Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Bullet Points: Wednesday Supersize Edition

• There’s something odd about an article setting out to highlight crime novels “that don’t start with a dead girl.” Aren’t there thousands of such works? Well, apparently killing off young women at the beginning of books has become a trend recently, enough of one at least that Bustle’s Charlotte Ahlin wants to give readers some alternatives. “Look,” she makes clear right up front, “I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with a murder mystery that centers on a young, non-living lady. But every once in a while you might want to read a mystery novel that doesn’t star a grizzled male detective hunting down the killer of a super hot female corpse. Maybe, maybe even a thriller where the non-male lead makes it all the way to the end without getting killed or horrifically brutalized at all. I know it’s a lot to ask, but there are a few books out there that manage to be mysterious and gripping without killing a woman off in the first few pages.” Ahlin’s choices include novels by Brandi Reeds, Tara French, Sujata Massey, and Sheena Kamal. (Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

• While writing recently about the death of actor Burt Reynolds, I happened across a YouTube clip from a 1976 NBC-TV pilot film titled A Matter of Wife … and Death. Remembering nothing about that project, I promptly reached for Lee Goldberg’s fat and essential reference book, Unsold Television Pilots: 1955-1989, and looked it up. Goldberg explains that the 90-minute flick was a follow-up to Reynolds’ 1973 big-screener Shamus, in which he played a pool hustler-turned-New York private investigator, Shamus McCoy. The pilot placed Rod Taylor in Reynolds’ shoes, and also starred Dick Butkus, Joe Santos (who’d appeared alongside Reynolds in Shamus, but is better known for his role on The Rockford Files), and a 24-year-old Lynda Carter. This plot briefing was found on the Web’s Complete Rod Taylor Site:
The show opens with the apparent murder of a [small-time P.I.] friend of Shamus’. Shamus has to deal with an assortment of underworld types as he uncovers a gambling scheme.

In the course of the story, his romancing of (a) Zelda (Lynda Carter—the future Wonder Woman) and (b) Carol (Anne Archer) is continually cut short when duty calls. Shamus also shows off his prowess at playing pool and making scrambled eggs. He also changes his shirt a lot.

A big difference between the Burt Reynolds movie and the Rod Taylor TV show is the location. “We’ve moved the locale from New York to Los Angeles, and we have more high comedy than low,” Rod said in an April 1975 interview. But then, here’s a similarity between the actor and his character: “Shamus is a guy who is gentle with women and tough with guys.”
I have no memory of ever sitting down to watch that Taylor pilot, but it’s apparently available on the Walmart Web site for $17.99. Does anyone have an opinion on whether it’s worth buying? Maybe YouTube’s clip—embedded below—will summon up a recollection or two.

• Speaking of failed pilot films, North Carolina’s Winston-Salem Journal notes, in a wrap-up of new DVD and Blue-ray sets, the release this month of Television’s Lost Classics, Volume 2: Rare Pilots (VCI Entertainment), a collection featuring four vintage, half-hour tryout flicks that never generated small-screen series. Among those is Cool and Lam, a 1958 production based on Erle Stanley Gardner’s novels starring mismatched Los Angeles gumshoes Bertha Cool and Donald Lam, which he published under the pseudonym A.A. Fair. Gardner himself explains, in the TV pilot’s short introductory message to would-be sponsors, that “the Cool and Lam books have been successful for many years” (beginning with 1939’s The Bigger They Come). Sadly, neither that fact nor the lighthearted performances of stars Billy Pearson and Benay Venuta was enough to convince CBS, the network for which this pilot was made—already the home of Gardner’s Perry Mason—that Cool and Lam deserved placement on its weekly broadcasting schedule. If you get a chance to watch Cool and Lam either on YouTube (where a version of marginal quality can be found) or on VCI Entertainment’s new discs (which promise a “high-definition restoration” of the film), it’s easy to imagine CBS execs grousing that the plot was simply too complex for its half-hour format.

• That Cool and Lam pilot, incidentally, appears to have been shot from a script based on Gardner’s much-superior 1940 novel Turn on the Heat, which was re-released by Hard Case Crime just last year.

• Oh, and before we deviate too far from the subject of Burt Reynolds, let me direct you to Vox’s picks of half a dozen performances that defined the late actor. And for your viewing pleasure, YouTube has available full episodes from Reynolds’ 1989-1990 private-eye series, B.L. Stryker. Episodes of his previous crime drama, 1966’s Hawk, can be found here—at least as of this writing.

• One more thing: Don’t miss reading Ace Atkins’ tribute to Reynolds, found on the Web site of the South-focused Garden & Gun.

• Considering how difficult these things are to maintain at an active level, I am always quite impressed when a blog survives for more than two or three years. So hats off to The Nick Carter & Carter Brown Blog, which last week celebrated its eighth anniversary.

• If it’s such a hard, unremunerative enterprise, why do mystery/crime-fiction bloggers go to all the effort? For Sisters in Crime’s bimonthly First Draft publication, Eona Calli asked that of four familiar figures in this field, including Classic Mysteries’ Les Blatt. (Although she never spoke with yours truly, Calli was kind enough to list The Rap Sheet among crime-fiction blogs worth checking out.)

Why mystery-fiction readers make difficult jurors.

• A good books-related question, posed by Terena Bell of The Guardian: “Why does the U.S. change so many titles?” Bell points out that those renamed books are “disproportionately” mysteries, and that altering their titles is usually a marketing decision. She adds, however, that “sometimes publishers themselves don’t know” why a book has been given a new name. Bell continues:
For example, Hitler’s Scapegoat by Stephen Koch will be released ... in the US next year as Hitler’s Pawn. I asked their publicity manager why, but she wasn’t sure and said the editor didn’t know either. Ask the Brits, she suggested.

Then there’s
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, a Stuart Turton novel renamed The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle in the States because, apparently, Americans die more frequently. When asked about the change, US publisher Sourcebooks initially joked: “Our editorial team decided to supersize it.” We’re lucky [Agatha] Christie’s Three Act [Tragedy] wasn’t upgraded to 3¼ or—horror of horrors—Tragedy 3.0. After all, this is the country that slapped the title Little Women II on Louisa May Alcott’s Good Wives.
• Coincidentally, Matthew Bradford’s post last week, in Double O Section, about how Sony and Eleventh Hour Films will be bringing Anthony Horowitz’s teenage super-spy, Alex Rider, to the small screen, provides yet another example of a dumb book-title change.

• I always enjoy a good “listicle” piece, and here are three that caught my attention recently: For CrimeReads, author Stephanie Gayle picks seven of her favorite race-against-time thrillers; that same Web site features Steve Goble, author of The Bloody Black Flag and the new The Devil’s Wind, writing about seven “pirate novels that might appeal to lovers of crime fiction”; and The Guardian hosts Sarah Ward’s choices of the “top 10 trains in novels,” including those in Ian Fleming’s From Russia, with Love and Graham Greene’s Stamboul Train. (If you’d like more suggestions of train-based mysteries, track down a copy of the Summer 2017 issue of Mystery Scene, which offers bookseller Ann Whetstone’s piece on that very subject.)

• I mentioned a couple of weeks back that, in December, U.S. publisher Brash Books will begin re-releasing Ralph Dennis’ fondly remembered Hardman series of private-eye novels. In advance of that, you can also read a “long-lost short story” by Dennis titled “Wind Spirit,” available from Amazon for just 99 cents. “It’s not vintage pulp,” says Brash co-creator Lee Goldberg, “but it might be of interest to fans of Ralph’s work for what it may reveal about his own life at the time (the late ’60s). The parallels are striking.”

• Shotsmag Confidential reports that Belfast’s NOIRELAND International Crime Festival, launched back in October 2017, will become a spring gathering next year, with events set to take place in the Northern Ireland capital from March 8 to 10, 2019. “The festival programme,” explains blogger Ayo Onatade, “will be announced and the ticket office will open on 16 November 2018.”

• I recently made the tough decision to give up Esquire, after subscribing to the magazine for more than half of my lifetime. (I just didn’t feel I fit the slick’s demographic profile any longer.) So I’m still susceptible to a bit of Esquire nostalgia. Which drew me to this short piece by Samuel Wilson of the True Pulp Fiction blog, recalling that mag’s role—primarily between 1947 and 1952—as a venue for “pulp-esque genre fiction.” One thing I hadn’t known before was how important Esquire was in promoting Henry Kane’s swingin’ Manhattan private eye, Peter Chambers. As Wilson recalls, Chambers “made his debut in February 1947 [with ‘A Matter of Motive’] and remained an Esquire exclusive through the end of the decade.”

• Leave it to Jimmy Buffett to find fun in imminent disaster. As The Washington Post reported last week, in advance of Hurricane Florence’s brutal touchdown in the southeastern United States, the singer-songwriter finally got to live out his 2009 song lyric about “goin’ surfing in a hurricane.”

• New York author and music critic Jim Fusilli announced on Facebook last week that publisher Open Road Media will soon be reissuing his three well-regarded Terry Orr private-eye novels—at least in e-book format. Kindle editions of Closing Time (originally published in 2001), A Well-Known Secret (from 2002), and Tribeca Blues (2003) are all scheduled go on sale on October 9.

The trailer for The Ballard of Buster Scruggs looks fantastic! That anthology-format Western film (more details here), directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, will begin streaming on Netflix on November 13.

• “Reading fiction from around the world can be key to understanding larger geopolitical questions,” opines Tobias Carroll. “Reading procedurals, which innately focus on questions of the law, societal norms, and questions of history, is especially edifying.”

• Some of the all-time-worst covers have been made for Kindle e-books. (Hell, there’s a whole Tumblr blog devoted to such design disasters.) But the front of Tom Leins’ Slug Bait (Dirty Books)—shown on the left—is powerful and ugly enough to draw attention from a dead man. It also seems appropriate for a violent story that reviewer David Nemeth says “is like immersing yourself in a vat of feces, vomit, and blood.”

• I don’t know who’s behind the pseudonym “dfordoom,” but he or she deserves my Big Thumbs-Up of the Week, based on this Cult TV Lounge post extolling the virtues of the 1975-1976 NBC-TV series Ellery Queen, which starred Jim Hutton as mystery writer/sleuth Ellery and David Wayne as his father, Inspector Richard Queen. I, too, remain a fan of that show (developed by Columbo creators Richard Levinson and William Link), as I slowly but surely make my way through the many Ellery Queen novels.

• This is excellent news! From The Hollywood Reporter:
Vincent D’Onofrio is headed to Epix.

The actor, who has been recurring on Netflix’s Marvel drama
Daredevil, has booked a co-starring role on the premium cable network's forthcoming series Godfather of Harlem.

Picked up straight to series in April,
Godfather of Harlem tells the true story of crime boss Bumpy Johnson (Forest Whitaker), who in the early 1960s returned after 10 years in prison to find the neighborhood he once ruled in shambles. With the streets controlled by the Italian mob, Bumpy takes on the Genovese crime family to regain control. During the brutal battle, he forms an alliance with radical preacher Malcolm X—catching his political rise in the crosshairs of social upheaval and a mob war that threatens to tear the city apart.

The project is described as a collision of the criminal underworld and the civil rights movement during one of the most tumultuous times in American history.
From the blog Vintage Everyday: “The Story Behind the Iconic Farrah Fawcett Red Swimsuit Poster That Wound Up Plastered on Millions of Bedroom Walls.”

• “Stephen King knows crime,” explains Max Booth III. “He grew up mainlining pulp legends like Richard Stark and John D. MacDonald. He was a goddamn noir geek, if you want to know the truth. When MacDonald agreed to write the introduction for King’s debut collection, Night Shift, he nearly pissed himself.” Booth’s look at the broad diversity of King’s crime and mystery fiction is here.

• Julia Roberts has sure come a long way since her role in 1990’s Pretty Woman. In the upcoming Amazon Prime psychological drama Homecoming—based on a podcast of the same name created by Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg—she plays Heidi Bergman, described by the Killing Times blog as “a caseworker at the Homecoming Transitional Support Center, a Geist Group facility helping soldiers transition back to civilian life. … Four years later, Heidi has started a new life, living with her mother (Sissy Spacek) and working as a small-town waitress, when a Department of Defense auditor (Shea Whigham) comes to her with questions about why she left the facility. Heidi begins to realize there’s a whole other story behind the story she’s been telling herself.” Homecoming will debut on November 2.

• The presence in American culture of Richard Boone’s 1957-1963 CBS-TV Western series, Have Gun–Will Travel, extended well beyond the small screen. Paul Bishop presents the evidence.

• I have launched a fun new series in my Killer Covers blog, looking at how vintage artists might differ substantially in what they emphasized when painting fronts for the same book. We’re only two installments into this series so far, found here and here.

How to look like … Modesty Blaise!

• Those darn crime-fiction writers, they just keep on talking, don’t they! Here are some interviews that have turned up recently around the Web: Scott Von Doviak chats with MysteryPeople’s Scott Montgomery about his “one-of-a-kind” debut novel, Charlesgate Confidential; Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train) answers questions from The Guardian; NPR Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon speaks with Sarah Weinman about her new non-fiction book, The Real Lolita; Nancie Clare’s latest podcast conversation is with Margaret Mizushima, the author of Burning Ridge, her fourth Timber Creek K-9 mystery; January Magazine’s Linda L. Richards goes one-on-one with Dietrich Kalteis (Poughkeepsie Shuffle); The New York Times manages a chinwag with the ever-elusive “Robert Galbraith” (J.K. Rowling), author of the new Cormoran Strike mystery, Lethal White; Saskatchewan lawyer/blogger Bill Selnes conducts a short exchange with Jayne “J.E.” Baynard, who penned When the Flood Falls; and Crimespree Magazine quizzes Warren C. Easley about Moving Targets, the sixth of his Oregon-set Cal Claxton mysteries.

• Author Scott Von Doviak is a resident of Austin, Texas, but his new novel, Charlesgate Confidential (Hard Case Crime), is set in Boston, Massachusetts. That makes him eligible to comment on “How George V. Higgins Invented the Boston Crime Novel,” as he does for CrimeReads; and about five writers—younger than either Higgins or Robert B. Parker—who are “taking Boston noir in exciting new directions,” his topic for the Strand Magazine blog.

• By the way, the story Von Doviak rolls out in Charlesgate Confidential was inspired by the mysterious and shocking theft, in March 1990, of 13 irreplaceable works of art from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. If you’d like to learn more about that “largest unsolved art heist in history,” note that The Boston Globe and public radio station WBUR-FM have just launched a podcast, “Last Seen,” which is re-examining and unearthing new details about the 28-year-old crime. You can listen to the episodes here.

• And for its next issue, Mystery Readers Journal is on the hunt for articles about “mysteries that take place in the Far East.” The deadline is October 10. For additional submission details, click here.


Marty McKee said...

A MATTER OF WIFE...AND DEATH has a good cast and lots of action, but it's easy to see why the pilot didn't get picked up. It's a middling detective story with nothing about it that stands out, besides Rod Taylor himself. I wouldn't pay $18 for it.

Neil Nyren said...

My BookTrib interview with Stuart Turton explains the (very logical) reason for the name change of his novel in the U.S. — which the Guardian could have gotten themselves if they’d just asked him!

Tom Leins said...

Thanks very much for name-checking Slug Bait in your round-up. I'm glad that the cover is capturing people's attention!