Friday, November 06, 2020

Bullet Points: Election Anxiety Edition

Like so many other Americans, I have spent the last several days focused on news surrounding the 2020 U.S. presidential race. With any luck, ballot counting will soon near its conclusion, and we’ll have a view toward the final decision—likely in Democrat Joe Biden’s favor—by today. But in the meantime, I am struggling to pull my head out of the political arena and concentrate instead on crime and thriller fiction. Below are developments in that area worth mentioning.

• The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has put both the riches and the shallowness of modern television on vivid display. Over the last eight months, as opportunities for international travel and socializing have tried up, my wife and I have turned to TV series and movies to fill many of our quiet hours. While I’ve appreciated a few new and recent offerings (The Alienist: Angel of Darkness, Vienna Blood, Baptiste, Perry Mason to a lesser extent, and Lily James’ Rebecca remake—critical kvetching aside), I have been more often disappointed. SS-GB, for instance, got off to a rollicking start, only to end inconclusively. Dublin Murders wore poorly on my patience as the abundant troubles besetting its protagonists took center stage; I gave up watching the series halfway through. Rob Lowe’s short-lived British dramedy, Wild Bill, had it charms, but the plots were pretty weak, and potentially interesting secondary characters, such as Anjli Mohindra’s Lydia Price, were never fully fleshed out. Marc Warren’s Van der Valk was character-rich, and I relished its Amsterdam setting, but the episodes weren’t especially memorable. While I enjoyed the Mediterranean island backdrop of The Mallorca Files, that show overplayed its comedy at the expense of original storytelling. And the six-episode Netflix prequel series Young Wallander? Well, it was interesting because it explored hate crimes and racist violence in Sweden, and Ellise Chappell shone brightly as an earnest young immigration advocate; however, star Adam Pålsson was altogether too stiff to lead the cast, and fans of previous Wallander series (such as this one) are unlikely to applaud this modern-day reboot of their favorite Malmö detective inspector. So the following news, from The Killing Times, came as a surprise:
Young Wallander is coming back for a second series.

The Netflix adaptation of Henning Mankell’s celebrated series of novels made its debut on the streaming platform and its expected the second run will debut in 2021. …

It’s expected Adam Pålsson will return as the young detective, but there’s no more word on casting yet.
Evidently, my viewing tastes are not shared by everyone.

• I have higher hopes for a different Netflix crime drama, Lupin, set for release in January 2021. It’s inspired by French author Maurice Leblanc’s many novels and novellas about fictional gentleman-thief and master of disguise Arsène Lupin, who was introduced in Leblanc’s 1907 story collection, Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar. The new TV series stars French actor Omar Sy as polished 21st-century robber Assane Diop, “a man who comes across a mysterious gift—a book about Arsène Lupin, judging by the trailer—that he says grants him wealth and resources, and several lives with which to spend them,” explains Polygon. “That detail, along with a few visual flourishes that suggest a little jumping through time, give the series a supernatural tint (in addition to a slightly meta energy), though we’ll have to wait to see the extent of how strange the series becomes.” Gizmodo adds, “Lupin’s trailer also has a very pronounced James Bond sort of energy to it that promises the series won’t just be a collection of scenes in which Sy tiptoes around museums boosting priceless works of art.”​

• Beyond watching just what’s available on streaming services, I have found entertainment these last several months in a variety of DVD releases. Episodes of Dan August, Longstreet and Peter Gunn have all showed at my house, as have the TV pilot films Mallory: Circumstantial Evidence, a better-than-anticipated Raymond Burr legal drama from 1976; The Judge and Jake Wyler, a 1972 flick starring Bette Davis and Doug McClure, and written by Richard Levinson and William Link; and Jarrett, Glenn Ford’s 1973 audition for a private detective series. I’d long been on the lookout for a copy of that final telepic, since I had vague recollections of enjoying Jarrett when it was originally broadcast. So when I discovered that Web-based video retailer Modcinema had copies for sale, I immediately snapped one up. The story finds Ford playing Sam Jarrett, a boxer-turned-gumshoe in Los Angeles who specializes in cases involving art works of one sort or another. In the pilot, he’s searching for “the Book of Adam and Eve, a Biblical text that predates the Dead Sea Scrolls,” as this review in Mystery*File explains. The concept held promise, and Ford had already demonstrated his ability to lead a small-screen series in the 1971-1972 CBS western-cum-crime drama Cade’s County. The casting looked favorable as well, with Anthony Quayle, Forrest Tucker, Laraine Stephens, and Yvonne Craig all signed on to the project. Furthermore, the script for Jarrett came from Richard Maibaum, who had written the earliest James Bond motion picture, Dr. No, and gone on to contribute to other Bond films. Sadly, the finished product proved far less appealing than I’d recalled. As Mystery*File puts it,
Ford is miscast, Tucker overacts terribly and has some lame line readings, Stephens seems to think she is in a real movie, it all borders on the worst kind of camp …

And it is for all that, fun in a stupid way, because Ford, Quayle, and Craig all seem to recognize how silly the whole thing is and settle in to have fun. They are relaxed, playful, aware there is nothing they can do to save this, but determined to make it as much fun as they can.
I’d call that assessment far too generous. Despite my warm remembrance of Jarrett, watching it again all these years later amounted to a waste of 74 minutes. Much of its plot makes no sense, and other elements are simply ridiculous. It’s no surprise CBS didn’t add Jarrett to its fall 1973 prime-time schedule.

• With the Hawaii Five-0 reboot having finally ended its decade-long run this last April, 40 years after Jack Lord’s original Hawaii Five-O left the airwaves, Bill Koening of The Spy Command chose this moment to revisit—in some detail—Stephen J. Cannell’s unsuccessful 1997 pilot for a Five-O revitalization, starring Gary Busey. His post features a five-minute clip from that movie’s opening.

• The Goodreads Choice Awards are now open for public voting. There are 15 nominees in the Best Mystery & Thriller category, including Rachel Howzell Hall’s And Now She’s Gone, S.A. Crosby’s Blacktop Wasteland, Tana French’s The Searcher, and Stuart Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water. The first round of balloting will continue through this coming Sunday, November 8. Click here to make your opinions known. Two more rounds of voting will follow this one, with the winners in all categories to be announced on December 8.

In a piece for CrimeReads, H.B. Lyle profiles Riddle of the Sands writer Erskine Childers, asking, “How did the aristocratic author of English’s first great spy novel end up dead in the Irish Civil War?

• I hate announcing the deaths of people who have influenced the crime- and thriller-fiction fields. Yet each such individual deserves recognition for their efforts. So let’s begin with two recent passings mentioned in The Gumshoe Site. As Jiro Kimura notes, Richard A. Lupoff died on October 22 in Berkeley, California, at the tender age of 85. “The former technical writer was probably more famous as an American science-fiction writer than as a mystery writer …,” he observes, but “in the 1980s, Lupoff started writing mystery series featuring Hobart Lindsey (an insurance claims adjuster) and Mavia Plum (a black homicide detective in Berkeley), starting with The Comic Book Killer (Offspring Press, 1988), and ending with The Emerald Cat Killer (St. Martin’s, 2010). He also created a short story series, featuring millionaire autodidact polymath Akhenaton Beelzebub Chase and his lissome associate, Claire Delacrois, who live [in] Berkeley in the 1930s, and the six cases of Chase and Delacroix were collected in Quintet (Crippen & Landru, 2008).” The science-fiction Web site Locus offers a more detailed account of Lupoff’s publishing career.

• The Gumshoe Site also reports the demise of musician-turned-writer Roxanne Longstreet Conrad, who—under the pseudonym Rachel Caine—penned “Stillhouse Lake (Thomas & Mercer, 2017), the first in the Stillhouse Lake thriller series …, featuring Gwen Proctor, the ex-wife of an infamous serial killer, followed by four more novels ending with Heartbreak Bay (to be published in 2021).” Atop here crime-fiction endeavors, she produced dozens of novels and short stories in the fantasy field, including the Morganville Vampires series and the Weather Warden universe. Conrad/Caine 58 years old when she perished from cancer on November 1.

• Finally, Mike Ripley offers this delightful, if belated, obituary of Alan Williams, who apparently succumbed to COVID-19 on April 21 of this year. “He was called ‘the master of adult excitement,’” Ripley writes in Shots, “‘the first real challenger to Ian Fleming’ and ‘a ruthless, compulsive storyteller,’ though in another era, his famous godfather Noël Coward might have added ‘and he’s a very naughty boy.’” An initial career in journalism, coupled with “an eye for dangerous situations,” led Williams to begin concocting thrillers, his first such novel, Long Run South, reaching print in 1962. “Williams was 27 and seemed set for a long career in thriller fiction,” Ripley continues, “his trademark take on the genre being the ‘Englishman abroad,’ usually young, often a journalist, often randy and usually out-of-his-depth, entangled with villains and spies far more ruthless and violent than the hero, always in exotic locations ranging from North Africa to Iceland, South America to Cambodia. … By the 1970s, a new Alan Williams thriller was a major publishing event …” Nonetheless, the author stopped producing fresh fiction at age 46. He was 84 years old at the time of his demise.

• Back in August, I asked on this page, “So what’s happened to Reviewing the Evidence?” At that time, the 19-year-old Web site had already lain dormant for seven straight months, with no news circulating about its future. And an e-mail inquiry I sent to editor Yvonne Klein had gone unanswered. I feared the worst. Therefore, I was more than a bit surprised, on October 10, to suddenly find a new message on the site from Klein. It begins,
First, my apologies. This is the issue of RTE I had ready to go on the last day of February this year. I didn’t get to upload it as on that very day I found myself in the hospital, from which I did not emerge for some considerable time. When I thought about what to do with it, I felt that it would be a pity to waste all the hard work the reviewers had gone to, despite the months-long delay. The original date was special in a way—it was due to come out on Leap Day, February 29, I think for the first time in our history.
Klein goes on to write: “One more bit of news. After twelve years (or so) of editing RTE, I am stepping back, though not wholly departing. Happily, Rebecca Nesvet, who has long been associated with the site and whose reviews I am sure you have read and enjoyed over the years, has agreed to assume the editorship and will be gradually taking over the responsibilities in the next few months.” She went on to promise that a new issue of RTE would be posted “sometime” in November. Let’s hold her to that.

• Production of The Rap Sheet’s 2020 “favorite crime fiction of the year” feature package is well underway, and I’m looking ahead to a change in my reading habits. As I usually do at year’s end, I start turning to older books and works outside the mystery-fiction field, and digging primarily into those for the next three or four months. My preliminary choices this time range from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth to David W. Blight’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Frederick Douglass biography and Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (a 1722 release that I purchased early in this year’s pandemic, but still haven’t tackled). During said interregnum, I shall be poring, too, through Craig Sisterson’s Southern Cross Crime: The Pocket Essential Guide to the Crime Fiction, Film & TV of Australia and New Zealand (Oldcastle). It’s part of a series of fiction guides that has already brought us Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide, Historical Noir, and American Noir, all by Barry Forshaw. Sisterson, with whom I worked for several years while helping to judge New Zealand’s Ngaio Marsh Awards, is an enthusiastic genre reader and a spirited writer, which should make Southern Cross Crime a joy to peruse. Although I’ve sampled the output of Liam McIlvanney, Peter Corris, Eleanor Catton (The Luminaries), and Paul Thomas, and have read from the oeuvre of Arthur W. Upfield (the creator of Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte of the Queensland Police Force), my knowledge of Kiwi and Australian crime fiction remains fairly limited. Just leafing through this new book brings up myriad fictionists with whom I would like one day to be better acquainted—Marele Day, Alix Bosco, Emma Viskic, and Garry Disher among them. The only problem might be acquiring copies of their books; U.S. publishers aren’t in the habit yet of re-publishing Antipodean crime writing as frequently as they do UK titles.

• In January Magazine, Ali Karim has posted an interview between Heather Martin, author of The Reacher Guy: The Authorised Biography of Lee Child (Constable), and the Reacher Guy himself, best-selling author Child. “Their chat,” writes Karim, “gives us a taste for what both have in store for fans of the creator of Jack Reacher, one of most beloved characters of contemporary crime fiction.”

What a terrific book title for this genre!

• While we must now wait until April 2021 to see Daniel Craig’s final James Bond film, No Time to Die, my recent wrap-up of crime, mystery, and thriller releases includes an assortment of reading choices to keep spy-fiction enthusiasts happy in the interim. One I only just added there is Come Spy With Me, the initial installment in a series created by Max Allan Collins and Matthew V. Clemens, and due out in mid-November from Wolfpack. Collins explains in his blog that this “homage to James Bond and Ian Fleming” had its roots in a different publisher’s rather peculiar proposal to create “erotic novels in which all of the sex was between married people. Married to each other. At the time,” Collins recalls, “I pointed out to them that few married people, particularly if they’d been married a while, did their fantasizing about their mates. But this, the publisher insisted, was a time that had come.” Although that themed project ultimately went nowhere, Collins and Clemens reworked their yarn into Come Spy With Me, a 1960s-set novel starring John Sand, a recently retired British secret agent on whom Fleming supposedly based his man Bond.

• And who says there are no such things as coincidences? On the very same day that Paperback Warrior reviewed Bourbon Street, which it dubbed a “pretty sub-standard” 1953 novel, set in New Orleans and written by G.H. Otis (aka Otis Hemmingway Gaylord Jr.), Mystery*File editor Steve Lewis critiqued a 1954 episode of CBS-TV’s Four Star Playhouse, also titled “Bourbon Street” and also with its action taking place in Louisiana. Lewis says the 25-minute drama, starring Dick Powell and Beverly Garland, “has more going for it than many a shoot ’em up, ultra-violent neo-noir two-hour extravaganza in full color does today. Dick Powell is in full hard-boiled tough-guy mode in this one, as a piano player who has managed to make his way out of the quicksand life of New Orleans, only to return when he learns that the girl he loved has committed suicide.” Click here to watch that whole episode, scripted by Dick Carr (1929-1988), who would go on to write for Richard Diamond, Private Detective, Johnny Staccato, Dan August, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Charlie’s Angels.

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