Tuesday, October 31, 2017

All Hail All Hallows’ Eve

With plenty of candy in hand (perhaps too much—again), and a carved pumpkin waiting to greet tonight’s crepuscular treat-seekers, I’m feeling quite prepared for Halloween. Which leaves me free to explore some of the associated coverage rolling out online.

Smithsonian magazine’s Web site, for instance, carries a story about how much more mischievous and unsettling Halloween was during the 19th century. The History Channel offers a video backgrounder on trick-or-treating. Then there’s this rundown of “12 Things You May Not Know About Halloween,” and this collection, in The Lineup, of “14 Creepy and Utterly Bizarre Vintage Halloween Costumes.” Meanwhile, the blog Today I Found Out has put together two worth-invesigating posts—one inquiring into whether “anyone [has] ever actually poisoned or put razor blades or needles in Halloween candy,” and the other exploring the source of werewolf legends.

In Sweet Freedom, Todd Mason looks back at horror anthologies that haunted his childhood, while Janet Rudolph suggests wines and cocktails appropriate to your October 31 festivities. And Terence Towles Canote gathers together another assortment of classic Halloween pin-up images for his blog, A Shroud of Thoughts.

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

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Celebrating in Christchurch

Last night brought an announcement, during a special WORD Christchurch event in New Zealand, of which books and authors have won the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards. The recipients include the first woman ever to capture the coveted prize for Best Crime Novel.

“Each of our winners this year is a remarkable storyteller who uses crime writing as a prism through which to explore broader human and societal issues,” says Craig Sisterson, the founder and judging convenor of this annual contest. “When we launched in 2010 we wanted to highlight excellence in local crime writing, beyond traditional ideas of puzzling whodunits or airport thrillers. Our 2017 winners emphasize that broader scope to the genre, and showcase the inventiveness and world-class quality of our local storytellers.”

Below are the winners and other finalists in three categories.

Best Crime Novel: The Last Time We Spoke, by Fiona Sussman
(Allison & Busby)

Also nominated: Pancake Money, by Finn Bell (e-book); Spare Me the Truth, by C.J. Carver (Zaffre); Red Herring, by Jonothan Cullinane (HarperCollins); and Marshall’s Law, by Ben Sanders (Allen & Unwin)

Best First Novel: Dead Lemons, by Finn Bell (e-book)

Also nominated: Red Herring, by Jonothan Cullinane (HarperCollins); The Ice Shroud, by Gordon Ell (Bush Press); The Student Body, by Simon Wyatt (Mary Egan); and Days Are Like Grass, by Sue Younger (Eunoia)

Best Non-Fiction: In Dark Places, by Michael Bennett (Paul Little)

Also nominated: The Scene of the Crime, by Steve Braunias (HarperCollins); Double-Edged Sword, by Simonne Butler with Andra Jenkin (Mary Egan); The Many Deaths of Mary Dobie, by David Hastings (AUP); and Blockbuster!, by Lucy Sussex (Text)

To obtain more information about the Ngaio Marsh Awards, this year’s victors or finalists, or comments from the judges, send an e-mail message to Craig Sisterson at craigsisterson@hotmail.com.

READ MORE:Wonka’s Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight: a 9mm interview with Fiona Sussman,” by Craig Sisterson
(Crime Watch.)

Differences of Opinion

It’s not even Halloween yet, but already we’re seeing inventories of the “Best Crime Fiction of 2017” popping up around the Web. For instance, The Strand Magazine has posted its top choices as follows:

1. The Fifth Petal, by Brunonia Barry (Crown)
2. Two Days Gone, by Randall Silvis (Sourcebooks Landmark)
3. Follow Me Down, by Sherri Smith (Forge)
4. Where Dead Men Meet, by Mark Mills (Blackstone)
5. Fast Falls the Night, by Julia Keller (Minotaur)
6. Burial Hour, by Jeffery Deaver (Grand Central)
7. Friends and Traitors, by John Lawton (Atlantic Monthly Press)
8. Death on Nantucket, by Francine Mathews (Soho Crime)
9. Arrowood, by Mick Finlay (Mira)
10. The Walls, by Hollie Overton (Redhook)
11. Burials, by Mary Anna Evans (Poisoned Pen Press)
12. The Name of the Game Is a Kidnapping, by Keigo Higashino (Vertical)

Meanwhile, Publishers Weekly has come out with its own completely different list of a dozen favorites:

Besieged, by A.J. Tata (Kensington)
The Cuban Affair, by Nelson DeMille (Simon & Schuster)
Fierce Kingdom, by Gin Phillips (Viking)
Flashmob, by Christopher Farnsworth (Morrow)
The Force, by Don Winslow (Morrow)
Little Deaths, by Emma Flint (Hachette)
Long Black Veil, by Jennifer Finney Boylan (Crown)
Nine Lessons, by Nicola Upson (Crooked Lane)
The Nine-Tailed Fox, by Martin Limón (Soho Crime)
A Rising Man, by Abir Mukherjee (Pegasus)
Vicious Circle, by C.J. Box (Putnam)
Wolf’s Revenge, by Lachlan Smith (Mysterious Press)

Two other novels that could easily have qualified for that PW roster—Sarah Schmidt’s See What I Have Done (Atlantic Monthly Press) and Dan Chaon’s Ill Will (Ballantine)—appear instead among the publication’s General Fiction picks.

The Rap Sheet probably won’t be out with its own critics’ choice compilations until early December. Until then, we will try to keep track of other such rolls appearing elsewhere.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Story Behind the Story:
“Ten Dead Comedians,” by Fred Van Lente


Author Fred Van Lente

(Editor’s note: This is the 74th installment in The Rap Sheet’s “Story Behind the Story” series. Today’s essay comes from Fred Van Lente, a Brooklyn, New York, writer best known for his work on graphic novels such as Cowboys & Aliens [the basis of the feature film], Odd Is on Our Side with Dean R. Koontz, and several entries in the “gorily funny” Marvel Zombies series. His debut prose novel, Ten Dead Comedians, was released this last summer by Quirk Books. He has a follow-up novel, The Con Artist—set in the comic-book industry—due out in 2018. Van Lente writes below about how his love of stand-up comedy led him to explore that world further in Ten Dead Comedians.)

The town I grew up in was called Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Yes, that was the actual name. Supposedly, it’s a mispronunciation of the original Native American name of the river running through the town, but personally I’ve suspected the original settlers could have benefited from the invention of Xanax.

Chagrin Falls is a small town and, as is often the case in small towns, small differences get magnified, particularly when you’re a kid with a bowl haircut who wears the wrong sneakers and jacket. You can get picked on a lot. And because this wasn’t just a very small town, it was also a very rich town, and the other boys didn’t want to risk mussing up their Izod shirts by actually beating me up, this bullying was verbal, rather than physical in nature.

And this is how I learned to love stand-up comedy.

By the time I reached the fifth and sixth grades, I found that I was better at insults than my tormentors; and if I could make fun of my attacker’s haircut in a clever way, not only did I diffuse his attacks on me, but the other kids would start laughing with me, and not at me. Eventually, the attacks stopped, because they knew I could give back as good as I got. I can’t begin to tell you how empowering that was to a little kid. Words have power!

At about this same time, I discovered the golden age of 1980s comedy on my parents’ HBO-TV screen. I loved Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, Bobcat Goldthwait, Sam Kinison, Rosanne Barr, and many others. But my absolute favorite comedian was George Carlin. I loved the way he raised and lowered his voice to make an effect. The way he talked high and fast or low and slow, depending on the point he was making. I listened to cassettes of his albums, such as Place for My Stuff and Class Clown and Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television, until the tape literally broke, hanging on the way he spoke truth to power in such a hilarious way. He wasn’t defending himself against bullies before the homeroom bell, he was going after hypocrisy, politics, racism, and more. That didn’t mean I didn’t incorporate some of his methods into my schoolyard self-defense “act,” of course. Even when I was a ’tween I was like, “I want to do that kind of thing!” Words have power.

Now, in addition to looking like a bookworm, I am, in fact, an actual bookworm. My parents lined our house with books. My mother’s favorites were mysteries—Ten Dead Comedians is dedicated to her. She loved the classic, Golden Age stuff, like Agatha Christie, whose And Then There Were None is Ten Dead’s most direct inspiration. I was more of a Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, noir type. But like all great genres, the mystery can be more than the sum of its parts. The mystery can be “literary” as well as entertainment because, at heart, it’s about an investigation, it’s about peeling back the layers of a society to see what’s there. It also speaks truth to power.

So that’s why combining the Golden Age of Murder and stand-up comedy in Ten Dead Comedians seemed like a such a natural pairing to me. After all, so much of the language around stand-up comedy concerns metaphors for violence. If you do really well in a stand-up set, you “killed,” you “slaughtered” the audience; if you did poorly you “bombed” or “died.” It’s a real kill-or-be-killed vibe in the comedy club, or maybe predator and prey. If you are as terrified by public speaking as most people are, this life-or-death language isn’t so surprising. The audience is fickle and unpredictable. It’s dangerous. It can turn on you at any moment, and you’ve got to be able to read the room and adjust your act accordingly, or your showbiz lifespan is not going to be very long. Maybe lion-taming is the better comparison.

So to a lonely Agatha Christie-style island in the Caribbean Sea come eight comedians, all of whom are familiar types, perhaps, but unique in their own ways.

There’s a retired late-night talk-show host and a Vegas insult comic who’s had one facelift too many. There’s an up-and-coming star who suddenly seems to be on every TV show and movie trailer at the same time, and a guy on the other side of the fame parabola, trending downward, who can barely get work as an improv instructor. There’s the prop comic with the sledgehammer everyone looks down on and the Hipper-Than-Thou alt-comedian who looks down on everyone else. There’s an “urban” road comic who’s lived out of hotels for the past eight years as he goes from club to club and a multi-millionaire “blue-collar” comedian who hasn’t seen the inside of a trailer park since the first Bush administration, despite his good ol’ boy shtick. They’re all in the Caribbean at the invitation of a ninth comedian—one of the most famous who ever lived, but whose career got sidetracked by his appearances in a lot of really bad comedies that found him married to a cat. His assistant, an up-and-coming comic who is the 10th in our cadre, leads them there, and acts as surprised as the rest of them when they find the island and its mansion deserted.

Although that’s not as surprising as when they start getting knocked off, one by one, in methods reminiscent of their individual acts, and they come to the slow, horrible realization that one of them is the killer.

What pleased me so much about writing a mystery was being able to explore and investigate the lives and motivations of folks who do stand-up comedy, from various generations, economic backgrounds, races, genders, sexual orientations, and widely disparate success levels. The people who brave hostile crowds, bad weather, crummy food, living out of hotel rooms, and bombing—and one guy who literally bombs on stage … sorry, that’s a spoiler. That is what mysteries can do that other genres can’t. They let you peel back those layers to see the beating heart underneath. I wanted to see my fictional comics put their humor skills to use in their own self-defense, as I did back in that Chagrin Falls schoolyard—though a bit more literally than I did.

And in doing so I was able to marry two of the great loves of my life—the spoken word, in the form of stand-up comedy, and the written word, in the form of the novel—into one.

The feeling was not unlike the solution to a murder mystery, or like the punch line to a joke:

It felt both inevitable and surprising at the same time.

* * *

Click here to enjoy a short excerpt from Ten Dead Comedians.

“The Worthiest of Winners”

The video footage below, shot by Rap Sheet contributor Ali Karim, comes from last night’s presentation, in London, of the 2017 Dagger Awards. It shows Martin Edwards, chair of the UK’s Crime Writers’ Association, bestowing this year’s Diamond Dagger on British novelist Ann Cleeves, author of the Shetland Island mysteries and the Vera Stanhope novels. The Diamond Dagger has been described as “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.”



READ MORE:Interview: Ann Cleeves,” by DeathBecomesHer
(Crime Fiction Lover).

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Extolling the Genius of Criminal Plotting

Thanks to Rap Sheet correspondent Ali Karim, who was in London, England, for this evening’s presentations of the 2017 Dagger Awards, we now have a full rundown of the winners. These commendations are sponsored by the British Crime Writers’ Association (CWA).

CWA Gold Dagger:
The Dry, by Jane Harper (Little, Brown)

Also nominated: The Beautiful Dead, by Belinda Bauer (Bantam Press); Dead Man’s Blues, by Ray Celestin (Mantle); Spook Street, by Mick Herron (John Murray); The Girl in Green, by Derek B. Miller (Faber and Faber); and A Rising Man, by Abir Muckerjee (Harvil Secker)

CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger:
Spook Street, by Mick Herron (John Murray)

Also nominated: You Will Know Me, by Megan Abbott (Picador); The Killing Game, by J.S. Carol (Bookouture); We Go Around in the Night Consumed by Fire, by Jules Grant (Myriad Editions); Redemption Road, by John Hart (Hodder & Stoughton); and The Constant Soldier, by William Ryan (Mantle)

CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger: Tall Oaks, by Chris
Whitaker (Twenty 7)

Also nominated: The Pictures, by Guy Bolton (Point Blank); Ragdoll, by Daniel Cole (Trapeze); Distress Signals, by Catherine Ryan Howard (Corvus); Sirens, by Joseph Knox (Doubleday); and Good Me, Bad Me, by Ali Land (Michael Joseph)

CWA Non-fiction Dagger:
Close But No Cigar: A True Story of Prison Life in Castro’s Cuba,
by Stephen Purvis (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Also nominated: A Dangerous Place, by Simon Farquhar (History Press); The Scholl Case: The Deadly End of a Marriage, by Anja Reich-Osang (Text); The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer, by Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury); A Passing Fury: Searching for Justice at the End of World War II, by A.T. Williams (Jonathan Cape); and Another Day in the Death of America, by Gary Younge (Guardian Faber)

CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger:
A Rising Man, by Abir Muckerjee (Harvil Secker)

Also nominated: The Devil’s Feast, by M.J. Carter (Fig Tree); The Ashes of Berlin, by Luke McCallin (No Exit Press); The Long Drop, by Denise Mina (Harvil Secker); By Gaslight, by Steven Price (Point Blank); and The City in Darkness, by Michael Russell (Constable)

CWA International Dagger:
The Dying Detective, by Leif G.W. Persson; translated by
Neil Smith (Doubleday)

Also nominated: A Cold Death, by Antonio Manzini, translated by Anthony Shugaar (4th Estate); A Fine Line, by Gianrico Carofiglio, translated by Howard Curtis (Bitter Lemon Press); Blood Wedding, by Pierre Lemaitre, translated by Frank Wynne (MacLehose Press); Climate of Fear, by Fred Vargas, translated by Sian Reynolds (Harvill Secker); The Legacy of the Bones, by Dolores Redondo, translated by Nick Caister and Lorenza Garcia (Harper)

CWA Short Story Dagger:
“The Trials of Margaret,” by L.C. Tyler (from Motives for Murder, edited by Martin Edwards; Sphere)

Also nominated: “The Assassination,” by Leye Adenle (from Sunshine Noir, edited by Anna Maria Alfieri and Michael Stanley; White Sun); “Murder and Its Motives,” by Martin Edwards (from Motives for Murder); “The Super Recogniser of Vik,” by Michael Ridpath (from Motives for Murder); “What You Were Fighting For,” by James Sallis (from The Highway Kind, edited by Patrick Millikin; Mulholland); and “Snakeskin,” by Ovidia Yu (from Sunshine Noir)

CWA Debut Dagger (for unpublished writers):
Strange Fire, by Sherry Larkin

Also nominated: The Reincarnation of Himmat Gupte, by Neeraj Shah; Lost Boys, by Spike Dawkins; Red Haven, by Mette McLeodl; and Broken, by Victoria Slotover

In addition, Mari Hannah—whose capturing of this year’s Dagger in
the Library honor was previously announced—picked up her prize. Novelist Ann Cleeves was presented with the Diamond Dagger, and tonight’s master of ceremonies, author-critic Barry Forshaw, was given a Red Herring Award for services to the CWA.

Congratulations to all of the winners and nominees alike.

SEE MORE:Video Footage from 2017 CWA Dagger Awards, London,” by Ali Karim (Shotsmag Confidential).

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Revue of Reviewers, 10-25-17

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







Catch the Chills

Lovers of Nordic crime fiction on television should be interested in two recent posts found in The Killing Times. The first brings news that Season 2 of the Icelandic series Trapped—which producers promise will feature “an even more complex and challenging murder case” than the initial 10 episodes—“has started filming in northern Iceland.” Meanwhile, this post offers some plot details for the fourth and concluding season of the Swedish drama The Bridge, plus a trailer; a second, briefer trailer is here. The Bridge is scheduled to return to Nordic TV screens in January 2018.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Bullet Points: Revivals and Retreads Edition

• It has now been just over 12 years since crime-fictionist Dennis Lynds died. I was reminded of this by a note in Mystery*File from his widow, thriller writer Gayle Lynds, who explains that her husband’s best-remembered protagonist, one-armed New York City gumshoe Dan Fortune, has recently been resurrected in print. She writes: “The entire 17-book series of private eye novels”—which Lynds published under his pseudonym Michael Collins—“are available again, for the first time in Kindle and trade paperback. We hope a new generation of readers will discover Dan, and that longtime fans will enjoy re-reading the classic tales.” Click here to find Amazon’s list of these reprinted works, from Act of Fear (1967) to Cassandra in Red (1993).

• Coincidentally, TracyK recently reviewed The Nightrunners—a Fortune yarn originally released in 1978—in her blog Bitter Tea and Mystery. She applauded the fact that it contains “twists and turns I did not anticipate” and that “there is less action and gun play, and more emphasis on brains and persistence” than she’d expected.

• A little behind schedule, but welcome nonetheless. The last I heard, Spinetingler Magazine was planning to release “its first [print] issue in years” sometime this month. Today, however, a news release reached my e-mailbox, saying that Down & Out Books expects to publish the Fall 2017 edition of Spinetingler in November. Its contents will include “original stories by Tracy Falenwolfe, Karen Montin, Jennifer Soosar, B.V. Lawson, Nick Kolakowski, David Rachels, and more. There are author snapshots of Con Lehane, Rusty Barnes, Mindy Tarquini, and others. Book features and reviews fill out the magazine’s pages.” There’s no word yet on ordering this new issue.

• In June, I drew your attention to the first trailer for The Alienist, TNT-TV’s historical mini-series based on Caleb Carr’s 1994 psychological thriller of that same name. ScreenRant has now posted a second trailer (which is also embedded below), and finally shares a date for the debut of that program: Monday, January 22, 2018. It also makes clear that there will be eight episodes, rather than the previously suggested 10, all written by True Detective director Cary Fukunaga and starring Daniel Brühl, Luke Evans, and Dakota Fanning as “19th-century investigators on the trail of a serial killer.” Hmm. With three months to go until this mini-series airs, I might actually find free time enough to re-read Carr’s book.



• A British blog called The Killing Times brings word that Bron Studios, a Canadian production company, plans to build a new TV series around Louise Rick, the Copenhagen detective inspector who features in more than half a dozen novels from Danish writer Sara Blædel. “Deadline reports that the first Louise Rick story, The Forgotten Girls, will serve [as] the basis for Season One,” but Bron “has optioned the whole series,” according to The Killing Times.

Variety carries the unexpected news that actor John Turturro (The Night Of) has been signed to play 14th-century Franciscan friar-cum-sleuth William of Baskerville in a “high-end TV adaptation” of Umberto Eco’s 1980 mystery novel, The Name of the Rose. The eight-episode English-language production will be produced by Italy’s Matteo Levi and Carlo Degli Esposti, and is set to start shooting in January at Rome’s Cinecittà Studios. In addition to the hangdog-faced Turturro, this mini-series will feature English performer Rupert Everett as the monk’s antagonist, Italian inquisitor Bernard Gui. An excellent 1986 film interpretation of Eco’s debut novel starred Sean Connery and F. Murray Abraham, and it’s hard to imagine that an extended remake is really needed. But of course, nobody asked me …

• … Just as no one solicited my opinion on whether the world requires a new version of Tom Selleck’s 1980-1988 private-eye TV series, Magnum, P.I. It seems screenwriters Peter Lenkov and Eric Guggenheim—the guys behind the disappointing current Hawaii Five-0 reboot and the latest version of MacGyver—think we need Magnum back, and have convinced CBS (the series’ original home network) to at least bankroll a pilot. The Hollywood Reporter describes the prospective series as an update of Selleck’s show.
It follows Thomas Magnum …, a decorated ex-Navy SEAL (also like the original) who, upon returning home from Afghanistan, repurposes his military skills to become a private investigator. With help from fellow vets Theodore “T.C.” Calvin and Orville “Rick” Wright, as well as that of disavowed former MI6 agent Juliet Higgins, Magnum takes on the cases no one else will, helping those who have no one else to turn to. Action, adventure and comedy aside, Magnum P.I. will also explore a brotherhood forged by the trauma of combat, what it means to return home an ex-soldier, and a commitment to continuing to serve while in the private sector.
This is the third time I remembering hearing that a Magnum comeback was on the drawing boards. The first was back in 2006, when Ben Affleck was set to star. Then, just last year, news broke that actress Eva Longoria had pitched a sequel that would have refocused the crime drama on “Magnum’s daughter, Lily ‘Tommy’ Magnum, who returns to Hawaii to take up the mantle of her father’s P.I. firm.” Neither of those efforts resulted in an actual show. Maybe we’ll be just as lucky this time around. Has Hollywood considered that not every once-popular series needs to be remade?

• Oh, and as In Reference to Murder relates,
A “Nancy Drew” TV series is once again in the works, with NBC developing a new series based on the iconic novel series after CBS attempted such a project last season. The new series still hails from writers and executive producers Tony Phelan and Joan Rater and executive producer Dan Jinks, who developed the CBS version, but the new series follows the author of the most famous female teen-detective book series who is thrust into a real-life murder mystery. In need of help, she turns to her two best friends from childhood, who were the inspiration for all those books, and the women who have a real axe to grind about the way their supposed best friend chose to portray them all those years ago. This will be a completely different version than the original at CBS. That project would have focused on Drew, now an adult who works as a detective for the NYPD. Sarah Shahi, who starred in the CBS drama Person of Interest since its second season, starred in the pilot as Drew but isn't currently attached to the NBC version.
• Barry Forshaw alerts us that, with this month’s release of Modesty Blaise: The Killing Game, Titan Books has completed its “all-inclusive run of Peter O’Donnell’s imperishable [British] comic strip Modesty Blaise (drawn by a variety of artists, including the great Jim Holdaway who inaugurated the strip and Enric Badia Romero, who concluded it).” Click here to find all of the preceding titles in this series.

• I’ve added several vintage TV openings to The Rap Sheet’s YouTube page, including those from Shotgun Slade, Johnny Bago (which features theme music by Jimmy Buffett), and Jack Palance’s Bronk.

• Florida’s Tampa Bay Times recently carried an interesting feature about how smoothly and satisfyingly author Michael Connelly has transferred his original series protagonist, Harry Bosch, from the page to the TV screen, in Amazon’s Bosch.

• Bookseller-turned-writer/editor Maxim Jakubowski has returned to CrimeTime as a monthly columnist, penning “To the Max.

• Fans of author Ted Lewis (Get Carter, GBH, etc.) should be interested to learn of a new volume, Nick Triplow’s Getting Carter: Ted Lewis and the Birth of Brit Noir, being brought out by No Exit Press. Crime Fiction Lover opines that “meticulous and thorough detective work is at the heart of this compelling and detailed biography of Ted Lewis, the Humberside author of nine novels, who was a huge influence on Brit Noir and remains so for leading names in crime fiction today.” Sadly, Triplow’s work is currently available only in Britain, but a U.S. release (from Oldcastle Books) is slated for May 2018.

• Three author interviews worth your time: Thomas Mullen talks with MysteryPeople about Lightning Men, his exceptional sequel to last year’s Darktown; Speaking of Mysteries host Nancie Clare chats with Joe Ide about Righteous, the second installment in his Isiah Quintabe series; and Geoffrey Girard fields a few queries from Mystery Tribune about his “contemporary gothic ghost story,” Mary Rose.

• And Peter Rozovsky, the Philadelphia editor, essayist, and photographer with whom I have frequently associated at Bouchercons over the last decade, takes questions from S.W. Lauden.

• With Kenneth Branagh’s film version of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express set to reach theaters in November, Crime Fiction Lover has posted a photo tour of the author’s native Devon, England.

• Wow, this blog’s Facebook page seems to be experiencing a remarkable run of attention lately. In early October, I was impressed when a post there about the 60th anniversary of Have Gun—Will Travel “reached” more than 9,000 people. I thought that was some kind of record, but more recently, a post leading to The Rap Sheet’s coverage of the 2017 Anthony Award winners jetted right past that high bar, “reaching” 15,246 people. With 694 followers, the blog’s Facebook presence seems to be justifying my efforts to keep it lively.

• Feeding the grand debate over which of Raymond Chandler’s handful of novels qualifies as his “best,” Tablet magazine columnist Alexander Aciman delivers an outstanding appraisal of 1953’s The Long Goodbye. He writes, in part:
If Raymond Chandler’s earlier novels were detective stories that just so happened to be good, The Long Goodbye is a full reversal; it is a great novel that just so happens to be a detective story. It should be no different than saying Moby-Dick is a great novel that happens to be about whalers, or that Ulysses is a great novel that happens to take place in Dublin. But by describing it as detective fiction, we can obscure the fact for more than 60 years that it was one of the greatest novels ever written in America. There is hardly a novel more human, more heartbreaking, strung together with prose as boozily and as meticulously exacting as The Long Goodbye’s.
• I’ve lived in four U.S. states during my lifetime—Oregon, Michigan, Colorado, and Washington—and have gotten around to reading only one of the books Travel & Leisure magazine editors say best represent those places: Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson, set in the Seattle area. In my defense, I did see the Jack Nicholson movie version of Stephen King’s The Shining (which ostensibly takes place in Colorado), and have read many other works on T&L’s list.

For fans of “impossible crime” yarns.

Here’s an excellent review of two new books that explore the fight against World War II-era Nazism in Los Angeles, California, and specifically in its glitziest quarter, Hollywood.

This, too, sounds like a book I should have. In its write-up on Sinclair MacKay’s new non-fiction work, The Mile End Murder: The Case Conan Doyle Couldn't Solve (Aurum Press), Amazon explains: “In 1860, a 70-year-old widow turned landlady named Mary Emsley was found dead in her own home, killed by a blow to the back of her head. What followed was a murder case that gripped the nation, a veritable locked-room mystery which baffled even legendary Sherlock Holmes author, Arthur Conan Doyle. With an abundance of suspects, from disgruntled stepchildren concerned about their inheritance and a spurned admirer repeatedly rejected by the widow, to a trusted employee, former police officer and spy, the case led to a public trial dominated by surprise revelations and shock witnesses, before culminating with one of the final public executions at Newgate.”

Your chance to get better acquainted with Frederic Brown: “‘Murder Draws a Crowd’ and ‘Death in the Dark’ by Fredric Brown (Haffner Press, $50 each) are the first two volumes in a well-designed, excellent new series edited by Steve Haffner, collecting all of Brown’s mystery fiction. … If you’ve never read anything by Fredric Brown, (1906-1972) you’re in for a real treat—he’s one of the genre’s most respected authors, long overdue for increased attention.”

• Who’d have thought that reading in bed could be dangerous? Many people once harbored such fears, according to The Atlantic:
Writings from the 18th and 19th centuries frequently dramatize the potentially horrifying consequences of reading in bed. Hannah Robertson’s 1791 memoir, Tale of Truth as well as of Sorrow, offers one example. It is a dramatic story of downward mobility, hinging on the unfortunate bedtime activities of a Norwegian visitor, who falls asleep with a book: “The curtains took fire, and [with] the flames communicating with other parts of the furniture and buildings, a great share of our possessions were consumed.”

Even the famous and the dead could be censured for engaging in the practice. In 1778, a posthumous biography chastised the late Samuel Johnson for his bad bedside reading habits, characterizing the British writer as an insolent child. A biography of Jonathan Swift alleged that the satirist and cleric nearly burned down the Castle of Dublin—and tried to conceal the incident with a bribe.
(Hat tip to January Magazine.)

• The Web’s latest plethora of Halloween-linked stories is just getting started. A site called Thrillist features this piece focusing on “the creepiest urban legend in every state.” BuzzFeed looks to Google Maps to find “the 31 most haunted places in America.” Mental Floss examines “the origins of 25 monsters, ghosts, and spooky things.” And adding a comical coda to these selections, Neatorama presents “The Story of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.”

• Los Angeles’ 1947 “Black Dahlia murder is among that city’s most unsettling unsolved crimes. So it can only be with a chill that anyone would dress up as victim Elizabeth Short for Halloween.

• I usually think of H.G. Wells as a science-fiction writer (The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, etc.). But he also produced a great deal of non-fiction, and evidently experimented as well with “criminous misadventures,” as Ontos recalls here.

• The Bookseller brings the sad news that Britain’s “campaign group Voices for the Library is to disband due to the pressures of the workload on its members. The group, which counts Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and author Julia Donaldson among its supporters, was created in 2010 to speak out and fight against the ‘assault’ on public libraries caused by deep cuts to the sector. In a statement posted on the Voices for the Library website, the group said: ‘Unfortunately, we ourselves are volunteers running an organisation in our spare time. We are unhappy to say that we can no longer undertake the work required to be a voice for public libraries. It is with great sorrow that we have decided that it’s time to close the doors on Voices for the Library. The irony of this is not lost on us.’”

• Finally, these are dark days, indeed, for “alternative newsweeklies.” The Village Voice, historically one of the strongest and most influential such newspapers, discontinued its print publication in September (though it’s still available online), and L.A. Weekly is currently experiencing a transition limbo likely to result in employee layoffs and a refocusing on its digital presence. Meanwhile, it appears that 41-year-old Seattle Weekly—which I was proud to work for during the late 1980s—will soon become unrecognizable. The Seattle news Web site Crosscut says that for budgetary reasons South Publishing, which has owned the tabloid-size paper since 2013, will restructure Seattle Weekly as a far less creative or challenging “community news weekly.” The paper’s staff will be slashed to just three employees (down from dozens of people who worked there when I did), and they will have no independent offices, but will be left to share editorial space and production facilities with Sound Publishing’s 16 other local small-time papers. This is tragic news, so far as I am concerned. I started out with “alt-weeklies” after college, working first for Willamette Week in Portland, Oregon, and eventually (after regrettable detours to a monthly magazine in Detroit and a daily broadsheet in Boulder, Colorado) wound up on the staff at Seattle Weekly, which was then known simply as The Weekly. That publication has had its ups and downs since David Brewster founded it in 1976, but it’s also produced a hell of a lot of solid, incisive reporting on politics, civic growth, the arts, local history, and much more. As with other alt-weeklies, Seattle Weekly suffered greatly with the rise of Internet advertising; however, I assumed it would ultimately find a way to make up for lost ad dollars and rebuild its journalistic stature. I guess I was wrong.

The Daggers Are Due

I, for one, have not fully digested the news about which books and authors captured the Anthony, Barry, and Macavity awards at Bouchercon Toronto two weeks ago. Yet this coming Thursday will bring word of still more awards—this time, the 2017 Dagger winners, in eight categories. Ali Karim will be on hand at the London ceremony to report the results to The Rap Sheet, but if you’d like to look over the shortlisted nominees before then, clickety-clack here.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Book You Have to Read:
“The Big Fix,” by Roger L. Simon

(Editor’s note: This is the 153rd installment in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books.)

By Steven Nester
From the get-go, Roger L. Simon’s The Big Fix (1973) is not your father’s private-eye novel; nor is Moses Wine—a 30-year-old, down-at-the-heels Los Angeles gumshoe—anyone’s idea of a leading man. It’s the early 1970s. Wine, divorced with two young boys, his ex-wife shacked-up with a California love guru, drives a 1947 Buick in which he lugs around the corpses of 1960s idealism and his youth. A generation or two removed from the masters—Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald—The Big Fix is a book worth noting. No mash-up of tropes, in The Big Fix Simon had the chutzpah to ditch the fedora fetish many neo-noir writers employed, but which only kept the genre embalmed, and instead updated the field with subtlety and wit, making it relevant to a time when the P.I. is a character who’s in flux as much as the era in which he lives. As one character remarks to Wine:
“You don’t look like my idea of a private detective,” he said. “But then nobody looks like anybody’s idea of anything anymore …”
Wine is smoking dope and playing Clue by himself late one night when there’s a knock on his door. Nothing good ever comes of these kinds of entrances, but he answers the summons anyway. Impatiently waiting on his threshold is Lila Shea, “a barefoot Grace Kelly” who’d “moved through the sixties like a wine taster, sampling each vintage and moving on.” The last time Wine saw Lila was in 1967, when they were in flagrante delicto in the back of his hearse during a protest turned violent at Berkley. Now, though, she’s campaigning for Democratic presidential contender Miles Hawthorne, and she needs more than Wine’s vote.

It seems that Howard Eppis is causing trouble. The leader of the Free Amerika Party and author of Rip It Off, Eppis is a thinly disguised version of ’60s radical Abbie Hoffman. To everyone’s consternation, he’s planted the kiss of death on Senator Hawthorne’s political aspirations by endorsing him. Sam Sebastian, Hawthorne’s L.A. County campaign manager, wants Eppis found and silenced. But Eppis has gone to ground and no one can locate him, except maybe the “People’s Detective,” Wine. Our hero starts out well enough; however, before he can earn his fee of $300 a week plus expenses, pretty blonde Lila Shea and her car sail over a cliff near Wine’s home. Suddenly the task of tracking Eppis seems to be the least of this P.I.’s problems, as he goes all in to find Lila’s killer—if only to save his own skin.

Simon’s plot components exhibit all the weirdness Southern California has to offer, and are as entwined as pythons around their prey, beginning with the dysfunctional family of Oscar Procari Sr. After the wealthy Procari pulls the plug on a devil-worship church fronting his gambling joints, his son is found dead and Eppis really goes missing; yet their presences are still felt, keeping the reader confounded as to whether they are MIA, DOA—or perhaps living under assumed identities. Procari stays in the gambling business, and bets heavily when he changes the game to politics.

The loose acquaintanceships that introduce new characters in this tale bedevil any linear path to crime solving, keep readers on their toes, and put Wine’s patience and sleuthing to the test. Wine does uncover plenty in the course of his investigation—except the whereabouts of Eppis. And things turn deadly when Eppis announces his plan to blow up a Los Angeles freeway in the name of candidate Hawthorne. Now that his actions appear more like sabotage than support, Eppis’ very existence comes into question.

Hawthorne’s Democratic primary opponent, California Governor Arthur Dillworthy, is supernumerary, and never makes an appearance in the book. However, Simon knows when not to leave well-enough alone and describes the hapless pol with a vividness that is spectacular, calling him a man who “looked like an interior decorator from a smallish Midwestern city whose clients were beginning to desert him.” Timidity and desperation were never combined with such clarity and imagination, and this portrayal would likely turn any noir writer, whether dead or alive, green with envy.

With 10 novels to his credit—eight of which have starred Moses Wine—as well as two non-fiction works and a handful of screenplays (including one for the 1978 film adaptation of The Big Fix, starring Richard Dreyfuss), Simon is a deservedly acclaimed contributor to the modern detective-fiction genre. He’s also a Hollywood insider who knows the territory, and those who might inhabit it, such as the notorious Procaris. Wine, we learn, was sent on a fool’s errand in The Big Fix. It’s not until well into this yarn, after the P.I.’s Buick dies suddenly and he abandons it in California’s Mojave Desert, along with its cargo of memories, that clues finally start to add up for Wine in this oft-neglected, yet still-fresh gem of a novel.

READ MORE:Has Anyone Here Seen My Old Friend Moses?” by Kevin Burton Smith (January Magazine).

Treat Yourself

I didn’t realize that choosing a book to read specifically for All Hallows’ Eve was a popular thing. Apparently, I was out of the loop—again. As Rap Sheet contributor Ali Karim explained in a Facebook post yesterday, “Each Halloween, I plan to watch a scary film or read a scary book.” His scheduled novel this year? Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, a first U.S. edition of which he owns, signed by the author during “his last visit to the UK.” Ali says he intends to follow that up with a rewatch of Mary Lambert’s 1989 big-screen adaptation of King’s yarn, just to keep the fright alive.

Coincidentally, I had already dived into a novel selected for its association with Halloween: H.G. Wells’ 1898 alien-invasion thriller, The War of the Worlds. You may not be aware of this, but October 31, 2017, will mark 79 years since the 1938 broadcast of Orson Welles’ radio drama based on that book scared many American listeners (though it may not have led to widespread public panic, as some sources claim). I think the last time I read The War of the Worlds was in high school, so I was overdue to be reacquainted with Wells’ sixth novel. And though there are parts of the first-person narrative that require more patience than today’s readers have been trained to expect, I am enjoying this Victorian yarn immensely. At my current pace, I should be done with it well in advance of October 31.

If you’d like to embark on a Halloween reading experience of your own, but are stymied for ideas, consider consulting Janet Rudolph’s list of crime and mystery novels appropriate to this spirited occasion. She offers the titles of more than 240 works, everything from Stacey Alabaster’s The Pumpkin Killer and E.J. Copperman’s Night of the Living Deed to Kathi Daley’s Trick or Treason, David Robbins’ Spook Night, and Agatha Christie’s 1969 Hercule Poirot whodunit, Hallowe'en Party. Mentioned, too, are more than a dozen anthologies of haunting short stories to sample when you’re not handing out candy or trying to keep your pumpkin lit amid crepuscular breezes.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Story Behind the Story: “Ravenhill,”
by John Steele

(Editor’s note: This is the 73rd installment in The Rap Sheet’s “Story Behind the Story” series. Today’s contribution comes from Belfast-born author John Steele. In 1995, at age 22, he traveled to the United States and has since lived and worked on three continents, including a 13-year spell in Japan. Among past jobs he has been a drummer in a rock band, an illustrator, a truck driver, and a teacher of English. Steele now lives in England with his wife and daughter. He began his writing career producing short stories, selling them to North American magazines and fiction digests. This year’s Ravenhill—the subject of his essay below—is his first novel, and a second Jackie Shaw yarn, Seven Skins, has already been signed for publication by London-based Silvertail Books. Steele is currently composing a third, set in northern Japan.)

I have a scar on the back of my head, a fat white maggot squat below my crown which appears each time I visit my barber, then disappears in a week or so as my hair grows. Various people in various bars—or classrooms throughout my years as a teacher—have asked about that scar. The truth is pretty mundane, but I noticed the heady light of anticipation in the eyes of some of the inquisitors: Was it the result of a knife fight? A war wound? The legacy of some dark episode in my life?

We’ve all got one, whether big or small, and a scar is almost always the result of violence in some shape or form, whether a pratfall, a pot-burn acquired while cooking breakfast, or the legacy of a 9x19mm Parabellum round.

I was born in 1972 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. That was the bloodiest year of what has come to be known as the “Troubles” and I grew up in a city which today has more than its fair share of scars, both physical and those more insidious and unseen. I wasn’t exactly a war-child dressed in rags, walking to school on streets strewn with broken bottles and rubble, but everyone who lived through those dark years was informed to some degree by the relentless, often senseless, tit-for-tat violence that was a daily occurrence across the city and beyond. You probably know the history. A dizzying smorgasbord of terrorist acronyms, sectarianism, nationalistic hubris, and vicious, murderous gangsterism. Both republican and loyalist groupings preyed, to a large extent, on their own communities as well as taking potshots at each other and the security forces. Atrocities proliferated. Hotels—and the guests within—blown to pieces; the bombing of a war memorial, a bus station, a fishmonger’s shop. Bookies and bars were sprayed with bullets, even the congregation of a Pentecostal church.

So much for the history lesson.

In the 1990s, I left my homeland and spent time in the United States and Hungary before finding work, and my soulmate, in Japan. Then, 10 years ago, I went home.

To quote the author Kiran Desai, “The present changes the past,” and to paraphrase Lionel Shriver when discussing Belfast, where she lived for a number of years, all the wrong people did well (out of the peace agreements) in the city. Of course, a lot of very bad people did very well for themselves during the years of assassination and terror, too, and are still unwilling to let go of the godfather status such activities brought. So now we have terrorists and paramilitaries stripped bare, the causes for which they claimed to fight left to inept and corrupt politicians, sniping with school playground insults rather than AR-18 ArmaLite rifles. The populace is more interested in paying rent and holding down a job than chucking bottles and petrol bombs and taunting “the other side” (although, being Northern Ireland, periodic outbreaks of the old habits still occur). In short, Belfast is like many other cities in the UK or the Republic of Ireland, with an added sectarian undercurrent, a flourishing gun culture among the criminal element, and the odd homegrown dissident terrorist group thrown in.

In 2011, I was on the move again, finding employment in England.

By 2014, my wife was pregnant.

It was around this time that I was having a couple of beers with a mate, a Londoner who shares my love of ’70s crime movies and TV shows, both British (The Sweeney, The Squeeze, The Long Good Friday) and American (The French Connection, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Prime Cut). We were gabbing about movies and books. I was proselytizing on the virtues of crime writers Ted Lewis, who wrote Jack’s Return Home—later filmed as Get Carter with Michael Caine—and the venomous tour de force GBH, and Derek Raymond, author of the harrowing Factory novels (The Devil’s Home On Leave, I Was Dora Suarez, etc.). If you’ve never heard of these guys, check them out—but be warned, it’s pretty strong stuff. Gut wrenching in Raymond’s case. Anyway, several beers in, my mate bet me I couldn’t write a crime or thriller novel set in Belfast before I became a full-blown daddy. Never one to run from a drunken challenge, or the promise of an all-expenses-paid night in the pub if I won, I took the bet.

(Left) Author John Steele

The result is Ravenhill (Silvertail). Its protagonist, Jackie Shaw, has his own scars, including one on his arm where a terrorist tattoo was removed. The novel is split between contemporary Belfast and the city of the ’90s—back when Jackie was a getaway driver on a planned assassination. He disappeared 20 years ago under mysterious circumstances, but returns to Belfast for a funeral, only to be confronted by the long-buried violence of his past. Old cohorts are now drug dealers and gangster-barons of their patch in the east of the city, and the spoils of criminality drive the remnants of paramilitary groupings. Jackie is caught in the middle of a murderous struggle for ultimate control of one such organization.

As I said, I enjoy the hard stuff. The aforementioned Derek Raymond devotes the opening chapter of I Was Dora Suarez to the deranged inner workings of a killer’s mind. Ted Lewis’ most famous protagonist, Jack Carter, is a bastard of the highest order, and the narrator of GBH is a brutal pornographer in love with a sociopathic femme fatale. So it was with some satisfaction that I read a review of Ravenhill from the London Times newspaper praising the “palpable sense of menace” and the intensity of the “up-close violence” in my first novel. I had wanted to infuse some of the seamy grit of past crime and thriller novels into the book, and to portray the violence as adrenaline-fuelled, desperate, perhaps exciting and, importantly, ugly.

The novel unfolds within Protestant east Belfast. I was born and reared there, by fiercely anti-sectarian parents. I know this part of the city, and many beyond Northern Ireland don’t. Hollywood, and the media in general, has a lot to answer for in its portrayals of the mayhem in Northern Ireland’s past and has all but ignored the community in which Ravenhill is set, preferring a puerile IRA-vs.-British didactic. I know many people from Ireland, on both sides of the religious and political divide, who scoff or despair at past and present cack-handed attempts to set fiction within the context of the Troubles. So I gave it a shot. The result is one story and one perspective among many of the Troubles and of Belfast, of a man who returns home after a long absence and finds that home doesn't feel like home anymore, and that confuses him. The novel contains scenes between Jackie and his father that were very personal to write, at times cathartic. My father, unlike Jackie’s, wasn’t a drinker; but there’s a passage in which Jackie and his da drive around the city, his father relating stories about old Belfast back in the 1940s and ’50s, old characters, the bare-knuckle boxing that used to be held at Chapel Fields, as father and son strive to bond. That could have been my dad and I, sitting in his Ford, taking a tour of the old town to heal some father/son rift during my teenage years.

By the time I’d sweated a first draft, my daughter was a couple of weeks away from her grand entrance into the world. So, to a large extent, this book is for her. With a Northern Irish father, a Japanese mother, and being born and brought up in England, there’s going to be a lot to get her beautiful wee head around in the future. She’s been to Belfast a few times already and loves it, especially the attention of her large, extended family, but the city—thank God—is unrecognizable from my younger days. Like the city, I and the vast majority of those within, have moved on. But perhaps Ravenhill, when my daughter is old enough to read it, will help her understand a little more of where the old man is from, and how far her daddy’s homeland has come. Help her grasp what he’s droning on about when he has a couple of Bushmills and starts rolling out some old stories of life back in his day.

When the drink, or the long winter nights, or age stirs his Celtic blood and takes him back and he lets memories get the better of him, and shows his scars.

Everyone’s a Critic

It’s a thankless task to create an “essentials” list for crime, mystery, and/or thriller fiction. Inevitably, people are going to question your choices, your experience with the genre, and perhaps even your very intelligence. Nonetheless, used-books retailer AbeBooks is just out with its selection of “Thirty Essential Mystery Authors.”

Many of the usual suspects are included, from Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler to John le Carré, Mickey Spillane, Elmore Leonard, Erle Stanley Gardner, Ian Fleming, Graham Greene, and Patricia Highsmith. But as other readers have pointed out in the still-growing comments section at the bottom of that post, the AbeBooks folks somehow managed to leave out important wordsmiths on the order of Ross Macdonald, Georges Simenon, Ellery Queen, Anne Perry, Alistair MacLean, Ian Rankin, Jim Thompson, Minette Walters, David Goodis, Walter Mosley, and … well, you get the idea. Whoever compiled this rundown must now be thinking it wasn’t worth the grief.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Revue of Reviewers, 10-16-17

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







Sunday, October 15, 2017

Who Won the Anthonys?

Today’s cheers-filled, brunch-time issuance of the Anthony Awards was the final prize presentation of Bouchercon 2017, which has been taking place in Toronto, Ontario, since Thursday. It also completed a “triple crown” win for Canadian author Louise Penny, whose 2016 Chief Inspector Armand Gamache yarn, A Great Reckoning, not only scored the Best Novel Anthony, but had already captured this conference’s Macavity Award and Barry Award in the same category.

Below you will find the full list of 2017 Anthony Award recipients.

Best Novel: A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)

Also nominated: You Will Know Me, by Megan Abbott (Little, Brown); Where It Hurts, by Reed Farrel Coleman (Putnam); Red Right Hand, by Chris Holm (Mulholland); and Wilde Lake, by Laura Lippman (Morrow)

Best First Novel: IQ, by Joe Ide (Mulholland)

Also nominated: Dodgers, by Bill Beverly (Crown); Decanting a Murder, by Nadine Nettmann (Midnight Ink); Design for Dying, by Renee Patrick (Forge); and The Drifter, by Nicholas Petrie (Putnam)

Best Paperback Original: Heart of Stone, by James W. Ziskin
(Seventh Street)

Also nominated: Shot in Detroit, by Patricia Abbott (Polis); Leadfoot, by Eric Beetner (280 Steps); Salem’s Cipher, by Jess Lourey (Midnight Ink); Rain Dogs, by Adrian McKinty (Seventh Street); and How to Kill Friends and Implicate People, by Jay Stringer (Thomas & Mercer)

Best Short Story: “Oxford Girl,” by Megan Abbott (from Mississippi Noir, edited by Tom Franklin; Akashic)

Also nominated: “Autumn at the Automat,” by Lawrence Block (from In Sunlight or in Shadow, edited by Lawrence Block; Pegasus); “Gary’s Got a Boner,” by Johnny Shaw (from Waiting to Be Forgotten: Stories of Crime and Heartbreak, Inspired by The Replacements, edited by Jay Stringer; Gutter); “Parallel Play,” by Art Taylor (from Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley; Wildside Press); and “Queen of the Dogs,” by Holly West (from 44 Caliber Funk: Tales of Crime, Soul, and Payback, edited by Gary Phillips and Robert J. Randisi; Moonstone)

Best Critical Non-fiction Work: Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, by Ruth Franklin (Liveright)

Also nominated: Alfred Hitchcock: A Brief Life, by Peter Ackroyd (Nan A. Talese); Letters from a Serial Killer, by Kristi Belcamino and Stephanie Kahalekulu (CreateSpace); Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, by David J. Skal (Liveright); and The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer, by Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury/Penguin)

Best Children’s/Young Adult Novel: The Girl I Used to Be,
by April Henry (Henry Holt)

Also nominated: Snowed, by Maria Alexander (Raw Dog Screaming); Tag, You’re Dead, by J.C. Lane (Poisoned Pen Press); My Sister Rosa, by Justine Larbalestier (Soho Teen); and The Fixes, by Owen Matthews (HarperTeen)

Best Anthology: Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016, edited by Greg Herren (Down & Out)

Also nominated: Unloaded: Crime Writers Writing Without Guns, edited by Eric Beetner (Down & Out); In Sunlight or in Shadow, edited by Lawrence Block (Pegasus); Cannibals: Stories from the Edge of the Pine Barrens, edited by Jen Conley (Down & Out); and Waiting to Be Forgotten: Stories of Crime and Heartbreak, Inspired by The Replacements, edited by Jay Stringer (Gutter)

Best Novella (8,000-40,000 words): The Last Blue Glass, by B.K. Stevens (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, April 2016)

Also nominated: Cleaning Up Finn, by Sarah M. Chen (CreateSpace); No Happy Endings, by Angel Luis Colón (Down & Out); Crosswise, by S.W. Lauden (Down & Out); and Beware the Shill, by John Shepphird
(Down & Out)

The winners of these Anthony Awards were selected by a vote of the approximately 1,800 attendees at this year’s Bouchercon. Congratulations to the winners and other nominees!

(Hat tip to Classic Mysteries.)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Bullet Points: Bouchercon Week Edition

• Denise Mina’s latest novel, The Long Drop, doesn’t lack for honors. In addition to its win, in September, of this year’s McIlvanney Prize, the book has now nabbed the Gordon Burn Prize. That report was made on Thursday during England’s Durham Book Festival. The Long Drop bested five other shortlisted nominees to win the commendation, which was named in honor of Gordon Burn, the British author of such books as Alma Cogan and Sex & Violence, Death & Silence.

• Among this year’s 24 recipients of MacArthur Foundation “genius grants” is Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of the Vietnam-set spy novel, The Sympathizer, which won both a Pulitzer Prize and a 2016 Edgar Award. To learn more about Nguyen, refer to this “By the Book” piece that ran in The New York Times in early 2017.

• “Now that Robert Downey Jr. and HBO are prepping a new cable take on Erle Stanley Gardner’s iconic Perry Mason, this may be a good time to consider the famous defense attorney’s many and various appearances other than between book covers.” So opines Dick Lochte in a Mystery Scene article that looks back at how Mason was portrayed not only on TV, but on radio, in movies, and even in comics.

• Speaking of the TV series Perry Mason, here is MeTV’s list of unusual episodes from that 1957-1966 legal drama. “Have you seen the one in color and the one starring Bette Davis?” the story asks in its subhead. Or how about the one starring Mike Connors?

• There have already been multiple big-screen and TV adaptations of Wilkie Collins’ 1859 “sensation novel,” The Woman in White, including what I remember was an estimable, 1997 BBC version (watch the trailer here) scripted by Dark Water author David Pirie. Yet now comes BBC One with yet another, five-episode dramatization of the spooky tale, this one starring Ben Hardy (EastEnders) and Olivia Vinall (Apple Tree Yard), and due for airing in the UK in 2018.

• Well in advance of that will premiere Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive, a documentary film—part of PBS-TV’s American Masters series—that “draws on Poe’s evocative imagery and sharply drawn plots to tell the real story of the notorious author …,” according to a news release. “An orphan in search of family, love and literary fame, Poe struggled with alcoholism and was also a product of early 19th-century American urban life: depressed from the era’s culture of death due to the high mortality rate and the struggles of living in poverty. Poe famously died under mysterious circumstances and his cause of death remains unknown.” Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive is scheduled for broadcast on Monday, October 30, beginning at 9 p.m. ET/PT—a pre-Halloween treat! The trailer for this presentation is embedded below.



• Yes, All Hallows’ Eve is now a little more than two weeks away. So expect plenty of related features to show up online, such as this BookBub Blog post recommending “20 Creepy New Books to Read This Halloween.” Also check out this Literary Hub offering of “40 of the Creepiest Book Covers of All Time.” Meanwhile, the New York City-obsessed blog, The Bowery Boys, has put together what it calls “brand-new, mysterious podcasts that will send a shiver down your spine.”

• I mentioned on this page in July that Tom Nolan, who edited the Library of America omnibus Ross Macdonald: Four Later Novels: Black Money/The Instant Enemy/The Goodbye Look/The Underground Man, was composing essays about all of those Lew Archer private-eye stories. I see that three of them are now available for your investigation—his thoughtful takes on Black Money (1966), The Instant Enemy (1968), and The Goodbye Look (1969). I look forward to reading what Nolan has to say about The Underground Man (1971), which is one of my favorites among Macdonald’s Archer yarns and was adapted as a 1974 TV pilot starring Peter Graves.

When James Bond didn’t like The Beatles …

… And how he was deeply affected by World War II.

• In a diverse recent blog post, Max Allan Collins mentioned that he has delivered the manuscript for Killing Town, his 10th Mike Hammer novel developed from fragmentary material Mickey Spillane left behind at the time of his death in 2006. Collins goes on to explain that Killing Town (due out from Titan next April) is “chronologically the first Mike Hammer novel,” and that he composed it based on “a substantial (60 double-spaced pages) Spillane manuscript from around 1945 … before I, the Jury!! It has an ending that will either delight, outrage, or disgust you … perhaps all at the same time.” Killing Town, concludes Collins, “will join The Last Stand [due out from Hard Case Crime next March] in the celebration of Mickey’s centenary, the first Mike Hammer novel bookending the final Spillane solo novel.”

• Sometime Rap Sheet contributor Mark Coggins sent me a notice he discovered recently in the newsletter Publisher’s Lunch:
Following the death of [book agent] Ed Victor (and before that, in fall 2016, the death of [UK publisher] Graham Greene), the Raymond Chandler estate has selected new representation. They are working with Peter Straus at Rogers, Coleridge & White for publishing, and Stephen Durbridge and Katie Haines at The Agency for film and TV. Greene’s son Alexander, director of Raymond Chandler Ltd., says in the release: “In choosing Peter and RCW and Stephen and the Agency we wanted to reintroduce Chandler to an audience who perhaps recognize his style but don’t immediately associate it with him or his archetypal character Philip Marlowe.”
One can only speculate as to the eventual results of these altered business associations. Could we be provided more literary revivals of Los Angeles private eye Marlowe? Another crack at a Marlowe TV series, or more new Marlowe films?

• Let’s hope this eventually reaches the United States! From Mystery Tribune: “Scandinavian crime fans will be pleased to know that Sagafilm’s new drama Stella Blómkvist, starring Heida Reed (Poldark) and directed by Oskar Thor Axelsson (Trapped), will soon come to life via Nordic streaming service Viaplay. The series is based on a series of novels that follow a hard-nosed lawyer named Stella Blómkvist as she takes on mysterious murder cases.”

• Gadzooks! The DVD release of C.S.I.—The Complete Series will be a “93-disc set includ[ing] 19 hours of special features, all 15 seasons, and all 337 episodes, plus the 2-hour finale.” I’m not sure I can even accommodate such a sizeable package among my DVD collection. This CBS Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Media set will become available as of November 21, according to TV Shows on DVD.

• For the Mulholland Books site, Portland, Oregon, science-fiction author Fonda Lee (Jade City) has cobbled together a rundown of what she says are the “Top Ten Fantasy Crime Novels.”

• David Cranmer is doing a bang-up job, for Criminal Element, of celebrating the centennial of Robert Mitchum’s birth. He’s written over the last three months about Mitchum’s Western films, his noir pictures, and yesterday he recalled the actor’s war movies (including the 1983 TV mini-series The Winds of War). Mitchum, writes Cranmer, projected “the great inner strength of tight-lipped heroes who fought the good fight, usually against staggering odds.”

• Linwood Barclay talks with Suspense Radio about his latest novel, Parting Shot, which is due out on October 31. Listen here.

• Hard to believe, I know, but it has been a full decade since the debut of Chuck, NBC-TV’s action-comedy/spy series starring Zachary Levi as computer-service specialist-turned-special agent Chuck Bartowski, and Yvonne Strahovski as his CIA protector, Sarah Walker. In honor of this anniversary, TV Guide created a video compilation of their most romantic moments from the show’s five seasons.

From In Reference to Murder:
Fox has given a script commitment plus penalty to The Dime, a crime drama with a lesbian cop at the center that’s based on bestselling author Kathleen Kent’s new novel, from Hell on Wheels creators Tony Gayton and Joe Gayton, feature director Matt Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes), and 20th-Century Fox TV. Written and executive produced by the Gayton brothers, The Dime follows Brooklyn cop Betty Rhyzyck, a tough-as-nails firebrand who moves with her girlfriend to Dallas to lead a group of detectives. Their more traditional sensibilities are a far cry from her blue-state mentality, and in order to survive, Betty and her team will have to put aside their differences.
• Marty McKee has an excellent piece in Johnny LaRue’s Crane Shot about the reworked sixth and final season of 77 Sunset Strip, which starred Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Los Angeles private eye Stuart Bailey. To give that season “a kickstart,” McKee recalls, Warner Bros. “gave it a radical reboot. Everyone but Zimbalist was fired, and Bailey moved into a new office in the Bradbury Building as a solo act. New producers Jack Webb (Dragnet) and William Conrad … made the series less glossy and more noirish. While the new approach didn’t work—the series was cancelled after 20 episodes—it did give 77 a creative shot in the arm. To begin the sixth season, producer Conrad hired screenwriter Harry Essex (credited with Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space, and I, the Jury) to concoct an ambitious five-part story that Conrad would also direct. The result was ‘5,’ which aired on consecutive Fridays in September and October 1963. Loaded with guest stars ranging from Richard Conte and Cesar Romero to Diane McBain and William Shatner, ‘5’ yanks Bailey out of L.A. to New York and even all the way to Israel to solve the case.” I wrote about that same multi-part episode of 77 Sunset Strip in this 2012 post.

• Congratulations to The Spy Command on its ninth anniversary!

• I know it seems a bit early yet to talk about next spring’s Florida SleuthFest (March 1-4 in Boca Raton), what with Bouchercon 2017 still underway in Toronto. But the deadline for discounted early registration for SleuthFest is this coming September 30. And would-be authors who wish to arrange manuscript critiques must submit their work by January 31—just over three months from now. More generally, this annual writers’ conference (sponsored by the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America) will have as its 2018 keynote speaker Andrew Gross, and Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., has been tapped as forensic guest of honor. Other special guests will include James R. Benn and Hallie Ephron. More information can be found on the SleuthFest Web site or by contacting co-chairs Victoria Landis and Michael Joy via e-mail at Sleuthfestinfo@gmail.com.

• While we’re on the subject of near-future mystery-fiction festivals, I should also point out that discounted early registration for Left Coast Crime 2018 (March 22-25 in Reno, Nevada) is available only through December 31 of our present year. The guest of honors at that gathering will be Naomi Hirahara and William Kent Krueger.

• And let’s conclude here with links to a few author interviews worthy of your attention: John McFetridge, who played a large role in organizing this week’s Bouchercon in Toronto, talks with S.W. Lauden about his very underappreciated novels; MysteryPeople chats with both Adam Sternbergh (The Blinds) and J.M. Gulvin (The Long Count); Lisa Scottoline (Damaged) and Jussi Adler-Olsen (The Scarred Woman) field questions from Crimespree Magazine; J.J. Hensley discusses Bolt Action Remedy with the UK site Crime Fiction Lover; and Paul Bishop grills Greg Shepherd, the publisher of Stark House Press. Although it’s an essay rather than a Q & A, I want to mention as well Russian writer Polina Dashkova’s piece for BoingBoing about how she came to concoct her new-in-America thriller, Madness Treads Lightly.