Thursday, September 21, 2023

Bullet Points: Feelings of Fall Edition

• We still have a month to go before the U.S. release of director Martin Scorcese’s western crime drama, Killers of the Flower Moon. So for now, we’ll just have to be happy watching the trailer for that picture, featured below. Based on David Grann’s widely acclaimed non-fiction book of the same title, the story—set in the early 1920s—focuses on a succession of bewildering murders of dozens of wealthy members of the Osage tribe in northeastern Oklahoma, following the discovery of large oil deposits under their land. The U.S. Bureau of Investigation (predecessor of today’s FBI) was called in to investigate. Headlining this likely cinematic blockbuster are Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone, and Brendan Fraser. Killers of the Flower Moon is set to debut in U.S. theaters on October 20.

• Kenneth Branaugh’s A Haunting in Venice opened in U.S. theaters last week. I haven’t yet gotten around to seeing that big-screener, which is based on Agatha Christie’s 1969 Hercule Poirot novel, Hallowe’en Party, and stars Branaugh as the brainy Belgian sleuth. But based on Olivia Rutigliano’s assessment in CrimeReads, it sounds as if I might enjoy this one more than I did Branaugh’s previous Poirot picture, the scandal-plagued Death on the Nile. Rutigliano calls Haunting “a vibrant tapestry of drama and feeling, fueled by magnetic performances, splendid effects, and some of the best camerawork, lighting, and art direction of the year.” She concludes: “But the grandest, greatest thing about A Haunting in Venice is that it feels firmly tied to its location. Venice is Branagh’s idea, not Christie’s, but it works beautifully with the themes in the script. The camera lingers lovingly on the decaying walls and splintering wood and chipping paints of the once-opulent Venice, a spooky, creamy mysterious relic, itself. With all of this, Branagh has engineered one of the most effusive, hypnotic films I’ve seen all year ...”

• Using A Haunting in Venice as its springboard, the A.V. Club site selects its favorite Christie movie adaptations, including 1963’s Murder at the Gallop, 2022’s Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (a favorite of mine, too), and 1957’s Witness for the Prosecution. Those 15 write-ups are presented in slideshow fashion; click the “Start Slideshow” link within the artwork at the top of the page to get started.

• For his part, author Martin Edwards has little nice to say about director Peter Collinson’s suspense-deficient, 1974 version of Christie’s renowned And Then There Were None.

• Meanwhile, UK author Cara Hunter (Murder in the Family) muses on the continuing literary appeal of Dame Agatha’s “closed circle crime” narrative trope, which Hunter describes thusly: “A group of apparently random people gathered in some more or less artificial isolation—a train, an island, a ship, a country house—whereupon everything starts to go horribly wrong and they realise, with growing horror, that one among their number is a killer.” As examples of such yarns, she cites Christie’s Evil Under the Sun (1941), as well as eight other books, one of them a work of non-fiction.

• Rounding out today’s Christie-related coverage are two posts playing off the fun new book Agatha Whiskey: 50 Cocktails to Celebrate the Bestselling Novelist of All Time, by Colleen Mullaney (Skyhorse). Both Dave Bradley, in Crime Fiction Lover, and Doreen Sheridan, in Criminal Element, decided to mix up and judge some of this book’s libations for themselves. Nice work, if you can get it …

• The Literary Salon reports that Dennis Lehane’s latest standalone thriller, Small Mercies (published in France as Le Silence), is one of eight novels longlisted for this year's Grand prix de littérature américaine—“a prize for the best American novel translated into French.” The winner is to be announced on November 6.

• As 2023 winds into its fourth and final quarter, Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine editor George Easter is seeing more agreement among his cadre of book critics as to which of this year’s releases will wind up on the mag’s “best of the year” list. He observes that the following 16 novels now appear on multiple lists:

All the Sinners Bleed, by S. A. Cosby
My Father’s House, by Joseph O’connor
Resurrection Walk, by Michael Connelly
Going Zero, by Anthony Mccarten
Everybody Knows, by Jordan Harper
Small Mercies, by Dennis Lehane
The River We Remember, by William Kent Krueger
Expectant, by Vonda Symon
Lying Beside You, by Michael Robotham
The Detective Up Late, by Adrian McKinty
The Secret Hours, by Mick Herron
Independence Square, by Martin Cruz Smith
Moscow Exile, by John Lawton
Drowning, T.J. Newman
Ozark Dogs, by Eli Cranor
Assassin Eighteen, by John Brownlow

• Sadly, editor Gerald So has discontinued regular updates of his “crime poetry weekly,” The Five-Two, due to an inadequacy of submissions. Its September 4 poem, “‘Something Fishy’ by J.H. Johns, about the recent arrest of a suspect in the Gilgo Beach murders,” was the last published entry, he says. So, a teacher, book reviewer, contributing editor to The Thrilling Detective We Site, and co-founder of The Lineup: Poems on Crime, launched the Five-Two in 2011, bringing readers new crime-related verse each week—52 entries per year. But in 2022, So recalls, “Elon Musk chaotically took over Twitter, upending an important news outlet for the site, and Blogger’s post editor became unreliable in the wee hours, the time I usually worked on the site.” In the future, So says, the blog will be given over to “sporadically” publicizing news about Five-Two alumni.

• I very much enjoyed British crime novelist David Hewson’s complex, four-book series about “Pieter Vos, a rather eccentric detective living a bohemian life in a canalboat” in Amsterdam, and have been disappointed at the utter lack of fresh entries since Sleep Baby Sleep came out in 2017. Hewson, though, is at least celebrating the fact that the original novels are “now back in my hands and available as revised e-book and print editions exclusively on Amazon worldwide. Plus there’s an omnibus e-book edition of all four titles too.”

• Happy 90th birthday this week to David McCallum, the Scottish-born actor who co-starred with Robert Vaughn in the trendsetting 1960s spy-fi series The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

• Here’s a delightful CrimeReads piece about the history of true-crime storytelling. “Long before Stitcher, Netflix, and TikTok, stories of young women being killed were shared through folksongs that were often inspired by real events—just like Lifetime movies,” writes Janet Beard, author of The Ballad of Laurel Springs. “Murder ballads are folksongs that tell the story of a violent crime, usually the murder of a young woman, most often by a lover. These songs were popular throughout the United States in the nineteenth century, though they have become particularly associated with southern Appalachia, where they are an essential part of the region’s musical traditions. Earlier versions of many of the popular Appalachian murder ballads, such as ‘Pretty Polly’ or ‘Silver Dagger,’ can be traced back hundreds of years to England and Scotland, though in their heyday, plenty of homegrown American ballads, like ‘The Banks of the Ohio’ or ‘Tom Dooley,’ made their way around the country, telling the stories of real-life murders in a time before people could tune into Dateline to hear them.”

• R.I.P., James Hayman, author of the McCabe & Savage police procedural mysteries. Mystery Fanfare notes he died on June 15 “after a six month battle with glioblastoma.”

• Following the great time I had at Bouchercon in San Diego earlier this month, I’m giving serious thought to attending the next Left Coast Crime convention, scheduled to be held in Bellevue, Washington, from April 11 to 14, 2024. Getting there each morning would require only a short drive (much longer during rush hour) across Lake Washington from my home in Seattle. But what’s stopping me so far is the registration price: $329, compared with Bouchercon’s $230. Fortunately, I need not commit myself at this stage, though to take advantage of that $329 fee, I must register by December 31; after that the price will shoot up to $349. It’s been years since my last time at LCC—is participation always this pricey?

A welcome Banacek retrospective in T-Magazine.

Campaigns by narrow-minded right-wingers to censor books are an insult to the intelligence of readers. Nonetheless, they are relentless. From National Public Radio:
There were nearly 700 attempts to ban library books in the first eight months of 2023, according to data released Tuesday by the American Library Association. From Jan. 1 to Aug 31, the attempts sought to challenge or censor 1,915 titles, a 20% increase compared to the same months in 2022, the organization said. Last year saw the most challenges since the ALA began tracking book censorship more than two decades ago. But the real numbers may even be higher. The ALA collects data on book bans through library professionals and news reports, and therefore, its numbers may not encompass all attempts to ban or censor certain books.
Ideology-driven reading restraints in American schools are an especially pernicious problem, denying students the right to learn the complete breadth and truth of their history, and to possibly expand their perspectives on the world. Again from NPR: “School book bans and restrictions in the U.S. rose 33% in the last school year, according to a new report from the free speech group PEN America, continuing what it calls a worrisome effort aimed at the ‘suppression of stories and ideas.’ Florida had more bans than any other state.”

• And Bookgasm is finally back—sort of. The blog disappeared suddenly last December, the victim of a belligerent hacking. Since then, editor Rod Lott says he’s “fought a constant battle between my URL registrant, site host and site security provider, all pointing fingers at one another, some promising multiple times it would be up within 24 hours.” While a stripped-down version of Bookgasm’s front page is visible at its former location, Lott notes that “The old reviews aren’t accessible at the moment. The good news: They’re not gone; I can click into them on the back end and all the content is there.” Now he just has to figure out how to make everything work right again. “I’m not highly skilled at this thing,” he acknowledges, “nor do I have the allotted free time to devote [to it that] I did when I started this site two decades ago! Bear with me as I get this thing rebuilt.”

1 comment:

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Sad to see news here that Gerald So shut down The 5-2. When he was part of things at SMFS, this site was one of the valuable things he did. One does not think about crime fiction in terms of poetry and he did and made it all work very well. This is going to be missed.