Saturday, April 17, 2021

Cosby Victorious in Times Contest

S.A. Cosby’s already much-applauded novel Blacktop Wasteland (Flatiron) has now won the 2020 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the Mystery/Thriller category. That announcement was made on Friday, the day before the 26th Los Angeles Times Festival of Books kicked off its second virtual event held during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Competing against Cosby’s tale in that same bracket were A Beautiful Crime, by Christopher Bollen (Harper); And Now She’s Gone, by Rachel Howzell Hall (Forge); Little Secrets, by Jennifer Hillier (Minotaur); and These Women, by Ivy Pochoda (Ecco).

Mystery/Thriller was just one of 12 Times Book Prize classifications. Click here to see the full list of this year’s recipients.

Friday, April 16, 2021

A Sense of Place Can’t Be Overvalued

By Fraser Massey
British author Sarah Pearse knew she’d found the perfect setting for her “creepy” debut thriller, The Sanatorium (released earlier this year by Pamela Dorman [U.S.] and Bantam Press [UK]), when she couldn’t even bring herself to set foot in such a place for research purposes. “My mind said I’d love to go,” she told the audience watching this week’s First Monday Crime discussion on Facebook, but in the end she was “a bit too scared to do it.”

The Sanatorium is a locked-room mystery yarn about a missing guest at a once-abandoned tuberculosis nursing home in the Swiss Alps, now renovated into a five-star minimalist hotel. Pearse’s success in conjuring up that isolated building’s chilling aura has certainly captured the interest of readers. Her novel has become the runaway crime-publishing success story of this year so far, shooting straight into the top-10 bestseller charts of both The New York Times and London’s Sunday Times.

Pearse had spent time in Switzerland during her 20s, and later happened across a magazine article about vintage sanatoria being converted to other uses. Those ingredients served to inspire her book. And though she talked herself out of on-the-spot research, Pearse did find videos on YouTube that helped her hone the harrowing atmospherics she needed for her story. There are modern explorers, she explained, who “take a kind of video camera into an old abandoned building and kind of film themselves. I have to say, I went down a rabbit hole of these videos and just sort of immersed myself in that environment … Some of the videos … I mean, they do it in a really creepy way so it obviously draws you in. But I really felt I was there.”

Fans of these regular First Monday Crime sessions—based in London and currently being conducted via Zoom, due to the coronavirus pandemic—had to wait an extra week for this latest presentation, as the actual first Monday in April fell on an Easter public holiday in the UK. But the online audience’s patience was rewarded by the strength of the line-up of writers assembled on their behalf. Not just Pearse, but also American best-seller David Baldacci, premiere novelist David Fennell, and suspense master Matt Wesolowski.

The latest entry in Wesolowski’s award-winning “Six Stories” series, featuring enigmatic investigative reporter and podcast host Scott King, is Deity (Orenda). “It’s a story about what we do as fans when our heroes fall from grace,” the author said of his compelling tale, which has a plot with an almost ripped-from-the-headlines feel to it as King searches for the truth about the mysterious death of a pop star rumored to have sexually abused his fans.

Moderator Jacky Collins said she was especially drawn to the folklore elements of Deity, suggesting how hearsay and lore from the past can influence the present. This set Wesolowski off on an extended tribute to the power of human legends. “I think … the best fear is set in folklore, and the best fear is set in reality,” he began. “Folklore has always been a way to teach through fear. As a species, we teach each other things through stories … We teach our children not to go places because there’s a story behind it. … I think I haven’t invented any new folklore, but I’ve drawn upon this idea of death omens. Up in Scotland, in the Highlands, there’s this idea of a death omen in the form of a black dog. This is used in many cultures, the fear of a death omen. But it also can be an extended metaphor in the story—without sounding horribly pretentious—about someone who’s looking back at past evil and almost being followed by a death omen. … [It’s like] someone’s past coming back to bite them, as it were.”

Although Baldacci’s latest novel, A Gambling Man—being released in mid-May on both sides of the Atlantic—focuses primarily on the murky world of political corruption, its storyline too has a showbiz element. A sequel to his 2019 novel One Good Deed, it again stars Baldacci’s straight-talking World War II veteran and wannabe private eye, Aloysius Archer, who this time out hooks up with a budding Hollywood actress named Liberty Callahan.

Like Pearse, Baldacci admitted to viewers that he’d done no location research when developing his plot. He didn’t need to, as his setting—the California resort of Bay Town—is primarily a figment of his imagination. “I almost always in my books, always make the town up,” he explained. “I never write about a real town. … I always go to a state and I’ll check the entire geographic registry to make sure this is not [the name of] an actual town. Because if I write about an actual town someone will write and say, ‘That mailbox is on the other corner [to where you said]. You screwed up. You’re no good. And I’m not going to finish your book.’ So I always come up with a fictional town. But if you want to think about Santa Barbara, a little bit north of L.A., you’re probably right around the right place.”

This First Monday’s final panelist, David Fennell, revealed that—perhaps because, as a fresh-out-of-the-box novelist, he’s yet to experience similarly pernickety readers desperate to catch him out on geographical errors—he actually put in plenty of foot hours while concocting his intriguing police procedural, The Art of Death (Zaffre), slogging his way around potential London murder sites, searching for authentic setting details.

“Every location [in the book] is real,” Fennell said proudly of his nail-biting art-world-set thriller. “My serial killer, he loves decrepit, forsaken buildings. I certainly walked those streets quite a lot to get ideas and to get a feel for the locations.”

This week’s full hour-long discussion can be watched here.

First Monday Crime, an immensely popular feature of the London literary scene ever since 2016, will no doubt return next month, showcasing still one more fresh set of crime-fictionists. Chances are that it will also take place a week late, as May 3—May Day, the first Monday in May—is another British bank holiday.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Britain Draws Its Daggers

Earlier today, the British Crime Writers’ Association announced the longlists of nominees for its 2021 Dagger Awards, “the premier literary crime-writing awards in the United Kingdom.” The CWA’s shortlists for these same commendations are expected to be released on May 20, with the winners to be declared on July 1.

Gold Dagger:
Stone Cold Trouble, by Amer Anwar (Dialogue)
Blacktop Wasteland, by S.A. Cosby (Headline)
The Curator, by M.W. Craven (Constable)
City of Ghosts, by Ben Creed (Welbeck)
Peace, by Garry Disher (Viper)
Arrowood and the Thames Corpses, by Mick Finlay (HQ)
House of Correction, by Nicci French (Simon & Schuster)
Troubled Blood, by Robert Galbraith (Sphere)
The Postscript Murders, by Elly Griffiths (Quercus)
The Silver Collar, by Antonia Hodgson (Hodder & Stoughton)
The House of Lamentations, by S.G. Maclean: (Quercus)
The Other Girl, by C.D. Major (Thomas & Mercer)
Midnight Atlanta, by Thomas Mullen (Little, Brown)
Execution, by S.J. Parris (Harper Fiction)
Making Wolf, by Tade Thompson (Constable)
The Dead of Winter, by Nicola Upson (Faber and Faber)
We Begin at the End, by Chris Whitaker (Zaffre)
The Hidden Girls, by Rebecca Whitney (Mantle)

Ian Fleming Steel Dagger:
Box 88, by Charles Cumming (Harper Fiction)
Troubled Blood, by Robert Galbraith (Sphere)
The System, by Ryan Gattis (Picador)
Song for the Dark Times, by Ian Rankin (Orion)
Blood Red City, by Rod Reynolds (Orenda)
Watch Him Die, by Craig Robertson (Simon & Schuster)
When She Was Good, by Michael Robotham (Sphere)
The Nothing Man, by Catherine Ryan Howard (Atlantic)
The Devil and the Dark Water, by Stuart Turton (Raven)
One by One, by Ruth Ware (Harvill Secker)
The Dead Line, by Holly Watt (Raven)
We Begin at the End, by Chris Whitaker (Zaffre)

John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger:
The Creak on the Stairs, by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir (Orenda)
The Silence, by Susan Allott (Borough)
The Silent Daughter, by Emma Christie (Welbeck)
The Chalet, by Catherine Cooper (Harper Fiction)
City of Ghosts, by Ben Creed (Welbeck)
Under Violent Skies, by Judi Daykin (Joffe)
The One That Got Away, by Egan Hughes (Sphere)
The Bone Jar, by S W Kane (Thomas & Mercer)
Cuddies Strip, by Rob McInroy (Ringwood Press)
What’s Left of Me Is Yours, by Stephanie Scott
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Fortune Favours the Dead, by Stephen Spotswood (Wildfire)
Three Fifths, by John Vercher (Pushkin Press)
Hermit, by S.R. White (Headline)

Sapere Books Historical Dagger:
Justice for Athena, by J.M. Alvey (Canelo)
Snow, by John Banville (Faber and Faber)
Midnight at Malabar House, by Vaseem Khan (Hodder & Stoughton)
Riviera Gold, by Laurie R. King (Allison & Busby)
The Unwanted Dead, by Chris Lloyd (Orion Fiction)
Execution, by S.J. Parris (Harper Fiction)
The Night of Shooting Stars, by Ben Pastor (Bitter Lemon Press)
The City Under Siege, by Michael Russell (Constable)
Skelton’s Guide to Domestic Poisons, by David S. Stafford
(Allison & Busby)
Chaos, by A.D. Swanston (Bantam Press)
The Dead of Winter, by Nicola Upson (Faber and Faber)
The Mimosa Tree Mystery, by Ovidia Yu (Constable)

Crime Fiction in Translation Dagger:
Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman, translated by Neil Smith (Michael Joseph)
The Coral Bride, by Roxanne Bouchard, translated by David
Warriner (Orenda)
Greed, by Marc Elsberg, translated by Simon Pare (Black Swan)
The Disaster Tourist, by Yun Ko-eun, translated by Lizzie Buehler (Serpent’s Tail)
The March Fallen, by Volker Kutscher, translated by Niall Sellar (Sandstone Press)
Three, by D.A. Mishani, translated by Jessica Cohen (Riverrun)
The Kingdom, by Jo Nesbø, translated by Robert Ferguson
(Harvill Secker)
The Secret Life of Mr. Roos, by Håkan Nesser, translated by Sarah Death (Mantle)
To Cook a Bear, by Mikael Niemi, translated by Deborah
Bragan-Turner (MacLehose Press)
The Seven Doors, by Agnes Ravatn, translated by Rosie
Hedger (Orenda)
Elly, by Maike Wetzel, translated by Lyn Marven (Scribe)

Short Story Dagger:
• “A Dog Is for Life, Not Just for Christmas,” by Robert Scragg (from Afraid of the Christmas Lights, edited by Robert Scragg; Robert Scragg)
• “Deathbed,” by Elle Croft (from Afraid of the Light, edited by Robert Scragg; Robert Scragg)
• “Daddy Dearest,” by Dominic Nolan (from Afraid of the Light)
• “Especially at Christmas,” by Adam Southward (from Afraid of the Christmas Lights)
• “Head Count,” by Christopher Fowler (from First Edition: Celebrating 21 Years of Goldsboro Books, edited by David Headley and Daniel Gedeon; The Dome Press)
• “Hunted,” by Victoria Selman (from Afraid of the Christmas Lights)
• “Monsters,” by Clare Mackintosh (from First Edition: Celebrating 21 Years of Goldsboro Books)
• “Murder Most Vial,” by Stuart Turton (from First Edition: Celebrating 21 Years of Goldsboro Books)
• “One of These Nights,” by Livia Llewelyn (from Cutting Edge: Noir Stories by Women, edited by Joyce Carol Oates; Pushkin Press)
• “Planting Nan,” by James Delargy (from Afraid of the Light)
• “The Foot of the Walk Murders,” by Simpson Grears (from The Foot of the Walk Murders, edited by Simpson Grears; Rymour)

ALCS Gold Dagger for Non-fiction:
Written in Bone: Hidden Stories in What We Leave Behind, by Sue Black (Doubleday)
The Prison Doctor: Women Inside, by Amanda Brown (HQ)
We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence, by Becky Cooper (Heinemann)
Howdunit: A Masterclass in Crime Writing by Members of the Detection Club, edited by Martin Edwards (Collins Crime Club)
These Are Not Gentle People, by Andrew Harding (MacLehose Press)
Dancing with the Octopus: The Telling of a True Crime, by Debora Harding (Profile)
The Book of Trespass: Crossing the Lines that Divide Us, by Nick Hayes (Bloomsbury Circus)
Agent Sonya: Lover, Mother, Soldier, Spy, by Ben MacIntyre (Viking)
Hell in the Heartland: A True Story of Murder and Two Missing Girls, by Jax Miller (HarperCollins)
The Peer and the Gangster: A Very British Cover-up, by Daniel Smith (The History Press)
Operation Morthor: The Last Great Mystery of the Cold War, by Ravi Somaiya (Viking)
The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story, by Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury Circus)
No Return: The True Story of How Martyrs Are Made, by Mark Townsend (Guardian)

Dagger in the Library (“for a body of work by an established crime writer that has long been popular with borrowers from libraries”):
• Lin Anderson
• Nicci French
• Lisa Jewell
• Erin Kelly
• Peter May
• Denise Mina
• Margaret Murphy
• James Oswald
• L.J. Ross
• C.L. Taylor

Publishers’ Dagger (“awarded annually to the Best Crime and Mystery Publisher of the Year”):
• Bitter Lemon Press
• Faber and Faber
• Harper Fiction
• Head of Zeus
• Michael Joseph
• No Exit Press
• Orenda
• Pushkin Vertigo
• Raven
• Sphere
• Viper

All of these contenders deserve enthusiastic applause. But I’m particularly pleased to see Chris Whitaker’s We Begin at the End (the U.S. edition of which is certainly one of the best novels I’ve read this year) and Ben Creed’s City of Ghosts being nominated twice for Daggers, and both Stuart Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water and Thomas Mullen’s Midnight Atlanta—two among my favorite books from 2020—earning spots in one Dagger category apiece.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Finding the Funny in Felonies

Organizers of Toronto, Canada’s 2021 Bloody Words Mini-con had to cancel that event, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the winner of this year’s Bony Blithe/Bloody Words Light Mystery Award is still scheduled to be announced—online—on May 28.

In advance of that event, a shortlist of five contenders for the Bony Blithe has been released, as follows:

There’s a Murder Afoot, by Vicki Delany (Crooked Lane)
The Adventures of Isabel, by Candas Jane Dorsey (ECW Press)
Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings, by Liz Ireland (Kensington)
Obsidian, by Thomas King (HarperCollins Canada)
A Match Made for Murder, by Iona Wishaw (Touchwood Editions)

The Bony Blithe is intended to “celebrate traditional, feel-good mysteries” that can bring a smile to judges’ faces. This year apparently marks the 10th year of the prize’s presentation. Check the Bloody Words Web site or its Facebook page for updates.

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

Monday, April 12, 2021

All the Witty Horses

By Jim Napier
To say that Mick Herron is a dark writer is a little like saying Attila the Hun had difficulty getting along with others. One doesn’t read his novels for the plot, nor even primarily for the characters, but for the bleak and jaundiced narrative style that is as much social commentary as it is drama.

Herron’s caustic prose is peppered with witticisms. When—in his new novel, Slough House (Soho Crime)—someone enters a room and finds a varied group of inhabitants, one of his characters exclaims, “It’s like the United Nations in here,” to which another responds, “What, a dosshouse for the weird and lonely?” And when a relatively young man tries to wedge his way into the ranks of his disgraced intelligence agents, Herron observes that “When they went on about sixty being the new forty they forgot to add that that made thirty-something the new twelve.”

Slough House is an outlier in the organizational structure of the British Secret Service, whose home base is located in London’s very elegant Regent’s Park district. By contrast, Slough House lies in the decidedly tatty borough of Finsbury, and is a haven for—what else?—the so-called Slow Horses, viewed by the Park as expendable assets in the world of spycraft. It is zealously presided over by Jackson Lamb. Supremely arrogant, and the living embodiment of political incorrectness, Lamb alternates his burps, farts, and various other offensive bodily functions with off-hand insults directed at gays, the mentally challenged, the vertically challenged, and pretty well anyone else who wanders into his purview. The denizens of Slough House include a coke-head, a gay dwarf, a man framed for being a pedophile, and a woman thought to be dead, but who turns out to be very much alive, though the degree to which she has retained her former skills is as yet worryingly unclear. All of these unfortunates (and others) have managed to alienate the affections of those in command at the Park, who have consigned them to a surrealistic limbo that would give even Hieronymus Bosch pause.

In their latest outing, the members of Slough House find themselves under attack, this time not metaphorically, but literally: someone seems to have them in his or her crosshairs, shadowing them for purposes unknown but clearly concerning.

Jackson Lamb at first speculates that the suits at Regent’s Park are simply using his staff as training fodder to develop their surveillance skills. But it soon appears that something more ominous is going on: payback for the killing of two Russian agents on their home turf in retaliation for an attempt to take out a swapped Russian spy on British soil. The rules of spycraft are elusive at the best of times, but one of them is that home ground is off-limits: one simply doesn’t kill another nation’s assets in their own back yard. So when this happens, events threaten to spiral out of hand.

Herron’s writing is packed with an uncompromisingly dark humor, barbed and cynical, often dripping with sarcasm, a bleak message firmly embedded in his ominous narrative. Students of recent real-world events will find much that is familiar in Herron’s tale, and to be fair, the bellicose visages of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson and Donald Trump do arise from time to time, as do the more unruly populist movements found lately in Europe and America. For some, this will be simply an aggravating reminder of unpleasant memes gleaned from the media; others will read the author’s references as elements of a cautionary tale that comes uncomfortably close to reality.

Herron’s veteran followers know better than to expect a quick read: the text here is dense, and its narrative passages often prolonged. But to skip over those in search of action would be to miss much of the flavor—and the merit—of Herron’s writing. Slough House could easily have been titled Bleak House, but lamentably, that latter title had already been taken. This is a book to be highly recommended. And the best news of all? Herron’s Slough House tales are soon to be released as a series on television. Truly, life is sweet—or should I say, sour?

* * *

Jim Napier is a novelist and crime-fiction reviewer based in Canada. Since 2005 his book reviews and author interviews have been featured in several Canadian newspapers and on various crime-fiction and literary Web sites, including his own award-winning review site, Deadly Diversions. His crime novel Legacy was published in April 2017, and the second installment in that series, Ridley’s War, came out in November 2020. Napier can be reached at

Another Murder on the Links

This is an Agatha Christie novel I have not read, but the project sounds interesting. From In Reference to Murder:
House and The Night Manager star, Hugh Laurie, has signed up to write, direct, and executive produce an adaptation of Agatha Christie novel, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, for BritBox in North America. The three-part limited series represents the BBC Studios and ITV-owned streamer’s biggest U.S. commission to date. Laurie has apparently been enamored with Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? since he was a child. The book, first published in 1934, tells the story [of] Bobby Jones and his socialite friend Lady Frances Derwent, who discover a dying man while hunting for a golf ball. Jones and Derwent turn amateur sleuths as they seek to unravel the mystery of the man, who has the picture of a beautiful young woman in his pocket, and, with his last breath, utters the cryptic question that forms the series’ title. The amiable duo approach their investigation with a levity that belies the danger they encounter.
Click here to learn more about Christie’s book.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Lefty Winners Are Right Here

Because this year’s Left Coast Crime convention was “rescheduled for 2022,” due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Lefty Award winners for 2021 were announced instead during a short Zoom Webcast late this afternoon. Below are the victors and runners-up.

Lefty for Best Humorous Mystery Novel:
Murder in the Bayou Boneyard, by Ellen Byron (Crooked Lane)

Also nominated: Mimi Lee Gets a Clue, by Jennifer J. Chow (Berkley Prime Crime); Squeeze Me, by Carl Hiaasen (Knopf); The Study of Secrets, by Cynthia Kuhn (Henery Press); The Pot Thief Who Studied the Woman at Otowi Crossing, by J. Michael Orenduff (Aakenbaaken & Kent); and Skin Deep, by Sung J. Woo (Agora)

Lefty for Best Historical Mystery Novel (books set before 1970):
The Turning Tide, by Catriona McPherson (Quercus)

Also nominated: The Fate of a Flapper, by Susanna Calkins (Minotaur); A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder, by Dianne Freeman (Kensington); Riviera Gold, by Laurie R. King (Bantam); Mortal Music, by Ann Parker (Poisoned Pen Press); and Turn to Stone, by James W. Ziskin (Seventh Street)

Lefty for Best Debut Mystery Novel:
Winter Counts, by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (Ecco)

Also nominated: Murder Goes to Market, by Daisy Bateman (Seventh Street); Derailed, by Mary Keliikoa (Camel Press); Murder at the Mena House, by Erica Ruth Neubauer (Kensington); The Thursday Murder Club, by Richard Osman (Viking); and The Lady Upstairs, by Halley Sutton (Putnam)

Lefty for Best Mystery Novel (not in other categories):
All the Devils Are Here, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)

Also nominated: What You Don’t See, by Tracy Clark (Kensington); Blacktop Wasteland, by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron); Blind Vigil, by Matt Coyle (Oceanview); and And Now She’s Gone, by Rachel Howzell Hall (Forge)

Congratulations to all of this year’s prize recipients! A record of previous Lefty honorees can be found here.

(Hat tip to Les Blatt’s blog, Classic Mysteries.)

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Revue of Reviewers, 4-8-21

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

A Mere 72 Years Ago Today

Yellowed Perils editor William Lampkin has a good piece up today about the end of the pulp-magazine era, which had provided such a boost to early 20th-century American crime fiction. As he observes,
There’s no single date for when the pulps actually died, but April 8, 1949, was certainly the date that their eventual demise became official.

As I wrote in “The Day the Pulps Died,” that was the date that Street & Smith Publications announced that it was canceling its line of pulp magazines, as well as its comic books.

Before the end of the year, the last issues of
The Shadow, Doc Savage, Detective Story, and Western Story had been published. And the pulp era would gradually fade away as pulp magazine after pulp magazines ceased publication or morphed into digests during the 1950s.
You’ll find Lampkin’s complete post here.

Have You Already Signed Up?

A quick reminder: This coming Saturday, April 10, will bring the online-exclusive presentations of 2021’s Lefty Awards, organized by Left Coast Crime. The event, scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. PDT/7 p.m. EDT, is free to all, but you must register in advance to participate.

If you’ve forgotten which books and authors made the shortlists of nominees, click here to refresh your memory.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Pandemic Won’t Cancel CrimeFest Prizes

Organizers of Britain’s annual CrimeFest today released their diverse lists of contenders for seven awards. Because this year’s convention has had to be cancelled, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the winners will be announced online this coming summer.

Specsavers Debut Crime Novel Award:
The Creak on the Stairs, by Eva Bjorg Aegisdottir (Orenda)
Summer of Reckoning, by Marion Brunet (Bitter Lemon Press)
The Wreckage, by Robin Morgan-Bentley (Trapeze)
The Thursday Murder Club, by Richard Osman (Viking)
City of Spies, by Mara Timon (Zaffre)
The Man on the Street, by Trevor Wood (Quercus)

Audible Sounds of Crime Award:
The Sentinel, by Lee Child and Andrew Child, read by Jeff
Harding (Transworld)
The Guest List, by Lucy Foley, read by Olivia Dowd, Aoife McMahon, Chloe Massey, Sarah Ovens, Rich Keeble, and Jot Davies (HarperFiction)
Troubled Blood, by Robert Galbraith, read by Robert Glenister
(Little, Brown)
Moonflower Murders, by Anthony Horowitz, read by Lesley Manville and Allan Corduner (Penguin Random House Audio)
Find Them Dead, by Peter James, read by Daniel Weyman (Pan)
The Invisible Girl, by Lisa Jewell, read by Rebekah Staton (Penguin Random House Audio)
Buried, by Lynda La Plante, read by Alex Hassell and Annie
Aldington (Zaffre)
The Catch, by T.M. Logan, read by Philip Stevens (Zaffre)
The Thursday Murder Club, by Richard Osman, read by Lesley Manville (Viking)
A Song for the Dark Times, by Ian Rankin, read by James
Macpherson (Orion)

H.R.F. Keating Award:
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Greatest Detective in the World, by Mark Aldridge (HarperCollins)
Howdunit: A Masterclass in Crime Writing by Members of the Detection Club, edited by Martin Edwards (Collins Crime Club)
Cover Me: The Vintage Art of Pan Books: 1950-1965,
by Colin Larkin (Telos)
Conan Doyle’s Wide World, by Andrew Lycett (Tauris Parke)
The Reacher Guy, by Heather Martin (Little, Brown)
H.R.F. Keating: A Life of Crime, by Sheila Mitchell (Level Best)
Southern Cross Crime: The Pocket Essential Guide to the Crime Fiction, Film & TV of Australia and New Zealand,
by Craig Sisterson (Oldcastle)
The Red Hand: Stories, Reflections and the Last Appearance of Jack Irish, by Peter Temple (Riverrun)

Last Laugh Award:
False Value, by Ben Aaronovitch (Gollancz)
Bryant & May: Oranges and Lemons, by Christopher
Fowler (Doubleday)
The Postscript Murders, by Elly Griffiths (Quercus)
Squeeze Me, by Carl Hiaasen (Little, Brown)
The Thursday Murder Club, by Richard Osman (Viking)
The Corpse in the Garden of Perfect Brightness, by Malcolm
Pryce (Bloomsbury)
Ride or Die, by Khurrum Rahman (HQ)
Miss Blaine's Prefect and the Vampire Menace, by Olga
Wojtas (Contraband)

eDunnit Award:
The Hunted, by Gabriel Bergmoser (Faber)
The Split, by Sharon Bolton (Trapeze)
Little Boy Lost, by J.P. Carter (Avon)
Fifty-Fifty, by Steve Cavanagh (Orion)
Fair Warning, by Michael Connelly (Orion)
A Private Cathedral, by James Lee Burke (Orion)
A Song for the Dark Times, by Ian Rankin (Orion)
The Dead Line, by Holly Watt (Raven)

Best Crime Novel for Children (Ages 8-12):
Mission Shark Bytes, by Sophie Deen (Walker)
A Girl Called Justice: The Smugglers’ Secret, by Elly Griffiths (Quercus Children’s Books)
Nightshade, by Anthony Horowitz (Walker)
My Headteacher Is an Evil Genius, by Jack Noel (Walker)
Anisha, Accidental Detective, by Serena Patel (Usborne)
School’s Cancelled, by Serena Patel (Usborne)
The Night Bus Hero, by Onjali Q. Rauf for (Orion Children’s Books)
The Pencil Case, by Dave Shelton (David Fickling)

Best Crime Novel for Young Adults (Ages 12-16):
Hideous Beauty, by William Hussey (Usborne)
The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, by Lauren James (Walker)
Devil Darling Spy, by Matt Killeen (Usborne)
Eight Pieces of Silva, by Patrice Lawrence (Hodder Children’s Books)
Deadfall, by Simon Lelic (Hodder Children’s Books)
Hacking, Heists & Flaming Arrows, by Robert Muchamore (Hot Key)
Burn, by Patrick Ness (Walker)
The Case of the Missing Marquess, by Nancy Springer (Hot Key)

The competition for this year’s H.R.F. Keating Award for biographical or critical books ought to be especially heated, as it offers a most worthy collection of nominees. I’m pleased to see both Colin Larkin’s Cover Me and Craig Sisterson’s Southern Cross Crime make that shortlist, as they were personal favorites in 2020.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

The Story Behind the Story:
“Endings,” by Linda L. Richards

(Editor’s note: This is the 88th installment in The Rap Sheet’s “Story Behind the Story” series. Our guest author today is Linda L. Richards, the editor of January Magazine and the author of more than a dozen books, including three series of novels featuring strong female protagonists. Her latest book, Endings, is being released today by Oceanview Publishing. She writes below about the unexpected roots of that tale.)

In 2011 I got an idea for a short story. Which is weird, because I usually don’t think in short stories: the flashes of ideas I get tend to go long.

In this case the idea I got came to me complete (a total gift!) and the premise was simple: what would have to happen in the life of one totally “normal” woman to make her kill people for money?

Now before we really begin, understand this: I am as close to a pacifist as you are likely to meet. More: even though I live in Phoenix these days, I am Canadian. That means I don’t have to pretend the Second Amendment makes any kind of sense and I don’t have a political axe to grind other than, in a very general and civilian sense, I am by nature peaceful and I think guns are bad. Full stop. But I am also a crime-fictionist, so these scenarios come to me: what if, what if, what if?

So what if some completely normal middle-aged woman lost everything, and lost it horribly. What might happen then?

And I wrote the short story. It was a set piece, I thought. I saw nothing more, in that moment, for the character. As it happened, I wrote it at the time of the first e-book wave, and I like to experiment in technology, so I decided to publish the short story in e-book format because, well, it was there. That short story was published as “Hitting Back” and was reviewed in The Rap Sheet all those years ago. (A decade ago? What?)

So I did that and it was done. Complete. Next. I never imagined more. Why would I? A hit woman, running around killing people. Beyond the short story, that did not seem interesting to me. So even though I was very proud of the story, and reader mail let me know it had touched some people, I moved on.

One of the things I moved on to was a succession of books for newly literate readers, produced by British Columbia-based Orca Publishing as part of its Rapid Reads series. And after the first of those, If It Bleeds, came out in 2014, I was invited to read at a Noir at the Bar event in Vancouver. Don’t get me wrong, I love If It Bleeds; but when I looked for a portion of the story to read that night, I was stumped. Because of the nature of the Rapid Reads books, there was nothing in my new novel—the one I was supposed to be promoting—that I felt would be quite right for an audience craving edgy and dark material. So, instead, I dusted off “Hitting Back,” and tried reading the first few pages aloud to my cat in my own office. To my astonishment, I started to cry as I read. And I’m not talking a couple of attractive little tears, either. I mean, halfway through the reading I was choked with tears, which I have to tell you, is not a particularly good look for me.

“So this is weird,” I said to myself, deciding right then and there that I would go ahead and read from “Hitting Back” at the Noir at the Bar gathering, and just see what happened.

And so, yeah: you have probably already guessed what happened: I cried. Despite the embarrassing moisture that came from my eyes, I knew it was the best reading I’d ever done. From that moment, people started asking me when the completed novel was coming. At that point, of course, it wasn’t. I just wanted to read something that might have impact. And this did. But, still, I couldn’t see myself writing a hit-woman book. I mean, why? Hadn’t it been done before? And how interesting could it be? Lady goes around killing people. Big deal. Not a book.

(Left) Author Linda L. Richards

A few months later, I was invited to speak at another Noir at the Bar event. I decided to read from the same story—and surprised myself by crying again. And I wondered again why I’d cried. I couldn’t come up with a coherent answer. Something in the material was speaking to me, that was obvious. But what? I really didn’t know, and—still—despite the entreaties of several fellow authors, I could not imagine my short story morphing into a full novel.

So fast-forward some more. In the summer of 2016, the talented novelist and superb human Dietrich Kalteis had put together a series of author tours in outlying regions of British Columbia. It happened that he, along with Sam Wiebe, Owen Laukkanen, and I were all promoting novels at that time, and we would go on these grand expeditions together. At the time I had a curmudgeonly giant Volvo sedan, which somehow got nicknamed The Codger, that we would take on these tours. Quite often it would be me, Sam, and Dietrich in The Codger and Owen in his Jeep, because he liked to chase trains. (I’ll tell that story on a different occasion.) I will never forget the day, returning from one of these trips, that Dietrich asked me—again!—when I was going to turn that story into a book.

“But there’s nothing there, Dieter,” I said, or something very like that. “That’s it. The whole story. I’ve told the whole tale.”

“Why do you cry?”

“I dunno,” I said.

“There’s more, Linda.”

“But who wants to read about a hit woman running around killing people? That’s boring.”

“It isn’t about that,” he said. And he said it in a way that made me understand he was stating something obvious. “It’s about her redemption.”

I did not cry when he said that. But something very like that happened inside me. The instant he said it, something clicked into place. Of course that was it. The book would not be about her killing people. That was the mission of the short story: what would make a nice lady kill? But in the novel, we get to explore the larger question: when you have broken all of society’s rules, how do you walk back? How do you redeem yourself? Or, more basic yet, can you?

I don’t remember the rest of the trip. I only recall dropping Dietrich and Sam off (Owen was away somewhere, photographing trains), and then heading to my computer and writing. And writing. And writing. Until, one day, redemption was at hand. A lot of tears were shed. Endings was born. And now here we are.

READ MORE:Linda Richards: Endings Is (Fortunately) Only the Beginning” (Jungle Red Writers).

Sunday, April 04, 2021

PaperBack: “The Golden Lure”

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

The Golden Lure, by Michael Barrett (Crest, 1956). Originally titled The Reward, and published in 1955 by Longmans Green & Company, London, this story was adapted into a 1965 motion picture starring Max von Sydow, Yvette Mimieux, and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. The cover art is by Harry Schaare.

When I started The Rap Sheet’s “PaperBack” series—continued from one that had run for years in Crider’s delightful blog—I didn’t know how long I could keep it up. I wrote in my introduction to the project that “I’ve given myself a full year to experiment with this idea.” Three years have now passed, and the post you’re enjoying today is my 100th entry in the series. I guess my experiment was a success.

Egg-cellent Egg-zamples

Yeah, I may have gone full Egghead with that post title, but my intention is serious: to direct you toward Janet Rudolph’s egg-stensive (there I go again!) list of Easter mysteries—perfect for this Sunday holiday. We may still be more of less trapped indoors by the COVID-19 pandemic, but we can find release through the wonders of storytelling. Egg-citing, eh? (I swear, it’s hard to stop this punning!)

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Dugoni Comes Out on Top Again

Whoo, er, who won the 2021 Spotted Owl Award, sponsored by the Portland, Oregon-based fan group Friends of Mystery? The announcement was made during a March 25 Zoom meeting of that group. Jeannette Voss, FOM president and the chair of its Spotted Owl Committee, offers these voting results.

1. The Last Agent, by Robert Dugoni (Thomas & Mercer)
2 (tied). A Cold Trail, by Robert Dugoni (Thomas & Mercer)
2 (tied). Percentages of Guilt, by Michael Niemann (Coffeetown Press)
3. House Privilege, by Mike Lawson (Atlantic Monthly Press)
4. Stone Cross, by Marc Cameron (Kensington)
5. The Last High, by Daniel Kalla (Simon & Schuster)
6. No Fixed Line, by Dana Stabenow (Head of Zeus)
7. Shadows of the Dead, by Spencer Kope (Minotaur)
8. The Missing Sister, by Elle Marr (Thomas & Mercer)
9. Shadow of the Dragon, by Marc Cameron (Putnam)

Dugoni has won the Spotted Owl twice before—in 2020 for The Eighth Sister, and in 2017 for The 7th Canon.

The Spotted Owl Award is given annually by Friends of Mystery to what its members determine is the “best mystery written by an author whose primary residence is in the Pacific Northwest.”

Congratulations to all of the 2021 nominees!

Succinct but Stunning

The Short Mystery Fiction Society (SMFS) has now officially announced the finalists for its 2021 Derringer Awards, recognizing excellence in short crime fiction. There are four categories of contenders.

Best Flash Story (up to 1,000 words):
“Memories of Fire,” by Joshua Pastor (Pulp Modern, August 2020)
“Outsourcing,” by James Blakey (Shotgun Honey, December 2020)
“Over Before It Started,” by Robert Mangeot
(Akashic: Mondays Are Murder, June 2020)
“Quitman County Ambush,” by Bobby Mathews
(Bristol Noir, December 2020)
“War Words,” by Travis Richardson (Punk Noir, December 2020)

Best Short Story (1,001 to 4,000 words):
“The Homicidal Understudy,” by Elizabeth Elwood (from Mystery Most Theatrical, edited by Verena Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons; Wildside Press)
“That Which Is True,” by Jacqueline Freimor (Ellery Queen
Mystery Magazine
[EQMM], July/August
“The Great Bedbug Incident and the Invitation of Doom,” by Eleanor Cawood Jones (from Chesapeake Crimes: Invitation to Murder, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley; Wildside Press)
“The Crossing,” by Kim Keeline (from Crossing Borders, edited by Lisa Brackmann and Matt Coyle; Down & Out)
“River,” by Stacy Woodson (from The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell, edited by Josh Pachter; Untreed Reads)

Best Long Story (4,001 to 8,000 words):
“Hotelin’,” by Sarah M. Chen (from Shotgun Honey Presents, Volume 4: Recoil, edited by Ron Earl Phillips; Shotgun Honey)
“Lord, Spare the Bottom Feeders,” by Robert Mangeot (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine [AHMM], March/April)
“Chasing Diamonds,” by Joseph S. Walker
(EQMM, September/October)
“Etta at the End of the World,” by Joseph S. Walker
(AHMM, May/June)
“Mary Poppins Didn't Have Tattoos,” by Stacy Woodson
(EQMM, July/August)

Best Novelette (8,001 to 20,000 words):
“The Question of the Befuddled Judge,” by Jeff Cohen
(AHMM, May/June)
“A Murder at Morehead Mews,” by G.M. Malliet (EQMM, July/August)
“The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74,” by Art Taylor (AHMM, January/February)
“Suicide Blonde,” by Brian Thornton (from Suicide Blonde: Three Novellas, by Brian Thornton; Down & Out)
“The Wretched Strangers,” by Matthew Wilson
(EQMM, January/February)

SMFS president Robert Lopresti says this year’s winners should be declared sometime in May, with the prizes themselves being given out to recipients at August’s Bouchercon in New Orleans—provided that convention takes place as planned.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Bullet Points: A Heady Mix Edition

• When Nellie Bly is remembered at all in our age, it’s usually for her 72-day circumnavigation of the earth in 1889, a stunt meant to beat the fictional record set by Phileas Fogg, in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eight Days (1872). However, Bly—born Elizabeth Jane Cochran—was also a pioneering female newspaper journalist and, less well-recalled, a novelist. As January Magazine explains, she penned 11 tales in regular installments, mostly for The New York Family Story Paper. “Titles of two of her serial novels, Eva the Adventuress and New York By Night, have long been known,” the blog states. “But the novels themselves were lost …” That is, until their 2019 rediscovery by Michigan writer David Blixt, the author of What Girls Are Good For, a 2018 novel starring the daring Ms. Bly. Those missing works were finally released this month in brand-new editions by Sordelet Ink. The majority of them look to be adventure stories or romances, but the first—The Mystery of Central Park—fits snuggly in the crime category. Here’s a plot synopsis:
Dick and his sweetheart Penelope discover the body of a beautiful young woman posed upon a Central Park bench. Instantly Dick is suspected of having something to do with the young woman’s death. Moreover, Penelope has long been urging the ne’er-do-well Dick to accomplish something with his life. So he sets out to discover the dead woman’s identity and solve the riddle of her death. Was it innocent? Suicide? Or was it murder?

From the twinkling lights of New York’s high society to dens of iniquity, Dick follows every trail until he uncovers a tenuous lead. Saving another young woman from the jaws of death, he puts his happiness in jeopardy to confront the scoundrel responsible for the dead woman’s fate.
• The Women’s National Book Association of New Orleans has announced the recipients of its 2021 Pinckley Prizes for Crime Fiction, each “intended to honor a book which illuminates the reality of women’s lives …” This year’s Pinckley Prize for Distinguished Body of Work goes to C.S. Harris (aka Candice Proctor), author of the Sebastian St. Cyr Regency mystery series, while the Pinckley Prize for Debut Fiction goes to Angie Kim for her 2019 novel, Miracle Creek (Sarah Crichton)—a work that has already claimed an ITW Thriller Award for Best First Novel and the Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. A new commendation, the Pinckley Prize for True Crime Writing, is being given to Emma Copley Eisenberg, author of The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia (Hachette). Provided the worldwide coronavirus doesn’t alter plans, these honors will be presented during the 2021 Bouchercon, set to take place in New Orleans this coming August.

• Although I wasn’t bowled over by Miss Scarlet and The Duke, the six-part, British-Irish historical crime drama broadcast under PBS-TV’s Masterpiece umbrella earlier this year, I did think it merited further episodes. It’s now clear that was not my opinion alone. Mystery Fanfare brings news that the hour-long program, which is set in 1880s London and stars Kate Phillips and Stuart Martin, has had its run extended. Masterpiece executive producer Susanne Simpson is quoted as saying: “Miss Scarlet and The Duke was an instant fan favorite. Our audience couldn’t resist its lighthearted tone and the appealing characters so wonderfully portrayed by Kate Phillips and Stuart Martin. We’re delighted the show will return for a second season.” Season 2 is expected to debut on Masterpiece in 2022, but like its predecessor, will undoubtedly air earlier on the UK’s Alibi channel.

According to The Killing Times, the ITV-TV series Unforgotten is “currently the most-watched crime drama in the UK.” Its Season 4 episodes just finished showing in Great Britain this week, and it hasn’t yet made it across the pond for the entertainment of American viewers. But Unforgotten has already been renewed for a fifth season. (Warning: Serious spoilers at that last link!)

• “Columbo, for the most part, was a pretty family-friendly show,” recalls the anonymous author of The Columbophile. “Negligible use of bad language and sex scenes allied with an absence of violence and gore ensured that even a show about murder—that darkest of human acts—rarely made for unsettling viewing. There were exceptions, though. Sometimes the show dropped stark reminders that murder really is a most foul and grisly business—and at its worst could be cruel and disturbing to boot.” Read more … if you dare!

• Delays, delays, and more delays: In Reference to Murder’s B.V. Lawson says that “Kenneth Branagh’s mystery ensemble-cast movie, Death on the Nile, has seen its premiere date pushed back again, this time to February 11, 2022. The 20th Century Studios production, which also stars Gal Gadot, Tom Bateman, and Annette Bening, has changed release dates several times due to the pandemic. [It was originally slated for release on December 20, 2019.] However, Deadline reports that the new release date has nothing to do with co-star Armie Hammer, who has been besieged by an alleged sex scandal.”

• Well, here I am again, recommending something I’ve spotted on YouTube, even though I know that videos there can vanish unexpectedly. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to point out the recent appearance of Michael O’Hara the Fourth, a 90-minute film that debuted on the television anthology series The Wonderful World of Disney in 1972. When I was growing up, Disney’s Sunday night presentations were must-see TV in my household. Yet aside from The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1963), starring Patrick McGoohan, and a rebroadcast of Fess Parker’s Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (comprising the first three episodes of a five-part serial originally shot for Disney in the 1950s), I don’t recall many of the shows produced specifically for Wonderful World, as opposed to Disney theatrical pictures that were subsequently rerun on Sunday nights. Oddly, however, I have strong memories of Michael O’Hara the Fourth. Or perhaps it’s not so very odd, as that film left me with a huge crush on its star, Jo Ann Harris. Although she was then 22 years old, Harris was cast as Michael “Mike” O’Hara IV, a teenage wannabe sleuth—very much in the Nancy Drew mode—whose father was Michael O’Hara III, a police captain in an unnamed city, played by Dan Dailey (later to feature in the NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie segment Faraday and Company). The Disney Wiki explains how Harris’ character came by her distinctly masculine moniker:
The name Michael O’Hara has become synonymous with law enforcement. There have been three generations of Michael O’Hara’s and all have been exemplary policemen. When Michael O’Hara III’s child was born, he was told that [he and his wife would] not be able to have any more children, and there ha[d] always been a Michael O’Hara, so he named his child Michael O’Hara IV, despite the fact that she [was] a girl.

Now, Mike has a tendency to get involved with police matters and not always with good results, which annoys her father. And despite being told repeatedly to stay out of it, she continues her amateurish detective activities.

Michael O’Hara the Fourth was first shown in two parts, on successive Sunday nights: March 26, 1972, and April 2, 1972. It found the delightful, blonde Miss Mike recruiting her friends, especially her sort-of-boyfriend, Norman (Michael McGreevey), into one harebrained escapade after another, always intending to help her father with his crime-solving—but usually resulting in minor disasters. Although Mike wasn’t a tomboy (she favored short skirts), she didn’t shy away from mixing it up with crooks and killers. In the first part of this film, she and Norman try to get to the bottom of a money-counterfeiting operation, while the second half finds them seeking to crack the alibis of businessmen implicated in a murder. This picture may have been intended for young audiences, but it’s far from silly, and its humor and high jinks remain entertaining even after all these years. I’m a bit surprised Disney didn’t shoot a sequel. Or two.

• By the way, if you are curious, Jo Ann Harris went on to amass a lengthy résumé of credits, including guest roles on The Mod Squad, Banyon, The F.B.I., Nakia, The Manhunter, and Barnaby Jones. She also co-starred with Robert Stack in Most Wanted, a 1976-1977 Quinn Martin series on ABC-TV that “focused on an elite task force of the Los Angeles Police Department … [concentrating] exclusively on criminals on the mayor’s most-wanted list.” (You can watch the original title sequence here.) And no, I don’t have a crush on Harris any longer. Through some cruel trick of time, she’s now 71, not 22.

This 1965 TV promo spot for The Wild Wild West must have left action-adventure fans in drooling anticipation of that CBS series’ September 17 premiere. Firearms, secret smoke bombs, and a quietly calculating Suzanne Pleshette—what’s not to like?

How late-night repeats brought an end to Mannix’s run.

• How does Sherlock Holmes figure into the legend of the Loch Ness monster? CrimeReads’ Olivia Rutigliano recalls the tale. And you can click here for a brief film clip of that “Nessie” in action.

• I neglected to mention, in The Rap Sheet’s last “Bullet Points” round-up, another delightful piece that found its way into CrimeReads earlier this month: “How Shane Black’s Love Letter to 1970s Crime Fiction Put a Spotlight on Robert Terrall.” Composed by Bay Area freelancer (and occasional January Magazine contributor) Ben Terrall, it recounts the story of how his prolific author father, Robert Terrall (aka Robert Kyle), became a ghost writer on the Mike Shayne private-eye series back in the 1960s, after the protagonist’s creator, Davis Dresser, “developed a severe writer’s block.” The piece goes on to note that one of Terrall’s Shayne yarns, 1973’s Blue Murder, became source material for director Shane Black’s 2016 “slapstick buddy movie,” The Nice Guys, starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling—as was acknowledged in the picture’s collection of credits. “I have no doubt Dad would have loved to see his name on the silver screen,” remarks Ben Terrall. “He was a moviegoer from an early age and was always ready to write for Hollywood, but that never happened. He wrote several movie tie-ins (including one for Moses and the Ten Commandments, which made it possible for me to answer the question ‘What has your father written?’ with ‘The Ten Commandments’), but none of his fifty or so original novels were ever made into films.”

• Coincidentally, the latest episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast focuses on, among assorted other topics, Robert Terrall’s life and literary endeavors. You can listen to that here.

• In his April “Getting Away with Murder” column for Shots, Mike Ripley covers subjects ranging from his lockdown reading choices and a case of mistaken author identity to new crime-fiction releases by James Woolf, Erin Kelly, Tom Bradby, and others.

Who knew there were so many birthday-themed mysteries?

The Gumshoe Site’s Jiro Kimura mentioned recently that William Heffernan, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated former journalist and the author most recently of The Scientology Murders (2017), died this last December 4 at age 80. Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Heffernan labored on behalf of both the New York Post and the Daily News, but left his investigative reporting career in 1978 after scoring a publishing contract for his first novel, Broderick (1980). As blogger Cullen Gallagher wrote, that book “is based on the real-life figure of Johnny Broderick, a tough New York cop as legendary as he is notorious. Nicknamed ‘The Beater,’ Broderick is anything but your conventional heroic policeman; he’s as corrupt, violent, and as crooked as the gangster and hoods he hunts down.” Heffernan went on to compose 18 more books, including 1988’s Ritual (which introduced series protagonist Paul Devlin, a New York City police detective), 1995’s Tarnished Blue (a Devlin yarn that captured the 1996 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original Novel), his 2003 historical thriller, A Time Gone By, and 2010’s The Dead Detective (which launched Heffernan’s second series lead, Henry Doyle, a Tampa, Florida, homicide detective who can hear the postmortem whispers of murder victims). Kimura adds that Heffernan “once served as president of the International Association of Crime Writers/North America.” Oddly, I seem unable to locate an official online obituary of William Heffernan, and his Facebook page is no help—it hasn’t been updated since February 2016. If anyone reading this has spotted more information about the author’s demise, please let me know.

• More recently deceased is Richard Gilliland, a Texas native who, according to The Hollywood Reporter, “starred as Sgt. Steve DiMaggio on NBC’s McMillan & Wife in 1976-77 and as Lt. Nick Holden on ABC’s adaptation of Operation Petticoat in 1977-78, and he was a series regular on ABC’s Just Our Luck in 1983 and the CBC’s Heartland in 1989. Gilliland also had recurring roles on other shows, including Party of Five, The Waltons, Thirtysomething, Dark Skies and Desperate Housewives and guest-starring appearances on Criminal Minds, Dexter, Becker, Scandal, Joan of Arcadia, The Practice and Crossing Jordan, among many other shows.” Gilliland was married to Emmy-winning actress Jean Smart, whom he met when they worked together on the sitcom Designing Women in the 1980s. He was 71 years old at the time of his passing on March 18. More here.

• Last but not least, I am sorry to hear that another child of the Lone Star State, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry breathed his last on March 25 at age 84. McMurtry will be remembered for many novels, among them The Last Picture Show (1966), Terms of Endearment (1975), and Anything for Billy (1988), but for me, it was his 1985 Old West adventure, Lonesome Dove, that most stood out. As I wrote in a piece for January Magazine, naming the 20th century’s foremost books, “McMurtry reinvented the western novel for a modern audience, filling Dove (and its sequel and prequels) with spectacularly quirky characters, oddball episodes that would never have made it into the works of either Louis L'Amour or Zane Grey, and heartwarming scenes that will stick with you forever.” Links to more McMurtry obituaries can be found here. And in the wake of his demise, this fine Texas Monthly profile from 2016 has been resurrected.

• Great Britain will celebrate National Crime Reading Month this coming June, though most of the events are to take place online, due to the continuing COVID-19 crisis. Linda Stratmann, chair of the Crime Writers’ Association, which hosts this annual literary fête, says: “We want to invite bookshops, libraries, publishers, conventions and festivals that celebrate the crime genre, to take part. Our sister network, the Crime Readers’ Association (CRA), is one of the largest communities of crime genre readers in the world, so this June is a unique opportunity to get an author event or reading initiative in front of that dedicated audience.” It’s only too bad the United States—which already dedicates months to recognition of mentoring, ice cream, and country music—can’t similarly honor crime and mystery fiction.

• Wales’ first international celebration of crime literature, the Gŵyl Crime Cymru Festival, is set to take place online from April 26 to May 3. As Mystery Fanfare explains, “Lee and Andrew Child, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Ragnar Jónasson, Peter James, Elly Griffiths, Abir Mukherjee, Vaseem Khan, and Martin Edwards—amongst others—will discuss their work alongside Welsh crime writers who might not be as well-known, but are playing their part in bringing Welsh crime writing to the fore. There will also be a panel focusing on the great success Welsh crime fiction is enjoying on the small screen, featuring the team that created the globally popular Keeping Faith TV series.” The complete schedule of events can be found here.

• Meanwhile, Crime Fiction Lover offers this handy overview of Welsh contributions to the genre, both on the page and on the screen. It includes a selection of novels and authors to get your explorations of that country’s bilingual crime fiction started.

• Florida journalist Craig Pittman passes along this piece from The New Yorker. It looks at a new film project from Yuko Torihara, focusing on Manhattan’s Chinatown at night. A principal player in that feature? Henry Chang, the 70-year-old author of detective novels such as Chinatown Beat (2006) and Lucky (2017), set in the neighborhood.

• I recently reported on the numerous nominees for this year’s Agatha Awards, which are to be dispensed during an online-only Malice Domestic festival in mid-July. Coincidentally, Elizabeth Foxwell now points me toward a two-part remembrance of the late author Elizabeth Peters (aka Barbara Mertz), who “played such an integral role” in founding that annual convention. Part I here, Part II here.

Craig Sisterson, a New Zealand writer (and the creator of that country’s Ngaio Marsh Awards), who is currently living in London, has become a contributor to the international blog Murder Is Everywhere. His posts are supposed to appear every second Tuesday. The first, from March 23, is principally an ode to children’s mysteries.

• Speaking of lands Down Under, check out the results of Reading Matters’ month-long tribute to Southern Cross Crime.

• Sometime Rap Sheet contributor Mark Coggins (The Dead Beat Scroll) is also a Bay Area photographer, and for years he’s posted examples of his street shots on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. He has also used those black-and-white images as chapter illustrations in his novels. Now, says Coggins, he’s put together Street Stories, “a street photography monograph with the best of my work from the last dozen years or so. Published by Poltroon Press—the house that published my first novel—the coffee table-sized book includes 52 images reproduced in tritone by a printer in Italy. It incorporates a reproduction of my Japanese ‘hanko’ stamp on the cover and features end papers in a matching red color.” This $50 book won’t released until mid-May, but in the meantime, Coggins tells me, “Poltroon Press is offering a $10 discount on pre-orders …” Click here to learn more.

Library Finds

I love my urban Seattle neighborhood, with its predominance of single-family residences, its convenient shopping venues and friendly independent bookstore, its proliferation of “Black Lives Matter” placards and—even now—Biden-Harris campaign signs. Since the pandemic began a year ago, I have done a great deal of walking around this area, escaping my office for both fresh air and exercise—outings made even more pleasant lately by my wife’s gift of a portable CD player (currently loaded with The Best of Bread).

During my rambles, I pass more than a handful of Little Free Libraries. Most of these post-topping book exchanges are filled with well-thumbed editions of novels by folks such as Kristin Hannah, Tom Clancy, Jodi Picoult, and Nicholas Sparks, or else with jigsaw puzzles. Recently, however, I peeked inside one such box to find ... two Raymond Chandler yarns. On a different day, I discovered copies in another box of works by Dashiell Hammett, Robert Crais, and Michael Gilbert. Evidently, I’m not the only local crime-fiction lover.

I’ve thought of packing along some advance reader copies, or else finished copies, of newer crime, mystery, and thriller novels as I take my daily perambulations, and slipping them into boxes I already know favor this genre. But what’s the etiquette here? Would those contributions be unwelcome? Not being familiar with how Little Free Libraries operate, I’d be grateful for any advice.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Matters of Merit

Today brings word, from the North American Branch of the International Association of Crime Writers, of which books and authors have been shortlisted for its 2020 Hammett Prize. That annual commendation is given to a book, originally published in the English language in the United States or Canada, “that best represents the conception of literary excellence in crime writing.”

Murder in Old Bombay, by Nev March (Minotaur)
The Mountains Wild, by Sarah Stewart Taylor (Minotaur)
Three Hours in Paris, by Cara Black (Soho Crime)
When These Mountains Burn, by David Joy (Putnam)
Winter Counts, by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (Ecco)

As The Gumshoe Site reports, “Details on [the IACW/NA’s] winner announcement have not been determined yet.”

Friday, March 26, 2021

The Book You Have to Read:
“Kiss Tomorrow Good-bye,” by Horace McCoy

(Editor’s note: This is the 170th installment in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books.)

By Steven Nester
Author Horace McCoy throws a couple of curveballs in his ambitious Kiss Tomorrow Good-bye (Signet Books, 1948), but readers should not be deterred. To provide background and motivation for the depraved criminality of protagonist Ralph Cotter, McCoy coheres hard-as-nails pulp to Freudian-lite, then mixes in a smattering of Greek mythology. Most readers might rather see criminal activity born of the Seven Deadly Sins than of mommy or daddy issues (or, in Cotter’s case, grandmother issues), and thankfully McCoy is too good a crime writer to allow Sigmund Freud and Thomas Bullfinch to take over completely. However, this book does at times seems a little odd. Even Cotter, who narrates the story, occasionally scratches his head as he undergoes some very ardent introspection. The cultural references and rawness of Cotter’s behavior may be intermittent distractions to some, but the intense, non-stop action and the fine writing will hold the attention of everyone.

The specific book under examination here is Signet’s “Special Edition” (shown on the right), published in 1949, one year after the original saw print. I admit I have not read the first edition, nor can I find anyone who has; so it’s hard to determine whether there are significant differences between the two. The tagline on this later paperback edition—“Love as hot as a blow torch … crime as vicious as the jungle”—promises less than what is contained between the covers, prompting one to ponder how much more lurid (or personality-disorder-centric) the original yarn could possibly be, if at all. After seeing Ralph Cotter in action with a femme fatale named Holiday, a woman “pulsing with a lust straight from the cave,” readers are advised, if they decide to become invested in either character, to consider donning a bullet-proof vest or an asbestos condom, respectively. As these two players are engaged in violent sex or else a fistfight whenever they’re together, a lion tamer (chair, whip, pistol) would also be recommended.

McCoy’s novel centers around a 1930s prison farm breakout and its aftermath. Cotter and his convict pal George are aided in their bloody escape by George’s sister, the above-mentioned Holiday. Cotter murders George during the ensuing gun battle with prison guards (Holiday doesn’t realize this right away, but she finds out), and by the time Cotter makes it to a safe house, readers will realize that Kiss Tomorrow Good-bye is not your standard pulp noir—not by a long shot.

Cotter is a college-educated man, and his lust is fairly tempered by his book learning, which at times seems to keep explicit prose in check. Holiday allows Ralph a glimpse of her naked crotch, which he describes as “the Atlantic, the Route to Cathay, the Seven Cities of Cibola …” Comparing Holiday’s mon veneris to the great wonders of the world is the type of exaggeration one might expect from a guy just sprung from lockup—but more importantly, it gives readers a good idea that Cotter isn’t your run-of-the-mill sociopath. Although Holiday is a distraction, Cotter doesn’t allow her to get in his way.

He has plans, big ones, and the anti-heroes of the 1930s—John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Bonnie and Clyde, Alvin Karpis—are both his role models and his competition. Ralph’s aim is to usurp those deities residing in the pantheon of crime and install himself, instead. The distinctions between Ralph Cotter and such folk-hero crooks of the Depression era is that he believes he’s much more intelligent than those mere stick-up artists; and the plot he devises to ensure continued and unimpeded success is a clever one.

(Left) The 1965 Avon edition

Cotter is “reborn” when his damning rap sheet conveniently goes missing; and the official identification he acquires (a gun permit from the local police department, ironically enough) allows him to stay under the radar. Cocksure, and now going by the alias Paul Murphy, he makes his way around City Hall with the swagger and hubris of a thuggish Icarus, daring to be taken down. He meets Margaret Dobson, the young and impressionable daughter of a rich and powerful man, one Ezra Dobson. Margaret is a bit of a lost soul, as well as a disciple of Dr. Darius Green, a new-age charlatan with a shady past. After a one-night stand and a meeting with her father, Murphy and Margaret elope, but Ezra Dobson subsequently has their marriage annulled—or so he says. Paul declines the five-figure payday Dobson offers in recompense, figuring that disappearing is wiser than sticking around. It’d be only a matter of time, he figures, before Dobson’s scrutiny uncovers Paul’s real identity. This is not the last, though, that he sees of the family—or their money.

Having lost a wealthy wife, Murphy now hopes to rid himself as well of Holiday, the amoral hussy whom one “couldn’t turn your back on for five minutes without her having a body scissors on somebody.” But first, there’s that one last criminal job—the big one—that’ll provide him with funds for a clean getaway.

Murphy is always thinking about his plans and about himself. As he begins to understand who he is, and what made him that way, he dials down the rhetoric, changing from a misogynist and homophobe (quick to condemn “dikes and faggots”) into a man who sees better how gays are similar to himself, and therefore acceptable. (“They were rebels too, rebels introverted; I was a rebel extraverted—theirs was the force that did not kill, mine was the force that did kill …”) The proximate impetus for this alteration of attitude was the discovery that one of his associates, a regular-guy grease monkey, is homosexual. This remarkable character development eliminates Cotter’s brutal prejudices as he morphs into Ralph Murphy. It may reflect, too, the mental growth author McCoy underwent during his rough-and-tumble days, as he learned to accept his fellow men for the ways they found to naviage a tough, unforgiving world as outsiders, just as he had.

Horace McCoy possessed the kind of résumé one would expect of a Golden Age pulp writer. He’d been a taxi driver, a capable newspaperman (despite his inclination to fabulate), a war pilot, a professional wrestler, a fruit picker, a failed actor, and a lackluster Hollywood screenwriter. Kiss Tomorrow Good-bye, the fourth of his six novels, was adapted into a 1950 film starring James Cagney, Ward Bond, and Barton MacLane. The movie was famously banned in Ohio as a “sordid, sadistic presentation of brutality and an extreme presentation of crime with explicit steps in commission,” which comes as no surprise. McCoy’s books took time to catch on in the United States; yet in Europe his success came earlier, with French writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir hailing McCoy’s debut novel, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1935), as one of America’s first existentialist novels.

(Right) Author Horace McCoy

The Tennessee-born McCoy described his parents as “book rich-money poor,” and his career arc suggests that was his destiny, too. To pay for his funeral (he passed away in Beverly Hills, California, in 1955), McCoy’s wife had to sell his book collection. Yet the knowledge this author picked up from all of his reading was put to good use. Kiss Tomorrow Good-bye is filled with classical references. Alecto and Tisiphone, for instance, appear several times in these pages, those being the names of two of the three Furies, sisters in ancient Greek mythology who took vengeance upon lying and murderous men. Cotter/Murphy summons their memory again as this story concludes. However, one sister is missing, and he can’t understand why. It is really the Fury who stands before him with a gun in her hand that he should be concerned with.

READ MORE:Tired of Living, Afraid of Dying: Horace McCoy’s Legacy,” by Chris Morgan (Los Angeles Review of Books).