Sunday, December 20, 2020

Bullet Points: Stocking Stuffers Edition

• Agatha Christie fans are familiar with Ariadne Oliver, a fictional mystery writer who occasionally (in novels such as Cards on the Table and Mrs. McGinty’s Dead) helps Christie’s famous Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot, solve crimes—and provides a modicum of comic relief in the process. Now for the first time ever, the Swedo-Finnish master detective from Oliver’s books, Sven Hjerson, is set to star in his own TV series, according to The Killing Times. That Swedish production, Agatha Christie’s Sven Hjerson, began shooting earlier this month in southern Finland. The plan is to make four classic whodunit films for airing in Sweden and Germany during the fall of 2021. Actor-comedian Johan Rheborg has signed on to portray Hjerson, described as a retired star criminal investigator “who loves crudités, cold winter baths and solving murder mysteries.” His partner-sidekick is Klara Sandberg (played by Hanna Alström), a former trash TV producer who successfully pitches a true-life crime show starring Hjerson, who will solve a real crime each week.” The Killing Times notes that “no UK broadcaster has been announced yet.” As to when the show might reach the States, well, that is pretty much anybody’s guess.

• Len Deighton’s 1962 spy novel, The IPCRESS File—which was turned into a well-respected 1965 cinematic feature starring Michael Caine—is now also being refashioned as a six-part, Berlin-set television series by British network ITV. Deadline reports, “The adaptation will be penned by BAFTA-winning Trainspotting writer John Hodge, while the cast will be led by Gangs of London and Peaky Blinders star Joe Cole, alongside Bohemian Rhapsody actress Lucy Boynton, and The Night Manager’s Tom Hollander.” The Killing Times offers this plot précis:
It’s 1963. Cold war rages between West and East. Nuclear bombers are permanently airborne. In this highly charged atmosphere, we join Harry Palmer—a British army sergeant on the make in Berlin. In this newly partitioned city, a sharp working-class young man with sophisticated tastes can make a lot of money. Wholesaler, retailer, fixer, smuggler, Harry’s varied interests bring him into contact with everything and everyone—until the law catches up and it all comes crashing to a halt. Harry finds himself sentenced to eight years in a grim military jail in England, all his prospects abruptly torn away.

But his impressive network and efficiency have not gone unnoticed, and a gentleman from British intelligence has a proposal. To avoid prison, Harry Palmer will become a spy. And the case on which he cuts his teeth will be The Ipcress File.
• Mick Herron’s espionage novels will provide the source material for yet another televised drama, this one from AppleTV+. Gary Oldman is signed to star in Slow Horses as Jackson Lamb, “a brilliant but irascible leader of a group of spies who end up in MI5’s Slough House, having been exiled from the mainstream for their mistakes.” Kristin Scott Thomas, Jack Lowden, Olivia Cooke, and Jonathan Pryce round out the main cast. “Six of these episodes will be based on Herron’s first book, [2010’s] Slow Horses,” says Deadline, “and the other six will be based on his second novel, Dead Lions [2013]. Production sources are referring to it as two seasons, or at the very least, two sets of six episodes. Apple sees it as one season, but declined to comment on release plans.” Filming began in November.

• The Killing Times asked “some of the world’s best crime novelists”—Ragnar Jónasson, C.L. Taylor, Doug Johnstone, Laura Lippman, etc.—to identify which TV crime dramas they have most enjoyed watching during this frustrating pandemic year. Among their choices are Baghdad Central, The Nest, Dead to Me, and the classic American detective series Columbo. The Killing Times promises to publish its own “countdown of the best crime dramas of 2020 at the end of this month.”

The Atlantic magazine’s catalogue of “The 15 Best TV Shows of 2020” is light on mystery and crime fiction, but it does feature the too-soon-cancelled Dare Me. “Glitter and pom-poms shouldn’t pair so well with a murder mystery,” writes Shirley Li. “Yet the peppy positivity and fierce discipline of cheerleading contrasts beautifully with the genre’s messy violence in Dare Me. USA Network’s addictive, seductively shot adaptation of Megan Abbott’s [2012] novel follows a pair of best friends rattled by the arrival of their high-school squad’s enigmatic new coach.” Li adds a thumbs-up to Cobie Smulders’ private-eye series, Stumptown, which was given the ax after a single season on ABC, but is currently being shopped elsewhere.

• Both Season 4 of The Crown (brightened by the presence of Emma Corrin as Princess Diana) and Anya Taylor-Joy’s mini-series, The Queen’s Gambit, also earned The Atlantic’s appreciation ... as they did positive acclaim from Kristi Turnquist, longtime TV critic for The Oregonian, in Portland. Making Turnquist’s picks list, too, are the fifth, penultimate season of Better Call Saul (FX); Season 4 of the anthology series Fargo; and the debut run of HBO’s Perry Mason, starring Matthew Rhys, which has been renewed for a sophomore series of episodes to stream sometime next year.

• Continuing our inventory of “best books” lists, note that critics with the British blog Crime Fiction Lover are slowly rolling out their individual top-five selections for 2020. We’ve heard so far from Sonja van der Westhuizen and Catherine Turnbull, with more still to come. Meanwhile, CrimeReads has added further to it already significant set of favorites with registers of what it dubs “The Best Psychological Thrillers of 2020” and “The Best Espionage Novels of 2020.”

• In Reference to Murder brings word that the Tucson, Arizona, mystery bookshop Clues Unlimited is closing. Christine Burke, who’s owned Clues since 1996, calls it a casualty of ”the global pandemic and advancing age.” The blog adds that “Until the store closes, all new releases will be 20% off, and all used mass-market paperbacks will be $2. Used trade paperbacks and hardcovers will go for $5. The store will be open for appointments until Saturday, December 26.”

The Strand Magazine has already released previously unpublished work by Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ernest Hemingway, and others. But its latest issue, says The Guardian, includes “Adventure on a Bad Night,” “a ‘lost’ story by Shirley Jackson, in which the author of The Haunting of Hill House shows a microcosm of the racism and sexism in U.S. society through a dissatisfied woman’s trip to a corner shop …” The paper explains further that “Jackson’s [eldest] son, Laurence Hyman, said he found the story ‘among many others haphazardly stuffed into 52 cartons at the Library of Congress.’ All of Jackson’s papers were donated to the library by her husband Stanley a few years after her death” in 1965.

• National Public Radio host Michel Martin spoke with Laurence Hyman about the recent discovery of “Adventure on a Bad Night.”

• With Christmas now less than a week away, Mystery Fanfare’s Janet Rudolph has finally posted all three parts of her extensive collection of holiday-appropriate crime fiction. The listings are arranged alphabetically by author: A-E, F-L, and M-Z. Additionally, she offers lists of mystery short stories and anthologies that are perfect to tackle at this more-festive-than-normal time of year.

• Separately, Rudolph has compiled a shorter roster of winter solstice-related mysteries. The solstice will take place in the Northern Hemisphere this coming Monday, December 21.

• I, for one, did not know there was a Charlie Chan Christmas mystery! The Postman on Holiday’s Lou Armagno acquaints us with “The Man Who Murdered Santa Claus,” a circa-1946 episode of NBC radio’s The Adventures of Charlie Chan.

• Making the best of a bad situation: Mystery Tribune reports that “Due to COVID-19, one of Canada’s most beloved, long-running period dramas, Murdoch Mysteries, is without a new season this Christmas, which is usually when new episodes premiere. But the good news is that the streaming service Acorn TV and the show’s producers have the next best thing: an intimate concert special shot on the series set, hosted by the Detective William Murdoch himself (Yannick Bisson), consisting of music popular during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, along with the show’s favorite themes– performed by a world-class ensemble from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. A Music Lover’s Guide to Murdoch Mysteries will premiere in the U.S. and Canada, on Christmas Eve, on Thursday, December 24, 2020 on Acorn TV.”

• A Shroud of Thoughts has a nice piece up about the historical association between holiday shopping and department stores. “The Christmas shopping season has long been important to American retailers,” he writes, “and the Christmas shopping season evolved rather early in the United States. It was as early as the 1820s and 1830s that sweet shops and candy stores in New York City began capitalizing on Christmas. By the 1840s many retail shops were already advertising themselves as ‘Santa Claus's headquarters.’”

• Another loss for mystery fiction: Parnell Hall, a California-born former private detective and actor turned novelist, passed away on December 15 at age 76. He was best known for penning separate series about an ambulance-chasing New York City private investigator Stanley Hastings (Detective, A Fool for a Client) and “Puzzle Lady” Cora Felton (Lights! Cameras! Puzzles!), In her obituary, Janet Rudolph remembers Hall as a “funny, supportive, musical, generous, and all around good guy. … Everyone loved him.” His most recent novel, Chasing Jack, was released by Brash Books in September. The Gumshoe Site says Hall died of COVID-19. FOLLOW-UP: Author Robert J. Randisi sent me a note explaining: “Parnell succumbed to COVID-19, but it all started with a lung transplant, after which he had to take dialysis treatments every day until he could get a kidney transplant (didn’t happen), and then he got pneumonia and went into the hospital, where he contracted the COVID. He fought a long time.”

• And though I included, in The Rap Sheet’s last news round-up, a few brief comments about Scottish romance and crime writer Alanna Knight succumbing to illness in early December, at age 97, Mike Ripley’s longer obituary of that prolific author in The Guardian provides a great deal more interesting information.

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