Saturday, October 21, 2023

Bullet Points: Info Dump Edition

• It’s only the third week of October, but already American bookseller Barnes & Noble has announced what it says are the “Best Mystery Books of 2023.” Here are that chain’s 10 selections:

After That Night, by Karin Slaughter (HarperCollins)
The River We Remember, by William Kent Krueger (Atria)
The Last Devil to Die, by Richard Osman (Pamela Dorman)
The Raging Storm, by Ann Cleeves (Minotaur)
The Only One Left, by Riley Sager (Dutton)
Zero Days, by Ruth Ware (Gallery/Scout Press)
Small Mercies, by Dennis Lehane (Harper)
All the Sinners Bleed, by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron)
You Shouldn’t Have Come Here, by Jeneva Rose (Blackstone)
Murder Your Employer: The McMasters Guide to Homicide, by Rupert Holmes (Avid Reader Press)

Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine editor George Easter observes that, in addition to those, B&N’s “Best Fiction of 2023 list [contains] two titles that some consider mystery fiction”: Bright Young Women, by Jessica Knoll (Simon & Schuster/Marysue Rucci); and I Have Some Questions for You, by Rebecca Makkai (Viking).

• Author Max Allan Collins spreads the word that actor Todd Stashwick, who commanded such attention as the irksome Captain Liam Shaw in Season 3 of Star Trek: Picard, has been cast as Chicago private investigator Nathan Heller in the pilot for a podcast version of Collins’ longest-running crime series. Said pilot is adapted from Chapter 1 of Stolen Away (1991), the fifth Heller yarn.

• This page has frequently highlighted instances of stock photography being overused on crime and thriller novels. Here are two additional examples: Last Night at the Hollywood Canteen, by Sarah James (Sourcebooks Landmark, November 2024); Hard Girls, by J. Robert Lennon (‎Mulholland, February 2024).

Do publishers think readers don’t notice such blatant duplications, or that we just don’t care about them? I can’t decide.

• It’s sad to hear that the respected books Web site LitReactor is going out of business after a dozen years. Financing problems and the death of one of its co-founders are cited as reasons for LitReactor shutting down as of December 31. “The site will no longer be accessible after that,” we are informed. As it turns out, there were several links to LitReactor pieces in The Rap Sheet. I have already replaced those with archive pages from The Wayback Machine.

• Just in time for Halloween, Mystery Fanfare blogger Janet Rudolph has posted her updated (and remarkably lengthy) lists of mystery novels and short-story anthologies linked to that celebration.

• In a CrimeReads piece from 2019, Olivia Rutigliano argues that Bram Stoker’s 1897 horror novel, Dracula, is also “an incredibly complex, fascinating mystery.” Well, I for one am convinced.

• Longtime boob-tube fanatics should find more treats than tricks in this post from Comfort TV that sees David Hofstede digging up an assortment of haunted houses in classic television shows.

• And Caroline Crampton is back with the latest episode of her podcast, Shedunnit. The topic this time around is how “the supernatural and the rational come together in the murder mystery.” Works referenced include Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, Margery Allingham’s Look to the Lady, John Dickson Carr’s The Red Widow Murders, and Gladys Mitchell’s Wraiths and Changelings.

Texas Monthly’s Chris Vognar profiles Houston’s Murder by the Book as part of the magazine’s Indie Bookstore Week salute, writing:
For all of the foreboding tales within, Houston’s Murder by the Book feels soft and inviting, with massive windows up front and plenty of places inside to kick back and dig into something grisly. With its coffee mugs and T-shirts shouting out famous crime-solving heroes (plenty of “Holmes& Watson& Marple& Poirot” merch), the place looks downright friendly. “There’s a lot of natural light and, depending on the time of day, natural darkness,” says Lou Berney, an Edgar-winning thriller author, who always looks forward to reading from his novels at the venerable crime bookstore. “Events start out cheerful and end up kind of ominous and spooky. I love that.”

Don Winslow, a dean of crime fiction, visits Murder by the Book whenever he’s on tour, including a recent stop to discuss his new novel,
City of Dreams. The British thriller master Ruth Ware came through in June to promote Zero Days. Best-selling novelists Michael Connelly and James Lee Burke are regulars. The store, a Houston literary staple since 1980, draws throngs of crime aficionados to these events, and at four thousand square feet, it has plenty of room for them to roam.

Murder by the Book harvests a sort of glee in terrible doings. It serves up bloodshed not just with a smile, but also with a flurry of knowledgeable recommendations based on devoted clients’ interests. “I never get out of there without buying three or four excellent novels I wouldn’t have found otherwise,” Berney says. It’s like Cheers, but with poison in the beer.
(Hat tip to In Reference to Murder.)

• Owlcation’s Ronald E. Franklin once more raises that eternal question: Were Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason and Della Street ever connected romantically? “The fact that his secretary never became Mrs. Della Mason,” he explains, “was certainly not due to lack of trying on Perry’s part—he proposed five separate times, but Della turned him down every time.” (Hat tip to The Bunburyist.)

• Speaking of Mason, a video games and sports Web site called JStationX has posted a piece about the 1960 Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Violent Village.” It’s pretty bland, overall, but mentions that Mason “made appearances in other novels written [by] Erle Stanley Gardner, such as the Cool and Lam series.” What? Thanks to an extraordinary bit of luck, I own all 30 of the Bertha Cool/Donald Lam detective novels. And though I haven’t worked my way through every single one of those yet, nowhere have I come across a cameo appearance by Los Angeles’ best-known fictional defense attorney. Can anyone tell me in which book Mason figures, if he does?

• Hard as this may be to believe, I completely failed to notice the 65th anniversary of 77 Sunset Strip’s ABC-TV premiere in 1958. Fortunately, blogger Terence Towles Canote’s did not.

• It was half a century ago this month that “Shaft made its move from big to small screen with the broadcast of ‘The Executioners’ as part of the CBS New Tuesday Night Movie series,” recalls Steve Aldous, author of The World of Shaft (2015). The show didn’t fare well in prime time, not well at all. “The series,” adds Aldous, “lasted for only seven feature-length episodes playing every third week as part of a rotating series with James Stewart’s country lawyer show Hawkins and a standalone CBS TV movie on a Tuesday night over five months.” A 111-day Hollywood writers strike in 1973 and an egregious watering-down of the sexy, ass-kicking protagonist Richard Roundtree had made famous in theaters were blamed for the show’s early demise.

• Meanwhile, Aldous has lately been stuffing his World of Shaft Facebook page with historical ephemera (newspaper clippings, magazine stories, etc.) related not only to the Shaft TV show, but also to the third and final Shaft film, Shaft in Africa, which marked its 50th anniversary this year, too.

• I’m only halfway through watching Season 3 of Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building, starring Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez. Yet already the streaming channel has picked up that mystery-comedy series for a fourth season.

• Season 8 of the BBC One TV series Shetland, with Scottish actress Ashley Jensen taking over as lead from Douglas Henshall (who left after seven seasons), is set to debut in the UK on Wednesday, November 1. You can watch a brief trailer below. So far, there hasn’t been any announcement of when the new set of episodes will reach American TV screens, but we are hoping to hear soon.

• This I didn’t see coming. From In Reference to Murder:
Margot Robbie’s LuckyChap and Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company are in talks to co-produce a remake of the classic 1934 comedy mystery, The Thin Man, after the rights recently became available. Previously, Rob Marshall and Johnny Depp were set to direct and star, respectively, in a remake, until Warner Brothers scrapped that project in 2012. Based on the Dashiell Hammett crime novel, The Thin Man is a murder mystery about a husband and wife who partner up to find a missing acquaintance, later discovered to be murdered. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke, the 1934 film starred William Powell as husband Nick Charles and Myrna Loy as wife Nora Charles and was nominated for four Academy Awards, including best picture and best actor for William Powell. (It was followed by five sequels.)
• The graphic novel version of Agatha Christie’s 1934 Hercule Poirot whodunit, Murder on the Orient Express—adapted and illustrated by Bob Al-Greene—was released in September and has been enjoying favorable notices since. BOLO Books’ Kristopher Zgorski, for instance, calls it “a beautiful and faithful recreation of the narrative we all know and love in visual format.” His fellow critic Lesa Holstine opines, “This is an excellent way to introduce Agatha Christie to fans of graphic novels or new readers of the author.” I have a copy of that paperback book myself, and have been wending my way through it before bed each night. The fact that I know how the story ends doesn’t inhibit my relishing this new treatment; nor am I bothered by Al-Greene having condensed portions of the text for visual-storytelling purposes. Frankly, the only thing I find slightly jarring is the artist’s portrayal of Poirot as having a completely bald noggin and an imposing mustache that sweeps up to the tops of his ears (but is still less peculiar than the cookie duster Kenneth Branaugh sported in his three Poirot pictures). I don’t remember either of those from the many book-cover illustrations of Christie’s brilliant Belgian sleuth.

• Although you may not have noticed, I followed through on my commitment to give this page’s right-hand blogroll a trim. But one of the sites I’d targeted, Alpha-60 books, managed to stave off the knife by posting a new review (of William Campbell Gault’s 1958 Joe Puma novel, Night Lady) right before I began pruning.

• In The Girl with All the Crime Books, critic and blogger Louise Fairbairn interviews E.S. (Elaine) Thomson, whose fifth Jem Flockhart/Will Quartermain historical mystery, Under Ground, is new on shelves in Great Britain this month. (It’s not slated for distribution in the States until next March.)

• Young Depression-era robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow hold a prominent, infamous place in U.S. history. But how many remember Lucille Walker and Alexander Mackay, who “captured countless headlines as they led a six-week rampage of robberies across Los Angeles,” commencing in late 1930?

• Finally, let us pay our respects to California-born actress Suzanne Somers, who passed away on October 15. As A Shroud of Thoughts notes, she was most familiar for co-starring in the TV sitcoms Three's Company and Step by Step. However, my earliest memory of Somers comes from a 1974 Rockford Files episode, “The Big Rip-off,” that was broadcast three years before Three’s Company hit the airwaves, and in which the then-28-year-old blonde played a woman suspected of offing her husband. Her list of subsequent TV drama guest spots is short (Starsky and Hutch, The Six Million Dollar Man), but prior to Rockford she did have uncredited roles in the films Bullitt and Magnum Force. Eventually, Somers became a controversial spokesperson on subjects related to health and well-being. She died at age 76 after being diagnosed with stage II breast cancer. FOLLOW-UP: The Los Angeles Times says Somers “died of ‘breast cancer with metastasis to the brain,’ according to a report citing her death certificate.”


Jerry House said...

Just where did Perry Mason appear in a Bertha Cool-Donald Lam novel? In your dreams.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Ha! That's what I would have said, too, Jerry.


Kevin R. Tipple said...

Thank you very much for keeping Kevin's Corner on your roll. Things are slower than I would like, but my health and other factors, seem to be making things the way they are these days. Thank you.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

You do good work, Kevin. I'm happy to continue promoting your blog.


Anonymous said...

Re: cool/lam/mason crossover, that same site claims: “ There have been crossover novels featuring Perry Mason and other prominent detective characters, such as “The Case of the One-Eyed Witness” with Donald Lam and Bertha Cool.”

As a result, I read ‘the case of the one eyed witness’ yesterday cover to cover. Neither Cool nor Lam make any appearance in the slightest. And to top it off, the ending is possibly the most ridiculously convoluted in ESG lore. You’d need to hire Cool & lam to make any sense of it.

Risto Raitio said...

I'm afraid we Finns were subjected to this Colonel Blimp like version of Poirot already back in 1937 when The Murder on the Orient Express was first translated. q.v.

J. Kingston Pierce said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J. Kingston Pierce said...

Here's Tony Baer's recent write-up, in Mystery*File, about the aforementioned Perry Mason novel, The Case of the One-Eyed Witness: