Friday, October 31, 2014

Pierce’s Picks: “The Final Silence”

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

The Final Silence, by Stuart Neville (Soho Crime)

The Gist: As I wrote in Kirkus Reviews a couple of months back, Northern Irish author Neville’s fifth novel takes as its lead “damaged Belfast police inspector Jack Lennon, who here gets involved--disastrously--with a woman he once dated, but hasn’t seen for half a decade. Rea Carlisle, unemployed, impatient, and not quite grown into her 34 years, inherits the soulless abode of an uncle she barely knew. Things thus seem to be looking up for her … until she breaks into her late relative’s locked room and unearths a scrapbook filled with evidence suggesting the uncle had been murdering men and women for years. While her selfish father insists on covering up such dismal doings, lest they damage his political prospects, Rea turns to Lennon, who’s already burdened with worries, not limited to injuries he sustained during his last case (in Stolen Souls) and his increasing drug dependence. Lennon wants no part of Rea’s predicament. But after she meets a gruesome end, and the scrapbook disappears, he becomes the principal suspect in those misdeeds. Lennon must unravel the mystery of the dead man’s journal before he loses both his daughter and his livelihood.” Making it even more difficult for Lennon, writes Lynn Harvey in Euro Crime, is his new superior, Detective Inspector Serena Flanagan, “who seems determined to push him deeper onto the ropes.”

What Else You Should Know: Harvey adds that in The Final Silence, “human stories intertwine with ambition, deceit, and the darker regions of the psyche. Jack Lennon is already more physically battered and scarred than Ian Rankin’s [Inspector John] Rebus, but he too continues to slide down the greasy pole of his police career, notching up enemies with each lurching descent. Bad history and bad company contribute to his beleaguered state. Yet something within Lennon still urges him to play the ‘knight chivalrous’ down streets filled with the bitter legacy of Northern Ireland’s political struggles and factions.” The Irish entertainment site RTÉ Ten is especially complimentary of this yarn’s chief female players: “Serena Flanagan, the detective chief inspector who truly has the weight of the world on her shoulders, deserves her own series, while Ida Carlisle, Rea’s mother who is trapped in a loveless marriage to a politician, shows that Neville could take a break from the thriller genre with no difficulty.” Other readers, however, are more restrained in their praise. At the same time as he states that “The writing is crisp and good in the book. It practically begs you to keep turning the pages …,” a Good Reads reviewer complains that Neville’s story “felt a little uneven to me. The first part of the book was weighty in comparison to the rest … There was quite a bit of setup going on, and it was great, but when the actual meat of the novel comes it takes a slightly different turn than I was expecting, and quite a bit of the setup felt like it was for nothing.”

Scaring Up a Finale

Have you been keeping up with the month-long celebration of artist-illustrator Robert McGinnis’ work in my book-design blog, Killer Covers? Of course you have. Which is why you’re now familiar with his contribution to the Marvel Comics universe, the sometimes odd double uses of his imagery, McGinnis’ visual support for novels by John D. MacDonald and Ed McBain and Robert Terrall, and what might be called his OneShoe Off gimmick. It’s also why you recognize the source of the artwork fronting The Art of Robert E. McGinnis (Titan), a handsome forthcoming book by McGinnis and Art Scott (the latter of whom I recently interviewed for The Rap Sheet).

But that Killer Covers tribute finally ends today. I’ve been holding onto two Halloween-appropriate paperback façades especially for this occasion, both of them from Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series: The Case of the Glamorous Ghost (1962) and The Case of the Haunted Husband (1962). You’ll find those here. And if you wish to revisit all of Killer Covers’ McGinnis posts, this is the place to look.

By the way, both of the aforementioned Gardner tales were adapted as episodes of the classic Perry Mason TV show. Since it’s Halloween, and we could all use some spooky-good entertainment, I’m embedding those episodes (found on YouTube) below.



Thursday, October 30, 2014

Bullet Points: Eve of Haunts Edition

• Online voting has begun in the contest for the 2014 Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards. There are seven categories of nominees, but the one that may interest Rap Sheet readers most is the Ireland AM Crime Fiction Book of the Year. Here are the contenders:

-- Unravelling Oliver, by Liz Nugent (Penguin Ireland)
-- The Kill, by Jane Casey (Ebury Publishing)
-- The Final Silence, by Stuart Neville (Harvill Secker)
-- Can Anybody Help Me?, by Sinead Crowley (Quercus)
-- The Secret Place, by Tana French (Hachette Books Ireland)
-- Last Kiss, by Louise Phillips (Hachette Books Ireland)

Choose your favorites here. I don’t see anything about this competition being restricted to Irish citizens, but note that the voting will close at midnight on November 21.

• Unbidden but nonetheless willing, John Harvey--whose recent Charlie Resnick novel, Darkness, Darkness, I appreciated so much--has put together a list of what he says are his 25 favorite crime novels. “It will immediately become clear there are exceptions: no Hammett, no Chandler nor other ‘classic’ crime--so obvious that to mention them was, to my mind, unnecessary; and some writers--Michael Connelly would serve as an example--are not there on the grounds that the stream of their work is so strong, I would find it impossible to lift one prime example from the rest.” Among the novels that did merit inclusion are Megan Abbott’s The End of Everything, Kent Anderson’s Night Dogs, George V. Higgins’ The Friends of Eddie Coyle, and Daniel Woodrell’s Give Us a Kiss. You’ll find all of Harvey’s picks here.

• Who remembers the 1979 TV series A Man Called Sloane? My only recollection is that star Robert Conrad left another series, Stephen J. Cannell’s The Duke, after only two episodes in order to play freelance spy Thomas R. Sloane III in this nearly as short-lived Quinn Martin production. Writer Christopher Mills, though, appreciated Sloane enough to compose an episode-by-episode series of posts in a blog called Spy-fi Channel. That blog is now defunct, but Mills is in the midst of revising those Sloane posts (“editing them a bit and adding a few new thoughts and observations”) for another of his blogs, Atomic Pulp and Other Meltdowns. Keep up with his series here.

• The latest update of The Thrilling Detective Web Site is now live. It includes editor Kevin Burton Smith’s “spontaneous tribute” to the late Rockford Files star, James Garner, and expanded entries on characters ranging from Stryker McBride and Joey Fly to Yakov Semenovich Stern and Steve Allen’s Los Angeles gumshoe, Roger Dale. Smith also brings the welcome news that Thrilling Detective finally has “a decent search engine,” which you can access here.

• I must admit, I envy author-educator Art Taylor for his recent opportunity to interview Otto Penzler on behalf of the Los Angeles Review of Books. They had a nice long talk about editor Penzler’s work on a couple of new short-story collections, The Best American Mystery Stories of the 19th Century (which I reviewed here) and The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries. Penzler also clues Taylor in on what he’s been working on “since January”: another major compilation, The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories.

• Edward A. Grainger (aka David Cranmer) asks, in Criminal Element, why Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896) hasn’t received more attention over the years--why has it “slipped through the cracks of popular reading?” He suggests it’s “because nothing can live up to the Great American Novel--Huckleberry Finn--that preceded it. Ernest Hemingway famously said, ‘All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.’ No such praise met Tom Sawyer: Detective, with the British Guardian’s original review harshly noting, ‘The whole story is poorly conceived and badly put together.’”

• Although I’ve missed the actual anniversary, I still want to bring attention to the fact that last week the Paul Newman-Robert Redford picture Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid marked 45 years since its general release on October 24, 1969. I’ve watched that romantic adventure many times, and hope for multiple more viewings. It’s just a fantastic film, with one of the best knife-fight scenes ever!

• There are now only two weeks left before the start of Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach. In his BOLO Books blog, Kristopher Zgorski offers a selection of interesting “non-panel-related activities which will be happening during the conference.” Those include the “Author Speed Dating” event scheduled to be held at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, November 13, during which more than 100 authors will “pitch” their books to Bouchercon attendees, hoping to attract new readers.

• Haven’t registered for Bouchercon? You can still do it here.

• Apparently, author Max Allan Collins (for whom the adjective “prolific” seems to have been invented) composed the liner notes for a new eight-CD set called Jazz on Fillm: Crime Jazz. He describes the line-up of pieces as “astonishing”: “77 Sunset Strip,” “Hawaiian Eye,” “Checkmate,” “Shotgun Slade,” “The Naked City,” “Richard Diamond,” “Bourbon Street Beat,” “M-Squad,” “The Untouchables,” “Peter Gunn,” “Mr. Lucky,” “Staccato” and “Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer”--“both the TV series soundtrack and the music from the rare Stan Purdy ‘Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer Story’ LP,” Collins explains. A list of the musicians represented in this CD set is here.

• Patricia Highsmith--comic book writer?

• One of my fellow Kirkus Reviews bloggers, John DeNardo, this week posted a list of “10 Things This Fan Was Surprised to Learn About Science Fiction.” I was no less taken aback by one of his factoids:
Robert A. Heinlein’s 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land is about a man named Valentine Michael Smith who was born and raised on Mars. The story concerns Smith’s trip to Earth and his first-ever interaction with Earth culture. The book is considered one of the most popular science-fiction novels of all time. What surprised me was learning that in 1968, the book inspired a man to found a Neopagan religious organization modeled after the religion founded by Smith in the novel, the beliefs of which include polyamory, social libertarianism and non-mainstream family structures.
You learn something new (and maybe weird) every day, I guess.

• I’m not convinced that we really need a new, American version of Wire in the Blood, the British ITV series that ran from 2002 to 2008 and was based on Val McDermid’s novels about a university clinical psychologist who works with police on serial-killer cases. Yet Crimespree Magazine brings word that ABC-TV is developing such a program with the help of a couple of veterans from the underappreciated Detroit 1-8-7. I know I’ve asked this before (and I shall probably ask it again in the future), but why can’t Hollywood come up with new ideas, rather than recycling old ones?

• This doesn’t sound good: In Reference to Murder reports that “CBS reduced the episode order for CSI to 18 episodes, down from 22. The show is in its 15th season, and this is the first time the drama will have produced less than a full season of episodes.”

• While looking back on the 1959 thriller Night Without End, Vintage Pop Fictions remarks that its author, Alistair MacLean, “does not deserve the relative oblivion into which he has fallen.” I made that same point last year in this piece for Kirkus Reviews.

• Brian Drake interviews Anonymous-9 (aka Elaine Ash) on the subject of Bite Harder, the sequel to her 2013 novel, Hard Bite.

• Finally, since tomorrow is Halloween, I’d be remiss in not linking you up with a few associated postings around the Web. TopTenz chooses the “Top 10 Most Haunted Cities in America,” while The Bowery Boys--an excellent New York City history blog--looks back at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stunning announcement, in April 1922, of “an extraordinary discovery--the existence of ectoplasm, the ghostly goo that emits from mediums possessed with the spirits of the dead.” Publishers Weekly tries to identify “The 10 Best Ghost Stories,” but both The Poisoned Martini and Too Much Horror Fiction have other suggestions. Terence Towles Canote rounds up his favorite horror film postings from A Shroud of Thoughts, while Vintage45’s Blog revisits Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), the 1969-1971 British TV program about a London private eye whose late partner is still helping him solve crimes--a show I previously wrote about here. And since this post can’t be completely serious, check out Cracked History’s eye-catching rundown of the “10 Sexiest Halloween Costumes.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Honoring the Artistry of McGinnis

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the subject of artist-illustrator Robert Edward McGinnis. During a career that has already spanned more than six and a half decades, he’s painted fronts for paperback books by some of 20th-century crime fiction’s biggest sellers (Carter Brown, Erle Stanley Gardner, Ed McBain, Mickey Spillane, M.E. Chaber, John D. MacDonald, and Brett Halliday among them), in addition to covers for espionage, historical, and romance novels. His success in the once-derided paperback-art field as well as in slick-magazine graphics led to his being commissioned to create posters for such Hollywood flicks as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Barbarella, The Odd Couple, Cotton Comes to Harlem, James Bond thrillers starring both Sean Connery and Roger Moore, and even soft-core sex films.

Among American illustrators, writes Art Scott in his introduction to the forthcoming work, The Art of Robert E. McGinnis (Titan), McGinnis is “one of the most widely seen and admired … His colleagues at the Society of Illustrators recognized that fact when he was elected to the Illustrators’ Hall of Fame in 1993.” You may not immediately recognize McGinnis’ name, but there’s little doubt that you’ve spotted his artwork at one time or another during your life.

Born on February 3, 1926 (yes, that makes him 88 years old!), and reared in the southwestern Ohio town of Wyoming, McGinnis demonstrated an early aptitude for artistic expression. Encouraged by his mother, he took classes at the Cincinnati Art Museum, and after high school became an apprentice animator for Walt Disney Studios. He went on to study and play football at Ohio State University, and in 1953 he and his wife, the former Ferne Mitchell (whom he married in 1948), moved to the New York City area, where he engaged in commercial artistry and began illustrating magazine fronts. Through his contact with another young up-and-comer, Mitchell Hooks (who would go on to have his own long and acclaimed impact on this field), McGinnis won his earliest assignments painting covers for crime novels. The 1958 Dell Books release So Young, So Cold, So Fair, by John Creasey, marked his premiere as a paperback artist; within two months more, his work was again spotted in bookstores and on spinner racks, this time introducing Built for Trouble, by Al Fray.

Fifty-six years later, long after most publishers abandoned artist-illustrated covers in favor of photographic ones, McGinnis--who now lives in Old Greenwich, Connecticut--is still decorating new books with his signature breed of lean, lovely, and flirtatious/commanding women. Only now he’s doing it for Hard Case Crime, the decade-old imprint specializing in high-quality, hard-boiled new and classic mysteries and thrillers. “No, we don’t have an exclusive [on his work],” explains Hard Case editor Charlies Ardai, “it’s just that other publishers don’t embrace the old style the way we do. Every one of our books is meant to look the way books did when McGinnis was in his prime. That makes Bob the perfect person to illustrate them for us. Other publishers do pulp art covers only occasionally, and when they do they usually go for the more stylized, ironic look of an Owen Smith or a Richie Fahey. Not to take anything away from either of those gentlemen, they’re both very talented artists--but they’re no McGinnis.”

Ardai reports that McGinnis’ next cover art will appear on Quarry's Choice, by Max Allan Collins, due out in January 2015. But he adds that the artist has also “just painted a cover for a decades-out-of-print novel by Ed McBain that we’re resurrecting in 2016, called Cut Me In [originally published in 1954], and I think it’s the best painting he’s done for us in five years. Maybe ever. It’s just gorgeous.”

So there’s nothing unexpected in the fact that The Art of Robert E. McGinnis, for which Scott wrote the text, is abundant with the illustrator’s paperback efforts. However, it also contains beautiful, large-format examples of McGinnis’ magazine art, his Western and landscape paintings, his numerous film projects and his quite remarkable nudes. Oh, and there’s an interview with the artist that, while it could certainly have been longer, at least gives you a sense of how he works, who his chief influences have been, and the demands he places upon himself for achieving excellence. As Scott remarked recently, “This is certainly the biggest and most comprehensive survey of his work.” (Scott and McGinnis had previously worked together on 2001’s The Paperback Covers of Robert McGinnis.)

Over the last month, in anticipation of this new volume rolling into bookstores--its debut had been scheduled for release today, but that’s now been bumped back to November--I spent time e-mailing Art Scott, asking him questions about The Art of Robert E. McGinnis and collecting from him various scans of the illustrator’s choicest book covers. Part of my intent was to showcase McGinnis’ paperback work in a series of posts, which can be found in my Killer Covers blog. But I planned all along to divide the results of our discussion between my latest Kirkus Reviews column--which you can enjoy here--and a longer post for The Rap Sheet. Below you’ll find that Part II, in which we discuss the evolution of Scott’s interest in illustrations, the scale of McGinnis’ fame, the artist’s underappreciated comic talents, and much more. Click on any of the images to open enlargements.

J. Kingston Pierce: Since I start out knowing a good bit about Robert McGinnis, but very little about you, let’s start by getting better acquainted. Where do you live?

Art Scott: I live in Livermore, California, about 45 miles east and south of downtown San Francisco; have been here since 1982. I’m originally from Cleveland, Ohio, but came out to the San Francisco Bay area to do graduate work at Stanford in 1968 and have been here ever since.

(Right) Artist Robert McGinnis

JKP: Is it true you’re a former chemist? For how many years did you labor in that field?

AS: Yes, chemist in the American sense, rather than the British. After Stanford I worked at SRI International for 11 years, and for Kaiser Aluminum for 19 years. In 2000 Kaiser was looking to move its research people to Spokane [Washington]; I decided to stay here, so retired early at age 54, though I did some consulting work for a few years. Here’s a fun fact: I think I can confidently state that I am the only person on the planet to have co-authored publications with a Nobel Laureate (Henry Taube, Chemistry, 1983) and a Hall of Fame Illustrator (Robert McGinnis, 1993)!

JKP: How did you become interested in artwork and illustrations?

AS: I’ve always been a compulsive collector, and reader. There were a couple of wonderful used bookstores in Cleveland; I’d go downtown most Saturdays and spend my lawn-mowing or snow-shoveling money on comic books and paperbacks. Later, after coming out here and visiting the San Francisco Comic Book Company (the first such store I’d ever seen or heard of) I discovered the world of comics fandom, fanzines, and apazines and became active in comics fandom.

I have zero art talent, but somehow have a good eye for identifying artists--a talent honed under the tutelage of my friend Jim Vadeboncoeur Jr., legendary comics researcher and collector of classic illustration. In the same time frame, early ’70s, a friend discovered a hoard of vintage paperbacks (and pulps!) in a rundown store in Stockton, California, and we made several trips there to clean it out, boxes at a time, at absurdly cheap prices--so cheap that I started to buy books I had no intention of reading just because they had cool covers. That was the tipping point, I think, that made me an illustration buff as well as a reader.

I was also buying and reading mystery fiction, both classic and hard-boiled, off the racks, and I already recognized and admired McGinnis’ work from his Carter Brown, Shell Scott, John D. MacDonald, and Milo March covers. With the Stockton finds, I connected his then-current work up with the work he had been doing earlier, in the 25 cent-35 cent era (and somewhere came across the nudes he’d done for Cavalier magazine--unsigned, but unmistakably McGinnis). At that point the nucleus of a collection was forming, and my interest in illustration shifted from comic books to paperback covers, and my fannish activities likewise shifted from comic art to mystery fiction and vintage paperbacks.

JKP: So when did you first meet McGinnis?

AS: Back in the early 1970s I started writing a limited-circulation fanzine for DAPA-EM, an apa for mystery fans (APA=Amateur Press Association, a precursor to Internet discussion groups, except that the conversations were conducted via print and the postal service). In 1976, in my ’zine, Shot Scott’s Rap Sheet, I published an appreciation of McGinnis, and a copy found its way to Bob, probably through Al Fick, a friend from the apa and another McGinnis fan, who was in touch with Bob.

(Left) Art Scott portrait by McGinnis

One day I came home from work and there was a big flat package propped up on my door, with a Connecticut return address. I opened it up and nearly fainted--it was the original to Slab Happy--a [1973] Shell Scott cover, the redhead with a machine gun perched on a coffin, which I had listed as a favorite in my “McGinnis Golden Dozen” feature! It came with a short note of thanks from Bob, which I now have framed with the painting. I of course called to thank him, but can’t recall much of what I said, I was so gobsmacked and tongue-tied by his generosity. The only other time I’d been that inarticulate was some years earlier when I met Carl Barks, the storyteller I most love and admire.

From that point, McGinnis and I carried on a sporadic correspondence with occasional phone calls. We didn’t meet in person until early 2001, when I flew out to Greenwich to get together with Bob and Paul Langmuir, the designer and publisher of The Paperback Covers of Robert McGinnis, and go over the proofs of the book before it went to the printer. I met [McGinnis] again in Manhattan later that year, after the book had come out, and he took me to lunch at the Society of Illustrators--you can imagine what a thrill that was for me! That was the last occasion when we were together.

JKP: So how did the two of you become collaborators on these books?

AS: Paul Langmuir was the key ingredient in the Paperback Covers book. He and Al Fick had been shopping proposals for a McGinnis book for some time. Paul became aware of the checklist of McGinnis paperback titles that Wally Maynard (Bob’s friend and neighbor) and I had been working on for years, and decided that could be the basis for a unique and handsome book. He decided to design, publish, and finance the project himself. He was an incredibly talented and energetic man, and his sudden death in 2000 was a real blow. I had the list computerized (Wally did everything in longhand) and could write, so Paul came out to see me in California, we talked about the project, and he handed me the job of generating the list for print, writing the introductory material, and scanning covers that Paul didn’t have. Paul, in Providence [Rhode Island], was relatively close to McGinnis’ home in Connecticut, so he was able to visit the studio and work with Bob in acquiring original artwork, model photos, sketches, and so forth to supplement the paperback cover images in the book. I had met and corresponded a bit with Richard S. Prather [author of the Shell Scott detective novels], and he was a perfect choice to do the introduction for the book.

This new book from Titan started, for me, with a phone call out of the blue from Steve Saffel, Titan’s acquisitions editor in New York. Titan had been wanting to do a McGinnis art book, one covering all aspects of his career. I think Steve pitched it to Bob as a “bigger and better Tapestry” (Tapestry: The Paintings of Robert E. McGinnis being the first McGinnis art book, from Underwood Books in 2000, edited by Arnie and Kathy Fenner. It showcased all facets of his work, and the graphics were first-rate). Tapestry, like the Paperback Covers book, had been out of print for a decade, but both were commanding high prices on the Internet, and Titan saw an opportunity. At any rate, McGinnis signed off on the project and indicated to Saffel that I was the guy he wanted to organize the book and provide the text. I think Paul [Langmuir] would have been Bob’s first choice (and mine, if asked) had he still been alive, and that Paul would have then handed me the writing assignment. As it was, Bob’s son Kyle became the man on the ground in Greenwich, doing an inventory of the available artwork, scanning the paintings, and providing a conduit to Bob, who doesn’t have a computer, doesn’t do e-mail or smartphoning, or any of that. Kyle has done a huge amount of work on this book and I don’t see how it could have been done without him.

JKP: Have you penned books other than these two about McGinnis?

AS: I have written critical essays for Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers [edited by John M. Reilly, 1980], and for the wonderful collection of mystery “retro reviews,” 1001 Midnights [1986], edited by Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller. I’ve done pieces for Inside Comics, Graphic Story Magazine, and Paperback Parade.

In 2000, just as work on the Paperback Covers book was wrapping up, I got a call from my friend Richard Lupoff, in Berkeley, who had a contract to do a coffee-table book on the history of paperback books. That was The Great American Paperback from Collectors Press in Oregon. Dick did the research and the writing, but I was the local guy with the large vintage paperback collection, and contacts with other collectors whose holdings shamed mine. So I was brought on board to locate, select, and scan candidate book covers for inclusion in the book. We had great fun playing with the piles of books and deciding which were in and which were out. Unfortunately, the project had a couple of fatal flaws. The publisher had cash-flow problems and dumped the books on the remainder market almost before the ink was dry. Worse (at least the books were printed), the book’s designer decided to overdo the “bright colors” motif of the paperback covers by using full-bleed color pages, so that much of the text was virtually unreadable (black text on dark red, yellow on tan, and other absurd combinations). Dick and I never saw color proofs, just Xeroxes, so we had no idea what a disaster was coming off the press. It’s regrettable, as Dick produced an outstanding history of the paperback business, and it’s well worth reading if you’re willing to put up with the (literal) headaches induced by reading it.

One more project to mention, and that’s Visions, a book of McGinnis paintings of women being put together by Robert Wiener of Donald M. Grant Books. I wrote several essays for the book on McGinnis’ paperback and magazine work and turned them in years ago. That book has been cursed; Paul Langmuir was the designer, and his death midstream wrecked the schedule, and other problems followed. When we started work on the Titan book we expected Visions to precede us to the bookstores and were concerned about duplication of images, splitting the potential market, and so forth. As it stands now, [Visions] is still hung up, with, as far as I know, no clear finish date. I’ve seen the preliminary design, it should be a beautiful book that every McGinnis fan will want. Have patience, is all I can suggest.

JKP: I know the two volumes are significantly different. But were there things you learned from putting together The Paperback Covers of Robert McGinnis that have made your latest book better than it might otherwise have turned out?

AS: Not so much lessons learned as a sense of having a new mission to tackle. Paperbacks were only one aspect of McGinnis’ work, and when Paperback Covers was published “my job was done” as a book collector, so I started working on gathering material and organizing my information on his movie, magazine, and gallery work. With this new book I have had an opportunity to expose readers to images that many McGinnis fans had never seen (and that I had never seen, as Kyle turned up incredible painting after painting). The paperbacks section is still the biggest piece of the book, as it should be, but it’s in the other sections, especially the magazine and gallery chapters, where I made a special effort to present quality, variety, and novelty. I want even the most devoted McGinnis enthusiast to turn pages and exclaim, “Wow, I’ve never seen that before!”

The other thing I learned is that writing is easy, assembling an art book is hard work! Paul did all the hard work on the first book; with The Art of Robert E. McGinnis a lot of the organizing and decision-making devolved upon me. I think I did a good job, enjoyed the hell out of it, but it was a much bigger job--in stretches almost all-consuming--than I’d anticipated.

JKP: You say in your introduction to The Art of Robert E. McGinnis that your subject belongs in the same artistic pantheon as Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Norman Rockwell, and others. What goes into your having formed that opinion?

AS: He was at the top of his profession in his era, had a distinctive, signature style, was enormously influential and widely admired by his peers. Unlike those mentioned, though, he was not a “celebrity illustrator”; those days, apart from the comics world, are past. Of McGinnis’ generation I suppose Frank Frazetta is the last example.

JKP: Is it a fact that McGinnis works out of a studio above a row of shops in Old Greenwich? Is that far from his home?

AS: That’s correct. Nothing fancy, very utilitarian, though the paintings on the walls are certainly something special. I’m vague on the local geography, but think the studio is a quick drive or half-hour walk from his home.

JKP: McGinnis is famous for painting women he describes as “long and fluid, rhythmic and graceful and very feminine.” Those signature lovelies have appeared on his paperback covers as well as in his magazine illustrations. Did he have favorite female models with whom he preferred to work?

AS: Shere Hite was his favorite (she’s also mine; I have this thing about redheads). Shere, of course, left modeling and went on to fame and fortune as author of The Hite Report on Female Sexuality, and follow-up books on “sexology.” Lisa Karan was another favorite. In the interview in the book, McGinnis also singles out Olga Nicholas, model for the amazing “Kitten on a Trampoline” piece he did for The Saturday Evening Post, and talks about her energy and creativity in generating a series of great poses.

JKP: Why do you think he does so well painting women? Is it because he has a special affinity for the opposite sex?

AS: Oh, there’s certainly some special affinity and chemistry at play with McGinnis and women. Admiration and respect are certainly fundamental ingredients.

JKP: McGinnis’ serious, sophisticated covers are so prominent, it’s sometimes startling to come across a deliberately comic work of his. Do you find him to be equally talented in both styles?

AS: There’s less of it certainly, but his comic talent is substantial, and delightful. One of the real treasures in the new book is also the oldest piece in the book, “Mr Jex,” a cartoon tribute to his art teacher from 1947. The central panel of Jex trying to find inspiration while surrounded by nude models brings to mind the famous harem cartoons of E. Simms Campbell.

JKP: A lot of his comic talents seemed to have been poured into his more than 60 movie posters. I’m sure the Hollywood assignments paid well, but was his work on those posters as satisfying as what he’d produced for book publishers? And has he shared any funny stories with you about dealing with film companies?

AS: As for satisfaction, I can’t answer that. I’m sure he enjoyed the opportunity he had to visit the James Bond set in London, and I know he speaks highly of his experiences working with Brad Bird, director of The Incredibles. He surely had fun creating comic expressions for Walter Matthau, clearly one of his favorite “models.” I’m sure he has lots of Hollywood stories; there are a couple of them in the book. One concerns his posters for [1977’s] Semi-Tough. The agents for Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson complained about the great one he did with the grinning duo at the bottom of a pile of cheerleaders--they were The Stars, they are supposed to be on top!




Examples of McGinnis’ Hollywood work. Top: Walter Matthau from a poster for the 1968 film The Odd Couple. Bottom: (left) one of his posters promoting the 1965 James Bond picture, Thunderball; (right) his “controversial” art for Semi-Tough.

JKP: My understanding is that during the mid-20th-century heyday of paperback publishing, artists frequently created paintings they thought would appeal to readers … and then publishers later associated those paintings with whatever books were coming down the pipeline; paintings were not necessarily created for specific novels. Was that how McGinnis worked, and is it still?

AS: There were a few [McGinnis] paintings that wound up on titles they weren’t intended for (Popular Library liked to get two, or three, book covers out of one painting). But he has always done his cover paintings to order for a specific book. He would get a reader’s report with a summary of the plot, descriptions of the key characters, and important scenes. He would discuss the assignment with the art director, he’d go away and work up some pencil sketches, then meet with the A.D. again to pick one, maybe modify it a bit, then he’d go to the studio and paint. When he was doing the “McGinnis Woman” portraits on the long-running detective series, he had instructions to make sure the hair color was correct for the femme fatale in the book, and perhaps there was some signature outfit that they’d suggest they wear, but beyond that McGinnis’ imagination supplied the rest.

I don’t know whether Hard Case operates with the same system, but suspect they do something similar. [Editor’s note: HCC’s Ardai confirms that, when he’s commissioning McGinnis to create the cover imagery for one of his titles, “I prepare a ‘reader’s report’ summarizing the plot of the book, describing the main characters, and highlighting scenes that might be especially suitable for illustration, and Bob works from that.”]

Foreign publishers, however, who had access to transparencies of the artwork (via some translation licensee arrangement, the workings of which are a mystery to me), had free rein to use artwork on any book they fancied. Thus Carter Brown girls show up on Brett Halliday or Mickey Spillane titles (or vice versa), MacDonald covers on Prather titles, Western covers on mysteries; it’s a chaotic mishmash … just so there’s a pretty girl on the cover.

JKP: McGinnis has now painted more than a dozen covers for Hard Case Crime. Do you think his style today differs at all from what he was doing during his heyday in the paperback field?

AS: The style’s still all there, though the HCC covers, some at least, perhaps look more worked-over, less free and spontaneous than in past days, when he had such a killing workload, had to work fast and not worry over details. Still hits some out of the park, like The Consummata and Joyland.

JKP: Has McGinnis always painted to sell, or are there many works he’s put together over the years just for himself or his friends--and that most people will never see?

AS: Painting was his profession and livelihood. I know he’s done some cartooning and caricatures for events and friends in Greenwich. His studio and home have many of his works framed on the walls. These may have been commissioned by publishers, but I think the ones he keeps and displays are images that have special personal meaning.

JKP: How many McGinnis-fronted paperbacks do you own?

AS: The collection to date is 1,088 titles, and I believe it’s complete. Then there are as many as 200 reprint editions, and maybe 100 foreign editions. Call it 1,400+. However, I’ve had nearly that many more copies pass through my hands over the years, upgrading for condition, some books upgraded four or five times.

JKP: And how many of those have you actually read?

AS: Let’s see, I’ve read all the Gardners, all the Prathers, about half of the Hallidays and Carter Browns, ditto for John D. MacDonald; all the Richard Starks and Ed McBains. Various and sundry others, but still it only comes to something like 15 percent, tops, give or take--there are just so many books!

JKP: I keep hearing about a framed, personal letter from American painter Andrew Wyeth to McGinnis that he has hanging in his studio--“his most prized possession.” But I don’t find the story of how McGinnis received that letter anywhere. Can you enlighten me?

AS: I believe that he wrote Wyeth a fan letter; Wyeth replied and praised McGinnis’ landscape paintings.

JKP: How is Robert McGinnis’ health these days?

AS: From what I hear his health is excellent. I can personally attest at least to his mental health, having talked with him for several hours on the phone preparing this book. Put it this way: If I make it to 88 and am half as sharp, articulate, and all-there as Robert McGinnis is, I’ll consider myself incredibly fortunate. And this is a man who played guard for Ohio State during the leather-helmet era! Incredible!

JKP: As you said early on, The Art of Robert E. McGinnis is “the biggest and most comprehensive survey of his work.” Titan’s even issuing a $75 “deluxe limited edition” in addition to the regular hardcover edition. But is this the last time you’ll be writing at such length about McGinnis? Or do you the two of you already have something else cooked up for the near future?

AS: Whether that happens ... will of course depend on this new book’s reception and sales. I think the text I did for The Art of Robert E. McGinnis covers the life-and-works narrative pretty well, and I don’t expect to be rehashing that in any future books. Such will, I imagine, be organized differently, and have a different angle to the copy, whether by me or by someone else who can provide fresh perspective. At any rate, I’ve got ideas, and would be delighted to have a hand in future projects should the opportunity arise. For now, I’m just pleased with what we’ve accomplished, and am looking forward to the reaction from the customers once the book ships.

READ MORE:Master in Our Midst,” by Timothy Dumas (Greenwich Magazine); “Art Scott Strikes Again: The Art of Robert E. McGinnis,” by Evan Lewis (Davy Crockett’s Almanack of Mystery, Adventure, and the Wild West).

Friday, October 24, 2014

London Full of Specsavers Award Winners


Robert Harris wins the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for An Officer and a Spy. (Photo © 2014 by Ali Karim)

Thanks to The Rap Sheet’s indefatigable chief UK correspondent, Ali Karim, we can now tally up the winners of the 2014 Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards. The announcements were made and the commendations presented during a downright glamorous event held this evening at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel.

CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel of the Year: This Dark Road to Mercy, by Wiley Cash (Doubleday/Transworld)

Also nominated: The First Rule of Survival, by Paul Mendelson (Constable); How the Light Gets In, by Louise Penny (Sphere/Little Brown); and Keep Your Friends Close, by Paula Daly (Bantam/Transworld)

CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger: The Axeman’s Jazz, by Ray Celestin (Mantle)

Also nominated: The Devil in the Marshalsea, by Antonia Hodgson (Hodder & Stoughton); The Silent Wife, by A.S.A Harrison (Headline); and The Strangler Vine, by M.J. Carter (Penguin Fig Tree)

CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger: An Officer and a Spy, by Robert Harris (Random House)

Also nominated: Apple Tree Yard, by Louise Doughty (Faber and Faber); I Am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes (Transworld); and Natchez Burning, by Greg Iles (Harper Collins)

Crime Thriller Book Club Best Read: Entry Island, by Peter May (Quercus)

Also nominated: Before We Met, by Lucie Whitehouse (Bloomsbury); Letters to My Daughter’s Killer, by Cath Staincliffe (C&R Crime); Treachery, by S.J. Parris (HarperCollins); The Tilted World, by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly (Mantle); and Watch Me, by James Carol (Faber & Faber)

The Film Dagger: Cold in July

Also nominated: Dom Hemingway, Filth, Prisoners, and Starred Up

The TV Dagger: Happy Valley

Also nominated: Line of Duty, Series 2; Sherlock, Series 3; The Bletchley Circle, Series 2; and The Honourable Woman

The International TV Dagger: True Detective, Season 1

Also nominated: Fargo, Season 1; Inspector Montalbano, Series 9; Orange Is the New Black, Season 2; and The Bridge, Series 2

The Best Actor Dagger: Matthew McConaughey for True Detective

Also nominated: Benedict Cumberbatch for Sherlock; Shaun Evans for Endeavour; Martin Freeman for Fargo and Sherlock; and Steve Pemberton for Happy Valley

The Best Actress Dagger: Keeley Hawes for Line of Duty

Also nominated: Brenda Blethyn for Vera; Maggie Gyllenhaal for The Honourable Woman; Sarah Lancashire for Happy Valley; and Anna Maxwell Martin for Death Comes to Pemberley and The Bletchley Circle

The Best Supporting Actor Dagger: James Norton for Happy Valley

Also nominated: Mark Gatiss for Sherlock; David Leon for Vera; Mandy Patinkin for Homeland; and Billy Bob Thornton for Fargo

The Best Supporting Actress Dagger: Amanda Abbington for Sherlock

Also nominated: Vicky McClure for Line of Duty; Helen McCrory for Peaky Blinders; Gina McKee for By Any Means; and Michelle Monaghan for True Detective

In addition, authors Denise Mina and Robert Harris were inducted into the British Crime Writers’ Association’s Hall of Fame “in recognition of their contributions to the genre.”

Congratulations to all of the nominees!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

10 for 10

I made the mistake of checking in on Facebook today, only to discover that there’s a new meme going around. The challenge, as Brian Lindenmuth of Spinetingler Magazine presented it to me, is to name your “top 10 favorite crime books from 2004-2013. Ten only. No cheating by squeezing more titles in.” I immediately went to my annual tallies of the works I’ve read and tried to cull out one per year … which immediately turned into two or three a year … which ultimately left me with 25 titles, rather than 10. I whittled away from that point, finally coming up with this imperfect list, in alphabetical order:

The Blackhouse, by Peter May
Bye Bye, Baby, by Max Allan Collins
City of Dragons, by Kelli Stanley
House of the Hunted, by Mark Mills
Little Green, by Walter Mosley
Peeler, by Kevin McCarthy
A Quiet Flame, by Philip Kerr
Rosa, by Jonathan Rabb
The Song Is You, by Megan Abbott
Wolves Eat Dogs, by Martin Cruz Smith

I’m not going to tag anyone with the responsibility of following me in this daunting venture. But if you wish to submit your own choices, please do so under the Comments tab below.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Let Chandler Be Your Guide

Last week on this page we announced the start of a new giveaway contest. The prizes this time: four copies of “The Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles” (Herb Lester Associates), illustrated by Paul Rogers, with text by Kim Cooper, author of The Kept Girl. Today we have our winners, chosen completely at random. They are:

Kenneth Koll of San Diego, California
David Origlio of Aurora, Colorado
Carol Gwenn of Hollywood, California
Larry W. Chavis of Mendenhall, Mississippi

Congratulations to all four of those lucky Rap Sheet readers. Copies of the Chandler map and guide should be mailed out to each of them within the next several days.

And if you didn’t win? You can still purchase a copy of “The Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles” by clicking here. They’re beautiful.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Rush’s Hour

I haven’t yet spotted a full list of prize recipients online, but Janet Rudolph is reporting in Mystery Fanfare that Los Angeles author Naomi Hirahara has won the 2014 T. Jefferson Parker Mystery Award for Murder on Bamboo Lane (Berkley). The Parker is one of several commendations given out annually by the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association (SCIBA), recognizing “excellence in books that reflect Southern California culture or lifestyle.”

Of Murder on Bamboo Lane--released this last April--Publishers Weekly wrote:
Edgar-winner Hirahara, author of Summer of the Big Bachi and four other Mas Arai mysteries, introduces Ellie Rush, a Japanese-American rookie LAPD bicycle cop, in this highly entertaining series debut. When Jenny Nguyen, a former classmate of Ellie’s at Pan Pacific West College, goes missing and later turns up dead in a Chinatown alley, Ellie’s ties to PPW and Jenny’s friends, including Ellie’s ex-boyfriend, Benjamin Choi, prove useful. Jenny’s boyfriend, controversial artist Tuan Le, is a prime suspect, and he asks Ellie for help. Her aunt, Cheryl Toma, the highest-ranking Asian in the LAPD, also wants Ellie on the case, but has a hidden agenda. Ellie finds herself navigating a personal and professional minefield when she’s assigned to work on the case with handsome Det. Cortez Williams. Readers will want to see more of Ellie, who provides a fresh perspective on L.A.’s rich ethnic mix.
Also contending for this year’s T. Jefferson Parker Mystery Award were The Ascendant, by Drew Chapman (Pocket), and The Disposables, by David Putnam (Oceanview).

Hirahara was nominated for this same prize last year, for her Mas Arai mystery Strawberry Yellow, but the honor went instead to What the Heart Remembers, by Debra Ginsberg.

READ MORE:Naomi Hirahara on Her New Mystery Series ... and the new L.A.,” by David L. Ulin (Los Angeles Times).

Are You In?

You have only two days left to enter The Rap Sheet’s latest giveaway contest. The prizes this time: four copies of “The Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles,” published recently by Herb Lester Associates. Find out more about that map/guide here.

To have a chance at winning one of these high-quality maps--especially perfect for attendees of next month’s Bouchercon in Long Beach, California--simply e-mail your name and postal address to jpwrites@wordcuts.org. And be sure to type “Raymond Chandler Map Contest” in the subject line. Entries will be accepted until midnight tomorrow, October 20. The four recipients will be chosen completely at random, and their names listed on this page the following day.

Sorry, but this drawing is open only to U.S. residents.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Bullet Points: Wheeling Around the Web

• Today brought the opening, at the Museum of London, of an exhibit called “Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die.” As Mystery Fanfare explains, this show “celebrates the world of the greatest fictional detective of all time. The exhibit will run through April 12, 2015, with a variety of rare treasures,” including “the original manuscript of ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’ (1903).”

• We’re still almost two weeks out from Halloween, but blogger Janet Rudolph has already posted a lengthy list of mystery and crime fiction associated with that celebration.

• The All Hallow’s Eve posts keep on coming. Following the success of their recent “Summer of Sleaze” series at Tor.com, bloggers Will Errickson and Grady Hendrix have launched a brand-new series called “The Bloody Books of Halloween” (which I presume will continue through October 31). Today’s entry, by Errickson, looks back at Ray Bradbury’s 1955 short-story collection, The October Country.

• A belated “happy birthday” to Sir Roger Moore! The former James Bond star celebrated his 87th birthday this last Tuesday.

• Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Tana French’s In the Woods, Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, and Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale--they all feature prominently on Flavorwire’s list of “50 of the Greatest Debut Novels Since 1950.”

• While we’re on the subject of Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first Bond thriller, let me refer your attention to The HMSS Weblog’s “reappraisal” of CBS-TV’s early, much-maligned adaptation of that 1953 novel. As I’ve mentioned previously, this small-screen version of the tale starred American actor Barry Nelson alongside Mexico-born actress Linda Christian and the familiar Peter Lorre. It was first broadcast on October 21, 1954--60 years ago next week--as part of the CBS-TV series Climax! “While Ian Fleming’s first novel was short, it still covered too much ground to be covered in a 60-minute time slot,” opines blogger Bill Koenig. “Excluding commercials and titles, only about 50 minutes was available to tell the story. … This version of Casino Royale’s main value is that of a time capsule, a reminder of when television was mostly done live. Lorre is suitably villainous. If you find him fun to watch on movies and other television shows, nothing here will change your mind.” You can watch the whole show here.

• I’m pleased to see Moonlighting and Hill Street Blues included in this piece about “The Top 20 Theme Songs of the 1980s.” But really, Highway to Heaven made it, too?

• And this latest addition to The Rap Sheet’s YouTube page should inspire happy memories of 1970s television programming.

• This Sunday night, October 19, will bring to PBS-TV’s Masterpiece Mystery! series the last installment of Inspector Lewis’ latest, three-episode season. It’s titled “Beyond Good and Evil,” and the plot synopsis reads: “Thirteen years after [Robbie] Lewis’ first successful arrest as a Detective Inspector, the forensics have been called into question and the case reopened for appeal. Lewis fears the worst, but nothing can prepare him for the resumption of the original murders with the original weapon. Did he arrest an innocent man? With Lewis’ reputation in jeopardy, [DI James] Hathaway and [DS Lizzie] Maddox race to catch the killer.” The episode is set to begin broadcasting at 9 p.m. on Sunday. You should find a video preview here.

Spicy Detective magazine must have drawn a great deal of (male) attention during its years of publication 1934-1942). If you’re interested in ogling more Spicy Detective fronts, you can do so here.

• Speaking of covers--though of the book sort this time--have you been keeping up with Killer Covers’ month-long tribute to renowned paperback illustrator Robert McGinnis? You can see all the daily posts here. This series will conclude on October 31.

The new, 600th post for the blog In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel suggests some nominees for the “Top Five Underappreciated Books.” I’ve read all but one of those listed, and would certainly have come up with far different choices, had I been assigned to the project. But each reader has his or her own preferences. So be it.

Reassessing Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry.

• I wasn’t aware of this until today, but Poe’s “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether,” a short story published in 1845, has been adapted for the big screen as Stonehearst Asylum. This movie stars the ever-divine Kate Beckinsale and is scheduled for release on October 24. Criminal Element offers the trailer.

• On top of the news that director David Lynch plans to revive Twin Peaks, the 1990-1991 cult TV series, for cable channel Showtime in early 2016, comes word that series co-creator Mark Frost is writing a book titled The Secret Lives of Twin Peaks. According to a press release, “The novel reveals what has happened to the people of the iconic fictional town since we last saw them 25 years ago, and offers a deeper glimpse into the central mystery from the original series.” It’s set for release in late 2015.

• Meanwhile, the great Twin Peaks rewatch continues.

• And novelist Megan Abbott comments, in New York magazine’s Vulture blog, on how Twin Peaks influenced her own writing.

• After an unplanned three-year hiatus, The Trap of Solid Gold--Steve Scott’s excellent blog about author John D. MacDonald and his works--has suddenly reappeared. Scott reports here that his extended quiet was attributable to family health problems. But he’s moved quickly to dust off his site and begin posting again, including on the subject of MacDonald’s 1957 novel A Man of Affairs (the paperback cover of which was illustrated by the great Victor Kalin). Let me just welcome The Trap of Solid Gold back into the blogging fold.

This comes from The New York Times: “Elmore Leonard died in 2013, but now some of his signature Hawaiian shirts will be preserved forever at the University of South Carolina, which has acquired more than 150 boxes of Mr. Leonard’s archive.”

• Who would have imagined it? “Publicity makes for strange bedfellows,” writes Jake Hinkson in Criminal Element. “So does crime. So does religion, for that matter. Add publicity, crime, and religion together, and you get the fascinating story of how the Reverend Billy Graham set out to save the soul of the most notorious gangster in the history of Los Angeles: crime lord Mickey Cohen.”

• And I must say good-bye to an old friend, Geoffrey Cowley. Many years before he took up his post as Newsweek’s health editor and was later hired as a national writer for MSNBC, Geoff attended college with me. He was also the editor of our school’s newspaper, in the year I served as its managing editor. (Most everyone on the staff called him “Gee-off,” in order to distinguish between us.) I went on to succeed him in the editor’s post. Geoff and I had not stay in close touch in recent years; there are undoubtedly many people who knew the older Geoff Cowley better than I did. But I always remember him as a fine, bright, and generous human being. We need more people like him in this world, not fewer. According to this obituary in The New York Times, Geoff died of colon cancer on October 14. Very, very sad.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pierce’s Picks: “Riders on the Storm”

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

Riders on the Storm, by Ed Gorman (Pegasus)

The Gist: It’s 1971, and Iowa attorney/private investigator Sam McCain (last seen in 2011’s Bad Moon Rising--which was supposed to have been his final outing, but wasn’t) “is back home after a boot camp injury prematurely ends his military career as a [Vietnam War] draftee,” explains The Gazette, Gorman’s hometown newspaper in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “But the consequences of war have reached everywhere, including Black River Falls, where emotions run high on both side of the issue. One of McCain’s friends [Will Cullen] joins a group of veterans against the war [led by future Secretary of State John Kerry] and is brutally beaten by another veteran because of it. When the one who delivered the beating”--a newly minted Congressional candidate, Steve Donovan--“turns up dead, his victim is the obvious suspect. McCain doesn’t agree and begins a quest for the truth.” As Kirkus Reviews relates, “His suspicions fall on Lon Anders, Donovan’s rapacious new business partner, and on Valerie Donovan, a widow who’s one piece of work. As usual, there are plenty of other guilty secrets to discover. The final revelation, however, will take most readers by surprise, even if some of them are still scratching their heads after the curtain comes down.”

What Else You Should Know: “Ed Gorman manages to wind every messy and unruly concern that plagued America in 1971 into one taut story,” writes Terrie Farley Moran in Criminal Element. Publishers Weekly opines, “Gorman skillfully depicts Vietnam veterans’ complex, often contradictory feelings toward the war--from rabid patriotism to rage toward the government--but is less subtle in the way he presents his female characters, who are all mysterious, arousing, and wear clothes that ‘love’ their bodies (e.g., ‘A gray skirt that loved every inch of her lower body as the turquoise blouse loved the upper’).” Fellow author Bill Crider is rather more generous on the matter of Gorman’s cast descriptions: “As usual in Gorman’s books, the characters are a lot more complex than they first appear. As soon as you think you know them, you find out that you don’t. People are never simple black-or-white creations. They’re complex mixtures who will leave you thinking about them when you lay the book aside. Also as usual, the writing is clear and clean and sharp with astute observations about the times, the politics of the era, and human nature. It’s enough to make you envious if you’re a writer and prone to that sort of thing. Not that I am, of course.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Feeling Their Way Toward a Genre

I’m a few hours late in mentioning this, but my latest Mysteries and Thrillers column was posted this morning on the Kirkus Reviews Web site. My topic this time around: Otto Penzler’s energetic new miscellany, The Best American Mystery Stories of the 19th Century (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

As I explain in the piece, this volume features “32 early, often excellent stabs at employing larceny, treachery and murder--and the investigation of such misdeeds--as principal catalysts for dramatic literary storytelling.” Among the authors included: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Anna Katharine Green, Richard Harding Davis, Edith Wharton, and Ambrose Bierce. Click here to read my thoughts on this collection ... which might make an ideal gift for mystery-fiction lovers this Christmas. Make a note of it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Mapping Marlowe’s Meanderings

We’re now just a month away from the opening of Bouchercon in Long Beach, California. So it seems like the perfect time to offer a little something extra to all of you mystery-fiction lovers who plan to attend that November 13-16 conference: a smartly designed map/guide showing “the neon-lit streets, mobbed-up joints, and seedy rooming houses” of neighboring Los Angeles made famous by author Raymond Chandler and his series private eye, Philip Marlowe.

London-based Herb Lester Associates, which produces a wide range of artful fold-out guides to cities around the world--from San Francisco and Stockholm to New York, Lisbon, Barcelona, Rome, and Melbourne--recently published “The Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles.” It was conceived and illustrated, in the style of the classic Dell Mapbacks, by Pasadena artist Paul Rogers, who previously created the handsome cover for The Kept Girl (Esotouric Ink), a 2014 novel by Kim Cooper that features Chandler in a sleuthing role. Cooper, a local tour guide and historian, also penned the text for the back of this new map (which is 16.5 x 23.4 inches in size). As Rogers explains, his plotting of Chandlerian haunts “doesn’t include everything, no map could.
We probably missed one or two important spots, we left off some of the joints that are only memories; drive-ins with gaudy neon and the false fronts behind them, sleazy hamburger joints that could poison a toad. Los Angeles has changed a lot since Chandler’s day, when it was just a big dry sunny place with ugly houses and no style, when people slept on porches, and lots offering at eleven hundred dollars had no takers.

But you can still make the drive down Wilshire all the way to the ocean, you can still poke around the alleys and side streets of Hollywood, and the eucalyptus trees still give off a tomcat smell in warm weather. You can’t get a drink at Victor’s any more but Musso’s is still open. Park out back, only tourists and suckers go in the front door.
Cooper’s savvy text covers 50 different sites, from the Sternwood Mansion (familiar from The Big Sleep) and Marlowe’s office at Hollywood and Cahuenga boulevards, to Roger Wade’s Beach House (The Long Goodbye), Florian’s (Farewell, My Lovely), and Orrin Quest’s Rooming House (The Little Sister) in “Bay City”--which was Chandler’s name for Santa Monica. In addition, this map features a list of the assorted residences around L.A. where Marlowe’s creator lived and a timeline of important events in his 70-year life.


Paul Rogers’ art was inspired by the old Dell Mapbacks.

Copies of “The Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles” usually go for £4.00 (roughly $6.40 in U.S. dollars) apiece. But now you could win one free of charge. Herb Lister has generously provided four copies to The Rap Sheet as prizes. To enter the drawing for one, all you need do is e-mail your name and postal address to jpwrites@wordcuts.org. And be sure to type “Raymond Chandler Map Contest” in the subject line. Entries will be accepted between now and midnight next Monday, October 20. The four recipients will be chosen completely at random, and their names listed on this page the following day.

Sorry, but this drawing is open only to U.S. residents.

So, if you’re going to miss out on the Bouchercon-related, all-day Raymond Chandler tour of L.A.--scheduled to leave from and return to the convention hotel on Wednesday, November 12--you can still take your own spin around local Chandler/Marlowe landmarks with a copy of Paul Rogers’ map stretched between your paws. Just don’t waste any time in entering this contest; I expect it to be very popular.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Find L.A.’s Mean Streets During Bouchercon

There’s a special treat being planned for all of those people who expect to be in Long Beach, California, for the opening day of next month’s Bouchercon. The quirky “bus adventures” company Esotouric has scheduled a special, all-day Raymond Chandler tour of Los Angeles on Wednesday, November 12, expressly for early bird arrivals.

Kim Cooper, who with her husband operates Esotouric (and is the author of The Kept Girl, a fascinating mystery featuring Chandler, released earlier this year) tells me that this extended excursion--“Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles: In a Lonely Place”--will depart from the convention hotel (the Hyatt Regency Long Beach, 200 South Pine Avenue) on Wednesday at 9 a.m. Check-in is at 8:30 a.m. The cost to participate will be $90 per person. This tour will conclude at 5 p.m. back at the Hyatt Regency. “We think it’s just the thing for the visiting mystery lover,” remarks Cooper.

A press release calls this tour “a detail-drenched exploration of the 20th-century city that shaped Chandler’s fiction, and that in turn shaped his hard-boiled times. The route stretches from the Art Deco gems of downtown Los Angeles to the mean streets of Hollywood, featuring locations where Chandler worked, drank, or set memorable scenes from his books and screenplays. Locations include The Oviatt Building (The Lady in the Lake), the Hotel Van Nuys (The Little Sister), Bullock’s Wilshire (The Big Sleep), The Bryson (The Lady in the Lake), Paramount Studios (Double Indemnity), Hollywood Boulevard (“Raymond Chandler Square”), the historic Larry Edmunds Bookshop, and beyond. Drawing on published and unpublished work, private correspondence, screenplays, and film adaptations, the tour traces Chandler’s search for meaning and his anti-hero Philip Marlowe’s adventures in detection, which lead them both down the rabbit hole of isolation, depression, and drink. The tour is a revealing time-travel journey into the literary history of Los Angeles, and a rare chance to soak up that atmosphere with others who love noir fiction.”

For more information or to register, simply click here and go to the bottom of the page, or call (213) 373-1947.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Plan Ahead for Canada’s New Crime Fest

In Canadian book-publishing circles, Alma Lee’s name is synonymous with successful book-related events. This is because way back in 1988, she was one of the first out of the box with what has become a worldwide phenomenon: the literary festival.

Lee stepped down as creative director of British Columbia’s renowned Vancouver International Writers Festival in 2005, in part for health reasons. Since then, she’s had a liver transplant followed by a successful recovery. Where other people might take the opportunity to grab a deep breath, Lee has launched herself into yet another project that shows every sign of being world-class and widely recognized: CUFFED, the Vancouver International Crime Fiction Festival. The first CUFFED is scheduled to take place March 11-13, 2016, on Lee’s old stomping grounds, Vancouver’s Granville Island. “I know it seems far away,” Lee says about the dates, “but believe me, from starting something like this from scratch, I know how long it takes.”

And Lee and company aren’t messing around. Right out of the box they can claim a stellar venue, strong support from the publishing community, and a stable of participating writers that includes Linwood Barclay, Ian Rankin, and Quintin Jardine.

Although some people will think the shift from running a literary festival to planning one focused on crime fiction is an intense about-face, Lee takes a different view. “The more I talk to people and friends about reading,” she explains, “the more I found out that people are really keen on crime fiction, so I don’t think we will have difficulty in finding an audience.”

Lee herself loves the genre and says she’s always been a strong supporter. “Many people think [crime fiction is] a ‘guilty pleasure.’ Not me,” she pronounces. “I am an eclectic reader, but crime fiction is a pleasure, not one I feel guilty about. I think some of the best writers are writing in the genre.”

Read more about CUFFED on its Web site. If you would like to support the festival’s birth, check out its crowd-funding campaign here.