J. Kingston Pierce

Aug 012014
 
I can’t say this for certain, but I do not believe I ever saw the pilot/opening episode of 77 Sunset Strip until earlier today. Titled “Girl on the Run,” it first aired on ABC-TV on October 10, 1958. The screenwriter was Marion Hargrove (who’d go on to script episodes of several James Garner series, as well as I Spy, The Name of the Game, and The Magician). However, the principal driver behind “Girl on the Run” was writer-producer Roy Huggins, whose private-eye creation, Stuart Bailey--introduced in Huggins’ 1946 novel, The Double Take--served as the protagonist in “Girl on the Run” (played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) and was carried over into the series.

As Paul Green explains in his recently released biography, Roy Huggins: Creator of Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, the Fugitive and The Rockford Files (McFarland & Company), in 1958 the Warner Bros. TV studio commissioned a pilot from Huggins for a gumshoe series he proposed titling 77 Sunset Boulevard. So pleased were Warner execs with the results, “Girl on the Run,” that they asked him to expand it beyond its 60-minute length. This gave the studio the option of releasing “Girl on the Run” as a theatrical feature; it eventually showed for a single week in a West Indies theater before introducing ABC’s retitled 77 Sunset Strip. (You will see a promotional poster for that film on the left. Note its “Not Suitable for Children” warning.)

Huggins was concerned that such a release represented part of a Warner Bros. scheme to cut him out of any royalties for the future small-screen series, by claiming that 77 Sunset Strip had been inspired by the film, rather than Huggins’ own literary efforts. Warner Bros. “was also planning another move to enforce [its] ownership of Huggins’ creation,” Green explains. “His third novel, Lovely Lady, Pity Me [1949], was bought by Warner Bros. and a script written [for 77 Sunset Strip] that included Stuart Bailey even though there was no private eye in the original novel.” It seems Huggins’ fears were justified; the studio ultimately refused to pay him royalties for his creation, and he took the studio to legal arbitration over the matter. After Huggins lost, he bowed out of the weekly series 77 Sunset Strip. But the show went on--through six seasons, in fact, the last one being a noirish departure from its predecessors.

Not long ago, I happened across an abundance of 77 Sunset Strip episodes on YouTube (watch them now--while you can!), and the 71-minute version of “Girl on the Run” was among that trove. I’ll let you watch the show for yourself, below, but will offer this synopsis of the plot from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb): “A private investigator is hired to find and protect a singer who witnessed the murder of a union official and is being stalked by the killer. What he doesn’t know is that he has actually been hired by the killer himself.” Just wait until you see which subsequent 77 Sunset Strip cast member plays the vicious, hair-obsessed shooter, Kevin Smiley!

Burning Rubber

 Chases  Comments Off
Aug 012014
 
It should come as no surprise that, when The Guardian’s Anne Billson picked “The Best 13 Car Chases in Film,” she was drawn to Steve McQueen’s speedy tour of San Francisco in Bullitt and Gene Hackman’s roadway pursuit of an elevated train in The French Connection. But there are enough other, less-obvious clips embedded in Billson’s compilation to make visiting it a bit of good fun.

An August Turnout

 Uncategorized  Comments Off
Aug 012014
 
Is it just my imagination, or is Mike Ripley’s new “Getting Away with Murder” column for Shots longer than usual? It certainly packs a groaning tableful of tidings and witticisms, including: word of a new, “unofficial and unauthorized guide” to the 1960s British TV series The Avengers; praise for Maurizio De Giovanni’s Commissario Ricciardi mysteries; fond mention of the late Ariana Franklin’s final and forthcoming novel, Winter Siege; a look at UK publisher Hutchinson’s revamped “bull” logo; and a vintage photo of Ian Dickerson, “all-round expert on ‘The Saint’ and editor of the latest reissues of the whole Saintly canon … in very distinguished company.”
Jul 302014
 
• The Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival and the Deanston Distillery have jointly announced their shortlist of nominees for the third annual Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year:

-- Flesh Wounds, by Chris Brookmyre (Little, Brown)
-- Falling Fast, by Neil Broadfoot (Saraband)
-- The Amber Fury, by Natalie Haynes (Corvus)
-- Entry Island, by Peter May (Quercus)
-- A Lovely Way to Burn, by Louise Welsh (John Murray)
-- In the Rosary Garden, by Nicola White (Cargo)

The winner is scheduled to be declared on September 20 during a special Bloody Scotland event. (Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

• And recipients of the 2014 Daphne Du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense competition were announced last week during the Romance Writers of America national conference in San Antonio, Texas. Click hereto see the winners in half a dozen categories.

• I respect Will Ferrell as an actor, but I think this idea is dumb: It seems he is among a group of film folk determined to revive the 1983 TV series Manimal as a big-screen picture. For those of you who don’t remember the NBC’s Manimal, Wikipedia describes it succinctly as centering on “the character Dr. Jonathan Chase (Simon MacCorkindale), a shape-shifting man who possessed the ability to turn himself into any animal he chose. He used this ability to help the police solve crimes.” Flavorwire is not wrong when it includes Manimal--along with Cop Rock and My Mother the Car--in its new list of “The Most Ridiculous TV Show Concepts in Pop Culture.”

• British author Martin Edwards, who writes quite often about classic crime fiction, has posted a rundown of his 10 favorite Golden Age mysteries. It includes Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, Dorothy L. Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise, John Dickson Carr’s The Crooked Hinge, and several books I have not yet read. I guess I have my reading work cut out for me--as usual.

• Meanwhile, Jeffrey Marks names his five favorite Agatha Christie novels. No shock: He also mentions And Then There Were None.

This is the first trailer I’ve seen for Pierce Brosnan’s new film, The November Man, based on the late Bill Granger’s 1987 novel, There Are No Spies. I really enjoyed Brosnan’s James Bond films, and The November Man returns him to that dimly illuminated world of espionage. It also features the lovely Olga Kurylenko, who starred in the 22nd Bond flick, Quantum of Solace.

• Here’s a headline I thought I would never witness in the 21st century: “Typewriter Manufacturers See Boom in Sales.” It seems the U.S. National Security Service (NSA) is to blame.

• I used to love TV movies-of-the-week, which showcased familiar small-screen actors and actresses in unfamiliar roles and often served as pilots for prospective new series. Nowadays, it seems the Big Three American networks have given up on such expensive projects, leaving them to cable-TV networks. Just as in the old days, some of these teleflicks deserve accolades, while others--including these “35 Campiest TV Movies Ever Made”--are best forgotten.

• Max Allan Collins has wrapped up a week’s worth of posts from Comic-Con International in San Diego--an event during which he won a 2014 Scribe Award for Best Short Story. You’ll find Collins’ Comic-Con coverage in five parts: here, here, here, here, and here.

• Happy 12th birthday to Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine. As Crider explains, “[the blog has] been a good distraction for me over the years, so I’ll keep it going for a while longer. So far there have been 41,725 posts prior to this one. That’s kind of scary. Maybe I should just get a life.” The Rap Sheet celebrated its eighth anniversary in May. If I can keep it going as long as Crider has been writing his blog, I might impress even myself.

• In case you didn’t notice, I spent the last two weeks posting summer-related (and occasionally lascivious) paperback fronts in my other blog, Killer Covers. Enjoy the whole set here.

This is one hell of a Raymond Chandler book collection!.

• Can you ever have too many books? Yes, insists Rachel Kramer Bussel in an essay for The Toast that begins: “Nothing brought this home for me like watching paid professionals cart away hundreds of books--read and unread, purchased lovingly or attained at book parties or conferences--when I hired a trash removal service last year upon moving from my two-bedroom apartment after 13 years. The most heartbreaking part was seeing anthologies I’d edited, with my name right there on the cover, being swept away into giant garbage cans. This was reinforced when I moved again this year, and was told by the movers, multiple times, that my boxes of books, rather than furniture like a bed and a couch, was what was weighing down their truck.”

• B.V. Lawson’s In Reference to Murder provides this tidbit: “Angus Macfadyen (Turn) will star in The Pinkertons, a 22-episode series based on the real-life cases of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, which premieres in first-run syndication in the U.S. this fall.”

• Mary Kubica, author of the suspenseful new novel The Good Girl (Mira), talks with BOLO Books’ Kristopher Zgorski, who says she “seem[s] poised to be a bit of an overnight success.”

Casablanca--“Hollywood’s greatest film”?

• And I’m sorry to hear that American actor James Shigeta has passed away at age 85. As the blog A Shroud of Thoughts recalls, “In the Seventies Mr. Shigeta appeared on such TV shows as Emergency!, Kung Fu, Matt Helm, Ellery Queen, S.W.A.T., The Streets of San Francisco, Little House on the Prairie, Police Woman, The Rockford Files, and Fantasy Island.” Shrouds’ Terence Towles Canote adds that “With the looks of a matinee idol and considerable talent as both an actor and a singer, James Shigeta might well have been a major star had he been born in a later era. Unfortunately, in the Sixties and Seventies roles for Japanese Americans were even rarer than they are now. Regardless, Mr. Shigeta had a very impressive career.”
Jul 282014
 
(Editor’s note: The following article comes from Steve Aldous, who works in the banking industry in Great Britain and has concocted a number of well-received short stories, two of which--“Lightning Never Strikes Twice,” an affectionate parody of the pulp private-eye novels of the 1940s and ’50s, and its follow-up, “Fork Lightning”--were shortlisted for prizes in Writer’s Forum magazine. A longtime fan of Ernest Tidyman’s Shaft novels, he wrote three years ago in The Rap Sheet about Shaft Among the Jews and has since undertaken extensive research on Tidyman’s career in order to pen a book titled The Complete Guide to Shaft, which is currently seeking a publisher. Aldous lives with his wife and two sons in Bury, Lancashire, UK. He also has a daughter and granddaughter.)

The recent announcement that publisher Dynamite Entertainment will, firstly, reissue Ernest Tidyman’s 1970s Shaft novels and, secondly, produce new novels and comic books featuring his black New York City private detective, came as a most pleasant surprise. The books have been out of print since the late 1970s in both the United States and the UK. Only Germany has kept the seven Shaft novels in circulation, with Pendragon re-publishing the series between 2002 and 2008.

Dynamite’s decision was also confirmation of a view I have held for a long time, and indeed have promoted in The Rap Sheet previously--that there is still an interest in and a market for this culturally iconic character. Whilst the image of Richard Roundtree dressed in a leather coat, strutting through the streets of Manhattan to Isaac Hayes’ funky score is most people’s image of John Shaft, his genesis was on the written page. Ernest Tidyman’s Shaft series is in need of re-discovery and re-appraisal.

Over the last two years I have been preparing a book, provisionally titled The Complete Guide to Shaft--a history and analysis of the series in print and on screen. The aim of this work is to introduce the character and, in particular, Tidyman’s books to a new audience, as well as furnish longtime Shaft fans with new details about the series.

I started by re-reading all the novels, which I bought during the 1970s and still possess in their original UK Corgi paperback editions. I then undertook extensive research, initially online, to compile as much information and history as I could. This research also suggested a suspicion in some quarters that a number of the Shaft books had been ghost-written, and the name Robert Turner came up from a couple of sources. That initial research, however, proved sketchy and inconclusive.

It was earlier this year that I made a breakthrough when I discovered Ernest Tidyman’s papers had been stored in the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming, in Laramie. On approaching the Center I learned there was a vast amount of material covering Tidyman’s professional career, with the inventory containing 180 boxes of items: correspondence, financial records, and manuscripts. There then came a problem of logistics. Being based in the UK, I was unable to travel to the Center to undertake the research personally, so I obtained an inventory breakdown and hired a proxy researcher to work with me on honing the material down to what I needed. Over a period of two to three months, we identified the elements specifically relating to the Shaft series. I obtained copies of key pieces, such as Tidyman’s original character outline and handwritten notes.

Also during this period, I managed to enter into an e-mail correspondence with Alan Rinzler, who was publisher Macmillan’s mystery department editor in the late 1960s and commissioned Shaft (1970), the series’ initial installment. Alan was able to provide me with insight into the genesis of that first book.

These two new sources, therefore, gave me much of the detail I needed to fill in the gaps and finally answer many of the outstanding questions concerning the creation of the John Shaft character and the writing of the seven Shaft novels.

* * *

It was in late 1968 or early 1969 that Rinzler touted the idea for a black detective hero to literary agent Ron Hobbs. Rinzler had been involved in the changing social culture of that era, initially through his work fundraising and ghost-writing for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in New York in 1964. He also worked for Simon & Schuster at the time, editing, promoting, and publishing works that highlighted the plight of black America--including Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land (1965), which detailed the struggles of growing up in Harlem. These books helped inspire the equal-rights movement for African Americans.

Hobbs was the only African-American literary agent in New York City, and Rinzler figured he could come up with the necessary writer to fulfill his brief. Hobbs, however, suggested a white writer by the name of Ernest Ralph Tidyman, who had only recently set up as a freelance writer, after previously enjoying a long career in newspaper journalism in Cleveland and Manhattan.

Tidyman was keen, too, to tap into the social mood of the time. His first novel, Flower Power (1968), was the tale of a runaway teenage girl who joins a hippie camp and is introduced to sex and drugs. It didn’t sell well, and despite his having contributed articles to magazines and written a non-fiction book (1968’s The Anzio Death Trap) about a controversial Allied assault in Italy during World War II, Tidyman was close to being broke when the opportunity to take Rinzler’s commission was presented to him.

Hobbs arranged a meeting between Rinzler and Tidyman. Rinzler was initially reluctant, but he allowed Tidyman to work up some sample chapters of the prospective novel. Tidyman duly obliged, and whilst Rinzler was impressed with the writing, he felt the story was too soft. He suggested a show of violence to emphasize the hero’s no-nonsense approach to solving problems. Following up on Rinzler’s suggestion, Tidyman re-wrote those early pages to include the fight in which the detective hero ends up throwing a hood out of his office window. Rinzler was pleased with the re-write, and offered Tidyman a $10,000 advance to complete the book.

Thus was John Shaft born.

Tidyman finished his draft and synopsis for Shaft on July 3, 1969. Keen right away to promote his property to filmmakers, he circulated galley copies of his novel. One interested reader was producer Phil D’Antoni, who was impressed by Tidyman’s use of dialogue and his knowledge of New York. D’Antoni thereafter recommended Tidyman to director William Friedkin as somebody who could adapt Robin Moore’s 1969 non-fiction book of the same name into the film The French Connection (1971). Later, Shaft was picked up by MGM’s new head, Jim Aubrey, who--due to his studio’s financial difficulties--was looking to produce lower-budget movies, and Shaft seemed a perfect fit for his new vision. A deal to turn the novel into a big-screen picture was signed in April 1970.

The novel version of Shaft was first published by Macmillan in the United States on April 27, 1970. (A UK hardcover edition, from Michael Joseph, followed on June 24, 1971.) It was well-received, and Gordon Parks was hired by MGM to direct the movie adaptation. Tidyman formed Shaft Productions, with initial producers Roger Lewis and Stirling Silliphant acting as equal partners. However, production responsibilities were later passed to Joel Freeman, after Lewis moved to Warner Bros. Richard Roundtree beat out 200 other potential John Shafts to grab the title role, with which he would forever be associated. The resulting 1971 film, Shaft, became a smash hit across the world and was a major inspiration for the so-called blaxploitation movies of the early to mid-1970s. A deal was executed between Tidyman and MGM for options to adapt future Shaft novels.

Tidyman had already written a screenplay for a sequel, which MGM initially accepted on May 28, 1971, before the movie Shaft even reached theaters. The story was based on an article Tidyman had read in 1968 about the mysterious deaths of three diamond merchants. He folded that idea into a larger plot concerning an Israeli fugitive and his formula for the production of synthetic gems.

Meanwhile, after rejecting a screenplay proposal from B.B. Johnson, the writer behind the Superspade novels (Death of a Blue-Eyed Soul Brother, Black Is Beautiful, etc.), Tidyman’s partners at Shaft Productions had developed their own story for the sequel, which found Shaft having an adventure in the Caribbean. With the approval of MGM, Roger Lewis developed a screenplay entitled The Big Bamboo, and Lewis and Silliphant sought Tidyman’s approval to proceed. Tidyman, however, had commenced work on adapting his original sequel proposal into a follow-up novel--Shaft Among the Jews. Tidyman did not like, and subsequently rejected Lewis’ screenplay, and he would eventually submit a new original story himself in which Shaft seeks out the killer of an old friend whilst infringing on a gangland turf war for the control of Queens. It was developed between October and December 1971 under the name Gang Bang, but was later retitled Shaft’s Big Score!

The original crew from Shaft, including director Gordon Parks, returned to commence filming Shaft’s Big Score! in January 1972. Tidyman set about writing the novelization, which was scheduled to be published in May 1972, a month ahead of the film’s proposed release date. A disagreement over royalties with both MGM and his partners in Shaft Productions, though, resulted in the book’s publication being postponed, and Tidyman threatened to withdraw the novel altogether. After some prickly negotiations, an agreement was finally reached and the book was published on August 7, 1972, in paperback--the hardback publication of Shaft Among the Jews having preceded it on June 29.

The second film was also a box-office hit and it seemed the franchise had a strong future. Like the James Bond films of the 1960s, Shaft had also inspired many imitators. However, Tidyman’s disagreement over the royalties for the novelization of Shaft’s Big Score! led to a cooling of his relationship with his partners. Lewis and Silliphant were left to continue work on Shaft’s big-screen adventures, the third of which--Shaft in Africa--went into development in late 1972.

Tidyman, meanwhile, was keen to maximize the future earnings potential from his creation by adding to the series of Shaft books and hoping MGM would take up options to film those new stories. Also during this period, he attempted to launch a daily Shaft comic strip. Test panels had been drawn by Don Rico, who had worked for Marvel Comics, and were circulated to the big newspapers in New York and Los Angeles, but they failed to attract interest.

* * *

The success of the films Shaft and The French Connection--for the latter of which Tidyman received an Academy Award (as well as an Edgar Allan Poe Award)--significantly increased demands for his time and encouraged him to branch out further into other film writing and production. He set up Ernest Tidyman Productions and began to spread his time across a number of developing projects. The increasing workload encouraged Tidyman to hire writers to help out--particularly with continuing the Shaft book series.


Tennessee Williams presents Ernest Tidyman with the 1971 Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The French Connection.

Tidyman had sketched out story ideas for three further Shaft books, which he wanted to produce in quick succession so they would fall within the timeframe of MGM’s options agreement. He recruited two writers to help: Robert Turner, a vastly experienced author of pulpish fiction (The Girl in the Cop’s Pocket, etc.) and a contributor to many of the pulp magazines of the 1940s and 1950s; and Phillip Rock, a screenwriter who had also worked on a number of novelizations in the early 1970s (including an adaptation of Dirty Harry). Tidyman had previously used Rock on his novelization of High Plains Drifter, the screenplay Tidyman had written for Clint Eastwood’s 1973 Western.

Robert Turner took up the first book, based on an outline Tidyman had written for a work titled The Gang’s All Here, Shaft. Turner developed Tidyman’s story, which centered on the planned heist of half-a-million dollars in laundered Mafia funds from a hotel that was hosting a gay convention. The resultant Shaft Has a Ball was completed in August 1972, having been heavily edited by Tidyman, and was published in paperback on April 2, 1973. Turner then moved on to compose Shaft’s Carnival of Killers (1974).

In September 1972, Rock had started to develop a book Tidyman called Shaft’s Last Goodbye. Tidyman had initially intended to end the series at that point, but once he’d conceded to involve other writers in his work he abandoned the idea. This latest story saw Shaft in action in a location outside New York City for the first time, in this instance London, where Tidyman and Rock had both lived for a time. The idea of shifting locations mirrored what Lewis and Silliphant had done with their third film, Shaft in Africa, directed by John Guillermin and released in the summer of 1973.

The plot of Shaft’s Last Goodbye centered on a kidnapping aimed at preventing Senator Creighton Stovall (who had also appeared in Shaft Has a Ball) from becoming the first black vice president of the United States. Shaft is hired to bodyguard Stovall’s young sons, who are moved to London in order to reduce the risk of their being snatched. Rock completed his writing on December 22, 1972, and Tidyman finished his editing on January 29, 1973. The book wound up being retitled Goodbye, Mr. Shaft as a nod toward James Hilton’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1934), acknowledging that the Stovall boys had attended an English public school during their stay in Great Britain.

Meanwhile, in August 1972, Turner had also commenced working on Shaft’s Carnival of Killers. This time Shaft would go to Jamaica in an attempt to discover who is responsible for a plot to assassinate that country’s prime minister. The story was rooted in a non-Shaft screenplay Tidyman had originally written in 1971 entitled A Carnival of Killers, featuring a private eye named Francis Clifford. John Shaft effectively replaced Clifford as the tale’s lead. Turner struggled, though, with the work due to illness, and deadlines were missed. The final manuscript, delivered in March 1973, was rather subpar and required heavy editing by Tidyman before publisher Bantam accepted it for American release.

Goodbye, Mr. Shaft reached U.S. bookstores on December 28, 1973, whilst Shaft’s Carnival of Killers, with its relatively short page-count, followed in paperback nearly a year later, in September 1974.

Around this time Tidyman had become disenchanted with the treatment of his creation on screen. Shaft in Africa had received his blessing, if not his approval. The film did not match the success of its predecessors, though, and in 1973 John Shaft made a move to television, instead, with Richard Roundtree reprising his role in Shaft, a series of seven watered-down movies for CBS-TV. At least that short-lived Tuesday-night drama returned Shaft to his New York City roots. But Tidyman had by then become tired of his creation and resolved to kill him off in the last book of the series, appropriately titled The Last Shaft.

(Right) The final page of 1975’s The Last Shaft. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Phillip Rock started converting Tidyman’s outline into a full novel in October 1973. The plot finds P.I. Shaft avenging the murder of his friend Captain Vic Anderozzi, who had arrested the Mafia’s bookkeeper and was looking to turn that man and his account ledgers over to the district attorney. Rock finished his manuscript on January 11, 1974, and Tidyman his edit on January 22. Shaft was killed off in a random mugging in a coda to the book that had no link to the story itself, providing a disappointing conclusion to the series. Bantam passed on publication in the States, but the book was later released in hardcover in the UK on March 27, 1975, with a paperback publication two years later.

* * *

Despite a couple of attempts to restart the Shaft movie franchise--first by Tidyman himself in 1979, after the expiration of his deal with MGM, and later (in 1985) by the author’s widow, Chris Clark-Tidyman--it wasn’t until director John Singleton’s Shaft, in 2000, that the character was finally reintroduced to the public. That film found Roundtree’s role being reduced to little more than a cameo, while the focus was on Shaft’s “nephew” played by Samuel L. Jackson. Disagreements between director, producer, and star meant any potential franchise relaunch was doomed.

Ernest Tidyman’s Shaft books are a product of a time when men’s adventure novels and film novelizations dominated the paperback racks. The first three books, written solely by Tidyman, had a distinctive hard-edge, wit, and style reminiscent of Mickey Spillane and, to some extent, Raymond Chandler. Those were the strongest entries in the series. The later books still carried Tidyman’s house style, due to his heavy editorial input and story outlines, but they suffered from a more formulaic approach to the writing and plotting, as well as an increasing level of absurdity. Throughout, though, Tidyman heavily protected his detective creation, and despite the tough exterior presented by John Shaft, the character remained real as a result of his fallibility. He is a hero of his time but also a hero who can transcend time, in the same way Mike Hammer and Philip Marlowe can, due to his iconic status.

The books remain eminently readable and well worth revisiting. I hope their reappearance under the Dynamite banner, along with a new series of adventures, will reignite interest in the literary version of John Shaft. He has been absent for too long.

READ MORE:Beyond Shaft: Black Private Eyes in Fiction,” by Kevin Burton Smith (January Magazine).

Better Connected

 Awards 2014  Comments Off
Jul 282014
 
This last weekend’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, California, included a presentation by the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers of the 2014 Scribe Awards, “honoring excellence in media tie-in writing.”

Mr. Monk Helps Himself, by Hy Conrad (Signet), and Leverage: The Bestseller Job, by Greg Cox (Berkley), tied in the Best Original Novel category, while “So Long, Chief,” by Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane, won for Best Short Story. Science-fiction and fantasy author Diane Duane was chosen as the IAMTW 2014 Grandmaster, “the highest honor awarded by the International Association of Media Tie-In Writing, recognizing her achievements writing novels based on movie and television shows.”

You will find all of the nominees and winners here.
Jul 262014
 
• With the second series of Shaun Evans’ Endeavour having concluded its PBS-TV run last weekend, going out with a quite thrilling episode abundant in cliffhangers (stay tuned for next season!), actor David Suchet will return this Sunday to the Masterpiece series in “The Big Four,” the first of five new episodes of Poirot. A second installment of that long-running UK program, “Dead Man’s Folly,” will air next Sunday, August 3. Three final Poirot films--“Elephants Can Remember,” “Labors of Hercules,” and “Curtain” (adapted from Agatha Christie’s last Poirot novel)--are going to be available during the later weeks of August, but only through the British subscription streaming service Acorn TV. Agatha Christie’s Poirot finished its 13-series run on the other side of “the pond” last November.

• Also to look for on Sunday: Down These Mean Streets promises to post two episodes of that classic radio drama The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, one from 1949 (“The Dancing Hands”), the other from 1950 (“The Glass Donkey”). This is the blog’s belated way of celebrating Marlowe creator Raymond Chandler’s birthday, July 23. UPDATE: Those two episodes are now available for your listening pleasure here.

• Saddle up! Whether you knew it before now or not, today is America’s National Day of the Cowboy. What better time to read (or re-read) Bill Crider’s piece about Western/detective crossover novels, which first appeared in January Magazine back in 2003?

• This news comes a bit tardily, but I thank Mystery Fanfare for alerting me to it at all. It seems the International Latino Book Awards were handed out on June 28 during the American Library Association’s 2014 conference in Las Vegas. Below are the recipients in the Best Mystery Novel category.
First Place: Te Espero en el Cielo, by Blanca Irene Arbeláez (Book Press)
Second Place: Every Broken Trust, by Linda Rodriguez (Minotaur)
Honorable Mention: Desperado: A Mile High Noir, by Manuel Ramos (Arte Publico Press)
James Garner’s demise earlier this week distracted me from mentioning that Thomas Berger, the reclusive New York author of Little Big Man (1964), Neighbors (1980), and the 1977 “P.I. parody/travesty,” Who Is Teddy Villanova?, also died a few days ago. He was 89 years old. Read more about Berger’s career here.

Nicole Jaffe, James Garner, and Rita Moreno in Marlowe.

• And don’t forget that this coming Monday, July 28, the U.S. cable-TV network Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has scheduled a 24-hour James Garner film marathon. It will begin at 6 a.m. ET with Toward the Unknown (Garner’s 1956 movie debut) and conclude with a 4:30 a.m. ET showing on Tuesday of Marlowe (1969).

• In case you’re interested, author Max Allan Collins (King of the Weeds) is in sunny San Diego, California, this weekend, posting to his blog about the latest Comic-Con International. His initial remarks can be found here; his second post is here. Additional updates should appear at this handy link.

• If you’re in the area of Seattle, Washington, on August 9, you might want to attend a Mystery Writers of America-Northwest Chapter workshop titled “The 21st Century Author: How to Connect With the Publishing Industry and Build an Audience.” Led by novelist and “marketing genius” Simon Wood (No Show), it promises to “reveal the techniques that have served Wood well in more than a decade of work as an author who’s been both traditionally and independently published. It’s aimed at authors in any genre who are struggling to find readers and attract agents in a time of rapid change in the book-publishing industry.” This seminar will be held at Bellevue College’s Paccar Auditorium, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The entry fee is $50 for MWA members; $60 for non-MWA members; and $75 for everyone after July 26. Click here to register.

• I don’t usually think of Jules Verne’s lengthy 1870 tale about Captain Nemo and the Nautilus as a “beach read,” but The Guardian’s Sian Cain states the case in its favor: “I can’t think of a better thing to read on the sands. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is arguably Verne’s masterpiece. As a classic it has aged wonderfully well: it is escapist fun, but still retains its literary and scientific significance. To dismiss it as simply an adventure story does it a disservice. Yes, Verne’s oceanic journey around the world is a ripping yarn, but it is also an eerie tale of isolation and madness, packed full with geographical and scientific accuracies that make the fantastic uncomfortably believable.”

• Has it really been 25 years since the Billy Crystal/Meg Ryan romantic comedy, When Harry Met Sally, debuted in U.S. theaters?

• Ohio engineering consultant D.M. Pulley has been selected as “the Grand Prize winner of the seventh annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest for her mystery novel The Dead Key.” A press alert says the book “is expected to be released in early 2015 by Thomas & Mercer--an imprint of Amazon Publishing--and Pulley will receive a $50,000 advance and publishing contract.”

• Back in 2009, when Hard Case Crime issued its distinctive paperback edition of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Valley of Fear, editor Charles Ardai told me he had long wanted to repackage that 1914 novel as the hard-boiled detective story it is. “Not because Holmes is a hard-boiled character himself,” Ardai explained, “but because half the book isn’t about Holmes at all--it takes place in the U.S. and tells the story of a Pinkerton agent who goes undercover to infiltrate a corrupt fraternal organization that rules a dirty mining town in Pennsylvania. It’s violent and cruel and dark, and it leads to an ending that’s as despairing and doom-laden as any Cornell Woolrich novel.” Valley found another champion this week in blogger Nick Cardillo, who writes in The Consulting Detective that it is “arguably the most forgotten of the original Sherlock Holmes novels” and “more entertaining than its similar predecessor [The Sign of the Four]. Not only does it have a more interesting mystery, but a back-story which is arguably more interesting and better crafted than the bits with the world’s greatest detective.” Maybe it’s time I re-read that fourth Holmes novel.

• How did I not hear about BBC America’s Intruders until now?

• Yikes! Another of Erle Stanley Gardner’s novels I have not yet found time to read: The Case of the Ice-Cold Hands, a 1962 Perry Mason outing that blogger Vintage45 describes as “a fun entry in the series and … [f]or those who have never read a Mason book, this is a good one to start with.”

This comes from The Guardian: “J.K. Rowling has said she plans to pen many more crime thrillers [like her newest, The Silkworm], and to create a series that will run for even longer than her seven hugely successful Harry Potter books, which over a decade have proved to be one of the bestselling book series in history.”

• Jeri Westerson submits her new Crispin Guest novel, Cup of Blood, to Marshal Zeringue’s famous Page 69 Test.

For all you Mickey Spillane fans out there!

• Parker Stevenson, the onetime TV heartthrob (who I recently spotted doing a guest-star turn on Longmire) talks with the Classic Film and TV Café about his days on The Hardy Boys and Probe, and his developing interest in photography.

• British journalist-author Ben Macintyre, whose new book is A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal (Crown), submits a list to Amazon’s Omnivoracious blog of history's most notorious double-crossing spies. Not surprisingly, Philby--“the greatest double agent in history”--finds a place in that rundown. UPDATE: You can now listen to an interview with Macintyre by clicking here.

Can this be for real?

• And I’m easily seduced by National Public Radio interviews with authors, immediately wanting to rush out and buy whatever book was just discussed. A case in point: This morning’s chat, on Weekend Edition Saturday, between host Scott Simon and Stephen L. Carter, author of the new thriller Back Channel (Knopf), which finds a brilliant, black 19-year-old student and clandestine operative caught up in the drama of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Since I very much liked Carter’s previous, speculative novel, The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln (2012), there doesn’t seem much chance that his latest work won’t be mine in short order. Listen to the interview here.
Jul 242014
 
Following James Garner’s death last weekend, I started rummaging through my storage room for a particular edition of Mystery magazine that I remembered featuring Garner in one of his most famous TV roles, that of Los Angeles gumshoe Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files. Naturally, this was no easy endeavor; it required my unpacking and then repacking more boxes than I (or my sore muscles) care to recall. But I did finally find the item I sought.

For those who don’t remember Mystery, it was founded as a full-size mag in 1979 by Stephen L. Smoke (who, under the pseudonym Hamilton T. Caine, went on to produce at least two novels about Southern California gumshoe Ace Carpenter). The contents combined non-fiction and fiction, and there were several contributors to the publication whose names are still familiar, among them Robert J. Randisi and Paul Bishop. Mystery’s other claim to fame might be that it was headquartered in downtown L.A.’s landmark, 1893 Bradbury Building, which had featured prominently in Garner’s 1969 film Marlowe, and provided office space for the protagonists in such small-screen gems as Banyon, City of Angels, and 77 Sunset Strip. I was pretty young at the time, but I managed to get two profiles into Mystery after it shrank to digest size (and before it folded in 1982), one of Stuart M. Kaminsky, the other of Collin Willcox. (I’ll have to dig up both of those sometime, too.)

Anyway, the January 1981 edition of Mystery boasted a cover story, written by Bob Randisi, that looked back at “the best TV private eyes of the 1970s.” He highlighted a number of prominent shows from that decade, including Mannix, Barnaby Jones, Harry O(“my personal favorite of all the TV P.I.s I’ve seen”), Charlie’s Angels, and Cannon. He also noted, however, that a survey taken of “writers, readers, editors, and TV viewers from all sections of the country” had determined that the most popular shamus of the ’70s was … Garner’s impecunious but loyal Rockford. Randisi explained:
The reason for the success of [The] Rockford Files was simple: James Garner. Rockford was probably one of the more humanly portrayed P.I.s of all the TV “eyes.” He was not a superman, and preferred to talk his way--or con his way--out of a tight spot rather than fight his way out--which doesn’t mean he didnt fight when he had to. He just preferred not to.”
I’m embedding the whole story below, just for your entertainment. Click on the images to open more readable enlargements.



Picky, Picky

 Awards 2014  Comments Off
Jul 232014
 
Adding to the anticipation surrounding this year’s Iceland Noir festival in Reykjavik (November 20-23), organizers have announced their finalists for the inaugural Icepick Award celebrating translated crime fiction. They are:
La Vérité sur l'affaire Harry Quebert [The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair], by Joël Dicker; Icelandic translation by Friðrik Rafnsson
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn; Icelandic translation by
Bjarni Jónsson
Panserhjerte [The Leopard], by Jo Nesbø; Icelandic translation by Bjarni Gunnarsson
Människa utan hund [Man Without Dog], by Håkan Nesser; Icelandic translation by Ævar Örn Jósepsson
Veljeni vartija [My Brother’s Keeper], by Antti Tuomainen; Icelandic translation by Sigurður Karlsson
The winner will be announced at Reykjavik’s Nordic House on November 22 (which, were he still alive, would be author Raymond Chandler’s 126 birthday).

(Hat tip to Shotsmag Confidential.)

Charging Into the Darkness

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Jul 232014
 
I didn’t even have this birthday marked down on my calendar, but Criminal Element contributor Jake Hinkson evidently keeps better track of some things than I do. He explains:
This year film noir turns 70. While there had been some intermittent films leading up to the birth of the classic noir, in 1944 the dahlia bloomed with six key films: Double Indemnity, Laura, Murder My Sweet, Phantom Lady, When Strangers Marry, and The Woman in the Window. In these films you have many of the key figures in noir making some of their first forays into the genre (directors Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, Fritz Lang, and Robert Siodmak; writers Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, Vera Caspary, Phillip Yordan; actors Robert Mitchum, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Bennett, Dana Andrews--just to name a few). This onslaught of darkness came in the wake of the bleakest days (from the American perspective, anyway) of WWII. The basis of many of these films were older properties, but it is the way these films came out--physically darker, psychologically denser, and ultimately more pessimistic--that marks the real birth of film noir.
By way of celebrating, Hinkson today posted the first of half a dozen articles, this one recalling the many strengths of Double Indemnity, the Fred MacMurray/Barbara Stanwyck/Edward G. Robinson picture that he says “might well be the most famous of all film noirs.” Stay tuned for the remaining installments of Hinkson’s series.

READ MORE:When Lightning Strikes,” by Thomas Kaufman
(The Rap Sheet).