J. Kingston Pierce

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Crime

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Mar 282015
 
Just over a week ago we announced on this page the beginning of a new book-giveaway contest. Thanks to publisher Quirk Books, we had available to us three copies of The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, edited by Kate White. After a random drawing from among dozens of entries, we now have the names of our winners:

June Roberts of Estero, Florida
Jim Henderson of Ohatchee, Alabama
Anne Patrick of Scarborough, Ontario, Canada

Copies of this handsomely illustrated new volume will be sent directly by the publisher to that trio of Rap Sheet followers. We hope they enjoy reading about the myriad authors whose kitchen techniques are recorded in the book, and find some recipes in its 176 pages that are worth adding to their regular repertoire.

If you didn’t win this contest, fear not. We should be offering another one soon. After all, we love giving away books!
Mar 282015
 
Like so many modern crime-fiction fans, I include 1974’s Chinatown among my favorite films of all time. Aside from its noirish story line and its stellar cast of performers (Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, etc.), one of that movie’s great strengths is its moody soundtrack, responsibility for which belongs to Jerry Goldsmith. I’ve previously showcased that music here, but only today did I happen across the YouTube video below, in which Goldsmith talks about the process of composing his memorable motion-picture score.

Don’t Forget. Enter Now!

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Mar 272015
 
Today marks the conclusion of our contest to give away three copies of The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, edited by Kate White. If you missed The Rap Sheet's earlier post explaining what this handsome volume is all about--and offering an excerpted recipe from the cookbook--click here.

If you haven’t entered the drawing yet, well, what the hell are you waiting for? The process could hardly be simpler. Just e-mail your name and postal address to jpwrites@wordcuts.org, and be sure to write “Cookbook Contest” in the subject line. Entries will be accepted until midnight tonight. The three winners will be chosen completely at random, and their names listed on this page tomorrow.

Sorry, but at the publisher’s request, this contest is open only to residents of the United States and Canada.

Feeling lucky?
Mar 262015
 
On the heels of this morning’s Petrona Award shortlist announcement comes news about the 2014 Strand Magazine Critics Awards, “recognizing excellence in the field of mystery fiction.” There are two categories of contenders, as follow:

Best Novel:
The Fever, by Megan Abbott (Little, Brown)
Jack of Spies, by David Downing (Soho Crime)
The Secret Place, by Tana French (Viking)
Fear Nothing, by Lisa Gardner (Dutton)
Die Again, by Tess Gerritsen (Ballantine)
After I’m Gone, by Laura Lippman (Morrow)

Best First Novel Nominees:
Dry Bones in the Valley, by Tom Bouman (Norton)
Dear Daughter, by Elizabeth Little (Viking)
The Home Place, by Carrie La Seur (Morrow)
Ice Shear, by M.P. Cooley (Morrow)
Confessions, by Kanae Minato, translated by Stephen Snyder (Mulholland)
The Good Girl, by Mary Kubica (Mira)

We wish all of these contenders the best of luck.

In addition, says the magazine, “Otto Penzler will receive The Strand’s Lifetime Achievement award for his contribution to the crime genre. For over four decades Penzler [has] stood as a giant in the crime publishing genre--he founded Mysterious Press in 1975 and has published authors such as Nelson DeMille, Elmore Leonard, Patricia Highsmith, Eric Ambler, and scores of other bestselling authors. He’s also edited dozens of mystery-themed anthologies, which have included original works by Michael Connelly, Jeffery Deaver, Ed McBain, and J.A. Jance. And last but not least, he’s the proprietor of the legendary Mysterious Bookshop in New York City. “I have been at every award ceremony since The Strand Magazine began to honor the stars of the mystery world and have celebrated with those who received these prestigious prizes,” says Penzler. “In all humility, I was stunned to join their ranks and my heart swells with joy and pride.”

This year’s Strand prizes will be handed out during a cocktail party to be held in New York City on July 8.
Mar 262015
 
Half a dozen works of fiction make up the shortlist of contenders vying to win the 2015 Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year. This commendation--established just two years ago--takes its name from the blog operated by Maxine Clarke, a British editor and “champion of Scandinavian crime fiction,” who died in 2012.

Here are the latest Petrona candidates:

The Hummingbird, by Kati Hiekkapelto,
translated by David Hackston (Arcadia Books; Finland)
The Hunting Dogs, by Jørn Lier Horst,
translated by Anne Bruce (Sandstone Press; Norway)
Reykjavik Nights, by Arnaldur Indriðason,
translated by Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker; Iceland)
The Human Flies, by Hans Olav Lahlum,
translated by Kari Dickson (Mantle; Norway)
Falling Freely, As If in a Dream, by Leif G.W. Persson,
translated by Paul Norlen (Doubleday; Sweden)
The Silence of the Sea, by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir,
translated by Victoria Cribb (Hodder & Stoughton; Iceland

According to a press release sent out this morning, “The winning title will be announced at the annual international crime fiction event CrimeFest, held in Bristol 14-17 May 2015. The award will be presented by the Godmother of modern Scandinavian crime fiction, Maj Sjöwall, co-author with Per Wahlöö of the Martin Beck series. ... The winning author will receive a full pass to and a guaranteed panel at the 2016 CrimeFest event.”

Congratulations to all of the nominees! To learn more about the books mentioned above and this year’s Petrona Award judges, click here.
Mar 202015
 
Next week will bring the much-anticipated release of The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, edited by Kate White. Since food and dining have often been employed as plot devices in crime fiction, and few people know how to whip up sustaining yarns better that the numerous folk who make this genre so delicious, it wasn’t a far-fetched idea to ask a few of those writers to contribute their favorite recipes for publication. Something similar, in fact, was done back in 1989 when a hardcover volume titled Plots and Pans: Recipes and Antidotes from the Mystery Writers of America, edited by Nancy and Jean Francis Webb, reached bookstores. Illustrated by Gahan Wilson, and with an introduction by Isaac Asimov, Plots and Pans featured meal suggestions from Stanley Ellin, Ellis Peters, Gregory Mcdonald, Dorothy Gilman, Stephen King, Len Deighton, and a smörgåsbord of others. (You can study the book cover here.)

This new, 176-page illustrated work, prepared by Quirk Books, features more than 100 “wickedly good recipes” from such famous fictionists as Raymond Benson, Alafair Burke, Lee Child, David Morrell, Gillian Flynn, Bill Pronzini, S.J. Rozan, Sue Grafton, Harlan Coben, Laura Lippman, Gary Phillips, Sara Paretsky, and--with a perfect name for this endeavor--Thomas H. Cook. The dishes range from breakfast favorites to soups, salads, dinner entrées, libations, and desserts (with James Patterson’s “Grandma’s Killer Chocolate Cake” being an example of that last course). As White explains in her introduction, proceeds from sales of the cookbook will go to the Mystery Writers of America (MWA), which sponsors the annual Edgar Awards.

To whet your appetite for the release of this work, The Rap Sheet has arranged with Quirk to give away three copies of The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook. If you’d like to be entered in the drawing for one of those, simply e-mail your name and postal address to jpwrites@wordcuts.org. And be sure to write “Cookbook Contest” in the subject line. Entries will be accepted between now and midnight next Friday, March 27. The three winners will be chosen completely at random, and their names listed on this page the following day.

Sorry, but at the publisher’s request, this contest is open only to residents of the United States and Canada.

Still ambivalent entering this drawomg? Do you and need a bit of encouragement? Below you’ll find an excerpt from the book, provided exclusively to The Rap Sheet. It’s a morning-meal concoction perfected by Ben H. Winters, the Edgar-winning author of last year’s World of Trouble and two previous pre-apocalyptic thrillers.

BEN H. WINTERS

Detective Palace’s Three-Egg Omelet

Hank Palace, the hero of my novel The Last Policeman, is a young detective trying to solve a murder in a society in bad decline. With the apocalypse less than a year away, it’s getting mighty tricky to get a good restaurant meal. Hank’s whole modus operandi is to keep his head down and do his job, regardless of what’s going on out in the panicky world; it’s lucky for him that the folks at his favorite local diner feel the same way. He has been eating at the Somerset since he was in high school, and all that time he’s been served by the same waitress, Ruth-Ann. Ruth-Ann teases Hank because he always gets the same darn thing, the three-egg omelet. But hey, an omelet is delicious and quick to eat, so you’ve got time left over to sip coffee and develop theories of the investigation.

That’s just how Hank Palace is: he likes his routine; he likes things to persist in the way they always have been. Sure, the world is about to end--but I’d like the three-egg omelet, please.

Serve with whole wheat toast (heavily buttered) and coffee (black and hot). Ruth-Ann usually serves a little bowl of fruit with it, but Palace never eats it.

YIELD: 1 OMELET
3 eggs

A couple pats of butter
3 tablespoons milk
Salt and pepper

A sprig of parsley

1. Beat the eggs in a bowl. Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat. (Unless you’ve got a diner-style griddle, or one of those things you put over your stovetop to make it into a diner-style griddle.)

2. Get the butter melting in the pan. Pour the milk into the eggs, add salt and pepper to taste, and whisk. Whisk some more. Put your back into it.

3. When the pan is hot enough--i.e., when you flick some water in there and it hisses back at you--pour in the eggs. Leave them alone for about a minute, or a little less, until the bottom starts to set.

4. Use a spatula to push one edge of the omelet toward the middle of the pan, simultaneously tilting it to let the liquid part come in underneath it. Keep doing this until there’s no more liquid. Flip it over (use two spatulas if you have to) and cook for another five seconds, until it looks cooked.

5. Now you could add fillings, like grated cheese or cooked mushrooms or, I don’t know, green pepper or some such. Palace likes just the eggs.

6. Ease half the omelet off the pan and fold the other half on top of it. Garnish with the parsley.

(Excerpted from The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, edited by Kate White. Reprinted with permission from Quirk Books.)
Mar 192015
 
• To hardly anyone’s surprise, Amazon has renewed the TV crime drama Bosch for a second season. That show is based on Michael Connelly’s popular novels featuring Los Angeles police detective Harry Bosch. You’ll find The Rap Sheet’s recent coverage of Bosch here.

• In the latest installment of her fine newsletter, The Crime Lady (now available online, not just to e-mail subscribers, it seems), critic Sarah Weinman relates a very uncomfortable moment during last weekend’s Left Coast Crime convention in Portland.

• As you might expect, I already own all six seasons of James Garner’s renowned private-eye series, The Rockford Files, on DVD, and have managed over the years to find most of the subsequent teleflicks on YouTube. But word has finally come down that Universal Studios Home Entertainment will release The Rockford Files: The Complete Series--a 34-disc anthology including 120 episodes and all eight TV films--on May 26. Retail cost: $149.98. On that very same day, says TV Shows on DVD, Universal will put on sale a DVD set of the last four Rockford movies, those that weren’t featured in The Rockford Files: Movie Collection--Volume 1, which hit shelves back in 2009. The Rockford Files: Movie Collection--Volume 2 will reportedly retail for $26.98. If you’ve been waiting for the right moment to add Rockford to your DVD-viewing diet, now might be the perfect time.

• Also worth watching for is the release, on June 16, of The Bold Ones: The Senator. Starring Hal Holbrook, that 1970-1971 NBC-TV political drama was one of several series rotating under the umbrella title The Bold Ones. Only nine episodes (plus a pilot film) of The Senator were made, yet it won five Emmys, including one for Holbrook himself. TV Shows on DVD offers this program synopsis:
In this gripping drama, Senator Hays Stowe [Holbrook] … works tirelessly to serve his constituents, and the American people as a whole. Exploring the issues facing our nation, The Senator received praise for its intelligent portrayal of the challenges and responsibilities inherent in one of the most sacred duties imaginable.

Co-starring Sharon Acker and Michael Tolan, and featuring guest appearances by Randolph Mantooth and Burgess Meredith,
The Bold Ones: The Senator is a fascinating look back at the ideals held within our political system and a program whose themes still resonate today.
The Bold Ones: The Senator--The Complete Series will be a three-disc offering produced by Timeless Media Group, a division of Shout! Factory. It will set you back $49.97.

• Have you ever seen Harry Houdini’s 1926 death certificate?

• We already knew that Christian Bale was slated to star as Florida “salvage consultant”-cum-private eye Travis McGee in a film adaptation of John D. Macdonald’s 1964 novel, The Deep Blue Good-by, and that Rosamund Pike would play the female lead in that picture. Now, though, I hear Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage has been cast as McGee’s brainier-than-thou sidekick, Meyer, in this story that sends McGee “on the trail of stolen sapphires, which leads to a sadistic torturer.” Meanwhile, the lovely 20-year-old actress Nicola Peltz (Transformers: Age of Extinction) “will play a woman who acts older than she is, knows more about the sapphires than she lets on, hires McGee to find them, and ends up on the wrong side of the torturer.” This big-screener is currently scheduled for a 2016 debut. Oh, and did I mention that author Dennis Lehane is working on its screenplay?

• Lehane, whose new novel, World Gone By, has just seen print, is certainly a busy guy these days. As fellow author Craig Mcdonald writes: “Word on the street is Dennis Lehane is mounting a TV series about [former Untouchables investigator Eliot] Ness that will presumably come closer to the real and ‘touchable’ Ness than previous incarnations ever contemplated.” Ohio’s Cleveland Plain Dealer explains that Lehane is putting together a program “based on Douglas Perry’s 2014 biography, Eliot Ness: The Rise and Fall of an American Hero. The series will focus on the crime-fighter’s post-Untouchables years [in Cleveland] as public safety director, mayoral candidate, society swell, and alcoholic. Don’t get too excited, though,” remarks the newspaper’s book editor, Joanna Connors.  “As Lehane cautioned last week, in a phone interview, the show still has many steps to take before you add it to your DVR lineup.”

• And before we leave the subject of John D. MacDonald, here’s a link to a post Peter Quinones wrote about the women appearing in the first four Travis McGee novels.

• The new James Bond film poster is downright uninspiring.

• Stephen King’s novel Joyland has already won a good deal of publicity, including critic Ali Karim’s choice of it, in January Magazine, as one of the best crime novels of 2013. However, paperback publisher Hard Case Crime--which previously also issued a hardcover limited edition of Joyland, with new frontal art by Robert McGinnis--has still more plans for King’s popular book. HCC announced yesterday that it will release an illustrated edition of Joyland in September 2015.
The acclaimed coming-of-age story set in a possibly haunted small-town amusement park spent more than 25 weeks on the New York Times Best-Seller List in paperback and e-book format. Aside from certain extremely limited editions for collectors, however, no hardcover edition of the book has ever been published. The new edition will feature a brand-new cover painting by popular Hard Case Crime artist Glen Orbik, whose other covers for the series include books by Gore Vidal and Michael Crichton; a map of the Joyland amusement park illustrated in the classic “mapback” style by Susan Hunt Yule; and more than twenty interior illustrations by acclaimed artists Robert McGinnis, Mark Summers, and Pat Kinsella.
• Was Arthur Conan Doyle the victim of a police conspiracy?

• Paula Hawkins, author of the much talked-about novel The Girl on the Train, dropped a few hints to Entertainment Weekly about her next project: “It’s a similar genre [as that of Train] and it’s also going to be narrated by women, but a very different book. I haven’t really talked about this much because it’s quite a difficult thing to explain. Because it sounds weird. It’s got quite a gothic feel to it. It’s not about witch-hunting, I can tell you this. However, I wanted there to be something about women being accused of witchcraft. That didn’t happen much in the south of England. Mostly that happened in Scotland and the north. That part of England really lends itself to a dark and gothic and brooding novel, so it worked out. I’m not at the point where I’ve got an elevator pitch, as you can tell! But I’m working on it and I think that [the novel] will be out next year.”

• Since I recently interviewed novelist David Morrell for Kirkus Reviews (with part of our e-mail exchange spilling over into The Rap Sheet), my radar is still quite sensitive to stories about his work. So it was to be expected that I’d catch mention on Facebook of a forthcoming collector’s edition of First Blood, his 1972 debut novel and the story that introduced resourceful Vietnam War veteran John Rambo. On his Facebook author page, Morrell writes that Gauntlet Press will issue “a numbered edition of 500 signed copies and a lettered edition of 52 signed copies. The lettered edition includes everything that’s in the numbered edition, but it also has additional items: manuscript pages, research photographs, and 1972 publicity materials.” Gauntlet’s own site adds that, along with Borderlands Press, it “will publish special editions of the entire Rambo trilogy over the next three years.” Something to look forward to, indeed.

• So, as it turns out, I’ve been loading toilet paper the wrong my whole life. Inventor Seth Wheeler apparently had specific ideas about this when he applied for his patent in 1891.

• I’d pretty much forgotten the one-season TV spinoff, Law & Order: Los Angeles. But then Mystery*File reminded me of its passing.

• This is a most promising development: Publisher Altus Press has announced the premiere of its new line, The Argosy Library series, which will resurrect fiction originally featured in Argosy magazine (one of my grandfather’s favorite publications) or its sister periodicals, The All-Story, Flynn’s Detective Fiction Weekly, and others. Ten books at a time are set to be brought to market (in hardcover, paperback, and e-book versions), with the initial batch coming in May. As the press release for this venture phrases it, “The Argosy Library expects to showcase the varied mix of genres that made Argosy one of the most popular pulps of all time, and Series 1 does just that by showcasing adventure, mystery, Western, science fiction, fantasy, and crime stories by … authors such as Lester Dent, W. Wirt, Otis Adelbert Kline, W.C. Tuttle, George F. Worts, and Theodore Roscoe …” Click here to find the covers and write-ups about each volume.

• With his first book, On the Road With Del and Louise: A Novel in Stories, coming out this fall from Henery Press, Virginia author Art Taylor explores the “novel in stories” concept in this piece for the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine blog.

• Who remembers Robert Loggia’s T.H.E. Cat?

• After revisiting the 1974-1975 ABC-TV crime drama Get Christie Love! during last month’s Classic Detective TV Blogathon (see his post here), Hal Horn of The Horn Section has apparently decided to stay on the GCL beat at least a while longer. Go here to read his review of the November 13, 1974, episode, “Downbeat for a Dead Man.” Personally, I’d be happy to see him write about all 24 regular episodes of that Teresa Graves series, though since there’s been no DVD release of the show, I suspect they’re hard to locate.

• Director Guy Ritchie’s big-screen version of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.--set to premiere this coming August--has evidently fiddled a bit with the back story of American secret agent Napoleon Solo (portrayed in the original 1960s TV series by Robert Vaughn). The Spy Command has that story.

• I’m intrigued to read that Portland, Oregon, author Evan Lewis has resurrected Dashiell Hammett’s The Continental Op for a story--the first in a new series--being published in the May 2015 edition of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. More here.

• Finally, it seems Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, who play Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, respectively, in the BBC One TV series Sherlock, will--by some strange alchemy of storytelling--be sent back to Victorian England (Holmes’ traditional milieu) for a holiday special “likely set to air next Christmas.”
Mar 172015
 
Although I am “mature” enough to remember when Sylvester Stallone’s first Rambo action picture splashed onto U.S. movie screens in 1982, it wasn’t until two decades later that I finally understood those films had been spawned from a 1972 work titled First Blood, by Canadian-American novelist David Morrell. Credit for this realization lies largely with my fine friend Ali Karim, a Rap Sheet contributor and big Morrell enthusiast, who in 2003 conducted what is still one of the most thorough interviews with the author, published by the e-zine Shots.

And only last fall, during Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, California, did I finally have the opportunity to meet (and actually dine with) Morrell. More recently, I decided to fire some questions off to him--via e-mail--about his new historical thriller, Inspector of the Dead (Mulholland). Many of Morrell’s responses can be found in my latest Kirkus Reviews column. Those that couldn’t fit there are posted below.

Morrell, you might already know, was born in 1943 in the Canadian city of Kitchener, Ontario (which also happens to have been where the man who would grow up to be private-eye novelist Ross Macdonald spent a good chunk of his boyhood). After receiving his B.A. at St. Jerome’s University in Ontario, Morrell moved to the United States in the mid-1960s and studied American literature at Pennsylvania State University, eventually receiving his M.A. and Ph.D. Morrell began working as a professor with the University of Iowa English department in 1970, and two years later his debut novel, First Blood, was published. Described on Morrell’s Web site as “a ground-breaking novel about a returned Vietnam veteran suffering from post-trauma stress disorder who comes into conflict with a small-town police chief and fights his own version of the Vietnam War,” First Blood was followed in fairly quick succession by such books as Testament (1975), The Totem (1979), and Brotherhood of the Rose (1984). The last of those was adapted into a two-part television movie of the same name, broadcast in 1989, and followed by a pair of sequels.

Morrell left teaching in 1986 and has since produced 20 additional novels (not only crime thrillers, but works in the horror and Western genres as well), plus a collection of short stories (1999’s Black Evening). He’s also racked up enough literary prizes to make a sturdy shelf sag, including the Nero and Macavity awards, multiple Bram Stoker Awards (from the Horror Writers Association), an Inkpot Award (bestowed by the Comic-Con International convention in San Diego, California), and, in 2009, the ThrillerMaster Award, presented for lifetime achievement by the International Thriller Writers.

My chief purpose in interviewing Morrell recently was to talk about Inspector of the Dead and its no-less-captivating predecessor, Murder as a Fine Art (2013), both of which find UK essayist and notorious drug addict Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859)--best known for penning Confessions of an English Opium-Eater--serving in the role of detective, with his youngest daughter, the resourceful and self-confident Emily, acting as his sidekick. However, I also asked him about his interest in the classic Martin Milner/George Maharis TV series Route 66, his often difficult childhood, the use of violence in his fiction, and a supposedly growing resurgence of interest in the eccentric De Quincey. I suggest you first check out my new Kirkus Reviews column, which highlights a variety of Inspector of the Dead’s essential plot elements, and then come back here to read the remainder of our lengthy e-mail exchange.

J. Kingston Pierce: Let’s start out with a simple question. Is it true that you’re 71 years old, with your next birthday on April 24?

David Morrell: It is. My debut novel, First Blood, was released in 1972. This is my 43rd year as a published author, an eternity if we consider that many careers end after 15 or 20 years. I think one reason I’m still being read is that I did my best to evolve. With each decade I tried to find new ways of writing action and suspense. My recent Victorian mystery/thrillers are a good example. Who could have predicted them?

(Left) David Morrell and his books. Photo by Jennifer Esperanza.

JKP: Is it also correct that you became a writer because of the early 1960s TV series Route 66? What was it about that program’s scripting that so affected you?

DM: My life was changed at 8:30 p.m. on the first Friday of October in 1960 when Route 66 premiered: two young men in a sports car traveling across the country in search of themselves. I was 17, and the scripts by Oscar-winner Stirling Silliphant (a fascinating mix of action and ideas) spoke to me so powerfully that I wrote him a letter, saying that I wanted to do what he did. He wrote back with the advice to write, write, write, and write. I never looked back. Route 66 was about moving ahead and searching, an attitude that really stuck with me.

JKP: You had a very difficult childhood. Your father, a Royal Air Force (RAF) bombardier, was shot down over France during World War II, and your mother first put you in an orphanage, then later sent you to live on a Mennonite farm. Your mother finally remarried and took you back, but your stepfather wasn’t a fan of children. How did those trying times prepare you for a life composing novels?

DM: I found out recently that my father was actually a Royal Navy pilot (not a bombardier). His task was to fly over German military facilities that were targeted by Navy cannons and to report where the shells were landing so that the ships could improve the trajectory of their barrage. I’m told that he was shot down during D-Day operations. Before that he was in Ontario, Canada, training Canadian pilots for the war. That’s where he met my mother. With the orphanage and the distant, sometimes violent stepfather, I had a troubled youth. My mother and stepfather argued so much that, as a child, I was so afraid I slept under my bed. That’s when I started telling stories to myself in which I was a hero, saving people. In a way, I was programmed to write thrillers.

JKP: The scope of research you must have done in order to produce Murder as a Fine Art and then Inspector of the Dead had to be extensive. It’s always a risk, after an author has done such considerable research for a book, that he will feel the need to share too much of that knowledge in his story. Do you find yourself prone to such over-explanation?

DM: My goal was to try to make readers believe that they are truly on those harrowing, fogbound streets [of London]. So I kept reminding myself that every detail had to serve the story and move it along. But because Murder as a Fine Art and Inspector of the Dead are imitation Victorian novels, I had an advantage--the omniscient viewpoint. Typical of many Victorian authors, [Charles] Dickens allowed his narrator to explain things, almost as a historian. Note the opening of Bleak House in which the narrator descends through London’s smog and finds the law courts at the center of it. Dickens basically explains the British legal system before the story begins. I find this to be refreshing, a technique so out of fashion these days that it’s brand new. The omniscient narrator gave me the opportunity to explain aspects of Victorian culture, burial practices for example, that I couldn’t have done any other way.

JKP: You’ve occasionally been criticized for inserting too much violence into your novels. In Murder as a Fine Art, you even cautioned readers in the introduction that some people might find the bloodshed, particularly in Chapter 1, “shocking.” Inspector has its own savage elements, though they’re somewhat less nightmarish. Are you sensitive to criticism about violence in your fiction? And what kind of balance do you try to strike between being honest to your story, letting violent acts speak when they must, and understanding that violence may sometimes turn off readers?

DM: Murder as a Fine Art uses many details from the first media-sensation murders in English history …, the 1811 Ratcliffe Highway slayings in London. Those murders--two sets of them, only a few days apart--were so ghastly that they literally paralyzed all of England. I call them the first media-sensation murders because they happened after improved roads and the speedy mail-coach system allowed the news to travel everywhere in England within two days. My main character, Thomas De Quincey, wrote in detail about those killings in the third installment of his famous “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts.” The point of the novel is that someone uses his step-by-step essay (the start of the modern true-crime genre) as an instruction manual. So I needed to be specific about the murders. It’s strong stuff. That’s why I put a disclaimer in the foreword, advising readers to be prepared for the first chapter, but that it was necessary for me to be specific.

In terms of violence in my work generally, I don’t include it unless it’s essential to the story. In my debut novel, First Blood, for example, you could say that I was dealing with “war as hell,” so sometimes the details are necessarily strong in order to show their effect on Rambo. In contrast, the movie (which I like) is more like “war is heck.”

JKP: After reading Inspector of the Dead, I find myself amazed by Queen Victoria’s willingness to appear regularly in public, even though men kept trying to assassinate her on the streets of London. Do you think her courageous, or perhaps willfully naïve?

DM: Victoria’s immediate forebears, George IV and William IV, were seldom seen in public. They mostly stayed in their country houses and lived excessively with their mistresses. When she was a child, Victoria was trained by her mother and her mother’s “advisor,” a man named [John] Conroy, to appear in public often and play up to the crowd. So … I’m not sure we can say she was courageous (although seven men did try to kill her). Mostly I see her as doing what she’d been indoctrinated to believe an effective monarch should do.

JKP: Thomas De Quincey seems rarely to sleep in your stories, for fear that his opium nightmares will plague him. Is that true, that he remained awake as many hours as possible? And what part did all that sleeplessness play in shaping his personality?

DM: Opium affected De Quincey as a stimulant. It wasn’t unusual for him to stay awake for 24 hours at a stretch, and to be writing all that time, dropping manuscript pages everywhere. But when he did sleep, he suffered opium nightmares that led him to conclude that the human mind has “caverns and abysses, layer upon layer,” where there are secret chambers in which alien natures can hide, undiscovered. These dreams caused him to write about the subconscious, a concept that he invented 70 years before Freud.

JKP: How do you see Emily De Quincey’s role in these novels? Is she principally the tether that keeps her father grounded, prevents him from bewildering his police associates with philosophizing above their comprehension, and translates his more obscure musings? Or does she serve a less obvious part in your fiction?

DM: Yep, she’s the tether. The books depend on her.

JKP: Much is known about Thomas De Quincey, but I believe relatively little is known of Emily. Do we even know what she looked like?

DM: [There’s] a wonderful painting that one of De Quincey’s daughters commissioned in 1855. The daughter was going to India to be married, and she wanted an image of her father and her two sisters. That painting survives. I often look at it as I write about these historical figures. Emily looks beautiful and, for me, spellbinding.


This 1855 painting by James Archer (part of the collection of The Wordsworth Trust) shows Thomas De Quincey with his daughters Emily and Margaret and granddaughter Eva Craig.


JKP: So is the young woman on the cover of Inspector of the Dead supposed to be Emily? I can’t imagine who else it might be, but I don’t recall a scene in the tale that would have inspired such an image.

DM: The image on the cover--a young woman walking across a bridge with a mysterious figure ahead of her--doesn’t depict anything in Inspector of the Dead. My Mulholland Books editor and I had several conversations about the image, which looks wonderfully atmospheric. We finally decided to pretend that it was Emily in a part of the book that wasn’t written.

JKP: More than a few book critics have compared the investigative partnership of De Quincey and Emily to that of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson. Is it that simple?

DM: For certain, Emily’s function isn’t simple. With her bloomer skirt, her independent attitude, and her suspicion about authority, she’s an anachronism, and that’s important because the contrast shows how few rights and how little freedom Victorian women had.

JKP: You’ve suggested before that we’re in the midst of a De Quincey renaissance. What factors convince you of that?

DM: One of my research assets is Robert Morrison, an English professor at Queens University in Ontario, Canada. Years ago, I too was a professor, so I wrote to him as one professor to another, asking for advice. I sent him the manuscript for Murder as a Fine Art to find out if he thought I had been true to De Quincey. When he gave me his imprimatur, we became Internet friends. The two of us are on a mission to make De Quincey part of the pantheon of 1800s English authors. Robert has been receiving reports about an increasing number of university courses that feature De Quincey. For a long while, TDQ (as Robert and I call him) didn’t receive his proper credit--because of the suspicion that an opium addict couldn’t have been a major author. But that overlooks the obvious. He was the first person to write about drug addiction, vividly, in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. I mentioned that he invented the modern true-crime genre in the third installment of “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts.” He invented what he called “psychological” literary criticism in his groundbreaking essay, “On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth.” At a time when Wordsworth’s poetry was ridiculed, De Quincey championed it to everyone he met and was a major factor in Wordsworth’s being accepted as major poet. And then there’s De Quincey’s psychoanalytic writing. This guy was a big deal and deserves to be treated as such. Robert and I are spreading the word. The other major De Quincey expert, Grevel Lindop, has also been a big help to me.

JKP: How have you changed as an author since you published First Blood back in 1972? And what do you know about the business of fiction-writing now that you wish you’d known then?

DM: Every book is a new adventure. I finish one novel and decide that I finally understand what’s involved, but then I start a new one, and I realize that I have to learn how to write a book all over again.

JKP: You’ve said that you are currently at work on your third De Quincey novel, and you have “always thought of this as a trilogy.” Does that mean readers absolutely cannot expect a fourth installment … or that you’d be open to considering a fourth book, if you’re happy with how the first three are received?

DM: There’s always the chance there could be a fourth De Quincey novel. But at the moment, I’m focused on completing my original intention of a trilogy, and I can’t see beyond it. I never imagined that I’d write a short-story prequel about De Quincey (The Opium-Eater), which is sort of outside the trilogy, so it just goes to show that anything’s possible.

JKP: Finally, the Wikipedia page about you contains a particularly odd résumé item. It says that you’re a graduate of the G. Gordon Liddy Academy of Corporate Security. When did you take on that instruction, and what did the course work entail? Does this mean you actually had some contact with Liddy, the notorious Watergate burglar?

DM: In 1986, Gordon allowed his name to be used for an Academy of Corporate Security. The course lasted three weeks--days, nights, and weekends. It was taught by instructors who were retired from the DEA, FBI, CIA, etc. The course was designed for professionals in the security field, but I was allowed to attend (President Reagan’s son Ron was also allowed to attend). I spent a lot of time with Gordon, who mostly talked about opera and his family. The course was very intense. From the sessions with a professional undercover operative, I got the details for Assumed Identity [1993]. Another instructor, a retired U.S. marshal who’d been part of the team that protected John Hinckley Jr. after he shot President Reagan, gave me the research that I needed to write The Fifth Profession [1990], The Protector [2003], and some other protective-agent novels. Over the years, I’ve [had] numerous similar kinds of training from people who basically put me through what CIA operatives learn at the so-called Farm in Virginia.

I’m a Method-actor sort of novelist. I love learning what I write about. For one of my novels, [2009’s] The Shimmer (which is about the mysterious Marfa Lights in West Texas), I even became a private pilot. Of course, this hands-on approach is impossible for the Victorian period. Most of the De Quincey-era buildings are gone. But where possible, I did prepare some photo essays about the physical parts of the Victorian world that remain and that I wrote about in the novels. Here’s a link to one of them: “Eerie Lord Palmerston’s House.”

* * *

If you’d like to watch the first episode of Route 66, “Black November,” which Morrell credits with changing his life, click here.
Mar 152015
 
Four different commendations were handed out last evening during the 2015 Left Coast Crime convention in Portland, Oregon.

The Lefty (for the best humorous mystery novel): Herbie’s Game, by Timothy Hallinan (Soho Crime)

Also nominated: The Good, the Bad, and the Emus, by Donna Andrews (Minotaur); January Thaw, by Jess Lourey (Midnight Ink); Dying for a Dude, by Cindy Sample (Cindy Sample); and Suede to Rest, by Diane Vallere (Berkley Prime Crime)

The Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award (for the best mystery novel covering events before 1960): A Deadly Measure of Brimstone, by Catriona McPherson (Minotaur)

Also nominated: Queen of Hearts, by Rhys Bowen (Berkley Prime Crime); From the Charred Remains, by Susanna Calkins (Minotaur); City of Ghosts, by Kelli Stanley (Minotaur); and Cup of Blood, by Jeri Westerson (Old London Press)

The Rose (for the best mystery novel set in the LCC region, “commemorating our Portland location”): Pirate Vishnu, by Gigi Pandian (Henery Press)

Also nominated: One Kick, by Chelsea Cain (Simon & Schuster); Glass Houses, by Terri Nolan (Midnight Ink); Deadly Bonds, by L.J. Sellers (Thomas & Mercer); and Plaster City, by Johnny Shaw (Thomas & Mercer)

The Rosebud (for the best first mystery novel set anywhere in the world): The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskens (Seventh Street)

Also nominated: Kilmoon, by Lisa Alber (Muskrat Press); Ice Shear, by M.P. Cooley (Morrow); The Black Hour, by Lori Rader-Day (Seventh Street); and Mistress of Fortune, by Holly West (Carina Press)

The winners were chosen by a vote of the conference’s attendees. Congratulations to all of the nominees.
Mar 142015
 
On March 1, The Rap Sheet--along with a number of other blogs covering crime and mystery fiction--posted a list of nominees for the 2015 Derringer Awards, which will be given out by the Short Mystery Fiction Society. The SMFS subsequently alerted me that “an eligibility issue” had arisen, and that it would have to be resolved before the slate of nominees was finalized and voting by SMFS members could commence. No details were given then as to the scope of the problem.

Then earlier today, Gerald So, a former president and vice-president of SMFS, dropped me an e-note, saying that “the eligibility issue and confusion” had finally been cleared up, and a revised rundown of contenders is available. As far as I can, the only difference between the original line-up of challengers and the new one is the elimination of a single short story in the “Best Flash Fiction” category: “Because,” by Travis Richardson, which appeared on the Web site Out of the Gutter on May 15, 2014. (Another story with that same title, but penned by Melissa Yi and published in Fiction River Special Edition: Crime, remains on the nominees list.)

I have edited my original Rap Sheet post about the 2015 Derringer Awards to reflect this change. An announcement of the winners in each category is expected on Tuesday, March 31.

FOLLOW-UP: I have been informed that another alteration was made in this list. In the Best Novelette category, a story titled “The Monster in Our Midst,” by Kris Nelscott, was replaced by Doug Allyn’s Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine tale, “The Snow Angel.”