My review of BIRDMAN at Crimespree Magazine
My review of BIRDMAN at Crimespree Magazine
by Erin Mitchell
My trip to Bouchercon was shorter than I had planned because of a death in the family, but despite missing the first couple of days, it included more than a few memorable moments. I’m going to limit myself here to talking about just two favorites.
On Saturday morning, I was honored to be part of the Bloody Murder: Voices from the Margin event. I’m calling it an “event” rather than a “panel” because it included 46 authors (plus me and Terri Bischoff) in a format that, to the best of my knowledge, was entirely new to Bouchercon.
I’m going to bypass a discussion of how this event came to happen (for the moment), and focus instead on what it was—and can be in future years.
While many of us attend Bouchercon for professional reasons, it is, always and above all else, a fan convention. A gathering of readers. A celebration of stories. It gives us the opportunity to discover new and new-to-us books and authors in the most dynamic ways possible. And it is exactly this that Bloody Murder: Voices from the Margin celebrated.
Each participant was asked to share an author whose work is less well-known than it could (should!) be or we might have forgotten. In this way, it touted the diversity and inclusion that is core to the crime fiction community we all love so much.
To say the room was electric does not adequately capture the excitement and enthusiasm present. Charlaine Harris and Sara Paretsky embraced their role as Fearless Leaders (click here to read Sara’s opening remarks) with gusto. There were cheers. There were laughs.
It was surely special.
I’m going to include the list of participants and recommendations at the end of this post, and I encourage you to check them out. I’ve already started doing exactly that. We could all do worse than to use this list for our holiday shopping.
I sincerely hope that this becomes an annual mainstay at Bouchercon. It would be a fantastic way to open the event, as the format and content would give attendees a quick introduction to a large group of authors, which would help them target their panel attendance. More importantly, though, it would set a tone for Bouchercon, reminding us that we, as readers, owe a great deal to an amazingly diverse group of storytellers, some of whom we have yet to discover.
Orchestrating the Bloody Murder: Voices from the Margin was an awesome feat that saw an ad-hoc team pull together in days what I would have easily expected to take weeks. In addition to Charlaine and Sara, here’s who you have to thank: Terri Bischoff, Lori Rader-Day, Catriona McPherson, Margery Flax, Dana Cameron, Clare O’Donohue, Jess Lourey, Jessie Chandler, and Jamie Freveletti.
Here’s a super photo of the event, by Kristopher Zgorski:
Saturday evening at the Anthony Awards, Judy Bobalik received the David Thompson Special Service Award, which “recognizes extraordinary efforts to develop and promote the mystery and crime fiction field.” I knew Judy was in the running (because the award is voted on by the Bcon board, of which I’m a member), but her winning was a surprise, and I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving. Judy has been involved with Bouchercon for years, and her support of authors, readers, and the community as a whole is unmatched.
Here’s Judy giving the World’s Shortest Acceptance Speech (she was really surprised!):
We’ve wrapped up Bouchercon for another year, and I’m hearing lots of folks making plans for Raleigh next year. So I’ll leave you with this: If you want to be considered for a panel, the registration deadline for Raleigh is May 1, 2015.
Kristi Belcamino: Sara Gran
Mark Billingham: Steve Mosby
Terri Bischoff: Barbara Neely
Allison Brennan: Deborah Coonts
Carla Buckley: Dennis Tafoya
Dana Cameron: Margaret Lawrence
Joelle Charbonneau: Tracy Kiely
Jessie Chandler: Amanda Kyle Williams
Hilary Davidson: Todd Robinson
Jamie Freveletti: Charlotte Carter
Jim Fusilli: Penelope Fitzgerald
Alison Gaylin: Lauren Sanders
Joel Goldman: Barbara Neely
Heather Graham: Harley Jane Kozak
Andrew Grant: Charles McCarry
Daniel Hale: Harry Hunsicker
Rachel Howzell Hall: Paula L Woods
Greg Herren: Sandra Scoppettone
Ted Hertel: Terrance Faherty
Naomi Hirahara: Hisaye Yamamoto
Linda Joffe Hull: John Galligan
Harley Jane Kozak: Georgette Heyer
Katia Lief: Sarah Weinman
Elizabeth Little: Steph Cha
Alex Marwood: Sarah Hilary
Clare O’Donohue: Wendy Lyn Watson aka Annie Knox
Karen E Olson: Mary-Ann Tirone Smith
Lynne Raimondo: Joseph Hansen
Hank Phillippi Ryan: Shannon Kirk
Daniel Stashower: Jan Marete Weiss
Wendy Corsi Staub: Tom Savage
Elaine Viets: Craig Rice, Jeffery Marks
Martyn Waites: Bill Loehfelm
Sarah Weinman: Jen Sacks
Jeri Westerson: Dorothy B Hughes
James Ziskin: Lynne Raimondo
William F. Deeck
GUY CULLINGFORD – Conjurer’s Coffin. Hammond, UK, hardcover, 1954. Lippincott, US, hardcover, 1954 Penguin Books, UK. paperback, 1957.
Miss Jessie Milk, spinster of uncertain age and kin to the distressed gentlewomen so well portrayed by Barbara Pym, finds somewhat unsuitable employment as a receptionist at the Bellevue Hotel, which does not live up to its name and which the police have nothing against, muddle and unconventionality not yet being against the law. The Bellevue caters, if that’s the mot juste, to the less eminent variety performers.
Gene the Genie, a magician and one of the not-quite-successful artistes, primarily because of his interest in horse-flesh and not because of lack of talent or imagination, checks into the hotel with his wife and his female assistant the first afternoon Miss Milk is on duty. He plays a trick on her then and becomes aware that she is a perfect foil for a magician.
When first Gene the Genie’s assistant and then his wife disappear, Miss Milk is an excellent witness. When the wife’s body turns up in the trash, the police are baffled by Miss Milk’s testimony but accept her transparent honesty in telling things as she believes she saw them. Fortunately, a retired Merchant Navy Captain, now a bookstore detective, lives in the hotel and has Miss Milk’s interests at heart in more ways than one. He is able to determine what happened, although it’s not by any means all ratiocination.
Well written, amusing, excellent characterization, and an interesting crime. All of Cullingford’s novels are well worth trying to find.
Bibliographic Notes: Guy Cullingford was the pen name of (Alice) C(onstance) Lindsay Taylor, 1907-2000, who has one title in Hubin under her own name, and ten as by Cullingford. Of the latter, only four have been published in the US. In spite of the possibilities suggested by Conjurer’s Coffin, there seems to be no series character appearing in any more than one of them.
In addition, Megan Abbott’s The Fever and C.J. Sansom’s Dominion appear within the Best Popular Fiction category.
Most of the selections here are not very surprising, but I was interested to see both Bird Box and Night Heron make the cut, as neither of those debut novels had been on my radar during the last dozen months. (Which just goes to show that none of us is perfect.) What do the rest of you think of Kirkus’ picks?
(From the archives)
This was the first Sam McCain book I read back in 2009 and what a pleasure it was. All of Ed Gorman's novels are a treat to read. You enter a world that is mostly filled with benevolent, well-drawn non-stereotypical characters.
And then Ed throws in the monkey wrenches that set that peaceful Iowa world on its ear. There is murder and mayhem but you are never offended. We have a gentleman here.
And then he sets things right in a humane and compelling way.
Especially fun for me were the sixties touchstones-and I really admired the way he caught it on the cusp of a new era-and captured it without overplaying its markers. Sam McCain feels young, vibrant, and on the edge of adulthood himself.
What I liked most about Ed's books is his obvious admiration and enjoyment of women. This is unusual in the books I read. His women are rarely shrews or nags or harpies. All of them seem like a romance or an adventure is just within their grasp--young and old.
My very favorite Gorman book is SLEEPING DOGS, but this is right up there. They all are.
Sergio Angelini, John Dickson Carr
Yvette Banek, SILVER MEADOW, Barry Maitland
Joe Barone, CARIOCA FLETCH, Gregogy McDonald
Brian Busby, Basil King
Bill Crider. SHOOT, Douglas Fairbain
Martin Edwards, DEATH OF A MILLIONAIRE, G.D.H. and Margaret Cole
Curt Evans, THE FARM AT PARANOA, Laurence Kirk
Ray Garraty, DOG STARS, Peter Heller
Ed Gorman, FAST LANE, Dave Zeltserman
Rick Horton, THE SHEIK, E.M. Hull
Jerry House, LITTLE TICH: A BOOK OF TRAVELING, Harry Ralph
Randy Johnson, THE AVENGERS BATTLE THE EARTH-WRECKER, Otto Binder
Nick Jones, THE FNGER OF SATURN, Victor Canning
George Kelley, TROS OF SAMONTHRACE, Talbot Mundy
Margot Kinberg, THE HOUSE WITHOUT A KEY, Earl Der Biggers
Rob Kitchin, THE MIDNIGHT SWIMMER, Edward Wilson
B.V. Lawson, AH, SWEET MYSTERY, Celestine Sibley
Evan Lewis, HOME IS THE HANGMAN, Richard Sale
Steve Lewis/Dan Stumpf, HOT ICE, Robert J. Casey
Todd Mason. QUARK 4. ed. Samuel Delaney, SATURDAY EVENING POST
Neer. MADEMOISELLE DE SCUDERI, E.T. A. Hoffman
J.F. Norris, THE KILLING OF KATIE STEELSTOCK, Michael Gilbert
James Reasoner, IN THE HILLS OF MONTERREY, Max Brand
Richard Robinson, ILL WIND, Nevada Barr
Gerard Saylor, FATALE, Jean-Patrick Manchette
Ron Scheer, QUITTING TIME, Robert J. Conley
Kevin Tipple, KINGS OF COLORADO, David E. Hilton
TomCat, MISSING SUSAN, Sharon McCrumb
TracyK, MURDER WITHIN MURDER, Richard and Frances Lockridge
Prashant Trikannad, THE HARDY BOYS: THE TOWER TREASURE, Franklin Dixon
At first glance this novel seems to be a routine police procedural with a veritable army of coppers on the case. Scotland Yard, CID, local and area policeman are all enlisted to help solve the bludgeoning death of a local girl who has become sort of a reality TV star of the 1980s. She was well known for being a panelist on "The Seven O'Clock Show", a game show and had made several TV commercials as well. Another story of a local girl who "made it big" in the eyes of her hometown fans. On the surface Katie Steelstock is the "favourite girl." But her brutal death will lead to the truth of who she really was. The routine case becomes extremely involved and will uncover blackmail, suicide, sordid photographs and explode a houseful of skeletons in closets among the townspeople. Turns out the favorite girl was really rather a bad apple. And rotten to the core.
|UK 1st edition|
(Hodder & Stoughton , 1980)
Lurking in the background is Jonathan Limbery, a volatile and outspoken young man who rants his opinions in a weekly newspaper. When he isn't mouthing off in print he is disrupting church services with his vehement accusations. Limbery has amassed a following of young schoolboys who admire his rebellious nature and think he can do no wrong. They are eager to defend him when he becomes the prime suspect in the death of Katie. Seems he was not only outspoken in his political diatribes but was a jealous lover as well. The townspeople whisper their own accusations of what goes on in the boys' choir Limbery has organized with his coterie of young admirers. And it isn't the choice of songs they're worried about.
|US first edition (Harper & Row, 1980)|
Gilbert always finds moments of humor amid what turns out to be quite a sordid story of crime and base human indulgences. Many of the characters have a sharp and biting wit and there are several zingers I could quote but they would fill up pages more on this post. Most surprising to me was a rare and compassionate depiction of a young gay teenager's secret desires and the tragic aftermath that follows a brazen declaration of love. The Killing of Katie Steelstock is a rarity in crime novels. Satirically funny on one page, a few pages later shocking the reader with descriptions of seamy activities, further on it tugs at your heartstrings or elicits a pang of grief. Gilbert works his way through a gamut of raw human emotion in this very fine novel that works both as a mystery story and a mainstream literary work. Highly recommended for those with discriminating taste.
Silver Age Bingo card update: Space I6 - "Book with a woman in the title"
TED LEWIS – Get Carter. Syndicate Books/Soho Crime, US, softcover, 2014. First published in the UK as Jack’s Return Home, Michael Joseph, hardcover, 1970. First US edition: Doubleday, hardcover, 1970. Reprinted as Get Carter by Pan, UK. paperback, 1971; Popular Library, US, paperback, 1971. Other reprint editions exist. Film: MGM, 1970, as Get Carter (with Michael Caine). Also: MGM, 1972, as Hit Man (with Bernie Casey) and Warner Bros., 2000, as Get Carter (with Sylvester Stallone).
This is what you might call a “revenge” novel, and that’s with a vengeance, if that’s not redundant, and I don’t think it is. As the story begins, Jack Carter, who works for a pair of mobsters back in London, is heading back to his steel-working home town in northern England (no name given, as far I have discerned), where his brother Frank has just died, supposedly in a drink-related automobile accident.
Jack, who tells his own story, knows better. He knows his brother, and he knows the men who run the town, better perhaps than they know themselves. Someone is going to pay, and before the book is over, pay they do.
It does not matter that he and his brother never got along. That Frank’s daughter Doreen, now 15, may really be Jack’s has something to with that, and as a result, Doreen may have grown up way too fast. Also occupying Jack’s mind is that back in London, he has been sleeping with one of his boss’s wives, and once this bit of business is done, is planning to hie off to South Africa with her. He’s a tough nervy bloke, Jack is.
I’ve not seen any of the movies based on this book, a serious error on my part, but I’ll remedy that as soon as I can, starting with the Michael Caine version. You can tell me in the comments whether the other two are worth tracking down.
But whether any of these movie versions can match the intensity, brutality and bursts of mayhem of the novel, I’m not so sure. Also involved are child pornography, cheap sex and a surprisingly careless viciousness toward women.
What you also get is a gritty picture of the working underclass of a small but typical mill town in England circa 1970, when this book first ppeared. The prose reminded me at times of Chandler, while the story is as hard-boiled as anything Hammett might have written. There are not a lot of survivors at book’s end. Jack Carter is cool, cruel and efficient at what he does, and he does a thorough job of it.
But surprisingly enough, it is the ending itself which is the most disappointing, or so is how I found it. The last two pages nearly undo what should have been one crackup of finale, marred by a bit of near deus ex machina — almost but quite. It’s still a doozy, but unless I missed something, it should have been better.
Note: By the time this one ends, you might think that may have been strictly a solo appearance for Jack Carter, but no, he returned in two more novels: Jack Carter’s Law (1974), and Jack Carter and the Mafia Pigeon (1977), both also recently published in the US by Syndicate Books. Ted Lewis (no relation) died in 1982 at the very young age of 42.
I wrote the first draft of Fast Lane in 1990, although the title back then was In His Shadow. This was the first piece of fiction I wrote with the intent of seeing it published. Before then I fooled around at times writing short stories, usually badly aping Ross Macdonald’s style. I knew the stuff I was writing then wasn’t any good, and it eventually all ended up in the trashcan. In fact, my first attempt at Fast Lane was writing it like a Lew Archer novel where it was written from the point of view of my white knight detective who uncovers the sins of the celebrity (and very psychotic) detective, Johnny Lane, and like all my other attempts back then to ape Macdonald, it ended up (rightfully) in the trash. Things changed, though, after I read Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson, followed quickly by Swell-looking Babe, Pop. 1280, and After Dark, My Sweet. These noir novels from Thompson opened my eyes to other ways of doing things, and helped me realize that you can do whatever you want as long as you can make it work. I now saw a new approach to Fast Lane and began finding my own voice, and by the time I was halfway through I started to get excited that I was writing something that could be published.