Saturday, January 11, 2020

Bullet Points: Heavy on Nostalgia Edition

• A much-deserved accolade, mentioned yesterday in Literary Hub: “John le Carré, perhaps history’s greatest spy novelist, was this morning announced as the latest recipient of the $100,000 Olof Palme Prize, an award given for ‘an outstanding achievement in any of the areas of anti-racism, human rights, international understanding, peace and common security.’ In their citation, the prize organizers praised le Carré ‘for his engaging and humanistic opinion-making in literary form regarding the freedom of the individual and the fundamental issues of mankind,’ and called his career ‘an extraordinary contribution to the necessary fight for freedom, democracy and social justice.’”

• There are plenty of interesting pieces in the latest edition of Mystery Scene magazine, among them profiles of authors William Kent Krueger and Elly Griffiths, and Kevin Burton Smith’s “2019 Gift Guide for Mystery Lovers” (still worth perusing, even with the holidays now past). However, I was most drawn to Michael Mallory’s retrospective on the 1973-1976 late-night ABC-TV anthology series Wide World of Mystery. As Mallory recalls, that succession of original “mysteries, horror stories, and science-fiction tales”—all of which began at 11:30 p.m.—was ABC’s several-nights-a-week alternative to The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. “While the show’s stories and settings ran the gamut,” Mallory writes, “other things remained constant. One was the 90-minute length—actually 70 or so minutes plus commercials. Another was the fact that they were all recorded on videotape rather than being filmed, as were then-popular prime-time movies of the week. Because of this, viewers were occasionally treated to the occupational hazard of live-on-tape shows: bloopers.” Ed Asner, Lynda Day George, Christopher Reeve, Susan Sarandon, and Tom Selleck were all cast in WWoM installments, only a handful of which are available on DVD (with one—1975’s “Alien Lover,” introducing Kate Mulgrew, to be found on YouTube). I wasn’t a big late-night TV viewer as a boy, but I do remember seeing a few of those teleflicks, notably the March 14, 1975, presentation “Nick and Nora.” An unsuccessful “backdoor pilot” for a separate ABC series, it starred Peter Gunn’s Craig Stevens and small-screen fixture Jo Ann Pflug as Dashiell Hammett’s tippling snoops, Nick and Nora Charles, who in this movie “investigated the death of a man found floating in the pool of a posh L.A. hotel,” according to Mallory.

• By the way, The Stiletto Gumshoe notes that in this new issue of Mystery Scene, “publishers Kate Stine and Brian Skupin officially announced the magazine’s switch to a quarterly starting this year. It’ll be tough to wait longer between issues, but the promise of an increased page count while keeping the subscription price untouched was welcome news.”

• Found recently among my mail, too, was the fifth edition of Down & Out: The Magazine. This was long overdue: the previous issue came out in August 2018. In his editor’s note, Rick Ollerman chalks this delay up to multiple personal mishaps—which wouldn’t have been as big a problem at a larger publication, where other employees could have filled in for the recuperating editor, but at shorthanded Down & Out, it spelled trouble. The sad part is that this tardiness probably cost the periodical subscribers, who thought they could no longer trust in its regularity and future. I can only hope that enough readers will give Down & Out: The Magazine a second chance, because it’s new issue is guaranteed to please, with fiction from the likes of Walter Satterthwait, April Kelly, and Brendan DuBois, plus a column I wrote about Erle Stanley Gardner’s Doug Selby mysteries.

• The original 1968 Ford Mustang GT driven by Steve McQueen in the Warner Bros. film Bullitt, was sold at auction recently for a whopping $3,400,000. That car is renowned for having participated in this thrilling on-screen chase scene.

• In 1985, author Ross Thomas won the Edgar Award for Best Novel with Briarpatch. Now that standalone thriller has been adapted as a USA Network series, set to premiere on February 6. Taking the lead in Thomas’ novel was Ben “Pick” Dill, a white former reporter. However, the gender and race of the protagonist in USA’s series have both been flipped, with Rosario Dawson starring. The Hollywood Reporter explains: “Briarpatch follows Allegra Dill (Dawson), an investigator returning to her border-town Texas home after her sister is murdered. What begins as a search for a killer turns into an all-consuming fight to bring her corrupt city to its knees. The series is described as a blend of crime and pulp fiction.” If you’re interested, you can watch a short trailer is here. (Hat tip to Craig Pittman.)

• Also headed for television: Jonathan Lethem’s first novel, 1994’s Gun, with Occasional Music. “The novel,” says Deadline, “is a blend of sci-fi, noir and satire, set in the near future in a trippy world. Evolved animals are part of society, the government placates its citizens with free mind-numbing drugs, and the police monitor people by their karma levels. The protagonist is Conrad Metcalf, a down-and-out P.I. on a loser of a case. His last client—a prominent doctor—just turned up dead, and in order to clear his name and stay out of the deep freeze, the P.I. works for free to get to the bottom of it all. Turns out there is no bottom to this one, though, and Metcalf soon finds there’s nothing simple about this murder.” Deadline adds that “The series will be produced by Aggregate Films’ Jason Bateman, Michael Costigan and Daniel Pipski, along with Francey Grace.”

• Better late than never, let me direct your attention to the second annual Charlie Chan Family Home newsletter. Ohio Chan fan Lou Armagno notes that the newsletter (available here as a PDF document), addresses “two new book releases; a fall ‘Chan’ class taught at the University of Las Vegas, NV; ‘The Other Guys,’ an article on Mr. Wong and Mr. Moto; a recap of my first year blogging at The Postman on Holiday; and a ‘very special’ narrative by Charlie Chan Family Home webmaster, Rush Glick, on his adventure (20 years ago) to pursue the four lost Chan film-scripts. Finally, [there’s] a look at the upcoming Chinese New Year (The Year of the Rat, January 25) and three Charlie Chan events happening at various locations in 2020.”

• Among the “artists, innovators, and thinkers” we lost in 2019, The New York Times honors Peggy Lipton, co-star of The Mod Squad.

• The blog Up and Down These Mean Streets points out that Angel Eyes, Ace Atkins’ recent novel starring Boston private eye Spenser, features a few nods to the work of Dashiell Hammett.

• Speaking of Hammett, Nick Kolakowski records the multiple efforts over the decades to adapt 1929’s Red Harvest for the silver screen. “Red Harvest,” he opines, “seems doomed to remain the Schrödinger’s cat of noir adaptations: often made—and yet never made.”

• This item comes from In Reference to Murder:
The Audio Publishers Association announced that they will be presenting bestselling author Stephen King with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Audie Awards in March in New York City. King is known for his horror novels such as The Shining and Carrie but also for his crime novels, the Mr. Mercedes Trilogy (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch), The Outsider, The Colorado Kid, and Joyland.
• I’m not usually a Marie Claire reader, but this recent piece in the magazine had me at the headline: “Megan Abbott Wants You to Feel Everything,” with a subhead reading, “With the premiere of her TV series ‘Dare Me’ on December 29, the novelist-turned-showrunner is taking her knack for humanizing the dynamics of gender, rage, and power beyond the page.” Good job, Megan!

• In the blog Mystery*File (which last month celebrated its 13th anniversary), critic Michael Shonk identified his favorite TV series of the last decade, mostly crime dramas, a couple of which I’d never heard of before. So what was his top 2010-2019 pick? “The underrated Person of Interest” (2011-2016).

• Have you seen these Bonnie and Clyde photos?

• Almost a year ago, I mentioned on this page that the 1978 CBS-TV pilot for an unsold series titled The Jordan Chance, starring Raymond Burr, had been posted on YouTube, but that a previous Burr pilot, 1976’s Mallory: Circumstantial Evidence, remained unavailable. Suddenly, though, that latter movie has popped up on the video sales site Modcinema. Here’s its plot synopsis: “Raymond Burr stars again as a lawyer, this time named Arthur Mallory. No Perry Mason here, Mallory has been on the outs since being falsely accused of encouraging a witness to lie on the stand. Eventually cleared, Mallory lives hand to mouth as a public defender, with a heightened sense of fair play when it comes to the downtrodden. In this pilot film for the never-sold TV series Mallory, the attorney defends a jailed car thief (Mark Hamill) who has been framed for the killing of another prisoner.” You can buy the video here.

• It’s hard to believe that California-born actress Karen Valentine will turn 73 years old this coming May. As an early birthday present (to the rest of us), Comfort TV blogger David Hofstede has compiled briefs on some of her most prominent small-screen roles, including in Room 222, her short-lived eponymous TV series from 1975, and an ABC Movie of the Week titled The Girl Who Came Gift-Wrapped (1974)—that last being a flick I recall liking, but hadn’t thought about in years. Here’s Hofstede’s description of the story: “A magazine publisher (Richard Long) receives a bikini-clad girl (Karen Valentine) as a birthday present. Sounds like a set-up for a skit on Love, American Style. But there’s a lot more going on in this surprisingly touching (and funny) TV movie with a wonderful cast—Farrah Fawcett, Tom Bosley, Dave Madden, and Reta Shaw. This may be the best remembered of Valentine’s TV movies—and that’s not a bad choice if it is.” Sadly, you can’t watch The Girl Who Came Gift-Wrapped online; but I see that Modcinema (again, a site after my own heart) has copies for sale here.

• Incidentally, I glanced through Karen Valentine’s IMDb page and discovered that she was cast not only in comedies, but also in a number of crime, mystery, and legal dramas as well—everything from Eischied and The New Mike Hammer to Murder, She Wrote and Family Law. The site says her last TV performance was in the 2004 teleflick Wedding Daze, in which she co-starred with John Larroquette.

• Before we venture too deep into 2020, let’s look back for a moment at 2019’s “best” book covers, as judged by the sites Literary Hub, Spine, and The Casual Optimist. What do you think?

• Hah! Just as we thought all along:Why Do So Many Book Covers Look the Same? Blame Getty Images.”

• “Craig Stevens discusses his life and career, including his classic role on Peter Gunn, as well as his long marriage to Alexis Smith, in this 1993 interview with cable TV host Skip E Lowe.”

• If you missed Killer Cover’s end-of-the-year tribute to Anglo-Scots painter and book-cover artist Tom Adams—who created iconic fronts for novels by Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler, among others—you can catch up with that whole series here.

• David Zucchino recalls the notorious, long-ago white-supremacist takeover of Wilmington, North Carolina. He writes:
Throughout that summer and autumn, white men had been buying shotguns, six-shot pistols, and repeating rifles at hardware stores in Wilmington ..., a port city set in the low Cape Fear country along the state’s jagged coast. It was 1898, a tumultuous mid-term election year. The city’s white leadership had vowed to remove the city’s multi-racial government by the ballot or the bullet, or both. Few white
men in Wilmington intended to back their candidates that November without a firearm within easy reach. There was concern among whites in Wilmington, where they were outnumbered by blacks, that stores would run dry on guns, and that suppliers in the rest of the state and in South Carolina would be unable to meet demand.
• Chicago-born author Mike Resnick died this last Thursday of lymphoma at age 77. Although he’s most often thought of as a prolific and multiple award-winning producer of science-fiction stories, The Gumshoe Site’s Jiro Kimura observes that Resnick also penned “several mystery novels and fantasy novels with mystery elements. John Justice Mallory is a hard-boiled private detective in a fantastical New York, where humans co-habit with vampires and fairy tale beasts such as dragons. Mallory was introduced in Stalking the Unicorn (Tor, 1987) and featured in two more novels and a collection of short stories, Stalking the Zombie (American Fantasy, 2012). The Eli Paxton series features a Cincinnati private eye who appeared in Dog in the Manger (Alexander, 1995) and two more novels.”

• And while I had my attention turned elsewhere, The Rap Sheet somehow registered its 7,600th post.

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