Friday, September 30, 2016

The Book You Have to Read:
“A Dandy in Aspic,” by Derek Marlowe

(Editor’s note: This is the 142nd installment in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books.)

By Jim Napier
An obscene number of today’s crime-fiction readers will not be familiar with the works of Derek Marlowe. And that’s a shame, for he was one of the bright lights of espionage fiction during the peak of the Cold War. He died in 1996, but between 1965 and 1982 Marlowe turned out a small number of impressive novels, beginning with 1966’s A Dandy in Aspic, which he wrote in just four weeks. His roommate at the time, the playwright Tom Stoppard, was convinced that it would be a flop; after all, John le Carré had himself debuted just a few years earlier with the first of what would be many definitive works on the spycraft trade, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. But when Stoppard heard the premise of Marlowe’s book, he was forced to admit it was brilliant: a double agent working for both the Russians and the British is assigned to kill his other self! American rights and film rights followed swiftly, and Marlowe was suddenly a global success. The novel is deservedly a classic, but, to quote Stoppard, “to be out of print is not a value judgment in itself, more like a hazard of the writing life.” It took this book’s reissue in 2015 by his son, Ben Marlowe, to bring A Dandy in Aspic to the attention of the current generation of readers.

The tale introduces us to Alexander Eberlin, an unprepossessing, Oxford-educated man in his mid-30s who spends much of his leisure time in his rooms, reading or contemplating the view from his rear window, or taking uneventful walks through Hyde Park, then dining alone in his flat.

Eberlin’s postgraduate education in Medieval Warfare has not proved especially useful in his career with British Intelligence, but leaving a cocktail party one evening he meets two Russians who address him as Comrade Krasnevin, and direct him to a nearby car containing their superior, a man named Pavel. Having just finished an assignment to kill a man, Eberlin indicates that he is disenchanted with his work for the British. Trained at the Soviet Military College near Kiev, where he was also given his present identity as Alexander Eberlin, he asks to return to the USSR. Pavel demurs, arguing that Eberlin is more useful in Britain, and his request is denied.

The following morning, Eberlin is summoned to a conference during which an offensive mandarin named Brogue informs him that a most senior British agent, Emmannuel Gatiss, is expected back from Istanbul, Turkey. Eberlin fears that Gatiss will be able to unmask him. Despondent, he returns home and considers his prospects. It is not a pretty picture. He says, “I added up my friends the other day. It was a difficult task but finally, after much drastic deliberation, I narrowed the number down to none.”

(Left) The original, 1966 U.S. cover of Marlowe's A Dandy in Aspic.

And then the other shoe drops: Eberlin is ordered to attend a high-level meeting in the English countryside, at which he learns that his next assignment is to execute a Russian assassin that the members of British Intelligence have had their eyes on for some time. They don’t know much about him—what he looks like, or where to find him; in fact, the only lead they have is the man’s name: Krasnevin.

Eberlin, it seems, is being ordered to kill himself.

Among readers aware of the intrigues of Anthony Blunt and his jaded Cambridge conspirators in the 1950s and ’60s, Eberlin’s crise will doubtless strike a familiar chord. But it’s not merely the ripped-from-the-headlines aspect that gives Marlowe’s tale its appeal. The delicious irony of his plot is grounded in fine, dark writing that explores the tension between the inexorable machinations of British Intelligence and the all-too-human cog who has been ordered to carry out an assignment he cannot possibly accomplish. The outcome reveals a splendidly cunning resolution to Eberlin’s dilemma.

However, Marlowe does not rest his tale on plot alone, as fine as it is. One need only sample his incisive writing at random to appreciate its enduring appeal:
The sexual undulations of Lady Hetherington were, in fact, well known in her section of London society, as well as on a small, but impishly pert Greek island in the Adriatic. She had, it seems, lost her virginity at an early age and had been offering herself as a reward for its recapture ever since.
Derek Marlowe died in California in 1996, of complications following a liver transplant. Although he left behind a limited number of works, they remain jewels in the British literary crown, his droll wit setting him apart from most of his peers. A Dandy in Aspic is a literate, originally told tale, that in 50 years has not lost its power to entertain.

* * *

Jim Napier is the creator of the award-winning Web site Deadly Diversions, which features more than 500 reviews and interviews with leading crime-fiction writers. His own first crime novel, Legacy, is scheduled to appear in the spring of 2017. It will be the first in a series of contemporary Britain-based police procedurals.

For the Love of Noir

If you’re hoping to attend this year’s NoirCon, but haven’t yet registered for that event, you’ll want to do so soon. Very soon, in fact, since the convention is set to take place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from October 26 to 30. You will find links to programming and registration information here.

Taking part in the festivities will be Hard Case Crime editor-publisher Charles Ardai; authors such as Vicki Hendricks, Jason Starr, Leigh Redhead, Charlie Stella, and Wallace Stroby; and critics on the order of Sarah Weinman and Cullen Gallagher. Also on hand will be Australian blogger, author, and friend of The Rap Sheet Andrew Nette (Gunshine State), who explained recently that “I’ll be presenting on the morning of Friday, October 28, on the history of Australian pulp paperback publishing. I’m also reading at the Noir at the Bar as part of NoirCon, which will take place from 6:30 p.m. at the Pen & Pencil Club, 1522 Latimer Street, Philadelphia, hosted by the inevitable Philly crime fiction identity, Peter Rozovsky. I have wanted to read at a Noir at the Bar event for ages, so this is a wish I can now mark of the bucket list.”

Someday I hope, too, to make it to NoirCon. In the meantime, though, I can at least encourage others to partake of the fun.

For more information, click here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Revue of Reviewers, 9-28-16

Critiquing some of the most interesting recent crime, mystery, and thriller releases. Click on the individual covers to read more.

Excellence Should Be Appreciated

One of the things that the British Web site Crime Fiction Lover does best is, every September, it rolls out a succession of posts hailing some of this genre’s classic works and authors. This month has brought forth an especially diverse selection of such pieces, covering everything from Len Deightons’s The IPCRESS File and “the lasting legacy” of Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine’s 75th anniversary, “10 Literary Classics That Are Also Crime Stories” (yes, both Crime and Punishment and The Name of the Rose are included), Erskine Childers’ The Riddle of the Sands, and a list of what CFL thinks are “10 of the Best Pulp Crime Books.”

You should find links to all of this year’s “Classics in September” stories here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Pleasant New Orleans Hangover

Following up on my two-part photo report (here and here) from this month’s Bouchercon in New Orleans, I have devoted my new Kirkus Reviews column to that same subject. My coverage this time, though, includes remarks on two panel presentations, one successful and the other not; the odd lurking presence of best-selling British thriller author Martina Cole at the September 15-18 gathering; and my most embarrassing personal moments from this convention. Learn about all of those things and more by clicking here.

READ MORE:Bouchercon 2016: Blood on the Bayou,” by Jordan Foster (Publishers Weekly); Bouchercon 2016—The BOLO Books Recap, by Kristopher Zgorski (BOLO Books); “Bouchercon 2016—Jon’s Take,” by Jon Jordan (Crimespree Magazine); “Bouchercon 2016—The Feels,” by Dan Malmon (Crimespree Magazine); “Bouchercon 2016, Part I: Crime with Alligators,” Bouchercon 2016, Part II: One Book, Lots of Pictures,” “Bouchercon 2016, Part III: One Panel and Another Mess of Pictures,” Bouchercon 2016, Part IV: Music on the Streets and in the Bars of New Orleans,” and Bouchercon 2016, Part V: What Do Rachitic Newts Like? Plus Even More Pictures,” by Peter Rozovsky (Detectives Beyond Borders); Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention: Why Crime Thrillers Are Still Popular, Despite Crime Levels Going Down,” by Andy Martin (The Independent); “Bouchercon 2016, New Orleans: An Oral History,” by Lisa Levy (Lit Hub).

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Gumbo and Gumshoes, Part II

Author Allison Leotta, who shot this photograph of journalist-turned-novelist Brad Parks, jokes in her caption to it that “This is where Brad Parks gets his ideas.”

One thing that everyone who took part in this year’s Bouchercon will likely remember is the oppressive heat and humidity accompanying that New Orleans convention. Every morning, it seemed, when I received my 6 a.m. hotel wake-up call, I heard some variation of this message: “Good morning. The weather today is predicted to reach 93 degrees, but with the humidity it might feel more like 108.” Although I’d visited the Big Easy on several previous occasions—including once for Mardi Gras and another time in 2007, not long after Hurricane Katrina had swept her vicious hand across the town—it had always been in the springtime. The fall, it seems, offers far different weather patterns.

However, the heat didn’t put a serious damper on this year’s festivities. People came prepared with shorts and T-shirts, or else they grew accustomed to changing into fresh attire midday. Bouchercon attendees were intent on enjoying themselves, and as you saw in The Rap Sheet’s previous gallery of photos from this popular gathering, they did just that. Here, I have posted a second set of images (plus one video clip) that should remind folks who were in New Orleans last week of the fun they had there, and give everyone else another glimpse of what they missed.

Unless otherwise noted, these shots were provided by Rap Sheet contributor Ali Karim. Click on the images for enlargements.

On Saturday afternoon, award-winning crime-fictionist Laura Lippman—who owns a house in New Orleans’ Garden District that she shares with her husband, TV producer David Simon (The Wire, Treme), and their two children—quietly invited a variety of publishing colleagues and some lucky hangers-on (like me) to join her for drinks, appetizers, and stimulating conversation. Above, UK publishing powerhouse Selina Walker, of Century and Arrow (left), watches as author Alison Gaylin and Ali Karim ham it up on Lippman’s commodious kitchen deck.

Selfie’s choice: Ali huddles with writer Jamie Mason.

Shots editor Mike Stotter congratulates Lou Berney (right) on having won the Anthony, Barry, and Macavity awards for his 2015 novel, The Long and Faraway Gone.

Texas author Meg Gardiner, S.J. Rozan (the recipient this year of the Private Eye Writers of America’s Eye Award for lifetime achievement), and Canadian best-seller Linwood Barclay desperately seek some suggestion of breeze on Lippman’s deck.

These three, at least, manage to appear fairly cool on that quite steamy Saturday: Mike Stotter; Washington, D.C., sex crimes prosecutor-turned-author Allison Leotta; and Detectives Beyond Borders blogger Peter Rozovsky.

Saturday night’s Mulholland Books reception at the New Orleans Marriott (this year’s convention hotel) was packed with authors, critics, and young publishing professionals. Here, Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine editor George Easter (far left) poses with novelist David Swinson (The Second Girl) and the ubiquitous Mr. Karim.

What do you know, it’s Ali again, this time worming his way into a picture alongside novelist David Morrell (winner of the 2016 Anthony Lifetime Achievement Award), Mike Stotter, and yours truly, Rap Sheet editor J. Kingston Pierce.

Mystery Fanfare blogger Janet Rudolph shares a couple of adult beverages with Philadelphia author Duane Swierczynski.

Quebec writer-editor Jacques Filippi, who blogs at The House of Crime and Mystery, finds a moment to chat with prolific New Hampshire author Brendan DuBois.

Never-say-die Bouchercon-goers finished off Saturday night with an excursion to New Orleans’ House of Blues club, on Decatur Street, where Heather Graham and other notable contributors to modern crime fiction mounted the stage to sing and dance and otherwise make deliberate spectacles of themselves. In this video clip, British author Mark Billingham tries to channel the ghost of Johnny Cash, while Northern Irish wordsmith Stuart Neville shows he’s no stranger to harmonica playing.

Acclaimed authors Lee Goldberg and Ace Atkins in the Bouchercon book sales room. (Photo from Lee Goldberg)

I’ve known Houston, Texas, writer Scott Dennis Parker for most of the last seven years—but only through his blogging efforts here and here. I had never actually met him … until Bouchercon New Orleans, that is. Scott first tracked me down outside the book sales room, then offered to give me copies of his several crime novels to read. Seeing as how he has been a longtime supporter of The Rap Sheet, how could I say no? Thanks, Scott!

Sunday’s concluding guests of honor panel presentation featured almost all of the usual suspects. Left to right: Fan Guests of Honor Jon and Ruth Jordan, the publishers/editors of Crimespree Magazine; “Local Legend” Julie Smith; International Rising Star Guest of Honor Craig Robertson; Toastmasters Alexandra Sokoloff and Harley Jane Kozak; Bouchercon 2016 co-chair Heather Graham; Lifetime Achievement Award winner David Morrell; and American Guest of Honor Harlan Coben. Missing from this lineup was R.L. Stine, the Bouchercon 2016 Kids Guest of Honor.

Alexandra Sokoloff and Harley Jane Kozak listen as their fellow Sunday panelists recount their memories of being in New Orleans for this event. (Photo by Peter Rozovsky)

While other Bouchercon-goers packed up and departed on Sunday, handfuls of us stuck around for an extra day or two in order to see more of the city. One of the popular destinations was the National World War II Museum, in the Central Business District, a well-arranged tribute to the world’s 20th-century fight against German Nazism and the rise of a bellicose Japan. The photo here shows Ali Karim, yours truly, Peter Rozovsky, and Mike Stotter having exited the museum, after several hours spent taking in its extensive exhibits and films.

On our way back to the Marriott from the museum, I joined Mike and Ali for a rejuvenating libation at a small bar called Stacks, located in the Country Inn & Suites on Magazine Street.

One more shot for the road, outside the Marriott on Monday. Left to right: Peter Rozovsky, yours truly (with some extra caffeine in hand—I do hail from Seattle, after all), Ali Karim, Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Mike Stotter, and Yrsa’s husband, Olaf. Not shown, because she’s operating the camera here, is author and January Magazine editor Linda L. Richards.

Next year, Toronto!

From the Female Perspective

Although I long ago lost my desire to live in New York City, there are times when I really wish I could transport myself there for brief visits. Next week would be a prime opportunity, for instance.

According to this new post in Mystery Fanfare, on Tuesday, September 27, “four of the genre’s most acclaimed and celebrated writers”—Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, Alison Gaylin, and Alafair Burke—will be on hand at the historic Center for Fiction (17 East 47th Street) to discuss … what else? Women in crime fiction, as well as “the current state of both this genre and our society.”

This panel discussion will begin at 7 p.m., and Laura Miller, a books and culture columnist for Slate, will act as moderator. From what I can tell, the event is free and open to the general public. For more information, call the Center at 212-755-6710.

Really? Truly? Magnum?

Hollywood’s determination to revive once-popular TV programs proceeds apace. The latest target: Magnum, P.I., which ran originally on CBS from 1980 to 1988. This report comes from Deadline Hollywood:
A famous 1980s title is eyeing a comeback. ABC has nabbed Magnum, a sequel to the classic series Magnum, P.I. that starred Tom Selleck, with a script commitment plus substantial penalty. The project, from Leverage creator John Rogers and Eva Longoria’s UnbeliEVAble Entertainment, will keep the fun, action-packed style of the original as it follows Magnum’s daughter, Lily “Tommy” Magnum, who returns to Hawaii to take up the mantle of her father’s P.I. firm. She and her tribe of friends mix tropical beaches with the seedy underbelly of international crime and modern espionage, even as she tries to unravel the mystery of the blown spy operation that ended her career in Navy Intelligence.

Rogers will write the script and executive produce through his Kung Fu Monkey banner alongside UnbeliEVAble’s Longoria and Ben Spector and Kung Fu Monkey’s Jennifer Court. Universal TV, which owns rights to the original series and where UnbeliEVAble is based, is the studio. …

“We knew no one could replace the iconic role of Thomas Magnum, so John decided to make the reboot a sequel and continue the adventure of a Magnum—his daughter, who was established in the original series,” Longoria and Spector told Deadline.
Hmm. This sounds like just another way to get more swaying palm trees and women in skimpy bikinis onto the boob tube. OK, maybe it’s not such a bad idea after all …

(Hat tip to Linda L. Richards)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Gumbo and Gumshoes, Part I

Author Sara Paretsky—shown holding hands with a stilts artist—enjoys herself during Friday evening’s second line parade, which led Bouchercon-goers from the New Orleans Marriott (this year’s convention hotel) to downtown’s Orpheum Theater, site of the Anthony Awards presentations. (Photo by Edith Maxwell)

According to one official calculation, more than 1,890 people attended last week’s Bouchercon convention in New Orleans, Louisiana (September 15-18). That resulted in a lot of book-buying, a great number of friendships rekindled, countless drinks and meals consumed (the profusion of sugary beignets swallowed at the Café du Monde must, in itself, have been rather impressive), and even a couple of small but frightening real-life crimes perpetrated against attendees. It also led to the taking of what had to have been millions of photographs. Much of the Big Easy is, after all, downright beautiful with its ironwork balconies in the French Quarter, its historic Garden District homes, and the broad Mississippi sweeping past everything.

It would be nigh on impossible to collect all of the images captured during that overheated four-day gathering of crime-fiction readers. I am posting here, though, Part I of what I think is a representative gallery showing the participants and proceedings that made up this year’s 47th Bouchercon—the first time this conference has been held in the Pelican State’s largest city. Unless otherwise noted, these shots were provided by Rap Sheet contributor Ali Karim, who seemed omnipresent during the event.

Click on any of these images for enlargements.

Left to right: Ali Karim poses with Bouchercon 2016 co-chair Heather Graham in the cavernous book sales room.

Michael Connelly stages a public interview with fellow author Harlan Coben, this year’s American Guest of Honor.

Walter Mosley takes a moment to chat with Gary Phillips in the Bouchercon free books room.

Canadian writer Cathy Ace relishes a moment with Lee Child.

A Thursday morning panel discussion titled “Do You Feel Like I Do?”—about mystery fandom—featured (left to right) Bill Gottfried, Marvin Lachman, moderator Ali Karim, Robert E. McGinnis authority Art Scott, and David Magayna.

Jeffrey Siger, outgoing chair of the National Board of Bouchercon, displays his newest Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis mystery, Santorini Caesars.

Ali with Norwegian cop-turned-novelist Jørn Lier Horst.

What do you know, it’s Ali again—this time posing with Lynn Gross and her husband, Andrew Gross, author of the new historical thriller, The One Man.

New York City-based editor-publisher Otto Penzler, this year’s recipient of the David Thompson Special Service Award, alongside Lynn Gross and Harry Bosch creator Michael Connelly.

Thursday’s festivities concluded with a memorable opening ceremony, sponsored by publisher HarperCollins and kicked off by a Mardi Gras-style parade of small floats through the Marriott’s crowded Carondelet Ballroom. The video clip above (pardon the marginal quality, but it was shot in a dark space) shows that succession of decorated vehicles, led by one containing a prodigiously feathered Harlan Coben, followed by David Morrell and the rest of this year’s official guests of honor. Just like Mardi Gras, the float-riders tossed beaded necklaces to the assembled masses. One such souvenir, pitched by International Rising Star Guest of Honor Craig Robertson, hit me square in the face. Fortunately, there was no reason for medical attention.

Shots editor Mike Stotter (left) and Ali Karim flank Harlan Coben, whose latest Myron Bolitar novel, Home, looks to be a shocker.

Don’t mess with these two: horror-fiction specialist Nanci Kalanta (aka Facebook’s Mountain Jane Laurel) teams up with the hyper-energetic Mr. Karim to guard the Marriott lobby.

I was first introduced to Chicago novelist Lori Rader-Day during an airport shuttle ride in to Raleigh, North Carolina, where we were both scheduled to attend Bouchercon 2015. I had barely heard of her at the time, and had read precisely none of her work. But during that convention she won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel (for The Black Hour), and I went on to read her second book, Little Pretty Things, and name it as one of my favorite crime/mystery novels of 2015. With her third book, The Day I Died, due out next April, we took a moment in advance of one of this year’s Bouchercon panel discussions to reminisce. Oh, yeah, that’s me on the right. (Photo by Janet Rudolph)

Group breakfasts are a Bouchercon tradition, with most folks finding a favorite local joint. This year’s pick for my gang was the Ruby Slipper, on Magazine Street, just blocks from the Marriott. Although some friends eschewed the wonders of such comestibles as grits and fried green tomatoes (yeah, I’m looking at you, Ali), I dug in with enthusiasm, ordering the Slipper’s Southern Breakfast every a.m. The attendance at these repasts varied per day. Above, you’ll see one gathering, featuring (left to right) yours truly, Detectives Beyond Borders blogger Peter Rozovsky, Ali Karim, Nanci Kalanta, and her husband, Phil. Live long and prosper, y’all!

Another morning brought Northern Irish authors Stuart Neville and Steve Cavanaugh to our table at the Red Slipper.

Joining us later for breakfast was Boston fictionist Daniel Palmer, shown above inking his moniker on some bookplates.

Smile pretty, everyone! Authors Lee Goldberg, Bill Crider, Charlaine Harris, and Parnell Hall. (Photo from Lee Goldberg)

Not everything goes precisely as planned during Bouchercon. Along with the photo shown above, Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurðardóttir offered this story on Facebook: “Life is funny, [on Friday] we had a meet-and-greet for Ragnar Jónasson, Jørn Lier Horst, and myself on Bourbon Street in connection with Bouchercon in New Orleans. We showed up with lots of drinks, cups, and even ice. We were a bit surprised at the locale (a tourist shop open for business) but moved some stuff around and set up the bar on a handy table. People arrived and we mingled with our guests, drinking and chatting, mixing drinks and doing what one does at such soirées. After an hour of this, the owner showed up. The woman went ballistic; turned out we were in the wrong location and had held our meet-and-greet in somebody‘s store without permission. In the words of the owner: ‘Who are you people? You can’t just show up here and set up a full bar in my store, what is wrong with you?’ But [it] turns out we did, and somehow managed to do it in peace for a full hour. We have not reached a conclusion if the term for this should be ‘pop-up bar’ or ‘flash-bar,’ but the concept is fully recommended. Next stop, IKEA.”

Even the Marriott’s elevators weren’t safe from Bouchercon shenanigans. Here, Ali Karim and Peter Rozovsky do their damndest to intimidate shutterbug Mike Stotter.

Would you want to stumble across this trio in a dark alley? Lee Goldberg, former Tom Clancy collaborator Mark Greaney, and Reed Farrel Coleman—who has taken up the task of continuing Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series. (Photo from Lee Goldberg)

Sisters in Crime president Diane Vallere arrives at the Orpheum Theater for the Anthony Awards presentations, backed up by a pair of Mardi Gras Indians. (Photo by Eleanor Cawood Jones)

Art Taylor, holding the oversize Anthony Award he won for editing Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015. (Photo by Eleanor Cawood Jones)

In conflict with the Anthony Awards event, Friday evening also brought this year’s Shamus Awards presentation. With 2016 marking the 35th anniversary of the founding of the Private Eye Writers of America, which sponsors the Shamus, this event (held at the Pere Marquette Hotel) turned out to be especially stylish—and brimming with humor. As part of the celebration, diners were greeted with this large cake shaped like a stack of books.

Robert J. Randisi, who founded the Private Eye Writers of America in 1981, looks on as Lawrence Block—the organization’s second president (after Bill Pronzini)—recounts his early PWA experiences. It seems he’d accepted the job only after being assured that it required him to do not much of anything.

Mike Stotter shares his Shamus table with author J.D. Allen and mystery conference attendee/organizer Ingrid Willis.

(Part II of this photo extravaganza can be enjoyed here.)