Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Bullet Points: Pre-Anniversary Edition

• If you haven’t been keeping up with the multi-part celebration, in my Killer Covers blog, of The Rap Sheet’s rapidly approaching 10th anniversary, go check out the “cover countdown” here.

• Bristol, England’s annual CrimeFest is scheduled to begin on Thursday and run through Sunday. Our hyper-energetic UK correspondent, Ali Karim, has promised to provide plenty of photos from the event. And we’ll be sure to report the winners of five different awards being given out at the convention on Saturday night.

• Did you know that this coming Saturday, May 21, is National Readathon Day? Which is known around my humble abode as simply another good excuse to kick back with a book.

• Sunday evening will bring the 12th and concluding episode of Kenneth Branagh’s Wallander series—based on the late Henning Mankell’s novels about Swedish police detective Kurt Wallander—to PBS-TV’s Masterpiece Mystery! The ever-reliable Leslie Gilbert Elman has already recapped Season 4’s initial two Wallander installments (here and here) for Criminal Element. I assume she will deliver her final assessment of this British drama sometime early next week.

• This sounds, right off the bat, like a dubious venture—but who knows, it could turn out to be a box-office smash. From In Reference to Murder:
One of the world’s most famous crime novelists may be headed to the big screen once again: Agatha Christie, based on a script by Tom Shepherd, is in the works at Columbia Pictures. The action-adventure pic, which is being pitched as “Sherlock Holmes meets The Thomas Crown Affair,” finds a young, adventurous Agatha Christie joining Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on a mission to track down the whereabouts of a missing oil tycoon.”
The recent death of actor William Schallert (The Patty Duke Show, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, etc.) will be Topic A on this week’s installment of TV Confidential, the radio talk show hosted by Ed Robertson. This episode of TV Confidential will begin airing tonight, May 18, on a variety of stations, and then be archived here.

• Meanwhile, the blog Comfort TV presents “10 memorable moments from [Schallert’s] stellar career,” including his largely forgotten appearances on The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Partridge Family.

• Nancie Clare talks with Steve Hamilton, author of the new series opener The Second Life of Nick Mason, for the latest episode of her podcast Speaking of Mysteries. My own interview with Hamilton can be found in two parts, here and here.

The Wall Street Journal recaps the twisted story of how Hamilton’s Second Life came to be released by Putnam, following the author’s “ugly breakup” with his previous publisher.

• The Spy Command fires questions at author Larry Loftis, who it notes “has come out with a book, Into the Lion’s Mouth, about real-life World War II spy Dusko Popov, who was said to be an inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond.” Read the exchange here.

• Several other interviews worth your attention: Veteran writer-producer David Levinson, whose television credits include episodes of The Bold Ones, Sons and Daughters, Sarge, Charlie’s Angels, and Hart to Hart, has a wonderful long conversation with Stephen Bowie of The Classic TV History Blog; Robert Goldsborough, author of the new Nero Wolfe novel, Stop the Presses!, chats with Jane K. Cleland of Criminal Element; Viet Thanh Nguyen, whose Vietnam-set spy novel, The Sympathizer, won both the Pulitzer Prize and a recent Edgar Award, engages in an often-moving discussion with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross; Gary Phillips revisits his fiction-writing history with Immix’s J. Sam Williams; and Glen Erik Hamilton answers questions from S.W. Lauden about his series protagonist, Van Shaw, and that character’s second appearance, in the recently released Hard Cold Winter.

Ah, the humorous frustrations of bookselling.

R.I.P., Darwyn Cooke, the illustrator and writer who—among so many other efforts—adapted into graphic-novel form several of Donald E. Westlake/Richard Stark’s tales about master thief Parker, including The Outfit. Cooke died from cancer at the tender age of 53. Good-bye as well to Portland, Oregon, resident Katherine Dunn, best known as the author of 1989’s “cult comic novel,” Geek Love. She passed away on May 11 at age 70. I would like to claim that I knew her; and yes, we did work together at one point for Willamette Week. However, Dunn—who wrote for that “alternative weekly” about boxing and Portland’s “underbelly”—was rarely spotted around the editorial offices. I couldn’t even remember what she looked like, until I saw this photograph, taken in the late 1960s, long before I knew her. Dunn’s demise is blamed on “complications from lung cancer.” UPDATE: Willamette Week has more to say about Dunn’s passing here.

From The Gumshoe Site:Jim Lavene collapsed and died on May 5 unexpectedly at a hospital in Concord, North Carolina. He and his late wife, Joyce (1954-2015), … wrote many cozy mysteries and created many series characters, including Sharyn Howard (a sheriff in North Carolina), Peggy Lee (not the singer but a garden shop owner), Glad Wycznewski (an ex-cop from Chicago), Jessie Morton (an assistant professor), Dae O’Donnell (a psychic mayor in a North Carolina town), Stella Griffin (a fire chief in a Tennessee town), Jessie Morton (an owner of a diner in Alabama), and others … One of their latest novels is Sweet Pepper Hero ..., a Stella Griffin mystery. He was 63.”

• Farewell, too, to advertising executive Bill Backer, who was responsible for the memorable 1971 “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” television ad. He died on May 13 at age 89.

• Is the 1955 film Kiss Me Deadly, based on Mickey Spillane’s 1952 novel of the same name and starring Ralph Meeker as private eye Mike Hammer, really “the most hard-boiled noir ever?” Yes, according to Den of Geek.

• Although she’s unlikely to outdo her in-the-altogether turn through 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street, Australian actress Margot Robbie is apparently set to extend her appearance as “crazed supervillain and former psychiatrist” Harley Quinn beyond this summer’s DC Comics anti-hero team-up in the film Suicide Squad. Geek Tyrant reports that she’ll “produce and star in a spin-off movie that won’t be a Harley Quinn solo film, but instead will center on a handful of DC’s female heroes and villains. Word is that Robbie had such a strong reaction to the character that she dove into the comic books to learn everything she could and fell in love with DC’s female characters. She brought a female writer (identity currently unknown) on board to write a script for a spinoff, and when they took it to [Warner Bros.], the studio ‘snapped it up.’”

• British performer Toby Jones (Infamous, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Girl) is evidently slated to do a guest turn in Season 4 of the BBC-TV series Sherlock. He “will star in the second episode of the brand-new three-part season …,” according to Mystery Fanfare. Jones is quoted as saying, “I’m excited and intrigued by the character I shall be playing in Sherlock,” rumored to be a bad guy.

• Whoops! It seems that big plans to turn Cormac McCarthy’s 1985 Western epic, Blood Meridian, into a feature film have been spoiled by the fact that nobody in charge of the project bothered to acquire the necessary rights to that novel. “I was astonished,” remarks author-producer Lee Goldberg. “You’d expect something like this from amateurs … but from experienced professionals and a major international distributor? I can’t imagine how the movie got this far along without anybody in business affairs double-checking that someone had actually secured the rights to the book.”

• Having once supervised the production of a radio drama series (OK, so it was just a college project—are you happy now?), I occasionally like to listen to classic specimens of the breed. Helpfully, Adam Graham of The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio has put together this list of what he says are the top 10 episodes of the mid-20th-century series Adventures of Philip Marlowe, starring Gerald Mohr. I think I have only listened to a couple of these before. Lots more enjoyment still to come.

• Of the far-flung bookshops Britain’s Independent newspaper proclaims “every reader should visit in their lifetime,” I’ve been to precisely four, though I have traveled to the cities where others are located (foolish me for not stopping by!). But wait, am I miscounting, or does this story list 11 stores, not the headline-promised 12?

• I somehow missed noting two lists of awards finalists that Janet Rudolph of Mystery Fanfare caught. It seems there are three contenders for the 2016 Harper Lee Prize for Legal fiction (including Attica Locke’s Pleasantville). And there are more than two dozen crime and thriller works vying for this year’s National Indie Excellence Awards (commendations that require entrants to pay a fee).

New York Times Book Review editor Charles McGrath presents a delightful essay looking back at The Thin Man, the 1934 picture based on Dashiell Hammett’s last novel.

• And if I didn’t already highlight this fine piece about the 75th anniversary of John Huston’s 1941 Hammett adaptation, The Maltese Falcon … well, I should have done.

Ive mentioned before on this page that in 1976, I won free tickets to the Portland, Oregon, opening of Nicolas Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, a movie adapted from his 1974 Sherlock Holmes novel of the same name. I haven’t sat through that picture again in the last 20 years, but Steve Vineberg’s fresh assessment of it, in Critics at Large, has me in the mood for another screening.

• A new discovery: The blog Reading Ellery Queen, in which museum curator Jon Mathewson is busily assessing every Queen yarn, chronologically. He’s come as far as the 1967 novel Face to Face. I’ve added Mathewson’s site to The Rap Sheet’s General Crime Fiction links list, for future reference.

• Speaking of Queen … With his summer vacation approaching, teacher Brad Friedman writes in Ah Sweet Mystery Blog about two novels—1933’s The Siamese Twin Mystery and 1949’s Cat of Many Tails—that find mystery writer and amateur sleuth Ellery Queen seeking relaxation, but finding murder, instead.

• Still more thoughts on summer travel: Cross-Examining Crime has gathered together some quite entertaining “Golden Age [of Mystery] Advice on Staying at Country Houses.” Rule No. 8: “Check the owner of the county house is not a collector of weaponry.”

• I wasn’t a fan of the NBC-TV series Movin’ On during its originally broadcast period of 1972-1976, but thanks to YouTube, in recent years I have caught up with some episodes of that program about troubleshooting truckers played by Claude and Frank Converse, and have decided it had more merit than I understood when I was very young. Television Obscurities recounts the story of Movin’ On’s recent revival through the TV streaming service Hulu, and even offers up that show’s first weekly episode, “The Time of His Life.”

• Bookslut founder Jessa Crispin laments the demise of her once-thriving book review/author interview site. The final issue of Bookslut is now available online.

Better-educated Americans = more liberal Americans.

• This comes as a surprise: SF Signal, the very popular, almost 13-year-old “speculative fiction”-oriented Web site edited by one of my fellow Kirkus Reviews bloggers, John DeNardo, has announced that it’s shutting down.

• Finally, as we prepare to commemorate The Rap Sheet’s initial decade, let us also raise a glass to the recent 10th anniversary of Gravetapping, Ben Boulden’s excellent crime-fiction blog.

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