Saturday, March 31, 2018

Revue of Reviewers, 3-31-18

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

Sex, Sadism, and Centipedes

I might well have forgotten all about this, had it not been for the blog Spy Vibe, which mentioned earlier this morning that
Ian Fleming's sixth James Bond novel, Dr. No, was published on this day in 1958. With elements such as the villain’s steel-pincer hands, a flame-throwing tractor/dragon, a killer centipede, death traps, tests of pain, and a climactic fight with a giant cephalopod, Dr. No is perhaps one the most Pulp-styled adventures in the series.
If you are in the mood for a bit of celebrating, click here to see Killer Covers’ delightful selection of Dr. No book covers produced over the decades. And click here to watch the trailer for the 1962 Sean Connery version of Dr. No—the first big-screen outing for Agent 007.

Additionally, Spy Vibe notes that “Ian Fleming Publications celebrates the novel’s release today in a 60th-anniversary post of excerpts from period reviews and Fleming’s text from the novel.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Sunny Days Are Coming

This is a genuine surprise. From The Real Book Spy:
In 1999, Robert B. Parker introduced his readers to Sunny Randall, a Boston-based private eye who is as beautiful as she is smart, in Family Honor.

Family Honor, Parker went on to release five more Sunny novels before passing away in 2010. His last book in this series, Spare Change, was released in 2007. Since his passing, Parker’s estate has commissioned veteran authors such as Ace Atkins (Spenser), Reed Ferrel Coleman (Jesse Stone), and Robert Knott (Virgil and Everett) to keep his other bestselling franchises going. Together, they’ve sold over a million copies of books from Parker’s universe in the last decade.

With Spenser, Stone, plus Virgil and Everett going strong, readers have long wondered what might come of Parker’s only female protagonist ...

For years, especially on social media where a poll was placed on Robert B. Parker’s official page, fans have asked, wondered, and expressed their desire for Sunny to return. Now, ten years since Parker’s last Randall book hit store shelves, established sports novelist Mike Lupica, who was also a longtime friend of Parker, is set to continue Sunny’s story in
Robert B. Parker’s Blood Feud.
This novel is due out in November from publisher Putnam.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Tidbits Both Meaty and Minor

• As CrimeReads’ Dwyer Murphy notes, there have been “hundreds of editions” of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye produced since that novel first appeared in 1953. “Some are beautiful, some bizarre; often they’re both,” he writes. Click here to see what Murphy says are “47 of the best covers of The Long Goodbye from around the world. They’re organized by language (almost certainly some are placed in the wrong section—my apologies), and chit-chat has been favored over rigorous analysis of aesthetics. Better, I think, to embrace the chaos. This is, after all, The Long Goodbye.” By the way, Murphy says, “My own personal favorite from the English language paperbacks is the 1962 Pocket edition, with cover art by the great Harry Bennett.”

• I was not previously familiar with arts supporter Deen Kogan, who passed away on March 28 at age 87, but Janet Rudolph’s obituary of her in Mystery Fanfare provides a bit of background:
She and her husband, Jay Kogan, founded Society Hill Playhouse, a staple of Philadelphia theatre for over 60 years. The theatre’s mission was to serve the community, and over the years it did just that with the first integrated cast in Philadelphia in the ’60s, a summer theatre ‘camp’ for kids, and free tickets to Philadelphia high school classes. She was a theatre legend.

In terms of mystery, Dean Kogan put on several mystery conventions, including Bouchercon in Philadelphia in 1998 and in Las Vegas in 2003 and stepped in to co-chair the Chicago [Bouchercon] in 2005 when Hal Rice passed away. … She also put on a Mid-Atlantic Mystery convention in Philadelphia for several years. More recently she was active in the organizing of NoirCon, also held in Philadelphia. She served for many years as a reader for the International Association of Crime Writers’ Hammett Awards.
The Gumshoe Site adds that Kogan died “at her home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, while recovering from a recent back injury.”

• Also in Mystery Fanfare: Dozens of crime and mystery novels that would be appropriate to tackle this coming Easter weekend.

• British books critic Barry Forshaw—author of the new-in-the-UK work Historical Noir (Pocket Essentials)—selects “10 of the best historical crime novels” for Crime Fiction Lover. His choices, arranged by era, include Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (representing the Middle Ages), Antonia Hodgson’s The Devil in the Marshalsea (the 18th century), Philip Kerr’s A Man Without Breath (World War II), and David Peace’s The Red Riding Quartet (the 1970s).

• Are you feeling at something of a loss now that TNT-TV’s The Alienist has ended? For more murder and mystery in the New York City of old, turn to The Bowery Boys. That history blog has gathered together five of its foremost podcasts having to do with real-life crime of the 19th and early 20th centuries, stories ranging from journalist Nellie Bly’s infiltration of an insane asylum to the never-solved disappearance of wealthy young socialite Dorothy Arnold.

• Meanwhile, Simon Baatz—an associate professor of history at Manhattan’s John Jay College and the author of The Girl on the Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder, and Madness at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century (Mulholland)—picks works by seven authors that illuminate New York during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Click here.

• In Reference to Murder brings this news:
Former Major Crimes star Kearran Giovanni has landed a lead role opposite Derek Luke, Jeri Ryan, and Paula Newsome in NBC’s drama pilot, Suspicion.

Based on the book by Joseph Finder and directed by Brad Anderson,
Suspicion is described as a Hitchcockian thriller about how far one man will go to save the people he loves. After Danny Goldman (Luke) accepts a handshake loan from his new friend and millionaire neighbor, he gets a visit from the FBI and learns that the decision is one he will regret for the rest of his life. Coerced to work as an informant for the FBI to earn back his freedom, Danny is forced to infiltrate a world of violence and corruption while trying to protect his family. Giovanni will play Lucy Fletcher, a psychotherapist.
• Also worth investigating: Kate Jackson names more than a dozen of her favorite country house mysteries in Cross-Examining Crime.

• Finally, did you know that Steve Hockensmith was working on a new “Holmes on the Range” mystery starring cowpokes-turned-gumshoes Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer? Yeah, neither did I. But his Web site says he’s completed more than half of a sixth novel in that series, to be titled The Double-A Western Detective Agency. I look forward to reading the finished product sometime soon.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

PaperBack: “Square in the Middle”

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

Square in the Middle, by William Campbell Gault (Bantam, 1957).
Cover illustration by Tony Kokinos.

Stanley Steams Ahead

Today in my Killer Covers blog, I launched what will be a heavily illustrated tribute to prolific paperback cover artist Robert C. Stanley (1918-1996). As I note in an introduction to that series, Stanley’s “realistic artistry graced more than 200 covers of paperback releases from Dell Books during the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, giving that line an immediately familiar style.”

Killer Covers’ Stanley salute will continue through next Friday, April 6, with new postings every day. I kick things off with California librarian Randal S. Brandt’s introduction to this artist’s life and labors.

You should be able to keep track of the whole series here.

The Readers Choose

After three days spent far away from my office, and mostly disconnected from demanding electronic media, I am finally reinstalled in front of my computer … but with a head cold that threatens to play havoc with my editorial productiveness. We shall see.

While I still have some energy, let me note one bit of news that happened while I was on leave: The editors of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine announced the top three vote-getters in their 2017 Readers Award competition, given to the authors of short stories that have appeared in the publication. Those winners are as follows:

First Place:
Brendan DuBois for “Flowing Waters” (January/February 2017)

Second Place:
Doug Allyn for “Tombstone” (November/December 2017)

Third Place:
Dave Zeltserman for “Cramer in Trouble” (March/April 2017)

Congratulations to all of this year’s EQMM honorees.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Delivering Leftys in Reno

During a banquet event held last evening as part of the 2018 Left Coast Crime convention in Reno, Nevada (“Crime on the Comstock”), the winners of four Lefty Awards were announced.

Lefty for Best Humorous Mystery Novel:
A Cajun Christmas Killing, by Ellen Byron (Crooked Lane)

Also nominated: Gone Gull, by Donna Andrews (Minotaur); Dying
on the Vine
, by Marla Cooper (Minotaur); The Art of Vanishing, by Cynthia Kuhn (Henery Press); and Dying for a Diamond, by Cindy Sample (Cindy Sample)

Lefty for Best Historical Mystery Novel (Bruce Alexander Memorial), for books covering events before 1960:
In Farleigh Field, by Rhys Bowen (Lake Union)

Also nominated: The Woman in the Camphor Trunk, by Jennifer Kincheloe (Seventh Street); Dangerous to Know, by Renee Patrick (Forge); The Proud Sinner, by Priscilla Royal (Poisoned Pen Press); and Season of Blood, by Jeri Westerson (Severn House)

Lefty for Best Debut Mystery Novel:
Hollywood Homicide, by Kellye Garrett (Midnight Ink)

Also nominated: A Short Time to Die, by Susan Alice Bickford (Kensington); Lost Luggage, by Wendall Thomas (Poisoned Pen Press); A Head in Cambodia, by Nancy Tingley (Swallow Press); and Protocol, by Kathleen Valenti (Henery Press)

Lefty for Best Mystery Novel (not in other categories):
Sulphur Springs, by William Kent Krueger (Atria)

Also nominated: Blood Truth, by Matt Coyle (Oceanview); Glass Houses, by Louise Penny (Minotaur); An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock, by Terry Shames (Seventh Street); and Cast the First Stone, by James W. Ziskin (Seventh Street)

Next year, Left Coast Crime will move north across the U.S.-Canada border to Vancouver, British Columbia. That convention is scheduled to take place from March 28 to 31, 2019. Find out more here.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Farewell and Thanks to Philip Kerr

One feels the strong desire, when writing about Edinburgh-born novelist Philip Kerr—who passed away yesterday, March 23, at the early age of 62—to simply quote from his many books and be done with it; your own prose contributions seem trifling and etiolated by comparison. Kerr took particular delight in crafting his character descriptions. Here, for instance, is how—in 2008’s A Quiet Flame (one of my favorites among Kerr’s numerous works)—he depicts Carlos Fuldner, an Argentine-born member of Adolf Hitler’s SS, who helped Nazis flee to South America after World War II:
From the back of his well-oiled head I judged Fuldner to be around forty. His German was fluent but with a little soft colour on the edges of the tones. To speak the language of Goethe and Schiller, you have to stick your vowels in a pencil sharpener. He liked to talk, that much was evident. He wasn’t tall and he wasn’t good-looking, but then he wasn’t short or ugly either, just ordinary, in a good suit with good manners and a nice manicure. … His mouth was wide and sensuous, his eyes were lazy but intelligent and his forehead was as high as a church cupola.
That same novel offers this sketch of a young woman, Anna Yagubsky, who will help the story’s protagonist, Berlin police detective-turned-private eye Bernie Gunther, solve a ghastly murder in Buenos Aires that appears similar to crimes committed years ago in Germany:
She was tall and slim with a spectacular waterfall of black curly hair. Her eyes were the shape and colour of chocolate-covered almonds. She wore a tailored tweed jacket buttoned tight at the waist, and a matching long pencil skirt that made me wish I had a couple of sheets of paper. Her figure was all right if you liked them built like expensive thoroughbreds. I happened to like them built that way just fine.
The Quiet Flame was the fifth novel Kerr produced in what he’d imagined originally as a one-off, later a trilogy, starring Gunther, the sardonic, self-deprecating, Nazi-detesting, half-Jewish and sometimes wholly self-destructive Berliner who became famous for solving crimes during World War II and beyond. Gunther debuted in March Violets (1989), which was set in 1936—before the war broke out—and found him being hired by a steel millionaire who wanted to know not only what had become of diamonds owned by his recently slain daughter, but who had killed her and her husband. The sleuth returned in The Pale Criminal (1990) and again in A German Requiem (1991), that latter tale taking place in the war’s wake and dispatching Gunther to Vienna, where he was expected to help a former colleague accused of shooting an American Nazi-hunter.

“I never signed on to be a writer just to do a series …,” Kerr told me during a 2010 interview for The Rap Sheet. “Besides, it’s not always a good idea to give people what they want until they want it more. When I finished Book 3 (German Requiem) of the original trilogy, I didn’t have the impression that I was putting aside anything important.”

He went off, instead, to pen a succession of standalone thrillers, including A Philosophical Investigation (1992), Dead Meat (1993), Dark Matter: The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton (2002), and finally Hitler’s Peace (2005), which builds around plots against Josef Stalin, President Franklin Roosevelt, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, all of whom are headed to a conference in Teheran, Iran, in 1943.

Not until 2006—a decade and a half after the publication of A German Requiem—did Bernie Gunther make his unlikely return, in The One from the Other. That has been followed since by almost annual sequels, among them If the Dead Rise Not (which won the 2009 Ellis Peters Historical Award), Prague Fatale (2011), The Lady From Zagreb (2015), The Other Side of Silence (2016), and last year’s Prussian Blue. The 13th Gunther outing, Greeks Bearing Gifts (Marian Wood Books/Putnam)—which finds him sent away to Athens, in 1957, to look into the suspicious sinking of a ship and the murder of an ex-Wehrmacht Navy man—is set for release on April 3.

According to Agence France-Presse, prior to his death Kerr had completed the first draft of a 14th Gunther adventure, which is “due for publication next year.”

Philip Ballantyne Kerr took his first breath in Edinburgh, Scotland, on February 22, 1956. He studied law and philosophy at England’s University of Birmingham, before embarking on what might well have become a lucrative and lifelong career in advertising. However, Kerr despised being an advertising copywriter. The only good thing about it, he later insisted, was that it left him ample free time to indulge in his genuine interest: fiction-writing. Kerr had dreamed of concocting fiction ever since he was about 9 years old, so he chose to fill part of the free time his job allowed him scratching out a historical novel inspired by his visits to Berlin. The task took him three years, but resulted in March Violets. After the success of that endeavor, Kerr decided he was ready to become a full-time author.

Some readers, mostly younger ones, may know Kerr as “P.B. Kerr,” the byline under which he created the “Children of the Lamp” series for young readers, the latest installment of which was 2011’s The Grave Robbers of Genghis Khan. Others will recognize him for False Nine (2012) and two preceding yarns featuring Scott Mason, a London football manager-cum-amateur detective. Or they may be familiar with the pair of standalone thrillers for adults he completed over the last decade: Prayer (2013) and Research (2014).

But it’s surely the Bernie Gunther series for which Kerr is destined to be best-remembered. Those intricate tales, contrasting mostly quotidian crimes against the larger, wider-ranging atrocities perpetrated by Nazi Germany, are filled with moral complexities and the pain of both war’s violence and war’s survival. They are social histories, really, and without question are also some of the finest, richest crime novels you’ll ever read. Gunther—who, Philip Kerr confessed, represented the “the dark side of my own character”—proves to be an ideal guide (if occasionally misguided himself) through Kerr’s blended world of fiction and non-fiction.

I like this description of the character, from the biography page of Kerr’s Web site:
Gunther is … a gumshoe in the grand and seamy tradition of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade. But he surely has the toughest beat in detective fiction—not least because the definition of crime in his world is so strange, so skewed by ideology. ‘The [German] National Socialist regime had a weird and perverted idea of crime,’ says Kerr. ‘It was far more interested in rounding up Jews and Communists than in solving real crimes. And they spent a lot of time covering up true crime when it did happen, so that it didn’t reflect badly on the authorities. More than that, professional criminals could apply for jobs in the SS and the Gestapo. It didn’t matter that they were not committed Party members; the Nazis were masters at delegating cruelty.’

Throughout the books Gunther spends his time uncovering nasty truths while trying desperately not to get sucked into Nazism’s gaping maw. Does that make him a hero, a kind of reluctant resister? Kerr says not. ‘It’s perfectly possible to be a hero on a Monday and a coward on a Wednesday. Gunther is morally ambiguous. As a patriotic German watching his country being hijacked by a bunch of thugs, he has a dilemma: how to stay alive and try and prosper without selling out. I am looking to paint him into a corner so that he can’t cross the floor without getting paint on his shoes.’
I didn’t know Philip Kerr well. I had the chance to interview him only on two occasions, both times via e-mail—once for The Rap Sheet (as previously mentioned), and again for Kirkus Reviews, after his 2011 Gunther novel, Field Gray, was published. I was overjoyed, in 2016, by the opportunity to finally meet him in person, during a book-signing event at the old Seattle Mystery Bookshop. And I have heard since from people who’d enjoyed greater contact with him. They mention his civility, his humor, the depth of his observations on life and history, his generosity in answering readers’ questions about his work. I am saddened by the idea that I will no longer have chances to communicate with Philip Kerr, and that his presence is gone from the community of crime-fiction writers.

But I still have his books. For that, I’ll be forever grateful.

FOLLOW-UP I: Most stories published over the last couple of days about Kerr’s sudden demise don’t tell the cause of his passing. But this one from The New York Times attributes it to bladder cancer.

FOLLOW-UP II: The Bookseller reported late last year that UK publisher Quercus had “acquired three new novels in Philip Kerr’s historical noir series featuring Detective Bernie Gunther.” Kerr had apparently finished composing the first draft of one of those, which is to be titled Metropolis and issued in the spring of 2019. The Bookseller says its story “takes Kerr’s hero back to the dying days of the Weimar Republic just before Hitler came to power.” This same Bookseller piece, by the way, mentions that “A Bernie Gunther mini-series is in development at HBO with Tom Hanks as executive producer.” Mystery*File has a bit more information about that project here.

READ MORE:Philip Kerr Obituary,” by Danuta Kean (The Guardian); “Remembering Philip Kerr,” by Otto Penzler (CrimeReads); “In Memoriam,” by Ayo Onatade (Shotsmag Confidential); “A Tribute to Philip Kerr,” by Garrick Webster (Crime Fiction Lover); “Philip Kerr (1956–2018): A Tribute,” by José Ignacio Escribano (A Crime Is Afoot); “R.I.P., Philip Kerr,” by Brian Thornton (SleuthSayers); “Pay It Forward: Philip Kerr,” by Mark Pryor (The Thrill Begins); “Guest Blog: Mark Pryor Remembers Philip Kerr” (MysteryPeople).

Friday, March 23, 2018

Kerr Passes Away

I just read on Facebook about Philip Kerr’s death, at age 62. His passing has been confirmed by Kerr’s wife, fellow author Jane Thynne, in a Twitter posting:
RIP beloved Philip Kerr. Creator of the wonderful #BernieGunther. Genius writer and adored father and husband. 1956-2018.
I can’t tell you how saddened I am by this news. I’m a huge fan of Kerr’s Bernie Gunther historical crime series. However, I am away from my office now, and will have to learn and write more once I return.

READ MORE:Philip Kerr, Author of Bernie Gunther Novels, Dies Aged 62,” by Hannah Summers (The Guardian).

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

PaperBack: “You’ll Get Yours”

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

You’ll Get Yours, by “Thomas Wills,” aka William Ard (Lion, 1956). Cover illustration by Harry Schaare.

Second Helpings

You might have presumed that yesterday’s huge “Bullet Points” post exhausted my current stock of links to crime-fiction news and information of interest. But you would be wrong.

• There are certain historical crimes that are of perpetual interest to me. One of those is the 1906 Madison Square Garden murder of Stanford White. I have more than a couple of books about that scandalous Manhattan homicide, which found Pittsburgh railroad heir Harry K. Thaw shooting the prominent but randy architect thrice in full public view, ostensibly because he had raped Thaw’s wife—actress and artist’s model Evelyn Nesbit—back when she was a teenager. Another book about White’s slaying and the twisted legal case that ensued from it, Simon Baatz’s The Girl on the Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder, and Madness at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century (Mulholland), was recently released, and provoked a Web site called The Crime Report to interview the author. That intriguing exchange is here.

• Let us turn now from historical misdeeds to Victorian-era mystery fiction, in order that I may direct you to Laura Purcell’s survey of gaslight Gothic tales and imaginary 19th-century sleuths.

• The Westlake Review presents a missive written, in 1941, by American film censor Joseph I. Breen to Warner Bros. Studios chief Jack L. Warner. It informs the latter of all the reasons why John Huston’s script for a big-screen adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart, was not appropriate for audience viewing. Clearly (and thank goodness!), director Huston decided to ignore Breen’s prissy complaints.

In a pretty snappy piece for Criminal Element, author Thomas Pluck (Bad Boy Boogie) offers a variety of reasons why folks should be watching the Sundance-TV series Hap and Leonard, the third season of which premiered on March 7. It begins:
Because it’s Joe Fucking Lansdale.

That really should be the end of this article. If you don’t know the work of Joe R. Lansdale,
Hap & Leonard is a wonderful introduction to his most popular books. If you already enjoy his work, watching the series on Sundance is like reading the books for the first time again. They capture the tone and spirit perfectly and bring the characters to life, right down to Hap’s hippie soul and Leonard’s irascible, rugged individualism (and Nilla wafers). Which is quite a feat because, while Joe is a champion storyteller, his voice is a large part of what makes his work so enjoyable. Like Robert Parker, Walter Mosley, and Laura Lippman, he can write about something mundane and make it as gripping as a thriller, because he writes with a voice that we follow like the little bouncing red ball over song lyrics, if you’re old enough to remember those.
• Although it’s been part of this page’s blogroll for awhile, only recently—and in association with my writing about the 50th anniversary of Lieutenant Columbo’s first TV appearance—did I rediscover The Columbophile. Naturally, I have been investigating that site ever since. Three posts to share from my browsing: this one about an evidently “official Columbo YouTube channel”; this list of the unnamed site manager’s 10 favorite Columbo episodes (to which I would definitely add 1973’s “Any Old Port in a Storm,” guest-starring Donald Pleasence and Julie Harris); and this recent piece addressing the matter of Columbo’s first name (a subject I’ve also tackled). I look forward to seeing what The Columbophile can come up with next.

• Here’s a book I missed when it was released last summer: I Watched Them Eat Me Alive: Killer Creatures in Men’s Adventure Magazines, edited by Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle (New Texture). Thankfully, Frank Campbell—the guy behind a blog carrying the rather ponderous name Frank the Movie Watcher, Book Lover, Pop Culture Fan—finally brought it to my attention in a new, quite complimentary post. “All in all,” Campbell opines, “I Watched Them Eat Me Alive just goes to prove the old adage about explosives coming in small packages. This one brings the dynamite in two fists along with a testosterone fuse of sweaty, desperate thrills as men battle killer animals to the death. Trust me, it doesn’t get any better than this.” Folks who follow Deis’ Men’s Pulp Mags should probably look up this slim, digest-size volume.

• I must confess that, despite my growth of interest in the book following Kelli Stanley’s promotion of it in The Rap Sheet, I still haven’t gotten around to reading William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel, Nightmare Alley. But it’s jumped back on my radar, thanks to Andrew Nette recapping its virtues in CrimeReads. “Gresham’s book,” Nette enthuses, “is a masterful story about the art of the grift and the best fictional depiction of the carny (slang for the traveling carnival employee). But most of all, it is a stone-cold classic piece of low-life noir fiction, dark, visceral, surprisingly sex-drenched for its time, and utterly devoid of redemption.”

The latest issue of Clues: A Journal of Detection is out.

• Three more author interviews worth your time: Walter Mosley chats with BookPage about Down the River Unto the Sea, which introduces private eye Joe King Oliver; Lee Goldberg discusses True Fiction with Speaking of Mysteries host Nancie Clare; and J. Todd Scott answers questions from The Real Book Spy about High White Sun, the sequel to his 2016 border-crimes thriller, The Far Empty.

• Finally, when I wrote back in 2010 about Gavilan, Robert Urich’s 1982-1983 NBC-TV crime-cum-espionage series, I never thought I would have another opportunity to watch that show. However, I recently stumbled across three of Gavilan’s 10 episodes on YouTube—here, here, and here. The picture quality isn’t anything to write home about, but the sheer improbability of seeing Urich’s Magnum, P.I. knockoff makes up for such deficiencies.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Bullet Points: Spring at Last! Edition

• I just caught up with this piece from The Economist, titled “To Understand Britian, Read Its Spy Novels,” in which Walter Bagehot asserts that “The spy novel is the quintessential British fictional form in the same way that the Western is quintessentially American. Britain’s best spy novelists are so good precisely because they use the genre to explore what it is that makes Britain British: the obsession with secrecy, the nature of the establishment, the agonies of imperial decline, and the complicated tug of patriotism.”

• Only the other day I was remarking on my astonishment at seeing Steve Scott’s fine John D. MacDonald blog, The Trap of Solid Gold, suddenly return from what I had feared was its grave. I should note as well that Bookgasm, which disappeared completely in early December of last year, is also back with new reviews. Hurrah!

• Now for the bad news: Pornokitsch, a popular culture blog that does not really have anything to do with pornography (a poor name choice, indeed) will be shutting down at the end of this month, after a full decade of operation. As its termination draws near, however, the site seems to have become more active than ever.

This comes from In Reference to Murder:
Frequency’s Peyton List has been tapped as the female lead opposite Joseph Morgan in Fox’s untitled drama pilot based on the best-selling book Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane. Laysla De Oliveira also has been cast as a series regular in the project, from 20th Century Fox TV and Miramax, which was behind the 2007 movie adaptation directed by Ben Affleck. Written by Black Sails co-creator Robert Levine and directed by Phillip Noyce, the untitled project centers on private detectives Patrick Kenzie (Joseph Morgan) and
Peyton List
Angela Gennaro (List) who, armed with their wits, their street knowledge and an undeniable chemistry, right wrongs the law can’t in the working-class Boston borough of Dorchester.
• In other small-screen casting news, Deadline Hollywood reports that “Sarah Jones (Damnation, The Path) is set as a female lead in [the] CBS drama pilot L.A. Confidential, based on James Ellroy’s classic noir novel.” It goes on to say this show will follow “three homicide detectives, a female reporter (Alana Arenas), and a Hollywood actress (Jones) whose paths intersect as the detectives pursue a sadistic serial killer among the secrets and lies of gritty, glamorous 1950s Los Angeles. Jones’s Lynn is a sharp Veronica Lake-like beauty, an aspiring Hollywood actress—and not one to compromise her principles. When she finds a best friend brutally murdered and Jack Vincennes (Walton Goggins) unexpectedly at the scene before she’s had time to call the police, Lynn knows she has something on the LAPD detective—and decides to use it to help solve the horrible crime. The role of Lynn was played by Kim Basinger in the 1997 movie L.A. Confidential, earning her an Oscar.”

• The fifth season of Endeavour, the acclaimed British crime drama and prequel to Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse tales, hasn’t even begun running in the States (at best, we can hope for a late-summer debut). But it has already been renewed for a sixth season.

• If you just can’t stand waiting around to take in the further exploits of a young Detective Sergeant Endeavour Morse (played by Shaun Evans) and his mentor, Detective Inspector Fred Thursday (Roger Allam), note that the British TV blog Killing Times contains reviews of all six episodes in Series 5. (Endeavour was broadcast in the UK earlier this year.) Just beware of inevitable spoilers! Here are the necessary links: Episode 1; Episode 2; Episode 3; Episode 4; Episode 5; and Episode 6. Those last two installments are labeled as belonging to Series 4, rather than 5, but that’s an error.

• Incidentally, it was a year ago tomorrow—on March 21, 2017—that Morse creator Colin Dexter passed away at age 86.

• Series 4 of Shetland, starring Douglas Henshall and based on/inspired by Ann Cleeves’ still-expanding series of novels, is another crime drama that hasn’t yet made it to U.S. screens. (The last of its six episodes was shown tonight in the UK.) Again, though, Killing Times has been recapping all of its episodes.

• Prior to the debut of either of those series, PBS-TV’s Masterpiece Mystery! has slated the broadcast of Unforgotten, described by Wikipedia as following “two London detectives, DCI Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) and DI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar), as they work together to solve cold cases involving historic disappearances and murders.” Janet Rudolph points out that this program is set to run on Sunday nights from April 8 through May 13. “Unforgotten,” she adds, “is a really thoughtful, well-acted and -plotted detective show, and there are two seasons that will be aired. I binged the first season and found it mesmerizing. I highly recommend it.”

• This is unfortunate—and rather weird—news. Last week, just a few months after Spinetingler Magazine debuted its first print edition in years (you can still purchase a copy here), editor and owner Jack Getze posted word that “current Fiction Editor Sandra Ruttan has resigned, effective immediately.” He went on to say,
We’ve had a serious and unsolvable disagreement about current and future issues. Since I cannot run this magazine by myself, Spinetingler will close sometime this Spring.

To those writers who have received acceptances from me, my plan is to publish your stories before we disappear. Let me know if you’d rather pull the story and resubmit elsewhere. As to the writers contacted by Sandra for an upcoming print issue, please contact me if you’d like your story to run online. There will not be another
Spinetingler print issue and you are free to resubmit elsewhere.
In a Facebook post appearing around the same time, Ruttan—who, in 2005, co-founded the magazine with K. Robert Einarson—wrote: “My vision for Spinetingler was always about finding the story I was excited to publish and putting out quality material, promoting great fiction. The direction is changing, so it’s time for me to go.”

• Just before I finished assembling this extensive edition of “Bullet Points,” I saw a note in Sandra Seamans’ My Little Corner blog, reading: “I’m not sure why, but the Spinetingler website has disappeared. I know they were closing down but they were supposed to be publishing more stories.” Seamans goes on to observe that “Spinetinger editors Sandra Ruttan and Brian Lindenmuth are starting up a new crime magazine called Toe Six Press.”

• CrimeReads, the new site from Literary Hub, has gotten off to a fairly healthy start, though there are definitely weaknesses to be worked on in the near future. Worth taking a look at there so far: senior editor Dwyer Murphy’s “25 Classic Crime Books You Can Read in an Afternoon”; Ned Beauman’s feature about conspiracy novels in the age of “fake news” and Trump; and Adrian McKinty’s “Everybody Loves to Hate a Dirty Cop: 10 Books of Corruption and Greed.”

• Kim Fay has a nice piece in the Los Angeles Review of Books about the cultural complexities Sujata Massey dealt with in writing The Widows of Malabar Hill, set in 1920s Bombay, India.

• Oh, how I wish I were in London, England! Through this coming Saturday, March 24, that city’s Lever Gallery, in Clerkenwell, is hosting “Uncovered: Illustrating the Sixties and Seventies,” a showcase of the original art from paperback covers of that era. “Artists selected for this exhibition,” explains the gallery’s Web site, “include Ian Robertson, Yorkshire born Michael Johnson, who, with his Fine Art background and distinctive style, soon became one of the most sought after illustrators of the period, and a group of Italian illustrators who worked and lived around Soho and Chelsea, including the highly influential and style-setting Renato Fratini, and other colleagues—many of whom had previously worked in the Italian film industry, such as Gianluigi Coppola, Giorgio De Gaspari, and Pino Dell’Orco.” Flashbak, a photo-obsessed Internet resource, collects a handful of the more than 40 works on display, including Fratini paintings that grace several Mickey Spillane books (The Twisted Thing, The Girl Hunters, etc.) and Johnson’s gorgeous artwork for the 1965 novel A Crowd of Voices, by Richard Lortz. Flashbak’s presentation of these pieces is so captivating, I can even forgive the site its misuse of “pulp fiction” and its misspelling of Erle Stanley Gardner’s name. To see more of the works on display (sadly, in smaller representations), click here.

• Have you been enjoying “PaperBack,” the twice-weekly feature The Rap Sheet picked up from the late Bill Crider’s blog, focused on vintage book fronts? If so, you might also wish to sample “Thrift Shop Book Covers” in Ben Boulden’s Gravetapping. As Boulden explained when he launched that series back in late December 2013, “Thrift Shop Book Covers” features “the cover art and miscellany of books I find at thrift stores and used bookshops. It is reserved for books I purchased as much for the cover art as the story or author.“

• In case you missed seeing it, Killer Covers posted the concluding entry in its Harry Bennett tribute this last Saturday. All in all, the blog showcased more than 190 of Bennett’s painted paperback covers. It also posted this lengthy interview with Bennett’s youngest son, Tom. You can scroll through the full series here.

• Fox-TV’s longest-running animated sitcom, The Simpsons, saluted George Peppard’s 1972-1974 series, Banacek, in its most recent episode, “Homer Is Where the Art Isn’t.” The show found actor-comedian Bill Hader voicing the suave and sexy Manacek, described by AV Club as a “turtleneck-sporting [insurance] investigator who’ll either clear Homer of a major art theft or send the Simpson paterfamilias to prison for a very, very long time.” For folks (like me) who harbor fond memories of Banacek and the whole 1970s NBC Mystery Movie lineup, there was special delight to be found in this ep’s opening title sequence, which was based on the original Banacek intro, complete with Billy Goldenberg’s theme. Enjoy that segment below.

• You can read more about the episode here.

• It’s not easy keeping up with crime-fiction news. Yet David Nemeth is doing a bang-up job of it in his blog, Unlawful Acts. Nemeth’s weekly “Incident Report” posts are packed with leads to reviews, features, and other stories from all over the Web. He even provides an assortment of new and forthcoming genre releases.

• New Zealand professor and author Liam McIlvanney (whose Where the Dead Men Go won the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel) has posted a thoughtful piece on his Web site addressing the newly launched Staunch Book Prize and ways to deal with violence against women in crime writing. Find his comments here.

• Television Obscurities reports that “Warner Archive’s streaming service is shutting down [after April 26]. Launched in 2013 as Warner Archive Instant, the service offered subscribers a mix of films, TV shows, and made-for-TV movies drawn from the Warner Bros. library. Some of the [vintage] TV shows available at one time or another [were] Cain’s Hundred, The Gallant Men, Man from Atlantis, Maya, Logan’s Run, Beyond Westworld, Search, The Lieutenant, Jericho, The Jimmy Stewart Show, Lucan, and Bronk.”

• British author Colin Cotterill receives some love from the Nikkei Asian Review for his novels starring Dr. Siri Paiboun, the crime-solving state coroner at the morgue in Laos’ capital, Vientiane. “Cotterill can boast of being the only Western author of a murder-mystery series set in Laos,” declares the publication, “although the expat-penned detective genre abounds in Thailand.”

• Congratulations to all of the authors—Patricia Abbott, Craig Pittman, J.D. Allen, Hilary Davidson, and Alex Seguara among them—whose work has been selected to appear in the 2018 Bouchercon anthology, awaiting publication later this year.

Carter Brown fans, listen up! Stark House’s second collection of his work, featuring three early novels, has been scheduled for publication in late May. The previous collection was published last October.

• The 2002 film Road to Perdition, based on Max Allan Collins’ 1998 graphic novel of the same name, has found a place on Taste of Cinema’s list of “The 10 Most Stylish Movies of the 21st Century.”

Esquire magazine selectsThe 25 Best True-Crime Books Every Person Should Read.” I can claim to have read about half of them.

• While we’re on the subject of lists, take a look at Craig Sisterson’s choices of a dozen New Zealand crime writers “whose books will give you an insight into this faraway place and its people.” And yes, Paul Thomas and Vanda Symon are both included.

• Elsewhere, Florida author Steph Post fingers “11 Great Authors Defining Noir in the Sunshine State.”

• Your trivia lesson for the day: The Straight Dope’s Cecil Adams addresses that immortal question, “How did the gavel end up in American courtrooms?

• Barbara Gregorich, author of the new biography Charlie Chan’s Poppa: Earl Derr Biggers, writes in Mystery Fanfare about her long-standing interest in Biggers’ honorable Honolulu sleuth.

• Good question: Why are TV detectives always so sad?

• A few author interviews worth finding on the Web: Alison Gaylin (If I Die Tonight) and Naomi Hirahara (Hiroshima Boy) are Nancie Clare’s most recent guests on the podcast Speaking of Mysteries; Robert Goddard takes questions from Crime Fiction Lover’s Catherine Turnbull about his new thriller, Panic Room; Criminal Element chats with Christi Daugherty about her first novel for adults, The Echo Killing; blogger Colman Keane talks with Margot Kinberg about Downfall; and Crimespree Magazine goes one-on-one with Christopher Rice, discussing his fresh release, Bone Music.

• Calling Fox News a “propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration,” retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters, a frequent Fox contributor, has chosen not to renew his contract with that network. According to the Web site BuzzFeed, Peters sent a message to colleagues saying, “Fox News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers.” This wouldn’t usually have been fodder for a Rap Sheet item; however, you may recall that Peters, under the pseudonym Owen Parry, penned half a dozen mystery novels set during America’s Civil War and starring a detective named Abel Jones. (The first book in that series was 1999’s Faded Coat of Blue.) It’s good to see that Peters has been keeping himself busy since he stopped writing the Jones books in 2005.

Pick Up a Good Book—for Your Health

This is something I’ve long believed, and now Inc. magazine declares it to be true: “Reading fiction can help you be more open-minded and creative. According to research conducted at the University of Toronto, study participants who read short-story fiction experienced far less need for ‘cognitive closure’ compared with counterparts who read non-fiction essays. Essentially, they tested as more open-minded, compared with the readers of essays. ‘Although non-fiction reading allows students to learn the subject matter, it may not always help them in thinking about it,’ the authors write.”

Science shows, too, that “People who read books live longer.”

Sunday, March 18, 2018

PaperBack: “Assignment—Mara Tirana”

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

Assignment—Mara Tirana, by Edward S. Aarons (Fawcett Gold Medal, 1960). This is apparently the 12th entry in Aarons’ once-popular series starring Cajun CIA agent Sam Durell.
Cover illustration by Robert McGinnis.

Going for the Gold

Supplementing The Rap Sheet’s regular and rather lengthy blogroll—found running down the right side of every page—I maintain a separate Archive Sites page. There I’ve installed links to crime fiction-oriented blogs and other Web sites that are no longer being updated, but that I think remain useful. I am always reluctant to move something from the active list to those dusty annals, especially if I think its author might one day get the itch to write again. Such revivals are few and far between, but they do happen.

Which brings us to Steve Scott’s The Trap of Solid Gold.

That blog, focused on the life and literary escapades of John D. MacDonald (and taking its name from the title of a 1960 MacDonald short story), debuted back in 2009. But it suddenly went dark after a post on November 16, 2016. Knowing that Scott, a onetime commercial banker living in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, had—for reasons only later explained—taken two previous years off (2012 and 2013) from contributing to his excellent blog, I tried to be patient about this latest dilatoriness. By the beginning of 2018, however, I had pretty much resigned myself to the notion that The Trap of Solid Gold had run its course. I was ready to add it to my list of Archive Sites.

Wouldn’t you know it, though? That’s exactly when Scott decided it was time to kick his blog back into gear. Since then, he’s been posting about once a week, covering topics that range from MacDonald’s early efforts to create a series character (before he gave birth to Travis McGee, of course) and his 1959 standalone novel, The Crossroads, to the 1968 TV pilot film Kona Coast (based on a MacDonald short story and starring Richard Boone) and the role MacDonald’s wife, Dorothy, played in his fiction-writing career.

If you haven’t been keeping track of The Trap of Solid Gold, it’s time to add it to your reading list. Let’s hope Steve Scott doesn’t take another vacation from updating it at anytime soon.

Another Record for the Books

Well, this is embarrassing. I noticed a couple of months ago that, according to our Blogger software, we were coming near to putting up our 7,000th post here at The Rap Sheet. I kept track for a while as that milestone approached. But then just as the crucial time arrived, I got busy and failed to check in. As it turns out, this post in our new “PaperBack” series was the 7,000th entry on the page.

I want to thank all of The Rap Sheet’s regular contributors, as well as our many guest posters over the years, for making this blog the valuable resource it has become. I couldn’t have been nearly so prolific or informative as we all have been together.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Revue of Reviewers, 3-16-18

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

Catch a Glimpse of These

Today brought the posting, in my Killer Covers blog, of the first of two large galleries featuring vintage paperback fronts painted by distinguished American artist Harry Bennett. This pair of pieces will close out a celebration of Bennett’s work that began in December of last year. I hope you enjoy the show!

Preparing for the Nibbies

Shortlists of contenders for the 2018 British Book Awards—aka the Nibbies—have just been released in seven categories. Among those classifications is Crime & Thriller Book of the Year, which pits the following novels against one another:

The Girl Before, by J.P. Delaney (Quercus)
The Midnight Line, by Lee Child (Bantam Press)
The Dry, by Jane Harper (Abacus)
Behind Her Eyes, by Sarah Pinborough (HarperFiction)
Spook Street, by Mick Herron (John Murray)
He Said/She Said, by Erin Kelly (Mulholland)

In addition, Joseph Knox’s thriller Sirens (Doubleday) is vying with five rivals for Debut Book of the Year honors.

Winners of all this year’s Nibbies will be announced during a splashy ceremony on Monday, May 14, at London’s Grosvenor Hotel. The British Book Awards are organized by the UK magazine The Bookseller.

(Hat tip to Ali Karim, one of the 2018 Nibbies judges.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

PaperBack: “The Pale Door”

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

The Pale Door, by “Lee Roberts,” aka Robert Martin (Bantam, 1956). Under his own name, Martin penned an earlier entry in this series, The Widow and the Web; and again as Roberts, he produced 1960’s If the Shoe Fits. Cover illustrator unknown.

Levinson Leaves Us

I haven’t yet seen any official obituary, but multiple Web sources are reporting that New York-born Los Angeles author Robert S. Levinson died yesterday, March 13, “after a hard-fought battle with pneumonia.” Levinson, a newspaper reporter turned advertising and public-relations director, and a former president of the Mystery Writers of America’s Southern California chapter, was the author of the Neil Gulliver and Stevie Marriner series (The Elvis and Marilyn Affair, Hot Paint—which I reviewed in this early newsletter version of The Rap Sheet—and The Stardom Affair), as well as standalone novels such as Ask a Dead Man (2004) and The Evil Deeds We Do (2015).

According to his Web site, the 76-year-old Levinson
won the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Best Short Story Derringer Award for “The Quick Brown Fox,” a short that originally appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. The short is also featured in the anthology Between the Dark and the Daylight and 28 More of the Year’s Finest Crime and Mystery Stories [2009]. An original short, “Down in Capistrano,” appears in Orange County Noir, and another, “The Night of the Murder,” in the anthology Crime Square. Another original, “The Dead Detective,” appears in The Sound and the Furry: Stories to Benefit the International Fund for Animal Welfare, as well as [in] the Coast to Coast short-story collection.

Levinson, a Shamus Award nominee, was an
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Award winner three consecutive years. To date, his short stories have been selected for inclusion in “year’s best” anthologies eight consecutive years, including the cover title piece (from Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine) in A Prisoner of Memory and 24 of the Year’s Finest Crime and Mystery Stories [2008].
A list of this author’s novels, plus more biographical information, can be found at the Book Series in Order site.

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

READ MORE:Lights! Camera! Levinson!” by Bob Levinson (Meanderings and Muses); “On the Bubble with Bob Levinson,” by Elaine Flinn (Murderati).

The Story Behind the Story:
“Newport Ave,” by Ken Kuhlken

(Editor’s note: Today we bring you the 76th entry in our “Story Behind the Story” series. Its author should, by now, be familiar to Rap Sheet readers: Ken Kuhlken, a California novelist and the co-founder [with his wife, Pam] of Perelandra College in La Mesa, where he also teaches creative writing. In addition to his having composed the Hickey family crime series [The Loud Adios, The Do-Re-Mi, The Good Know Nothing, etc.], Kuhlken has penned short stories, features, and essays for a variety of publications. He’s earned a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the Ernest Hemingway Award for Best First Novel, the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America Best First Private Eye Novel prize, and the Shamus Award for Best Novel. Below, he recalls the real-life family members on whom he based characters in his new noir novel, Newport Ave. Here’s the publisher’s brief on that book’s plot: “A fugitive from a manslaughter charge returns home to a foggy California beach town hoping to protect his sister Olivia from her estranged husband, a mob-connected gambler. He enlists the help of his closest old friend, now a devoted Christian family man and Sunday school teacher. After exploring all options, they decide the only sure way to protect Olivia is to kill the gambler.”)

My uncle Virgil, husband to my mom’s youngest sister, was a charming fellow. No wonder his children adored him. He owned a small grocery on Newport Avenue, the main commercial street in San Diego’s Ocean Beach neighborhood. His store was only a few blocks from the beach where my cousins and I spent summer days.

Then my aunt and uncle’s marriage failed, probably because he drank far too much. I imagine the drinking also led to the crime that landed him in prison.

His children, my cousins, were all remarkable people. Wade was a genius. According to our grandma, he scored highest in the country on college board exams. He was also a rebel who drove a hot-rod Ford and wasn’t wedded to laws. He won a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but then lost it for breaking rules and conspiring in outlandish pranks such as detonating the initials “MIT” in the Harvard football field. Only after he served a hitch in the military (a frequent alternative to jail in those days) did MIT give him back the scholarship.

After graduation, and with a degree in electrical engineering, Wade’s financial prospects were practically limitless. But he worked for a corporation just long enough to buy a sailboat, then he and his woman sailed away and never returned. They settled in Rarotonga, in the vicinity of Tahiti, and lived modestly in a house they built.

Virgie, Wade’s oldest sister, became something of a local celebrity. Both gorgeous and kind, she was voted most popular and prettiest in her high school every year. But her choice in boys, and later men, was problematic. During that era, Portuguese families from her neighborhood owned much of the tuna fleet. The boys, knowing they could make large money working on the boats, often didn’t bother with high school. When teenage boys lack structured lives, they can get into plenty of trouble. Boys Virgie favored did just that. Later, as a flight attendant, she met and married Chris Petti, a gambler and onetime bodyguard for Los Angeles mob boss Mickey Cohen. My mom theorized that because Virgie adored her dad, she chose men who, like him, were likely bound for prison.

They were married for some years, then Chris got convicted on a racketeering charge. After his release, while he lived with his son George, my editor at the San Diego Reader was doing research for a feature on the history of the mob in San Diego. She asked me if I could get Chris to give me his life story.

I called and asked.

“I’m not that kinda guy,” Chris said.

I said, “No, anything you don’t want published, don’t tell me. It’s your story. You get to be the hero and tell it anyway you like.”

Again, he said, “I’m not that kinda guy.”

So Chris’ life story never came out. But after his death in 2006, George told me that during Chris’ last days, he’d confided, “I wish I would’ve told Skip (my family nickname) my story.”

And since I believe good stories should never get wasted, Virgie became Olivia in Newport Ave, Wade became James, and Chris—well, I’d bet he was a more worthy guy than Maurice, but he didn’t give me his story in time.