Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Making a List and Checking It Twice

Through a three-step balloting process, visitors to the “social cataloguing” Web site Goodreads have chosen Stephen King’s End of Watch (Scribner)—the concluding entry in his Bill Hodges trilogy—as the best mystery or thriller novel of 2016. It won with 42,382 votes, compared with the 23,038 votes given to the second-place finisher, Louise Penny’s A Great Reckoning, and the 21,621 votes that went to Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10, which scored third-place honors in this online contest. Click here to see all of the nominees and their relative polling counts.

And as part of my continuing effort to stay on top of this year’s proliferating “best crime novels” lists, let me point you toward Kristopher Zgorski’s top 11 choices in his BOLO Books blog. A couple of his picks—Thomas Mullen’s Darktown and Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Mealso appeared on my “favorites” list, but otherwise, they rosters are different. Which just proves that dusty adage about no two readers being alike.

FOLLOW-UP: South Florida Sun-Sentinel critic Oline H. Cogdill is out with her own “best of 2016” rundown, and though you’ll be forced to click through one of those annoying online slideshows to see all of her crime-fiction picks, at least they’re good ones.

A Fuller Read on 2016

In my new Kirkus Reviews column, I look back at my last year’s reading within the category of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction through a lens somewhat broader than I used while putting together my “favorite crime novels of 2016” list. For instance, this piece celebrates “Series Debuts That Left Me Hungry for More,” “Most Welcome Detective Comebacks,” and “Second Books That Justified My Original Faith in Their Authors.” You’ll find this week’s Kirkus column here.

Monday, December 05, 2016

All Cry Wolfe

David C. Taylor, a former film and TV screenwriter, was presented this last weekend with the 2016 Nero Award for his 1950s-set cop thriller, Night Life (2015). The Nero is presented annually by the New York City-based Nero Wolfe fan organization, The Wolfe Pack, to “the best American mystery written in the tradition of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe stories.” Previous recipients of this commendation include David Morrell, Dana Stabenow, Walter Mosley, and Chris Knopf.

Taylor was given his prize during the annual Black Orchid Banquet, held in Manhattan. During that same gala affair, Connecticut author Steve Liskow was honored with the 2016 Black Orchid Novella Award (“presented jointly by The Wolfe Pack and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine to celebrate the novella format popularized by Rex Stout”) for his tale “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma.”

Congratulations to both authors!

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Revue of Reviewers, 11-30-16

Critiquing some of the most interesting recent crime, mystery, and thriller releases. Click on the individual covers to read more.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

But Wait, There’s More!

A few things I forgot to mention in yesterday’s news wrap-up.

The New York Times reports that British author Paula Hawkins, who won an impressive following with her first psychological thriller, The Girl on the Train, has a follow-up novel due out on both sides of the Atlantic this coming May. Titled Into the Water and being prepared for U.S. release by Riverhead Books, this new tale will focus (according to the Times) on “two women, a single mother and a teenage girl, [who] are found dead at the bottom of a river in a small town in northern England, just weeks apart. An investigation into the mysterious deaths reveals that the women had a complicated and intertwined history.”

• Happy birthday to author John Dickson Carr! Had that Pennsylvania-born creator of detectives Gideon Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale not died in 1977, at age 70, he would today be celebrating the 110th anniversary of his first breath. Even though he’s not around to appreciate it, there are many veteran Carr readers still singing his praises—with good reason: he was, among others things, a major contributor to the field of “locked-room mysteries.” If you’d like to refresh your memory about all things Carr, see this piece about his status as a “forgotten author”; this tribute by his granddaughter; this site dealing specifically with his locked-room yarns; this fine collection of Carr-related posts from The Invisible Event; and this new review of his 1935 Merrivale mystery, The Unicorn Murders, which he penned under his familiar pseudonym, Carter Dickson.

• Ben Affleck’s Live by Night, a crime film based on Dennis Lehane’s 2012 novel of that same name, and due for wide theatrical distribution in early January, is now represented by a new and better trailer, which you can watch at Criminal Element. As that blog explains, Live by Night is set during America’s Prohibition era of the 1920s and finds Affleck playing “the ambitious Joe Coughlin, the son of the Boston Police Superintendent, who turns his back on his strict upbringing for the spoils of being an outlaw—setting him on a path of revenge, ambition, romance, and betrayal that finds him in the seedy rum-running underworld of Tampa.” What’s not to like?

I bought this 1930s mystery some time ago, but haven’t read it yet. Perhaps a chilly winter offers the perfect opportunity.

• In an interview with Black Gate, Charles Ardai, the editor at Hard Case Crime, talks about getting his hands on the soon-to-be-released 30th installment in Erle Stanley Gardner’s Bertha Lam/Donald Cool detective series, The Knife Slipped, and how he’d like to bring additional Gardner works to market in the future. “I’m a big fan,” Ardai declares, “and would be delighted to do more.” I can’t wait!

• During a conversation with fellow author Mark Rubinstein, David Morrell answers a number of questions about the 19th-century development Britain’s extensive railway system, drug use among fictional sleuths, and other subjects related to his new novel, Ruler of the Night, the third and final installment in his trilogy featuring essayist and notorious opium addict Thomas De Quincey.

• Finally, The Spy Command’s Bill Koenig writes about Caribe, a mostly forgotten, 1975 Quinn Martin-produced ABC-TV series starring Stacy Keach as Lieutenant Ben Logan, the head of a Miami-based law-enforcement unit dealing with crime all over the Caribbean basin. As Koenig notes, the lead in this 13-episode drama had been intended for Robert Wagner; but Keach wound up getting the part, instead. Fortunately, Keach recovered from the Caribe debacle, starring a decade later in Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer on CBS.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Collins, Hart Share Top MWA Honor

Authors Max Allan Collins and Ellen Hart have been chosen by the Mystery Writers of America to receive Grand Master Awards in 2017. That annual commendation “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.” Previous winners include Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Ellery Queen, Ross Macdonald, Stanley Ellin, and, last year, Walter Mosley.

Collins is the prolific creator of both series private eye Nathan Heller (Better Dead) and hit man Quarry (Quarry in the Black), and continues to serve as Mickey Spillane’s “collaborator” in moving new Mike Hammer tales to market. Hart is a six-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery, whose latest private investigator Jane Lawless novel was last year’s The Grave Soul.

These two writers will be given their prizes during the 71st Annual Edgar Awards Banquet, to be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on Thursday, April 27, 2017.

In addition to the Grand Masters, the MWA has named the recipients of two other impressive annual accolades: the 2017 Raven Award—recognizing “outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing”—will go to Dru Ann Love, an avid reader and the blogger at Dru’s Book Musings; while next year’s Ellery Queen Award—honoring “outstanding writing teams and outstanding people in the mystery-publishing industry”—will go to Neil Nyren, the executive vice-president and editor in chief of G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

READ MORE:The Grand Master,” by Ray Betzner (Studies in Starrett).

Bullet Points: This and That Edition

• Things appear to be shaping up quite nicely for Scotland’s new Granite Noir festival. The Press and Journal reports that the inaugural event, set to take place in Aberdeen from February 24 to 26 of next year, “will feature famous literary guests including Denise Mina, Christopher Brookmyre, and the north-east’s own Stuart MacBride.”

• The blog It’s About TV! has posted this 1960 film clip in which author Brett Halliday (aka Davis Dresser) endorses the soon-to-debut—and ultimately short-lived—NBC-TV crime drama Michael Shayne, which starred Richard Denning as Halliday’s Miami private eye. Interestingly, one of the many Shayne novels conveniently displayed in front of the eye-patch-wearing Halliday in that clip is 1942’s The Corpse Came Calling, about which I wrote several years ago.

• In case you haven’t noticed yet, Mark Rogers’ excellent Web site, The Ironside Archive—devoted to the 1967-1975 Raymond Burr crime drama Ironside—is up and running once more. Rogers, a graphic designer in the UK, told me that he took his site down some while ago, “after I found it was attracting a lot of attention from some disturbed and disturbing people, who were looking for nude photos of the two regular female cast members, Barbara Anderson and Elizabeth Baur—and (more frighteningly) for images of them tied up.” Fortunately, the six-year-old Archive doesn’t seem to have suffered any during its time offline. In fact, that break allowed Rogers to upgrade his valuable Episode Guide.

• Another site of considerable interest is Reading Ellery Queen. There, museum curator/poet Jon Mathewson remarks on the numerous novels and short stories penned during the 20th century by cousins Manfred B. Lee and Frederic Dannay, who of course employed the joint pseudonym Ellery Queen. Mathewson also looks at fictional sleuth Queen’s appearances in other media, such as in the 1971 NBC-TV pilot Don’t Look Behind You (with a terribly miscast Peter Lawford in the lead role) and the far superior, 1975-1976 NBC series Ellery Queen (about which I wrote here). Mathewson says he’s now “read all but one [of the Queen novels]: the unfinished manuscript for The Tragedy of Errors.” If so, that puts him far ahead of me. I’ve enjoyed a couple of dozen Queen yarns, but still have a boxful of vintage paperback editions to open. Something to look forward to, indeed.

• TV writer-producer Ken Levine has some favorable things to say about On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the 1969 film made from Ian Fleming’s 1963 James Bond novel of that same name. “It’s pretty much the forgotten Bond film,” Levine writes, “because it was the only one that starred George Lazenby. He had the misfortune of replacing Sean Connery and for good measure, was not an accomplished actor. He was more of a male model. … But the plot was pretty good. It stayed very true to Ian Fleming’s book and was a lot more realistic than later 007 adventures where he’s on the moon or taking Denise Richards seriously.”

• Meanwhile, Film Noir of the Week takes a look back at the 1997 motion picture L.A. Confidential—“a paradise with secrets behind every palm tree”—based on James Ellroy’s 1990 novel.

R.I.P., former Barney Miller co-star Ron Glass.

• If you’re keeping track of bloggers delivering their “best novels of 2016” lists, here’s one from Australian booksellers Jon and Kate Page. Note than among their choices is Jane Harper’s The Dry, a debut work finally due out in the States come in January.

• The Amazon book-sales site has its own top-picks rundown of mysteries and thrillers published in 2016. Its choices include Carl Hiaasen’s Razor Girl, Graham Moore’s The Last Days of Night, Amy Gentry’s Good as Gone, and Bill Beverly’s Dodgers.

• And I don’t think I mentioned this necessarily opinionated tally of the year’s “best crime and thriller novels” by Jake Kerridge of the British Telegraph. Strangely, it appeared last June, so might not be as comprehensive as it could have been. But Kerridge does mention one novel I’m looking forward to reading: Jill Dawson’s The Crime Writer, which will finally receive a U.S. release this coming June.

• Because I’ve written at some length in the past about early 20th-century American outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (see here and here), I was interested to glance through the design blog Eleven-Nineteen’s collection of photographs celebrating their ill-fated, Depression-era romance. “What’s odd,” observes Jon Wessel, “is that Bonnie and Clyde took so many pictures. Pictures of themselves, their gang, their guns, their loot. They would have been social media sensations had it been 40 years later.”

The Defenders: Season 1, released in DVD format by Shout Factory! a few months back, is on my Christmas list, and I’m hoping to find it under the tree soon. If and when it appears, I shall be curious to see whether I agree with the Classic Film and TV Café’s recent selection of “the five best episodes” from that 1961 premiere season of the acclaimed CBS courtroom drama.

• After writing recently in my book-art blog, Killer Covers, about Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 political novel, It Can’t Happen Here, I received a note pointing me toward this excellent pre-election piece in The Washington Post, which finds book critic Carlos Lozada musing on how Donald Trump compares with the fictional dictators imagined by both Lewis and by Philip Roth, in 2004’s The Plot Against America.

• By the way, Money magazine notes that in the wake of Trump’s win, copies of It Can’t Happen Here have “sold out on some major online book retailers.” Fear of what the billionaire bigot might do in office can surely be credited with this purchasing stampede.

• While we’re on the subject of this month’s disastrous presidential election, here’s a quote from Washington Monthly that likely echoes many a voter’s thoughts: “The psychological shock progressives felt on November 8 will be minor compared to the shock they will feel on January 20. Not since Bill Clinton turned the White House over to George W. Bush has there been such a disparity in terms of decency and dignity between an outgoing and incoming President.”

• Grrr! As much as I enjoy writing about crime fiction for the Kirkus Reviews Web site, I am frustrated by the fact that reader comments on my biweekly pieces, along with their Facebook “share” counts—both of which are handled, apparently, through Facebook—periodically just … disappear. That happened again this last weekend, when the “share” number on several of my latest columns, after having climbed into the hundreds, suddenly plummeted back to zero. Sigh …

• In a trio of worthwhile author interviews, blogger S.W. Lauden fires questions at Andrew Nette (Gunshine State), Bob Truluck (The Big Nothing), and Angel Luis Colón (No Happy Endings).

• Since I somehow neglected to mention Neil S. Plakcy’s recent post for Criminal Element about the history of gay and lesbian characters in crime fiction, and how the writers responsible for those players influenced Plakcy’s own storytelling (The Next One Will Kill You), let me do it here and now.

• Finally, don’t fret any if The Rap Sheet goes quiet towards the end of this week. I’m taking a bit of time off, hoping to refresh my batteries before the coming holiday posting rush. You’ll hear much more from this corner of the Web next week.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

From The New Yorker, November 30, 1998. Art by William Steig.

A Taste for Royals and Rogues

Martin Edwards brings us the most unwelcome news, that British author Tim Heald “died last Sunday, at the age of 72. Tim was a man of many parts,” Edwards goes on to say, “and novel writing was only one of the strings to his bow. He worked as a journalist, wrote biographies, cricket books, and books about royalty, and was a popular public speaker on a wide range of topics. He was also an entertaining crime writer, best known for the Simon Bognor books [2014’s Yet Another Death in Venice, etc.], which were televised, and he chaired the Crime Writers’ Association. He was immensely convivial.

READ MORE:Tim Heald: R.I.P.,” by Janet Rudolph (Mystery Fanfare).

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Copycat Covers: It Takes a Village

A new entry in our series about remarkably look-alike book fronts.

Buried in the Country, by Carola Dunn (Minotaur, 2016); and In a Dry Season, by Peter Robinson (Morrow, 1999). If you click on these images to enlarge them, you will see clearly that the front from In a Dry Season—Robinson’s 10th Alan Banks novel—uses the right-hand portion (only slight modified) of the same Jo Parsons/Getty Images stock photo that decorates the façade of Dunn’s latest “Cornish Mystery.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Cut Above

’Tis the season for “best crime fiction of the year” lists, and I am chiming in today with my own roster of favorites for the Kirkus Reviews Web site. You’ll find that piece here.

There’s some overlap between my 10 U.S.-published choices and those of other critics. But what’s always most interesting about these sorts of inventories is where they diverge. Today’s crime, mystery, and thriller genre is a broad and diverse one, and each reader brings to it his or her idiosyncratic tastes. There can never be universal agreement on which works published in any given year are the “best.” After long consideration, I have come up with a list of my favorites. Other readers are welcome to offer their own contrary picks.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Cleeves Captures Commendation

As part of its excellent coverage of this weekend’s Iceland Noir festival in Reykjavik, the Web site Crime Fiction Lover reports that British author Ann Cleeves has won the “first ever Honorary Award for Services to the Art of Crime Fiction.

“The author of both the Vera [Stanhope] series, set in North East England, and the Shetland books, with the Shetland Islands as their backdrops, was handed both the award and an authentic Icelandic wool blanket. She has been instrumental in helping the bi-annual event establish itself. She’s also an advocate for reading and library provision, while in her books she explores families and communities and how they’re affected by dramatic events … such as murder.”

Friday, November 18, 2016

Revue of Reviewers, 11-18-16

Critiquing some of the most interesting recent crime, mystery, and thriller releases. Click on the individual covers to read more.

The Irish Smile on French

Tana French’s The Trespasser (Hachette Ireland) has won the 2016 Books Are My Bag Crime Fiction Award, given out as part of this year’s Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards competition.

In doing so, it bested five other works shortlisted for that same prize: Distress Signals, by Catherine Ryan Howard (Corvus); Little Bones, by Sam Blake (Bonnier Zaffre); Lying in Wait, by Liz Nugent (Penguin Ireland); The Constant Soldier, by William Ryan (Mantle); and The Drowning Child, by Alex Barclay (HarperCollins).

Crime fiction was one of 14 categories of contestants for this year’s Irish Book Awards. You can read about all of the winners here.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Post Picks

In my effort to keep Rap Sheet readers apprised of what other publications say are the best crime novels of 2016, I am listing below the 10 selections made by Washington Post critics:

Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley (Grand Central)
The English Teacher, by Yiftach Reicher Atir (Penguin)
A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
A Hero of France, by Alan Furst (Random House)
Under the Harrow, by Flynn Berry (Penguin)
Where It Hurts, by Reed Farrel Coleman (Putnam)
The Whistler, by John Grisham (Doubleday)
The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware (Gallery/Scout)
The Wrong Side of Goodbye, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)
You Will Know Me, by Megan Abbott (Little, Brown)

The Post piece containing these choices is paywall protected, but if you subscribe to that newspaper, you can reach it here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

“Ghostman” Author Gives Up the Ghost

It’s always sad to read that an acclaimed author has died, but particularly so when that wordsmith hadn’t even reached his 30th birthday yet. Such is the case with Roger Hobbs, the stocky, rather dapper Portland, Oregon, author of Ghostman (2013) and last year’s Vanishing Games. According to Publishers Lunch, Hobbs “died of an overdose on November 14.” He was just 28 years old.

Hobbs grew up in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. His Web site explains that he “discovered his passion for writing when he was very young. He completed his first novel (a dreadful science-fiction book) at just 13 years old. His first play was produced when he was 19. He had his first publication in The New York Times at 20. … He wrote Ghostman, his debut novel, during his senior year [as an English major at Portland’s Reed College] and sent off the manuscript on the day he graduated. Ghostman has since been published in more than 29 countries around the world and climbed numerous bestseller lists. In 2013 Roger became the youngest person ever to win a CWA [Crime Writers’ Association] Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. In 2014 he won the Strand Critics Award and was nominated for the prestigious Edgar, Barry, and Anthony awards. In 2015, he became the youngest person ever to win [Japan’s] Maltese Falcon Award. Booklist called Ghostman ‘a triumph on every level.’” The New York Times piled on, saying Ghostman “is the debut of a gifted crime writer who will only get better with his next endeavors.”

A good-size 2013 profile in the Portland Oregonian recalled the early source of Hobbs’ association with crime fiction:
He grew up in the Harry Potter era but didn’t read any of the series. He didn’t read many children’s books at all.

“I found them condescending,” he says.

It wasn’t until he was 16 that Hobbs found a book that engaged him completely. It was
The Monkey’s Raincoat, the first in a series of crime novels by Robert Crais that feature wisecracking detective Elvis Cole and his partner, taciturn Joe Pike.

“The voice!” Hobbs says, smiling at the memory. “It was my first encounter with that first-person noir voice. I didn’t think people were making books like that anymore, that it was a dead form, the first-person hard-boiled narrator. When I realized the Elvis Cole series was ongoing and has been ongoing for more years than I’ve been alive, I thought there’s really a market for this first-person voice, and it’s so delicious, so propulsive. And Robert Crais is very funny, and I really liked that.”

Hobbs immediately started writing a comic detective novel, “very much a Robert Crais ripoff.” He remembers the title of this one: “
The Otaku. It means nerd or fanboy in Japanese. It was about a detective chasing down a stolen multimillion-dollar comic book.”
The Otaku failed, Hobbs says, because the tone was uneven, a common problem for writers of any age. He was hooked on crime fiction and on first-person and began devouring novels by James Patterson and Lee Child. He would break down a book by Patterson onto index cards, “reverse engineering” it to see how the plot worked. The short sentences and cliffhanger chapter endings that are staples of Patterson’s fiction would show up a few years later in Ghostman, a thriller that can be described as being written in Patterson’s style with a hero similar to Child’s Jack Reacher.
When Ghostman’s sequel, Vanishing Games, reached print, The Oregonian was hardly less complimentary. Reviewer Claire Rudy Foster called it “a keeper, and a sign that Hobbs is more than a one-hit wonder. His first novel, Ghostman, was an international bestseller, and it looks like Vanishing Games will follow the same track.”

Earlier this year, Hobbs reported on his Web site that he had a third book in the works: City of Sirens, set in Bangkok, Thailand, and involving “a priceless work of art.” He even put together a soundtrack to get readers in the mood for his new tale. There’s no listing for City of Sirens at Amazon, and I don’t see any other mention online of its future publication. But I will keep my eye out for it.

Meanwhile, Gary Fisketjon, Hobbs’ editor at Knopf, is quoted in Publishers Lunch as saying of his death: “This is a shocking, tragic loss. Roger accomplished so much as a writer in so little time, and his future was sure to be extraordinary in ways we’ll now never know. And as his friend I’m doubly devastated.”

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

READ MORE: A Roger Hobbs obituary is now available from The Oregonian. In addition, this remembrance was posted on the Web site of his former college’s alumni magazine.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Final Eliminations

Today begins the third and last round in Goodreads’ 2016 Choice Awards competition. There are 20 categories of books up for consideration, both fiction and non-fiction, all of which were released in the States over the last year. Included among the 10 Mystery and Thriller finalists are Noah Hawley’s Before the Fall, Tana French’s The Trespasser, Stephen King’s End of Watch, and Megan Miranda’s All the Missing Girls. Click here to make your preference known.

This round of balloting will extend through Sunday, November 27. There are no registration requirements, and you can vote in as many or as few categories as you wish. According to Goodreads, more than 2,600,000 votes have already been cast.

Diverging Opinions

I’m still in the midst of writing a column for the Kirkus Reviews Web site about my favorite crime novels of 2016 (it should appear next Tuesday). But in the meantime, other Kirkus reviewers offer their 18 picks of the Best Mysteries and Thrillers of 2016:

The Black Widow, by Daniel Silva (Harper)
Blind Sight, by Carol O’Connell (Putnam)
Collecting the Dead, by Spencer Cope (Minotaur)
Fall from Grace, by Tim Weaver (Viking)
Fields Where They Lay, by Timothy Hallinan (Soho Crime)
Fool Me Once, by Harlan Coben (Dutton)
A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
I Let You Go, by Claire Mackintosh (Berkley)
Livia Lone, by Barry Eisler (Thomas & Mercer)
Missing, Presumed, by Susie Steiner (Random House)
Only the Hunted Run, by Neely Tucker (Viking)
Razor Girl, by Carl Hiaasen (Knopf)
Rise the Dark, by Michael Koryta (Little, Brown)
The Second Life of Nick Mason, by Steve Hamilton (Putnam)
A Study in Scarlet Women, by Sherry Thomas (Berkley)
The Watcher in the Wall, by Owen Laukkanen (Putnam)
The Widower’s Wife, by Cate Holahan (Crooked Lan)
You Will Know Me, by Megan Abbott (Little, Brown)

Publishers Weekly has followed suit, with a selection of 12 Best Mystery and Thriller Novels that only overlaps Kirkus’ in a few spots. Here are the PW critics’ faves:

Blood of the Oak, by Eliot Pattison (Counterpoint)
Don’t Turn Out the Lights, by Bernard Minier (Minotaur)
The Father: Made in Sweden, Part I, by Anton Svensson (Quercus)
Fields Where They Lay, by Timothy Hallinan (Soho Crime)
A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins, by Antonia Hodgson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
London Rain, by Nicola Upson (Bourbon Street)
Redemption Road, by John Hart (Thomas Dunne)
Underground Airlines, by Ben H. Winters (Mulholland)
The Vampire Tree, by Paul Halter (Locked Room International)
The Widow, by Fiona Barton (NAL)
You Will Know Me, by Megan Abbott (Little, Brown)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Elegant Actor Exits Affair

This was already a terrible week, thanks to the frightening results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the coming installation in the Oval Office of a “hater in chief.” Now comes the news that actor Robert Vaughn, best remembered for co-starring (with David McCallum) in the 1966-1968 NBC-TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., died yesterday—just 11 days short of his 84th birthday.

In its obituary of Vaughn, The New York Times writes:
Mr. Vaughn had numerous roles in film and on television. He played an old boyfriend of Laura Petrie (Mary Tyler Moore) on an episode of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and a gunman in “The Magnificent Seven” (1960). He was nominated for an Academy Award as best supporting actor for his role as a man accused of murder in “The Young Philadelphians” (1959) and won an Emmy in 1978 for his performance as a White House chief of staff in the mini-series “Washington: Behind Closed Doors.”

But no character he played was as popular as Napoleon Solo. From 1964 to 1968, in the thick of the Cold War, millions of Americans tuned in weekly to “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” to watch Mr. Vaughn, as a super-agent from the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, battling T.H.R.U.S.H. (Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity), a secret organization intent on achieving world domination through nefarious if far-fetched devices like mind-controlling gas.

At the height of the show’s popularity, Mr. Vaughn said he was receiving 70,000 fan letters a month.
The Spy Command blog adds:
With U.N.C.L.E., Vaughn became a leading man, making the character name Napoleon Solo one of the big names of the 1960s spy boom.

The show flirted with cancellation early in its first season because it was up against a popular CBS variety show hosted by Red Skelton.

But with a time change slot and a surge in interest in spy entertainment thanks to 1964’s
Goldfinger, U.N.C.L.E. became a hit. Episodes of the show were re-edited (with extra footage added) to create eight movies for the international market. At the peak of U.N.C.L.E.’s popularity, the early movies were even released in the United States.
However, Vaughn’s career extended far beyond U.N.C.L.E.’s axing in 1968, and was not limited to that charming, cleft-chinned New Yorker’s appearances on screens large and small. Vaughn earned plaudits as a political activist, speaking out frequently against the Vietnam War and raising hopes that this self-described liberal Democrat might one day step into the political sphere (which he did not). While filming U.N.C.L.E., he also studied for a Ph.D. in communications from the University of Southern California. He won that degree in 1970, and two years later published his dissertation as the book Only Victims: A Study of Show Business Blacklisting, which is still in print.

As to Vaughn’s acting credits, though, they were extensive. Blogger Terence Towles Canote explains that “He made his film debut in a bit part in The Ten Commandments (1956). His first substantial role was in Hell’s Crossroads (1957).” He was cast as politician Walter Chalmers in the 1968 Steve McQueen film, Bullitt, and again donned political stripes in 1974’s The Towering Inferno, playing a U.S. senator. From 1972 to 1974, Vaughn returned to TV series work in The Protectors, portraying an affluent troubleshooter named Harry Rule in that Gerry Anderson-created action drama. He later did guest-star turns in The Feather and Father Gang (starring former Girl from U.N.C.L.E. Stefanie Powers), Hawaii Five-O, Trapper John, M.D., Murder, She Wrote, Diagnosis: Murder, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the mini-series The Captains and the Kings and Centennial, and two episodes of Columbo. In his 70s, Vaughn accepted a final TV series part in Hustle (2004-2012), playing con man/”roper” Albert Stroller.

The New York Times explains that the actor died from “acute leukemia, for which Mr. Vaughn had been under treatment in Manhattan and Connecticut.”

Below are the opening sequences from the three TV series in which Vaughn starred during his justly celebrated, 60-year career.




READ MORE:R.I.P., Robert Vaughn,” by Matthew Bradford, aka Tanner (Double O Section); “1965: Time Predicts Big Things for Robert Vaughn,” by Bill Koenig (The Spy Command); “Saturday Comics: Remembering Mr. Solo,” by Tony O’B (Inner Toob).