Saturday, 08 September 2018 11:54

(Mystery Scene continues its ongoing series in which authors discuss their works or their lives.)

J.L. Abramo is from the seaside paradise of Brooklyn, New York, and was born on Raymond Chandler's 59th birthday.

He is the author of Catching Water in a Net, winner of the St. Martin's Press/Private Eye Writers of America prize for Best First Private Eye Novel. That novel introduced Jake Diamond. The Jake novels continued with Clutching at Straws, Counting to Infinity and Circling the Runway (Shamus Award Winner); Chasing Charlie Chan, a prequel to the Jake Diamond series. Abramo also is the author of Gravesend, Brooklyn Justice, and Coney Island Avenue, a follow-up to Gravesend.

Abramo, left, is the current president of Private Eye Writers of America. His latest novel is American History (Down & Out Books).

In this essay, Abramo discusses how the setting influences his stories.


Those readers familiar with my previous work have already visited the neighborhoods, which play an essential role in American History.

The sights, sounds, tastes, and the aromas of San Francisco are as unmistakable as they are unforgettable and provide a perfect setting for the fictional exploits of Brooklyn-born, Italian-Catholic, Russian-Jewish, unsuccessful movie actor, and marginally successful private investigator Jake Diamond.

Jake is more likely to be carrying a worn paperback classic novel than a firearm. His thirst quencher of choice is Tennessee sour mash whiskey, his favorite foods are those with the highest cholesterol, and the closest he comes to being a purist is non-filtered cigarettes.

“The scent of deep fried calamari floated in through my office window like an invitation to triple-bypass surgery.”

So begins the third novel in the Jake Diamond series, Counting to Infinity. Jake’s office sits above Molinari’s legendary Italian Salumeria on Columbus Avenue—in the heart of the rich history and the eclectic street life of North Beach.

And, in American History, North Beach is the center of the Leone family’s American story.

I lived in San Francisco during the closing years of the 1970s—post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, pre-Reagan.

First, in the Fillmore, where Diamond lived before inheriting a house in the Presidio.

Later on Frederick Street near Masonic, a short block from Haight Street, where the last of the Flower Children were fighting to hold the line—with their head shops, music stores, and street performances—against the other thirtysomething residents who were trying to turn the Upper Haight into a respectable neighborhood.

I worked part time at the Green Apple Bookstore on Clement Street, where Jake Diamond found paperback copies of A Tale of Two Cities and The Count of Monte Cristo. Catching Water in a Net evolved into a tale of San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Automobiles are impractical in San Francisco—there is no place to put them.

As Jake Diamond once noted, “the only way to get a parking space in San Francisco is to buy a parked car.” So, I explored on foot—walking up and down the hills, from neighborhood to neighborhood, each with its unique personality and its own climate.

In 2000, in South Carolina, I began writing my second novel.

My initial attempt, a crime novel set in Brooklyn, was sitting unread—surrounded by “thanks but no thanks” form letters from an assortment of literary agents. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, I wrote. I decided to try my hand at a first-person narrative.

The natural, unpremeditated form was a private eye novel—and, in my mind, the setting could be nowhere but San Francisco.

Jake Diamond was born.

Catching Water in a Net captured the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America Award for Best First Private Eye Novel and a year later I was holding a hardback copy in my hand.

Fifteen years later, after an 11-year hiatus, Diamond returned and his exploits in Circling the Runway earned a Shamus Award.

I visit San Francisco as often as possible. I walk the streets, I duck into alleys, check out storefronts, and look for additional iconic places for Diamond to discover while searching for a clue or two.

At the opposite American shore lies Jake’s hometown—and mine.

As well as the center of the Agnello family experience in American History.

After the first three Jake Diamond mysteries, set primarily in San Francisco, I felt compelled to write a Brooklyn story. To return to my roots—so to speak.

The result was Gravesend, titled for the Brooklyn neighborhood where I grew up. It was a more personal journey and the setting was a very important character in the narrative. I felt comfortable there.

Brooklyn is unique because it is Brooklyn. Where fans still lament the loss of the Dodgers after 60 years. Where Coney Island is still the summer beach resort. Where many of its three million residents still greet and are greeted by grocers, bakers, barbers, restaurateurs, and bankers by their first names in neighborhoods much like small towns.

Brooklyn is unlike other places—and is a perfect setting for crime fiction because it has such a rich history of criminal activity.

In American History, the action is set in both places over a period of nearly 100 years. The Agnello family in Gravesend, and the Leone family in North Beach.

American History is the multi-generational saga of the Agnellos and the Leones—set against a backdrop of turbulent and critical events in a young nation struggling to find its identity in the wake of two world wars.

J.L. Abramo on His Cities
Oline H. Cogdill
Wednesday, 29 August 2018 19:54

Fans of Harlan Coben—and really, who isn’t?—will be able to watch as well as read his works.

Coben and Netflix are beginning a “a multi-year exclusive deal” to develop 14 existing titles and future projects into English-language and foreign-language series as well as films that will premiere on Netflix worldwide, according to a news release.

Those projects include Coben’s next novel, Run Away, which will be published in March 2019 by Grand Central.

Coben will serve as an executive producer on all projects.

Currently, Coben has two crime drama series on Netflix: Safe, starring Michael C. Hall, and the 2015 French series No Second Chance.

I’ve always thought that Coben’s novels had a cinematic feel.

His standalones are edge-of-the-seat. And I would love to see Myron and Win on the screen.

So who do you think should play Myron? Win? Big Cindy?

Photograph by Claudio Marinesco

Chill on Netflix With Harlan Coben
Oline H. Cogdill
Tuesday, 28 August 2018 13:59

The winners of the 2018 Ned Kelly Awards, sponsored by the Australian Crime Writers Association and honoring the best crime writing in Australia, are:

Best Fiction: Crossing the Lines by Sulari Gentill

Best First Fiction: The Dark Lane by Sarah Bailey

True Crime: Unmaking a Murder: The Mysterious Death of Anna-Jane Cheney by Graham Archer

The Ned Kelly Awards are Australia’s oldest, and considered its most prestigious, prizes to honor the country’s crime fiction and true crime writing.

The winners are chosen by judging panels comprised of booksellers, book industry luminaries, readers, critics, reviewers, and commentators.

The awards began in 1995 after a group of crime writers, academics, publishers, and journalists hatched the plan over a long Sydney lunch, according the association’s website.

The awards are named after Australia’s most infamous criminal who lived during the late 1800s.

Ned Kelly was kind of like Robin Hood or Jesse James, considered part criminal but also part folk hero, pushed into crime by circumstances beyond his control.

According to several sources, Ned was one of eight Kelly children. The family was poor and saw themselves as victims of police persecution. Ned Kelly served three years in prison for stealing horses.

He and his brothers became outlaws after fatally shooting three policemen who supposedly were harassing the family. In a final showdown with the police, Ned Kelly dressed in homemade metal armor and a helmet; he was wounded in the arms and legs by the police and eventually hanged.

At the time of his execution—as well as now, Ned Kelly was a controversial figure. Opinion was divided on whether he really was harassed by the police to the point that he had no choice but to turn outlaw, or if he was just a thug.

And like Robin Hood and Jesse James, Ned Kelly has been the subject of several films. The 1906 Australian film The Story of the Kelly Gang ran for more than an hour and was, at that time, the longest narrative film to be released.

Mick Jagger played him in the 1970 movie Ned Kelly, a film so dreadful you can’t stop watching it. Heath Ledger played him in a 2003 film that was also called Ned Kelly; it was marginally better.

Singer Johnny Cash and the band Midnight Oil have sung about Ned Kelly.

2018 Ned Kelly Awards
Oline H. Cogdill