Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Bullet Points: A Heady Mix Edition

• When Nellie Bly is remembered at all in our age, it’s usually for her 72-day circumnavigation of the earth in 1889, a stunt meant to beat the fictional record set by Phileas Fogg, in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eight Days (1872). However, Bly—born Elizabeth Jane Cochran—was also a pioneering female newspaper journalist and, less well-recalled, a novelist. As January Magazine explains, she penned 11 tales in regular installments, mostly for The New York Family Story Paper. “Titles of two of her serial novels, Eva the Adventuress and New York By Night, have long been known,” the blog states. “But the novels themselves were lost …” That is, until their 2019 rediscovery by Michigan writer David Blixt, the author of What Girls Are Good For, a 2018 novel starring the daring Ms. Bly. Those missing works were finally released this month in brand-new editions by Sordelet Ink. The majority of them look to be adventure stories or romances, but the first—The Mystery of Central Park—fits snuggly in the crime category. Here’s a plot synopsis:
Dick and his sweetheart Penelope discover the body of a beautiful young woman posed upon a Central Park bench. Instantly Dick is suspected of having something to do with the young woman’s death. Moreover, Penelope has long been urging the ne’er-do-well Dick to accomplish something with his life. So he sets out to discover the dead woman’s identity and solve the riddle of her death. Was it innocent? Suicide? Or was it murder?

From the twinkling lights of New York’s high society to dens of iniquity, Dick follows every trail until he uncovers a tenuous lead. Saving another young woman from the jaws of death, he puts his happiness in jeopardy to confront the scoundrel responsible for the dead woman’s fate.
• The Women’s National Book Association of New Orleans has announced the recipients of its 2021 Pinckley Prizes for Crime Fiction, each “intended to honor a book which illuminates the reality of women’s lives …” This year’s Pinckley Prize for Distinguished Body of Work goes to C.S. Harris (aka Candice Proctor), author of the Sebastian St. Cyr Regency mystery series, while the Pinckley Prize for Debut Fiction goes to Angie Kim for her 2019 novel, Miracle Creek (Sarah Crichton)—a work that has already claimed an ITW Thriller Award for Best First Novel and the Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. A new commendation, the Pinckley Prize for True Crime Writing, is being given to Emma Copley Eisenberg, author of The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia (Hachette). Provided the worldwide coronavirus doesn’t alter plans, these honors will be presented during the 2021 Bouchercon, set to take place in New Orleans this coming August.

• Although I wasn’t bowled over by Miss Scarlet and The Duke, the six-part, British-Irish historical crime drama broadcast under PBS-TV’s Masterpiece umbrella earlier this year, I did think it merited further episodes. It’s now clear that was not my opinion alone. Mystery Fanfare brings news that the hour-long program, which is set in 1880s London and stars Kate Phillips and Stuart Martin, has had its run extended. Masterpiece executive producer Susanne Simpson is quoted as saying: “Miss Scarlet and The Duke was an instant fan favorite. Our audience couldn’t resist its lighthearted tone and the appealing characters so wonderfully portrayed by Kate Phillips and Stuart Martin. We’re delighted the show will return for a second season.” Season 2 is expected to debut on Masterpiece in 2022, but like its predecessor, will undoubtedly air earlier on the UK’s Alibi channel.

According to The Killing Times, the ITV-TV series Unforgotten is “currently the most-watched crime drama in the UK.” Its Season 4 episodes just finished showing in Great Britain this week, and it hasn’t yet made it across the pond for the entertainment of American viewers. But Unforgotten has already been renewed for a fifth season. (Warning: Serious spoilers at that last link!)

• “Columbo, for the most part, was a pretty family-friendly show,” recalls the anonymous author of The Columbophile. “Negligible use of bad language and sex scenes allied with an absence of violence and gore ensured that even a show about murder—that darkest of human acts—rarely made for unsettling viewing. There were exceptions, though. Sometimes the show dropped stark reminders that murder really is a most foul and grisly business—and at its worst could be cruel and disturbing to boot.” Read more … if you dare!

• Delays, delays, and more delays: In Reference to Murder’s B.V. Lawson says that “Kenneth Branagh’s mystery ensemble-cast movie, Death on the Nile, has seen its premiere date pushed back again, this time to February 11, 2022. The 20th Century Studios production, which also stars Gal Gadot, Tom Bateman, and Annette Bening, has changed release dates several times due to the pandemic. [It was originally slated for release on December 20, 2019.] However, Deadline reports that the new release date has nothing to do with co-star Armie Hammer, who has been besieged by an alleged sex scandal.”

• Well, here I am again, recommending something I’ve spotted on YouTube, even though I know that videos there can vanish unexpectedly. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to point out the recent appearance of Michael O’Hara the Fourth, a 90-minute film that debuted on the television anthology series The Wonderful World of Disney in 1972. When I was growing up, Disney’s Sunday night presentations were must-see TV in my household. Yet aside from The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1963), starring Patrick McGoohan, and a rebroadcast of Fess Parker’s Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (comprising the first three episodes of a five-part serial originally shot for Disney in the 1950s), I don’t recall many of the shows produced specifically for Wonderful World, as opposed to Disney theatrical pictures that were subsequently rerun on Sunday nights. Oddly, however, I have strong memories of Michael O’Hara the Fourth. Or perhaps it’s not so very odd, as that film left me with a huge crush on its star, Jo Ann Harris. Although she was then 22 years old, Harris was cast as Michael “Mike” O’Hara IV, a teenage wannabe sleuth—very much in the Nancy Drew mode—whose father was Michael O’Hara III, a police captain in an unnamed city, played by Dan Dailey (later to feature in the NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie segment Faraday and Company). The Disney Wiki explains how Harris’ character came by her distinctly masculine moniker:
The name Michael O’Hara has become synonymous with law enforcement. There have been three generations of Michael O’Hara’s and all have been exemplary policemen. When Michael O’Hara III’s child was born, he was told that [he and his wife would] not be able to have any more children, and there ha[d] always been a Michael O’Hara, so he named his child Michael O’Hara IV, despite the fact that she [was] a girl.

Now, Mike has a tendency to get involved with police matters and not always with good results, which annoys her father. And despite being told repeatedly to stay out of it, she continues her amateurish detective activities.

Michael O’Hara the Fourth was first shown in two parts, on successive Sunday nights: March 26, 1972, and April 2, 1972. It found the delightful, blonde Miss Mike recruiting her friends, especially her sort-of-boyfriend, Norman (Michael McGreevey), into one harebrained escapade after another, always intending to help her father with his crime-solving—but usually resulting in minor disasters. Although Mike wasn’t a tomboy (she favored short skirts), she didn’t shy away from mixing it up with crooks and killers. In the first part of this film, she and Norman try to get to the bottom of a money-counterfeiting operation, while the second half finds them seeking to crack the alibis of businessmen implicated in a murder. This picture may have been intended for young audiences, but it’s far from silly, and its humor and high jinks remain entertaining even after all these years. I’m a bit surprised Disney didn’t shoot a sequel. Or two.

• By the way, if you are curious, Jo Ann Harris went on to amass a lengthy résumé of credits, including guest roles on The Mod Squad, Banyon, The F.B.I., Nakia, The Manhunter, and Barnaby Jones. She also co-starred with Robert Stack in Most Wanted, a 1976-1977 Quinn Martin series on ABC-TV that “focused on an elite task force of the Los Angeles Police Department … [concentrating] exclusively on criminals on the mayor’s most-wanted list.” (You can watch the original title sequence here.) And no, I don’t have a crush on Harris any longer. Through some cruel trick of time, she’s now 71, not 22.

This 1965 TV promo spot for The Wild Wild West must have left action-adventure fans in drooling anticipation of that CBS series’ September 17 premiere. Firearms, secret smoke bombs, and a quietly calculating Suzanne Pleshette—what’s not to like?

How late-night repeats brought an end to Mannix’s run.

• How does Sherlock Holmes figure into the legend of the Loch Ness monster? CrimeReads’ Olivia Rutigliano recalls the tale. And you can click here for a brief film clip of that “Nessie” in action.

• I neglected to mention, in The Rap Sheet’s last “Bullet Points” round-up, another delightful piece that found its way into CrimeReads earlier this month: “How Shane Black’s Love Letter to 1970s Crime Fiction Put a Spotlight on Robert Terrall.” Composed by Bay Area freelancer (and occasional January Magazine contributor) Ben Terrall, it recounts the story of how his prolific author father, Robert Terrall (aka Robert Kyle), became a ghost writer on the Mike Shayne private-eye series back in the 1960s, after the protagonist’s creator, Davis Dresser, “developed a severe writer’s block.” The piece goes on to note that one of Terrall’s Shayne yarns, 1973’s Blue Murder, became source material for director Shane Black’s 2016 “slapstick buddy movie,” The Nice Guys, starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling—as was acknowledged in the picture’s collection of credits. “I have no doubt Dad would have loved to see his name on the silver screen,” remarks Ben Terrall. “He was a moviegoer from an early age and was always ready to write for Hollywood, but that never happened. He wrote several movie tie-ins (including one for Moses and the Ten Commandments, which made it possible for me to answer the question ‘What has your father written?’ with ‘The Ten Commandments’), but none of his fifty or so original novels were ever made into films.”

• Coincidentally, the latest episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast focuses on, among assorted other topics, Robert Terrall’s life and literary endeavors. You can listen to that here.

• In his April “Getting Away with Murder” column for Shots, Mike Ripley covers subjects ranging from his lockdown reading choices and a case of mistaken author identity to new crime-fiction releases by James Woolf, Erin Kelly, Tom Bradby, and others.

Who knew there were so many birthday-themed mysteries?

The Gumshoe Site’s Jiro Kimura mentioned recently that William Heffernan, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated former journalist and the author most recently of The Scientology Murders (2017), died this last December 4 at age 80. Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Heffernan labored on behalf of both the New York Post and the Daily News, but left his investigative reporting career in 1978 after scoring a publishing contract for his first novel, Broderick (1980). As blogger Cullen Gallagher wrote, that book “is based on the real-life figure of Johnny Broderick, a tough New York cop as legendary as he is notorious. Nicknamed ‘The Beater,’ Broderick is anything but your conventional heroic policeman; he’s as corrupt, violent, and as crooked as the gangster and hoods he hunts down.” Heffernan went on to compose 18 more books, including 1988’s Ritual (which introduced series protagonist Paul Devlin, a New York City police detective), 1995’s Tarnished Blue (a Devlin yarn that captured the 1996 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original Novel), his 2003 historical thriller, A Time Gone By, and 2010’s The Dead Detective (which launched Heffernan’s second series lead, Henry Doyle, a Tampa, Florida, homicide detective who can hear the postmortem whispers of murder victims). Kimura adds that Heffernan “once served as president of the International Association of Crime Writers/North America.” Oddly, I seem unable to locate an official online obituary of William Heffernan, and his Facebook page is no help—it hasn’t been updated since February 2016. If anyone reading this has spotted more information about the author’s demise, please let me know.

• More recently deceased is Richard Gilliland, a Texas native who, according to The Hollywood Reporter, “starred as Sgt. Steve DiMaggio on NBC’s McMillan & Wife in 1976-77 and as Lt. Nick Holden on ABC’s adaptation of Operation Petticoat in 1977-78, and he was a series regular on ABC’s Just Our Luck in 1983 and the CBC’s Heartland in 1989. Gilliland also had recurring roles on other shows, including Party of Five, The Waltons, Thirtysomething, Dark Skies and Desperate Housewives and guest-starring appearances on Criminal Minds, Dexter, Becker, Scandal, Joan of Arcadia, The Practice and Crossing Jordan, among many other shows.” Gilliland was married to Emmy-winning actress Jean Smart, whom he met when they worked together on the sitcom Designing Women in the 1980s. He was 71 years old at the time of his passing on March 18. More here.

• Last but not least, I am sorry to hear that another child of the Lone Star State, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry breathed his last on March 25 at age 84. McMurtry will be remembered for many novels, among them The Last Picture Show (1966), Terms of Endearment (1975), and Anything for Billy (1988), but for me, it was his 1985 Old West adventure, Lonesome Dove, that most stood out. As I wrote in a piece for January Magazine, naming the 20th century’s foremost books, “McMurtry reinvented the western novel for a modern audience, filling Dove (and its sequel and prequels) with spectacularly quirky characters, oddball episodes that would never have made it into the works of either Louis L'Amour or Zane Grey, and heartwarming scenes that will stick with you forever.” Links to more McMurtry obituaries can be found here. And in the wake of his demise, this fine Texas Monthly profile from 2016 has been resurrected.

• Great Britain will celebrate National Crime Reading Month this coming June, though most of the events are to take place online, due to the continuing COVID-19 crisis. Linda Stratmann, chair of the Crime Writers’ Association, which hosts this annual literary fête, says: “We want to invite bookshops, libraries, publishers, conventions and festivals that celebrate the crime genre, to take part. Our sister network, the Crime Readers’ Association (CRA), is one of the largest communities of crime genre readers in the world, so this June is a unique opportunity to get an author event or reading initiative in front of that dedicated audience.” It’s only too bad the United States—which already dedicates months to recognition of mentoring, ice cream, and country music—can’t similarly honor crime and mystery fiction.

• Wales’ first international celebration of crime literature, the Gŵyl Crime Cymru Festival, is set to take place online from April 26 to May 3. As Mystery Fanfare explains, “Lee and Andrew Child, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Ragnar Jónasson, Peter James, Elly Griffiths, Abir Mukherjee, Vaseem Khan, and Martin Edwards—amongst others—will discuss their work alongside Welsh crime writers who might not be as well-known, but are playing their part in bringing Welsh crime writing to the fore. There will also be a panel focusing on the great success Welsh crime fiction is enjoying on the small screen, featuring the team that created the globally popular Keeping Faith TV series.” The complete schedule of events can be found here.

• Meanwhile, Crime Fiction Lover offers this handy overview of Welsh contributions to the genre, both on the page and on the screen. It includes a selection of novels and authors to get your explorations of that country’s bilingual crime fiction started.

• Florida journalist Craig Pittman passes along this piece from The New Yorker. It looks at a new film project from Yuko Torihara, focusing on Manhattan’s Chinatown at night. A principal player in that feature? Henry Chang, the 70-year-old author of detective novels such as Chinatown Beat (2006) and Lucky (2017), set in the neighborhood.

• I recently reported on the numerous nominees for this year’s Agatha Awards, which are to be dispensed during an online-only Malice Domestic festival in mid-July. Coincidentally, Elizabeth Foxwell now points me toward a two-part remembrance of the late author Elizabeth Peters (aka Barbara Mertz), who “played such an integral role” in founding that annual convention. Part I here, Part II here.

Craig Sisterson, a New Zealand writer (and the creator of that country’s Ngaio Marsh Awards), who is currently living in London, has become a contributor to the international blog Murder Is Everywhere. His posts are supposed to appear every second Tuesday. The first, from March 23, is principally an ode to children’s mysteries.

• Speaking of lands Down Under, check out the results of Reading Matters’ month-long tribute to Southern Cross Crime.

• Sometime Rap Sheet contributor Mark Coggins (The Dead Beat Scroll) is also a Bay Area photographer, and for years he’s posted examples of his street shots on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. He has also used those black-and-white images as chapter illustrations in his novels. Now, says Coggins, he’s put together Street Stories, “a street photography monograph with the best of my work from the last dozen years or so. Published by Poltroon Press—the house that published my first novel—the coffee table-sized book includes 52 images reproduced in tritone by a printer in Italy. It incorporates a reproduction of my Japanese ‘hanko’ stamp on the cover and features end papers in a matching red color.” This $50 book won’t released until mid-May, but in the meantime, Coggins tells me, “Poltroon Press is offering a $10 discount on pre-orders …” Click here to learn more.


Mark Coggins said...

Thanks for the mention, Jeff!

J. Kingston Pierce said...

You're most welcome, Mark. Good luck with the new monograph!


Lesa said...

The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. There's one I would love to have, but not at the prices they ask online. I wish Disney would release it again to the general public. My sister and I loved that when we saw it as children. The opening and that song! One of the original covers in Chris Grabenstein's juvenile Haunted Mystery series had a man on horseback with a sack over his head. Chris acknowledged he was influenced by The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh when I asked. I recognized it immediately.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

At least for the time being, an imperfect video version of The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh is available on YouTube: