J. Kingston Pierce

Apr 212014
 
• At some point during my boyhood, one of my hometown TV stations began broadcasting reruns of the 1968-1971 NBC drama The Name of the Game on Saturday afternoons, and there was no more loyal watcher of those episodes than me. I don’t know whether I viewed every installment of that mystery/adventure “wheel series” or not, but I saw enough that even now, I count myself an ardent fan. Sadly, The Name of the Game hasn’t yet been collected in DVD format. But recently, somebody who signs him- or herself as “Zardon4” began uploading episodes of the NBC series to YouTube. The show’s first tale, “Fear of High Places”--originally broadcast on September 20, 1968, and starring Tony Franciosa and Susan St. James--can be enjoyed here. There are more than a dozen other Name of the Game episodes available on Zardon4’s page--at least till the YouTube police swoop in to remove them. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen before you’ve had the chance to watch them all.

• Speaking of vintage TV crime dramas, the pseudonymous Smeghead2068 has posted something of an oddity: the sheet music from Henry Mancini’s catchy theme music for Cade’s County, the 1971-1972 series starring Glenn Ford.

• Five finalists have been named in the competition for Canada’s 2014 Bloody Words Light Mystery Award. That prize--better known as the Bony Blithe--celebrates books that feature “everything from laugh-out-loud to gentle humor to good old-fashioned stories with little violence or gore.” The five contenders are:

-- Gold Web, by Vicki Delany (Dundurn)
-- Framed for Murder, by Cathy Spencer (Comely Press)
-- Thread and Buried, by Janet Bolin (Berkely Prime Crime)
-- Never Laugh as a Hearse Goes By, by Elizabeth Duncan (Minotaur)
-- Miss Montreal, by Howard Shrier (Vintage)

A winner will be announced during the Bloody Words Mystery Conference gala banquet to be held on June 7 in Toronto, Ontario.

• I must have missed seeing this curious bit of news when Britain’s Independent newspaper carried it last month:
Inspector Morse creator Colin Dexter has written a clause into his will banning anyone else playing the part of the detective after his death--to prevent future actors “competing” with John Thaw.

Dexter, who wrote the Oxford detective novels which were adapted into the popular television series, told
The Independent: “We never want to repeat what John has done.”

The 83-year-old added: “A lot of people connected with Morse didn’t want anyone coming along to say we will try and outdo dear old John. I said I’m not ever going to allow that, full stop.”

The existence of the clause was revealed in an interview with the
Radio Times by actor Shaun Evans, who plays a young Morse in the spin-off called Endeavour. The producers of the series only managed to convince the author to consent to Evans, 34, as he would not be competing with Thaw’s more mature original.
• Ben H. Winters’ Countdown City (Quirk) has won the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award as the most “distinguished original science-fiction paperback published for the first time during 2013 in the U.S.A.” That novel, about a New Hampshire cop’s efforts to locate the missing husband of a childhood babysitter--even as an asteroid threatens to destroy Earth--is the sequel to Winters’ Edgar Award-winning 2012 novel, The Last Policeman.

• The prolific Max Allan Collins talks with Crimespree magazine about his ongoing campaign to take a variety of novels Mickey Spillane was still writing at the time of his death in 2006, and finally get them finished and into print. The latest of those books, a Mike Hammer outing titled King of the Weeds, is due out early next month.

• Pierce Brosnan’s significance in James Bond history is secure.

• If you’re lucky enough to live near the British capital, note that the Museum of London will open a new Sherlock Holmes exhibit this coming fall. The point of the show is to ask “searching questions such as who is Sherlock Holmes, and why does he still conjure up such enduring fascination …”; it will also “explore how Sherlock Holmes has transcended literature onto stage and screen and continues to attract huge audiences to this day.” This exhibition will run from October 17, 2014, through April 21, 2015.

• Critic Jake Kerridge has a good piece in The Daily Telegraph about how “Margery Allingham’s books show the evolution from well-plotted, bloodless stories to psychologically acute crime novels.”

• Sigh ... Another “noir classic” I have never read.

• Ed Gorman previews Borderline, a 1962 pulp novel written by Lawrence Block (though it was originally released as Border Lust, by “Don Holliday”) that’s being returned to print next month by Hard Case Crime. “In addition to the pleasure of reading sentences that sing, stomp and strut,” Gorman writes, “there is the considerable heft of the story itself. If this was dashed off, as many of [the] soft-cores were, this is one of the finest dashing-offs ever put to paper.”

• Nick Carter--“the most famous of all manhunters.”

• And this comes from Shotsmag Confidential: “A painting of crime writer Ian Rankin has been unveiled at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The image of the [Detective Inspector John] Rebus creator was commissioned by friend and fellow author Alexander McCall Smith. Edinburgh-based artist Guy Kinder painted the likeness after spending a day photographing Rankin. The portrait will be added to a collection at the Edinburgh gallery which celebrates some of Scotland's greatest writers.” You can see the painting here.
Apr 172014
 
There are a number of excellent works among the nominees for this year’s Barry Awards, including Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night (one of my personal favorites from 2013), Thomas H. Cook’s Sandrine’s Case, Stuart Neville’s Ratlines, and Charles McCarry’s The Shanghai Factor. These commendations are organized by Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazineand will be given out during this coming November’s Bouchercon in Long Beach, California. Below is the complete roster of Barry contenders.

Best Novel:
A Conspiracy of Faith, by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Dutton)
A Tap on the Window, by Linwood Barclay (New American Library)
Sandrine’s Case, by Thomas H. Cook (Mysterious Press)
Suspect, by Robert Crais (Putnam)
Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Krueger (Atria)
Standing in Another Man’s Grave, by Ian Rankin (Reagan Arthur)

Best First Novel:
Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent (Little, Brown)
Japantown, by Barry Lancet (Simon & Schuster)
The Bookman’s Tale, by Charlie Lovett (Viking)
Rage Against the Dying, by Becky Masterman (Minotaur)
Cover of Snow, by Jenny Milchman (Ballantine
Norwegian by Night, by Derek B. Miller (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Best Paperback Original:
Joe Victim, by Paul Cleave (Atria)
Disciple of Las Vegas, by Ian Hamilton (Picador)
The Rage, by Gene Kerrigan (Europa Editions)
I Hear the Sirens in the Street, by Adrian McKinty (Seventh Street)
Fear in the Sunlight, by Nicola Upson (Harper)
Fixing to Die, by Elaine Viets (Signet)

Best Thriller:
Dead Lions, by Mick Herron (Soho Crime)
Ghostman, by Roger Hobbs (Knopf)
Red Sparrow, by Jason Matthews (Scribner)
The Shanghai Factor, by Charles McCarry (Mysterious Press)
Ratlines, by Stuart Neville (Soho Crime)
The Doll, by Taylor Stevens (Crown)

Congratulations to all of the nominees!

(Hat tip to Janet Rudolph’s Mystery Fanfare).

Damage Claims

 Kirkus  Comments Off
Apr 152014
 
Because it’s likely you have not yet come across my latest Mysteries & Thrillers column on the Kirkus Reviews Web site, let me now direct your attention to it. My subject this time out is Hilary Davidson’s brand-new thriller, Blood Always Tells. Although I mention a few minor criticisms of the book, I found it interesting in intent and generally successful in execution. As I remark at one point, “People accustomed to easing slowly into a story will probably want to get a firm grip on their socks before cracking open Blood Always Tells.”

Click here to find the full review.

READ MORE:Q&A with Hilary Davidson” (MysteryPeople).
Apr 142014
 
• Here’s a book I very much look forward to adding to my library: The Art of Robert E. McGinnis. Slated for release by publisher Titan in October, and put together by McGinnis and co-author Art Scott, it will trace the career of this Ohio-born artist “best known for his book cover and movie poster work”--someone whose illustrations I have frequently highlighted in my Killer Covers blog. I can’t tell, by reading the brief Amazon write-up, whether this is an expansion of a 2001 book McGinnis and Scott put together, or a wholly new volume; I hope it’s the latter. By the way, the cover art decorating this Titan book appeared originally on the 1960 novel Kill Now, Pay Later, by Robert Kyle.

• I was sorry to hear that Minnesota businessman-turned-novelist Harold Adams died on April 4 at 91 years of age. He was the author of 17 novels featuring Carl Wilcox, an itinerant sign painter and “happenstance private eye” who operated in the small South Dakota town of Corden during the Great Depression. That Shamus Award-winning series began with Murder (1981) and concluded with Lead, So I Can Follow (1999). Adams also penned two novels (1987’s When Rich Men Die and 2003’s The Fourth of July Wake) about a wise-ass contemporary TV news anchor, Kyle Champion, who winds up taking on P.I. work himself. “I consider Harold Adams to be one of the major voices of his generation of crime fiction writers,” Ed Gorman wrote in the Minnesota mystery anthology Writes of Spring (2012). “His unique voice, his strong sense of story and structure, and his rich, wry depictions of the Depression-era Midwest have stayed with me long after the works of flashier writers have faded. There’s music in his books, a melancholy prairie song that you carry with you for life … I consider him to be a master.” Learn more about Adams here.

• Good-bye, as well, to a couple of other famous figures: Peter Matthiessen, whose National Book Award-winning works The Snow Leopard (1978) and Shadow Country (2008) sit prominently on the bookcase just in front of my office desk; and Mickey Rooney, the child actor who grew up to wed the lovely Ava Gardner, appear in such films as Drive a Crooked Road (1953), It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and The Black Stallion (1979), and headlined the 1982 TV series One of the Boys. Matthiessen was 86 when he passed away on April 5; Rooney succumbed a day later, at age 93.

• The 2014 Edgar Allan Poe Awards won’t be given out until May 1. (Here are the contenders.) But publisher Open Road Integrated Media is already endeavoring to build up excitement with this infographic, which looks back at the breakdown between male and female winners, the occupations of the protagonists in those books, the two U.S. presidents who’ve been given Edgars, and much more.

• Speaking of Open Road, one of its digital marketing associates, Emma Pulitzer, asked me to pass along word that the publisher is “looking for someone to join our mystery team in marketing. … The job is called ‘Digital Marketing Manager – Fiction,’ although it’s specifically for mysteries.” Learn more here.

• I’ve previously featured, on this page, the trailer for Frank Sinatra’s 1967 detective film, Tony Rome. But I have to confess, that I have never taken the time to read Marvin Albert’s novels featuring Rome, the Miami police detective turned gumshoe who lives on a boat called The Straight Pass. In fact, I was only reminded of the protagonist because William Patrick Maynard wrote about him last week in the blog Black Gate. As he explains: “The first book in the series, Miami Mayhem (1960), plays like an update of Chandler’s The Big Sleep (1939), with its exposure of the dirty secrets wealthy families can afford to hide most of the time. The second title, Lady in Cement (1961), sees Tony stumble into the middle of a sordid mob connection after discovering the corpse of a nude woman in a block of cement while snorkeling in the deep blue sea. The third and final book, My Kind of Game (1962), sees Tony on a mission of revenge when the surrogate father figure who mentored him in the private eye business is worked over while investigating big crime in a small town.” If anyone out there has read the Rome novels, let us all know what you thought of them in the Comments section below.

• In the Los Angeles Review of Books, Chris Walsh revisits the largely forgotten TV movie The Execution of Private Slovik, which starred Martin Sheen, was written by Columbo creators William Link and Richard Levinson, was based on a tragic episode from World War II, and aired 40 years ago last month. Walsh’s piece is here.

• Belated congratulations to Reed Farrel Coleman, who has been tapped to compose four new novels in Robert B. Parker’s series about small-town Massachusetts police chief Jesse Stone. Commenting on this assignment in his blog, Coleman said, “Jesse Stone is a character with enormous appeal for me. I’d written an essay about Jesse entitled ‘Go East, Young Man: Robert B. Parker, Jesse Stone, and Spenser’ for the book In Pursuit of Spenser, edited by Otto Penzler. In doing the research for the essay, I found a rare and magical thing that only master writers like Mr. Parker could create: the perfectly flawed hero. Easy for writers to create heroes. Easy for writers to create characters with flaws. Not so easy to do both. But Robert B. Parker was an alchemist who turned simple concepts into enduring characters.” Coleman’s first Stone book, Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot, is due for release in September by Putnam.

• Laura Lippman (After I’m Gone) picks her 10 favorite books about missing persons for Britain’s Guardian newspaper. Her most unexpected choice may be Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.

Dashiell Hammett--Sherlockian parodist?

Darkness, Darkness, John Harvey’s 12th and last Detective Charlie Resnick novel, isn’t due out until September. In the meantime, though, UK readers can appreciate--this month!--an e-book short-story prequel to that release, Going Down Slow. Harvey offers background to the brief tale in his own blog.

• Editor Steven Powell, who wrote on this page two years ago about Theodora Keogh’s forgotten 1962 novel, The Other Girl, notes in The Venetian Vase that “Pharos Editions, a Seattle-based press, has just reissued Keogh’s novels The Tattooed Heart (1953) and My Name Is Rose (1956) in a single volume featuring an introduction by Lidia Yuknavitch. Apparently, this is the first time these novels have been reissued since the 1970s, although Olympia Press did reissue Keogh’s other novels between 2002 and 2007.” Go to the Pharos Editions Web site for more information.

• Speaking of forgotten thingsLongstreet!

• Double O Section has the trailer for A Most Wanted Man, a forthcoming film adapted from John le Carré’s 2008 novel of the same name, and featuring “one of the final lead performances from the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman.” Watch it here.

• And the Pierce Brosnan espionage film November Man (based on the late Bill Granger’s 1987 novel, There Are No Spies) has finally, at long last, been given a U.S. release date of August 27.
Apr 122014
 
And the 2013 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for a mystery or thriller novel goes to … Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling for The Cuckoo’s Calling (Mulholland), the first private-eye novel she’s penned under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

Cuckoo’s beat out four rivals in that same category: Hour of the Red God, by Richard Crompton (Sarah Crichton); Sycamore Row, by John Grisham (Doubleday); The Rage, by Gene Kerrigan (Europa Editions); and The Collini Case, by Ferdinand von Schirach (Viking). The announcement was made tonight to help kick off the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

Mystery/Thriller, of course, was just one of the 10 categories of prizes this year. You can see all of the winners and runners-up here.

READ MORE:L.A. Times Festival of Books Pre-Party,” by Jeri Westerson (Getting Medieval).
Apr 102014
 
You’ll have to wait until Thursday, April 24, to see the complete list of authors and novels shortlisted--in seven categories--for the 2014 Arthur Ellis Awards. But the Crime Writers of Canada has announced the longlist for one of those categories, Best Novel. They are:

Walls of a Mind, by John Brooke (Signature Editions)
The Wolves of St. Peter’s, by Gina Buonaguro and Janice Kirk (HarperCollins Canada)
The Devil’s Making, by Sean Haldane (Stone Flower Press)
Presto Variations, by Lee Lamothe (Dundurn Press)
The Rainy Day Killer, by Michael McCann (Plaid Raccoon Press)
Stranglehold, by Robert Rotenberg (Simon & Schuster Canada)
Miss Montreal, by Howard Shrier (Vintage Canada)
The Guilty, by Sean Slater (Simon & Schuster UK)
An Inquiry into Love and Death, by Simone St. James (Penguin)
The Drowned Man, by David Whellams (ECW Press)

These 10 titles were culled from a collection of more than 70 books entered for consideration in the Best Novel category. You will find the complete list of titles, plus the rundown of contenders in this year’s half-dozen other Arthur Ellis Award categories, here.

Winners of the 2014 awards will be announced during an event in Toronto, Ontario, scheduled for Thursday, June 5.
Apr 072014
 
Nowadays, there are so many genre-fiction awards nominations made during the first half of every year, it’s difficult to keep up. This morning brings an announcement of candidates, in six categories, for the 2014 Thriller Awards. Those commendations are given out by the International Thriller Writers organization.

Best Hardcover Novel:
Her Last Breath, by Linda Castillo (Minotaur)
Never Go Back, by Lee Child (Delacorte Press)
Touch and Go, by Lisa Gardner (Dutton)
Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King (Scribner)
Criminal Enterprise, by Owen Laukkanen (Putnam)
White Fire, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Grand Central)
The Demonologist, by Andrew Pyper (Simon & Schuster)

Best First Novel:
Montana, by Gwen Florio (Permanent Press)
Resolve, by J.J. Hensley (Permanent Press)
Rage Against the Dying, by Becky Masterman (Minotaur)
Red Sparrow, by Jason Matthews (Scribner)
The Edge of Normal, by Carla Norton (Minotaur)
Out of Range, by Hank Steinberg (Morrow)
The Intercept, by Dick Wolf (Harper)

Best Paperback Original Novel:
Cold Snap, by Allison Brennan (Minotaur)
Buried, by Kendra Elliot (Montlake)
His Majesty’s Hope, by Susan Elia MacNeal (Bantam)
The One I Left Behind, by Jennifer McMahon (Morrow)
Snow White Must Die, by Nele Neuhaus (Minotaur)
Deadly Harvest, by Michael Stanley (Harper)

Best Short Story:
“Baggage of Eternal Night,” by Eric Guignard (JournalStone)
“Waco 1982,” by Laura Lippman (from The Mystery Writers of America Presents: The Mystery Box, edited by Brad Meltzer;
Grand Central)
“The Gallows Bird,” by Kevin Mims (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], July 2013)
“Footprints in the Water,” by Twist Phelan (EQMM, July 2013)
“Doloroso,” by Stephen Vessels (EQMM, November 2013)

Best Young Adult Novel:
The Rules for Disappearing, by Ashley Elston (Disney-Hyperion)
Scorched, by Mari Mancusi (Sourcebooks Fire)
Escape from Eden, by Elisa Nader (Merit Press)
All Our Yesterdays, by Cristin Terrill (Disney-Hyperion)
Boy Nobody, by Allen Zadoff (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Best E-Book Original Novel:
The World Beneath, by Rebecca Cantrell (Rebecca Cantrell)
The Burning Time, by J.G. Faherty (JournalStone)
Terminus, by Joshua Graham (Redhaven)
No Dawn for Men, by James Lepore and Carlos Davis
(The Story Plant)
Out of Exile, by Luke Preston (Momentum)

The names of this year’s ITW Thriller Awards will be declared on July 12 during ThrillerFest IXin New York City.

* * *

Meanwhile, author-blogger Lee Goldberg brought word yesterday of which books and writers are in the running for the 2014 Scribe Awards, “recognizing excellence in the field of media tie-in writing ... books based on movies, TV shows and games.” There are six categories, but two that might be of greatest interest to Rap Sheet readers:

Best Adaptation (Novelization):
Man of Steel, by Greg Cox (Titan)
47 Ronin, by Joan D. Vinge (Tor)
Pacific Rim, by Alex Irvine (Titan)

Best General Original:
The Executioner: Sleeping Dragons, by Michael A. Black (Gold Eagle)
Murder She Wrote: Close-Up on Murder, by Donald Bain (NAL)
Leverage: The Bestseller Job, by Greg Cox (Berkley)
Leverage: The Zoo Job, by Keith R. A. DeCandido (Berkley)
Mr. Monk Helps Himself, by Hy Conrad (NAL)

Again, the full list of this year’s Scribe Award competitors is here.
Apr 072014
 
Rockford Files fan Jim Suva reminds me that today is actor James Garner’s birthday. The legendary star not only of The Rockford Files, but also of Maverick, Nichols, Support Your Local Gunfighter, and so many other TV shows and films turns 86 years old today. I was fortunate enough to interview Garner, via e-mail, in 2011, and I count that as one of my life’s high points. Happy birthday, Jim!
Apr 042014
 
(Editor’s note: This is the 132nd entry in our ongoing series about great but forgotten books. Today’s tribute comes from New Yorker Erica Obey, the author most recently of a mystery novel titled Back to the Garden [Five Star]. She teaches courses on mystery fiction and Arthurian romance at Fordham University.)

My clergyman father--whose taste in books ranged from Helen MacInnes to Teilhard de Chardin--had one house rule when I was growing up: I was allowed to choose anything that I had the patience to read from his bookshelves. Admittedly, this led to some cryptic interpretive episodes involving As I Lay Dying and The Scarlet Letter. But in spite of a childhood acquaintance with everything from Ian Fleming to page 29 of The Godfather, only one thing ever really felt like forbidden fruit: the Gothic romances of Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, and especially Phyllis A. Whitney.

Born in 1903, Whitney’s life spanned the entire 20th century (she died in 2008), and her career nearly did as well. She began to write hundreds of stories for what she described as “pulp magazines” in 1925, and published her first children’s book, A Place for Ann in 1941. Two years later, in 1943, she published Red Is for Murder (later retitled The Red Carnelian) the book that set her on the path to becoming the “Queen of American Gothic Romance.”

It was a term Whitney herself disliked--and correctly so. Technically, the Gothic romance was an 18th- and 19th-century genre, whose terrorized heroines fled through a century’s worth of dismal ruins, midnight fires, mysterious warnings, and both literal and figurative skeletons in the closet, straight from Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho into the waiting arms of Charlotte Brontë and Jane Eyre. Long derided as comprising “silly novels by scribbling ladies,” the genre began to be taken seriously by feminist critics in the 1970s and ’80s. Arguably, the most important interpretation of the Gothic romance was Claire Kahane’s contention that the heroine’s exploration of the closed rooms and haunted corridors of a mysterious mansion was a metaphorical exploration of the secrets of her own childhood home--along with the more complex issues of mother/daughter relationships and the anxiety of female authorship.

The Red Carnelian was published only five years after Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, which many would call the last true Gothic novel. However, although it is clear that Whitney forged her career from the tricks of the Gothic romance’s trade, it also is quite clear that she is doing something very different, very modern and very American. In The Red Carnelian, Linell Wynn, who writes copy for Cunningham’s Department Store, stumbles across the dead body of Michael Montgomery, her ex-fiancé, in a display window--on the same day that he has returned from his honeymoon with another woman. Linell is the main suspect, but there is no shortage of others, for Montgomery had a knack of making everyone around him unhappy--including his new bride. That plot alone establishes the factors that made Whitney so popular: an independent heroine with an interesting career, a setting that is at least as interesting as the heroine, a mystery, and a romance. What makes it particularly American is Whitney’s choosing a department store for her setting, thereby moving the traditional Gothic’s discussion of desire and illusion from the closed world of the house and family into the larger world of the American success story.

Whitney’s emphasis on Linell’s professional abilities is also what makes it hard to define The Red Carnelian as a romance. Unlike her contemporaries Holt and Stewart, Whitney always insists on maintaining a balance between the mystery and the romance in her books. Indeed, The Red Carnelian’s hero, Bill Thorne, who is as gruff and practical as his name suggests, spends a great deal of time off stage, allowing Linell to solve the mystery on her own. This is not simply a demonstration of Whitney’s commitment to creating an independent heroine. It also demonstrates Whitney’s characteristic determination to balance the demands of the head and the heart in her novels. Traditional Gothic novels have always been about the heart, giving voice to such forbidden female desires as Jane Eyre’s “rebellion, hunger, and rage”--and I’m sure this is what made them feel so much more dangerous to me as a child than James Bond ever seemed. But while Whitney is not in the least afraid of exploring the psychologically charged issues of both familial and romantic love, particularly in The Red Carnelian’s denouement, her books always force her heroines to understand these desires as well.

In other words, the head matters as much in Whitney’s work as the heart--and Linell is particularly suited to using her head, because she is a writer. Significantly, she is not a creative writer; instead, she is a copywriter who observes and describes, rather than imagines. It is this objective aspect of her character that allowed her to see through Montgomery’s seductive exterior even before the novel begins. It also makes her clear-eyed enough to deconstruct the multiple false narratives the other characters tell, in order to discover the solution to the crime. However, after having solved the crime, Linell conspires with Sylvester Hering, the store detective, to create a false narrative of her own--and Whitney makes her reader complicit in that decision from the novel’s very first page. (Without, of course, giving away the ending.)

As someone who teaches a college-level course on mystery fiction, I can’t help but read such a concern with narration, truth, and falsity in the grimly post-modernist terms of Lacan’s and Derrida’s disappearing referent--especially given the book’s change in title from Red Is for Murder to The Red Carnelian. Granted, the change was probably made to bring the title in line with more well-known Whitney titles such as The Golden Unicorn or The Turquoise Mask. But Red Is for Murder is an allegorizing, interpretative move, suggesting a clear representational relationship between the text and its meanings. The Red Carnelian, in contrast, is a MacGuffin--a meaningless object of desire, like the suitcase in the post-modern masterpiece Pulp Fiction, whose only purpose is to trigger the characters’ narratives.

Whitney, I’m sure, would have no truck with such nonsense--and speaking as a recovering academic, I can only applaud her. However, such theoretical analysis is a good reminder not to underestimate the complexity of Whitney’s work--and to admire her straightforward handling of the complicated questions she addresses. For, when asked to describe her own writing, Whitney simply said that it was about arriving at “understanding between people.” Those words go straight to the careful balance between the head and the heart that gives Whitney’s work its enduring appeal. The reader’s head is satisfied by understanding the mystery--and Whitney’s awareness of the slippery nature of stories and words. But the heart is satisfied by the romance, along with the fact that any understanding arrived at in one of Whitney’s books is always “between people”: whether they are an innocent young girl and a dark, dangerous man; a mother and a daughter; or a conspiracy among Linell, Hering, and Whitney herself to allow kindness to temper justice in the mystery’s solution.

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