Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Stick-with-You Stories

As I mentioned a month ago, I was tapped to participate in a panel discussion during Bouchercon 2015, which took place this last week in Raleigh, North Carolina. My fellow book critics and I were asked to speak about some of the crime, mystery, and thriller novels that have satisfied and/or surprised us most over the years. I began with a list of way too many choices, but finally pared that down to 10 titles.

Because most readers could not be on hand for that discussion in Raleigh, I decided to devote my latest Kirkus Reviews column to my 10 picks. I wrote the column last week, just before departing for the South. But it was only posted here today.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Rewards from Raleigh

I finally returned home earlier this evening from the 2015 Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, a four-day event held in Raleigh, North Carolina. During my time in the Tar Heel State, I had intended to post … well, at least something. But as it turned out, I was unable to remember the password necessary to get into my Blogger account, so I couldn’t do a darn thing with The Rap Sheet while I was away. Only now am I able to post the results of four different prize competitions announced during this last weekend.

(Winners chosen by Bouchercon attendees)

Best Novel: After I’m Gone, by Laura Lippman (Morrow)

Also nominated: Lamentation, by Joe Clifford (Oceanview); The Secret Place, by Tana French (Viking); The Long Way Home, by Louise Penny (Minotaur); and Truth Be Told, by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge)

Best First Novel: The Black Hour, by Lori Rader-Day (Seventh Street)

Also nominated: Blessed Are the Dead, by Kristi Belcamino (Witness Impulse); Ice Shear, by M.P. Cooley (Morrow); Invisible City, by Julia Dahl (Minotaur); and The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskens (Seventh Street)

Best Paperback Original: The Day She Died, by Catriona McPherson (Midnight Ink)

Also nominated: Stay with Me, by Alison Gaylin (Harper); The Killer Next Door, by Alex Marwood (Penguin); World of Trouble, by Ben H. Winters (Quirk); and No Stone Unturned, by James W. Ziskin (Seventh Street)

Best Critical or Non-fiction Work: Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer’s Journey, edited by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Henery Press)

Also nominated: The Figure of the Detective: A Literary History and Analysis, by Charles Brownson (McFarland); Death Dealer: How Cops and Cadaver Dogs Brought a Killer to Justice, by Kate Clark Flora (New Horizon); Dru’s Book Musings, by Dru Ann Love; and Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe, by J.W. Ocker (Countryman)

Best Short Story: “The Odds Are Against Us,” by Art Taylor (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], November 2014)

Also nominated: “Honeymoon Sweet,” by Craig Faustus Buck (from Murder at the Beach: The Bouchercon Anthology 2014; Down & Out); “The Shadow Knows,” by Barb Goffman (from Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, edited by Barb Goffman and Marcia Talley; Wildside Press); “Howling at the Moon,” by Paul D. Marks (EQMM), November 2014); and “Of Dogs & Deceit,” by John Shepphird (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, November 2014)

Best Anthology or Collection: In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon, edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger (Pegasus)

Also nominated: FaceOff, edited by David Baldacci (Simon & Schuster); Murder at the Beach: The Bouchercon Anthology 2014, edited by Dana Cameron (Down & Out); Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen, edited by Joe Clifford (Gutter); and Carolina Crimes: Nineteen Tales of Lust, Love, and Longing, edited by Karen Pullen; Wildside Press)

In addition, this year’s David S. Thompson Award, recognizing “extraordinary efforts to develop and promote the mystery and crime fiction community,” was given to Bill and Toby Gottfried.

(Presented by the Private Eye Writers of America)

Best Hardcover P.I. Novel: Hounded, by David Rosenfelt (Minotaur)

Nominated: The Hollow Girl, by Reed Farrel Coleman (Tyrus); The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith (Mulholland); Tokyo Kill, by Barry Lancet (Simon & Schuster); and Peter Pan Must Die, by John Verdon (Crown)

Best First P.I. Novel: Invisible City, by Julia Dahl (Minotaur)

Also nominated: Bad Country, by C.B. McKenzie (Minotaur); Last of the Independents, by Sam Wiebe (Dundurn); Wink of an Eye, by Lynn Chandler Willis (Minotaur); and City of Brick and Shadow, by Tim Wirkus (Tyrus)

Best Original Paperback P.I. Novel: Moonlight Weeps, by Vincent Zandri (Down & Out)

Also nominated: The Detective and the Pipe Girl, by Michael Craven (Bourbon Street); Beauty with a Bomb, by M.C. Grant (Midnight Ink); Critical Damage, by Robert K. Lewis (Midnight Ink); and Street Justice, by Kris Nelscott (WMG)

Best P.I. Short Story: “Clear Recent History,” by Gon Ben Ari (from Tel Aviv Noir, edited by Etgar Keret and Assof Gavron; Akashic)

Also nominated: “The Ehrengraf Fandango,” by Lawrence Block (from Defender of the Innocent: The Casebook of Martin Ehrengraf, by Lawrence Block; CreateSpace); “Fear Is the Best Keeper of Secrets,” by Vali Khalili (from Tehran Noir, edited by Salar Abdoh; Akashic); “Mei Kwei, I Love You,” by Suchen Christine Lim (from Singapore Noir, edited by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan; Akashic); and “Busting Red Heads,” by Richard Helms (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March 2014)

Best Indie P.I. Novel: The Shadow Broker, by Trace Conger (CreateSpace)

Also nominated: Nobody’s Child, by Libby Fischer Hellmann (Red Herrings); Played to Death, by B.V. Lawson (Crimetime Press); The Kids Are All Right, by Steve Liskow (CreateSpace); and Get Busy Dying, by Ben Rehder (CreateSpace)

In addition, The Eye (Lifetime Achievement) Award was presented to Parnell Hall, creator of the long-running Stanley Hastings series of private eye novels.

(Presented by Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine)

Best Novel: Natchez Burning, by Greg Iles (Morrow)

Also nominated: The Marco Effect, by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Dutton); The Rest Is Silence, by James R. Benn (Soho Crime); Hollow Girl, by Reed Farrel Coleman (Tyrus Books); Providence Rag, by Bruce DeSilva (Forge); and Strange Shores, by Arnaldur Indridason (Minotaur)

Best First Novel: Invisible City, by Julia Dahl (Minotaur)

Also nominated: Night Heron, by Adam Brookes (Redhook); Ice Shear, by M.P. Cooley (Morrow); Dear Daughter, by Elizabeth Little (Viking); The Weight of Blood, by Laura McHugh (Spiegel & Grau); and She’s Leaving Home, by William Shaw (Mulholland)

Best Paperback Original: The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskens
(Seventh Street Books)

Also nominated: The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, by Joel Dicker (Penguin); The Killer Next Door, by Alex Marwood (Penguin); Present Darkness, by Malla Nunn (Atria); The Black Hour, by Lori Rader-Day (Seventh Street Books); and Eleven Days, by Stav Sherez (Europa Editions)

Best Thriller: Those Who Wish Me Dead, by Michael Koryta
(Little, Brown)

Also nominated: Suspicion, by Joseph Finder (Dutton); The Water Rat of Wanchai, by Ian Hamilton (Picador); An Officer and a Spy, by Robert Harris (Knopf); I Am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes (Atria); and House Reckoning, by Mike Lawson (Atlantic Monthly Press)

The Don Sandstrom Memorial Award for lifetime achievement in mystery fandom went to Jane Lee.

(Presented by Mystery Readers International)

Best Mystery Novel: The Killer Next Door, by Alex Marwood (Penguin)

Also nominated: The Lewis Man, by Peter May (Quercus); The Last Death of Jack Harbin, by Terry Shames (Seventh Street); The Day She Died, by Catriona McPherson (Midnight Ink); The Missing Place, by Sophie Littlefield (Gallery); The Long Way Home,
by Louise Penny (Minotaur)

Best First Mystery Novel: Invisible City, by Julia Dahl (Minotaur)

Also nominated: The Black Hour, by Lori Rader-Day (Seventh Street); Someone Else’s Skin, by Sarah Hilary (Penguin); Dear Daughter, by Elizabeth Little (Viking); Blessed Are the Dead, by Kristi Belcamino (Witness Impulse); and Dry Bones in the Valley, by Tom Bouman (Norton)

Best Mystery-Related Non-fiction: Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer’s Journey, edited by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Henery Press)

Also nominated: The Figure of the Detective: A Literary History and Analysis, by Charles Brownson (McFarland); Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe, by J.W. Ocker (Countryman); and 400 Things Cops Know: Street Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman, by Adam Plantinga (Quill Driver)

Best Mystery Short Story: “Honeymoon Sweet,” by Craig Faustus Buck (from Murder at the Beach: The Bouchercon Anthology 2014, edited by Dana Cameron; Down & Out)

Also nominated: “The Shadow Knows,” by Barb Goffman (from Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley; Wildside); “Howling at the Moon,” by Paul D. Marks (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], November 2014); “The Proxy,” by Travis Richardson (ThugLit #13,
September/October 2014); and “The Odds Are Against Us,” by Art Taylor (EQMM, November 2014)

Sue Feder Memorial Award for Best Historical Mystery: A Deadly Measure of Brimstone, by Catriona McPherson (Minotaur)

Also nominated: Queen of Hearts, by Rhys Bowen (Berkley Prime Crime); Present Darkness, by Malla Nunn (Atria); An Officer and a Spy, by Robert Harris (Knopf); Hunting Shadows, by Charles Todd (Morrow); and Things Half in Shadow, by Alan Finn (Gallery)

ADDENDUM: Although the winners of this year’s Derringer Awards for short mystery fiction were announced back in March, it wasn’t until Bouchercon that those prizes were delivered. Author and previous Derringer recipient Art Taylor made the presentations.

Monday, October 05, 2015

On the Passing of Henning Mankell

In this 2012 interview for the Louisiana Channel, Henning Mankell “reflects upon his work, inspirations, and the role of the intellectual in society.”

This is not the sort of news any crime-fiction enthusiast wishes to read on a Monday morning. From The New York Times:
Henning Mankell, the Swedish novelist and playwright best known for police procedurals that were translated into a score of languages and sold by the millions throughout the world, died on Monday in Goteborg, Sweden. He was 67.

The cause was cancer, said his literary agent Anneli Hoier. Last year, Mr. Mankell disclosed that doctors had found tumors in his neck and left lung.

Mr. Mankell was considered the dean of the so-called Scandinavian noir writers who gained global prominence for novels that blended edge-of-your-seat suspense with flawed, compelling protagonists and strong social themes. The genre includes Arnaldur Indridason of Iceland, Jo Nesbø of Norway and Stieg Larsson of Sweden, among others.

But it was Mr. Mankell who led the way with 10 mystery novels featuring Inspector Kurt Wallander, a gruff but humane detective troubled by self-doubt, overeating, alcoholism and eventually dementia. Most of the action takes place in and around Ystad, a real-life town of 18,350 inhabitants on the Baltic Sea, about 380 miles south of Stockholm and now a magnet for Wallander buffs.
More from The Guardian:
[Swedish publisher] Leopard, which he founded in 2001 with Dan Israel, and which published his books, described him as “one of the great Swedish authors of our time.” His British publisher Harvill Secker said this morning in a statement that its staff were “deeply saddened--and shocked--to hear of the news of the untimely death of Henning Mankell this morning.”

“Beloved by readers across the world, especially for his Kurt Wallander series, it was a privilege to have worked with a man of such talent and passion, and to have been his UK publisher for so many years,” said a spokesperson at Harvill Secker. “He was an inspiration not just as a writer, but as someone who always stood up for the rights of others. He will be so very sorely missed. The world is a sadder place for having lost such a charismatic and honourable man.”
The Independent adds:
Mankell announced last year that he had been diagnosed with cancer, and began documenting his experiences in a newspaper column.

“My anxiety is very profound, although by and large I can keep it under control,” he said, writing of his diagnosis in the Swedish newspaper

Of his decision to document his treatment, he said: “I have decided to write it just as it is, about the difficult battle it always is.

“But,” he added, “I will write from life's perspective, not death’s.”
In February 2014, The Guardian carried an English-translated piece Mankell had written about “how it feels to be diagnosed with cancer.” The UK Telegraph explains that the author “wrote about his experience of the disease in his most recent book, Quicksand: What it Means to Be a Human Being, to be published next year.”

I enjoyed this excerpt from The New York Times’ obituary:
Mr. Mankell grew irritated over attempts by readers to trace elements from his life in Wallander’s. Still, the parallels were there. Born in Stockholm on Feb. 3, 1948, he was abandoned by his mother, along with his two siblings, and they moved in with their father, a judge, in Sveg, a small community in northern Sweden.

Through his father’s court activities, Mr. Mankell learned about criminal cases in a small-town setting not unlike Wallander’s investigations in Ystad. And like the author’s mother, Wallander is an errant parent who abandons a child--though the two reconcile in the course of the detective series.

Mr. Mankell, whose grandfather was a composer, passed on his love of classical music to his famous detective. Wallander spends many lonely nights listening to Mozart operas or walking the windswept beaches of Ystad with his dog, Jussi--named after Jussi Bjorling, the great Swedish tenor.

And Wallander’s repeated failures at lasting romances echoed the author’s own: Mr. Mankell was married four times, the last to Eva Bergman, daughter of the Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman. “It shows I am an optimist,” Mr. Mankell said in a 2013 interview with
The Guardian.
Then there’s this, again from The Guardian:
The Nordic crime-writing community was quick to pay tribute, with Norwegian Jo Nesbø describing him as “generous, committed, reflective and warm.” He continued: “As I see it, Henning Mankell both carried on and modernized the Scandinavian crime fiction tradition dating back to Sjöwall & Wahlöö, in style as well as content. He was one of the most important pioneers of Scandinavian crime literature, if not the most important of all.”

The bestselling Icelandic crime writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir said that Mankell “was undoubtedly the single most important person involved in bringing Scandinavian crime fiction to the rest of the world.

“His novels were immensely popular and for a reason; his mastery lay in being able to combine compelling characters, intriguing crimes and matters of social injustice into stories that were not only enjoyable but also very well written. So much so that they transcended borders and made the foreign reader forget the odd names and unfamiliar locations,” she said.
READ MORE:Henning Mankell’s Ability to Write Anything Anywhere Saw Him to the End,” by Mark Lawson (The Guardian); “Henning Mankell in Quotes: 10 of the Best” (The Guardian); “Wallender Writer Henning Mankell Dies at 67,” by Leo Barraclough (Variety); “Henning Mankell, Swedish Author of Wallander Book Series, Dies at 67,” by Alex Ritman (The Hollywood Reporter); “A Tribute to Henning Mankell” (Crime Fiction Lover); “Henning Mankell -- Appreciation: The Master of Crime Writing with a Keen Social Conscience,” by Barry Forshaw (The Independent): “Henning Mankell: In Memoriam,” by Michael Carlson (Irresistible Targets).

Sunday, October 04, 2015

“Mr. Mercedes” Speeds Past Rivals

This is turning out to be a particularly big season for author Stephen King. Last month President Barack Obama presented him with a National Medal of Arts. Now The Gumshoe Site brings word that King’s novel Mr. Mercedes (Scribner) has won the 2015 Hammett Prize, given out annually by the North American Branch of the International Association of Crime Writers to “a work of literary excellence in the field of crime writing.” According to a press release:
Mr. King was awarded a bronze trophy, designed by West Coast sculptor, Peter Boiger. The award ceremony took place in Somerset, New Jersey, on October 3, during the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association's (NAIBA) Fall Conference.”
Also vying for this year’s Hammett Prize were: Wayfaring Stranger, by James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster); Smoke River, by Krista Foss (McClelland & Stewart); Gangsterland, by Tod Goldberg (Counterpoint); and Goodhouse, by Peyton Marshall (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).

Congratulations to the victor as well as his fellow nominees.

READ MORE:Favorite Crime Fiction of 2014, Part V: Ali Karim
(The Rap Sheet).

Cleave Captures the Marsh -- Again

Five Minutes Alone (Penguin NZ), by Paul Cleave, has won New Zealand’s 2015 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. That announcement was made last night in Christchurch at the conclusion of the Murder in the Court event. This victory brings Cleave his second Ngaio Marsh Award; he previously won in 2011 for Blood Men.

The following is excerpted from a news release:
“In a year with a remarkable quintet of finalists, it’s fitting that Paul Cleave has become the first author to win the Ngaio Marsh Award twice,” said Judging Convenor Craig Sisterson. “For almost a decade he’s been leading our vanguard on the world stage in what’s becoming a new heyday of local crime writing.”

Five Minutes Alone, “wonderfully complex protagonist” Theo Tate has been resurrected, as a cop and human being, after recovering from a coma. He finds himself chasing a killer he can empathize with: a vigilante who is disposing of society’s worst offenders, giving victims of crime their “five minutes alone” with the culprits. But settling old scores is never as simple as it seems, as Tate knows well himself.
Five Minutes Alone triumphed over an impressive longlist of eight other contenders and a field containing four rival finalists to capture this prize, which has been given out annually since 2010 “for the best crime, mystery, or thriller novel written by a New Zealand citizen or resident.” Also in contention for the 2015 Ngaio Marsh Award were: The Petticoat Men, by Barbara Ewing (Head of Zeus); Swimming in the Dark, by Paddy Richardson (Upstart Press); The Children’s Pond, by Tina Shaw (Pointer Press); and Fallout, by Paul Thomas (Upstart Press). I was among half a dozen people asked to choose between this year’s nominees--the third year in a row I’ve been so honored--and I must confess that Five Minutes Alone was not one of my own top-five picks (I had in mind giving the commendation to another previous recipient). But this is a democratic process, and I respect the prevailing opinions of my fellow judges. So, finally, let me offer my congratulations to Mr. Cleave!

To learn about previous Ngaio Marsh Award winners, click here.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Roots of Invention

Was there a crying need for this revival? From Double O Section:
According to Deadline, Furious 7 director James Wan is teaming with R. Scott Gemmill (NCIS: L.A.) and original series executive producer Henry Winkler on a television reboot of MacGyver for CBS. The new series will be a prequel of sorts (though, of course, set today) focusing on a twenty-something Angus MacGyver. It’s unknown if it will be set prior to his days with intelligence agency DSX or The Phoenix Foundation, but it will show how he acquired his knack for making bombs out of Bic pens and binder clips.
Variety notes that “Wan had been attached to direct a feature rendition of MacGyver that has been in development at New Line. The WB Network also took a stab at developing a Young MacGyver series in 2003 but it never came to fruition.” We’ll see if this new MacGyer can more cleverly engineer a way onto the small screen.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Spinning Gold from “Cop Corn”

During the decades I have practiced journalism, I’ve experienced few missed opportunities more disappointing than my failed interview with Ed McBain--whose work is showcased in this week’s Web-wide “forgotten books” posts.

My tale takes place in the early 1980s, when I was working for Portland, Oregon’s “alternative newsweekly,” Willamette Week. I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, but what I recall is that I was laboring away at my desk one day, when the sweet-voiced receptionist buzzed me, announcing that somebody named Ed McBain was on the line, and he wanted to know whether the paper had anyone on staff who was interested in crime and mystery fiction. At the time, I was still a pretty raw book critic, and I wasn’t as familiar with McBain’s fiction as I was with what others (including Ross Macdonald and Robert B. Parker) were doing in the field. However, I was young and overly self-confident, and I said, sure, I’ll talk with him.

I don’t recall which book McBain was promoting at the time; it might have been Heat (1981) or Ice (1983) or Lightning (1984), but I’m quite sure it was one of his 87th Precinct police procedurals. I did my best to ask him about the tale, and remember anything of his personal life or career that I could use to beef up our discussion and make me sound semi-intelligent. If memory serves, I’d at least received a copy of his latest novel, though I had not read it. For some peculiar reason, it didn’t occur to me to suggest that we schedule an interview for another occasion, when I might be better prepared. I just barreled ahead. It’s likely I was not the best questioner McBain encountered on that year’s circuit, but I probably wasn’t the worst. Looking back now, I can’t help wondering how much better I could have done had I actually been prepared for our exchange. But at least I extracted enough information to pen a short piece for the next week’s issue.

I never again had the opportunity to speak with McBain, and then the author (whose real name was Salvatore Alberto Lombino; he legally changed it to Evan Hunter in 1952--McBain was simply his best-recognized pseudonym) died in the summer of 2005. Shortly thereafter, I wrote this as part of a January Magazine tribute:
In many ways, McBain was a pioneer. In the 1950s and ’60s, his “cops resembled the real America, not the Dragnet straight arrows playing on TV sets in wood-paneled rec rooms,” writes [his screenwriter-journalist friend, James] Grady, who adds that McBain “bucked the clichés of police fiction, in which cops were nearly always Irish or almost certainly white.” New York Times crime-fiction critic Marilyn Stasio concurs, writing in her obituary of the novelist that he “took police fiction into a new, more realistic realm, a radical break from a form long dependent on the educated, aristocratic detective who works alone and takes his time puzzling out a case.” And South Africa-born author James McClure, whose own procedurals, featuring Afrikaner Lieutenant Tromp Kramer and Zulu Sergeant Mickey Zondi (The Steam Pig, The Sunday Hangman) were clearly prompted by reading McBain’s police yarns, applauded the New York writer’s skill at making gold from “cop corn.” McBain, he explained, “accepts things as they are; if the field that engrosses him is knee-high in clichés, so be it. In he goes, as eager and uncompromising as a child, to grasp the thistle that grows between the rows.”
Today’s forgotten books bloggers give McBain’s “cop corn” some much-deserved attention, remarking on a diverse collection of his works. Everything from Blood Relatives (1975) and The Gutter and the Grave (aka I’m Cannon--For Hire, 1958) to The Con Man (1957) and Cinderella (1986). It’s a good representation of his work. I wish I could talk with McBain about it. This time, damn it, I’d be ready for him …

(Ed McBain photograph by Sean Smith.)

Hammett’s Roller Coaster Ride

In a good-size excerpt from his new book, The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett (Bloomsbury USA), Nathan Ward recounts the circumstances under which a finally well-off Hammett produced his fifth and last novel, 1934’s The Thin Man. In a concentrated rush, while denying himself his usual fill of pricey booze and staying locked away from his partner, fellow author Lillian Hellman, Hammett delivered what was, to an obvious extent, a roman à clef:
The book he had written, in addition to its central mystery plot about the search for a missing inventor, Clyde Wynant, over several days in December, was also clearly an account of what it was like to be suddenly wealthy and an ex-detective from San Francisco, spending as quickly as the money came in and bantering with your sophisticated lady friend at a series of parties and Manhattan hotels.

Sometimes in his bathrobe, having scotch for breakfast, Nick Charles is a burnt-out case moved to do things mainly out of love for his wife. “We didn’t come to New York to stay sober,” he reminds her when events threaten his Christmas plans. Up from the lobby of his Hotel Normandie come a host of characters from his detecting past. The adventure seeks him out, buzzed and resistant as he is. Even when wounded by a bullet, he is in his hotel bed, throwing a pillow in defense. Nick Charles is three things rare in a good detective: drunk, famous, and accompanied usually by his charming wife.
You can read the full excerpt in The Stacks.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Music City Tunes Up for Mystery

With less than a month to go now before this year’s Killer Nashville convention (October 29-November 1) opens in Tennessee, conference organizers have released the list of finalists for the 2015 Silver Falchion Readers Choice Awards. Attendees and others are invited to go here and vote for their favorite works.

Because there are so many categories of nominees (22 by my count), I am going to feature below only the adult best novel contenders.

Best Novel: Romantic Suspense
Judgment, by Carey Baldwin (Witness Impulse)
The Lost Key, by Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison (Putnam)
Top Secret Twenty-One, by Janet Evanovich (Bantam)
Sweet Damage, by Rebecca James (Bantam)
Truth Be Told, by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge)

Best Novel: Cozy/Traditional
Angelica’s Smile, by Andrea Camilleri (Penguin)
The Question of the Missing Head, by E.J. Copperman and Jeff Cohen (Midnight Ink)
The Alpine Yeoman, by Mary Daheim (Ballantine)
Designated Daughters, by Margaret Maron (Grand Central)
Hunting Shadows, by Charles Todd (Morrow)

Best Novel: Historical
The Reckoning, by Rennie Airth (Viking)
An Air of Treason, by P.F. Chisolm (Poisoned Pen Press)
The Johnstown Girls, by Kathleen George (University of
Pittsburgh Press)
The Devil’s Workshop, by Alex Grecian (Putnam)
Death on Blackheath, by Anne Perry (Ballantine)

Best Novel: Private Detective/Police Procedural
The Forsaken, by Ace Atkins (Putnam)
The Hollow Girl, by Reed Farrel Coleman (Tyrus)
Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart, by Christopher
Fowler (Bantam)
Sorrow Bound, by David Mark (Blue Rider Press)
Field of Prey, by John Sandford (Putnam)

Best Novel: Speculative
The String Diaries, by Stephen Lloyd Jones (Mulholland)
Coldbrook, by Tim Lebbon (Titan)
Lock In, by John Scalzi (Tor)
Fear City, by F. Paul Wilson (Tor)
Yesterday’s Hero, by Jonathan
Wood (Titan)

Best Novel: Literary Suspense
The Dead Will Tell,
by Linda Castillo (Minotaur)
Red 1-2-3, by John Katzenbach
(Mysterious Press)
Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King (Scribner)
The Day She Died, by Catriona McPherson (Midnight Ink)
The Farm, by Tom Rob Smith (Grand Central)

Best Novel: Political Thriller/Adventure
Night Heron, by Adam Brookes (Redhook)
Dark Spies, by Matthew Dunn (Morrow)
The Hilltop, by Assaf Gavron (Scribner)
End Game, by John Gilstrap (Pinnacle)
I Am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes (Atria/Emily Bestler)
Assassin’s Game, by Ward Larsen (Forge)

Best Novel: Crime Thriller
The Bone Orchard, by Paul Doiron (Minotaur)
Dakota, by Gwen Florio (Permanent Press)
Gangsterland, by Tod Goldberg (Counterpoint)
The Keeper, by John Lescroart (Atria)
In the Blood, by Lisa Unger (Touchstone)

A full tally of this year’s Silver Falchion finalists is here.

(Hat tip to Criminal Element.)

New Prize Promotes Digital Crime

With electronic books (and e-book versions of printed works) having gained at least a fair share of the annual book-sales market, MysteriousPress.com, the digital arm of publisher Mysterious Press, reports that it’s creating the Mysterious Press Award, “which will be given for the best e-book original mystery novel.” A contest will be held to choose the winning entry, which “will receive a prize of $25,000 and guaranteed world-wide publication. The winner will be announced at the 2016 Frankfurt Book Fair,” explains a press release.

That official communiqué goes on to read:
Submissions will be accepted from January 1 through April 30, 2016. Entries must be in English and submitted both electronically (to contest@mysteriouspress.com) and in printed format (to The Mysterious Press, 58 Warren Street, New York, N.Y. 10007). Limit of one book per author. Initial readings of manuscripts will be handled by editors and associates of MysteriousPress.com. The top three entries will then be circulated to its world-wide partners for a final decision.

The contest is open to established authors as well as first-time novelists. Submissions of complete, full-length novels will be accepted only from accredited literary agents and must never have been published previously in any format. All categories will be considered: Traditional detective stories, hard-boiled, noir, police procedural, suspense, crime, historical, humor--any book in which a crime, or the threat of a crime, is central to the theme or the plot. Horror, supernatural, fantasy, and science-fiction works are not eligible. The winner will be chosen based on a variety of criteria, including originality and literary quality. Manuscripts will not be critiqued and will not be returned. Employees of Grove/Atlantic, the Mysterious Bookshop, and MysteriousPress.com and its partners are not eligible. See Official Rules for entry requirements and complete details at our Web site, www.mysteriouspress.com. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited.

The $25,000 prize will be an advance against future
royalties. MysteriousPress.com will publish it as an e-book original with print-on-demand copies also available. World-wide partners will have all rights (excluding dramatic rights) to publish in all formats.
At this point, I’m told, no decision has been made as to whether the Mysterious Press Award will be a one-off for this year, or become an annual prize. Sources do, though, mention that Mysterious Press president-publisher Otto Penzler envisions “doing other contests/awards in the future, but time will tell what form [they] will take, or if [they] will be for a different category, etc.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

“Life or Death” Takes Home Gold

During a festive event held this evening in London, the British Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) presented three more of its 2015 Dagger Awards. Those included the Goldsboro Gold Dagger, which went to Michael Robotham, making him only the second Australian--after Peter Temple in 2007--to capture that coveted honor.

Here’s the complete list of winners and shortlisted works.

CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger:
Life or Death, by Michael Robotham (Sphere)

Also nominated: The Shut Eye, by Belinda Bauer (Bantam Press); The Rules of Wolfe, by James Carlos Blake (No Exit Press); The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith (Sphere); Missing, by Sam Hawken (Serpent’s Tail); Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton); and Pleasantville, by Attica Locke (Serpent’s Tail)

CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger:
Cop Town, by Karin Slaughter (Century)

Also nominated: The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins (Doubleday); The Night the Rich Men Burned, by Malcolm MacKay (Mantle); Missing, by Sam Hawken (Serpent’s Tail); Nobody Walks, by Mick Herron (Soho Crime); The White Van, by Patrick Hoffman (Grove Press); and The Kind Worth Killing, by Peter Swanson (Faber and Faber)

CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger:
Fourth of July Creek, by Smith Henderson (Heinemann)

Also nominated: The Girl in the Red Coat, by Kate Hamer (Faber and Faber); The Abrupt Physics of Dying, by Paul E. Hardisty (Orenda); Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng (Little, Brown); and You, by Caroline Kepnes (Simon & Schuster)

In a comment on Twitter, critic-editor Sarah Weinman (Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & ’50s) wrote of Henderson’s victorious work: “So fascinating as it was not marketed as a crime novel in the U.S. at all.”

Congratulations to all of the winners and runners-up here!

Seven other annual Dagger Awards were handed out in June. You can find out who won them by clicking here.

READ MORE:Australian Ghostwriter Beats Stephen King and J.K. Rowling to Top UK Crime-writing Award,” by David Barnett (The Guardian); “In Pictures: The CWA Dagger Awards 2015,” by Caroine Carpenter (The Bookseller); “The Psychology of Crime: An Interview with Michael Robotham,” by Jacques Jacques Filippi (The House of Crime and Mystery).

A Fair Fright

I really wanted to love The Scribe (Norton), Matthew Guinn’s new, second novel after his Edgar Award-nominated The Resurrectionist (2013). While I was still working my way through the tale, I promoted it as a “Pierce’s Pick” in The Rap Sheet. The Scribe boasted a number of components that promised to appeal to me: a setting in 1881 Atlanta, Georgia; a post-Civil War pairing of white and black cops; and nefarious acts committed on the fringes of a world’s fair, reminding me of Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City (2003).

Unfortunately, by the time I finished reading, I was less satisfied with Guinn’s efforts. As I hope I make clear in my review of The Scribe, posted today on the Kirkus Reviews Web site, this novel benefits from its author’s abundant storytelling abilities and skill at crafting dialogue. However, its faults weigh heavily against those strengths, and left me hoping for better from Guinn’s next yarn.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Story Behind the Story:
“Spanish Luck,” by Robert Skinner

(Editor’s note: In this 61st installment of The Rap Sheet’s “Story Behind the Story” series, we welcome an author from whom we haven’t heard in a while: Robert Skinner. A resident of New Orleans and former librarian at Xavier University of Louisiana, Skinner also penned the Anthony Award-nominated novel Skin Deep, Blood Red (1997), which introduced Depression-era New Orleans nightclub owner and sometime private eye Wesley Farrell, a black man who passes for white. He followed that with five additional Farrell books. Now he’s back with Spanish Luck, the first entry in what we can only hope is a new series, this one starring a disabled war veteran turned sleuth, Sal Cortes. In the essay below, Skinner tells about how he reinvigorated his fiction-writing career.)

The story of how I came to write Spanish Luck is almost longer than the novel itself. It’s also a picture of what a funny game writing can be and how circumstances can alter the path of a writer’s imagination. Back in 2002 I had just completed the sixth novel in my Wesley Farrell series, The Righteous Cut. I thought it was the best novel I’d written, but I was painfully aware that I might be past the point where that series would break out and become a much greater success. I had brought my characters from the middle of the Great Depression up to the beginning of World War II, but I felt I had to do something a bit different in hopes of making the series of greater interest to a larger number of readers, while remaining in my early ’40s New Orleans universe.

The touchstones of my career have always been Raymond Chandler and the African-American writer Chester Himes. Chandler was the first hard-boiled writer I ever read, and his influence is powerful. That image of a loner’s picaresque journey through a dark, criminal city was what brought me into writing, but in my early 40s, I discovered Chester Himes and his “Harlem Domestic Series.” His view of crime from an African-American perspective really turned my writing life upside down. There is a romance to Himes’ crime writing that was unique to his time and has influenced crime writers as disparate as Walter Mosley and James Sallis, both of whom I admire very much.

At the same time, it occurred to me that New Orleans is a melting pot that includes people of both French and Spanish heritage, and this sent my imagination in a new direction. I was still working on this new direction for my fiction when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, destroyed my house and almost destroyed the university where I made my living. For a few years, most of what I did with my time was try to rebuild my personal life and help my university come back from a huge catastrophe.

I didn’t write much, but occasionally I came up with short fiction that kept some of my series cast alive. During that time, Anthony Neil Smith of the Webzine Plots With Guns invited me to write a story for an anthology he was putting together for publisher Dennis MacMillan. I recognized what a great opportunity this was, and after a week or two I came up with a short story set in the early 1950s called “Spanish Luck.” It featured a tough troubleshooter named Sal Cortes, who just happened to work for a central character in my Farrell book series, Creole businessman Marcel Aristide. For the first time in ages, I seemed to have a real idea that I might be able to expand into something bigger and better.

(Right) Author Robert Skinner, photograph © 2001 by Jackson Hill

As all of this was going on, I was getting older and the end of my working life as a university library director was drawing near, something that further distracted me from writing. I still had a novel in mind for Sal Cortes, but it was difficult getting it down on paper while I was contemplating retirement. Working for a living can, as some of you no doubt know, make it hard to focus on coming up with something as big as a novel.

Fast-forward to 2013 and I was suddenly a civilian again with a lot of time on my hands. I hadn’t written a book-length piece of fiction for more than 10 years and the writing muscles were flaccid, not to say creaky. But I still wanted to see if I could write another novel and Sal Cortes was hovering over my shoulder, whispering to me that he craved an adventure.

Since I had originally conceived of Sal in a 1950s milieu, I first wrote a story set in the early ’50s, pairing Sal up with a female sidekick, but the idea wasn’t right somehow. Sal seemed too restrained, not quite the guy I’d originally envisioned. I was also told that novels set in the 1950s didn’t seem to have the appeal of ’40s-era stories. So I went back to the computer and began to reimagine my story and cast.

As a child of the late 1940s, I grew up hearing about life on the home front. One of my grandfathers worked on the railroad, while another worked at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., and my mother and grandmother worked at the Naval Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Virginia. From them I got a sense that, even with all the fighting going on overseas, life in wartime America had a kind of normality to it that people in Europe couldn’t enjoy. There were movies to go to, radio programs to listen to, dinners to have in restaurants, school classes to attend, 8-to-5 schedules, and grocery shopping. And, of course, there was crime, both petty and major.

There were returning veterans, as well, a number of them bearing wounds and disabilities that made further military service impossible. I began to envision Sal as one of those disabled vets, and imagined what such a man, who I now saw as an ex-cop, would be facing. We know today that combat veterans experience bad dreams, flashbacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder, things that were simply shrugged off in the 1940s. Sal, I realized, would be coping with those things in addition to his physical disabilities.

I also began to imagine that Sal couldn’t be alone in whatever his adventure would be, that he might need some help and maybe some conflict in his life beyond his strictly personal problems. I began to conceive of a brother, who I named Des, who would not have gone to war because he was a cop, a profession that made its members draft-exempt.

With so many men away at war, professions of all kinds threw their doors open to women for the first time. I immediately saw a place for an intrepid young woman who’d be striving to make a name and place for herself as a newspaper reporter. She’d be ambitious, determined to make it in a man’s world. I also began to see her as a source of conflict between Sal and his brother, Des.

I now had most of my cast for Spanish Luck, but I still wanted to inject an African-American component into my plot, some characters who could really shake up the story. I began to envision a career criminal, recently released from prison. A guy who might just be looking for a big score to put himself back on his feet. Now the story needed just one more essential element: a reason to bring Sal Cortes, unofficial private eye, into the action. The African-American criminal, who I named Al Martin, would have a teenage son, Butch, who idolizes his father and might be willing to ditch his square life in order to run off on an adventure with his dangerous dad.

Sal is brought into this case by Butch’s mother, a divorced woman working an 8-to-5 job in Jim Crow New Orleans. Having learned from Butch’s friends that the youngster was seen driving away in Al Martin’s car, she’s desperate to find her son before his father can get him into trouble.

Sal seems at first an unlikely hero. He’s got scars on his face and shrapnel in his hip. He’s missing fingers from his left hand, and he’s trying to forget the horror he’s seen and somehow transition back into civilian life. He has no official investigator’s license, but simply does “favors” for people, some of them sent by Creole businessman Marcel Aristide.

As Sal begins his search for Butch, other things are happening in New Orleans. The murder of a low-level bank employee catches the attention of Detective Sergeant Des Cortes and his erstwhile girlfriend, newspaper reporter Jessica Richards. What Des, Jessica, and Sal don’t know at this early point is that the murdered man and ex-con Al Martin have something in common--they’re connected to a professional thief named Fade Taber who’s in New Orleans to knock over a bank. The story pushes all three of my central characters along separate trails until those trails intersect and force them to work as a team.

By now, I hope you’re wondering, does Sal overcome his physical and psychic wounds? Do Des and Jessica figure out the murder and see the connection to the impending bank holdup? Do the three of them forget what’s driven them apart and somehow work together, save Butch, and thwart the holdup gang? I can see only one way for you to answer those questions: buy Spanish Luck. I hope you enjoy it.

And Then There Was One More

Agatha Christie’s most famous standalone mystery, And Then There Were None, has already been adapted for film, television, and radio a number of times. Yet it appears that this tale about guests at an isolated island retreat being serially murdered is destined to receive another big-screen adaptation. From Flavorwire:
Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel And Then There Were None, the world’s best-selling mystery novel and heralded as the English author’s masterpiece, is being adapted for film. Imitation Game director Morten Tyldum is attached to direct the movie, which will center on the narrative about ten strangers who are invited to an island, charged with a bloody crime from their past by a mysterious host, and killed off one by one. This isn’t the only Christie adaptation from studio Fox. Murder on the Orient Express is also getting the remake treatment, with Kenneth Branagh attached to direct. We’ll probably see a small-screen adaptation of And Then There Were None from Lifetime first as one is currently underway (natch). Deadline reports that Tyldum is a fan of the novel, which will hopefully be somewhat reassuring for Christie enthusiasts. Eric Heisserer is attached to write the script.
If you don’t want to wait for Fox’s version, click here to watch director René Clair’s slightly altered 1945 adaptation of Christie’s haunting yarn, starring Barry Fitzgerald and Walter Huston.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Bullet Points: Friday Sweep-Up Edition

• Earlier this month, Agatha Christie’s estate declared the results of an online survey that asked readers to choose their favorite works from among the English mystery writer’s oeuvre. The top vote-getter, it turned out, was And Then There Were None (1939). That didn’t settle the matter, however. Other critics subsequently listed their own top Christie whodunits, all by way of celebrating the author’s 125th birthday on September 15. Now, blogger-editor Curtis J. Evans (Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery: Cecil John Charles Street, Freeman Wills Crofts, Alfred Walter Stewart and the British Detective Novel, 1920-1961) has sifted through 31 “best of” compilations to see which novels won the majority of endorsements. Again--as you can see here--And Then There Were None walks away with the top honors, while the second and third spots belong to Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, respectively. The runners-up are here.

• When I read in The New York Times that best-selling author Jackie Collins had died of breast cancer at age 77, I figured the news was well outside my reportorial bailiwick. The Gumshoe Site reminds me, though, that in addition to producing “sex-filled, escapist, utterly unpretentious” works such as The Bitch and Hollywood Wives, Collins “wrote a number of crime novels, including Lovehead (Allen, 1974; retitled The Love Killers, Warner 1975), and [the] Santangelo (Crime) Family series, which started with Chances (Warner, 1981). Her last novel was The Santangelos (St. Martin’s, 2015).”

• Not every Rap Sheet reader is also a Facebook user, I’m sure. But for those of you who are, and would like to see what the office of author James Lee Burke (House of the Rising Sun) offers, click here for thoroughly delightful tour of his writing space, during which he “talks about a few of his favorite things in the office.”

• I confess, I haven’t yet begun watching the new, fourth season of the Western-detective series Longmire on Netflix, which began streaming on September 10. However, Edward A. Grainger (aka David Cranmer) has almost finished reviewing all of its 10 episodes for Criminal Element. Click here to read his fine critiques.

• It’s hard to believe that NBC-TV’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU) is currently in its 17th year of broadcasting. I was never a fan, having found the program too consistently grim for my tastes. But blogger “Ben” at Dead End Follies has recently begun exploring the show’s numerous seasons, and he has a few interesting things to say about it at this particular link.

• Oh, to spend October in Britain’s capital … Double O Section reports that “Lucky Londoners will be able to enjoy the event of a lifetime next month when Dame Diana Rigg herself does an on-stage Q&A following a screening of the classic Avengers episode ‘The House That Jack Built.’ It’s one of a pair of absolute classic Emma Peel episodes screening on October 25 at BFI Southbank.”

• Holy obscure holidays! Saturday is Batman Day.

• Meanwhile, Keith DeCandido at Tor.com has announced that “Starting next Friday, I will be doing The Bat-Rewatch! I’ll be looking back at the Batman TV series developed by William Dozier for ABC, and which ran from 1966 to 1968. Between seasons one and two, we’ll also take a gander at the Batman feature film that was released in the summer of 1966.” Follow DeCandido’s series here.

L.A. Weekly celebrates TV shows, especially Michael Connelly’s Bosch, that make good use of their Los Angeles settings.

• Did you know that American composer Henry Mancini’s famous theme for the 1958-1961 private-eye TV series Peter Gunn has lyrics? Yeah, neither did I--and in fact, they were added after the show’s demise. You can listen to jazz songstress Sarah Vaughn belt out those lyrics below, and follow along with a printed version here.


• When I finished watching the very dramatic third season of Ripper Street earlier this year, I presumed that that historical crime series was over and done. The concluding episode of Season 3 certainly suggested as much. But I must have missed the news, reported in The Guardian, that “Amazon Prime … has recommissioned the Victorian detective drama for a fourth and fifth season.” Hurrah!

• English singer-songwriter Sam Smith’s title song for the forthcoming, 24th James Bond flick, Spectre, was released this morning. And despite former Bond actor Roger Moore declaring that it’s “very haunting and wonderfully orchestrated,” other critical opinions are mixed, at best. Read more here and here.

• Otto Penzler, editor and proprietor of New York City’s Mysterious Bookshop, submits his list of the “5 Most Underappreciated Crime Writers.” I certainly agree with him about Daniel Woodrell.

• This may be the most ludicrous idea yet for turning a once-popular TV series into a big-screen picture. From In Reference to Murder: “NBC has put in development a new take on the 1979 ABC mystery Hart to Hart, which starred Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers as a husband-and-wife sleuthing duo. The reboot hails from producer Carol Mendelsohn and Sony TV and will center on a gay couple. The new Hart to Hart is described as ‘a modern and sexy retelling of the classic series that focuses on by-the-book attorney Jonathan Hart and free-spirited investigator Dan Hartman, who must balance the two sides of their life: action-packed crime-solving in the midst of newly found domesticity.’” Why in the hell can’t Hollywood seem to come up with fresh movie-making concepts anymore?

• The captivating Amanda Seyfried has landed a supposedly pivotal but still under-wraps role in Showtime TV’s on-again, off-again, then on-again limited series revival of Twin Peaks. TV Line reports that “Seyfried will appear in multiple episodes, making it her biggest TV gig since Big Love ended in 2011.” Showtime plans to introduce its new Twin Peaks sometime next year.

• Artist Charles McVicar’s name came up in a Killer Covers post I wrote back in June having to do with his painting for the front of The Search for Tabatha Carr (1964). I’m reminded of him once more, thanks to the excellent TV history Web site Television Obscurities, which this week has been rolling out write-ups about small-screen publicity posters from 37 years ago. “To promote its Fall 1978 line-up,” the site explains, “ABC commissioned a series of seven posters--one for each night of the week--depicting characters from its new and returning shows.” McVicar appears to have executed the artwork for all six of the posters showcased thus far: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Check Television Obscurities tomorrow for the final entry in this set. UPDATE: ABC-TV’s Saturday publicity poster can now be found at this link.

• If you’ve never seen the 1972 NBC-TV pilot The Judge and Jake Wyler, starring Bette Davis as a hypochondriac former jurist who employs an ex-con (played by Doug McClure) as her investigative partner, you can now watch it on YouTube, in seven parts. Click here to find Part I as well as links to the succeeding installments. And if you didn’t know this already, The Judge and Jake Wyler was produced by Columbo creators Richard Levinson and William Link.

• Crime Fiction Lover continues it’s “Classics in September” series with this look back at Australian “Queen of Crime” June Wright. Catch up with all the “Classics in September” posts here.

• In the pages of The New Yorker, Michelle Dean recalls “The Secrets of Vera Caspary, the Woman Who Wrote Laura.”

• The blog Longreads provides this reprint of David Lehman’s excellent essay, “The Radical Pessimism of Dashiell Hammett,” which appeared originally in The American Scholar.

• Interviews worth finding: Attica Locke talks with fellow novelist Alafair Burke for The Life Sentence; Scottish writer Paul Johnston (who I also chatted with recently) goes one-on-one with Sandra Dick of the Edinburgh News in an exchange during which Johnston says, “I witter about plagues of boils and the odd book”; basketball star-turned-fictionist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar supplies some background to his brand-new novel, Mycroft Holmes; again for The Life Sentence, editor Lisa Levy quizzes David Lagercrantz about his fourth entry in Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander series, The Girl in the Spider’s Web; Warren Ellis answers some questions about his new James Bond comic book; and recent National Medal of Arts recipient Stephen King asks Lee Child about his 20th Jack Reacher thriller, Make Me.

• The BBC’s Radio 4 gears up for Halloween.

• Congratulations to Jason Pinter, the editor and publisher of Polis Books, who has been named by Publishers Weekly as one of its inaugural Star Watch honorees, a commendation that “recognizes young publishing professionals who have distinguished themselves as future leaders of the industry.”

• Finally, if you haven’t been keeping up with my Killer Covers blog, note that in just the last week I have posted there a collection of classic school-related paperbacks, a “Two-fer Tuesday” entry focusing on tales about black attire, a significant update and expansion of my 2010 gallery of novel fronts by Ernest Chiriacka, aka Darcy, and today’s post about the eye-catching 1949 edition of Bitter Ending.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Pierce’s Picks

A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

In Those We Left Behind (Soho Crime), Stuart Neville devises a plot with several main threads and two distinct time periods, and somehow makes it all work. Set in Belfast, Northern Ireland, this notably dark yarn centers mostly around brothers Thomas and Ciaran Devine, whose foster father, David Rolston, was slain in savage, headline-making fashion in 2007. Ciaran, then only 12 years old, pled guilty to the crime, but he and 14-year-old Thomas were both sent away to a young offenders’ institution. Now move on to the present day, where we find Ciaran finally being released back into society to join his sibling, who’s already been free a while. Hoping to aid in Ciaran’s return is his probation officer, Paula Cunningham. But Detective Chief Inspector Serena Flanagan--who played an important role in Neville’s 2014 novel, The Final Silence, and has just recently gone back to work after treatment for breast cancer--claims her own interest in the ex-convict’s future. She was suspicious of Ciaran’s confession from the start, and resolves to keep a close watch on him, now that he’s back on the streets and under the too-tight control of his short-tempered sibling. Also interested in the Devine brothers is Daniel Rolston, the natural son of Ciaran’s alleged victim, who has never been able to shake off the circumstances of his father’s demise, and is convinced that the wrong sibling paid for that horror. There’s significant menace and potential violence the deeper one travels into this novel, but Neville’s compassion for his characters and his sharp writing make the reading worthwhile. Tennison (Simon & Schuster UK) is a prequel to Lynda La Plante’s Prime Suspect series of police procedurals starring Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison of London’s Metropolitan Police Service. This new book opens in 1973 when Tennison, then a 22-year-old Janis Joplin fan, matriculates from the police training academy and enters a probationary period during which her intelligence, attention to detail, and resilience in the face of rampant male chauvinism will be tested. It’s lucky she catches the eye of WPC (Woman Police Constable) Kath Morgan, a more experienced investigator, who helps Tennison endure sexual harassment and negotiate the complications of her first homicide case. La Plante has already scripted a six-part TV series based on Tennison, which is set to air in the UK sometime next year.

Click here to see more of this season’s most-wanted books.

“Sun” Rises Again

With all of the hullabaloo surrounding the October 26 debut, in the United Kingdom, of the 25th James Bond film, Spectre (the U.S. debut will follow on November 6), the British arm of publisher Vintage has decided to bring out a new edition of Colonel Sun (1968), the very first Bond continuation novel published after Ian Fleming’s death in 1964. Kingsley Amis wrote Colonel Sun under the pseudonym Robert Markham, and accordingto The Book Bond, that yarn hasn’t enjoyed a new release since 1995. Here’s how Wikipedia synopsizes its plot:
Colonel Sun centers on the fictional British Secret Service operative James Bond and his mission to track down the kidnappers of M, his superior at the Secret Service. During the mission he discovers a communist Chinese plot to cause an international incident. Bond, assisted by a Greek spy working for the Russians, finds M on a small Aegean island, rescues him and kills the two main plotters: Colonel Sun Liang-tan and a former Nazi commander, Von Richter.

Amis drew upon a holiday he had taken in the Greek islands to create a realistic Greek setting and characters. He emphasized political intrigue in the plot more than Fleming had done in the canonical Bond novels, also adding revenge to Bond's motivations by including M's kidnapping. Despite keeping a format and structure similar to Fleming's Bond novels, Colonel Sun was given mixed reviews.
Vintage Classics will re-release Colonel Sun in a 224-page paperback edition on October 15. Unfortunately, this seems to be a UK development only; Amazon shows no concurrent American release of Amis’ tale, though you can still pick up used paperback copies of it on this side of the Atlantic, ranging in price from $9.99 to $67.68. I’ve never read Colonel Sun, so I’m hoping one of the booksellers at Bouchercon next month will have the new UK edition in stock.

READ MORE:The Curious Case of Colonel Sun: Kingsley Amis’s Missing Bond Novel,” by Aug Stone (The Quietus); “Kingsley Amis’ James Bond Novel,” by Dan Piepenbring (The Paris Review).

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Persistence Pays Off

Veteran Bouchercon participants Bill and Toby Gottfried will be presented with the David S. Thompson Award during next month’s incarnation of that World Mystery Convention, to be held in Raleigh, North Carolina. Named in honor of Texas bookseller-publisher David Thompson, who died in 2010, this commendation is intended to “recognize extraordinary efforts to develop and promote the mystery and crime fiction community.”

As Shotsmag Confidential explains, “Toby and Bill have attended almost every Bouchercon since 1985. Their involvement in the mystery community goes far beyond attending conferences and buying books. They have actively participated on multiple Bouchercon committees and have chaired two Left Coast Crime conventions. They plan vacations and travel around mystery conventions. At each convention, they make authors and readers feel welcome, breaking bread with them, and welcoming them in every possible way into the mystery community as friends and family.”

Congratulations to the Gottfrieds, who you may remember were also honored back in 2008 with the Don Sandstrom Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement in Mystery Fandom.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Story Behind the Story:
“Go Down Hard,” by Craig Faustus Buck

(Editor’s note: In this 60th installment of our “Story Behind the Story” series, The Rap Sheet welcomes Craig Faustus Buck, the Los Angeles-based author-screenwriter whose first noir mystery novel, Go Down Hard, was published this last summer by Brash Books. Buck’s short story “Honeymoon Sweet” is currently in contention for both an Anthony Award and a Macavity Award. He was also an Anthony short-story nominee in 2014 for “Dead End,” and wrote an Oscar-nominated short film. Buck is currently the president of the Mystery Writers of America-Southern California chapter.)

The protagonist of my debut novel, Go Down Hard, is a bottom-feeding ex-cop tabloid crime writer named Nob Brown. He’s always struggling to work his way up the writers’ food chain, so I figured I’d give him a shot at improving his lot by letting him interview me for The Rap Sheet.

Nob Brown: Let’s start off with a softball. Why did you write Go Down Hard?

Craig Faustus Buck: It was an act of defiance against what I’d like to call a long and distinguished writing career but, in fact, it was just long.

NB: “An act of defiance” is pretty vague. How about some context?

CFB: I’ve made my living as a writer since graduating college in 1974. I’ve been a newspaper reporter, a freelance book editor, a ghostwriter, an academic abstract writer, a magazine writer, a magazine editor, a war correspondent, a non-fiction author, a network TV writer/producer, a screenwriter … you name it, I’ve written it. But all of these roles had one thing in common: I was writing for a taskmaster. Whether he or she was an editor, a publisher, a producer, a network, or a studio, I was always under someone’s else thumb (yes, it’s awkward, but grammatically correct. Never use it in dialogue). When I took an early Writers Guild pension, I decided to call myself retired and write for myself for a change. I tried my hand at noir crime writing because that’s what I most enjoy reading, and the impulse spawned Go Down Hard. I only hope my audience has as much fun reading it as much as I did writing it, because it was a true exultation of freedom.

NB: Did you always want to be a writer?

CFB: No. When I was young I wanted to be a whale.

NB: Is it true that your first paying writing gig was for a school science lab equipment catalogue?

CFB: Yes. My first freelance gig was writing limericks for Frey Scientific. I guess you need a touch of levity to sell plastinated sheep brains.

NB: Go Down Hard sets a seasoned journalist--namely, myself--on the trail of the killer of a rock-and-roll goddess, a woman who I idolized in high school and fantasized nightly about losing my virginity to. She was shot 20 years ago, but somewhere in my investigation I turned over the wrong rock and triggered a contemporary murder. Where did that story come from?

CFB: First of all, you’re no seasoned journalist. You’re a Los Angeles Police Department burnout with no writing background, who trades on your ex-cop street cred to talk a few rags into printing your stuff.

NB: You sound just like my mother, only without the accent.

CFB: To answer your question, the story of Go Down Hard evolved from its characters, which was a whole new adventure for me. You asked earlier about what I meant by an act of defiance. Part of that was a revolt against outlining. Most of my more recent career was spent in the salt mines of network television. When you get a TV writing job, you have to write an outline, which they call a treatment, and it has to get approved by whoever’s paying you before they let you “go to script.” That process usually includes several rounds of notes from many people, including the guy in charge of snacks on the set. Every “beat” has to be painstakingly outlined, which can make the writing of the script itself sort of boring, like painting by the numbers.

(Left) Craig Faustus Buck

So when I started writing crime prose, I skipped the outline and just started writing by the seat of my pants, letting my characters do the driving. It was an exhilarating experience, even if it took me three times as long as it should have to finish the book. I think the process added a lot of surprises to the story, because even I didn’t see them coming. I didn’t even know who the murderer was until I wrote the second-to-last chapter.

NB: You must have had some sort of story worked out before you started writing.

CFB: I was actually planning to transform one of my screenplays into the novel. I thought the characters were interesting and the story seemed to work, so I figured it would be a piece of cake. Little did I know. By the time I finished, only one character from the script remained in the book, a secondary character, and the film plot had shriveled into unrevealed back story. Virtually none of the screenplay survived, though I did recycle some of it in a few short stories, one of which, “Dead End,” was nominated for an Anthony Award in 2014 and became the basis for my novella, Psycho Logic, which got published that same year.

NB: Why didn’t the script work out?

CFB: The translation was dive-bombed by point of view. When I started writing the book, I chose to use a first-person, present-tense narrator--namely, you. I heard the voice in my head, probably from all of the great film noir I’ve loved throughout my life. A first-person POV is intense, immediate, and evocative, but it is also structurally limiting, something I hadn’t fully grasped when I started writing it. The film story depended on playing various character POVs against each other, juggling secrets and lies. Suspense usually depends on the audience knowing about threats that the protagonist doesn’t see coming. You can’t do that with a first-person narrative. So what started out as a thriller, while still suspenseful, became more of a character-driven mystery. With a lot of dark humor, of course. You can be a funny guy, this interview notwithstanding.

NB: Do you mind? I’m trying to be professional about this.

[CFB rolls his eyes.]

NB: Judging by the reviews, Go Down Hard sounds pretty lighthearted. T. Jefferson Parker described it as “a spirited mix of noir homage and hard-boiled spoof, and Craig Faustus Buck gets the proportions just right. Sexy, tough and comic.” Yet there’s a lot of bleak psychological subtext. What’s up with that?

CFB: I’ve co-authored four pop-psychology books about various sorts of physical and emotional abuse, including one that became a No. 1 New York Times bestseller. I also did a lot of writing for Human Behavior magazine and Psychology Today. The inner workings of the human psyche have always fascinated me, so it should come as no surprise that they play a central role in my writing. But I work hard to keep that stuff between the lines. My book is a noir romp, not a psychology course. There’s nothing worse than an academic lecture in the middle of a crime novel except, perhaps, a political diatribe (Stieg Larsson pasticheurs take heed). I also ghosted a pop-gynecology book, but I keep those references between the sheets.

NB: You touch on a lot of worlds in this book, including aging rock-and-roll stars, live Internet sex shows, unethical psychiatrists, Slavic mobsters, and estate planning. What kind of research did you do, especially on the first two?

CFB: Rock is the soil from which I sprouted. I grew up above Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip during the ’60s, when The Doors were the house band at the Whisky a Go Go. I formed my first rock band when I was 12 and played in several after that. I ran the light show at the Whiskey when I was in high school. I haunted the Ash Grove and the Troubadour. A lot of my musician friends from those days are still working. They’ve played with everyone from Dylan and Paul McCartney to Michael Jackson and Frank Zappa. Research into aging rock and rollers is just a phone call away.

Live Internet sex, on the other hand, was something I knew little about, other than what I’d seen in the media. So I had to do a bit of digging there. Luckily, I live in the San Fernando Valley which--until recently, when L.A. County passed a law requiring condoms on porn shoots--was the adult entertainment capital of the world. It wasn’t hard to find sex workers to interview for the price of a beer. There’s even a bar here that has porn-star karaoke once a week. Through networking I got invited to a porn industry Halloween party in a B&D (for the uninitiated, that’s Bondage and Discipline) porn film studio complete with dungeon sets. They had a topless DJ, privacy tents, stripper poles, an inflatable wading pool filled with olive oil, and a lot of people in wild costumes with even wilder stories to tell. I never knew how sheltered I was until I tried to fathom why a woman would volunteer to let a film crew light a fire on her nude body. She didn’t even get combat pay. On the other hand, she said it didn’t hurt. I guess it’s the same sort of masochistic impulse that drives a person to write a novel on spec.