Thursday, June 15, 2017

Bullet Points: Back in the Game Edition

Sorry for the hiatus, but my computer required a major system upgrade … and I needed a few days without the responsibilities of news gathering. So I wasn’t pushing my technology folks overmuch to get the job done. But now that things seem to be back to normal, let me highlight a few crime fiction-related developments.

• I was still offline when blogger Evan Lewis posted the 18th and concluding chapter of the 1946 comic-book adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. So I couldn’t draw attention to it until now. If you missed any part of that comic, you can enjoy “the whole shebang” right here. Thanks, Even, for this rare treat.

• Here’s something I didn’t know: Famous stage, screen, and radio actor John Barrymore (aka the “greatest living American tragedian”) was originally slated to play San Francisco private detective Sam Spade in the first, 1931 motion-picture adaptation of The Maltese Falcon. Blogger Steven Thompson says Warner Bros. “purchased the then recent Dashiell Hammett story as a vehicle for Barrymore.” Apparently, though, negotiations fell apart when it was announced that former child star Bebe Daniels, one of Warner’s contract players, had been signed as the female lead, and that hers “was actually a bigger part” than the screenplay gave Spade. Barrymore’s retreat from the project left room for Ricardo Cortez to step into his gumshoes, instead.

• If you haven’t watched it already, click here to find the first official trailer promoting this year’s movie adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1934 whodunit Murder on the Orient Express. Starring a bizarrely mustachioed Kenneth Branagh as brilliant Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot, and also featuring fine performers such as Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Derek Jacobi, the film is set to debut in theaters nationwide this coming November 10.

• By the way, which poster do you prefer? The one on the left, touting the 1974 Orient Express (with art by Richard Amsel), or the one displayed on the right, from Branagh’s forthcoming version? Click on either image for an enlargement.

• In Publishers Weekly, Elizabeth Foxwell interviews Joan Hess, who completed the last Amelia Peabody historical mystery left behind when her fellow author, Elizabeth Peters (otherwise known as Barbara Mertz), died in 2013. Hess says her biggest challenge in composing The Painted Queen—which is due out from Morrow in July—“was attempting to capture the subtlety of the somewhat stilted language of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Contractions—how I missed them!”

From B.V. Lawson’s In Reference to Murder:
The Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense is named for Daphne du Maurier, the author of Rebecca, a suspense novel with romantic and gothic overtones and a precursor to today’s romantic suspense. Presented annually by the RWA [Romance Writers of America] Kiss of Death organization, this year’s Daphne finalists were named in the category of Mainstream Mystery/Suspense and various Romantic Suspense categories. Finalists in the Mainstream Mystery/Suspense category include Notorious by Carey Baldwin; Death Among the Doilies (A Cora Crafts Mystery) by Mollie Cox Bryan; Elegy in Scarlet by B.V. Lawson; Say No More by Hank Phillippi Ryan; and In the Barren Ground by Loreth Anne White. For all the finalists (including those both unpublished and published divisions), follow this link.
• On the heels of The Rap Sheet publishing its much longer rundown of summer crime, mystery, and thriller releases, the podcast Writer Types is out with a new episode focusing in part on what works fans of this genre should sample over the next three sunnier months. (If you think you’re too busy to listen to the episode, a list of the recommendations can be found here.) Beyond that part of the show, co-host S.W. Lauden explains, “We’ve also got great interviews with Meg Gardiner (Unsub), John Rector (The Ridge), Jordan Harper (She Rides Shotgun), and Thomas Pluck (Bad Boy Boogie). All that plus a short story by Angel [Luis] Colón.” Listen here.

• What might the 2015 James Bond film Spectre have been like had Roger Moore starred in it, rather than Daniel Craig? It certainly couldn’t have been any more wearisome than the version that reached theaters, and as this what-if trailer in Spy Vibe suggests, it might have provided “a cool juxtaposition between the visceral action and danger of the Craig era and Moore’s undeniable charisma and charm on the screen.” Sadly, we can only imagine the whole of Moore’s Spectre.

Another tribute to the late Roger Moore. (More here.)

• Lit Reactor is out with its list of “The Best Books of 2017 … So Far.” It includes a quartet of crime/thriller novels. Strangely, several of my own early favorites—Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders, Philip Kerr’s Prussian Blue, Don Winslow’s The Force, and Oscar de Muriel’s Fever of the Blood—don’t show up on that roster, but there’s still time for the Lit Reactor folk to come to their senses.

• Meanwhile, The Washington Post’s choices of “37 Books We’ve Loved So Far in 2017” mentions just three crime/mystery novels: The Long Drop, by Denise Mina; Not a Sound, by Heather Gudenkauf; and Since We Fell, by Dennis Lehane (which—surprisingly for a Lehane work—I haven’t yet felt compelled to finish).

• Although the cover of its premiere issue could hardly be less intriguing than it is, I’m very pleased to see Maryland publisher Wildside Press introduce Black Cat Mystery Magazine. Scheduled to debut in September, BCMM (not to be confused with the classic, 1895-1922 American literary journal, The Black Cat) will reportedly “focus on contemporary and traditional mysteries, as well as thrillers and suspense stories.” Among the writers contributing to Issue No. 1 are Art Taylor, Meg Opperman, John Floyd, and Barb Goffman. Order a copy here. Hopes are to make BCMM a quarterly publication.

From blogger-editor Janet Rudolph:
David Schmid, Ph.D. received the 2017 George N. Dove Award for Contributions to the Study of Mystery and Crime Fiction. David Schmid, associate professor in the Department of English at the University at Buffalo (State University of New York), was selected to receive the 2017 Dove Award. The honor is bestowed for outstanding contributions to the serious study of mystery, detective, and crime fiction by the Mystery and Detective Fiction Area of the Popular Culture Association. The award is named for George N. Dove, one of the area’s early members, a past president of the Popular Culture Association, and author of outstanding presentations, articles, and books on detective fiction, especially the police procedural.
• In Criminal Element, Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai offers some history behind this week’s release of Donald E. Westlake’s long-missing but quite rewarding thriller, Forever and a Death.

• Speaking of previously “lost” fiction … “A collection of short stories by Ruth Rendell, unearthed in the archive of a U.S. detective magazine, are to be published for the first time in the UK this autumn,” reports The Guardian. “The stories were found in magazines—[mostly in] back issues of … Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine—and date as far back at the 1970s. They will be published under the title A Spot of Folly.” Rendell passed away in the spring of 2015, aged 85.

“Hopalong Cassidy—Detective?”

• I still own two manual typewriters, and am loath to give them up, thinking they might be fun to use again someday. I didn’t know I’m not alone in my nostalgia for such vintage machines. “In the age of smartphones, social media and hacking fears,” reports the Associated Press, “vintage typewriters that once gathered dust in attics and basements are attracting a new generation of fans across the U.S.”

• “On the 129th anniversary of [Raymond] Chandler’s birth, seven writers have gathered to declare how Chandler influenced their own work and continues to shape the landscape of modern crime fiction.” You’ll find their opinions here.

• After years spent as a magazine and newspaper editor, I know how popular lists are with readers. Therefore, I’m not surprised to have seen a bunch of such opinionated inventories pop up online lately. The Strand Magazine Web site seems particularly fond of such tallies, offering: “Five Prescient Political Thrillers,” “Top 10 Mystery or Crime Novels Set in the Country,” “Top 10 Crime Novels Set in London,” and “Top Nine Books with ‘Girl’ in the Title.” Since 2017 marks the centennial of America’s involvement in World War I, Criminal Element weighs in with “Nine Murder Mysteries Set During Wartime.” BookRiot shares its picks of “Five Japanese Crime Writers that Should Be on Your Radar,” and Please Kill Me’s collection of “Ten Great New York City Novels” features (naturally) Dashiell Hammett’s 1933 Nick and Nora Charles mystery, The Thin Man.

• For something a bit different, Mystery Fanfare points us toward Culture Trip’s rundown of “50 Unique Independent Bookstores You Need to Visit in Every U.S. State.” Although the wording of that headline implies we’ll learn about 50 such retailers in each state of the Union, the story actually offers just one store suggestion per state. I’ve stopped by many of these shops, but not nearly all of them.

• Did you know there is a book-length sequel to the 1992 comedy film My Cousin Vinny? Titled Back to Brooklyn, and written by New York City-area resident Lawrence Kelter, it was released last month by Down & Out Books. Oh, and it’s described on Amazon as the first sequel to that persistently entertaining movie.

• I’m always impressed by bloggers who can hang in there for the long haul, when the urge to discontinue an enterprise like this—which brings few obvious rewards and can consume so many hours of one’s life—threatens to overwhelm. Despite reports you may have heard, the business of blogging is not for the faint of heart. Therefore, let’s give a hearty round of applause to Terence Towles Canote, whose pop-culture blog, A Shroud of Thoughts, recently celebrated its 13th anniversary. That’s two more years than The Rap Sheet has been in existence.

• For most of last week, the big Batman news had to do with that fictional crime-fighter’s decision—as spelled out in the latest issue of the DC Universe Rebirth: Batman comic-book series—to finally propose marriage to Catwoman (aka Selina Kyle). Then, however, came word that Adam West, the man who’d brought both the Caped Crusader and his alter ego, “millionaire playboy” Bruce Wayne, to brave if campy life in the 1966-1968 ABC-TV series Batman, had died of leukemia at age 88. According to an obituary in The Hollywood Reporter, West once said, “You can’t play Batman in a serious, square-jawed, straight-ahead way without giving the audience the sense that there’s something behind that mask waiting to get out, that he’s a little crazed, he’s strange.” He added that he’d played Batman “for laughs, but in order to do [that], one had to never think it was funny. You just had to pull on that cowl and believe that no one would recognize you.” Trouble is, everybody came to recognize Adam West for his Batman portrayal. As a consequence, the Walla Walla, Washington-born farm boy turned actor—who’d appeared on such boob-tube dramas as 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, Maverick, Perry Mason, and The Detectives before scoring the Batman gig—“never quite got out of Batman’s long shadow, both for better and for worse,” writes National Public Radio’s Colin Dwyer. Yes, West later guest-starred on programs as varied as Emergency!, Laverne & Shirley, Murder, She Wrote, Diagnosis: Murder, and The Big Bang Theory; he won a regular part on the 1986 sitcom The Last Precinct and starred in Conan O’Brien’s unsuccessful 1991 TV pilot, Lookwell (which he later referenced as “my favorite” pilot); yet as The Atlantic remembers, it was only after the actor “embraced” his Batman typecasting that he could again find happiness—and consistent employment. “West returned to voice his iconic character in such cartoons as The New Adventures of Batman, Legends of the Superheroes, SuperFriends: The Legendary Super Powers Show, and The Simpsons,” observes The Hollywood Reporter, “and Warner Bros.’ long-awaited DVD release of ABC’s Batman in 2014 brought him back into the Bat Signal’s spotlight.” (He also did regular voice-overs on the animated series Family Guy.) West’s demise follows that of Yvonne Craig, the onetime dancer who played Batgirl on Batman during its final season; she passed away in 2015 as a result of breast cancer, aged 78. Still around, though, is the second half of West’s Dynamic Duo: Burt Ward, who donned tights and a ridiculously paltry black mask as Robin, “the Boy Wonder,” on the show. He’ll turn 72 come July 6 of this year. Read more about Adam West’s life and career here, here, and here.

This is the coolest Adam West tribute imaginable! (FOLLOW-UP: Film footage from the event can be found here and here.)

• While we’re honoring the lately departed, let us not forget Boulder, Colorado, author Marlys Millhiser, who succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease on April 20, just short of her 80th birthday. As Mystery Fanfare notes, the Iowa-born former high school teacher penned “sixteen mysteries and horror novels. She served as a regional vice president of the Mystery Writers of America and is best known for her novel The Mirror (1978) and for the Charlie Greene Mysteries” (the most recent of those being 2002’s The Rampant Reaper).

• Rest in peace, Glenne Headly. As Variety reports, the Connecticut-born actress—“known for starring alongside Warren Beatty in 1990’s Dick Tracy as Tess Trueheart,” and for earning an Emmy nomination for her role in the 1989 TV miniseries Lonesome Dove—died in Santa Monica, California, on June 8 as a result of complications from a pulmonary embolism. She was only 62 years of age.

• Finally, I mentioned in my last “Bullet Points” post that veteran sportswriter-novelist Frank Deford was retiring after 37 years of doing commentary for NPR’s Morning Edition. Just two weeks later, on May 28, the 78-year-old died at his home in Key West, Florida. In honor of his journalism career, Sports Illustrated—the periodical to which he’d contributed so much of his writing over the decades—posted online one of Deford’s most memorable pieces, “The Boxer and the Blonde,” which ran originally in SI’s June 17, 1985, issue.


Steve Oerkfitz said...

I like the Daniel Craig Spectre. I find any Bond movie with Roger Moore to be unwatchable.

Bob said...

I certainly prefer the Amsel movie poster of Orient Express and was taken back by Kenneth Branagh's appearance as Poirot.

I have to admit I was disappointed in Spectre.