Wednesday, November 20, 2019

A Handful of Short Takes

• We’ve now entered the concluding round of Goodreads’ voting process to select the winners of its 2019 Choice Awards. The 10 finalists in the Best Mystery and Thriller category include Ruth Ware’s The Turn of the Key, Alex Michaelides’ The Silent Patient, Jane Harper’s The Lost Man, Sally Hepworth’s The Mother-in-Law, and Harlan Coben’s Run Away. Click here before December 2 to make your preferences known. Winners in this and 19 other book categories are supposed to be announced on Tuesday, December 10.

• Meanwhile, Amazon has chosen The Silent Patient as its “best mystery and thriller of the year.” That site’s top 20 picks are here.

• I’m very pleased to hear that British social historian Hallie Rubenhold has won the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-fiction for her book The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper. It’s an excellent work that overturns some of our most common beliefs about the Ripper’s “canonical victims.”

• Max Allan Collins mentions, in his most recent blog post, that he’s concocting a follow-up to his 1987 novel Spree, which has long been the penultimate entry in his series about professional thief Nolan. That protagonist last appeared in 1999’s Mourn the Living.

• Brash Books publisher Lee Goldberg reports on Facebook that a never-before-published 13th installment in the Ralph Dennis’ Jim Hardman crime series is set for release early next year. He explains:
For decades, it was believed there were only 12 books in the late Ralph Dennis’ legendary and acclaimed Hardman series, which was published in paperback in the 1970s and that inspired a generation of crime writers, including Joe R. Lansdale (Hap & Leonard) and screenwriter Shane Black (Lethal Weapon). But this summer, we discovered an unpublished 13th Hardman manuscript, written by Dennis in London in 1977, that was stashed away decades ago in a cardboard box in an attic in Chapel Hill, NC.

Brash Books is publishing the novel,
All Kinds of Ugly, in February 2020 with an afterword that details the exciting discovery and editing of this final, long-lost adventure in the Hardman series.
• I probably watched the entire run of Don Johnson’s second TV crime drama, Nash Bridges, but I never expected to see any more than that show’s original 122 episodes. Now comes this item from B.V. Lawson’s In Reference to Murder:
Don Johnson, set to reprise the title role in USA Network’s upcoming Nash Bridges revival, confirmed today that longtime co-star Cheech Marin will be back for the reboot reprising his role as Inspector Joe Dominguez. The original series, which ran on CBS from 1996 to 2001, starred Johnson as an investigator in an elite Special Investigations Unit of the San Francisco Police Department.
Hmm. Johnson will turn 70 years of age this coming December 15. Might that not make him a tad too old to again be chasing through the Bay Area after big-time criminals? You can watch the main title sequence from the original Nash Bridges here.

• Oh, no. Not a Columbo revival too. Can’t we just be happy with Peter Falk’s long-running classic series? Yes, at least for now. Apparently, Steven Moffat—the co-creator of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock—was hoping to reboot Columbo for new viewers, but was “thwarted by red tape,” according to The Columbophile.

As I mentioned previously on this page, I’ve been looking forward to watching BBC Two’s three-part production of Vienna Blood, based on Frank Tallis’ Max Liebermann/Oskar Rheinhardt novels. So I was disappointed to read The Killing Times’ take on Episode 1 of the show, which calls it “pretty much a compendium of clichés, handsomely dressed but fairly pedestrian” that “doesn’t do much original with its source material.” The review continues: “All the expected components are present and correct—a bit of psychoanalysis, a bit of hypnotism, a bit of fascism—and the authentic locations bring something to the party, but neither lead performance is compelling, and we feel we’ve found out everything there is to know about the two characters (one insecure and driven, the other grief-stricken by the death of his daughter). … So will Vienna Blood prove to have hidden depths of meaning in the next two episodes? Well, as Sigmund Freud famously probably didn’t say, ‘Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.’”

• The Killing Times also brings news that British performer Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Child 44) will star as the politically incorrect and flagrantly flatulent Jackson Lamb in an Apple TV+ adaptation of Mick Herron’s modern espionage series. To be called Slow Horses (the title of Herron’s first book in that series), it will follow “a team of British intelligence agents who serve in a dumping ground department of MI5—Slough House. Lamb is the brilliant but irascible leader of the spies who end up in Slough House due to their career-ending mistakes.” No word yet on a premiere date.

• And here is the trailer for Dare Me, the USA Network program based on Megan Abbott’s 2012 novel of that same name. Dare Me, which will follow the lives of some competitive high school cheerleaders in “a small Midwestern town,” is set to debut on December 29, with Abbott as one of its executive producers.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Will Gittes’ P.I. Practice Be Revived?

As someone who really loves period private-eye dramas, I want to have hope for this project. But I remain skeptical. From Deadline:
Netflix has closed deals with Robert Towne and David Fincher to work up a pilot script for a prequel to the 1974 classic film Chinatown, sources tell Deadline. Towne won an Oscar for scripting a drama that mixed fact and fiction to tell the story of a private eye hired to expose an adulterer who instead uncovers far more unsavory things.

Fincher will be executive producer along with Towne and Josh Donen. The idea behind the prequel series would be to focus on a young Jake Gittes (played in the film by Jack Nicholson) as he plies his business in a town where the wealthy and corruption involves areas like land, oil and gangs. The hope is that Fincher might direct the pilot, but that is not part of the deal which at this point covers a pilot script. Roman Polanski directed the original film and the late Robert Evans produced it.
Between this potential series and HBO-TV’s coming Perry Mason prequel, with Matthew Rhys, it seems we’ll soon be treated to multiple views of life and crime in 1930s Los Angeles.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

PaperBack: “TV Tramps”

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

TV Tramps, by Walter Dyer (Midwood, 1962). As observed on the Vintage Paperback & Book Covers Facebook page, not much is known about author Dyer (if that was even his real name). However, I should mention that Joy Vay, a vocalist and guitarist with TV Tramps, a “female-fronted punk band” from Asbury Park, New Jersey,” got the name for her group from this fictional exposé. Cover illustration by Robert Maguire.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Debut Novels Wanted

Speaking of interviews, one of the first ones I ever did with a publisned novelist was way back in 1981, when I sent a series of questions—via snail mail—to British author Peter Lovesey, then best known for having penned the Sergeant Cribb historical mysteries (Wobble to Death, The Detective Wore Silk Drawers, etc.). He was kind enough to write back, and we carried on an epistolary conversation through at least two back-and-forth rounds.

I was reminded of this yesterday, when I read (in Mystery Fanfare) that Soho Press is launching the Peter Lovesey First Crime Novel Contest. It will both celebrate Lovesey’s now 50-year career and offer the winner a publishing contract with Soho. The full entry details are here. Submissions “must be received by 11:59 pm EST on April 1, 2020.”

Good luck to every writer who takes a chance on participating.

Conversation Starters

As a journalist, I’m always been drawn to interesting interviews—especially, now, those with mystery and crime writers. Here are a few that you might also enjoy:

Nicholas Meyer answers questions from CrimeReads about his new, fourth Sherlock Holmes novel, The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols. In that same online publication, Joseph Kanon (The Accomplice) tells “why spies are the ideal subjects for writers.” MysteryPeople’s Scott Montgomery chats briefly with James Sallis (Sarah Jane). Abir Mukherjee tells The Scotsman that he began his latest Captain Sam Wyndham mystery, Death in the East, “as my homage to [Agatha] Christie.” Fine Books & Collections shoots a few queries at Sara Gran (The Infinite Blacktop). Speaking of Mysteries host Nancie Clare gets to know Frank R. Heller, author of The Secret Empress. Donis Casey tells blogger Lesa Holstine about her new spin-off novel, The Wrong Girl, set in 1920s Hollywood. Spybrary Podcast host Shane Whaley goes one on one with Steve Vogel, the author of Betrayal in Berlin: The True Story of the Cold War's Most Audacious Espionage Operation. And Barry Forshaw talks with the Camden New Journal about Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide and why he’s worried about the future of crime and mystery fiction. “It’s still the most popular genre,” Forshaw says, “but the trouble is we are so overexposed now to middle-aged alcoholic coppers, every other book that I’m sent to review is essentially Rebecca or Jane Eyre in which a woman finds she’s married to a man who may be a murderer or committed some crime. Sooner or later people are going to tire of that.”

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Revue of Reviewers, 11-12-19

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

Monday, November 11, 2019

Horst Drama Coming to America

Most of you know by now that I am a big fan of B.V. Lawson’s blog, In Reference to Murder. And one of its regular features I enjoy most is “Media Murder for Monday,” a weekly wrap-up of news about film and TV crime dramas, as well as podcasts and radio/video features relating to the genre. Today’s installment includes this tidbit sure to delight fans of Norwegian cop-turned-author Jørn Lier Horst:
US-based streaming service Sundance Now has acquired the rights to Norwegian TV series Wisting, based on the best-selling crime novels by Jørn Lier Horst. Wisting is a police procedural series about a former New York-based FBI agent (Carrie-Anne Moss) working with Norwegian homicide detective William Wisting (Sven Nordin) to catch a serial killer from the United States. The storyline is based on two of Lier Horst’s books, The Caveman and The Hunting Dogs.
You’ll find more such items here.

Some Days You Just Can’t Win

Here’s a novel criminal defense, destined to inspire a work of fiction somewhere down the road. From The New York Times:
What does it mean to complete a sentence of life in prison? One prisoner claims he has done it by serving time until the moment of his death—plus another four years since—and says it is well past time to set him free.

The prisoner, Benjamin Schreiber, made that argument to an appeals court in Iowa, saying that when he briefly died in 2015, before being revived at a hospital, he completed his obligation to the state. He asked the three-judge panel to let him get on with his life.

The judges rejected his argument this week, ruling that a lower court had been right to dismiss his petition.

“Schreiber is either still alive, in which case he must remain in prison, or he is actually dead, in which case this appeal is moot,” Judge Amanda Potterfield wrote for the court.

Mr. Schreiber, 66, was sentenced to life without parole after being convicted of murder for killing a man with the handle of an ax in 1996, according to
The Des Moines Register.
(Hat tip to Jim Thomsen on Facebook.)

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Bullet Points: Pre-Veterans Day Edition

• The “social cataloguing” Web site Goodreads has opened an online voting process to select the winners of its 2019 Choice Awards. The initial round of polling will continue through tomorrow, Sunday, November 10; a second stage will run from November 12 to 17, with the third one extending from November 19 through December 2. Winners are supposed to be announced on Tuesday, December 10. There are 20 categories of contestants, but those vying for Mystery & Thriller honors can be seen—and voted on—right here. Among the nominees are Adrian McKinty’s The Chain, Ruth Ware’s The Turn of the Key, Jane Harper’s The Lost Man, Alex Michaelides’ The Silent Patient, and Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer.

• One of my happiest mail deliveries of late brought a copy of UK critic Barry Forshaw’s brand-new work, Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide (Oldcastle). I have been hearing about this endeavor for the last year, as Forshaw plumped and polished his tally of authors and individual books to include. (An appendix in this 448-page paperback features my personal suggestions of 27 writers Forshaw didn’t have room to address elsewhere in his text.) But the results surpass what I had been expecting. Although I might have made some different choices as far as individual recommendations go (why promote David Hewson’s 2003 Nic Costa tale, A Season for the Dead, but none of his equally gripping Pieter Vos novels? And I’d have substituted Robert Wilson’s “grimly bewitching” The Blind Man of Seville for its sequel, The Silent and the Damned), the author’s portrayal of this genre’s international evolution and current breadth is—like his literary taste—outstanding. And rewardingly diverse. I’m particularly pleased to see less-prominent yarns such as Anthony J. Quinn’s The Listeners, Jonathan Gash’s Spend Game, and James Sallis’ Ghost of a Flea given a boost in these pages. Together with mini-reviews of books (and of films adapted from best-sellers), Forshaw offers brief but percipient biographies of numerous authors, from Ross Macdonald and P.D. James to Kathy Reichs and Alan Williams, as well as short features on subjects ranging from “Sleuths on Screen” to “Ethnic Crime Writing.” This is a work to savor, though it’s not necessary to read it all at once; better to dip in and out casually, finding suggestions of authors you’ve never tackled and insights into works that merit your greater attention. The Times of London calls Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide “a labour of literary love,” and it’s definitely that. Yet this is also a product of sly scholarship, enticing veteran mystery readers to expand their familiarity with the field, and gently—with a depth of knowledge and wit—giving those less well acquainted with crime fiction a firm grounding on which to build their experience. Forshaw’s magnum opus was released this week in Great Britain; an American edition of the same book is due in June 2020.

• This coming Monday, November 11, will be Veterans Day here in the States (Remembrance Day in the UK). To honor the occasion, Mystery Fanfare has posted links to lists of Veterans Day-related mysteries.

• The following item comes from In Reference to Murder:
The shortlist for the second annual Staunch Book Prize was announced recently. The list includes Only to Sleep (in the Philip Marlowe series) by Lawrence Osborne; the 15th-century literary mystery, The Western Wind, by Samantha Harvey; Liar’s Candle by August Thomas; Honey by Brenda Brooks; and The Godmother by Hannelore Cayre. The £1,000 award was set up in 2018 by author Bridget Lawless for the best thrillers in which no woman gets beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped, or murdered. The inaugural prize attracted criticism from authors such as Val McDermid and Sophie Hannah, while CrimeFest organizers withdrew an offer of a complimentary pass and panel appearance for the winning writer. BBC News gathered some authors together to share their thoughts on the controversy.
This year’s Staunch Prize winner should be declared on November 25, which—not coincidentally—will be the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

• “An expert panel” assembled by the BBC has chosen “100 novels that have shaped our world,” part of a yearlong British effort to “spark debate about the novels that have had a big impact on us all personally and culturally.” That campaign kicks off tonight at 9 p.m. with the premiere of a three-part BBC Two TV series also titled Novels That Shaped Our World. While I didn’t anticipate crime fiction would dominate this roster, there are several books from the genre included, among them Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle, Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, James Ellroy’s American Tabloid, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley.

• Really? A remake of The Equalizer starring Queen Latifa?

• To learn more about the original, 1985-1989 CBS-TV series The Equalizer, which starred English actor Edward Woodward as an ex-CIA operative who uses his skills to “[help] people who really need it, as penance for his previous life,” click here.

Now, this looks like my kind of murder mystery vacation!

• What was the best episode of Columbo, Peter Falk’s long-running crime drama? That question could draw many opinions—as it did here. But the unidentified writer behind that wonderful blog, The Columbophile, seems to harbor no doubt as to the correct answer: “The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case,” first broadcast as part of the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie on May 22, 1977, and guest-starring Theo Bikel as “a genius accountant … [who] has been embezzling funds in order to keep his high-maintenance wife in fine frocks and tropical getaways.” The blog goes on to describe that 40th Columbo installment as “70 minutes of television featuring major plot holes, an almost complete lack of cat-and-mouse suspense and, let’s face it, an episode title so contrived as to be ridiculous. Yet Bye-Bye rises above all this to deliver a thoroughly absorbing and entertaining adventure that doesn’t just salvage Columbo‘s sixth season—it proves that the show could be as good as, if not better than, ever before.”

• Here’s more proof that reading is beneficial. “Studies have shown,” says BookRiot, “that readers are more empathetic and that it can improve cognitive function. A new study by SuperSummary, an online resource that provides in-depth study guides, suggests reading has yet another benefit: self-identified readers are more satisfied with their lives than those who don’t identify as readers.”

• Earlier this week, author Andrea Bartz (The Lost Night) posted, on Twitter, “a very useful breakdown of why it’s important to preorder from independent bookshops.” Literary Hub offers the highlights.

• I’m very much looking forward to watching the BBC Two TV production Vienna Blood, a three-part mini-series filmed in the Austrian capital and based at least in part on Frank Tallis’ 2006 novel of that same name. As The Killing Times explains, “It’s set in 1900s Vienna and follows Max Liebermann [played by Matthew Beard], a brilliant young English doctor, studying under the famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. When Max comes into contact with Oskar Rheinhardt [Juergen Maurer], an Austrian Detective Inspector struggling with a strange case, he offers his assistance. Max’s extraordinary skills of perception and forensics, and his deep understanding of human behaviour and deviance, help Oskar solve some of Vienna’s most mysterious and deadly cases.” Vienna Blood is scheduled to debut in Great Britain on Monday, November 18. I haven’t seen word yet of when the show will be broadcast in the States; for the time being, I must content myself with the short introductory trailer below.

• By the way, this Vienna Blood is not to be confused with the identically titled 1942 German operetta film (no prominent crimes involved), which I learned only today was “one of the most financially successful films of the Nazi era.”

• Also due out from the BBC, though not until next year, is an adaptation of Ian McGuire’s historical thriller, The North Water (2016). That three-part TV drama, says The Killing Times, “tells the story of Patrick Sumner [played by Jack O’Connell], a disgraced ex-army surgeon who signs up as ship’s doctor on a whaling expedition to the Arctic. On board he meets the harpooner Henry Drax [Colin Farrell], a brutish killer whose amorality has been shaped to fit the harshness of his world. Hoping to escape the horrors of his past, Sumner finds himself in a male-dominated world, on an ill-fated journey with a murderous psychopath. In search of redemption, his story becomes a harsh struggle for survival in the Arctic wasteland.” That same Killing Times link contains a few early images from the production.

• Speaking of movie stills, here’s one (and, sadly, only one) from Perry Mason, the forthcoming HBO-TV “origin story” about Erle Stanley Gardner’s famous Los Angeles defense attorney, set in 1931. I have written previously about this project here.

• Finally, Deadline reports that British broadcast network ITV “is in advanced development on a sweeping adaptation of Lindsey Davis’ Falco Roman private detective novels after the project was originally in with the BBC. … [The lead character] Falco is described by Davis as a ‘laid-back’ operator whose adventures take place across the Roman Empire in 70 AD and beyond.”

• In praise of Michael Mann’s 1999 film, The Insider.

• Cincinnati, Ohio, writer T.S. Hottie—better known to crime-fiction fans as “Jim Winter” (a sometime Rap Sheet contributor)—has spent the last several months rewatching, and posting about, the James Bond film series. He began in July with Sean Connery’s Dr. No (1962) and on Friday commented on Pierce Brosnan’s Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), the 18th installment in that profitable spy-fi franchise. Hottie originally predicted his marathon rewatch escapade would take him six months, but with that deadline having already passed, it’s time for a reassessment. Click here to read all of his Bond posts.

R.I.P., Bernard Slade. Although I don’t see any small-screen crime dramas among this screenwriter’s credits on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), Slade did create a trio of TV sitcoms I remember quite well: The Partridge Family as well as the much less well-known Bridget Loves Bernie and The Girl with Something Extra.

• Talk about forgotten crime dramas! Who recalls CBS-TV’s Brenner, the father-and-son police drama starring Edward Binns and James Broderick, which—with breaks between spurts of episode broadcasts—took five years to roll out completely, from 1959 to 1964?

• I, for one, did not know this: The first book banned in America was 1637’s New English Canaan, by English businessman Thomas Morton. The Millions observes that the book “mounted a harsh and heretical critique of Puritan customs and power structures that went far beyond what most New English settlers could accept. So they banned it …”

The latest Paperback Warrior Podcast looks back at Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm thrillers as well as the 1963 novel Mute Witness, which inspired the 1968 Steve McQueen movie Bullitt.

Bill S. Ballinger (1912-1980) was an Iowa-born author, college professor, and screenwriter. He penned standalone novels with titles such as The Wife of the Red-Haired Man (1957) and Not I, Said the Vixen (1965), along with episodes of TV shows such as M Squad, Mike Hammer, Ironside, and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. In the 1960s, though, Ballinger also concocted a five-book succession of thrillers starring Joaquin Hawks, a U.S. secret agent of Native American heritage who reported to Horace Burke, CIA Director of Operations in Los Angeles. I have never taken the opportunity to read the Hawks yarns, but have certainly come across mentions of them from time to now. More recently, I found that Joe Kenney, who writes the Glorious Trash blog, has reviewed four of those works already, and will presumably soon enlighten us all about number five, The Spy in the Java Sea (1966). He remarks that “This is a good series,” though Ballinger’s characterization of Hawks is thin and “he really needs to cut back on the arbitrary travelogue stuff and feature some actual pulp espionage thrills.” Worth keeping an eye out for.

• While I haven’t yet seen the new Edward Norton picture, Motherless Brooklyn, I have been reading a lot about it recently: CrimeReads’ Olivia Rutigliano muses on the difficulty of bringing Jonathan Lethem’s original 1999 novel to the silver screen in any coherent fashion; The Bowery Boys, a fine New York City history site, offers a rundown of “10 things to know” about the film’s 1950s setting before you buy your theater tickets; and Slate’s Marissa Martinelli breaks down the many ways in which this flick differs from Lethem’s book (“Edward Norton’s adaptation changes more than it keeps”).

• Yikes! I have been falling behind on my reading of Dervla McTiernan’s fiction. I really enjoyed that Irish-Australian writer’s inaugural novel, The Ruin (2018), but have not yet gotten around to cracking open its sequel, this year’s The Scholar. And now here comes a third tale featuring Galway police detective Cormac Reilly: The Good Turn, planned for publication in March 2020.

• Three CrimeReads features worth finding: Paul French makes the case that Havana, Cuba, is a “capital of crime fiction”; Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga (The Resurrectionist of Caligo) recount how “‘Penny Dreadfuls’ Scandalized Victorian Society—But Flew Off the Shelves”; and Shamus Dust author Janet Roger pays tribute to The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler’s initial Philip Marlowe novel, which just a few months back celebrated its 80th year in print.

• In a short piece for Criminal Element, Shelley Noble applauds “Four Women Who Forever Changed the Gilded Age Mystery Genre.”

• Happy 10th anniversary to Murder by Gaslight, Robert Wilhelm’s blog about “notable nineteenth century American murders.”

• And I’ve read a great deal over the years about journalist Nellie Bly’s 1887 undercover investigation into brutality and neglect at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island, in New York City’s East River. Yet I still enjoyed Susannah Cahalan’s account, in Literary Hub, of Bly’s harrowing experiences and how the mentally ill were mistreated during America’s early years. Cahalan is the author of The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness (Grand Central).

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Historical Frictions

(Editor’s note: Please welcome to The Rap Sheet Janet Roger. She’s the author of Shamus Dust [Troubador], a brand-new crime novel set in the City of London in 1947 and starring Newman, an expatriate American private investigator who’s hired by a City councilor to keep his name from being connected to a recent killing. Roger claims an educational background in archaeology, history, and English Lit, with a particular interest in the early Cold War era. She’s also a great fan of mid-20th-century films noirs, which she describes as the “groundbreaking cinema of its time, peopled with an unforgettable cast of the era’s seen-it-all survivors, slick grifters, racketeers, the opulent and the corrupt.” Roger lives on a small island off the coast of Africa. Shamus Dust is her first novel, though she already has a sequel on its way, The Gumshoe’s Freestyle. In the essay below, she muses on the challenges modern fictionists face in determining how much period atmosphere and detail is needed in historical novels.)

Here’s one for all you 19th-century German philosophy scouts. It’s about Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Godfather of Dialectic and head-and-shoulders giant of the opaque. Don’t think for a second that this is trivial. The question is: What did Mrs. Hegel call her husband around the house? I mean, seriously, how did she address him? After all, she had a choice. Give up? Why, she called him Mr Hegel, silly. That’s Biedermeier Prussia for you.

Now move some decades on, to an admission that’s truly astonishing. In his memoirs, ex-commanding general—but by then, president—Ulysses S. Grant, recounts his time in the Mexican-American war. Young Ulysses is a captain of infantry, galled by the antics of his mules packing supplies over the mountains on the long march to Mexico City. So frustrated that he’s even ready to overlook his men’s profanities when yet another mule takes a tumble over the lip of a steep ravine. Thus reminisces the much older U.S. Grant. Though, he adds, darned if he can recall ever using a profanity himself; not in his entire life. Excuse me? A career officer of infantry, soldiering through some of the most bloody alarums and excursions of his century, who doesn’t own up to ever having used a cuss word? Lordy! Then again, these things do go in cycles; Grant’s profanity-free progress through the military would have staggered Shakespeare’s Falstaff as much as it does us. The veteran knight is just fine with calling his own prince and future king a bull’s pizzle, whereas Grant, let’s not forget, was a Victorian army officer. Did he simply not think in profanities? Or did he exercise a lifetime’s eye-watering self-control? Answers, please. (And on an animal-harm note—the mule survived the fall, managed to climb back out of the ravine, and rejoined the pack train. There is no record of whether the animal used an obscenity.)

Now forward a century more, this time to Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy. Her story begins in Bucharest with her heroine, Harriet Pringle, newly arrived in that Romanian city when war is declared in 1939. Six books later—there’s a subsequent Levant Trilogy, as well—her characters have taken a journey through Athens, Cairo, and on into Palestine, one step ahead of the war in southern Europe and North Africa. Manning is a wonderful storyteller (if you’re planning six volumes you’d better be). Also an acute observer of the manners, mannerisms, and casual prejudices of the times. So picture this: In April 1941, Harriet is on board a rusted freighter, fleeing Athens with the last refugees from the Nazi invasion. The ship drags towards Alexandria, Egypt, overcrowded and without food or water. Another expat—he’s in Harriet’s own set—passes around the women on deck to hand out the only onboard supply of toilet paper; three sheets each, he explains to her, one up, one down, and a polisher. How’s that again? Here’s a young Englishman—no more likely to address the married Harriet by her first name without her permission than to flaunt the ladies-first rule. Could he possibly be so flip and familiar? Well, yes, yes, and yes. Olivia Manning lived through the period and the events. You can trust her on the manners and idiom of those ex-pats marooned by a war. The voices are of their time. And while that was certainly before my time, I was brought up with Harriet Pringle’s generation still everywhere around me. I can vouch for the rightness of it.

I produce one last witness. I’ve just finished re-reading Raymond Chandler’s The Lady in the Lake, the fourth outing for his Los Angeles-wearied shamus Philip Marlowe, and was struck by two things. The first was noticing quite how many references there are to the world war going on in the story’s background (the book was first published in 1943). The second thing is the very obvious one that Chandler doesn’t need to flag up the war to his readers at the time. Or for me either, for that matter, when I first discovered the story as a teenager. He mentions the dim-out, the tire rationing, security on a road across a dam. A prowl-car cop shrugs that in two weeks he’ll be in the army. Wartime is everywhere around, but so close-woven into the story’s fabric that you’re hardly aware. Naturally. What reader of the time would need it explained that the country was at war, how come, or with who?

Almost 80 years on, however, modern readers—no longer close to the Vietnam War, let alone the bombing of Pearl Harbor—will certainly need it all explained. Until an annotated Lady in the Lake arrives (just this year we’ve had the first annotated edition of The Big Sleep), those echoes of Second World Wartime are going to fly over their rooftops.

You guessed it. Historical fiction is where all this is headed. You know the sort of thing: Prince Rupert, fresh from battle, crashes into the royal bedchamber where England’s King Charles is astride a spaniel, crop in hand. Rupert bends the knee and announces, Sire, I’ve just offed the rebel mob at Cirencester. Charles grins, adjusts a wig modeled on the spaniel, high-fives Rupert, and says, Yyyyyyeessssss! Not found that one on Netflix yet? You will. Rely on it.

The wig and the sire, you see. Set any story back in the day and somehow you’ll have to deal with the friction between the then and the now. Meaning that there will be background events to explain, prejudices of the day to interpret, idioms to re-cast, and manners that no longer play. And that’s going to be a taller order the more distant the period setting is; much more so for Biedermeier Germany than for Philip Marlowe’s world at war. Reader or audience will need to be brought along with you. There are options available.

Broadly speaking, one way is to decide that history is your hat stand; that power, sex, and money are the same preoccupations for all time and period is incidental; not more than bringing the fashions and haircuts in line. Take this route and (under the breeches and the hat feathers) language and manners can remain essentially contemporary, which is to say immediately recognizable to that modern reader or modern audience. On film, The Favourite (2018) pulled this off with intelligence and dash, combined fun with some serious intent and won awards. Carry On Up the Khyber (1968) less so.

But another way is to face the problem of period square-on, accepting that a historical fiction works—at least in part—as historical primer. It means letting us in on the many peculiarities of another age and setting in order to pull us through the story. In the right hands, that can be fascinating and fun in itself; by the time we’re done reading, we might have learned how to holystone the deck of a seventy-four, or what streets our coachman better take to Vauxhall Gardens. We not only improve our 18th-century skill set (or fill in any century), but we run into history we didn’t know or hadn’t properly appreciated. We see our own language in development and encounter the ancestry of manners. What’s not to like? And by the way, never mind the 18th century; John le Carré did all of this in A Legacy of Spies (2017), wherein he eased his readers through commonplaces of the first Cold War that by now wouldn’t be familiar to them.

(Right) Debut novelist Janet Roger

As with Chandler’s Los Angeles, le Carré’s Cold War takes us back hardly more than 70 years. But roll back the centuries again—to fiction written at the time, for its own time—and it’s very obvious how much adjustment there is to make. Without footnotes, or a decent introduction by somebody who knows, Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (written in the century before the Hegels) or Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d'Urbervilles (published later in the century of Grant) will likely lose us altogether in the detail. Read either of them in an edition that supplies an expert guide, and the wonder at being enlightened mixes with being appalled by how much we didn’t know we were missing. One way or another it’s that friction—the grit in the gears between then and now—that any period yarn has to deal with.

So here’s the thing. Soon I’ll be looking along the historical fiction shelf in my local bookstore. What should I take home? How about something that has the verve of history-as-hat-stand, the fascination of the historical eye-opener, stylishly written by a guide to the period I can trust? Is that too much to ask? Recommendations please, and get the bellhop to page me.

READ MORE:Author R&R with Janet Roger,” by B.V. Lawson (In Reference to Murder); “Atmospheric Pressure: The Big Sleep at Eighty,” by Janet Roger (CrimeReads).

Hit Man for Hire?

I’m amazed at times by the comments my blog posts attract. The note below, for instance, was submitted in relation to a 2017 Killer Covers piece that showcased some revealing vintage paperback fronts:
This is an organization with a powerful group of well trained professional sniper, assassins, hit men which are located all over the world such as the entire USA, CANADA, and EUROPE and in every country of the world. Here our job involves, the assassination of individuals who are threats to you and your family, revenge on someone, oppression, killings of top government bodies and politicians, blackmailing of a boss, ex-partner or placing a tail on someone to know their whereabouts. Our methods are long range snipping, or forcing someone close to them, torturing of their friends, coworkers, family doctor, therapist, etc. no undercover cops here, no risks of getting caught, because we are professional killers: we don’t ask for your name, we don’t want to know who you are or where you live. You pay by bitcoin and we don’t need to know about your credit card or bank account details making it as much easier and safer you.
I assume this is a scam, and not simply because of the poor grammar used. Of course, I rejected the comment and will not—for obvious reasons—include here the contact information it included.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Who Bagged the Inaugural Criders?

Back in December 2018, Bouchercon organizers announced that a new award would debut during their 2019 convention ... which was held late last week in Dallas, Texas. Called the Bill Crider Prize for Short Fiction—taking its name from the popular late author of the Sheriff Dan Rhodes mysteries—it offered a first-place reward of $1,000 (plus prizes for second- and third-place winners) to stories “relating to Texas ... with an element of mystery or crime.”

Unfortunately, word of the winners has been quite slow in spreading. But here are their names at last, thanks to Erin Mitchell.

First Place: Joseph S. Walker, “The Last Man in Lafarge”
Second Place: Jaap Boekestein, “Long Overdue”
Third Place: Douglas Dorow, “Trust Me”
Fourth Place: Dixon Hill, “Mi Corazón, Sin Cartero, Sin Timbre de la Puerta” (“My Heart, Sans Postman, Sans Doorbell”)

I’m confident Crider, a fan and writer of short stories himself, would be happy to see his memory celebrated in this fashion.

ADDENDUM: It should be noted that I have reached out to Crider contest coordinator Paula Benson, asking her to confirm these award details. However, I have so far received no response.)

Yes, Still More Awards News

You will doubtless recall that questions lingered after last Friday evening’s presentation, in Dallas, Texas, of the 2019 Shamus Awards. While three of the four winners were broadcast widely—including here—the recipient of this year’s Shamus for Best First Private Eye Novel was frustratingly difficult to identify. However, The Gumshoe Site’s Jiro Kimura this morning cleared up that mystery, as follows.

Best First Private Eye Novel: WINNER — The Best Bad Things, by Katrina Carrasco (MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Also nominated: Broken Places, by Tracy Clark (Kensington); Last Looks, by Howard Michael Gould (Dutton); What Doesn’t Kill You, by Aimee Hix (Midnight Ink); and Only to Sleep, by Lawrence Osborne (Hogarth)

The annual Shamus Awards are sponsored by the Private Eye Writers of America, and are usually distributed during Bouchercon.

* * *

Meanwhile, voting has begun in the competition for this year’s An Post Irish Book Awards. You have until Wednesday, November 13, to register your choices. There are 16 different categories of contenders, with those shortlisted for Irish Independent Crime Fiction Book of the Year honors listed below:

Rewind, by Catherine Ryan Howard
Cruel Acts, by Jane Casey
The Chain, by Adrian McKinty
Twisted, by Steve Cavanagh
The Wych Elm, by Tana French
The Hiding Game, by Louise Phillips

Your votes can be registered here. Winners will be announced at a “gala ceremony” in Dublin on Wednesday, November 30.

(Hat tip to Crime Fiction Ireland.)

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Berney Performs a Hat Trick

By this point, educator-author Lou Berney must be overjoyed that he sprang for the cost of his travel to Dallas, Texas. Over the course of this year’s Bouchercon, taking place in that city, his 2018 novel November Road won not only the Macavity Award for Best Novel and the Barry Award for Best Novel, but has now also captured the Anthony Award for Best Novel. Well worth the journey!

Last evening’s convention festivities also delivered a quartet of other Anthonys into the hands of deserving wordsmiths. Here are all of the 2019 Anthony Award recipients.

Best Novel: November Road, by Lou Berney (Morrow)

Also nominated: Give Me Your Hand. by Megan Abbott (Little, Brown); Jar of Hearts, by Jennifer Hillier (Minotaur); Sunburn, by Laura Lippman (Morrow); and Blackout, by Alex Segura (Polis)

Best First Novel:
My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Doubleday)

Also nominated: Broken Places, by Tracy Clark (Kensington);
Dodging and Burning, by John Copenhaver (Pegasus); What Doesn’t Kill You, by Aimee Hix (Midnight Ink); and Bearskin, by James A. McLaughlin (Ecco)

Best Paperback Original Novel:
Under a Dark Sky, by Lori Rader-Day (Morrow)

Also nominated: Hollywood Ending, by Kellye Garrett (Midnight Ink); If I Die Tonight, by Alison Gaylin (Morrow); Hiroshima Boy, by Naomi Hirahara (Prospect Park); and A Stone’s Throw, by James W. Ziskin (Seventh Street)

Best Short Story:
“The Grass Beneath My Feet,” by S.A. Cosby (Tough, August 20, 2018)

Also nominated: “Bug Appétit,” by Barb Goffman (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], November/December 2018); “Cold Beer No Flies,” by Greg Herren (from Florida Happens: Tales of Mystery, Mayhem, and Suspense from the Sunshine State, edited by Greg Herren; Three Rooms Press); “English 398: Fiction Workshop,” by Art Taylor (EQMM, July/August 2018); and “The Best Laid Plans,” by Holly West (from Florida Happens)

Best Critical or Non-fiction Work: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, by Michelle McNamara (HarperCollins)

Also nominated: Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession, by Alice Bolin (Morrow); Mastering Plot Twists: How to Use Suspense, Targeted Storytelling Strategies, and Structure to Captivate Your Readers, by Jane K. Cleland (Writer’s Digest); Pulp According to David Goodis, by Jay A. Gertzman (Down & Out); Classic American Crime Fiction of the 1920s, annotated by Leslie S. Klinger (Pegasus); and The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World, by Sarah Weinman (Ecco)

Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient: Peter Lovesey

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

Private Eyes on Public Display

On Friday night in Dallas—where this year’s Bouchercon is currently taking place—the Private Eye Writers of America organization hosted a banquet in the city’s Bishop Arts District during which the 2019 Shamus Awards were handed out. There were four prizes up for grabs, but so far I’ve only been able to suss out three of the winners. Even PWA founder and current executive director Robert J. Randisi, communicating from a hotel computer station, wasn’t able to supply me with the recipient of this year’s prize for Best First Private Eye Novel when I contacted him via e-mail yesterday; I’ll just have to add that information to this post later.

For now, here are the other three victors.

Best Private Eye Novel:
What You Want to See, by Kristen Lepionka (Minotaur)

Also nominated: Wrong Light, by Matt Coyle (Oceanview); The Widows of Malabar Hill, by Sujata Massey (Soho Crime); Baby’s First Felony, by John Straley (Soho Crime); and Cut You Down, by Sam Wiebe (Quercus)

Best Original Private Eye Paperback: The Questionable Behavior of Dahlia Moss, by Max Wirestone (Redhook)

Also nominated: She Talks to Angels, by James D.F. Hannah (Independently published); No Quarter, by John Jantunen (ECW Press); Shark Bait, by Paul Kemprecos (Independently published); and Second Story Man, by Charles Salzberg (Down & Out)

Best Private Eye Short Story:
“Chin Yong-Yun Helps a Fool,” by S.J. Rozan (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], September-October 2018)

Also nominated: “Fear of the Secular,” by Mitch Alderman (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, November-December 2018); “Three-Star Sushi,” by Barry Lancet (Down & Out: The Magazine, Vol. 1, Issue 3); “The Big Creep,” by Elizabeth McKenzie (from Santa Cruz Noir, edited by Susie Bright; Akashic); and “Game,” by Twist Phelan (EQMM, September-October 2018)

Congratulations to all of the contenders!

UPDATE: Katrina Carrasco’s The Best Bad Things (MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux) apparently won the 2019 Shamus Award for Best First Private Eye Novel. Learn more by clicking here.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Link Wins Longtime TV Profits Battle

This sounds like excellent news for William Link, the now 85-year-old co-creator (with his childhood friend and writing partner Richard Levinson) of the Peter Falk TV crime drama Columbo as well as other televised mystery series. From The Hollywood Reporter:
Universal City Studios must pay nearly $70.7 million in back profits and interest to the creators of Columbo, as an L.A. judge on Thursday entered judgment following a
three-phase trial.

William Link and heirs of Richard Levinson in November 2017 sued, through their corporate entities, claiming they weren’t paid their share of profits from the ’70s detective series until 45 years later, and, even then, they were shorted.
You’ll find the whole article here.

Barry Best of the Bunch

This has been a big week for Oklahoma City author Lou Berney. His fourth book, November Road, not only won the 2019 Macavity Award for Best Novel, but has now also picked up the Barry Award for Best Novel. The full set of this year’s Barry recipients—announced on Thursday night at Bouchercon in Dallas, Texas—is below.

Best Novel: November Road, by Lou Berney (Morrow)

Also nominated: Dark Sacred Night, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown); The Shadows We Hide, by Allen Eskens (Mulholland); Depth of Winter, by Craig Johnson (Viking); Leave No Trace, by Mindy Mejia (Atria); and A Necessary Evil, by Abir Mukherjee (Pegasus)

Best First Novel: The Chalk Man, by C.J. Tudor (Crown)

Also nominated: My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Doubleday); Need to Know, by Karen Cleveland (Ballantine); Dodging and Burning, by John Copenhaver (Pegasus); Sweet Little Lies, by Caz Frear (Harper); and Bearskin, by James A. McLaughlin (Ecco)

Best Paperback Original: The Ruin, by Dervla McTiernan (Penguin)

Also nominated: A Sharp Solitude, by Christine Carbo (Atria);
Dead Pretty, by David Mark (Blue Rider Press); The Hollow of Fear, by Sherry Thomas (Berkley); and Resurrection Bay, by Emma Viskic (Pushkin Vertigo)

Best Thriller: Safe Houses, by Dan Fesperman (Knopf)

Also nominated: The Terminal List, by Jack Carr (Atria); London Rules, by Mick Herron (Soho); Forever and a Day, by Anthony Horowitz (Harper); Light It Up, by Nick Petrie (Putnam); and The King Tides, by James Swain (Thomas & Mercer)

Dan Sandstrom Award for Lifetime Achievement in Mystery
Jeff Popple

The Barry Awards have been sponsored, since 1997, by Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine. Previous winners can be found here.

Congratulations to all of this year’s nominees!

(Hat tips to Mystery Fanfare and The Gumshoe Site.)

Friday, November 01, 2019

PaperBack: “Dark Dream”

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

Dark Dream, by Robert Martin (Pocket, 1952).
Cover illustration by James Meese.

Macavitys Honor Excellence

This is what happens when I don’t attend Bouchercon. Last night—Halloween night—during the convention’s opening ceremonies in Dallas, Texas, three different categories of prizes were to be presented: the Barry Awards, the Macavity Awards, and the David Thompson Memorial Special Service Award. I already knew that Ontario bookstore owners Jenn and Don Longmuir were slated to receive the David Thompson. However, I still haven’t found the list of Barry winners anywhere online. If anyone reading this article can please tell me who collected those prizes, I’d be grateful, and will post the news later.

Meanwhile, here are the books and authors that captured the 2019 Macavity Awards, sponsored by Mystery Readers International.

Best Novel: November Road, by Lou Berney (Morrow)

Also nominated: If I Die Tonight, by Alison Gaylin (Morrow); The Lost Man, by Jane Harper (Flatiron); Jar of Hearts, by Jennifer Hillier (Minotaur); Hiroshima Boy, by Naomi Hirahara (Prospect Park); and Under My Skin, by Lisa Unger (Park Row)

Best First Novel: Dodging and Burning, by John Copenhaver (Pegasus)

Also nominated: My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Doubleday); Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens (Putnam); Something in the Water, by Catherine Steadman (Ballantine); and The Chalk Man, by C.J. Tudor (Crown)

Best Non-fiction: The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World, by Sarah Weinman (HarperCollins)

Also nominated: The Metaphysical Mysteries of G.K. Chesterton: A Critical Study of the Father Brown Stories and Other Detective Fiction, by Laird R. Blackwell (McFarland); Conan Doyle for the Defense: The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice, and the World’s Most Famous Detective Writer, by Margalit Fox (Random House); Classic American Crime Fiction of the 1920s, annotated by Leslie S. Klinger (Pegasus); I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, by Michelle McNamara (HarperCollins); and Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life, by Laura Thompson (Pegasus)

Best Short Story: “English 398: Fiction Workshop,” by Art Taylor (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], July/August 2018)

Also nominated: “Race to Judgment,” by Craig Faustus Buck (EQMM, November/December 2018); “All God’s Sparrows,” by Leslie Budewitz (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, May/June 2018); “Bug Appétit,” by Barb Goffman (EQMM, November/December 2018); “Three-Star Sushi,” by Barry Lancet (Down & Out: The Magazine, Vol.1, No. 3); and “The Cambodian Curse,” by Gigi Pandian (from The Cambodian Curse & Other Stories, by Gigi Pandian; Henery Press)

Sue Feder Memorial Award for Best Historical Mystery: The Widows of Malabar Hill, by Sujata Massey (Soho Crime)

Also nominated: A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder, by Dianne Freeman (Kensington); City of Ink, by Elsa Hart (Minotaur); Island of the Mad, by Laurie R. King (Bantam); A Dying Note, by Ann Parker (Poisoned Pen Press); and A Forgotten Place, by Charles Todd (Morrow)

The Macavitys take their name from the “mystery cat” in T.S. Eliot’s 1939 poetry collection, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Members of Mystery Readers International and its periodical, Mystery Readers Journal, were eligible to vote in this competition.

UPDATE: The Barry Award winners can now be found here.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

A Basket Full of Halloween Treats

• Mystery Fanfare offers a list containing hundreds of Halloween-associated mysteries, novels and short stories—mostly cozies. Included among the bunch are The Pumpkin Killer, by Stacey Alabaster; Wycliffe and the Scapegoat, by W.J. Burley; Night of the Living Thread, by Janet Bolin; Ghostly Murders, by P. C. Doherty; Hallowe’en Party, by Agatha Christie; and Tricks (an 87th Precinct Mystery), by Ed McBain.

• Meanwhile, The Guardian’s David Barnett has dug up 10 books set in and around graveyards—totally appropriate for this season. (Hat tip to Campaign for the American Reader.)

• And LitReactor looks back at the history of Halloween in fiction.

Olivia Rutigliano argues, in CrimeReads, that Bram Stoker’s 1897 horror novel, Dracula, is also “an incredibly complex, fascinating mystery.” Well, I for one am convinced.

Here’s a brief, 1897 critique of Stoker’s book.

• Omnivoracious: The Amazon Book Review suggests half a dozen novels for folks who are interested in reading about witches, while National Public Radio isn’t altogether spellbound by Ben Blacker’s new “angry witch comic,” Hex Wives.

• Mystery*File resurrects a 1964 TV episode, “Halloween with the Addams Family,” guest-starring Don Rickles.

• For its All Hallows’ Eve installment, the CBS Radio Mystery Theater site has reposted a 1980 show titled, intriguingly, “The Evil Eye.”

• It was 81 years ago tonight that The Mercury Theatre of the Air first broadcast “The War of the Worlds,” based on H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel of that same name and narrated so frighteningly by Orson Welles.

• In his blog, A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence Towles Canote chooses his “Five Favourite Foreign Horror Films.”

• Are you in the mood for Edgar Allan Poe? reprints his short story “The Black Cat,” which appeared originally in the August 19, 1843, edition of The Saturday Evening Post.

• CrimeReads hosts a wide variety of fine new Halloween-related features, among them Erica Wright’s “The Perks of Living in a Haunted House,” Zach Vasquez’s list of “20 Essential Films That Blur the Line Between Horror and Noir,” Lisa Black’s “5 Scary Movies with Invaluable Lessons for Crime Writers,” and Emily Stein’s picks of “8 Spooky Podcasts to Listen to This Halloween.”

• Speaking of podcasts, check out The Bowery Boys’ complete collection of its “Ghost Stories of Old New York” Halloween specials.

• Merriam-Webster provides a history of trick or treating.

• Finally, Canote is back with more Halloween cheesecake.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Revue of Reviewers, 10-26-19

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