Sunday, February 07, 2021

Bullet Points: From All Corners Edition

(Above) J. Robert Janes signs his books at Bouchercon 2014.

• Canadian novelist J. Robert Janes has long ranked among my favorite historical crime-fictionists. His 16-volume, World War II-set series starring Jean-Louis St-Cyr, a chief inspector with the French Sûreté, and his unlikely investigative partner, Detektiv Inspektor Hermann Kohler of the Nazi Gestapo, began with 1992’s Mayhem (aka Mirage) and continued through 2015’s Clandestine. Naturally, I have devoured the whole lot, plus Jones standalones such as The Hunting Ground (2013) and The Sleeper (2015). I had the delightful opportunity a decade ago to interview Janes for Kirkus Reviews and The Rap Sheet, and I finally met him at the 2014 Bouchercon convention in Long Beach, California. Back then, he said he was busy composing more novels, and in fact his old Web site proclaimed that a 17th St-Cyr/Kohler novel, Timeweaver, “now awaits a final read. The 18th St-Cyr and Kohler may well conclude the series, but that remains to be seen.” So whatever happened to those promised installments? I recently e-mailed Janes—who lives near Toronto, Ontario, and will turn 86 years old on May 23—to see how he’s doing. His response:
At my age now I’m lucky to be able to manage 18 blocks with my push chair. There are fortunately two little book kiosks en route, so I am able to get a few books now and then, and that kind of keeps me going. As to writing anything more, that’s really hard work and I’m totally retired, and reading the work of others finally, after all these years! You see, when I was writing I didn’t read other fiction because one can pick things up so easily and not even know they’ve done so. Therefore, I was just being careful. As for anybody at my age, my medical conditions are a real damper to doing a lot, and I’m very content just to go for my walks, read fiction books by others, and settle down with a cup of tea.
Janes’ wife of 64 years, Gracia, subsequently sent me an e-mail message, explaining that her husband’s health is fragile, that he suffers from “cancer and congenital heart failure.” She added, “He has retired knowing that he has published 34 books in four different genres (i.e., geology texts for elementary through university levels, children’s fiction, thrillers, and the 16-book St Cyr and Kohler series, and three other co-published books). All the words he has ever written are housed in over 140 boxes in the McMaster University Archives,” in Hamilton, Ontario. As to the existence of that 17th St-Cyr/Kohler novel? Well, Gracia says, “Timeweaver presents a puzzle”—and perhaps one that her husband cannot help solve. “Bob has a reluctance to talk about his books,” she confides, “as it saddens him that he is no longer able to write,” after more than three decades spent behind a keyboard, pounding out stories. She suggests the manuscript may be in the McMaster archives, “but not catalogued yet.” She continues to look. I’ll provide any updates Gracia shoots my way.

• Whenever a writer publishes a list purporting to name the “best” of anything, he or she becomes an immediate target of criticism. So it’s no surprise that this recent selection of “the 30 greatest literary detectives of all time,” by ShortList’s Marc Chacksfield, has attracted detractors. Among the sleuths included in Chacksfield’s tally: Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Philip Marlowe, Inspector Morse, Lew Archer, and Father Brown. Single-appearance players such as William of Baskerville (from Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose), Inspector Bucket (from Charles Dickens’ Bleak House), and Smilla Qaaviqaaq Jaspersen (the star of Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow) also scored spots on the list, which has predictably stirred questions about why figures such as Ellery Queen, Lord Peter Wimsey, Miss Maud Silver, and—for goodness sakes!—Nero Wolfe didn’t make the cut.

• The Sisters in Crime organization has launched its new Pride Award for Emerging LGBTQIA+ Crime Writers. As Oline H. Cogdill explains in the Mystery Scene blog, “A $2,000 grant will be awarded to an up-and-coming writer who identifies as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. … Candidates must apply by March 15, 2021. The winner will be announced in April, 2021.” Registration information is available here.

• With the 80th anniversary of the release of director John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon coming in October 2021, David Walsh, arts editor of the World Socialist Web Site, has posted this excellent assessment of the movie’s history and importance, its messages, and how its development fit into Huston’s filmmaking evolution.

The Guardian’s Guy Lodge takes advantage of 2021 being the 100th anniversary of author Patricia Highsmith’s birth by highlighting the best film adaptations of her work. He reminds us, too, that “A glossy new Ben Affleck-starring film of her novel Deep Water, the first film from Adrian Lyne in 19 years, is scheduled for August, while a TV version of Ripley, starring Andrew Scott as her most adaptable character, is in the pipeline.”

• Like so many other literary festivals, Granite Noir is moving online this year. According to Shotsmag Confidential, Aberdeen, Scotland’s fifth annual celebration of homegrown and international crime writing will be streamed on the Aberdeen Performing Arts site from Friday, February 19, through Sunday the 21st. Ian Rankin, Camilla Läckberg, Stuart MacBride, Peter May, Jo Nesbø, Attica Locke, and David Baldacci are among the writers scheduled to participate. Click here to find a PDF containing the full roster of events.

• Then on Saturday, March 20, Hull Noir will return as a day-long festival based in the English port city of Kingston upon Hull. This year’s guests includes Mark Billingham, Laura Shepherd-Robinson, “Alex North” (aka Steve Mosby), and Hull-born Ian McGuire. The event will recognize, as well, this year’s “50th anniversary of the British crime [film] classic, Get Carter—adapted from Ted Lewis’s seminal crime novel Jack’s Return Home. For Lewis, who studied at Hull Art School in the late 1950s and whose novels reference the city and its hinterland, the towns on the south bank of the Humber, and the bleak Lincolnshire coast, 2021 is also the 50th anniversary of his novel Plender, this year’s festival read.” As Shotsmag Confidential notes, “There’ll be no charge for tickets, which will be available from Sunday 21 February along with the full festival lineup. Follow the Hull Noir Facebook and Twitter (@hullnoir) for all the most up to date information.”

• Here’s something I didn’t know: James Hong is a phenomenally prolific American actor, born to Hong Kongese parents, whose performance credits include roles in everything from Richard Diamond, Private Eye and Hawaii Five-O to Kung Fu, The Rockford Files, Switch, and the 1974 film Chinatown. He is also, according to blogger Lou Armagno, “the last living actor to portray a son (or daughter) of the fictional detective [Charlie Chan] in either a television series or film.” Hong was cast as “Number One Son” Barry Chan in the 1957-1958 TV drama The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, starring J. Carrol Naish. Hong will welcome his 92nd birthday this coming February 22nd.

• After applauding Robert McGinnis’ 93rd birthday two years ago in this longish piece for CrimeReads, I somehow managed to forget the artist’s 95th birthday this last Thursday, February 3. Fortunately, Deuce Richardson stepped up with a proper tribute in the DMR Books blog. After acknowledging McGinnis as “a national treasure,” Richardson reminds us that “He’s painted iconic characters ranging from James Bond to Barbarella to Captain America. He’s done covers for authors such as Rafael Sabatini, Neil Gaiman, John Jakes, Gardner F. Fox, Donald Westlake and Ian Fleming … and he’s still at it.” The DMR piece comes with a dozen beautiful examples of McGinnis’ work.

• By the way, whilst prowling around the Web early last week, I stumbled across a fake book front for Twilight Gal, created in imitation of one of McGinnis’ most famous covers, from the 1960 Dell paperback edition of Kill Now, Pay Later, by Robert Kyle. The artist here identifies him- or herself only as “astoralexander,” but explains that Twilight Gal re-imagines the video game The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess “as a hard-boiled crime novel.” Both McGinnis’ cover and astroalexander’s respectful knock-off are above.

• My wife and I are currently in the midst of watching the first five episodes of Netflix’s French mystery thriller, Lupin. So I was interested to read, in B.V. Lawson’s In Reference to Murder, that the show “is returning to Netflix for its second half of season one this summer. The series has become a surprising hit for the streamer, with 70M households projected to watch since its launch on January 8, making it easily Netflix’s biggest French original. The project is a contemporary adaptation of the novels penned by French writer Maurice Leblanc and stars Omar Sy as Assane Diop, who uses the world-famous gentleman thief and master of disguise, Arsène Lupin, as his inspiration as he tries to get revenge on those responsible for his father’s death.”

• While we’re on the subject of Netflix, let me point you to this piece in The Killing Times, containing the first trailer for Behind Her Eyes, a six-part TV adaptation of Sarah Pinborough’s 2017 novel of that same name. The KT’s Paul Hirons says this program “stars Eve Hewson, Simona Brown, Tom Bateman and Robert Aramayo, and tells the story of a single mother, whose world is thrown off kilter when she begins an affair with her new boss David and matters take an even stranger turn when she’s drawn into an unlikely friendship with his wife Adele. What starts as an unconventional love triangle soon becomes a dark, psychological tale of suspense and twisted revelations, as Louise finds herself caught in a dangerous web of secrets where nothing and no-one is what they seem.” Behind Her Eyes drops on February 17.

• Another promising trailer is that of Bloodlands, a BBC One mini-series starring “James Nesbitt as a Northern Irish detective on the hunt for a serial killer known as Goliath ...,” explains Radio Times. “In the 40-second trailer we meet detective Tom Brannick (Nesbitt) as he picks up a 20-year-old investigation into [the] ‘possible assassin’ they called Goliath and reveals to his team that the killer at large murdered his wife.” There doesn’t appear to be a set premiere date yet for Bloodlands; Radio Times says to expect it “later in the year.”

• John Porter reports in The Verge that delays in releasing No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film (currently slated to reach theaters on October 8) are “causing problems for its marketing deals, with advertisers concerned that the film may end up featuring outdated product placements.” He says “the movie could face reshoots to hide its outdated products, and … some scenes may be ‘carefully edited.’”

• So that’s what happened to Steve Hamilton. The last book published under his sole moniker, An Honorable Assassin (his third Nick Mason thriller), saw print in 2019. But next month, he will return as the co-author, with Janet Evanovich, of The Bounty, book seven in a series about FBI agent Kate O’Hare and con man Nicholas Fox, originally co-written with Lee Goldberg. The Real Book Spy tells more.

• Max Allan Collins revealed in a recent interview by Publishers Weekly that, with 2022 marking the 75th anniversary of private eye Mike Hammer’s debut, in I, the Jury, “I’ll be doing a biography of [Spillane] with James Traylor for Otto Penzler at Mysterious Press.” It was just two years ago that Collins commemorated the author’s 100th birthday with a blitz of special publications.

• After having picked up Jeff Vorzimmer’s The Best of Manhunt (2019) and last year’s The Best of Manhunt 2, you can bet I’m looking forward to the March 26 release of The Manhunt Companion, also from Stark House Press and co-edited by Peter Enfantino. In his blog Rough Edges, James Reasoner writes: “This book contains a history of the magazine, indexes of authors and stories that Manhunt published, plus reviews of every story from every issue. I’m not sure anything like this has ever been attempted before, let alone pulled off in such great style.” Click here to learn more about Manhunt (1952-1967).

Washington Post book critic Ron Charles includes this smile-inducing tidbit in his latest newsletter:
After two weeks in office, Vice President Kamala Harris has already improved the economy of some yearbook owners. Used and rare bookseller AbeBooks reports that a set of three Howard University yearbooks—1984, 1985 and 1986—recently sold for $1,500. Those volumes include pictures of Harris, who graduated from the historically black university in D.C. in 1986. A photo of Howard’s Economics Society shows sophomore Harris with her fellow students and sponsor Joseph Houchins, who was once a member of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Federal Council of Negro Affairs.
• George Easter, the editor of Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine, has posted two pieces recently that are of likely interest to Rap Sheet readers. The first collects 39 vintage paperback fronts, each of which features one or more things we don’t see around much anymore. The challenge is to identify each of those anachronisms. The answers are all available at the post’s end.

In this second piece, Easter showcases a splendid variety of “girl with a gun”-themed covers—one of which featured in Killer Covers’ not-long-ago-concluded 12th-anniversary celebration.

• Did you know that you can watch the entire run of Columbia Pictures’ 1943 Batman serial on YouTube? The 15 installments, starring Lewis Wilson, Douglas Croft, and J. Carrol Naish, begin here with a chapter titled “The Electric Brain.”

Gothic-style lettering makes a comeback amid our modern plague.

Mystery & Suspense finally gets around to reviewing The Devil and the Dark Water, by British wordsmith Stuart Turton—one of my favorite mysteries of 2020—and pronounces it “clever and fun. Addictively page-turning. And so very, very entertaining.”

• I don’t relish penning obituaries, yet it seems I must do so regularly. Hal Holbrook, for instance, cannot leave this world without fit acclamation. The Ohio-born theater, film, and TV performer died on January 23 at age 95. Although many younger people know him—if only vaguely—as the guy who won a Tony Award for his stage portrayal of Mark Twain, Holbrook began his movie career in 1966, being cast in Sidney Lumet's The Group. He went on to portray then-unidentified Watergate scandal source “Deep Throatin All the President’s Men (1976) and appeared in other movies such as Wall Street (1987), The Firm (1993), and Lincoln (2012). On the small screen, Holbrook won parts in the series Coronet Blue, The F.B.I., The Name of the Game, Designing Women (featuring his wife, Dixie Carter), Evening Shade, and The West Wing, and in teleflicks on the order That Certain Summer (1972, written by Richard Levinson and William Link) and Pueblo (1973). He starred in The Senator, a much-lauded but sadly short-lived and sometimes-controversial, 1970-1971 NBC “wheel series” drama—part of the Bold Ones rotation—playing Hays Stowe, a progressive and highly principled member of the U.S. Senate. Holbrook later led the cast of three Perry Mason TV movies (following Raymond Burr’s death in 1993), filling the boots of William “Wild Bill” McKenzie, a hotshot attorney and Utah rancher. One of my fondest memories of this actor had him playing a solely vocal part, his craggy voice narrating the 1997 Ken Burns TV documentary, Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery. The New York Times says Holbrook died at his home in Beverly Hills, California; he was buried at a cemetery in Tennessee, alongside Dixie Carter, who met her own end a decade ago, in 2010.

• Last August, I mentioned on this page that Paul Green, a self-described “biographer specializing in film and television history,” had let it be known he was entering hospice care. The author of books about Roy Huggins, Pete Duel, Jeffrey Hunter, and others, Green told me in an e-mail message, “I suffer from stage 4 prostate cancer that has spread to my bones. I have been under treatment for three years.” Now Ed Robertson, host of the radio talk show TV Confidential, brings the sad news that Green passed away on Sunday, January 17, at age 65. “He was a gifted artist, a skilled biographer, and a good friend,” Robertson wrote on Facebook. “Paul and I last spoke about two months ago, at which time he informed me of his prognosis. He was in good spirits, all things considered, and we had a nice visit. It is hard for me to pick a favorite among his books. We met because of his biography of Pete Duel, did a couple of programs about his book on The Virginian, and had memorable conversations about his biographies of Jennifer Jones, Jeffrey Hunter, and Roy Huggins. He brought all of those figures to life and gave us each an understanding of who they were as people. Rest in peace, Paul … and thank you.”

• Finally, we must say good-bye to television producer and screenwriter Cy Chermak, who apparently perished from natural causes on January 29 in Hawaii. Born in Bayonne, New Jersey, in 1929 as Seymour Albert Chermak, he went on to develop scripts for Beverly Garland’s Decoy, Cheyenne, the 1977 TV movie Murder at the World Series, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Additionally, he produced such shows as Ironside, Amy Prentiss, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Barbary Coast, and CHiPS. Chermak was 91.

• Speaking of obits, I tried to do justice to 81-year-old author John Lutz, who breathed his last on January 9. But his friend Francis M. Nevins does a far superior job of recounting Lutz’s illustrious career in this new Mystery*File piece. He also offers this poignant closing:
The last time I saw [Lutz] was in March 2020, shortly before COVID-19 dominated the world. He said nothing, needed a walker to get around, had lost a lot of weight, but he could still function. That soon changed. He deteriorated over the rest of last year and died a little more than a week into this one.

The only other writers with whom I had such a close and rich relationship were Fred Dannay and Ed Hoch, both of them now long dead. Is it any wonder that as the years pass I feel empty and alone more and more often?
• You may not be aware of this, but frequent Rap Sheet contributor also hosts Poets of the Tabloid Murder, a mystery-fiction author interview show heard on the Public Radio Exchange (PRX). That show was off the air for awhile, but it returned to production last August. Since then, Nester has interviewed such authors as J. Todd Scott (Lost River), T. Jefferson Parker (Then She Vanished), S..A. Cosby (Blacktop Wasteland), and most recently, Nick Petrie (The Breaker). I’ve added a link to the index of Nester’s broadcasts to the “Crime/Mystery Podcasts” list in this blog’s right-hand column.

• Promoting his new spy novel, The Mercenary—not to be confused this “orgy of death” Cold War thriller—Paul Vidich submits to an interview with Mystery Tribune, and contributes a piece to CrimeReads about the role imposters play in our literary tradition.

• Four other CrimeReads posts to read: Vince Keenan’s look back at the never-produced Orson Welles picture The Smiler with a Knife, based on a novel by Nicholas Blake and casting Lucille Ball as its female lead; an interview with David Brawn, the publishing director for the Collins Crime Club, which recently reissued The Conjure-Man Dies, a 1932 work described as “the first detective novel by an African-American author”; Michael Kaufman’s analysis of where police procedurals stand in the age of Black Lives Matter and the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump-backing domestic terrorists; and editor in chief Dwyer Murphy’s eulogy for John D. MacDonald’s Point Crisp home in Sarasota, Florida, razed to make room for the sort of “enormous mansions that JDM railed against.”

• And we’ve heard much about small-business closings over these trying last 12 months. However, the British Web site reports that independent bookshops in the UK have “managed not only to withstand the myriad difficulties thrown at them by the COVID-19 pandemic … but actually increased their numbers.”

(J. Robert Janes photo © 2014 by Ali Karim.)


E. Ellis said...

One of my favorite Hal Holbrook movies was That Evening Sun (from a story by William Gay). His appearance in the series Rectify was also enjoyed. Such a gem he was.

Anonymous said...

The late Paul Green was prostrate with prostate cancer. If the spelling error - deliberate or not - was his, it's forgiven... If not...

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Ha! That was Paul's error, and I missed seeing it. Thanks for pointing it out. I don't think that misspelling was deliberate. So I've now corrected "prostate cancer."


Mike Doran said...

Cy Chermak wrote his own memoir, titled The Show Runner, which will be of great interest to all who patronize this site.

Funny as hell, informative about the TV trade, and Mr. Chermak settles a score or two along the way ...

Worth tracking down at Amazon.

Anonymous said...

If you remember, Adrian Mole had the same complaint.