Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Bullet Points: Taxing Tuesday Edition

• We’re still nine months away from the centennial of Mickey Spillane’s birth (March 9, 2018). But his friend and fellow crime-fictionist, Max Allan Collins—who’s spent the last decade, ever since Spillane succumbed in 2006, editing and finishing work he left behind—is already looking at ways to celebrate this occasion. It seems he’s been holding back some of Spillane’s most interesting unpublished material, with the intention of releasing it in association with what would’ve been The Mick’s 100th birthday. As he explains in his blog, these hidden riches include an adventure yarn titled The Last Stand and another book, Killing Town. Collins says the latter “represents Mickey’s first go at doing Mike Hammer, probably circa 1945 … predating I, the Jury. I will tell more of the story behind it later, but it’s a novel that takes place in an industrial town in upstate New York with Mike Hammer running a dangerous errand for an army buddy. It could not be more typically vintage Spillane in tone and approach.”

• Sink your fangs into this! With a premiere date for Season 5 of Sherlock so far uncertain (and probably not to be expected anytime soon), that program’s creative team of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat are turning to another Victorian-era work of fiction for inspiration: Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Variety says, “Work on the new series has yet to begin in earnest, as Gatiss and Moffat are currently working on solo projects. But talks are already underway with the BBC—which enjoyed huge success with Sherlock—on broadcast rights in the UK. Dracula will adopt the same format as Sherlock, with a miniseries run of feature-length episodes.”

• Among the best elements of Mystery Scene’s Summer 2017 issue are: Jake Hinkson’s profile of film-noir authority Eddie Muller; Craig Sisterson’s study of Michael Connelly’s new protagonist, Renée Ballard (The Late Show); Tom Nolan’s look at the socially relevant work of Denise Mina; and Kevin Burton Smith’s feature on gumshoe yarns bearing locked-room mystery components.

• During the Western Writers of America Conference, held last week in Kansas City, Missouri, it was announced that Carol Potenza’s as-yet-unpublished Hearts of the Missing has won the 2017 Tony Hillerman Prize for best first mystery novel. As part of her award, Potenza—presently an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at New Mexico State University—will receive a publishing contract from Minotaur Books, which has already slated Hearts of the Missing for a fall 2018 release. Previous Hillerman Prize beneficiaries include John Fortunato (Dark Reservations), C.B. McKenzie (Bad Country), and Andrew Hunt (City of Saints).

• Author Ilene Schneider (that’s Rabbi Ilene Schneider to you) has captured the 2017 David Award for her novel Yom Killer (Aakenbaaken & Kent). Named in memory of David G. Sasher Sr., this commendation is given out annually by organizers of the Deadly Ink conference, which took place this last June 16 to 18 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Also nominated for the David Award were: Blonde Ice, by R.G. Belsky (Atria); Written Off, by E. J. Copperman (Crooked Lane); Death of a Toy Soldier, by Barbara Early (Crooked Lane); and Seconds to Live, by Melinda Leigh (Montlake Romance).

• There will be more to read here later this week about Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, as The Rap Sheet takes part in a blog tour for that new volume of non-fiction. Meanwhile, though, Cross-Examining Crime offers this review of the work, which includes a list of lesser-known yarns Edwards cites by way of examining “100 books which have something to say about the journey crime fiction took in the first half of the 20th century.”

• In my previous “Bullet Points” post, I cited two publications producing selections of the “Best Books of 2017 … So Far.” Now comes another such rundown, this one from Mystery Tribune. Among its 20 picks: Lisa Gardner’s Right Behind You, Philip Kerr’s Prussian Blue, Peter Heller’s Celine, J.P. Delaney’s The Girl Before, Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders, and Malin Persson Giolito’s Quicksand.

• How did I forget to mention that there’s finally a trailer for The Alienist, TNT’s psychological thriller series based on Caleb Carr’s 1994 novel of that same name? No firm launch date for the program is yet available (“late 2017” remains the best guess), but the International Movie Database (IMDb) entry suggests there will be 10 episodes. And we know that this drama, set in New York City in 1896 and focusing on the pursuit of a serial killer targeting “boy whores,” will star Daniel Brühl as pioneering psychologist Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, Luke Evans as crime reporter John Moore, Dakota Fanning as “intrepid police secretary Sara Howard,” and Brian Geraghty as Theodore Roosevelt, then New York’s police commissioner. We await further info.

• If you’ve wondered what became of former Who’s the Boss? star Tony Danza, then this item from In Reference to Murder is for you:
Tony Danza is returning to television in the Netflix dramedy The Good Cop for ten one-hour episodes. Danza will play a disgraced former NYPD officer who never followed the rules and lives with his son—who is currently a detective for the NYPD and the complete opposite personality type from this father. Andy Breckman, who created Monk, will be the showrunner and executive producer for the series, and Randy Zisk, who worked on Bones, will direct the first episode.
• Shades of 007: What was the real “Operation Goldfinger”?

• It’s good to see Leslie Gilbert Elman back on the Grantchester beat for Criminal Element. Last week she reviewed that show’s third-season (and much out of season) Christmas special, and yesterday she posted her critique of Episode 2, which I thought was a rather unusual but especially compelling entry in this British historical mystery series. I’m also pleased to see that screenwriter Daisy Coulam has been able to reunite small-town vicar Sidney Chambers (James Norton) with his longtime love, Amanda Hopkins (née Kendall, played by Morven Christie), while also making it seem impossible that their relationship can endure. Of these turns, and more, Elman asks: “Should Sidney be worried? Yep, it seems Sidney should be worried.”

• Following up on the recent death, at age 88, of Batman star Adam West, Elizabeth Foxwell tracks down a partial episode of The Detectives, the 1959-1962 TV crime drama in which West played Sergeant Steve Nelson opposite Robert Taylor. Watch it here.

• R.I.P., Bill Dana, former Get Smart hotel house dick.

• Also gone: Michael Nyqvist, the Swedish actor who played investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist in the original succession of movies based on Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy. He passed away on June 27 at just 56 years of age.

• Rap Sheet reader Patrick Balester shot me a message not long ago, asking whether I’d ever come across a syndicated 1957-1958 TV crime drama called Decoy, which the New Jersey Web site NJ.com recently noted was “the first TV series with a female cop as its protagonist,” “the first series to be shot on location in New York City,” and “one of the earliest cop dramas to delve into social issues, rather than cavalierly divide the world into good and bad people.” Yes, in fact, I have heard of Decoy—aka Decoy Police Woman—a half-hour black-and-white production that starred Beverly Garland (perhaps better known today for her roles on My Three Sons and Scarecrow & Mrs. King). As Wikipedia explains, she played Casey Jones, “a female police officer who is often assigned to work undercover (hence becoming the ‘decoy’ of the title). The cast changed each week with Garland the only main continuing character, although there were several recurring characters, mostly her commanding officer and immediate colleagues. The series was inspired by Jack Webb’s Dragnet … [It] used a similar format to that series, with Jones portrayed as a serious, by-the-book, yet sympathetic cop with no personal life outside of her job. In the episode ‘The Sound of Tears,’ she reveals that the man she loved was a police officer who was shot and killed by the man he was sent to apprehend.” At least four Decoy episodes can be found on YouTube, and a low-cost DVD set containing all 39 episodes is available here.

• While we’re on the subject of mostly forgotten small-screen productions … Just the other day I happened across this short opening segment from the 1983 teleflick Travis McGee, featuring Sam Elliott in the title role, with Gene Evans, Katharine Ross, Vera Miles, Barry Corbin, and Richard Farnsworth helping to fill out the cast. This unsuccessful ABC-TV pilot film had still more talent behind it, with a script by Stirling Silliphant (Route 66, Longstreet, Marlowe) and George Eckstein (The Fugitive, The Name of the Game, Cool Million, Banacek) in the producer’s chair. It’s story was adapted from John D. MacDonald’s 1978 novel, The Empty Copper Sea. However, those components didn’t add up to a satisfying whole. The Thrilling Detective Web Site grouses that “Somnolent Magnum, P.I./Marlboro Man-lookalike Sam Elliot wasn’t even a half-good choice to play McGee, even if he could wake up,” and it questions the choice to move MacDonald’s story from Florida to California. At the time of is original broadcast, Washington Post critic Tom Shales opined that Travis McGee “brings the detective hero created by John D. MacDonald to life, but just barely. It really brings him to more of a catatonic state.” Nonetheless, I’d be interested to watch this pilot. And apparently, I can, so long as I fork over $19.95 to Roberts Hard to Find Videos, an online retailer currently selling Travis McGee in DVD format.

• And one more YouTube find: Twelve out of 13 episodes of the 2002, Michael Mann-produced CBS-TV series Robbery Homicide Division. The show has been described as “an intense, no-nonsense look at the present-day Los Angeles Police Department’s Robbery Homicide Division. Lt. Sam Cole [played by Tom Sizemore] is the driven chief detective of a squad that is dedicated to solving some of the worst crimes the city has to offer.” I remember Robbery Homicide Division as being quite good. Now’s my chance to screen it again.

• Nancie Clare’s two most recent guests on her Speaking of Mysteries podcast are well worth your listening to: Don Winslow, author of The Force, about camaraderie and corruption in the New York Police Department; and Martin Walker, whose latest Bruno, Chief of Police mystery, The Templars’ Last Secret, was released earlier this month.

• Speaking of Winslow, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported last week that “for the second time in three years, … [he] has taken out a full-page ad in a national newspaper criticizing the government’s war on drugs, an issue that has formed the backbone of several of his bestselling books. The Julian resident’s newest salvo is in Sunday’s New York Times, framed as a series of posts on Twitter from Winslow to President Donald Trump, who uses the social media platform often to air his thoughts.” I can’t find an online image of that advertisement, but I assume its text is similar to this essay, titled “Trump’s Catastrophic Drug Policy,” which was posted on Winslow’s Web site the same day, June 25. It reads, in part:
The president wants to return to a bygone era of mass incarceration and a full-blown War on Drugs that significantly contributed to the current American prison population of 2.2 million, the largest in the world. Apparently, that isn’t enough for the “law and order” president and his accomplice, Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Trump and Sessions think the War on Drugs has been a very good thing. They are either woefully or willfully ignorant of the facts. …

We know that rehabilitation programs and treatment are vastly more effective at reducing drug use than imprisonment. In fact, our jails and prisons are rife with illegal drugs, and those who go in as addicts usually come out as addicts. If mass incarceration worked, wouldn’t our drug problem now be better instead of worse?

But rather than make a real effort to address the drug problem at its roots—at a time when more Americans die from opiate overdose than from car accidents—Trump and Sessions hand us fantasies such as the border wall, which will do absolutely nothing to slow the flow of drugs, and facile, intellectually lazy, “lock `em up” sound bites that make for good politics but horrible policy.
• Are rumors of a Downton Abbey movie true? Yes!

• Crime Fiction Lover chooses half a dozen British-Asian crime novelists “to watch,” among them Abir Mukherjee (A Rising Man), Rosie Claverton (Terror 404), and Amer Anwar (Western Fringes).

A recent profile in her own newspaper cast critic Marilyn Stasio—who has been penning The New York Times Book Review’s crime-fiction column since 1988—as “a kind of mystery herself, removed from the book events, parties and online debates that bind so many crime and mystery fanatics together. She would rather be reading, surrounded by her fortifications of novels.” Sounds good to me!

• In a piece for Britain’s Telegraph, John Banville (aka Benjamin Black) insists the best crime and mystery fiction is the urban sort. “The city is God’s gift to the crime writer,” he writes. “Yes, there is just as much scope, if not more, for blood-letting, skulduggery and devilment in the countryside as there is in town. However, the urban wilderness lends itself with particular aptness to noir fiction, whether it be Maigret’s Paris, Philip Marlowe’s Bay City, a lightly fictionalized version of Santa Monica, or Dostoevsky’s St. Petersburg.”

• Scroll.in contributor Nicholas Rixon looks back at how Raymond Chandler’s 1939 first novel, The Big Sleep, marked a sea change for detective fiction. “Nearly six decades after his death,” remarks Rixon, “Chandler’s novel remains exactly what the man intended it to be: hard-boiled detective fiction that doesn’t just walk tenderly across the tightrope between literariness and pulp. It hops and summersaults with wild abandon to the other side.”

• And finally, 37 years after its debut, Crime Fiction Lover revisits Gorky Park, Martin Cruz Smith’s “wonderfully textured, vivid look behind the Iron Curtain,” which it goes on to call “a tense, atmospheric and memorable crime story with an outstanding detective character—Arkady Renko.”

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