Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Bullet Points: Post-Vacation Edition

If you were wondering last week why The Rap Sheet seemed so paltry with its postings, it was because I took eight days off for a trip to Minneapolis to see my best friend, Byron. We’ve known each other since college (he was a class year ahead of me), and have since been in the habit of visiting each other during the summer months, alternating back and forth; this was my year to fly east. We’d talked in advance of my departure about doing all kinds of active things when I was in Minnesota, including taking a long drive north to the shores of Lake Superior and maybe taking a hike someplace. But once I was in the company of my friend and his wife, all such planning went out the window.

Byron and I actually wound up doing the things we so often do together: comparing observations about our lives while sampling beers at local pubs (The Lowbrow on Nicollet Avenue has become a favorite stop), checking out new-to-us eateries (among them, on this trip, the Hot Plate Diner for breakfast), going for long walks around the lakes near his suburban neighborhood, and of course, sitting out on his home’s sun-baked back patio, just reading. I’d packed along a quartet of novels, including David Fuller’s terrific Sweetsmoke and William Kittredge’s The Willow Field, and made it through all of them, while helping to keep Byron’s dog, Shiloh, exercised with occasionally thrown tennis balls. Worried that I might be without books for the return flight to Seattle, we made a trip to Once Upon a Crime, the local independent mystery bookstore that successfully changed hands earlier this year. (For evidence of our drop-in, see the photograph above: I am the dumpy, overheated guy on the left, with Byron on the right.) We also paid a call on radio legend Garrison Keillor’s Common Good Books, situated along Snelling Avenue in St. Paul, which turned out to be an uncommonly handsome and appealing shop—definitely one worth revisiting sometime.

I don’t often find the time for holidays, but this one was made especially, if unexpectedly, relaxing by the fact that I couldn’t seem to recall my e-mail password. Therefore, I had no way to check my messages remotely for a week. Yes, it meant that I needed to scroll through and weed the junk mail from among 871 e-notes when I returned home. Yet for eight blissful days, all I really had to do was think about what to read next, where to eat with my friends, and what movies we all wanted to screen during the evening hours. My batteries were thus recharged for another few months.

My file of intriguing crime-fiction links was overflowing before I left, and is even larger now that I’ve been looking around to see what I missed last week. I can’t hope to mention everything of interest, but here a few items I think you will find worthy of attention.

• A very well-deserved commendation: New York City bookseller, editor, and publisher Otto Penzler, 73, has been named as the winner of this year’s David Thompson Special Service Award for his “extraordinary efforts to develop and promote the crime-fiction field.” Penzler should receive his prize during Bouchercon 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana (September 15-18). Previous recipients of this accolade, named for the late co-owner of Houston’s Murder by the Book, are my Rap Sheet colleague Ali Karim, Len and June Moffatt, Judy Bobalik, and Bill and Toby Gottfried.

• If you haven’t already voted for your favorite nominees in the 2016 Dead Good Reader Awards competition, you can still do so here. As I stated in an earlier post, the winners are set to be declared at a special event on Friday, July 22, during this year’s Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, England.

The Twenty-Three, the concluding volume in Linwood Barclay’s Promise Falls Trilogy, isn’t even due out in the States till November. But already there’s word of this Ontario author’s next novel—and it’s a work for children. As The Bookseller explains, “Chase is a middle-grade novel about a dog called Chipper who has been melded with state-of-the-art computer technology to carry out secret missions for an organization called The Institute. When Chipper’s natural instincts, such as chasing squirrels, start taking over during missions, The Institute decides to pull the plug on him.” Expect to see Chipper in bookstores sometime next year.

• While we’re on the subject of Canadian crime-fictionists (and with Canada Day fast approaching on July 1), note that Mystery Scene’s Oline H. Cogdill has put together “a quick primer” on some of that country’s finest genre writers, including Giles Blunt, Maureen Jennings, Howard Engel, and Ausma Zehanat Khan. If you’d like to learn more about the field’s history and present stars, refer to a two-part survey of Canadian mystery-makers I wrote for Kirkus Reviews back in 2013. Part I of that report is here, with Part II to be found here.

• With the sunny season having finally begun in North America, it’s totally appropriate for Janet Rudolph to have posted this list of summer-oriented mysteries in her blog.

• Just when I thought Plots with Guns was dead, buried, and eulogized, that once-popular e-zine abruptly reappears with an issue containing stories by Patricia Abbott, Rusty Barnes, Benjamin Whitmer, and others. Read them all for free here.

• Isn’t it a bit early to be writing about the best books of 2016? Well, apparently not if you’re working for BookRiot or Omnivoracious: The Amazon Book Review, both of which have weighed in recently with their initial-six-months assessments. The BookRiot rundown includes Lyndsay Faye’s Jane Steele and John Lawton’s The Unfortunate Englishman, as well as Skip Hollandsworth’s gripping non-fiction serial-killer yarn, The Midnight Assassin. Introducing its own list, Omnivoracious calls Noah Hawley’s Before the Fall “[one of] our universally favorite novels of the year so far,” and then goes on to applaud Stephen King’s End of Watch, John Hart’s Redemption Road, Mary Kubica’s Don’t You Cry, Bill Beverly’s Dodgers, Joyce Maynard’s Under the Influence, and 15 additional titles.

• To nobody’s surprise, Criminal Element’s Leslie Gilbert Elman—who most ably covered the opening two seasons of Endeavour on PBS-TV’s Masterpiece Mystery!—is now writing about Season 3 of that Shaun Evans series. Click here to enjoy her write-up on “Ride,” the first of this season’s four episodes, and here to see what she had to say about last weekend’s installment, “Arcadia.” (By the way, for anyone not conversant in the classic Inspector Morse TV series, from which Endeavour derives, the English actress Abigail Thaw, to whom Elman refers in her post, and who plays newspaper editor Dorothea Frazil in Endeavour, happens to be the now 50-year-old daughter of John Thaw, who portrayed Morse in that previous, 1987-2000 series.)

• In case I failed to mention this before, once Endeavour has completed its broadcast run for the year (it has already been renewed for a fourth season—hurrah!), you can look forward to the final season of Inspector Lewis on Masterpiece Mystery! Three episodes will be shown, beginning on Sunday, August 7.

Mystery Scene celebrates yet another British TV whodunit in its new issue: Grantchester, starring James Norton and Robson Green (which recently concluded its second-season run on PBS). The brightly penned cover feature has Craig Sisterson, the New Zealander behind the annual Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, interviewing James Runcie, author of the The Grantchester Mysteries (the latest of which is Sidney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation). Elsewhere in that same issue, Kevin Burton Smith offers a survey of fictionists famous in other fields who have tried their hand at composing private-eye yarns; Tom Nolan profiles both Naomi Hirahara (Sayonara Slam) and another California writer—one who has heretofore escaped my radar—Bart Paul (Cheatgrass); and Kate Jackson, who blogs at Cross-Examining Crime, looks back at “The Wimsey Papers,” Dorothy L. Sayers’ serialized observations on World War II through the eyes of her fictitious sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey.

• Oh, and happy first birthday to Cross-Examining Crime!

• Den of Geek! offers a new teaser trailer for Quarry, the eight-episode Cinemax TV series—based on Max Allan Collins’ novels about an itinerant Vietnam War vet turned hit man (Quarry’s Choice, Quarry in the Black), and starring Logan Marshall-Green—that’s set to premiere on September 9 at 10 p.m.

• “10 Hit Man Novels that Everyone Should Read.”

• I’ve been a fan of actress Carla Gugino ever since she starred in the 2003-2004 ABC-TV series Karen Sisco, based on the character created by Elmore Leonard, so I am pleased to hear that she’s returned to the boob tube with Roadies, a Cameron Crowe-created comedy-drama that debuted on Showtime on June 26.

• Note to Karen Sisco fans: Although that short-lived series hasn’t yet earned a DVD release (and why the hell not?), I see all 10 episodes of the show have suddenly become available on YouTube, thanks to a kind soul calling himself Oliver Martin. Check them out quickly before the copyright police come to steal them away!

• Speaking of unexpected YouTube discoveries, click here to watch a 1971 teleflick called Love Hate Love, which as far as I can tell was made from the last screenplay composed by British spy-fictionist Eric Ambler (A Coffin for Dimitrios). The plot description reads: “Ryan O’Neal plays Russ Emery, a glib engineer who steals the heart of a fashion model named Sheila Blunden [played by the lovely Lesley Ann Warren]. She in turn leaves her jet-setter fiancé, who turns out to be a psychotic who will not let go of Sheila that easily.”

• OK, I’m just stealing these next two items straight from B.V. Lawson’s In Reference to Murder. First on the docket:
Hulu announced the premiere date of Hugh Laurie's new ten-part psychological thriller Chance, set for Wednesday, October 19. Laurie will star as forensic neuropsychiatrist Dr. Eldon Chance, who is dragged against his better wishes into an extremely dangerous world of corrupt cops, mistaken identities and mental illness. The cast also includes Gretchen Mol as Jaclyn Blackstone, the abused wife of a detective (Paul Adelstein) whose possible dissociative identity disorder causes big problems for the doc. Chance was created by Desperate Housewives and Bates Motel writer/director Alexandra Cunningham and author Kem Nunn, who wrote the novel that the show is based on.
• And then there’s this reminder:
First Monday is a new monthly crime fiction/thriller night held in Central London at the College Building of City University. The upcoming July 4th event, sponsored by Killer Reads, will feature award-winning authors Andrew Taylor, Stephen Booth, Anna Mazzola, and Beth Lewis. The evening will be chaired by Claire McGowan, bestselling author of the Paula Maguire series and senior lecturer on the City University Crime Writing MA course.
• For The Strand Magazine’s Web site, author William Lashner (The Four-Night Run) has compiled a list of “ten writing tips I learned from the books of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, who together pretty much invented the modern detective story.”

What does Chandler owe to The Mary Tyler Moore Show?

• I have definitely fallen behind in recommending new installments of Nancie Clare’s excellent Speaking of Mysteries podcast. A few recent guests worth hearing from: Cara Black (Murder on the Quai), Erik Axl Sund (The Crow Girl), Steve Hamilton (The Second Life of Nick Mason), and Dan Fesperman (The Letter Writer).

• Several other author interviews worth reading: Former ThugLit editor and author (Rough Trade) Todd Robinson chats with Entropy; Joe Clifford (December Boys) goes one-on-one with S.W. Lauden; Paul Bishop posts a two-part interview with W.L. Ripley (Hail Storme)—Part I here, Part II here; Patricia Abbott (Shot in Detroit) answers 20 questions posed by fellow novelist Dana King; All Is Not Forgotten writer Wendy Walker fields queries from BOLO Books; and Double O Section grills Warren Ellis about his James Bond comic books.

• For some bizarre reason, failing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump believes he’s mentally far superior to other human beings (a real “man of the people,” eh?). Yet there are apparently no books or bookcases in his home.

• In a welcome break from all the sorry economic predictions surrounding Great Britain’s public vote to leave the European Union, Crime Fiction Lover has posted blurbs covering a dozen “great” crime novels set in as many UK cities. The list includes Ian Rankin’s Even Dogs in the Wild (Edinburgh), Belinda Bauer’s Rubbernecker (Cardiff), Adrian McKinty’s Rain Dogs (Belfast), and a book that completely escaped my notice when it was distributed last year, Shallow Waters, by Rebecca Bradley (Nottingham).

• Maybe it’s time to pay more attention to women crime writers. Both Terrence Rafferty, in The Atlantic, and Barry Forshaw, in The Independent, have recently made that argument quite convincingly.

Michael Herr wasn’t a crime novelist. The Kentucky native was instead best known for penning Dispatches, an entertaining and often moving 1977 memoir of his work as a correspondent for Esquire magazine, covering the Vietnam War during the late 1960s. When I heard the news last week that Herr had died at age 76, I recalled how Dispatches had been one of the first non-fiction works I’d really enjoyed in my early 20s, a splendid example of what was once called “new journalism,” combining serious reportage with literary storytelling techniques. It had led me to other Vietnam books, such as Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried and Philip Caputo’s A Rumor of War, as well as to Herr’s memorable 1990 novel, Walter Winchell. Long ago, in a faraway life that I only barely recognize, I’d hoped one day to write a journalistic work as classic as Dispatches. That I never accomplished that goal is my own damn fault. That I can at least look back upon Dispatches and marvel at the dexterity with which its author delivered his yarn is pale succor, but succor nonetheless. Thank you, Michael Herr. (More here and here.)

• Don Winslow is writing a sequel to The Cartel.

The Seattle Times provides a guide to some of the best TV series adaptations of literary sleuths, including both Bosch and Jack Irish.

• Being among those many readers who’ve refused to make a transition from traditional print books to e-books, I was pleased to see Alexis Boncy’s recent short essay, “Why I Still Love Actual Paper Books,” in The Week. She writes, in part:
I want to be absorbed by a book in a way that actual page-turning, not pixel-moving finger flips, allows. Choosing print over e-books means separating my reading from anything else—everything else, I should say, given the enormity of what we can do and information we can access from smartphones and tablets. It means I put down one thing before I pick up another, that I allow my attention to be taken wholly and open myself to feeling the full weight of the words on the page. That they will make me laugh or cry or think a little differently or discover something new.

And I want to finish a book and slot it on the shelf according to my personal Dewey Decimal system, a complex algorithm that accounts for genre, subject, author, how much I liked it, and how much I liked it compared to everything else. The e-alternative is to finish and watch as the book’s cover, once a full-screen image, shrinks and recedes to its tiny place on my e-bookshelf. The diminishment extends to the whole experience; the story fades, the memories go unvisited.
• Someday I want to put together a feature about the numerous novels combining crime fiction with science fiction. In the meantime, though, I can appreciate David Cranmer’s reviews, in Criminal Element, of Isaac Asimov’s Elijah Baley/Daneel Olivaw yarns. He’s already commented on The Caves of Steel (1954) and The Naked Sun (1957). I hope he will soon cover The Robots of Dawn (1983), the third book in Asimov’s Robot series, as well.

This is a book I should definitely add to my shelves.

• Finally, what did Donald Hamilton think of the four 1960s Matt Helm films adapted from his novels and starring Dean Martin? A letter he wrote in 1991 gives us some clues: “[M]y philosophy is that I write to entertain and once I’ve done a book or story to my satisfaction, anybody who can use my material entertainingly, and is willing to pay me for the privilege, is welcome, even if he doesn’t stick very closely to my original vision (if I may use a fancy word for it).”

No comments: