Monday, April 21, 2008

Sweepings: The Post-Break Edition

I returned last evening from a pleasant weekend spent in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. My wife and I had driven up from Seattle for two reasons: 1) to celebrate our 17th (Omigod, can it really be that many?!) wedding anniversary, and 2) to visit January Magazine editor Linda L. Richards and her partner, David Middleton. Although weather forecasters had said it would rain, rain, rain all weekend long, it only sprinkled a little on Friday afternoon. The rest of the time brought chilly temps, but sunshine. (How does one go about getting a job as a meteorologist in the Pacific Northwest? It’s so obviously guesswork to say what the next day will bring here.) This left plenty of time to enjoy Vancouver, which is one of the nicest cities in North America, and to chat at length (on books, American politics, and Scotch) with Linda and David, who make up one of our few “couple friends.” It was also nice to get away for a bit from the business of blogging as well as my actual job, penning books. Over the last four months, as I’ve worked through my San Francisco photo history, I haven’t had a whole lot of time to just relax--though it’s been much needed.

But of course, there’s so much to catch up on in the blogosphere, now that I’m back in my office.

• My being out of town has left me being one of the last people to comment on the London Times’ new list of the “50 Greatest Crime Writers.” On the whole, it seems to be an improvement on the Daily Telegraph’s recent rundown of “Fifty Crime Writers to Read Before You Die.” It at least includes--as the Telegraph’s list should have, too--James M. Cain (#8), Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (#15), Ross Macdonald (#19), John Harvey (#23), and Val McDermid (#28). But there’s still no sign here of Ross Thomas, Laura Lippman, Erle Stanley Gardner, or Ken Bruen, just to name a few of the missing. Let’s hope that The Rap Sheet’s upcoming Crime Life List will be a bit more representative of this diverse genre. In addition to the Times’ catalogue of 50 writers, introduced by Marcel Berlins, the paper also features a tribute to Raymond Chandler, by William Boyd (Restless); British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s comments on Scottish novelist Ian Rankin (Exit Music); and Nicci French’s remembrance of Wilkie Collins. You’ll find links to all of the Times’ special crime-fiction coverage here.

• Tony Black interviews Craig McDonald for Shots. The funniest (weirdest?) part is where McDonald describes his experiences talking with modern crime novelists:
[James] Ellroy has been a good subject because he’s tended to open up to me in a different way than with most interviewers. I think that might be because I made it clear up front the first time how deep my reading of his novels goes and I never quizzed him about his mother’s murder, a subject he’s tired to death of. [James] Crumley was great to interview ... Really, most of the crime writers I’ve interviewed have been terrific and very forthcoming. The only exception might be a certain author of a cat mystery series who I agreed to interview to my own continuing surprise. I read two of her cat novels. The interview was a kind of train wreck and one of the few I never fully transcribed. I don’t even think I have the tape anymore. At one point, she began answering my questions in the persona of her cat.
You’ll find the full interview here.

In last Friday’s review wrap-up, while commenting on a New Mystery Reader interview with Declan Hughes, author of The Price of Blood, Irish writer-blogger Declan Burke (The Big O) remarked that I might appreciate Hughes’ reference to Ross Macdonald’s 1959 novel, The Galton Case, as “The Great Gatsby of crime fiction.” Indeed, that’s an excellent plug for Macdonald’s turning-point private-eye work. And it reminds me that I have intended to plug a blog called Pop Sensation, which comments--in frequently humorous fashion--on classic paperback covers. A couple of those covers come from books by Macdonald (né Kenneth Millar). Most recently, blogger Rex Parker (Can that really be his name?) showcased the 1950 Lion Books edition of Trouble Follows Me. Prior to this, he tackled the even nicer 1960 Bantam softcover edition of The Three Roads--like Trouble, a book that preceded the introduction of Macdonald’s famous Los Angeles gumshoe, Lew Archer. If you haven’t been keeping up with Parker’s blog, it’s time you began.

• Speaking of blogs worth reading, Vince Keenan’s low-key site commenting on “pop culture, high and low, past and present,” just celebrated its fourth anniversary. Did no one remember to bake a cake? Whoops. Maybe next year.

• The Noir of the Week film site tackles one of the classics of this genre: 1951’s Strangers on a Train, which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock from a screenplay penned in part by Raymond Chandler and based on the 1950 novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith. That all adds up to solid-gold provenance, if you ask me. Noir of the Week’s excellent commentary about this film comes in two parts, here and here.

• I’ve been remiss in not mentioning Steve Lewis’ effort to post, in his Mystery*File blog, “the covers and contents of all of the issues of a pulp called Complete Detective Novel Magazine that are in my collection. This,” he adds, “is in conjunction with a far more reaching project called the Crime Fiction Index, which is being compiled under the direction of Phil Stephensen-Payne.” You’ll find the first installment of that series here; the latest is here.

• So which gorgeous blond model-actress inspired the cover of Quantum of Solace, the forthcoming (in August) Penguin paperback re-issue of Ian Fleming’s 1960 short-story collection. The title of the original book was of course For Your Eyes Only, and “Quantum of Solace” was merely the name of one of five James Bond short stories contained within. But the October 2008 film Quantum of Solace, in which Daniel Craig reprises his role as Agent 007, has provoked Penguin to put out an edition of the 1960 collection under that same title. Paul Bishop has his own thoughts on who the cover model most resembles. Personally, I think his first choice (the star of The Nanny Diaries) is right for Quantum, but his other candidate (the star of Æon Flux) was the inspiration for the blonde fronting the 2003 Penguin edition of For Your Eyes Only. Any other suggestions?

• Bish’s Beat seems to be “Bond Beat” today. Paul Bishop notes the passing last week of Richard Chopping, “Best known for designing and illustrating the moriginal first editions of Ina Flemings James Bond novels.”

• There are some staffing changes in the works at the Web site Reviewing the Evidence. A note dropped into the Dorothy-L list-serv explains that “Yvonne Klein will take over the editing of the site while Sharon [Wheeler] takes a six-month sabbatical to work on other projects. Sharon will act as editor-in-chief and will continue to review for the site, as well as co-ordinating the ‘Sixty Seconds With ...’ interview slot. Barbara Franchi will remain as publisher and as point of contact for the weekly prize draw.”

• Jim Anthony, “Super-Detective,” may not be the most familiar crime-fiction character around nowadays. In fact, I’d never heard of him until this morning. However, the character was evidently quite something half a century ago, especially in the pulpy pages of Super-Detective (see here and here). As the Pulp Heroes Web site explains, “Jim Anthony was created by Robert Leslie Bellem and W.T. Ballard and appeared in Super-Detective from 1940 to 1943, starting with ‘Dealer in Death’ in October 1940. He was half Irish and half Native American and was a ... well, Doc Savage ‘homage.’ He used lots of gadgets and unlike Doc Savage had an eye for the ladies.” I bring this up, because Off-Trail Publications (most familiar for its Wade Hammond series) is bringing out a twin-pack of Anthony stories, Super-Detective Flip Book: Two Complete Novels. As the press materials explain, “The first novel, Legion of Robots, is a wild and woolly science-fiction opus that finds Anthony in full hero-pulp mode, battling the sinister Rado Ruric and his automaton accomplices across the breadth of North America. The second, Murder’s Migrants, is a timely-as-today’s-headlines tale taken from later in Anthony’s pulpwood career, when his editors had changed him from a Doc Savage-type superhero to a more hard-boiled kind of crime-fighter. ... Introductions for each novel, penned by writers and pulp scholars John McMahan and John Wooley, supply plenty of background information on Anthony and his creators, including his rather close relationship with perhaps the most well-known fictional superhero of them all--the Krypton native who wore a big red ‘S’ on his chest!” I haven’t seen this double-book yet, but it’s supposed to be a shorty--just 176 pages long. I guess Anthony was a quick crime-solver, if nothing else.

• Finally, a follow-up to my post about receiving a badly flawed copy of Frank Tallis’ third Maxim Lieberman historical mystery, Fatal Lies, from Amazon UK. When I returned home last evening, there in my pile of mail awaited a replacement copy of Tallis’ novel. It came quite fast, after I let Amazon know the problem, and I didn’t even have to send my copy with the duplicated pages back to Britain first. Very good service, indeed, and much better than expected. I look forward to returning to Tallis’ tale.


Barbara said...

And while I'll miss Shaz's great introductory essays to RTE, I know Yvonne will rise to the occasion. She's a wonderful reviewer herself. Her positive reviews are wonderful, but I especially enjoy it when she sinks her teeth into a true stinker. "Withering" comes to mind.

Rex Parker said...

Thank you for plugging my vintage paperback blog. And no, "Rex Parker" is not, in fact, my real name. My real name is lovely but ordinary, whereas Rex Parker feels custom-made for the world of cheap paperbacks.

All the best,

Anonymous said...

We must have passed each other at the Peace Arch. I just popped down to Seattle with my wife and daughter this weekend. They shopped; I chauffeured ;-)