Saturday, November 09, 2019

Bullet Points: Pre-Veterans Day Edition

• The “social cataloguing” Web site Goodreads has opened an online voting process to select the winners of its 2019 Choice Awards. The initial round of polling will continue through tomorrow, Sunday, November 10; a second stage will run from November 12 to 17, with the third one extending from November 19 through December 2. Winners are supposed to be announced on Tuesday, December 10. There are 20 categories of contestants, but those vying for Mystery & Thriller honors can be seen—and voted on—right here. Among the nominees are Adrian McKinty’s The Chain, Ruth Ware’s The Turn of the Key, Jane Harper’s The Lost Man, Alex Michaelides’ The Silent Patient, and Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer.

• One of my happiest mail deliveries of late brought a copy of UK critic Barry Forshaw’s brand-new work, Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide (Oldcastle). I have been hearing about this endeavor for the last year, as Forshaw plumped and polished his tally of authors and individual books to include. (An appendix in this 448-page paperback features my personal suggestions of 27 writers Forshaw didn’t have room to address elsewhere in his text.) But the results surpass what I had been expecting. Although I might have made some different choices as far as individual recommendations go (why promote David Hewson’s 2003 Nic Costa tale, A Season for the Dead, but none of his equally gripping Pieter Vos novels? And I’d have substituted Robert Wilson’s “grimly bewitching” The Blind Man of Seville for its sequel, The Silent and the Damned), the author’s portrayal of this genre’s international evolution and current breadth is—like his literary taste—outstanding. And rewardingly diverse. I’m particularly pleased to see less-prominent yarns such as Anthony J. Quinn’s The Listeners, Jonathan Gash’s Spend Game, and James Sallis’ Ghost of a Flea given a boost in these pages. Together with mini-reviews of books (and of films adapted from best-sellers), Forshaw offers brief but percipient biographies of numerous authors, from Ross Macdonald and P.D. James to Kathy Reichs and Alan Williams, as well as short features on subjects ranging from “Sleuths on Screen” to “Ethnic Crime Writing.” This is a work to savor, though it’s not necessary to read it all at once; better to dip in and out casually, finding suggestions of authors you’ve never tackled and insights into works that merit your greater attention. The Times of London calls Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide “a labour of literary love,” and it’s definitely that. Yet this is also a product of sly scholarship, enticing veteran mystery readers to expand their familiarity with the field, and gently—with a depth of knowledge and wit—giving those less well acquainted with crime fiction a firm grounding on which to build their experience. Forshaw’s magnum opus was released this week in Great Britain; an American edition of the same book is due in June 2020.

• This coming Monday, November 11, will be Veterans Day here in the States (Remembrance Day in the UK). To honor the occasion, Mystery Fanfare has posted links to lists of Veterans Day-related mysteries.

• The following item comes from In Reference to Murder:
The shortlist for the second annual Staunch Book Prize was announced recently. The list includes Only to Sleep (in the Philip Marlowe series) by Lawrence Osborne; the 15th-century literary mystery, The Western Wind, by Samantha Harvey; Liar’s Candle by August Thomas; Honey by Brenda Brooks; and The Godmother by Hannelore Cayre. The £1,000 award was set up in 2018 by author Bridget Lawless for the best thrillers in which no woman gets beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped, or murdered. The inaugural prize attracted criticism from authors such as Val McDermid and Sophie Hannah, while CrimeFest organizers withdrew an offer of a complimentary pass and panel appearance for the winning writer. BBC News gathered some authors together to share their thoughts on the controversy.
This year’s Staunch Prize winner should be declared on November 25, which—not coincidentally—will be the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

• “An expert panel” assembled by the BBC has chosen “100 novels that have shaped our world,” part of a yearlong British effort to “spark debate about the novels that have had a big impact on us all personally and culturally.” That campaign kicks off tonight at 9 p.m. with the premiere of a three-part BBC Two TV series also titled Novels That Shaped Our World. While I didn’t anticipate crime fiction would dominate this roster, there are several books from the genre included, among them Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle, Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, James Ellroy’s American Tabloid, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley.

• Really? A remake of The Equalizer starring Queen Latifa?

• To learn more about the original, 1985-1989 CBS-TV series The Equalizer, which starred English actor Edward Woodward as an ex-CIA operative who uses his skills to “[help] people who really need it, as penance for his previous life,” click here.

Now, this looks like my kind of murder mystery vacation!

• What was the best episode of Columbo, Peter Falk’s long-running crime drama? That question could draw many opinions—as it did here. But the unidentified writer behind that wonderful blog, The Columbophile, seems to harbor no doubt as to the correct answer: “The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case,” first broadcast as part of the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie on May 22, 1977, and guest-starring Theo Bikel as “a genius accountant … [who] has been embezzling funds in order to keep his high-maintenance wife in fine frocks and tropical getaways.” The blog goes on to describe that 40th Columbo installment as “70 minutes of television featuring major plot holes, an almost complete lack of cat-and-mouse suspense and, let’s face it, an episode title so contrived as to be ridiculous. Yet Bye-Bye rises above all this to deliver a thoroughly absorbing and entertaining adventure that doesn’t just salvage Columbo‘s sixth season—it proves that the show could be as good as, if not better than, ever before.”

• Here’s more proof that reading is beneficial. “Studies have shown,” says BookRiot, “that readers are more empathetic and that it can improve cognitive function. A new study by SuperSummary, an online resource that provides in-depth study guides, suggests reading has yet another benefit: self-identified readers are more satisfied with their lives than those who don’t identify as readers.”

• Earlier this week, author Andrea Bartz (The Lost Night) posted, on Twitter, “a very useful breakdown of why it’s important to preorder from independent bookshops.” Literary Hub offers the highlights.

• I’m very much looking forward to watching the BBC Two TV production Vienna Blood, a three-part mini-series filmed in the Austrian capital and based at least in part on Frank Tallis’ 2006 novel of that same name. As The Killing Times explains, “It’s set in 1900s Vienna and follows Max Liebermann [played by Matthew Beard], a brilliant young English doctor, studying under the famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. When Max comes into contact with Oskar Rheinhardt [Juergen Maurer], an Austrian Detective Inspector struggling with a strange case, he offers his assistance. Max’s extraordinary skills of perception and forensics, and his deep understanding of human behaviour and deviance, help Oskar solve some of Vienna’s most mysterious and deadly cases.” Vienna Blood is scheduled to debut in Great Britain on Monday, November 18. I haven’t seen word yet of when the show will be broadcast in the States; for the time being, I must content myself with the short introductory trailer below.



• By the way, this Vienna Blood is not to be confused with the identically titled 1942 German operetta film (no prominent crimes involved), which I learned only today was “one of the most financially successful films of the Nazi era.”

• Also due out from the BBC, though not until next year, is an adaptation of Ian McGuire’s historical thriller, The North Water (2016). That three-part TV drama, says The Killing Times, “tells the story of Patrick Sumner [played by Jack O’Connell], a disgraced ex-army surgeon who signs up as ship’s doctor on a whaling expedition to the Arctic. On board he meets the harpooner Henry Drax [Colin Farrell], a brutish killer whose amorality has been shaped to fit the harshness of his world. Hoping to escape the horrors of his past, Sumner finds himself in a male-dominated world, on an ill-fated journey with a murderous psychopath. In search of redemption, his story becomes a harsh struggle for survival in the Arctic wasteland.” That same Killing Times link contains a few early images from the production.

• Speaking of movie stills, here’s one (and, sadly, only one) from Perry Mason, the forthcoming HBO-TV “origin story” about Erle Stanley Gardner’s famous Los Angeles defense attorney, set in 1931. I have written previously about this project here.

• Finally, Deadline reports that British broadcast network ITV “is in advanced development on a sweeping adaptation of Lindsey Davis’ Falco Roman private detective novels after the project was originally in with the BBC. … [The lead character] Falco is described by Davis as a ‘laid-back’ operator whose adventures take place across the Roman Empire in 70 AD and beyond.”

• In praise of Michael Mann’s 1999 film, The Insider.

• Cincinnati, Ohio, writer T.S. Hottie—better known to crime-fiction fans as “Jim Winter” (a sometime Rap Sheet contributor)—has spent the last several months rewatching, and posting about, the James Bond film series. He began in July with Sean Connery’s Dr. No (1962) and on Friday commented on Pierce Brosnan’s Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), the 18th installment in that profitable spy-fi franchise. Hottie originally predicted his marathon rewatch escapade would take him six months, but with that deadline having already passed, it’s time for a reassessment. Click here to read all of his Bond posts.

R.I.P., Bernard Slade. Although I don’t see any small-screen crime dramas among this screenwriter’s credits on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), Slade did create a trio of TV sitcoms I remember quite well: The Partridge Family as well as the much less well-known Bridget Loves Bernie and The Girl with Something Extra.

• Talk about forgotten crime dramas! Who recalls CBS-TV’s Brenner, the father-and-son police drama starring Edward Binns and James Broderick, which—with breaks between spurts of episode broadcasts—took five years to roll out completely, from 1959 to 1964?

• I, for one, did not know this: The first book banned in America was 1637’s New English Canaan, by English businessman Thomas Morton. The Millions observes that the book “mounted a harsh and heretical critique of Puritan customs and power structures that went far beyond what most New English settlers could accept. So they banned it …”

The latest Paperback Warrior Podcast looks back at Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm thrillers as well as the 1963 novel Mute Witness, which inspired the 1968 Steve McQueen movie Bullitt.

Bill S. Ballinger (1912-1980) was an Iowa-born author, college professor, and screenwriter. He penned standalone novels with titles such as The Wife of the Red-Haired Man (1957) and Not I, Said the Vixen (1965), along with episodes of TV shows such as M Squad, Mike Hammer, Ironside, and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. In the 1960s, though, Ballinger also concocted a five-book succession of thrillers starring Joaquin Hawks, a U.S. secret agent of Native American heritage who reported to Horace Burke, CIA Director of Operations in Los Angeles. I have never taken the opportunity to read the Hawks yarns, but have certainly come across mentions of them from time to now. More recently, I found that Joe Kenney, who writes the Glorious Trash blog, has reviewed four of those works already, and will presumably soon enlighten us all about number five, The Spy in the Java Sea (1966). He remarks that “This is a good series,” though Ballinger’s characterization of Hawks is thin and “he really needs to cut back on the arbitrary travelogue stuff and feature some actual pulp espionage thrills.” Worth keeping an eye out for.

• While I haven’t yet seen the new Edward Norton picture, Motherless Brooklyn, I have been reading a lot about it recently: CrimeReads’ Olivia Rutigliano muses on the difficulty of bringing Jonathan Lethem’s original 1999 novel to the silver screen in any coherent fashion; The Bowery Boys, a fine New York City history site, offers a rundown of “10 things to know” about the film’s 1950s setting before you buy your theater tickets; and Slate’s Marissa Martinelli breaks down the many ways in which this flick differs from Lethem’s book (“Edward Norton’s adaptation changes more than it keeps”).

• Yikes! I have been falling behind on my reading of Dervla McTiernan’s fiction. I really enjoyed that Irish-Australian writer’s inaugural novel, The Ruin (2018), but have not yet gotten around to cracking open its sequel, this year’s The Scholar. And now here comes a third tale featuring Galway police detective Cormac Reilly: The Good Turn, planned for publication in March 2020.

• Three CrimeReads features worth finding: Paul French makes the case that Havana, Cuba, is a “capital of crime fiction”; Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga (The Resurrectionist of Caligo) recount how “‘Penny Dreadfuls’ Scandalized Victorian Society—But Flew Off the Shelves”; and Shamus Dust author Janet Roger pays tribute to The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler’s initial Philip Marlowe novel, which just a few months back celebrated its 80th year in print.

• In a short piece for Criminal Element, Shelley Noble applauds “Four Women Who Forever Changed the Gilded Age Mystery Genre.”

• Happy 10th anniversary to Murder by Gaslight, Robert Wilhelm’s blog about “notable nineteenth century American murders.”

• And I’ve read a great deal over the years about journalist Nellie Bly’s 1887 undercover investigation into brutality and neglect at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island, in New York City’s East River. Yet I still enjoyed Susannah Cahalan’s account, in Literary Hub, of Bly’s harrowing experiences and how the mentally ill were mistreated during America’s early years. Cahalan is the author of The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness (Grand Central).

1 comment:

Kevin R. Tipple said...

I ma having a hard time buying the idea that the remake of The Equalizer is going to work as described. Sounds more like a SNL parody deal.