Sunday, 26 November 2017 21:47

You might be wondering what The Man Who Invented Christmas has to do with mysteries.

The movie is about Charles Dickens and his effort to write A Christmas Carol, and there are no murders or even any crimes.

So here’s the link.

The film is based on a book written by Les Standiford, who in the 1990s wrote several solid mysteries about South Florida builder John Deal.

The John Deal novels looked at the construction industry in South Florida and showed the changing landscape.

One of the co-producers of The Man Who Invented Christmas is Mitchell Kaplan, owner of the terrific independent bookstores Books & Books in South Florida. Kaplan also was awarded the 2007 Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is directed by Bharat Nalluri, from a screenplay by Susan Coyne, and stars Christopher Plummer and Dan Stevens.

The Man Who Invented Christmas
Oline H. Cogdill
Monday, 20 November 2017 10:13

Jane Langton, William Link, and Peter Lovesey have been chosen as the 2018 Grand Masters by Mystery Writers of America (MWA).

MWA’s Grand Master Award represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as for a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality.

Langton, Link, and Mr. Lovesey will receive their awards at the 72nd Annual Edgar Awards Banquet, which will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on April 26, 2018.

Here’s what MWA said in a press release about these deserving honorees.

In a writing career that spanned over four decades, Jane Langton, left, has not only written multiple mystery series, but also illustrated them. Her first children’s book, The Majesty of Grace, was published by Harper in 1961. The first book of her Hall Family Chronicles series, The Diamond in the Window, was nominated for the Edgar for Best Juvenile. The Fledgling, fourth in the series, is a Newbery Honor Book. Langton has written 18 books in the Homer (and Mary) Kelly series, published between 1964 and 2005. The fifth in the series, Emily Dickinson Is Dead, was an Edgar nominee and received a Nero Wolfe award.

William Link's love of writing began with the cartoons he drew as a very young boy. When he learned to write, he immediately created stories for them.

The first day of middle school, he would meet a classmate, Richard Levinson. They went home and started writing together that afternoon. The partnership of these two creative minds would change television history and the format of the crime drama forever with shows like Columbo, Ellery Queen, Mannix, And Murder She Wrote to name a few. They even wrote a Broadway musical, Merlin. After the death of his best friend and writing partner he continued on alone.

Bill has received numerous awards for excellence including 2 Emmys, 2 Golden Globes, 4 Edgar Awards, The Ellery Queen, The Marlowe, The Poirot, the George Foster Peabody, and The Paddy Chayefsky Laurel award. He was inducted into The Television Academy Hall of Fame.

Peter (Harmer) Lovesey, left, also known by his pen name Peter Lear, is a British writer of historical and contemporary detective novels and short stories. His best-known series characters are Sergeant Cribb, a Victorian-era police detective based in London, and Peter Diamond, a modern-day police detective in Bath. Peter Lovesey has won awards for his fiction, including Gold and Silver Daggers from the British Crime Writers’ Association, the Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement, the French Grand Prix de Littérature Policière and first place in the MWA’s 50th Anniversary Short Story Contest.

Previous Grand Masters include Max Allan Collins, Ellen Hart, Walter Mosley, Lois Duncan, James Ellroy, Robert Crais, Carolyn Hart, Ken Follett, Margaret Maron, Martha Grimes, Sara Paretsky, James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Bill Pronzini, Stephen King, Marcia Muller, Dick Francis, Mary Higgins Clark, Lawrence Block, P.D. James, Ellery Queen, Daphne du Maurier, Alfred Hitchcock, Graham Greene, and Agatha Christie.


The Raven Award recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing.

The Raven bookstore and Kristopher Zgorski will receive the 2018 Raven Award.

The Raven Bookstore in Lawrence, Kansas, celebrated its 30thanniversary in 2017. The store was opened in 1987 by co-owners Pat Kehde and Mary Lou Wright. Kehde kept the store for 28 years, weathering the Borders storm with a plan to “stay the same size and cultivate [the] clients.” Heidi Raak took over the store in 2008. Current owner and poet Danny Caine took over in August of 2017; he is a longtime employee of the shop. The Raven has two store cats, Dashiell and Ngiao.

Kristopher Zgorski is the founder of the crime fiction book review blog, BOLO Books ( Kristopher also has a column called Central Booking in Deadly Pleasures Magazine. His reviews have also run in genre-specific publications such as Crimespree Magazine, Mystery Readers Journal, and the UK-based Shots Crime and Thriller Ezine. Kristopher is obviously an avid reader and regularly attends industry conventions such as Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and BEA, in addition to smaller MD/DC/VA area book gatherings and signings.

Previous Raven winners include Dru Ann Love, Sisters in Crime, Margaret Kinsman, Kathryn Kennison, Jon and Ruth Jordan, Aunt Agatha’s Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Oline Cogdill, Molly Weston, The Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Chicago, Once Upon a Crime Bookstore in Minneapolis, Mystery Lovers Bookstore in Oakmont, PA, Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge, MA, and The Poe House in Baltimore, MD.

The Ellery Queen Award was established in 1983 to honor “outstanding writing teams and outstanding people in the mystery-publishing industry. This year the Board chose to honor Robert Pépin. Mr. Pépin began his literary career in 1964 as a translator of English-language novels. Since then he has been a translator, editor, and publisher of some of the most important authors of the past century including Lawrence Block, Alex Berenson, C.J. Box, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, James Church, Miles Corwin, Martin Cruz Smith, and Robert Crais.

In 1992, Pépin founded Le Seuil publishing company, which successfully introduced the finest American crime writers to the French public. In 2010, he established his own imprint, the eponymous “Robert Pépin présente…”at the venerable French publishing house Calmann-Levy Paris, a division of Hachette. There, he continues to bring great English language writers to France.

Previous Ellery Queen Award winners include Neil Nyren, Janet Rudolph, Charles Ardai, Joe Meyers, Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald, Brian Skupin and Kate Stine, Carolyn Marino, Ed Gorman, Janet Hutchings, Cathleen Jordan, Douglas G. Greene, Susanne Kirk, Sara Ann Freed, Hiroshi Hayakawa, Jacques Barzun, Martin Greenburg, Otto Penzler, Richard Levinson, William Link, Ruth Cavin, and Emma Lathen.

MWA Announces 2018 Grand Master, Raven & Ellery Queen Award Recipients
Oline Cogdill
Sunday, 19 November 2017 15:12

One of my favorite moments in the 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express comes near the end—and I am not giving away any spoilers here—when the array of passengers are by themselves in the train car.

The investigation is over and as the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) looks back, everyone begins to click champagne glasses.

The way each passenger clicks his or her glass with another is indicative of their character—a strong click, a confident click, a meek click, a shy one. It all comes together as Poirot, ever the outsider but also ever the observer, looks on, pleased yet also a bit shaken at how things turned out.

Murder on the Orient Express—the 1974 version, the 2001 remake with Alfred Molina as Poirot, the 2006 version with David Suchet as Poirot and now the 2017 one with Kenneth Branagh—are based on the 1934 novel by Agatha Christie.

Murder on the Orient Express is one of Christie’s best-known novels—mainly, I think, because it is constantly remade.

If you don’t know the plot by now, don’t expect me to give it away.

Let’s just say, Murder on the Orient Express is about:

A murder

That happens on the Orient Express train

During winter

then the train gets stuck.

The cast is big.

It has Hercule Poirot.

And that leads me to this latest incarnation of Murder on the Orient Express.

All of the above happens in the 2017 version of this Christie classic, in which Kenneth Branagh directs and stars.

And just like the 1974 version directed by Sidney Lumet, Branagh uses an all-star cast.

But how films are made and also viewed by audiences have changed drastically in 43 years. The clever casting in 1974 gave us a tight ensemble that included Lauren Bacall, Michael York, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, and Rachel Roberts, among others.

But the 2017 cast seems more like a gimmick—how many popular actors can we cram into one movie. These established and up-and-coming actors include Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Penélope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Olivia Colman, Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley, and Leslie Odom Jr., among others.

The plot, of course, hasn’t changed. A murder of a mysterious passenger occurs in the middle of the night, shortly before the train stalls—this time on a cliff-side rail. The view is breathtaking—CGI special effects weren’t high on the list in 1974. Because there is nowhere to go, the murderer must be one of the passengers on the lushly appointed train.

CGI also allows Branagh to open up the movie by staging an elaborate foot race. While this gives Murder on the Orient Express some extra action, it also takes away from the story. One reason the other versions worked so well is that by keeping the story on the train the sense of claustrophobia was heightened and the menace that the killer “may be among us” added to the tension.

As Poirot, Branagh never quite rises to the level of the other actors who have portrayed him. Branagh adds a bit of compassion to the character while also showing his fussy quirks, which are both irritating and charming. But his leaps to conclusion about the case seem rather far-fetched here.

I also worried that at any moment Branagh’s mammoth mustache would attack him. In the books and other films, Poirot’s mustache is his pride and joy—a tidy, crisp line that he lovingly waxes and even sleeps with a special mask to protect. But that mustache has never been this huge, and the sleeping mask he wears to protect it looks like a forerunner of those CPAP machines people use for sleeping. The ‘stache is kind of like David Caruso’s sunglasses in CSI: Miami. All you can see when Caruso’s Horatio Caine takes those sunglasses on or off are those darned shades.

And as good an actor as Branagh is—his Hamlet and the film Dead Again showcase this—he is outshined by some of his cast, especially Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, Daisy Ridley, and Leslie Odom Jr.

This new incarnation of Murder on the Orient Express is entertaining, but never really soars, nor touches with quite the emotion we need. Christie was a master at looking at class systems and what motivated people. This comes through in Branagh’s film, especially in the relationship between Daisy Ridley and Leslie Odom Jr., which gives us another view of the couple who were portrayed by Connery and Redgrave in 1974.

But Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express devolves when he gives us unnecessary action scenes. We don’t need this cerebral man who relies on his “little grey cells” to be running around in the snow, chasing someone. Nor does he need to have a gun pulled on him—twice—or get into a physical fight. And a scene toward the end is pure hysteria and so jarring. These scenes seem to take too many liberties with the Christie text and work against the film. It is one thing to show a different side of the story with an interracial couple that enhances the story. It’s another thing to cheapen the story with silly asides.

And, do we need a new Murder on the Orient Express? The other versions were much more satisfying. There are tons of terrific modern mysteries that would make involving films or TV series. I want new ideas, new stories, not remake after remake. And there are plenty of works by Christie or other crime-fiction masters that would make terrific films. And one spoiler, the end seems to suggest that Death on the Nile will be Branagh’s next project. I hope he sees the 1978 version with Peter Ustinov as Poirot and Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, Maggie Smith, and Lois Chiles.

As for that last scene with the champagne toasts, well, you’ll have to wait a long time.

This scene now seems to be a Last Supper-like approach. I just kept thinking how cold everyone must be.

Murder on the Orient Express: Rated PG-13 for murder. Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes.

PHOTOS: Top, Kenneth Branagh, center, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Leslie Odom Jr. Photos courtesy 20th Century Fox.

Movie Review: “Murder on the Orient Express”
Oline H. Cogdill