Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Minor Offenses

Just when I was feeling deprived of reading material (ha!), today’s mail brought the Fall 2009 issue of Mystery Scene magazine. In addition to Craig McDonald’s cover profile of James Ellroy (Blood’s a Rover), the contents include: a profile of James R. Benn, author of the Billy Boyle World War II mysteries (Evil for Evil); a fond retrospective on “75 Years of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe”; an overview of Patricia Moyes’ whodunits; and Ed Gorman’s interview with Kansan Nancy Pickard (The Virgin of Small Plains).

Another book for my Christmas list. (It’s not too early, is it?)

• British politician-turned-author Gyles Brandreth (Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man’s Smile) is the latest “Author Snapshot” subject for January Magazine.

The Avengers go all colorful.

• And Bruce Grossman goes looking for girls--Australian crime-writer Carter Brown’s girls, that is--for his latest Bullets, Broads, Blackmail & Bombs column in Bookgasm.

What If ...

It was 54 years ago today that rising young American actor James Dean (Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden, Giant, etc.) was killed in a car crash while driving his Porsche 550 Spyder near Cholame, California. But who might Dean have become, and what might he have done, had he lived to see more than his 24 years? A minute-long advertisement from South Africa imagines the possibilities.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Slow News Day Pickings

• The big news today is that Leonardo DiCaprio is in line to play beach bum and “salvage consultant”-cum-sleuth Travis McGee in a film adaptation of John D. MacDonald’s first McGee novel, The Deep Blue Good-By (1964). That character has been interpreted twice before in two separate films: by Rod Taylor in Darker Than Amber (1970), and by the underappreciated Sam Elliott in Travis McGee, a 1983 teleflick (and series pilot) based on The Empty Copper Sea (1978). I liked Elliott--sans mustache--in the title role, and enjoyed seeing his wife, the lovely Katharine Ross (of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fame), as Travis’ latest love interest. Still, Travis McGee left much to be desired. Crimespree Cinema’s Jeremy Lynch is more than a little skeptical of DiCaprio’s ability to do better at filling McGee’s flip-flops (“I simply can’t see Leo as Travis McGee. Not in the slightest.”). But DiCaprio is a performer with a hell of a lot of range. And although he’s rather small and wiry to fit my image of MacDonald’s protagonist, he might just surprise everyone and make a decent McGee. And hey, he’s already got the eye squint he’ll need to withstand all that Florida sunshine.

• News that film director Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland over the weekend and may now be extradited to the States for raping a 13-year-old girl in California in 1977 has provoked pop-culture critic Jamie J. Weinman to look back at Chinatown (1974), which is probably Polanski’s best-known movie. His conclusion: “not only is it somewhat atypical of Polanski’s career, it’s also somewhat atypical of [screenwriter] Robert Towne’s career.”

• A team of researchers at Kansas State University decided to map out where the storied Seven Deadly Sins are most practiced in the United States. Greed scores highest in Southern California and the Northeast, but Wrath, Lust, and Pride are problems especially in the Bible-thumping South. Go figure. The map is here.

• At Hard-boiled Wonderland, author Craig McDonald (Rogue Males, Toros and Torsos) comments on Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 “crime-inflected ballad,” “Highway Patrolman.” Read his post here.

• Congratulations to Megan Abbott on her two new book deals.

• Stephen King wants to turn his 2005 Hard Case Crime novel, The Colorado Kid, into a TV series called Haven.
• If you haven’t done so, there’s still time to vote for who you think should win the 2009 ITV3 Bestseller Dagger Award. Nominated are Dick Francis, Alexander McCall Smith, Nicci French, Harlan Coben, and Martina Cole. Voting will remain open until Wednesday, October 21. Make your opinions known here.

• What sets British private eyes apart from their American cousins? Jim Stringer of the blog Do Some Damage puts that question to authors Ray Banks and Russel D. McLean.

• Today is the 79th birthday of author Colin Dexter, the creator of British Detective Chief Inspector Endeavour Morse and his onetime “sidekick,” Robbie Lewis, who is now the star of his own excellent TV series. Columnist, novelist, and sometime Rap Sheet contributor Mike Ripley passed on this news about Dexter’s birthday--along with a mention that today also happens to be his own birthday, though Ripley carefully refrained from telling which one.

Saved in Translation

As British crime-fiction readers are about to discover, the title of the third book in Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy,” originally translated into English as The Air Castle that Detonated, has been changed to The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.

I’ve been told by many lovers of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire that they hated the Air Castle title. Guess somebody got the message ...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Vice Work If You Can Get It

It’s easy to forget that the NBC-TV cop drama Miami Vice--which debuted on this date back in 1984, 25 years ago--entered the American airwaves in the same season that welcomed Murder, She Wrote, Charles in Charge, Highway to Heaven, The Cosby Show, Who’s the Boss, and Hunter. With the possible exception of that last, Fred Dryer-Stepfanie Kramer crime drama, the rest of those shows seem ... well, significantly less than hip. Miami Vice, on the other hand, was considered--for its time--the coolest series to come down the pike since Peter Gunn.

Miami Vice earned its nickname of ‘MTV cops’ through its liberal use of popular rock songs and a pulsating, synthesized music track created by Jan Hammer,” writes Jeremy Butler at the Museum of Broadcast Communications site. “Segments of it closely resembled music videos--as quickly edited images, without dialogue, were often accompanied by contemporary hits such as Tina Turner’s ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It?’ As with music-oriented films such as Flashdance (1983) and Footloose (1984), Miami Vice was a program that could not have existed before MTV began popularizing the music video in 1981.”

However, it wasn’t the tunes alone that set Vice apart and made it a hit. It was the clothes, too. During its early years, American males all seemed to pick up on the dressing trends--Italian sport coats, T-shirts, white linen pants, and slip-on loafers (without socks)--established by Don Johnson, who played Miami-Dade Police Detective Sergeant Sonny Crockett on the show opposite Phillip Michael Thomas in the role of Detective Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs, a transplant from New York City. Combine all of that with sports cars, Sonny’s 40-foot sloop and pet alligator, myriad bikini-clad babes, drug-running scumbags and murderous gangsters, and it’s no wonder that People magazine heralded Miami Vice as “the first show to look really new and different since color TV was invented.”

Embedded above is the page from TV Guide’s 1984 Fall Preview edition that promoted Miami Vice in its original 10 p.m. on Friday timeslot. Just click on it to bring up a larger, readable version. And if this 25th anniversary of Vice makes you want to revisit executive producer Michael Mann’s fictionalized world of pink flamingos, machine-gun-toting South Florida baddies, and style-setting lawmen, then hop on over to Hulu where, at least for the time being, you can watch this show’s pilot and other episodes from its five-season run.

More Irish Troubles

It’s been one hell of a fine year for crime fiction--and it’s only September. Here’s one more novel that is sure to find placement at or near the top of many Best of 2009 lists: The Ghosts of Belfast, by Stuart Neville (Soho Crime).

Just when you thought the invasion of excellent Irish crime writers--a group nicknamed “Celtic Noir”--had ended, along comes Stuart Neville with his first novel. Such impressive colleagues as John Connolly, Ken Bruen, and Gene Kerrigan have joined in advance praise for The Ghosts of Belfast (which was published in the UK as The Twelve). Bruen calls it “the book when the world sits up and goes ‘WOW, the Irish really have taken over the world of crime writing.’”

This story’s central character, Gerry Fegan, is a former Irish Republican Army (IRA) “hard man,” a killer in Northern Ireland, now reduced by the coming of peace to a shambling drunk, haunted by the ghosts of 12 victims who follow him everywhere. In a Belfast bar, Neville writes, “Fegan looked at each of his companions in turn. Of the five soldiers, three were Brits and two were Ulster Defence Regiment. Another of the followers was a cop, his Royal Ulster Constabulary uniform neat and stiff, and two more were Loyalists, both Ulster Freedom Fighters. The remaining four were civilians who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. He remembered doing all of them, but it was the civilians whose memories screamed the loudest. ...They’d been with him since his last weeks in the Maze prison, seven years ago. ... He told one of the prison psychologists about it. Dr. Brady said it was guilt ...”

The only way that Fegan can kill off his ghosts is by tracking down his IRA superiors, the people who ordered that he commit those murders. This he does with violent precision, one by one, until he is alone again. Along the way, author Neville condenses the fear and hate that troubled Ireland for so long, at the same time creating a memorable character with ease and a cool, deceptively straightforward writing style.

Split Infinitives and Spying Initiatives

Most obituaries of William Safire, who died yesterday at age 79 from pancreatic cancer, note that he had long written columns about politics and language for The New York Times, that he once served as a speechwriter for disgraced U.S. President Richard M. Nixon, and that he was an ardent Iraq war propagandist. But The HMSS Weblog observes as well that this “libertarian conservative” took “a turn at being a spy novelist. Safire’s 1995 novel was called Sleeper Spy. In it, a ‘sleeper’ agent planted by the old Soviet Union has been activated.” Jiro Kimura of The Gumshoe Site adds that Safire also penned another crime-oriented novel: Full Disclosure (1977).

Now Judge for Yourself

Over the weekend, The Drowning Machine’s Corey Wilde announced the winners of his blog’s first (annual?) Watery Grave Invitational short-story contest as follows:
1st Place: “Beast,” by Hilary Davidson ($25 prize)
2nd Place: “At Least I Felt Something,” by Sophie Littlefield ($15 prize)
3rd Place: “Inspired Love,” by Keith Rawson ($10 prize)
Since then, he’s posted both “At Least I Felt Something” and “Inspired Love” in his blog, with Davidson’s top prize taker soon to appear, I presume. Congratulations to all the contenders.

UPDATE: Hilary Davidson’s “Beast” has now been posted.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

“Whaddya Do This Kinda Crummy Work For?”

Hard as this is to believe, it was a year ago today that actor Paul Newman died of lung cancer at age 83. I gave some thought recently to how I might celebrate his life on this occasion, and decided that nothing could be better than to showcase his acting talents.

The Rap Sheet already featured his performance in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid earlier this week. For today, I could have chosen clips of his roles in Cool Hand Luke, The Sting, Absence of Malice, The Verdict, Nobody’s Fool, Twilight, or Road to Perdition, all movies I’ve enjoyed over the years. But since this is supposed to be a crime-fiction blog, it seemed best to focus on another of my favorite Newman flicks, Harper (1966), in which he played author Ross Macdonald’s famous fictional private eye, Lew Archer (though the character’s moniker was changed for reasons that are still disputed*). I dropped a brief and sexy clip from Harper into The Rap Sheet a few months back, but here I’m going to embed that film’s delightful trailer for your enjoyment:



A personality-rich scene from Harper can be viewed here.

* In his 1999 biography of Ross Macdonald (né Kenneth Millar), Tom Nolan recalls the circumstances by which Warner Bros. went about making Harper from Macdonald’s 1949 novel, The Moving Target. It seems the studio balked at paying Millar his $50,000 asking price for the rights to adapt his story. “The studio’s solution: use the book [producer Elliott] Kastner owned but not its title, and change the detective’s name,” writes Nolan. “[Screenwriter William] Goldman was asked to rename the hero. ‘I came up with “Harper,”’ he said, ‘because it was almost the same: Lew Harper, Lew Archer.’ Thus the film became Harper. Newman’s wife, Joanne Woodward, later claimed on The Tonight Show that Archer’s name was changed because Newman had had two hits (Hud, The Hustler) with H titles. Goldman’s response: ‘If you know anything about the movie business, you know it’s all bullshit.’”

READ MORE:Only Cream and Bastards Rise,” by Marty McKee
(Johnny LaRue’s Crane Shot).

Not to Go Unmentioned ...

• There’s talk that the last two original stars of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Vincent D’Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe, may not be part of that series when it returns for its ninth season in March 2010. Eric Bogosian, who’s played Captain Daniel Ross, is also said to be on his way out. That would leave Jeff Goldblum, who just joined this procedural series last year, as the only remaining member of its cast. (It was previously reported that Julianne Nicholson would be replaced as Goldblum’s partner by Boston Legal’s Saffron Burrows.) This sounds like mostly bad news about one of the few series I can still bear to watch on television. Goldblum has made a good showing since his introduction; but D’Onofrio and Erbe remain L&O: CI’s real stars. According to The Hollywood Reporter, these radical changes may be the result of politics at the USA Network, which picked up this program from sister channel NBC: “USA, insiders point out, likes lighter fare when it comes to its shows. Goldblum is more in the tradition of Tony Shalhoub’s ‘Monk’ than D’Onofrio.” I have my fingers crossed that all of this is just a Dallas-like dream, and that I’ll wake soon to discover that no such changes are in the offing.

• Pulp International has posted a very cool set of vintage paperback covers from John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels.

• “Tonight (Saturday, September 26), James Ellroy appears at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, as the closing event of the 2009 Fall for the Book festival,” reports critic (and sometime Rap Sheet contributor) Art Taylor. “I’ll be introducing Ellroy at tonight’s event, and my recent interview with Ellroy has been posted on the Washington Post Book World’s Web site here.”

• The new short story at Beat the Pulp comes from California wordsmith Brian Drake. His tale is called “The Red Ruby Kill.”

• Can this be? Actresses Brigitte Bardot (best viewed here) and Sophia Loren both turn 75 years old in late September.

• And two birthdays worth celebrating today: classic American bodybuilder Jack Lalanne turns 95; and it was exactly 40 years ago that The Brady Bunch debuted on ABC-TV. As Ivan G. Shreve Jr. notes at that link, The Brady Bunch “was inspired by a 1965 Los Angeles Times article creator Sherwood Schwartz read noting that nearly 40 percent of marriages in the United States had at least one child (and sometimes more) from a previous union.”

It’s Chandler’s Fault!

If you’re at all like me, you have been searching--mostly in vain--for a new TV comedy series you can look forward to watching every week. I’d almost given up hope (Curb Your Enthusiasm has never done it for me; 30 Rock used up all of its jokes several seasons ago; don’t even mention the appalling Parks and Recreation, which makes poor Amy Poehler look untalented; and Mad Men has too many characters who look alike).

But now, thanks to the Divine Sarah (Weinman, that is), I’ve fallen in love with a show called Bored to Death, which began last Sunday on HBO. It stars Jason Schwartzman as creator Jonathan Ames’ fictional alter ego, also named Jonathan Ames. Jonathan is a frustratingly blocked writer, a pothead, and a white-wine tippler who falls into a funk after he loses his girlfriend. He consoles himself by reading Farewell, My Lovely, and that inspires him to advertise his services on the Internet as a private eye.

Ted Danson, playing Jonathan’s former boss, George, is equally impressive on this series. He steals every scene in which he appears as a loonier, more endearing version of Arthur Frobisher, the amoral business tycoon he portrays on FX’s Damages. When Jonathan asks George if he really needs to take so much Viagra, George primly replies: “Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. My heart medicine and heavy drinking have taken a toll.”

Jonathan doesn’t have many qualms about his new job. “I say that I’m not licensed, and that makes it more legal ... ish,” he tells his best friend and fellow Brooklyn loser, a graphic artist named Ray (Zach Galifianakis), who is appalled.

“Within 20 minutes of the pilot,” writes Weinman in Maclean’s magazine, “Jonathan morphs from a commitment-phobic struggling novelist and magazine writer recently dumped by his girlfriend Suzanne (Juno’s Olivia Thirlby) to an unlicensed P.I. on the lookout--with suitably disastrous and cringe-comic results--for the missing sister of a college co-ed who saw his ad on Craigslist. The impetus? A frayed paperback of ... Ames’s favorite Chandler novel ...” Weinman remarks in her own blog: “After watching the first three episodes, I’m still not sure if, to use a well-worn cliché, Bored to Death is going to play in Peoria, but I have to hand it to HBO for doing their best to try.”

Another interesting new show, especially for time-travel addicts, is ABC’s FlashForward. It’s in the Quantum Leap genre, stars the believable Joseph Fiennes, and might just be worth a look.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Book You Have to Read: “Room to
Swing,” by Ed Lacy

(Editor’s note: This is the 64th installment of our ongoing Friday blog series highlighting great but forgotten books. Today’s pick comes from Art Taylor, a fiction writer, book critic, and assistant professor of English at George Mason University. His article “Murder in Black & White: Novels of the Civil Rights Era,” which also discussed Ed Lacy’s Room to Swing, appeared in Mystery Scene’s Fall 2008 issue. Taylor blogs about Southern Literature, as well as mysteries and thrillers, at Art & Literature.)

Fifty-two years ago today--on September 25, 1957--the black students known as the “Little Rock Nine” were escorted into Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, under the protection of more than 1,000 members of the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. President Dwight Eisenhower’s declaration of martial law in Little Rock--and the installation of federal troops in a Southern city in this capacity for the first time since Reconstruction--was necessitated by what had happened in the weeks leading up to that day: Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus calling up the National Guard on the side of the segregationists, bearing arms to keep the children out, before a federal judge ordered the men to back down; white mobs gathering to protest the introduction of blacks to the school and quickly escalating into riot mode against local police trying to sneak the nine students in; and images of 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, like all of her fellow classmates, subjected to cries of “Lynch her! Lynch her!” and then being spat upon as she passed.

Such scenes from Little Rock may seem a world away from ours, especially in a year that has brought America its first president of African-American descent. But when each of the Little Rock Nine was invited to Barack Obama’s inauguration earlier this year, it wasn’t just to help celebrate how far the United States has come as a nation, but also to recognize how their own historic moment helped to bookend a long social and political journey. And the importance of remembering the earlier steps of that journey is driven home as race continues to make hot-topic headlines even as recently as the firestorm provoked by Jimmy Carter’s comments last week.

Enter Toussaint Marcus Moore, the hero of Ed Lacy’s 1957 novel, Room to Swing: a black detective in New York City, framed for the killing of a white man--a “Southern cracker”--who then travels deeper into the heart of the segregation crisis in order to find the truth that might clear his name.

Room to Swing, the first of two books featuring Touie Moore, was published in the same year that the Little Rock Nine took their stand. As much as any stark archival photograph or flickering strip of newsreel, this book stands as a social document of the complex racial politics of that time--and also, importantly, as a dang good mystery, one that in 1958 won the Edgar Award for Best Novel.

In the book, Moore is a down-on-his-luck private investigator whose bread and butter comes from “colored” cases passed along by a former employer who seems afraid to go into Harlem himself: skip-traces, tracking down old ladies late on paying for appliances. But then a big job comes Moore’s way when he’s hired by a publicity rep for a new television show, You--Detective! The program, similar to America’s Most Wanted today, plans to dramatize real-life unsolved crimes and then ask viewers to help nab the criminal. To build drama, the first episode already has its criminal waiting to be hauled in: Robert Thomas (that “Southern cracker”), who was accused of rape and assault back in Ohio six years earlier and who’s now living under an assumed name in New York, as one of the show’s screenwriters has discovered. How do you guarantee great ratings? Air that first episode, then hand-pick a “stooge” to make the collar--proof that any viewer might solve the crime. Moore’s job? Keep tabs on Thomas so that he won’t skip town before the arrest is completed. Moore’s problem? The day after he takes on this assignment, Thomas is killed, and Touie is set up to take the fall. Realizing that he’s in the frame, Moore heads for the victim’s southern Ohio hometown, where he hopes to find evidence confirming his own innocence.

As the novel shuttles back and forth between “Three Days Ago,” “Two Days Ago,” “One Day Ago,” “Now,” and “Tomorrow,” it’s not just the mystery but also the era that comes into focus. Room to Swing opens not in the days leading up to the crime, but after the murder, with Moore in a drugstore in Bingston, Ohio, just over the Kentucky border, flipping through the phone book in search of a May Russell. At this point, we don’t know why he’s looking for her (and it turns out she’s not listed anyway), but the scene’s real drama comes with the entrance of the town policeman, described by Moore as “a stocky middle-aged joker in high-polished black boots, gray breeches with a wide purple stripe down the sides, leather windbreaker with the largest badge I ever saw, and a kind of cowboy hat.” There’s some level of stereotyping here, of course--the cop even calls Moore “boy”--and stereotyping as well in the black mailman who steps in to defuse the situation, an old man whom Moore characterizes several times as an “Uncle Tom.” But this opening leads into a more nuanced portrayal of the town--a border burg where old customs mean more than new laws, but where incremental moves are being taken to fight prejudice and earn blacks equal rights.

In flashbacks to New York, Moore is subjected to racism from each end of the political spectrum, whether from cops who think that the Jaguar he drives must be stolen or from the white New York liberals who frequent jazz clubs and bat around the “Negro question” in earnest but ultimately demeaning ways. Moore’s girlfriend, Sybil--a lighter-skinned black woman--reveals her own racism: she turned down his marriage proposal earlier because he was “too dark.” Meanwhile, Kay Robbens, the TV executive who hired Moore, flirts shamelessly with him, turned on by the idea of sex with a black man; at one point, Moore has to tell her to stop kneading his muscles and “feeling me up like I was a horse.”

(A quick aside: In addition to tackling race issues, Room to Swing also offers a remarkably prescient look at the world of “reality TV,” a phrase that didn’t even come into vogue until many decades after this book was published. Moore’s job for You--Detective! is initially only a small one, but as with exec Robbens’ personal treatment, her publicity engineering in general reveals how easily television manipulated individuals and contorted reality for its own means. As the plot unfurls, we see how little the industry really cared for the individual at the heart of the drama.)

At one point in the depiction of racial confrontations, Moore even has a run-in with Thomas himself, who amps up his Southern accent to throw passive-aggressive taunts in Moore’s direction and then “accidentally” spills coffee on Moore’s sleeve. But while Moore can stand up for himself in New York--flattening the man who will soon show up dead--he encounters more explicit racism as he heads out into rural America and further South. And because causing trouble might expose him to the police who are hunting him, Moore soon finds fewer opportunities to fight back. “I don’t serve no colored here,” shrieks a “moon-faced” woman in one truck stop; and when Moore asks explicitly about the state’s civil-rights law, she replies, “I go by a higher law--God. If God had meant you to be white he would have made us all the same. Now get!”

Ed Lacy, actually the pseudonym for New York-born crime novelist Leonard S. Zinberg, a white man in an interracial marriage, explored race issues often throughout his career. As with other books, Room to Swing doesn’t just catalogue racial troubles but also sets out to explore the roots of those troubles, in this case examining various characters’ attitudes and backgrounds against a larger history of both racial and economic strife. Moore travels to southern Ohio not in flight, but to find out more about the murder victim--believing that the man’s past criminal history might explain why he’d been killed and why Moore has been framed. But instead of amassing a wide array of suspects, each with his or her own motives for murder, Moore instead learns that the man had been “forgotten more than hated” in his hometown. That criminal past, the rape charge, involved an impoverished teenage girl veering into prostitution, suddenly pregnant and desperately needing someone to blame; and while the assault was real, the motives behind it were more complicated than Moore had expected. When Moore interviews the woman’s brother, he hears a long story of social woe: “You understand, May wasn’t any silly oversexed kid out for thrills. Way she saw it she was--well--she was selling her body, but then what does a factory girl do but sell her arms and legs?” And as for the man she accused, now the story’s corpse, the brother himself admits the dead man had been “as trapped by circumstances” as the sister. Further investigations in these lives and others unravel the effects of poverty on each race, and--importantly--its virulent impact on relations between poor blacks and poor whites. And Moore learns something about himself and his own values in this regard.

While we mark today as the anniversary of a tense moment in America’s race struggles, Room to Swing offers a telling glimpse into an earlier era’s harsh social conflicts, one which might still provide perspective today, and embeds it in a terrific suspense tale, one with surprises aplenty still in store. Of all the novels I’ve read in my explorations of Civil Rights Era mystery novels (including the far better-known In the Heat of the Night and The Murderer Vine, recently republished in a striking Hard Case Crime edition), this is the one that keeps coming to mind as unjustly forgotten, especially because it’s not widely available. Keenly observed, smartly structured, and briskly paced, Room to Swing is a classic that that’s definitely worth searching out again.

READ MORE:Stranger Than Pulp Fiction,” by Robert Capshaw (Tablet); “Moment of Untruth - Ed Lacy,” by J.F. Norris (Pretty Sinister Books).

Crimes of Quality

With summer finally having passed into autumn (darn those falling leaves!), people are starting to think about what to read when they’re forced to hunker down and wait out the cold months. Maybe everyone can take a few suggestions from those made by contributors to Patti Abbott’s continuing Friday “forgotten books” series. In addition to Art Taylor’s recommendation on this page of Room to Swing, by Ed Lacy, here are a few of the crime-fiction titles being touted around the blogosphere today: The Mediterranean Caper, by Clive Cussler; The Moonshine War, by Elmore Leonard; The Second Curtain, by Roy Fuller; The Glass Cell, by Patricia Highsmith; Tilt-a-Whirl, by Chris Grabenstein; Frank McAuliffe’s Augustus Mandrell series; Face of Evil, by John McPartland; Free Reign, by Rosemary Aubert; and--appropriate for this Man from U.N.C.L.E. celebration week--The Finger in the Sky Affair, by Peter Leslie.

Abbott presents a complete list of today’s series participants in her own blog, plus a few more fine reading choices, including Patrick Quentin’s Suspicious Circumstances.

She Might Know a Thing or Two

I wish I could be in line in Oxford, England, to attend this:
A special one-day event will celebrate the launch of Talking About Detective Fiction, by P.D. James, the latest Bodleian Library publication. Crime Day at the Bodleian Library will take place on 2 October 2009. Events include talks from a number of eminent authors of detective and crime fiction including P.D. James, Val McDermid, Ruth Rendell, and Kate Summerscale. A special display of material from the Library’s collections related to the origins and development of detective fiction over the years will also be on display.
Find out more here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Now in the Winner’s Circle ...

After a week spent collecting entries in The Rap Sheet’s great Dick Francis book giveaway contest, we finally have our lucky three contenders. They are:

Barbara J. Mitchell of Hallstead, Pennsylvania
Jon Butters of Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Sally Cadagin of Springfield, Illinois

All will be sent free copies of Even Money, the new thriller concocted by famous jockey-turned-wordsmith Francis and his son Felix.

To enter this competition, all Rap Sheet readers needed to do was answer one simple question: Dick Francis’ autobiography was published in 1968. What was the title of that book? The answer, of course, is The Sport of Queens. Our three winners were chosen at random from among those people who answered correctly.

Thanks to everyone for participating in this contest. We hope to line up another book giveaway competition in the very near future.

All Hail National Punctuation Day

January Magazine already has.

History’s Powerful Present

From Karen Meek’s EuroCrime blog comes the shortlist of nominees for this year’s Ellis Peters Historical Award, given out by the British Crime Writers’ Association:

The Dead of Winter, by Rennie Airth (Macmillan)
If the Dead Rise Not, by Philip Kerr (Quercus)
The Redemption of Alexander Seaton, by Shona MacLean (Quercus)
The Information Officer, by Mark Mills (HarperCollins)
The Interrogator, by Andrew Williams (John Murray)
An Empty Death, by Laura Wilson (Orion)

Having read more than half of these books, I can say this is a particularly strong list. I’d have a hell of a time choosing a winner. Wilson picked up this same commendation last year (for Stratton’s War), so I might want to give it to somebody else this year. Certainly The Dead of Winter is a stunner--Airth’s best book since River of Darkness. But Kerr’s sixth Bernie Gunther story, If the Dead Rise Not, is an extraordinary work by any measure, filled with the rancid tastes of Nazi-era, Jew-purging Berlin and characters prone to take up permanent residence in your memory. It’s unfortunate that American readers will have to wait until March 2010 to see what’s in store for Gunther in this prequel to the rest of Kerr’s series.

The winner of this prize will be announced on Thursday, October 29.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

“Who Are Those Guys?”



Despite the abundant offenses committed during its 112-minute run, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid can’t really be called “a crime-fiction film.” But no matter. That movie, which first opened in limited release on September 23, 1969--40 years ago today--remains one of my all-time favorites. I’m pretty sure my original viewing of it came in the early 1980s, in a small vintage-films theater in Portland, Oregon, and I was accompanied by a cadre of friends from my initial post-college job. Since then, I’ve watched Butch Cassidy at least, oh, a dozen times. And enjoyed it on each and every occasion. The only other motion pictures I have sat through nearly as often are Casablanca, Chinatown, Harper, Seabiscuit, Citizen Kane, The Aviator, and James Garner’s Marlowe. And none of those other films makes me smile as often or as broadly as Butch Cassidy does.

William Goldman’s screenplay mixed conjecture, romance, lightheartedness, and good-spirited lies with the porous truth behind the legend at the heart of his tale. Butch Cassidy (né Robert LeRoy Parker) was a real figure, born in Utah in 1866. After leading a cowboy’s existence, he formed the notorious Wild Bunch (or Hole-in-the-Wall Gang) which operated out of a hideout in Johnson County, Wyoming (scene of the deadly Johnson County War of 1892). Cassidy’s desperadoes--a cabal that, by the mid-1890s, included Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan (later fictionalized in the TV series Alias Smith and Jones) and Pennsylvania-born Harry A. Longabaugh, better known as “The Sundance Kid”--became adept at knocking over banks and robbing trains, much to the disgruntlement of the folks who owned and ran such enterprises. After a few years of this existence, however, Cassidy sought legal amnesty and peace with the railroad companies. Neither was granted, unfortunately, and in 1901 he and Sundance, along with the Kid’s girlfriend (or maybe common-law wife), the mysterious Etta Place, hightailed it to New York City and from there shipped off to Buenos Aires, Argentina. They apparently hoped to settle down as legitimate ranchers, but in the meantime resumed their criminal ways. The Pinkerton Detective Agency continued to pursue the outlaws, and South American authorities did their best to apprehend Butch, Sundance, and Etta, eventually chasing them out of Argentina, through Chile, and up to Bolivia. One story goes that, by 1906, Etta Place had finally had enough of this life on the run, and departed for San Francisco. Butch and Sundance remained in South America, and were supposedly killed during a shootout in southern Bolivia two years later. Rumors, though, persist to this day that both survived and returned to spend the rest of their lives in the States under aliases.

But any part of that recap could be wrong. History leaves much to the imagination as far as these bandits go. Which made their story inviting to screenwriter Goldman and director George Roy Hill.

What they’ve given us in the Academy Award-winning Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a rollicking yarn about the closing days of America’s Old West and the blessings of friendship. Paul Newman (who died from cancer just about a year ago) was a boyish Butch, a fugitive with an unexpectedly deep well of optimism. As Sundance--the role that would first make him famous--Robert Redford comes off as laconic, fatalistic, an action-seeking man who has little time for ideals. (It’s hard to imagine how Steve McQueen, who had originally been offered the Sundance role, could have done better than Redford.) And playing the part of Etta, beautiful Katharine Ross witnesses the best and worst of each.

There are plenty of choice scenes in Butch Cassidy. I particularly remember the wonderful knife-fight episode, with Butch going up against the towering and ambitious Harvey Logan (Ted Cassidy). Then there’s that section in which the partners, fleeing from a posse that’s chased them to the cliffs above a river, have no hope but to leap down together. Still, Sundance balks. “I can’t swim,” he concedes through gritted teeth. To which Butch replies, “Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you.” And off they go.

Perhaps the scene I look forward to most in this film, though, is the one in which Butch rides Etta along on the handlebars of his rickety bicycle--a particularly sweet, playful, and innocent interlude in the action. And one that makes you wonder why Etta stayed with the phlegmatic Kid, rather than going off with Butch. The accompanying song, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” was written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach and performed by B.J. Thomas. Watch it here:



So happy 40th birthday to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I think it’s about time to saddle up for another DVD showing.

READ MORE:12 Wild Facts About Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” by Eric D. Snider (Mental Floss); “Falling in Love With, and At, the Movies. What I Said to an Oscar-Nominated Actress. To Which Your Reaction Will Be--I Promise You--No, He Didn’t Really Say That. But Yes, I Really Did,” by Chuck Ross (TV Week).

Culture Fit to a T

WGBH, the Boston public-TV station where all those fine British mystery series made their first American appearances, is having a great sale. I particularly like a couple of the T-shirts being offered--those emblazoned with “What Happens at Grandma’s Stays at Grandma’s” and “What Part of the Quantum Theory Don’t You Understand?” Oh, and another good one: “Sometimes I Wake Up Grumpy. Other Times I Let Her Sleep.”

They can all be had for the amazing low price of $5.70 each!

Weaving Around the Web

• In case you haven’t been keeping up, it was 45 years ago this week that the spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. debuted on American television. As The HMSS Weblog recalls, “The show featured a dashing worldly hero, Napoleon Solo. Ian Fleming, during a very brief period when he was involved with the project, had helped name him. Fleming quickly dropped out, at least in part because he didn’t want to anger Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the producers who were turning his James Bond novels into movies. Norman Felton, the producer overseeing U.N.C.L.E., and Sam Rolfe, the writer-producer who Felton chose to write the pilot, would come up with their own take on the spy genre.” To celebrate this anniversary, The HMSS Weblog has compiled a list of significant differences between The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the Bond films and a look back at the evolving U.N.C.L.E. theme music. Paul Bishop chimes in with a compilation of U.N.C.L.E. trivia.

• Unusual candidness from a bestselling author: “I know that what I do is not literature,” John Grisham tells The Daily Telegraph. “For me, the essential component of fiction is plot. My objective is to get the reader to feel impelled to turn the pages as quickly as possible. If I want to achieve that, I can’t allow myself the luxury of distracting him. I have to keep him hanging on and the only way to do it is by using the weapons of suspense. There is no other way. If I try to understand the complexities of the human soul, people’s character defects and those types of things, the reader gets distracted.” Don’t count me among that bunch, John.

• How well do you know your Dan Brown novels? Test your knowledge here. (Hat tip to AbeBooks’ Reading Copy Book Blog.)

• Why can’t book covers be like this one anymore?

• The new Guy Ritchie film, Sherlock Holmes, isn’t even set to debut until this coming Christmas (see the trailer here), but already there’s talk of a sequel.

• Some of the entries in Akashic Books’ fairly extensive city noir series have been welcomed into bookstores on little cat feet (to quote Carl Sandberg). That’s not the case with the forthcoming Boston Noir, edited by Dennis Lehane. In Reference to Murder’s B.V. Lawson rounds up the publicity (so far) for this short-story collection, which is officially due out on November 1.

• I haven’t yet seen a copy of Sara Paretsky’s new, 13th V.I. Warshawski novel, Hardball. But that other Sarah (Weinman, of course) is already up with a critique in The Barnes & Noble Review.

Could Fox “News” look more foolish?

• Bruce Grossman’s latest Bullets, Broads, Blackmail & Bombs column in the handsomely redesigned Bookgasm focuses on three crime novels, “all turned into movies, all of which I recently watched. Here’s the one thing that all have in common: awful casting. Also, they stink worse than a portable toilet after a football tailgate.”

• Elizabeth Short, the doomed waitress from Massachusetts who would be immortalized in death as “the Black Dahlia,” made her first entry into history with a 1943 mugshot.

• I’d somehow managed not to notice the Web site Untitled Books until today. But then I heard that two of The Rap Sheet’s contributors, Michael G. Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio--who create novels together as “Michael Gregorio”--had been interview as part of Untitled Books’ “How I Write” series, and I had to check it out. You can read about their story-composing habits here. Other authors who have been spotlighted in this same series include T.C. Boyle, Zoe Heller, and James Frey.

• And my new posting at Killer Covers focuses on artist Harry Schaare’s beautiful jacket for the 1959 paperback release of A Gem of Murder, penned by the pseudonymous Carlton Keith.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Into the Final Stretch

If you’ve been waiting for the right moment to enter The Rap Sheet’s great Dick Francis book giveaway contest, now’s the time to act. And act quickly, because this contest closes tomorrow.

As we’ve explained previously, we have three copies of Even Money--the new thriller concocted by famous jockey-turned-wordsmith Francis and his son Felix--to send, free of charge, to fortunate readers. All you need do to enter this competition is answer one simple question:
Dick Francis’ autobiography was published in 1968. What was the title of that book?
If you need a clue, click here.

Send your response to this question, along with your mailing address, to: jpwrites@wordcuts.org. And write “Francis Contest” in the subject line. Entries will be accepted between now and midnight on Wednesday, September 23. Three winners will be chosen at random from among those who submit correct responses, and their names will be announced here on Thursday.

One final note: At the publisher’s request, this competition is open only to readers living in the United States.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ghost of Honor



My Partner the Ghost. That’s how I remember Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), because it was under the title My Partner the Ghost that this supernatural detective drama from Britain was syndicated in the States during the early ’70s. According to Wikipedia, “audience research suggested that Americans would not understand the word ‘deceased.’” I’m not sure whether that means Americans refuse to acknowledge the inevitability of death (not inconceivable among a people who insist on happy endings), or because the nation’s association with English vocabulary is often so abysmal.

In any event, it was My Partner the Ghost that I happily sat down to watch on weekend afternoons as a boy. But this series, which lasted only 26 episodes, actually debuted on LWT-TV 40 years ago tonight.

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) revolved around a pair of less-than-brilliant private eyes, Jeff Randall (Mike Pratt) and Marty Hopkirk (Kenneth Cope), the latter of whom was run down and killed in the first episode, during a probe into marital infidelity. Even death, though, doesn’t keep Marty down. Having acquired a new wardrobe (all of saintly white), he comes back in revenant form to aid Jeff in catching the killer. “However ...,” Wikipedia notes, “Marty stays out of his new grave for too long and is cursed to walk the Earth for 100 years. Seeing the advantages of having a ghost at the detective agency, Marty stays as an invisible partner, playing the key role in helping Jeff solve crime thereafter ...”

This might have seemed like an ideal relationship. I mean, think about how successful a professional sleuth could be if he or she had an ally capable of spying on suspects unnoticed, eavesdropping on conversations without the speakers being aware, and covertly covering his or her back in dangerous situations. Bu the limitations of this gimmick soon became evident. Because Marty was incorporeal, he couldn’t touch anything; his hands just slipped through physical objects, so he was unable to physically stop attacks directed at his extant partner or waylay suspects from escaping--a frustrating situation for both P.I.s, but a source of comedic enjoyment for the TV audience. (As this series developed, though, we were led to understand that Marty could psychically manipulate objects, and could stir up winds that often proved convenient.) And while Marty could teleport himself from one place to the next, and witness things in secret that Jeff could not, he had no extrasensory abilities; he didn’t know, for instance, what had happened in places and at times when he wasn’t present.

Another humorous subplot rolled out during this series’ too-short run. With Marty having breathed his last, his pretty and petite young blond wife, Jennie (Annette Andre), who was employed as the detective agency’s secretary, turned for succor--and pootentially more--to Jeff Randall. This didn’t sit well with the late Mr. Hopkirk; he might’ve gone to his grave, but he didn’t want his partner going out with the woman on whose finger he’d once slipped a ring. What Marty missed seeing all too often was that Jeannie still loved him, even if he wasn’t around. Bewilderingly naïve at times, she was more than willing to believe shady spiritualists (some of whom could actually tune in to Marty’s presence almost as well as Jeff) who insisted that her hubby had not vanished entirely from her life. There were many opportunities in this show for Marty to protect his spouse in death, as he might have done in life.

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) wasn’t expensively made, and some of its special effects weren’t very special at all. (“Hopkirk’s appearances were achieved by the simplest and cheapest of means which had been in use since the earliest days of cinema,” says Wikipedia. “While the camera remained static, the other actors would freeze, Kenneth Cope would enter the scene and the other actors would unfreeze. Cutting out the extraneous footage in between was all that was necessary.”) Yet as a boy with an expanding imagination, I found this series enormously entertaining. I loved Marty’s ghostly limitations and the friction caused by his frequent insistence that short-tempered Jeff pursue lines of inquiry that the latter thought would come to naught. Truth be told, as fictional partnerships go, theirs was made in heaven.

As one Web site dedicated to this show puts it, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) “remains fondly remembered due to multiple repeat screenings.” Yet while the series has had a long run of repeats in the UK, I don’t believe it has been as well broadcast in the United States. I’d be curious to know how I might view it today. A DVD set of the series was released on this side of the Atlantic five years ago. Maybe it’s time to give it a go once more.

When the spirit moves me, of course.

Of Sidekicks, Serial Novels, and Stupid Sentences

• In his blog, Crime Stories & Weird Tales, author and sometime Rap Sheet contributor Rafe McGregor has written the first installment of what appears likely to be an excellent analysis of the life and career of Dr. John H. Watson. He begins:
Dr. John H. Watson is almost as famous as the man to whom he played second fiddle. Almost, but not quite. Sherlock Holmes deservedly holds centre stage as the world’s first consulting detective, a prodigy who honed mind and body into a near perfect crime-fighting weapon. But what of his ‘Boswell’? Watson is not merely a biographer, a hollow vessel through which we come to know Holmes. Far from it, he is an intriguing protagonist in his own right; a remarkable individual with an impressive and often hidden array of talents and achievements. In Holmes we see both the brilliance and the shortcomings of a genius who has devoted his life to excellence in a single field. In Watson we find a man with whom we can identify, a man for all seasons who has been a doctor, a soldier, a companion, a husband, a detective, and a bestselling author. He is a man who not only epitomises the virtues of Victorian England, but also those of our own age.

But the real Dr. John H. Watson is as elusive as he is fascinating.
You can read the full piece here. I don’t know how many parts there will be to this mini-series, but I’m looking forward to reading them all. For more on Watson, click here.

• Congratulations to my fellow Spinetingler Award winner, Peter Rozovsky, on the third birthday of his excellent blog,
Detectives Beyond Borders
.

• Peter Falk, the actor known best for starring in the 1970s NBC-TV mystery series Columbo, turns 82 years old today. Sadly, as Tony Figueroa notes in his blog, Child of Television, “In May 2009, it was reported that Falk is suffering from dementia, and he no longer remembers his role in Columbo. In June 2009, a conservatorship was placed on him by a California court.”

• As Dan Brown’s latest thriller, The Lost Symbol, sets out to conquer the publishing world, Britain’s Daily Telegraph compiles a list of the 20 worst sentences from Brown’s novels. Does this man not have a competent editor? And where might one apply for that plum job? (Hat tip to Market My Novel.)

• “Love-hungry spacemen come to seize our women.” An example of hilariously bad film-making.

• Much better movie choices here and here.

• U.S. President Abraham Lincoln was a big fan of Edgar Allan Poe. No wonder he tried his hand at writing a mystery story of his own.

• There was lots of good coverage of last week’s Agatha Christie Festival (some of the most prolific postings appeared here and here; and there’s more here). But one of the more interesting contributions came from novelist Val McDermid. Writing in The Guardian, she compared her own novel-composition practices to Christie’s: “Until now, I thought I was alone in the chaos of my process. I imagined all my fellow writers with neat box files and alphabetised notes, databases maintained with military precision. But now I know there’s precedent--and what a precedent.”

• Also in The Guardian, Christie expert John Curran picks the top 10 novels by “the world’s most popular thriller writer.”

• Alexander McCall Smith, online serial novelist.

• Did you know that Ian Fleming’s third James Bond novel, Moonraker (1955), was “based on real-life events”?

• Morons with microphones: here and here.

Victor Gischler submits his new novel, Vampire a Go-Go, to Marshal Zeringue’s popular Page 69 Test. The results are here.

• Wow, talk about dogged dedication. As National Public Radio reports, the U.S. Marshals Service is still “actively pursuing” three inmates who escaped from San Francisco Bay’s notorious Alcatraz Prison more than 47 years ago.

• A toast to the Thin Man pictures at Booze Movies.

• And with her second Crispin Guest novel, Serpent in the Thorns, set to debut in bookstores next week, author Jeri Westerson is making the guest-blogging rounds. In BookBitchBlog, she comments on medieval hygiene practices. For Jungle Red Writers, she looks back at the history of crime-fiction sidekicks, and at InkSpot, Westerson talks about the thrilling days of knights.

You’ve Got Me Under Your Spell

On Tuesday, James Ellroy’s new novel, Blood’s a Rover--the third and final installment of his Underworld USA trilogy--will appear on American bookstore shelves. Soon afterward, the Washington Post Book World should podcast an interview between Ellroy and Art Taylor, a book critic, fiction writer, and assistant professor of English at George Mason University. Before either of those events, Taylor has posted a previous conversation he had with Ellroy in his blog, Art & Literature. Their exchange begins this way:
Art Taylor: Blood’s a Rover marks a magnificent end to the Underworld USA trilogy, a crowning achievement for sure. Had you seen these books as a trilogy from the very beginning?

James Ellroy: I knew the second novel would be my big novel of the 1960s. The history was easy to foresee: the civil rights movement, the ultimate assassination of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, more Cuban exile shit, more mob shit, Howard Hughes buying up Las Vegas, general civil rights unrest, the Klan, and my two survivors from American Tabloid, Ward Littell and Pete Bondurant, getting further into the shit. It took longer to put Blood’s a Rover together, because going from ’68 to ’72, you’re going to have the summer of the political conventions and the ’68 election and all that hoo-ha, but my mob guys had to get to a cool locale, and it took me a while to come up with the Dominican Republic and Haiti. It’s full of voodoo, which is cool shit and certainly intensifies all the black militant shit in L.A.
You’ll find the whole interview here.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

West Meets East in Brooklyn

The Fourth Annual Brooklyn Book Festival was held on September 13, at downtown’s Borough Hall. It brought thousands of readers and more than 220 writers together for a sunshine-filled day of bookish devotion. Catering to mainly mainstream tastes, the festival nonetheless provided some bright spots for genre enthusiasts, including panels on science fiction and fantasy, graphic novels and anime. New York ComicCon had a tent there this year, as well. Included was a Marvel Comics panel featuring writer Tom DeFalco (Fantastic Four, Spiderman), artist Phil Jimenez (Spiderman, The X-Men), and writer Dennis O’Neil (The X-Men, Daredevil), and moderated by Marvel marketing executive and now writer Jim McCann (New Avengers). Mickey Mouse was nowhere in sight. From the multitude of how-to questions posed to the Marvel panelists, many participants this year were interested in breaking into the vastly popular comics genre.

Looking for my crime-fiction fix, I turned to points west. Los Angeles was happy to export some of its own noir leanings to Kings County with the panel “The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books Presents.” Moderated by L.A. Times book editor David Ulin, it featured authors Nina Revoyr (The Age of Dreaming), Judith Freeman (The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved), and Richard Rayner (A Bright and Guilty Place: Murder, Corruption, and L.A.’s Scandalous Coming of Age). The sparkling daylight suffusing the conference room at St. Francis College, just across Court Street from the main festival, seemed apropos for a SoCal panel discussion. As did the fact that the crowd came dressed mainly in black--perfect for the hard-boiled topics at hand.

Revoyr started things off by reading a selection from her 2008 novel, Southland. It was a passage in which her protagonist, Jackie Ishida, describes the Crenshaw District, part of L.A. that isn’t often used by writers as a storytelling backdrop. Focusing on that African-American and Japanese-American area, Ishida tries to figure out whether her grandfather is guilty of homicide.

Rayner’s recently released book, A Bright and Guilty Place, is a brilliant work of non-fiction set during the 1920s that shows how L.A. turned from a haven of sunshine and endless possibilities into the noirish metropolis that pulp writers fell in love with. Rayner read only briefly from his book, but then regaled his audience with a fascinating discourse on the collapse of the St. Francis Dam, which in 1928 flooded California’s Ventura County and killed 400 to 800 people, many of them illegal immigrants, according to Rayner. That dam was developed by William Mulholland, the head of L.A.’s Department of Water and Power, as part of an effort to provide more drinking water for the residents of growing but parched Los Angeles. Its collapse disgraced Mulholland, who went into forced isolation for the rest of his life. (By the way, the often rancorous campaign to expand L.A.’s access to water was the inspiration for Roman Polanski’s famous 1974 film, Chinatown, starring Jack Nicholson.)

Staying with the dark shadows that co-mingle with sunshine in the City of Angels, Freeman read a passage from The Long Embrace, her 2007 non-fiction work about Raymond Chandler and his older wife, Cissy. OK, does anyone need to be reminded that Chandler was less than angelic? In Freeman’s portrayal, he was certainly bigger on talent than he was on morals. The author noted, during her presentation, that detective Philip Marlowe’s “father” moved 36 times while living in the L.A. area, which made me feel better about having relocated 14 times in New York City. Freeman also read a passage about one of Chandler’s residences that still exists. As she did so, she echoed the style of the master about whom she’d written. You could almost feel historical Los Angeles blooming from the center of that crowded room.

It was an enlightening and entertaining panel presentation, made all the more interesting because of Ulin’s insightful questions.

On my way home from the festival, I passed the fictional offices of private eye Moe Prager, the creation of Brooklyn author Reed Farrel Coleman. I made sure to give Moe an appreciative nod of acknowledgment. It would be great if the Brooklyn Book Festival could find a way next year to offer a Brooklyn noir panel, much like L.A’s. We’ve got plenty of darkness here too. And more rain.

Bullet Points: Talk Like a Pirate Day Edition

Yes, it’s that time again--time to raise the Jolly Roger flag and tempt a passing wench with one of those great old pirate pickup lines, something in the pattern of “How’d you like to scrape the barnacles off of me rudder?” International Talk Like a Pirate Day only comes around once each year, so make the most of it. My own contribution is to plunder the Web for crime fiction-related treasure.

• Writes blogger Janet Rudolph: “Today is the first day of Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the Jewish New Year. Today also starts the first of eight days of awe that culminates on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.” Appropriately, she’s gathered together a short list of Yom Kippur-related mystery novels.

• Today also happens to be the 81st birthday of Adam West, the Seattle, Washington-born actor who starred (with Burt Ward and Yvonne Craig) in that campy but nonethess classic ABC-TV series, Batman. The show debuted in January 1966, lasted for two years, and even spawned a theatrical film (which I remember seeing in a drive-in theater when I was but a tyke). West has done a considerable number of guest shots since Batman, as well as a lot of voice-over work; but after playing “millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne,” aka the Caped Crusader, he had trouble landing more substantive TV roles. He’s fated to be remembered, it seems, for his first starring role. (Hat tip to Bill Crider.)

• Iowa newspaper editor John Kenyon, better known in these parts as the author of the blog Things I’d Rather Be Doing, is responsible for the latest short-story offering at Beat to a Pulp. His tale is called “A Wild and Crazy Night.”

• Following up on The Rap Sheet’s mention of how Butterfinger candy-bar producers adapted the theme from Goldfinger for their own commercial purposes, The HMSS Weblog cites another similar exploitation: actor Harold Sakata reprising his role as the villainous Oddjob in an add for Vicks 44.

• More changes for Law & Order: Criminal Intent. From TV Squad: “Julianne Nicholson has decided not to come back to the show after leaving for a while to have a baby. She was teamed with the newest cast member, Jeff Goldblum, but there’s no word yet on whether or not he’ll be coming back to the show. Who will take Nicholson’s place? It’s not definite yet, but Michael Ausiello is saying that Saffron Burrows is the most likely suspect. There’s also no word on what will happen to Vincent D’Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe.” Yikes! I hope that there are no other changes than Nicholson’s leaving. I’ve grown to like L&O: CI very much over the years, and was very happy to see Goldblum added to the already impressive cast.

• I noted earlier this week that Paul Burke, who starred in the 1958-1963 police procedural series Naked City, had passed away at age 83. Stephen Bowie of The Classic TV History Blog has a few more things to say on that subject.

• And Sarah Weinman reports that Maxim Jakubowski, who closed his Murder One bookstore in London earlier this year, will be in charge of a new crime-fiction imprint, maXcrime, beginning in 2010.