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Favorite Crime Fiction of 2017, Part II: Jim Napier

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 18:47:00 +0000

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 [...]



Competing for Top of the Heap

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 17:54:00 +0000

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.



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

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 01:02:00 +0000

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 p[...]



Did Somebody Say Macdonald?

Wed, 13 Dec 2017 23:51:00 +0000

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

Wed, 13 Dec 2017 21:44:00 +0000

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.



Revue of Reviewers, 12-12-17

Wed, 13 Dec 2017 03:37:00 +0000

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

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A Poignantly Timed Release

Wed, 13 Dec 2017 01:06:00 +0000

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.



Wanted: Keen-Eyed, Discerning Readers

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 00:19:00 +0000

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.



Gifts for December: Bounteous Bennetts

Thu, 07 Dec 2017 18:15:00 +0000

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. [...]



“6” Is Lamanda’s Lucky Number

Wed, 06 Dec 2017 23:51:00 +0000

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

Wed, 06 Dec 2017 16:49:00 +0000

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,” (image) 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

Wed, 06 Dec 2017 15:14:00 +0000

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). [...]



Puzzles and Pleasures

Sat, 02 Dec 2017 23:57:00 +0000

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) [...]



Banacek’s Run Off to … Pennsylvania?

Fri, 01 Dec 2017 03:07:00 +0000

allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='420' height='346' src='https://www.blogger.com/video.g?token=AD6v5dx47o8ntsnH1ZxmdMxqau3-hSEOrJR6rLjVGiJoUDZVq8wwOXNO2bnWuDbTIhpeebiPt4vJOMnbvZk' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />(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[...]



A “Lost” Dashiell Hammett Story?

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 23:04:00 +0000

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



Lawson’s Lay of the Land

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 14:14:00 +0000

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.



Irish Misdeeds On Full Display

Wed, 29 Nov 2017 13:24:00 +0000

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.)



Revue of Reviewers, 11-28-17

Tue, 28 Nov 2017 17:56:00 +0000

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



The Deadly Dozen

Tue, 28 Nov 2017 16:42:00 +0000

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.



Woog’s Winners

Mon, 27 Nov 2017 17:22:00 +0000

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

Mon, 27 Nov 2017 15:31:00 +0000

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.



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

Sun, 26 Nov 2017 15:17:00 +0000

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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?



Germany Finally Invades the U.S.

Sat, 25 Nov 2017 02:37:00 +0000

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

Sat, 25 Nov 2017 01:17:00 +0000

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). [...]



Bullet Points: Thanksgiving Links Feast

Thu, 23 Nov 2017 00:24:00 +0000

• 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, [...]