Catching Up.

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Nov 262014
 

   If you’ve been following the comments over the past couple of weeks, you will have discerned that I’ve been out of town for most of that time. Having decided to take my laptop with me, I’ve been able to keep up with email, more or less, and I’ve even been able to keep on posting while I’ve been away. Some of the reviews I’d prepared in advance, others I’ve had to improvise, with fairly decent results, except for the images, which I wasn’t always able to do justice to.

   I’ve therefore spent this evening upgrading all of the recent posts, going all the way back to November 12 and Mike Nevins’ review of the first Joe Gall book. Go back and take a look, if it so suits your fancy.

   I might also point to you that the comments following David Vineyard’s review of the movie Susan Slept Here last Sunday have evolved into a two-sided conversation between David and myself about the sad state of affairs in mystery writing today, in our opinions. Go back and read it, and join in, again if it suits your fancy.

   Hopefully I’ll be able to return to a regular schedule soon, but perhaps not tomorrow as (1) a huge Nor’easter is promised, with dire amounts of snow predicted, and (2) I have two and a half plastic postal bins containing held mail to work my way through. Nasty work, but someone’s got to do it.

 Posted by at 4:23 am
Nov 262014
 


It’s that time of year again, when we start pulling together our longlist of nominees for The Rap Sheet’s Best Crime Fiction Covers competition. 2013 saw a particularly tight race for that honor, with David Middleton’s fine design for the front of Death Was in the Blood, by Linda L. Richards, finally coming out on top. We’ve spent the last few months collecting possible contenders for the 2014 honor, but would like to solicit reader suggestions as well.

You’re all well read and observant, right? So which crime, mystery, and thriller book fronts--first released in 2014, in either hardcover of paperback--do you think really stood out from the crowd? Which have demonstrated remarkable use of typography, photography, and/or original illustrations? If you’d like to see the jackets that have drawn our attention in the past, click here. Then drop us an e-mail note with your best-cover picks for the present year. Be sure to include the name and author of any novel you suggest, plus--if at all possible--a link to where we might view the cover artwork online. Working from your choices as well as our own finds, we’ll collect 12 to 15 covers we think are deserving of recognition, and post them in early December, inviting everyone to vote for their favorites.

Let us know soon which covers you think merit special recognition.

Blue Moon

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Nov 252014
 



Will probably not be around too much for the next week. I have not abandoned the blog and I will return. What does go up is already on tap. Think good thoughts.

MY FIRST NOVEL: DICK LOCHTE

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Nov 252014
 



MY FIRST NOVEL: DICK LOCHTE

I’ve written several times about how my debut novel, SLEEPING DOG, wound up in
print. The details have appeared on this blog not very long ago and also can be
found as an afterward in the new Brash Books edition of the novel. But, though
SLEEPING DOG  was my first published book, it was not the first that I wrote. 
That was a novel I pounded out on an electric typewriter at the tail end of the
1960s, while in my post-college youth toiling daily in Chicago as a member of
the promotion department at Playboy magazine.

The novel was then titled THE FROG PRINCE, and it was a satiric comedy novel
very much – honestly, waaay too much – influenced by Joseph Heller’s CATCH-22,
which was then, and is now, my all-time favorite novel. Unlike that book’s
protagonist who was trapped with a lot of oddball characters in a war horribly
short on logic or even common sense, mine was entangled in a
much-too-comfortable job at a men’s magazine where logic and common sense were
not just missing, their absence was waved like a flag. The novel being a work of
fiction, its magazine was not Playboy. Its name was Ogle, and its symbol was not
a rabbit but, as the book’s title may suggest, a slimy tailless amphibian.
Beyond that, THE FROG PRINCE was pathetically close to autobiography, even at
its most bizarre moments.
There was only one person at PLAYBOY who knew about the book – the noted science
fiction writer AJ Budrys, who was then the editor of Playboy Press. During one
of our lunches, he offered to “look over” the pages. He liked them and his
suggestions and encouragement were responsible for my finishing the manuscript.

Before he moved on, AJ recommended me and the novel to a couple of agents. One
was in the late stages of retirement and not taking on new clients, the other
passed away shortly after I’d sent her a copy of the manuscript, no cause and
effect there to my knowledge. At that point I began sending inquiry letters and
sample chapters to publishers, maybe ten, with six replying that they’d be
willing to look at what I’d done. This was during the dark days before
electronic files could be emailed and I spent hours lurking around the office
Xerox machines after hours, making copies of the book’s four-hundred-plus pages.

My effort resulted in several form-letter kiss-offs, a short note from a
Doubleday editor that he’d been amused, but not enough, and a longer note from
an editor at Dutton stating that she felt the ms. had “something” but needed
work and, if I were willing to listen to her editorial advice, she’d try to get
me a contract and an advance.

I immediately wrote back that I’d be happy to follow her advice. Then began
weeks of waiting. Finally, she mailed back her regrets. There would be no
contract. Her boss was “not quite as sanguine about the novel’s potential,” were
her exact words, still branded on my memory after all the years.

So, THE FROG PRINCE was tossed into a trunk where it rested gathering dust until
about nine years ago. By then I’d published four crime novels and a short story
collection, been nominated for every mystery award, won the Nero, and been
translated into more than a dozen languages. I’d just finished co-writing a
series of legal thrillers with attorney Christopher Darden and was about to
embark on a series with THE TODAY SHOW’s Al Roker. I wanted to put out another
solo novel, but wasn’t sure I could get it done before starting in on the
Rokers.
That’s when I thought of THE FROG PRINCE. The main problem was that, by then,  I
was a “mystery writer” and there was no mystery element in the ms.  I thought
that problem could be solved without too much effort. Drop a body here and
there, shift a few things around.

It didn’t turn out that way. It never does.

I kept the novel in the Swinging Sixties, in my opinion, the period when men’s
magazines were at their, ah, peak. But I added a few significant events of the
era that were taking place beyond the magazine, like the Civil Rights Act and
the start of the Vietnam conflict, that I hoped would bring the story a little
closer to the ground than it had been. I kept the characters, and quite a few
scenes and then spent nearly seven months coming up with what I hoped was a
dark, funny fairplay whodunit that for a number of reasons (fear of a lawsuit
being one of them) I placed in 1969 Southern California instead of Playboy’s
home town of Chicago.

Also, since there were countless numbers  of  books called THE FROG PRINCE, most
of them for children (Amazon it, if you don’t believe me), I slapped on a new,
more unique title, CROAKED!
That’s when I showed it to you, Ed, and thanks to your recommendation, my first
novel finally appeared in print, nearly forty years after I’d begun working on it.
it.   
 

Nov 252014
 
I’ve taken a first crack at putting together a list of my favorite crime novels of 2014; you’ll find it in my Kirkus Reviews column today. Among my 10 choices are works by Laura Lippmann, Peter May, Joseph Koenig, and Antonia Hodgson.

With the help of some other Rap Sheet contributors, I am also working on a larger feature about the year’s best crime, mystery, and thriller fiction. That should appear on this page within the next couple of weeks, and be much broader in scope. Please stay tuned.

A movie review by Lev Levinson — IDA

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Nov 252014
 
Ida (2013) Poster


Sometimes I watch a movie that’s so outstanding, it’s like Mount Everest compared to the usual mountain range of pretty good movies.

This morning I watched Ida, a Polish movie with English subtitles, filmed in black and white, released in 2013, available on Netflix streaming and probably other sites.

Ida is set in Communist Poland during the 1960s, and tells of a young nun whose faith is challenged severely several times.  That’s it, folks.  There are no car crashes, shootings, fistfights, or entire cities swallowed up by demonic powers.  There isn’t even much dialogue.  People often are shown doing nothing more than thinking, but this thinking is very moving in the film’s contexts.

There are no angel choruses or rays of light emanating from heaven.  This is not the schmaltzy kindergarten view of religion.  This is about the struggles and temptations that people of faith sometimes encounter in the real world, and how difficult it is to reconcile the ideals of religion with the confusion and indeed horrors of human life on this planet.

Atheists probably would not consider this film worthwhile, because they believe faith is nothing more than ludicrous superstition.  But those of you who have had the experience of God, or who believe without having had the experience, will probably find the film as absorbing as I.  This movie has stayed with me all day - I can’t forget it.

Nov 252014
 


Colm Feore, a Canadian actor we have been lucky enough to see several times at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, plays Canadian pianist Glen Gould, in this film (1993) which rests somewhere between a doc and a regular movie. He never plays the piano, but acts the part of Gould, a very eccentric pianist. I love this film because it reminds me of short stories. It is original, thrilling and if you love classical music it will entertain you. It was directed by Francois Girard.
Nov 252014
 
This movie was almost universally reviled when it came out earlier this year. Some hated it because it takes so many liberties with the Biblical story of the Flood. Others didn't like it because it's so aggressively dumb. And I'm not here to tell you that it's a good movie. But it's so goofy and over the top that if you can sit back and take it for what it is, it starts to have a certain
Nov 252014
 
I don't know if this image is official or fan-made, but it made this long-time Bond fan smile... and with the rumors that Christophe Waltz is playing SPECTRE mastermind Ernst Stavros Blofeld in the as-yet-untitled film, I'm hopeful that we can put that QUANTUM idiocy behind us and welcome the original evil empire back to the series.
Nov 252014
 
Having finally come down from all the excitement at Bouchercon in Long Beach, and after putting the last touches on a couple of unexpectedly challenging editorial assignments, I am ready for a wrap-up of recent crime-fiction news. How about you?

Publishers Weekly has posted a list of its critics’ 12 favorite mystery and thriller novels from 2014. They are:

-- The Black-Eyed Blonde, by Benjamin Black (Holt)
-- Memory of Flames, by Armand Cabasson (Gallic)
-- Sting of the Drone, by Richard A. Clarke (St. Martin’s/Dunne)
-- The Sweetness of Life, by Paulus Hochgatterer (MacLehose Press)
-- The Devil in the Marshalsea, by Antonia Hodgson (Mariner)
-- The Good Girl, by Mary Kubica (Mira)
-- The Iron Sickle, by Martin Limón (Soho Crime)
-- The Forgers, by Bradford Morrow (Mysterious Press)
-- Desperate, by Daniel Palmer (Kensington)
-- Soul of the Fire, by Eliot Pattison (Minotaur)
-- The Farm, by Tom Rob Smith (Grand Central)
-- The Martian, by Andy Weir (Crown)

• Crime Fiction Lover chooses its “Top 10 Crime Debuts of 2014,” including Someone Else’s Skin, by Sarah Hilary; Spring Tide, by Cilla and Rolf Börjlind; and The Lying Down Room, by Anna Jaquiery.

• With the American version of Thanksgiving coming up on Thursday, check out this list in Mystery Fanfare of crime fiction related to the occasion. Who knows, you might like to pick up a copy of Kate Borden’s Death of a Turkey or Rex Stout’s Too Many Cooks to while away the time as you wait for your holiday feast to be done.

• Former Norwegian police investigator-turned-author Jǿrn Lier Horst has won the 2014 Martin Beck Award for The Hunting Dogs (Sandstone Press), his third English-translated police procedural starring William Wisting. The Martin Beck Award is presented annually by the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy (Svenska Deckarakademin) for the best crime novel in translation. Last year, The Hunting Dogs won the Glass Key Award
from the Crime Writers of Scandinavia. Maybe it’s time I actually found a copy of that novel and sat down to read it.

• Several additions have been made in recent days to The Rap Sheet’s YouTube page, including the video embedded above: the opening title sequence from Tropical Heat, a 1991-1993 Canadian action-adventure series starring Rob Stewart as an ex-DEA agent turned Florida gumshoe. Other new clips include the introductions from Cool Million, Shell Game, and Jigsaw John.

• Can you dig it? Author and sometime Rap Sheet writer Gary Phillips dropped me a note over the weekend, saying that he and David Walker--the latter of whom is writing the new Shaft comic-book series for Dynamite Entertainment--“are putting together the first-ever anthology of [John] Shaft short stories … set in the ’70s of course.” As somebody who, over the years, has developed an unexpected fondness for Ernest Tidyman’s Shaft series, I look forward to seeing that black private eye’s return in any form possible.

• A recent interview with David Walker can be heard here.

• Jake Hinkson, author of The Big Ugly and a regular contributor to Criminal Element, has kicked off a new succession of posts for that blog about “standalone novels by mystery writers who are better known for their big-time franchise characters.” Hinkson begins his series with a look back at I’d Know You Anywhere, Laura Lippman’s noirish thriller, published in 2010.

• Are you in the mood for an “oddball detective book”? Jeff Somers showcases five such works--by Thomas Pynchon, Isaac Asimov, and others--in this piece for the B&N Book Blog.

• This qualifies as good news: Despite doubts voiced by many people, the TV series Longmire--inspired by Craig Johnson’s acclaimed series of novels and starring Robert Taylor as Wyoming county sheriff Walt Longmire--will return for a fourth season. This, after A&E cancelled the show in August. ComingSoon.net reports that Netflix has ordered “ten new episodes of the series [to] premiere exclusively in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand in 2015.” It adds: “Season four of Longmire picks up moments after season three’s exciting finale. Longmire, having found out who was behind the murder of his wife, succumbs to his darker impulses and takes off in pursuit of the killer with murder on his mind. Meanwhile, Branch Connally ([played by Bailey] Chase), the deputy who Walt fired for erratic, violent behavior, believes he has already figured out who the real culprit is. But during his confrontation with this suspected killer, a gun goes off. Now the audience will finally learn what happened, and whether Walt can be stopped before he makes a fatal choice.”

• Did you know that independent bookstores across the United States will celebrate Small Business Saturday on November 29 by hosting author and illustrator appearances--just in time for holiday gift-buying? A state-by-state listing of participating shops can be found here. I’m pleased to see that my local bookseller, Phinney Books, is among those taking part. (Hat tip to Life, Death and Fog.)

Better Call Saul, the Breaking Bad spin-off series starring Bob Odenkirk, will be given a two-night debut on February 8 and 9 of next year, after which it will settle into its Monday time slot on AMC-TV.

What’s your favorite John Dickson Carr mystery?

• A couple of interviews worth reading: Clinton Greaves talks with Roger Smith, South African author of Man Down, while Omnimystery News chats with Les Roberts about his new novel, Wet Work.

• If the short-lived, 1972-1973 TV series Madigan, starring Richard Widmark (an early element of The NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie “wheel series”), is available in a DVD set from Amazon France, why is it still not for sale in the States?

• Winners of the 2014 Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards are to be declared this coming Wednesday, November 26. Among the nominees are six works competing for Irish Crime Novel of the Year. Declan Burke reacquaints us with those contenders here, and then suggests eight other “tremendous novels published that didn’t, for various reasons, feature on the shortlist”--among them Adrian McKinty’s The Sun Is God and Conor Fitzgerald’s Bitter Remedy.

• This last weekend’s Iceland Noir conference in Reykjavik received some important coverage from the blog Crime Fiction Lover. An overview can be found here, but look also for CFL’s post about new authors who took part in the event and this item about “a tour guided by Iceland’s own queen of crime, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, to the west of the island and out onto the Snaefellsnes peninsula.” You’ll find links to all of CFL’s Iceland Noir articles here.

Are you ready for Cozy Crime Week, December 8-13?

• And “after about ten years of work, and a year-and-a-half online serialization,” the Webcomic Gravedigger is done--“at least for now,” says its writer, Christopher Mills. “‘Digger’ McCrae will probably be back, though. He’s a tough sonuvabitch. I’m already talking to publishers about print editions and digital download versions of both ‘The Predators’ and ‘The Scavengers,’ and I’m hopeful that we’ll be seeing said versions sometime soon.” In the meantime, if you missed any of the 49 chapters of “The Predators,” put together by Mills and illustrator Rick Burchett, you can still find them online, beginning here. “The Scavengers” is still available, too, beginning here.