Saturday, January 23, 2021

Bullet Points: Justly Overloaded Edition

• Earlier this month, I noted that among the authors whose work I read for the first time in 2020 were Rachel Maddow and Michael Yarvitz, who last year gave us the remarkable—and remarkably sleazy—Bag Man: The Wild Crimes, Audacious Cover-up, and Spectacular Downfall of a Brazen Crook in the White House. That non-fiction tale recounts the swift rise and ignominious toppling, in 1973, of Spiro Agnew, U.S. President Richard M. Nixon’s first vice president. Prior to picking up Maddow and Yarvitz’s book, I had only a vague recollection of the financial kicbacks that had provoked Agnew’s (not wholly voluntary) resignation, just 10 months before Nixon himself quit in the wake of the Watergate scandal. And I had no memory whatsoever of the fact, mentioned in their penultimate chapter, that Agnew had tried his hand at fiction writing after leaving government. They explain that his 1976 political thriller, The Canfield Decision,
centered on a fictional vice president who—and this was not much of a stretch—was eventually crippled by his own ambition. The protagonist, Porter Canfield (“wealthy, handsome and self-assured”), did manage to bed the “beautiful, amber-eyed” secretary of health, education and welfare. Agnew was sarcastically credited for “extreme inventiveness,” in a New York Times review, but that was as good as it got. The book was widely panned as a “mean-spirited piece of work” in which Agnew bitterly took aim at his old targets. “The book is anti-press, anti-Semitic, anti-woman and anti-black,” wrote one reviewer.
A frequent Goodreads reviewer describes The Canfield Decision as “wondrous in its baffling badness.” Nonetheless, if you would like a copy for yourself, I see Abebooks currently has used editions available for as little as $1 for a paperback, and $4 for a hardcover. Before his death in 1996, Agnew penned one more book, this time a memoir, Go Quietly ... or Else (1980), which Wikipedia says “protested his total innocence of the charges that had brought his resignation, and claimed that he had been coerced by the White House to ‘go quietly’ or face an unspoken threat of possible assassination.”

• The British Crime Writers’ Association has a new sponsor for its annual international writing competition for unpublished authors. Crimespree Magazine reports that “ProWritingAid, a platform that operates as a grammar checker, style editor and writing mentor,” will lend its support to the CWA’s Debut Dagger award. Incidentally, submissions to the 2021 contest are currently being accepted. Entrants should “send in their first 3,000 words and a 1,500-word synopsis of their novel. Writers do not need to have completed their novel in order to enter.” The deadline for entries is Friday, February 26.

• With COVID-19 still raging around the globe, is anybody remotely shocked by news that the release of the 25th James Bond picture, No Time to Die, has been delayed—again? As The Hollywood Reporter recalls, that picture “was set to open on April 2. Now, it is planning to hit the big screen on Oct. 8 as Hollywood faces more delays before moviegoing resumes in earnest. No Time to Die is likely to spark another wave of high-profile moves among spring and early summer movies.” There’s one surprise regarding this latest rescheduling, though, writes Bill Koenig in The Spy Command: “The announcement on [production company] Eon’s official website said No Time to Die will be released ‘globally’ on Oct. 8. Typically, Bond films are spread out a bit, often starting in the U.K. but not arriving in the U.S. until days later. We’ll see if a simultaneous release actually happens.”

I mentioned on this page last summer that the PBS-TV umbrella series Masterpiece is co-producing, with Eleventh Hour Films, a six-part drama based on Anthony Horowitz’s 2017 whodunit, Magpie Murders. Now comes word that 64-year-old British actress Lesley Manville has been cast in the prominent role of Susan Ryeland, a book editor “who is given an unfinished manuscript of author Alan Conway’s latest mystery novel, with little idea it will change her life.” A Masterpiece news release quotes Manville as saying, “I could not be happier to be playing Susan Ryeland—what a fabulous character for me to grapple with!” The actress’ stage, film, and TV career of more than four decades long has made her a critical success, but I’m not sure I would have signed her up to play Ryeland. For one thing, she’s quite a bit older than the character Horowitz describes. In last year’s Magpie sequel, Moonflower Murders, the author gives Ryeland’s age as 48, which means that she would’ve been in her mid-40s in Magpie Murders, not her mid-60s. I might have hesitated over hiring Manville, too, because I see Ryeland as a sympathetic figure, and Manville has made herself synonymous with some demonstrably unsympathetic characters in the past. For instance, she appeared as starchy British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the UK’s 2009 drama-documentary The Queen; as James Bond creator Ian Fleming’s snobbish mother in the 2014 mini-series Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond; and as the chilly, misanthropic Robina Chase in BBC One’s more recent World on Fire. Still, part of appreciating fiction to the fullest is suspending one’s disbelief in the improbable. So let’s wait and see what Manville can bring to her portrayal of Susan Ryeland. Horowitz is preparing the script for this small-screen rendering, and he’s sufficiently creative to reshape his character to fit whoever plays her.

• A new series based on P.D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh novels is coming to Acorn TV, according to Mystery Fanfare. “Bertie Carvel will play Detective Chief Inspector Dalgliesh,” explains Janet Rudolph. “The 43-year-old English actor is best known for his roles in Doctor Foster, The Crown, The Pale Horse, and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. [This new] Dalgliesh will begin in 1970s England, following Dalgliesh’s career as he solves unusual murders and reveals buried secrets.” Watch for this show’s premiere sometime later in 2021.

• It seems next month is shaping up to be a good one for television viewing. Literary Hub reports that The Luminaries, a six-part adaptation of Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize-winning 2013 novel of that same name, will finally begin streaming in the States on Valentine’s Day, February 14, via STARZ. This British-New Zealand mini-series starring Eve Hewson, Himesh Patel, and ex-“Bond girl” Eva Green was broadcast last summer in the UK. A trailer is below.

• The recent posting of an official teaser for the CBS-TV psychological thriller Clarice—inspired by Thomas Harris’ best-selling 1988 novel, The Silence of the Lambs, and debuting on February 11—has Literary Hub wondering when Dr. Hannibal Lecter will make an appearance on this midseason replacement series.

• In Reference to Murder brings word that “Netflix has given a series order to The Lincoln Lawyer, a drama based on Michael Connelly’s series of bestselling novels, from Big Little Lies and Big Sky creator, David E. Kelley and A+E Studios. This is a new incarnation of the project, which originally was set up at CBS with a series production commitment last season. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (The Magnificent Seven) has been tapped to play the titular character in the Netflix series as it honors the story’s Hispanic origins. The 10-episode first season is based on the second book in the Lincoln Lawyer series, The Brass Verdict.” A big-screen adaptation of Connelly’s 2005 Edgar-nominated novel, The Lincoln Lawyer, debuted in 2011.

• The Fall River, Massachusetts, home in which Lizzie Borden resided when her father and stepmother were murdered in August 1892—allegedly by Lizzie’s own axe-wielding hand—is currently for sale. CNN says that eight-bedroom house, built in 1845, can be yours for the paltry sum of $2 million. Any takers out there?

Your quirky musical entertainment for this weekend.

Perfect for Ellery Queen fans: “The American Mystery Classics Book Club”—linked to Otto Penzler’s publishing line of that same name, which last year released a fresh edition of Queen’s The Dutch Shoe Mystery—“will be meeting on Zoom on February 1st at 6:30 p.m. EST to discuss [that] puzzling tale of murder in the hospital …” The event will be free to the public, and feature a special guest: Richard Dannay, the son of Ellery Queen co-creator Frederic Dannay. Simply drop an e-mail note to to RSVP.

• Well, this should be fun! Down & Out Books will publish, in February, The Great Filling Station Holdup: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Jimmy Buffett. The collection takes its title from an early and boisterous Buffett song, first released as a single in 1973. (On the flipside was
“Why Don’t We Get Drunk.”) As Kristopher Zgorski writes in BOLO Books, “editor Josh Pachter presents sixteen short crime stories by sixteen popular and up-and-coming crime writers, each story based on a song from one of the twenty-eight studio albums Jimmy has released over the last half century, from Leigh Lundin’s take on ‘Truckstop Salvation’ (which appeared on Jimmy’s first LP, 1970’s Down to Earth) to M.E. Browning’s interpretation of ‘Einstein Was a Surfer’ (from Jimmy’s most recent recording, 2013’s Songs from St. Somewhere).” Other contributors include Michael Bracken, Don Bruns, Isabella Maldonado, Rick Ollerman, John M. Floyd, Alison McMahan, and Robert J. Randisi. As a veteran fan of Buffett’s music (I was introduced to it by my roommates way back in college), I’m more than likely to procure a copy of this book for my library. There’s no listing for it yet on Amazon, but Down & Out invites you to “pre-order” it here. The book boasts a most eye-catching cover!

• Author Max Allan Collins wrote, in a recent blog post, that he’s working on a “coda” to his popular series about the hired killer known only as Quarry. Since Collins referenced this in association with remarks about Skim Deep (2020), which he says is “a coda”—or concluding entry—“to the Nolan series,” I presumed that his forthcoming Quarry novel, to be titled Quarry’s Blood and published by Hard Case Crime, would also bring the Quarry series to a close. Au contraire! As Collins tells me in an e-mail note, “Quarry’s Blood is a coda but not necessarily the last book. If we know anything about the series, it’s that I don’t write them in chronological order.” Ah, so Quarry’s Blood will follow chronologically from The Last Quarry (2006), but won’t mark an end to the often-sexy adventures of Collins’ hit man. I haven’t seen a publication date yet for Quarry’s Blood, but it will carry cover art (left) by the great Ron Lesser.

• Although Quarry’s end isn’t near, Collins explains that “Quarry production will likely slow” in the near future, because the author is planning to move his longer-running series, about Chicago private eye Nathan Heller (Do No Harm), to Hard Case Crime as well. And HCC editor “Charles [Ardai]—who is incredibly supportive—doesn’t want more than one book a year from me. So I’ll likely do a Heller, a Quarry, a Heller, and so on in a yearly fashion until the show is over.”

• I’m a bit tardy in offering my condolences to the family of Peter Mark Richman, the Philadelphia-born actor who passed away on January 14, aged 93, but am no less sincere because of that delay. If you look at Richman’s credits on the International Movie Database (IMDb), you’ll see he was incredibly prolific during his six-decades-long career. Richman appeared in more than two dozens films and on TV shows ranging from The Wild Wild West, Blue Light, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Hawaii Five-O, Banacek, and McCloud to Barnaby Jones, Starsky and Hutch, T.J. Hooker, Matlock, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. He starred in the 1961-1962 TV crime drama Cain’s Hundred (see its opening and closing sequences here), and he played Duke Paige, the friend and occasional employer of blinded insurance investigator Mike Longstreet (James Franciscus) on ABC-TV’s 1971-1972 series Longstreet. Richman also produced at least three books: Hollander’s Deal (2000) and The Rebirth of Ira Masters (2001), both novels; and Peter Mark Richman: I Saw a Molten, White Light …: An Autobiography of My Artistic and Spiritual Journey (2018).

• Also now deceased is Gregory Sierra, who—to quote from The Hollywood Reporter—“endeared himself to 1970s sitcom fans as the genial Julio Fuentes on Sanford and Son and the impassioned Sgt. Miguel ‘Chano’ Amenguale on Barney Miller.” Defined by the Reporter as a “proud Puerto Rican New Yorker,” Sierra died on January 4 at age 83, following “a battle with cancer.” In addition to his aforementioned small-screen roles, Sierra filled guest slots on It Takes a Thief, Ironside, Mission: Impossible, Banyon, Columbo, Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, and Murder, She Wrote.

• Before we venture too far from the subject of Longstreet, let me point out that it’s one of seven series highlighted in Keith Roysdon’s CrimeReads piece about “classic TV’s most unusual investigators.” Other shows he recalls include Coronet Blue, The Immortal, and Cannon. I’m only surprised he didn’t bring up Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), the 1969-1970 British series featuring a really offbeat mystery-solver—the ghost of a gumshoe slain in the line of duty.

• Four other CrimeReads pieces worth reading: Olivia Rutigliano’s introduction to Arsène Lupin, the gentleman thief created in 1905 by French writer Maurice Leblanc, who also inspired the character played by Omar Sy in the new Netflix series Lupin; a second piece by Rutigliano, looking back at how Leblanc endeavored to incorporate Sherlock Holmes into a Lupin story; Neil Nyren’s excellent primer on the 10 Martin Beck detective novels composed in the 1960s and ’70s by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö; Camilla Bruce’s mini-biographies of “The Most Notorious Lonely Hearts Killers of All Time”; Sabina Stent’s reassessment of Hollywoodland, the 2006 movie portraying the complex life and alleged 1959 suicide of George Reeves, who starred in The Adventures of Superman; and yet another Rutigliano article (she has been busy of late), this one about how Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin changed detective fiction forever.

• I, for one, am enjoying the new, all-digital, full-color version of Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine, edited by George Easter. Its latest quarterly edition (#90) was sent out earlier this week. Among the contents can be found a profile of author Louise Penny; George H. Madison’s delightful remembrance of Harold Q. Masur’s Scott Jordan mysteries; another recap of Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Martin Beck tales, this one by Donus Roberts; obituaries of Parnell Hall, John le Carré, Alanna Knight, John Lutz, and DPMM reviewer Sally Sugarman; and the typical abundance of reviews covering books issued on both sides of the Atlantic. The magazine is now e-mailed to subscribers, for the low annual price of $10. Click here for ordering information.

• If you thought critics had long ago finished applauding the crime and mystery fiction of 2020, you would be incorrect. Earlier this month Sons of Spade’s Jochem van der Steen identified his favorite private-eye stories from last year, while Robert Lopresti provides his 12th annual list of best short stories in this SleuthSayers post.

• Finally, Amazon’s online book review, formerly called Omnivoracious, has sadly gone downhill over the last few years, becoming even more celebrity-oriented than it started. I have continued, however, to check out its contents every once in a while, and even included it in Killer Covers’ news-aggregating blogroll. But now I give up. An announcement reached my e-mailbox yesterday, saying that what’s now known simply as The Amazon Book Review (boy, I hope nobody made a dime off that pinheaded name change!) has migrated from its previous location to this one inside the larger sales realm. In the process it abandoned its RSS Web feed, so can no longer be accessed by news-aggregating tools built into blog-publishing services. So arrivederci, Amazon Book Review!

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