J. Kingston Pierce

Jul 212014
Two days after James Garner’s death at age 86, accolades continue to roll in for this charismatic actor who seemed to bear the weight of stardom with such grace and humility.

Charles P. Pierce (no relation) writes on the Esquire site:
[W]hat connected Brett [sic] Maverick with Jim Rockford, and what allowed Garner to send convention for a loop was the fact that, while not being cowards, both Brett and Jim were unconvinced that violence was necessarily a part of being either a Western hero or a private eye. They never saw the logic in it. This doesn't make sense. Somebody might get hurt here. And it might be me. QED, let's try to think our way out of this mess. It took a rare actor to turn that trick without appearing either cowardly or unpleasantly conniving.
After acknowledging Garner’s “crucial” role in the 1969 film Marlowe, an adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel The Little Sister (“The script wasn't vintage noir--there was a martial arts scene--and Garner was not exactly Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, but he was droll and melancholy”), Britain’s Guardian newspaper notes that
His second breakthrough came in 1974, when Huggins still in the business, assigned a pilot script to the writer Stephen J. Cannell, who decided to break as many rules of the TV private-eye genre as he could. The obvious casting was Garner: Jim Rockford, the ex-prisoner hero of The Rockford Files, was a downmarket Marlowe, with no office but his mobile home at the beach, an answering machine instead of a secretary. His gun was stored in the biscuit jar. Rockford had a paunch from tacos and beers; he was lazy; and, except for his retired trucker dad, he knew mostly bums, losers and put-upon LAPD cops.

Maverick had done, the series pushed the televisually possible further. Storylines could be serious--Garner was proud of an episode based on a New Yorker investigation into the grand jury system, so acute that it helped change the law. But it was the sense of a weird Los Angeles, sundried as a lizard up canyon roads, that was new and different. Critics panned it, but the first season was a ratings hit; then [co-creator Roy] Huggins was pushed out, and Garner confronted Universal Television over an enforced change in tone. Rockford lost 20% of its audience but continued for five seasons (Garner won his Emmy in 1977); then it ended suddenly in the sixth season, when Garner told the crew on location that he was exhausted and had no intention of dying early, and walked out.
Garner grew up in Oklahoma, so it’s natural that the state’s major newspaper, The Oklahoman, should devote space to celebrating his long career. Its obituary is here, but the paper also offers a more in-depth look at the actor’s life here. Written by entertainment editor Gene Triplett, the article draw heavily on The Garner Files, the 2011 memoir Garner wrote with Jon Winokur, but notes some discoveries Winokur made while collaborating on that book:
“I had no idea how extensive (Garner’s Korean [War] service) was,” Winokur said in a recent phone interview. “He was in a unit that was thrown into the front lines when the Chinese Communists crossed the 38th Parallel in 1951, and his unit was the first thing they ran into, and they were decimated. They had something like 60 percent casualties in a very short time, and (Garner) was wounded a couple of times … and got a Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster, which he never talked about very much.” …

Another revelation for the author, from interviews with Garner’s friends and associates, was “the number of people whose lives he has enhanced through his generosity. … Something that came up again and again was how tremendously generous he is, both financially and in other ways.”
(Click here to see The Oklahoman’s front-page tribute to Garner.)

Eric Deggans writes in National Public Radio’s Monkey See blog:
I didn’t know, watching Isaac Hayes push James Garner around on The Rockford Files, that I was seeing a special character continue an important television legacy.

All I knew, as a devoted fan of Garner’s put-upon private eye, was that Jim Rockford seemed like a kind of hero you never saw anywhere else on television.

Perpetually strapped for cash and working a case that wasn’t likely to change that situation, Rockford was a wrongly imprisoned ex-con who cloaked his heroism in a cynic’s quips and world-weary attitude (Hayes was a physically intimidating fellow ex-con who always mispronounced his name as “Rockfish”).

“Rockfish” rarely pulled a gun or won a fight with his fists--which could be a little frustrating to those of us weaned on more, say, direct TV private eyes like Mannix or Shaft. Instead, he maneuvered among a seedy universe of corrupt cops and crooks, lame hustlers and earnest victims, using his street smarts and an unerring sense of justice to save the day.

He wasn’t an anti-hero as much as an “unhero”; a regular Joe with a sardonic sense of humor who stepped up when he was needed.
CelebStoner mentions Garner’s support of legalizing marijuana:
“I don’t know where I’d be without it,” he wrote in his 2011 memoir, The Garner Files. “It opened my mind to a lot of things, and now its active ingredient, THC, relaxes me and eases my arthritis pain.”
And this story from The Washington Post’s obituary is one that I’ve heard before, but it is worth repeating here:
Mr. Garner said he most valued collegiality on the set, and it tended to bring out his best performances. One case he cited was “Murphy’s Romance.”

Co-star [Sally] Field told a CBS News reporter of the making of that movie, “He’s so profoundly sexy, and maybe the best kiss I ever had in my life, which was on camera, believe it or not.”

Mr. Garner replied, “I think she’s had a very sheltered life. I mean, poor baby, if that’s the best.”

Thinking further, he added, “I’ve had a couple of them say that. I might not be a bad kisser at all.”
UPDATE: I want to add another voice to this chorus of praise. In A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence Towles Canote writes:
What always appealed to me about James Garner was that while he was incredibly handsome and charming, at the same time he seemed entirely approachable. Unlike many movie stars James Garner came off as “just one of the guys.” I always imagined that if someone met Mr. Garner in a bar that he or she could sit down with him and talk about the weather, sports, television, and all of the other things about which everyday people talk. Indeed, James Garner treated acting as if it was simply another job. In his memoir, The Garner Files he wrote of acting, “Be on time, know your words, hit your marks, and tell the truth. I don’t have any theories abut acting, and I don’t think about how to do it, except that an actor shouldn’t take himself too seriously, and shouldn’t try to make acting something it isn’t.”

While James Garner may have treated acting as just another job, there can be no doubt that he was great at it. While he will forever be remembered as Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford, he played a wide variety of roles throughout his career. Many of them were similar to his two best-known roles, men who preferred to use their wits instead of their fists. There is a marked similarity between Bret Maverick, Jim Rockford, Lt. Hendley of The Great Escape, and Jason McCullough of Support Your Local Sheriff. And while Mr. Garner played such charming rogues well, he was equally adept at the sometimes very different roles he played. He played tough as nails lawman Wyatt Earp not once, but twice, and did so convincingly (once in Hour of the Gun and once in Sunset). And while most of the characters James Garner played were nice guys, he was capable of playing characters who were not so nice. In the television movie Barbarians at the Gate he played real-life millionaire F. Ross Johnson. Like many of James Garner’s characters, real-life F. Ross Johnson is charming, but at the same time he had no problems with thousands of Nabisco employees losing jobs if it made him millions of dollars.
READ MORE: James Garner: 1928-2014,” by Ronald Tierney (Life, Death, and Fog); “James Garner, 1928-2014: Remembering Rockford,” by Craig McDonald; “Remembering James Garner and The Rockford Files,” by Julia Buckley (Mysterious Musings); “James Garner, R.I.P.,” by Mitchell Hadley (It’s About TV).
Jul 212014
In my capacity as a journalist, I’ve had plenty of opportunities over the years to interview famous people. On various occasions, I have quizzed Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, architect-futurist Buckminster Fuller, Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau, singers Sarah Vaughn and Judy Collins, politicians Eugene McCarthy, Patty Murray and magician Harry Blackstone Jr., architects Philip Johnson and Robert A.M. Stern, Columbo creator William Link, and authors ranging from Ross Macdonald and Robert B. Parker to Lyndsay Faye, Max Allan Collins, Elmore Leonard, and Philip Kerr.

But I have never been so excited--or so nervous--as I was when I scored an interview with James Garner in 2011. With his first-ever memoir, The Garner Files, due for imminent release, I’d contacted his publisher, Simon & Schuster, to inquire about chatting with the renowned actor turned author. I knew it was the longest of long shots; Garner was a very private man, notorious for steering clear of media exposure. But I figured, what the hell, I’ll try anyway--what did I have to lose? And wonders upon wonders, he said yes. Or at least his co-author, Jon Winokur, did. Winokur told me to send him my list of questions via e-mail, and he’d persuade Garner to answer them.

I was so enthusiastic, I spent a whole day writing and polishing my questions, and then cutting their number down to just over two dozen that I thought were the best. I shot them Winokur’s way … and then waited. I imagined all the things that could go wrong: Garner might decline at the last minute to respond; maybe he would look through my queries and decide they were too intrusive or not interesting enough; or he might have conflicting responsibilities that would prevent his sitting down with Winokur on my behalf. I’d never crossed my fingers so hard for luck, hoping everything would go my way.

As I’ve written before, I was introduced to Garner by my father, who was a big fan of the 1957-1960 ABC-TV Western series Maverick. But I became an even more ardent admirer of this actor’s work. Not only did I watch all of Maverick, but I never missed an episode of Garner’s 1974-1980 private-eye series, The Rockford Files. Aside from several of his earliest film work and a few of his later pictures (including Tank and The Last Debate), I have seen all of his performances. I’m particularly fond of his starring roles in The Great Escape (1963), The Americanization of Emily (1964), Marlowe (1969, based on Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister), Support Your Local Gunfighter! (1971), Skin Game (1971), Murphy's Romance (1985), director Blake Edwards’ Victor, Victoria (1982) and Sunset (1988), Streets of Laredo (1995), and Twilight (1988). I bought the full six-year run of The Rockford Files when it came out in DVD sets, and have since picked up his complete series Nichols (1971-1972) and Bret Maverick (1981-1982). To call me a Garner fan is like calling Bill Clinton a politician; the term simply doesn’t seem adequate to the circumstances.

(Left) Garner in 2004

Of course, I was not alone in my adoration. The obituaries published today demonstrate how respected Garner was. This comes from The New York Times:
Mr. Garner was a genuine star but as an actor something of a paradox: a lantern-jawed, brawny athlete whose physical appeal was both enhanced and undercut by a disarming wit. He appeared in more than 50 films, many of them dramas, but as he established in one of his notable early performances, as a battle-shy naval officer in “The Americanization of Emily” (1964)--and had shown before that in “Maverick”--he was most at home as an iconoclast, a flawed or unlikely hero.

An understated comic actor, he was especially adept at conveying life’s tiny bedevilments. One of his most memorable roles was as a perpetually flummoxed pitchman for Polaroid cameras in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in droll commercials in which he played a vexed husband and Mariette Hartley played his needling wife. They were so persuasive that Ms. Hartley had a shirt printed with the declaration “I am NOT Mrs. James Garner.”

His one Academy Award nomination was for the 1985 romantic comedy “Murphy’s Romance,” in which he played a small-town druggist who woos the new-in-town divorced mom (Sally Field) with a mixture of self-reliance, grouchy charm and lack of sympathy for fools.

Even [Jim] Rockford, a semi-tough ex-con (he had served five years on a bum rap for armed robbery) who lived in a beat-up trailer in a Malibu beach parking lot, drove a Pontiac Firebird and could handle himself in a fight (though he probably took more punches than he gave), was exasperated most of the time by one thing or another: his money problems, the penchant of his father (Noah Beery Jr.) for getting into trouble or getting in the way, the hustles of his con-artist pal Angel (Stuart Margolin), his dicey relationship with the local police.

“Maverick” had been in part a send-up of the conventional western drama, and “The Rockford Files” similarly made fun of the standard television detective, the man’s man who upholds law and order and has everything under control. A sucker for a pretty girl with a distinctly ’70s fashion sense--he favored loud houndstooth jackets--Rockford was perpetually wandering into threatening situations in which he ended up pursued by criminal goons or corrupt cops. He tried, mostly successfully, to steer clear of using guns; instead, a bit of a con artist himself, he relied on impersonations and other ruses--and high-speed driving skills. …

In his 2011 autobiography, “The Garner Files,” written with Jon Winokur, Mr. Garner confessed to having a live-and-let-live attitude with the caveat that when he was pushed, he shoved back. What distinguished his performance as Rockford was how well that more-put-upon-than-macho persona came across. Rockford’s reactions--startled, nonplussed and annoyed being his specialties--appeared native to him.

His naturalness led John J. O’Connor, writing in The New York Times, to liken Mr. Garner to Gary Cooper and James Stewart. And like those two actors, Mr. Garner usually got the girl.
The Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara offers a few of her own thoughts on what made the characters Garner portrayed so welcome:
Unlike virtually any other TV hero before them, Bret Maverick and James Rockford (who was, after all, also written by Roy Huggins as a revamp of Bret) eschewed guns and violence, preferring to talk their way into and out of trouble. In another actor’s hands, both would have been supporting roles, the weaselly if likable friend of the more macho lead. But Garner, with his great hair, handsome face and “relax, fellas” demeanor, managed to make even an aversion to physicality manly--his breakout movie role was a soldier who adhered to deeply held convictions of wartime cowardice in “The Americanization of Emily,” but still got the girl.

Tall and broad, Garner was clearly capable of taking down any bad guy, he would just rather not.

This is not to say he was one-note. In a career that spanned six decades, Garner played every sort of man: the scrounger in “The Great Escape,” the oblivious American gangster in “Victor, Victoria,” the quiet but passionate neighbor in “Murphy’s Romance,” the devoted husband in “The Notebook.” He appeared with Tommy Lee Jones and Clint Eastwood in “Space Cowboys,” stepped in as Grandpa Egan on “8 Simple Rules” after the death of series star John Ritter in 2003. But to all he brought an essential decency, a quick intellect and an admirable intolerance for delusion, denial and other forms of bull.

And he managed to do it without coming off as self-satisfied, which is simply miraculous.

Garner, who famously hesitated in taking the role in “Murphy’s Romance” because he thought he was too old to play a romantic lead and didn’t want to look like a fool, had an air of rueful self-awareness that he used to ground most of his characters in a very no-nonsense reality. It wasn’t humility so much as a sense of proportion, something so unusual in a lead character or a lead actor that it became a hallmark of a Garner performance--he didn’t think too much or too little of himself because he’d rather not be thinking of himself at all.

More than anything, he was a star who didn’t appear to need every ounce of oxygen in the vicinity to shine. And as with Halley’s Comet and other rare celestial objects, it will be a few years before we see anything like him again.
It’s not hard to understand, then, why I was overjoyed to interview Garner in 2011, even if it was only through e-mail. Here was a man--a modest man, by all accounts--who’d been a part of my life for almost as long as I could remember living, and I had finally been given the chance not only to thank him for the joys he’d brought me as an actor, but to ask him his opinions of the roles he’d taken and the people he had known and the memoir he had, at last, taken time to produce.

When, after a few days of my waiting in front of the computer, Winokur sent me Garner’s responses to my numerous questions, I could hardly stop from smiling. I posted the first part of our exchange on the Kirkus Web site and the remainder of it in The Rap Sheet. My only regret was that my father was no longer around to read either installment. He would’ve enjoyed our exchange.

Back in 2004, James Garner received the Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild. During his acceptance speech, he said, “You look at the list of wonderful actors who have been recipients of this award, and I’m not all sure how I got here. I’m just so humbled to be a part of such a distinguished group. And, well, we actors, we seldom know how we are perceived by others, but this wonderful award lets me know, say, ‘Hey, Jim, you must have done something good.’”

Something good, indeed. Something not to be forgotten. Something that touched every one of us who was--who is--a Garner fan.

* * *

For a man who devoted himself to an on-screen career, there can be no better way to honor Garner’s work than with a few video clips. Let’s begin with a very familiar one--the closing credits from Maverick, including that show’s theme song.

Next comes the trailer for Marlowe, featuring Bruce Lee:

James Garner played alongside Lou Gossett Jr. in Skin Game:

In the March 1974 pilot film for The Rockford Files, Lindsay Wagner (later to star in The Bionic Woman) plays a bikini shop owner who hires Rockford to prove her down-and-out father was murdered:

In this witty scene from My Fellow Americans (1996), Garner portrays an erstwhile Democratic president, while Jack Lemmon plays his longtime rival, a former Republican president.

Garner appears with actress Mariette Hartley in this 1983 Polaroid commercial, one in a very popular series:

A short TV profile of Garner as “a living legend”:

READ MORE: James Garner Has Died; These Five Roles Will Remind You of His Greatness,” by Todd VanDerWerff (Vox); “James Garner (1928-2014): A Different Kind of Macho Movie Star,” by Noel Murray (The Dissolve); “James Garner, Rockford Files Star, Dies Aged 86” (BBC News); “R.I.P., James Garner,” by John DuMond (Nobody Move!); “James Garner” (Classic Forever); “Remembering James Garner’s Iconic Jim Rockford” (Guns, Gams & Gumshoes).
Jul 202014
This is definitely not the sort of news I hoped to wake up to this Sunday morning. From the Los Angeles Times:
Actor James Garner, whose whimsical style in the 1950s TV Western “Maverick” led to a stellar career in TV and films such as “The Rockford Files” and his Oscar-nominated “Murphy's Romance,” has died, police said. He was 86.

He was found dead of natural causes Saturday evening at his home in Brentwood, Los Angeles police officer Alonzo Iniquez said early Sunday.

Police responded to a call around 8 p.m. and confirmed Garner's identity from family members, Iniquez told The Associated Press.

There was no immediate word on a more specific cause of death. Garner had suffered a stroke in May 2008, just weeks after his 80th birthday.
I am a longtime fan of Garner’s film and TV performances, and had the privilege of interviewing him, via e-mail, back in 2011, following the publication of memoir, The Garner Files. Within the last year, I added to my collection of Garner DVD sets the releases of Nichols (his 1971-1972 TV series) and Bret Maverick (his 1981-1982 TV revival of the character he played in the classic Western series Maverick), and have been working my way delightfully through their episodes. Naturally, I own all of The Rockford Files.

I shall have more to say about Garner as the day wears on and the news sinks in, but this short post will have to suffice for now.

READ MORE:Rockford Files Star Garner Dies at 86 (Report),” by Mike Barnes and Duane Byrge (The Hollywood Reporter); “James Garner Dies at 86,” by Bill Koenig (The HMSS Weblog).
Jul 172014
Two weeks after the organizers behind this year’s Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award announced the six shortlisted contenders for that title, a winner has been declared. It’s Rubbernecker, by Belinda Bauer (Bantam Press).

Just to recap, here are the five other shortlisted works: The Red Road, by Denise Mina (Orion); The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, by Malcolm Mackay (Mantle); The Chessmen, by Peter May (Quercus); Dying Fall, by Elly Griffiths (Quercus); and Eleven Days, by Stav Sherez (Faber & Faber). The victor was determined by a select panel (chaired by UK author Steve Mosby) as well as a public, online vote.

Bauer’s win was coupled with news that Lynda La Plante has been given the fifth Theakstons Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award. The previous recipients were Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, Colin Dexter, and Reginald Hill.

(Hat tip to the Euro Crime Blog.)
Jul 152014
It’s official now: Craig Sisterson, the man behind New Zealand’s coveted annual Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, has announced the longlisted nominees for this year’s prize. They are:

The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton (Little, Brown)
Joe Victim, by Paul Cleave (Simon & Schuster)
The Beckoning Ice, by Joan Druett (Old Salt Press)
Frederick’s Coat, by Alan Duff (Vintage)
My Brother’s Keeper, by Donna Malane (HarperCollins)
Where Dead Men Go, by Liam McIlvanney (Faber and Faber)
Cross Fingers, by Paddy Richardson (Hachette)
Only the Dead, by Ben Sanders (HarperCollins)

“That’s one heck of a line-up,” Sisterson writes in his blog, Crime Watch. “How you cut it down to finalists, let alone a winner, I do not know. I can certainly see how readers will have massively divergent opinions on their favourites amongst this wide-ranging list. I don’t even know myself which book I’d choose to win.”

I have to figure out my own preferences; as was the case last year, I am once again among the “international panel of crime fiction aficionados” judging this new Marsh competition. Over the last few weeks, copies of this year’s eight contenders have sailed through my mail slot, one by one. I have been making way through them all, but still have plenty of reading to do.

A tally of finalists should be available by some time in early August. The winner is set to be declared on Saturday, August 30, “following the Great New Zealand Crime Debate event at the WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival 2014.”
Jul 132014
• As the blog Down These Mean Streets explains, “On July 12, 1946, Sam Spade opened his radio office for business. Dashiell Hammett’s famous private detective was a household name from The Maltese Falcon, and he came to radio in the person of Howard Duff in a series produced and directed by William Spier. The Adventures of Sam Spade became one of radio’s most popular mystery programs, thanks in no small part to Duff’s sardonic tough guy delivery as Spade.” To celebrate this 68th anniversary, for the last several days Down These Mean Streets has been posting a succession of photographs and sound clips from the show. You can check them all out here. And listen to more Adventures of Sam Spade episodes here.

• A couple of months ago we brought you the nominees for the 2013 Shirley Jackson Awards, honoring “outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic.” Megan Abbott, Joyce Carol Oates, Marisha Pessl, and Michael Marshall Smith all featured on that list. Today, Tor.com brings us the winners.

• National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday looks back at how ideas about crime--especially of the violent variety--have changed over the centuries, through an analysis of records kept at London’s Old Bailey criminal court. Listen to that segment here.

• Today marks the 150th anniversary of the New York Draft Riots, three days of violent disturbances in the wake of new laws drafting men to fight in the American Civil War. “The riots remain the largest civil insurrection in American history, aside from the Civil War itself,” explains Wikipedia. Cracked History has more about this confrontation--which resulted in thousands of casualties--here.

• Will Irish actor Colin Farrell become the next star of HBO-TV’s True Detective? According to Entertainment Weekly, he is “is definitely in the mix and considered the most likely lead name to join the acclaimed drama,” though “there is no deal at this time.”

• Happy fifth anniversary to Rob Kitchin’s View from the Blue House. Congratulations, too, to the blog Battered, Tattered, Yellowed & Creased, which celebrated its third birthday this month.

• Fans of James Garner and The Rockford Files will likely be interested in this forthcoming book about the actor’s association with cars and championship automobile racing.

• In Criminal Element, Jake Hinkson pays tribute to actor Raymond Burr, writing: “Burr might be famous today for playing Perry Mason on television, but I have a feeling that as time goes on, his noir work will catch up and exceed his television fame. I don’t know how many new converts the Perry Mason series will find in the future, but I know that for as long as people watch noir, they’ll be struck by Burr’s cold stare and understated delivery.”

• On the subject of Perry Mason, I just came across part of a video interview with American composer Fred Steiner, in which he talks about his work on the theme music for that 1957-1966 CBS-TV drama. I’m embedding it below. Hear more from Steiner here.

• I’m pleased to see that talented writer Leslie Gilbert Elman, who recapped last year’s opening-season episodes of the Masterpiece Mystery! series Endeavour for Criminal Element, is back on the beat, now critiquing the current, second season as well. Her thoughts on last Sunday’s installment, “Nocturne,” can be found here, while links to her previous write-ups are available here.

• The opening from Cribb, the 1979-1981 Granada Television series starring Alan Dobie as Peter Lovesey’s Victorian police detective, Sergeant Cribb, is among the latest new offerings on The Rap Sheet’s fast-growing YouTube channel.

• Uh-oh, there are problems with AMC-TV’s Better Call Saul, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s prequel to Breaking Bad.

• Back in 2009, Hard Case Crime launched a series of high-adventure thrillers built around the swashbuckling character Gabriel Hunt, beginning with Hunt at the Well of Eternity, by James Reasoner. Only half a dozen entries in that line had come off the presses, however, before publisher Dorchester Publishing ended its association with Hard Case, sending HCC to make a distribution deal instead with UK-based Titan Publishing. Only now, says its editor, Charles Ardai, is HCC “bringing the Gabriel Hunt adventure novels back--including the never-available-in-stores final volume, which will receive its first proper publication ever this August. (The first four Hunt titles are back in stores now, having been reissued one per month starting in April, and the very rare fifth volume hits stores on July 29.)” The Adventures of Gabriel Hunt Web site has also been revived.

• R.I.P., Lou Allin. The Canadian mystery writer (Twilight Is Not Good for Maidens) died last week at age 69, following a lengthy bout with pancreatic cancer. More on her life and career here.

• “Mark your calendars!” instructs Omnimystery News. “Agatha Christie’s Poirot comes to an end this summer, with the final five episodes starring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot airing on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery! (two episodes) and Acorn TV (all five episodes).” The British TV drama began its long run in 1989!

• The Classic Film and TV Café offers “Seven Things to Know About Raymond Chandler (in His Own Words).” My favorite is No. 3:
On his Philip Marlowe novel The Lady in the Lake and the 1947 film adaptation: “This is the only published fiction of mine which I have tried to adapt for films. And it would take a lot of money to make me try again, and I don’t think this kind of money would be paid me now from Hollywood. When a man has written a book and rewritten it and rewritten it, he has had enough of it.”
• Don’t count me as a fan of DC Comics’ younger, hipper reinvention of Batgirl, aka Barbara Gordon. Co-writer Brenden Fletcher says, “Our take on Batgirl mixes the best elements of Veronica Mars and Girls, with a dash of Sherlock thrown in for good measure.” I prefer a slightly more mature, more womanly Batgirl.

• Lovers of the 1944 film Laura should note that Los Angeles historian Larry Harnisch is in the midst of writing an extended series of posts about that film classic. The installments so far can be found here: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX, Part X. If you missed reading Jim Napier’s tribute to Vera Caspary’s novel, Laura, from which the film was adapted, read it here. Another, more recent review of the book can be enjoyed here.

• And Screen Rant has posted a trailer for the coming release Before I Go to Sleep, a motion-picture based on S.J. Watson’s 2011 novel of the same name. As SR explains, “[Nicole] Kidman plays Christina Lucas, a woman suffering from anterograde amnesia after being brutally attacked and receiving several blows to the head. Her condition means that every time she goes to sleep she will wake up stripped of all her memories, and must reassemble her past every day. She is reliant upon the help of her husband Ben (Colin Firth) and a specialist called Dr. Nash (Mark Strong)--but as Christine tries to gather the facts, she begins to suspect that what she has been told is not necessarily the truth.”
Jul 132014
Earlier this evening, at the conclusion of ThrillerFest IX in New York City, the International Thriller Writers (ITW) handed out its 2014 Thriller Awards to the following books and authors.

Best Hardcover Novel:
The Demonologist, by Andrew Pyper (Simon & Schuster)

Also nominated: 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); and White Fire, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Grand Central)

Best First Novel:
Red Sparrow, by Jason Matthews (Scribner)

Also nominated: Montana, by Gwen Florio (Permanent Press); Resolve, by J.J. Hensley (Permanent Press); Rage Against the Dying, by Becky Masterman (Minotaur); The Edge of Normal, by Carla Norton (Minotaur); Out of Range, by Hank Steinberg (Morrow); and The Intercept, by Dick Wolf (Harper)

Best Paperback Original Novel:
The One I Left Behind, by Jennifer McMahon (Morrow)

Also nominated: Cold Snap, by Allison Brennan (Minotaur); Buried, by Kendra Elliot (Montlake); His Majesty’s Hope, by Susan Elia MacNeal (Bantam); Snow White Must Die, by Nele Neuhaus (Minotaur); and Deadly Harvest, by Michael Stanley (Harper)

Best Short Story:
“Footprints in the Water,” by Twist Phelan (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], July 2013)

Also nominated: “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 (EQMM, July 2013); and “Doloroso,” by Stephen Vessels (EQMM, November 2013)

Best Young Adult Novel:
All Our Yesterdays, by Cristin Terrill (Disney-Hyperion)

Also nominated: The Rules for Disappearing, by Ashley Elston (Disney-Hyperion); Scorched, by Mari Mancusi (Sourcebooks Fire); Escape from Eden, by Elisa Nader (Merit Press); and Boy Nobody, by Allen Zadoff (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Best E-book Original Novel:
The World Beneath, by Rebecca Cantrell (Rebecca Cantrell)

Also nominated: 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); and Out of Exile, by Luke Preston (Momentum)

Congratulations to all of this year’s contenders!

In addition, Scott Turow was named this year’s ThrillerMaster, and Brenda Novak received the Literary Silver Bullet Award.

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)
Jul 112014
We owe thanks to Mystery Fanfare for alerting us to the results of the 2013 Strand Magazine Critics Awards competition. The winners were announced on Wednesday evening in New York City.

Best Novel: The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes (Mulholland)

Also nominated: Solo, by William Boyd (Harper); Sandrine’s Case, by Thomas H. Cook (Mysterious Press); A Serpent’s Tooth, by Craig Johnson (Viking); Ratlines, by Stuart Neville (Soho Press); and The Double, by George Pelecanos (Little, Brown)

Best First Novel: Ghostman, by Roger Hobbs (Knopf)

Also nominated: Just What Kind of Mother Are You? by Paula Daly (Grove Press); A Killing at Cotton Hill, by Terry Shames (Seventh Street); Walking Into the Ocean, by David Whellams (ECW Press); and Norwegian by Night, by Derek Miller (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

In addition, authors Peter Lovesey and R.L. Stine have been named as the latest recipients of The Strand’s Lifetime Achievement Award “for excellence in crime and thriller writing.”
Jul 092014
Whenever I mention in The Rap Sheet that I’ve discovered some wonderful trove of vintage TV crime dramas on the video-sharing site YouTube, I try to emphasize that interested readers should tarry not in watching those episodes, because they are likely to disappear soon. This case proves my point: Back in April, I reported that a user signing him- or herself as “Zardon4” had uploaded dozens of episodes of the 1968-1971 NBC drama The Name of the Game to YouTube. In the months since, Zardon4 greatly expanded his/her “channel” with more than 80 episodes of the 1958-1963 police drama Naked City, plus assorted installments of Journey to the Unknown, Edgar Wallace Mysteries, Barbary Coast, and other programs. Yesterday, though, when I went to see what new things Zardon4 had on offer, I found all of the videos gone and a note left in their place, explaining that the page had been “terminated because we received multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement …”

I don’t argue with the right of TV companies to claim ownership of their productions, or with YouTube’s touchiness about posters violating copyrights. (The Web site warns users of the risks they run by uploading material that is not exclusively their own.) I simply want to reiterate this message to Rap Sheet readers: Whenever you happen across complete episodes of classic TV shows on YouTube--not just The Name of the Game, but Mannix, Alias Smith and Jones, T.H.E. Cat, or Buddy Faro (all of which can still be found there)--don’t hesitate to watch them. Their life there may be brief.