Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Revue of Reviewers: 1-26-21

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

Get Your Entries in Soon

Not even a full month of 2022 has passed yet, and we’re already hearing about crime-fiction prize competitions.

The UK-based Margery Allingham Society, “set up to honour and promote the writings of the great Golden Age author whose well-known hero is Albert Campion,” is soliciting submissions to its 2022 short-story contest. The Crime Writers’ Association is helping to organize and fund this event. Entries will be due by Monday, February 28.

As a news release explains,
Entrants are asked to focus on specific elements to match Margery Allingham’s definition of a mystery, which is: “The Mystery remains box-shaped, at once a prison and a refuge. Its four walls are, roughly, a Crime, a Mystery, an Enquiry and a Conclusion with an Element of Satisfaction in it.” The judging criteria rewards traditional mysteries that match this definition, as well as other criteria such as plot originality and characterisation. ...

The longlist for the prize will be revealed online and at the CWA conference on 23 April, followed by the shortlist online in May, and the winner will be announced at this year’s international crime writing convention, CrimeFest, on Friday 13 May.
Rules for entering, as well as other details, are to be found here.

* * *

In the meantime, Sisters in Crime has announced that, as of next Tuesday, February 1, it will begin accepting applications for the ninth annual Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award, designed to promote “emerging writers of color.” Thursday, March 31, is the deadline for candidates to submit their paperwork, with news of the 2022 winner expected sometime in May.

This prize honors African-American crime-fiction author Eleanor Taylor Bland, creator of the police detective Marti McAllister series (Dead Time, A Cold and Silent Dying, Suddenly a Stranger), who passed away in 2010. It includes a $2,000 grant. Among the previous recipients are Yasmin Angoe McClinton, Jessica Martinez, and Mia P. Manansala.

Click here to find complete guidelines to entering this competition, along with the actual application form.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Wrapping Up the Wrap-Ups

A loyal reader from India asks that I please post any “best crime fiction of 2021” lists not mentioned on this page over the last couple of months. As it happens, there are a few still deserving of attention.

British blogger Mary Picken released her favorites list just before Christmas. It includes Will Dean’s The Last Thing to Burn, Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s Daughters of the Night, Simone Bucholz’s Hotel Cartagena, Mick Herron’s Slough House, Val McDermid’s 1979, Abir Mukherjee’s The Shadows of Men, and Sharon Bairden’s You Need Me. You’ll find all of her choices in Live and Deadly.

The Australian critic who signs himself only as “Dfordoom,” and writes the excellent Vintage Pop Fictions blog, waited until the first week of January to name his reading highlights of 2021. As could well have been predicted, his picks are not new—nothing on the list debuted later than the Nixon administration. But there are a few books I really need to add to my own library, among them Seven Clues in Search of a Crime, by Bruce Graeme (1941); Tears Are for Angels, by “Paul Connolly,” aka Tom Wicker (1952); and Driscoll’s Diamonds, by “Ian MacAlister,” aka Marvin H. Albert (1973).

Another Aussie, The Unseen Library’s Michael Popple, just this week listed his favorite Down Under books from last year. Among the crime/mystery/thriller titles he applauds are Jack Heath’s Kill Your Brother, Sarah Bailey’s The Housemate, Tim Ayliffe’s The Enemy Within, and Prisoner, by S.R. White.

Finally, Suspense Magazine has delivered its reader’s selections of the best crime, romantic suspense, horror, and suspense thriller works published in 2021. Winning spots in the pile are S.A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears, Mia P. Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo, Marco Carocari’s Blackout, Darynda Jones’ A Good Day for Chardonnay, and numerous other novels.

By the way, while announcing Suspense’s January contents, its editors explained that “this will be our final issue. We will no longer be producing a digital magazine, instead we will be using the website to post all reviews, interviews, stories and much more. Everything you see in the magazine will now be online, with the website being updated once a week.” So, I guess, we can look forward to more here.

Monday, January 24, 2022

PaperBack: “Bait Money”

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

Bait Money, by Max Allan Collins (Pinnacle, 1981).
Cover illustration by Ed Abrams.

READ MORE:It Was Fifty Years Ago Today …,” by Max Allan Collins.

Fox Abandons “Police”

Oh, drat! Last July I reported here that Fox-TV had ordered a pilot made from Ben H. Winters’ Edgar Award-winning 2012 science fiction/mystery novel, The Last Policeman, and that hopes were high of it generating a series. Today, In Reference to Murder brings us word that no such program is in the offing:
Fox has passed on The Last Police, a pilot that was based on Ben Winters’s sci-fi mystery novel, The Last Policeman. Written, directed, and exec produced by Kyle Killen (Lone Star), the story follows a small-town police detective (Blu Hunt), who, as an asteroid races toward an apocalyptic collision with Earth, believes she’s been chosen to save humanity, while her cynical partner (Reno Wilson) can’t decide what he’ll enjoy more: her delusional failure, or the end of the world itself. Maximiliano Hernandez, Dawnn Lewis, Derek Phillips, Courtney Dietz, and Troy Kotsur were cast as series regulars.
Who knows, though. Winters’ concept seems made for small-screen adaptation. Perhaps some streaming-TV service will take up the project, now that Fox has bailed.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

An Abundance of Edgars

Together with Monday’s news about the 2022 Lefty Awards, this is shaping up to be a big week for crime-fiction prize announcements. This morning brings word from the Mystery Writers of America about its many nominees for the 2022 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, “honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction and television published or produced in 2021.” The 76th annual Edgar Awards will be presented on Thursday, April 28, at New York City’s Marriott Marquis Times Square.

Best Novel:
The Venice Sketchbook, by Rhys Bowen (Lake Union)
Razorblade Tears, by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron)
Five Decembers, by James Kestrel
(Hard Case Crime)
How Lucky, by Will Leitch (Harper)
No One Will Miss Her, by Kat Rosenfield (Morrow)

Best First Novel by an American Author:
Deer Season, by Erin Flanagan (University of Nebraska Press)
Never Saw Me Coming, by Vera Kurian (Park Row)
Suburban Dicks, by Fabian Nicieza (Putnam)
What Comes After, by JoAnne Tompkins (Riverhead)
The Damage, by Caitlin Wahrer (Viking/Pamela Dorman)

Best Paperback Original:
Kill All Your Darlings, by David Bell (Berkley)
The Lighthouse Witches, by C.J. Cooke (Berkley)
The Album of Dr. Moreau, by Daryl Gregory (Tor)
Starr Sign, by C.S. O’Cinneide (Dundurn Press)
Bobby March Will Live Forever, by Alan Parks (World Noir)
The Shape of Darkness, by Laura Purcell (Penguin)

Best Fact Crime:
The Confidence Men: How Two Prisoners of War Engineered the Most Remarkable Escape in History, by Margalit Fox (Random House)
Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York, by Elon Green (Celadon)
Sleeper Agent: The Atomic Spy in America Who Got Away,
by Ann Hagedorn (Simon & Schuster)
Two Truths and a Lie: A Murder, a Private Investigator, and Her Search for Justice, by Ellen McGarrahan (Random House)
The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade, by Benjamin T. Smith (Norton)
When Evil Lived in Laurel: The “White Knights” and the Murder of Vernon Dahmer, by Curtis Wilkie (Norton)

Best Critical/Biographical:
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Greatest Detective in the World, by Mark Aldridge (Harper360)
The Unquiet Englishman: A Life of Graham Greene, by Richard Greene (Norton)
Tony Hillerman: A Life, by James McGrath Morris (University
of Oklahoma Press)
The Reason for the Darkness of the Night: Edgar Allan Poe and the Forging of American Science, by John Tresch (Farrar, Straus
and Giroux)
The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock: An Anatomy of the Master of Suspense, by Edward White (Norton)

Best Short Story:
“Blindsided,” by Michael Bracken and James A. Hearn (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine [AHMM], September/October 2021)
“The Vermeer Conspiracy,” by V.M. Burns (from Midnight Hour, edited by Abby L. Vandiver; Crooked Lane)
“Lucky Thirteen,” by Tracy Clark (from Midnight Hour)
“The Road to Hana,” by R.T. Lawton (AHMM, May/June 2021)
“The Locked Room Library,” by Gigi Pandian (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], July/August 2021)
“The Dark Oblivion,” by Cornell Woolrich (EQMM, January/
February 2021)

Best Juvenile:
Cold-Blooded Myrtle, by Elizabeth C. Bunce (Algonquin
Young Readers)
Concealed, by Christina Diaz Gonzalez (Scholastic Press)
Aggie Morton Mystery Queen: The Dead Man in the Garden, by Marthe Jocelyn (Tundra)
Kidnap on the California Comet: Adventures on Trains #2, by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman (Feiwel & Friends)
Rescue, by Jennifer A. Nielsen (Scholastic Press)

Best Young Adult:
Ace of Spades, by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé (Feiwel & Friends)
Firekeeper’s Daughter, by Angeline Boulley (Henry Holt)
When You Look Like Us, by Pamela N. Harris (Quill Tree)
The Forest of Stolen Girls, by June Hur (Feiwel & Friends)
The Girls I’ve Been, by Tess Sharpe (Putnam)

Best Television Episode Teleplay:
“Dog Day Morning,” The Brokenwood Mysteries, written by Tim Balme (Acorn TV)
“Episode 1,” The Beast Must Die, written by Gaby Chiappe (AMC+)
“The Men Are Wretched Things,” The North Water, written by Andrew Haigh (AMC+)
“Happy Families,” Midsomer Murders, written by Nicholas
Hicks-Beach (Acorn TV)
“Boots on the Ground,” Narcos: Mexico, written by Iturri
Sosa (Netflix)

Robert L. Fish Memorial Award:
“Analogue,” by Rob Osler (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, January/February 2021)

The Simon & Schuster Mary Higgins Clark Award:
The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet, by Katherine Cowley
(Tule Mystery)
Ruby Red Herring, by Tracy Gardner (Crooked Lane)
Clark and Division, by Naomi Hirahara (Soho Crime)
The Sign of Death, by Callie Hutton (Crooked Lane)
Chapter and Curse, by Elizabeth Penney (St. Martin’s Paperbacks)

The G.P. Putnam’s Sons Sue Grafton Memorial Award:
Double Take, by Elizabeth Breck (Crooked Lane)
Runner, by Tracy Clark (Kensington)
Shadow Hill, by Thomas Kies (Poisoned Pen Press)
Sleep Well, My Lady, by Kwei Quartey (Soho Crime)
Family Business, by S.J. Rozan (Pegasus Crime)

In addition, author Laurie R. King has been chosen as the MWA’s 2022 Grand Master, reviewer Lesa Holstine will receive this year’s Raven Award, and Juliet Grames of Soho Books has been named as the winner of the 2022 Ellery Queen Award. Learn more here.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Turning to the Leftys

At least for the time being (and despite the spread of COVID-19’s Omicron variant), this year’s Left Coast Crime convention is scheduled as an in-person event, to take place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from April 7 to 10. That planning includes an announcement of the 2022 Lefty Award nominees, which was made earlier this morning. There are four categories of contenders.

Lefty for Best Humorous Mystery Novel:
Cajun Kiss of Death, by Ellen Byron (Crooked Lane)
Mimi Lee Cracks the Code, by Jennifer Chow (Berkley Prime Crime)
Finlay Donovan Is Killing It, by Elle Cosimano (Minotaur)
How to Book a Murder, by Cynthia Kuhn (Crooked Lane)
Mango, Mambo, and Murder, by Raquel V. Reyes (Crooked Lane)
Fogged Off, by Wendall Thomas (Beyond the Page)

Lefty for Best Historical Mystery Novel (books set before 1970):
The Cry of the Hangman, by Susanna Calkins (Severn House)
The Savage Kind, by John Copenhaver (Pegasus Crime)
Clark and Division, by Naomi Hirahara (Soho Crime)
The Bombay Prince, by Sujata Massey (Soho Crime)
The Mirror Dance, by Catriona McPherson (Hodder & Stoughton)
Death at Greenway, by Lori Rader-Day (Morrow)

Lefty for Best Debut Mystery Novel:
Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews (Little, Brown)
Blackout, by Marco Carocari (Level Best)
The Other Black Girl, by Zakiya Dalila Harris (Atria)
Arsenic and Adobo, by Mia P. Manansala (Berkley Prime Crime)
All Her Little Secrets, by Wanda M. Morris (Morrow)

Lefty for Best Mystery Novel (not in other categories):
Runner, by Tracy Clark (Kensington)
Razorblade Tears, by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron)
Last Redemption, Matt Coyle (Oceanview)
Lightning Strike, by William Kent Krueger (Atria)
Bath Haus, by P.J. Vernon (Doubleday)

Winners of the 2022 Leftys will be proclaimed, and prizes presented, on Saturday, April 9, at the Hyatt Regency Albuquerque.

A news release adds, “This year’s Guests of Honor are authors Mick Herron and Catriona McPherson. Kristopher Zgorski is the Fan Guest of Honor, and author Kellye Garrett will serve as Toastmaster.” Tony Hillerman will be the Ghost of Honor.

Friday, January 14, 2022

The Book You Have to Read:
“In the Heat of the Night,” by John Ball

(Editor’s note: This is the 175th installment in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books.)

By Steven Nester
Things were beginning to look up for the town of Wells, South Carolina. A music festival was in the works and sentiment held it could rejuvenate the sleepy whistle-stop; but murder can halt just about anything dead in its tracks. As this story opens, the festival’s conductor is found bludgeoned to death, and the town’s untrained police department has no clue as to how to investigate the crime. A seasoned homicide detective happens to be passing through and his superiors in Pasadena, California, give Wells Police Chief Bill Gillespie the OK for him to assist. The only problem is that the investigator, Virgil Tibbs, is Black; and in 1965, in the Deep South, that’s trouble. So much so, that Tibbs’ first contact with the Wells Police Department is when he’s arrested as the prime suspect.

In the Heat of the Night (1965), the first book in Ball’s Inspector Tibbs series, is a hard look at racism in the modern era, in a not-so-modern South, in the country that many believed to be the most just, fair, and principled in the world (a belief that has lately been questioned), and author John Ball pulls no punches. With its ample use of the N-word, its catalogue of racial stereotypes passed off as casual character observations, and its piles of indignity heaped upon African Americans (in addition to slights against Italian Americans and Chinese Americans), just as the Civil Rights Movement was gaining traction, In the Heat of the Night presents something that is the hopeless opposite of the American Dream. However, the book also demonstrates faith that things might change—and it’s up to Virgil Tibbs to set the example.

Tibbs is the first Black man Wells residents have seen who goes against stereotypes. He also gracefully exceeds the behavior that southern whites expect of him (and exceeds their behavior as well), prompting this backhanded compliment from a cop:
“Smartest black I ever saw,” Pete concluded; then he added a remarkable tribute. “He oughta been a white man.”
No one appreciates that type of behavior at all in the South in the ’60s. And there are plenty of other attributes for the residents of Wells to dislike about Tibbs, too. He knows French and martial arts, he “dresses like a white man,” and he has a large vocabulary. But Tibbs doesn’t flaunt his accomplishments; he’s an educated African-American man who defers to his inferiors in the name of professionalism, and with respect and tact, schools an ignorant populace and hapless constabulary on professional crime solving and how to treat one’s fellow man in the face of humiliation and threats of violence. However, Tibbs does bring a bit of fight to the Wells cops, as in this famous exchange most people recognize from the movie version of Ball’s yarn, but which (slightly modified) is also in the book:
“You’re pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you Virgil.” Gillespie retorted. “Incidentally, Virgil is a pretty fancy name for a black boy like you. What do they call you around home where you come from?”

“They call me Mr. Tibbs,” Virgil answered.
Sam Wood is the officer who both discovered the body of festival conductor Enrico Mantoli and arrested Tibbs. He has no formal police training, only a badge and a gun, and less juice than Chief Gillespie, whose previous experience in law enforcement was as a jail guard strong-arming drunks. Wood and Gillespie hide their ineptitude behind condescension toward others who seek to give advice and guidance. The two don’t get along, and Sam hopes Gillespie “makes a public fool of himself and bungles the [Mantoli] case.” He’s also amused to watch Tibbs stand up to Gillespie’s bullying and bluster during the initial interrogation, when no one yet knows Tibbs is a cop. (It seems the contents of Tibbs’ wallet were never checked.) His composure under pressure and lack of deference infuriates Gillespie, who can only intimidate, his “voice trying to pick a fight, and daring anyone to defy it.” Over the course of this novel, Tibbs inspires Wood to start thinking a bit for himself and to rebel against Gillespie in subtle ways. But even though Wood is “beginning to like Tibbs as a person,” he’s not compelled to abandon the department’s party line.

When Tibbs joins the Wells investigative team, Gillespie knows the clock is ticking and his career in law enforcement is in jeopardy. Even worse, Newsweek magazine starts sniffing around the town, and Gillespie gets the sense that the entire country is breathing down his neck—as do men higher up in the pecking order than the chief. There’s no way they’re going to let things get screwed up by an unqualified sheriff, whether his incompetence is revealed by a Black man or not. The good-ol’-boy system, it seems, is against the ropes. Gillespie is in a tight spot, but he’s cagey enough about self-preservation. Virgil Tibbs, he comes to realize, is a convenient “whipping boy.” Gillespie will win if the murderer is found, and Tibbs will receive no credit; on the other hand, if Tibbs can’t find a killer, he’ll take the blame himself for botching the case. Tibbs, however, has already deduced all of this. He knows exactly what he’s doing.

What Virgil Tibbs does, in the hands of author Ball, is bring up white people’s fears, shortcomings, and insecurities about themselves. For instance, Ball writes that Sam Wood “wanted the crime solved, but he wanted it solved by someone he could look up to and respect. The only trouble was he couldn’t think who it might be.” Sam further exhibits his insecurities when he wishes he’d never become a police officer; he pines for his old job as a grease monkey. Meanwhile, Bill Gillespie, too, wants Mantoli’s slaying solved quickly—and he’s willing to leap to conclusions if necessary to bring that about. After Tibbs proves the innocence of the department’s initial prime suspect, and with the clock ticking, Gillespie learns that Officer Wood had paid off his mortgage in cash, roughly the same amount that was taken from Mantoli’s billfold. That’s all the chief needs to arrest his colleague for the murder. But Tibbs figures the answer lies elsewhere, and through his diligent efforts he eventually makes everyone look good.

The majority of Americans are probably more familiar with the 1967 movie version of In the Heat of the Night than they are with John Ball’s original novel. Both are engaging works. The film starred Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, and Warren Oates, and was directed by Norman Jewison. Poitier (who passed away earlier this month) refused to shoot the movie in the South, due to threats he and singer-actor Harry Belafonte had received from the Ku Klux Klan. The movie turned out to be a hit, winning five Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Steiger and Best Picture. A TV crime drama, inspired by the 1965 novel and 1967 film, ran from 1988 to 1995. It starred Carroll O’Connor as Chief Bill Gillespie and Howard Rollins as Detective Virgil Tibbs.

There is no happy ending in Ball’s slender book, other than in the fact that justice is done, and that a tenuous truce has been achieved, in a very small way, between Blacks and whites in the South. There’s nothing in-your-face about the conclusion, just the quiet and individual rectitude of two men who are worlds apart. However, there is one other thing worth noting. Gillespie sees Tibbs off at a train station in the middle of the night, and gives Tibbs permission—which the Pasadena detective had requested—to sit on a whites-only bench. The chief then thanks Tibbs, and Tibbs says it was a pleasure helping out. Goodbyes are said, but then Gillespie declines to offer his hand for shaking. Virgil Tibbs is left to sit alone in silence, on the whites-only bench. Metaphorically speaking, he has been left to carry on the fight for racial justice by himself, with no assistance from Gillespie or his ilk, yet he has already won approval of a sort.

READ MORE:Remembering John Ball, the Writer Who Gave Us Virgil Tibbs,” by Kevin Mims (Quillette).

“Getting Away” Comes Back

Although its appearance was delayed by a couple of weeks (no doubt a subject that the author is contractually forbidden from explaining), Mike Ripley’s January “Getting Away with Murder” column for Shots is nonetheless welcome. Among its contents are notes about Hammond Innes’ 1951 thriller, Air Bridge; the December demise of “cult American crime writer” Andrew Vachss; a recently released collection of eye-catching Hank Janson cover art; the forthcoming (on January 21) Netflix release of Munich: The Edge of War, based on Robert Harris’ fine 2017 novel, Munich; plus fresh fiction from Stella Rimington, Liam McIlvanney, Sophie Hannah, Bill James, and others.

Click here to read the whole witty thing.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Revue of Reviewers: 1-12-22

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