Sunday, February 19, 2023

Bullet Points: Random Finds Edition

• It seems that British comedy writer John Finnemore (Cabin Pressure), one of the few people known to have solved the literary puzzle Cain’s Jawbone, has penned “an official sequel” to that work. As The Guardian’s Sarah Shaffi explains, the Cain’s Jawbone murder mystery was originally published in 1934, and was created by Edward Powys Mathers (aka “Torquemada”), the “cryptic crossword compiler” for Britain’s Observer newspaper. Mathers’ puzzle “can only be solved if readers rearrange its 100 pages in the correct order,” says Shaffi. “It became a literary phenomenon after book fans on TikTok discovered it.” About the contents of Finnemore’s sequel—set for release next year—The Guardian provides the following:
A locked room mystery, Finnemore’s new whodunnit hinges on a person found stabbed to death in the study of a complete stranger. The room was securely locked from the inside, but no weapon—or murderer—has ever been found, and the police investigation discovered no credible suspects or likely motive.

The murderer keeps, safely locked in a drawer, a box of 100 picture postcards. If arranged in the correct order and properly understood, these postcards will explain the murder in the study, and nine others that took place the same year. Readers need to re-order the postcards, one side of which features text, the other an image which is also a clue, in sequence to correctly solve and explain the 10 murders.
For now, Finnemore’s book, due out from crowdfunding publisher Unbound, is listed only as Untitled Mystery. However, Shaffi reports that “the title will be revealed to those who pledge during the crowdfunding campaign.” As of this writing, that campaign has 1,061 supporters at various reward levels.

• Crime Fiction Lover reports that the popular ITV-TV crime drama Unforgotten will return to British airwaves on Monday, February 27. This fifth season of the show finds Irish actress Sinéad Keenan stepping into shoes vacated by Nicola Walker, whose character, Detective Chief Inspector Cassie Stuart, was killed suddenly in a car crash at the end of Series 4. (Walker subsequently went on to headline the Alibi network’s Annika, which has been renewed for a second season.) Keenan has been cast as DCI Jessica James, who joins series regular DCI Sunil “Sunny” Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) in managing a team of London police detectives who specialize in solving cold cases. Their initial investigation together will, of course, be a “devilishly tricky one,” CFL explains. “During the renovation of a period property in [the West London district of] Hammersmith, a body is found bricked into the chimney. At first, Jessica is sceptical and warns that with its tight resources the team can only afford to investigate cases that have consequences in the here-and-now. After all, there’s the suggestion that the body could date as far back as the 1930s.” As usual, Season 5 will comprise six episodes. The UK blog What to Watch notes that “A U.S. release date has still to be announced.”

• Meanwhile, the ninth and concluding season of Endeavour—a prequel to the long-running Inspector Morse—is scheduled to begin its run on the same British network, ITV, come Sunday, February 26. There will be just three 90-minute episodes this time out, concluding on March 12. Although The Killing Times says Season 9 “plot details are currently embargoed,” Radio Times observes that the program’s “fans are bracing themselves for some sad scenes in the final three episodes, which will reveal how Morse (Shaun Evans) came to be estranged from his crime-solving partner, Fred Thursday (Roger Allam).” The PBS-TV Web site supplies nary a clue as to when this last season of Endeavour might become available to American viewers, but it does offer a brief video that recaps scenes from Evans’ decade spent in the role of Detective Sergeant Endeavour Morse.

• Speaking of Shaun Evans, it appears he will star with Anna Maxwell Martin (Line of Duty) in a four-part ITV adaptation of Delia Balmer’s 2017 true-crime memoir, Living with a Serial Killer. The story, according to Deadline, will focus on Balmer, a nurse “who fell for murderer John Sweeney (Evans) and overcame a horrific attack to provide vital evidence in the prosecution against her former lover.” Using a script by Nick Stevens (The Pembrokeshire Murders), filming on this mini-series is expected to begin next month.

• Season 2 of the HBO-TV series Perry Mason, starring Matthew Rhys, is slated to premiere on Monday, March 6. I haven’t seen much information about what to expect from those eight new episodes, but the Web site FedRegsAdvisor states they’ll be set in 1933—the last year of America’s failed Prohibition experiment—“with the protagonist’s law company taking on civil issues as opposed to criminal justice cases.” After the offspring of a powerful oil company exec is slain cruelly, and Los Angeles’ Depression-era “Hoovervilles” are searched for “the most obvious suspects, … Perry, Della [Street], and Paul [Drake] find themselves at the center of a case that reveals vast conspiracies and forces them to consider what it means to be truly guilty.” A most promising trailer for Season 2 is available here.

• A final TV note: The UK channel BBC One has released early images from Wolf, an upcoming crime drama based on the late author Mo Hayder’s novels about Detective Inspector Jack Caffery. English actor Ukweli Roach will be portraying Caffery.

• Because I have committed myself to attending this year’s Bouchercon, I’ve been on alert for news about that event. Which is why I noticed this generous offer. From In Reference to Murder: “A new Bouchercon Scholarship Award Program has been established to help mystery fans and writers with a financial subsidy. This subsidy covers registration fees for the annual Bouchercon convention, scheduled to be held in San Diego in 2023, as well as travel and lodging costs, reimbursed up to $500.00 (for up to five awardees). Interested applicants will need to write a 300- to 500-word essay on the applicant’s interest in attending Bouchercon and in the mystery genre and be willing to volunteer for no less than four hours at the event. The deadline is May 1st, with scholarship winners announced June 1.” Click here to find applications specifics.

• Nero Wolfe fans will find something extra to like about this San Diego Bouchercon. A banquet in honor of their favorite fictional sleuth has been scheduled for Friday, September 1, at Morton’s Steakhouse on J Street, “a 2-minute walk from the convention hotel, with shuttle rides available.” The cost is $175 per person, and it looks as if attendance is limited to members of the Wolfe Pack literary society.

• Max Allan Collins and James L. Traylor have been scoring plenty of favorable press coverage for their new, first-ever Mickey Spillane biography, Spillane: King of Pulp Fiction (Mysterious Press). That includes a joint interview with the Web site Bookreporter, from which we learn, for instance, why Spillane took a decade-long hiatus from writing after Kiss Me, Deadly was published in 1952. My humble contribution to these kudos is a short critique I posted earlier this week in January Magazine. Here it is in its entirety:
“The chewing gum of American literature” is how crime novelist Mickey Spillane described his books, which typically blended eye-for-an-eye justice with risqué innuendos and granite-chinned philosophizing (“Too many times naked women and death walked side by side”). And boy, did readers eat up his fiction, making his first Mike Hammer private-eye yarn, 1947’s I, the Jury, into a best-seller that spawned a dozen sequels and turned its protagonist into a radio, film, and TV fixture. Spillane developed his own media persona along the way, part-Hammer (he portrayed his Gotham gumshoe in a 1963 film, The Girl Hunters) and part-ham (he spoofed himself in a succession of Miller Lite beer commercials). In this enlightening biography, fellow writers Collins (his friend and posthumous collaborator) and Traylor make the most of their extraordinary access to Spillane’s personal archives, delivering incisive perspectives on his comic-book years, his multiple marriages, his pugnaciousness and wont to embellish the facts of his life, his surprising conversion by Jehovah’s Witnesses, his vexation with Hollywood, and his eventual recognition by peers who’d earlier condemned him as “a vulgar pulpmeister.” This book’s paramount success, though, is in casting Spillane as a trendsetting stylist, who recognized early the value of paperback publication and helped shape late-20th-century detective fiction.
• Until recently, I knew Mark Dawidziak mainly as the author of a fine 1989 TV retrospective, The Columbo Phile: A Casebook. But he is the man, too, behind a new biography that features prominently on my must-have list: A Mystery of Mysteries: The Death and Life of Edgar Allan Poe (St. Martin’s Press). In a CrimeReads extract from that book, Dawidziak recounts the “ongoing fascination” with Poe’s death, in Baltimore, at the tender age of 40—a subject that A Mystery of Mysteries addresses in some detail. Also posted recently in CrimeReads was Dean Jobb’s terrific look back at Poe’s 1843 horror story, “The Black Cat,” and the real-life murder that inspired it.

• Dammit! As I mentioned here last month, I have been looking forward to watching Marlowe, an adaptation of Benjamin Black’s 2014 Philip Marlowe continuation novel, The Black-Eyed Blonde, which debuted in theaters last week. Unfortunately, The A.V. Club’s Ray Greene is rather less than enthusiastic about this Liam Neeson film. As he remarks in a review, “Marlowe has seen it all—he’s a voyeur of the very worst human behaviors, and he’s world-weary to a fault. Liam is just plain weary—laconic, not iconic. Where Bogie and even a comparably aged Robert Mitchum were able to convey Marlowe as a man who at least remembers what caring felt like, Neeson is going through the motions of going through the motions. And the age thing doesn’t help. The only time Neeson’s Marlowe seems truly vulnerable is when he talks about the possibility of regaining his police pension. ‘I’m getting too old for this’ he moans after a fistfight, tempting audience agreement with the very phrase.” I’ll still plump for tickets to Marlowe, but go into it with lowered expectations.

• Thanks to the release of Poker Face on the Peacock streaming service, a 10-part “howcatchem” crime/comedy series that has garnered plenty of comparisons to Columbo, Peter Falk’s iconic L.A. police lieutenant has been enjoying a recent wave of reconsideration in critical circles. In this piece for the Web site of Boston’s WBUR-FM radio, Ed Siegel recalls an interview he had over dinner with Falk in the mid-’80s. In the meantime, Slate’s Cameron Gorman explains how the Internet turned Columbo “into a sex symbol and queer icon.”

• I am dearly hoping that this celebration of crime novelist Peter Robinson’s life and literary endeavors, to be held at England’s University of Leeds in early April, will be broadcast live via the Web. Robinson, you’ll recall, died last October at age 72.

• Tomorrow is Presidents’ Day here in the States—time to pour through Janet Rudolph’s extensive collection of mysteries that guest star or are built around American chief executives. You might also wish to revisit this article I wrote for CrimeReads about novels featuring authentic or imagined U.S. presidents.

• Subjects covered in Mike Ripley’s latest “Getting Away with Murder” column for Shots range from his long-ago stroke to the 1951 espionage film Decision Before Dawn and Steven Powell’s biography of James Ellroy, plus mentions of brand-new works by Stephen O’Shea, Kathleen Kent, David Brierley, Karen Smirnoff, and others.

• Worth checking out as well is the new, Winter 2013 issue of Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine, which is stuffed full of “best crime fiction” choices from the year that just was—selected both by DP critics and outside sources. Among this edition’s other contents are a wrap-up of Depression-era mysteries; reviews columns from such regulars as Ted Hertel, Meredith Anthony, and Kristopher Zgorski; and news that DP has added four contributors to its stable, all refugees from the recently closed Mystery Scene magazine: Kevin Burton Smith, Robin Agnew, Hank Wagner, and Craig Sisterson. Subscribe to this quarterly, or buy the Winter 2013 issue alone, by clicking here.

• And isn’t this interesting. Ramona Emerson’s 2022 crime/horror thriller, Shutter (Soho Crime), has moved up to the shortlist of titles vying for this year’s PEN America Literary Awards. It’s been nominated for both the PEN Open Book Award and the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel. Winners are to be announced on March 2 during an evening ceremony at The Town Hall in New York City.


Max Allan Collins said...

MARLOWE is the worst period private eye movie I've ever seen, and I've seen them all. The dialogue, plot, direction and acting are fascinatingly bad, making it also the worst movie I didn't walk out on. Probably the worst private eye movie in general. What it does manage is to demonstrate that the other movie called MARLOWE (with James Garner) actually isn't bad at all.

Art Taylor said...

Always enjoy these bulletpoint round-ups--so much great stuff here, including avoiding Marlowe (I had thought about going this weekend!) but also Cain's Jawbone, which my wife Tara gave me for Christmas, and I haven't looked at yet. And now a sequel ahead! I need to get to it....