Saturday, January 28, 2017

Two TV Icons Depart the Stage


(Above) Mike Connors on the June 24, 1972, TV Guide.

What a dismal, discouraging last week we’ve all had to experience. While Donald Trump has done his damnedest, through one executive order after another, to undermine America’s values and leadership in the world, we’ve also witnessed the deaths of three Hollywood performers with ties to crime and mystery fiction.

First off, of course, there was 80-year-old Mary Tyler Moore, about whom I wrote here. But while Moore’s success really derived from her work in situation comedies rather than on TV crime dramas, the same cannot be said of Mike Connors, who died on Thursday at age 91. Born Krekor Ohanian in Fresno, California, on August 15, 1925, the Armenian-descended former college basketball standout appeared in several movies and did guest shots on small-screen programs such as Mr. and Mrs. North, City Detective, M Squad, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, and Maverick before landing the lead in Tightrope! (1959–1960), playing a deep-undercover police officer charged with infiltrating criminal gangs. After that program was cancelled, and following Connors’ work in films such as Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (1966), he returned to television as Joe Mannix, a notably hard-headed Los Angeles private eye, in the William Link/Richard Levinson-created CBS series Mannix (1967-1975). In its obituary of Connors, The New York Times recalled that
Unlike many a smooth TV private eye, Mannix took his lumps. The Washington Post, tabulating the wear and tear the character withstood over eight seasons, found that he had endured 17 gunshot wounds and 55 beatings that left him unconscious. …

“Mannix” made Mr. Connors one of the highest-paid television actors of the 1970s; by the end of its run he was earning $40,000 an episode (almost $180,000 in today’s dollars). The role brought him four Emmy Award nominations and a Golden Globe Award.

“Mannix” was also notable as one of the first regular series to provide a leading role to an African-American: Gail Fisher joined the show in its second season as Mannix’s secretary, frequent damsel in distress and occasional potential love interest. She died at 65 in 2000.


TV Guide issues of May 18, 1968, and October 31, 1970.

Meanwhile, in a 2014 retrospective of Mannix, Stephen Bowie wrote:
Likable but flinty, Connors was a tough guy who didn’t have to show off. An idealist and a nice guy, Mannix was perfectly willing to take on a lost little girl as a client and negotiate his fee in lunch money (never actually collected, of course). Connors had a rare sincerity that kept scenes like that from getting corny. (When cynical private-eye shows like Harry O and The Rockford Files made a point of their protagonists’ pragmatic eye for a buck, it was mainly Mannix they were rebuking.) Working out of a comfy Spanish-styled home office, dressed in plaid sport coats made out of fabric as thick as carpet, driving a snazzy muscle car painted a hideous shade of army-Jeep green, Joe Mannix was functional but square. It was all of a piece. Mannix was the audience’s uncle or its brother-in-law—that quiet, comforting fellow who never let on that he’d mowed down a whole squadron of advancing enemies during the war. (Joe’s actual back-story included service in Korea; another often-mocked TV trope, the one where the deranged vet returns to kill off all the members of his old platoon, comes more from Mannix than any other single show.) Mannix’s secretary, Peggy Fair, was cannily drawn to underscore his avuncular solidity. Played by Gail Fisher, one of the more prominent African-American actors on television at the time, Peggy was the widow of a cop, so naturally he’d never make a pass. She was also a single mother, which meant that the producers could show Mannix in surrogate dad mode whenever little Toby (Mark Stewart) turned up.
Unfortunately, after eight seasons on the air, Mannix (which TV blogger Mitchell Hadley says was, “next to The Rockford Files, … probably the most loved, most well-remembered P.I. show of the era”), was dropped from American prime-time viewing schedules, though it has continued to show up in syndication, and was released in DVD format between 2008 and 2012. Connors spent a few years after that doing teleflicks (such as 1980’s Casino) and filling guest spots on programs that included Police Story, before landing his last starring role in a TV crime drama: Today’s F.B.I., a 1981-1982 revamp of the original Efrem Zimbalist Jr. series, on which he played a “veteran ‘G-Man,’” Ben Slater, commanding a select group of agents.

He subsequently featured in shows such as The Love Boat, Murder, She Wrote, and a 1990s revival of Gene Barry’s Burke’s Law, and reprised his Mannix role in a 1997 episode of Diagnosis: Murder (which, at least for now, you can watch here). “All told,” says A.V. Club, “he ended his career with more than a hundred credits to his name, and worked steadily in the business for a total of 65 years.” According to the Times, Connors died on January 26, from “complications of leukemia, which had been diagnosed a week earlier.”

* * *

Just one day after word of Mike Connors’ passing, news broke that Barbara Hale—the striking actress best known for playing resourceful and highly observant secretary Della Street on Raymond Burr’s 1957-1966 series, Perry Mason—had died “peacefully” at her home in Sherman Oaks, California. She was 94 years old.

Born in DeKalb, Illinois, on April 18, 1922, Hale started her adulthood wanting to be an artist, and doing modeling work to pay for her education at the Chicago Academy of Fine Art. The modeling attracted Hollywood’s interest. In his blog, A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence Towles Canote notes that Hale “signed a contract with RKO Radio Pictures. She made her film debut in 1943 in an uncredited, bit part in Gildersleeve’s Bad Day (1943).” He adds: “[I]t must be remembered that she had a highly successful film career prior to starting her long run on Perry Mason. She played opposite some of Hollywood’s most popular leading men, including Robert Mitchum in West of the Pecos (1945 film), Jimmy Stewart in The Jackpot (1951), James Cagney in A Lion Is in the Streets (1953), and Rock Hudson in Seminole (1953). She even received top billing in two films: The Window (1949) and Lorna Doone (1951). While many of us loved her as Della Street, she played so many more roles during her career.”

(Left) Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale on TV Guide, March 19, 1960.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, in the late 1950s, “Hale was mulling retirement to raise her three young children with her husband, actor Bill Williams (The Adventures of Kit Carson), when producer Gail Patrick Jackson approached her about playing Della on Perry Mason. She quickly accepted the gig when she discovered that Burr, her old friend from RKO, was going to star as the fictional defense attorney in the series based on the Erle Stanley Gardner mystery novels.” Hale is credited with participating in all 271 episodes of that CBS courtroom drama, opposite Burr, William Hopper (who played private detective Paul Drake), and William Talman (as persistently unsuccessful Los Angeles District Attorney Hamilton Burger). For her portrayal of Street, in 1959 Hale received an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series. A year later, she was immortalized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Hale maintained her acting career after Perry Mason, appearing in big-screen pictures such as Airport (1970) and The Giant Spider Invasion (1975), and popping up on TV screens as a guest on Ironside (playing a murder suspect), Adam-12, Marcus Welby, M.D., and The Greatest American Hero, which starred her son, William Katt. “In 198[5],” explains Canote, “she reprised her role as Della Street in the television reunion movie Perry Mason Returns alongside Raymond Burr in the title role. The TV movie proved so successful that there would be 26 more Perry Mason TV movies starring Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale.” In the first nine of those, Katt played P.I. Paul Drake Jr. (The original Drake, Hopper, had died in 1970.)

Reports are that Barbara Hale perished as a result of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In its obituary of the actress, The New York Times recalls that, despite having played one of the most memorable secretaries on television, Hale “never learned shorthand and could type only 33 words a minute.”

READ MORE:Mike Connors, an Appreciation” and “Mannix vs. Spies,” by Bill Koenig (The Spy Command); “Dinner with Perry and Della,”
by Max Allan Collins.

Hope for Better Times Ahead

Today just happens to be the first day of the Chinese New Year, 2017, which commences the Year of the Rooster. By way of celebrating, Mystery Fanfare’s Janet Rudolph has posted a surprisingly long list of crime and mystery novels associated with this occasion.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Story Behind the Story:
“Koreatown Blues,” by Mark Rogers

(Editor’s note: This is the 68th installment in The Rap Sheet’s “Story Behind the Story” series. Today’s guest contributor is Mark Rogers, who lives most of each year in Baja California, Mexico, with his Sinaloa-born wife, Sophy. His work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Village Voice, and other publications, and his travel journalism has taken him on assignment to 54 countries. While Endeavour Press beat Brash Books to market with Rogers’ mystery novel Red Thread, the author considers Koreatown Blues—due out on February 1, from Brash—to be his debut novel. In addition to penning fiction, Rogers blogs at Pissing on My Pistols.)

* * *

The warm rain fell on a tin awning in Mexico. I waited, up against the building’s wall, staying dry. The pieces of my crime novel Koreatown Blues were all there. Waiting to be remembered and imagined …

Back in 2005, a screenplay of mine had been optioned by a major player, and I’d been signed to a hip literary management company. At age 55, I knew I was way past my sell-by date. Even so, nothing was going to stop me from making the move from New Jersey to Los Angeles and giving screenwriting a shot.

I told my wife, “If I don’t take this chance, you’ll end up with a bitter old man. I don’t want to be him, and believe me, you don’t want to be married to him.”

I drove cross-country and sublet a dark studio apartment in L.A.’s Koreatown. The apartment had only one window that looked out on a brick wall close enough to touch. It was ugly as hell but in reality, perfect conditions for a writer, fulfilling Henry Miller’s dictum: “Writers should be put in a prison cell and given only bread and water.”

The plan was for my family to join me in three months (in a bigger apartment). Instead, they refused to make the move. And I was too stubborn to return to New Jersey.

Divorce followed.

Every three days or so the loneliness of my apartment would get to me. On one of those nights I wandered into a Korean nightclub a few blocks from my apartment. When I ordered a Hite, the beer arrived with a cordless microphone and the request to sing “Yesterday.”

“As usual, I was the only white guy in the place.”

That’s the first line of my crime novel Koreatown Blues. And that’s the way it was. The Koreans accepted me at once, and it wasn’t long before I developed a crush on the barmaid, Sung. Her husband was in South Korea, having refused to make the move to the States, which mirrored my own situation. Sung worked full-time and took care of her two teenage kids. She told me that once a year she liked to go to the beach and stare at the horizon line.

Part of my affection for Sung was driven by my respect for her. When she arrived in L.A. from Seoul, she first worked as a taxi driver, which had to be daunting for a newcomer who didn’t speak English.


(Above) Author Mark Rogers

During my hopeful nights sitting at the bar, trying to connect with Sung, the life of the nightclub went on around me, a mix of B-girls, Korean gangsters, and ordinary Joes Korean-style.

One night, a dude at the bar got tired of eating his rice and started playing the drums on my head with his chopsticks, like a deranged Gene Krupa. When he wouldn’t stop, I told him, “You’re fuckin’ with John Wayne.” A fight was only averted when he sped out the door and disappeared into the night.

A middle-aged Korean man sat beside me at the bar and told me about his son who had died in infancy. Then, when the mike was passed to him, he sang “Tears in Heaven,” by Eric Clapton.

Another young Korean was in love with Sung and challenged me to a bout of arm wrestling. I beat him easily and he insisted we try it left-handed. I beat him again and he complained, “You should have let me win one.” My response was, “You’ve heard of ‘When in Rome do as the Romans do?’ Well, I’m from New Jersey.”

One cadaverous-looking Korean got up in the middle of the floor and sang an impassioned version of Celine Dion’s “Power of Love.” At song’s end he sat down beside me and pulled out an envelope from inside his shirt: X-rays showing his inoperable lung cancer.

While I loved every minute of this, I was also developing much more than a crush on Sung. I’d ask myself, “If L.A. is filled with women, why did you have to go and fall for a married, non-English-speaking Korean woman with two kids?”

All during this time, I had the feeling of being surrounded by a culture that would ultimately and always be alien to me.

The romance with Sung never ignited and the optioned screenplay sputtered out, even though the production company had invested $400,000. I eventually drifted out of L.A., all the way down to Mexico.

A few years later, standing under an awning in Baja California, waiting out the rain, a stray remark from those L.A. days bounced around in my head: “There are many ghost stories in Koreatown.” I pulled out my notebook and in a half-hour had the main story beats for Koreatown Blues, although my ghosts would be flesh and blood.

Koreatown Blues is the story of Wes—whose purchase of a car wash in L.A.’s Koreatown comes complete with a young Korean wife he’s never met. Wes soon learns her five previous husbands were murdered before the honeymoon and finds himself with a ring on his finger and a target on his back. Will he become the next victim of this centuries-old blood feud—or will he emerge as the last husband standing?

Some of my favorite writers are Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, David Goodis, Jim Thompson, John D. MacDonald, James Lee Burke, and James Sallis. While I admire all of them, the truth is they didn’t provide the inspiration for my Koreatown Blues protagonist, Wes Norgaard, who I describe as having no reverse gear. Instead, I was inspired by a simple exchange between two characters in Lights in the Dusk, a film by Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki:

The heroine comes upon the badly beaten hero: “What will you do?”

Blood trickles down the edge of the hero’s mouth and his eye is bruised. He says, “I’ll open a garage.”

She says, “It’s good you haven’t lost hope.”


Once I started writing Koreatown Blues, the words flowed, 1,000 a day. This is how I like to work, making my thousand and stringing together as many writing days as I can—at least six a week.

When I was 22 years old, I used to explain away my lack of success by telling myself that Ernest Hemingway didn’t publish his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, until he was 26. Well, my 26th birthday came and went, along with a bunch of other milestones. Now, here I was at 64, still plugging away at the novel. People I’d grown up with were planning their retirement, while I was still trying to put even one run on the scoreboard.

Then, in one six-week period last year, the floodgates opened. Brash Books contracted for Koreatown Blues; Endeavour Press took an early mystery novel of mine, Red Thread (written in 1990), and will publish an ’80s noir novella of mine titled Night Within Night (written in 1986). Common Deer Press picked up a middle-grade novel titled Rex, co-written with Cody B. Stewart and Adam Rocke. And Tapas Media contracted to distribute a self-published novel of mine titled Basement, for download on iOS devices. (Basement was written in 1988).

What changed? Why is my work suddenly worthy of publication? Whatever the reason, I’m now a guy in his 60s who feels like he’s 26. I have a lot of catching up to do. Presently I have four other novels making the rounds, and I plan to write three more this year.

One of them is a novel based on that screenplay optioned years ago, the one that sputtered out. Who knows? If my book is a success, maybe I’ll see a film made from it after all.

Moving toward publication has been a charmed process, with an amazing cover design; great editing and support from my publishers at Brash Books, Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman; and lots of enthusiastic pre-publication buzz. Publishers Weekly called Koreatown Blues “an entertaining, fast-paced first novel, with an unexpected, up-to-date solution,” while Edgar Award-winning author Bruce DeSilva (The Dread Line) had this to say: “Koreatown Blues is a cleverly-plotted hard-boiled novel with crisp, muscular prose, a feverish pace, a vividly-drawn urban setting, and characters so real that Rudy Giuliani would stop and frisk them.”

Get Shorts

Just two days ago, The Rap Sheet brought you the official list of nominees for the 2016 Agatha Awards, which will be presented by organizers of the Malice Domestic conference in late April. So pleased was Virginia author Art Taylor to be among the five finalists (with his short story “Parallel Play”), that he assembled a list of links for anyone interested in reading through all of this year’s contenders. You should be able to find those links here.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Oh Joe, Say It Ain’t So

First it was Mary Tyler Moore. Now it’s Mike Connors. From Variety:
Mike Connors, best known for playing detective Joe Mannix on 1960s and ’70s show “Mannix,” died Thursday in Tarzana, Calif. He was 91.

He had been diagnosed a week ago with leukemia, according to his son-in-law Mike Condon.

“Mannix” ran for eight seasons, from 1968 to 1975, and was the last series from Desilu Productions. Connors won a Golden Globe for his performance as a tough, athletic investigator, who in quintessential detective-show style, insisted on doing things his own way and often got beat up in the process. He drove an impressive series of muscle cars, including a Dodge Dart and Chevrolet Camaro. …

The handsome square-jawed actor also appeared in early ’60s TV series “Tightrope!” and “Today’s F.B.I.” in the early ’80s. He later played Colonel Hack Peters in [the] Herman Wouk miniseries “War and Remembrance.”
(Hat tip to Bill Crider.)

READ MORE:Mike Connors, an Appreciation,” by Bill Koenig
(The Spy Command).

Revue of Reviewers, 1-26-17

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







READ MORE:Little Heaven, by Nick Cutter,” by Jacques Filippi
(The House of Crime and Mystery).

Women on Top

For the blog Criminal Element, Marianne Delacourt (aka Marianne de Pierres), the Australian author of the Tara Sharp comic crime novels, has put together a list of what she says are the “Top Ten Female Crime and Mystery Authors.” As with any such survey, this one lacks a scientific basis, but reflects the opinions of the people Delacourt consulted online. Nonetheless, it provides a decent set of recommendations for readers wanting to expand their familiarity with women writers in this genre.

Beyond the top 10 vote-getters (Agatha Christie and Tana French among them), Delacourt features an “honorable mentions” lineup that includes Ngaio Marsh and Denise Mina. She also offers a selection of “wildcard” individual books by women “that you might like to try”—a couple of which are unfamiliar even to yours truly.

Man of Many Sides

I think writer-researcher B.V. Lawson does a consistently fine job with her blog, In Reference to Murder, so I like to send traffic her way every once in a while by mentioning items from her news-bits posts. For example, she recently reported that “The Arthur Conan Doyle estate has debuted a new Web site with texts, correspondence, photos, memorabilia, and films about the creator of Sherlock Holmes and his many roles, including author, physician, advocate, and spiritualist. One interesting account is his less-than-enthusiastic attitude toward the knighthood offered to him in 1902.”

While I haven’t had much time to check out the new Conan Doyle site for myself, I’m hoping to do more exploring this weekend.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

It’s You, Girl, and You Should Know It

I was very sorry to hear that Mary Tyler Moore died earlier today at age 80. When I was growing up, she was my mother’s favorite actress. Although my father wielded control over our TV set most of the time (we had only one), on Saturday nights, it was my mother’s show. Literally. From 1970 through 1977, there was hardly a Saturday evening that went by when my mother (who actually resembled Moore) didn’t tune in to The Mary Tyler Moore Show on CBS.

But while that half-hour comedy, along with her earlier co-starring role in The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966), earned Moore her largest TV followings, and is remembered as helping to “define a new vision of American womanhood” (to quote The New York Times), the Brooklyn-born actress had started out her career with appearances in a variety of darker, tougher series. Detective shows such as Bourbon Street Beat, Johnny Staccato, 77 Sunset Strip, Checkmate, Surfside 6, Hawaiian Eye, and of course, Richard Diamond, Private Detective (1957-1960). Not that you ever saw much of Moore in that last series, which starred David Janssen (later of The Fugitive and Harry O fame) as a New York City gumshoe. Moore’s character, a seductive-sounding answering-service operator called Sam, made her entrance in Season 3 of Richard Diamond (aka Call Mr. D), and only bits and pieces of her—mostly her shapely legs—were shown. The video clip below comes from the April 19, 1959, episode, “Two for Paradise.”



Because Mary Tyler Moore had been such a fixture of my youth, I wound up following her performance career well into my own adulthood. I wasn’t terribly interested in the musical-variety shows she did during the late 1970s (Mary and The Mary Tyler Moore Hour), but I watched her as “a 40-ish divorcée working at a second-rate tabloid” in the sitcom Mary (1985-1986), and—as a result of my own work in journalism—was especially interested to see her in New York News, a 1995 drama that found her playing the editor-in-chief of a struggling Manhattan newspaper (though Moore was apparently unhappy with that “unsympathetic and unglamourous” role).

TV writer Ken Levine, who produced the sitcom Mary, eulogized Moore today in his blog, calling her “a giant of television” and adding:
It always seemed like she led a charmed life, but it was filled with health issues, struggles, addictions, and personal tragedies. And yet she courageously fought through all of them … while still keeping that smile.
And as we all know, she could turn the world on with that smile.

READ MORE:Mary Tyler Moore: A True Cultural Icon Who Changed the Face of Television,” by John Patterson (The Guardian); “Mary Tyler Moore: The Guardian Obituary,” by Michael Carlson (Irresistible Targets); “James Burrows Remembers How Mary Tyler Moore Helped Launch His Career” (The Hollywood Reporter); “Michelle Obama: Mary Tyler Moore Showed Women that ‘Building Your Career Is a Viable Option,’” by Constance Grady (Vox); “Mary Tyler Moore’s Comedic Grace and Tremendous Talent, in 5 Performances,” by Todd VanDerWerff (Vox); “We’re Gonna Make It After All: Let’s Throw Our Hats in the Air for Mary Tyler Moore,” by Melanie McFarland (Salon); “15 Memorable Quotes from Mary Tyler Moore,” by Jennifer M. Wood (Mental Floss); “Mary,” by David Hofstede (Comfort TV); “Mary Tyler Moore,” by Bob Sassone; “The Mary Tyler Moore Show Fall Preview” (Television Obscurities).

Agathas Make Their Entrance

Organizers of this year’s Malice Domestic conference (to be held in Bethesda, Maryland, from April 28 to 30) have announced their nominees for the 2016 Agatha Awards. The winner in each category will be selected online by convention attendees.

Best Contemporary Novel:
Body on the Bayou, by Ellen Byron (Crooked Lane)
Quiet Neighbors, by Catriona McPherson (Midnight Ink)
A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
Fogged Inn, by Barbara Ross (Kensington)
Say No More, by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge)

Best Historical Novel:
Whispers Beyond the Veil, by Jessica Estevao (Berkley)
Get Me to the Grave on Time, by D.E. Ireland (Grainger Press)
Delivering the Truth, by Edith Maxwell (Midnight Ink)
The Reek of Red Herrings, by Catriona McPherson (Minotaur)
Murder in Morningside Heights, by Victoria Thompson (Berkley)

Best First Novel:
Terror in Taffeta, by Marla Cooper (Minotaur)
Murder in G Major, by Alexia Gordon (Henery Press)
The Semester of Our Discontent, by Cynthia Kuhn (Henery Press)
Decanting a Murder, by Nadine Nettmann (Midnight Ink)
Design for Dying, by Renee Patrick (Forge)

Best Non-fiction:
Mastering Suspense, Structure, and Plot: How to Write Gripping Stories that Keep Readers on the Edge of Their Seats, by Jane K. Cleland (Writer’s Digest)
A Good Man with a Dog: A Game Warden’s 25 Years in the Maine Woods, by Roger Guay with Kate Clark Flora (Skyhorse)
Sara Paretsky: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction, by Margaret Kinsman (McFarland)

Best Short Story:
“Double Jinx,” by Gretchen Archer (Henery Press)
“The Best-Laid Plans,” by Barb Goffman (from Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional, edited by Verena Rose, Barb Goffman, and Rita Owen; Wildside Press)
“The Mayor and the Midwife,” by Edith Maxwell (from Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016, edited by Greg Herren;
Down & Out)
“The Last Blue Glass,” by B.K. Stevens (Alfred Hitchcock
Mystery Magazine
, April 2016)
“Parallel Play,” by Art Taylor (from Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley; Wildside Press)

Best Children’s/Young Adult:
Trapped, by P.A. DeVoe (Drum Tower Press)
Spy Ski School, by Stuart Gibbs (Simon & Schuster)
Tag, You’re Dead, by J.C. Lane (Poisoned Pen Press)
The Mystery of Hollow Places, by Rebecca Podos (Balzer & Bray)
The Secret of the Puzzle Box: The Code Busters Club, by Penny Warner (Darby Creek)

The Agathas will be presented during a banquet at Malice Domestic on Saturday, April 29. Congratulations to all of this year’s contenders!

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Bullet Points: No “Alternative Facts” Edition*

• Good news for David Fulmer fans! The Atlanta, Georgia, creator of the Shamus Award-winning Valentin St. Cyr/Storyville historical mystery series e-mailed me recently to say, “I just signed a contract for a new round of releases for the Storyville mysteries. The owner of Crescent City Books in New Orleans [Louisiana] is creating a new publishing imprint, and the first release will be a new edition of Chasing the Devil’s Tail in April, followed by the other four—Jass, Rampart Street, Lost River, and The Iron Angel—each month thereafter, followed by the in-progress Eclipse Alley, probably in October. Then the whole set for the holidays. Followed by the yet-untitled seventh—and last—installment in January 2018.” Fulmer adds: “The deal was, by the way, the handiwork of Michael Zell, a fine noir author out of [New Orleans].”

• More than 13 years after the demise of his creator, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (shown at right), Spanish gumshoe and gourmand Pepe Carvalho “is to rise again to walk the mean streets of Barcelona at the fingertips of another renowned writer,” according to The Guardian. Responsibility for continuing Carvalho’s career has been passed to Catalan poet-novelist Carlos Zanón, who is said to be “working on a new novel set to appear next year.”

• Last week brought the debut of Writer Types, a podcast that focuses on crime and mystery fiction, hosted by Eric Beetner and S.W. Lauden. In Episode 1, you’ll hear “interviews with authors Megan Abbott, Lou Berney, and Steph Post; check in with Down & Out Books publisher Eric Campbell; hear about the best of 2016 and what to look forward to in 2017 from our reviewers, Kate Malmon and Dan Malmon; enjoy a live reading of the short story ‘Whoops’ by Nick Kolakowski, and have a little bookstore fun with S.G. Redling, Gary Phillips, and Jay Stringer.” The hosts hope to launch fresh episodes every month through the remainder of 2017, at least.

• Mystery Fanfare alerts us all to a new convention coming to star-spangled Las Vegas, Nevada: the Miss Fisher Con (May 4-7, 2017), celebrating Australian author Kerry Greenwood’s fictional aristocrat turned private eye. To register, click here.

• Congratulations to Tipping My Fedora for six blogging years.

• And I’m pleased to see that Only Detect has returned after a two-year-long hiatus. Blogger “Mike” says he aims at “posting something every week or so.”

• I should also mention that last Thursday brought the eighth anniversary of the launching of my other blog, Killer Covers. For the occasion, I posted “eight lovely book fronts … by artists whose identities seem to have been forgotten.”

• I once owned both of these Corgi cars, before my younger brother suddenly sold the entire collection of vintage automobiles we’d amassed during our childhood. Grrr!

• Since I’ve been rather lax lately in compiling these news wrap-up posts, I should probably mention—a tad belatedly—the death of American actor Dick Gautier, who passed away in an assisted living facility on January 13. He was 85 years old. Although Gautier is remembered best for his comedic work (he played humanoid robot agent Hymie on Get Smart and starred in the awful 1975 Robin Hood TV parody series, When Things Were Rotten), he also won guest roles on Banacek, The Rockford Files, Jimmy Stewart’s Hawkins, Raymond Burr’s Kingston: Confidential, The Eddie Capra Mysteries, Quincy, M.E., and a variety of other crime dramas. Steve Thompson shares more memories of Gautier in his Booksteve’s Library blog.

• Following his less-than-stellar appraisal of the new Ben Affleck film, Live by Night (based on Dennis Lehane’s 2012 novel of the same name), author Max Allan Collins reports in his blog: “I am working on a Quarry graphic novel, which Titan will publish in four issues and then collect. Don’t know the artist yet, though I approved several based on samples. It’s very, very hard. I have been away from this format for a while, and the story takes place partly in Vietnam in 1969 and then back in the America of 1972. Providing visual reference for the artist has been a dizzying, daunting task. A 22-page script runs to 60 pages with panel descriptions and links to reference photos. I doubt I will do many more such projects. Prose is far less taxing.”

• Meanwhile, Naomi Hirahara announced on her Facebook page recently that “the seventh and final book in the Edgar-winning Mas Arai mystery series,” tentatively titled Hiroshima Boy, should be published in March 2018 by Prospect Park Books. The plot has Hirahara’s protagonist, a Japanese atomic bomb survivor, “returning to Hiroshima in his old age, only to find himself embroiled in the mysterious death of a teenage boy.”

Kristen Lepionka’s “driving tour of Midwestern mysteries.”

• Just what we neededa CHiPS revival. Only dumber.

And L.A. Law, too? At least writers Steven Bochco and Billy Finkelstein don’t look intent on turning the Emmy Award-winning 1980s legal drama into a lame comedy.

• Rap Sheet contributor Ali Karim previews Cast Iron, the sixth and concluding entry in Peter May’s France-set series featuring a half-Italian, half-Scottish former forensic scientist named Enzo Macleod. The novel went on sale this month in Britain, thanks to publisher Riverrun, but does not yet have an American release date, as far as I can tell. Read an excerpt from Cast Iron here.

• For the books-oriented Signature, Andrew Grant (False Friend) identifies “Five Must-Haves for a Great Detective in Fiction.”

• Keeping with the lists theme, check out Brian Boone’s “Five Great Novels That Will Probably Never Be Made Into Movies” (among them Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian); Crime Fiction Lover’s “10 of the Best Golden Age Crime Novels”; Lee Horsley’s choices of “five of the best missing-persons novels”; Bob Rivers’ picks, at the Strand Magazine Web site, of “The Top Ten Sherlock Holmes Films” (thank goodness he included 1971’s They Might Be Giants); Janie Chang’s choices (also from The Strand) of “The Top Eight Mysteries Set in China”; “Five Favorite Lawyers in Crime Fiction,” by Peter Manus (Fickle) for Crimespree Magazine; and, from Miriam C. Davis—author of the forthcoming non-fiction book The Axeman of New Orleans: The True Story—a rundown of the “Top Five Fictional Stories Inspired by [the] Real-Life Axeman of New Orleans.”

Submissions are currently being accepted for the 2017 Shamus Awards, which will be given out by the Private Eye Writers of America next October, during Bouchercon in Toronto, Canada. The deadline for submissions is March 31.

• Really, Anton Chekhov wrote psychological suspense tales?

From In Reference to Murder:
Four days after TNT’s drama Good Behavior ended its 10-episode first-season run, the show has been picked up for a fall 2017 second season. The series, based on a series of books by Blake Crouch, tells the story of Letty Raines (Michelle Dockery), a thief and con artist whose life is always one wrong turn or one bad decision from implosion. Fresh out of prison, Letty tries to stay afloat but gets sucked back into the criminal world when she overhears a hit man being hired to kill a man’s wife and decides to derail the job, with the help of her parole officer (Terry Kinney).
• The BookBub Blog’s list of “19 Anticipated Breakthrough Novels of 2017” features a small handful of crime and thriller yarns.

• A rather late entry in the “best crime-fiction reads of 2016” category: Irresistible Targets blogger Michael Carlson names several works he enjoyed, but says his “favorite crime novel of the year was Sara Gran’s Dope,” published in 2006.

• And in Hardboiled Wonderland, Jedidiah Ayres touts his “favorite crime flicks of 2016” as well as his “2016 honorable mentions.”

• Being less widely read than I should be in the plentiful works of John Dickson Carr (1906-1977), I appreciate this list by Puzzle Doctor, at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, of his 10 favorite Carr novels. Sadly, I own none of the books mentioned.

• I do, however, have this 1956 Perry Mason novel, by Erle Stanley Gardner, and it sounds as if it’s one I should crack open soon.

• Wow, what a gorgeous time-travel tour down Route 66!

• A few interviews worth checking out: Ali Karim talks with Simon Kernick about the latter’s fresh UK thriller release, The Bone Field; MysteryPeople’s Meike Alana quizzes Terry Shames about her latest novel, An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock; Ingrid Thoft chats with Crimespree Magazine about the new Duplicity; Scott Montgomery questions Tim Bryant about Old Mother Curridge; and Shotsmag Confidential’s Ayo Onatade chats up Ragnar Jonasson on the subject of his fourth Detective Ari Thor novel, Rupture.

• Finally, there’s a nice reminder, in Peter Hanson’s Every ’70s Movie blog, of the 1971 NBC-TV flick Ransom for a Dead Man, which guest-starred the abundantly talented Lee Grant and served as a second formal pilot for Peter Falk’s Columbo series. Grant went on two years later to star (with Lou Antonio) in another Richard Levinson/William Link television production, Partners in Crime, which was a pilot film reworked from their earlier Bette Davis/Doug McClure picture, The Judge and Jake Wyler.

* “With ‘Alternative Facts,’ Trump World Swimming in a Sea of Dishonesty,” by Steve Benen (The Maddow Blog).

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fatal Fashion Favorites



Terror in Taffeta, by Marla Cooper (Minotaur, 2016); Target in Taffeta, by Ben Benson (Bantam, 1955).

Kelley Bringing King to the Boob Tube

Well, this has potential. I hadn’t heard before today that TV writer-producer David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, etc.) is adapting Stephen King’s 2014 detective novel, Mr. Mercedes, as a 10-episode series, set to debut this coming fall on DirecTV and AT&T U-verse. The Hollywood Reporter says the “drama follows a demented killer (Penny Dreadful’s Harry Treadaway) who taunts a retired police detective (Brendan Gleeson) with a series of lurid letters and e-mails, forcing the ex-cop to undertake a private, and potentially felonious, crusade to bring the killer to justice before he is able to strike again.”

Cleeves Applauded for Excellence

It was just a couple of months ago that UK author Ann Cleeves picked up the Icelandic Noir festival’s first Honorary Award for Services to the Art of Crime Fiction. Now here she is again, winning an even more prestigious commendation. Martin Edwards, the new chair of the Crime Writers’ Association, announced this morning that Cleeves will be given the 2017 CWA Diamond Dagger award. Shotsmag Confidential explains that this is “the highest honor in British crime writing … recogniz[ing] authors whose crime-writing careers have been marked by sustained excellence, and who have made a significant contribution to the genre.” The official news release notes that
Ann has written 30 novels and is translated into as many languages. Before her writing career took off, Ann worked as a probation officer, bird observatory cook and auxiliary coastguard. In 2015, Ann chaired the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, during which Vera [Stanhope] was voted the UK’s favorite fictional detective. Also in 2015, Thin Air was nominated for the Scottish Crime Novel of the Year and Ann was shortlisted for the CWA Dagger in the Library award. In 2006, Cleeves’ novel Raven Black was awarded the Duncan Lawrie Dagger (the prestigious CWA Gold Dagger) for Best Crime Novel, and in 2012, she was inducted into the CWA Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame.

As well as fiction, Ann has written a non-fiction title about Shetland and, in November 2015, she hosted the inaugural Shetland Noir festival on the Shetland Islands.
Cleeves will be presented with her Diamond Dagger during a ceremony to held in London on October 26 of this year. Previous winners of the same prize include P.D. James, John le Carré, Ian Rankin, Dick Francis, and last year’s recipient, Peter James.

The latest novel in her Shetland mystery series, Cold Earth, is due for release for its U.S. release in April by Minotaur Books.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Thank You So Much, Mr. President!



READ MORE:The Most Successful Democrat Since FDR,” by David Leonhardt (The New York Times); “The ‘Most Successful’ Dem President Since FDR Ends on a High Note,” by Steve Benen (The Maddow Blog); “The Time Has Come to Say Goodbye to Obama. ‘Godspeed, Brother. You Did Us Proud,’” by Leonard Pitts Jr. (Miami Herald); “Thanks for Everything, President Obama. We’re Going to Miss You,” by Kevin Drum (Mother Jones); “Missing Barack Obama Already,” by Nicholas Kristof (The New York Times); “A Presidential Giant Exits the Stage,” by Steve Benen (The Maddow Blog); “How the Presidency Changed Obama,” by Julie Hirschfeld Davis (The New York Times); “My President Was Black,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates (The Atlantic); “To Obama with Love, and Hate, and Desperation,” by Jeanne Marie Laskas (The New York Times Magazine); “Lessons Taught: Obama’s Legacy as a Historian,” by Jennifer Schuessler (The New York Times); “Pete Souza’s Intimate Portraits of the Barack Obama Years,” by William Boot (The Daily Beast); “Goodbye to All That: What We’ve Learned from Obama’s Presidency,” by Julie Azari (Vox); “The Challenge Posed by Obama’s Calm, Dignified Competency,” by Nancy LeTourneau (Washington Monthly); “The Literary Dividing Line Between Trump and Obama,” by Steve Benen (The Maddow Blog); “Every Book Barack Obama Has Recommended During His Presidency,” by Ruth Kinane (Entertainment Weekly); “Obama to the Press: ‘America Needs You,’” by James Warren (Poynter); “Obama Granted Clemency Unlike Any Other President in History,” by Charlie Smart (FiveThirtyEight); “Obama Has Now Granted 212 Pardons, and More Commutations Than Any President in U.S. History,” by Jen Kirby (New York); “Saying Goodbye: President Obama, Michelle Obama Thank America in Farewell Posts,” by Matthew Rozsa (Salon).

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Rosemary’s Baby Is Gone

This is sad news, indeed. From Variety:
Miguel Ferrer, the character and voice actor who appeared in shows including “NCIS: Los Angeles” and “Crossing Jordan,” and films such as “RoboCop” and “Iron Man 3,” died on Thursday of throat cancer. He was 61.

Ferrer was the son of top 1950s singer Rosemary Clooney and actor José Ferrer, and first cousin to George Clooney. He appeared on “NCIS: Los Angeles” for seven seasons. …

Born in Santa Monica, Calif., he started out as a studio musician, touring with his mother and Bing Crosby, and recording with Keith Moon of The Who, before moving into television and film.
Among Ferrer’s other performance credits, Variety lists appearances in the TV shows Bionic Woman, Desperate Housewives, Twin Peaks, and the long-forgotten Shannon’s Deal. It might also have mentioned that he appeared on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Third Rock from the Sun, ER, Miami Vice, T.J. Hooker, and Magnum, P.I.

READ MORE:R.I.P., Miguel Ferrer,” by Ken Levine; “Snapshots of a Friendship,” by Max Allan Collins.

The Choice Is Up to You

In case you haven’t been paying close attention, note that The Rap Sheet has posted its 15 finalists for the title of “Best Crime Fiction Cover of 2016.” Over the last week, two of the nominees—Carl Hiaasen’s Razor Girl and Todd Moss’ Ghosts of Havana—have established early leads, though the British fronts of Thomas Mullen’s Darktown and E.S. Thomson’s Beloved Poison are in hot pursuit. You have until midnight next Wednesday, January 25, to make your own preferences known. What are you waiting for?

Angling for the Edgars

A new year, a new season of awards-giving. On this day, the 208th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, the Mystery Writers of America has announced the nominees for its 2017 Edgar Awards. These prizes honor what the MWA says are “the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction and television published or produced in 2016.” Winners will be announced and the awards presented during a banquet in New York City on April 27. Here are all of this year’s contenders:

Best Novel:
The Ex, by Alafair Burke (Harper)
Where It Hurts, by Reed Farrel Coleman (Putnam)
Jane Steele, by Lyndsay Faye (Putnam)
What Remains of Me, by Alison Gaylin (Morrow)
Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley
(Grand Central)

Best First Novel by an American Author:
Under the Harrow, by Flynn Berry (Penguin)
Dodgers, by Bill Beverly (Crown)
IQ, by Joe Ide (Mulholland)
The Drifter, by Nicholas Petrie (Putnam)
Dancing with the Tiger, by Lili Wright (Marian Wood Book/Putnam)
The Lost Girls, by Heather Young (Morrow)

Best Paperback Original:
Shot in Detroit, by Patricia Abbott (Polis)
Come Twilight, by Tyler Dilts (Thomas & Mercer)
The 7th Canon, by Robert Dugoni (Thomas & Mercer)
Rain Dogs, by Adrian McKinty (Seventh Street)
A Brilliant Death, by Robin Yocum (Seventh Street)
Heart of Stone, by James W. Ziskin (Seventh Street)

Best Fact Crime:
Morgue: A Life in Death, by Dr. Vincent DiMaio and Ron Franscell
(St. Martin’s Press)
The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle that Brought Down the Klan, by Laurence Leamer (Morrow)
Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane: A True Story of Victorian Law and Disorder: The Unsolved Murder that Shocked Victorian England, by Paul Thomas Murphy (Pegasus)
While the City Slept: A Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man’s Descent into Madness, by Eli Sanders (Viking)
The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer, by Kate Summerscale (Penguin Press)

Best Critical/Biographical:
Alfred Hitchcock: A Brief Life, by Peter Ackroyd (Nan A. Talese)
Encyclopedia of Nordic Crime: Works and Authors of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden Since 1967, by Mitzi M. Brunsdale (McFarland & Company)
Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, by Ruth Franklin (Liveright)
Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man Who Wrote Dracula, by David J. Skal (Liveright)

Best Short Story:
“Oxford Girl,” by Megan Abbott (from Mississippi Noir,
edited by Tom Franklin; Akashic)
“A Paler Shade of Death,” by Laura Benedict (from St. Louis Noir, edited by Scott Phillips; Akashic)
“Autumn at the Automat,” by Lawrence Block (from In Sunlight or in Shadow, edited by Lawrence Block; Pegasus)
“The Music Room” by Stephen King (from In Sunlight or in Shadow)
“The Crawl Space,” by Joyce Carol Oates (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, September-October 2016)

Best Juvenile:
Summerlost, by Ally Condie (Dutton Books for Young Readers)
OCDaniel, by Wesley King (Paula Wiseman)
The Bad Kid, by Sarah Lariviere (Simon & Schuster Books for
Young Readers)
Some Kind of Happiness, by Claire Legrand (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Framed! by James Ponti (Aladdin)
Things Too Huge to Fix, by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught
(Paula Wiseman)

Best Young Adult:
Three Truths and a Lie, by Brent Hartinger (Simon Pulse)
The Girl I Used to Be, by April Henry (Henry Holt)
Girl in the Blue Coat, by Monica Hesse (Little, Brown Books for
Young Readers)
My Sister Rosa, by Justine Larbalestier (Soho Teen)
Thieving Weasels, by Billy Taylor (Dial)

Best Television Episode Teleplay:
Episode 1: “From the Ashes of Tragedy,” The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, teleplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (FX Network)
“The Abominable Bride,” Sherlock, teleplay by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat (Hartswood Films/Masterpiece)
Episode 1: “Dark Road,” Vera, teleplay by Martha Hillier (Acorn TV)
“A Blade of Grass,” Penny Dreadful, teleplay by John Logan (Showtime)
“Return 0,” Person of Interest, teleplay by Jonathan Nolan and Denise The (CBS/Warner Bros.)
“The Bicameral Mind,” Westworld, teleplay by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy (HBO/Warner Bros.)

Robert L. Fish Memorial Award: “The Truth of the Moment,” by E. Gabriel Flores (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, December 2016)

Grand Master: Max Allan Collins and Ellen Hart

Raven Award: Dru Ann Love

Ellery Queen Award: Neil Nyren

The Simon & Schuster–Mary Higgins Clark Award:
The Other Sister, by Dianne Dixon (Sourcebooks Landmark)
Quiet Neighbors, by Catriona McPherson (Midnight Ink)
Say No More, by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge)
Blue Moon, by Wendy Corsi Staub (Morrow)
The Shattered Tree, by Charles Todd (Morrow)

While this list doesn’t overlap at all with my own choices for Best Crime Novels of 2016, it just makes clear how wonderfully diverse crime fiction is nowadays. I’m especially pleased to see Patricia Abbott nominated in the Best Paperback Original category, since I thought her first novel, Concrete Angel (2015), should have been a contender last year. Meanwhile, I’m surprised not to see You Will Know Me, by her daughter, Megan Abbott, make the Best Novel cut.

(Hat tip to Shotsmag Confidential.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Revue of Reviewers, 1-17-17

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



Monday, January 16, 2017

Plaudits in Paradise

Organizers of this year’s Left Coast Crime convention (“Honolulu Havoc”) have announced the competing books and authors in four categories of Lefty Awards. LCC 2017 will take place in Honolulu, Hawaii, from March 16 to 19, with the Leftys scheduled to be presented on Saturday, March 18. Here are all of the nominees:

Lefty for Best Humorous Mystery Novel:
Die Like an Eagle, by Donna Andrews (Minotaur)
Body on the Bayou, by Ellen Byron (Crooked Lane Books)
Fields Where They Lay, by Timothy Hallinan (Soho Crime)
The CEO Came DOA, by Heather Haven (Wives of Bath Press)
Floodgate, by Johnny Shaw (Thomas & Mercer)
A Disguise to Die For, by Diane Vallere (Berkley Prime Crime)

Lefty for Best Historical Mystery Novel (Bruce Alexander Memorial), for books covering events before 1960:
Crowned and Dangerous, by Rhys Bowen (Berkley Prime Crime)
A Death Along the River Fleet, by Susanna Calkins (Minotaur)
The Murder of Mary Russell, by Laurie R. King (Bantam)
The Reek of Red Herrings, by Catriona McPherson (Minotaur)
What Gold Buys, by Ann Parker (Poisoned Pen Press)

Lefty for Best Debut Mystery Novel:
Cleaning Up Finn, by Sarah M. Chen (All Due Respect)
Terror in Taffeta, by Marla Cooper (Minotaur)
Murder in G Major, by Alexia Gordon (Henery Press)
Decanting a Murder, by Nadine Nettmann (Midnight Ink)
Design for Dying, by Renee Patrick (Forge)

Lefty for Best Mystery Novel (not in other categories):
Dark Fissures, by Matt Coyle (Oceanview)
Michelangelo’s Ghost, by Gigi Pandian (Henery Press)
A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake, by Terry Shames
(Seventh Street)
Heart of Stone, by James W. Ziskin (Seventh Street)

Also during March’s Hawaii conference, husband-and-wife authors Faye Kellerman and Jonathan Kellerman will be honored with Left Coast Crime Lifetime Achievement Awards.

Get Riel

The information is received a bit (or more than a bit) tardily, but thanks to Janet Rudolph’s Mystery Fanfare, we now know that Danish author Ane Riel won the 2016 Glass Key Award for her second novel, Harpiks. The Glass Key has been given out annually since 1992 by the Scandinavian Crime Society and is named in honor of Dashiell Hammett’s 1931 novel of that same name. Last year’s winner was Thomas Rydahl for The Hermit.

A Web site called Danish Arts reports that the Glass Key jury described Harpiks as “not your typical crime novel … Just look at the first sentence, ’It was dark in the white room, where my father killed grandmother.’” The site goes on to offer this plot synopsis: “Jens Haarder lives an isolated life on a little island. He runs a small carpentry business, and lives with his family in a fragrant pine forest. Haarder’s life doesn’t unfold as planned, though, as loss upon loss gradually breaks him. His mania for collecting becomes increasingly obsessive and grotesque, and his daughter Liv must fervently struggle to free herself from her father’s view of the world. It is a tale of illness and betrayal, as well as loyalty and caring. It is also a small introduction to the pleasures of lying in a coffin.”

Unfortunately, Riel’s book is not yet available in English.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Black Dahlia: Long Legend of a Short Life


Elizabeth Short shown at age 19 in a police photo, taken in 1943 after she was arrested in Santa Barbara, California, for underage drinking—her first time living in Southern California.

She is more recognizable than any of Jack the Ripper’s victims, mostly because she was murdered at a time—after the Second World War, rather than in the late 1880s—when photography was far more advanced, but also because there are shots of what she looked like (smiling, no less) before her days were so cruelly ended. Although there was early gossip about her being in the escort business, it was wrong. Instead, she tried to make ends meet as a waitress, and like so many young women of her era, was said to dream of an acting career. She spent most of her life in Massachusetts (where she was born) or in Florida, and had been making her home in Los Angeles, California, for only about six months prior to her infamous slaying.

She was 22 years old, 5 feet 5 inches tall, with dark hair, blue eyes, and bad teeth. Her name was Elizabeth Short, but she’s best remembered as “The Black Dahlia.”

It was in the mid-morning of January 15, 1947—70 years ago today—that Betty Bersinger, a resident of the Leimert Park neighborhood, in south L.A., took a stroll outside with her 3-year-old daughter, only to happen across what she at first assumed must be a discarded mannequin tossed into a nearby vacant lot. Instead, it was Short’s corpse, naked and severed in twain at the waist, and drained of blood. The murderer had not only removed her intestines, but had slashed her mouth from ear to ear in a “Glasgow smile.”

The horrific, misogynistic nature of this crime, coupled with the victim’s attractiveness, drew widespread attention. While newspapers spared no ink on their shocking headlines (“Young L.A. Girl Slain; Body Slashed in Two”), police sought to identify the deceased and determine where she had most recently been seen, and by whom. Her fingerprints were matched to a set taken from Short back in 1943, when—during an earlier stay in Southern California—she was arrested for underage drinking. And police learned that she’d been missing since January 9, after last being seen in the lobby of downtown L.A.’s grand Biltmore Hotel. It wasn’t long before newspapers began fielding phone calls from people claiming to have information about Short or her killer, or to have murdered her themselves. As a true-crime Web site called The Lineup recalls,
Witnesses who had supposedly seen Short during her missing week were, one by one, questioned and dismissed by investigators, who determined they were either outright lying or had mistaken Short for another woman.

Some 60 people came forward and confessed to the crime. Of these, 25 were seriously considered by the LAPD. Many of the suspects were household names, including Fred Sexton, the artist who created the Maltese Falcon prop in the iconic movie of the same name; Norman Chandler, publisher of the
Los Angeles Times; [and] Jewish mobster Bugsy Siegel
Time magazine explained in a 2015 retrospective that “One promising admission came a few weeks after the murder, from an Army corporal who said he had been drinking with Short in San Francisco a few days before her body was discovered—then blacked out, with no memory of his activity until he came to again in a cab outside New York’s Penn Station. … Asked if he thought he had committed the murder, the corporal said yes, and became a prime suspect until evidence emerged that he had actually been on his military base the day of Short’s death.” That tippling serviceman, Joseph A. Dumais, was among dozens of people, men and women both, who’ve confessed over the decades to doing in Betty Short, though the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office deemed fewer than half that number to be viable suspects. One of the latter was George H. Hodel, a physician who died in 1999—four years before his own son, then-retired L.A. homicide detective Steve Hodel, claimed in Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder that his father was definitely Short’s slayer. (This 2004 episode of CBS-TV’s 48 Hours Mystery examines Hodel’s assertions.) Doubts as to the veracity of that charge have been raised, however, and the Black Dahlia case remains open to this day.

(Left) Mia Kirshner as Short in The Black Dahlia.

From the first, the nickname that came to be associated with Short’s liquidation—“The Black Dahlia,” which was a press concoction, or perhaps referred to the victim’s fondness for black attire, or was “a play on the then-current film The Blue Dahlia”—was guaranteed to draw public notice and incite macabre curiosity. That the killer was never identified or caught (just as with London’s Ripper) helped extend the notoriety of this case well past the lifetimes of its suspects and investigators. Fiction writers have long dined on the mysteries surrounding Betty Short’s gruesome demise. In 1962, Theodora Keogh—a granddaughter of President Theodore Roosevelt—published The Other Girl, which imagined Short engaging in an orgy and becoming the focus of sexual jealousy before finally losing her life. A fairly well-conceived 1975 NBC-TV film, Who Is the Black Dahlia? starring Efrem Zimbalist Jr., with Lucie Arnaz playing Short, was followed by John Gregory Dunne’s Dahlia-inspired True Confessions (1977). The most popular retelling of this story, with lurid embellishments, is certainly James Ellroy’s 1987 novel, The Black Dahlia, though Max Allan Collins’ 2001 yarn, Angel in Black (which finds his series gumshoe, Nate Heller, a bit too deeply involved with Miss Short and the circumstances of her murder), provides no fewer twists and bizarre turns. Angel in Black would make a good movie someday. Let’s hope, though, that if one is ever made, it’s superior to director Brian De Palma’s 2006 big-screen adaptation of Ellroy’s tale, which proved confusing even to viewers who’d read the book and were well-steeped in the facts surrounding the Dahlia inquiry.

It’s impossible now to look back at Elizabeth Short’s photos and not wonder what might have become of that young woman had her life not been terminated in violence and sensationalism. Seventy years on, her death and dismemberment are no less shocking than they were for Californians still trying to shed the fears brought on by World War II. Had she lived to see birthdays past her 22nd, might Short have eventually become the cinematic figure she hoped one day to be—a bit player, a character actress, or maybe a genuine star? Or was her path into the history books destined to be marked by torment and mutilation at the hands of an unknown party or parties? Like so many questions in this story, that one too is left unanswered.

READ MORE:The Black Dahlia: Los Angeles’ Most Famous Unsolved Murder,” by James Bartlett (BBC News); “After 70 Years, the Black Dahlia Murder Still Haunts Los Angeles,” by Layla Halabian (LAist); “Nearly 70 Years After Her Murder, Here Are the Things We Still Don’t Know About Black Dahlia,” by Keri Blakinger (New York Daily News); “The Murder of the Black Dahlia: The Ultimate Cold Case,” by Stephen Karadjis (Crime Magazine); “I Never Knew Her in Life: The Black Dahlia Case in Popular Culture,” by Steven Powell (The Venetian Vase); “A Slaying Cloaked in Mystery and Myths,” by Larry Harnish (Los Angeles Times); “The Spot Where the Black Dahlia’s Body Was Found” (IAmNotaStalker.com); The Black Dahlia in Hollywood.