Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Favorite Crime Fiction of 2014,
Part V: Ali Karim

Ali Karim is The Rap Sheet’s hyperactive regular British correspondent, a contributing editor of January Magazine, and the assistant editor of Shots. In addition, he writes for Deadly Pleasures and Crimespree magazines, and he will be in charge of programming for Bouchercon 2015, to be held in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Entry Island, by Peter May (Quercus, UK):
Hot on the heels of his Lewis Trilogy (which includes the Barry Award-winning The Blackhouse) comes yet another remote-island murder mystery from Scottish author Peter May. Fifth-generation Canadian-Scottish Sûreté Inspector Sime Mackenzie is far from his home in Quebec, having been sent off to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and Entry Island--850 miles from the Canadian mainland--as part of a team investigating the murder of that isle’s wealthiest resident, James Cowell, who operated the majority of boats farming lobsters along the sea coast. Mackenzie’s role is to act as an English-French translator in police interviews with such people as Kirsty Cowell, the deceased’s spouse. Kirsty is the only person to have witnessed what she says was her husband’s death at the hands of a ski-masked killer. She’s also regarded as a prime suspect in that crime. Yet despite her bloodied clothing, Mackenzie feels a closeness to Kirsty, a feeling he can’t seem to shake. May’s novel elegantly blends two story lines, one following the contemporary investigation, and the other recounting the history of Scotland’s Highland Clearances, which influenced Canada’s development. As Sime Mackenzie and the Quebec Sûreté investigate Cowell’s untimely end, we learn there may be a longstanding link to the Mackenzie clan as well as a connection to a more recent tragedy in the inspector’s past. The superlative Entry Island proves that May’s Lewis Trilogy was no flash in the pan. This is a book in which one can get easily lost.

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, by Peter Swanson
(Faber & Faber, UK):

This throwback to the criminally twisted romantic-noir tales of James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, and Patricia Highsmith focuses around an unremarkable Bostonian, George Foss, who (despite his job as the business manager for a literary magazine) has been drifting through life, directionless. But his world-view is shattered when the mysterious Liana Dector (or is she “Jane Byrne,” or somebody else?)--his unforgettable first love, from their college days together--suddenly reappears in his life. I say “mysterious,” because as far as George knew, Liana had committed suicide decades ago under circumstances he never quite understood. Or did she? The situation only grows more bizarre and unpredictable when the woman he knows as Liana asks George for help. There are supposedly dangerous people dogging her trail, led by an enforcer named Donnie Jenks … who has been sent by Liana/Jane’s ex-lover, Gerald MacLean, to exact retribution for a theft that may or may not have occurred. George’s willingness to lend aid quickly brings peril to himself as well as to his on-again/off-again girlfriend, Irene. This is a wild ride of a novel, built on the themes that a broken heart can change a person deeply and that love can be both manipulative and dangerous when it is blind to its consequences. Reading this book may require a seat belt, as its turns are nowhere near safe. Boasting a fabulous femme fatale and a terse writing style that’s astonishing for a debut effort, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart suggests Massachusetts resident Peter Swanson may be someone worth watching closely in the future. A new U.S. paperback edition of this novel is due out in January.

The Last Room, by Danuta Reah
(Caffeine Nights, UK):

A new publication by Danuta Reah (or her alter-ego, Carla Banks) remains a treat for serious readers of crime and thriller fiction. The back story to The Last Room is the Balkan Wars, though its lineage traces back even farther, to World War II and African civil wars. This novel’s opening is a terse, grueling snatch of a vicious attack on a pregnant woman, Nadifa, on Africa’s war-torn Ivory Coast in 2005. This sets the stage for a complex novel that questions whether there can ever be any absolute truth amid the “fog of war.” Moving the story on to Europe in 2007, we follow the aftermath of the suicide of Dr. Ania Milosz, a forensic linguist and expert witness involved in the conviction of a child killer, Derek Haynes. Haynes is currently appealing his guilty verdict in the slaying of Sagal Akindes, the 6-year-old daughter of the aforementioned Nadifa, who’s now an asylum seeker in Great Britain. Neither Ania’s father, retired policeman Will Gillen, nor her fiancé, Dariusz Erland, believes the young woman jumped to her death. And so starts a trail that snakes its way to the deeds of the past, deeds that some wish to see remain hidden forever. The Last Room is highly recommended, a topical novel that really challenges the reader’s understanding of reality.

Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King (Scribner):
Never one to be constrained by the convenient definitions of genre, King’s latest novel is a full-out detective thriller, the first clue to that being the nod to James M. Cain that opens this tale. When longtime cop Bill Hodges finds it difficult to cope with his retirement from the force (a diet of bad TV dinners, daytime TV programs, and holding his father’s pistol in his mouth not being good for his health), he finds solace in returning his attention to an unsolved case. The Mercedes Killer was a madman who drove a top-range SL500 into the crowd at a job fair in a Midwestern American city, killing and maiming many people. But like the morning mist, he vanished from the scene, leaving no trace. Now, though, the driver has reached out to Hodges, sending him a taunting missive that leads to a cat-and-mouse chase between the retired detective and the Mercedes Killer, aka Brady Hartfield. A disturbed young man, the Norman Bates-like Brady supports his alcoholic mother by working two jobs, one as a computer repairman and the other as an ice-cream man, complete with a van and afternoon sales route. Author King does an exceptional job of digging beneath Brady’s vile, empathy-lacking exterior to expose the misfortunes of his existence. Yet Brady isn’t done hurting people; he’s planning an encore to his Mercedes rampage, one that could have far more devastating results. Unable to convince former police colleagues to help him with his unofficial investigation, Hodges turns for aid to a couple of computer wizards: Holly, his lover’s high-strung niece, and his lawnmower man, Jerome. There should really be a sticker on the front of Mr. Mercedes, saying “No bookmark required,” because this is definitely a one-sitting read.

Run, by Andrew Grant (Ballantine):
This first standalone techno-thriller from Grant (the younger brother of best-selling novelist Lee Child) reveals his skill as a master puppeteer, peeling away later upon layer of misdirection and revealing the murky motivations of his characters. At the tale’s outset we find Marc Bowman, a loose-cannon information technology troubleshooter for communications giant AmeriTel, having just devoted his weekend to a covert project--only to then be unceremoniously dismissed from his job and escorted off the company’s premises. When he later recounts this episode to his wife, fellow AmeriTel executive Carolyn, a woman he loves with a passion, he’s perplexed to find her siding with their employer rather than offering him sympathy. The theme of this novel is well summed up by its title: Run. Before you can fire a starting pistol, Bowman is fleeing for his life and sanity, pursued by agents from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the CIA (or at least they appear to be from the CIA). Word is out that Bowman spent the weekend before his termination copying sensitive AmeriTel data onto twin USB sticks, and it seems nobody wants him to keep those. Then just when you think things couldn’t get worse for Bowman, his wife and a large slug of cash disappear, putting this Everyman in the cross-hairs of some very dangerous folk. Run is a pulse-accelerating, sometimes confusing ride through the technological paranoia of our age. Nothing is as it seems in these pages. No one can be trusted. Trust me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Favorite Crime Fiction of 2014,
Part IV: Anthony Rainone

Anthony Rainone is a contributing editor to January Magazine and a (too-infrequent) contributor to The Rap Sheet. He lives in Brooklyn, where he writes screenplays, novels, and stories.

The Burning Room, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown):
Harry Bosch is like a fine bourbon: you taste the complexity but you’re not quite sure what produced it. Except in this case, you can go back to all of Connelly’s previous 16 Bosch novels and learn exactly what made him the finest cop protagonist in literature today … and maybe for a lot of tomorrows. In The Burning Room, we find the Los Angeles homicide detective just a year away from retirement, and now teamed up with novice Lucia Soto, or “Lucky Lucy,” who’s become a hero for having shot it out with the armed robbers who subsequently killed her previous partner. Soto has an immediate appeal and depth not seen in a Bosch cohort for some time, not since the days of Jerry Edgar and Kizmin Rider. Bosch and Soto go on to work a 10-year-old cold case involving the murder of a mariachi musician, as well as a decades-old day-care fire that claimed the life of Soto’s childhood friends. No matter how long he’s been at his job, Bosch still manages to piss people off. A cameo appearance here by FBI Agent Rachel Walling is a welcome touch. Connelly does in this novel what he excels at: weaving together two complex cases, upping the tempo and stakes of each one. Bosch and Soto make a dynamic duo and one laments the team’s short shelf life. But at least in these pages, it’s sublime.

Murder in Pigalle, by Cara Black (Soho Crime):
Cara Black’s Parisian private-eye heroine, Aimée Leduc, is a complicated woman. Five months pregnant with her first child, fashionista Aimée finds herself embroiled in a serial rapist case that becomes personal. The victims are teenage girls, and when the daughter of Leduc’s café-owning friend goes missing, the P.I. races against the clock to find her. Author Black is perhaps writing her finest prose these days, and this particular novel has a gravitas that pulls the reader in--if the sensory-infused writing doesn’t do it first. The topic here is difficult; yet in Black’s hands, it avoids the gut-wrenching for the practical: finding the man responsible. Although this tale is set in 1998, Leduc is the embodiment of the modern woman: keeping her business afloat and her love life thriving, and doing what she does best—solving crimes. Every time I read one of Black’s novels, I want to book a flight to Paris. The only disappointment would be not finding Aimée Leduc in residence there; she’s one of the best things the fictional City of Light has to offer.

Straight Jackets

Have you cast your ballot already in The Rap Sheet’s poll to pick the “Best Crime Novel Cover of 2014”? If not, you can still do so by clicking over to this post and then scrolling down to the bottom. We will keep the voting open through this coming Sunday, December 21, after which the results will be tallied and announced on this page.

As of this afternoon, the fronts from Kim Cooper’s The Kept Girl, Benjamin Black’s The Black-Eyed Blonde, Samuel Fuller’s Brainquake, and Tod Goldberg’s Gangsterland were holding down the top four slots. Those rankings, though, could change dramatically over the next five days. Voice your own opinions here. But do it soon!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Favorite Crime Fiction of 2014,
Part III: Steven Nester

Steven Nester is the host of Poets of the Tabloid Murder, a weekly Internet radio show heard on the Public Radio Exchange [PRX]. Nester is also a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Rap Sheet, Mystery Scene, and Firsts Magazine.

The Cost of Doing Business, by Jonathan Ashley (280 Steps):
Ashley debuts with an attention-grabbing, character-driven crime novel that’s made supremely readable through the use of a sly, laconic wit and the author’s ability to move his story along economically. When bookseller and low-level dope dealer Jon Catlett suddenly finds himself in the position to make big money in the heroin trade, he must team up with a crooked cop who has the skill and nerve to take Catlett and his slacker pals to the top of the Ohio Valley heroin heap. Catlett’s accidental killing of an annoying trust-fund junkie begins his elevation, along with that of sidekick Paul, from “part-time middle man to straight-up dope kingpin.” Our “hero” faces this change of life with equanimity, focus, and a willingness to be mentored by corrupt cops and mobsters who’ve been to the rodeo many times. Best of all, he discovers he has a knack for the logistics of setting up and implementing drug deals. But Catlett quickly learns the high cost of participating in this business.

Gangsterland, by Tod Goldberg (Counterpoint):
Mafia hit man Sal Cupertine is on the lam and everybody is looking for him. Sold to the “Kosher Nostra” in Arizona, he re-emerges as “Rabbi David Cohen.” Sound familiar? It shouldn’t: In Gangsterland, author Tod Goldberg has, within the well-elbowed constraints of the conventional crime narrative envelope, written an exceedingly sage and witty thriller that reveals no chinks in the armor, no narrative lines to nowhere, and with a “look Ma, no hands” ease of invention that would have Elmore Leonard turning over in his grave to see who has taken his place as one of the best writers around.

One Kick, by Chelsea Cain (Simon & Schuster):
Chelsea Cain has hit one out of the park with One Kick, the first novel in a projected series featuring Kick Lannigan, a young victim of sexual abuse. Kick is drawn here into assisting the mysterious John Bishop (a wealthy former gun dealer working with the FBI) and his even more mysterious masters as they attempt to track down and release other victims of such horrible crimes, and then punish the people responsible. One Kick looks at child porn, co-dependence, and getting justice with a steady eye and an unapologetic humanity that will make readers line up right now for this series’ second installment.

The Sixth Extinction, by James
Rollins (Morrow):

Fortified with fact and given energy through a plethora of what-ifs, Rollins’ 10th Sigma Force novel finds a mad scientist in a hidden lair, planning to unleash a globe-destroying weapon of prehistoric origin discovered beneath the ice of Antarctica. Once more, Commander Gray Pierce and his Sigma Force are called upon to save the planet. James Rollins’ creative DNA is clearly linked to that of H.G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle, and The Sixth Extinction—with its well fleshed-out disaster plot—might be just the thing to read when you need a break from today’s real-life and mounting ecological worries. Rollins’ nimble mind running wild in the world of fact and fiction is something to behold.

Finally, one true-crime pick …

Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood, by William J. Mann (Harper):
Hollywood has never been more of a party town than it was back in the 1920s, before the Hays Code kicked in, giving legal weight to moral censorship guidelines. Mann’s Tinseltown puts the ’80s Brat Pack and all other wannabes to shame as he reinvestigates the February 1922 murder of Irish-born American director-actor William Desmond Taylor. There’s plenty of dope, booze, and sex in these pages, as well as desperate starlets, but Mann’s yarn isn’t meant merely to titillate. He gives Taylor’s death a historical perspective as he shows how early Hollywood moguls, together with Wall Street, built a town and a film studio system from scratch. There are surprises here for fans of Hollywood lore, and even more for newcomers to the subject.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

No Mystery Behind Their Mastery

After returning home from a weekend spent out of town and away from my computer, I am just catching up with this news: “Lois Duncan and James Ellroy have been chosen as the 2015 Grand Masters by Mystery Writers of America (MWA). MWA’s Grand Master Award represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as for a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality. Ms. Duncan and Mr. Ellroy will be presented with their awards at the Edgar Awards Banquet, which will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on Wednesday, April 29, 2015.” Read more in Shotsmag Confidential and Crime Watch.

In addition, the recipients of two Raven Awards (“recogniz[ing] outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing”) have been announced. Jon and Ruth Jordan, co-founders of Crimespree Magazine, will receive one of those prizes. The other will go to Kathryn Kennison, founder of the Midwestern mystery-fiction conference Magna cum Murder.

Finally, Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai has won the MWA’s 2015 Ellery Queen Award, which honors “outstanding writing teams and outstanding people in the mystery-publishing industry.”

Friday, December 12, 2014

Favorite Crime Fiction of 2014,
Part II: Kevin Burton Smith

Kevin Burton Smith is a Montreal-born crime writer and critic currently looking for an honest glass of beer in Southern California’s High Desert region. In the meantime, he’s working on the Great Canadian Detective Novel, writing features for Mystery Scene magazine, and contributing far too infrequently to The Rap Sheet. Not incidentally, Smith is also the founder and editor of that invaluable resource, The Thrilling Detective Web Site.

After I’m Gone, by Laura Lippman (Morrow):
Breathtaking in the sheer muscularity of its plotting and pacing, in After I’m Gone Lippman finally weaves the two threads of her work together. The emotional whomp of her crime-fiction standalones meets the feet-on-the-ground tautness and investigative legwork of her Tess Monaghan detective novels, resulting in arguably her most gripping and head-spinning book yet. It’s 1976, and charming but shady Baltimore businessman Felix Brewer is staring down the barrel of a slew of criminal charges. Rather than face the music, he empties bank accounts and disappears, leaving behind five women: his heart-of-gold wife, “Bambi,” their three young daughters, and his mistress, cocktail waitress Julie Saxony. Flash forward to the present, where we find retired cop, widower, and designated sad sack investigator “Sandy Sanchez” picking up a few extra bucks, working cold cases for the Baltimore PD. The cold case he draws is the 1986 murder of Julie, her body only recently discovered. The story skitters back and forth in time like cold water on a hot skillet, offering a deluge of vivid and wrenching snapshots, flashbacks, confessions, and clashing points of view, as Sandy doggedly tries to make sense of it all. The financial and emotional turmoil the still-missing Felix has left in his wake over the last three decades or so becomes the bulletin board on which Lippman pins the stories of these women, and when all the lies and myths fade, and the truth is finally outed, I was finally able to breath again. Stunning.

Black Rock, by John McFetridge (ECW Press):
This time it’s personal. In this hard, taut police procedural set in 1970, Montreal ex-pat McFetridge sticks a knife deep in his hometown’s heart and spills it all over the page. A warning, though--the writing feels so personal and visceral, it may hit far too close to home for any Montréalais errant to maintain a kind of critical distance. Everything McFetridge spins here is pitch-perfect; a solid jab to my heart as he captures the moment when the political and cultural turmoil of that fractious, paranoid era is made manifest in a city slowly being torn apart, as the would-be revolutionaries of the Front de libération du Québec move up from years of planting bombs in mailboxes to kidnapping politicians. Troops are called in and helicopters fill the air, even as likable young rookie Constable Eddie Dougherty, still unsure of where his life is heading, finds himself playing detective, doggedly investigating a series of killings in his old working-class neighborhood of Point St. Charles. For Eddie, you see, it’s personal. Me, too. But in tapping into the personal, McFetridge has struck something bigger and more universal; giving us one of the year’s most compelling, gripping, and, yes, sadly timely novels. We never learn, do we?

You Know Who Killed Me, by Loren D. Estleman (Forge):
Defiantly and definitively old-school, Estleman’s private dick, Amos Walker, kills me. He works the hard-boiled mean streets like it’s still 1947, spitting out similes and metaphors with a caustic and piercing wit, cracking wise like a pissed-off Chandler on a talking jag. But Walker’s Great Wrong Place is not Marlowe’s post-war City of Angels; it’s contemporary Detroit--a rusted-out dream waiting to be towed away; a city “rotting from the top down and from the bottom out, like Dutch Elm.” Fortunately, despite the dings and dents on his own exterior (when this story kicks off, he’s fresh outta rehab, after a sojourn with painkiller addiction), Walker’s V-8 of a heart still throbs mightily under the hood, with plenty of power when it counts. Which comes in handy when the Cranky One signs on to help out the overworked Iroquois Heights cops run down some anonymous phone tips on the murder of an “ordinary” Joe, found shot to death in his basement rec room on New Year’s Eve. Things, of course, get messy and soon there are government agencies, Ukranian gangsters, and a big steamy mess of family secrets--plus the lure of those damn pills--to deal with, as well as plenty of dirty little truths to be exposed. There are no great shockers here, but You Know Who Killed Me is still a gripping and fully satisfying read, high on style, verve, and street smarts. And that’s the real beauty and the appeal of Estleman’s long-running series--you stick the key in and turn, and it always roars to life. It’s private-eye action the way I like it.

Favorite Crime Fiction of 2014,
Part I: Jim Napier

Jim Napier is a crime-fiction critic based in Quebec. His book reviews and author interviews have appeared in several Canadian papers as well as in Spinetingler Magazine, The Rap Sheet, Shots, Reviewing the Evidence, January Magazine, the Montreal Review of Books, and the Ottawa Review of Books. In addition, Napier maintains an award-winning crime-fiction site called Deadly Diversions.

The Killer Next Door, by Alex Marwood (Penguin):
Marwood is the pseudonym of accomplished British journalist Serena Mackesy, whose previous book, The Wicked Girls (2013), was shortlisted for an Edgar Allan Poe Award. Here, a young woman is on the run after witnessing her boss murder a man. He’s tracked her from London to Spain and back again. Desperate, and with no confidence in the police, who want her as a material witness, she seeks anonymity in a rundown house in South London that’s been divided into flats, each occupied by one of the city’s many marginalized people. Unknown to her, one of them is a killer. A dark and harrowing tale of the anonymous lives of people who have slipped through the cracks of civilized society.

Letters to My Daughter’s Killer, by Cath Staincliffe (Constable & Robinson):
Cath Staincliffe is best known for her award-winning series of standalone crime novels. But when approached to write tales based on British television’s popular crime drama, Scott & Bailey, she couldn’t resist--and we are all the richer for it. Every bit as well-crafted as those in her standalone stories, this book’s characters lead complex lives, and the layered plots form compelling narratives of both policing and the troubled society in which officers must do their jobs. A homeless man is found in the remains of a fire in an abandoned chapel, and the autopsy reveals he had been shot in the head first. Detective Constables Rachel Bailey and Janet Scott wonder who could have done such a thing, and why. Their efforts will take them into a murky world inhabited by hate-mongers and drug-dealers and impressionable teens, and the deaths have only just begun.

Mr. Campion’s Farewell, by Mike Ripley (Severn House):
Long a respected reviewer of crime fiction, as well as the author of a fine original series of more than a dozen comic crime novels based on the highly eccentric and engaging character of private detective Fitzroy Maclean Angel, Mike Ripley adds yet another arrow to his quiver with Mr. Campion’s Farewell, the first of two novels in the classic Albert Campion series of tales that were begun by Margery Allingham but were left unfinished at the time of her death in 1966. Albert Campion is paying an innocuous visit to his niece in a sleepy Suffolk village presided over by a mysterious group known as the Carders, when his car is vandalized. Shortly afterwards Campion is very nearly killed in a hunting incident, and he resolves to get to the bottom of things. The result is a delightful, timeless tale that will appeal to all lovers of the Golden Age of British crime fiction.

The Secret Place, by Tana French (Viking): Five books and counting, and every one a winner. Tana French is Ireland’s answer to Ian Rankin, each of her novels fresh and compelling, carefully crafted and perfectly capturing a distinct atmosphere, with the trademark darkness of Irish crime fiction. The Secret Place puts an exclusive girls’ boarding school under the microscope, where all of the petty bickering, rivalry, and scheming of adolescent teens is brought out in sharp relief. A hunk from the nearby boys’ school has been murdered; but who did it, and how is a police detective’s daughter involved? A riveting, original tale from Ireland’s rapidly rising star.

Walt, by Russell Wangersky (House of Anansi):
With five books to his credit, one a finalist for the Giller Prize, Russell Wangersky has carved out an impressive career as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction. With Walt, the reader is introduced to the very private world of a unprepossessing grocery store janitor, a person ignored and overlooked by almost all who come into contact with him, but who harbors very dark secrets. Walt has a seemingly harmless habit: he collects other peoples’ discarded shopping lists. From these he forms a picture of the shopper--single or in a relationship, happy or troubled, middle-class or simply making do. But Walt doesn’t stop there. His interest becomes an obsession, and he seeks to learn more about their lives. The result is a harrowing tale of just how vulnerable most people are, and how easily their lives can be accessed. And underneath it all lurks the question, Whatever became of his wife? You will never look at a grocery store list the same way again.

Next Up: Favorite Crime Fiction of 2014

There are now fewer than three weeks remaining in 2014, so book reviewers and author-bloggers have accelerated their pace of posting “best crime fiction of the year” lists. Library Journal offers its choices in this genre (as well as other literary fields) here, while The Washington Post promotes what it contends are “The Five Best Thrillers of 2014” here. BOLO Books blogger Kristopher Zgorski shares his opinions on the year’s top reads here, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Sun-Sentinel correspondent Oline Cogdill’s picks are available in a slideshow (never my favorite format, but Oline’s a nice person, so I’ll forgive her the gimmick just this once). Finally, UK journalist-author Woody Haut has assembled a “dirty baker’s dozen” of his favorite crime novels from the last twelvemonth, while pseudonymous fictionist Clinton Greaves comes up with 14 choices.

Ever since 1998, I’ve helped put together the annual “best books” features for January Magazine, the online publication from which The Rap Sheet spun off in 2006. This year editor Linda L. Richards decided to break with tradition and not post such a package of mini-reviews. However, I’m so accustomed at the end of every year to soliciting “best books” recommendations from January crime-fiction reviewers, that I went ahead and asked some of them to contribute their inventories of favorites to The Rap Sheet instead.

The first two of those rundowns are set to appear on this page later today, with more to roll out early next week--soon enough, we hope, to help shoppers who are still stumped as to what they might purchase for the book lovers on their holiday gift lists. Let us know what you think of our critics’ choices, and what other crime, mystery, and thriller novels published in 2014 really caught your fancy.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Pierce’s Picks: “Moriarty”

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

Moriarty, by Anthony Horowitz (Harper):
Let me say, first of all, that as a rule I really, really, really dislike novels that don’t offer a sense of conclusion by their final page, but instead end in cliff-hangers that compel you to purchase the sequel if you’re ever to find out the rest of the story.

With that off my chest, let us now consider the case of Moriarty, a follow-up to Horowitz’s 2011 Sherlock Holmes yarn, The House of Silk. Holmes doesn’t appear in Moriarty, which is set in 1891; even before page one, he’s already tumbled off Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, supposedly locked in a death grip with his most cunning nemesis, Professor James Moriarty. (Anyone who’s read Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Empty House” knows how that episode turned out.) Instead we’re thrust into the company of Frederick Chase, who describes himself as “a senior investigator with the Pinkerton Detective Agency in New York,” and Scotland Yard Inspector Athelney Jones, who Conan Doyle said in his 1890 novel, The Sign of the Four, was “not a bad fellow.” These two meet for the first time over the corpse of a man fished from beneath Reichenbach Falls and believed to be the elusive “Napoleon of crime,” Moriarty. Chase explains to Jones that he’s traveled to Europe in search of an agoraphobic American criminal mastermind named Clarence Devereaux, who was reportedly seeking a mutually beneficial (or destructive, depending on your viewpoint) alliance with Moriarty--an association seemingly confirmed by a coded missive sewn into the corpse’s coat lining. With haste these two launch upon Devereaux’s trail, hunting down a pair of brothers who were, well, thick as thieves with Chase’s quarry; unearthing a robbery scheme also tied to Devereaux; and eventually conning their way into the U.S. legation in London (and the company of Robert T. Lincoln, President Lincoln’s only surviving son). Jones and Chase serve well as stand-ins for Holmes and Dr. John Watson; Jones has even made an obsessive study of the Great Detective’s methods. When this pair start to talk about forming a professional partnership (“London needs a new consulting detective,” Chase says at one point), you can almost see Horowitz imagining the possibilities in that arrangement.

Yet matters are never as straightforward as they appear here. Gruesome killings take place without clear reason. (Horowitz’s 1890s London wears a heavier mantle of grime, despair, and violence than Conan Doyle’s ever did.) Shadowy figures show up in the ta-da nick of time to rescue our investigating duo, and too-convenient clues are found. Everything ties together when you learn the twist at the end (or figure it out earlier, as I did), but some readers may not make it that far; that it is necessary for Horowitz’s narrator to explain finally--and for page after page--every plot turn shows how much the author concealed in order to achieve his “high concept.”

Conan Doyle fans will likely enjoy Horowitz’s frequent allusions to Holmes’ famous cases, and any reader should come quickly to appreciate the determined sleuth and family man Athelney Jones, who does not fit Watson’s stereotype of the bumbling Scotland Yarder. That Horowitz makes you feel as if you’re experiencing a Holmes and Watson adventure without either of those two characters featuring on the page is a notable achievement. Still, it’s frustrating that Moriarty manipulates the reader at its close, throwing down sweeteners in order that you might be enticed to fork over another $26.99 for Book Two. If that sequel were available next week, the scheme might work. That we’ll have to wait at least another year for it lowers the odds.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Decision Time: Best Crime Covers of 2014

Later this week, I’ll begin posting lists from Rap Sheet contributors of their favorite crime, mystery, and thriller novels published over the last 12 months. Meanwhile, though, I want to get the discussion started about 2014’s top book cover designs.

Except in 2012, this blog has polled readers annually ever since 2007 to determine what they thought were the most engaging and elegant crime novel fronts produced in the preceding 12 months. We’ve sometimes been surprised by the choices made, but never disappointed. Despite what some people might say, cover design is a vital ingredient of any book. Hardcover jackets and paperback façades act as posters, announcing the subject and tenor of the story to be told in the pages that follow. At their best, book fronts are also fine art, works worth admiring and perhaps collecting on their own. Sadly, many of the genre entries filling up bookstore shelves these days do little to distinguish themselves from one another; they play it safe, using imagery (men or women fleeing from the camera, desolate landscapes, haunted human faces, etc.) that some marketing person is convinced will immediately tell readers what to expect. “The path of least resistance when you’re designing a jacket,” says Peter Mendelsund, an associate art director at publisher Alfred A. Knopf, “is to give that particular demographic exactly what they want. It’s a mystery novel, so you just splatter it in blood, and put the shadowy trench coat guy on it, and use the right typography.” The covers most deserving of attention and acclaim are instead those that defy expectations, those that employ photographs, illustrations, and headline typefaces in ways (and combinations) that engage the eyes as well as the imagination.

Combining some of our own choices with additional suggestions from Rap Sheet followers, we’ve assembled the gallery below of 20 crime novel covers--all released during 2014, on both sides of the Atlantic--that offer more than the usual complements of expertise, cleverness, subtlety, and freshness. Now it’s your turn to declare which of these you like best.

At the bottom of this post you’ll find a simple ballot on which to vote for your favorites among these contenders. You are welcome to select as many covers here as you think deserve praise. We’ll keep the voting open until midnight on Sunday, December 21, after which the results will be tallied and announced.

Click on any of the covers below to open an enlargement.

ONE THING MORE: If you think we have neglected to mention some other crime-fiction cover from 2014 that is also deserving of widespread praise, please post a comment about it at the end of this piece. Just be sure to include a link to where on the Web other Rap Sheet readers can see that additional cover for themselves.

Behold My Literary Infidelity

With the end of 2014 on its way, I got to thinking about how I had unintentionally neglected to read novels this year by some of the genre’s best-selling wordsmiths. Really, success as a crime-fictionist should not be punished in that way! So I’ve made a commitment to pay attention over the next year not only to the myriad up-and-comers, but also to those many creative, conscientious folk who have devoted themselves for years to enriching this field. I share more thoughts on the matter in my latest column for Kirkus Reviews. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Orchids Blooming Everywhere

During its Black Orchid Banquet, held last evening in New York City, the Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin fan organization, The Wolfe Pack, announced that the winner of its 2014 Nero Award is Murder as a Fine Art, by David Morrell (Mulholland). This commendation is given out annually “for the best American mystery written in the tradition of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe stories.”

Morrell’s historical thriller beat out four other novels to capture this year’s Nero: Ask Not, by Max Allan Collins (Forge); Three Can Keep a Secret, by Archer Mayor (Minotaur); A Study in Revenge, by Kieran Shields (Crown); and A Question of Honor, by Charles Todd (Morrow).

Also in the course of Saturday night’s Manhattan banquet, the Black Orchid Novella Award was presented to K.G. McAbee for “Dyed to Death.” The Black Orchid is sponsored jointly by The Wolfe Pack and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Forshaw’s Finest

Let’s add another “best crime fiction of 2014” list to our collection: UK critic Barry Forshaw’s selections in The Independent.

The Axeman’s Jazz, by Ray Celestin (Mantle)
Long Way Home, by Eva Dolan
(Harvill Secker)
The Girl with a Clock for a Heart,
by Peter Swanson (Faber)
Those Who Walk Away,
by Patricia Highsmith (Little, Brown)
The Devil in the Marshalsea,
by Antonia Hodgson (Hodder)
The Secret Place, by Tana French (Hodder)

You’ll find Forshaw’s comments about each of these works here.

Friday, December 05, 2014

In Case Santa Needs Some Suggestions ...

Since I have already begun cataloguing various selections of the “best” crime novels published during 2014, let me now add UK critic Mike Ripley’s top 10 list, as it’s offered in his December “Getting Away with Murder” column for Shots:

Brainquake, by Samuel Fuller (Hard Case Crime)
Darkness, Darkness, by John Harvey (Heinemann)
Cobra, by Deon Meyer (Hodder)
Bitter Wash Road, by Gary Disher (Text)
By My Hand, by Maurizio De Giovanni (Europa/World Noir)
Of Cops and Robbers, by Mike Nicol (Old Street)
A Dark Song of Blood, by Ben Pastor (Bitter Lemon Press)
The Suicide Club, by Andrew Williams (Hodder)
The Silent Boy, by Andrew Taylor (Harper)
The Reckoning, by Rennie Airth (Mantle)

That same column also provides observations about new books by Adrian McKinty and Michael Pearce, forthcoming works by Minette Walters and S.J. Watson, and the tiresome recent trend toward book covers that feature lone women running/walking away from the camera. Read it all here.

Check Out Bolton’s Victory

Sharon Bolton has won the British Crime Writers’ Association’s 2014 Dagger in the Library award, according to The Gumshoe Site. This prize honors “an author’s body of work to date, rather than a single title and an author must have published three books to be eligible for the award.” Bolton’s latest novel is A Dark and Twisted Tide, which was released in the States this last June by Minotaur Books.

A longlist of 10 contenders was announced in mid-September. Those nominees were pared down to five by early November. Bolton, a Transworld author in the UK, ultimately beat out Elly Griffiths (Quercus), Mari Hannah (Pan), James Oswald (Michael Joseph), and Mel Sherratt (Thomas & Mercer) to capture the Dagger in the Library.

Last year’s winner of this commendation was Belinda Bauer.

READ MORE:2014 Dagger in the Library Winner,” by Ayo Onatade (Shotsmag Confidential).

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Will It Be “Specter” in the States?

Sam Mendes’ official announcement of “Bond 24’s” title.

We’ve been awaiting this news for days, and finally it arrives:
Director Sam Mendes revealed Thursday that the title of the 24th film in the James Bond franchise will be called “Spectre,” which Bond fans should know as the name of the evil organization run by legendary villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
That comes from The Wall Street Journal. Here’s more on today’s development from the film-oriented site, The Dissolve:
Spectre? We know Spectre! That’s the SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, the ultimate bad guy organization that pops up throughout Bond stories (they’re the ones with that cuddly little octopus logo). Naming the feature Spectre also gives major credence to the rumor that Christoph Waltz--who, yes, is now officially in the film--will star as ultimate Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the leader of SPECTRE. After the confusion of Skyfall (a title that functioned as its own plot point, and also a good way to get Adele to croon “shkkkyfalllll” over and over), this title seems almost too obvious. Is this some sort of trap? Misdirection? Anything is possible, but maybe this time around, the clearest connection is the right one. Paired with that Blofled rumor, it seems like we’re due for the return of Bond’s number one nemesis, even if he so happens to be the son of a ski instructor.
And the blog Tipping My Fedora provides some casting details:
Returning from Skyfall, we have director Sam Mendes and the core cast of Daniel Craig as JB, Ralph Fiennes as M, Ben Wishaw’s Q, Naomie Harris as Miss M and Rory Kinnear as BT. Behind the screen (sic) sees the return of screenwriters John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (the latter two, as a team, have worked on the scripts for all the Bond movies since The World Is Not Enough). Composer Thomas Newman, production designer Dennis Gassner, stunt arranger Gary Powell and special effects supervisor Chris Corbould are all returning too.

The cast for
Spectre will include Christoph Waltz (presumably as the villain) and Léa Seydoux (presumably as the leading lady) and also includes Monica Bellucci, David Bautista and Andrew Scott.
Spectre currently has a November 6, 2015, release date. There’s plenty of time between now and then to stir up viewer anticipation and thereby increase the odds of box office gold.

READ MORE:Brush Up on SPECTRE Before Spectre,” by John Cox (The Book Bond); “In Spectre Gadget: Six Thing We Learned from the James Bond Title Announcement,” by Stuart Heritage (The Guardian); “Spectre--A Tribute to Ian Fleming,” by Steve Powell (The Venetian Vase); “Here’s Why the Next James Bond Film Is Called Spectre,” by Eliana Dockterman (Time); “James Bond Finally Falls for a Woman His Own Age,” by Philip Bump (The Washington Post).

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Bullet Points: Finds and Losses Edition

• Although Slate’s staff picks of 2014’s “best books” feature only one work of fiction that might come under The Rap Sheet’s consideration (David Shafer’s “funny techno-thriller,” Whiskey Tango Foxtrot), the Web mag’s critics include a whopping two novels from this genre among their 27 “Overlooked Books of 2014”: Adrian McKinty’s The Sun Is God and Lauren Beukes’ Broken Monsters.

• On the topic of “best books,” note that Crimespree Magazine editor Jon Jordan has posted his selection of 11 “damn good reads” from the last year, including Meg Gardiner’s Phantom Instinct, Chelsea Cain’s One Kick, and Tim Hallinan’s For the Dead.

• There are so many Christmas-related mysteries, that blogger-editor Janet Rudolph has had to split up her list of them in Mystery Fanfare. Click here to find dozens of works by authors whose names begin with the letters A through D. At least three more such postings of seasonal fare should follow in the coming days.

• Is there a “lost work” by Raymond Chandler? Yes, but as Sarah Weinman reports in The Guardian, it’s a comic opera discovered in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Weinman explains:
The 48-page libretto to the comic opera The Princess and the Pedlar, with music by Julian Pascal, has hidden in plain sight at the library since its copyright was first registered on 29 August 1917.

The work, a copy of which was obtained by the Guardian, was found in March by Kim Cooper, shortly after she published her debut novel,
The Kept Girl, featuring a fictionalised Chandler in 1929 Los Angeles.

While looking for more information about Pascal, Cooper discovered a missing link between Chandler’s English boyhood and his detective fiction: a witty, Gilbert-and-Sullivan-inflected libretto for a fantasy-tinged romance between Porphyria, daughter to the King and Queen of the Arcadians, and Beautiful Jim, a “strolling Pedlar.”
(Hat tip to January Magazine.)

• Critic Weinman tackles another classic fictionist for The New York Times Book Review, writing about Helen MacInnes, the author of Above Suspicion and many more tales.

One more vintage detective novel I have to read someday.

• For the blog Book Noir, UK editor Barry Forshaw recalls his encounters with “two of my favourite creators (both massively talented, but neither the sweetest individual): I was able to speak to both--wait for it!--Alfred Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith.”

• One of the most enduring urban legends has it that illustrator-turned-empire builder Walt Disney was “cryogenically frozen after he died [in 1966] so that he could be reanimated in the future.” Unfortunately, it’s not true.

• If you have never seen the 2003 pilot for a TV series based on the film L.A. Confidential, and starring Kiefer Sutherland, here it is.

This main title sequence from Peacemaker, the 2003 USA Network Western-detective series starring Tom Berenger, is just one of several new additions to The Rap Sheet’s YouTube page.

• Number 36 in Robin Jarossi’s amusing, nostalgic countdown of “50 crime shows that blow us away” is Life on Mars, the 2006-2007 BBC One time travel/police procedural that starred John Simm and Philip Glenister, and “won a following through its freshness and cheekiness.” (Sadly, the U.S. version of that show didn’t fare so well.)

• In a short interview with The New York Times Book Review, David Baldacci was asked, “What’s the key to a great thriller?” His answer:
The same as any other genre: a great story. Characters you either hate or love, a compelling plot whose seemingly skeletal simplicity belies the mounds of meat underneath. And of course a contortionist writer at the helm who manages to stay a step ahead of even the most astute/cynical story-gobblers. You make it look easy and seamless, when it’s actually the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life and the whole thing seems held together by fraying duct tape and spit.
• In conversation with Crimespree, Michael Connelly addresses the question of whether the career of his main protagonist, Los Angeles cop Harry Bosch (The Burning Room), is coming to an end. “It is very clear from the last few books his time is up with the badge, but not as a literary character,” insists Connelly. “I planted a number of seeds in the last three or four books that can show his continuation in some way. It does not necessarily have to be Harry Bosch up front. I have not decided yet what to do and have it as open-ended in this book so I have time to think about it. There are a number of possibilities including bringing him back as a cop in one more book, although I am leaning towards not doing it. It appears that his life is not dictated by any dates, but the needs of the series. In every four or five books something happens. It is time for a new direction for Harry.” You might remember that Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch was introduced in Connelly’s first novel, The Black Echo (1992).

• Actor Howard Duff certainly had a great voice for radio.

• This is unfortunate news from In Reference to Murder: “[A]nother crime fiction [resource] bites the dust, as the authors of Sleuths, Spies, and Alibis have chosen to end the three-year-old blog.”

• And longtime supporter of The Rap Sheet Randal S. Brandt writes: “My friend Jean Buchanan has published a short piece called Mr. Dodge, Mr. Hitchcock, and the French Riviera: The Story Behind To Catch a Thief. It is published as an Amazon Kindle Single and is available via this link: (Or in the UK, from this link: … The new piece explores the relationship between the novel and the film, and the circumstances under which the novel was written.” He adds that “Jean also contributed the Afterword to the Bruin Books edition of To Catch a Thief that was published in 2010, as well as adapting the novel as a radio play for BBC Radio 4 (broadcast in 2010).”

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

King Takes the Crown Again

Although the books-oriented Web site Goodreads is no longer an independent venture, but has been owned for the last couple of years by Amazon, a number of my friends still contribute to its growing database of reviews, and the site’s mission doesn’t seem to have been seriously undermined by corporate ownership. So the annual Goodreads Choice Awards continue to count for something.

Online voting to pick the 2014 Choice Awards recipients began in November and featured 20 nominees in the Best Mystery and Thriller category. Earlier today the winner in that division--receiving 41,453 votes--was announced. It’s Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes (Scribner), a novel that I must admit remains on my to-be-read pile.

Also in contention for Best Mystery and Thriller novel honors were (in descending order of support): The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith (Mulholland); The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham; Festive in Death, by J.D. Robb (Putnam); Top Secret Twenty-One, by Janet Evanovich (Bantam); The Long Way Home, by Louise Penny (Minotaur); The Secret Place, by Tana French; The Son, by Jo Nesbø (Knopf); I Am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes (Atria/Emily Bestler); The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, by Alan Bradley (Delacorte Press); Missing You, by Harlan Coben (Dutton); The Gods of Guilt, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown); Natchez Burning, by Greg Iles (Morrow); The Good Girl, by Mary Kubica (Mira); In the Blood, by Lisa Unger (Pocket); Personal, by Lee Child (Delacorte Press): The Target, by David Baldacci (Grand Central); Mean Streak, by Sandra Brown (Grand Central); The Weight of Blood, by Laura McHugh (Spiegel & Grau); and Runner, by Patrick Lee (Minotaur).

Word is that 3,317,504 votes were cast in this year’s content, as compared with last year’s 1.9 million votes. That’s a fairly good record of participation. I’m a bit disappointed, however, that the crime, mystery, and thriller genre--which is such a mammoth seller worldwide--enjoys only minimal presence in the Goodreads competition, while what we think of a Science Fiction and Fantasy is split up among five categories, each of which has a winner. If there’s a Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction section, why is there not at least a category for Young Adult Mystery and Thriller?

Expanding the Brand

In May, I debuted a Rap Sheet Facebook page, which I promised would supplement, not replace the blog you are currently reading. The ensuing six months have brought hundreds of subscribers to that page, but there are still many people who don’t know that it exists. Feel free to visit that Facebook page and “like” it, if you feel so inclined.

“Vast Discrepancies” Coming to Light?

This story should incite great debates in literary circles:
Truman Capote’s masterpiece of true-crime literature may not be all that true, according to a man who just won the legal right to try to prove it. The Associated Press reports that Ronald Nye, the son of a Kansas law enforcement agent who investigated the 1959 killings at the heart of Capote’s In Cold Blood, has gotten a court’s permission to publish his father’s findings--which Nye says contradict Capote’s story.

Those findings have earned new life due to a contradiction of a different sort. The judge who blocked publication of the files in the first place has now reversed his decision in a 2012 case brought by the Kansas attorney general’s office. The AP writes that Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks “ruled Nye’s First Amendment right to publish the material outweigh the government’s interest in maintaining the confidentiality of its investigative records.”

As for the files themselves, the news service reports that they will likely find their way into a book to be written by Nye and author Gary McAvoy.
The Guardian has more to offer about this development.

READ MORE:The New In Cold Blood Revisionism: What If Capote’s Classic Wasn’t Fully True?” by Laura Miller (Salon).

Friday, November 28, 2014

You Never Forget Your First Time

At the end of every year, I go back through the list I keep of books I’ve read and try to figure out where I went wrong.

For instance, in 2014 I pored over fewer non-fiction books than I had in 2013--apparently using what extra time that allowed me to blitz through an extraordinary diversity of crime, mystery, and thriller novels (most of which first saw print this year, though I also have an appetite for older criminal yarns, so works by Thomas B. Dewey, Harold Q. Masur, Day Keene, and other mid-20th-century fictionists figured into my tally). I was a bit light, too, in my joyful consumption of general fiction, which I hadn’t even been aware of until now. What else I realize is that, while there were plenty of books I enjoyed over these last 11 months, there were few that I repeatedly pressed upon my small circle of friends.

Maybe I’m just becoming more jaded, now that I derive a larger proportion of my income per annum from devouring books and writing about them, and don’t have as much time as I once did to sit down and relax in the company of each one. However, I still get excited whenever I discover a new storyteller whose style or focus makes me relish the prospect of following his or her work in the future.

Ever since 2008--and at the behest originally of Brian Lindenmuth, now with Spinetingler Magazine--I have been posting year-end rundowns on this page of the authors whose work I had not read before the preceding twelvemonth. What’s most striking, I think, is that even after all this time, I still come across soooo many debut (or at least fresh-to-me) writers turning out soooo many books I want to sample. There’s almost no way to keep up. (Of course, if that’s the worst problem I have, or that you have, how can we complain?)

Below you’ll find my 2014 reading list of novels by authors who were new to me. Debut works are boldfaced. Asterisks denote crime, mystery, or thriller fiction.

Chris Abani (The Secret History of Las Vegas)*
• Cilla and Rolf Börjlind (Spring Tide)*
Diana Bretherick (City of Devils)*
Wiley Cash (This Dark Road to Mercy)*
Andrew Coburn (Spouses & Other Crimes)*
• Kim Cooper (The Kept Girl)*
Michael Craven (The Detective & the Pipe Girl)*
Alan Duff (Frederick’s Coat)*
• Bob Forward (The Owl)*
David Fuller (Sundance)
Samuel Fuller (Brainquake)*
Woody Guthrie (House of Earth)
Terry Hayes (I Am Pilgrim)*
• Antonia Hodgson (The Devil in the Marshalsea)*
Gary Inbinder (The Devil in Montmartre)*
Tom Kakonis (Treasure Coast)*
Joseph Koenig (Really the Blues)*
• Jack Lynch (The Dead Never Forget)*
Donna Malane (My Brother’s Keeper)*
Phillip Margulies (Belle Cora)
Robert McGinnis and Art Scott (The Art of Robert E. McGinnis)
Liam McIlvanney (Where the Dead Men Go)*
James Naughtie (The Madness of July)*
Ben Pastor (A Dark Song of Blood)*
Paddy Richardson (Cross Fingers)*
Ben Sanders (Only the Dead)*
Harry Shannon and Steven W. Booth (All the Devils)*
Peter Swanson (The Girl with a Clock for a Heart)*
Blair Traynor (Widow’s Pique)*
Bob Van Laerhoven (Baudelaire’s Revenge)*
Urban Waite (Sometimes the Wolf)*
Andrew Williams (The Suicide Club)*

And here’s my somewhat briefer inventory of non-fiction books I enjoyed over the last year, all of them penned by people whose work I had not previously encountered.

John Baxter (Paris at the End of the World: The City of Light During the Great War, 1914-1918)
Dennis Drabble (The Great American Railroad War: How Ambrose Bierce and Frank Norris Took on the Notorious Central Pacific Railroad)
David Fromkin (The King and the Cowboy)
Philippe Garnier (Goodis: A Life in Black and White)
• Paul Green (Roy Huggins: Creator of Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, The Fugitive and The Rockford Files)
Doug Most (The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America’s First Subway)
Tom Reiss (The Black Count)
• Margaret Talbot (The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father’s Twentieth Century)
Lucy Worsley (The Art of the English Murder: From Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock)

So that’s my record for the year. What about yours? Which authors’ work did you try for the first time in 2014? Please let us all know in the Comments section of this post. Or, if you’d prefer to post your first-reads record in your own blog, simply provide the URL among the comments here, so the rest of us can study your list as well.

Can the Casting Begin Now?

Namibian-born Zirk van den Berg “scooped a 2014 KykNET Report Book Prize in South Africa last week for the recent Afrikaans translation of his acclaimed debut thriller, Nobody Dies, which was first published in English in New Zealand ten years ago,” reports Craig Sisterson of Crime Watch. “Van den Berg won the film category of the prestigious awards, which offer a total prize money of 500,000 rand in three categories: literary fiction, non-fiction, and book with the most film potential.” Sisterson adds: “Having read the English language version of Nobody Dies, I can heartily agree that it is a book that very well could make for an excellent film, with terrific visuals, action sequences, twisting plot and intriguing hero.”

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Death Comes to James

This is definitely not the sort of news I expected to be waking up to on Thanksgiving morning. From The Guardian:
P.D. James, Lady James of Holland Park, who has died aged 94, was the grande dame of mystery, and a link with the golden age of detective writing that flourished between the wars, the successor to Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham. After Christie’s death, James was called the new Queen of Crime. It was a title she did not at all mind.

Yet Phyllis James had not started writing until her 40s, and said she only wrote a whodunnit as practice for a serious novel. Later on, though, she never fretted about being locked into crime writing. She said she could write everything she wanted while remaining in the genre. She wrote one futuristic satire,
The Children of Men (1992, made into a film in 2006), set in 2021, about the human race facing extinction as a result of infertility but, unlike her great rival Ruth Rendell, did not attempt to break away from crime.
Of James’ first novel, 1962’s Cover Her Face, the paper writes:
In many ways it harked back to the cosy murders of the golden age, set in a country house with a body in a locked room and an old-fashioned cast including the village vicar, a genial country doctor and a home for wayward girls. It featured Adam Dalgliesh, the poet-policeman, and he seemed old-fashioned, too, an intellectual and a trifle upper-class. It was as if the noir school of hardboiled realism had never occurred.

In 1962, on the verge of the swinging 60s, she was lucky to get such a piece published. But
Cover Her Face showed that James had a natural ability to create mystery. The reader was never quite sure what was happening and the uncovering of the murderer came as a complete surprise. James also had the courage to be preposterous. She knew sudden shocks and twists would keep readers engaged. In Cover Her Face, for instance, a prime suspect proves he could not have done it by revealing he has an artificial hand. In Unnatural Causes (1967), there is a specially constructed sidecar in which a man with a weak heart is murdered and taken out of London. At a time when other crime writers were attempting to make their stories more literary, James knew that she was dealing not with real life but a genre that demanded the unbelievable. But while James was happy to remain in detective fiction, the critics often said how literary she was. Kingsley Amis called her “Iris Murdoch with murder”.
My introduction to James came in my 20s, when I picked up a copy of Death of an Expert Witness (1977), her sixth Dalgliesh mystery. I can’t say that I have been a faithful reader of her novels ever since, but I have read a number of them (or, in the case of The Lighthouse, listened to their audiobook versions). And only recently, I watched the BBC One adaptation of her 2011 Jane Austen tribute, Death Comes to Pemberley. (See reviews of that two-part drama here and here.)

I am particularly intrigued by this note in Time magazine’s obituary of James: “James told the BBC last year that she was working on another novel, though she noted, ‘With old age, it becomes very difficult. It takes longer for the inspiration to come, but the thing about being a writer is that you need to write.’” Whether that work-in-progress was completed before her demise this morning, I do not know. But if it ever sees publication, you can bet I’ll find a copy for my own library.

P.D. James spent more than half her life bringing delight and diversion to millions of readers worldwide. With that, if nothing else, she achieved greatness.

READ MORE:P.D. James, Novelist Known as ‘Queen of Crime,’ Dies at 94,” by Marilyn Stasio (The New York Times); “P.D. James: She Was Fascinated by Death All Her Life,” by Jake Kerridge (The Telegraph); “P.D. James: ‘Any of the Events in Phyllis’s Books Might Have Happened,’” by Ruth Rendell (The Guardian); “Farewell, P.D. James,” by Sergio Angelini (Tipping My Fedora); “P.D. James--A Few Thoughts,” by Martin Edwards (‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’); “P.D. James (1920-2014)--A Personal Reminiscence by Mike Ripley and Obituary” (Shotsmag Confidential); “Author P.D. James Dies at 94,” by by Chris Schluep (Omnivoracious); “Post-40 Bloomers: You’ve Come a Long Way, Lady James,” by Jill Kronstadt (The Millions); “P.D. James, The Art of Fiction No. 141,” interviewed by Shusha Guppy (The Paris Review).