Saturday, March 28, 2020

Bullet Points: Housebound Edition

This was inevitable: Last Monday, Washington Governor Jay Inslee—responding to growing numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the Evergreen State—issued a stay-at-home directive that required all “non-essential businesses” here to close by Wednesday evening, and all state residents to remain inside “except for absolutely necessary activities, such as restocking essential supplies or accessing vital public services.” The order is supposed to “stay in effect for at least two weeks,” though the end date could be pushed back further, depending on the success of efforts to stem the virus’ spread. (Inslee, like most U.S. governors, rejects Donald Trump’s arbitrary suggestion that people should head back to work by Easter.)

All of this means I’m currently enjoying an unplanned vacation from work at the independent Seattle neighborhood bookshop where I have been helping out for the last year. Fortunately, I have plenty of writing to keep me busy, plus a stack of reading material for entertainment. Included in that soaring assortment are Harry Dolan’s The Good Killer, Max Allan Collins’ Do No Harm, William Boyle’s City of Margins, Peter Robinson’s Many Rivers to Cross, advance copies of Cara Black’s Three Hours in Paris and Ian McGuire’s The Abstainer, and a couple of non-fiction releases: Kate Winkler Dawson’s American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI (I loved her 2017 book, Death in the Air) and Sam Wasson’s The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood. Should I require an interlude between books, I have at the ready complete DVD collections of Dan August, Longstreet and Peter Gunn, plus an unsuccessful Raymond Burr pilot film from 1975, Mallory: Circumstantial Evidence, that I picked up from Modcinema. So I am unlikely to become bored, even if—as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warns—this quarantine lasts longer than any of us would prefer.

In a pinch, I can always surf the Web, as I did recently for new stories related to crime fiction. Below are some of my finds.

• “While most of us today are not sick,” writes CrimeReads senior editor Molly Odintz,” we are stuck at home, and perhaps now is the time to rediscover the lengthy novel.” Specifically, the lengthy crime or thriller novel. Odintz recommends 14 “long-ass books” (exceeding 500 pages) to try, among them James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential (512 pages), Hideo Yokoyama’s Six Four (576), Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (576), and John le Carré’s The Honourable Schoolboy (606). Let me propose these eight additional candidates:

By Gaslight, by Steven Price (730 pages)
The Death of the Detective, by Mark Smith (608)
Prussian Blue, by Philip Kerr (544)
The Twenty-Year Death, by Ariel S. Winter (700)
The Price of Butcher’s Meat, by Reginald Hill (528)
The Meaning of Night, by Michael Cox (720)
The Company, by Robert Littell (896)
Lamentation, by C.J. Sansom (656)

What about you? Are there excellent extended works of crime and mystery fiction that you think the rest of us should consider tackling as we wait out our mass-seclusion? Feel free to mention them in the Comments section at the end of this post.

Plans to demolish a residence in Beaconsfield, England, once owned by G.K. Chesterton, author of the Father Brown mysteries, have been “thrown out by the local council,” reports the Catholic Herald. “South Bucks District Council dismissed proposals by Octagon Developments to demolish the house, called ‘Overroads,’ … and replace it with a block of nine apartments. Planning officers concluded that the size and the scale of the proposed flats would make them ‘intrusive’ and incompatible with the character of the area. Further, they would ‘adversely impact’ upon Top Meadow, the Grade II-listed home that also once belonged to Chesterton, which directly faces Overroads.” This may not ensure the home’s survival, however. As the Herald says: “Given that Overroads is not listed [as a historical site], or otherwise protected, there is nothing to prevent Octagon from appealing against the decision or from other developers submitting alternative applications in the future.” (Hat tip to The Bunburyist.)

• To read about one couple’s pilgrimage to Overroads and other UK spots that were once significant to Chesterton, click here.

• It seems that some incorrect information about this year’s Whodunit Mystery Writing Contest, sponsored by Mystery Fest Key West, has been making the rounds. So let’s take it from the top: Even though this year’s Mystery Fest has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, its annual writing competition will go on. All interested participants are instructed to “submit the first three pages (no more than 750 words) of a finished, unpublished manuscript” to by Wednesday, April 15 (not by the 31st, as previously reported). “Attach your manuscript submission as a Word document and include the title, author name, and e-mail address in the header. Judging will be ‘blind.’ Finalists will be notified by May 1 and have until May 10 to submit full, never-before-published manuscripts.” Among the rewards awaiting the author of the victorious entry are publication of his or her work by Absolutely Amazing eBooks and free registration for the next Mystery Fest Key West. Any questions should be addressed to

• Mystery Fanfare brings the sorrowful news that Kate Mattes, who once owned Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts (it was closed in 2009), passed away on Wednesday at her home in Vermont. “It was a sudden cardiac event,” says her sister Emily McAdoo, “and she had been in poor health and getting weaker all along.” The Gumshoe Site says Mattes was 73 years old. A “memorial/reflection” for Mattes is said to be in the planning stages.

R.I.P., Mark Halegua, a noted pulp-fiction collector and frequent attendee of pulp conventions. A Queens borough resident of New York City, Halegua died on March 18, at 66 years of age.

• I first visited The Mysterious Bookshop in the early 1980s, during my brief inaugural visit to New York City, and now make a point of shopping there whenever I am in Manhattan (which is never often enough). It’s a wonderful place, a palace of riches for crime-fiction lovers. I have always assumed it would be around forever, but this note from owner Otto Penzler, sent out on Monday, has me concerned:
If you don’t live in the New York area, you may not know that the governor has ordered the shutdown of all non-essential businesses. Although I regard bookstores as essential, we nonetheless closed our doors on Friday. Many of our customers showed tremendous loyalty and support in that week, for which I cannot thank you adequately. People in the city have been told to stay home, so we cannot be of service to you at this time.

Without any income, the store faces a serious existential crisis. If you have not been crushed by being laid off and are in a position to help, your continued support would be mightily welcome. Check our website and find some books that you’d like to have and order them online; it’s easy. We cannot send them until we’re allowed back in the store, but finding a big backlog of orders when we return would breathe life into the operation.

If you don’t want to choose a book right now, you can purchase a gift card, good for a future purchase.

Anything you are able to do would mean a lot to all of us. The rent here is brutal, as are such other expenses as insurance, utilities, taxes, and others too plentiful and boring to mention. They don’t stop just because we’re closed. Staff salaries—my greatest concern—will be covered, it seems, with several plans from the federal and state governments.

I admit to being a little uncomfortable asking for your help but, with the unavoidable prospect of seeing the store close forever, I am shamelessly looking to you to give us hope.
With the number of U.S. crime-fiction stores on the wane, we simply can’t afford to let a gem like The Mysterious Bookshop go out of business. So forget about Amazon; it’s already taken enough of your money. Go here, instead, to find your next memorable read.

• In a brief but heartwarming essay for Literary Hub, writer Bill Hayes remembers a rewarding walk he took last week amid the mostly shuttered retailers of Lower Manhattan, in quest of a new book.

• Do you really want to help a bookstore? Buy a gift card.

• Will virtual book events lead to virtual sales?

• I was not aware there were any crime novels set in the surprisingly-less-dangerous-than-it-used-to-be Colombian capital of Bogotá, much less excellent ones. But CrimeReads’ Paul French this week posted a survey of Bogotá-based yarns in English translation, ranging from Laura Restrepo’s Delirium (2008) and Ingrid Rojas Contreras’ Fruit of the Drunken Tree (2018) to Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s The Shape of the Ruins (2015). Is it possible our current quarantine will last long enough that I can try one or more of these?

• Another recent CrimeReads piece I enjoyed: Alix Lambert’s feature about Arnold Mesches, who served as courtroom sketch artist during some of the highest-profile trials of the last century.

• Are you missing the 1970s (presuming that you even lived through them)? Then revisit that era via these 16 notable works of crime fiction, set mostly in the Nixon, Reagan, and Bush I years.

Foreword Reviews has announced the finalists for its 2019 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year awards. The two categories likely to be of greatest interest to Rap Sheet readers are these:

Best Mystery:
Gumshoe Rock, by Rob Leininger (Oceanview)
Moonscape, by Julie Weston (Five Star)
The Suicide Sonata, by B.V. Lawson (Crimetime Press)
A Plain Vanilla Murder, by Susan Wittig Albert (Persevero Press)
Below the Fold, by R.G. Belsky (Oceanview)
Boxing the Octopus, by Tim Maleeny (Poisoned Pen Press)
In the Clutches of the Wicked, by David Carlson (Coffeetown Press)
Survival Can Be Deadly, by Charlotte Stuart (Amphorae)
This Will Destroy You, by Pedram Navab (Spuyten Duyvil)
Treacherous Strand, by Andrea Carter (Oceanview)

Best Thriller/Suspense:
Green Valley, by Louis Greenberg (Titan)
Looking for Garbo, by Jon James Miller (Blank Slate Press)
A Cross to Kill, by Andrew Huff (Kregel)
Angel in the Fog, by T.J. Turner (Oceanview)
High Stakes, by John F Dobbyn (Oceanview)
Passport to Death, by Yigal Zur (Oceanview)
Rag and Bone, by Joe Clifford (Oceanview)
The Guilt We Carry, by Samuel W. Gailey (Oceanview)
The Nine, by Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg (She Writes Press)
The Unrepentant, by E.A. Aymar (Down & Out)

Per the Foreword Reviews Web site: “Winners in each genre—along with Editor’s Choice Prize winners and Foreword’s Independent Publisher of the Year—will be announced June 17, 2020.” (Hat tip to In Reference to Murder.)

• This is too bad. From the NW Book Lovers blog: “Out of an abundance of caution and concern for everyone, this year’s Seattle Independent Bookstore Day, originally scheduled for April 25, has been postponed. August 29, 2020, a Saturday, is the tentative new date.” I first took part in this joyous race on behalf of reading back in 2016 (the event’s sophomore year), and have continued to participate ever since. Although delaying IBD because of the novel coronavirus scare is regrettable, the fact is that August usually brings better weather to Seattle than April does. So maybe this is good news?

• Happy 15th birthday to the UK site Crimesquad!

• In my last “Bullet Points” wrap-up, I mentioned that the 1978 TV film No Prince for My Cinderella, starring former Brady Bunch paterfamilias Robert Reed as a psychologist-cum-detective “who specializes in finding teen runaways,” can now be purchased in DVD format from Modcinema. What I didn’t know then, but that author Lee Goldberg has since informed me, is that No Prince for My Cinderella served as the pilot for Operation: Runaway, a Quinn Martin series that debuted in April 1978. Reed evidently starred in the initial three episodes. But, says Goldberg, he “was so difficult to work with that he was fired after the first season and replaced by Alan Feinstein,” who played Steve Arizzio, “former juvenile officer, now a clinical psychologist.” With Feinstein’s entry, the show became The Runaways, and lasted 13 more episodes, ending in September 1979. For the time being, at least, you can watch No Prince for My Cinderella on YouTube. The second series main title sequence is embedded below.

• As Wikipedia explains, in 1959 Vienna-born actor Kurt Kasznar and Quebec-born performer William Shatner (the latter then 28 years old, not yet famous for his role in Star Trek) were cast as Rex Stout characters Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin in the pilot for a prospective weekly series on CBS-TV, titled simply Nero Wolfe. “The pilot episode, ‘Count the Man Down,’ … was filmed in Manhattan in March 1959,” Wikipedia says. “The half-hour program concerned the mysterious death of a scientist during a guided missile launch at Cape Canaveral.” Plans were to slot Nero Wolfe into the CBS schedule at 10 p.m. on Mondays, beginning in September 1959. That didn’t happen. Why? The show “was considered too good to be confined to half an hour,” according to one critic. So it was scrapped. Only recently did that unsold pilot appear on YouTube. It’s quite fun, and it is impossible not to wonder, while viewing it, how different Shatner’s career might’ve been, had this Nero Wolfe been a success.

Wired, a three-part British TV drama, passed me by when it was originally broadcast in 2008. However, this write-up in Mystery*File has me wanting to watch it while I’m cooped up inside. And I notice all three episodes are available on YouTube. See it while you can!

• I know Carolyn Weston as the author of Poor, Poor Ophelia, a 1972 procedural adapted as the pilot for ABC-TV’s The Streets of San Francisco (1972-1977). I didn’t remember that she, along with Jan Huckins, had also penned Face of My Assassin, a 1959 novel described as being “in the tradition of In the Heat of the Night and To Kill a Mockingbird.” A new paperback edition of their book was released this week by Cutting Edge, together with this plot synopsis:
It’s 1959. Matthew Scott is a widowed, alcoholic reporter from New York who seeks personal and professional redemption when he’s sent to the Deep South to write about a town that is defying a U.S. Supreme Court decision to integrate blacks into schools. His mere presence is a catalyst that ignites long-buried racial, political, religious, and personal conflicts among the residents, both white and black, ripping the town apart. Those tensions violently explode when Scott is falsely arrested by the bigoted, tyrannical sheriff for the rape and murder of an out-spoken black schoolteacher.

This is a stunning, shockingly vivid portrait of a dark time in America’s history, a tale of intolerance, bigotry and hope that's as relevant today as it was sixty years ago.
In addition, Cutting Edge recently re-released (for e-readers) Weston’s debut novel, 1956’s Tormented, ballyhooed as “a searing novel of erotic obsession.” Clearly, my previous conception of Weston’s range as an author was markedly too limited.

In his blog, Max Allan Collins provides some useful background to Masquerade for Murder, the latest Mike Hammer novel he “co-authored” with the late Mickey Spillane.

• I don’t know where he finds the energy, but all this month Spanish blogger José Ignacio Escribano—the brains behind A Crime Is Afoot—has been posting mini-biographies (in English) of classic contributors to mystery fiction. Some of his subjects are still well recognized (Margaret Millar, Erle Stanley Gardner, Dorothy B. Hughes, Ellery Queen), while others are today far less familiar (J. Jefferson Farjeon, Francis Vivian, S.S. Van Dine, J.J. Connington, Dorothy Bowers). If you’d like to expand your knowledge of this field’s history, set aside some time to page through Escribano’s latest posts.

• Speaking of blog series, Paperback Warrior has been busily “unmasking” pseudonymous, obscure, but frequently prolific paperback authors of the 20th century in an irregular succession of posts. We’re talking about people such as “Jack Baynes” (aka Bertram Baynes Fowler), “James Marcott” (Duane Schermerhorn), and “James P. Cody” (Peter Thomas Rohrbach). Although not all of the entries in this series are properly labeled, most can be accessed here.

• Finally, do you, like so many others, have extra time on your hands lately? Why not use it to help librarians and archivists with their “digital detective work”?


Kevin R. Tipple said...

I think the President meant Russian Easter which is April 19th. I am sure that by then, we will wake up one day and it will all be gone as he said more than once a few days ago.

In all seriousness, INTERABANG and LUCKY DOG BOOKS here in the Dallas area are also classified as non essential by some folks who make the rules and are this closed. Both can do stuff by mail and need support to survive this event. Especially INTERABANG which had their previous location and a bunch of neighboring businesses and homes destroyed by the October 2019 tornado which the City of Dallas is still trying to get FEMA assistance for.


MP said...

I'd suggest adding "The First Deadly Sin" by Lawrence Sanders to the list of "long-ass" books. My copy is a Berkley paperback reprint of the 1973 novel that weighs in at 630 pages of fairly small print. This was the first modern serial killer novel I read, and it's a good one.

Mike Doran said...

About that Nero Wolfe TV pilot-that-wasn't-quite:
Every direct quote from Rex Stout that appeared in his lifetime maintained that he disapproved of any attempts to make film or TV adaptations of Nero Wolfe -ever.
In John McAleer's biography, Stout is quoted in re " … a TV Nero Wolfe pilot film … ", which has to be this one: "It was terrible." (Page 487; McAleer follows this with a paragraph-long takedown of TV generally.)

I checked the Wikipedia bit: that "quote" about Stout's "enthusiasm" isn't from Rex himself - it isn't even a quote.
Most likely it's from the Fadiman brothers, entrepeneurs to the end; they'd been trying to sell Wolfe to TV for a decade before that pilot got made.
As to why the pilot got spiked - everything I've ever read says that Rex Stout himself spiked it … and this in its turn is why it went unseen for nearly 60 years.
Mind you, the "better if it was an hour" argument is a valid one; my understanding was that Stout was opposed to TV in toto, so there you are.
If anybody out there has something on paper that says otherwise, I welcome correction.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Thanks for that information, Mike. I have modified the item accordingly.