Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Revue of Reviewers, 11-25-20

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

Of Drumsticks and Bookworms

Things are destined to be pretty darn quiet around Rap Sheet headquarters this Thanksgiving, as the ongoing pandemic plays havoc with any hope of family gatherings. The one consolation I have is that this lack of social contact leaves more time to read.

I already have a stack of books I intend to enjoy, among them Barack Obama’s new memoir, New Yorker writer Evan Osnos’ biography of incoming president Joe Biden, and Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, which is celebrating its 100th year in print. In addition, though, Janet Rudolph has updated Mystery Fanfare’s already lengthy menu of Thanksgiving-associated mysteries, tempting me to experiment with something not already on my book pile. Perhaps J.J. Brass’ oddly titled The Turkey Wore Satin? Or Sammi Carter’s Goody Goody Gunshots? K. L. McCluskey’s Three for Pumpkin Pie sounds inviting, but so does Delia Rosen One Foot in the Gravy.

How appropriate—a feast of choices for Turkey Day!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Those Lucky Six

From a list of 37 novels entered into the competition for 2020’s Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year, a shortlist of half a dozen works has been created. Those contenders were announced this morning:

The Courier, by Kjell Ola Dahl,
translated by Don Bartlett (Orenda; Norway)
Inborn, by Thomas Enger,
translated by Kari Dickson (Orenda; Norway)
The Cabin, by Jørn Lier Horst,
translated by Anne Bruce (Michael Joseph; Norway)
The Silver Road, by Stina Jackson,
translated by Susan Beard (Corvus; Sweden)
The Absolution, by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir,
translated by Victoria Cribb (Hodder & Stoughton; Iceland)
Little Siberia, by Antti Tuomainen,
translated by David Hackston (Orenda; Finland)

Petrona winners are customarily declared during the spring British convention CrimeFest, but this year’s victor will instead be announced on Thursday, December 3. “The winning author and the translator of the winning title will both receive a cash prize,” says a news release, “and the winning author will receive a full pass to and a guaranteed panel at CrimeFest 2022.”

This annual commendation—established back in 2013—takes its name from the blog operated by Maxine Clarke, a British editor and “champion of Scandinavian crime fiction,” who had died the year before that. The contest is open to “crime fiction in translation, either written by a Scandinavian author or set in Scandinavia, and published in the UK in the previous calendar year.”

Last year’s Petrona recipient was Norwegian author Jørn Lier Horst, who took home the honor for his novel The Katharina Code (Michael Joseph), translated by Anne Bruce.

What Say You, WaPo?

After pointing Rap Sheet readers toward selections of favorite 2020 mysteries assembled by Kirkus Reviews and Amazon, and before that the better-than-average Publishers Weekly list, it’s only right that I should note The Washington Post’s picks, as well. Among that newspaper’s 10 choices are Sara Paretsky’s Dead Land, Kwei Quartey’s The Missing Americans, Deepa Anappara’s Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, and William Boyle’s City of Margins.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Mastering the Art of Crime

Authors Charlaine Harris and Jeffery Deaver were named today as the Mystery Writers of America’s 2021 Grand Masters. As a news release explains, “MWA’s Grand Master Award represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as for a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality.”

“Mystery Writers of America is thrilled to honor Jeffery Deaver and Charlaine Harris as MWA’s 2021 Grand Masters,” said MWA President Meg Gardiner. “Over the course of decades, Deaver and Harris have gripped tens of millions of readers while broadening the reach of the genre with transformative books—notably, Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme series, and Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels—and while generously encouraging and supporting fellow writers and the reading public. We’re delighted to recognize their achievements.”

Past Grand Masters include Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Ross Macdonald, John le Carré, Sara Paretsky, Walter Mosley, Max Allan Collins, and last year’s winner, Barbara Neely.

Concurrently, the MWA chose the Malice Domestic mystery conference (founded in 1989) as the recipient of its 2021 Raven Award, recognizing “outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing.”

Provided that next year’s Edgar Awards ceremony is held in public (it’s currently scheduled for Thursday, April 29, in New York City), these prizes will be given out then.

Click here to read more about these commendations.

Friday, November 20, 2020

The Book You Have to Read:
“Crisscross,” by Harmon Henkin

(Editor’s note: This is the 168th installment in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books.)

By Steven Nester
There’s something unexpected happening here, in Harmon Henkin’s very accessible Crisscross (Putnam, 1976), and it’s that this political thriller is really a socialist primer. But don’t let that put you off—Henkin integrates his message into the novel’s plot with humor and expertise, and with help from a provocative leading man. Spencer William Duval is a washed-up 1960s revolutionary with no prospects. A bombing—“armed propaganda,” he calls it—was botched and landed him and his Red November Gang cohorts in federal prison a few years back. It’s now the mid-’70s, the complacent “Me Decade,” and Duval has finally been sprung but is lying low in Washington, D.C.

Shunned by his fellow partisans (who are all in hiding or have melted into the background), Duval spends his time smoking dope, chasing women, and writing for a third-rate left-wing weekly newspaper. Opinionated and outspoken (perhaps like his creator?), Duval remains a believer in the struggle, but at the moment he’s in sore need of basic purpose. He finds that raison d'être when Simmons, a cop who’s been assigned to surveil him, is murdered in the course of said task.

Duval had no beef with Simmons; a while ago, the pair reached a wary détente. In fact, at the time Simmons was killed, Duval was out buying pizza for the both of them. It was a snowy D.C. night, and Simmons was waiting in his undercover car. No stranger to the qualities of violence, Duval can see that the cop’s slaying there was the work of a professional, the murder weapon being Duval’s own pistol, found on the seat next to Simmons. Duval learns soon afterward that Simmons was actually connected to the CIA, and that he’d been planning to publish an exposé on the Agency, the mafia, various Washington power players, and oh, by the way, drug running. If Duval is to identify the killers and thereby save himself, we’re told, he needs help from the very people his past bomb-setting ineptitude helped put behind bars.

But things are complicated.

Aren’t they always.

In order for Duval to go underground, as he wishes to do, he must first make peace with those “fellow travelers” who felt he betrayed them. Adopting the code name Leon Bronstein—Leon Trotsky’s old nom de guerre—Duval begins his flight and his investigation. On the bright side, he doesn’t have to do much digging; the bad guys have no trouble finding Duval first.

Harmon Henkin (1940-1980) was an accomplished American outdoors writer who called hunting and fishing “a form of fighting oppression,” and the political commentary in Crisscross can’t be ignored. Duval sets off on a cross-country trip, which allows him to cast judgment upon every cultural component he encounters. Among other pithy observations, he calls middle-class neighborhoods “spiritless in the same American processed imitation way,” but gives props to the 1970s detective series Columbo, calling Peter Falk’s protagonist the “most class-conscious cop on TV.”

Despite his past acts of violent progressivism, Duval has a warmer side: he’s an unapologetic romantic and a movie fan. On a train heading to Montana, where he’s to meet another former militant, now a college professor, Duval makes the acquaintance of a woman named Liz (think Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest). Duval may be a bomb-thrower, but he’s a smooth-talking satyr, as well, and Liz is the first of his many conquests in this story. Unfortunately, she’s a careless choice on his part, for Liz turns out to be a CIA tail. And while that fact doesn’t impede Duval’s quest for satisfaction or his trust in people, it does rather endanger his life.

A subsequent leg of Duval’s journey, down the Pacific Coast to Berkley, California, introduces him to a wide spectrum of humanity, including those at the very bottom of the social strata—the “marginal people in the land of plenty.” His initial contact during this odyssey is an activist whose war against “the system” involves everything from scamming Ma Bell to outright thievery. Later he rides the rails with an elderly Wobbly, a member of the International Workers of the World, who survived the violent labor struggles of the early 1900s. They’re joined by a hippie couple, drifters searching for an enlightenment they can’t quite define, who refuse to participate in the capitalist system at any level. Elsewhere, Duval shows his sarcastic side when he makes cruel sport of a simple, hardworking cowboy who lives hand-to-mouth, a man Duval tries to educate in the basics of America’s welfare system.

The road finally delivers him to Berkley, his old college stomping ground, and from there on to the affluent community of Mill Valley, north of San Francisco, where even the most stalwart-appearing people hold secret dreams of vast social change.

For a man on his way underground, Duval never finds himself alone. Someone either has his back or is sneaking up from behind him. But when he finally engages in a public showdown with his pursuers, it’s a face-forward, no-holds-barred confrontation—and justice is served.

Crisscross boasts a no-nonsense tone, and its cultural criticisms are pleasantly seasoned with wry humor. The book’s pace moves quickly, and its action is never sacrificed to make way for glaring factional reproofs. Henkin, like any good teacher, doesn’t preach; he places his points in a context and environment with which readers can relate. Coincidences help move his storytelling along, helping to avoid complications or the need for excessive clarification. The various mid-plot deuses ex machina, however, might give Aeschylus pause.

Harmon Henkin died young, and biographical information on him is scant. He seems to be something of an enigma—not as intriguing as, say, B. Traven, author of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but a minor head-scratcher, nonetheless. He penned a couple of books about the art and sport of fly-fishing (1976’s Fly Tackle: A Guide to the Tools of the Trade being perhaps the best-known), but Crisscross showed him heading in a different direction. It can be interpreted as experimenting with what literature might resemble were it created in a radical-left-leaning, perhaps even socialist environment, one where opposing viewpoints are not suffered gladly. What sorts of stories would be generated under such restrictive conditions? Clues might be found in Trotsky’s classic Literature and Revolution (1924), if one can make it through that old Bolshevik’s boilerplate prose. Or in George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, both of which are still taught in high-school language arts classes across the country (though it will be interesting to see how those works fare in curricula of the future).

Fortunately, Henkin’s Crisscross isn’t overburdened with doctrinaire messaging. It’s an entertainment, first and foremost, written to be widely read and digested quickly, and then perhaps handed off to another reader. This is not a condemnation; the author knew exactly what he was doing when he created this book—he was making his case to those with real power, the man and woman on the street.

Less Contention Than Consensus

With just six weeks to go now before the end of this sad, tumultuous year, selections of the “best books” of the last 12 months are growing in number. The New York Times today released its “100 Notable Books of 2020” collection, including two drawn inarguably from the crime/mystery/thriller category: Riku Onda’s The Aosawa Murders and S. A. Cosby’ Blacktop Wasteland.

Meanwhile, Kirkus Reviews has named its picks of the 11 “Best Mysteries and Thrillers of 2020.” Among that unsurprising bunch are Michael Connelly’s Fair Warning, Camilla Läckberg’s The Golden Cage, Jo Nesbø’s The Kingdom, and Ruth Ware’s One by One.

Finally, editors are the gigantic retail site Amazon have chosen their 20 favorite mysteries and thrillers. Tana French’s The Searcher, Stuart Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water, Liz Moore’s Long Bright River, Rachel Howzell Hall ‘s And Now She’s Gone, and David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s Winter Counts all made the cut.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Third Time to Charm

Two TV detective series already adapted from Ann Cleeves’ novels—Shetland and Vera—have proven so successful, that British network ITV has decided to launch a third. As The Killing Times reports, Cleeves’ latest protagonist, introduced in the 2019 novel The Long Call, is slated to be given his own show soon:
The story centres around Detective Inspector Matthew Venn, who has returned to live in a small community in North Devon with his husband, Jonathan. It’s a place Matthew walked away from 20 years ago, after being rejected by his family.

We first meet the reserved, but intense Matthew Venn outside the local church as his father’s funeral takes place. Sadly, the day Matthew turned his back on the strict evangelical community in which he grew up, he lost his family too.

Now he’s back, not just to mourn his father at a distance, but to take charge of his first major murder. A body has been found on the beach near to Matthew’s new home: a man with the tattoo of an albatross on his neck, has been stabbed to death.
There’s no word yet as to casting or a premiere date.

Read and Rated

We’ve now entered the third and concluding round of voting in the 2020 Goodreads Choice Awards competition. Ten finalists are still vying for public approbation in the Best Mystery & Thriller category, including Stuart Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water, Tana French’s The Searcher, Ruth Ware’s One by One, and Harlan Coben’s The Boy from the Woods. Somewhat surprisingly, both Rachel Howzell Hall’s And Now She’s Gone and S.A. Crosby’s Blacktop Wasteland were eliminated from the running in previous balloting rounds.

Click here to register your top choice. The winners in all 20 categories are set to be announced on December 8.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

PaperBack: “Jailbait”

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

Jailbait, by William Bernard (Popular Library, 1952).
Cover illustration by Rudolph Belarski.

Woolrich Rediscovered

New York City-born author Cornell Woolrich (1903-1968) was not only one of the most respected crime-fictionists of his day, but also among the most prolific. Now it seems we can look forward to more of his work being republished. From January Magazine:
With so many works published by different publishing entities over the decades, rights to his stories were granted left and right and transferred many times over, even after his death, creating a complicated web of rights issues that has taken his estate’s representatives years to clear up. The team at Renaissance Literary & Talent, Alan Nevins, Jacklyn Saferstein-Hansen and Lauren Boone, who represent the various parties that control the Woolrich library, have tracked down and retrieved rights to stories and collections that have been out of print for decades. They have made a major push to reintroduce Woolrich to new audiences with fresh collections that consist of his most well-known as well as his most obscure works of short fiction.

Having published two collections of Woolrich’s short stories and novellas,
Literary Noir: A Series of Suspense (2020) and An Obsession with Death and Dying (2018), Renaissance Literary & Talent has announced a three-part collection to be called Women in Noir, though no date information was released with the announcement. “Woolrich produced a surprising number of stories with interesting, strong, competent female leads,” the anthology’s publisher wrote, “some even written from a woman’s first-person point of view. These 22 short stories present some of the most unique and dynamic female characters in the crime and suspense genres.”
You will find the complete story here.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Two Further Cures for Boredom

In The Rap Sheet’s last news round-up, I mentioned some of the television series and movies that have gotten me through these last eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, I forgot to highlight two others that really ought not to be missed.

First is Enola Holmes. A lighthearted Netflix mystery feature, it stars teenager Millie Bobby Brown as Sherlock’s younger but equally perceptive sister, who’s trying in this story to save the life of a new friend, while also searching for her eccentric missing mother. Adapted from the opening installment in a six-book young-adult book series by Nancy Springer, this teleflick was popular enough to merit a sequel, though a lawsuit brought by Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate may discourage such a possibility.

My second viewing recommendation, The Queen's Gambit, comes via Netflix, too, but it strays from the crime and mystery lane. Instead, this beautifully filmed seven-part mini-series, based on a 1983 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis, follows a chess prodigy—played by the consistently bewitching Anya Taylor-Joy—who, thanks to a janitor instructing her in the finer points of chess, escapes the privations of an orphan’s life, achieves unlikely renown as a tournament champ, and then must overcome addiction issues and fears of intimacy in order to become a world chess champion. A concern that this tale would be one long downer prevented me initially from watching it; but thank goodness, I overcame my hesitation, because The Queen’s Gambit provides one hell of a satisfying ride. Again, there’s talk of a sequel, but I for one am happy to see the plot conclude as it does.

READ MORE:There’s a Very Good Reason Why Everyone Is Watching The Queen’s Gambit,” by Elamin Abdelmahmoud (BuzzFeed).

Did We Really Need This?

It seems my fervent wish that a “reimagining” of the 1985-1989 Edward Woodward crime drama, The Equalizer, never be shot has not been granted. According to In Reference to Murder,
Adam Goldberg has been tapped as a lead opposite Queen Latifah in The Equalizer reboot, which has a straight-to-series order at CBS to launch this season. A reimagining of the classic series, The Equalizer stars Queen Latifah as Robyn McCall, an enigmatic woman with a mysterious background who uses her extensive skills to help those with nowhere else to turn. Goldberg will play Harry Keshegian, an endearing, eccentric, and paranoid tech geek whose experience as a white-hat hacker lets him know what the real conspiracies are. He’s as loyal as they come and like a brother to McCall. The series, which recently started production, also stars Chris Noth, Lorraine Toussaint, Tory Kittles, Liza Lapira, and Laya DeLeon Hayes.
Production of the show was shut down in March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but expectations are that it will premiere in early 2021.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Champions Among Champions

(Editor’s note: The following article comes from Fraser Massey, a freelance journalist living in East London​, England, who has contributed work in the past to British periodicals such as The Radio Times, Now, and The Times of London. His unpublished first novel, Whitechapel Messiah, was shortlisted last year in the “New Voices” category at London’s Capital Crime Festival. He’s currently preparing to submit that manuscript to publishers.)

The 2020 awards season will be remembered for being like no other that came before. This has been a year when winning crime-fictionists couldn’t even receive their prizes in person, but instead had to make do with hearing their names read out during online ceremonies.

Despite the problems presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, most—though not all—of the regular annual awards presentations for crime, mystery, and thriller novels went ahead in some fashion. A survey of 12 different groups or organizations known for offering yearly commendations in this genre shows a number of shared judgments on new releases, but also plenty of diversity in their other choices.

Between them, the Agatha Awards, the Anthonys, the Barrys, the Capital Crime/Amazon Publishing Readers’ Awards, the Crime Writers’ Association Daggers, the International Thriller Writers (ITW) Awards, the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, the Macavitys, the Shamus Awards, the Strand Magazine Critics Awards, and the Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Novel Awards assigned prizes to 31 different authors in 39 categories, with a total of 146 titles receiving nominations.

The big winner in 2020 turned out to be Northern Ireland-born, Australia-based thriller writer Adrian McKinty, whose ingeniously coercive tale about American child-snatchers, The Chain, picked up both the ITW Thriller Award for Best Hardcover Novel and the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year prize in July, then collected the Macavity Award for Best Mystery Novel and the Barry Award for Best Thriller in October.

McKinty is one of four male authors to make the top-10 list of most wins and nominations at award ceremonies this year.

Some of the best-known contributors to modern crime fiction found their latest books in contention among various prize juries over the last 12 months. They include David Baldacci (One Good Deed), Stephen King (If It Bleeds), Anthony Horowitz (The Sentence Is Death), and Ann Cleeves, whose first Detective Matthew Venn novel, The Long Call, captured the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel in May.

However, it was Korean-American author Steph Cha who kicked off the 2020 awards season back in mid-April, when her fourth novel, Your House Will Pay, won this year’s L.A. Times Book Prize in the Mystery/Thriller category. She followed that by scoring nominations at five other awards ceremonies.

Spare a thought, too, for Lauren Wilkinson, whose debut novel, the Cold War thriller American Spy, was selected by The New York Times as one of its “100 Notable Books of 2019” and went on to score five nominations without her receiving a single winner’s trophy in the post to place upon her mantelpiece. Do people still have mantelpieces?

Special mention deserves to be made of the impressively prolific Max Allan Collins and Denise Mina, who each managed to collect nominations for two separate titles (Collins for Killing Quarry and Girl Most Likely, Mina for The Less Dead and Conviction), yet were shut out of winners circles this year.

Finally, congratulations are in order for the Capital Crime Festival, held last month in London, which managed to put forth what may have been the most diverse lists of contenders. Their judges nominated 26 different print titles, the majority of them neglected by folks judging other crime-fiction competitions.

The following top-10 list of this year’s acclaimed crime, mystery, and thriller works was created for The Rap Sheet using a points system that credits wins, commendations, nominations, and the numbers of awards ceremonies at which each title was recognized.*
1. The Chain, by Adrian McKinty (Mulholland [U.S.], Orion [UK])
2. Miracle Creek, by Angie Kim (Sarah Crichton [U.S.],
Hodder & Stoughton [UK])
3. One Night Gone, by Tara Laskowski (Graydon House)
4. Death in the East, by Abir Mukherjee (Vintage [U.S.],
Harvill Secker [UK])
5. Your House Will Pay, by Steph Cha (Ecco [U.S.],
Faber and Faber [UK])
6. The Lost Man, by Jane Harper (Flatiron [U.S.],
Little, Brown [UK])
7. American Spy, by Lauren Wilkinson (Random House [U.S.] Dialogue [UK])
8. The Murder List, by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge)
9. November Road, by Lou Berney (Morrow [U.S.], Harper [UK])
10. The Sentence Is Death, by Anthony Horowitz (Harper Perennial [U.S.], Harper [UK])

Bubbling just under this list: My Lovely Wife, by Samantha Downing (Penguin [U.S], Michael Joseph [UK]); Lady in the Lake, by Laura Lippman (Morrow [U.S.], Faber and Faber [UK]); The Godmother, by Hannelore Cayre, (ECW [U.S.], Old Street [UK]); Charity’s Burden, by Edith Maxwell (Midnight Ink); Good Girl, Bad Girl, by Michael Robotham (Simon & Schuster [U.S.] Sphere [UK]); and The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott (Vintage [U.S.], Cornerstone UK]).

* A note about list placements: The points system was devised to favor prize winners and books that received commendations over others that received multiple nominations but no awards. However, across-the-board recognition at a number of ceremonies was still reflected in the final calculations. Outright winners were allotted 25 points for each prize, commendations scored 23 points, and nominations (books that didn’t win) received 10 points apiece. Titles were given an additional two points for every ceremony where they were nominated.

Preparing a Return to the Field

Back in March, in what has turned out to be the first of many pandemic-era Rap Sheet news wrap-up posts, we let you know that Australian actress Rebecca Breeds (Pretty Little Liars, The Originals) had been hired to play FBI agent Clarice Starling in Clarice, a forthcoming CBS-TV series inspired by Thomas Harris’ best-selling 1988 novel, The Silence of the Lambs.

Now we have further word on the casting of that crime drama.

Deadline says that Clarice, to be set in 1993—one year after the events explored in Lambs—will also feature Marnee Carpenter (Criminal Minds, Good Girls) as a series regular, with “Jayne Atkinson (Criminal Minds, House of Cards), Shawn Doyle (The Comey Rule, The Expanse), and Tim Guinee (Homeland, Elementary) … cast in recurring/guest roles.” Clarice is “slated for a midseason 2020-21 premiere.”

Double the Connelly, Double the Fun

As In Reference to Murder notes,
Fans of Michael Connelly (creator of the Bosch procedural series) can catch the author via two other upcoming online events. Bloody Scotland is presenting a global live-streamed conversation with Connelly and fellow author Ian Rankin (of the Inspector Rebus series). This free event is scheduled for November 16th at 7:30 BST. Connelly will also be marking his debut with the Mark Twain House & Museum lecture series on November 17 at 7 p.m. EST as he appears with author and journalist Douglas Preston to discuss Connelly’s latest novel in the Lincoln Lawyer series, The Law of Innocence.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Revue of Reviewers, 11-11-20

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

Owl on the Line

It’s typically each spring that the Portland, Oregon-based fan group Friends of Mystery names the winner of its annual Spotted Owl Award, honoring crime and mystery fiction published by residents of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and the Canadian province of British Columbia. However, the latest edition of that organization’s newsletter (the “Blood-Letter”) informs us that committee members responsible for selecting nominees are already hard at work, reading possible contenders. Among the novels being considered:

Stone Cross, by Marc Cameron (Kensington)
A Cold Trail, by Robert Dugoni (Thomas & Mercer)
The Last Agent, by Robert Dugoni (Thomas & Mercer)
A Desperate Place, by Jennifer Greer (Crooked Lane)
Credible Threat, by J.A. Jance (Gallery)
The Last High, by Daniel Kalla (Simon & Schuster)
Derailed, by Mary Keliikoa (Epicenter Press)
Shadows of the Dead, by Spencer Kope (Minotaur)
House Privilege, by Mike Lawson (Atlantic Monthly Press)
River Blues, by Doc Macomber (Floating Word Press)
A Reasonable Doubt, by Phillip Margolin (Minotaur)
No Fixed Line, by Dana Stabenow (Head of Zeus)

There’s still time for authors and publishers to have their novels reviewed for inclusion in the 2021 Spotted Owl competition. “The publishing deadline is December 31, 2020,” the “Blood-Letter” explains, “so if you know an author who has a book qualifying to be considered, please let me know at:”

Two Reasons to Salute 007 Today

With this being Veterans Day here in the United States and Remembrance Day in Britain—an occasion to honor armed services personnel, past and present—let us celebrate one former fighting man in particular: James Bond, who, as we all know from Ian Fleming’s tales, held the rank of Commander in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and was a veteran of World War II.

There’s another reason for remembering British Agent 007 today, as well. John Cox of The Book Bond reminds us: “Today marks the 100th birthday of James Bond. Well, it does if we accept the birthdate of November 11, 1920, given to him by John Pearson in the 1973 continuation novel James Bond: The Authorized Biography of 007. While others have gone on to provide different dates, Pearson was the first and I really enjoy his book, so … Happy Birthday, old boy!”

READ MORE:Veterans Day Crime Fiction/Veterans Day Mysteries,” by Janet Rudolph (Mystery Fanfare).

Friday, November 06, 2020

Bullet Points: Election Anxiety Edition

Like so many other Americans, I have spent the last several days focused on news surrounding the 2020 U.S. presidential race. With any luck, ballot counting will soon near its conclusion, and we’ll have a view toward the final decision—likely in Democrat Joe Biden’s favor—by today. But in the meantime, I am struggling to pull my head out of the political arena and concentrate instead on crime and thriller fiction. Below are developments in that area worth mentioning.

• The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has put both the riches and the shallowness of modern television on vivid display. Over the last eight months, as opportunities for international travel and socializing have tried up, my wife and I have turned to TV series and movies to fill many of our quiet hours. While I’ve appreciated a few new and recent offerings (The Alienist: Angel of Darkness, Vienna Blood, Baptiste, Perry Mason to a lesser extent, and Lily James’ Rebecca remake—critical kvetching aside), I have been more often disappointed. SS-GB, for instance, got off to a rollicking start, only to end inconclusively. Dublin Murders wore poorly on my patience as the abundant troubles besetting its protagonists took center stage; I gave up watching the series halfway through. Rob Lowe’s short-lived British dramedy, Wild Bill, had it charms, but the plots were pretty weak, and potentially interesting secondary characters, such as Anjli Mohindra’s Lydia Price, were never fully fleshed out. Marc Warren’s Van der Valk was character-rich, and I relished its Amsterdam setting, but the episodes weren’t especially memorable. While I enjoyed the Mediterranean island backdrop of The Mallorca Files, that show overplayed its comedy at the expense of original storytelling. And the six-episode Netflix prequel series Young Wallander? Well, it was interesting because it explored hate crimes and racist violence in Sweden, and Ellise Chappell shone brightly as an earnest young immigration advocate; however, star Adam Pålsson was altogether too stiff to lead the cast, and fans of previous Wallander series (such as this one) are unlikely to applaud this modern-day reboot of their favorite Malmö detective inspector. So the following news, from The Killing Times, came as a surprise:
Young Wallander is coming back for a second series.

The Netflix adaptation of Henning Mankell’s celebrated series of novels made its debut on the streaming platform and its expected the second run will debut in 2021. …

It’s expected Adam Pålsson will return as the young detective, but there’s no more word on casting yet.
Evidently, my viewing tastes are not shared by everyone.

• I have higher hopes for a different Netflix crime drama, Lupin, set for release in January 2021. It’s inspired by French author Maurice Leblanc’s many novels and novellas about fictional gentleman-thief and master of disguise Arsène Lupin, who was introduced in Leblanc’s 1907 story collection, Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar. The new TV series stars French actor Omar Sy as polished 21st-century robber Assane Diop, “a man who comes across a mysterious gift—a book about Arsène Lupin, judging by the trailer—that he says grants him wealth and resources, and several lives with which to spend them,” explains Polygon. “That detail, along with a few visual flourishes that suggest a little jumping through time, give the series a supernatural tint (in addition to a slightly meta energy), though we’ll have to wait to see the extent of how strange the series becomes.” Gizmodo adds, “Lupin’s trailer also has a very pronounced James Bond sort of energy to it that promises the series won’t just be a collection of scenes in which Sy tiptoes around museums boosting priceless works of art.”​

• Beyond watching just what’s available on streaming services, I have found entertainment these last several months in a variety of DVD releases. Episodes of Dan August, Longstreet and Peter Gunn have all showed at my house, as have the TV pilot films Mallory: Circumstantial Evidence, a better-than-anticipated Raymond Burr legal drama from 1976; The Judge and Jake Wyler, a 1972 flick starring Bette Davis and Doug McClure, and written by Richard Levinson and William Link; and Jarrett, Glenn Ford’s 1973 audition for a private detective series. I’d long been on the lookout for a copy of that final telepic, since I had vague recollections of enjoying Jarrett when it was originally broadcast. So when I discovered that Web-based video retailer Modcinema had copies for sale, I immediately snapped one up. The story finds Ford playing Sam Jarrett, a boxer-turned-gumshoe in Los Angeles who specializes in cases involving art works of one sort or another. In the pilot, he’s searching for “the Book of Adam and Eve, a Biblical text that predates the Dead Sea Scrolls,” as this review in Mystery*File explains. The concept held promise, and Ford had already demonstrated his ability to lead a small-screen series in the 1971-1972 CBS western-cum-crime drama Cade’s County. The casting looked favorable as well, with Anthony Quayle, Forrest Tucker, Laraine Stephens, and Yvonne Craig all signed on to the project. Furthermore, the script for Jarrett came from Richard Maibaum, who had written the earliest James Bond motion picture, Dr. No, and gone on to contribute to other Bond films. Sadly, the finished product proved far less appealing than I’d recalled. As Mystery*File puts it,
Ford is miscast, Tucker overacts terribly and has some lame line readings, Stephens seems to think she is in a real movie, it all borders on the worst kind of camp …

And it is for all that, fun in a stupid way, because Ford, Quayle, and Craig all seem to recognize how silly the whole thing is and settle in to have fun. They are relaxed, playful, aware there is nothing they can do to save this, but determined to make it as much fun as they can.
I’d call that assessment far too generous. Despite my warm remembrance of Jarrett, watching it again all these years later amounted to a waste of 74 minutes. Much of its plot makes no sense, and other elements are simply ridiculous. It’s no surprise CBS didn’t add Jarrett to its fall 1973 prime-time schedule.

• With the Hawaii Five-0 reboot having finally ended its decade-long run this last April, 40 years after Jack Lord’s original Hawaii Five-O left the airwaves, Bill Koening of The Spy Command chose this moment to revisit—in some detail—Stephen J. Cannell’s unsuccessful 1997 pilot for a Five-O revitalization, starring Gary Busey. His post features a five-minute clip from that movie’s opening.

• The Goodreads Choice Awards are now open for public voting. There are 15 nominees in the Best Mystery & Thriller category, including Rachel Howzell Hall’s And Now She’s Gone, S.A. Crosby’s Blacktop Wasteland, Tana French’s The Searcher, and Stuart Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water. The first round of balloting will continue through this coming Sunday, November 8. Click here to make your opinions known. Two more rounds of voting will follow this one, with the winners in all categories to be announced on December 8.

In a piece for CrimeReads, H.B. Lyle profiles Riddle of the Sands writer Erskine Childers, asking, “How did the aristocratic author of English’s first great spy novel end up dead in the Irish Civil War?

• I hate announcing the deaths of people who have influenced the crime- and thriller-fiction fields. Yet each such individual deserves recognition for their efforts. So let’s begin with two recent passings mentioned in The Gumshoe Site. As Jiro Kimura notes, Richard A. Lupoff died on October 22 in Berkeley, California, at the tender age of 85. “The former technical writer was probably more famous as an American science-fiction writer than as a mystery writer …,” he observes, but “in the 1980s, Lupoff started writing mystery series featuring Hobart Lindsey (an insurance claims adjuster) and Mavia Plum (a black homicide detective in Berkeley), starting with The Comic Book Killer (Offspring Press, 1988), and ending with The Emerald Cat Killer (St. Martin’s, 2010). He also created a short story series, featuring millionaire autodidact polymath Akhenaton Beelzebub Chase and his lissome associate, Claire Delacrois, who live [in] Berkeley in the 1930s, and the six cases of Chase and Delacroix were collected in Quintet (Crippen & Landru, 2008).” The science-fiction Web site Locus offers a more detailed account of Lupoff’s publishing career.

• The Gumshoe Site also reports the demise of musician-turned-writer Roxanne Longstreet Conrad, who—under the pseudonym Rachel Caine—penned “Stillhouse Lake (Thomas & Mercer, 2017), the first in the Stillhouse Lake thriller series …, featuring Gwen Proctor, the ex-wife of an infamous serial killer, followed by four more novels ending with Heartbreak Bay (to be published in 2021).” Atop here crime-fiction endeavors, she produced dozens of novels and short stories in the fantasy field, including the Morganville Vampires series and the Weather Warden universe. Conrad/Caine 58 years old when she perished from cancer on November 1.

• Finally, Mike Ripley offers this delightful, if belated, obituary of Alan Williams, who apparently succumbed to COVID-19 on April 21 of this year. “He was called ‘the master of adult excitement,’” Ripley writes in Shots, “‘the first real challenger to Ian Fleming’ and ‘a ruthless, compulsive storyteller,’ though in another era, his famous godfather Noël Coward might have added ‘and he’s a very naughty boy.’” An initial career in journalism, coupled with “an eye for dangerous situations,” led Williams to begin concocting thrillers, his first such novel, Long Run South, reaching print in 1962. “Williams was 27 and seemed set for a long career in thriller fiction,” Ripley continues, “his trademark take on the genre being the ‘Englishman abroad,’ usually young, often a journalist, often randy and usually out-of-his-depth, entangled with villains and spies far more ruthless and violent than the hero, always in exotic locations ranging from North Africa to Iceland, South America to Cambodia. … By the 1970s, a new Alan Williams thriller was a major publishing event …” Nonetheless, the author stopped producing fresh fiction at age 46. He was 84 years old at the time of his demise.

• Back in August, I asked on this page, “So what’s happened to Reviewing the Evidence?” At that time, the 19-year-old Web site had already lain dormant for seven straight months, with no news circulating about its future. And an e-mail inquiry I sent to editor Yvonne Klein had gone unanswered. I feared the worst. Therefore, I was more than a bit surprised, on October 10, to suddenly find a new message on the site from Klein. It begins,
First, my apologies. This is the issue of RTE I had ready to go on the last day of February this year. I didn’t get to upload it as on that very day I found myself in the hospital, from which I did not emerge for some considerable time. When I thought about what to do with it, I felt that it would be a pity to waste all the hard work the reviewers had gone to, despite the months-long delay. The original date was special in a way—it was due to come out on Leap Day, February 29, I think for the first time in our history.
Klein goes on to write: “One more bit of news. After twelve years (or so) of editing RTE, I am stepping back, though not wholly departing. Happily, Rebecca Nesvet, who has long been associated with the site and whose reviews I am sure you have read and enjoyed over the years, has agreed to assume the editorship and will be gradually taking over the responsibilities in the next few months.” She went on to promise that a new issue of RTE would be posted “sometime” in November. Let’s hold her to that.

• Production of The Rap Sheet’s 2020 “favorite crime fiction of the year” feature package is well underway, and I’m looking ahead to a change in my reading habits. As I usually do at year’s end, I start turning to older books and works outside the mystery-fiction field, and digging primarily into those for the next three or four months. My preliminary choices this time range from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth to David W. Blight’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Frederick Douglass biography and Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (a 1722 release that I purchased early in this year’s pandemic, but still haven’t tackled). During said interregnum, I shall be poring, too, through Craig Sisterson’s Southern Cross Crime: The Pocket Essential Guide to the Crime Fiction, Film & TV of Australia and New Zealand (Oldcastle). It’s part of a series of fiction guides that has already brought us Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide, Historical Noir, and American Noir, all by Barry Forshaw. Sisterson, with whom I worked for several years while helping to judge New Zealand’s Ngaio Marsh Awards, is an enthusiastic genre reader and a spirited writer, which should make Southern Cross Crime a joy to peruse. Although I’ve sampled the output of Liam McIlvanney, Peter Corris, Eleanor Catton (The Luminaries), and Paul Thomas, and have read from the oeuvre of Arthur W. Upfield (the creator of Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte of the Queensland Police Force), my knowledge of Kiwi and Australian crime fiction remains fairly limited. Just leafing through this new book brings up myriad fictionists with whom I would like one day to be better acquainted—Marele Day, Alix Bosco, Emma Viskic, and Garry Disher among them. The only problem might be acquiring copies of their books; U.S. publishers aren’t in the habit yet of re-publishing Antipodean crime writing as frequently as they do UK titles.

• In January Magazine, Ali Karim has posted an interview between Heather Martin, author of The Reacher Guy: The Authorised Biography of Lee Child (Constable), and the Reacher Guy himself, best-selling author Child. “Their chat,” writes Karim, “gives us a taste for what both have in store for fans of the creator of Jack Reacher, one of most beloved characters of contemporary crime fiction.”

What a terrific book title for this genre!

• While we must now wait until April 2021 to see Daniel Craig’s final James Bond film, No Time to Die, my recent wrap-up of crime, mystery, and thriller releases includes an assortment of reading choices to keep spy-fiction enthusiasts happy in the interim. One I only just added there is Come Spy With Me, the initial installment in a series created by Max Allan Collins and Matthew V. Clemens, and due out in mid-November from Wolfpack. Collins explains in his blog that this “homage to James Bond and Ian Fleming” had its roots in a different publisher’s rather peculiar proposal to create “erotic novels in which all of the sex was between married people. Married to each other. At the time,” Collins recalls, “I pointed out to them that few married people, particularly if they’d been married a while, did their fantasizing about their mates. But this, the publisher insisted, was a time that had come.” Although that themed project ultimately went nowhere, Collins and Clemens reworked their yarn into Come Spy With Me, a 1960s-set novel starring John Sand, a recently retired British secret agent on whom Fleming supposedly based his man Bond.

• And who says there are no such things as coincidences? On the very same day that Paperback Warrior reviewed Bourbon Street, which it dubbed a “pretty sub-standard” 1953 novel, set in New Orleans and written by G.H. Otis (aka Otis Hemmingway Gaylord Jr.), Mystery*File editor Steve Lewis critiqued a 1954 episode of CBS-TV’s Four Star Playhouse, also titled “Bourbon Street” and also with its action taking place in Louisiana. Lewis says the 25-minute drama, starring Dick Powell and Beverly Garland, “has more going for it than many a shoot ’em up, ultra-violent neo-noir two-hour extravaganza in full color does today. Dick Powell is in full hard-boiled tough-guy mode in this one, as a piano player who has managed to make his way out of the quicksand life of New Orleans, only to return when he learns that the girl he loved has committed suicide.” Click here to watch that whole episode, scripted by Dick Carr (1929-1988), who would go on to write for Richard Diamond, Private Detective, Johnny Staccato, Dan August, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Charlie’s Angels.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Have You Voted Yet?

READ MORE:How Long Will Vote Counting Take? Estimates and Deadlines in All 50 States,” by Alicia Parlapiano (The New York Times).

Monday, November 02, 2020

Please Pass It Along

• Mike Ripley’s latest “Getting Away with Murder” column for Shots includes notes about Philip Kerr’s lesser-known 2014 standalone novel, Research; the James Bond graphic-novel series Hammerhead (“once considered as the title of a film script written by Sean Connery, Len Deighton and Kevin McClory in the 1970s in an attempt to woo Connery back into the Bond role”); and new novels from Geoffrey Osborne, William Hjortsberg, H.B. Lyle, and others. Read more here.

• Tensions are high surrounding tomorrow’s presidential election in the United States. Voters are worried about the future of their country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of race relations in America, and Donald Trump’s increasing disregard for the nation’s democratic principles. To provide a modicum of relief from these anxieties, Lou Armagno, blogger at The Postman on Holiday, points us toward the results in a very different field of voting. “Each month, since March 2003,” Armagno explains, “Webmaster Rush Glick of The Charlie Chan Family Home has hosted a monthly poll on his homepage. There’s been a variety of interesting questions, all voted on by Chan enthusiasts around the world. Both multiple-choice and true-or-false questions from all spheres imaginable inside the world of Charlie Chan seek resolution. I counted over 200 poll questions since it’s start more than 17 years ago.” Click here to discover viewers’ favorite Chan flick, their “favorite ‘movie monster’ actor to appear in a Charlie Chan film,” and which Chan picture best “exemplifies the current coronavirus threat.”

• Speaking of polls, I don’t recall this one being conducted, but apparently the crime-fiction-oriented UK Web site Dead Good asked its readers to select the “100 best crime books of all time.” While they don’t seem to be ranked in order of preference, the nominees include Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia, Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, Abir Mukherjee’s A Rising Man, Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, Dick Francis’ Nerve, and … well, there are obviously too many to list here, most of them fairly recent releases. The only real surprise here is that no novels by Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, or Ross Macdonald appear on the list, but that may be down to the fact that opinions were solicited primarily from British readers.

• Here’s a vintage TV pilot film of which I have absolutely no memory: Kate Bliss and the Ticker Tape Kid (ABC, 1978). The Web site Modcinema, which has placed copies of this two-hour movie on sale, explains its plot thusly:
Right after wrapping up her role as Emily on The Bob Newhart Show, Suzanne Pleshette began her reign as “queen of the TV pilot films” with Kate Bliss and the Ticker Tape Kid. Kate Bliss (Pleshette) is a private investigator in the 19th-century West, setting up her shingle in a tough frontier town. The Ticker Tape Kid (Don Meredith) is a onetime stockbroker who has become a Robin Hood-type outlaw. Kate is hired to protect a prissy British land baron (Tony Randall) from the Kid, but soon her loyalties begin to waver. Kate Bliss and the Ticker Tape Kid didn't make it as a series, but allowed Suzanne Pleshette a refreshing change of pace from her usual urban roles.
Scripted by William Bowers, who previously wrote the popular James Garner films Support Your Local Sheriff and Sidekicks, Kate Bliss also starred Harry Morgan, Burgess Meredith, and Harry Carey Jr. Does anyone out there remember watching this pilot?

• Finally, happy 78th birthday to actress Stefanie Powers, formerly of the series Hart to Hart and The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

PaperBack: “Diabolus”

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

Diabolus, by David St. John (Fawcett Crest, 1971).
Cover illustration by Jeff Jones.

READ MORE:On the Art and Life of Jeffrey Catherine Jones,” by Michael Gonzales (CrimeReads).

First-Timers Win Big Time

Two debut novels have walked off with this year’s Ngaio Marsh Awards for crime fiction. Winners were declared during New Zealand’s WORD Christchurch Spring Festival (October 29-November 1).

Best Novel: Auē, by Becky Manawatu (Mākaro Press)

Also nominated: Whatever It Takes, by Paul Cleave (Upstart Press); Girl from the Tree House, by Gudrun Frerichs (Self-published); The Nancys, by R.W.R. McDonald (Allen & Unwin); In the Clearing, by J.P. Pomare (Hachette New Zealand); and The Wild Card, by Renée (Cuba Press)

Best First Novel: The Nancys, by R.W.R. McDonald (Allen & Unwin)

Also nominated: Tugga’s Mob, by Stephen Johnson (Clan Destine Press); Auē, by Becky Manawatu (Mākaro Press); and Into the Void, by Christina O’Reilly (Self-published e-book)

A news release notes that “Both winners were first-time novelists, and while their winning books were different in many ways, each was told in large part from the perspective of young children dealing with loss and violence in small-town New Zealand, each included a rich cast of diverse characters, and each expertly blended lighter moments with dark events in tense tales that could make readers gasp and laugh.”

This year marked the 10th anniversary of these commendations, which founder Craig Sisterson says “were established in 2010 to celebrate excellence in local crime, mystery, thriller, and suspense writing. ... [T]he Ngaios were modelled somewhat on the Hammett Prize in North America, which has been won by the likes of Margaret Atwood and focuses on ‘literary excellence’ in novels entwined with crime, so isn’t restricted to detective novels or whodunnits.”

Congratulations to all of this year’s nominees!

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Connery Ends His Run

This was not the sort of news I hoped to read on this Halloween morning. Variety offers the bottom line:
Sean Connery, the Scottish-born actor who rocketed to fame as James Bond and became one of the franchise’s most popular and enduring international stars, has died. He was 90.

Connery, long regarded as one of the best actors to have portrayed the iconic spy, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000 and marked his 90th birthday in August. His death was confirmed by his family, who said that the actor “died peacefully in his sleep surrounded by family” in the Bahamas. It’s believed he had been unwell for some time. His last acting role had been in Stephen Norrington’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentleman” (2003).

Connery was an audience favorite for more than 40 years and one of the screen’s most reliable and distinctive leading men. The actor was recently voted the best James Bond actor in an August Radio Times poll in the U.K. More than 14,000 voted and Connery claimed 56% of the vote. Global tributes poured in for Connery on Saturday following news of his death.
In its own lengthy obituary, The New York Times recounts some of Connery’s more memorable non-Bond roles:
In the 1970s and ’80s, Mr. Connery gracefully transformed himself into one of the grand old men of the movies. If his trained killer in the futuristic fantasy “Zardoz” (1974), his Barbary pirate in “The Wind and the Lion” (1975) or his middle-aged Robin Hood in “Robin and Marian” (1976) did not erase the memory of his James Bond, they certainly blurred the image.

Mr. Connery won a best-actor award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts for “The Name of the Rose” (1986), based on the Umberto Eco novel, in which he played a crime-solving medieval monk, and the Academy Award as best supporting actor for his performance as an honest cop on the corrupt Chicago police force in “The Untouchables” (1987). Mr. Connery taught himself to understand that character — Jim Malone, a cynical, streetwise police officer whose only goal is to be alive at the end of his shift — by noting the other characters’ attitudes toward him.

After reading Malone’s scenes, he told The Times in 1987, he read the scenes in which his character did not appear. “That way,” he said, “I get to know what the character is aware of and, more importantly, what he is not aware of. The trap that bad actors fall into is playing information they don’t have.”
“Despite all that,” writes The Spy Command’s Bill Koenig, “his seven Bond films”—from 1962’s Dr. No to 1983’s Never Say Never Again—“defined his career and made him a star.
Dr. No producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, working with a modest budget, decided on Connery relatively early in pre-production. United Artists, the studio that would release 11 Bond films before it was absorbed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, initially was skeptical.

Eventually, UA executives were sold. It was a decision they would profit from handsomely. The 007 series was UA’s major asset in the 1960s, a decade when the studio also released such films as
West Side Story, In the Heat of the Night and low-cost but profitable films featuring The Beatles.

Connery’s Bond was both sophisticated and ruthless. The actor was tutored in the former trait by director Terence Young, who helmed three of the first four 007 movies. It was Young who polished the rough diamond of an actor who came from a working-class background in Scotland.
I didn’t teethe on Bond flicks, but thanks to my father’s stochastic TV-viewing habits, I finally came to them as a teenager—and have watched every one of those pictures since. I won’t argue with the proposition that Connery was the best Bond, especially in productions such as Goldfinger (see here and here). While I am also a fan of Roger Moore’s Live and Let Die (1973), Pierce Brosnan’s GoldenEye (1995), and Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale (2006), whenever I re-read one of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels or any of the continuation novels penned by John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Anthony Horowitz, or others, I immediately picture Connery’s face on their protagonist. He may have preferred not to be typecast as incomparably prepared British espionage agent 007, but it will always be that part which defines him for me as well as for millions of other movie-watchers.

READ MORE:Sean Connery, a Lion of Cinema Whose Roar Went Beyond Bond,” by Jake Coyle (Associated Press); “Sean Connery on Slapping Women: Dangerous Opinions, But a Man of the Time?” by Scott Mccartney (The Scotsman); “Sean Connery: An Appreciation,” by Bill Koenig (The Spy Command).

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Book You Have to Read:
“The Real Gone Goose,” by George Bagby

(Editor’s note: This is the 167th installment in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books.)

By Steven Nester
The 1960 paperback cover art on George Bagby’s The Real Gone Goose promises a page-turning 1950s beatnik bacchanalia; but surprise, surprise—instead of finding Mingus, marijuana, and murder, The Real Gone Goose is a page-turning procedural that details the crime-solving process of New York Police Homicide Inspector George Schmidt. Readers disappointed by the false advertising of this cover, however, will quickly become engaged, as I was.

The story (originally published by Doubleday in 1959) is recounted by Schmidt’s sounding board and chronicler, who also happens to be named George Bagby, a bit of literary trickery that hints at the author’s avant-garde past. In the novel, Bagby is a bachelor and somewhat on the Walter Mitty side. A successful writer just past age 40, he’s feeling “stodgy and middle-aged.” These whispers of mortality are exacerbated when a comely young hipster named Sabra moves next door to Bagby’s Greenwich Village apartment. Soon the building is hosting not only Sabra, but her entire tribe of self-described “exiles,” rebellious 20-somethings who leave their doors wide-open to any crasher, and who expect George to do the same—as well as supply some of the booze for their moveable cocktail parties and solid-citizen put-downs. The hipsters may be united in their disdain for squares and their post-war conformity, but all is not Edenic in their self-created Heaven-on-earth.

Sabra (real name Barbara Wilson Leckey) is the wet dream of every beatnik in this cool coterie, but her ex-husband just happens to be a suit-wearing stockbroker with deep pockets. He checks in now and then, sometimes using force to punish those suitors who employ violence to control his former spouse. The rumor in the building that Sabra and Bagby have a romance underway is preposterous and is just the beginning of Bagby’s problems. When he returns home late one night to find Sabra shot dead in his apartment with his own pistol, it becomes a dilemma with existential consequences.

To Bagby’s benefit and detriment, Inspector Schmidt is assigned to this case. And while the Doctor Watson/Sherlock Holmes relationship these two enjoy continues, from here on out Schmidt must tread more carefully than usual and not show preferential treatment when his wingman becomes suspect number one.

Sabra’s love interest at the time of her death was Blair Nolan, “a bum out to make a buck.” After the murder, he suddenly cleans up his act, goes on a shopping spree at Brooks Brothers, and regains his job as a talented but unmotivated CPA. Because of his known physical mistreatment of Sabra, he’s on the NYPD’s radar, and the cops lean on him with plenty of weight. The means for Blair’s transformation came from Sabra, who left an unaccounted-for stockpile of cash in her apartment. The motivation for his transformation is Nolan’s failed attempt to woo Sabra on her own anti-establishment terms. Once she tired of the squalid beatnik life, he reasoned, he could swoop in and return her to the safety of the upper-middle-class, and take her to his bed. When this most plausible suspect is eliminated, though, Schmidt and Bagby (when it’s legal or permissible) put their heads together to determine who was where, when they were there, and if they had a motivation to kill the young woman. Unfortunately, all of the physical evidence points directly at Bagby. He and Schmidt begin to follow the money to the mysterious source of Sabra’s bankroll, and by then armchair sleuths should be hunkered-down and nose-deep in The Real Gone Goose, keeping pace as the crime is solved.

The cover of The Real Gone Goose shown at the top of this piece was published by Permabooks in 1960, and features art by Harry Bennett. Just above are two other versions, the one on the left from Doubleday’s 1959 first edition, and on the right, T.V. Boardman’s 1960 version, with art by Denis McLoughlin.

Not content to play it straight, Bagby has fun with the mystery-fiction form. The Real Gone Goose is a parody of the classic locked room whodunit, in which a murderer perpetrates a crime under circumstances that seem to make it impossible for that crime to have been committed and for the perpetrator to be detected. In Bagby’s New York, the city that never sleeps, doors are left wide open and apartments entered with the willy-nilly rhythm of a Marx Brothers movie. The goose, obviously the one that lays the golden egg, is Sabra, and she’s gone.

The fact that this novel’s main character and author share a name might briefly put one’s head aspin, or at least cause some scratching in puzzlement. But George Bagby was the nom de plume of Aaron Marc Stein (1906-1985), who wrote more than 100 novels, 49 of them in the Inspector Schmidt series. His first publications were avant-garde works championed by Theodore Dreiser. However, Stein didn’t gain popularity until he began producing mystery fiction in the mid-1930s.

The Real Gone Goose will keep readers busy as they try to solve the crime in step with Bagby and Schmidt (everybody loves a mystery, don’t they?), and Bagby leaves just enough clues to keep attentive readers headed in the right direction. As far as judging a book by its cover, be attentive to those bearing salacious and misleading art—you might not be as disappointed after all.