Friday, December 11, 2020

Bullet Points: Totally Jam-Packed Edition

• Coming off his recent success with the Netflix mini-series The Queen’s Gambit, filmmaker Scott Frank is said to now be “working on the development of a Sam Spade TV series that he is hoping [English actor] Clive Owen will star in. And his pitch for the series, which follows the adventures of the protagonist from The Maltese Falcon, sounds like it could be pretty incredible,” remarks The Playlist. “‘What if you do Sam Spade later in life, when he’s 60 years old?’ explained Frank. ‘He’s now an ex-pat living in the South of France … And his past finds him in this small town. We’re doing six episodes. Clive Owen is going to play Sam Spade.’” The idea reminds me of the concept behind Lawrence Osborne’s Only to Sleep, a remarkably satisfying 2018 Philip Marlowe novel that imagined Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles private eye as a 72-year-old man, living in retirement in Baja California and being hired to investigate the suspicious swimming death of a debt-ridden con man/developer. Owen, as you might recall, was talked of years ago as the perfect person to play Marlowe in a feature-length film based on one of Chandler’s famous yarns. Are we any more likely to see him star in a Sam Spade TV drama than we were to witness his performance in a Marlowe flick? Time will tell. (Hat tip to Frederick Zackel.)

The Gumshoe Site brings this exciting news: “Canogate Books asked [Scottish author] Ian Rankin to complete William McIlvanney’s handwritten manuscript of [a] final Inspector Jack Laidlaw novel. McIlvanney, often called ‘The Godfather of Tartan Noir,’ was the author of three novels featuring Inspector Jack Laidlaw of Glasgow CID, and died in December 2015 at the age of 79. His living partner, Siobhan Lynch, found an unfinished novel, The Dark Remains, the story of Laidlaw’s first case, and took the manuscript to Canongate Books, which had republished McIlvanney’s books in 2013. As McIlvanney was a literary hero of Rankin, Rankin … accepted the offer [to complete that novel]. The Dark Remains will be published by Canongate in September 2021.” In its own report on this posthumous literary partnership, The Guardian quotes Rankin as saying that McIlvanney left behind only “notes towards a book, a few scenes, some central characters, a sense of what the story might actually be about, but fairly incomplete. … Willie doesn’t quite lay out who the killer is, so I had to get inside his head to see what he was actually saying,’ he said. ‘It seemed like he had two or three stories that he was juggling … It was an act of archaeology, and an act of detection.’” Regardless, you can count on me to purchase a copy of the finished product!

• This item comes from In Reference to Murder:
Sisters in Crime announced the creation of the new SinC Pride Award for Emerging LGBTQIA+ Crime Writers. The SinC Pride Award will be a $2,000 annual award to support an emerging writer of the LGBTQIA+ crime-fiction writing community with both financial and practical career guidance and support. Similar to the Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award, the recipient of the SinC Pride Award may use funds for activities including workshops, seminars, conferences, retreats, online courses, and research activities required for completion of the work. An unpublished writer is preferred, however, publication of not more than 10 pieces of short fiction and/or up to two self-published or traditionally published books will not disqualify an applicant. John Copenhaver, Cheryl Head, and Kristen Lepionka will serve as judges for the inaugural award. Applications will open on January 15 and run through March 15, with the winner announced in early April. For more information, contact
• I never knew that H.G. Wells wrote a mermaid novel.

• CrimeReads is out with its “choices for 2020’s best crime novels, mysteries, and thrillers.” Several of its 10 top titles were predictable, but there are a few surprises. Liz Nugent’s Little Cruelties (Scout), for one. Elizabeth Hand’s The Book of Lamps and Banners (Mulholland), for another. And Alexandra Burt’s Shadow Garden (Berkley).

Tom Nolan’s 10-best list for The Wall Street Journal contains another handful of eye-openers. He turns thumbs-up on not only Cara Black’s Three Hours in Paris (Soho Crime) and Tom Bouman’s The Bramble and the Rose (Norton), but also Anne Perry’s One Fatal Flaw (Ballantine) and Peter Swanson’s Eight Perfect Murders (Morrow).

• Despite all of my recent attention to “best crime fiction of the year” lists, I missed spotting BookPage’s post about its own 10 mystery and suspense choices. Among that monthly review’s picks are Sophie Hannah’s Perfect Little Children (Morrow), Stuart Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water (Sourcebooks Landmark), Sara Sliger’s Take Me Apart (MCD), and Heather Young’s The Distant Dead (Morrow).

• Earlier this week I provided a link to New York Times columnist Marilyn Stasio’s inventory of her favorite crime novels of 2020, but I failed to note the publication of Times writer-at-large Sarah Lyall’s list of what she claims are “The Best Thrillers of 2020.” Her nominees stretch from Tana French’s The Searcher (Viking) and Gilly Macmillan’s To Tell You the Truth (Morrow) to Debra Jo Immergut’s “startling” You Again (Ecco). The question, however, is do these books really qualify as “thrillers”?

• Meanwhile, George Easter at Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine has collected his own review staff’s reading favorites from the last dozen months. There are eight contributors represented in his compilation—too many titles for me to mention. But offered below are editor Easter’s 12 “best novel” selections:

The Last Flight, by Julie Clark (Sourcebooks Landmark)
Victim 2117, by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Dutton)
The Finisher, by Peter Lovesey (Soho Crime)
The Last Hunt, by Deon Meyer (Atlantic Monthly Press)
Troubled Blood, by Robert Galbraith (Sphere)
Blacktop Wasteland, by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron)
The Law of Innocence, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)
House Privilege, by Mike Lawson (Atlantic Monthly Press)
Blind Vigil, by Matt Coyle (Oceanview)
The Boy in the Woods, by Harlan Coben (Grand Central)
Moonflower Murders, by Anthony Horowitz (Harper)
The Curator, by M.W. Craven (Constable)

• By the way, not long ago Deadly Pleasures launched a brand-new Web site to coincide with its transformation from a print publication to a full-color quarterly digital periodical. Easter says his “goal is to post something new [there] every day or two.” Online contents will include book reviews and newsy bits about crime-fiction commendations, as well as vintage reprints from the magazine’s past (such as Ted Fitzgerald’s 1997 interview with author Stephen Marlowe). The editor has also begun a series called “George’s Mystery Library Videos,” episodes of which are fairly short (lasting 15 or fewer minutes) and have thus far found him talking on camera about “signed material with the same cover art,” James Grady’s “Condor” novels and short fiction, and what makes a “true” first edition. I look forward to seeing how the Deadly Pleasures site evolves in the near future.

• Deadline brings word that “Netflix has greenlit a five-part Swedish-language series on Stig Engström, the man who was named as the probable murderer [in 1986] of former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. The Unlikely Murderer is made by Swedish producer FLX—which is behind Netflix series Quicksand and Love & Anarchy—and stars Robert Gustafsson as Engström. The part-fictionalized story is based on a 2018 book [The Unbelievable Truth] by Thomas Pettersson. Following the assassination of Palme in 1986, Engström managed to elude justice right up to his death through a combination of audacity, luck, and a perplexed police force.”

• Jane Harper’s The Dry was one of my favorite crime novels of 2017, so I’m pleased to learn that a big-screen adaptation of that suspenseful yarn is due out on January 1. The bad news is that it will only be showing in Australian theaters—for the time being, anyway. As a post on Harper’s Web site explains, this movie stars Aussie actor Eric Bana, was directed by Robert Connolly (Balibo, Paper Planes, Deep State), and “was filmed across more than 15 towns in rural Victoria, Australia, last year.” The Dry had originally been planned to premiere last August, but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s no word yet on when it might reach viewers outside of Australia.

• My breath caught for a moment when I heard that FOX-TV was preparing a new Banyon series. What came immediately to mind was the short-lived, 1972 NBC crime drama Banyon, starring Robert Forster as a hard-headed private investigator in 1930s Los Angeles. Could it really be that after all these years, someone was intending to revive/reboot that underrated show? Alas, no. As The Hollywood Reporter makes clear, FOX is “developing an animated comedy based on the Crag Banyon Mysteries books by James Mullaney.
Mullaney and Shane Black will write and executive produce the project, which is titled “Crag Banyon P.I.” It follows the supernatural adventures of an alcoholic ex-cop and current private investigator, Banyon, as he solves cases in an alternate noir, otherworldly reality.

The project marks Mullaney’s first television writing gig. He has published nine books in the Crag Banyon series to date, as well as writing numerous entries in the “Destroyer” and “Red Menace” book series.
• January 8 will bring, to British TV viewers, the return of Rebecka Martinsson, a crime series based on a succession of books by Åsa Larsson—only this season’s episodes introduce a new lead actress.  “[S]eries one of Rebecka Martinsson was a big hit with Nordic Noir fans,” notes The Killing Times. “Starring Ida Engvoll, the Swedish series told the story of a prosecutor who returned to her roots in Kiruna to attend the funeral of the priest that confirmed her. Series two sees Engvoll replaced by Sascha Zacharias in the lead role.” Setting up the storytelling arc of this eight-installment run, The Killing Times says: “Several years have passed and Rebecka’s anxieties about truly fitting in and whether she made the right choice have worsened. As a distraction she throws herself head-first into work to solve gruesome crimes in the area.” Click on the Killing Times link for a trailer.

• In the States, Rebecka Martinsson is available via Acorn TV.

• With the novel coronavirus continuing to discourage social activities of any sort, my search continues for spirited, thoughtful, and at least moderately distinctive small-screen entertainments. A recent discovery was McDonald & Dodds, a light-hearted and oft-clever two-episode ITV show initially broadcast in the spring of 2020. It features Tala Gouveia as Detective Chief Inspector Lauren McDonald, a young, black, thorough-going go-getter from London who has been reassigned to the much quieter city of Bath, England. There she’s partnered with Detective Sergeant Dodds (Jason Watkins), an older white male who has spent years trapped behind a desk, yet retains an uncommon perspicacity when it comes to crime solving. In his review of that program’s pilot, Steve Lewis of Mystery*File writes: “I don’t know about you, but I’m always interested in yet another pair of mismatched homicide policemen, whether British or American. I love watching how their differences play off each other, how get to know each other, and maybe even get to respect each other. Old and worn-out stuff, I know, but when the show is well-written, which it is in this case, and when the players are perfectly selected, even more so this time around, well, to sum it up, I enjoyed this one.” You can see a trailer for the series here. Radio Times reports that a second three-part series of McDonald & Dodds is already in production. Hurrah!

The Guardian posted a fine review of that series last spring.

• Next up on my to-be-screened list: Amazon Prime’s new neo-noir film I’m Your Woman (trailer above), starring The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Rachel Brosnahan as a sheltered wife and mother who’s “forced to go on the run after her [thief] husband betrays his business partner.” Have any of you faithful Rap Sheet readers seen this two-hour picture? Are you willing to share your opinions of it?

TV Guide’s look back at what it calls “The 15 Best TV Performances of 2020” applauds, among others, Nathan Lane for his appearance in Showtime’s quirky Penny Dreadful: City of Angels and Matthew Rhys for his headline turn in HBO’s eight-episode Perry Mason. “The mostly-good-but-definitely-not-perfect reboot of Perry Mason was buoyed by an all-good-and-damn-near-perfect performance by Matthew Rhys,” writes Tim Surette, “who brought the classic character to the modern age not just with boozing and f---ing, but with an inner rage that we all could relate to. Rhys was actually the second choice to play Perry Mason; Robert Downey Jr. (who is an executive producer on the series) was slated to take on the role, but his feature film commitments made it impossible, and frankly, we’re all better for it. Fresh off receiving long overdue recognition for The Americans, Rhys made Perry an exhausted grump with a bent moral compass that saw him skirt the law to get justice, but with his soulful eyes during times of defeat and menacing outbursts during times of rage, we not only allowed it, we forgave it. Rhys is the regular-guy hero that our generation needs.”

• IndieWire names Max Allan Collins’ Nate Heller P.I. books among several others that it says deserve TV series treatment:
There’s a reason there are so many detective series on this list—they’re addictive, easily digestible, and the format lends itself perfectly to television. IndieWire’s Kristen Lopez recommends Max Allan Collins’ Nathan Heller series, which follows a wise-cracking private detective who is instrumental in cracking plenty of historically significant cases. The books [17 of them published so far] vacillate between hard-boiled detective novels and historical thrillers, and the ride begins with 1983’s “True Detective,” which finds Heller investigating mob corruption in 1932 Chicago.
• Andrew Nette, my editor on 2019’s wonderful Sticking It to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950 to 1980, has a new post up in CrimeReads about the late William Hjortsberg and his recently published posthumous novel, Angel’s Inferno (No Exit Press), a sequel to Hjortsberg’s 1978 occult-tinged crime tale, Falling Angel. Much of Nette’s article focuses on differences between the novel Falling Angel and its cinematic adaptation, 1987’s Angel Heart. “A posthumously published book can be tricky property,” writes Nette in CrimeReads, “given the inevitable question of whether the author was able to finalize the manuscript to the degree they wanted, were they alive. Although Angel’s Inferno does not feel incomplete, it lacks the economy and flow of Falling Angel. It is also far darker, more debauched and violent. When you’ve made a pact to sell your soul to Satan, in terms of what you’re prepared to do, the sky, or in Angel’s case, the depths are the limit.”

• Three other CrimeReads pieces worth finding: Dwyer Murphy unearths a 1965 BBC interview between British spy-turned-talk-show host Malcolm Muggeridge and British intelligence officer-turned-espionage-novelist John le Carré; Gabino Iglesias praises the “politically engaged, wildly entertaining novels of Paco Ignacio Taibo II”; and Olivia Rutigliano recalls UK author Evelyn Waugh’s unexpected admiration for the works of Erle Stanley Gardner.

• Happy 10th anniversary to Pulp Covers, a Web site presenting some of the finest scans available of classic novel and magazine fronts. (As you might expect, I’m a frequent visitor.) I don’t see any notice of this milestone on the Pulp Covers main page, but its associated Twitter page mentions that the site now boasts “over 20,000 posts,” and its unidentified editor offers “a big shout-out to all the loyal fans who have stuck with this project over the past decade and encouraged us to continue. Without you, I’d have a lot more free time on my hands.” If you’d like to see how Pulp Covers started, visit its December 2010 postings.

• A half-century-old Columbo mystery, finally solved.

• Interviews to enjoy: Nancie Clare chats with E.A. Barres (They’re Gone), Anthony Horowitz (Moonflower Murders), and H.B. Lyle (The Year of the Gun) for her Speaking of Mysteries podcast; Max Allan Collins—yes, him again—talks with Andrew Sumner of Forbidden Planet about his latest paperback original, Skim Deep, his first Nolan novel in 21 years; and Scott Montgomery of Mystery People scores a brief Q&A with Jeff Vorzimmer, editor of 2020’s The Best of Manhunt 2.

• Finally, a couple of belated good-byes. First, to Sue Henry, who penned separate mystery series featuring either dog-sled racer Jessie Arnold or peripatetic Alaska widow Maxine “Maxie” McNabb. My introduction to her work came in the late 1990s, after I returned from a hike over the historic Chilkoot Pass Trail between Alaska and the Canadian Yukon, and was hungry for books about that path to Klondike gold; Henry’s Termination Dust (1995) fit the bill perfectly. Henry died on November 20 at age 80. Also no longer with us is Alanna Knight, the prolific Scottish author of historical mysteries and romantic thrillers, who passed away on December 2 at age 97. Fellow novelist Martin Edwards remembers her in his blog as “a leading light in Scottish literary circles” and a “stalwart” of the British Crime Writers’ Association, as well as “a biographer and playwright and expert on the work of that gifted fellow Scot, Robert Louis Stevenson.” Knight has at least one last novel, Murder at the World’s Edge (Allison & Busby), due out next year. I offer my condolences to both of their families.

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