Saturday, June 20, 2020

Bullet Points: Pre-Father’s Day Edition

• If you’re not sufficiently aware of this already, tomorrow night will bring the debut of HBO-TV’s eight-part Perry Mason mini-series starring Matthew Rhys (The Americans). It’s conceived as a prequel to the classic 1957-1966 CBS series of that same name, which cast Raymond Burr as the almost unbeatable Los Angeles criminal defense attorney introduced by Erle Stanley Gardner in 1933’s The Case of the Velvet Claws. HBO’s version, set just one year before that—in 1932—imagines Mason as a down-and-out, heavy-drinking private eye “retained for a sensational child kidnapping trial, and his investigation portends major consequences for Mason, his client, and the city itself.” The character Rhys plays here is actually closer than Burr’s portrayal was to Gardner’s original conception of Mason as (to quote from Otto Penzler’s The Private Lives of Private Eyes, Spies, Crime Fighters and Other Good Guys) a “hard-boiled, two-fisted and noncerebral” advocate for justice. But writers/showrunners Ron Fitzgerald and Rolin Jones have sought to flesh out their protagonist’s back story, as well. The Killing Times explains: “Mason is haunted by his wartime experiences in France and suffering the effects of a broken marriage.” An extended, noir-accented trailer (found here) nicely captures Depression-era L.A., with its recent Olympic Games, its unlikely “evangelical fervor,” the rise of the oil industry, and of course its Hollywood glamour. Vulture calls this new Perry Mason “a simultaneously gorgeous, gritty, and sometimes downright gory period piece filled with fine performances.” John Lithgow, Tatiana Maslany, Shea Whigham, Stephen Root, and Robert Patrick join Rhys in the cast. After disappointing previous attempts to revive Perry Mason (remember Monte Markham’s The New Perry Mason of 1973-1974?), it will be nice if HBO can draw upon what fans like about Gardner’s protagonist, while imbuing his story with greater emotional depth and substance. I’ll be watching with my fingers crossed.

• Scottish writer Lee Randall contributes a useful backgrounder about Gardner to CrimeReads, in which she recalls the lawyer-turned-author’s original intent with Mason: “I want to make my hero a fighter, not by having him be ruthless with women and underlings, but by having him wade into the opposition and battle his way through to victory. … [T]he character I am trying to create for him is that of a fighter who is possessed of infinite patience. He tries to jockey his enemies into a position where he can deliver one good knockout punch.” Yep, that nicely sums up the typical Mason yarn.

• Florida journalist Craig Pittman provides something of a public-service piece to aspiring legal-thriller writers, consulting various attorneys who have become novelists on how one might best compose realistic courtroom dramas. “I would suggest that authors treat courtroom scenes much like any other and not let the legal and technical details override the narrative,” says Alafair Burke, once a prosecutor in Oregon and now a professor at New York’s Hofstra University School of Law. “Too many courtroom scenes read like an intentional display of the research the author conducted to prepare for the scene. Instead, focus on character, setting, plot, dialogue—all the things that drive a good book. If the legal details don’t further a critical aspect of the narrative, skip them.”

Crimespree Magazine brings word that writer Val McDermid “has unveiled the hotly tipped ‘New Blood’ authors for 2020, showcasing the year’s best breakout crime-writing talent.” Her choices:

— Deepa Anappara, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line (Chatto & Windus)
— Elizabeth Kay, Seven Lies (Sphere)
— Jessica Moor, Keeper (Penguin)
— Trevor Wood, The Man on the Street (Quercus)

“Since 2004,” explains Crimespree’s Erin Mitchell, “the best-selling Scottish author of the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series has curated an annual celebration of the most formidable debuts taking the crime and thriller genre by storm, with an invitation to join the line-up of the world’s largest and most prestigious crime-fiction festival: Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival.” Although this year’s festival was cancelled due to the pandemic, Mitchell says McDermid’s 2020 “New Blood” showcase “will be streamed on the festival’s HIF Player on what would have been the legendary weekender on Saturday 25 July 2020.” You should be able to access the audio here at that time.

• I know, I know, it’s the frickin’ middle of June already, but only now am I finally getting around to remarking upon Mike Ripley’s latest edition of his “Getting Away with Murder” column for Shots. Featured among his plentiful subjects this time are: older books he’s taken up reading during the COVID-19 lockdown; forgotten writers Douglas Sanderson (Blondes Are My Trouble) and Peter Leslie (Bootleg Angel); fresh crime fiction by Sharon Bolton, Douglas Lindsay, Barbara Nadel, and Martin Walker; and the end of the line for the Top Notch Thrillers and Ostara Crime imprints, for which Ripley served as editor.

• In Reference to Murder features this tidbit:
Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards announced this year's winners, including in the Mystery Category. The Gold winner was Below the Fold by R.G. Belsky; Silver winner was A Plain Vanilla Murder by Susan Wittig Albert; and Bronze winner was Moonscape by Julie Weston. In the Thriller Category, the Gold winner was The Nine by Jeanne Blasberg; the Silver winner was The Unrepentant by E.A. Aymar; and the Bronze winner was Green Valley by Louis Greenberg. The Guilt We Carry by Samuel W. Gailey was also a Thriller Honorable Mention.
• Congratulations to Joe Kenney for 10 years at the helm of Glorious Trash, one of the best blogs about forgotten (and sometimes best-forgotten) works of paperback fiction.

What a beautiful selection of vintage B-movie posters, all painted by Albert Kallis. I’m particularly fond of his placards for The Brain Eaters and The Astounding She-Monster, two science-fiction productions released in 1958.

• Like so many other writers, San Francisco-area author Mark Coggins has decided to launch a podcast during the COVID-19 lockdown. It’s called Riordan’s Desk, after his series private eye, August Riordan, and he’s currently reading chapters from his latest Riordan novel, The Dead Beat Scroll (2019). Chapter 15 just went up a few days ago. To listen, look for Riordan's Desk on iTunes or any of the popular podcast directories. Or, to listen from the Web, click here.

• Seeing as we’re now just a little over a month away from the TNT-TV premiere of The Alienist: Angel of Darkness, the eight-episode mini-series sequel to last year’s acclaimed Victorian-era thriller, The Alienist, don’t you think it’s time to watch a trailer for that new production? You’ll find a good one embedded above. Both shows are adapted from crime novels published in the 1990s by Caleb Carr. The Killing Times offers this synopsis of the coming sequel:
In The Alienist: Angel of Darkness, Sara [Howard] has opened her own private detective agency and is leading the charge on a brand-new case. She reunites with Dr. [Laszlo] Kreizler and John Moore, now a New York Times reporter, to find Ana Linares, the kidnapped infant daughter of the Spanish Consular. Their investigation leads them down a sinister path of murder and deceit, heading towards a dangerous and elusive killer.

The promo blurb says that series two will “shine a light on the provocative issues of the era—the corruption of institutions, income inequality, yellow press sensationalism, and the role of women in society—themes that still resonate today.”
This new mini-series is set to drop on Sunday, July 26.

• In other small-screen news, Variety reports that “Amazon is developing a series centered on Lisbeth Salander, the character created by Stieg Larsson for the so-called Millenium books. The project, which is currently titled The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, will not be a sequel or continuation of the story from the books or the films into which they were adapted. It will instead take Salander and place her in today’s world with a wholly new setting, new characters, and a new story. No writer or lead actress is currently attached to the series.”

• And January Magazine recommends that Harlan Coben followers tune in to “a six-part Netflix mini-series based on The Woods, Coben’s 2007 novel,” it’s action transferred from New Jersey to Poland. “The switch creates some real magic: Coben’s terrific storytelling reimagined here with a gritty European sensibility,” January enthuses. Netflix debuted this six-part mini-series on June 12.

• For some reason, Janet Rudolph posted her list of Father’s Day mysteries last month. But tomorrow is actually Father’s Day here in the States, so let’s revisit that collection of titles now.

• As a veteran newspaper guy, I was interested to read this excerpt of a story from The Wall Street Journal about how some struggling local papers “are shutting down their [printing] presses and, to save money for distant corporate owners, printing their daily editions at other newspaper headquarters hours away. The papers still bear the names of the cities where they’re read, but they roll off presses elsewhere, sometimes in different states.” Included with that excerpt is a fabulous scene from the 1952 picture Deadline—U.S.A., in which “crusading managing editor” Humphrey Bogart instructs his press room foreman to start running the giant presses, churning out copies of the broadsheet containing an exposé of a mobster’s misdeeds. “That’s the press, baby. The press,” he tells the doomed hood over the phone. “And there’s nothing you can do about it. Nothing.”

• November 1 is the deadline for essay proposals on the theme of “Historical Crime Fiction,” the focus of a future edition of Clues: A Journal of Detection. The mag’s managing editor, Elizabeth Foxwell, explains that Rosemary Erickson Johnsen (Contemporary Feminist Historical Crime Fiction) will act guest-edit that issue.

• I’m very sorry to learn that Spanish novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafón, best known worldwide for penning 2001’s The Shadow of the Wind, died Friday from colorectal cancer. He was only 55 years old. An obituary in The Guardian notes that this Barcelona-born fictionist “was frequently described as the most-read Spanish author since Cervantes,” and it quotes Zafón as saying “he felt he had ‘no other choice’ but to be a writer: ‘Sometimes people ask me what piece of advice I would give to an aspiring author. I’d tell them that you should only become a writer if the possibility of not becoming one would kill you. Otherwise, you’d be better off doing something else. I became a writer, a teller of tales, because otherwise I would have died, or worse.’”

• Also announced was the demise of Grace F. Edwards, a Harlem mystery writer and former executive director of the Harlem Writers Guild, who passed away on February 25 of this year, at age 87. “Though she began writing at age 7,” recalls The New York Times, “Grace F. Edwards waited until she was 55 to publish her first novel. That book, In the Shadow of the Peacock, was a lush portrayal of Harlem during World War II, a girl’s coming-of-age story set against the race riots of the time. It was a placeholder for the six detective stories she would later write, mysteries set in Harlem starring a female cop turned sociologist and accidental sleuth named Mali Anderson, always with a backbeat of jazz. The first of these, If I Should Die, was published in 1997, when Ms. Edwards was 64.”

• Finally, I offer a sad good-bye to Dennis “Denny” O’Neil. The Spy Command explains that O’Neil was “a comic book writer and editor who [in the 1970s] returned Batman to his dark origins,” following a very lighthearted period “during the run of the 1966-68 television series starring Adam West.” In an obituary of his own, author Scott D. Parker describes O’Neil as “easily one of the people you’d put on the Mt. Rushmore of Batman creators.” Meanwhile, Terence Towles Canote writes that “In addition to his work in comic books, Dennis O’Neil also wrote several novels, including The Bite of Monsters (1971) and Dragon’s Fists – Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Master (with Jim Berry, 1974), as well as novels ... featuring Batman and Green Lantern. Over the years he also wrote several stories and novellas published in such magazines as Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Fantastic Stories, and Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction.” O’Neil died on June 11 at age 81.

• A few author interviews worth your attention: For her excellent Speaking of Mysteries podcast, Nancie Clare talks with both Craig Robertson (Watch Him Die) and Paul D. Marks (The Blues Don’t Care); Steve Powell goes one-on-one with Shelley Blanton Stroud (Copy Boy); Rich Ehisen quizzes Timothy Jay Smith (A Fire on the Island); and MysteryPeople’s Scott Montgomery chats with James Wade about the latter’s new novel, All Things Left Wild.

• Len Deighton enthusiast Rob Mallows relates the tale of his longtime search for “a simple postcard, part of the marketing materials for the first UK edition of SS-GB.”

• My late father and I generally had quite different TV-watching tastes. He was partial to fare such as Hee Haw, The Benny Hill Show, Hunter, The A-Team, and Walker, Texas Ranger, none of which I fancied. However, we did watch The Rockford Files together. In fact, I think I may have introduced him to that 1974-1980 NBC detective series, after enjoying its pilot film. Only later did I learn that my father had been a fan of actor James Garner ever since the late 1950s, when he starred in Maverick. But my point here is that I enjoyed Rockford when it was originally broadcast, and I take just as much pleasure in watching episodes occasionally more than four decades later. So I was a prime candidate to appreciate Nathan Ward’s recent tribute to the show, in CrimeReads. It contains numerous smile-inducing reminders of what the series offered, the first of those being Ward’s fond memory of the 1974 pilot:
The first show did not reek of tough-guy promise. First of all, [Rockford] turned down the job he was hired for not once but twice, and except for his California P.I. license he seemed like just another big affable guy with ordinary problems: an understocked fridge, people hectoring him through his answering machine. His concerns seemed unheroic and, perhaps worst of all, he did not even carry a gun, keeping one only for emergencies in a cookie jar in the kitchen of his house trailer. And when at one point his client asked, a little concerned, “You’re not afraid of him, are you?” he told her the truth, “You’re damn right I am.”

But what grabbed me from the first episode was one hilarious scene: Jim Rockford, tired of being trailed by … [a] muscular killer (William Smith) in a long red convertible, pulls into the Mayfair Music Hall, a Santa Monica venue of vaudeville-era entertainments. The bow-tied bartender greets Rockford and asks “The usual?” as a young woman performs a slow split atop a wire, meaning Jim either comes here often to lose a tail or he likes novelty acts. After his brawny pursuer enters the bar and growls his drink order, Jim heads to the men’s room to prepare his trap. The Mayfair switches to a troupe of dancing poodles as Rockford’s man stalks to the bathroom, where Jim has drizzled hand soap across the floor and retrieved a roll of nickels from his coat pocket, taunting, “You musclebound guys are always overcompensating.” The charge of latency draws a macho scream and a high kick that slides him back onto the soapy tile, where Jim lands a cheap insurance shot. According to Ed Robertson’s history of
The Rockford Files, this scene nearly broke the ASI meter when the pilot was tested, and may have made the show. It did for me. By cheating a little, it seemed a clever man could take down a bully. I was hooked.
Ward has much more to say about The Rockford Files here.

• Not to go overboard in promoting recent CrimeReads articles, but here are a few more I have enjoyed: Olivia Rutigliano’s excellent analysis of Inspector Bucket, Charles Dickens’ “devious, hypocritical ‘nice guy’ cop” in Bleak House (1853); Shane Mawe’s profile of Freeman Wills Crofts, once a prolific Irish mystery novelist (The Cask, The 12:30 from Croydon, etc.) and “a contemporary of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, … [whose] reputation has failed to match that of these luminaries”; Chris McGinley’s profile of Virginia Kellogg, who “wrote some of the greatest crime movies in Hollywood's Golden Age,” but is today pretty much forgotten; and Paul French’s exploration of the various books and authors that have helped make Sydney “Australia’s undisputed capital of Noir.”

• Are you a big Ian Rankin admirer? If you, you might be interested to know that the Scottish creator of Inspector John Rebus is the subject of the latest entry in the McFarland Companions to Mystery Fiction series. At more than 400 pages long, Ian Rankin: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction is said to include “alphabetized entries on Rankin’s works, characters, and themes; a biography; a chronology; maps of Rebus’ Edinburgh; and an annotated bibliography.”

• Martin Edwards also recommends H.R.F. Keating: A Life of Crime, by Sheila Mitchell (Level Best). He describes this study of the British author behind Indian policeman Inspector Ganesh Ghote as “affectionate and entertaining” and says it “gives wonderful insights into the ups and downs of the crime writing life,” as well as a few curious bits of triva. “For instance,” remarks Edwards, “one thing I didn’t know was that Harry wrote the novelisation of Neil Simon’s Murder by Death.” The prolific Keating passed away in 2011.

• Thirteen years after The Sopranos ended its six-season run on HBO, creator/writer David Chase has finally revealed the meaning of its last episode’s ambiguous ending.

• And the next time you need a musical pick-me-up, try this.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

Thanks for the mentions of the Rankin companion and the Clues CFP on Historical Crime Fiction!