Tuesday, September 22, 2020

A Missing Key No More

A reader comment attached to this post about a pair of prizes presented during last weekend’s online Bloody Scotland festival notes that I failed to mention the latest winner of the Glass Key Award Best Nordic Crime Novel. Indeed, it was an error—one I’ll correct now.

According to an English-translated story from the Web site Thrillers & More, 2020’s Glass Key was given in late August to Swedish writer Camilla Grebe for Skuggjägaren (The Shadow Hunter). This was Grebe’s second Glass Key win in three years; in 2008, she triumphed with her psychological thriller Diary of My Disappearance (aka After She’s Gone). “Only Stieg Larsson and Arnaldur Indriðason also won this prize twice,” Thrillers & More reports.

Four other novels vied as well for this year’s Glass Key: Dødfunden (Found Dead), by Gretelise Holm (Denmark); Den åttonde tärnan (The Eighth Bridesmaid), by Eva Frantz (Finland); Svik (Betrayal), by Lilja Sigurðardóttir (Iceland); and Kniv (Knife), by Jo Nesbø (Norway).

Belated congratulations to all of the nominees!

Monday, September 21, 2020

Bloody Late from Bloody Scotland

In case you’re wondering where I have been recently, and why I am so tardy in announcing here the winners of this year’s Bloody Scotland prizes … Well, I’ve just spent the last four days at an out-of-town family gathering, which involved serious social=distancing rules, lots of hand washing, and takeout meals only. But having now returned to the not-quite-sumptuous Rap Sheet offices, I can bring you up to date on the recipients of two awards given out during this last weekend’s online Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival.

2020 McIlvanney Prize for the Scottish Crime Book of the Year:
Pine, by Francine Toon (Doubleday)

Also shortlisted: Whirligig, by Andrew James Greig (Fledgling Press); A Dark Matter, by Doug Johnstone (Orenda); and The Art of Dying, by Ambrose Parry (Canongate)

2020 Bloody Scotland Scottish Crime Debut of the Year:
Hold Your Tongue, by Deborah Masson (Corgi)

Also shortlisted: The Crown Agent, by Stephen O’Rourke (Sandstone Press); See Them Run, by Marion Todd (Canelo); and Pine, by Francine Toon (Doubleday)

Both results were announced on Friday. September 18, the opening day of this year’s three-day Bloody Scotland festivities.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

PaperBack: “What Rhymes with Murder?”

Part of a series honoring the late author and blogger Bill Crider.

What Rhymes with Murder? by “Jack Iams,” aka Samuel Harvey Iams Jr. (Dell, 1952). According to the Vintage Paperback and Book Covers Facebook page, Jack Iams (1910-1990) was “an American crime writer who, before striking out under that pen name, was a reporter for the London Daily Mail. He then wrote for other newspapers—including The Daily News—and Newsweek. He became a television critic for the New York Herald Tribune and was an editor of Atlas magazine, which is now known as World Press Review.” What Rhymes with Murder? was the second novel he wrote starring Stanley “Rocky” Rockwell, known as the “fighting” city editor of The Record, an evening newspaper. The other two were Do Not Murder Before Christmas (1949) and A Shot of Murder (1950). Rockwell is just one of many fictional reporters who’ve made it their business to solve crimes.

What Rhymes with Murder? was part of Dell’s long-running “mapback” series. The cover painting is by James Meese.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

They Walked Too Briefly Among Us

• I was saddened to learn about the death, this last Thursday, of British actress Diana Rigg at age 82. Like so many people, I first became acquainted with her talents through her three-year stint as clever, cat-suited spy Emma Peel on The Avengers. Later I encountered Rigg again in the 1969 film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in which she played espionage agent James Bond’s ill-fated bride, and later still in the 1973 American TV sitcom, Diana, and the 1998-2000 BBC-TV series, The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries. In between and since, there were other motion-picture roles, other small-screen appearances (notably in HBO’s Game of Thrones), and assorted theater performances. Yet, as I remarked in this tribute to Rigg on the occasion of her 70th birthday, back in 2008, “it’s as [Mrs. Peel] a woman in her 20s and 30s that I recall Diana Rigg best.” Not surprisingly, Emma Peel figures prominently into the obituaries published since Rigg’s demise, including those from The New York Times, The Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, and the blogs Comfort TV and The Spy Command. Her passing follows those of two other Avengers standouts in recent years: her bowler-topped former co-star, Patrick Macnee, in 2015; and Honor Blackman, who played Macnee’s second partner on that show, Cathy Gale, and went to her grave this last April.

• Rigg recalled her years on The Avengers in this entertaining clip from a British Film Institute interview filmed in 2015.

• Attracting somewhat less attention was the passing, on September 6, of New York-born actor Kevin Dobson. After appearing in the daytime TV drama One Life to Live, Dobson scored roles on The Mod Squad, The Rookies, Emergency!, Ironside, and Cannon, before winning the prize part of Detective Bobby Crocker on Kojak (1973-1978), playing opposite Telly Savalas. An obit on the MeTV Web site says, “Dobson auditioned three times before he was cast. He credits his experience in the Army with helping him land the role. ‘I was a military policeman in the Army, so I knew how to hold a gun and throw somebody against a wall.” After Kojak went off the air, Dobson played Mickey Spillane’s famous Manhattan gumshoe, Mike Hammer, in an unsuccessful 1981 pilot film, Margin for Murder, and starred as in the 1981-1982 CBS-TV crime drama Shannon (see the opening here). He finally secured a regular, longtime slot on the prime-time soap opera Knots Landing (1982-1993). Dobson died at age 77.

• Although he lived in Kent, Washington, not far south of where I reside in Seattle, I never met Gary Alexander. But I did correspond with him occasionally, and I enjoyed a few of his books, including Interlock (2012) and Damn Near Broke (2017). We were also “Facebook friends,” though that means little. I was surprised to hear that he’d passed away on August 17 “at the ripe young age of 79, after a mercifully short battle with brain cancer,” according to his funeral home obituary. Jiro Kimura of The Gumshoe Site provides this additional information:
The former auto insurance appraiser wrote 24 novels and more than 200 short stories (mostly for Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine) as well as travel articles. He created mainly three series: the Bamson Kiet series features a police superintendent in an imaginary kingdom of Luong, beginning with Pigeon Blood (Walker 1988); the Luis Balam series features an ex-traffic cop turned tour operator in the Yucatan, Mexico, beginning with Blood Sacrifice (Doubleday, 1993); and the Buster Hightower series features a stand-up comic entangled in international intrigue, beginning with Disappeared (Five Star, 2010). His latest novel is Harry Saves the World Again (Encircle Publications, 2020), featuring amateur spy Horatio Alger “Harry” Antonelli.
I offer my condolences to Alexander’s family.

Taking Assault Seriously

This news bit comes from In Reference to Murder:
The International Thriller Writers and the Bouchercon crime festival have responded and regrouped following recent controversies surrounding racism and sexual harassment. In response to what many authors felt was an inadequate response to the issues on the part of the ITW, all but two members resigned from ITW’s board in June. Some of the changes since then began when ITW members voted on a slate of 11 mystery and thriller authors who will join its board beginning in mid-October (half male, half female); a new diversity and outreach committee was created, headed by incoming board member Alexia Gordon; and a security and safety committee is drafting a comprehensive process for dealing with violations of its code of conduct policies. Because the sexual assault event occurred at the 2019 Bouchercon, that organization has also recently revised its Code of Conduct and Anti-Harassment Policy to make it more comprehensive and easier for victims to come forward.
Publishers Weekly provides a more complete look at the events that have so roiled both writers’ organizations.

Friday, September 11, 2020

The Book You Have to Read:
“A Man’s Game,” by Newton Thornburg

(Editor’s note: This is the 166th entry in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books. It comes from Jim Thomsen, a former newspaperman and now an independent writer and manuscript editor, whose fiction and non-fiction has appeared in Pulp Modern, Mystery Tribune, Switchblade, Shotgun Honey, and West Coast Crime Wave, among other publications. A native of Bainbridge Island, Washington, he now splits his time between the Puget Sound area and Lake Santa Fe, Florida.)
“I feel like I jumped off the Space Needle some time ago and haven’t quite reached the ground.”
— Jack Baird,
A Man’s Game, by Newton Thornburg
By 1996, when A Man’s Game was published, Newton Thornburg’s moment was over—long past over—and he was in something resembling career freefall. That moment lasted from 1976, when his noir novel Cutter and Bone was published, to 1981, when it was made into the Jeff Bridges/John Heard film Cutter’s Way. Both had, then and now, a fervent cult appeal to readers who like their noir in a certain shade of sun-blasted, star-and-striped black. Crime novelist George Pelecanos called Cutter and Bone “the novel that best captures America in the last years of the Vietnam War. Thornburg wrote many novels, but this is the one for which he will be remembered.”

But, positioned by the novel’s rave reviews as something like Ross Macdonald filtered through Robert Stone, a crime author with an extra literary gear—an amazingly commercial sweet spot at the time—Thornburg was unable to capitalize on his moment. Not that the commercial failures that followed were his fault. None of his subsequent novels were awful, or anything close to it, but I can guess that none of them were greeted by his agent and publishers with hugs, high-fives, and heaps of cash.

There was Black Angus (1978), a noir set in rural Missouri, inspired by Thornburg’s stint as a ranch owner, which was fueled by film-option cash from his 1973 novel To Die in California (a novel every bit as classic and clear-eyed about post-Vietnam California as Cutter and Bone). There was Valhalla (1980), a doomsday post-apocalyptic novel that was probably the last thing anybody wanted from Newton Thornburg. There was Beautiful Kate (1982), another Midwest novel, and its adult-incest theme was probably the next-to-last thing anybody wanted from Newton Thornburg.

By the time Dreamland, his dour, sour kiss-off to Southern California, appeared in 1983, he had long since divested himself of that particular dream and decamped for comparatively dreary Seattle, Washington. Like hundreds of other disillusioned, transplanted Californians, he was drawn to the becoming of this one-time backwater, which in the early 1980s was just beginning to take on the nouveau sparkle of new technology and the surge of new money that followed.

Thornburg, then in his early 50, didn’t publish another novel for the rest of the decade. His wife died during that time. And even with his own sparkle diminished, he refused to take any easy path back into publishing’s good graces. “I’ve never considered myself a pure crime writer,” he said in a 2008 interview. “Cutter and Bone is a straight novel, no matter how you look at it—strong characterizations, simple plot. I don’t like novels with private eyes you know, formula ones. I like crime stories, but I like them to be about ordinary people, not crime professionals.”

A Man’s Game was published when Newton Thornburg was 67. It’s the second of his two squarely-set-in-Seattle novels (the first was 1990’s well-above-average The Lion at the Door). It was one of his last novels, too, coming just a few years before the stroke that ended his career. (His death in 2011 was followed by a brief flurry of “Newton Thornburg, all but forgotten” retrospectives.)

A Man’s Game is one of Newton Thornburg’s best, in my opinion. But it shows just how much a person can change in the two decades between the beginning of no longer being able to ignore middle age and the beginning of no longer being able to ignore old age. Cutter and Bone was the work of a relatively young man about relatively younger men living as corrosively as possible without having to do more than brush up against consequence. A Man’s Game reads at times as a sort of alternate take on Cutter and Bone in which Richard Bone, the carefree cocksman who had abandoned a life of Midwest corporate responsibility along with his wife and children, had stayed true to his family, or as true as he could possibly stay while staring down the barrel at the one thing he can’t run away from: getting old.

(Above) Author Newton Thornburg

In A Man’s Game, Jack Baird, age 47, loves his wife and his lovely late-teenage daughter, Kathy, likes his job as a paper-goods salesman, likes who he is and likes the slightly upper-middle-class life he’s created for them in Seattle. But discontent is already darkening the edges of his daily existence by the time Jimbo Slade comes along, threatening to hack away at the heart of it. Slade is a more-clever-than-smart young sociopath with a taste for being taken care of by gay men while acting out his darker sexual side with select young women in Seattle, whose bodies turn up in hospitals when they’re not turning up in morgues.

With zero subtlety, Jimbo Slade has set his sights on Kathy Baird—and, with an animal-clever instinct for what the law has to look past, he makes clear to Jack Baird that he has every intention of kidnapping, raping, and beating his daughter into oblivion.

Jack Baird’s life has never been touched by violence before. He’s worked hard for what he has, but, being white, handsome, and blandly personable, life has just sort of worked out for him until now. And it’s only when Jimbo Slade comes slyly insinuating himself into Baird’s life that Jack realizes how impotent and unchallenged he’s been for all of his days, how hard work has failed to make him hard against someone who says things like: “Shit, all rape is, is a guy takin what nature forces him to take. And if the cunt gets a little banged up in the process, that’s her goddamn fault for resistin. After all, what’s happenin to her ain’t no different than what’s happenin to the guy—they both havin sex, right? So what’s the big deal?”

For when Jack Baird is squarely confronted with the question of What am I going to do about this threat to my daughter when the police can’t or won’t step up? he realizes that, even though some part of him knows he’ll have to badly hurt or even kill Slade to save his daughter, he’s still a little too civilized to go to that dark place. Just as I would be, or frankly, just as about all of us would be.

So Baird, through the naïveté of his belief in civilization through his own civility, decides on a novel approach: He’ll befriend Jimbo Slade. Convince Slade that Baird has a dark side Baird’s still not entirely sure he has, that they are brothers somehow beneath the skin, that they share at least a subsection of the same murderous fantasias. Slade, of course, doesn’t buy it. So Baird decides he has to convince Slade, and in doing so convince Slade that there are easier pickings than Kathy among the city’s strippers, prostitutes, and other women on the societal margins. He’s fooling himself, and yet he knows it too, as well as Slade does, and still both decide to play out their charade, each convinced they’ll develop whatever edge they think they might have on one another to keep themselves clean … or clean enough:
Slade was shaking his head and sputtering with laughter. And Baird had no trouble understanding why. Yet this whole approach, this orgy of naïveté, was something he felt he had to get out of the way, much as the Seahawks’ previous coach would almost always run the ball on first down: to reassure the other team, lull it into complacency.
What follows for this unlikely duo is a series of night tours through the heart of Seattle’s darkness, a nightmare kaleidoscope of urban, uncaring bleakness and brokenness, the last of which ends on just about the bleakest and most broken note possible. Murder has finally been done, and for the first time in Jack Baird’s life, there is blood on his hands, and he doesn’t know how to wash himself clean.

From that point on Jack Baird, unable to swallow what he’s done or sick it back up, staggers through his daily life like a daytime drunk, with two Seattle police detectives riding shotgun in his head and all too often at his side. One seems to know exactly what Baird has done, despite his semi-convincing “Do I look like a killer?” denials, and goes about putting together a solid and semi-convincing case with ample circumstantial evidence. The other detective, an attractive woman, takes the extreme opposite approach, and decides on the basis of attraction to believe Baird.

Somewhere in the maddeningly murky middle are Baird’s wife and daughter. The wife isn’t stupid, and sees in Baird’s drift an opportunity to jump-start her own too-safe existence in a way that may no longer involve being Baird’s wife. The daughter, for the first time, starts to lose the lifelong shine of daddy hero-worship in her eyes, and all of the above become almost too much for Baird, or any man, to bear.

The genius of A Man’s Game is that it plays through some heavy character development without losing a step in its robust pacing and plotting. It’s a family drama, a police procedural, a legal thriller, a Hitchcockian suspense tale and a contemporary twisty thriller all at once, soaked in a sunshine-shattered darkness as deep as the well from which bottom-shelf whiskey is poured. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to guess at exactly how A Man’s Game ends, and yet it ends with everybody getting exactly what they deserve. Imagine Richard Bone in middle-age, a not-bad man who’s spent much of his life being not exactly good, doing exactly what needs to be done in the interests of family and justice in his own self-absorbed, half-assed way, and maybe you’ll get a glimpse of what fate—and Newton Thornburg, in 1996 an old but still powerful administrator of family and fictional justice—has in store for men who dare stare too long and hard into their own darkness.

A Man’s Game may lack that sense of nation-sized cultural scope, that Cutter and Bone feeling of capturing America and American men in a particular sociopolitical moment that seemingly only a California novel of a certain bygone time could pull off. But even a sideways view of it during a time of comparative cultural retrenchment from a comparatively obscure corner of America still captures something of the timeless American male struggle between masculine longing and civilized living. And that gives A Man’s Game, now nearly 25 years in the rearview mirror, a timeless appeal to American men—and the American women whom even in #TimesUp time, still see value in trying to understand them.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Following in Lee’s Footsteps

Victor Methos’ 2019 legal thriller, The Hallows (Thomas & Mercer), has won the 2020 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. That commendation is, of course, named in honor of the author best known for having written the 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

In achieving its victory, The Hallows beat out two other finalists for this award, which is presented annually by the University of Alabama School of Law: The Satapur Moonstone, by Sujata Massey (Soho Crime), and An Equal Justice, by Chad Zunker (Thomas & Mercer).

A UA news release about this result quotes Methos, a Utah criminal defense attorney turned author, as saying: “It is such a privilege to receive this award. Every criminal lawyer will tell you the same thing: Atticus Finch was our earliest inspiration. I first read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was 13, and to this day, when the injustices of our legal system discourage me, it is that book I turn to for inspiritment. To think the committee saw something of it in my own work humbles me, and I will always be grateful.”

That same official notice explains: “Methos will be honored with a signed special edition of To Kill a Mockingbird. The 2020 prize will be awarded virtually as part of the Library of Congress’s National Book Festival,” September 25-27.

(Hat tip to The Gumshoe Site.)

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Revue of Reviewers, 9-9-20

Critiquing some of the most interesting recent crime, mystery, and thriller releases. Click on the individual covers to read more.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Giving Bloggers the Credit They’re Due

It used to be that every mid-September brought Book Blogger Appreciation Week. That tradition was apparently begun in 2008 by Amy Riley, the Southern California author of a blog called My Friend Amy, and was intended “to recognize the hard work and contribution of book bloggers to the promotion and preservation of a literate culture actively engaged in discussing books, authors, and a lifestyle of reading.” From what I can discern, this annual Web-wide endeavor had the misfortune to peter out in 2013. By then, the blogosphere was evolving rapidly, with many people who’d once thought it a splendid idea to start writing their own blogs finally buckling under the pressure of having to update them on a regular basis. As anyone who’s managed a blog will tell you, there’s a lot of work that goes into keeping these sites active. It’s far easier to every once in a while post a brief something on Facebook and be done with the matter.

Those very difficulties, though, make it important to recognize the folks who have kept at this enterprise. Although there have been many casualties in the crime-fiction-blogging world over the last few years, including a few sites that have fallen since the COVID-19 pandemic struck this last spring, there’s still a healthy crowd of people devoted to “the promotion and preservation of a literate culture.”

So, although this isn’t officially Blogger Appreciation Week, I am going to celebrate it as such. Below you will find 20 of my favorite blogs dealing with crime, mystery, and thriller fiction. Those penned principally by one person are clearly identified.

“TomCat” — Beneath the Stains of Time
Kristopher Zgorski — BOLO Books
Various authors — Bookgasm
Elizabeth Foxwell — The Bunburyist
Les Blatt — Classic Mysteries
Various authors — Do Some Damage
Martin Edwards — ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’
Jiro KimuraThe Gumshoe Site
B.V. Lawson — In Reference to Murder
“Puzzle Doctor” — In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel
Kevin R. Tipple — Kevin’s Corner
Lesa Holstine — Lesa’s Book Critiques
Bill Selnes — Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan
Janet Rudolph — Mystery Fanfare
Steve Lewis — Mystery*File Blog
Various authors — Mystery Scene Blog
Various authors — Paperback Warrior
John “J.F.” Norris — Pretty Sinister Books
Andrew Nette — Pulp Curry
Ayo Onatade — Shotsmag Confidential

This list does not feature only book review blogs, but instead takes a more catholic view of genre coverage. It also leaves off bigger sites, such as CrimeReads and Criminal Element, that aren’t strictly “blogs,” and others that don’t deal principally with works in this genre.

Applauding those resources will just have to wait for another time.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Critics Make Their Choices

During an online event held last evening, The Strand Magazine announced the winners of its 2020 Critics Awards, in two categories:

Best Mystery Novel:
The Sentence Is Death, by Anthony Horowitz (Harper)

Also nominated: Big Sky, by Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown); The Lost Man, by Jane Harper (Flatiron); Lady in the Lake, by Laura Lippman (Morrow); Heaven, My Home, by Attica Locke (Mulholland); and The Border, by Don Winslow (Morrow)

Best Debut Novel:
Miracle Creek, by Angie Kim (Sarah Crichton)

Also nominated: Scrublands, by Chris Hammer (Atria); One Night Gone, by Tara Laskowski (Graydon House); The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides (Celadon); and Three-Fifths, by John Vercher (Agora)

As previously reported, authors Walter Mosley and Tess Gerritsen are the recipients of this year’s Strand Lifetime Achievement Awards. And Bronwen Hruska of Soho Press was designated as the winner of the 2020 Publisher of the Year Award.

Friday, September 04, 2020

PaperBack: “The Case of the Sulky Girl”

Part of a series honoring the late author and blogger Bill Crider.

The Case of the Silky Girl, by Erle Stanley Gardner (Pocket, 1962). Cover illustration by Robert McGinnis.

Honoring the Worth of Work

With America’s Labor Day holiday coming up on Monday, Janet Rudolph has updated her fine blog’s already length list of mystery fiction associated with Labor Day and labor unions.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Sundries and Snippets

No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film, had been slated to debut in April 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic provoked its postponement. Its new premiere dates: November 12 in the UK, and November 20 in the United States. A 2.5-minute trailer was released today to drum up excitement around this Daniel Craig picture. (A previous sneak peak of similar length came out last December.) As Bill Koenig observes in The Spy Command, this preview “emphasizes action and large stakes for the story. Specifically, the 25th James Bond film is back to ‘saving the world’ (or a substantial piece of it).”

• A clever alternative trailer for that movie finds Roger Moore reprising his role as Agent 007. Watch it here.

I mentioned two months ago that New York City bookseller and publisher Otto Penzler had been replaced as the series editor of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s annual anthology, The Best American Mystery Stories, which he founded back in 1997. Now Publishers Weekly brings word that California “author, critic, and editor Steph Cha has been tapped as the new series editor of The Best American Mystery Stories, which will be reframed as The Best American Mystery & Suspense, under Cha’s direction, starting with the fall 2021 edition.” Cha penned Your House Will Pay (2019) and the Juniper Song private detective novels, and she served for almost half a decade as noir editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books. The latest edition of Sarah Weinman’s newsletter, The Crime Lady, features an interview with Cha, about whom Weinman opines: “I could not think of a more perfect person to edit this annual anthology.”

• Literary Hub reports that Monroeville, Alabama, the town Harper Lee fictionalized as “Maycomb” in her classic 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, last week last week elected “its first Black mayor.”

• B.V. Lawson’s blog, In Reference to Murder, notes that “In keeping with many events this year, the International Agatha Christie Festival is going online. The free 2020 virtual festival will be live on the festival’s new YouTube channel on September 15. To make sure you don’t miss out, you can subscribe now by visiting this link. Sophie Hannah, Laura Thompson, and Mathew Prichard are among the special guests with topics to include Christie’s childhood; her home, Greenway; Hercule Poirot; and Christie’s plays, Witness for the Prosecution and The Mousetrap, among other subjects.”

• Meanwhile, Christie’s French publisher has finally decided to change the title on its translation of her best-selling, 1939 mystery novel from Dix Petits Negres, or Ten Little Niggers, to Ils Etaient Dix, or They Were Ten. Ten Little Niggers was the title featured on the original British release of Christie’s gripping story, but when that book came out in the States in 1940, it instead bore the less-offensive name And Then There Were None. The Paris-based Agence France-Presse news agency says, “the decision to change the French title … was taken by her great-grandson James Prichard, who heads the company that owns the literary and media rights to Christie’s works. … Not using words ‘that upset people,’ Prichard said, ‘just seems to me a very sensible position to have in 2020.’”

• Lastly, Martin Edwards conveys the sad news that Welsh-born novelist Dorothy Simpson died on August 20, at age 87. “I knew her as the author of the Inspector Thanet novels,” he writes, “but I gather that she came to writing (as did a number of her predecessors, including Freeman Wills Crofts, G.D.H. Cole, and Patricia Moyes) after a period of convalescence. She began with a suspense novel, Harbingers of Fear, which was published in 1977. After that came some rejections, but then she created Thanet and never looked back after publishing The Night She Died in 1981. Something I didn’t know until recently was that she spent thirteen years as a marriage guidance counsellor. This was an experience she found invaluable as a writer. As she pointed out in a comment on her website, murder mysteries are about relationships that go wrong, and her understanding of what makes people tick was a great asset.” Simpson won the 1985 Silver Dagger Award from Britain’s Crime Writers Association for her fifth Kent-set Thanet novel, Last Seen Alive.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Let Us Now Praise Scottish Authors

This year’s Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival, September 18-20, has had to be moved online due to the ongoing pandemic. In advance of the event, festival organizers today announced their four finalists for the 2020 McIlvanney Prize for the Scottish Crime Book of the Year. They are:

Whirligig, by Andrew James Greig (Fledgling Press)
A Dark Matter, by Doug Johnstone (Orenda)
The Art of Dying, by Ambrose Parry (Canongate)
Pine, by Francine Toon (Doubleday)

The longlist of contenders for this commendation is available here, along with the shortlisted nominees for the 2020 Bloody Scotland Scottish Crime Debut of the Year. Friday, September 18, will bring news of which books and authors have won these two awards.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Odds and Ends

• Although it might be easy to overlook, today is Independent Bookstore Day. In previous years, this occasion has brought out tens of thousands of readers, all willing to race between independent book retailers in record time. (You can read my recaps of some such mad dashes here, here, and here.) But, due to the continuing—and continually devastating—COVID-19 pandemic (180,000 people dead in the United States, and Trump still won’t develop a national plan for dealing with this crisis!), the 2020 celebration was first postponed from April 25 to today, August 29, and has since turned into a primarily virtual celebration. However, as B.V. Lawson of In Reference to Murder reminds us, there are limited in-store events around the United States. And even if it’s unsafe to visit two dozen or so shops today, you can still patronize one or two, picking up fresh reading material and supporting these immensely valuable businesses, many of which have seen significant drops in sales this year. Or go online to order. Click here to find a list of participating retailers; search for your local stores by zip code.

• While we’re on the subject of indies, Portland, Oregon’s wonderful Powell’s Books (which has also been hit hard by the pandemic) has announced that it will no longer sell its wares via Amazon. “For too long,” says owner Emily Powell, “we have watched the detrimental impact of Amazon’s business on our communities and the independent bookselling world. We understand that in many communities, Amazon—and big box retail chains—have become the only option. And yet when it comes to our local community and the community of independent bookstores around the U.S., we must take a stand. The vitality of our neighbors and neighborhoods depends on the ability of local businesses to thrive. We will not participate in undermining that vitality.” Of course, you can still purchase new and used works from the Powell’s Web site.

• In Reference to Murder alerts us as well to the coming “virtual Bloody Scotland writing festival on September 18, available with free registration. Features include a panel on Pitching Your Story; Jeffery Deaver—My Life in Crime; The Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers—Behind the Scenes; and The McIlvanney Prize and Debut Prize announcement. Organizers also recently announced that the entire Bloody Scotland crime fest (running September 17-30) will be available for free online, including events with special guests Lee Child and Ian Rankin.”

• George Roy Hill’s 1973 con-man film, The Sting, placed 12th in Otto Penzler’s recent assessment of “The Greatest Crime Films of All Time.” But CrimeReads staff writer Olivia Rutigliano gives that Oscar-winning Paul Newman/Robert Redford vehicle star treatment in this new piece, which applauds its storyline as “a perfect crystal of a premise—clean and neat despite the multitude of facets that it will turn over as it rolls along.” She adds:
In my opinion, The Sting’s particular kind of endless narrative-unfurling has never been topped by another movie—but The Sting is also fascinating for how many layers of performance it dons, as it progresses. The movie is often discussed in terms of its flawless headlining, a pairing between Newman and Redford that is even more fun and fulfilling than its counterpart in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (which, despite the joys of its big-time good-guy-burglaries, scenic chase scenes, and bicycle riding interludes, is bound to a historical accuracy that can’t provide the triumphant ending we crave for our heroes). Indeed, for us, the audience, much of the massive appeal of The Sting is specifically dependent on the performative togetherness of Newman and Redford—the presentation that they’re two halves of a friendly, repeatable routine. They are one of Hollywood’s greatest duos, greatest double-acts.
All of which reminds me that during last year’s Independent Bookstore Day, I found the paperback movie tie-in treatment of The Sting, written by Robert Weverka. It’s still sitting in a pile on my desk. Might it at last be time to crack that baby open?

• I read Elmore Leonard’s Unknown Man #89 (1977) back in college, which was more than a few coon’s ages ago. So it’s good to have my memory of the tale refreshed by this review in Mystery Tribune. Author Nev March says the book “gets more than passing grades—it reveals the quandary of a ‘regular guy,’ a sometime scamp, coming to terms with what he can and cannot stomach in the world around him. It lays bare the arguments that an alcoholic wields to persuade himself, with honesty that can only come from the pain of experience. Although lesser known than Leonard’s bestsellers Raylan, Tishomingo Blues, Be Cool, Get Shorty, and Rum Punch, the novel Unknown Man #89 is a tale of action, deduction, and soul-searching choices.”

• Finally, I have some sad news to impart: Sixty-five-year-old author Paul Green—who has penned biographies of Roy Huggins, Pete Duel, and Jeffrey Hunter, and has also produced books about “weird detectives” and television’s The Virginian—confided recently on Facebook that he has entered hospice care. He tells me, “I suffer from stage 4 prostrate cancer that has spread to my bones. I have been under treatment for three years.” According to a biographical note on Amazon, Green “began his professional career as an artist for World Distributors, DC and Marvel UK, Egmont and Whitman on such titles as Doctor Who, Star Trek, Alias Smith and Jones, Masters of the Universe, Scooby-Doo, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man.” Born in Lincoln, England, he currently resides in Rustburg, Virginia. A kind, hopeful thought or two for Paul would not go amiss.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

COVID-19 Is Already Ruining 2021

If you were hoping to attend next year’s Left Coast Crime convention, this is going to put a kink in your plans. From Mystery Fanfare:
Due to the uncertainty of holding large gatherings in the spring of 2021, the Left Coast Crime 2021 convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has been rescheduled for April 7–10, 2022—same place, same week in April, just a year later.

The Left Coast Crime national committee is making this decision now because we cannot count on having favorable government policies and the hotel’s ability to provide necessary services by next spring, as well as the willingness of our Left Coast Crime community to travel with confidence. We’ve been in continual conversations with hotel personnel and sought assurances from the State of New Mexico, but no one can say when conventions can resume, even in 2021.
Registration for Left Coast Crime 2022 is currently open.

Although next year’s gathering won’t happen, LCC organizers say the 2021 Lefty Awards will still go ahead, with the results to be announced online. “Registrants for the Left Coast Crime Conventions in San Diego and Albuquerque will be able to nominate three titles in each category,” according to Mystery Fanfare. “Nomination forms will be e-mailed to all eligible LCC registrants by January 1, 2021. The Lefty Award categories are: Best Mystery Novel, Best Debut Mystery Novel, Best Humorous Mystery Novel, Best Historical Mystery Novel (the Bruce Alexander Memorial).” More info on these prizes is available here.

Aussie Honors

The Australian Crime Writers Association (ACWA) has announced its shortlists of nominees for the 2020 Ned Kelly Awards, aka the “Neddies,” which take their name from that country’s most notorious bushranger. A news release says, “This year, for the first time, the Ned Kelly Awards also include a category for Best International Crime Fiction published in Australia, adding to the regular categories of Best Crime Fiction, Best Debut Crime Fiction and Best True Crime.”

Best Crime Fiction:
Death of a Typographer, by Nick Gadd (Australian Scholarly Publishing)
The Strangers We Know, by Pip Drysdale (Simon & Schuster)
The Scholar, by Dervla McTiernan (Harlequin)
The Wife and the Widow, by Christian White (Affirm Press)
Rivers of Salt, by Dave Warner (Fremantle Press)
True West, by David Whish-Wilson (Fremantle Press)

Best Debut Crime Fiction:
Present Tense, by Natalie Conyer (Clan Destine Press)
Eight Lives, by Susan Hurley (Affirm Press)
Where the Truth Lies, by Karina Kilmore (Simon & Schuster)
The Nancys, by R.W.R. McDonald (Allen & Unwin)
Six Minutes, by Petronella McGovern (Allen & Unwin)
Lapse, by Sarah Thornton (Text)

Best True Crime:
Bowraville, by Dan Box (Penguin Random House)
Dead Man Walking: The Murky World of Michael McGurk and Ron Medich, by Kate McClymont (Penguin Random House)
Shark Arm, by Phillip Rooper and Kevin Meagher (Allen & Unwin)
Snakes and Ladders, by Angela Williams (Affirm Press)

Best International Crime Fiction:
Cruel Acts, by Jane Casey (HarperCollins)
The Night Fire, by Michael Connelly (Allen & Unwin)
The Chain, by Adrian McKinty (Hachette)
The Last Widow, by Karin Slaughter (HarperCollins)

The ACWA news release about these prizes does not specify when this year’s winners will be declared, but we’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

A Quick Five

• Twenty months after he began posting his choices of the 106 “Greatest Crime Films of All Time,” in CrimeReads, New York City bookseller and editor Otto Penzler yesterday finally announced his No. 1 pick: The Third Man (1949), based on Graham Greene’s novella of that same name and starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, (Alida) Valli, and Trevor Howard. Of the picture, Penzler writes:
Graham Greene based the villainous Harry Lime on Kim Philby, the infamous British double agent. Greene had been a member of the British Secret Intelligence Service until 1944, when he abruptly resigned. It has been suggested that the reason for his resignation was that he suspected Philby of being a traitor and did not want to actively assist him. Greene, himself a communist sympathizer, did not report Philby, who continued his activities for some time after Greene’s resignation.
A trailer for The Third Man can be enjoyed here. Penzler’s full list of film favorites is available here.

• Can you tell a whole story in just half a dozen words? That’s the challenge being posed by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America (RMMWA), which will open its fourth annual Six-Word Mystery Contest on Tuesday, September 15. A news release explains that “Six-word ‘whodunits’ can be entered in one or all five of the following categories: Hard-boiled or Noir; Cozy Mystery; Thriller Mystery; Police Procedural Mystery; and/or a mystery with Romance or Lust. The Six-Word Mystery Contest is open to all adults 18 and over. No residency requirements. … The contest entry fee is $6 for one entry (just $1 per word); or $10 to enter six-word mysteries in all five categories. The grand prize winner will receive $100 in cold, hard cash. Winners in all other categories will receive $25 gift certificates, and all winners and finalists will be featured in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, on our RMMWA website, and in our popular newsletter, Deadlines.” Last year’s the overall winner is Jeffrey Lockwood, an author and professor of natural sciences and humanities at the University of Wyoming, whose punchy submission read simply: 36D, 44 magnum, 20 to life.

• The crime-fiction social networking site Crimespace has shut down. Sydney, Australia, writer Daniel Hatadi, who founded that online community for crime-fiction enthusiasts back in 2007, recently sent out the following message:
As you may be aware, Ning.com, the company who provides the servers and service for Crimespace to run on, charges an annual fee. The fee is $USD 239.90 and based on the donations and my current financial situation I cannot afford to run Crimespace any longer.

I’ve been checking activity on Crimespace and it is extremely minimal these days, most likely due to the more popular social networks.

As such, I’ve decided to close Crimespace.

This was supposed to happen soon but it appears that it already has been deactivated from July 20th 2020. Please accept my apologies for this short notice.

For blogs, there is a function to duplicate posts to other blog services so if you have used this so far there will most likely not be much work for you to transition.

Thanks to everyone who has donated along the way, it’s much appreciated.
• San Francisco-area author Mark Coggins launched a podcast in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown. Called Riordan’s Desk, after his series private eye, August Riordan, it began with him reading—chapter by chapter—his latest Riordan novel, The Dead Beat Scroll (2019). Last week, he concluded that 30-part presentation by sitting for an interview with Randal S. Brandt, curator of the California Detective Fiction Collection at the University of California, Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, who asked him questions about the podcast project and about his full Riordan series. Listen to their exchange here.

• Speaking of podcasts, Sunshine State journalist Craig Pittman is now co-hosting one called Welcome to Florida. He writes that “our latest episode features a discussion with Colette Bancroft of the new short-story collection Tampa Bay Noir, which features tales of shady people in sunny places from Michael Connelly, Lisa Unger, Ace Atkins, Lori Roy, and a host of others.” That episode can he heard here.