Thursday, December 14, 2017

Favorite Crime Fiction of 2017,
Part II: Jim Napier

Jim Napier is a crime-fiction critic based in Quebec, Canada. He’s also the creator of the award-winning Web site Deadly Diversions, which features more than 500 reviews and interviews with leading crime-fiction writers. In the spring of 2017, Napier’s own crime novel, Legacy, was published by FriesenPress. It’s the opening installment in a series of Britain-based police procedurals.

Cold Earth, by Ann Cleeves (Minotaur):
Even in today’s interconnected world, Scotland’s far-north Shetland Islands remain inarguably isolated, their inhabitants’ lives shaped largely by the bleak local weather and the cloistered existence typical in that remote corner of the world. As Cold Earth opens, we find Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez having joined a group charged with burying Magnus Tait, an elderly resident of the nearby village of Ravenswick. But they’re interrupted in their labors by a sudden and ominous rumbling. It has rained heavily in recent days, apparently loosening the ground and now sending a mammoth wall of mud and stone hurtling down from an adjacent hill toward the mourners. Perez and his fellow grievers scramble out of the way, with the DI pulling one of their older members to safety. Happily, when the excitement has run its course, no one seems to have been hurt. However, the slide has engulfed a nearby and supposedly empty cottage, and a search of the debris reveals the body of a woman in a red silk dress. Someone had been living there, after all. Perez and his team initially focus on the routine task of identifying the deceased. But their work takes on a new significance when the pathologist reveals that the victim had not died in the mudslide. She had been strangled, and as their efforts morph into a murder enquiry, revelations will turn the quiet village upside down. Cold Earth is perfectly paced and structured, the plot enhanced by Cleeves’ masterful misdirection. It is also a compelling portrait of a people at once simple and straightforward, and yet harboring dark secrets from one another. A superb read.

The Late Show, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown):
In the jaded jargon of the Los Angeles Police Department, the duty shift between midnight and 8 a.m. is known as the Late Show. That’s not only because it comes at the end of the day, but because it’s when a lot of the criminal elements surface at local nightclubs and on the streets, at 24-hour service stations and convenience stores, taking advantage of the darkness to ply their illicit trades. Thirty-something Detective Renée Ballard works the Late Show. It wasn’t her choice. After reporting that she’d been sexually harassed by her superior officer, her then partner—who could have confirmed Ballard’s allegations—didn’t stand up for her. As a result, she was bounced from Robbery-Homicide down to exile on the Hollywood Division’s post-midnight stint. It’s a slot few officers like. For one thing, the incidents she encounters on the street during those early hours are turned over to daytime teams at the end of her shift, so there’s no continuity, and given their caseload, often no follow-through. This is frustrating for Ballard, who only wants to close cases and see justice done for the injured parties. While working one routine graveyard shift, checking out the transgender victim of a vicious assault who lies in a coma in a nearby hospital, Ballard is called away to a club known as Dancers, where multiple attacks have just taken place. Four people are dead and a fifth victim is fighting for her life. Even in L.A. that’s a big deal, and all available police detectives and forensics support folks are focused on this case. Leading the investigation is Lieutenant Robert Olivas. That’s bad news for Ballard, because he is the senior officer she’d accused of sexual harassment two years ago. Hoping to sideline her, Olivas assigns Ballard to notify the victims’ next of kin—his not-so-subtle way of saying he doesn’t want her anywhere near the Dancers case. But Ballard doesn’t let go of things that easily, and when another cop working the same investigation, Detective Kenny Chastain—Ballard’s former Robbery-Homicide partner—is found executed in his own driveway, she decides to get to the bottom of these crimes, regardless of her orders. The Late Show marks yet another milestone in Michael Connelly’s already impressive fiction-writing career. With an engaging protagonist, a complex back story, and Connelly’s characteristically crackling dialogue and diligent attention to detail, this series premiere has me clamoring for a sequel. And I bet I’m not alone in that.

Munich, by Robert Harris (Hutchinson UK):
The prizewinning English author of 11 previous novels and five non-fiction works, Harris this year delivered a compelling thriller about the interwoven fates of two men—one British, the other German—whose paths cross on the eve of the Second World War. Both of them had attended Oxford two decades earlier, but they haven’t seen each other in half a dozen years. Now, though, during four eventful days in May 1938, with tensions growing across Europe, they find themselves on opposite sides, as each of them struggles to head off another global conflict. Hugh Legat is a junior private secretary to UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain; his friend Paul von Hartmann is a German diplomat who’s also a part of a resistance movement hoping to launch a coup against Adolf Hitler before the Führer can put his cataclysmic plans for the invasion of Czechoslovakia into action. Formidable opponents stand in the way of these two players. Legat must contend with the naïveté of a leader whose sole aim is preventing another war destined to damage Britain, and who refuses to accept the fact of Hitler’s deviousness; Chamberlain’s intransigence is abetted by Cabinet sycophants and senior War Office figures who understand that Britain is woefully unprepared for major hostilities, and are playing for time. Meanwhile, Paul Hartmann is surrounded by Nazi loyalists who distrust him and watch his every move. The faces of Hitler, German officials Joachim von Ribbentrop and Hermann Göring, and Italians Benito Mussolini and Gian Ciano are to be seen in these pages, but their roles are secondary to that of a Gestapo officer who suspects Hartmann of being far too close to his old college friend, Legat. Munich is a high-stakes tale of individuals pitted against historic forces that were set in motion by the flawed treaty ending the First World War, and of men whose friendship and, indeed, very lives, are at risk in this examination of loyalty and betrayal, family and country. Meticulously researched and incorporating authentic characters and incidents interwoven with Harris’ fictional ones, Munich is a fine, gripping story about power and self-deception, and an insightful portrait of the people, attitudes, and events that led to the outbreak of the 20th century’s worst military conflict. The U.S. edition of Harris’ latest novel is due out in January from Knopf.

Shallow End, by Brenda Chapman (Dundurn):
When sexual offenses become the focus of a crime novel, seldom are convicted sexual predators portrayed effectively and in depth. Canadian author Chapman tries for a better result in Shallow End, giving full dimensionality to a woman imprisoned for assaulting a young person in her care. It is an ambitious effort, and succeeds brilliantly. Jane Thompson, a former English teacher, has recently been paroled from prison, where she’d served a four-year sentence as a child predator. Her already fragmented life is soon further shattered by the discovery of a body on the shores of Lake Ontario. It doesn’t take long for the corpse to be identified as that of 17-year-old Devon Eton. His head has been bashed in, and his mother is certain she knows who did it: Jane Thompson, who had been one of Devon’s instructors four years earlier, and been convicted of violating the boy. The evidence produced at her trial was persuasive and damning: text messages exchanged between Devon and Thompson setting up meetings; naked photos of Devon on Thompson’s home computer; a witness who’d supposedly seen the two in “compromising positions” and testified that Devon had confided to him that he and his teacher had been having sex together; and Thompson’s DNA found on clothing in Devon’s gym bag. Against such proof of misbehavior, the teacher’s denials and her claim that she’d been set up appeared pathetically flimsy. A year after her conviction, she’d confessed to the charges. In the end, Jane Thompson lost her family, her job, her reputation, and her freedom. Now she’s the most likely suspect in Devon’s demise, and no one—certainly not the police—takes her assertion of innocence seriously. Nonetheless, Detective Kala Stonechild of the Kingston, Ontario, police department pursues the facts surrounding Devon’s murder. Something of a loner, Stonechild has challenges of her own to grapple with as well. A native Canadian from a First Nations reserve, she has faced all the tribulations common to people of her heritage. She lived on the streets for a while, and after that fact became public she lost custody of her niece, Dawn, while the girl’s parents were in prison. On top of that, Stonechild’s partner, Paul Gundersund, is going through the breakup of his marriage to a woman who is convinced that Gundersund will go running to Stonechild if she gives him up. More than enough on Stonechild’s plate, then. But not enough to keep her from getting to the bottom of things. Brenda Chapman has written a textured, nuanced account of people caught up in the whirlwind of a major criminal investigation. She sensitively explores the shifting boundaries between accusation and guilt, public image and self-worth, and Shallow End ranks among the very best of recent Canadian crime writing.

Finally, a book from 2016 that I only caught up with in paperback this year …

Night Work, by David C. Taylor (Forge):
When former movie and TV screenwriter David C. Taylor launched his debut crime novel, Night Life, back in 2015, I predicted good things for his future. Night Life (which went on to win the 2016 Nero Award) was a stylish noir yarn, set during the McCarthy era of the 1950s and perfectly capturing those troubled times. In his protagonist, Michael Cassidy, Taylor concocted the portrait of an honest New York City police detective facing off against a powerful adversary that was both compelling and impressive. The sequel, Night Work, picks up Cassidy’s story four years later, not long after Fidel Castro’s revolution turned his Cuban homeland into a Communist showpiece a scant 90 miles off America’s coastline. Castro has plenty of mortal enemies, and when he schedules a visit to the headquarters of the United Nations in Manhattan—in part, so he can thumb his nose at capitalist imperialists—his personal safety is seriously tested. Cassidy is dragooned into the security detail responsible for keeping the Cuban leader alive, but he’s not at all sure the people pulling the strings want him to succeed. Complicating matters further, when Cassidy was in Havana only months prior to all of this, he ran into (and eventually rescued) an old flame, a woman he’d thought was dead but who’d been sent to the Caribbean by the Soviet KGB as part of a blackmail operation against American political figures. It falls to Cassidy to protect Castro, while he simultaneously assesses just how far he can trust his former lover. Drawing on the steamy history of the early 1960s, and revealing its intricacies through multiple viewpoints, Taylor delivers an exceptional, perfectly paced tale that captures the drama and fear of a period when superpowers stood toe to toe … but it was ultimately left to the “little people” to make sure the entire world didn’t come unglued as a consequence. Readers should be pleased to learn that, by the end of this novel, Taylor ties up all of his plot’s loose ends, but leaves enough room for another entry in this lush, riveting series about the America of an earlier, but no less violent, time.

Competing for Top of the Heap

Before I post The Rap Sheet’s second “Favorite Crime Fiction of 2017” list, let me point you toward some other fine year’s-end choices being made elsewhere on the Web. The Real Book Spy, for instance, selects what it says are the best thrillers of the year, in a variety of subcategories. Critics with Crime Fiction Lover are in the midst of rolling out their individual preferences. For The Irish Times, novelists Declan Burke and Declan Hughes identify “The 20 Best Crime Books of 2017,” not all of which were written by Irish authors … or even by Irish authors named Declan. In his blog, A Couple of Pages, Jon Page clues us in to his “Top 5 Reads of 2017,” which include Dennis Lehane’s Since We Fell. And the Strand Magazine blog carries AudioFile’s “Best Mystery & Suspense Audiobooks” picks.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Favorite Crime Fiction of 2017,
Part I: Kevin Burton Smith

Kevin Burton Smith is the Montreal-born founder and editor of the almost 20-year-old resource, The Thrilling Detective Web Site, as well as the Web monkey for The Private Eye Writers of America and a contributing editor of Mystery Scene. He lives in Southern California’s High Desert region, where he’s working on a non-fiction book about married detective couples with his wife, mystery author D.L. Browne (aka Diana Killian and Josh Lanyon).

The Driver, by Hart Hanson (Dutton):
As if he’s living in some fever-dream Sixth Sense, former Special Forces sergeant-turned-Los Angeles limousine driver Michael Skelling sees dead people, and has learned to heed their warnings. So when the ghost of a Chechen jihadist he killed in Yemen a decade ago pops up, alerting Michael to impending danger while he’s waiting for his passenger, Bismarck Avila, a millionaire hip-hop/skateboard asshole, to emerge from yet another trendy L.A. hotspot, Michael doesn’t hesitate, but springs into action. He is just in time to stop two “sk8r boi” gunmen from blowing away Bismarck, who then decides he wants Michael to be his personal driver. Or else. Yeah, I know—it sounds like the typical pulp-fiction meet-cute setup you’ve seen a zillion times. Avila even has a drop dead gorgeous trophy girlfriend to whom Michael is instantly attracted. And sure enough, Michael soon finds himself up to his neck in “shitloads of trouble and desperation.” But this violent and suitably grim book—a first novel from the creator of the TV series Bones and The Finder—rises above expectations over and over again, thanks to colorful storytelling and Michael’s surprisingly affable and darkly humorous narration. But mostly it’s the unexpected heart he displays that sets this one apart from the prefab set-up. Seems Michael brought back more than a cockeyed sixth sense from Afghanistan—he also brought back friends. His small limo service (just three cars) employs a messed-up hat trick of extremely loyal misfits: Tinkertoy, his mechanic, a pin-up girl for skittery paranoia; Ripple, a ticked-off, barely 19 double-amputee dispatcher; and Lucky, a chatterbox Afghan translator Michael smuggled into the United States. It’s this bracing loyalty between the four war-ravaged comrades that is The Driver’s saving grace, rooting the overused ex-vet trope in some much-needed humanity, and making me want to see them all again. Given the copious amounts of writing mojo, hard-boiled grit, and even harder-boiled heart Hanson serves up in these pages, you can deal me in for whatever he writes next.

The Ghosts of Galway, by Ken Bruen (Mysterious Press):
Irishman Bruen is arguably crime fiction’s greatest and most distinctive stylist since Raymond Chandler. The books in his long-running series featuring cheerfully profane, woebegone private investigator Jack Taylor are instantly recognizable, marked by Bruen’s ballsy, lyrical prose: a sort of staccato stream-of-consciousness free fall that soars. Bruen doesn’t so much craft sentences as throw groups of words at the page in a tumble of lists, dialogue, snippets of exposition, digressions, dream fragments, and snatches of poetry and song lyrics that somehow always hit their mark. Only Jack’s black humor, fueled by a brooding swirl of sadness, regret, and profuse quantities of whiskey, holds it all miraculously together. Bruen’s books aren’t long, but they cut deep. You don’t so much read them as feel them. And now Taylor, down but never quite out, is back. In the series’ 13th outing, The Ghosts of Galway, we find him having just survived terminal cancer (a fucked-up diagnosis) and a suicide attempt (also fucked). Desperate, he’s working nighttime security at a factory owned by a wealthy Ukrainian with the unlikely name of Alexander Knox-Keaton, who throws Jack an under-the-table bone: the assignment to find The Red Book, a notorious work of heresy, allegedly written around A.D. 800, and currently in the possession of Frank Miller, a fugitive priest hiding out from the Vatican in the western Ireland city of Galway. It’s an offer Bruen’s P.I. can’t refuse; however, things are rarely simple in Jack’s world. Sure, he’s no fan of the clergy, but he is an ace manhunter, and he soon tracks down Miller. Not long afterward, though, the holy man turns up dead, with pages of a book jammed down his throat. Then the remains of slaughtered animals start to appear in the Galway streets—courtesy, apparently, of an ultraconservative religious group. Jack’s former friend on the Guards, Sergeant Ridge (a “real cold cunt”), warns him off the developing case, while his charming but deadly goth pal Em (a “punk psycho storm of murderous intent”) seems to be involved somehow. Before long the ghosts of Jack’s personal dead begin to appear, though Jack isn’t quite sure whether they’re authentic or manifestations born of too much Jameson. Bruen is in top form with Ghosts, and as expected, everything his man Taylor touches turns to shite. Still, the P.I. faces it all with such a dogged humanity and Everyman defiance (and the conclusion is so cathartic), that you can’t help but cheer for the miserable old bastard.

Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz (Harper):
Traditional British mysteries? Meh. Sure, I can enjoy an occasional cuppa, but only if there’s absolutely nothing else to drink in the house. So it’s embarrassing to admit that Anthony Horowitz’s decidedly non-hard-boiled Magpie Murders may be my favorite crime-fic read of 2017. It’s certainly the most fun. Partly it’s because of the sheer cheekiness of this mystery-within-a-mystery; and partly it’s Horowitz’s clever insider-skewering of the British Industrial Crime Fiction Complex. Horowitz is an ideal candidate to deliver such a skewering. He rose through the trenches, composing children’s books (The Falcon’s Malteser), young adult novels (the Alex Rider series), and finally adult thrillers (including works featuring such English icons as Sherlock Holmes and James Bond), while also working steadily in television on everything from Robin Hood to Agatha Christie, before going on to write for such beloved (and PBS-approved) TV fare as Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War. So when Horowitz pens a yarn set in the industry itself, it’s time to pay attention. Pining for the Golden Age? Rest assured that Horowitz “writes them the way they used to.” Well, sort of. He’s not afraid to shakes things up. Call it Murder on the Disorient Express. We are told in this novel that author Alan Conway’s long-running series featuring Poirot-like sleuth Atticus Pünd is so successful that, despite her personal dislike for him, editor Susan Ryeland keeps her trap shut. The truth is, his stories are all that’s keeping her employer, tiny Cloverleaf Books, afloat. But Susan’s not the only one bored with Pünd—so is Conway, who’s been threatening to bump off Pünd for years. But this time he means it. Much to Susan’s dismay, the final chapters of Conway’s latest, just-delivered manuscript are missing. And the author has jumped from the tower of his stately country estate. Or was he pushed? As Susan searches for the final pages, this reluctant amateur sleuth finds herself caught up in the very sort of mystery the obnoxious Conway himself might have penned, complete with a slew of suspects (a gay lover, an ex-wife, an unpleasant neighbor, a wronged student, an abandoned son, an unscrupulous TV producer, etc.) and a manuscript full of word games, anagrams, hidden codes, secret messages, and shout-outs that suggest Conway may have been having a bit of fun with all of them. As does Horowitz. I mean, Agatha Christie’s real-life grandson even drops by. How meta can you get?

Roughneck, by Jeff Lemire (Gallery 13):
Canadian comic artist and writer Jeff Lemire (Old Man Logan, All-New Hawkeye, Extraordinary X-Men, etc.) brings it all back home with this one-off graphic novel about former pro hockey player Derek Ouelette, who’s a long way from his glory days as a celebrated “enforcer.” Now he’s eking out what remains of his time in a dead-end town in northern Ontario, getting pissed, and pissing off the few friends he has left. Then his estranged sister, Beth, shows up, fleeing an abusive boyfriend, hoping to reconnect with her big brother. And suddenly the unpleasant son of a bitch is off the bench and back in the game. Old family wounds are revealed, and new ones are inflicted, and it’s all set against the backdrop of a cold, barren, snow-filled wilderness that is as unforgiving as life itself. Lemire, who’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite writers, taps into something universal and recognizable here, picking at the familial wounds that never heal. He’s at the top of his game in not only words but art, capturing a stark, hostile world of hurt that draws the reader in—bleak in its deliberate minimalism, with Lemire employing a scratchy, raw-edged drawing style and using a palette of mostly drab, watery shades of gray (color being reserved, mostly, for flashbacks). It’s all as rough and raw and non-pretty as the lives this author-artist depicts, but like Derek in his big-league days, he gets the job done. The story here doesn’t so much unfold as unravel, in slow-burn detail—nothing seems to happen for entire pages, only to be punctuated by sudden explosions of brutality, both physical and emotional. The hardcore lives of people caught up in endless cycles of alcohol and substance abuse, violence and pain they can’t even understand, is as wrenching as almost any crime fiction I’ve read this year, but Lemire is just a primo storyteller, burrowing into his characters with a sensitivity and empathy that slams you hard against the boards. Call it gloves-off, bench-clearing noir, tempered by a true love of the game.

Last but not least, one choice from the crime non-fiction shelves ...

Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted, edited by Laura Caldwell and Leslie Klinger (Liverwright/W.W. Norton):
Anyone who writes or reads crime fiction—no, scratch that, anyone who claims to give a damn about crime and punishment (which, one would hope, includes everyone) should read this book. In a year when the very idea of truth has been polluted and perverted, twisted beyond recognition, and the very concept of doing the right thing (or even what the right thing is) has been publicly crapped on by those in power, this work is a fierce reminder that justice can not only be blind, but vicious, petty, and stupid as well. As if we need another reminder. You think everyone in jail belongs there? Think again. This book is crammed with example after example of innocent men and women sent to prison for not days or weeks, but years and even decades, only to ultimately be released, due to the biggest motherfucking technicality of them all: they were innocent and should never have been there in the first place. Blame it on systemic corruption, racism, incompetence, cowardice, ambition, politics, dishonesty—blame it on whatever you want—but nobody, from “average” citizens and “helpful witnesses” to the police, lawyers, judges, and politicians, gets away unscathed. Each chapter in Anatomy of Innocence follows a different victim of injustice, focusing on a different aspect of what went wrong, from arrest to (eventual) release and beyond. And every story is penned by one of this genre’s finest storytellers, including Sara Paretsky, Lee Child, Laurie R. King, S.J. Rozan, Brad Parks, Jan Burke, Gary Phillips, Jamie Freveletti, Michael Harvey, and Sarah Weinman. There’s even a never-before-published essay by the late playwright Arthur Miller. Axes are well ground here, and considerable literary weight is brought to bear. Each tale tears off another little piece of your heart; each story of wrongful accusation is another nail in the coffin of smug complacency and naïve belief that The System always works. There may be better books released in this scorched-earth year of partisan “truths” and rampant lies, but there won’t be a more important one.

Did Somebody Say Macdonald?

Today marks the 102nd anniversary of Kenneth Millar’s birth in Los Gatos, California. After a childhood relocation to Canada and a much later return to the Golden State, Millar would become—with the adoption of a pseudonym—Ross Macdonald, the author of 18 novels featuring compassionate Los Angeles private investigator Lew Archer, beginning with 1949’s The Moving Target. As The Thrilling Detective Web Site opines, Macdonald “arguably forms the third point of what is now considered the Holy Trinity of hard-boiled detective fiction, the other points being, of course, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and is, to many, the most critically and academically respected of the three.” Or, to quote from The New York Times, Macdonald was “a mystery novelist who didn't so much transcend the genre as elevate it, showing again (like Hammett, Faulkner, Collins, Dickens, Greene, and many others since Poe) how the crime story can at any time become art.”

Between his birthday and reports in the news this week about fires raging around Santa Barbara, California—much as they did in Macdonald’s splendid 1971 Archer novel, The Underground Man (though he called Santa Barbara “Santa Teresa” in that story)—now seems a rather ideal time to revisit the subjects of Macdonald’s life and fiction-writing career. We’ve written a good deal about both in The Rap Sheet over the years. Here are links to some of the principal stories comprising that coverage:

Archer’s Return Engagement” (July 11, 2006)
A Master’s Last Bow,” by Tom Nolan (July 2, 2007)
‘Heyday in the Blood’: A Never-Before-Published Lew Archer Tale” (July 3, 2007)
A Saint with a Gun” (July 29, 2007)
‘Distinction Is Everything’” (December 13, 2008)
The Third Man” (August 3, 2009)
Graves Goes to His Grave” (March 14, 2010)
On the Case with Tom Nolan” (April 28, 2015)
Macdonald Mines His Own Life” (May 3, 2015)
At 100, Ross Is Still Boss” (December 13, 2015)
‘Other People’s Lives Are My Business’” (September 19, 2017)

In 1999, long before I created The Rap Sheet, I edited a special package of features for January Magazine, timed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Moving Target’s original publication. You can find all of those stories—including my first interview with the author’s biographer, Tom Nolan; Frederick Zackel’s memories of being mentored by Macdonald; and my own fond recollections of meeting Millar/Macdonald in Santa Barbara years ago—by clicking here.

Check out, as well, this attractive collection of Macdonald book fronts from my other blog, Killer Covers. And this column I wrote for Kirkus Reviews, in which I recall how my high school librarian ignited my interest in crime fiction by giving me a copy of Macdonald’s first novel. There are also plenty of links here to Macdonald tributes composed in 2013 as part of Patti Abbott’s Friday “forgotten books” series.

In association with a contest, held in 2011, to give away reprints of Macdonald’s early novels, The Rap Sheet asked readers to choose their favorite Archer yarns. Here are the top-five vote-getters:

1. The Chill (1964)
2. The Underground Man (1971)
3. The Galton Case (1959)
4. The Zebra-Striped Hearse (1962)
5. The Instant Enemy (1968)

Finally, Ross Macdonald died of Alzheimer’s disease on July 11, 1983, at 67 years of age. Here’s his obituary in The New York Times; The Washington Post’s obit can be found here.

(Hat tip to Frederick Zackel.)

Ready to Launch

Even as we have been keeping track of which works of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction reviewers from other publications believe are the “best of 2017,” The Rap Sheet’s regular company of critics have sought to weigh, measure, reassess, and conclusively nail down their own genre favorites from the last 12 months. What’s interesting is to see that only one novel (care to guess which it is?) has shown up on multiple lists—from three separate Rap Sheet contributors.

Later this afternoon, we will begin posting those “Favorite Crime Fiction of 2017” lists, a new one each day for the next week. Please let us know what you think of our selections, and whether there are also other 2017 releases you especially enjoyed.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Revue of Reviewers, 12-12-17

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




A Poignantly Timed Release

I haven’t yet seen a copy, but I understand the second issue of Down & Out: The Magazine is now available. In addition to contributions from Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Nick Kolakowsi, Tim Lockhart, and Ben Boulden, as well as a vintage Race Williams adventure by Carroll John Daly and my own “Placed in Evidence” column, this edition features a new Sheriff Dan Rhodes tale by Texas author Bill Crider.

I remember hearing some time ago that Crider would headline an early issue of D&O, but that was long before he entered hospice care for cancer. I feel honored to have my work included alongside what I fear may be—without benefit of a small miracle—one of Crider’s last published works.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Wanted: Keen-Eyed, Discerning Readers

Unbelievably, it’s nearing mid-December—time to commence pulling together our longlist of nominees for The Rap Sheet’s annual Best Crime Fiction Covers competition. Last year brought a fairly definitive winner in Carl Hiaasen’s Razor Girl (Knopf), with its clever, somewhat sexy, and comic-bookish front. As we look over the potential candidates for 2017, though, it’s harder to spot a similarly certain victor. Yet there are myriad outstanding candidates—and perhaps more than we realize. So we would like to solicit your aid in making sure we don’t neglect any worthy contenders.

You’re all well read and extraordinarily sharp-eyed, right? So which crime, mystery, and thriller book fronts—first released in 2017, in either hardcover or paperback, from either side of the Atlantic—do you think really stood out from the crowd? Which demonstrated remarkable use of typography, photography, and/or original illustrations?

If you are curious to know which jackets have drawn applause in the past, click here. Then drop us an e-mail note with your own best-cover nominations for the present year. Be sure to include the name and author of any novel you suggest, plus—if at all possible—a link to where we can view the cover art online. Working from your choices as well as our own finds, we’ll collect 10 to 15 covers we think deserve recognition, and post them on this page later in the month, inviting everyone to vote for their favorites.

Let us know soon which book fronts you think merit appreciation.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Gifts for December: Bounteous Bennetts


Beware the Curves (Pocket, 1960), by A.A. Fair, aka Erle Stanley Gardner; and The Savage, by Noel Clad (Permabooks, 1959). Artwork on both novels created by Harry Bennett.

American artist-illustrator Harry Bennett (1919-2012), who created some of the most recognizable paperback fronts of the 20th century, is being honored in my book design-oriented blog, Killer Covers, with a month-long succession of posts showcasing some of his best work. As I explain in the introduction to that series,
The paintings he produced for U.S. publishers ranging from Permabooks and Pocket to Gold Medal and Berkley could be seductive or shocking, ominous or humorous, but they were rarely less than outstanding. During a more than three-decades-long freelance career, Bennett—who passed away just over five years ago, at age 93—created the anterior imagery for everything from detective novels and Gothic romances to Hitchcockian thrillers and tales about amorous young nurses. “Literally millions of people have seen hundreds of paintings by Harry Bennett, but few would know his name,” writes a blogger who calls himself NatureGeezer and lives in Ridgefield, the historic western Connecticut town where Bennett also resided for most of his life. Along with artists such as Robert McGinnis, Mitchell Hooks, Paul Rader, Harry Schaare, Ernest Chiriacka, and Victor Kalin, Bennett made 20th-century paperbacks worth collecting simply for their covers.
Today, Killer Covers celebrates the fourth day of its Bennett tribute by posting a scan of the 1963 Pocket Books edition of Erle Stanley Gardner’s This Is Murder, a book the prolific Gardner originally published in 1935 under the pseudonym Charles J. Kenney. You can keep up with the full series by clicking here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

“6” Is Lamanda’s Lucky Number

Maine’s Al Lamanda has won the 2017 Nero Award for his fifth John Bekker mystery, With 6 You Get Wally (Five Star). That announcement came this last weekend during the Black Orchid Banquet, held in Manhattan and hosted by the New York City-based Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin fan organization, The Wolfe Pack. The Nero Award has been presented annually, ever since 1979, for “the best American mystery written in the tradition of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe stories.”

Contending as well for this year's prize were Death at Breakfast, by Beth Gutcheon (Morow); Home, by Harlan Coben (Dutton); and Surrender, New York, by Caleb Carr (Random House).

Previous Nero Award recipients include David Morrell, Chris Knopf, Walter Mosley, S.J. Rozan, Laura Lippman, and Brad Parks.

ADDENDUM: I noticed that, while there was news online about Lamanda capturing this year’s Nero Award, there seemed to be no information available on who had won the 2017 Black Orchid Novella Award (BONA)—even though both prizes were reportedly presented on December 2 during The Wolfe Pack’s Black Orchid Banquet. So I sent an e-mail note to Jane K. Cleland, author and chair of the BONA committee. She responded with word that “This year’s BONA winner is Mark Thielman. His novella is ‘The Black Drop of Venus.’”

Bragging Rights

British books critic and American Noir author Barry Forshaw kindly invited me recently to add my two cents to a survey of “the great and the good from the world of crime-fiction reviewing,” the task being to select the 10 most outstanding crime, mystery, and thriller novels published in 2017. He has just posted the results of that sampling. They find me in remarkably esteemed company, with other respondents being Marcel Berlins of the London Times, writer-editor Maxim Jakubowski, Laura Wilson of The Guardian, Jake Kerridge of The Daily Telegraph, and Sarah Ward of the blog Crime Pieces. Some of our most frequently touted releases of the year: Attica Locke’s Bluebird, Bluebird; John le Carré’s A Legacy of Spies, Don Winslow’s The Force, and Jane Harper’s The Dry. My own 10 picks are confined to works originally published in 2017, meaning I have excluded UK novels re-released on this side of the Atlantic during the last 12 months.

Meanwhile, Oline H. Cogdill is out with her own “Best Mystery Novels of 2017” list for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Her 25 choices (presented in one of those annoying slideshows) include The Blinds, by Adam Sternbergh; He Said/She Said, by Erin Kelly; The Fallen, by Ace Atkins; The Roanoke Girls, by Amy Engel; The Marsh King’s Daughter, by Karen Dionne; and The Late Show, by Michael Connelly.

Crider’s Tough Path

While the last year has brought painfully little good news on the U.S. national scene, it was always possible to find a modicum of hope and brief escapes from reality in the world of crime and mystery fiction. But then came this note yesterday from 76-year-old Texas author, blogger, and all-around nice guy Bill Crider:
Things could change, but I suspect this will be my final post on the blog. I met with some doctors at M.D. Anderson today, and they suggested that I enter hospice care. A few weeks, a few months is about all I have left. The blog has been a tremendous source of pleasure to me over the years, and I’ve made a lot of friends here. My only regret is that I have several unreviewed books, including Lawrence Block’s fine new anthology, Alive in Shape and Color, and Max Allan Collins’ latest collaboration with Mickey Spillane, The Last Stand, which is a collection of two novellas, “A Bullet for Satisfaction,” an early Spillane manuscript with an interesting history, and “The Last Stand,” the last thing that Spillane completed. It saddens me to think of all the great books by many writers that I’ll never read. But I’ve had a great life, and my readers have been a big part of it. Much love to you all.
As I noted last year, former English teacher Crider has what he’s called a “very aggressive form” of the cancer carcinoma. Chemotherapy treatments had given him the tenuous promise of keeping that disease at bay, and they allowed him to attend both this year’s Bouchercon in Toronto and the World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio. However, even modern medicine cannot cure all ills, and Crider’s post suggests he is learning that truth the hard way.

I know what an ominous thing going to a hospice can be. My wife’s mother was diagnosed with colon cancer two years ago, and she was in and out of hospices for months before finally passing away. It looks as if her husband, my wife’s stepfather, is currently bound down the same road. So I have no illusions about miraculous recoveries. But if anyone deserves that sort of enviable luck right now, it’s Bill Crider.

In the short term, author-blogger Patti Abbott has suggested that contributors to her Friday “forgotten books” series devote their posts for December 15 to Crider’s plentous works of fiction. “If you would like to participate,” she writes, “either with a book review of one of his books or a remembrance, or a review of a short story ... [Y]ou can post it on my blog or your own should you have one. If you message me, I will give you my e-mail [address] to send it to. If you can get it to me a day or two before then, that would be great. Even Facebook reviews will work. All reviews are welcome.”

I hope to take part in this tribute, though at the moment I am uncertain of what approach I’ll take. What I do know is that Bill Crider has given a great deal to the crime-fiction community over the years. It’s time to give back, even if only in a small way.

READ MORE:Heartbroken for Bill Crider,” by Lee Goldberg; “Bill Crider—One of the Best,” by Kaye Barley (Meanderings and Muses).

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Puzzles and Pleasures

While a handful of mystery-type yarns featured among The New York Times’ recent “100 Notable Books of 2017,” that paper’s lead crime-fiction critic, Marilyn Stasio, has now submitted for our assessment and amusement her own choices of “The Best Crime Novels of 2017.” With the exception of Hart Hanson’s The Driver (which managed to elude my radar), her 10 picks are pretty mainstream:

The Thirst, by Jo Nesbø (Knopf)
The Force, by Don Winslow (Morrow/HarperCollins)
Fierce Kingdom, by Gin Phillips (Viking)
The Driver, by Hart Hanson (Dutton)
Lightning Men, by Thomas Mullen (37Ink/Atria)
Two Kinds of Truth, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)
The Midnight Line, by Lee Child (Delacorte)
Bluebird, Bluebird, by Attica Locke (Mulholland)
An Echo of Murder, by Anne Perry (Ballantine)
Earthly Remains, by Donna Leon (Atlantic Monthly)

Stasio isn’t the only reviewer, though, who has recently offered up his or her list of what they believe have been the preeminent crime, mystery, and thriller novels first published over the last 12 months. Craig Sisterson, who usually blogs at Crime Watch, decided to present his own top-10 selections on Twitter. Since not everyone uses Twitter, I’ll go ahead and transcribe his preferences below:

A Killer Harvest, by Paul Cleave (Atria)
The Late Show, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)
Watch Her Disappear, by Eva Dolan (Random House UK)
The Dry, by Jane Harper (Flatiron)
Reconciliation for the Dead, by Paul E. Hardisty (Orenda)
The Damselfly, by S.J.I. Holliday (Black and White UK)
Insidious Intent, by Val McDermid (Atlantic Monthly Press)
The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman, by Mindy Mejia (Quercus)
The Long Drop, by Denise Mina (Little, Brown)
The Intrusions, by Stav Sherez (Faber and Faber UK)

Meanwhile, MBTB’s Mystery Book Blog presents a “best of the year” rundown featuring 18 titles. Most of them (like Hannah Tinti’s The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, J. Robert Lennon’s Broken River, and John le Carré’s A Legacy of Spies) first saw print in 2017, but a few appeared originally last year.

And, last but not least, the British Web site Dead Good Books asked 20 authors familiar with this genre—Simon Kernick, Nualla Ellwood, and Nicci French among them—to name their favorite hardcover or paperback releases from the year. Those preferences include Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders, Imran Mahmood’s You Don’t Know Me, Helen Dunmore’s Birdcage Walk, and Joe Ide’s Righteous.

* * *

No sooner had I put up this piece in The Rap Sheet, than I saw that UK critic-author Barry Forshaw had posted his “Best Crime of 2017” inventory in the Financial Times. There are seven works on his list:

Bluebird, Bluebird, by Attica Locke (Mulholland)
The Force, by Don Winslow (Morrow/HarperCollins)
Resurrection Bay, by Emma Viskic (Pushkin Vertigo)
Fever, by Deon Meyer (Atlantic Monthly Press)
Spook Street, by Mick Herron (Soho)
A Necessary Evil, by Abir Mukherjee (Harvill Secker UK)
The Long Drop, by Denise Mina (Little, Brown)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Banacek’s Run Off to … Pennsylvania?

(Above) The main titles from Banacek’s 1972 pilot film.

It’s not often that we learn what happened to the props used on TV shows and in movies. Unlike, say, the piano played by Dooley Wilson in Casablanca (which was auctioned off a few years ago for $3.4 million), or some of the downed airplane fuselage that backdroppped scenes in Lost (and was purchased for $3,000 in 2010), most such set decorations aren’t recognizable enough to merit collecting. Instead, they are repurposed for future Hollywood productions or, if they’ve been designed too specifically to use again, they are trashed or reshaped into something different.

But as it turns out, there’s no mystery as to the fate of a brass plaque that once supposedly welcomed guests and clients to the pricey Boston abode of a small-screen sleuth named Thomas Banacek, the insurance investigator protagonist (played by George Peppard) in the 1972-1974 NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie series Banacek.

Not long ago, I was contacted via e-mail by 73-year-old Stan Marks, who lives in the western Pennsylvania city of Hermitage. He told me that, from the 1970s through the early ’80s he worked as “a driver captain in charge of picture cars and drove stunts in many of the cop shows” made by Universal Studios in Los Angeles. Banacek was one of Universal’s properties. As Marks tells it, he was on the set of Peppard’s series when its 16th and final regular episode (“Now You See Me, Now You Don’t”) was shot. After that filming wrapped, he recalls, “I removed the brass plaque that was on the front door of [Banacek’s] Beacon Hill residence”—and kept it as a memento.


Banacek’s home (middle) was commissioned by a Boston pol.

Anyone who has watched Banacek will likely remember the gleaming plate to which Marks refers. It appeared briefly in a number of the show’s episodes, but featured prominently in the Banacek pilot (aka “Detour to Nowhere,” broadcast originally on March 20, 1972). I have embedded the opening title sequence from that pilot film atop this post. Beginning at the 0:51 mark, you will see Peppard navigate a 1941 Packard convertible (certainly his character’s classiest vehicle) down the snow-bordered thoroughfares of Boston’s tony Beacon Hill, and turn into the gated driveway at 85 Mount Vernon Street. In the show, the three-story Federal-style brick mansion served by that cobblestone lane was where the urbane, rarely bamboozled Banacek lived and had the headquarters of his investigative business; its front door was decorated with the brass plaque seen near the video clip’s end, reading “T. Banacek—Restorations.” In reality, however, that house—constructed in what had once been a pasture owned by painter John Singleton Copley—was among three built in Boston for prosperous lawyer and early American politician Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848), a one-time mayor of Massachusetts’ capital city. Like Otis’ other two elegant habitats, these digs were designed by architect Charles Bulfinch, who also created the gold-domed Massachusetts State House and several additional public structures in Boston; the Maine State House in Augusta; and parts of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The Web site Historic Buildings of Massachusetts says Banacek’s ostensible dwelling, better known as the Second Harrison Gray Otis House, was erected between 1800 and 1802, and is the only detached, single-family mansion remaining on Beacon Hill. “Bulfinch hoped that the freestanding home on a landscaped property with outbuildings in back would be a model for the rest of Beacon Hill,” the site explains, “but the neighborhood would end up being much more densely developed. Otis sold the house in 1806 …” It has been listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places since 1973. Interestingly, that cupola-topped manse on Mount Vernon Street did duty not only as Thomas Banacek’s residence, but had previously appeared as the domicile of Thomas Crown, the Beantown businessman turned bank robber (played by Steve McQueen) in director Norman Jewison’s 1968 film, The Thomas Crown Affair. It’s been suggested that Banacek creator Anthony Wilson conceived his tough but whimsical Polish crime-solver as a synthesis of the cigar-smoking Crown and Vicki Anderson (Faye Dunaway), the tenacious insurance investigator who alternately pursued and romanced him in the movie. So installing Peppard’s character at the same address would’ve been a clever hat tip.

(Left) Marks’ souvenir. Click to enlarge.

Stan Marks insists he wasn’t channeling thief Crown when he absconded with the “T. Banacek—Restorations” plaque from a Universal sound stage in L.A.: he had cleared its capture with the show’s props department. Today, he says, that slightly tarnished brass plate is “located on the inside of my front door”—a reminder of the years he spent, during his 20s and 30s, earning a paycheck from Universal Studios for his labors not just on Banacek but on other NBC Mystery Movie series (including Columbo, McMillan & Wife, Quincy, M.E., and McCloud), as well as on such memorable crime dramas as Kojak, Delvecchio, Switch, Adam-12, and The Rockford Files. (He mentions Rockford star James Garner as “one of the nicest actors” he worked with over the years.) Those Hollywood experiences are now increasingly far in the past for Marks. Born and reared in Philadelphia, he moved with his family to L.A. in 1962, when he still was a high school student, and then put in a few years with the California National Guard (rather than joining the war in Vietnam) before going into the movie/TV industry. Marks left Southern California in 1983, following the births of his two children (“I didn’t want to raise them in L.A.”), and resettled in western Pennsylvania, where his then-wife had grown up. He retired four years ago, after two decades spent driving chartered motor coaches around the country.

When I first began exchanging e-mail notes with Marks about his souvenir plaque, I assumed he’d positioned it at his entryway in order to give it prominence, to make it a conversation piece. He soon disabused me of that notion, though, writing: “I never use my front door, Jeff. The main entrance is along the side of my home, that leads to the family room. I placed the plate there, because the door is wooden. There’s no significance to the placement. Friends who come over don’t even notice it. And I don’t point it out.”

Nonetheless, that generally forgotten, 45-year-old Banacek artifact sure makes for a good story. Wouldn’t you agree?


Ex-Universal driver Marks in Palm Springs, California, 2014.

A “Lost” Dashiell Hammett Story?

Click here to read—and read about—“The Glass That Laughed” (1925).

Lawson’s Lay of the Land

Its headline suggests it’s a straightforward list of “The Best Crime Books and Thrillers of 2017.” But Mark Lawson’s latest contribution to The Guardian is actually a much more pleasant—and broader—cruise through this year’s abundant crime-fiction offerings.

Yes, the UK broadcaster and critic touts a variety of familiar releases from the last 12 months (including John le Carré’s A Legacy of Spies, Attica Locke’s Bluebird, Bluebird, Mick Herron’s Spook Street, and Emma Flint’s Little Deaths). Lawson also goes beyond that, though, to remark on the welcome “republication of vintage crime bestsellers,” and he tips his hat to the late P.D. James and Ruth Rendell, both of whom, he notes, “continue a consoling publishing afterlife.”

You will find all of his observations here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Irish Misdeeds On Full Display

Congratulations to New Zealand-born radio producer-turned-author Julie Parsons, whose latest novel, The Therapy House (New Island), has captured the Irish Independent Crime Novel of the Year prize. That announcement was made last evening during a celebrity-filled ceremony honoring 13 categories of works and authors chosen to receive the 2017 Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards.

Parsons’ compulsive thriller was one of only five books shortlisted for Crime Novel of the Year acclaim. Its rivals were Can You Keep a Secret?, by Karen Perry (Michael Joseph); Here and Gone, by Haylen Beck (Harvill Secker); Let the Dead Speak, by Jane Casey (HarperCollins); One Bad Turn, by Sinéad Crowley (Quercus); and There Was a Crooked Man, by Cat Hogan (Poolbeg Press).

In addition to Parsons’ victory, detective novelist John Connolly took the Ryan Tubridy Listeners’ Choice Award for his most recent non-detective novel, He (Hodder & Stoughton), about the life of early 20th-century English comic Stan Laurel.

(Hat tip to Declan Burke.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Revue of Reviewers, 11-28-17

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





The Deadly Dozen

BOLO Books’ Kristopher Zgorski joins other bloggers and print publications in posting his “Top Reads of 2017” list. His choices of 12 crime, mystery, and thriller novels include Jeff Abbott’s Blame, Lori Rader-Day’s The Day I Died, Peter Swanson’s Her Every Fear, and Karen Dionne’s The Marsh King’s Daughter. Click here to read Zgorski’s comments about those books and others.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Woog’s Winners

My friend and colleague Adam Woog, who has been writing about mystery and thriller fiction for The Seattle Times since, well, almost exactly forever, is currently in the process of identifying a dozen of his favorite 2017 works from “various subgenres of crime fiction.” He began rolling out those choices with his November 12 Times column, and continued the exercise with his November 26 column. If picking 12 books is his goal, then it will take at least one more column for him to finish the job. Here are the eight novels he’s selected thus far:

The Twilight Wife, by A.J. Banner (Simon & Schuster)
Spook Street, by Mick Herron (Soho)
A Climate of Fear, by Fred Vargas (Penguin)
Arrowood, by Mick Finlay (Mira)
Dangerous to Know, by Renee Patrick (Forge)
The Painted Queen, by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess (Morrow)
Sleep No More, by P.D. James (Knopf)
Glass Houses, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)

Since Woog’s Times column is published on the second and fourth Sundays of every month, we should expect to see the last installment of his 2017 “bests” on December 10.

Carr’s Yarn Due in the New Year

We’ve been hearing for months about plans to turn Caleb Carr’s 1994 novel, The Alienist, into a series for U.S. cable-TV network TNT, but it has never been clear as to when the program might air. Until now. Mystery Fanfare reports that this eight-episode psychological thriller—starring Daniel Brühl (Rush), Luke Evans (The Girl on the Train), Dakota Fanning (American Pastoral), and Brian Geraghty (The Hurt Locker)—will debut on Monday, January 22, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

“Set in 1896 amidst a backdrop of vast wealth, extreme poverty, and technological innovation …,” writes Mystery Fanfare’s Janet Rudolph, “The Alienist opens when a series of haunting, gruesome murders of boy prostitutes grips New York City. Newly appointed police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt (Geraghty) calls upon criminal psychologist (aka ‘alienist’) Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Brühl) and newspaper illustrator John Moore (Evans) to conduct the investigation in secret. They are joined by Sara Howard (Fanning), a headstrong secretary determined to become the city’s first female police detective. Using the emerging disciplines of psychology and early forensic investigation techniques, this band of social outsiders set out to find and apprehend one of New York City’s first serial killers.”

Rudolph has embedded a trailer for The Alienist in her post.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

“Of All the Gin Joints in All the Towns in
All the World, She Walks Into Mine”



It was 75 years ago today that Casablanca, the classic film (and World War II propaganda picture) starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, had its world premiere in New York City. I’ve enjoyed that movie, oh, a dozen times or more over the years. But today seems like a good occasion for another re-watch, don’t you think?

Friday, November 24, 2017

Germany Finally Invades the U.S.

It sounds as if the American streaming-TV service Netflix is betting big on German programming. From The New York Times:
At first glance, “Dark,” Netflix’s first original German-language series, might seem familiar to fans of the streaming service’s other recent hits. The show, which will debut internationally on Dec. 1, centers on a small town plagued by strange goings-on at a nearby power facility. It also features an expansive cast of largely young actors, a time-warped structure and cryptic scenes of a teenager imprisoned in a brightly lit room.

But its creators, the director Baran bo Odar and the writer Jantje Friese, are quick to point out that “Dark” isn’t a blend of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and “The OA.” For one, the show’s episodes were written before those programs were released and lean more toward science fiction than horror. They also point out that its understated sensibility makes it a uniquely German contribution to the rapidly expanding world of premium television. “I don’t know if it’s German angst, but there is something uniquely creepy about Germans, at least from the outside perspective,” Ms. Friese said recently in an interview here. “We are definitely delivering on that.”

Denmark, France and Norway have drawn acclaim for their contributions to the new golden age of television, but few ambitious fictional series have come out of Germany. That began to change in 2015, when “Deutschland 83,” a spy drama, became the first German-language show to be broadcast on an American network. Now, with “Dark” and the recent premiere of “Babylon Berlin,” an expensive historical series that has been sold to 60 international markets and will stream on Netflix in the United States starting in January, German television appears to be entering a new era.
So, precisely when will Babylon Berlin, the 16-part, double-season historical crime series based on German author Volker Kutscher’s two (soon to be three) popular novels, premiere on Netflix? It’s been surprisingly difficult to pin down a specific date. However, this article, also from the Times, says it “will begin streaming on Netflix in the United States on Jan. 30.” I look forward to watching.

(Hat tip to Frederick Zackel.)

READ MORE:Titan to Publish Babylon Berlin—The Inspiration Behind the Netflix Smash Hit TV Series!” (Graphic Policy); “Netflix Commissions Second German Production, Dogs of Berlin,” by Diane Lodderhose (Deadline).

A Writer Full of Wit and Humor, Gone

I’m very sorry to hear that Arkansas-born Texas author Joan Hess has passed away at age 68. As Janet Rudolph reports in Mystery Fanfare,
Joan Hess was the author of the Claire Malloy Mysteries and the Arly Hanks Mysteries, formally known as the Maggody Mysteries. She won the American Mystery Award, the Agatha Award [in 1991, for her short story “Too Much to Bare”] ..., and the Macavity Award. She was a member of Sisters in Crime and a former president of the American Crime Writers League. She contributed to multiple anthologies and book series, including Crosswinds, Deadly Allies, Malice Domestic [9], and The Year’s 25 Finest Crime and Mystery Stories [1997]. She also wrote the Theo Bloomer mystery series under the pseudonym Joan Hadley.

This past year Joan completed an unfinished manuscript of Elizabeth Peters. Based on extensive notes and conversations with Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters), her devoted friend, Joan took on the task of completing [
The Painted Queen,] the last edition of this cherished series. Joan delivered a story brimming with intrigue and humor, blending Victorian formality with a clever, tongue-in-cheek wit, true to Barbara’s style.
Looking through the various comments made about Hess’ death on Facebook, I was struck by this one from her fellow author Les Roberts: “Joan was one of the funniest and most charming people I’ve ever met. Her wit was brilliant, her sarcasm devastating, and behind the sawmill delivery, a kind, thoughtful, delightful person—one of my FIRST friends 30 years ago when I first began writing mysteries.” On that same site, Harlan Coben wrote: “Really heartbroken to hear about the death of the funny, talented, generous Joan Hess, author of the Maggody mystery series. Thank you for everything, Joan. I’d say ‘R.I.P.,’ but alas, I know you better!”

We offer our heartfelt condolences to Ms. Hess’ family.

UPDATE: Jiro Kimura adds these bits of information in his blog, The Gumshoe Site: “Joan Hess died on November 23 at her new home in Austin, Texas. The former art teacher started writing romances to make money, but her nicely plotted unsold romance novels lacked romance. She switched to mysteries and wrote Strangled Prose (St. Martin’s, 1986), the first in the series featuring Claire Malloy, a small-town bookstore owner in Farberville, Arkansas” (a fictionalized version of Hess’ former hometown, Fayetteville).

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Bullet Points: Thanksgiving Links Feast

• As part of its 2017 “New Talent November” celebration, Crime Fiction Lover identifies five women writers it predicts will become much better known over the coming year. Among them are Australia’s Jane Harper, whose debut novel, The Dry, won this year’s Gold Dagger award from the British Crime Writers’ Association; and American Hannah Tinti, who CFL says showed a “talent for almost old-fashioned, proper storytelling ... in her second novel, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley [2017].” To keep up with the “New Talent November” series, which will run through the end of this month, click here.

Deadline brings this news: “Carmen Ejogo is set to star opposite Mahershala Ali in the third season of Nic Pizzolatto’s HBO crime anthology series, True Detective. The new installment of True Detective tells the story of a macabre crime in the heart of the Ozarks and a mystery that deepens over decades and plays out in three separate time periods. Ejogo will play Amelia Reardon, an Arkansas schoolteacher with a connection to two missing children in 1980. Ali plays the lead role of Wayne Hays, a state police detective from Northwest Arkansas.” Sounds good.

There’s no shortage of Thanksgiving-related mysteries.

• You have to be of a certain age to understand what a big deal David Cassidy—who died this week at age 67—was in the early 1970s. The son of actor Jack Cassidy and the stepson of singer-vedette Shirley Jones, David Cassidy was the teen idol of the time. “With pretty-boy good looks and a long mane of dark hair, Cassidy was every girl’s favorite teen crush,” Variety wrote in its obituary of the New Jersey-born songster and guitarist. His featured role on the popular ABC-TV musical sitcom The Partridge Family (1970-1974), which had him playing opposite Shirley Jones, gave Cassidy immense public exposure, while songs such as “I Think I Love You” made him a chart-topping sensation in his own right. “During an era when the Big Three broadcast networks still had a monolithic hold on pop culture, Cassidy’s picture was suddenly everywhere—not just on the fronts of magazines and record albums, but on lunch boxes, posters, cereal boxes and toys,” recalls National Public Radio (NPR). “He sold out concert venues across the globe, from New York’s Madison Square Garden to stadiums in London and Melbourne.” Following Partridge’s cancellation, Cassidy expanded his acting résumé (which had previously included turns on Ironside and The Mod Squad), making guest appearances on The Love Boat, Matt Houston, and even CSI. His performance as an undercover officer, Dan Shay, in a 1978 episode of NBC’s Police Story titled “A Chance to Live,” scored Cassidy an Emmy Award nomination for Best Dramatic Actor and led to his reprising the Shay role in David Cassidy: Man Undercover (1978-1979), a Los Angeles-set show that lasted only 10 episodes. But all was not well in his personal life. His six-year marriage to actress Kay Lenz (Breezy, The Underground Man), ended in divorce in 1983; he would wed twice more over the years. “In the 2010s,” NPR recalls, “he had a string of arrests on drunk-driving charges in Florida, New York and California. In 2014 he told CNN, ‘I am most definitely an alcoholic.’ The following year, he declared bankruptcy and was charged with a hit-and-run in Fort Lauderdale.” Wikipedia adds: “On February 20, 2017, Cassidy announced that he was living with non-Alzheimer’s dementia, the condition that his mother suffered from at the end of her life. He retired from performing in early 2017 when the condition became noticeable during a performance in which he forgot lyrics and otherwise struggled.” After being hospitalized in Florida for several days, David Cassidy perished from liver failure on November 21.

Vox has more to say about Cassidy’s life and career.


(Above) The opening teaser and titles from “RX for Dying,” the December 2, 1978, episode of David Cassidy: Man Undercover.

• Lisa Levy looks at our modern “rape culture” and how it’s reflected in crime fiction. In a piece for Literary Hub, she writes:
[R]ape culture is everywhere in crime fiction. It is in every missing girl or woman. It is in every female cop protagonist who is slighted or doubted by her colleagues and her superiors. It’s in every P.I. novel with a woman at its center, as she negotiates a sexually hostile world to do her job. ... If crime fiction is a mirror of society that reveals our deepest and longest held fears, as I believe it is, then rape culture is one of those fears writ large in novels about men who violate women (sexually or otherwise). But it is also subtext in many, many other novels, where women are denigrated, pushed aside, ignored, hit on, groped, and verbally assaulted.

When I set out to look at rape culture in crime fiction, I found it everywhere. To take a very popular example, it’s no accident that the original title of
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in Swedish translates to The Man Who Hated Women. One of the hallmarks of that series is heroine Lisbeth Salander’s repeated victimization at the hands of men, including her father and her court-appointed guardian, who raped her repeatedly when she was institutionalized as a child.
• In the blog Criminal Element, Con Lehane writes about his decision to set his latest series at New York City’s iconic 42nd Street Library. His second Raymond Ambler mystery, Murder in the Manuscript Room, is out just this week from Minotaur Books.

• Had Anthony Horowitz not done such a convincing job of capturing the character of British spy James Bond in his 2015 novel, Trigger Mortis, we’d probably not now be hanging on every Twitter update of his work on its sequel. But we’re doing just that, with the latest mere morsel, the latest crumb, the latest speck of information being showcased in The Spy Command. I sure hope Horowitz’s finished work rewards all this anticipation.

• In February of next year, Dynamite Entertainment will premiere a 40-page, one-shot James Bond comic spin-off that “centers on the head of the [British] Secret Intelligence Service (better known as MI-6), Miles Messervy—we know him more famously as ‘M.’” As The Secret Agent Lair reports, “this incarnation of M is rather different from the source material as well as [from Ms] portrayed in the film franchise. Unlike the original Sir Miles Messervy, a full Anglo-Saxon, this version of M is British of African descent, much like Moneypenny herself in the comics as well as the rebooted 007 timeline of the movies.” The blog adds that the graphic novel, titled simply M, will “delve into [Messervy’s] past and his time in the field before his ascension to the head of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

• This month marks 15 years since the release of Die Another Day, the 20th James Bond film—and the fourth and final one to feature Pierce Brosnan as Agent 007. Commemorating this occasion, The Secret Agent Lair revisits the poster campaign that promoted that film back in 1997, observing that its imagery was “too flashy for today’s standards, where most action movies get the minimalistic and desaturated artwork treatment—the Daniel Craig-era posters, where the protagonist is set to rather insipid backgrounds, look like a strange cousin in comparison to these pieces. Yet, it is a heartfelt testimony to the days where the 007 films let the drama [run] for a couple of hours, and a cocktail of Martinis, girls and guns were … the order of the day.”

• Speaking of milestones, it was 13 years ago in September that the paperback book line Hard Case Crime was launched, with Lawrence Block’s Grifter’s Game and Max Phillips’ Fade to Blonde being its initial pair of releases. In an interview with small-press publisher Paul Suntup, Hard Case editor Charles Ardai reflects on his company’s history, the process of adding new titles to its hard-boiled catalogue, and the works that helped make it successful. He also reveals why Hard Case’s logo looks the way it does. “Initially,” Ardai explains, “we were going to call the line ‘Kingpin,’ which is why the logo features a crown over the gun. But the day before we went to register the trademark, TV producer Aaron Spelling beat us to the punch, registering it for a TV mini-series about a drug kingpin. So we scrapped the name and came up with ‘Hard Case Crime’ instead. But the logo felt so good and so right that we kept it, even though the crown no longer made any sense.”

• Max Allan Collins gives us an update on the status of his next Nate Heller novel, Do No Harm, which finds the Chicago-based private eye working the 1954 Sam Sheppard homicide case:
The process with Heller has remained largely the same since True Detective back in the early ’80s. I select the historical incident—usually a crime, either unsolved or controversially solved—and approach it as if I’m researching the definitive book on the subject. I never have a firm opinion on the case before research proper begins, even if I’ve read a little about it or seen movies or documentaries on the subject, just as somebody interested in famous true crimes. …

This time I changed my mind about who murdered Marilyn Sheppard, oh, a dozen times. I in part selected the case because it was a more traditional murder mystery than the political subjects of the last four Heller novels—sort of back to basics, plus giving me something that would be a little easier to do, since I was coming out of some health problems and major surgeries.

But it’s turned out to be one of the trickiest Heller novels of all. Figuring out what happened here is very tough. There is no shortage of suspects, and no shortage of existing theories. In addition, a number of the players are still alive (Sam Sheppard’s brother Stephen is 97) and those who aren’t have grown children who are, none of whom would likely be thrilled with me should I lay a murder at the feet of their deceased parents.
• Fascinating. I didn’t know that a film noir had been made from Steve Fisher’s 1941 novel, I Wake Up Screaming. Or that said movie, which was eventually retitled Hot Spot, starred Betty Grable (in a rare dramatic role), along with Victor Mature and Carole Landis. Nor was I aware that Fisher scripted the picture together with Dwight Taylor. I was privy to none of this until I happened across an apparently “unreleased trailer” to I Wake Up Screaming in Elizabeth Foxwell’s blog, The Bunburyist. Now I have to go out and find the full flick. (By the way, this film was remade in 1953 as Vicki.)

• The Lineup selects35 gripping true-crime books from the last 55 year,” for those moments when you need creepiness in your life.

• Crime Fiction Lover briefs us on the Hull Noir festival, held this month in the Yorkshire town of Kingston Upon Hull (aka Hull).

• As I’ve made clear in a couple of previous “Bullet Points” posts (see here and here), I’m highly skeptical of plans to make a new film inspired by Ernest Tidyman’s succession of novels featuring 1970s-cool Manhattan private eye John Shaft. Nonetheless, Steve Aldous (whose 2015 book, The World of Shaft, is a must-have for fans of Tidyman’s yarns) keeps posting updates on the movie in his blog. Recently, for instance, he offered this synopsis of the picture’s plot: “Working for the FBI, estranged from his father and determined not to be anything like him, John Shaft Jr. reluctantly enlists his father’s help to find out who killed his best friend Karim and bring down a drug-trafficking/money-laundering operation in NYC.” Aldous adds that this film, presently titled Son of Shaft, is due to start production in December. Jessie T. Usher (Survivor’s Romance) has signed up to portray the aforementioned John Shaft Jr. … who is supposedly the child of Samuel L. Jackson’s John Shaft, from the awful 2000 film Shaft … who was, in turn, the nephew of Richard Roundtree’s original Shaft. Got all that?

• It was almost exactly two years ago that I reported on plans by Visual Entertainment Inc. (VEI), a Toronto-based home video/television distribution company, to produce a DVD collection of James Franciscus’ 1971-1972 detective series, Longstreet. Only now, however, is the Web site TV Shows on DVD finally announcing the release of that boxed set. Although Amazon doesn’t yet show Longstreet: The Complete Series as being available for advance purchase, the $29.99 compilation is scheduled to ship on December 1, and will “contain the pilot telefilm and all 23 regular weekly episodes.” (Click here to buy it directly from VEI.) For those of you who don’t remember Franciscus’ fourth small-screen series (following Mr. Novak, which is being prepared for its own DVD rollout this coming spring), here’s TV Shows on DVD’s short explanation of its concept:
Following a bomb blast that leaves him blind and a widower, New Orleans insurance detective Mike Longstreet (James Franciscus) refuses to quit the business. Together with the help of his dog Pax, assistant Nikki [Marlyn Mason] and friend Duke [Peter Mark Richman], Longstreet continues to investigate thefts, kidnappings, and murders. … Bruce Lee made four guest appearances as Longstreet’s martial arts teacher.
• There’s still no word from Netflix on a U.S. debut date for Babylon Berlin, the much-heralded German drama “set in the seamy, steamy, scheming underworld of 1920s and ’30s Berlin.” While Americans wait, though, The Killing Times has begun reviewing each of the eight Season 1 episodes, currently being shown in Britain. So if, like me, you must hold tight in expectation of this program based on Volker Kutscher’s detective novels, at least you can read a little about the series’ unfurling plot lines and characters.

• Another series to watch for: The Indian Detective. Deadline says this show casts Indian-descended Canadian comedian Russell Peters as “Doug D’Mello, a Toronto cop who unexpectedly finds himself investigating a murder in his parents’ Indian homeland. The investigation leads Doug to uncover a dangerous conspiracy involving David Marlowe (William Shatner), a billionaire property developer, while dealing with his own ambivalence toward a country where, despite his heritage, he is an outsider.” Netflix will launch The Indian Detective on Tuesday, December 19. Canada’s National Post >says there are four episodes in Season 1.

• Also from Deadline comes word that the creators of Columbo, the long-running TV mystery series, are suing Universal City Studios for “holding out on profits from the series.” In a 15-page complaint filed earlier this month in the Los Angeles Superior Court, screenwriter/short-story author William Link, together with the estate of the late Richard Levinson, insist they are owed 15 percent to 20 percent of the Columbo profits, and that Universal took four decades to acknowledge “that they were owed profit participation.”

• James Garner, star of The Rockford Files, Maverick, and an impressive catalogue of films, died during the summer of 2014, but only now have I come across a long, beautifully penned tribute to his work, composed by critic Clive James and published in The Atlantic in 2011, at the time the actor’s memoir, The Garner Files, reached bookstores. Here’s part of what James had to say:
Every sane person’s favorite modern male movie star, Garner might have done even better if he’d been less articulate. In his generation, three male TV stars made it big in the movies: Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, and Garner. All of them became stars in TV Westerns: McQueen in Wanted: Dead or Alive, Eastwood in Rawhide, and Garner in Maverick. The only one of them who looked and sounded as if he enjoyed communicating by means of the spoken word was Garner. McQueen never felt ready for a film role until he had figured out what the character should do with his hands: that scene-stealing bit in his breakout movie, The Magnificent Seven, in which he shakes the shotgun cartridges beside his ear, was McQueen’s equivalent of a Shakespearean soliloquy, or of a practice session for a postatomic future in which language had ceased to exist.

As for Eastwood, he puts all that effort into gritting his teeth, because his tongue is tied. …

Garner, a quick study who could learn and deliver speeches long enough to make his awed listeners hold their breath to the breaking point, was the only one who seemed to enjoy producing intelligible noise. But Garner, compared with the other two, never really caught on as a big-screen leading man. Though tall and handsome, he was never remote: he had an air of belonging down here with us. As a small-screen leading man, he had done too thorough a job with the 20 or 30 good lines in every episode of
Maverick or The Rockford Files to make an easy transition into a putatively larger medium that gave him many times more square feet of screen to inhabit, but many times less to say.
You can read James’ remarks in their entirety by clicking here.

• Finally, because the season is right for it, I want to give thanks to all of you who regularly read The Rap Sheet. You’ll never know how much your attention, loyalty, and comments mean to me.