Friday, January 01, 2021

Bullet Points: 2021—At Last Edition

Down & Out: The Magazine, founded as a quarterly print/e-book periodical and helmed by the ever-resilient Rick Ollerman, debuted in the summer of 2017 and has since produced just five additional issues, their frequency having become quite unpredictable. The fifth edition came out in November 2019, and the sixth went on sale last month. This new one, by the way, is the first not to carry a “Placed in Evidence” column from yours truly. My schedule made it impossible for me to produce a creditable non-fiction essay by the deadline of January 31, 2020. Had I known that this issue wouldn’t be appearing until 11 months later, I might have asked for an extension on that due date. Oh, well. It sounds as if the latest number has enough to commend it, including “correspondence between two legends of crime fiction, Walter Satterthwait and Bill Crider, both of whom recently passed away”; a short story by the prolific Stephen Marlowe (1928-2008), plus an introduction to Marlowe’s work by Jeff Vorzimmer, the editor of last year’s The Best of Manhunt collection; and fresh short stories from James O. Born, Josh Pachter, and Rap Sheet regular Steven Nester.

• Is it merely my imagination, or has there really been less and less attention paid annually to Britain’s Staunch Book Prize ever since that commendation—which honors “a thriller novel in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered”—was created back in 2018? I do not remember seeing any significant coverage of the 2020 shortlist when it was announced in early November. And I wasn’t aware until today (courtesy of Shotmag Confidential) that a winner had been declared on November 25: Heaven, My Home, by Attica Locke (Serpent’s Tail). Locke, incidentally, is the first American to walk off with this award, which comes with £1000 in prize money. For the record, here are this year’s other five Staunch finalists:

The Chemical Reaction, by Fiona Erskine (Point Blank)
Glorious Boy, by Aimee Liu (Red Hen Press)
Death in Her Hands, by Ottessa Moshfegh (Vintage)
The Burning Island, by Jock Serong (Text)
The Coldest Warrior, by Paul Vidich (No Exit Press)

• As everyone knows by now, writer and Columbo co-creator William Link died earlier this week. The Columbophile, though, doesn’t want us to forget about these other Columboworld stars we lost in 2020—Robert Conrad, Honor Blackman, and yes, Dawn Wells among them.

• Immediately before Christmas, CrimeReads published a fairly wonderful piece by Paul Vidich (The Coldest Warrior, The Mercenary) about his fellow author John le Carré, who died on December 12 at 89 years of age. In it, Vidich observes:
Le Carré’s distinction and originality is that he used the conventions of the spy novel for the purposes of social criticism. The British intelligence bureaucracy and the men (and they are largely men) represent the social attitudes and vanities of a certain class of Englishmen. They marry, cheat, divorce, spy and play their games of political and sexual betrayal. Le Carré used espionage as Conrad used the sea and Kipling India, as an exotic world in which to explore the inconvenient truths that exist in a democracy that finds it hard to balance openness with the need to keep secrets.

Intelligence agents in this world often act as legally sanctioned criminals. Lies are told in the service of truth, friends suborned in the name of national security, and extrajudicial murder qualifies as justice. We are fascinated by these contradictions and are entertained by the inherent hypocrisy.
• Steele Curry offers up his own le Carré tribute.

• The Killing Times spent this week applauding what it declares are the top 20 TV crime dramas shown in 2020. Among its picks: The Outsider, The Undoing, Deadwater Fell, Perry Mason, Deadwind, Dare Me, Baghdad Central, and I May Destroy You. Obviously, those good folks at The Killing Times spent way more time staring at small screens over the last 12 months than I did! They count down their endorsements in four posts: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

• That site’s focus isn’t only rearward, though. In this long feature, Killing Times editors preview some of the new crime, mystery, and thriller programming bound for TV screens in 2021—all of it accessible to British audiences, some of it available to American watchers as well. Who knows what will draw the biggest ratings, but I am looking forward to seeing The Serpent (starring Tahar Rahim and the magnetic Jenna Coleman), Series 2 of Baptiste, The North Water (based on Ian McGuire’s 2016 historical adventure), Series 2 of McDonald and Dodds, Lupin, Amsterdam Vice, and of course Season 6 of Endeavour. The post also includes the first trailer I’ve seen for Clarice, a sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, starring Rebecca Breeds as FBI agent Clarice Starling. It’s not very revealing, but still welcome.

• There’s more than a modicum of overlap between the aforementioned recommendations and Dead Good Books’ tally of “20 Crime Shows You Shouldn’t Miss in 2021.”

• One of the programs I most look forward to seeing this season is Miss Scarlet and the Duke, a period mystery premiering under PBS-TV’s Masterpiece banner on Sunday, January 17. Already broadcast last spring in the UK, this six-part production is “set in 1882 Victorian London, with a fearless, quick-witted, and sassy female aspiring detective facing all manner of obstacles, from Victorian conventions to the efforts of her rakish and wily longtime friend/competition/potential love interest!” Kate Phillips, who portrayed Princess Mary (Queen Elizabeth II’s aunt) in The Crown, stars as Eliza Scarlet, the daughter of a London private detective who takes over her father’s agency after he dies in order to avoid penury. Stuart Martin, familiar as Silas Sharrow on Jamestown, plays Scotland Yard Detective Inspector William Wellington, aka The Duke, Eliza’s childhood companion and reluctant colleague. The PBS Masterpiece site offers more information about this drama. Below is a video trailer.

• CrimeReads editor-in-chief Dwyer Murphy toutsThe Best Crime Shows of the Decade.” If I didn’t sit through all of them, I at least knew about these programs, which range from The Night Of and True Detective to Bosch and Justified. Just one exception: the American psychological thriller You. That Lifetime-turned-Netflix series, entering its third season in 2021, passed me by completely.

• It’s good to see that “The estate of Arthur Conan Doyle and Netflix have agreed to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the author’s estate, which alleged that the film Enola Holmes infringed copyright by depicting a warmer and more emotional version of Sherlock Holmes.” The Guardian adds, “The lawsuit, brought against Netflix, the film’s producers Legendary Pictures, the Enola Holmes author Nancy Springer and others associated with the adaptation, argued that Conan Doyle created ‘significant new character traits for Holmes and Watson’ in the 10 stories still under copyright in the U.S., which were written between 1923 and 1927.” Lets hope this settlement clears the way to shoot a sequel to Enola Holmes, as I quite enjoyed that lighthearted picture starring Millie Bobby Brown, released this last September.

• Significant dates to remember, from In Reference to Murder:
Somehow, these deadlines slipped past me until now, but there are a couple of contests seeking submissions for first novelists due soon if you just happen to have an unpublished manuscript in your desk drawer.

The St. Martin’s Press Tony Hillerman Prize is accepting submissions for a debut mystery novel set in the American Southwest, with a prize of $10,000 advance against royalties and publication. The deadline for that one is January 2, 2021.

Also, the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America Best First Crime Novel Competition is taking submissions from the author of any unpublished novel who is not under contract with a publisher for publication of a novel (except that authors of self-published works may enter, as long as the manuscript submitted is not the self-published work). That one also has a prize of [a] $10,000 advance, with a deadline of 11:59 p.m. EST on January 1, 2021. Fortunately, you have more time to enter the CWA’s Debut Dagger competition, with a deadline of February 26th.
• The Private Eye Writers of America is currrently accepting submissions to its 2021 Shamus Awards competition. There will be four categories of honorees: Best Hardcover P.I. Novel, Best First P.I. Novel, Best Original Paperback P.I. Novel, and Best P.I. Short Story. As Guns, Gams & Gumshoes explains, “Submissions must be postmarked by March 31, 2021. No extensions can be given.”

• I’m still cobbling together The Rap Sheet’s lengthy rundown of crime-fiction works set for original release in the first quarter of this brand-new year. But already, Ayo Onatade has posted her list of British titles she’s most looking forward to reading in 2021, among them Will Dean’s The Last Thing to Burn, Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s Daughters of Night, and K.J. Maitland’s The Drowned City. George Easter of Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine has assembled his own inventory of anticipated novels, running from Mick Herron’s Slough House to Jonathan Ames’ A Man Named Doll.

• “Best of 2020” lists continue to draw attention. MysteryPeople’s Scott Montgomery identifies his 10 favorite crime releases here, including one book I missed completely: James Queally’s Line of Sight, which Montgomery calls “my favorite private eye novel of the year.” The Web site Crime Fiction Lover has posted two additional sets of endorsements here and here. Librarian-turned-blogger Lesa Holstine has fond memories of S.J. Bennett’s The Windsor Knot, Bree Baker’s Closely Harbored Secrets, Harlan Coben’s The Boy from the Woods, and other yarns. Choices from the anonymous blogger at For Winter Nights take in Jane Casey’s The Cutting Place, Stuart Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water, Antonia Hodgson’s The Silver Collar, and We Begin at the End, by Chris Whitaker. CrimeReads and Book Marks present “The Best-Reviewed Crime and Mystery Fiction of 2020” (spoiler: Tana French’s The Searcher scored top honors, according to their accounting). Finally, a non-book compilation: Art of the Title’s top-10 movie and TV openings from 2020, featuring the title sequences from both Defending Jacob (adapted from William Landay’s 2012 novel of the same name) and The Good Lord Bird (based on James McBride’s 2013 book).

• Tardy though I am, I wish to direct your attention to this piece in The Stiletto Gumshoe, which recounts how famous American paperback illustrator Robert McGinnis employed, among his many models, one Shere Hite. That’s right, the very same Ms. Hite who composed such sexology classics as Sexual Honesty, by Women, for Women (1974) and The Hite Report on Female Sexuality (1976). Hite died this last September 9 at age 77.

• Rest in peace, as well, Guy N. Smith. A hard-working English concocter of pulpy horror fiction, Smith passed away on December 24 after testing positive for COVID-19. He was 81 years old. Smith may be best remembered for having penned a strangely popular series of novels about giant killer crabs, but he also wrote non-fiction, soft-core porn, and children’s stories. The blog Too Much Horror Fiction has posted a gallery of his creepy book covers. FOLLOW-UP: In his Dispatches from the Last Outlaw blog, Thomas McNulty recalls his meeting with author Smith in the fall of 2019.

• What a fun end-of-the-year project! Houston author and blogger Scott D. Parker devoted part of December to screening all half-dozen of the 1930s and ’40s Thin Man movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, and inspired by Dashiell Hammett’s 1934 novel, The Thin Man. You will find his spirited assessments here. “I enjoyed these films so much,” Parker remarks in conclusion, “that I’m going to seek out and find the other films Powell and Loy starred in together.”

• Kudos to Publishers Weekly! After considering the abundant challenges and disruptions that faced the book-publishing industry in COVID-clobbered 2020, that American trade magazine announced that its Person of the Year (actually, People of the Year) “are not the powerhouse agents or the megabestselling authors or the Big Five CEOs. They are the booksellers, debut and midlist authors, editors, librarians, printers, publicists, sales representatives, and warehouse workers, to mention just a few—the workers, who have been the most important people in the business all along.” Without those individual booksellers and the products they continued to place in our hands, despite the rigors of the pandemic and their risks of exposure to the disease, 2020 would have been an even more lonely and agitating time than it was. They may not have been considered “essential workers,” but for many of us, they were essential, indeed.

And of course there’s a Free Little Library in Antarctica.


Ayo Onatade said...

Thanks Jeff! My first "criminal splatterings" that I have done in a long while! Hope to do it on a more regular basis!

Kevin R. Tipple said...

I do not remember seeing anything about the Britain’s Staunch Book Prize at all these past months. That is until today. Not that I see all the stuff you do, but it seems to me that the award that launched with massive fanfare seems to have lost its pr mojo.