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Last Build Date: Tue, 21 Feb 2017 21:51:50 +0000


Whitman Meets Dickens

Tue, 21 Feb 2017 21:51:00 +0000

Georgia college professor J. Aaron Sanders thought he was working with an improbable scenario when he concocted his first “Walt Whitman Mystery,” 2016’s Speakers of the Dead (Plume). But it turns out that renowned poet and journalist Whitman (1819-1892) was actually interested in crime-related fiction. As The New York Times reports, a novel originally serialized—with no author credit—in the New York Sunday Dispatch newspaper during the spring of 1852, was found in 2016 by a University of Houston (Texas) graduate student named Zachary Turpin, and properly attributed to Whitman. The 36,000-word “Life and Adventures of Jack Engle,” which was discovered last summer by a graduate student, is being republished online on Monday by The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review and in book form by the University of Iowa Press. A quasi-Dickensian tale of an orphan’s adventures, it features a villainous lawyer, virtuous Quakers, glad-handing politicians, a sultry Spanish dancer and more than a few unlikely plot twists and jarring narrative shifts. “This is Whitman’s take on the city mystery novel, a popular genre of the day that pitted the ‘upper 10 thousand’—what we would call the 1 percent—against the lower million,” said David S. Reynolds, a Whitman expert at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.“City mysteries”—in which, according to Wikipedia, “characters explore the secret underworlds of cities and reveal corruption and exploitation, depicting violence and deviant sexuality”—won many readers in Europe and the United States during the 19th century. Examples of the genre include George Lippard’s The Quaker City, or The Monks of Monk Hall (1845) and Eugène Sue’s giant The Mysteries of Paris (1842), which was republished by Penguin Classics in 2015.The University of Iowa Press Web site explainsthat scholar Turpin came across the “sole surviving copy” of Jack Engle while he was following a paper trail “deep into the Library of Congress.” He told the Times that this tale is “‘rollicking, interesting, beautiful, beautiful and bizarre,’ with antic twists, goofy names and suddenly revealed conspiracies that recall ‘a pre-modern Thomas Pynchon’ or even, he ventured, ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.’”Carrying the full title Life and Adventures of Jack Engle: An Auto-Biography; A Story of New York at the Present Time in Which the Reader Will Find Some Familiar Characters, UI Press’ 180-page release of Whitman’s yarn features an introduction by Turpin. Amazon lists both hardcover and paperback editions as being available.READ MORE: “Grad Student Discovers a Lost Novel Written by Walt Whitman,” by Glen Weldon (National Public Radio). [...]

Bullet Points: Presidents’ Day Edition

Tue, 21 Feb 2017 01:37:00 +0000

Sorry for the recent paucity of posts on this page, but my free time lately has been devoted in large part to a major reorganization of my books. When I undertook this task, I imagined it would demand less time and effort than it has—moving volumes around my house, cleaning all of the shelves, integrating works previously stored in boxes into the existing arrangement of titles, and culling out books that I’ve decided need to be in someone else’s collection. I’m now about 95 percent of the way through this project, with a few more days still to go. But I decided to take today off and write, instead. Which brings me to these crime-fiction-related subjects worth sharing …• As has been reported elsewhere, Swedish writer and reformed criminal-turned-criminal rehabilitation authority Börge Hellström has passed away from cancer at age 59. With journalist Anders Roslund, Hellström penned more than half a dozen thrillers, among them The Beast (2005), Cell 8 (2011), Three Seconds (2010), and the upcoming UK release, Three Minutes (Riverrun). In 2010, Rap Sheet contributor Ali Karim conducted an excellent interview with Roslund and Hellström. You’ll find Part I of their exchange here, and Part II here.Yours truly at Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco, flanked by best-selling Swedish novelists Börge Hellström, on the left, and Anders Roslund. (Photo © Ali Karim) • Justine Browne, daughter of Ned Kelly Award-winning Australian crime novelist Marshall Browne, e-mailed me recently with the news that prior to her father’s demise in 2014, he’d completed work on a fourth installment in his much-lauded series starring false-legged Inspector Anders of the Rome police force. “I have worked with his editor and most recent publisher to have it published in Australia in December 2016,” Justine explained. Titled Inspector Anders and the Prague Dossier, this latest novel is currently available only Down Under, from Australian Scholarly Publishing. Justine adds, though, that “I am very much hoping to work on getting it published in the U.S. and UK in the future.” Browne’s previous Anders novels were The Wooden Leg of Inspector Anders (1999), Inspector Anders and the Ship of Fools (2002), and Inspector Anders and the Blood Vendetta (2007).• An obituary of Richard Schickel, the former Time magazine film critic who passed away this last weekend at age 84, contains his brilliant response to “an article in The New York Times whose author had written, ‘Some publishers and literary bloggers’ view the shrinkage of book reviewing in many of the nation’s leading newspapers ‘as an inevitable transition toward a new, more democratic literary landscape where anyone can comment on books.’” Schickel opined: Let me put this bluntly, in language even a busy blogger can understand: Criticism—and its humble cousin, reviewing—is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author’s (or filmmaker’s or painter’s) entire body of work, among other qualities.I’m thinking of taping that quote above my computer screen.• A couple of podcasts that are worth your attention: The second episode of Writer Types features interviews with authors Joe R. Lansdale, Reed Farrel Coleman, and Jess Lourey, as well as short fiction from Erik Arneson; while in the 17th episode of Two Writers and Microphone, oft-playful hosts Steve Cavanagh and Luca Veste talk with Adrian McKinty and guest reviewer Kate Moloney.• I was an enthusiastic watcher of made-for-TV movies during the 1970s and ’80s, so am pleased to see the Crime Film and TV Café hosting its “first annual Movie of the Week Blogathon.” (Can something be considered “annual,” though, if it has only appeared once?) Included among the teleflicks und[...]

White House Whodunits

Mon, 20 Feb 2017 19:02:00 +0000

While many thousands of Americans across the country are expected to commemorate this Presidents’ Day by participating in “Not My President’s Day” protests against Donald Trump’s deceitful and increasingly authoritarian ways, others might be more inclined to settle in for hours of quiet holiday reading. For their benefit, Janet Rudolph has reposted this annually expanding catalogue of mystery and thriller novels featuring U.S. chief executives. Included are books focused around John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln; a longer list involving kidnappings, assassination attempts, and election fixing; and a handful of stories in which presidents assume sleuthing roles.

READ MORE:Happy President’s Day to the Most Famous Lawyer/Thriller-Writer In History (It’s Not Who You Think),” by Barry Lancet and Anthony Franze (Criminal Element); “FDR and the Vanishing Millionaire,” by J. Kingston Pierce (The Rap Sheet).

The Book You Have to Read: “Angels,” by Denis Johnson

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 13:23:00 +0000

(Editor’s note: This is the 145th installment in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books.)By Steven NesterIn Denis Johnson’s white-trash road novel, Angels (1983), Jamie is on the run from an abusive husband, and Bill Houston, a violent, middle-aged blackout-drunk, is on the run from himself. It should come as no surprise that they share their journey to the dark side; and it’s no jaw-dropper, either, to see that much more is moving this narrative along than a belly full of booze and the boiling-over of low-life desperation.The trip starts in Oakland, California’s Greyhound Bus station, and it doesn’t take long for the two born losers—she with “make-up too thick, her pants too tight,” and two babies in tow; and he, with a “pencil-thin mustache that just made her ill”—to bond over warm beer and wisecracks. Jamie gets roped in by Houston’s scoundrelish charms and ditches her plans to stay with relatives in Pennsylvania. Houston, it’s quickly seen, possesses no plans whatsoever. From that point onward, the belching bus is heading downhill and the brakes have failed. But, because of the prose and literary technique of this philosophically bent noir, it’s oh so lovely to watch.Anything that can go wrong on this steerage-class odyssey, does. Jamie and Houston’s relationship, as haphazard and random as it is, is tested over and over again, and for some reason, to their detriment, it holds together. The couple is separated in Pittsburgh; Jamie is drugged and raped in Chicago; Houston robs a hardware store, drinks, and screws up until fate finally slaps them both in the face by reuniting them. Houston’s luck—or decision-making ineptitude—comes to a dead end as they alight in the thematically insinuating city of Phoenix, Arizona, his hometown.It’s here that Houston’s two siblings, plus an acquaintance with the country-western-sounding name of Dwight Snow (“a scholar of armed robbery,” it so happens), plan to rob a bank. But, uh-oh: Houston notices that Snow’s baseball cap is lined with aluminum foil, the universal symbol of a crackpot. Snow should have removed the foil and gotten in touch with a higher power, one who’d have tipped him off to cancel this caper, but these good ol’ boys want one thing—“Money right or wrong,” and wrong it is, beyond their worst nightmares.Angels, Johnson’s first novel (he went on to write 1986’s The Stars at Noon and 1987’s National Book Award-winning Tree of Smoke, the latter of which resurrected Bill Houston), has the veneer of a straight-to-hell crime novel, but once into the guts of the book, it becomes apparent that Johnson wanted to entertain grad students as well, which is not atypical of a serious artist. The author is also a prolific poet as well as a playwright, and the innovation and originality of language in Angels is obvious: the locutions are fresh and bright, and they resound with a ring of truth that will never tarnish or erode. In the cheap motels where the wandering couple stop, there is “bedding that smelled of sorrow”; Houston’s Oklahoman mother was “unshakably hillbilly”; and in the cheap neighborhood that is Houston’s home in Phoenix, “everything was made of attempted marble.”Johnson channels his inner-Nabokov to create narrative plot points and observations that display “the kind of coincidence that poets love and logicians hate,” which all add up to support a theme of death and rebirth that is just about screamed at the end of this 34-year-old novel. A line of poetry is the clue, and it’s inscribed in the gas chamber, allowing the condemned at the last minute to see, but probably not understand, that their death is a component of the natural order of the world and that perhaps some good will result from it.The slice of poetry—“Death is the mother of beauty”—comes from Wallace Stevens. Its meaning is not for Bill Houston to understand, but for the benefit of readers alone. It imp[...]

Mayo Spreads the Love

Wed, 15 Feb 2017 20:47:00 +0000

(Editor’s note: Michael Mayo is the North Carolina-based author of three books set in New York City during the Prohibition era of the 1920s: Jimmy the Stick [2012], Everybody Goes to Jimmy’s [2015], and last year’s Jimmy and Fay. All of those star Jimmy Quinn, a hobbled tough guy who has a reputation as his city’s “only honest bagman.” In addition to his work as a novelist, Mayo has written about film for The Washington Post and The Roanoke Times, and he had hosting duties on the nationally syndicated Movie Show on Radio and Max and Mike on the Movies. Below, he recalls some of his most prominent storytelling influences.)I discovered John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels as a high-school student. They showed me that escapism could have an underlying serious purpose. In the years since, I have reread most of those books and now understand just how good they are. As suspense fiction, as social commentary, as observation of the human condition, as insightful portraits of complex characters, they have not aged a day.As a graduate student, I lucked into a literature course on tough-guy writers taught by Richard Dillard (The First Man on the Sun, The Book of Changes). It introduced me to Horace McCoy, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Chester Himes, and, particularly, Ross Macdonald. It was the first class I had that treated works of entertainment as something worthy of study.I was living in Roanoke, Virginia, then. Downtown there was a wonderful place, the Flying Eagle Coin Shop. Despite the name, it was mostly a used-paperbacks store. It had no conventional shelves. All the books were set out—spine up—on long dusty tables in two vast, poorly lighted rooms. The thing was, the books were in absolutely no order. You’d find best-sellers intermixed with ’50s mysteries, Harlequin romances, and the most lurid porn. I’ve still got the copy of A Man Called Spade that I bought there. Damn, it was wonderful!But I digress.The next writer who really opened my eyes was Ross Thomas. I came across The Fools in Town Are on Our Side in a public library, and immediately thereafter read everything of his that I could get my hands on. When I met him years later, he was as smart, dryly funny, and generous as I thought he’d be. If there is a single American crime writer who’s ripe for rediscovery, it’s Ross Thomas.I could say the same of Donald E. Westlake. My first encounter with him was in another used-books store where I found a copy of The Hunter, written under his Richard Stark pseudonym. That book really got to me and I tracked down the sequel, The Man With the Getaway Face, still one of my favorite titles ever.(Right) Author Michael MayoThose are the writers I have read, reread and learned from, but if I’m going to talk about direct influences on the Jimmy Quinn novels, I’ve got to name three men—Lawrence Sanders, Walter Mosley, and Elmore Leonard.I read Leonard’s The Hot Kid and learned a lot. It’s a perfect example of using period details sparingly. In that book, they’re the seasoning, not the sauce.Sanders’ “big” book, The First Deadly Sin, is a masterpiece that’s also overdue for rediscovery, but for my purposes, it’s his Archy McNally books that are important. For those who may be unfamiliar with them, Archy is an investigator who specializes in “discreet inquiries” for his father’s West Palm Beach law firm. When it comes to detective work, Archy is more boulevardier than bulldog. He’s forever zipping about in his Miata, taking great relish in food and drink and decking himself out in fancy outfits that seldom include socks.It’s Archy’s voice that makes those books so enjoyable. He’s cheerful, literate, and lighthearted without being silly. As Archy once put it, “I mean, I wasn’t even serious about not being serious, if you follow me.” Even if you have no interest in the dirty doings of Florida’s bluebloods and nouveau riche, Archy is such a companionabl[...]

Revue of Reviewers, 2-12-17

Sun, 12 Feb 2017 20:45:00 +0000

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

Bibliognosts Have Their Say

Thu, 09 Feb 2017 22:33:00 +0000

The British Crime Writers’ Association has announced its longlist of contenders for the 2017 Dagger in the Library prize, given “for a body of work by a crime writer that users of libraries particularly admire.” According to a news release, “The CWA revised the 2017 Dagger in the Library format so that, uniquely among crime writing awards, only library staff were able to nominate authors. Nominations were received from 175 libraries across the UK and Ireland—with 110 authors suggested as worthy winners.” Of those, here are the 10 semifinalists:

Alison Bruce
Kate Ellis
Chris Ewan
Tana French
Mari Hannah
Brian MacGilloway
James Oswald
C.J. Sansom
Andrew Taylor
Nicola Upson

I don’t see any word yet on when a shortlist of contenders for this commendation might be announced, but I’ll certainly keep my eyes open for that news. Past recipients of the Dagger in the Library include Christopher Fowler, Sharon Bolton, Alexander McCall Smith, Stephen Booth, Belinda Bauer, Mo Hayder, Stuart MacBride, Peter Robinson, and last year’s winner, Elly Griffiths.

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

Turn an Ear to These Texts

Thu, 09 Feb 2017 15:09:00 +0000

The Audio Publishers Association has announced the finalists for its 2017 Audie Awards, “recognizing distinction in audiobooks and spoken word entertainment.” There are 26 categories of nominees, but two likely to be of the greatest interest to Rap Sheet readers:

Crimson Shore, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, narrated by Rene Auberjonois (Hachette Audio)
The Crossing, by Michael Connelly, narrated by Titus Welliver (Hachette Audio)
A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny, narrated by Robert Bathurst (Macmillan Audio)
The Heavens May Fall, by Allen Eskens, narrated by R.C. Bray,
David Colacci and Amy McFadden (Tantor Media)
IQ, by Joe Ide, narrated by Sullivan Jones (Hachette Audio)

Cross Justice, by James Patterson, narrated by Ruben Santiago Hudson and Jefferson Mays (Hachette Audio)
The Fall of Moscow Station, by Mark Henshaw, narrated by
Eric G. Dove (Dreamscape Media)
Hidden Bodies, by Caroline Kepnes, narrated by Santino Fontana (Simon & Schuster Audio)
Home, by Harlan Coben, narrated by Steven Weber (Brilliance)
The Short Drop, by Matthew FitzSimmons, narrated by James Patrick Cronin (Brilliance)

Two other crime/mystery works are vying in the general fiction category: Darktown, by Thomas Mullen, narrated by Andre Holland (Simon & Schuster Audio); and End of Watch, by Stephen King, narrated by Will Patton (Simon & Schuster Audio).

This year’s Audie winners will be announced during a June 1 event at the French Institute Alliance Française in New York City. “For the second year in a row,” a news release explains, “award-winning comedian, author, and commentator Paula Poundstone will emcee …”

Congratulations to all of the contenders!

Bloodshed by the Beach

Thu, 09 Feb 2017 00:01:00 +0000

Registration is still open for this year’s SleuthFest, to be held in Boca Raton, Florida, from February 23 to 26. As Mystery Fanfare explains, SleuthFest is “an intensive four-day conference featuring writing workshops, social events, and pitch sessions. SleuthFest includes four tracks of workshops, presentations, and panels on the craft of writing, business, traditional and self-publishing, marketing, and forensics. In addition, top literary agents and editors will be available to hear pitches from aspiring writers, offer troubleshooting sessions, and manuscript critiques.”

Guests this year will include authors David Baldacci (who’s taken on the responsibilities of keynote speaker), Jeff Lindsay, Reed Farrel Coleman, S.J. Rozan, Jane Cleland, Con Lehane, Jess Lourey, and Charles and Caroline Todd. As part of the weekend program, Forensic Guest of Honor Dr. Vincent DiMaio “will host an in-depth examination of the Black Dahlia case from 1940s Los Angeles.”

Taking part in SleuthFest will cost you $405 if you’re a member of the Mystery Writers of America; $445 if you’re not. Spouses and partners of attendees get in for $265 per person. To register, click here.

When Bad Typos Happen to Good People

Wed, 08 Feb 2017 22:47:00 +0000

I take what some people might characterize as inordinate delight in discovering typographical errors on book covers. (No doubt a consequence of my years as a magazine and newspaper editor.) So it was with a hearty laugh that I encountered one such typo on the rear side of an advance reader’s copy of Loren D. Estleman’s forthcoming short-story collection, Nearly Nero: The Adventures of Claudius Lyon, the Man Who Would Be Wolfe (Tyrus).

As anyone familiar with Rex Stout’s longest-practicing protagonist, Nero Wolfe, knows, that oversize but percipient New York City armchair sleuth was fond not only of fine comestibles and beer, but also of orchids. Wikipedia quotes Stout biographer John J. McAleer as explaining that “Wolfe spends four hours a day with his orchids. Clients must accommodate themselves to this schedule.” While the crime-solver could often be irritable, he derived great pleasure from raising and breeding orchids, and giving them away.

When it came time to pen the promo copy for the reverse of Nearly Nero, though, its writer must have been either tired or imbibing too heavily of beer himself. Its first paragraph begins as follows:
From 1934 until his death in 1975, Rex Stout entertained the world with the exploits of Nero Wolfe, the eccentric, organ-breeding detective genius, as related by Archie Goodwin, the irreverent legman.
You can see a scan of that back cover by clicking here.

As talented as he was, I doubt that Wolfe ever engaged in medical experimentation. Presumably, then, the good folks at Tyrus Books will notice and correct this back-cover blunder long before Estleman’s book reaches print in May. But for now, I am keeping it on my desk to glance at whenever I need a chuckle to get me through the day.

Who’ll Take Home the Bronze?

Tue, 07 Feb 2017 17:28:00 +0000

It was just over three months ago that the North American Branch of the International Association of Crime Writers made the announcement that Lisa Sandlin’s The Do-Right had won the 2015 Hammett Prize for “literary excellence in the field of crime writing by a U.S. or Canadian author.” Yet here we are again, with a brand-new list of IACW candidates, this time vying for the 2016 Hammett Prize.

As reported by Mystery Fanfare, these are the five nominees:

The Second Life of Nick Mason, by Steve Hamilton (Putnam)
The Drifter, by Nicholas Petrie (Putnam)
The White Devil, by Domenic Stansberry (Molotov Editions)
Revolver, by Duane Swierczynki (Mulholland)
The Big Nothing, by Bob Truluck (Murmur House)

This year’s Hammett winner is set to be declared during the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association’s Fall Conference, to be held in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, from October 6 to 8. As Mystery Fanfare notes, that victor “will receive a bronze trophy, designed by sculptor Peter Boiger.” Congratulations to all of the contenders!

Revue of Reviewers, 2-3-17

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 20:11:00 +0000

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

Tailgating and Tale-Spinning

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 18:50:00 +0000

Although I shall spend this coming Sunday reorganizing my sizable personal library (a long-sought goal that seems to become more elusive, the longer I seek it), I know plenty of my fellow Americans will be tuning in to watch this year’s Super Bowl match-up between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots. Serious football enthusiasts are likely to devote most of that day to their favorite sport, gathering in front of their TV sets (or perhaps in the parking lot at Houston, Texas’ NRG Stadium) long before the first play is made. But others might find extra time in advance of the game, or need a bit of a change during commercial breaks or Lady Gaga’s halftime show, and want to do some reading. For their benefit, Mystery Fanfare’s Janet Rudolph has put together this list of Super Bowl-oriented crime fiction and other football-related mysteries.

READ MORE:Before the Super Bowl,” by Michael Carlson (London Review of Books Blog).

All Hail Deighton

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 15:43:00 +0000

British critic and raconteur Mike Ripley’s new “Getting Away with Murder” column for Shots delivers a plump valentine to the upcoming BBC-TV miniseries SS-GB, based on Len Deighton’s 1978 “alternative history” thriller of that same title. After attending an exclusive preview of the drama’s first episode, which is scheduled to air in the UK later this month, Ripley opined: “[F]rom the opening ‘Spitfire scene’ it became clear this was going to be quality viewing. … The series, adapted by the scriptwriters of Skyfall and Spectre, is essentially a five-hour big-screen movie, but one which eschews CGI [computer-generated imagery] for close hand-held camera work in and around a very solid London. The other bonus is that the leading German characters are played by excellent German actors.”

Elsewhere in that same column, Ripley calls Philip Kerr’s latest Bernie Gunther novel, Prussian Blue, “an absolutely cracking thriller”; recounts his weather woes at the launch party for Sirens, by debut author Joseph Knox; remembers Anthony Berkeley Cox (1893-1971), who is “perhaps best known today for his classic Malice Aforethought”; and touts soon-to-be-released works such as Brad Parks’ Say Nothing, C.J. Carver’s Tell Me a Lie, and “Seas of Snow, a debut psychological thriller by former BBC producer Kerensa Jennings.”

You’ll find (and should enjoy) the whole piece here.

Wrapping It Up in Fine Style

Thu, 02 Feb 2017 00:12:00 +0000

It’s always hard to predict how The Rap Sheet’s annual Best Crime Fiction Cover competition will shake out. 2015, for instance, brought significant disparities in the number of votes received by what turned out to be the top three book jackets and their raft of rivals. This year—the ninth time the blog has sought what is admittedly an unscientific consensus on book design—the spread wasn’t quite so dramatic. Yet there was still a trio of novel fronts that attracted the greatest attention and acclaim from our readers.Because of ballot-stuffing antics the last time around, I changed the polling procedures for 2016. Instead of allowing everyone to cast votes for as many covers as they wished, as often as they wanted, I restricted participants to a single chance at choosing their favorites from among 12 nominees; however, they were allowed to register their support of more than one cover on that sole occasion. Although this led to a reduction in the total vote count (as recorded by Polldaddy) from last year’s completely abnormal high of 6,941 to a more typical 1,067, I believe it was a fairer method of collective judgment.With all of that background conveyed, let me now move on to announcing our five winners for 2016. (You can click on any of the images below to open enlargements.)Earning first-place honors with a fairly decisive 233 votes (or 21.84 percent of the total) is … Razor Girl (Knopf), the 14th amusing crime novel for adults penned solely by Florida journalist and author Carl Hiaasen. Here’s how I described that book’s story line last August in a fall preview column for Kirkus Reviews: One can only marvel at Carl Hiaasen’s consistent ability to turn outlandish plot ingredients into bewitching fiction. His latest novel, Razor Girl, begins when Tinseltown talent agent Lane Coolman, wheeling his rental car from Miami, Florida, to Key West—where he’s planning to tighten the reins on Buck Nance, the unpredictable star of a redneck reality-TV series called Bayou Brethren—is rear-ended by pretty young Merry Mansfield, whose attention to the roadway had apparently wavered while she gave herself a bikini shave in the driver’s seat of a Firebird. Turns out, Merry is a serial crash-scam perpetrator, and she and her partner kidnap Coolman, having mistaken him for a beach-repair contractor whose bamboozling behavior has put him on the wrong side of a local criminal bigwig. Without Coolman’s guidance, Nance manages to launch into a racist public rant that inspires a psychotic would-be apprentice and leaves the TV star a suspect in a front-page homicide. Meanwhile, disgraced sheriff Andrew Yancy (from Bad Monkey) thinks he can restore his reputation by solving the aforementioned murder—with a bit of help from the Razor Girl herself, scheming Merry.Razor Girl’s cover illustration and design represent the first-rate talents of Mark Matcho, with art direction by Alfred A. Knopf’s Carol Carson. According to this brief biographical note, Matcho is a Pasadena, California, resident who’s “been an illustrator since 1985, or thereabouts,” and whose work “appears regularly in Esquire, Los Angeles, and BusinessWeek, among many other fine publications.” You can appreciate more of his artistry at the portfolio site Illoz.Matcho’s cover for Hiaasen’s book, showing a slender young woman in a bikini top and jeans shorts, riding a giant straight razor, is certainly eye-catching when faced outwards on bookstore shelves. It’s particularly so because of its bright yellow background. Yet that front is very much in keeping with the “signature style” of this author’s books for Knopf. There’s[...]

Down but Not Out?

Wed, 01 Feb 2017 17:07:00 +0000

Oh no, here we are once more. In the on-again, off-again world of Plots With Guns, it seems … we’re off again. After calling it quits in the fall of 2014, and then resurrecting the acclaimed Webzine two years later, Plots editors have announced on Facebook that “we are suspending publication as of now. We deeply appreciate everyone who has written for us, submitted to us, and read PWG.” One hopeful note at the end of that post, though, suggests that Plots could be resurrected if somebody else takes up the reins. Send an e-mail note to if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, the PWG archives remain ready for your perusal here.

(Hat tip to In Reference to Murder.)

A Principled Stand

Wed, 01 Feb 2017 15:21:00 +0000

Canadian thriller writer Linwood Barclay announced yesterday in a piece for The Globe and Mail newspaper that he has cancelled his upcoming U.S. book tour due to Donald Trump’s “ill-conceived presidential executive order rooted in racism and ignorance suddenly bann[ing] entry to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries.” He added: “At this moment, entering Trump’s America feels akin to patronizing a golf course that excludes blacks, a health club that refuses membership to Jews.” One wonders whether other foreign authors will follow Barclay’s example.

Two TV Icons Depart the Stage

Sun, 29 Jan 2017 03:49:00 +0000

(Above) Mike Connors on the June 24, 1972, TV Guide.What a dismal, discouraging last week we’ve all had to experience. While Donald Trump has done his damnedest, through one executive order after another, to undermine America’s values and leadership in the world, we’ve also witnessed the deaths of three Hollywood performers with ties to crime and mystery fiction.First off, of course, there was 80-year-old Mary Tyler Moore, about whom I wrote here. But while Moore’s success really derived from her work in situation comedies rather than on TV crime dramas, the same cannot be said of Mike Connors, who died on Thursday at age 91. Born Krekor Ohanian in Fresno, California, on August 15, 1925, the Armenian-descended former college basketball standout appeared in several movies and did guest shots on small-screen programs such as Mr. and Mrs. North, City Detective, M Squad, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, and Maverick before landing the lead in Tightrope! (1959–1960), playing a deep-undercover police officer charged with infiltrating criminal gangs. After that program was cancelled, and following Connors’ work in films such as Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (1966), he returned to television as Joe Mannix, a notably hard-headed Los Angeles private eye, in the William Link/Richard Levinson-created CBS series Mannix (1967-1975). In its obituary of Connors, The New York Times recalled that Unlike many a smooth TV private eye, Mannix took his lumps. The Washington Post, tabulating the wear and tear the character withstood over eight seasons, found that he had endured 17 gunshot wounds and 55 beatings that left him unconscious. … “Mannix” made Mr. Connors one of the highest-paid television actors of the 1970s; by the end of its run he was earning $40,000 an episode (almost $180,000 in today’s dollars). The role brought him four Emmy Award nominations and a Golden Globe Award. “Mannix” was also notable as one of the first regular series to provide a leading role to an African-American: Gail Fisher joined the show in its second season as Mannix’s secretary, frequent damsel in distress and occasional potential love interest. She died at 65 in 2000.TV Guide issues of May 18, 1968, and October 31, 1970.Meanwhile, in a 2014 retrospective of Mannix, Stephen Bowie wrote: Likable but flinty, Connors was a tough guy who didn’t have to show off. An idealist and a nice guy, Mannix was perfectly willing to take on a lost little girl as a client and negotiate his fee in lunch money (never actually collected, of course). Connors had a rare sincerity that kept scenes like that from getting corny. (When cynical private-eye shows like Harry O and The Rockford Files made a point of their protagonists’ pragmatic eye for a buck, it was mainly Mannix they were rebuking.) Working out of a comfy Spanish-styled home office, dressed in plaid sport coats made out of fabric as thick as carpet, driving a snazzy muscle car painted a hideous shade of army-Jeep green, Joe Mannix was functional but square. It was all of a piece. Mannix was the audience’s uncle or its brother-in-law—that quiet, comforting fellow who never let on that he’d mowed down a whole squadron of advancing enemies during the war. (Joe’s actual back-story included service in Korea; another often-mocked TV trope, the one where the deranged vet returns to kill off all the members of his old platoon, comes more from Mannix than any other single show.) Mannix’s secretary, Peggy Fair, was cannily drawn to underscore his avuncular solidity. Played by Gail Fisher, one of the mo[...]

Hope for Better Times Ahead

Sat, 28 Jan 2017 22:11:00 +0000

Today just happens to be the first day of the Chinese New Year, 2017, which commences the Year of the Rooster. By way of celebrating, Mystery Fanfare’s Janet Rudolph has posted a surprisingly long list of crime and mystery novels associated with this occasion.

The Story Behind the Story: “Koreatown Blues,” by Mark Rogers

Fri, 27 Jan 2017 19:57:00 +0000

(Editor’s note: This is the 68th installment in The Rap Sheet’s “Story Behind the Story” series. Today’s guest contributor is Mark Rogers, who lives most of each year in Baja California, Mexico, with his Sinaloa-born wife, Sophy. His work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Village Voice, and other publications, and his travel journalism has taken him on assignment to 54 countries. While Endeavour Press beat Brash Books to market with Rogers’ mystery novel Red Thread, the author considers Koreatown Blues—due out on February 1, from Brash—to be his debut novel. In addition to penning fiction, Rogers blogs at Pissing on My Pistols.) * * * The warm rain fell on a tin awning in Mexico. I waited, up against the building’s wall, staying dry. The pieces of my crime novel Koreatown Blues were all there. Waiting to be remembered and imagined …Back in 2005, a screenplay of mine had been optioned by a major player, and I’d been signed to a hip literary management company. At age 55, I knew I was way past my sell-by date. Even so, nothing was going to stop me from making the move from New Jersey to Los Angeles and giving screenwriting a shot.I told my wife, “If I don’t take this chance, you’ll end up with a bitter old man. I don’t want to be him, and believe me, you don’t want to be married to him.”I drove cross-country and sublet a dark studio apartment in L.A.’s Koreatown. The apartment had only one window that looked out on a brick wall close enough to touch. It was ugly as hell but in reality, perfect conditions for a writer, fulfilling Henry Miller’s dictum: “Writers should be put in a prison cell and given only bread and water.”The plan was for my family to join me in three months (in a bigger apartment). Instead, they refused to make the move. And I was too stubborn to return to New Jersey.Divorce followed.Every three days or so the loneliness of my apartment would get to me. On one of those nights I wandered into a Korean nightclub a few blocks from my apartment. When I ordered a Hite, the beer arrived with a cordless microphone and the request to sing “Yesterday.”“As usual, I was the only white guy in the place.”That’s the first line of my crime novel Koreatown Blues. And that’s the way it was. The Koreans accepted me at once, and it wasn’t long before I developed a crush on the barmaid, Sung. Her husband was in South Korea, having refused to make the move to the States, which mirrored my own situation. Sung worked full-time and took care of her two teenage kids. She told me that once a year she liked to go to the beach and stare at the horizon line.Part of my affection for Sung was driven by my respect for her. When she arrived in L.A. from Seoul, she first worked as a taxi driver, which had to be daunting for a newcomer who didn’t speak English.(Above) Author Mark RogersDuring my hopeful nights sitting at the bar, trying to connect with Sung, the life of the nightclub went on around me, a mix of B-girls, Korean gangsters, and ordinary Joes Korean-style.One night, a dude at the bar got tired of eating his rice and started playing the drums on my head with his chopsticks, like a deranged Gene Krupa. When he wouldn’t stop, I told him, “You’re fuckin’ with John Wayne.” A fight was only averted when he sped out the door and disappeared into the night.A middle-aged Korean man sat beside me at the bar and told me about his son who had died in infancy. Then, when the mike was passed to him, he sang “Tears in H[...]

Get Shorts

Fri, 27 Jan 2017 17:45:00 +0000

Just two days ago, The Rap Sheet brought you the official list of nominees for the 2016 Agatha Awards, which will be presented by organizers of the Malice Domestic conference in late April. So pleased was Virginia author Art Taylor to be among the five finalists (with his short story “Parallel Play”), that he assembled a list of links for anyone interested in reading through all of this year’s contenders. You should be able to find those links here.

Oh Joe, Say It Ain’t So

Fri, 27 Jan 2017 03:35:00 +0000

First it was Mary Tyler Moore. Now it’s Mike Connors. From Variety:
Mike Connors, best known for playing detective Joe Mannix on 1960s and ’70s show “Mannix,” died Thursday in Tarzana, Calif. He was 91.

He had been diagnosed a week ago with leukemia, according to his son-in-law Mike Condon.

“Mannix” ran for eight seasons, from 1968 to 1975, and was the last series from Desilu Productions. Connors won a Golden Globe for his performance as a tough, athletic investigator, who in quintessential detective-show style, insisted on doing things his own way and often got beat up in the process. He drove an impressive series of muscle cars, including a Dodge Dart and Chevrolet Camaro. …

The handsome square-jawed actor also appeared in early ’60s TV series “Tightrope!” and “Today’s F.B.I.” in the early ’80s. He later played Colonel Hack Peters in [the] Herman Wouk miniseries “War and Remembrance.”
(Hat tip to Bill Crider.)

READ MORE:Mike Connors, an Appreciation,” by Bill Koenig
(The Spy Command).

Revue of Reviewers, 1-26-17

Fri, 27 Jan 2017 01:17:00 +0000

Critiquing some of the most interesting recent crime, mystery, and thriller releases. Click on the individual covers to read more.READ MORE: “Little Heaven, by Nick Cutter,” by Jacques Filippi (The House of Crime and Mystery). [...]

Women on Top

Fri, 27 Jan 2017 00:01:00 +0000

For the blog Criminal Element, Marianne Delacourt (aka Marianne de Pierres), the Australian author of the Tara Sharp comic crime novels, has put together a list of what she says are the “Top Ten Female Crime and Mystery Authors.” As with any such survey, this one lacks a scientific basis, but reflects the opinions of the people Delacourt consulted online. Nonetheless, it provides a decent set of recommendations for readers wanting to expand their familiarity with women writers in this genre.

Beyond the top 10 vote-getters (Agatha Christie and Tana French among them), Delacourt features an “honorable mentions” lineup that includes Ngaio Marsh and Denise Mina. She also offers a selection of “wildcard” individual books by women “that you might like to try”—a couple of which are unfamiliar even to yours truly.