Saturday, February 21, 2015

Bullet Points: ... And the Kitchen Sink Edition

• It has been far too long since I last put up a “copycat covers” post here in The Rap Sheet; I hope to resurrect that series in the near future. Meanwhile, though, I can’t help but mention the pair of book fronts shown above. The one on the left comes from the 1999 Orion UK edition of Dead Souls, Ian Rankin’s 10th John Rebus novel and one of those that was current at the time I interviewed him back in 1999. The façade on the right appears on Tell Tale (Avon UK), the new, fourth Detective Inspector Charlotte Savage novel by Mark Sennen. It seems that lowly, windblown tree on both is much in demand. But then, tree fronts have always been very popular in the crime-fiction field.

Peter James, the UK author best known for penning a series of novels about Brighton-based Detective Superintendent Roy Grace (Want You Dead, You Are Dead, etc.) is “the best crime author of all time”? Yes, according to a recent poll conducted by bookseller W.H. Smith. A post in that British retailer’s blog reports the 66-year-old James “has effortlessly stolen the crown with an incredible number of votes.” Effortlessly? Really? That seems unusual, given the caliber of his rivals for this honor. Here’s the top-20 list of vote-getters:

1. Peter James
2. James Patterson
3. Val McDermid
4. Ian Rankin
5. Agatha Christie
6. Martina Cole
7. Sheila Quigley
8. R.C. Bridgestock
9. Karin Slaughter
10. Tess Gerritsen
11. Mark Billingham
12. Patricia Cornwell
13. Ruth Rendell
14. Karen Rose
15. Chris Carter
16. Lee Child
17. Simon Kernick
18. P.D. James
19. Thomas Harris
20. Stuart MacBride

Obviously, this wasn’t a scientific survey, but a popularity contest--and a British-centric one at that. Still, I’m rather shocked to spot a couple of the names featured among these 20 (remind me who they are again?), and to see how many writers well deserving of reader approbation didn’t make the cut. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle came in at No. 21, while others find places even further down in the roster: Dennis Lehane (24), Michael Connelly (39), Raymond Chandler (47), Louise Penny (58), Dorothy L. Sayers (61), Stieg Larsson (68), John le Carré (87), Ellis Peters (89), John Harvey (103), and James Lee Burke (104). What of Ross Macdonald, though? Or Dashiell Hammett and Georges Simenon? Or Rex Stout and Philip Kerr? How about Elmore Leonard, Robert B. Parker, and Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö? Or James McClure, Max Allan Collins, and Robert Wilson?

• Next week will offer the “Classic TV Blogathon” (February 24-26), comprising retrospectives on series ranging from The Avengers and Ellery Queen to Moonlighting and Blacke’s Magic. You’ll find the schedule of posts and essential links here.

• Dynamite Entertainment’s new line of Shaft comic books, by writer David F. Walker and artist Bilquis Evely, is among five finalists for the first Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity. As the blog Hero Complex explains, “The honor is named after ... a prolific writer who co-founded Milestone Media and its popular menagerie of heroes. … He died in 2011 at age 49 of complications after undergoing emergency heart surgery.” The winner will be announced on February 28 during the Long Beach Comics Expo in Southern California.

• Speaking of Shaft, did you know that New Line Cinema has acquired the movie rights to Ernest Tidyman’s black private eye, John Shaft, and is planning to reboot that blaxploitation series begun in the 1970s? Sigh … Why can’t we simply be happy with Richard Roundtree’s original three Shaft films or, better yet, Tidyman’s seven Shaft novels? Must Hollywood try to squeeze another ounce of blood from the character once hailed as “hotter than Bond, cooler than Bullitt”? Samuel L. Jackson’s effort to reinvigorate the franchise in 2000 was painful to watch. Do Shaft fans (myself included) have to cringe again at whatever New Line might present?

• In a BBC Radio documentary, novelist William Boyd (Restless, Solo) investigates the case of Helen MacInnes, a renowned author of mid-20th-century espionage fiction. Unfortunately, this segment will be available for only the next three weeks, so click here to listen. Now!

• The opening sequence from Dog and Cat, a short-lived 1977 ABC-TV crime drama starring Lou Antonio and Kim Basinger--embedded
on the right--is just one of several new additions to The Rap Sheet’s YouTube page.

• A year and a half ago, the blog Criminal Element brought to readers an e-book collection of abbreviated crime stories called Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble. The M.O., as its editors called it, was supposed to be a thrice-yearly publication, but after that initial issue, it dropped off the map. Now, though, it’s back--sort of. Rather than trying to assemble short-story anthologies, it sounds as if the blog’s editors want to solicit short fiction several times annually and ask Criminal Element readers to choose their favorites among each set of submissions. The first deadline for stories under this new arrangement is Friday, March 6. Entries should run no more than 1,000 to 1,500 words in length and be built around the theme “Long Gone.” If you’re interested in contributing a story, read the guidelines here. A tally of finalists should be announced on March 20, at which time online voting will begin. The tale receiving the most votes will be known by April 3, and posted on April 17 for free reading. After which this submission/review/voting process will begin again.

• Congratulations to The Thrilling Detective Web Site! It’s creator and editor, Kevin Burton Smith, claims that almost 17-year-old invaluable online resource for crime-fiction enthusiasts now has “over 3,000 fictional private eyes” in its listings.

• I was sorry to read, on The Gumshoe Site, that 58-year-old author Tony Hays “died on January 25 in Luxor, Egypt, where he fell ill on vacation.” Blogger Jiro Kimura goes on to explain that
He was working in Saudi Arabia teaching English. He [had] published two Who’s-Who-Dunit novels featuring known literary characters: Murder on the Twelfth Night (with William Shakespeare) and Murder in the Latin Quarter (with Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce; both from Iris Press in 1993). After the standalone novel The Trouble with Patriots (Bridgeworks, 2002), which features a Tennessee-native journalist like the author, he launched the four-book Arthurian series featuring Malgwyn ap Cuneglas, counselor to King Arthur, starting with The Killing Way (2009) and ending with The Stolen Bride (2012; all four from Forge). His last novel, Shakespeare No More, will be published in September by Perseverance Press. It was supposed to be the first of a projected series featuring Shakespeare’s friend, a Stratford constable.
Hays was kind enough to contribute a “forgotten books” essay to The Rap Sheet in 2011, looking back at Ellery Queen’s The Egyptian Cross Mystery (1932). He will be missed.

• A belated R.I.P. to Lizabeth Scott, the Pennsylvania-born actress heralded by novelist and movie historian Eddie Muller as “one of film noir’s most indelible dames.” According to Wikipedia, Scott starred in more pictures of that sort than any other female performer, including Dead Reckoning (1947) with Humphrey Bogart and Too Late for Tears (1949) with Don DeFore. Later, she took roles in such TV series as Burke’s Law and Adventures in Paradise. Scott is said to have died of congestive heart failure on January 31. She was 92 years old.

• Brash Books’ recent reissuing of Mark Smith’s 1973 novel, The Death of the Detective, a National Book Award finalist, has prompted the Los Angeles Review of Books to publish a lengthy and very interesting reconsideration of Smith’s best-known work. Michael Barry concludes, “The Death of the Detective is a disturbing, challenging, sometimes demented novel, but it is a gloriously ambitious one. It won’t be to every taste, but it clearly doesn’t expect to be.”

• If you’re planning (or just hoping) to attend next month’s Left Coast Crime convention in Portland, Oregon (March 12-15), note that a fuller schedule of panel events has been posted.

• Meanwhile, life appears to have stirred once more in the Bouchercon 2015 blog, after a year-and-a-half-long silence. Stacy Cochran, chair of that convention set to take place in Raleigh, North Carolina, from October 8 to 11, has posted a panel request deadline, info about hotel reservations, and news that “We’re presently at 660 registered attendees, and so we are on target to hit our window of 1,300-1,500 attendees by our convention dates.” If you haven’t already signed up to attend, you can do so here.

This trailer for Guy Ritchie’s big-screen version of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. suggests the film, scheduled for release on August 14, may not be precisely what fans of the original Robert Vaughn/David McCallum series had in mind. But it still looks like a stylish, lighthearted flick. Let’s hope all the best parts aren’t in the trailer.

• And it’s too bad neither Vaughn nor McCallum was asked to take on a cameo role in the picture. It would have been a respectful touch.

• It’s good to see that Loren D. Estleman’s ambitious 2013 standalone novel, The Confessions of Al Capone--one of my favorite crime novels of that year--is finally due out in paperback next week. As I remarked in Kirkus Reviews, “Confessions [is] something special among historical crime yarns.” Check it out.

• Given the plethora of Star Trek fans in the world, this book seems destined to become a best-seller in early September.

• The pop-culture site Buzzfeed hails15 TV Shows You Should Totally Be Watching But Probably Aren’t.” That list includes 12 Monkeys, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, Forever, and Man Seeking Woman, none of which I’ve seen. However, it also champions ABC’s Agent Carter, an eight-episode action-adventure series, set right after the conclusion of World War II, that I have so far watched all the way through, with pleasure. Inspired by a character in Marvel Comics’ Captain America series, this program stars British-American actress Hayley Atwell (Any Human Heart, Falcón, Restless) as uncommonly capable U.S. government agent Peggy Carter. But it is also made highly watchable by James D’Arcy, playing a butler with a hidden well of talents, Lyndsy Fonseca as a fast-talking waitress who befriends Peggy, and Shea Whigham as Peggy’s sexist boss. The final episode of this debut season for Agent Carter will be broadcast next Tuesday, February 24. If you haven’t been watching, but appreciate entertaining historical espionage series with comic edges, it may be time to binge-watch this show online in anticipation of next week’s finale. I only hope Agent Carter will return for additional seasons.

• By the way, Jake Hinkson has written some good posts about Agent Carter for Criminal Element, one per episode. You’ll find them here.

• Hinkson has also posted, in that same blog, the opening entry in what’s supposed to be “a series celebrating the career of one of mystery fiction’s true giants,” Margaret Millar, who was born 100 years ago this month. Click here to read his look back at Do Evil in Return, which Millar first saw published in 1950.

• Following up on his announcement earlier in the week of nominees for New Zealand’s 2015 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, Craig Sisterson points me at this piece from Wellington’s Dominion Post that recounts the confusion Marsh’s moniker provoked in readers, especially in America. “Had I guessed the trouble my name was going to cause a lot of people on the other side of the world,” said the author--who died 33 years ago this week--“I would have changed it to something easier when I began writing books.”

• As a young boy, I would have loved to own this lunchbox. Heck, I wouldn’t mind having it now, either.

• You probably didn’t notice, but Bill Koenig’s The HMSS Weblog--which embarked on its own course last September, after its associated Web site, Her Majesty’s Secret Servant, ceased publication--was recently renamed The Spy Command. And earlier today it posted a terrific short piece about the failed 1967 pilot for a Dick Tracy series. That pilot’s producer, William Dozier, had already had already hit it big with Batman and The Green Hornet.

• As the blog TV Obscurities noted previously, Eve Plumb, the child actress who would go on to fame in The Brady Bunch, was to have played detective Tracy’s daughter, Bonnie Braids. She was “shown in the opening credits but otherwise never appear[ed].”

• Britain’s ITV Network is preparing “a new adaptation of George Simenon’s novels about Parisian sleuth Jules Maigret,” reports Euro Crime. Rowan “Mr. Bean” Atkinson is “set to play Maigret in two stand-alone, 120-minute films for the channel. Both dramas will be set in 1950s Paris, with screenwriter Stewart Harcourt adapting the books Maigret Sets a Trap and Maigret’s Dead Man.” Frankly, I can’t imagine Atkinson’s portrayal surpassing that of Michael Gambon in the 1992-1993 series Maigret (opening titles shown here).

• Finally, Ruth and Jon Jordan, the familiarly energetic and convivial editors of Crimespree Magazine, won some favorable attention this week in their hometown newspaper, Wisconsin’s Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, linked to the Raven Award they are set to receive during the Edgar Awards presentation on April 29.


Naomi Johnson said...

I'm stunned by the news of Tony Hays passing. And saddened.

Am in complete agreement w/you re: Atkinson as Maigret in comparison to Michael Gambon's portrayal. Gambon is one of Britain's national treasures.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your commentary on the W.H. Smug poll. This is polling at its most asinine -- the kind of garbage that used to happen in pop music when the latest album by some one-hit wonder would be voted Greatest True Fab Music Album Of All Time by an audience of folk with ADD. May is a very good crime writer, make no mistake on that; but all the poll really shows is that he's flavor of the month.

I've seen a lot of incredulity about Rowan (not Rowen) Atkinson as Maigret, yet personally I can imagine this being a great success. The odd thing is that an email list of which I'm a member seems unanimously to think the same: Atkinson is no dummy, and doesn't have to be Mr Bean the whole time. I'm very much looking forward to seeing these two TVMs.