Friday, March 20, 2020

Bullet Points: Age of Anxiety Edition

• Nominees for the 2020 British Book Awards—aka The Nibbies—were announced earlier today, in 24 categories. There’s no guarantee that this year’s presentations (administered as usual by The Bookseller) will go ahead, amid the worsening COVID-19 pandemic; they’ve already been postponed until June 29, in London. But we can hope for the best. Below are the half-dozen novels shortlisted for Crime & Thriller Book of the Year.

My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Atlantic)
The Hunting Party, by Lucy Foley (HarperCollins)
How the Dead Speak, by Val McDermid (Little, Brown)
The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides (Orion)
Impostor, by L.J. Ross
(Dark Skies)
Blue Moon, by Lee Child (Bantam Press)

Click here to see all of this year’s shortlisted nominees for the Nibbies.

• Swedish author David Lagercrantz (right), who penned three additional Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sequels after that series’ creator, Stieg Larsson, died in 2004 (the most recent of Lagercrantz’s entries being The Girl Who Lived Twice), has a crime-fiction trilogy of his own devising due out soon from the UK’s MacLehose Press. “Described as ‘a modern Sherlock Holmes saga,’ the Rekke trilogy features a young police officer, raised in a rough neighbourhood, and an older professor specialised in psychopathy and interrogational techniques,” explains The Bookseller. The first novel is expected to appear in bookshops by August or September of 2021, with Alfred A. Knopf having picked up the U.S. rights to that yarn.

Sisters in Crime is accepting applications for its seventh annual Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award, with a $2,000 grant up for grabs. This prize of course honors African-American author Bland, the creator of a series starring Illinois police detective Marti MacAlister (Dead Time, Suddenly a Stranger), who died in 2010. Those wishing to apply for the 2020 award must do so by June 8. The winner is supposed to be announced by July 15. Previous recipients include Jessica Martinez (2019), Mia Manansala (2018), Jessica Ellis Laine (2017), and Stephane Dunn (2016).

• When I mentioned last weekend that the Murder and Mayhem in Chicago conference, planned for Saturday, March 21, had been cancelled, I wasn’t aware that it was being moved online. Sign in here ahead of time in order to watch the events, which begin tomorrow at 9 a.m. CDT and run through 4 p.m.

• Senior Editor Molly Odintz asserts, in CrimeReads, that mystery and thriller novels provide ideal escapes from our present worries:
Why are crime books so soothing? Or for that matter, why is genre fiction, or even fiction in general, a place of solace in times of need?

Fiction in general, and much narrative nonfiction, is immersive, and perhaps that is part of the answer. Genre fiction, with its need to pay attention to both the contents of the book and how those contents measure up to genre conventions, seems particularly good at distracting busy minds. I tend to judge the success of fiction by the following measure: does it require enough concentration, or grip my attention so fully, that I don’t start thinking about doing my laundry?

Maybe right now, we can all enjoy reading whatever books grip our attention so fully that we don’t have to think about anything outside the closed world of storytelling, for at least the few hours that it takes to read that story.
• Other recent CrimeReads offerings of note: Rebecca Rego Barry remarks on how mystery author and rare book collector Carolyn Wells “helped to create the ‘biblio-mystery’ genre”; Suzanne Redfearn lists “six current novels in which architecture plays an important role”; in this piece Stephanie Wrobel “breaks down the nine types of twist endings and the books that executed them best”; and in an interview with Harlan Coben, the author insists that the original Planet of the Apes movie provides “the best twist ending in history.” brings word that this country’s “biggest publishing trade event and conference, Book Expo America and its associated convention BookCon, have officially been postponed until this summer because of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak … BEA will take place between July 22nd and 24th, while BookCon will shift to July 25th and 26th at New York City’s Javits Center. This is currently the same weekend that San Diego Comic Con is scheduled to take place, leaving an open question as to what conference publishers and authors will prioritize. (If SDCC isn’t delayed, in any case.)”

• In the meantime, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, previously slated to take place from April 18 to 19 at the University of Southern California campus in L.A., has been postponed until the weekend of October 3-4. Additionally, according to a press alert, the Book Prizes ceremony—planned for April 17, and including five contenders in the Mystery/Thriller category—“will not be held this year. Book Prizes honorees and winners will be acknowledged through an announcement which remains scheduled for April 17.”

• Robert E. Howard Days, a pulp-fiction celebration that takes its name from the prolific creator of Conan the Barbarian, had been set to draw visitors to Howard’s birthplace of Cross Plains, Texas, in June. But it, too, has been cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis.

• Another unfortunate turn: Manhattan’s famous Mysterious Bookshop is shuttered “for the foreseeable future,” as the State of New York decrees “that all nonessential businesses must close their doors until an end to this pandemic is in sight.”

• Is this the right time to begin composing a COVID-19-inspired novel? Essayist Sloane Crosley suggests not. “From an artistic standpoint,” she writes in The New York Times, “it’s best to let tragedy cool before gulping it down and spitting it back into everyone’s faces. After all, Don Quixote was published about a century into the Spanish Inquisition. Art should be given a metaphorical berth as wide as the literal one we’re giving one another.”

• I hadn’t heard before that Marilyn Stasio, who has penned the Times Book Review’s must-read crime-fiction column ever since 1988, had suffered an accident. But the Review’s latest newsletter includes this note: “And for the many readers who have been writing and asking about our cherished crime columnist, you will be glad to know that the hardened New York City taxi that tried to mow her down found its match in Marilyn. She has fully recovered from the accident and is back to her biweekly habit of reviewing.” Well, thank goodness!

• R.I.P., Stuart Whitman. Born in San Francisco, California, in February 1928, the productive and versatile actor—who featured in such films as The Comancheros (1961), The Mark (1961, for which he received an Oscar nomination), and Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines (1965)—died from skin cancer this last Monday at age 92. In addition to his big-screen credits, Whitman appeared in more than a dozen episodes of the 1955-1959 TV series Highway Patrol, starred in the 1967-1968 TV western Cimarron Strip, and led the 1971 Irwin Allen-produced TV pilot City Beneath the Sea. Also decorating his résumé were guest-starring parts on Night Gallery, The Streets of San Francisco, Hec Ramsey, Police Story, Ellery Queen, Harry O, and Simon and Simon. Terence Towles Canote offers a fairly thorough record of Whitman’s career in his blog, A Shroud of Thoughts.

• Another actor gone from this world: Lyle Waggoner. He may be best remembered for his roles on The Carol Burnett Show and Wonder Woman, but Waggoner also guest-starred on such small-screen crime dramas as Charlie’s Angels, Hardcastle and McCormick, The New Mike Hammer, and Murder, She Wrote. He perished on March 17 at age 84, his cause of death being an unspecified form of cancer.

• In Reference to Murder's B.V. Lawson reports that “The International Book Publishers Association [has] announced the finalists for the annual Ben Franklin Award, celebrating excellence in book editorial and design. The Mystery & Thriller category shortlist [comprises] Bleed Through: Alex Greco, ADA Series Book 2, by Roger Canaff (Brooklyn Writers Press); The Last Getaway, by Clay Savage (Ocean Park Press); and A Veil Removed: A Henrietta and Inspector Howard Novel, by Michelle Cox (She Writes Press).”

• One of the books I’ve acquired to stave off cabin fever amid our present mass-seclusion is the 30th-anniversary edition of Mark Dawidziak’s The Columbo Phile: A Casebook, a long-out-of-print and wonderfully deep dive into Peter Falk’s Columbo, which premiered as part of the NBC Mystery Movie series back in 1971. That purchase, in turn, reminded me to check up a favorite blog coincidentally also called The Columbophile, where I discovered two fresh posts of interest. First, this critical assessment of “the very best” Columbo elements from the ’70s. (Yes, 1977’s “The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case” wins a mention.) And second, this compilation of what the blog’s anonymous author contends are the series’ lowest points from that same era (the greatest derision being heaped upon 1976’s “Last Salute to the Commodore”). I’ve been thinking a lot about Columbo over the last week, as it figures into a writing assignment I have taken on, and preparation for that project will require my rewatching a variety of episodes, so these resources should help refine my choices.

• By the way, if you’re at all curious about Dawidziak and his book, don’t miss The Columbophile’s 2019 interview with him.

• And speaking of literary interviews, peruse this exchange between Spy Command managing editor Bill Koenig and Mark A. Altman, the co-author (with Edward Gross) of Nobody Does It Better: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of James Bond. It includes Altman’s succinct analysis of what impact the delayed release of No Time to Die might have on that 25th 007 film:
I was really disappointed when No Time to Die was pushed to Thanksgiving, but obviously in retrospect it was a very smart and necessary decision. I’m really hoping that it is a fitting capper to the [Daniel] Craig era and takes its cues from Casino Royale, not to mention On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and doesn’t double down on the family drama of Spectre.

But I always go into every 007 movie hoping it’ll be the best one ever and sometimes I [am] more disappointed than others. I actually think the release date might help the film as it could play all through the holidays. It’s not unlike when
Force Awakens got bumped from summer and ended up being a huge hit for Christmas and changed the whole release pattern for Star Wars films, with Solo proving a notable outlier.
• Following its limited release this month in U.S. theaters, the Australian film Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears—based on the 2012-2015 TV series Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, and starring Essie Davis as a glamorous private eye in late 1920s Melbourne—will begin streaming in the States on Monday, March 23, via the Acorn TV platform. Its premiere in Great Britain, on Alibi, is scheduled for Friday, April 10. Click here to watch a trailer for this picture.

• Author Lee Goldberg alerts me to the fact that a five-disc DVD set of Matt Helm, containing all 13 episodes of that 1975-1976 Tony Franciosa TV series, can now be purchased in a version from France. However, he explains, those discs (with their English soundtrack, but French subtitles) “are unplayable on U.S. DVD players … unless you have a multi-standard DVD player (which I do) or software that allows you to watch it on your computer’s DVD drive.” Thus far, no official Region 1 release of Matt Helm (viewable in the United States and Canada) is yet available.

• Over time, I have amassed a collection of DVDs from the Web site Modcinema, which sells movies and made-for-TV flicks produced during the 1960s and ’70s. I’m usually familiar with the small-screen offerings, either because I watched them once upon a time, or because I’ve read about them in Goldberg’s fat volume, Unsold Television Pilots: 1955-1989. But this one escaped my notice: 1978’s No Prince for My Cinderella, starring Robert Reed as David McKay, a psychologist “who specializes in finding teen runaways.” Of McKay, the site says:
He’s firm when he needs to be but adds just the right
dose of humor to lighten things up. One case has him chasing down a scrappy Scott Baio as a confused kid who forms a bond of respect with Reed. The main story has a troubled teenage girl (Terri Nunn, future singer of [the band] Berlin) who suffers from split personality. To make matters worse her alter ego is a hardened prostitute.

The film goes back and forth between Reed’s efforts to find Nunn and her sleazy descent from innocent street hooker to high-class call girl. Nunn (who was only 17 when she made this) gives a surprisingly solid performance as she snaps back and forth, from one personality to the other.
Hmm. “Mike Brady” as a gumshoe? I think I’ll pass.

• Caroline Crampton, host of the podcast Shedunnit, has posted a new episode, “Happily Ever After.” As she explains in her latest newsletter, her topic this time “is something that I've been wanting to do for ages: I’m a big fan of the Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane romance in Dorothy L. Sayers’ books, and it was a real pleasure to consider that in detail. I also read the four Jill Paton Walsh ‘continuation’ novels to see how that relationship develops in different hands, and … against my expectations I mostly enjoyed them. My favourite was the WWII one A Presumption of Death, in case you were wondering.”

• While we’re on the subject of podcasts, I have failed to mention Nancie Clare’s most recent Speaking of Mysteries guests: Jason Pinter (Hide Away), Hilary Davidson (Don’t Look Down), Susan Elia MacNeal (The King’s Justice), and Heather Chavez (No Bad Deed). I think I might have drawn your attention already to her conversations with Lee Goldberg (Lost Hills) and Alan Furst (Under Occupation), but just in case I forgot to do so, you now have the necessary links.

• Did you know that there’s a blog called JJ Gittes Investigations, focusing on “the films of private investigator Jake Gittes” (Chinatown, The Two Jakes)? Yeah, neither did I—until yesterday, when I found that the site’s unidentified author had posted a favorable review of Sam Wasson’s February-released non-fiction book, The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood (Flatiron), another work I look toward for entertainment during my coronavirus sheltering. “While much of the ground has been covered before,” this blog observes, “The Big Goodbye reveals so much more about the creation of Chinatown, in such rich detail and depth, that sometimes you feel as if you’re really there. However, this is not a run-of-the-mill account of the making of the film; rather, it is an elaborate, careful illustration of Wasson’s thesis that Chinatown was a product of multiple personalities and events which converged to produce a perfect storm that is not only a cinematic masterpiece, but also the high water mark of Hollywood artistry before its decline into the ‘cinema of sensation,’ which began with 1970s disaster movies, such as The Towering Inferno, Airport and Earthquake.”

• Finally, here’s some good advice from Sergeant Phil Esterhaus to get you through these frightening days of disease.

Stay safe, everyone. We’ll get through this together.


E. Ellis said...

I'm saddened by the lack of overall coverage of the passing of RD Call. An excellent character actor, often in roles as intimidating villains.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Check out today's post for coverage of Mr. Call's demise:

Thanks for bringing this news to my attention.