Friday, September 24, 2021

Bullet Points: First of Fall Edition

• Shortly after I posted on this page about the 50th anniversary of the debut of Columbo as part of the NBC Mystery Moviewheel series,” I was contacted by Jeffrey Marks, the publisher at Crippen & Landru, who told me his company has in the works a posthumous collection of short stories by the two creators of that landmark TV crime drama, William Link and Richard Levinson. (Link passed away in 2020, Levinson in 1987). “Shooting Script and Other Mysteries is the title,” states Marks, “and it will be published this fall. I’m guessing November at this time.” Levinson and Link, as you may already know, became friends when they attended the same junior high school in Philadelphia, and they went on to be writing partners for 43 years. In addition to creating TV series and scripting films, they penned short pieces of fiction. Back in 2010, Crippen & Landru released Link’s The Columbo Collection, which featured a dozen of his new yarns starring Los Angeles’ best-known rumpled police detective. During a contemporaneous interview, Link told me he had another 16 that hadn’t made the cut; so “if it’s successful, I’ve already got enough for a follow-up book.” None of those 16 will be found in Shooting Script, according to Marks, though he adds, “I do plan on asking the [Link] estate about these stories after we complete this book. The Columbo Collection was one of our most popular collections.”

• Over the last month, Max Allan Collins has been writing, for the Web site of independent publisher NeoText, a lavishly illustrated column called “A Life in Crime.” Together, those essays will constitute what he calls “a kind of literary memoir about my various book series.” The first entry looked back at Collins’ youthful introduction to mystery and crime fiction; the second at his Nolan books; the third at his durable Quarry series; the fourth at the history and development of his Nathan Heller saga; and number five—posted earlier this week—tackles what he says is “the story of how Ms. Tree came to be, and includes a fantastic array of Terry Beatty’s cover art.” There are still two more columns to come, the lot of them intended to help promote the official release, early next month, of Fancy Anders Goes to War: Who Killed Rosie the Riveter?, Collins’ first—of three—World War II-backdropped mystery novellas for NeoText (available in both e-book and print form), with artwork by Fay Dalton.

• Publishing imprint HarperFiction has named the victors in its Killing It Competition for Undiscovered Writers, which was launched back in January as a way “to find unpublished writers from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.” Entrants were asked to submit the first 10,000 words of a crime, thriller, or suspense novel, plus a synopsis of their book running no more than 500 words in length. The judges ultimately chose three winners: information technology consultant Rama Varma, for a work-in-progress titled The Banana Leaf Murder; Stacey Thomas, a civil servant and staff reviewer at Bad Form Review, for The Revels; and BBC radio and TV producer Shabnam Grewal, for Secrets and Shame. “Each winner,” explains the blog Shotsmag Confidential, “will receive a comprehensive editorial report from a HarperFiction editor covering pace, characterisation, pitch and more, as well as three mentoring sessions.”

• Have you ever wanted to live in the Malloch Building, the Streamline Moderne-style apartment structure in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood made famous by the 1947 Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall picture Dark Passage? Your chance may finally have arrived! (Hat tip to Up and Down These Mean Streets.)

• Not only does Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state and presidential candidate, have a new novel due out next month (State of Terror, co-authored with Louise Penny), but she and her daughter, Chelsea, have announced that one of their enterprises, Global Light Productions, “has optioned film and TV rights to Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series.” Deadline reports that Hillary Clinton, “who has made no secret of her love of the mystery series throughout the years, featuring them on many of her reading lists,” recently broke this news to attendees at England’s Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention. “‘We’re also doing scripted projects so, for example, one of our favorite books that Chelsea and I have shared over the years is a book about a character called Maisie Dobbs, which is a series about a World War I field nurse who turns into a detective and we’ve just optioned it,’ Hillary Clinton said, adding how much she and Chelsea love the character and her journey during a time of ‘great social upheaval.’” Not surprisingly, there’s no word yet on when any Maisie Dobbs movie might actually reach theaters worldwide.

• Hoping that the COVID-19 pandemic will be at least more manageable a year from now, London’s Capital Crime Writing Festival has already begun selling tickets for its September 29-October 1, 2022, gathering. Plans are to hold next year’s festival in “a new, tented, venue in a central London park.” Organizers promise “a wide-ranging line-up of events focused on accessible, mainstream fiction loved by readers around the world, which entertain crime and thriller fans, readers and authors alike in the UK’s capital.” Tickets can be purchased here. Press materials say the celebrity guest lineup and further details will “be announced later this year.”

• Sri Lankan author Amanda Jayatissa has amassed an enviable amount of media attention for her brand-new debut novel, My Sweet Girl, described by one reviewer as a “darkly hilarious” thriller. Roughly put, the story concerns a young, borderline-alcoholic graphic designer, Paloma Evans, who insists she found her roommate, Arun, dead in their San Francisco apartment … yet there’s no corpse and no evidence that this roommate ever existed. Complicating the situation is that Arun had recently discovered a troubling secret from Paloma’s childhood as an orphan back in Sri Lanka, and was blackmailing her to stay quiet about it. Part of what’s brought such attention to this author’s work may be that Jayatissa has made herself widely available for interviews (at least via Zoom). Among the most entertaining such exchanges may come from the podcast Speaking of Mysteries, which recently found host Nancie Clare talking with the author about the gothic elements of her story, her personal experiences with orphanages, “white savior syndrome,” the difficulty she finds in writing “sensitive” scenes, her cookie business, and much more. Click here to listen in on their conversation.

(Above) Novelist Amanda Jayatissa

• Oh, and check out this list Jayatissa assembled, for CrimeReads, of six suspense thrillers set in South and East Asia. “Thrillers coming from South-East Asia are usually paced very differently,” she explains. “Rather than immediately diving into solving the crime, these thrillers take their time—giving the reader a slightly claustrophobic look at the killers themselves, their motivations, and the situations that have lead them there. More often than not, the reader is fully aware of who the killer is from the very beginning, but must instead piece together the rationalization for their crimes. The stakes are still high, but the suspense is often a slow burn, with a very high payoff.”

• From the “Fun Facts to Know and Tell” File: “It might be surprising for a John D MacDonald fan to learn,” writes Steve Scott in The Trap of Gold blog, “that Travis McGee’s 52-foot houseboat, The Busted Flush—which plays such a prominent role in so many of the 21 novels starring the author’s series character—has only been depicted by cover artists a handful of times. It was certainly surprising for me as I was researching this piece: I could have sworn I’d seen it more often. By my count I can find only four illustrations of the Flush on any of the various editions published in the United States prior to 1988, and I don’t think there have been any after that. All of the illustrations were inked by the great Robert McGinnis.”

• A curious story of literary rivalry, from The Guardian:
After The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was published in 1963 it went on to become John le Carré’s most widely acclaimed book, winning several awards, being adapted for a Richard Burton-led feature film and becoming one of the most highly regarded novels of the cold war era.

A year earlier another spy book had been published in Britain: the English translation of a work by Willem Frederik Hermans, one of the greatest Dutch authors of the 20th century. The book,
The Darkroom of Damocles, was an immediate success when it was published in the Netherlands, winning acclaim and also being adapted for film.

But while Le Carré admitted to being a fan of Hermans, and in particular of
The Darkroom of Damocles, the feeling was far from mutual. According to an interview that has come to light on the eve of the British publication of another of the Dutch author’s books, Hermans regarded Le Carré as an inferior novelist and someone who had plagiarised his work.
• Was Agatha Christie’s biggest-selling novel, 1939’s And Then There Were None, also inspired by a previous and now largely forgotten tale? Perhaps, says crime-fiction historian Curtis Evans, who penned the introduction to a forthcoming Dean Street Press re-release of 1930’s The Invisible Host, by Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning, husband-and-wife newspaper journalists in New Orleans. The Guardian’s Alison Flood notes that The Invisible Host “begins with eight guests invited to a penthouse by telegram, where they are then told over the radio that they will all soon be dead. ‘Do not doubt me, my friends; you shall all be dead before morning.’” Although Evans has conceded before that The Invisible Guest “lack[s] Christie's plausibility and ingenuity,” he tells Flood that the comparisons between these two venerable yarns are “not just a matter of similar elements being in play: the entire basic plot idea is the same …” Anna Hervé, the editorial director for literary estates at Christie’s publishing house, HarperCollins, remains unconvinced. “‘It’s always possible she heard something in passing,’ said Hervé. ‘There was a real fashion in the 1930s for locked-room mysteries, and The Invisible Host is a good example of one of those, but there is no evidence that Christie was aware of it. … The Invisible Host does have similarities,’ said Hervé, ‘but I don’t think anyone’s been able to find a connection. And I also think Christie being the person she was, if there had been a link she would have acknowledged it.” Judge the parallels for yourself; The Invisible Host goes on sale on both sides of the Atlantic on October 4.

• Another classic work given new life: A Pin to See the Peepshow, by F. (Fryniwyd) Tennyson Jesse (1888-1958), originally published in 1934, but scheduled to reach stores again in mid-October, courtesy of the British Library. As Elizabeth Foxwell explains in her blog, The Bunburyist, “The novel is based on the Thompson-Bywaters murder case of 1922-23. Jesse—the great-niece of Alfred, Lord Tennyson and a war correspondent, playwright, screenwriter, and novelist—was known for involvement in the series on notable British trials as well as her works with female detective Solange Fontaine.” Amazon’s plot synopsis for Peepshow reads: “Julia Almond believes she is special and dreams of a more exciting and glamorous life away from the drab suburbia of her upbringing. Her work in a fashionable boutique in the West End gives her the personal freedom that she craves, but escape from her parental home into marriage soon leads to boredom and frustration. She begins a passionate affair with a younger man, which has deadly consequences. … Julia becomes trapped by her sex and class in a criminal justice system in which she has no control. Julia finds herself the victim of society’s expectations of lower-middle-class female behavior and incriminated by her own words. F. Tennyson Jesse creates a flawed, doomed heroine in a novel of creeping unease that continues to haunt long after the last page is turned.”

• Three recent CrimeReads articles I enjoyed: Neil Nyren’s tour through the fictionalized Sicily of Inspector Salvo Montalbano, on the occasion of Penguin releasing Andrea Camilleri’s 28th and final Montalbano yarn, Riccardino; Olivia Rutigliano’s delightful essay about the delightful 2007-2009 ABC black comedy series, Pushing Daisies; and novelist Julia Dahl’s reflections on how she learned to “use the questions I had about the people in the articles I wrote in my day job as a reporter to explore—in fiction—the issues of trauma and regret and love and justice. To explore, in a word, humanity.”

• Meanwhile, Dahl submits to an interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books that includes her explanation of how her new novel, The Missing Hours, became a standalone. As she relates:
The initial idea was always drawn from reporting I’d done at CBS, mostly about the Steubenville rape case in 2012, an awful case of this teenager who’d been raped at a party. There were all these details that made me think, “What would it be like to be that girl? What would it be like to be her family?” I had a contract for another Rebekah [Roberts] book so I started thinking about how Rebekah could be connected. But as I started writing, I realized that this is not a Rebekah story, that forcing Rebekah in didn’t make sense. Happily, my editor was supportive. When I realized that maybe I could just not write a Rebekah book, just write the story that I was interested in, that was cool and freeing. As much as I love Rebekah—I will probably write another book about her someday—I was ready to write about other people. It was fun and challenging because suddenly I didn’t have an anchor character who I knew so well.”
• It seems rather close to the end of 2021 to bother naming “Best Books of the Year (So Far)” now, yet here’s The Real Book Spy’s Ryan Steck doing just that. His 20 selections are all thrillers, of course. They include Daniel Silva’s The Cellist, T.J. Newman’s Falling, Jack Carr’s The Devil’s Hand, S.A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears, Lisa Jewell’s The Night She Disappeared, and Connor Sullivan’s Sleeping Bear.

Here’s another similar list, this one compiled by Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine’s Down Under correspondent, Jeff Popple, and highlighting U.S., British, and Australian titles. Among his choices of 2021’s foremost crime, thriller, and debut novels so far: Jane Casey’s The Killing Kind, William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin’s The Dark Remains, Simon Rowell’s The Long Game, Sarah Bailey’s The Housemate, Jack Grimwood’s Island Reich, and Margaret Hickey’s Cutters End. If you want to order any of the Aussie releases, try the UK-based sales site Book Depository.

• I was very grateful when editor Rick Ollerman invited me, at the end of 2016, to write a regular column for Down & Out: The Magazine, a new digest-size publication being launched by book publisher Down & Out. The first perfect-bound issue, containing works of short fiction as well as non-fiction, rolled out in late summer 2017, and expectations of a steady stream of sequels were high. However, only half a dozen subsequent numbers of Down & Out: The Magazine have been mailed away to subscribers since that time, the last of those arriving in December 2020. So erratic did the publishing schedule become, that I felt it valuable at one point to reassure readers the mag hadn’t gone out of business without their being aware. Nonetheless, its future seems far from certain. Publisher Eric Campbell assured me not long ago, “We haven’t shut it down … just on a pause right now.” Still, Ollerman doesn’t leave me hopeful when he recounts the multiple health problems (a broken wrist, an “unidentified flu,” a brain hemorrhage, and cancer) that have kept him away from his editor’s responsibilities, and have left the periodical in limbo. At last check, he was dealing with “normal chronic back and neck pain,” and learning to eat again after surgery and radiation treatment. There’s been talk of bringing a new editor in to revive Down & Out: The Magazine, but Ollerman has trouble predicting the results of such a move. “The original version was so much out of my little brain,” he says, “I imagine a new person’s product would be something very different. That’s an interesting thought, anyway.” Where all of this leads might be anybody’s guess.

• How Aja Raden could choose, for The Guardian, what she says are the “Top 10 Books About Lies and Liars,” without mentioning a single book about the most destructive liar of our era, Donald Trump, is beyond me. (Hat tip to Campaign for the American Reader.)

• On Tuesday, October 5, Hallie Rubenhold, British social historian and author of the oustanding, award-winning 2019 non-fiction book The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, will debut a 15-part podcast called Bad Women: the Ripper Retold. Available wherever you usually get your podcasts, Bad Women will tell the real story of the Ripper’s victims “and how they came to be in the path of a serial killer—completely overturning the Ripper story we’ve been told up until now.” Listen to a preview here.

• The podcast Shedunnit is back, with host Caroline Crampton looking at mystery-writing partnerships, such as that between Gordon Neil Stewart and Pamela Hansford Johnson (who, as “Nap Leonard,” produced Murder’s a Swine), and Cordelia Biddle and Steve Zettler, who concoct crossword mysteries under the pseudonym Nero Blanc.

• Author Neil Albert has been writing his Ross Macdonald Blog since late 2020, but only this month did he finally begin to tackle Macdonald’s The Moving Target, for which he created one of the 20th century’s finest fictional sleuths, Lew Archer. Remarks Albert:
Macdonald’s fifth book is a watershed event for two reasons. First, Macdonald begins to display a sense of his own voice. Second, he introduces [Los Angeles private eye] Lew Archer as a tool in developing that voice.

By 1949, the year of publication, he had four books under his belt. He has paid his dues by writing sensationalized potboilers, derivative tough-guy stories, and overambitious psychological thrillers. As [Canadian novelist and short-story author] Carol Shields said, all writers have a lot of bad material inside themselves and when they get through that, their true worth emerges. I will put it more kindly by saying that in
The Moving Target, Ross Macdonald begins to find his voice.
At press time, Albert had posted five pieces about The Moving Target, a book I tackled as well in this 2019 article for CrimeReads.

• There must be something special awash in the zeitgeist, because Guy Savage chose Macdonald’s second Archer outing, The Drowning Pool, to review this week in His Futile Preoccupations …

• A promised six-part TV adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders appears to be coming along quite smartly, despite actor Timothy Spall’s decision this last spring to pull out of the production “due to a scheduling clash.” (He’s since been replaced in the role of detective Atticus Pünd by Tim McMullan.) According to Mystery Fanfare, the mini-series “wrapped production in London, Suffolk and Ireland last month.” That same blog features a trio of still photos from the project. There’s no trailer yet, nor a scheduled date when Magpie Murders might begin airing on PBS-TV’s Masterpiece and Britfox in the UK, but the release is expected sometime in 2022.

• The historical crime drama Endeavour, starring Shaun Evans and Roger Allam, isn’t likely to return to PBS-TV’s Masterpiece series in America until next year. However, its three-episode Series 8 is showing already in Great Britain. If you don’t mind spoilers, The Killing Times critiques Episode 1 here, and Episode 2 here. Chris Sullivan, of the blog Morse, Lewis and Endeavour, presents his own review of the opening entry in this latest—and last—run of Endeavour here.

• True-crime fan Alyse Burnside tries to get to the bottom of some readers’ fondness for cozy mysteries in this piece for The Atlantic.

• Talk about coincidences! In the same fortnight that Mystery and Suspense posted author Glen Robins’ thoughtful piece about the use of martial arts in thrillers, Charlie Chan specialist Lou Armagno blogged about the once-frequent use of karate chops to subdue adversaries in films and on television. The karate chop, Armagno observed, “was the extent of violence you’d see in [vintage] shows like: Peter Gunn, The Chevy Mystery Show, Dragnet, 77 Sunset Strip, T.H.E. Cat, Danger Man, The Saint and I Spy. Of course there were shootings! But usually never much blood and normally ‘He’ll be all right, it’s just a flesh wound.’ And should a mortal wound be required by gun or knife, it usually went unseen. No blood, or just a dollop or so, then a quick double-over and fall down you’re dead. But the karate chop! You might get chopped two or three times in one show and still come out OK. … ‘Uhg, what hit me?’” Ah, the good ol’ days.

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