Friday, May 16, 2014

Bullet Points: Prizes, Poirot, and Porizkova

Sorry for the scarcity of “Bullet Points” wrap-ups lately, but thanks to a recent Firefox redesign, the Bookmarks feature of my Web browser has become more difficult to use. Bookmarks now appear in a sidebar, rather than a drop-down menu, and I can’t easily open several of them at a time (using the highlighting feature) the way I used to do. Therefore, assembling these wrap-ups is a bit harder. Bear with me.

Today's edition of quick hits:

• People sure do seem to love lists, so critics are more than willing to deliver them. But trying to assemble a rundown of “The 20 Best Crime Novels of All Time”--as Britain’s Daily Telegraph did recently--is a no-win proposition. There’s too much room for argument. Featured on the Telegraph’s roster are: Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, and James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential. But Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood also finds a place there, and it’s not really a novel. Neither is Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher. And why not include there Ross Macdonald’s The Chill, Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, Sara Paretsky’s Indemnity Only, Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town, or … well, you see where I’m going. I have commented before on the difficulty of compiling these lists, and Crime Watch’s Craig Sisterson has a few thoughts to share on the Telegraph list, specifically.

• The 2014 edition of CrimeFest began yesterday in Bristol, England. Tomorrow night, Saturday, we’ll learn which books and authors have won prizes at that event. Stay tuned.

• Meanwhile, Ayo Onatade has put together this report from CrimeFest, Day 2.

• The fall schedule for PBS’ Masterpiece series features not only an adaptation of P.D. James’ 2001 novel, Death Comes to Pemberley, but also a seventh season of Inspector Lewis (yay!), three new episodes of Miss Marple, and a couple of follow-ups to the political thriller Page Eight, starring Bill Nighy as MI5 spy Johnny Worricker. Learn more here.

• For Criminal Element, Jake Hinkson has put together what he calls “a nice beginner’s guide to some of the critical/historical literature that’s sprung up around crime fiction over the years. This isn’t a comprehensive list, just a nice jumping-off place for fans of the hard-boiled stuff.” Not surprisingly, I have most of these books on my shelves already. You will find all of Hinkson’s choices here.

• “Are they the best TV couple of all time?” asks The Guardian’s Darragh McManus in this tribute to the ABC-TV private-eye spoof series Moonlighting. “From the mid to the late 1980s, the world looked on in delight as Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis fought, made up, fought some more, had amusingly rambling conversations, and then fell in love, sort of, while solving mysteries along the way.” In the mood for more Moonlighting nostalgia? Check out this site devoted to the show.

• Since when did “spox” become an acceptable abbreviation for “spokesperson”? Really, do modern-day news gatherers not have enough time to spell out whole English words?

• And the next time I receive press materials promoting a book that’s described as a “fiction novel,” I’m just going to scream!

• Not long ago I finished reading Robert B. Parker’s Cheap Shot (Putnam), the third of Ace Atkins’ efforts to extend the late Mr. Parker’s popular Spenser series. What’s most remarkable about Atkins’ contributions is how much they focus on Spenser’s investigative procedures. Parker’s later entries in this series downplayed the often time-consuming and frustrating steps a private eye would have to go through in trying to solve a case, and highlighted instead Spenser’s macho run-ins with tough guys/mobsters and the lovable quirkiness of his core players. I’m partial to Atkins’ approach, because it brings at least a modicum of realism to this series (which has never been very realistic). But mine may be a minority viewpoint. I wish that either of the two most recent online interviews with Atkins that I’ve spotted had included a question about this change in storytelling approach, but they don’t. Still, they’re worth reading. The first appears on the MysteryPeople site, while the other can be found in Jim Wilsky’s new blog, The Write Answers.

• MysteryPeople has also posted this short Q&A with Philip Kerr about his new (in the States, anyway) standalone thriller, Prayer.

• Speaking of interviews … Having recently published a lengthy exchange with Max Allan Collins about King of the Weeds (Titan), his latest posthumous collaboration with Mickey Spillane on a previously unfinished Mike Hammer novel, I was interested to read Collins’ comments--in his own blog--about the difficulties he faced in getting that sixth “new” Hammer tale to market. Read more here.

• Curtis Evans has had a good deal to say of late about U.S. writer Cornell Woolrich (1903-1968), whom he calls “one of the great twentieth-century masters of the crime short story (and the king of the crime novelette).” He writes here about the first volume in Centipede Press’ new series of Woolrich story collections, and here about “the legend of Cornell Woolrich, dark as his darkest fiction.”

• The UK release earlier this spring of John Connolly’s 12th Charlie Parker outing, The Wolf in Winter (Hodder & Stoughton), has prompted Crime Fiction Lover to recap “Parker’s bloodstained past,” tracing the books all the way back to Every Dead Thing (1999). Unfortunately, The Wolf in Winter isn’t due out in the States till late October.

• If you happen to be in Ireland this coming Monday evening, May 19, don’t miss dropping ’round to see our friend Declan Burke (Crime Always Pays) moderate a conversation between his fellow crime novelists Brian McGilloway, Sinead Crowley, and Arne Dahl--part of the Dublin Writers’ Festival. Details here.

• If you don’t know already, the new, authorized Hercule Poirot novel penned by British poet-novelist Sophie Hannah will be titled The Monogram Murders. It’s due out in U.S. bookstores from Morrow in early September; HarperCollins is publishing the UK edition, to be released at the same time. Learn more from Hannah about the project in this short YouTube video.

• In what we’re told is Part I of a who-knows-how-many-postings series about “Mystery TV Theme Songs,” the blog Mystery Playground looks back at the opening sequences from Charlie’s Angels, The Rockford Files, and Simon & Simon. More, please!

• It seems I’ve spent a lot of time recently cruising through the depths of YouTube, looking for episodes of older crime dramas. And in the course of that, I happened across the video below--a December 2010 episode of the BBC-TV documentary series Timeshift, “investigat[ing] the success of Scandinavian crime fiction and why it exerts such a powerful hold on our imagination.” Enjoy!

Timeshift later did a study of Italian noir fiction, viewable here.

• During the 1980s, I was a thoroughly devoted fan of Czech-born model Paulina Porizkova, who appeared on a number of Sports Illustrated covers (including this one) and now ranks as No. 10 on SA’s list of the “50 Greatest Swimsuit Models.” (I’d have ranked her higher!) Porizkova also did a few turns in films and TV shows, including her co-starring role in the 1989 romantic comedy Her Alibi, in which she played a murder suspect who’s caught the eye of a mystery novelist, Phil Blackwood (Tom Selleck). I remember going to a screening of Her Alibi, shortly after it was released, but hadn’t seen it since. So imagine my surprise at discovering the full 90-minute picture available on YouTube. It is not a must-catch film; in fact, Porizkova’s performance earned her a Golden Raspberry nomination for Worst Actress (though she ultimately lost out to Heather Locklear in The Return of Swamp Thing). However, Porizkova--then in her mid-20s--is well worth watching, if only for her captivating smile.

• The cinema blog The Dissolve reports that a Blu-ray set of the fascinatingly weird ABC-TV drama series Twin Peaks--containing “not just the entire run of the show and [the 1992 prequel film] Fire Walk With Me, but also 90 minutes of material that was cut from the movie”--will be released on July 29. “This is great news for two reasons,” remarks Dissolve staff writer Noel Murray. “For one, all of the previous Twin Peaks VHS and DVD collections have been lacking in one way or another, missing the pilot movie and/or the prequel, and frequently beset with technical snafus and subpar presentation. So even if the Blu-ray set just contained nice-looking transfers of every Twin Peaks episode plus the movies, it’d be welcome. But the Fire Walk With Me outtakes … elevate The Entire Mystery to event status.” You can order Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery here.

• Just when you think CBS-TV’s CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) franchise might finally be petering out, along yet omes another spinoff. CSI: Cyber, starring ex-Medium lead Patricia Arquette as the head of the Cyber Crime Division at Quantico, Virginia, will debut as a mid-season replacement series in January 2015.

• Even most readers of The Rap Sheet--and you are obviously a knowledgeable bunch--probably don’t remember Henry Kuttner (1915-1958), but he was a California-born author of fantasy, horror, and crime fiction. Among Kuttner’s numerous protagonists was the smart and compassionate Michael Gray, a psychoanalyst and amateur sleuth in San Francisco. Gray starred in a quartet of novels: The Murder of Ann Avery (1956); The Murder of Eleanor Pope (1956); Murder of a Mistress (1957); and Murder of a Wife (1958). Haffner Press is currently planning to release a 712-page omnibus edition of those four works, The Michael Gray Mysteries, in late July. It might be worth checking out. (Hat tip to Ed Gorman.)

• The latest edition of Crime Review features, among other things, a brief interview with Sara Paretsky (Critical Mass).

Ah, I do love San Francisco …

• Having just written for Kirkus Reviews about Loren D. Estleman’s new Western/detective novel, Ragtime Cowboys--which features Old West sometime lawman Wyatt Earp in a secondary role--I couldn’t help but notice this piece in Criminal Element about the various big-screen portrayals of Earp over the years.

The Big Click is back with a new edition. It features an essay by Barry Graham (“Scary Decorations: The Comfort of Bad Things”) and a short story, “Gorge,” by Heather L. Nelson. And as of May 20, it will add Gary Phillips’ brief tale, “Tobin and Gagarin,” set amid San Francisco’s 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

• Patti Abbott’s “forgotten books” spotlight today shines on crime fiction published during the 1950s, including worthy works by Michael Avallone, Holly Roth, Gil Brewer, Charity Blackstock, Harry Whittington, and Wade Miller. Catch the links here.

• Winners of the 2013 Bram Stoker Awards were announced at the World Horror Convention in Portland, Oregon.

• And Omnimystery News has brought us the winners of this year’s Independent Publisher Book Awards (the IPPYs). These prizes will be handed out in New York City on May 28, the evening before the BookExpo America convention begins. Oddly, I don’t think I have ever heard of the crime and thriller works being honored.

Who remembers Judd for the Defense?

• Finally, I’m not sure why (perhaps I missed seeing his introduction to all of this), but San Franciscan Ronald Tierney--author of the Deets Shanahan P.I. novels--has recently been posting a succession of “Observations” in his blog, Life, Death and Fog. Each of those looks back at what I guess is a year from his life (he was born in 1944), recalling noteworthy events, book publications, and automobile debuts. You should be able to access the whole series by clicking here.


Bill Crider said...

Those of us of a certain age (old) certainly remember Henry Kuttner, especially if we read SF. I read the crime novels, too, and I wrote the entry on Kuttner's Murder of a Mistresss in 1001 Midnights. I also wrote an introduction to the forthcoming Haffner Press edition of Man Drowning, an excellent noir, though I'm not convinced that Kuttner wrote it.

Anonymous said...

Seems more fair to compare Ace Atkins' work on the Spenser books to 70s/80s Parker, rather than the author's more recent work. Atkins' Spenser novels are much better novels, probably, even as they lack the distinctive dialogue of more recent Parkers. They're quite fun, though, and better than no Spenser at all.

Jerry House said...

Supposedly Cleve Cartmill wrote MAN DROWNING, at least according to the rumors I have heard.

And, compared to Bill, I am younger than springtime but I'm old enough to know that the Kuttner name (even on his hackwork) is magical.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

I agree, "Anonymous": Ace Atkins' Spenser novels capture the style of Parker's early Spenser tales. So readers who enjoyed those should definitely give Robert B. Parker's Cheap Shot a try.


Marty McKee said...


Picks By Pat said...

Great Post today.
I think on the subject of lists, they might go over better if they were more specific (i.e., Best Noir Novels, Best Thrillers, Best Cozies, etc.) Who could argue with The Big Sleep on a list of Best Noir, or Strangers on A Train as Best Suspense.