Sunday, August 30, 2015

Moriarty Captures Oz’s Davitt

During an event held last evening in Melbourne’s Thornbury Theatre, Sisters in Crime Australia announced the winners of its 2015 Davitt Awards. Those prizes, which are supposed to identify the best Aussie crime fiction written by women, for both adults and children, are named in honor of Ellen Davitt (1812-1879), Australia’s first crime novelist. And the winners are …

Adult Novel: Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty (Pan MacMillan)

Also nominated: Through the Cracks, by Honey Brown (Penguin Australia); Forbidden Fruits, by Ilsa Evans (Momentum); A Murder Unmentioned, by Sulari Gentill (Pantera Press); A Morbid Habit, by Annie Hauxwell (Penguin Australia); and Present Darkness, by Malla Nunn (Atria)

Young Adult Novel: Every Word, by Ellie Marney (Allen & Unwin)

Also nominated: Intruder, by Christine Bongers (Woolshed Press); The Astrologer’s Daughter, by Rebecca Lim (Text); and The Ratcatcher’s Daughter, by Pamela Rushby (HarperCollins Australia)

Children’s Novel: Withering-by-Sea, by Judith Rossell
(HarperCollins Australia)

Also nominated: The Adventures of Stunt Boy and His Amazing Wonder Dog, Blindfold, by Lollie Barr (Pan Macmillan Australia); Kitten Kaboodle Mission 1: The Catier Emerald, by Eileen O’Hely (Walker); Friday Barnes: Big Trouble, by R.A. Spratt (Random House); and Truly Tan 4: Freaked!, by Jen Storer (ABC)

Non-fiction: Last Woman Hanged, by Caroline Overington (HarperCollins Australia)

Also nominated: Love You to Death: A Story of Sex, Betrayal and Murder Gone Wrong, by Megan Norris (Five Mile Press); Have You Seen Simone?: The Story of an Unsolved Murder, by Virginia Peters (Nero); and The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama, by Julie Szego (Wild Dingo Press)

Debut: Intruder, by Christine Bongers (Woolshed Press)

Also nominated: The Adventures of Stunt Boy and His Amazing Wonder Dog, Blindfold, by Lollie Barr (Pan Macmillan Australia); Hades, by Candice Fox (Random House); What Came Before, by Anna George (Penguin Australia); Gap, by Rebecca Jessen (University of Queensland Press); Have You Seen Simone?: The Story of an Unsolved Murder, by Virginia Peters (Nero); The Ratcatcher’s Daughter, by Pamela Rushby (HarperCollins Australia); Tell Me Why, by Sandi Wallace (Clan Destine Press); and The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama, by Julie Szego (Wild Dingo Press)

In addition, the organization reports that “Sandi Wallace, who lives in the Dandenong Ranges outside of Melbourne, won the Davitt (Readers’ Choice) as voted by the 660 members of Sisters in Crime, for Tell Me Why (Clan Destine Press).”

Congratulations to all of this year’s Davitt Award contenders!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Begin Strategizing Bouchercon Now

Ali Karim, who serves as The Rap Sheet’s chief UK correspondent and was also involved in programming and panel assignments for this year’s Bouchercon in Raleigh, North Carolina, has let us know that the schedule of events for that three-day convention (October 8-11) has been finalized. Click here to study the program and begin choosing the panel discussions and other proceedings you’d most like to attend.

Nature’s Wrath and Aftermath

Today marks 10 years since Hurricane Katrina clobbered beautiful New Orleans, Louisiana--a natural disaster that was compounded by an incompetent government response. My heart goes out to all New Orleanians who are still trying to recover what they lost (homes, jobs, ways of life) during that storm.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Win a Copy of “No Hard Feelings”

Now that you’ve read Mark Coggins’ fine “Story Behind the Story” essay about No Hard Feelings, how would you like to win your very own free copy of that sixth August Riordan private eye novel? Coggins and his publisher have generously agreed to mail three copies of the special limited hardcover edition to deserving Rap Sheet readers.

Here’s how to enter the drawing for one of them: Simply e-mail your name and postal address to jpwrites@wordcuts.org. And be sure to put “No Hard Feelings Contest” in the subject line. Entries will be accepted between now and midnight next Friday, September 4. Three winners will be chosen completely at random, and their names listed on this page the following day.

Sorry, but this particular giveaway competition is open only residents of the United States.

So what are you waiting for, folks? Get your entries in today!

The Story Behind the Story:
“No Hard Feelings,” by Mark Coggins

(Editor’s note: This 59th installment in The Rap Sheet’s “Story Behind the Story” series welcomes back too-infrequent contributor Mark Coggins, the San Francisco, California-based photographer and author of the August Riordan private eye series. Below, he supplies some background to his latest Riordan outing, No Hard Feelings, which is due for release next month from Down & Out Books.)

No Hard Feelings is my sixth August Riordan novel, and it’s been six years since the last one--The Big Wake-Up--was published. As I sat down at my office desk to write Feelings, I had a variety of pent-up motivations, “unrequited” plot arcs, and literary and real-world inspirations from which to draw.

First there was the momentum of Riordan’s character development. In the blurb Megan Abbott kindly gave me for The Big Wake-Up, she said, “Coggins gives us a detective at the center who doesn’t know all the answers but whose self-effacing wit and hard-struck honesty draw us in from the very start and never let go.” That’s a nice way of saying that Riordan has never been the smartest or most subtle of private detectives. As the series has progressed, however, he has gained a modicum of wisdom and judgment--at the expense of becoming jaded and world-weary. And by the end of Wake-Up, he is pretty damn jaded. To paraphrase an old cigarette advertisement, he is “detecting more and enjoying it less.”

He’s become so jaded, in fact, that he decides to close his office in San Francisco, leave the city, and move to a dilapidated trailer in Palm Springs. The decision to go to Palm Springs also has its antecedents in Wake-Up. There he came to grips with his relationship--or lack thereof--with his father. His father died and was buried in Poodle Springs Palm Springs, so when Riordan drifts away from San Francisco, he gravitates to the place where his father spent his final years.

In addition to severing his relationship with San Francisco, the move to the Springs severs his relationship with series regulars Chris Duckworth and Gretchen Sabatini. Ray, a retired aerospace engineer, who is an old friend of Riordan’s father and lives in the same trailer park, takes up some of the slack.

The person who gobbles up the remainder and stretches it drum-tight is Winnie, a character from Vulture Capital (the second novel in the series). Here we move into the territory of unrequited plot arcs. In Vulture, Riordan was hired to find the missing chief scientist of a biomedical start-up company that makes implants enabling spinal cord injury victims to regain mobility, but soon realizes that the scientist’s disappearance is part of a larger conspiracy to use the technology to control people who aren’t paralyzed.

Riordan ultimately succeeded in unraveling that conspiracy and stopping the bad guys, but in No Hard Feelings, the worst of them--a character referred to only as “the Winemaker”--is back, as is Winnie, the human guinea pig on whom the technology was first tested.

The Winemaker wants Winnie for her implants and he wants Riordan for revenge. Having already fended off several attacks from the Winemaker’s men, Winnie traces Riordan to his desert exile both to warn him and to enlist his aid. They are co-protagonists in this new book. Breaking from my usual pattern of first-person narration solely from Riordan’s point of view, No Hard Feelings is told in alternating POVs: mainly Winnie’s and Riordan’s, with some contributions from the Winemaker and Ray. And because I so admired the way Ron Hansen did it in Atticus (1996), his acclaimed novel of a father searching for a lost son, sometimes the “tape is rewound” and a scene previously narrated by one character is retold by another.

(Left) Author Mark Coggins

Ron Hansen’s Atticus is an example of a literary inspiration for the way No Hard Feelings is told. Another comes from a completely different sort of novel: Paul Cain’s hard-boiled gem, Fast One (1933). Fast One is a story of constant action, or as Irwin Faust says in his afterward, “unceasing, unrelieved, unleavened, unnaunced pow, smash, go.” I don’t claim to have fully replicated that pace, nor do I write in the spare, paired-to-the-bone style of Cain, but I held Fast One as a lodestar as I wrote, eschewing interludes, digressions and exposition as much as possible to keep my foot mashed to the throttle. I can’t say I matched the body count of Fast One either, but not for lack of trying. To wit, four bad guys meet their maker in the first 24 pages, three of whom are dispatched by Winnie. (As an aside, it is no exaggeration to say that Winnie is more like Gerry Kells, the tough-guy protagonist of Fast One, than Riordan is.)

A final piece of the story behind the story is inspiration from real-world events. The Winemaker has a chief lieutenant named George Donovan, whom he breaks out of Corcoran California State Prison near the beginning of the book. Donovan was a high muckety-muck at Praetorian, a private security firm hired to protect U.S. embassy employees during the Iraq War, and he was jailed for machine-gunning civilians while leading a team of contractors in Baghdad. If Praetorian sounds a lot like the real-world private military firms the U.S. government contracted during the Iraq War, there’s good reason.

A second real-world inspiration comes from even more recent events. The Winemaker is obsessed with defeating Islamic militant groups such as ISIS, and he intends to use the technology from Winnie’s start-up against them. One insidious application is to turn the ISIS tactic of enslaving and raping non-believers around by electronically enslaving Islamic women for the same purpose. Another involves suborning the leaders of those groups with the technology, and yet another would send shock troops to battle them in suicide missions. If the Winemaker succeeds in doing what he plans, it has the potential to (further) destabilize the Middle East, to say nothing of what he could do in the rest of the world.

Finally, there are drones. All of them jerry-rigged models built by engineer Ray, but none of them less effective for it.

In closing, although I’ve talked a lot about art imitating life, I can’t let an example of life imitating art go unmentioned. Rapper Sean Combs was recently arrested for allegedly threatening a UCLA coach with a kettlebell in a gym. Fortunately, no one was injured, and although initial accounts suggested Combs had swung the kettlebell at the coach, felony charges of assault with a deadly weapon have been dropped.

Suffice it to say that Winnie doesn’t leave any kettlebells unswung in No Hard Feelings.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Gratefully Surrounded by Books

Patti Abbott, the author of Concrete Angel, kindly invited me recently to participate in her ongoing series about writers and their bookshelves. Each person is asked to respond to several questions, one of which elicited the following answer from me:
Who is your favorite fictional character?

This is certainly your most challenging question. I’m going to go with Nate Heller, Max Allan Collins’ Chicago-based private eye. Much of the reason has to do with Heller’s proximity to the famous and infamous characters of the 20th century. I’d love to have met Al Capone, Sally Rand, Bugsy Siegel, Bobby Kennedy, and Amelia Earhart, as Heller has over the years.
You will find the full post in Abbott’s Pattinase blog.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Now Claiming the Neddies

During a gathering this last weekend at the Melbourne Writers Festival, the winners of the 2015 Ned Kelly Awards for crime and mystery fiction were announced. This marked the 20th anniversary of those prizes. Shotsmag Confidential lists the victors.

Best Crime Novel: Eden, by Candice Fox (Transworld)

Also nominated: Sweet One, by Peter Docker (Fremantle Press); A Murder Unmentioned, by Sulari Gentill (Pantera Press); Crucifixion Creek, by Barry Maitland (Text); Gun Street Girl, by Adrian McKinty (Profile); and Present Darkness, by Malla Nunn (Atria)

Best First Crime Novel: Quota, by Jock Serong (Text)

Also nominated: King of the Road, by Nigel Bartlett (Random House); What Came Before, by Anna George (Penguin); and Chasing the Ace, by Nicholas J. Johnson (Simon & Schuster)

Best True Crime: This House of Grief: The Story of a Murder Trial, by Helen Garner (Text)

Also nominated: The Fall, by Amy Dale (Random House); The Family Court Murders, by Debi Marshall (Random House); He Who Must Be Obeid, by Kate McClymont and Linton Besser (Random House); The Murder of Allison Baden-Clay, by David Murray (Random House); and The Feel-Good Hit of the Year, by Liam Pieper (Hamish Hamilton)

S.D. Harvey Short Story (with Kill Your Own Darlings): “Short Term People,” by Andrea Gillum

Also nominated: “A Watched Pot,” by Aoife Clifford; “Prisoner's Dilemma,” by Stephen Gray; “Sweetie,” by Grace Heyer; “Daddy Played the Trumpet,” by Adriane Howell; and “Roux’s Sister,” by Darcy-Lee Tindale

In addition, the Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Peter Lawrence, who--according to AustCrime--for “18 or so years … single-handedly [ran] the Ned Kelly Awards,” until the Australian Crime Writers Association “stepped in to help.”

Monday, August 24, 2015

Pierce’s Picks

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



Every Night I Dream of Hell (Mantle), the fifth novel from award-winning Scottish author Malcolm Mackay, returns readers to the murky environs of Glasgow’s underworld, where Nate Colgan--who used to be merely “smart muscle” for the notorious Jamieson organization, before some of its most powerful members were incarcerated or else killed--has now been promoted to “security consultant.” His managerial skills and intelligence will be put to the test promptly, as a new cadre of criminals, supposedly hailing from south of the border, begins challenging the Jamieson forces for dominance, threatening a local war. Colgan needs to find out who’s behind that other gang. At the same time, he must fend off a detective inspector who sees in the brewing rivalry an opportunity to further expand his record of success, and also try to determine the reason for the sudden reappearance of his young daughter’s scheming mother. The chance to learn more about Colgan, one of Mackay’s continuing characters, is certainly welcome. Allegiance, by Kermit Roosevelt (Regan Arts), is a historical legal thriller built around President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s decision in 1942, not long after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to deport and incarcerate tens of thousands of Japanese-descended Americans who had been living on the West Coast of the United States. Protagonist Caswell “Cash” Harrison is a young law student of upper-class Philadelphia stock, who, after being rejected for military service because he failed his physical, signs up instead to clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. In that capacity, he unearths what might be nefarious efforts by some powerful, avaricious players to influence the Court’s decision making. Amid the violence and clues to conspiracies, Roosevelt--a professor of law and the great-great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt--shows us Harrison’s growing disillusionment with the profession he had for so long sought.

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

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Madigan Back on His Beat

Richard Widmark’s only TV series, Madigan (1972-1973), shown under the umbrella of The NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie, was based on his 1968 big-screen picture of the same name. The series had its attractions, but it was considerably less popular than the original film, generating only a half-dozen 90-minute episodes--which explains why it has never enjoyed a formal DVD release in the United States.

However, some kind and most generous soul has just posted all six of those Madigan eps on YouTube (uploaded, apparently, from a French source, since they all feature French-translated opening titles). You can watch the first one, “The Manhattan Beat,” right here. There are links from that same page to the remaining five installments.

Since YouTube is notorious for expunging copyrighted material from its site, my advice is to watch all of Madigan now, or else download the episodes to your computer as soon as you can.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Bullet Points: Debuts and Comebacks Edition

• It sounds as if the film version of Erik Larson’s terrific 2003 non-fiction book, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, might finally be getting off the ground. According to The Wrap, that picture--to be directed by Martin Scorsese, with Leonardo DiCaprio starring as serial killer H.H. Holmes--spent many years “in development” at Warner Bros., but has now “found a new home at Paramount, which just won a bidding war for the high-profile project.”

• With Season 4 of Longmire set to debut on Netflix (not A&E) come Thursday, September 10, two promotional clips have recently been released. You can find them in the Crimespree Magazine blog.

• “Forgotten books” reviewers, take note. Author Patti Abbott, who long ago organized the Web-wide weekly celebration of “books we love but might have forgotten over the years,” has proposed another theme for interested contributors. “I am suggesting we review Ed McBain books for Friday, October 2nd …,” she writes in her blog. “Of course, any books reviewed are fine. But let’s especially honor one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century.” That sounds like a good idea.

• Can this be true? Brad Pitt was Guy Ritchie’s first choice to portray American spy Napoleon Solo in the new Man from U.N.C.L.E. film? Fortunately, Pitt told him to “piss off.”

• Still on the subject of U.N.C.L.E., author Linwood Barclay (Broken Promise) writes in the Orion Books blog, The Murder Room, about how the original 1964-1968 NBC-TV series “changed my life.”

• Anyone who’d like to participate in Criminal Element’s next regular short-story contest, “The M.O.,” has until next Friday, August 28, to prepare a submission. “We’re seeking short, original crime stories of 1,000-1,500 words around the loose theme of ‘Lesson Learned,’” the blog explains. Click here for additional information.

• Meanwhile, submissions are now being accepted for the 2016 Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition. As Dixon Hill explains in SleuthSayers, “If you’re an unpublished novelist and can manage to submit a manuscript of at least 40,000 words, featuring a murder or other serious crime, by December 14, 2015, then you might like to enter. The winner gets a contract and 10 grand advance against royalties. You’ll find the publisher’s details here.”

• Finally, you have until December 31, 2015, to enter the competition for the 2016 Pinckley Prize for Debut Novel. As explained here, “First novels by a North American woman published by an American publisher during the 2015 calendar year are eligible for the Pinckley Prize for Debut Novel. Submissions should include a $25 entry fee and 3 copies of the book. Submissions may be sent to Pinckley Prize, c/o Pelican Publishing, 1000 Burmaster St., Gretna, LA, 70053. The Pinckley Prize for Achievement in Crime Fiction will be selected by a jury only. Submissions for the Debut Novel Prize will not be considered unless accompanied by an entry fee.”

• I’m very pleased to hear that “President Barack Obama will travel to New Orleans on Aug. 27 to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.” It’s broadly assumed he will do better in addressing that disaster than George W. Bush did in September 2005, when he visited the Crescent City himself to promise “one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen.” Bush’s speech, of course, was given at a time when his administration’s incompetent response to the hurricane was drawing criticism from all quarters. If you would like to refresh your memory on the sequence of events just before and immediately after Katina’s devastating landfall, check out this timeline from The Guardian.

• Less happy news: Anthony Horowitz, British author of the new James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis--which is due out in stores on September 8--won’t be doing a U.S. tour to promote that book after all. As blogger John Cox explains in his blog, The Book Bond, “U.S. tours have become a rare thing for Bond authors these days. Only Charlie Higson and Jeffery Deaver have brought their Bonds to the U.S. in recent years. Horowitz had listed a section for ‘U.S. Events’ on his official website, but that is now gone.” He does, however, have a number of UK events lined up.

Also from The Book Bond:CBR (Comic Book Resources) has revealed eight variant covers for the upcoming first issue of VARGR, Dynamite’s new six-part James Bond graphic novel series by Warren Ellis with art by Jason Masters.”

• Author Bill Crider sure has received a heap of attention in the blogosphere lately. It must be because he has a new Sheriff Dan Rhodes novel available, titled Between the Living and the Dead (Minotaur). Lesa Holstine briefly reviews the book here, while Marshal Zeringue first asks Crider how he’d cast a movie from this 22nd Rhodes outing, and then inquires as to what Crider has been reading recently.

• I am always on the lookout for new sources of old TV films and series. So I was delighted recently to discover Truetvmovies. I haven’t yet ordered any DVDs from that site, but there are a few features I have my eyes on for the future, including: Jake Spanner, Private Eye (1989, adapted from L.A. Morse’s The Old Dick), starring Robert Mitchum and Ernest Borgnine; Crime Club (1975), starring Eugene Roche and Robert Lansing; Wild Times (1980), starring Bruce Boxleitner; Mallory: Circumstantial Evidence (1976), starring Raymond Burr; and The Lawyer (1970), the pilot for Barry Newman’s 1974-1976 legal drama, Petrocelli.

Watch a film exploring Dashiell Hammett’s San Francisco.

• Speaking of Hammett (which for me seems like a regular occupation), I didn’t see the TV dramatization of his 1929 Continental Op novelette, Fly Paper, when it was first broadcast in 1995 as part of the Showtime anthology series Fallen Angels, so I was glad to catch up with it today on YouTube. Click here to watch that episode, which starred Christopher Lloyd as the Op, and also featured Kristin Minter, Darren McGavin, and Laura San Giacomo. The screenplay was penned by none other than Donald E. Westlake.

• TV producer-writer Lee Goldberg and small-screen entertainment historian Wesley Hyatt are the guests on Ed Robertson’s new installment of TV Confidential, his popular two-hour radio talk show. Their topic this time out is unsold TV pilots, about which Goldberg knows a good deal, having produced a trio of books on the subject, all of which were recently reissued in print and made available for e-book readers. This episode of TV Confidential will air through Monday, August 24, on a variety of radio stations, and then be archived here.

• In Reference to Murder brings word that the captivating Sarah Shahi (formerly of Fairly Legal and Life) will be returning to CBS-TV’s Person of Interest for its fifth (and perhaps final) season. “Her character was shot in the middle of Season 4,” explains blogger B.V. Lawson, “but it was the actress’ maternity leave that prompted her hiatus from the show.” CBS hasn’t yet announced when Person of Interest will begin airing again.

• “Becky Masterman, author of the critically acclaimed Brigid Quinn novels, discusses how Dorothy Uhnak’s The Bait was a forerunner in chronicling how the police deal with the psychological trauma of their job.” Read Masterman’s short piece here.

• Joseph Finder (The Fixer) offers his list of “the best books to learn thriller-writing from--a few non-fiction books, but mostly great thrillers that I think every thriller writer should read and take notes from.” Included among his choices are James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, Ken Follett’s The Eye of the Needle, and William Goldman’s Marathon Man.

• Being a longtime Ellery Queen follower, I was interested to learn that publisher Mysterious Press has just added 30 new Queen titles to its e-books collection. Among the new re-releases (some of which were ghost-written under the Queen house name) are The Fourth Side of the Triangle, A Fine and Private Place, A Study in Terror, and Drury Lane's Last Case. Click here to find them all.

• A few interviews worth investigating: Steph Cha (Dead Soon Enough) and Julia Dahl (Run You Down) talk with The Life Sentence’s Lisa Levy; Levy also interrogates Michael Koryta (Last Words); Alex Segura goes one-on-one with Jake Hinkson (The Blind Alley); the Houston Chronicle chats up Linwood Barclay; and Linda Fairstein discusses Devil’s Bridge with Stephen Campbell of CrimeFiction.FM.

• Last but definitely not least, Daniel Hatadi, Australian creator of the crime fiction-oriented social-networking Web site Crimespace, sent a note around today, asking that people “consider making a donation towards the running costs” of his operation. As he explains, “Ning.com, the company who provides the servers and service for Crimespace to run on, charge an annual fee. The fee is $239.90 (U.S.), and although I do receive donations at times, I’m well short of that target this year. Most years I’ve been a little short, but I don’t run this for profit so it’s not usually a problem.” To contribute, go here.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Beyond Batgirl

Yvonne Craig, who died earlier this week at age 78 due to complications from breast cancer, has received a great deal of attention both for her dazzling role as Batgirl on the 1960s TV series Batman and her sexy turn as an Orion slave girl on Star Trek.

However, the Illinois-born ballet dancer turned actress was also once a familiar guest star on American TV crime dramas, from Perry Mason and Philip Marlowe to Checkmate, It Takes a Thief, 77 Sunset Strip (on which she appeared four times), The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, The Mod Squad, O’Hara, U.S. Treasury, Mannix (two episodes), The Magician, Kojak, and Starsky & Hutch. In addition, she portrayed a wannabe dancer in trouble in the 1973 NBC-TV film Jarrett, an unsuccessful pilot starring Glenn Ford as a private investigator who specialized in fine-arts cases. Click here to watch clips from a variety of Craig’s on-screen performances.

“It’s nice to be remembered,” Yvonne Craig told a New Orleans interviewer in 2000. Really, how could we forget?

READ MORE:Yvonne Craig, TV’s Sexy Batgirl of the 1960s, Dies at 78,” by Mike Barnes (The Hollywood Reporter); “Yvonne Craig, TV’s Batgirl, Dies at 78,” by Bill Koenig (The Spy Command); “The Late Great Yvonne Craig,” by Terence Towles Canote (A Shroud of Thoughts); “Yvonne Craig, 1937-2015” (Tor.com); “Yvonne Craig, R.I.P.,” by Mitchell Hadley (It’s About TV!).

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Pierce’s Picks

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



Last Words (Little, Brown) marks Michael Koryta’s return to private-eye fiction, following his popular Lincoln Perry series. Here the protagonist is Markus Novak, a gumshoe in the employ of a Florida-based pro bono legal firm that specializes in winning freedom for wrongly convicted death-row inmates. To distract Novak from his continuing obsession with the demise of his lawyer wife, his boss sends him north to Indiana, where he’s to determine whether the firm should take on an investigation into the mystery surrounding a teenage girl. It seems that a decade ago, Sarah Martin vanished into a cave used heavily by tourists, only to be found--handcuffed and dead--by a knowledgeable but eccentric caving enthusiast, Ridley Barnes. Barnes can’t say for certain whether he did the girl in, but his small-town neighbors are convinced of his guilt. Novak figures he’s just wasting his time interviewing the people involved in that long-ago fatality. But after he’s suckered with lies, then told in no uncertain terms to beat a hasty retreat home, the private eye starts to wonder whether this make-work assignment deserves closer attention. The Catalyst Killing, by Hans Olav Lahlum (Mantle UK), isn’t actually due out until next week, but since so many new novels are being issued right now, I didn’t want to miss mentioning this one. It’s the third entry (following Satellite People) in Norwegian historian-author Lahlum’s series starring Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen, aka K2, and his brilliant but disabled young assistant, Patricia Louise Borchmann. This time around, the pair probe the murder of Marie Morgenstierne, whose fate might be connected to the disappearance, two years ago, of her boyfriend, Falko Reinhardt, during a mountain walking excursion. Did Morgenstierne know something about the incident that would have caused her more recent concerns? And is there a link between both of these mysteries and Falko’s research into Norwegian Nazis?

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

Bloody Blades and All That Jazz

“It is no easy matter,” wrote one Victorian-era minister, “to go to heaven by way of New Orleans.” Indeed, during the 19th and early 20th centuries, Louisiana’s largest and best-known city was a hotspot for hedonism and crime, a place where order, wealth, and sophistication struck an uneasy balance with saloons and bordellos, rampant lawlessness and municipal dysfunction. That balance was severely upset, though, right after World War I ended, when a mysterious serial murderer known as the Axeman began to prey on New Orleanians. Or, specifically, to prey on Italian grocers in the Crescent City.

Ray Celestin’s debut novel, The Axeman--published last year in the UK, but to be released in the States on September 1 by Sourcebooks--captures all of the mystery and fear associated with the Axeman’s 1918-1919 rampage. To that, it adds the stories of three separate and engaging investigators, all fictional and all wishing to expose the killer and terminate his bloody activities. As I write in my review of the novel, posted today on the Kirkus Reviews Web site:
Celestin wastes no time pitching readers into the Axeman investigation, complete with political connivances, surreptitious informers, gang rivalries and wild reports of suspicious characters abroad at the time of the attacks. (“People wrote in to say they had seen Negro men flying through windows, eight-foot-tall Indians, Slavs with horned heads, dwarves, Chinamen, Creoles who disappeared in a puff of smoke, or banshees fluttering between rooftops.”) There’s talk that the assassin is actually more than one person; that he’s black; that he’s Italian; that he might’ve begun his rampage long before 1918; and that he could be one of the shockingly many city residents once relegated to the state insane asylum. … The crime scenes—with their bloody axes, suggestive tarot cards left behind and doors locked from the outside—attest to the Axeman’s interest both in confusing police and inciting alarm in the city’s populous.
I invite you to read my full critique of The Axeman here.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Some Thoughts About the New “U.N.C.L.E.”

While I usually eschew the official openings of films, the debut of director Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. provoked me to shed that resistance. Hearing that the premiere might draw a smaller crowd than I would have feared, my wife and I went yesterday to an afternoon showing. Although the movie will almost surely disappoint U.N.C.L.E. purists, we found it entertaining, for a number of reasons:

British actor Henry Cavill, as nattily attired American spy Napoleon Solo, must have spent a good deal of time watching the 1964-1968 NBC-TV series, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., on which this movie was based, for he has original star Robert Vaughn’s sophisticated, calm-under-pressure style down pat.

Armie Hammer’s Russian agent, Illya Kuryakin, is far more of a blunt instrument here than David McCallum’s Kuryakin ever was in the series. I knew going into the theater that this movie had tweaked the protagonists’ back stories a bit, but I didn’t expect Hammer’s KGB operative to have such anger issues. If there’s an U.N.C.L.E sequel--as the picture’s closing suggests there will be--I hope Kuryakin’s fast-burning inclination toward violence can be tamed a bit.

Twenty-six-year-old Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, who portrays Gaby Teller, the daughter of a missing German scientist, is the most magnetic element of Ritchie’s U.N.C.L.E., whether she’s driving madly through the back streets of Cold War Berlin, dancing by herself in a hotel room, or betraying her colleagues. It’s no wonder that Kuryakin, who’s only supposed to be passing himself off in this story as her fiancé, takes a break from his fighting to actually fall for her.

Both Vikander and Elizabeth Debicki, who plays the seductive but villainous Victoria Vinciguerra, imbue their characters with a great deal of power. It’s nice to see women as commanding figures in spy fiction, breaking as it does certain egregious traditions.

Anyone who’s seen Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (2009) or its sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), will recognize his storytelling habits in U.N.C.L.E. This is especially true when it comes to the often-antagonistic relationship between Solo and Kuryakin (Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes and Jude Law’s Dr. John Watson also had their contretemps) and the way he rolls through a scene, only to come back to that same scene soon afterward for a second look revealing events that viewers missed the first go-round.

The GQ magazine critic who complained that “very little in the way of action takes place” in U.N.C.L.E. must have seen a different movie than I did. Maybe this is a generational thing, and she’s younger, more accustomed to films that try hard to imitate video games; but for my money, there were plenty of fights, chases, and other fireworks.

Like the TV show before it, Ritchie’s motion picture leavens its dramatic elements with humor--again, also familiar from his Sherlock Holmes tales. Not to give too much away, but I particularly enjoyed the scene in which Solo and Kuryakin debate the fate of a confirmed criminal, while fate intervenes to relieve them of reaching a decision.

• English composer Daniel Pemberton’s score gives The Man from U.N.C.L.E. an elegant period feel, without relying too heavily on actual 1960s music selections. Then again, I would have enjoyed some Dean Martin or Sam Cooke tracks. The trailers include a version of the Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse song “Feeling Good” that was absent from the movie itself. Too bad.

My only other thought as I watched the end credits roll through was, “Where were Robert Vaughn and David McCallum”? Both actors are still alive and working. Surely, Guy Ritchie could have found them minor but recognizable cameo roles in this new picture. Perhaps it’s something to consider for the sequel.

READ MORE:Miscellaneous Notes About the U.N.C.L.E. Movie” and “Final Thoughts About the U.N.C.L.E. Film,” by Bill Koenig (The Spy Command); “6 Reasons The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Was the Coolest Spy Show of the ’60s,” by Brent DiCrescenzo (The MeTV Monitor); “Catching Up with Robert Vaughn, the Original Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” by Jeff Labrecque (Entertainment Weekly); “Cry U.N.C.L.E.,” by Max Allan Collins; “Man from U.N.C.L.E. by Ritchie & Wigram and Kleeman & Wilson,” by Andrew Cartmel (Narrative Drive); “Swingin’ Sixties: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” by Justin Cummings (Critics at Large).

Irvin Captures the First “Jerry”

During an event held earlier today at the second annual Mystery Writers Key West Fest, author J.E. Irvin of Springboro, Ohio, won the inaugural Jeremiah Healy Mystery Writing Award--the “Jerry”--for her not-yet-published book, Dark End of the Rainbow.

According to the southern Florida news blog Konk Life, Janet Irvin was one of four finalists for this commendation, which salutes the late detective novelist Jeremiah Healy’s “legacy as [an] influential mentor credited with helping and advising many aspiring writers.” That blog adds, “Writers from all over the country answered the call that invited candidates to submit the first three pages of a finished, unpublished mystery manuscript.” Along with Irvin’s book were three other shortlisted contenders: All Hocked Up, by Jack Bates (Rochester, Michigan); Portside Screw, by Gregory S. Dew (Ponce Inlet, Florida); and Square Grouper, by Crichton Lewis (Key West, Florida).

As previously announced, the winner of this contest is to be given a book-publishing contract with Absolutely Amazing eBooks, free Mystery Writers Key West Fest registration, hotel accommodations for two nights, and a bobble-headed “Jerry” trophy.

(Hat tip to Sandra Balzo, on her Facebook page.)

Happy Birthday, Mike Connors!

The star of Tightrope, Mannix, and Today’s FBI turns 90 years old today! The Spy Command offers a little perspective on his career.

The Good, the Bad, and the Punny

This has to be one of my favorite blogging duties: bringing to you, oh faithful Rap Sheet readers, the champions of the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. The task for 2015, as in previous years, was to create the worst (e.g., funniest) opening sentences from never-to-be-completed books. This competition is named in memory of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the English novelist and playwright who’s best remembered for having concocted that so frequently scorned opening phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

2015’s overall winning entry comes from Joel Phillips of West Trenton, New Jersey, and fits nicely with this blog’s crime-fiction theme:
Seeing how the victim’s body, or what remained of it, was wedged between the grill of the Peterbilt 389 and the bumper of the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT, officer “Dirk” Dirksen wondered why reporters always used the phrase “sandwiched” to describe such a scene since there was nothing appetizing about it, but still, he thought, they might have a point because some of this would probably end up on the front of his shirt.
My favorite selection in the Crime/Detective category happens to be the runner-up, a morsel of inelegant prose supplied by Laura Ruth Loomis of Pittsburg, California:
When the corpse showed up in the swimming pool, her dead bosoms bobbing up and down like twin poached eggs in hollandaise sauce, Randy decided to call the police as soon as he finished taking pictures of his breakfast and posting them to his Facebook wall.
But I also appreciate this “dishonorable mention” winner in the Vile Puns category, submitted by Owen Roberts of Edina, Minnesota:
Sherlock Holmes brusquely dismissed his companion’s theory that the victim had died from an allergic reaction to either seasoning or seafood, saying “Watson, although the problem is alimentary, it is neither the Thyme nor the Plaice.”
Click here to enjoy all of the 2015 winners and their rivals.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Matter of “Morals”

video

I have been hearing for a while about Public Morals, the new TNT-TV police drama from Edward Burns and Steven Spielberg, but now I realize that its debut date--Tuesday, August 25--is rapidly approaching. This has brought on a sudden flurry of publicity, including another trailer (embedded above, and following this earlier, shorter teaser) and a bunch of promotional posters, all designed as tributes to classic crime films, from Dirty Harry and Tony Rome to Get Carter. Mashable has the whole set of those posters on display.

As most of you probably know, Public Morals is set in New York City in the 1960s and stars Burns as Terry Muldoon, a Hell’s Kitchen-based cop with the NYPD’s Public Morals Division--“where cops walk the line between morality and criminality as the temptations that come from dealing with all kinds of vice can get the better of them,” according to press materials for the show. As Variety explains, “It has taken [Burns] nearly two decades to get his passion project about Irish-American gangsters onto the screen. … Burns’ father and uncle, who are both retired New York City police officers, inspired the plot of Public Morals.” This series, which will initially offer 10 episodes, also stars Michael Rapaport (who I still remember best from Boston Public), Elizabeth Masucci, Neal McDonough, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, and the willowy Lyndon Smith (from Parenthood).

Deadline Hollywood brings the news that TV binge-watchers will be able to view several installments of Public Morals right off the bat. “For the first time,” explains Nellie Andreeva, “TNT will make multiple upcoming episodes of a series available on-demand. The day after the Aug. 25 premiere of the Edward Burns period drama …, episodes 1-4 will be viewable through set-top VOD, the Watch TNT mobile app, and http://www.tntdrama.com/watch, as well as on participating TV providers Web sites and apps.”

Personally, I’ll be happy with just one episode a week, beginning at 10 p.m. on the 25th. There’s no reason to use up the show all at once.

One Down

This is most decidedly not good news: Crimespree Magazine’s Jon Jordan reports that Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Mystery One Bookshop--which opened in the spring of 1993--will soon close its doors: “At the end of August there will be a send-off for the store and [owner] Richard [Katz] is hoping to have events lined up for Thursday and Friday the 27th and 28th, and a daylong party on Saturday the 29th. The store has been reaching out to authors to make the send off a big day with great prices on books and a chance for everyone to say good bye to the store and have some fun. Think Irish wake or funeral in New Orleans.” Read more here.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

I Spy with My Little Eye ...

Lately it seems there have been many small, crime-fiction-related stories that do not necessarily merit their own posts, but nonetheless deserve a mention. Here are a few more such items.

• The second annual Mystery Writers Key West Fest, “Murder & Mayhem in Paradise,” will begin tomorrow and run until Sunday in Key West, Florida. This year’s convention will have as its headliner Jeffery Deaver, the author most recently of Solitude Creek (Grand Central). But one of the event’s biggest attention-grabbers is likely to be the presentation of the inaugural Jeremiah Healy Mystery Writing Award, aka “The Jerry.” It’s named, of course, in memory of novelist Healy, who created the John Francis Cuddy private-eye series and took his own life in August 2014. Contenders for this prize were asked to submit, to a judging panel (which includes Healy’s fiancée, mystery novelist Sandra Balzo), the first three pages of a finished but unpublished manuscript no later than June 30, 2015. Finalists were then asked to send in their full novels for assessment. As far as I can tell, there’s been no announcement of who made the shortlist, so we’ll all be surprised when the winner is announced on Saturday morning. If you would like to take part in this convention, but haven’t yet registered, you can take care of that little detail here.

• The Spy Command reports that director Guy Ritchie’s new big-screen picture, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.--splashing onto U.S. theater screens tomorrow, Friday--“is expected to have the lowest U.S. opening weekend of 2015 spy movies,” earning perhaps $20 million over the course of its opening weekend. That sounds pretty good, until you compare it with the $55.5 million that Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation scored its first weekend.

• Not that I care about such things ... I’m significantly more likely to spend my movie-going money on U.N.C.L.E. than I am on anything starring Tom Cruise (who headlines Rogue Nation). And though I’m understandably wary of Hollywood turning classic TV shows into big-screen flicks, GQ magazine praises Ritchie’s picture as “awfully charming and wittily scripted.” Critic Helen O’Hara writes of how she was surprised “that very little in the way of action takes place” in this film, starring Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, yet she’s already looking forward to a sequel, “because after this charming but slightly too restrained opener, it will be fun to see what this devious, dapper pair get up to when they really let loose.”

• Nancie Clare’s latest guest for her Speaking of Mysteries podcast is the ever-entertaining Kelli Stanley, author of City of Ghosts.

• Novelist Patricia Highsmith is the focus of this year’s second issue of Clues: A Journal of Detection, due out soon. Commemorating 20 years since her demise at age 74, the magazine will look at topics ranging from “The Question of Insanity in Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley” to “Conformity and Singularity in Patricia Highsmith’s Early Novels.” Click here to peek at the cover of this forthcoming edition, and go here for details about ordering yourself a copy.

• August marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina clobbering New Orleans and other parts of the American South--a natural disaster that was compounded by incompetence within George W. Bush’s administration. As part of its extensive commemoration of that event, National Public Radio today interviewed author Walter Mosley (And Sometimes I Wonder About You), whose family has “roots in New Orleans,” though he grew up in Los Angeles. The same interviewer, Renee Montagne, also asked Mosley to share his memories of L.A.’s 1965 Watts Riots, which took place 50 years ago this week and found Mosley, at age 13, “scared” by the violence erupting across his city.

Did Raymond Chandler foresee Google in 1953?

• Les Blatt from Classic Mysteries offers some suggestions to readers wanting to acquaint themselves with the rich roots of this genre.

• David Thomson, a film critic for The New Republic, looks back fondly at the cinematic work of Alfred Hitchcock and asks that immortal question, why have his films endured while those made by others have been forgotten?

• And I’m afraid I had not heard of the Golden Crown Literary Society before this week, but it’s a “non-profit, volunteer organization whose mission is education and the promotion and recognition of lesbian literature.” What’s more, it gives out annual awards, the Goldies, one category of which is Mystery/Thriller. As Janet Rudolph notes in Mystery Fanfare, the three winners for 2015, announced on July 29, were: The Acquittal, by Ann Laughlin (Bold Strokes); Left Field: Lillian Byrd Crime Series, Book 5, by Elizabeth Sims (Spruce Park Press); and The Consequence of Murder, by Nene Adams (Bella). The full rundown of this year’s Goldies winners can be found here.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Pierce’s Picks

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



In the Dark Places, by Peter Robinson (Morrow), was published last year in Great Britain as Abattoir Blues. Abattoir is, of course, another word for slaughterhouse, which suggests that there will be blood spilled across these pages--and indeed there is. Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks and his crack team are summoned to the Yorkshire countryside, where a pricey tractor has gone missing from the property of a “hobby farmer,” a guy who’s often dismissed by his neighbors as being too upscale for their tastes. Does this incident indicate the existence of a criminal ring specializing in the procurement of high-end agricultural equipment? And might it be connected to the discovery of a bloodstain at an abandoned World War II aircraft hangar, the disappearance of two local young men, and a truck that has crashed on an ice-slick road? This is the 22nd Banks novel (following Children of the Revolution, one of my favorite reads of 2014), yet the DCI receives less attention here than usual; there’s more focus on Detective Sergeant Winsome Jackman, another member of his team, whose love life is looking up. The Windchime Legacy, by A.W. Mykel (Brash), is an intricate high-tech thriller, originally published in 1980, that imagines America’s espionage network being controlled by SENTINEL, an intelligent supercomputer that keeps close track of all U.S. spies--and can decide to eliminate them, if necessary. When one of SENTINEL’s creators chooses to defect to the Soviet Union, where he expects to receive greater admiration for constructing a more aggressive version of the computer, secret agent Justin Chaple--aka Pilgrim--is sent to stop him. But that task will pit Chaple against the KGB’s foremost killers, lead to the agent’s betrayal, and ultimately leave him on his own with scant hope of survival. The dialogue and sex scenes in this novel can be over-the-top, and the writing creaks a bit with age, but it’s still a solid and often exciting yarn.

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

Covering the Beat

• With director Guy Ritchie’s new big-screen picture, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., set to hit U.S. theaters this coming Friday, The Spy Command points us to this Los Angeles Times piece recalling the origins of the 1964-1968 NBC-TV series on which that movie is based. “The story,” writes managing editor Bill Koenig, “looks at a number of angles, including how 007 author Ian Fleming was involved in the first few months of the show’s development.”

• The San Francisco Chronicle provides its own retrospective on U.N.C.L.E., which includes this bit of trivia: “At the peak of U.N.C.L.E.’s popularity, star Robert Vaughn (as American Napoleon Solo) says he and co-star David McCallum (as Russian Illya Kuryakin) received up to 70,000 fan letters a month. The Beatles reportedly asked to meet Vaughn when they came to America in 1966.”

• Let’s not forget the upcoming 50th anniversary of another iconic TV series, Get Smart, which was first broadcast on NBC on September 18, 1965. Edward A. Grainger (aka David Cranmer) offers this Criminal Element piece about Get Smart’s opening episode, “Mr. Big,” noting: “You don’t have to look far to see the show’s lasting influence in shows like Archer featuring another secret agent bumbling through the cloak and dagger world, wreaking havoc. But Get Smart made us laugh at the pretentious first and, at fifty, remains a shrewd satire.”

• Happy fourth birthday to the UK blog Crime Fiction Lover.

• Speaking of CFL, it reports that there’s a campaign underway to give author-screenwriter Raymond Chandler a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame: “Screenwriters Bill Boyle and Aaron Lerner are both huge Chandler fans and have launched the campaign--the aim is to raise over $50,000 in order to purchase the star. After all, without works like The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, and The Long Goodbye--all of which were made into films--an entire genre of Hollywood movies might never have been made. And ask yourself, why should the Rug Rats, Big Bird, Lassie, Bob Hope’s wife, and the Victoria’s Secret models have stars, and not our man Raymond?” You can be part of the campaign to give Chandler his star by donating here. It appears the fundraising will continue through the end of August.

• The Rap Sheet won a mention in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review, thanks to UK correspondent Ali Karim’s 2010 interview with C.J. Box. Box has a new standalone suspense novel, Badlands (Minotaur), out on bookstore shelves.

• There’s more about Box in the Crimespree Magazine blog.

• According to SpyVibe, “Shortly before his death [in 1971, jazz trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong] contributed a poignant vocal performance to the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). Written by John Barry and Hal David, the tune served as an emotional anchor for Bond's budding love affair in the movie.” Click here to enjoy Armstrong’s performance.

• In 2003, Lawrence O’Donnell Jr.--who'd been a writer and producer on The West Wing (and who has since transformed himself into the host of an MSNBC news show bearing his name)--launched another politics-oriented NBC-TV series titled Mister Sterling, about an idealistic young U.S. senator, Bill Sterling, played by Josh Brolin. The premise was that Sterling had won the seat by appointment, after its previous occupant perished, and he was expected to get up to speed with some help from his more experienced Washington, D.C., staff as well as his father, a savvy former governor of California (played wonderfully by James Whitmore). Mister Sterling lasted only 10 episodes, and there’s been no subsequent DVD release. However, those episodes have suddenly appeared on YouTube.

• “The recent death of Patrick Macnee had me and anyone else who has watched TV in the last fifty years thinking about The Avengers [1961-1969],” wrote Michael Shonk in Mystery*File a couple of weeks back. “Most fans of the series, especially Americans, are familiar with Emma Peel and the later seasons of The Avengers, but not the early seasons. I have always been curious on what happened before Diana Rigg arrived.” To settle his own interest, as well as ours, Shonk put together a two-part feature about the early days of The Avengers. Part I looks back at the show’s beginnings as “a hard-boiled thriller with a dark sense of humor,” starring Ian Hendry as Dr. David Keel and Macnee in a supporting role as spy John Steed. Part II celebrates the debut of Honor Blackman as curvaceous Mrs. Catherine Gale, “an intelligent widow, a scholar, and someone who had survived living in adventurous Africa. She would prove to be a type of female hero TV audiences had rarely seen before.” Shonk offers links to full episodes of the program to illustrate its evolution as a viewer favorite.

• Nancie Clare interviews Martin Walker for her podcast series, Speaking of Mysteries. Walker, as you undoubtedly know, is the Scottish-born author of the Bruno, Chief of Police mysteries, the newest of which is The Patriarch (Knopf).

• Other interviews worth checking out: Wallace Stroby (The Devil’s Share) talks with Pulp Curry; David Mark (Taking Pity) is interrogated in The Life Sentence; Craig Faustus Buck (Go Down Hard) has an interesting chat with S.W. Lauden; BOLO Books quizzes Paul Cleave about his new standalone novel, Trust No One; Korean-American crime novelist Steph Cha (Dead Soon Enough) fields queries from the Los Angeles Review of Books; and Sara Paretsky (Brush Back) answers questions about her life and writing in The Guardian.

• Finally, Craig Sisterson--judging convenor of the annual Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel competition--speaks with Radio New Zealand about “the state of New Zealand crime writing, the finalists for the 2015 Ngaio Marsh Award …, what makes good crime, and much more. Nordic noir and authors including Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Camilla Lackberg, Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, Lee Child, Lisa Gardner, and others also got a mention or two.”