Thursday, March 31, 2016

“Bosch”: A Tale of Two Seasons

By Ali Karim
When the first season of a TV series receives the critical and commercial acclaim that Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective and Michael Connelly’s Bosch garnered, then—to employ the title of a John Farris novel—All Heads Turn as the Hunt Goes By. Both of those police procedurals provoked such intense levels of adulation, that expectations ran very high for their sophomore seasons.

As things turned out, True Detective (an HBO-TV production) didn’t fare so well. Its second season was, without any question, a shambling mess. It offered style over substance—“all fur and no knickers,” to quote one wag. In fact, the show was disappointing enough to engender the creation of a short, amusing parody entitled Marty Watches Season 2. And the powers that be at Home Box Office felt compelled to comment about the series’ downturn in a Vanity Fair article, just to take some of the heat off Pizzolatto.
If you’re looking for someone to blame for the sharp drop off in quality between True Detective Season 1 and 2, HBO president Michael Lombardo would prefer you not attack the cast or creator Nic Pizzolatto. Instead, Lombardo falls on his own sword to highlight a key difference between True Detective’s shaky second season and Fargo’s rock-solid one. It’s all about the timing.

“Our biggest failures—and I don’t know if I would consider
True Detective—but when we tell somebody to hit an air date as opposed to allowing the writing to find its own natural resting place, when it’s ready, when it’s baked—we’ve failed,” Lombardo told The Frame. ”And I think in this particular case, the first season of True Detective was something that Nic Pizzolatto had been thinking about, gestating, for a long period of time.”

In fact, Pizzolatto started work on
True Detective Season 1 way back in July of 2010. He’s a rare kind of show-runner and insists on writing every episode himself. Three and a half years of work produced the stellar Matthew McConaughey/Woody Harrelson-led season, which also benefited from strong artistic input from director Cary Fukunaga. “I take the blame,” Lombardo says. “I became too much of a network executive at that point. We had huge success. ‘Gee, I’d love to repeat that next year.’” Pizzolatto, working without Fukunaga, only had 14 months after the end of Season 1 to conceive and execute the weaker second season of True Detective.
(This was a far cry from Vanity Fair’s gushing feature published last year after the conclusion of that TV series’ inaugural season).

One thing I’ve found interesting about both True Detective and Bosch is how they’ve used their physical settings not simply as visual backdrops, but as independent characters of a sort. True Detective Season 1 found its footing in Pizzolatto’s native blue-collar Louisiana, but it moved to an allegedly corrupt California city for its sophomore run—a fact that might have provoked some concern among members of the Bosch team, who have done much to
bring author Connelly’s Los Angeles-based tales to life through their program’s cinematography.

(Left) The official trailer for Bosch Season 2.

Another thing common to both procedurals is their striking use of music, especially in their opening title sequences. Composer T. Bone Burnett turned for the premiere season of True Detective to The Handsome Family’s “Far From Any Road,” which complemented what was to follow to great effect, but for its follow-up he switched to Leonard Cohen’s “Nevermind.” Since the two seasons were not linked in terms of their stories or characters, there was nothing wrong with also separating them musically. Bosch, by contrast, employs a continuing cast across its episodes, so it made sense to establish a consistent theme and title design. The song introducing this show is Caught a Ghost’s “Can’t Let Go.” It was a very apt choice, when you consider what motivates the series’ eponymous character, homicide detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch. According to Jesse Nolan, who wrote and produced the song (plus an accompanying video), “The song is basically about obsession. The idea for the song originated from feeling like I couldn’t free myself from some dark feelings I was wrestling with, and as is always the case, making music is always the only cure for such a condition.”

Like his creator, Harry Bosch (portrayed on the small screen by Titus Welliver of Deadwood and Big Apple fame) is a music aficionado, with a particular fondness for jazz. As Connelly explains in this short introduction to a recent documentary project he worked on to honor the memory of the late jazz saxophonist Frank Morgan, he conceived of Bosch from the outset as someone who “liked to listen to and draw inspiration from jazz. The character … had a particular affinity for the saxophone. Its mournful sound, like a human crying out in the night, was what he was drawn to. The detective saw the worst of humanity every day on the job. He found solace every night in the sound of the saxophone.” If you’ve watched much of Bosch at all, you’re aware of jazz’s dominance in its soundtrack.

So as the Amazon Prime premiere of Bosch Season 2 approached earlier this month, my excitement mounted. I’d been fortunate enough to attend the filming of one of the Season 1 episodes in Hollywood, just prior to the start of Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, California, together with my friends and colleagues Mike Stotter (the editor of Shots), UK author , and Larry Gandle, a Florida oncologist and the assistant editor of Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine. Then, in the wake of last October’s Bouchercon in Raleigh, North Carolina, Connelly had invited me out to watch a filming from Season 2 of Bosch on location in Venice, just west of L.A.—a real treat, as I’m a longtime reader of the Bosch yarns and needed a serious break after working hard on Bouchercon programming.

But given my disappointment with the follow-up season of True Detective, I was apprehensive about the return of Bosch. Could it possibly live up to its earlier renown, or would it also let me down?

Well, after finally binge-watching all 10 episodes of the newest season in two five-hour sittings, I can tell you that the return of Bosch exceeded my expectations by a cube function. The one thought in my head as I took in the final credits was, “How the hell did they manage to create such a magnificent crime series?” This latest run of Bosch held my attention as if I were a drug addict long overdue for my fix. While watching the program, and recalling the hours I’d spent on location with its makers, I recognized how much of a labor of love Bosch was for all the people involved. Not only the major players, such as developer Eric Overmyer and Connelly himself, or executive producer Terrill Lee Lankford, but for the technicians, actors, and co-writers as well. You can see their personal investment in every damn scene.

(Right) Jeri Ryan as former stripper Veronica Allen.

Season 1 of this series wove together the story told in Connelly’s City of Bones (2002) with elements from The Concrete Blonde (1994) and Echo Park (2006). Season 2 similarly combines 1997’s Trunk Music with parts of The Drop (2011) and The Last Coyote (1995). Another thing that’s different this time around is my perception of Titus Welliver in the title role. Like many other viewers, I’m sure, I was quite perplexed by his casting as Harry Bosch, for he didn’t match up with my mental image of Connelly’s troubled police detective at all. This is not an uncommon problem when finding an actor or actress to take on the role of a beloved or renowned character; just remember the numerous catcalls when the short Tom Cruise was chosen to portray tall protagonist Jack Reacher. As far as Bosch goes, I was prepared for Welliver’s interpretation of the character this time around, and have come to agree with the show’s producers, that he’s the ideal person for that part. In fact, when I read Connelly’s The Crossing last year, I had trouble not visualizing Welliver whenever Bosch entered a scene. (The association was only cemented by the actor also voicing Bosch in a three-part mini-audiobook titled A Fine Mist of Blood, which is sponsored by Amazon and can be heard here.)

The new 10-episode arc of Bosch begins with the discovery of a dead Armenian porno-film producer in the Hollywood Hills, his ripening body folded none too neatly into the boot of his own Bentley (a plot facet straight out of Trunk Music). The story goes on from there to see Harry Bosch reinstated with the LAPD (after the events that closed out Season 1), and then assigned to investigate the producer’s murder. Meanwhile, there’s a political race heating up, which pits L.A.’s attention-seeking district attorney (the same guy who last year helped a serial killer escape police custody) against the city’s mayor, both of whom are courting Deputy Chief of Police Irvin Irving for his endorsement. And Irving’s son, George, who’s supposedly out of danger in the LAPD, goes undercover to track a rogue cabal of cops who’ve been committing crimes for money. Throw into this plotting mix a gun-running operation, Eastern European and Russian gangsters, a concealed cache of bearer bonds, and a federal investigation relating to the estate of the deceased porn-maker, and you wind up with one of the most captivating and hypnotic TV crime dramas of 2016. As James Wolcott of Vanity Fair puts it, Bosch’s latest season is “everything that True Detective Season 2 should have been had it not succumbed to sadistic, self-pitying, mood-mongering, garbage-barge bloat.”

While Welliver holds center stage in Bosch 2, the show offers some exceptional performances by supporting players as well. Lance Reddick (formerly of The Wire) commands attention as Deputy Chief Irving, who must face the consequences not only of his decisions as a cop but also as a father. Harry Bosch’s ex-wife and daughter, played respectively by Sarah Clarke and Madison Lintz, find themselves uncomfortably entangled in Bosch’s professional life and having to flee their Las Vegas home. The detective’s habitually dapper partner, Jerry Edgar (aka J. Edgar), played by Jamie Hector, must engage in some serious action here, and he remains a perfect foil for the more maverick-ish Bosch. Brent Sexton (ex-Justified) portrays a cop-turned-security guard who is just a little too helpful. And special mention should be made of Jeri Ryan’s outstanding turn as Veronica Allen, a not-as-sweet-as-she-looks retired stripper who was married to the recently deceased filmmaker. It’s quite a different side of Ryan than we witnessed back when she played the sleekly outfitted former Borg drone, Seven of Nine, on Star Trek: Voyager.

If you haven’t seen this new run of Bosch yet, let me suggest you follow my lead and binge-watch the show. The narrative is dense enough with character and plot developments that it only makes sense to take it all in quickly, in big gulps, so you can appreciate how Bosch’s dense tapestry knits together. But don’t tune into Season 2 unless you have already viewed last year’s run of Bosch. The two seasons interlock nicely, with some loose ends being tied up this time around, and the latest story arc doing much to answer questions surrounding the long-ago slaying of Harry Bosch’s mother and the roots of our hero’s obsessive personality.

WATCH MORE: If you would like to see some behind-the-scenes footage—filmed rather gonzo-style in Venice, California—that captures location shooting for episode seven of Bosch Season 2, click here, here, here, here, and here.

Shorts Time

Back at the beginning of this month, the Short Mystery Fiction Society announced its numerous nominees for the 2016 Derringer Awards. Today, the SMFS has declared the winners in four categories.

Best Flash Story (up to 1,000 words):
“Hero,” by Vy Kava (from Red Dawn: Best New England Crime Stories 2016, edited by Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Barbara Ross, and Leslie Wheeler; Level Best)

Best Short Story (1,001-4,000 words):
“Twilight Ladies,” by Meg Opperman (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], March/April 2015)

Best Long Story (4,001-8,000 words):
“Dentonville,” by John M. Floyd (EQMM, November 2015)

Best Novelette (8,001-20,000 words):
“Driver,” by John M. Floyd (The Strand Magazine, February-May 2015)

In addition, the Society reports that “a committee of the SMFS Officers, Awards Coordinator, and two members-at-large awarded the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer (Lifetime Achievement) to: Michael Bracken.”

These winners will be honored during a special presentation at Bouchercon 2016, which is scheduled to be held in New Orleans, Louisiana, from September 15 to 18.

READ MORE:Waco Writer Michael Bracken Honored for Lifetime of Mysteries,” by Carl Hoover (Waco Tribune-Herald).

Leading Ladies

The Eighth Mrs. Bluebeard, by Hillary Waugh (Pan, 1961)

In the event that this fact has not yet fully registered with you, please note that today brings the final entry in Killer Covers’ two-week-long celebration of Women’s History Month. As I explained in my first post in the series, “I’ve decided that a special effort should be made to showcase book fronts that exhibit damsels in distress, sexy sweethearts, lascivious lasses, fearsome femmes fatales, and downright brash ‘dames.’ From now until April Fool’s Day, you can expect every day at Killer Covers to offer up a new distaff delight.” Catch up with the entire series by clicking here.

Ranging Far and Wide

… and he’s back: Mike Ripley has his new, April “Getting Away with Murder” column posted today in Shots. His topics this time include: the republication of Sir Basil Thomson’s classic Inspector Richardson novels; the recent Essex Book Festival’s celebration of Margery Allingham’s fiction; a one-day crime-fiction conference called Deal Noir, which will take place this Saturday in south-eastern England; and new works by Philip Kerr (The Other Side of Silence), Quentin Bates (Thin Ice), Michael Gregorio (Think Wolf), Ruth Dudley Edwards (The Seven), and others. Click here to find the full column.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Appointment on the Riviera

There aren’t many crime-fictionists (or authors, in general) whose books I grab up as soon as I spot them and immerse myself in immediately, but Philip Kerr is certainly among that select group. As I mentioned in a 2010 post I put together after first interviewing the Scottish novelist, his March Violets (1989), the book that introduced World War II-era Berlin homicide investigator Bernie Gunther, “was one of the earliest historical mysteries I remember reading.” And I’ve gladly followed the Gunther tales ever since—including his brand-new The Other Side of Silence (Marian Wood/Putnam).

Writing today on the Kirkus Reviews Web site, I explain that Silence begins with our cynical and despairing, Nazi-hating “hero”—now pushing 60 and working as the concierge at a lavish hotel on the French Riviera—trying to commit suicide. From there, the book takes off in a very different direction, combining elements of the traditional mystery story with the twisting gambits espionage fiction.
Resigned to the tedium of survival, Gunther heads back to the Grand Hôtel and resumes his concierge duties (consisting primarily of “making restaurant reservations, booking taxis and boats, coordinating porter service, shooing away prostitutes—which isn’t as easy as it sounds; these days only American women can afford to look like prostitutes—and giving directions to witless tourists who can’t read a map and don’t speak French”). However, he won’t be able to pick up his life where he left off. That’s due in part to the sudden appearance at Cap Ferrat of a figure from his past: Harold Heinz Hebel, who Gunther once knew better as mass-murdering Gestapo officer Harold Hennig. In addition, one of Gunther’s regular partners for evening games of bridge, a secretive Italian casino manager named Antimo Spinola, has been murdered, and Kerr’s man—sounding like Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon—insists “there’s an unwritten rule in bridge that when your partner gets killed you’re supposed to try and find out who did it.”

As if these challenges weren’t enough to keep Gunther’s mind off suicide, there’s also his search for a blackmailer targeting another local resident, W. Somerset Maugham.
You can enjoy the complete review here.

FOLLOW-UP: A reader asked me to name my five favorite Bernie Gunther novels (so far). Here they are, in order of their publication:

March Violets (1989)
A Quiet Flame (2008)
If the Dead Rise Not (2009)
Prague Fatale (2011)
The Lady from Zagreb (2015)

There’s every possibility that The Other Side of Silence will wind up on my list of top 2016 crime-fiction releases. But I won’t make that decision until much later in the year.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Story Behind the Story: “Capitol Punishment,” by Andrew Welsh-Huggins

(Editor’s note: This 64th installment in The Rap Sheet’s “Story Behind the Story” series comes from Columbus, Ohio, resident Andrew Welsh-Huggins, a legal affairs reporter with the Associated Press and the creator of Andy Hayes, an Ohio gumshoe who has starred thus far in three novels: Fourth Down and Out [2014], Slow Burn [2015], and Capitol Punishment, the last of which is due out next month in both print and e-book versions. Welsh-Huggins writes below about the ingredients that went into crafting that latest mystery.)

If only I’d waited a few months.

I’ve had that feeling a lot lately, anticipating the publication of Capitol Punishment, my third mystery about Columbus, Ohio, private eye Andy Hayes. In his latest outing, Andy gets an up-close and deadly view of Ohio’s quadrennial starring role in presidential politics. Assigned to protect a hard-charging reporter covering a school-funding bill during an election year, Andy finds himself wondering how far a governor with his eyes on the White House might go to keep certain truths from coming to light. It felt like a pretty good plot, if I do say so myself. Then this year’s real election got underway.

I guess the fictionalization of a sharp-tongued Ohio governor facing off against a potty-mouthed billionaire for the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will have to wait. In the meantime, I’m taking comfort from the current Keystone Cops campaign that my own tale isn’t that far-fetched. “I think there is only one thing in the world I can’t understand, and that is Ohio politics,” Teddy Roosevelt once said. Adopting this adage, it was easy to create characters a bit over the top: a pig-farming state Supreme Court justice with a dark secret; a bowtie-wearing chief of staff labeled the “Prince of Dorkness”; and a police detective who bears more than a little resemblance to Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry of War of 1812 fame. If only I’d thrown in a celebrated brain surgeon who equated universal health care to something worse than slavery. But no, there are limits to suspending one’s disbelief, even in fiction.

In some ways writing a mystery is like building a fire—small flames grow to a climactic blaze, which then diminishes into a denouement of coal and ashes. Achieving this sequence of events requires the proper location, kindling, and of course a spark to get things started. Composing a book with politics at its heart, I had all three in spades. Let’s start with location: Ohio, the best known of the bellwether states. As even casual political junkies know, no Republican has ever won the White House without taking the state, and only two Democrats have done so in more than a century (Franklin Roosevelt in 1944 and John F. Kennedy in 1960). Ohio plays kingmaker every four years—maybe “queen maker” this year—because of its purple state attributes: it’s a hodgepodge of cities, farms, and suburbs populated by liberals, moderates, and conservatives with every stripe of pro-union, anti-labor, and libertarian-leaning resident in-between. With eight presidents under its belt, the state is known for a gaze particular to politicians within its borders, what James Thurber dubbed the “Ohio Look”: “The dreamy, far-away expression of a man richly meditating on cheer­ing audiences, landslides, and high office.”

Next, my kindling. For this I focused on two cohorts whose reputation couldn’t be much lower at the moment: politicians and reporters. We’re used to politicians as punching bags. But as a long-time journalist, I’m happy to report that my industry isn’t far behind: we now sit below lumberjacks and enlisted military personnel in rankings of the worst jobs, according to CareerCast’s annual list. Just a few rungs up the ladder, corrections officers and taxi drivers edged out photojournalists and broadcasters. (No word yet about Uber drivers.)

When it came to portraying politicians, in the form of state lawmakers and a governor, I tried to present individuals aiming to do good—in this case, pass a fictional school-funding bill—while engaging in questionable personal and political behavior. I had for my guide a comment attributed to 19th-century New York lawyer Gideon Tucker, an enlarged copy of which hangs in the Ohio Statehouse pressroom, to wit: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” The observation was one of the first things I saw when I joined the press corps in1999 as an Associated Press newsman and was often on my mind during the year Capitol Punishment took shape. My fictional Statehouse bears a strong resemblance to the real thing, with a major exception: I put Democrats in charge of the Ohio Senate, which in reality they haven’t controlled for more than two decades. Although Republicans run everything in the Ohio Legislature these days, split governance isn’t that far-fetched: Democrats made up the House majority as recently as 2009. The partisan split I created through literary license provided the tension that makes murder plausible. As one of my characters notes, “Nothing changes hands at the Statehouse with­out an IOU attached. Don’t ever forget that.”

(Right) Author Andrew Welsh-Huggins

The reporter that my investigator protects, Lee Hershey, is an amalgam of several people I’ve known over the years, and reflects both the old and new elements of journalism. Once a dyed-in-the-wool newspaperman, he now runs an online investigative journalism blog that doesn’t have a print product. Like me, he’s as apt to get his news from an app as an actual paper. In early drafts Hershey was an unlikable cynic, and it was thanks to my editor that I painted him with a more realistic brush: a professional skeptic with a patriotic streak who pursues the truth because he loves his state and wants politicians to do the right thing by it. (His womanizing is another matter, and suffice it to say that Hershey’s zipper problem isn’t based on any of my colleagues’ conduct—at least, not that I’m aware of.)

I was getting close to starting the fire. The only thing missing was the spark. Although the fictional legislation up for debate funds schools, the real fireworks involve charter schools, those publicly funded, privately run institutions adored by Republicans and despised by most Democrats. Here was one area where the truth didn’t need much embellishment. Outside of abortion and guns, almost no issue in Ohio has led to more political arguments than these schools, whether the topic is their academic performance, their impact on traditional public schools, or their use (and misuse) of taxpayer dollars. Voila: we have ignition.

Little did I know that, had I waited just a little bit longer, I could have borrowed liberally, so to speak, from even more combustible source material. All I had to do was turn on the presidential debates.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Short and Tweet

Just about a week ago, I received an e-mail note from a reader saying that The Rap Sheet’s Twitter account had suddenly been suspended, and asking, “what crimes did you commit” to provoke that? Having no idea of the answer, I contacted January Magazine editor Linda L. Richards, my friend who had generously sent up that account five years ago, to inquire as to what she might know about this peculiar turn of events. She pleaded ignorance as well, but said she had filed an appeal to end the suspension. Within a very short time, Twitter replied that “We have now unsuspended your account.”

Who knows what craziness happened here. Linda’s humorous conjecture is that Twitter acted pre-emptively out of fear that “anyone with ‘Rap Sheet’ in the name is going to be a badass.”

The good news is that The Rap Sheet’s Twitter page seems to be fully back in operation, though it is mysteriously missing about two weeks worth of automatic notices. Let’s hope everything goes along swimmingly from now on. You might note for the future that, in addition to that Rap Sheet Twitter page, I have another page of my own, found here, which covers the same material, as well as links to Killer Covers posts and subjects of more personal interest.

Happy Easter reading, everyone!

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Book You Have to Read:
“The Black and the Red,” by Elliot Paul

(Editor’s note: This is the 135th installment in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books.)

By Steven Nester
I can hear the voice of detective and gourmand Homer Evans resounding in my head at this very moment. He possesses an upper class-sounding accent, with perfect phrasing and diction like that of George Plimpton, along with a touch of Dickens’ Mr. Pumblechook—pompous and imperious. By the conclusion of this book, however, readers might be begging for the verbose rancor of W.C. Fields just to lighten things up a bit. Foregoing nitpicking, a holistic view is needed to capture from this work what it offers to discerning and tenacious readers.

The Black and the Red (1956) is the ninth mystery in Elliot Paul’s Homer Evans series and, like the other books, it’s a parody of epicurean sleuths in the Philo Vance and Nero Wolfe vein. While there is murder in this novel—two, actually—they are so inconsequential to the workings of the plot, and are given such little gravity, that they were probably tossed in merely so that the tale could be placed on the murder-mystery shelf.

The book’s title points readers in the direction of the roulette wheel, or perhaps the two columns on a balance sheet, but it also recalls the 1830 masterpiece The Red and the Black, by the great realist Stendahl. This bears the weight of a tremendous irony that won’t be lost on anyone familiar (if in name only) with the classic works, because The Black and the Red is, at its core, a fantasy and a diversion for readers of what author-screenwriter Terry Southern called “quality lit.”

Homer Evans is a superman-type of person who believes that being faster than a speeding bullet means you’re the most quick-witted person in any room. This, Homer Evans certainly is. He’s invincible, all-knowing, and all-seeing (“trying to lie to Mr. Evans was more futile than reaching for the moon or diving to grasp its reflection”). As a detective, he is always so many steps ahead of criminals and reality, that he seems gifted with ESP. Evans has the foresight to bug a criminal’s hideout even before a crime takes place, and is a cool-headed overachiever from whom pilots ask advice on how to safely land disabled planes. He speaks as if he’d memorized a dictionary and, in addition, likes to show off his learning, lading his much-used periodic sentences (and you thought Edmund Wilson was the master of this) with more interjections (“I beg of you,” “God forbid,” etc.) than you can wave a stick at.

The mystery in these pages is why an oilman and Las Vegas casino operator (can anyone say Howard Hughes?) has induced Jean Pierre Sabin, the renowned gastronome from Cannes, to quit the Riviera and work in Vegas during the gangster-rife 1950s. Everyone wants to know, and there are plenty of everyone packed into this book.

Mobsters, Hollywood Strip bigwigs, Vegas operators, artists, mannequins, Evans’ pistol-packing assistant Miriam Leonard, private detectives, and the pilot fish they all attract race through the pages with the speed and tumult of the actors in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Gangsters talk like gangsters; cowboys talk like cowboys; and prudish epicures are as dimensional as the paper on which they were created.

(Right) Elliot Paul; photo by Schell.

Myriad subplots squeak round and round like rusty hamster wheels and Paul applies little grease; yet without them, this book would be lacking. As outlandish as the fictional situations are, everything fits, and here’s why: it’s the prose, not the story line, that serves as reason for picking this book up in the first place. The extravagant yet somehow confiding voice lulls readers into wishing they could hurl themselves straight into this yarn and stand at Evans’ side. The more the narrator and Evans reveal of facts, details, and honest, uncensored observations—no matter how purple and overstated they may be—the more it appears the narrator is revealing his true personality, sharing with the reader his innermost thoughts. One gets the sense of being on a great quest with a great man.

Readers of The Black and the Red will need to know a little something about the world of culture. They shouldn’t expect to watch James Joyce bench-press the entire canon of western literature; but at least they have to have been around the block enough times to chuckle knowingly when they encounter a scene in which two lovers enact “a duet which Fragonard would have painted in a Louis XVI boudoir.”

When the omniscient narrator over-reaches, he nearly falls out of the book onto the floor, as when Sabin “sighed like a weary gnu between feeding times.” Not every square inch of a work of art needs adornment, and an all-knowing narrator should perhaps have possessed the wisdom to leave this tidbit to the expertise of Marlin Perkins.

They sure don’t write ’em like this anymore. A fly in amber that at one point in time would’ve been called “clever,” this book’s appeal is the easy rapport it creates between a likeable know-it-all and a reader who might want a change from The New Yorker. It’s an artificial and perfect world (sans murder), wherein every mess of a jigsaw puzzle falls together at the snap of Evans’ fingers. Is this an example of good writing? Well, sure. But can it be bad writing as well? Well yes, inasmuch as it’s been written by an author who’s unrelentingly smitten with the sound of his own voice. The trick here is to take Nabokov’s observation, that satire is a lesson and parody is a game, turn off the critical thinking part of your brain, and enjoy the ride.

READ MORE: There’s a great deal more information about author Elliot Paul here; a Web site called The Lineup chose his 1939 novel, The Mysterious Mickey Finn, as one of “10 Forgotten Mystery Masterpieces”; and a blog called Interlude examines the use of musical references in the Homer Evans series.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Hunting Down “The Manhunter”

After writing yesterday about the death of actor Ken Howard, at age 71, I went looking for material in my files about his 1974-1975 CBS-TV crime drama, The Manhunter. I found two things that might be of interest to others. First, TV Guide’s 1974 Fall Preview write-up about that series, which found Howard playing Dave Barrett, an ex-Marine—recently returned from China—who was establishing himself during the Depression-era 1930s as a private eye-cum-bounty hunter.

(Introduced on that same page is Lucas Tanner, a single-season NBC program starring David Hartman as an athlete turned English teacher in my father's hometown of Webster Groves, Missouri.)

Next in this show-and-tell is a February 1974 column by Francis Murphy, who at the time served (quite ably, I should note) as TV critic for The [Portland] Oregonian. This piece was built around his interview with Howard, and focuses on the Manhunter pilot film.

Click on either of the images above for an enlargement.

More Newsy Tidbits for Your Delectation

• As The Spy Command reminds us, “Today, March 24, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of author Donald Hamilton, creator of Matt Helm.” More info about Helm and Hamilton can be found here.

I mentioned yesterday that director Michael Mann is launching his own book-publishing imprint. What I hadn’t known until reading this item in the Crimespree Magazine blog is that “one of his first projects finds him teaming up with award-winning crime writer Don Winslow.” Jeremy Lynch goes on to explain that “Winslow will be crafting a novel based on the relationship between legendary organized crime bosses Tony Accord and Sam Giancana. And not surprisingly, plans are already underway to make a film out of it. Mann has, with The Story Factory’s Shane Salerno (Don’s co-writer on the screenplay for Savages), written a screenplay already. I would assume that Don will draw from the screenplay, but if a film is a made, a new draft will almost certainly be made to reflect where Don goes in the novel.”

• I always remember Oklahoma-born performer Larry Drake best for his regular part as Benny Stulwicz, a developmentally disabled office assistant on NBC-TV’s L.A. Law. However, blogger Terence Towles Canote makes clear that Drake, who died on March 17 at age 67, enjoyed a much more diverse and honored acting career. “Larry Drake was an extremely talented actor,” Canote writes in A Shroud of Thoughts. “When he was playing Benny on L.A. Law there were many in the general public who were convinced that he was actually developmentally challenged. His performance in the role was simply that convincing. What is more, he could play a wide variety of roles. Ruthless mobster Robert Durant in Darkman may be his second best known role and it is as far from the gentle Benny as one can get. Over the years Mr. Drake played everything from scientists to priests to rednecks to J. Edgar Hoover, and he did all of them well.”

• While any such list is suspect, Sadie Trombetta’s rundown of “13 of the Best Female Sleuths from Pop Culture” has much to commend it—including the fact that she includes Veronica Mars.

• So here’s an important question: What were the oddest-titled books published in 2015? Mashable has the answer.

• Speaking of titles … It isn’t often that the word “taffeta” figures into a novel’s name. So when I spotted this post about Marla Cooper’s brand-new Terror in Taffeta, I thought immediately of Ben Benson’s 1953 police procedural, Target in Taffeta.

• Andrew Nette has a fine piece in Pulp Curry about English screenwriter-director Mike Hodges’ “underappreciated 1972 film, Pulp,” which he calls “a delight for any fan of cheap pulp paperback fiction.” You will find Nette’s post here.

• Need reading material for Easter Sunday? Check this out.

Rolling Stone has just endorsed Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton for president. Writes publisher Jann S. Wenner: “On the question of experience, the ability to enact progressive change, and the issue of who can win the general election and the presidency, the clear and urgent choice is Hillary Clinton.”

• Pay attention, James Bond film fans: For his blog, Illustrated 007, Peter Lorenz interviews Cindy Wirth, who modeled for the poster artwork promoting the 1983 film Never Say Never Again.

• Since I have always loved libraries, I was interested to check out BookRiot’s list of “47+ of Your Favorite Books About Libraries.” Among those mentioned are Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind, two favorites of mine.

• Meanwhile, the Detroit Public Library’s main branch figures into this post showcasing Motor City historical landmarks. Since I lived for a while in Detroit, Michigan, I’m always interested in stories about its past and present. At the link you will find photos and write-ups about 13 of the city’s surviving architectural wonders. I have visited most of them, but not all. Next time I’m in Detroit, I definitely have to pay a call on what remains of Michigan Building and Theater!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Howard’s End

A 1974 CBS promo spot for The Manhunter.

I was never a big fan of The White Shadow, the 1978-1981 CBS-TV series with which star Ken Howard is still most closely associated. But I did enjoy an earlier, Quinn Martin production, The Manhunter (1974-1975; opening title sequence here), in which Howard played Dave Barrett, an Idaho-based private eye/bounty hunter determined to bring 1930s crooks and gangsters to justice. And I enjoyed his appearances on Crossing Jordan (2001-2007) as star Jill Hennessy’s father, a Boston ex-cop-turned-bar-owner. I have also long been intrigued with the fact that Howard was briefly considered for the role of Stewart McMillan on McMillan & Wife. (That part ultimately went, of course, to Rock Hudson.)

So I was saddened to learn that Howard died earlier today, at age 71. According to a story in Variety (which manages to misidentify that Hennessy show as Raising Jordan),
Howard earned an Emmy Award for his performance as Phelan Beale, the husband of Jessica Lange’s Big Edie, in HBO’s 2009 film “Grey Gardens,” which was inspired by Albert and David Maysles’ classic 1970s documentary.

Decades earlier, in 1970, he won a Tony Award as best supporting or featured actor (dramatic) for “Child’s Play,” in which he portrayed the gym coach at a Catholic boy’s school. …

Howard’s most significant recent film role came in Tony Gilroy’s 2007 thriller “Michael Clayton,” starring George Clooney as a fixer for a top law firm; Howard played the ruthless CEO of the corporation Clooney’s firm is representing in a multimillion-dollar class action lawsuit who employs the even more ruthless attorney played in the film by Tilda Swinton. In Clint Eastwood’s 2011 film “J. Edgar,” he played Attorney General Harlan F. Stone. In 2014’s “The Judge,” starring Robert Duvall as a crusty jurist on trial for murder, Howard played the judge presiding over the trial. In David O. Russell’s 2015 film “Joy,” starring Jennifer Lawrence, he played a mop company executive.
A full list of Howard’s screen credits can be found here.

In addition to his work in front of the camera, the California native served for years as president of the actors union SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists). Howard’s cause of death has not yet been reported.

(Hat tip to Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine.)

Of Films, Finales, and Farewells

I really need to spend some quality time putting together a longer “Bullet Points” post of news briefs. But for now, as I am in the midst of other projects, here are a few short items of interest.

• Lyndsay Faye’s brand-new book, Jane Steele, has been acquired by Chris Columbus’ 1492 Pictures with the intent of turning it into a big-screen picture. Deadline Hollywood explains: “Inspired by Charlotte Bronte’s classic Jane Eyre, Faye’s novel is a piece of historical fiction that tells the story of Jane Steele, a fresh and determined Victorian orphan, who—unlike her idol Jane Eyre—does not accept her lot in life without a fight. Fiercely intelligent and resourceful, Steele is forced to resort to extreme measures to make sure that life turns out the way she needs it to. The reimagining of Jane Eyre as a serial killer is a humdinger of a potential lead role for a major actress. No word yet on who’s adapting this one, but the world surely is fertile for a mischievous mind.”

• Until today, I had no idea that Isaac Asimov’s 1954 science fiction/detective novel, The Caves of Steel, was adapted for British television more than 50 years ago. Elizabeth Foxwell features a few “tantalizing (if low-budget) clips” in her blog.

• A trio of mystery and suspense novels are among the winners of this year’s Benjamin Franklin Awards, given out by the Independent Book Publishers Association. Those works are: The Fame Equation, by Lisa Wysocky (Cool Titles); The Lost Concerto, by Helaine Mario (Oceanview); and Method 15/33, by Shannon Kirk (Oceanview).

• From B.V. Lawson’s In Reference to Murder comes this intriguing tidbit: “Writer-director Michael Mann has made a deal to launch Michael Mann Books. The imprint will generate a series of novels with a stable of writers, with the properties to simultaneously be developed for film and television. Mann will look through his own long list of credits for ideas, placing high priority on a prequel novel dealing with the principal characters of Heat, Mann’s seminal crime thriller. The prequel novel will cover the formative years of homicide detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro), Chris Shihirles (Val Kilmer), McCauley’s accomplice Nate (Jon Voight), and other characters from the 1995 film.”

• One more from In Reference to Murder:Amazon announced that Ripper Street will end after its fifth season, which recently began filming in Dublin. In the final season, Joseph Mawle (In the Heart of the Sea) rejoins the series as the feared Detective Inspector Jedediah Shine, intent on a mission of revenge after last being seen in the series two finale when Inspector Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) plotted with Drake (Jerome Flynn) to take Shine’s life.”

• New Zealand crime-fiction watcher Craig Sisterson notes on Facebook that Ngaio Marsh Award-winning Wellington author Neil Cross was recently nominated for a BAFTA (British Academy Television Craft Awards) commendation in the TV drama-writing category, thanks to his work on the acclaimed series Luther. Unfortunately, Cross’ competition in that category includes Peter Straughan, who scripted the historical miniseries Wolf Hall.

• In a Guardian story about the pseudonymous novelist Elena Ferrante (My Brilliant Friend, etc.), John Dugdale mentions “the semi-reclusive crime writer Josephine Tey [The Daughter of Time], who was only linked to her birth name (Elizabeth Mackintosh) posthumously. Friends who attended her funeral in 1952 thought they were mourning Gordon Daviot, another of her pseudonyms, and that was who the Times recorded as having been buried.” I’d never heard that before.

• Neither of these films has anything to do with crime fiction, but they still look like fun: Special Correspondents, a Netflix pic starring Ricky Gervais and Eric Bana, slated to begin streaming on April 29; and Love & Friendship, a big-screen adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1871 epistolary novel, Lady Susan, that stars the ever-captivating Kate Beckinsale and is set to debut in the States on May 13.

• Finally, a sad good-bye to Joe Santos, the Brooklyn-born actor whose most memorable TV role may have been that of beleaguered Los Angeles cop Dennis Becker in The Rockford Files. Small-screen watchers might also have spotted Santos in Barnaby Jones, The Streets of San Francisco, Lou Grant, Hill Street Blues, Magnum, P.I., and The Sopranos. (A full list of his performance credits is here.) Santos died of a heart attack on March 18. He was 84 years old.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Talented Mr. Callan

Edward Woodward as David Callan.

By Ali Karim
I recently bumped into my old friend, the reviewer, raconteur, and Shots columnist Mike Ripley. Over glasses of gin, we got to talking about British Golden Age thrillers, a topic in which he is most well-versed. (You will, no doubt, recall that he moderated a CrimeFest panel on that very subject just a couple of years ago.)

In addition to his other responsibilities, Ripley works as a consultant for UK-based Ostara Publishing. So he was delighted to share with me the information that Ostara, under its Top Notch Thrillers imprint, has finally completed its republication of James Mitchell’s Callan series.

Callan, of course, was created as a one-off TV drama in 1967, written by Mitchell. The character of David Callan, a surly but vulnerable and ferociously downbeat professional hit man working for a very dirty section of British Intelligence, struck an instant chord with the viewing public. As portrayed by actor Edward Woodward (later to star in The Equalizer), Callan went on to feature in a four-season ITV series (1967-1972), plus a 1974 theatrical film and a 1981 TV reunion movie, some 40 short stories syndicated worldwide in newspapers, and five novels. The opening sequence from Callan is embedded below.

Top Notch editions of the Callan novels began to appear in 2013, and now the fourth and fifth volumes—Smear Job and Bonfire Night—are available in trade-paperback and e-book formats.

First published in 1975, Smear Job is the longest and most densely plotted of the Callan yarns, featuring all the characters Mitchell created for “The Section,” his fictional (one can only hope!) government agency dealing in surveillance, blackmail, and even the assassination of anyone deemed to be a threat to national security. Callan’s sidekick Lonely, the cowardly and often pungent professional burglar, plays a key role here, as do Spencer Purceval FitzMaurice and Toby Meres. Even Section chief “Colonel Hunter” finds himself “in the field” as the story moves along at Mitchell’s typically lightning pace, transporting readers from Sicily to the London ganglands, Las Vegas to Mexico, and Cold War West Germany to England’s deserted Suffolk coast.

Bonfire Night, the fifth and final entry in Mitchell’s series, was written more than 25 years later and published in 2002, the year of the author’s death. It has been out of print for the last 13 years and, with no previous paperback edition, rapidly became the most sought-after of the Callan yarns. The new Top Notch edition comes with a specially composed Introduction by the author’s son, Peter Mitchell, that describes the extraordinary circumstances under which Bonfire Night was written.

To quote series editor Ripley: “Since the Top Notch Thrillers imprint was established in 2009 to revive and republish great British thrillers, we have had many requests from readers to reissue Bonfire Night—the ‘lost Callan’—far more than for any other title, and we are now proud to so. After long consultation with the author’s son, Peter, I have kept editing to the bare minimum so that dedicated Callan fans can read this … coda to the Callan saga as the author intended. It is something of a ‘difficult’ book as Mitchell tried to merge a typically serpentine plot with major developments in the lives of his main characters. Callan is now rich, in danger of falling in love, and living in retirement in his own personal castle in Spain, and the new Hunter heading the Section is a woman. The seismic character change, though, is for Lonely, who has (thanks to a prison education course) become a computer genius and software millionaire!

“But if the world of Callan seems to have turned upside down, he still finds himself having to deal with old enemies (including a vicious ex-Stasi villain who tortured Callan in East Berlin back in the day) and treacherous former allies. But he does so with all the ruthless efficiency of the Callan of old.”

Other Callan titles by James Mitchell from Ostara Publishing are:
A Magnum for Schneider, (aka A Red File for Callan, 1969)
Russian Roulette (1973)
Death and Bright Water (1974)
Callan Uncovered and Callan Uncovered 2, featuring short stories as well as scripts

A Feminine Touch

Today begins a series of posts, in my Killer Covers blog, celebrating March as Women’s History Month. As I write in my introduction:
I’ve decided that a special effort should be made to showcase book fronts that exhibit damsels in distress, sexy sweethearts, lascivious lasses, fearsome femmes fatales, and downright brash “dames.” From now until April Fool’s Day, you can expect every day at Killer Covers to offer up a new distaff delight.
The first such post is here. Keep track of them all here.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Pierce’s Picks

A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

What better book to begin with on this St. Patrick’s Day than The Eloquence of the Dead (Minotaur), former Irish Times editor Conor Brady’s sequel to last year’s brilliant historical whodunit, A June of Ordinary Murders? Once more we are ushered into the company of Detective Sergeant Joe Swallow, a now 43-year-old physician trainee-turned-investigator with the Dublin Metropolitan Police, who—thanks to the habitual drunkenness of an otherwise useless superior—has inherited responsibility, in the fall of 1887, for getting to the bottom of the fatal attack on a tight-fisted, middle-aged pawnbroker, one Ambrose Pollock. Suspicion falls initially on Pollock’s younger sister, Phoebe, who had recently been exhibiting what for her were extraordinarily sociable behaviors. She has since disappeared, which—unless she was kidnapped by Pollock’s killer—seems to confirm her guilt. However, this case still presents too many questions, including how an undocumented cache of top-drawer household silver came to be secreted beneath the Pollocks’ shop. Meanwhile, another broker, Ephram Greenberg, is assaulted after having purchased a number of ancient coins from a mysterious young woman who was apparently ignorant of their worth. Is there a connection between these crimes? And could they be linked as well to “land reforms” in Ireland that have caused large estates to be purchased by the British government, then broken up and sold to tenant farmers in hopes of quashing Irish insurrection? How far can Swallow take his probe before it uncovers corruption that higher-ups will want kept quiet? Brady does much in this robustly plotted novel to flesh out Swallow’s character and frustrations, as well as the personalities of his fellow coppers. The author even gives his protagonist a new romantic interest, Greenberg’s artistic daughter, Katherine. He’s more successful yet in capturing the Victorian setting of his yarn, featuring details about how street-side gas lamps only slowly achieved their full luminescence, and mentioning that during the late-19th century—and as a safety precaution—passing patrolmen never saluted (and thereby identified) plainclothes detectives. Brady’s Joe Swallow series hasn’t yet disappointed. I am looking forward to the third installment, A Hunt in Winter, which is scheduled for release in Ireland this coming October, and—I hope—a U.S. debut soon after.

UK critic-author Barry Forshaw long ago established himself as an authority on English-translated Nordic mysteries, producing the guide Nordic Noir in 2013, which he followed up a year later with Euro Noir. Now comes Brit Noir: The Pocket Essential Guide to the Crime Fiction, Film & TV of the British Isles (Oldcastle/Pocket Essentials). Drawing in part on research he’s done for previous books such as British Crime Writing and British Crime Film, Forshaw presents here a compact survey of modern mystery and thriller authors from England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Not all of these wordsmiths produce what can unarguably be termed “noir” fiction, but they’ve nonetheless contributed significantly to crime genre—everyone from Mo Hayder, Robert Wilson, and Minette Walters to Dreda Say Mitchell, Andrew Taylor, Ken Bruen, and Lynda La Plante. Entries aren’t arranged alphabetically; nor do they cover the entirety of each author’s work. Instead, this book, like its predecessors, is designed as a connoisseur’s sampler, with Forshaw suggesting specific works by each writer that will expand your understanding of the field as a whole. A section at the end about UK films and TV shows is guaranteed to give you plenty of entertaining new ideas whenever your Netflix queue runs low. Next up for Forshaw: American Noir.

Click here to see more of this season’s most-wanted books.

READ MORE:The Best of Brit Noir with Barry Forshaw” (Crime Fiction Lover); “St. Patrick’s Day Mysteries—St. Patrick’s Day Crime
,” by Janet Rudolph (Mystery Fanfare).

Love, Lust, and Prizes

Strange as it sounds, I don’t recall there being a previously declared rundown of nominees for the 2015 RT (Romantic Times) Reviewers Choice and Career Achievement Awards. Yet this week brings word of the prize recipients in … well, myriad categories. The one of greatest interest to Rap Sheet followers is presumably Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, which offers up the following winners:

Contemporary Mystery: The Forgotten Girls, by Sara Blaedel (Grand Central)
Historical Mystery: Jade Dragon Mountain, by Elsa Hart (Minotaur)
First Mystery: The Unquiet Dead, by Ausma Zehanat Khan (Minotaur)
Suspense: In a Dark, Dark Wood, by Ruth Ware (Galley)
Thriller: The Bone Labyrinth, by James Rollins (Morrow)
Amateur Sleuth: Gone But Knot Forgotten, by Mary Marks (Kensington)

In addition, three contributors to this genre were named as Career Achievement winners: Rhys Bowen (Historical Mystery), Janet Evanovich (Mystery), and Carla Neggers (Romantic Suspense).

These awards are set to be handed out during next month’s RT Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Rudolph Reaps Reward

Congratulations to California editor and blogger Janet Rudolph, who has won the 2016 George N. Dove Award for her “wide-ranging activities promoting the love of mystery and crime fiction.” As a press release explains, “The honor is bestowed for outstanding contributions to the serious study of mystery, detective, and crime fiction by the Mystery and Detective Fiction Area of the Popular Culture Association. The award is named for George N. Dove, one of the area’s early members, a past president of the Popular Culture Association, and author of outstanding presentations, articles, and books on detective fiction, especially the police procedural.”

In addition to her having founded the reader/fan organization Mystery Readers International (sponsor of the annual Macavity Awards), Rudolph is editor of the quarterly Mystery Readers Journal, writes the Mystery Fanfare blog, and also helped get the Left Coast Crime convention off the ground. She serves on the Bouchercon convention board and as a judge for New Zealand’s annual Ngaio Marsh Award, and holds “monthly Literary Salons with well-known crime writers in her own home in Berkeley ...” Rudolph is a knowledgeable and curious reader, and a very pleasant individual to be around at a cocktail party or dinner (as I can personally verify). Without any question, she deserves this latest commendation—which comes on top of her Ellery Queen Award, announced earlier this year.

As I understand it, the 2016 George N. Dove Award (which should in no way be confused with the Gospel Music Association’s annual Dove Award) will be presented during the Mystery and Detective Fiction Area meeting in Seattle, Washington, on March 25.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Barry Fine Showing

Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine and its editor, George Easter, today announced the nominees for this year’s Barry Awards. They are:

Best Novel:
Badlands, by C.J. Box (Minotaur)
A Song of Shadows, by John Connolly (Emily Bestler/Atria)
The Stolen Ones, by Owen Laukkanen (Putnam)
Life or Death, by Michael Robotham (Mulholland)
Devil of Delphi, by Jeffrey Siger (Poisoned Pen Press)
The Cartel, by Don Winslow (Knopf)

Best First Novel:
Ruins of War, by John A. Connell (Berkley)
Past Crimes, by Glen Erik Hamilton (Morrow)
Jade Dragon Mountain, by Elsa Hart (Minotaur)
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead)
The Unquiet Dead, by Ausma Zehanat Khan (Minotaur)
Bull Mountain, by Brian Panowich (Putnam)

Best Paperback Original:
Blessed Are Those Who Weep, by Kristi Belcamino (Witness Impulse)
The Long and Faraway Gone, by Lou Berney (Morrow)
Quarry’s Choice, by Max Allan Collins (Hard Case Crime)
No Other Darkness, by Sarah Hilary (Penguin)
Snow Blind, by Ragnar Jónasson (Orenda)
Stone Cold Dead, by James W. Ziskin (Seventh Street)

Best Thriller:
Brute Force, by Marc Cameron (Pinnacle)
The Killing Kind, by Chris Holm (Mulholland)
Viking Bay, by M.A. Lawson (Blue Rider)
Hostage Taker, by Stefanie Pintoff (Bantam)
The Mask, by Taylor Stevens (Crown)
Foreign and Domestic, by A.J. Tata (Pinnacle)

The Barrys are scheduled for dispersal during Bouchercon 2016, to be held from September 15 to 18 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Congratulations to all of the contenders!

I’m Talking the Fifth

It was five years ago this month that I debuted as the lead crime-fiction blogger for Kirkus Reviews. Not long before that, Molly Brown, then the publication’s Web and features editor, had called me up out of the blue to offer me the job, based on favorable recommendations she’d received from other sources. It seemed like an excellent opportunity, especially since working for Kirkus meant, in theory, that I could cut back on other freelancing obligations; so I didn’t take long before saying “yes.”

Some aspects of the job Brown described were never realized. For instance, she told me, as she did other bloggers Kirkus hired back then to cover different genres of fiction, that I’d be expected to do my own posting to the Web site, and would need to contribute several pieces each week of varying lengths—all written in a “conversational,” “consumer-friendly” style. She also mentioned how advertising dollars brought in by these new blogs would be shared among the writers, and how we’d be paid for our work at a generous per-word rate. In the end, a flat per-column fee was negotiated (quite below what I’d earned previously), and there was no more talk of ad-generated bonuses. Rather than posting frequently, I was restricted to a single column per week, and subsequently to fortnightly contributions.

Despite all of that, the Kirkus gig has been a generally satisfying one. I have the leeway to write about whatever subjects I wish, just so long as they relate in some manner to crime, mystery, and thriller works available in U.S. bookstores. Although I’ve gone through several editors (with the most recent one—and one of my favorites—Chelsea Langford, leaving the company just last Friday), they have all been accommodating and respectful, if rather quiet. I am pretty much left alone to do my work, which demonstrates trust in my abilities but also leaves me feeling distant from the business of publishing, a business I have loved for so long. Then again, as my beloved maternal grandfather used to say, “it could be worse.”

To celebrate this fifth anniversary, my new Kirkus column is devoted to what I think are alternately amusing and revealing top-five lists representing my experience with this genre. They range from “5 Crime and Mystery Novelists Best Represented on My Shelves” and “5 Classic Authors Whose Work I Should Have Read, But Have Not” to “5 Mysteries I Wish I’d Written.” I’d be very pleased if others among the Rap Sheet audience were to submit their own picks in those same categories, either in the Comments section at the end of my Kirkus piece, or as a comment at the end of this particular post.

2016 is turning out to be a big anniversary year for me. January brought the fifth birthday of my book-design blog, Killer Covers. Now we’re commemorating my half-decade association with Kirkus Reviews. And The Rap Sheet’s 10th anniversary is coming right up in mid-May. It’s a good thing I like champagne toasts!

READ MORE:Take Fives,” by J. Kingston Pierce (Killer Covers).

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Pierce’s Picks

A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

Max Allan Collins is well on his way to doubling the number of Mike Hammer private-eye novels in existence. Counting the new Murder Never Knocks (Titan), he has penned eight Hammer books based on an abundance of unfinished, unpublished material that Mickey Spillane—whose 98th birthday would have been today—left in his care when he passed away back in 2006; during his 50-year career, Spillane himself produced only 13 novels starring his hard-headed, harder-fisted Gotham gumshoe. This latest collaborative work (which Spillane had originally titled Don’t Look Behind You) is set firmly in the mid-1960s, an era of economic and social decline for New York City, when it experienced labor strikes, “white flight” to the suburbs, a major power blackout, and the shuttering of at least two of its biggest newspapers, the New York Daily Mirror and The New York Herald Tribune. Murder Never Knocks kicks off with a contract killer’s attempt to bring an early curtain down on Hammer’s life. This is hardly the first time someone has taken a shot at our wisecracking hero … and the confrontation doesn’t end well for the hit man. Still, Hammer would like to know who paid to get him out of the way, as would his partner-lover, Velda Sterling, and Captain Pat Chambers, his police buddy who’s spent far too long trying to keep Hammer from being killed or killing others. Could there be some link between the recent assault, a past hit-and-run accident, and the injured newsstand hawker who’d observed that tragedy unfold? While Hammer tries to get to the bottom of it all, he and Velda are busy with the unusual assignment of body guarding the particularly beautiful body of a Hollywood producer’s fiancée at her bridal shower. Mob toughs, Greenwich Village habitués, real-life New York gossip columnist Hy Gardner, and an elusive malefactor all figure into the careening plot.

Although Elizabeth Wilson, a British fictionist and academic specializing in popular culture, first came to my attention with the 2013 U.S. publication of The Girl in Berlin (a novel about Cold War-era secrets and spies), that book—as Wilson explains on her Web site—was just one in an evolving succession of “linked crime novels set in the late 1940s and 1950s exploring the changed world of Britain and specifically London after 1945.” The new She Died Young (Serpent’s Tail) is the fourth entry in said series. It transports readers to 1956 London, where a lovely young woman has taken a tumble down the stairs of a seedy King’s Cross hotel and broken her neck. An accident? Crime reporter Gerry Blackstone, the son of a wealthy undertaker, doesn’t think so. The problem is to convince Detective Chief Inspector Jack McGovern of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch that his assessment of the situation is correct. He’s lucky in that McGovern wants Blackstone’s assistance in a different matter: keeping an investigation of dishonest Yard officers out of the news and helping him expose a corrupt cop. Meanwhile, concerns have surfaced regarding Soviet spies among the refugees flowing in to England from Eastern Europe. Throw in assorted other suspect secondary players, and She Died Young becomes a most engaging tale that, by the way, illuminates the rapidly changing postwar face of the British capital.

Click here to see more of this season’s most-wanted books.

Herding the Lammys

Today brings the announcement, by the Lambda Literary Foundation, of its finalists for the 28th annual Lambda Literary Awards (“Lammys”) honoring lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) books published during 2015. There are 25 categories of contenders for these prizes, including two of particular interest to Rap Sheet readers:

Lesbian Mystery:
The Grave Soul, by Ellen Hart (Minotaur)
Illicit Artifacts, by Stevie Mikayne (Bold Strokes)
Ordinary Mayhem, by Victoria Brownworth (Bold Strokes)
No Good Reason, by Cari Hunter (Bold Strokes)
The Red Files, by Lee Winter (Ylva)
Relatively Rainey, by R.E. Bradshaw (R.E. Bradshaw)
Tarnished Gold, by Ann Aptaker (Bold Strokes)
The Tattered Heiress, by Debra Hyde (Riverdale Avenue)

Gay Mystery:
After the Horses, by Jeffrey Round (Dundurn)
The Boys from Eighth and Carpenter, by Tom Mendicino (Kensington)
Boystown 7: Bloodlines, by Marshall Thornton (Kenmore)
Cheap as Beasts, by Jon Wilson (Bold Strokes)
Introducing Sunfish & Starfish: Tropical Drag Queen Detectives, by Wallace Godfrey (Strand Hill)
Murder and Mayhem, by Rhys Ford (Dreamspinner Press)
Orient, by Christopher Bollen (Harper)
The Swede, by Robert Karjel (Harper)

Press materials explain that “The awards ceremony on June 6, 2016, will be held at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (566 LaGuardia Place, New York, NY 10012).” For more information and to buy tickets, click here.

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

“Our Lady Who Houses Murderous Subjects”

Directly on the heels of yesterday’s sad news that bookseller-turned-author Dilys Winn died last month, comes Sarah Weinman’s note this morning on her Facebook page about Winn having been a guest on the classic TV panel game show To Tell the Truth in 1972. “How insane were the 1970s,” writes Weinman, “that only a few months after Dilys Winn opened up Murder Ink, she appeared on To Tell the Truth, with Kitty Carlisle Hart, Gene Rayburn, and Alan Alda among the questioners.” The video showing Winn’s appearance is below.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Winn Lost

Irish-born advertising copywriter-turned-author Dilys Winn, who—as The Gumshoe Site reminds us today—“opened Murder Ink, America’s first mystery bookstore, in 1972 on West 87th in New York City,” died on February 5 in Asheville, North Carolina. She was 76 years old.

According to a paid death notice in The New York Times,
Dilys was born in Dublin on September 8, 1939, and came to the United States in December 1940, leaving behind her father, who after completing medical school at Trinity College and becoming a physician in Dublin, served throughout World War II in the British army. She attended public schools in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and graduated from the Baldwin School in Philadelphia and Pembroke College before becoming an advertising copywriter.

In 1972, Dilys opened the doors of Murder Ink, America’s first bookstore devoted entirely to mysteries. In 1975 Dilys sold the bookstore [to Carol Brener] and began work on
Murder Ink, an oversized collection of essays and opinions about mystery fiction. Murder Ink was not the first publication aimed specifically at mystery fans, but Murder Ink immediately became the indispensable companion for the mystery community, which it went far to create. It was especially noteworthy for the range of material it included, from the editor’s reminiscence of having tea with Frederic Dannay, the surviving partner of the cousins who had written as Ellery Queen, to her interview of novelist Donald Downes, a former OSS member who answered an advertisement she placed in The New York Times’ Personals column inviting anyone willing to talk about the profession of spying to contact her.

Dilys’ voice was even more influential. Witty, facetious, confident, well-informed, opinionated, often acerbic, but never snobbish, it established a chatty, appealing persona for a generation of fans who followed her in rescuing mystery fiction from both the gutter and the academy.

The Mystery Writers of America conferred a Special Edgar Allan Poe Award on
Murder Ink in 1978. A sequel, Murderess Ink: The Better Half of the Mystery, followed in 1979, along with a television movie, Murder Ink, starring Tovah Feldshuh as a mystery bookstore owner the following year.

In the 1990s Dilys moved to Key West, Florida, and opened another bookstore, Miss Marple’s Parlour, where she sold mysteries and orchestrated one-night mystery shows. By then she had already begun a long period reviewing mysteries for
Kirkus Reviews, where she eventually passed judgment on hundreds of titles before retiring from Kirkus in 2013.

The most important organizations Dilys influenced preceded her in death. The bookstore she founded, years after moving to Broadway and 92nd Street, closed its doors at the end of 2006. The Dilys, the annual award the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association established in 1992 for the mystery book its members had most enjoyed selling that year, was last conferred in 2014. The passing of both the award and the bookstore marked the dramatic decline in the number and financial health of independent bookstores across America—an institution with which Dilys remained powerfully identified for a generation.
We offer our condolences to Winn’s family and friends.