this last weekend, the London Times published an interview with Indridason, put together by journalist Doug Johnstone, who wrote, in part:
The Erlendur novels are certainly cinematic, but there is also a sparseness and a deadly dry sense of humour that make them distinctly Icelandic, both traits found in the most famous Icelandic literature of all. “I am heavily influenced by the Icelandic sagas,” [Indridaso] admits. “The sagas are huge stories of families and events, murder and mayhem, and they were written on rare cowskin so they had to be very concise. They don’t use two words when one will do, and I take my cue from that. If you describe things, keep it simple, say what you need to say and go on with the story, never stop the story.”

This storytelling ethic is one of the reasons for Indridason’s success, and his novels are certainly compulsively readable. They also cast insight into the social and political upheaval in Iceland over the past couple of generations; a society trying to balance a deep love of its heritage with huge booms in technology, wealth and industry, trying to reconcile a love of the past with a vision for the future.

“Iceland is a very exciting place to set a crime novel,” Indridason says. “In the past 20 years it has opened up to all kinds of business and tourism and we have our own history to deal with. We’ve changed from being a very poor peasant society to a very rich modern society. Many people were left behind and aren’t at all happy with the new situation.”

Indridason tackles a lot of this through the relationship between Erlendur and his younger and more forward-thinking sidekick Sigurdur Óli. It’s an archetypal central relationship for crime fiction, but Indridason imbues it with unusual subtlety.
It is the melancholic character of Erlendur that makes these novels so compelling. Author Indridason talked with The Guardian a couple of years ago about the background he’s given his detective inspector:
“My father [author Indriði G. Þorsteinsson] was of the generation that moved to the city and he wrote about characters who had, too. Erlendur comes from the country and never felt at home in the city. His domestic life is either difficult or just bleak. A good-looking man in his 30s with a happy home life and good at his job is a happy ending of a story, not a beginning. The study of family life lets you raise all kinds of questions.” Indridason lives in Reykjavik with his wife and three children and says there are few other things so important in our lives, “and few that have so many possibilities in drama and humour. How can Erlendur deal with other people’s family tragedies--usually lost people in every sense--but can’t help himself? What makes him who he is? And I’m running out of time. They say 10 books is the limit for a character. After that you repeat yourself, learn nothing new and say nothing new. I’m not at 10 yet, but it’s getting closer. I really don’t know if I’ll get there.”
Even in these increasingly worrisome economic times, novels about Indriadson’s Reykjavik detectives remain good investments. Euro for euro, dollar for dollar, his work sits right at the top of this genre. If you haven’t yet explored his chilly world, there’s still time to do so before meeting him in Baltimore.

Bullet Points: From Here to Maternity

• Rap Sheet blogger Megan Abbott is the latest guest on the CrimeWAV podcast. She reads her short story “Cheer,” which originally appeared in the Crime/Noir Issue of Storyglossia. Meanwhile, I neglected to mention that Reed Farrel Coleman was last week’s CrimeWAV reader, presenting his story “Killing O’Malley.”

• Larry Beinhart, whose new sixth novel, Salvation Boulevard, is described by January Magazine as “stunning,” answers a scattering of questions for that mag about his favorite city, his sources of inspiration, and what he hopes to achieve with his latest book. Writes editor Linda L. Richards: “The mystery in Salvation Boulevard, Beinhart reports, ‘is God. Belief, religion, tithing and all the trappings.’ The authors says that his goal for the book was a lofty one. He wanted to ‘unravel those mysteries. That may have been pretentious of me. But I found it a whole lot more interesting than another serial killer or the super CSI-ers that don’t exist in real life.’” Beinhart may be best know for having penned the 1993 novel American Hero, which Hollywood turned into the satirical conspiracy film Wag the Dog (1997).

• Kevin Burton Smith has a few things to say about GOP veep candidate Sarah Palin’s ... well, tawdry home life, the families of modern gumshoes, and private eye Tess Monaghan’s pregnancy in Laura Lippman’s evolving, 15-part New York Times serial novel, The Girl in the Green Raincoat. Read more here.

• The new issue of Blazing! Adventures Magazine has been posted.

• Rafe McGregor has the early word on guests and competitions being lined up for next year’s CrimeFest in Bristol, England. If you’d like to revisit this year’s CrimeFest, simply click here.

• Ann Cleaves submits her latest novel, White Nights, to Marshal Zeringue’s Page 99 Test. The results are here.

• In Reference to Murder’s B.V. Lawson presents a list of special events being planned at Baltimore libraries and elsewhere in the city during next month’s Bouchercon. Read more here.

• The Mysterious Matters blog addresses the matter of horror fiction/mystery crossovers.

• Staff writer Scott Timberg offers up a fine tribute in the Los Angeles Times to the late Michael Dibdin. You will find that here.

• Good job! Denver has chosen Dashiell Hammett’s 1933 novel, The Thin Man, as its latest “One Book, One Denver” community read. Cynthia Nye of Boulder’s High Crimes Mystery Bookshop remarks in The Denver Post that “Mysteries offer a concrete resolution and justice, which can be very comforting when we’re living in a world where too many people get away with too many things.” The full story is here.

Harlan Coben will bring back his series protagonist, sports agent Myron Bolitar, in his next novel, Long Lost.

Clayton Matthews--there’s a name I haven’t heard in a while.

• And I didn’t realize that Maj Sjöwall, of the famous Scandinavian crime-writing couple Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, was still alive, much less attending book festivals. Thanks to Petrona’s Maxine Clarke for letting me know.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Gunn with Occasional Music

Given that it’s fall premiere time, September tends to bring TV anniversaries of one sort or another. But this month offers two particularly noteworthy ones. Last Friday, of course, marked 40 years since the debut of The Name of the Game. And it was exactly 50 years ago today, on September 22, 1958, that the NBC private-eye drama Peter Gunn was first broadcast. The creation of director-screenwriter Blake Edwards (who had earlier given us radio’s Richard Diamond, Private Detective and would subsequently be responsible for the Pink Panther film series), Peter Gunn starred Craig Stevens as the eponymous but untraditionally “cool” gumshoe working the mean streets of a never-identified port city.

“Suave, sophisticated, hep to the jive, groovin’ to the oh-so-cool jazzbo-beat, Peter Gunn was like nothing ever seen before on television or anywhere else, really,” writes Kevin Burton Smith at The Thrilling Detective Web Site. “He was a new kind of eye. While other dicks hung out in rundown offices, swilling rotgut, living hand to mouth, loners till the end, cloaked in rumpled trench coats and angst, Gunn hung out at Mother’s, a swank jazz club, wearing his Ivy League finest, pitching woo at his best gal, singer Edie Hart, drinking nothing more than an occasional tasteful martini.”

For a crime drama that lasted only three years--two on NBC, one on ABC, 114 half-hour episodes in all--Peter Gunn had a rather extraordinary impact. And not just in terms of plotting and sophisticated dialogue. As Wikipedia notes:
The show’s use of modern jazz music, at a time when most television shows used a generic, uninspired orchestra for the background, was another distinctive touch that set the standard for many years to come. Innovative jazz themes seemed to accompany every move Gunn made, ably rendered by Henry Mancini and his orchestra (which at that time included John Williams), lending the character even more of an air of suave sophistication. Most memorable of all was the show’s opening (and closing) theme, composed and performed by Mancini. A hip, bluesy, brassy number with an insistent piano-and-bass line, the song became an instant hit for Mancini, earning him an Emmy Award and two Grammys, and became as associated with crime fiction as Monty Norman’s theme to the James Bond films is associated with espionage.
You can listen to that famous theme right here.

Although the series was canceled in 1961, Blake Edwards didn’t give up easily on Peter Gunn. Six years later, he revived the private eye for the big screen in Gunn, which also starred Craig Stevens. And then in 1989, he produced a new pilot film for ABC-TV, this time with Peter Strauss in the lead role. Thrilling Detective’s Smith recalls that “Strauss was perfectly cast as Gunn. Alas, other changes weren’t quite as perfect. The new Gunn was cleaned up--he didn’t smoke, or even drink much, and he had an office complete with a ditzy secretary (a role seemingly written in to accommodate Jennifer Edwards, daughter of I wonder who?). And after the nice, tightly scripted thirty-minute plots of the original series, the pilot seemed overlong and bloated. It was a nice try, but nice doesn’t cut it. If only they’d cut down on the fluff, and given Gunn a drink, a smoke, and a better script, who knows?”

Fortunately, the original show is easily available for viewing. Two DVD sets of Craig Stevens episodes have already been released by A&E, and 38 eps--including the first, “The Kill”--are available free for viewing via YouTube. Half a century after Peter Gunn first strolled into Mother’s for a listen and a libation, maybe it’s time to follow him through those doors one more time.

READ MORE:Television’s Peter Gunn Turns 50,” by Alan Kurtz (Jazz.com); “Peter Gunn--The Smoothest P.I. on TV,” by Mitchell Hadley (It’s About TV!); “Peter Gunn (1960),” by Beestguy (Television’s New Frontier: The 1960s); “Mancini’s Peter Gunn Score Launched Dozens of Careers,” by Joe Manning (Mornings on Maple Street).

Ripley on Crumley

I was speaking with UK crime novelist and Shots columnist Mike Ripley this last Saturday about how much we were both saddened by the loss of James Crumley. Much has been written about that author’s passing in the States, but there’s been comparatively little from our side of the Atlantic.

So Ripley decided to even the score a bit.

The sad fact is that Ripley has penned several obituaries of late, and in each instance he muses on the legacy that great crime/mystery writers have left behind. Ripley met Crumley at the Bouchercon convention held in Nottingham, England, in 1995. Despite his having led a sometimes complex life, Crumley reminds us in his obit for The Guardian that James Crumley was well respected amongst his peers in the UK as well as in his home country:
In 1996, he [Crumley] teamed up his two detectives, Milogradovitch and Sughrue, on a violent revenge mission to the Texas-Mexico border in Bordersnakes. If the plotting was somewhat hazy, Crumley’s lyricism and his eye for absurd but always human characters were still much in evidence, and his true return to form came in 2001 with The Final Country, which won the British Crime Writers’ Silver Dagger award.

Financial problems and poor health, almost certainly due to his love of most things alcoholic, prevented him from travelling to London to collect his award in 2002, and friends and former students from Montana launched an appeal to help fund his medical treatment.
Click here to read Ripley’s full tribute to Crumley. And click here to see a photograph of Crumley, together with Harlan Coben and Laura Lippman, at the 2003 Bouchercon in Las Vegas, Nevada. Even back then, I recall, it was obvious that Crumley’s health was not good.

READ MORE:James Crumley; Inspired Generations of Crime Writers,” by Patricia Sullivan (The Washington Post); “James Crumley, Crime Novelist, Is Dead at 68,” by Margalit Fox (The New York Times).