Monday, November 30, 2015

Bullet Points: Cyber Monday Edition

• If you could pick 12 debut novels that “changed crime fiction,” would they include Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Colin Dexter’s Last Bus to Woodstock, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, and Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Maybe not, but those works are among the “famous firsts” recently championed by Crime Fiction Lover. Unfortunately, the site errs when it includes Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, which wasn’t actually his first novel; that honor belongs instead to 1955’s The Dark Arena.

• “Some of the most brilliant speech in novels can be found in this genre,” The Guardian says of crime fiction. The paper goes on to cite 10 examples of the best dialogue in this genre, from authors including Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Highsmith, and Martin Amis.

• I’m not convinced we need another film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, but it appears we’re going to get one anyway, this time with Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot.

• Jason Whiton of Spy Vibe interviews Fergus Fleming, the nephew of James Bond creator Ian Fleming and the author of The Man with the Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters (Bloomsbury). Their exchange opens with Whiton asking “to hear about your own and the family’s perception of Ian as a man. What was he like in person and as an uncle?” Fleming responds:
I have no personal recollection of Ian--he died when I was five--but I believe he was much liked in the family. Those who knew him remember his sense of fun, his kindness (apparently he was very good with children) and the glamour of seeing a Ford Thunderbird parked outside their house. But above all, they recall his generosity. If you were down on your luck Ian would give you his last penny.

All the same, I’m not sure my father thought much of Ian’s books at the time. He made my mother wrap
The Spy Who Loved Me in brown paper lest she be seen reading such a scurrilous tract in public. Ian was so delighted when he heard of this that he used her name, Charmian, for Bond’s aunt.
• Elsewhere on the same site, Whiton chats with Alan Hayes, a “pop-culture scholar,” authority on the 1960s British TV spy series The Avengers, and author of the new book Two Against the Underworld, which looks back at the debut season of The Avengers and examines both its unproduced and missing episodes.

• The fall 2015 issue of Mysterical-E has been posted, with contents that include short stories by Phillip Thompson and Cathi Stoler, columns by Gerald So (on autumn television debuts) and C.A. Verstraete (on holiday mysteries), and interviews with Mars Preston (Writing Your First Mystery) and Virgil Alexander (The Baleful Owl).

• Being an enthusiastic reader of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Bertha Cool/Donald Lam private-eye series (which he wrote under the nom de plume A.A. Fair), I’m pleased to see the blog Crime and Spy Fiction from Poe Up to 1950 reviewing the first of those books, 1939’s The Bigger They Come. (I reviewed that very same novel here.)

• During an excellent conversation with Helen Barlow of the New Zealand Herald, English actor Michael Caine says that after a decades-long career of notable performances, “the film he holds dearest is the Len Deighton thriller, The Ipcress File [1965]. ‘It was the first time [my name] ever went over the title,’ he pronounces proudly. He was a bespectacled Cockney James Bond, I recall. ‘They called me James Bond three and a half!’ Caine quips of Harry Palmer, the spy he went on to play in four subsequent movies.”

• Other recent interviews worth reading: MysteryPeople talks with both Bavo Dhooge (Styx) and Eric Beetner (Rumrunners); Pop.Edit.Lit. goes one on one with Ben Sanders, the New Zealand author of American Blood; Crimespree Magazine’s Elise Cooper questions David Baldacci on the subject of The Guilty; S.W. Lauden “interrogates” both Dana King (The Man in the Window) and 2016’s Left Coast Crime guest of honor, Chantelle Aimée Osman; Crime Thriller Girl chats with Tom Wood about his latest thriller, The Darkest Day; and Saskatchewan mysteries authority Bill Selnes asks Gail Bowen some questions about her long-running Joanne Kilbourn series.

• Chanukah will begin this coming Sunday, December 6, and run for eight days. During that time, you might think about picking up one of the holiday-appropriate mystery novels on Janet Rudolph’s list.

• In Hardboiled Wonderland, Jedidiah Ayres pays tribute to some of “The Terrible, Short-Lived TV Shows of the ’80s/’90s That Shaped Me.” Among that bunch are the buddy cop show Hardball, the 21 Jump Street spin-off Booker, Misfits of Science (which I watched primarily to see a young Courtney Cox), and the cringe-worthy Cop Rock. His cohort, Terrence McCauley, chimes in with Rod Taylor’s Masquerade, Stingray, and the sometimes-fun Matt Houston. Enhancing these reminiscences are the shows’ main title sequences.

• In the 31 years since its original publication, back in 1984, Jay McInerney’s second-person New York novel, Bright Lights, Big City has taken its fare share of knocks. However, Reading Matters’ Kim Forrester praises it as “essentially a black comedy--and one that felt very close to my heart.” She concludes her review with this comment: “There are a lot of painful realizations in Bright Lights, Big City, all rounded out by a redemptive, satisfying ending. I’ve read a lot of great novels this year, but this one has to be up there with the best.” McInerney’s book was the first one I read from Gary Fisketjon’s Vintage Contemporaries series of trade paperbacks, and it led me to enjoy almost three dozen later entries. I wonder if I’d still like Bright Lights as much now as I did when I read it in my 20s …

• Speaking of reassessments … Critical Mass, “the blog of the National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors,” has recently been rolling out a series it calls “Second Thoughts.” The idea is for NBCC members to remark on “a work that had a big impact on you long ago, and how it seemed when you re-encountered it later in life.” Few of the pieces have been about crime or mystery novels, but Mark Sarvas did write about To Russia with Love, by Ian Fleming, and Sam Sacks offered a reconsideration of Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s outstanding 1866 yarn. I don’t know how long this series will run, but you can keep up with its latest entries here.

• Here’s a serious hole in my education: I’ve never read any of John P. Marquand’s half-dozen novels featuring Japanese secret agent/detective Mr. Moto. Yet Vintage Pop Fictions says they’re “extremely good.” It goes on to call the second book in that series, Thank You, Mr. Moto, “a very entertaining and intelligent spy thriller and a worthy successor to Marquand’s first Moto novel, Your Turn, Mr. Moto, but it’s a bit more than that. It’s also a perceptive exploration of the mindset of the European expatriate in the Far East and it even touches on the merits of differing philosophies of life--not just the differences between European and Asian attitudes towards life but also between those who believe it is possible to control one’s destiny and those who believe that such a thing is futile and impossible. This is certainly a book that is slightly more intelligent and ambitious than the average thriller.” Perhaps I owe it to myself to sample I.A. Moto’s adventures soon, rather than putting it off for another year.

Mystery Scene’s Oline H. Cogdill has a few gift suggestions for the crime-fiction fans on your holiday list, including the DVD set Foyle’s War: The Complete Saga and editor Sarah Weinman’s Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & ’50s.

• Another possible Christmas present, this one from the folks at ThugLit. Cruel Yule: Holiday Tales of Crime for People on the Naughty List features contributions from Hilary Davidson, Todd Robinson, Jen Conley, Ed Kurtz, and seven others.

In this 2013 Los Angeles Review of Books essay, English professor Rohan Maitzen studies the women’s roles in Dick Francis’ novels and concludes that “Even three decades after women writers including Marcia Muller, Sue Grafton, and Sara Paretsky set new standards for the genre’s gender politics, introducing heroines who are tough, smart, and unapologetic, Francis unexpectedly holds his own.”

• Although I wrote back in 2010 about the 15th anniversary of Pierce Brosnan’s introduction as British agent James Bond, in GoldenEye, I neglected to highlight that picture’s 20th anniversary earlier this month. As Wikipedia notes, the 17th Bond flick had a limited release on November 13, 1995, but (per IMDb) its general U.S. debut was on November 17. Making up for my negligence, Bill Koenig’s The Spy Command delivered this piece about the 20th anniversary.

• While we’re on the subject of Bond (and doesn’t it seem that we often are?), let me mention a few other links that you might find interesting: Edward Biddulph, author of the blog James Bond Memes, writes here about the controversial use of the term “Bond girl”; David Cranmer, in Criminal Element, considers the place of Colonel Sun--Kingsley Amis’ 1968 Bond pastiche--in the Bond canon, declaring it “one of the finest” additions to that series of novels; even as Spectre still revels in the glow of its recent debut, The Spy Command looks ahead to the next, 25th 007 film; and Koenig’s blog offers this post celebrating the 50th anniversary of NBC-TV’s hour-long, 1965 special, The Incredible World of James Bond.

• Matt Taibi has a funny but depressing piece in Rolling Stone about the “clown car” of Republicans hoping to take over the Oval Office after President Barack Obama vacates it in 2017. “Conventional wisdom says that with the primaries and caucuses rapidly approaching, front-running nuts Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson must soon give way to the ‘real’ candidates,” writes Taibi. “But behind Trump and Carson is just more abyss. As I found out on a recent trip to New Hampshire, the rest of the field is either just as crazy or as dangerous as the current poll leaders, or too bumbling to win.”

Do we really need a Lost in Space TV reboot?

• And we are now several days past Thanksgiving in the States, but I’m still seeing new posts themed to that occasion. In this piece, Read Me Deadly contributor “Sister Mary Murderous” (which has all the hallmarks of being a pseudonym) uses the 12 letters of Thanksgiving’s name to count down her favorite things about mystery fiction.

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