Saturday, January 21, 2023

Bullet Points: It’s International Sweatpants Day!

Of course, every day is Sweatpants Day at Rap Sheet headquarters, thanks to COVID-19 and the consequent decline that pandemic caused in dress codes hereabouts. However, the cheeky political blog Wonkette informs me that International Sweatpants Day is actually a thing, celebrated every January 21 to draw attention to the soft bottoms that have now been part of our wardrobe since the 1920s.

Knowing that just makes you want to snuggle in and read news tidbits from the world of crime fiction, right? We’ve got you covered.

• Shock! Among the longlisted nominees for this year’s PEN America Literary Awards is a crime thriller: Shutter, by Native American writer Ramona Emerson, released last August by Soho Crime. Shutter is vying for both the PEN Open Book Award and the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel. PEN finalists will be announced in February, with the prizes to be give out on March 2.

• In Reference to Murder brings word that independent British publisher Joffe Books has “announced the shortlist for the Joffe Books Prize for Crime Writers of Colour 2022. This year’s pool of entries covered the gamut of gritty police procedurals to wrenching domestic suspense, evocative historical mysteries to page-turning cosies. Out of the longlist of twenty, five stood out, forming the official shortlist: The Labelled Bones by F.Q. Yeoh; Everyone Is Going to Know by Kingsley Pearson; The Smiling Mandarin by Mai Le Dinh; Red Obsession by Rose Lorimer; and Savage Territory by Sam Genever.” A winner is to be declared sometime this month.

From that same source come the recipients of this year’s Deutscher Krimi Preis, which Wikipedia says is “the oldest and most prestigious German literary prize for crime fiction.”

• Finally, the alternative history thriller Widowland, by C.J. Carey (aka Jane Thynne, the widow of Philip Kerr), is one of six finalists for the 2023 Philip K. Dick Award. That commendation is presented annually for “distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States during the previous calendar year.” New York Journal of Books describes Widowland as “The Handmaid’s Tale meets Fatherland,” a dystopian page-turner that “sound[s] alarm bells about how totalitarian regimes gradually come to power, oppressing and terrifying people forced to live in countries ruled by deranged dictators.” I enjoyed Carey/Thynne’s book immensely, and went on to order the UK hardcover edition of its follow-up, 2022’s Queen High (which is set for paperback publication in the States this coming July as Queen Wallis). Whether it can capture the Dick Award, though, is uncertain. It’s up against some stiff competition, including Rich Larson’s Ymir and Rachel Swirsky’s January Fifteenth. The winning title is to be revealed on April 7.

Mike Ripley’s “Getting Away with Murder” column for January includes his remarks on Jimmy Sangster’s vintage spy novels, James Kestrel’s Five Decembers (“a wonderfully epic thriller spanning the years of WWII in the Pacific”), the Penguin Modern Classics reissuing of three Eric Ambler thrillers, and new or forthcoming works by David Brierley, C.J. Tudor, Chris Hammer, Natalie Marlow, and others.

• Why had I never heard of this 1984 film version of A Flash of Green, John D. MacDonald’s 1962 standalone novel of the same name? The story follows a small-town Florida newspaper reporter (played by Ed Harris), who finds himself conflicted over an ecological group’s efforts to stop a local real-estate development and the corrupt county commissioner supporting it. Radiator Heaven says, “A Flash of Green might be the most low-key crusading journalist film ever made.”

• Like so many other people, I have spent way too many hours recently avoiding inclement conditions outside, instead hunkering down in front of my television. This has given me the opportunity to catch up with several small-screen projects about which I had heard favorable things. Three Pines, for instance, a flawed but engaging Amazon Prime mini-series based on Louise Perry’s Inspector Armand Gamache yarns. And The Pale Blue Eye, Netflix’s grim but captivating interpretation of Louise Bayard’s 2006 historical mystery, starring Christian Bale as a retired New York City police constable called out to solve murders at the West Point Military Academy, and Henry Melling as Edgar Allan Poe, the eccentric cadet recruited to help him. Also included in my viewing: Karen Pirie, an excellent three-part BritBox crime drama based on Val McDermid’s 2003 novel, The Distant Echo, and starring Lauren Lyle as a young police sergeant in St. Andrews, Scotland, charged with re-examining the cold case murder of a barmaid. (Enjoy a preview here.) With that watched, I have now moved on to Sherwood, a tense and much-acclaimed, six-part thriller about bow-and-arrow killings in a mining village in Nottinghamshire, England. Plenty of familiar faces appear in this show, notably those of David Morrisey (Thorne, The Walking Dead), Lesley Manville (Magpie Murders), Kevin Doyle and Joanne Froggatt (both from Downton Abbey), Andrea Lowe (formerly of DCI Banks), and Clare Holman (Inspector Lewis).

• Still to come: Poker Face, a mystery comedy-drama starring Natasha Lyonne, created by Knives Out director Rian Johnson and slated to debut this coming January 26 on the TV streaming service Peacock. I haven’t seen anything more of this program than its trailer, but others have compared Poker Face with Peter Falk’s Columbo, The Columbophile blog going so far as to say, “it could be the closest thing we’ll ever get to a reboot” of that NBC Mystery Movie series.

Marlowe, the film starring Liam Neeson as Raymond Chandler’s iconic Los Angeles private eye, Philip Marlowe, won’t premiere until February 15, but already it’s being criticized as overlit and shallow, with too much emphasis on action set pieces and too old a star (Neeson turned 70 last year). I’ll withhold judgment until I see it for myself. The film was written by William Monahan, based on Benjamin Black’s 2014 Chandler pastiche, The Black-Eyed Blonde. Here’s part of my long-ago CrimeReads synopsis of that story:
Irishman John Banville, under his mystery-writing Black pseudonym, delivers us back to sun-flogged L.A. in the early 1950s, where we witness Marlowe accepting a case from curvaceous young perfume heiress Clare Cavendish. She says her paramour, Nico Peterson, a Hollywood talent agent short on talent and long on caddish impulses, vanished two months ago. She wants him back. Marlowe is skeptical, and with good reason: He learns Nico didn’t simply drop out of sight—he was the victim of a hit-and-run accident outside Pacific Palisades’s ritzy Cahuilla Club. So why, Clare counters, did she recently spot him in San Francisco? And whose corpse had been misidentified as Nico’s? Marlowe spars with cops, crooks, and club managers alike, but seems to be getting nowhere. It looks as if he’ll finally catch a break when he tracks down Nico’s sister; but she’s promptly kidnapped, and subsequently brutalized. Banville captures the bleakness, sardonic dialogue, periodic pummelings, and bent toward clever observations over tight plotting that marked Chandler’s storytelling. Although his witticisms pale beside the master’s (“The house wasn’t all that big, if you consider Buckingham Palace a modest little abode”), Banville does give us Marlowe in all his weary, determinedly hopeful, gumshoe-Galahad glory.
The film’s time period has been moved back to 1939, perhaps to recapture the allure of Chandler’s original tales. In addition to Neeson, Marlowe (not to be confused with James Garner’s 1969 picture of that same title) stars Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Colm Meaney. A trailer is embedded below.

• To help celebrate this year’s “70th anniversary of ... internationally famous MI6 spy James Bond 007,” comic-book publisher Dynamite Entertainment will release a new series, 007: For King and Country, by writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson and artist Giorgio Spalletta.

• I’m looking forward to a couple of Library of America releases, Five Classic Thrillers 1961–1964 and Four Classic Thrillers 1964–1969, both due out in hardcover in September. Fredric Brown, Margaret Millar, Chester Himes, and Dan J. Marlowe are among the authors whose work will be showcased in these volumes.

• Have you ever wanted to own the Lotus Elan Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) drove in the 1960s TV spy series The Avengers? Well, now’s your chance! British auto specialist Silverstone Auctions will offer that Opalescent Blue sports car in a live auction on February 25. Just be sure you have £80,000 to £120,000 on hand to begin bidding.

• And conspiracy theories have become so ubiquitous and nutty in this modern era, it’s hard anymore to be amazed at their ridiculousness. But the contention, spread by flat-earthers, that the continent of Australia is nothing but a hoax, “a cover-up for one of the greatest mass murders in history”? Where does one even start debunking that notion? I’ve been to Australia; I spent most of a month there and drove halfway across its northern reaches. To say that the continent doesn’t exist is straight out of crazyville!


Jerry House said...

Of course there is an Australia. In researching this, I found the rumor traced back to a dyslectic who had meant Austria. Indeed, Austria does not exist and is an elaborate construct to disguise a massive international marillenknodel smuggling operation.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

I'd like to know why critics finding fault with Liam Neeson's age in _Marlowe_ have somehow missed that Robert Mitchum was 60 when _The Big Sleep_ was filmed in 1977.