Wednesday, February 28, 2018

PaperBack: “The Big Fix”

Part of a series honoring the late author and blogger Bill Crider.

The Big Fix, by “Ed Lacy,” aka Leonard S. Zinberg (Pyramid, 1960). Cover illustration by Ernest Chiriacka, aka Darcy.

A Win, But Still a Mystery

Thanks to a lawsuit filed by The New York Times, on Tuesday an Alabama court unsealed the will left behind by Harper Lee, famous as the author of To Kill a Mockingbird (1960). According to the paper, that document, “signed on February 11, 2016, eight days before her death, directed that the bulk of her assets, including her literary properties, be transferred into a trust she formed in 2011. … The will named Tonja B. Carter, Ms. Lee’s longtime lawyer, as the executor ... of the estate, and it provided her with wide-ranging powers to shepherd Ms. Lee’s literary legacy and the rest of her assets.”

Even before the 89-year-old author’s demise, though, questions arose as to whether some of Carter’s actions were consistent with what the very private Lee would have wanted. “Carter was involved in the controversial [2015] release of Go Set a Watchman,” BookRiot recalls. “At the time of the release of [that] ‘sequel’ to the classic, there was much debate about whether Lee had actually wanted the novel published, particularly since it was a book made up of what was originally the cut-out framing device of To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee at the time had suffered a stroke and had several mental and physical infirmities, and many doubted that she was capable of making a coherent decision about something like publication.”

Unfortunately, this week’s unsealing of Lee’s will “only deepened” the “mystery surrounding one of American literature’s most cherished authors …,” says the Times. “Trust documents are private, so all questions about what will become of her literary papers and who beyond her closest relatives might benefit from her assets, will remain unanswered for now.” Notice those telling words “for now,” suggesting this is not the concluding chapter in the campaign to learn more about Harper Lee wanted to become of her work after her passing.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Why’d You Go, Bernadette?

Well-known crime-fiction reviewer Bernadette Bean, who had been writing the Reactions to Reading blog ever since 2008, has passed away unexpectedly, according to California author and blogger Margot Kinberg. “I don’t have a lot of details,” Kinberg explains in a Facebook post. “I’m told it was a massive heart attack.”

In a short piece today for Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, Kinberg calls Bean—a voracious reader and resident of Adelaide, Australia—“not just a friend to crime fiction, but ... also, I’m privileged to say, a personal friend.” She goes on to say:
Anyone who ever read ... [Reactions to Reading] will know that her reviews were thoughtful, candid, and intelligent. I learned every single time I visited. And part of the reason I did is that she didn’t confine herself to just bestsellers or “the book everyone’s talking about.” She read books from “no-names,” too, and if they were well-written, she said so, and encouraged other people to read them, too. Her blog was a rich resource of reviews, opinions, rants, charts, and really helpful information about crime fiction.

Bernadette was a champion of Australian and New Zealand crime fiction, and she introduced me to a number of authors from that part of the world that I would never have tried otherwise. You might not know this, but she also did a lot behind the scenes to promote crime fiction by Australians (especially Australian women) and New Zealanders. She was on award panels (not an easy job) and committees, and never missed an opportunity to be a voice for the genre.
Karen Meek adds in Euro Crime: “I loved reading her reviews—no flim-flam with Bernadette, you knew her opinion of a book. She was a champion of women writers, Australian writers, and especially Australian women crime writers, and bricks-and-mortar bookshops. She was a good friend of [Petrona blogger] Maxine [Clarke], who we lost five years ago, and I think they had a lot in common.”

After hearing word of Bean’s demise, I sought to contact (via Facebook) an Australian friend of hers, fellow Adelaide resident Kerrie Smith, who blogs at Mysteries in Paradise (and co-hosted, with Bean, yet another bookish Web site, Fair Dinkum Crime). I was hoping to receive confirmation of Bean’s death, as well as information about her age and recent health. However, I still have not heard back from Smith. I shall update this post if and when I do.

FOLLOW-UP: Bill Selnes, who writes the excellent blog Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan, sent along the following death notice from an Adelaide tabloid called The Advertiser:
BEAN, Bernadette. Bernadette left us suddenly on Saturday, February 17, 2018. Beloved daughter of Bill and Maureen, sister of Damien and his wife Karen and doting aunt of Celeste and Alyssa. She also graced and impacted the lives of so many and will be missed by dear friends Trish and Fran. There will be a Celebration of Bernadette's Life at her home on Sunday, March 11, 2018, at 2:00 p.m. In lieu of flowers, Bernadette would appreciate support of the Norwood Public Library.
Meanwhile, Kerrie Smith has posted a short tribute to Bean in Fair Dinkum Crime, the blog they co-hosted. She writes in part:
I first met Bernadette soon after she created Fair Dinkum Crime. She lurked on my blog Mysteries in Paradise, left almost frightening comments particularly where she thought I had got it wrong or had been far too generous, and then she asked if we could meet. I was surprised to learn that she lived only a matter of suburbs away. She had a proposition for me. She asked over coffee if she could copy some of my reviews of Australian crime fiction to her new blog which was to review Australian crime fiction only. That arrangement began in July 2009. Then in June 2011 she made me an editing contributor.

Bernadette joined our local monthly crime-fiction reading group sometime in that period and has been an active member ever since. She was always a champion of Australian crime fiction, particularly women writers, and she extended her interest more widely to some British and some translated crime fiction, particularly by female writers. We relied on her to tell us what was new, and what was worth hunting down. She was also a champion of local libraries. Our group members used to have an “in-joke” when talking about a book we had just been reading—we knew which ones Bernadette would have hated.
Smith concludes by saying, “I am not sure at this stage what the future of Fair Dinkum Crime is. I’m not even sure that I know all I need to know about maintaining it. In many ways it was Bernadette’s baby.”

Let’s hope she does maintain the blog, if only in Bean’s memory.

READ MORE:A Tip of the Hat to a Revered Blogger,” by Brad Friedman (Ah Sweet Mystery Blog).

Monday, February 26, 2018

Revue of Reviewers, 2-26-18

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

Please, Tell Us More

Authors aren’t always tremendous speakers; there’s a reason, after all, why they chose to express themselves from the protective remove of the written word. Nonetheless, a variety of attention-grabbing interviews with novelists laboring in the diverse crime-fiction field have popped up around the Web in recent days.

For instance, Lee Goldberg responds to questions from Publishers Weekly in regard to his upcoming “Ian Ludlow thriller,” True Fiction. Meanwhile, Scott Simon, the host of National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Saturday chats with David Mamet (“the celebrated and controversial playwright and screenwriter”) on the subject of his brand-new-this-week mob-era novel, Chicago. For her podcast Speaking of Mysteries, Nancie Clare questions Ben Dolnick about his mystery/supernatural/love story, The Ghost Notebooks. Craig Sisterson conducts a quick exchange with British author Clare Carson about the latter’s third novel, titled The Dark Isle, in which a young woman explores her late father’s past as an undercover agent (an enterprise at which Carson’s own father was quite adept).

Crimespree Magazine’s Elise Cooper talks to Rhys Bowen in connection with The Tuscan Child, her “intense and haunting” historical mystery. Dana King has a conversation with E.A. Aymar and Sarah M. Chen, editors of a “novel-in-stories” called The Night of the Flood. Timed to the English-language release this week of The Neighborhood, his “politically charged detective novel,” The New York Times Magazine’s Marcela Valdes sits down with Mario Vargas Llosa to discuss the life and literary renown of that almost 82-year-old Latin American fictionist. And Mick Herron talks to the Spybrary Podcast about his latest book in the Slough House/Jackson Lamb series, London Rules.

As a bonus, turn your ears to this vintage speech by John D. MacDonald, found on YouTube and recommended to us by Jerry House.

Who Says Hollywood Is Out of Ideas?

Virginia blogger-author B.V. Lawson keeps much better track of Hollywood deals and doings than I do. Which makes her weekly “Media Murder for Monday” posts among the most interesting elements of her blog, In Reference to Murder. Today, for instance, Lawson offers two tidbits of particular interest. First, this one:
Jay Hernandez (Scandal) has been tapped to play Thomas Magnum, the lead in CBS’ drama reboot pilot Magnum P.I. CBS had been looking to add a twist to the classic character played by Tom Selleck in the original series, which had been conceived as diverse in the reboot, with the network setting out to find a non-white actor for the role.

The reboot follows Thomas Magnum (Hernandez), a decorated ex-Navy SEAL who, upon returning home from Afghanistan, repurposes his military skills to become a private investigator. With help from fellow vets Theodore “TC” Calvin and Orville “Rick” Wright, as well as that of disavowed former MI:6 agent Juliet Higgins, Magnum takes on the cases no one else will, helping those who have no one else to turn to.
And then she has this news regarding plans to create a TV series inspired by James Ellroy’s 1990 crime novel, L.A. Confidential, and the 1997 film already developed from that book:
Sense8 alum Brian J. Smith has been cast as the lead in CBS’ drama pilot L.A. Confidential ... Directed by Michael Dinner, the TV series follows three homicide detectives, a female reporter and a Hollywood actress whose paths intersect as the detectives pursue a serial killer ... [in] gritty and glamorous 1950s Los Angeles. Smith is set to play Detective Ed Exley, the lead role played by Guy Pearce in 1997 that earned a Best Picture Oscar nomination. Cold, but not without a conscience, brilliant, fiercely ambitious, Ed Exley is an L.A. cop when the pilot story begins. Determined to make his mark and become a hero in his father’s eyes, Ed will do anything to prove himself.

Smith joins
Justified’s Walton Goggins, who was recently cast as Detective Jack Vincennes.
If Lawson’s In Reference to Murder isn’t already on your list of blogs to check frequently, it really ought to be.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

PaperBack: “The Widow and the Web”

Part of a series honoring the late author and blogger Bill Crider.

The Widow and the Web, by Robert Martin (Bantam, 1955), the fourth novel in his series starring Cleveland, Ohio, gumshoe Jim Bennett. Cover illustration by Mitchell Hooks.

Time to Don Your Critic’s Hat

Word is that nomination forms for the 2018 Anthony Awards have been dispatched via e-mail. Everyone who attended Bouchercon 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, or is registered to participate in this year’s Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, Florida, is eligible to suggest books and other works worthy of special recognition. In addition to the usual categories—Best Novel, Best First Novel, Best Critical/Non-fiction Book, etc.—St. Petersburg organizing committee members have added three others: Best Short Story Anthology, Best Online Content, and the Bill Crider Award for Best Novel in a Continuing Series.

Nominations will be accepted through April 30.

“If you registered for Bouchercon 2018 in the last few days,” convention co-chair Erin Mitchell explains in a Facebook post, “you might not have yet received a nomination form. Don’t panic. You’ll receive it soon. Likewise, if you register between now and the end of April, you will receive a nomination form.“

If you haven’t yet signed up for the St. Petersburg Bouchercon, you’ll find all the information you need to do so by clicking here.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

For Better or Way Worse

Alafair Burke’s latest novel, The Wife (Harper), was just released last month, but already it’s in line for feature-film treatment. From Deadline Hollywood comes this report:
In a seven-figure deal, Amazon Studios has acquired the rights to the Alafair Burke novel The Wife, with the author set to write the feature script. ... [T]he novel seems a perfect fit for this #MeToo moment. Book deal is high six figures and scripting fees put it into seven-figures.

Angela, a woman who suffered extreme trauma in her teen years, learns that her celebrity husband may be a sexual predator. Jason Powell is a handsome NYU prof whose book on socially conscious investing called
Equalonomics is a raging bestseller. He runs a successful consulting firm and hosts a top-rated podcast that has enabled Angela and her husband to live an idyllic life with their son in Greenwich Village. Then, his intern files a complaint at the NYPD Special Victims Unit claiming he made inappropriate sexual suggestions at the office. A second alleged victim surfaces and soon there is a murder and Angela has to confront past personal trauma she thought was far in the rear view mirror.
Find out more about this project by clicking here.

From Both Sides of the Camera

Host Ed Robertson’s latest guest on TV Confidential, his radio talk show about television, is American actor and director Lou Antonio. You may remember Antonio for his role in the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke, or for his various appearances in small-screen series such as Naked City, Star Trek, The Mod Squad, The Snoop Sisters, and Dog and Cat. Or perhaps you’re familiar with this now 84-year-old Hollywood fixture as a consequence or reading his 2017 autobiography, Cool Hand Lou: My Fifty Years in Hollywood and on Broadway (McFarland).

In any case, the multitalented Mr. Antonio is Robertson’s principal guest on this week’s two-hour edition of TV Confidential. (The episode will also feature a tribute to Fred Rogers, the late host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, who died 15 years ago, on February 27, 2003). The program debuted last night with a broadcast on Share-a-Vision Radio,, but it will be repeated on several stations from now through Monday night, most if not all of which offer live listening on the Web. Check here for the broadcast schedule.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

PaperBack: “Let Him Go Hang”

Part of a series honoring the late author and blogger Bill Crider.

Let Him Go Hang, by “Bud Clifton,” aka David Derek Stacton (Ace, 1961). Under his Clifton pseudonym, Stacton also published such works as D Is for Delinquent (1958) and Muscle Boy (1958).
Cover illustrator unknown.

Word of Honors

Finalists for the 2017 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes were announced yesterday. Among the 10 categories of contestants is Mystery/Thriller, which features the following nominees:

The Late Show, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)
The Night Ocean, by Paul LaFarge (Penguin Press)
Bluebird, Bluebird, by Attica Locke (Mulholland)
A Book of American Martyrs, by Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco)
Wonder Valley, by Ivy Pochoda (Ecco)

The winners of this year’s awards are to be declared on April 20 during a ceremony at the University of Southern California’s Bovard Auditorium. That event will be held on the evening before the opening of the two-day Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, also taking place on the 308-acre USC campus in L.A.

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Grab Bag of References

I’m overdue to compile one of my mammoth “Bullet Points” posts, but that will have to wait until I have more free time. For now, here’s a smattering of crime-fiction links worth your attention.

• With the brand-new fourth season of Bosch set to debut on the Amazon TV streaming service come Friday, April 13, Criminal Element is asking all readers to vote for their favorite novel in Michael Connelly’s long-running Harry Bosch series.

• Have you been watching TNT-TV’s The Alienist, based on Caleb Carr’s 1994 historical thriller of that same name? If so, you will probably be interested in The Bowery Boys’ photograph-filled look back at what New York City was really like in 1896.

I reported last September on plans to create a TV series inspired by James Ellroy’s 1990 crime novel, L.A. Confidential, and the 1997 film already produced from Ellroy’s tale. Now, Deadline Hollywood brings word that the producers of that prospective CBS drama have recruited Walton Goggins (late of Justified and Vice Principals) to fill a lead role. “Goggins will play one of [three principal homicide] detectives, Jack Vincennes,” according to Deadline. “All swagger and flash with a movie-star smile, Jack knows how the system works and uses it to his best advantage, including some corrupt shakedowns on the side. The role was played by Kevin Spacey in the movie that premiered at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival and went to on score nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and two wins.”

• Also from Deadline Hollywood comes news that “Mel Gibson, Oscar-winning screenwriter Robert Towne, and Mike Medavoy are teaming on Dancing Bear, an adaptation of the hard-boiled crime novel by the late James Crumley that is in the early stages at USA Network though Universal Cable Productions.” The site explains that “Crumley’s novel is set in Montana and centers on part-time detective Milo Milodragovitch, who becomes entangled with a cast of unsavory characters in a web of criminal conspiracies, blackmail, land grabs, grizzly bears, guns, and drugs. Said Gibson, ‘It’s basically Chinatown set in a 7-11 in Montana in the ’70s with a whole lot of cocaine.’” Now, I have great respect for Towne, and I remember enjoying Crumley’s Dancing Bear, though it’s been years since I read that book. But the involvement in this project of Gibson—whose anti-Semitic and homophobic views have been well documented—leaves me unsettled. I know it’s probably healthy for people to separate the obnoxious behavior of some Hollywood celebs from their artistic contributions, and respect them for the latter. Gibson’s ugly side, though, is so very pronounced, I don’t know if I can do that—as much as I might like to see gumshoe Milodragovitch brought to small-screen life.

• Since I just wrote about the 50th anniversary of Peter Falk’s first televised appearance as Lieutenant Columbo, my attention was easily caught by this item about a brand-new cookbook titled Cooking with Columbo: Suppers with the Shambling Sleuth. The Columbophile explains that it was penned by “London-based Columbo super-fan Jenny Hammerton,” host of the Silver Screen Suppers blog, who “plundered her extensive archives of more than 7,000 movie star recipes to come up with meal suggestions to match every Columbo episode! Featuring favorite recipes from the likes of Peter Falk, Vincent Price, Johnny Cash, Robert Conrad, Trish Van Devere, Dick Van Dyke, and Janet Leigh, there’s inspiration enough to create sensational dinners for one right through to opulent banquets and house parties—including enough chili variations to keep purists happy (although no squirrel chili recipe makes the cut).” It was established early in Columbo’s run that the Los Angeles cop was a chili lover.

• In the wake of last Wednesday’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida—during which 17 people were killed and others injured, allegedly by a crazed teenage gunman wielding an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle—more than one person has brought up the concern that a generation of America’s youth will now associate the name “Marjory Stoneman Douglas” with senseless brutality … instead of with the pioneering environmentalist, journalist, and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner who gave her name to that school. Oh yes, and the original Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890-1998) also happened to be an early contributor to Black Mask magazine. Among Douglas’ papers, currently archived at the University of Miami, is a 1924 Black Mask yarn titled “White Midnight,” which has been described as “a novella about sunken treasures in the West Indies.”

• Speaking of that Florida student massacre, A. Brad Schwartz—the co-author, with Max Allan Collins, of a forthcoming non-fiction book titled Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago (Morrow)—points out in this New York Times op-ed piece, that it took place exactly 89 years after the Windy City’s notorious St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Schwartz adds that said butchery, which claimed just seven victims, led to profound changes both in Chicago’s political foundations and in the nation’s response to increasing gun violence of the time. “We should be ashamed,” he concludes, “that the killing of criminals 90 years ago could help spur such change, while the repeated slaughter of children prompts little more than ‘thoughts and prayers’ from lawmakers today. The story of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre shows how public outrage can create meaningful reform when the political and economic costs of inaction outweigh the inertia preserving the status quo.”

As mentioned previously, funeral services for the late mystery novelist Bill Crider took place this last Monday afternoon in his hometown of Alvin, Texas. I haven’t heard a great deal about the event, but one attendee did recall, on Facebook, that it was a “lovely memorial service …, complete with mentions by each speaker of those precious not-so-little-anymore VBKs” (aka Crider’s three Very Bad Kittens, who now have their very own Facebook fan page).

• Meanwhile, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine editor Janet Hutchings wrote a very nice remembrance of Bill Crider in her blog. And Robert S. Napier, a longtime friend of Crider’s, shares in his own blog the contents of the final e-mail message he received from that 76-year-old Lone Star State author, which contained this lament:
I can’t believe what’s happened to this country, which was the greatest in the world at one time. I don’t think that’s true now, and I really resent it that I’m going to die in a country that’s going downhill so fast. I don’t know how many years I have left, but even it’s ten or fifteen, I can’t see us recovering. I try not to think too much about it for fear of falling into despair.
• OK, you can consider me jealous: On behalf of New York magazine’s pop-culture Web site, Vulture, Sarah Weinman recently interviewed playwright-author David Mamet, whose fourth novel, the 1920s-set crime story Chicago, is due out next week from Custom House. During their exchange, Mamet more or less characterizes his drive as an artist this way: “I’m basically nuts. I sit by myself every day, most days, eight hours in this little room. It feels like either a torment or an adventure. The only way I can still the torment or appreciate the adventure is to write it down.”

• Finally, The Secret Agent Lair reviews M, Dynamite Entertainment’s latest James Bond comic-book spin-off, this one starring 007’s superior and the head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (aka MI6). “M is very much a decent spy thriller that does not involve nor even feature the character of James Bond, anywhere,” the blog opines. “Starring in a title of his own, M proves that he is a very worthy spymaster who can think on his feet and outsmart the opponent using the skills of a master strategist he acquired over the years, isn’t afraid to apply his use of variable types of combat on his enemies, and holds [up] his own rather well without the need of any agent or a bodyguard in his disposal, which is why it makes the character worthy of the spin-off he was given.” The Secret Agent Lair goes on to say that “M is supposed to be collected in a [hardcover volume] of one-shots entitled James Bond: Case Files Vol. 1, which also includes Moneypenny as well as titles starring Bond: Service and Solstice.” That omnibus is due out in mid-July.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Never Underestimate Columbo

It was 50 years ago tonight that Lieutenant Columbo, as portrayed by Peter Falk, first appeared on American television screens. As Radio Times’ David Brown reminds us, February 20, 1968, brought the premiere of an NBC made-for-TV-movie titled Prescription: Murder, an elegantly twisted mystery starring Falk, Gene Barry, Katherine Justice, and Nina Foch. Written by William Link and Richard Levinson, the story found a rumpled but shrewd Los Angeles police detective facing off against a wealthy and devious psychiatrist, Dr. Ray Flemming (Barry), who has murdered his wife, Carol (Foch), in order to preserve a relationship with his younger mistress, actress Joan Hudson (Justice), and seeks to conceal his role in that homicide.

Peter Falk and Gene Barry in 1968’s
Prescription: Murder
The Classic Film and TV Café recalls how viewers were introduced to the character Falk would eventually portray, on and off, for more than 30 years:
Considering that Columbo would eventually become a TV icon, it's somewhat surprising that he doesn’t make his entrance until 32 minutes into Prescription: Murder. He introduces himself to Gene Barry’s murderer as simply: “Lieutenant Columbo, police.” Thus, it’s up to Barry to carry the film’s opening scenes and he’s quite persuasive as the intelligent, egotistical Flemming. His simple, yet ingenious, murder plot relies on an axiom employed by Agatha Christie in her classic Hercule Poirot novel Lord Edgware Dies. Flemming explains it to his accomplice: “People see what they expect to see.”

It takes Flemming most of the film to realize that he has underestimated his dogged pursuer.

In the best scene, the two men discuss the murder in theoretical terms—though each knows exactly what happened. Flemming even offers a psychoanalysis of Columbo’s tactic of masking his intelligence. At its best,
Prescription: Murder is a two-character play—and I mean that as a compliment. William Windom, Nina Foch, and Katherine Justice are fine in supporting roles, but the crux of the film is the cat-and-mouse game between Columbo and Flemming.
Prescription: Murder wasn’t technically a pilot for Columbo, but as William Link recalls in the first of the two video clips found here, it was such a popular telefilm that NBC immediately wanted to turn it into a series, with 22 episodes a year. Falk balked at such a commitment, however, and as a result the idea went dormant. A few years later, Link and Levinson were asked to write the story for a second Columbo telefilm, which became Ransom for a Dead Man (1971), co-starring Lee Grant as “a brilliant lawyer who supposedly commits the perfect crime.” (Watch the opening from that flick here.) Like its predecessor, Ransom was a viewer-ratings winner, and the proposal to make Columbo a regular small-screen offering was revived—only this time the vision was to make it just one component of a rotating, or “wheel,” series of 90-minute dramas titled the NBC Mystery Movie. (Dennis Weaver’s McCloud and McMillan & Wife, starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, were slated to become the other elements of that weekly rotation.) Being asked under this plan to shoot fewer episodes—only six or seven a year—Falk finally acquiesced.

(Above) TV Guide’s 1968 “Close-Up” on Prescription: Murder.

The rest, as that hoary cliché goes, is history. Columbo debuted beneath the NBC Mystery Movie umbrella on September 15, 1971, with an episode titled “Murder by the Book,” featuring Jack Cassidy as a renowned whodunit author bent on offing his writing partner, played by Martin Milner. Columbo would continue its run as part of the NBC Mystery Movie (later the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie) until the spring of 1978, and then be revived in a succession of two-hour films on a rival American TV network, ABC, broadcast from 1989 to 2003.

Even 15 years after the airing of the final Columbo movie, Columbo Likes the Nightlife, the character Levinson and Link created, and that Falk inhabited so convincingly, hasn’t lost his appeal. There are currently whole Web sites devoted to that single-monikered L.A. cop (check out The Columbophile and The Ultimate Columbo Site!), as well as a couple of podcasts (Just One More Thing and The Columbo Podcast—which addresses Prescription: Murder here) and at least two Twitter pages tied to those podcasts, Lieutenant Columbo and Just One More Thing. William Link’s The Columbo Collection (Crippen & Landru, 2010), comprising a dozen original short stories starring you-know-who, remains in print. DVD sets of both the original NBC series and the subsequent ABC films can be easily purchased. Episodes of Columbo continue to be shown on MeTV network and the Hallmark Movie Channel. And there’s even talk of a ColumboCon taking place in Falk’s old hometown of Ossining, New York, this coming July.

Why does the public’s fondness for Columbo persist? Radio Times’ Brown suggests seven reasons, my favorite two being that the series indulged in “class war” (“Not only does Columbo always get his man [or woman], he’s also a street-smart expert when it comes to reducing smug sophisticates to gibbering wrecks.”) and that it offered an entertaining succession of “false exits.” Of the latter, Brown writes:
And so we reach possibly the most famous aspect to Columbo: his “just one more thing” catchphrase, used to befuddle an antagonist just when they think a meeting is at an end. As Columbo makes to leave, out comes one of his seemingly inconsequential queries that end up putting the murderer further in the mire.

Here is a man who doesn’t need to brandish a firearm (Columbo notably hated guns) or screech his car tyres—the dogged Lieutenant pulls the bad guys apart question by question. Who needs an action scene set-piece when you have Columbo wrapping up his dogged interrogations in fake apologies?
So let’s share a toast to Lieutenant Columbo and Peter Falk, and also to William Link, who celebrated his 84th birthday this last December. (His childhood friend and screenwriting collaborator, Richard Levinson, died back in 1987.) While other crime solvers have flickered onto our TV sets, only to soon disappear and be forgotten, Columbo has achieved durable greatness. We can only hope his sly investigative talents will still be appreciated another half a century from now.

READ MORE:Columbo: An Origin Story” (The Columbophile).

Room for Interpretation

Anybody who’s read Jeff Guinn’s excellent 2009 book, Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde, knows that onetime Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (1884-1955)—who led the posse pursuing lovebirds/lawbreakers Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker in the early 1930s—had an ugly, brutal streak. Guinn notes that “By the end of his Ranger career [Hamer] was credited with killing fifty-three men ..” And though he was supposedly bothered by the idea of killing women, he had no trouble whatsoever ending Bonnie Parker’s life during a roadway ambush in northern Louisiana in May 1934.

As Guinn explains, Hamer “fired a burst into [an unarmed] Bonnie through the rear passenger window” of the outlaws’ stolen Ford V-8. “Then, when the car had completely stopped, the six-foot three-inch Hamer walked forward, leaned his towering frame over the front seat where Bonnie was slumped, and fired a final series of shots down through the window and windshield directly into her.”

So I was surprised by this In Reference to Murder item:
Netflix announced this past week that Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson will be playing Texas Ranger Frank Hamer and ex-partner Maney Gault in The Highwaymen, from director John Lee Hancock. This was the project that goes back far enough that it once had Paul Newman and Robert Redford ready to play those roles, before Newman’s health failed.

The plot focuses on Hamer and Gault coming out of
retirement to hunt down the notorious bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde. The lawmen were out of the Rangers by the time Bonnie and Clyde started their robbery reign, but were commissioned as special investigators, coaxed by a consortium of banks to assemble a posse and end the spree of the notorious gang reputed to have killed thirteen cops and others.
Let’s hope Netflix and director Hancock won’t try to whitewash Frank Hamer as some sort of great American hero, but will instead deliver a darker and more nuanced portrayal of the man.

READ MORE:The Man Who Redeemed the Hamer Name,” by Henry C. Parke (True West).

Saturday, February 17, 2018

PaperBack: “The Last Kill”

Part of a series honoring the late author and blogger Bill Crider.

The Last Kill, by Charlie Wells (Signet, 1955).
Cover illustration by Robert Maguire.

Chronicle of a Scandal Foretold

If you want to rise precipitously from nowhere as an author of thriller fiction, one way to do that is to become an eerily accurate prognosticator of future events. At least that’s one lesson to take from the story of David Pepper, a longtime Democratic Party official in Cincinnati, Ohio, whose 2016 first novel, The People’s House (St. Helena Press), proved quite prescient in its portrayal of covert Russian attempts to undermine America’s voting processes. As the online news journal Politico observes in a new piece,
... The People’s House, a quick, lively thriller full of labyrinthine scandal and homey Rust Belt touches—reads like a user’s guide to the last two years in U.S. politics.

And Pepper wrote the book before any of it actually happened.
The People’s House centers around a Russian scheme to flip an election and put Republicans in power by depressing votes in the Midwest. Pipeline politics play an unexpectedly outsize role. Sexual harassment and systematic coverups in Congress abound. But it’s no unimaginative rehash. Pepper released the book in the summer of 2016, just as the presidential contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was heating up—and before Russia’s real-life campaign to influence the election had been revealed. In fact, the heart of the story had been written for three years when [the] Russian government sent hackers to infiltrate the Democratic National Committee and sent their trolls to influence the election on social media. The Putin-like oligarch Pepper portrays as pulling the strings of U.S. politics had been fleshed out for two.

Using a self-publishing service, Pepper didn’t expect much of a reception, and he didn’t get one at first, beyond his amused friends and colleagues. But when a
Wall Street Journal reviewer [Tom Nolan] that November surprised him by calling The People’s House “a sleeper candidate for political thriller of the year,” that started to change.
Equally interesting, Politico says, is that Pepper appears to be on the verge of astonishing readers and reviewers once more with The Wingman (St. Helena Press), his sophomore novel starring a veteran Midwestern reporter named Jack Sharpe:
Now, one year into Trump’s tenure, his second offering in the otherwise dull world of political thrillers—which comes out on Monday—is an equally complex tale of kompromat influencing a presidential election, even more sexual misconduct, and an Erik Prince-like military contractor with close ties to the administration, this time told through the lens of a rollicking Democratic presidential primary. He wrote it before the now-infamous Steele dossier became public knowledge (and before, Pepper says, he learned about it)—and months before revelations about the Blackwater founder’s close ties to the Trump team and its Russian entanglements.

If the first parallels were eerie, these ones were, Pepper admits, maybe even spooky.

So this time, it’s not only the citizens of Twitter, but also Pepper’s friends who are looking at him with a raised eyebrow an an unbelieving grin.
Read more about these books and their author by clicking here.

What Would Nonnatus House Nurses Say?

What could the British historical drama Call the Midwife possibly have to do with an upcoming TNT-TV series described as an “intense, morally complex thriller”? Well, it seems they share a writer, Harriet Warner, who scripted 10 episodes of Midwife before creating this New Orleans-set project tentatively titled Deadlier Than the Male.

Deadline Hollywood says that Warner’s pilot “revolves around a trio of characters, each with a mysterious and troubling past: Emma [Lily Rabe] is a young woman who once looked into the eyes of a dangerous killer, John [Hamish Linklater] is a former serial predator desperate to find redemption, and Mary [Judging Amy’s Amy Brenneman] is a grieving mother obsessed with finding her missing daughter. As each of them is pushed to the edge, the truth about their pasts and motives grows ever murkier, blurring the lines between victim and perpetrator.”

The same online news source notes, “Deadlier Than the Male is the second TNT drama pilot from the network’s most recent batch to get a series order. It joins the recent pickup of Snowpiercer.”

(Hat tip to The Killing Times.)

Friday, February 16, 2018

Revue of Reviewers, 2-16-18

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

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Recapping Crider’s Career

I did my best in putting together a Bill Crider obituary earlier this week, but Jiro Kimura’s recollections of that much-loved Texas mystery novelist add a variety of valuable details to my overview. Here’s what Kimura wrote today at The Gumshoe Site:
As most of you may know by now, Bill Crider (full name: Allen Billy Crider) died of prostate cancer on February 12 at his Alvin, Texas, home in hospice care. He earned a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, writing a doctoral dissertation on hard-boiled detective fiction, and taught English at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, and Alvin Community College. He had been a book collector and knew everything—well, almost everything—about old paperback books. I have known his name since he was a regular contributor for several mystery fanzines in the 1970s, such as The Armchair Detective, The Poisoned Pen, and The Mystery Fancier.

His first published novel was
The Coyote Connection (Charter, 1981), a Nick Carter spy novel, [written] under the house name of “Nick Carter,” co-written with his friend Jack Davis, while his first sold short story was “A Right to Be Dead” (printed in [the] now-defunct Canadian Black Cat Mystery Magazine, 1981), co-written with his Texas friend Joe R. Lansdale. His real first novel under his own name was Too Late to Die (Walker, 1986), the first Sheriff Dan Rhodes book, which won the 1987 Anthony Award. The prolific writer created a number of series characters, including Carl Burns (a college professor in Texas introduced in One Dead Dean, 1988), Truman Smith (a private eye in Texas introduced in Dead on the Island, 1991), Dr. Sally Good, the head of the English department of a Texas college introduced in Murder Is an Art, 1999), Stanley Waters (a retired weatherman introduced in Murder Under Blue Skies, 1998; co-written with Willard Scott, a weatherman), Ted Stephens (a homicide detective sergeant in Texas introduced in Houston Homicide, 2007; co-written with Clyde Wilson, “Houston's most public private eye”), and Bill Ferrel (a pre-war Hollywood private eye/troubleshooter featured only in short stories). He also wrote horror novels (Keepers of the Beast, l988) under the Jack MacLane pseudonym, YA books (Mike Gonzo and the UFO Terror, 1997), western mystery novels (Ryan Rides Back, 1988), as well as standalone novels (Blood Marks, 1991).

In the 2000s, I asked him to write a series of mystery essays for
Giallo, a Japanese quarterly mystery magazine for which I was an editorial consultant, and he kindly accepted my offer. His most recent Sheriff Rhodes novel was Dead, to Begin With (St. Martin’s, 2017), and I heard the next and probably last Rhodes novel will be out sometime this year. His most recent Rhodes short story, “Tell the Bees,” was printed in Vol. 1, Issue 2 of Down & Out: The Magazine. Oh, I forgot to tell you that he was a tremendously nice guy. He was 76.
Meanwhile, you will find Crider’s official obituary here.

Ali Karim points me toward this video, shot during Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina, that shows Crider’s participation in a rather wonderful panel discussion titled “The Masters That Influenced the Masters” (also featuring Karin Slaughter, Lawrence Block, Megan Abbott, and moderator Mark Coggins).

And blogger-author Evan Lewis showcases Crider’s lesser-known talents as a musician singer. See his posts here and here.

Finally, I just rediscovered something Crider wrote for January Magazine back in 2005, when that publication (which I help edit) was celebrating The Maltese Falcon’s 75th year in print. I believe his remarks about that novel are worth sharing again:
I first heard of Dashiell Hammett when I was a kid in the late 1950s. One of my cousins married a man whose last name was Dashiell and who was supposedly related to Hammett, to whom he referred as “that goddamned commie.” I didn’t think much of it at the time, but by the early 1960s I was reading a lot of paperback originals, particularly the Gold Medal books. A couple of them mentioned Hammett in the blurbs, and I figured it was time for me to find out what kind of books he wrote. I looked around the paperback racks for his novels but didn’t find any, so I went to the library and checked out Red Harvest.

It’s no exaggeration to say that reading that book was a life-changing experience for me. I can’t explain it now any better than I can explain Einstein’s theories, and I know that plenty of people who read the book for the first time these days are left cold by it. But for me, this story of small-town corruption told in the first-person by the Continental Op really hit home. I immediately checked out the rest of Hammett’s novels, and was amazed at how different they were from one other.

The one I liked best was
The Maltese Falcon. I was convinced that it was more than just the best private-eye novel I’d ever read. It was literature of a high order, and Hammett, “that goddamned commie,” was a hell of a writer.

Years later, I went on to write mystery novels of my own. None of them come within light years of Hammett’s work, but
The Maltese Falcon and his other novels remain touchstones for me, the books I judge others by. And if the others, including my own, come up short, it’s only because they’re being compared to the top of the line.
READ MORE:The Passing of Bill Crider,” by S.D. Parker.

Gathering Amid the Gray

Sigh … Another promising crime-fiction event I shall have to miss because I don’t like in Britain. From In Reference to Murder:
Ayo Onatade has a handy listing of all the events coming up during the Granite Noir festival in Aberdeen, Scotland, February 23-25. Val McDermid and Anne Cleeves will be featured in separate conversations, plus there is a plethora of crime fiction-themed panels for aspiring writers including one for kids aged 8-10, as well as screenings of Double Indemnity, The Big Clock, and The Big Easy; an exhibition of crime scene and police photography; an interactive tour of sites associated with medieval and beyond crime and punishment in Aberdeen; a Noir at the Bar; the Crime Writers Pub Quiz; and much more.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

PaperBack: “Seed of Doubt”

Part of a series honoring the late author and blogger Bill Crider.

Seed of Doubt, by “Day Keene,” aka Gunnar Hjerstedt (Dell, 1962). Cover illustration by Clark Hulings.

“Bosch” 4 Takes “Flight”

No sooner are we alerted to the date on which Michael Connelly’s Bosch will return for its 10-episode fourth season on the Amazon TV streaming service—Friday, April 13—than Deadline Hollywood reports that this crime drama has already been cleared for a fifth season. “Executive producer Eric Overmyer, who developed Bosch for television and served as showrunner for the first three seasons before leaving to become showrunner on another Amazon drama series, The Man in the High Castle, is returning,” says Deadline. “He will serve as co-showrunner alongside executive producer Daniel Pyne, who succeeded Overmyer as Bosch showrunner for Season 4.”

Click the link above to watch a trailer for the coming season of Bosch. On his Web site, Connelly explains that its 10 new episodes “will continue the unfinished plot lines from season 3 and will pull elements from Angels Flight,” his 1999 Harry Bosch novel.

Beads Not Included

Today is Mardi Gras, aka Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday—time to check out Janet Rudolph’s lengthy list of Mardi Gras mysteries.

Bill Crider, R.I.P.

Bill Crider warned us more than a year and a half ago that his remaining time among the living might be quite short, writing in his blog that he’d been diagnosed with “very aggressive” prostate cancer. “Looks bad,” he remarked in a July 2016 post. Yet it still came as something of a surprise last night when I read this Facebook message from his younger brother, Cox Robert “Bob” Crider:
My brother, Bill Crider, passed away this evening at 6:52 p.m. CST, Monday, February 12, 2018. It was a peaceful end to a strong body and intellectual mind.
During his three-decades-long writing career, Crider penned novels and short stories in a variety of genres. This English teacher turned author is probably best known for his humor-tinged mysteries starring Dan Rhodes, the necessarily resourceful sheriff of rural—and fictional—Blacklin County, Texas. (The opening entry in that series, 1986’s Too Late to Die, won him the Anthony Award for Best First Novel. A final, 24th installment, That Old Scoundrel Death, is due out later this year.) However, he also wrote science fiction, westerns, and horror yarns; produced a handful of books for younger readers (including 1990’s A Vampire Named Fred and its e-book sequel, A Werewolf Named Wayne); concocted, with Jack Davis, an entry in the long-running Nick Carter: Killmaster thriller series (1981’s The Coyote Connection); and even conspired with comedian/TV weatherman Willard Scott on a couple of cozy whodunits featuring—of course—a nationally recognized weather forecaster by the name of Stanley Waters. In an online interview from last November, Crider said, “I’ve written close to 100 books under both my own name and various pen names.”

Is it any wonder that media profiles of this Alvin, Texas, author so often referred to him as “prolific”?

Crider’s influence on the genre of crime and mystery fiction, though, actually pales in comparison to his impact on many of his fellow authors and readers. A frequent guest at the annual Bouchercon gatherings, and an avid supporter of other scribblers (I count myself as fortunate for having received a number of complimentary and encouraging e-mail notes from him over the years), Crider made numerous friends within the crime-fiction community. Mystery Fanfare’s Janet Rudolph describes him as “quiet, with a dry wit, warm, a true gentleman … Bill was always a class act and a true Renaissance man.” His Facebook page is awash today with memories of how Crider—seemingly always compassionate, attentive, generous, and knowledgeable—touched people’s hearts and made them laugh. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a kinder, gentler, more well-liked writer,” says author and Brash Books co-publisher Lee Goldberg. Another wordsmith, Richard Helms, calls Crider “a pal, a hell of a writer, one of the best of us.” And Seattle’s Vince Keenan, the co-author (with his wife, Rosemarie) of the Lillian Frost/Edith Head mysteries—published under their pseudonym, Renee Patrick—has this memory to share: “Bill was at the first-ever event Renee Patrick did on the road, making a point of driving in to Houston’s Murder by the Book so Rosemarie and I could count on seeing at least one friendly face. That’s the kind of person he was. I’ll miss talking books, movies, and baseball with him; I know how much it meant for him to see his Astros finally win a World Series last year. Safe travels, Bill. I’ll keep your books close at hand.”

Bill Crider poses in front of Edgar Allan Poe’s grave during Bouchercon 2008, held in Baltimore, Maryland.

Born in Mexia, Texas, on July 28, 1941, Bill Crider—cat lover, vintage music fan, all-star book collector, movies enthusiast, ardent blogger, voracious reader, poseur old grouch (his “Keep Off My Lawn” posts were persistently enjoyable), certified Dr Pepper addict, and the Web’s most popular authority on alligators and crocodiles—was 76 years old at the time of his demise. He outlived his wife, Judy, by slightly more than three years, but never forgot what it meant to be so loved.

I can’t think of a more fitting way to conclude this obituary than to quote something British writer Gary Dobbs said this morning: “Bill led a full life, died a courageous death, and his memory will be cherished not only by those who knew him personally but the many, many thousands of us to whom he offered the hand of digital friendship.”

FOLLOW-UP: Bill’s daughter, Angela Crider Neary‎, has posted this notice on his Facebook page: “A memorial service for Bill Crider will be held on Monday, February 19, at 1:00 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Alvin, Texas. In lieu of flowers, a donation to a public library of the donor’s choice would be appropriate.”

READ MORE:Bill Crider,” by Jacqueline Carmichael (Mystery Scene); “Bill Crider (1941-2018),” by Jerry House (Jerry’s House of Everything); “Interview: Bill Crider,” by Ben Boulden (Gravetapping); “Bill Crider, and Some of His Work and Play, Including Some Short Stories: The FFB Crider Celebration Week” (Socialist Jazz).

Monday, February 12, 2018

Coming to a Screen Near You

There are a couple of interesting developments on the crime-dramas front. This first item comes from In Reference to Murder:
NBC has given a pilot order to the drama Suspicion, based on the book by Joseph Finder, from The Path creator Jessica Goldberg, Universal TV, and Keshet Studios. Created/written by Goldberg, Suspicion is described as a Hitchcockian thriller about how far one man will go to save the people he loves.
Meanwhile, Mystery Fanfare brings word that the lovely and talented Alicia Vikander (of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. fame) has been signed to star in a big-screen adaptation of Karen Dionne’s 2017 thriller, The Marsh King’s Daughter. It quotes Deadline thusly:
The scripted adaptation is by Elle Smith and The Revenant scribe Mark L. Smith. Vikander will play Helena Petterier, who on the surface leads an ideal life with a great husband and a young daughter. She keeps secret her shocking back story: her mother was kidnapped as a teen, and she was the product of the relationship between captive and tormentor. She lives for 12 years in a life carefully controlled by her kidnapper/father, until he [is] caught and sent to prison.

An escape that leaves two prison guards dead forces her to confront her secret history and she becomes determined to bring down her father, who gave her all the tools she will need. He is the one called the Marsh King, the man who kept a woman and her young daughter captive in the wilderness for years. Sensing the danger this monster poses for her husband and young daughter, she vows to hunt him down.
The Hollywood Reporter notes that the film version of Dionne’s yarn “is set to be produced in summer 2018. Producer credits are shared by [Teddy] Schwarzman, Keith Redmon, [Morten] Tyldum, and Mark L. Smith. Bard Dorros and Vikander are executive producing.”

Hitchcock Gets a Makeover

Just when you thought there was no new way to celebrate Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, suspenseful motion pictures, along comes Mondo (a U.S. company “known for releasing limited-edition screen-printed posters for films, television shows, and comics”) with fresh imagery promoting his best-known movies.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

PaperBack: “Unfinished Crime”

Ever since early December 2017, when Texas educator-turned-author Bill Crider announced in his blog that he was entering home hospice care with terminal cancer, his fans and fellow authors have been cooking up ways to honor this generous, well-loved man and his three-decades-long fiction-writing career. One of the largest celebrations of his work came in mid-December, when Patti Abbott organized a Web-wide series of articles about his books and other stories.
Bill Crider’s Bookshelves
Since then we have also seen Evan Lewis roll out a succession of photos showing Bill and Judy Crider’s appearances at multiple Bouchercons over the years. And Spinetingler Magazine’s Brian Lindenmuth recently launched a new blog, Palomino Mugging, that he calls “a spiritual successor to Bill Crider’s blog.”

As Rap Sheet readers know, I am a longtime fan of Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine, the blog this 76-year-old fictionist wrote from July 2002 until early last December. I count my paean to that site as one of my favorite posts of 2017, no matter how sad it was to assemble. But writing it never seemed like a sufficient salute. So I’ve decided to continue a feature on this page that Crider originally debuted on his own, and which eventually gathered a large following. Consider this my small way of extending his legacy.

From what I can discern, Crider’s first “PaperBack” post appeared—with no fanfare or explanation—on September 7, 2010. It showed the rear cover, but not the front, from the 1955 Graphic Mystery edition of Unfinished Crime, by “Helen McCloy” (née Helen Clarkson). He would continue inserting such back-jacket art into his blog on a regular basis until March 10, 2011, when he posted both the fore and aft sides of The Lustful Ape, by “Russell Gray,” aka Bruno Fisher (Lion, 1950). “When I started this feature,” Crider explained at the time, “my idea was that the front covers of paperbacks were easy to find (BookScans is a great place) but that back covers were another story. However, I’ve been flooded with requests (okay, maybe trickled with requests) to show both front and back covers. I’m going to try it for a while and see how it goes.” He never went back to presenting only the reverse sides of books; his final “PaperBack” post showcased The River and the Dream, by Raymond F. Jones (Laser, 1977).

Now, I don’t have a vintage paperback library nearly as extensive as Bill Crider’s. However, I definitely own more than my fair share of such works, and I can also claim thousands of scans in my computer files showing books that are not on my shelves. Armed with those resources, and in salute to Crider—who I hope will, despite his failing health, be told of this venture—I am today restarting his “PaperBack” feature in The Rap Sheet. I don’t know how long this project will continue, and I will not be posting these façades on a daily basis (as Crider did), but I’ve given myself a full year to experiment with this idea. To repeat Bill’s words, we’ll “see how it goes.”

Let’s begin where Crider did, with McCloy’s Unfinished Crime. Only this time, you’re getting both the front and back faces of that edition.

As we move forward, I shall draw from my own collections and concentrate on crime and thriller fiction, though other novels may sneak into the mix now and then. Whenever I know the artist responsible for a cover illustration, I’ll make mention of it. Please tell me what you think of this new Rap Sheet series as it progresses.

READ MORE:Bill Crider, R.I.P.,” by J. Kingston Pierce
(The Rap Sheet).