Monday, November 30, 2009

“Match Wits with Ellery Queen”

I only just returned to my office, where I found an e-mail note from the Web site TV Shows on DVD. It tells me that “the classic NBC ‘whodunit’ series, 1975’s Ellery Queen, will finally come to DVD in 2010.” The site goes on to explain:
The short-lived show starred the late Jim Hutton (father of actor Timothy Hutton, and seen in classic films such as The Green Berets and Where the Boys Are. The program, based on the character from the classic novels, has gained a cult following over the years, despite only consisting of a single season: a pilot telefilm titled “Too Many Suspects” and 22 regular hour-long episodes. ...

No released date is available yet, nor any other information. We were told, by a VERY reliable source, to expect this to arrive in the coming year.
This qualifies as exciting news in my book. I was a big fan of that Hutton series, which also starred David Wayne as Richard Queen, amateur sleuth Ellery’s police inspector father. A couple of years back, I managed to track down a high-quality bootleg copy of the NBC series on the Web and have slowly been nibbling my way through the episodes ever since. (My wife isn’t nearly as enchanted by the show as I am, so I usually watch it when she’s not around.) I don’t know that I am a candidate to buy the “official version,” but there are several readers of this blog who I know would be.

I’ll file updates as I hear more about this.

Drama and Danger on Aisle 12

About a month ago, we told you that bloggers Patti Abbott, Aldo Calcagno, and Gerald So were launching a new flash-fiction contest, this one challenging crime-fiction writers to compose a “750-800-word story that is set, or at least partially set, in a Wal-Mart store.” Well, the results of that friendly competition are popping up today all over the Web.

Click here to find So’s entry, plus a full list of contest participants.

Bullet Points: Post-Turkey Feast Edition

The Times of London chooses its favorite half-dozen crime novels of 2009. If you are hoping to not see the name Stieg Larsson anywhere on this list ... well, forget it.

• AustCrime announces the winners of this year’s Scarlet Stiletto Awards, given out by the Australian branch of Sisters in Crime.

• This note comes from Russell Atwood, author of the recent Hard Case Crime release Losers Live Longer: “I was looking around recently and came across a blog announcement from Chris Fischer, the son of Peter S. Fischer, announcing the publication of his father’s first novel, The Blood of Tyrants.” If the name Peter S. Fischer doesn’t ring a bell, then you obviously haven’t been watching enough classic mystery and crime fiction on television. Fischer is an Emmy-nominated TV writer and producer whose credits include scripting episodes of Columbo, Ellery Queen, Blacke’s Magic, McMillan & Wife, The Eddie Capra Mysteries, Griff, and Murder, She Wrote (which he co-created with Richard Levinson and William Link). I haven’t yet seen a copy of The Blood of Tyrants (Grove Point Press), but its Amazon description certainly sounds promising:
A crowded restaurant in Washington, D.C. A powerful Congressman is lunching with a wealthy contributor who suddenly rises and shoots the Congressman dead in front of a hundred witnesses. Quietly, he resumes his seat, placing the gun on the table as he awaits the authorities. Thus begins ten days of terror, ten days in which the nation teeters on the brink of anarchy. Inadvertently drawn into this murderous conspiracy is Paul Castle, a once promising newspaper reporter, now the host of a third-rate cable show that deals in sleaze and scandal. Castle suddenly finds himself a pawn in a series of bizarre murders that have gripped the nation in fear. Secretly aided by an avuncular New York homicide detective and hounded by an ambitious FBI agent, Castle seeks to get to the bottom of the mystery and in the process, regain his lost self-respect. With the future of the country at stake, he knows he cannot afford to fail.
The Blood of Tyrants was apparently released in mid-October.

• Travel back with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear and another fine episode of radio’s The Adventures of Sam Spade, hosted by Davy Crockett’s Almanack. This week’s investigation: “The Stopped Watch Caper.”

• The latest short-story offering in Beat to a Pulp is “Brotherly Love,” contributed by New Hampshire author J.E. Seymour.

• Mark Coggins submits his fifth and latest P.I. August Riordan novel, The Big Wake-Up, to Marshal Zeringue’s fabled Page 69 Test. The results are here.

• First-novelist Roy Chaney does the same thing with The Ragged End of Nowhere, his Tony Hillerman Prize winner.

• Raymond Chandler’s 1953 novel, The Long Goodbye, turned 56 years old on Friday. (Hat tip to In Reference to Murder.)

• Another fine tribute to the late actor Edward Woodward, this time from the blog The Horn Section. Click here to read more.

Good news from Slate: “By January, [President Barack Obama] will have accomplished more than any first-year president since Franklin Roosevelt.” More on that same subject here.

• Christopher Mills is celebrating “spy vixens” this week in Spy-fi Channel. First up: Dalia Lavi, from Dean Martin’s The Silencers.

Out of the Gutter #6--“The Sexploitation Issue”--is now available.

• This is certainly a milestone: Carl Kassel, who has been with National Public Radio since 1975 and probably provides that network’s most familiar voice, will cease broadcasting the news as of today, December 30.

What James Bond and Jonny Quest have in common.

• Finally, I want to wish a happy birthday to my best friend from college, Byron Rice. Many moons have sailed over the horizon since he and I met, got into running, pounded down bottles of “Green Death” on the back lawns, talked about how our lives might proceed, and got down to the ugly business of living as adults. But those memories (and the abundant laughs they’ve generated) created a solid foundation for a lifetime of comradeship. I consider myself one lucky guy to have such a friend.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


2009 has turned out to be a great year for crime fiction, and it isn’t over yet. Here’s one novel that would make a perfect stocking stuffer--if people still stuff books into footwear in the Age of the Kindle.

The Semantics of Murder, by Aifric Campbell (Serpent’s Tail). Gaelic Noir lives, with help from a fine female practitioner. “Campbell shows a light and conciliatory touch ... She is excellent on the symptomatic one-upmanship of academia ... she clearly has a talent for direct and uncompromising character portrayal,” enthuses The Irish Times. “Written in glistening prose ... a major talent,” agrees the Irish Independent. In The Semantics of Murder, Jay Hamilton lives a comfortable life in London as a psychoanalyst, but the darker recesses of his own psyche would not stand up to careful examination. Furthermore, he’s been using his clients’ case studies as fodder for his secret fiction writing. Then his older brother, Robert, a brilliant professor of mathematical linguistics at UCLA, is killed and Jay is the first person on the scene. When Robert’s young biographer endeavors to dig beneath to surface of her subject’s life, she discovers Jay’s secrets as well--including his decision to allow a patient’s breakdown to accelerate dangerously.

Two more goodies due out in the coming months:

The Bricklayer, by Noah Boyd (Morrow). Ex-FBI agent Steve Vail is more than happy to leave the Bureau behind, but the folks there aren’t through with him yet. A group called the Rubaco Pentad is killing human targets one by one unless the FBI can give them buckets of cash, with the amount and the body count escalating each time the agency doesn’t pay up. The feds are stumped. Some signs point to a corrupt agent, while others lead to completely dead ends. Vail has built a reputation for being able to find anybody anywhere. Now, with no official ties, he’s the perfect choice for the sort of under-the-radar investigation the FBI needs. But as Vail well knows, going after people who use killing as a bargaining chip is asking for the worst kind of trouble. To be released on January 26.

The Poacher’s Son, by Paul Doiron (Minotaur). Anyone who enjoys C.J. Box and Nevada Barr should relish this one. Set in the wilds of Maine, The Poacher’s Son is an explosive tale about an estranged son who’s thrust into the hunt for a murderous fugitive--his own father. Game warden Mike Bowditch returns home one evening to find an alarming voice from the past on his answering machine: his father, Jack, a hard-drinking womanizer who makes his living illegally poaching game. An even more frightening call comes the next morning from the police: They are searching for the man who killed a beloved local cop the night before--and his father is their prime suspect. Jack has escaped from police custody, and only Mike believes that his tormented father might not be guilty. Due in bookstores by April 27.

All of this makes me rather sad that my two-year stint as a judge on the crime-fiction panel for the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes is approaching its end.

Well Doggies!

Almost two decades since its cancellation, the CBS-TV series Barnaby Jones suddenly seems to be all over the news. A couple of weeks back, we reported on the coming DVD release of that Buddy Ebsen-led private eye show. Now we hear that Ebsen’s series co-star, former Miss America Lee Meriwether, will be making a special guest appearance this next week on the Internet radio program TV Confidential to talk about her years on Barnaby Jones, as well as some of her previous acting work.

From the program’s Web site:
Film and TV icon Lee Meriwether is scheduled to join us on the next edition of TV Confidential, premiering Monday, Nov. 30, at 10 p.m. ET, 7 p.m. PT on Shokus Internet Radio, with a rebroadcast Tuesday, Dec. 1, at 11 p.m. ET, 8 p.m. PT on Share-a-Vision Radio,

Known to many of us for playing Betty Jones on the long-running private detective series Barnaby Jones (CBS, 1973-1980), as well as The Catwoman in the original Batman motion picture from 1966, Lee Meriwether has been a film and TV icon for more than four decades. We’ll talk about these famous characters, plus her roles on such classic series as Star Trek, The Fugitive, Mission: Impossible, Dan August and Perry Mason, her work with such legends as John Wayne, Rock Hudson, Andy Griffith, Jonathan Winters, Irwin Allen and James Garner, and a whole lot more.

If you want to be part of our conversation, if you have a question for Ms. Meriwether about her career or any of the films and TV series in which she’s appeared, we invite you to join us for our live broadcast Monday, Nov. 30 beginning at 10pm ET, 7 p.m. PT on Shokus Internet Radio. Phone number is (888) SHOKUS-5 / (888) 746-5875. Email address is
Sounds like a purr-fectly delightful experience.

For the Honor of Ireland

Even though you can’t tell, unless you happen to be an Irish crime writer who’s been invited to vote on this matter, novelist and blogger Declan Burke’s much-promised competition for the first (annual?) Crime Always Pays Irish Crime Novel of the Year Award is heating up. The six books shortlisted for said honor:

The Lovers, by John Connolly (Hodder & Stoughton)
Winterland, by Alan Glynn (Faber and Faber)
All the Dead Voices, by Declan Hughes (John Murray)
Dark Times in the City, by Gene Kerrigan (Harvill Secker)
Fifty Grand, by Adrian McKinty (Henry Holt)
The Twelve, by Stuart Neville (Harvill Secker)

Burke will announce the winner this coming Friday, December 4.

Meanwhile, readers have a chance to win some of these Irish crime-writing gems simply by picking the shortlisted books they believe will ultimately be the first-, second-, and third-place finishers. Leave your predictions in the Comments box at the end of this post by Thursday, December 3. And then wait to see if your name is plucked randomly from a hat.

Retread Reads

Although The Rap Sheet took a much-appreciated break yesterday from contributing to Patti Abbott’s “forgotten books” series, other bloggers continued to pitch in reading ideas. Some of the crime-oriented fiction recommended this week: Cry at Dusk, by Lester Dent; Homicide Johnny, by Steve Fisher; The Last of Philip Banter, by John Franklin Bardin; Tropic of Night, by Michael Gruber; Lemons Never Lie, by Richard Stark; Black as He’s Painted, by Ngaio Marsh; and Midnight Specials, edited by Bill Pronzini.

Abbott offered a complete rundown of this week’s participating writers in her own blog.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Reasons to Give Thanks, 2009

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the United States, an occasion that’s supposed to bring families together and cause us all to assess what blessings we’ve enjoyed over the last twelve months. I have to say, 2009 has made me feel more optimistic than I have since the 2001 terrorist attacks, for some very good reasons: Now that Democrat Barack Obama has replaced George W. Bush in the White House, I can wake up mornings freer of concern that scandals, incompetent acts, or disasters are in store for my country. The international economic picture seems to be brightening as a result of stimulus efforts in the United States and elsewhere. Books continue to defy predictions of their disappearance. Oprah Winfrey’s departure from daytime television seems unlikely to bring on The Apocalypse. Although there’s still a long road ahead for plans to fix America’s inequitable, budget-busting health-care system, reform is finally moving through Congress--despite roadblocks thrown up by do-nothing Republicans. Both of the non-fiction books I penned last year were published in 2009, on schedule. And I’ve discovered a Travel Channel “reality series” that lets me indulge in culinary overindulgence without gaining a pound: Man v. Food.

Looking back, there have also been a number of crime-fiction-related things to be thankful for over the past year. Among those:

• Mystery and crime fiction in the news. Last week I discovered in my mail the October/November 2009 issue of Mystery News--that tabloid’s final edition. While it’s sad to see such a valuable periodical disappear, at least a few of its competitors remain in print, including Crimespree Magazine, Deadly Pleasures, and Mystery Scene. And such stalwarts as Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine will continue to keep us entertained, as well. But the rising costs of printing and distribution make it tough to keep paper periodicals afloat in the age of the Internet. The proliferation of online publications and blogs give us the illusion that niches left vacant by magazine failures can be filled at comparatively little cost; however, as Mystery Scene editor Kate Stine observed last month in The Rap Sheet, most blogs are “labors of love and it’s hard to cover the mystery world and do it justice as a hobby.” We’ve already seen several noteworthy crime-fiction-related sites disappear in 2009, and more will likely fade away in 2010. Many of those that remain don’t measure up to the journalistic standards associated with print pubs. All of this makes me appreciate much more the mystery mags that still occupy newsstands.

• TV on DVD. While a whole lot of shows from the past have been repackaged for anytime home viewing, it seemed that the lamest, most obvious choices (often sitcoms) made it to the DVD market first. Now, though, we’re seeing a greater and more interesting diversity of choices become available. In 2009, for instance, I had the chance to watch Studio One: The Defender, a surprisingly simple but captivating 1957 courtroom drama (starring Ralph Bellamy and a young William Shatner) that inspired the Emmy Award-winning 1961-1965 CBS series, The Defenders, in which E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed portrayed father and son defense attorneys. I also discovered DNA (originally shown as DoNovAn), a two-season British drama from earlier in this decade, which features Tom Conti as a renowned but psychologically compromised criminologist who conducts forensic investigations in Manchester, England, while contending with a wayward wife and headstrong son. And more recently I’ve been watching Mannix, the 1967-1975 private-eye drama starring Mike Connors. I didn’t see that CBS show very often as a boy, and remembered it as being so-so in quality. But from an adult’s perspective, it’s so much more interesting. I’m now deep into Season Three, and am looking forward to taking in all the seasons as they’re released on disc. The U.S. version of Life on Mars is keeping me glued to the TV set, too. I missed a few of that show’s early episodes and only now have the opportunity to see them. With hindsight, knowing the ending of this science-fiction crime drama, I can understand how all of the little flashbacks and peculiar timeline spillovers fit together. Once I’m done with the American version, I shall have to rent or buy the UK series, to see how the two compare and where they diverge in story lines. Other shows that are equally good, if not better the second time around: The Mod Squad, The Rockford Files (all six seasons of which I now own), Mission: Impossible, Crime Story, and Murder One. And I’m hoping that rumors about the coming DVD release of It Takes a Thief hold true. With more and more of today’s TV schedule being swallowed by inane game shows and reality programming, I’m in need of something else to watch. Older series on DVD fit the bill nicely.

• Used book stores. This is almost too obvious, given that in the last year I launched Killer Covers, my other blog, in which I write about classic crime-novel design and illustration. I’ve spent a great many hours since then, pawing among the carefully preserved paperbacks at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, the Seattle Mystery Bookshop, and elsewhere. Along the way, I have discovered some terrific out-of-print reading material and earned nascent expertise in the history of American paperback artists. I have probably also ingested a lifetime’s supply of dust and strained my eyes by looking over the fine print in which credit for book design is often hidden. Were it not for the conscientious caretakers of used book stores, none of this would have been possible. I tip my hat to every one of you.

• Traylor Howard. I haven’t always been a fan of the USA Network TV series Monk; on more than one occasion, I’ve ranted at the show’s unbelievable plots and its overdependence on quirkiness to carry it through. But I am a confirmed fan of detective Adrian Monk’s assistant, Natalie Teeger, played by actress Traylor Howard. I first remember her as the cute blond commitment-phobe on the late-’90s ABC sitcom Two Guys and a Girl (aka Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place). She later potrayed Anthony Clark’s love interest in Boston Common and Alfred Molina’s daughter in Bram & Alice. But it’s in the role of a toothpaste company heiress, reformed gambling addict, single mom, and sleuth’s helper that Howard really shines. Less bitchy and demanding than Monk’s original assistant, Sharona Fleming, her Natalie is sentimental and sweet, but fully able to take care of herself (didn’t she once kill a man in self-defense?). When Monk finally goes off the air on December 4, it will be Natalie Teeger I shall miss seeing most on a regular basis. And I’ll not be alone in feeling that way.

• Repackaged classics. I wrote recently about Academy Chicago Publishers’ reissued Charlie Chan detective novels, all handsomely packaged. But I’ve been equally impressed by Vintage Crime’s new editions (designed by Gregg Kulick) of the 10 Martin Beck police procedurals, written in the 1960s and ’70s by Swedish authors Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. All boast introductions by some of today’s best-known authors, including Michael Connelly, Val McDermid, and Jonathan Franzen. And let’s not forget Bantam Books’ progressive repackaging of the Nero Wolfe novels by Rex Stout. So far, there are five volumes in Bantam’s series, each containing two full-length novels about Wolfe and his legman, Archie Goodwin. The first volume, featuring Fer-de-Lance and The League of Frightened Men, appeared in bookstores during the summer of 2008. The latest “double,” containing Black Orchids and The Silent Speaker, was released in August of this year. All of these reissued classics have the potential to attract new fans, especially younger folks who don’t commonly go shopping in used book stores for their reading material.

• The mystery fiction community. Finally, a note of thanks to all of my Rap Sheet contributors and the many readers who visit this blog on a daily or weekly basis. Let me voice my appreciation, too, for the authors and critics who have made me feel welcome among them. I was especially privileged last year to spend several days at Bouchercon in Baltimore, where people actually seemed to know who I was--much to my wife’s astonishment. I’ve been looking during my entire earthly existence for what sociologists would call “my tribe,” the folks among whom I fit best. I thought that tribe was made up of journalists, the professionals I trained with and learned from for so many years. But the fact is, I might have been looking in the wrong place. Turns out, where I feel most at home is in a crowd of crime-genre fans, all of whom have traveled the same dark (fictional) thoroughfares over which I’ve trod in my mind for decades. I hope to see you all again next October in beautiful San Francisco.

Side Dishes

• I, for one, am looking forward to hearingThe Little Death,” the second volume in Blackstone AudiobooksNew Adventures of Mike Hammer series, and the first one scripted by Max Allan Collins. “I based it on material Mickey had prepared in the ’50s for both a radio version and a television one; I had adapted this during Mickey’s lifetime into the short story ‘The Night I Died,’” Collins explains. This Blackstone audio is due out at the beginning of next month.

• As the USA Network series Monk winds down to its final episode on Friday, December 4, Sandra Parshall offers a fond farewell to the show in Poe’s Deadly Daughters.

• Non-surprise of the month: Burn Notice wins a fourth season.

• Do protagonists have to be likable? L.J. Sellers (Secrets to Die For) ponders that question in a guest post for The Lady Killers.

Victor Gischler--comic book writer.

• Damn! It looks like Tommy Lee Jones has pulled out of the project to turn Michael Connelly’s 2005 novel The Lincoln Lawyer into a movie. He would have been an asset.

• Want to win a free copy of In the Heat (2008) or Lonesome Point (2009), both written by Shamus Award winner Ian Vasquez? You should begin by clicking here.

• Star Zachary Levi previews the coming third season of Chuck.

Talk about clever commercials!

• And Man from U.N.C.L.E. star Robert Vaughn’s 77th birthday party was certainly a gala affair. (Hat tip to The HMSS Weblog.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mol of America

One of the reasons I was so disappointed by the cancellation, earlier this year, of the U.S. version of Life on Mars was that it meant I’d no longer be seeing actress Gretchen Mol in the role of Policewoman Annie “No Nuts” Norris. The much-underestimated Mol did an excellent turn as a female cop in a sexist New York precinct who wanted to become a detective--and finally did in the last episode. Unfortunately, we never had a chance to see how she (or her male colleagues) took to her new status.

But it seems the 37-year-old Mol hasn’t abandoned television altogether. TV Squad reports that she’s joining the cast of Boardwalk Empire, the forthcoming HBO series set in Atlantic City, New Jersey, during the Great Depression and executive produced by renowned film director Martin Scorcese. Mol will have “a recurring role as a showgirl,” according to TV Squad.

Boardwalk Empire is supposed to debut sometime next year.


When did it become OK to use religion as a right-wing hate tool?

Monday, November 23, 2009

The First Reads Club

Last year at about this same time, I took up a interesting challenge posed by Baltimore scribbler and BSCReview contributor Brian Lindenmuth to compile a list of authors whose work I had read for the first time in 2008. I hadn’t realized until going through that exercise just how many wordsmiths I’d unintentionally “discovered” during the preceding 12 months. While the number was smaller than the quantity of books I had read by previously familiar authors, it was nonetheless significant.

So I decided to repeat the exercise this year. Not all of the novels inventoried below were published over the course of 2009 (in fact, many were released before I was even born), but they all come from authors I had never read before last January 1. Author debuts appear in boldface, and the asterisks denote works of crime or thriller fiction.

David Alexander (Shoot a Sitting Duck)*
William Ard (Deadly Beloved)*
O.G. Benson (Cain’s Woman)*
Rebecca Cantrell (A Trace of Smoke)*
M.E. Chaber (A Hearse of Another Color)*
Roy Chaney (The Ragged End of Nowhere)*
Richard Deming (Anything But Saintly)*
Thomas B. Dewey (The Case of the Chased and the Unchaste)*
David Ebershoff (The 19th Wife)
Stanley Ellin (The Eighth Circle)*
Roy Huggins (The Double Take)*
E. Howard Hunt (House Dick)*
J. Sydney Jones (The Empty Mirror)*
Frank Kane (Stacked Deck)*
Colum McCann (Let the Great World Spin)
Rafe McGregor (The Architect of Murder)*
Stefanie Pintoff (In the Shadow of Gotham)*
Talmage Powell (Corpus Delectable)*
A.E. Roman (Chinatown Angel)*
Dan Simmons (Drood)
Robert Terrall (Kill Now, Pay Later)*

Of course, my reading appetites aren’t confined exclusively to crime fiction. In addition, I enjoyed a variety of non-fiction works during the last year that were penned by authors new to my bookshelves:

Karen Abbott (Sin in the Second City)
Adam Cohen (Nothing to Fear)
John C. Fredriksen (Honey West)
Greg Grandin (Fordlandia)
Laura James (The Love Pirate and the Bandit’s Son)
Jill Jonnes (Eiffel’s Tower)
Charles Lachman (The Last Lincolns)
Simon Read (War of Words)
Martha A. Sandweiss (Passing Strange)

When last I undertook this task, it was as part of a meme and I was supposed to ask five other bloggers to catalogue their own year’s worth of author discoveries. I’ll pass on repeating that aspect of the assignment. But if you feel inclined to try this exercise on your own, simply send me a link to your list and I shall post it here. Or drop a note about your “first reads” rundown into the Comments section at the end of this post.

All of this makes me wonder what new writers I shall “meet” through their prose in 2010. I look forward to those encounters.

READ MORE:New Authors: 2009,” by Ben Boulden (Gravetapping).

Expect the Expected

For whatever it’s worth, the British division of Amazon has posted a list of what editors there believe are the best crime, thriller, and mystery novels of 2009.

There’s not much suspense about the selections, which include two Stieg Larsson novels and the latest output by big-name wordsmiths Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, and Lee Child. But adding Stuart Neville’s Twelve (published in the States as The Ghosts of Belfast) and Stuart McBride’s Blind Eye to the mix at least demonstrates that the editors at Amazon--which is, after all, a sales site--can see a bit beyond the bestsellers lists.

Bullet Points: Pre-Thanksgiving Day Edition

• “The usual hyperbole aside, 2009 was a terrific year for the Irish crime novel, and will, I’m pretty certain, be seen in retrospect as a watershed year in terms of quality,” novelist Declan Burke writes in his blog, introducing the first Crime Always Pays Irish Novel of the Year Award. He says he’s developing a shortlist of candidates, and will then post a poll at Crime Always Pays, so that we can all have our say. Keep on the lookout for it.

• I knew I’d seen that dress somewhere before: from Brian Lindenmuth, fashion maven.

• Janet Rudolph prepares for Thanksgiving on Thursday by compiling a list of crime-fiction works befitting the holiday. More thoughts on the matter from Les Blatt.

• The second part of Mark Troy’s interview with Lono Waiwaiole (Dark Paradise)--begun in Make Mine Mystery--concludes in Troy’s own blog, Hawaiian Eye.

The artwork of James Bond.

• Have you signed up yet for the next Left Coast Crime convention, to be held in Los Angeles in mid-March?

• Eric Stone submits his latest novel, Shanghaied, to Marshal Zeringue’s Page 69 Test. The results are here.

• I forgot to mention Cullen Gallagher’s interview with Tom Piccirilli, author of the new novel Shadow Season. So here I am telling you to go read it. Now.

• Another interview worth reading, this time with Gerald Seymour.

• I bet you’ve never seen an A-Z book like this one before.

• And the 1970s British series UFO was one of my favorite TV shows as a boy. I think I can be talked into paying to see a movie version of that science-fiction drama--but only if filmmakers reuse the Barry Gray theme music and insist that female stars wear the same bodysuits that made the original show so watchable.

Small Screen, Big Impact

It’s not wholly crime-fiction oriented, but Patti Abbott has assembled a few bloggers to write today about TV shows they’ve loved. Her own choice is Leave It to Beaver. Ending her post is a list of other bloggers who are joining in this meme.

Meanwhile, blogger Jared Case--inspired by The A.V. Club’s “Best TV Series of the ’00s” feature--has assembled his own rundown of 20 favorite shows from the last decade. It’s a good collection, including The West Wing, Sports Night, Life, and The Shield. Of course, if I had time to create my own such roster, which I don’t, it would also feature Deadwood, the three-season HBO series that blended the western genre so neatly with Shakespeare for consistently engaging (and surprisingly fresh) drama. I would probably want to add Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Life on Mars (both the U.S. and UK versions), plus Foyle’s War, Scrubs and Burn Notice, and maybe Crossing Jordan as well, and pretty soon I’d be working up a lengthy post of my own ... which I don’t have time to write, of course ...

Finally, while we’re on the subject of boob tube diversions, note that AOL’s Inside TV blog has put together a “Best ’50s TV Shows” selection, which touts 77 Sunset Strip, The Untouchables, Dragnet, and Perry Mason, among others.

Wider Than a Mile

Mystery and music fight for space in my life, and music is gaining. I was fortunate enough to be sent an early copy (by Nicholas Latimer at Knopf, one of the best book publicists and enthusiasts in the business) of The Complete Lyrics of Johnny Mercer.

And the icing on my cake was the DVD, Johnny Mercer: The Dream’s on Me, co-produced by Clint Eastwood, written and directed by Bruce Ricker, and featuring interviews with Tony Bennett, Julie Andrews, Blake Edwards, John Williams, and others. It first showed last Friday on the cable network TCM (Turner Classic Movies), on what would have been singer Mercer’s 100th birthday. (He died in 1976.)

His lyrics established the highest standards in the American songbook. Collaborating with Hoagy Carmichael, Harry Warren, Harold Arlen, and Jerome Kern, among many others, Mercer set unforgettable words to some of the most memorable melodies in popular music, including “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” “Fools Rush In,” “I Remember You,” “That Old Black Magic,” “Laura,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Midnight Sun,” “Satin Doll,” “Moon River,” and “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).”

Some people may think that Eastwood produced this marvelous program for TCM in order to give his daughter Alison a chance to sing on camera. But she’s actually very good, seems to understand the lyrics perfectly, and delivers a moving, nuanced performance.

I’ve been singing Mercer songs to myself ever since seeing that special, and looking up lyrics on the invaluable Lyricsmania site. The details of the Eastwood biography (and other Mercer music) can be found on TCM’s Web site.

READ MORE:The Quality of Mercer,” by Vince Keenan.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Men’s Misadventures

Those of you who have been reading The Rap Sheet long enough to remember Men’s Adventure, my sadly aborted attempt in this blog to write a serial novel based on my early years at Argosy magazine, might be interested to read the real story in All Man!: Hemingway, 1950s Men’s Magazines, and the Masculine Persona (Kent State University Press), written by David M. Earle.

Argosy gets several mentions in All Man!, mostly in regard to my boss and gin rummy partner, managing editor Milt Machlin, and his phone interviews with Ernest Hemingway, which he turned into a paperback book called The Private Hell of Hemingway after Papa ate his shotgun in July 1961.

I remember one of those New York-to-Havana conversations, which Machlin invited me to listen in on while he taped it. Unfortunately, the recorder picked up only my boss’ questions and not Hem’s responses. I was quickly drafted to help reconstruct the Hemingway half.

In any event, here’s the publisher’s description of All Man!:
During the 1950s, Hemingway was in two plane crashes, won a Nobel Prize, published a best-selling novel, and had five movies released based on his work. He had always been a public figure, but during these years his fame rose to that of celebrity. Splashed on the pages of men’s magazines were articles titled “Hemingway, Rogue Male,” “Hemingway: America’s No 1 He-Man,” “Hemingway: War, Women, Wine, and Words,” and “Hemingway: King of the Vulgar Words and Seduction.” These articles appeared not in the mainstream men’s magazines like Esquire, Field & Stream, and Playboy, but in the pulp men’s adventure magazines of Vagabond, Rogue, Modern Man, Male, Bachelor, Sir Knight!, and Gent. Kitschy, extreme, and often misogynistic, these magazines capture the hyper-masculinity of the postwar decade. And Hemingway was portrayed as a role model in all of them. Using these overlooked and sensational magazines, David M. Earle explores the popular image of Ernest Hemingway in order to consider the dynamics of both literary celebrity and mid-century masculinity. Profusely illustrated with magazine covers, article blurbs, and advertisements in full color, All Man! considers the role that visuality played in the construction of Hemingway’s reputation, as well as conveys a lurid and largely overlooked genre of popular publishing. More than just a contribution to Hemingway studies, All Man! is an important addition to scholarship in the modernist era in American literature, gender studies, popular culture, and the history of publishing.
This book was released at the end of October, and would make a swell holiday present for Hemingway fans or lovers of classic 20th-century periodicals.

READ MORE:‘Hemingway R.I.P. Day’ on the Men’s Adventure Magazines Blog,” by SubtropicBob (Men’s Adventure Magazines).

A Bit Here, a Bit There ...

This has been an all-over-the-map week for me, work-wise. There’s so much to catch up on here, but I can’t do it all at once. For now, just a few tidbits worth mentioning. More to follow.

• Baltimore novelist Laura Lippman (Life Sentences) has been elected as president of the Mystery Writers of America for 2010. She’ll follow Lee Child in that post.

• The further investigations of Sam Spade, private eye: This week’s episode, brought to you by Davy Crockett’s Almanack, is titled “The Apple of Eve Caper.”

• The latest short fiction offering in Beat to a Pulp comes from pseudonymous San Francisco writer Cormac Brown. His contribution is called “They Come from Above.”

Mark Billingham’s series detective, London-based police Inspector Tom Thorne, is bound for TV screens in the form of actor David Morrissey, according to Karen Meek of Euro Crime.

• I had no idea that it was so hard to catalogue all the early works by best-selling novelist Nelson DeMille.

Good news for a change.

• The comedy-spy series Chuck will return to NBC on January 10.

• And blogger Paul Bishop of Bish’s Beat got it into his head recently to celebrate “spy girls” in all of their varied, vain, and vivacious glory. The results are here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Book You Have to Read:
“The Staked Goat,” by Jeremiah Healy

(Editor’s note: This is the 72nd installment of our ongoing Friday blog series highlighting great but forgotten books. Today’s selection comes from Chicago author Libby Fischer Hellmann. Her most recent novel is Doubleback, the second installment [after 2008’s Easy Innocence] in the private eye Georgia Davis series. Hellmann also edited Chicago Blues, a 2007 anthology of mystery stories. When not writing or editing fiction, she contributes to the group blog The Outfit.)

My entry into crime fiction was by way of thrillers. I gobbled up John le Carré, Robert Ludlum, Len Deighton, Ken Follett, and more (with the exception of Helen MacInnes, they were all men back then). In time, however, a steady diet of thrillers brought monotony: the world was on the precipice, the hero saved it, then walked off into the sunset. I remember complaining to my mother, who was and continues to be a prolific mystery reader. “Here,” she said, handing me a book. “Try this.” That book was The Staked Goat (1986), by Jeremiah Healy.

Although I didn’t know it then, I had wandered into a classic private-eye novel. In The Staked Goat Boston detective John Francis Cuddy tries to find out who murdered his old Vietnam buddy, Al Sachs. The police think Sachs’ death was the result of a ritualistic homosexual murder and want to close the case; Cuddy doesn’t buy it. His investigation takes him from Boston to Pittsburgh to the Pentagon, where he tangles with a subculture of the military whose black-market operations have flourished since the days of the Vietnam War. At the same time, Cuddy must deal with the aftermath of a previous case.

Unlike the novels I had been reading, there were no gut-wrenching pyrotechnics or impossible tasks to be accomplished in the nick of time. Instead, there was an absorbing story that dealt with real, human-scale issues. In fact, what attracted me most was the realization that crime fiction could be an excellent vehicle to explore social controversies without beating a reader over the head. Healy isn’t afraid to tackle a tough issue, one that--at the time--most would have liked to forget. He also explores society’s preconceptions about homosexuality, and, with unusual foresight for the era in which he was writing, shows how groundless they are.

But plot can only take a reader so far, and it was Healy’s characters who won me over. Al’s widow, her friends, the elderly black couple in Boston, even the antagonists--they’re all painted in shades of reality. There are no cardboard stereotypes here, no matter what race, gender, or sexual orientation--just people who laugh and cry and bleed. Everyone has a back story, and Healy sprinkles just enough of their histories into his pages to keep me reading. In that sense, the plot seems unhurried. Healy wants us to get to know these people before he reveals what will or won’t happen to them. And yet, events are carefully orchestrated. For example, one of the most touching scenes involves Cuddy taking a potential new love interest to the grave of his late wife, Beth. That’s interrupted with an explosive action scene. Perfect choreography.

The prose, crisp, lean, and muscular, takes us to the edge of terse. And while the author leaves much to his reader’s imagination, I never had questions about any character’s motivation. Healy really does show us how “less is more.”

It was Jerry Healy who started my journey into P.I. novels, police procedurals, even amateur sleuths. Over the next 10 years I read widely and eventually started writing myself. But, like a first lover, The Staked Goat has a special place in my heart. It’s a classic. Which is why you have to read this book.

READ MORE:Jeremiah Healy’s Cuddy Edge,” by J. Kingston Pierce (January Magazine).

Rise of the Unread

After you’ve had a chance to read Libby Fischer Hellmann’s recollections of The Staked Goat, by Jeremiah Healy, check out some of the other “forgotten books” being recommended around the Web today. Among the crime- and thriller-fiction titles: Dead at the Take-off, by Lester Dent; Danger Is My Line, by Stephen Marlowe; Decoys, by Richard Hoyt; The Girl on the Best Seller List, by Vin Packer; Victims, by B.M. Gill; The Velvet Touch, by Edward D. Hoch; The Schoolgirl Murder Case, by Colin Wilson; The Devil Rides Out, by Dennis Wheatley; The Curious Facts of My Execution, by Donald E. Westlake; A Garden of Vipers, by Jack Kerley; A Tasty Way to Die, by Janet Laurence; Box Nine, by Jack O’Connell; and the Jane Bond adventures by Mabel Maney.

Organizer Patti Abbott offers a full rundown of today’s participating writers in her own blog, plus several others lesser-known books worthy of reconsideration.

Reds, Germans, and Hollywood Lust

It happens too often: a writer dies, and I’m reminded by the obituaries of books I meant to read but never did. Otto Friedrich’s City of Nets was a perfect example; I read all the reviews when that work came out in 1986, but it wasn’t until after Friedrich’s death in 1995 that I fell in love with his history of Hollywood in the 1940s.

The part that interested me most were the chapters about the German émigrés who settled in Los Angeles during and after World War II. Novelist and social critic Thomas Mann was the dean; his older brother Heinrich was less popular and returned to East Germany after the war. Other residents included Franz Werfel (Song of Bernadette) and his wife, Alma, who had been married to Gustav Mahler and never let anyone forget it; and that cynical smoker of cheap cigars, Bertold Brecht.

I can’t be certain, but I think that publisher-turned-novelist Joseph Kanon (who won an Edgar Award for his superb 1997 novel, Los Alamos, and whose equally excellent The Good German was turned into a film starring George Clooney) read those same chapters of City of Nets before starting to write his absolutely riveting and award-worthy new novel, Stardust (Atria).

Ben Collier, recently returned to the United States from service in Europe with the Signal Corps, travels to California in 1946 after his sister-in-law, Liesl, informs him that his B-movie director brother, Danny, has suffered a serious fall from a hotel window. Was it an accident or a suicide attempt? Ben arrives in time to witness his brother briefly emerge from a coma, but soon afterward Danny dies. While Liesl believes the suicide theory, Ben suspects that someone pushed Danny to his death, and he turns amateur detective in order to identify the culprit. Liesl and Ben soon begin a scorching affair, which is of course too good to last. Then Ben learns that his brother, formerly an active Communist, was playing a part in an anti-Communist crusade launched by a congressman against the American film industry.

Guest-starring a dazzling blend of real Tinseltown players (Paulette Goddard, Jack Warner, agent Abe Lastfogel) and fictional creations (keep your eye on Bunny, the former child star who is now a top studio exec), Stardust deserves to be a featured attraction on everyone’s reading list.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


It was 10 years ago today that The World Is Not Enough--the 19th James Bond film and the last one of the 20th century--debuted in movie theaters. Although World is probably not counted among the series’ best pictures, The HMSS Weblog has a whole list of reasons why it was a significant installment.

My own two favorite things about The World Is Not Enough were the absolutely fantastic boat chase through London’s waterways (plus the onshore excitement that followed), and the “Bond girl” appearance by French actress Sophie Marceau (who--despite being a criminal sadist--was soooo much hotter here than Denise Richards).

Just for fun, I’ve embedded one of this movie’s trailers above. The line in it that makes me chuckle every time comes from Michael Kitchen: “His only goal is chaos.” Given the pyrotechnics in this and other Bond features, I can’t help wondering whether he’s describing Bond’s adversaries ... or Agent 007 himself.

READ MORE:Dig That Gold,” by J. Kingston Pierce (The Rap Sheet).

“Hokey Smoke!”

Happy 50th birthday, Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose.

Jonesing Once More

Barnaby Jones enthusiasts, take note. The Web site TV Shows on DVD announced yesterday that CBS DVD-Paramount will release the opening season of that 1973-1980 detective series to disc on February 16 of next year. The news prompted Ivan G. Shreve Jr. to recount the appeal of that Buddy Ebsen drama:
Contrary to people’s memories, Barnaby Jones was not a good-old-fashioned, folksy crime drama--no doubt considered so due to the participation of friendly Buddy Ebsen--but a fascinating study into the evil minds of some really twisted people.

The basic storyline of a Jones episode usually involved a nice, middle-class husband and wife who commit a depraved act in a temporary mindset of idiocy, and then commit blunder after blunder as the noose tightens around their necks. They’d race around like mad trying to cover up their crime ... and there’s ol’ Barnaby, everywhere they go, just being his folksy, avuncular self until he had the evidence he needed to convict the hapless pair and send them to the chair. It used to remind me of Tex Avery’s Droopy cartoons, where the wolf character would literally bust his ass running away from the Droopster (usually representing the law) only to find Droopy greeting him with his typical deadpan cheer: “Hi there.”
Shreve’s full piece can be found here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Three Masterpieces Etched in Stone

(Editor’s note: Boston lawyer, professor, and novelist George V. Higgins died a decade ago, at age 59, on November 6, 1999. Since then, many readers have forgotten his name, and others have failed to discover his novels at all. So we asked Brooklyn author Charlie Stella [Mafiya, Johnny Porno] for a little reminder of why Higgins’ literary contributions are still important. His response is posted below.)
Jackie Brown, at twenty-six, with no expression on his face, said that he could get some guns.
That’s the opening line to what many writers cite as the greatest crime novel ever penned, The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972). Ten years after the author’s death, it is truly an honor for me to pay tribute to my writing hero, George V. Higgins. As a student in a small college in North Dakota trying to come to terms with the fact I had no clue what I was doing there other than playing football, I was blessed the day Dave Gresham opened the paperback copy of Eddie Coyle and read the first chapter aloud to our class.

I knew people who talked like that; I had lived around them all my life. But until that English class, all I had read were sports biographies and history books. The little Shakespeare I had been forced to read gave me headaches.

People didn’t talk like this:
“To be or not to be, that is the question.”
They talked like this:
“The day’s gonna come, it’s not here already. We’re gonna have to whack him out.”
One of the true masters of the crime-fiction genre, Higgins launched the reader in the moment through brilliant storytelling highlighted by what has become the standard by which fictional dialogue is judged. That said, being distinguished as a master of crime writing was a bittersweet pill for Higgins to swallow. He took issue with being pigeonholed as such and claimed to have written novels that had crimes in them, not crime novels.

Lord knows he never became a household name; except for Eddie Coyle most modern-day crime readers can’t name even one of Higgins’ books.

That fact, above all else, is sad.

The two novels that followed, The Digger’s Game (1973) and Cogan’s Trade (1974), were a pair of masterpieces equally as good as Eddie Coyle and were appreciated by readers more inclined to dismiss what passed for usual crime fare (commercially successful formulaic stories about private investigators, journalists, lawyers, etc., who pursue bad guys). Higgins’ many fans knew better. Such stories were as far flung from reality as Harry Potter.

Higgins wrote the other type of novel--the type very true to life about people in bad places (or just plain bad people) whose actions were predicated on survival. The world of Higgins’ first three books was dark and desperate and many of the crimes committed in them might well have been found on police blotters in any big city. Eddie Coyle, the Digger, and Jackie Cogan lived in a world where subterfuge, violence, and death were as common as a morning cup of coffee. Thus, their stories were a slice of urban Americana as undeniable as Fenway Park.

While reviewers were generally kind to books two and three, there was always that nagging qualifier regarding the likability of the inhabitants of The Digger’s Game and Cogan’s Trade and/or Higgins’ treatment of women. Those reviews always bothered me on several levels, but the one about women I found most disconcerting. Higgins’ women may not have been world beaters, but they couldn’t have been portrayed more accurately (as they were perceived by the men in his first three novels). Eddie, the Digger, and Cogan lived in an underworld stone age where women were foils; the women of Higgins’ first three novels, for better or worse, belonged there.

While it isn’t easy to like most of the characters in those novels, we’re sympathetic to Eddie and the Digger and both the jamokes fresh out of the can in Cogan’s Trade. We all know people who can’t get out of their own way, some more likable than others, but those down on their luck tend to get an empathetic nod. In the world of Higgins, they are the ultimate underdogs trying to make it day to day in an ultimate underdog existence.

Whether it was to discuss the purchase of guns (Eddie Coyle), the proper attire when about to perform a robbery (The Digger’s Game), or if a particular connected card game should be the target of a heist (Cogan’s Trade), Higgins saw no need for obiter dicta when fleshing out characters; their “speak” told their story. The treacherous world of Eddie Coyle was laid out in what Life magazine termed: “Dialogue so authentic it spits.”

All three novels served as social documentary featuring urban Darwinism; an overview of how man survives an underworld as close to a modern state of nature as it gets. Higgins didn’t present the romanticized Mario Puzo version of wiseguys and their associates, but rather how bottom dwellers survive mean streets. He dissected cops and robbers alike; what they are and what they become. In Eddie Coyle, Higgins left no stone unturned in exposing the world of an ex-convict looking to reduce an upcoming sentence while balancing the books at home and keeping his connected bank robber friends supplied with the tools of their trade; a hellish existence that rarely offers hope.

Higgins solidified his reputation as a master of dialogue with The Digger’s Game. Digger is in his early 40s and has a nagging wife and four kids. He also has a priest brother who is street-smart enough to know when Digger calls, it can’t be good. Digger went to Vegas, had a few too many martinis at the blackjack table, and ran up a gambling tab on a junket that has put him behind the eight ball (a familiar place for him). His brother, near retirement and fed up with bailing Digger out, says Digger couldn’t “get five thousand dollars together in a bank vault with a rake.” How Digger is going to handle his debts is the stuff nightmares are made of. He robs an office and a Cadillac, and of course those small scores aren’t enough (his life’s story).

Cogan’s Trade features a couple of recently released desperadoes who rip off a connected card game. One is a dog thief and his discourse makes for some of the most interesting, hilarious, and offbeat dialogue I’ve ever read. The man behind the future score is another ex-con, but he’s also an inveterate gambler prone to leaving trails through his bookmaker. Jackie Cogan is the man hired to restore order in the Boston underworld, and everyone pays a price when he metes out justice.

I’ve been flattered with comparisons to George V. Higgins, but those have been more-than-kind reviews. Higgins did a lot more than mimic street talk. He conveyed the essence of a character in just a few exchanges of what passed for idle chatter; conversations for the sake of conversations that provided social, political, and moral backgrounds without six pages of exposition. The knockaround guys we meet in these three books are revealed to have some of the same concerns we all do, and thus provide snapshots of an American subculture not so unlike what passes for mainstream. While today we find that subculture clearly on the wane, Higgins left us with three masterpieces forever etched in stone.

So, who’s got it better’n us?

Talk, Talk

There are at least two new interviews well worth reading today: Jedidiah Ayres’ discussion with Scottish novelist Allan Guthrie in Hard-boiled Wonderland; and Mark Troy’s chat (about Hawaii, basketball, and more) with Lono Waiwaiole in Make Mine Mystery.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Business of Reading

We hear much these days about business leaders focusing on the global economic downturn, but little about what they read for inspiration. So it was surprising to see BBC News’ report today on what books corporate heavyweights have readily at hand. As it turns out, James Smith, chairman of the Anglo-Dutch petroleum giant Shell UK, has been enjoying British thriller writer Roger Jon “R.J.” Ellory’s new book in the States, A Quiet Belief in Angels. Smith talks briefly about that novel here.

It will be interesting to see whether his recommendation has any impact on Ellory’s bookstore sales. Years ago, I remember, Shell was known for its slogan, “You Can Be Sure of Shell.” If enough readers believe they can also be sure of it’s current chairman’s reading tastes, that could be good for the West Midlands author.

By the way, Ellory just returned home to England after an extensive U.S. tour, promoting A Quiet Belief in Angels, which is published by Overlook Press. That followed the author’s attendance at Bouchercon 2009 in Indianapolis, during which he and I sucked back a few beers and talked about the present rich offerings in crime and thriller fiction. I’m so pleased that Ellory has stuck with the writing game, despite the struggles he has faced over the years. His determination seems to have paid off. Not only is Quiet Belief making believers of American readers, but his latest thriller, The Anniversary Man, is cementing his reputation among UK fans.

If you’re unfamiliar with R.J. Ellory’s work, check out this video in which he describes the plot and twists in A Quiet Belief in Angels: