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Triple Threat: Ingrid Thoft, Sara Gran, and Lisa Brackmann
Kevin Burton Smith

thoft ingrid CREDIT Doug BerrettExciting New Voices in the Private Eye Novel

Ingrid Thoft. Photo: Doug Berrett.


Back in the heady days of the late 1970s and well into the ’90s, when the PI genre was blowing off the shackles of its past, there seemed to be a new female private detective every week.

But let’s get it straight—V.I. Warshawski, Kinsey Millhone, Sharon McCone, Anna Lee and all their fellow sisters in crime did not rescue us all from some exclusive men’s-only club populated entirely by sexist, knuckle dragging private dicks.

Such condemnations of the genre’s past flew hard and fast at the time on assorted Internet bulletin boards and in half-baked academic theses; self-righteous accusations full of smug validation, enthusiastic finger-pointing and political correctness gone awry. So eager to dismiss all that had gone before, almost any sweeping generalization was considered fair game, and no charge was too great to fling at such evil pale males as Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Lew Archer, Mike Hammer or Spenser—as though all these men were virtually interchangeable; their worldviews and philosophies all one big monolithic block of oink-oink misogyny and sexism. But hey, it was easier to spout the rhetoric than to actually read any of the books being so offhandedly dismissed.

Still, there’s no denying it was a great time for female private eyes—and their mostly female authors. Books by the likes of Liza Cody, Marcia Muller, Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Laura Lippman, and Maxine O’Callaghan presented real women being competent and professional detectives, living adult lives and making hard choices, knocking on doors and taking down names, just as their mostly male counterparts had been doing for decades. They were welcome new voices, and they played a large part in a genre that was already in the throes of a second Golden Age, a long overdue renaissance already busting at the seams with new possibilities. Yes, gender boundaries were being shattered in the genre, but so were the limitations of race, sexual preference, regionalism, nationalism, and even settings. For mystery readers—male and female alike—it was an invigorating time, and 20 or so years on, fans of the genre are still reaping those benefits.

But we’ve come a long way, baby, and nobody’s banging the drums simply because these detectives (or their authors) are female. Hell, the fact the following detectives are female may be the least interesting thing about any of them.

INGRID THOFT’S BOSTON PI FINA LUDLOW, the shamus at the heart of the appropriately titled Loyalty, is arguably the most traditional of them, the latest in a long line of rough-edged, truth-seeking private eyes who can easily trace their DNA straight back to Hammett and Chandler, allowing for stops along the genetic road map to borrow a little from Ross Macdonald and Sue Grafton (nasty family secrets), Janet Evanovich (a few quirky/cute/annoying traits), and even homie Robert B. Parker, with whom she shares an obsession with personal autonomy and sticky ethical dilemmas.

Working as the in-house investigator for Ludlow and Associates, her family’s blue-blood law firm, run with an iron hand by Carl Ludlow, her domineering father and staffed by her three attorney brothers, the twentysomething Fina’s determined to stand on her own. But when Melanie, her drama queen sister-in-law disappears, Fina discovers that she may have to choose between doing the right thing or protecting her family. When Melanie shows up dead, and her husband Rand, Fina’s brother, is charged with murder, things come to a head.

Fina’s hands-on solution won’t be a surprise to anyone who’s read the Spenser books, but she handles it with a wry toughness and true grit, and the Beantown setting and the inclusion of an ass-kicking Hawk-like sidekick suggests that Parker’s ghost might have been riding shotgun on this one. Not a perfect debut, perhaps, but I’ll be one of the first in line for round two.

Brackmann LisaLisa Brackmann

QUESTIONS OF HONOR, LOYALTY, AND AUTONOMY ALSO POP UP IN LISA BRACKMANN’S Hour of the Rat, the rocking sequel to Rock Paper Tiger (2010), where we first met foulmouthed Iraq war vet Ellie McEnroe, who left a big chunk of her leg back in the desert and has carved out a new life for herself in China, of all places, acting as the representative of edgy dissident artist Zhang Jianli.

Although not technically a private eye, her motives, her dogged determination, and her burning sense of moral outrage will be familiar to anyone who’s ever read Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. Like that hardboiled classic, Ellie reluctantly agrees to do a favor for a friend and promptly gets dragged into something that’s way beyond her pay grade. It’s only a streak of pure stubbornness and possibly misplaced dedication that keeps her going.

Although Ellie’s rude wit may seem familiar, we’re a long way from Chandler’s beloved Los Angeles’ mean streets of the 1940s and ’50s—modern-day China may be every bit as mean (the air in Beijing, Ellie complains, “is out to kill her”), but Brackmann captures it all with an unflinching honesty and frank sense of moral unease that strips bare the romance and myths of “the new China”—and of the old capitalism running amuck.

Dog, an old Army buddy who got “fucked up royally,” asks Ellie to find Jason, his missing brother, supposedly on the loose somewhere in China. Feeling guilt about a brief affair they had in Iraq, Ellie reluctantly agrees.

But China’s a big country with a lot of people. Nor does it turn out to be a simple wandering-tourist job—Ellie soon discovers that Jason’s an environmental activist who’s angered both the US and Chinese governments, as well as several giant corporations who’d rather their GMO secrets stay secret.

Ellie’s PTSD-tinged hunt for Jason, as she crisscrosses China by train, bus and tractor, journeying from trendy Western-style tourist traps to toxic wastelands and back, is as intriguing as it is disturbing—and disheartening for Ellie. Initially, she considers hauling her “gimpy ass” back to Beijing, but she plows on because, as she confesses, she likes “having a mission.... Having something to do. Something that matters.”

Plus, she notes optimistically, “they might have beer.” And it’s a great way to avoid returning to her Beijing apartment where her visiting mother is waiting.

gran sara 01 crDeborah LopezSara Gran. Photo: Deborah Lopez.

LOCK UP YOUR MEDICINE CABINET, BECAUSE SARAH GRAN’S BISEXUAL DRUGGIE DETECTIVE CLAIRE DEWITT IS BACK. She may stick to the good ol’ USA in her second big adventure, Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway (after 2011’s Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead), but the psychological and emotional (and pharmaceutical) territory is all over the map.

The self-proclaimed “greatest detective in the world,” Claire is one of the most original gumshoes to ever help herself to somebody else’s meds, and there’s always another puzzle to solve, another killer to catch, another secret to strip bare, and another emotional scab to pick at.

Once again the all-night drug prowling she-wolf is on the hunt, this time investigating the murder of Paul Casablancas, a local musician and Claire’s ex-lover, who was found dead in his San Francisco home. But equally compelling is the secondary mystery, rendered in a series of flashbacks, that follows the underaged Claire and her chums Kelly and Tracy as they wander the streets of New York City, using fake IDs to drink in bars and experimenting with drugs, sex, and the basic tenets of detective work. Inspired by a series of YA stories featuring Cynthia Silverton, Girl Detective, and Détection, a how-to guide by Jacques Sillette, a mysterious French detective and philosopher whose hazy advice and contradictory ramblings on the nature of truth are taken to heart by the three girls, they are hired to find one of their friends who has gone missing. And then there’s the litany of other cases that pass through the book, some summarized in detail, some dismissed in a line or two, from The Case of the Missing Miniature Horses to The Case of the Green Parrot.

Claire will use every means at her disposal, from legwork, intuition, and blind luck to dreams, hallucinations, and junkie logic to crack a case. But don’t be dismayed. This surreal trip of a novel might be a mess in the hands of most writers, but Gran (the author of the acclaimed modern noir Dope), holds it all together like some sort of literary alchemist, stirring together the gee-whiz innocence of YA girl detective novels with an adult frankness that will have some readers cackling with glee—and others reaching for the smelling salts. Either way, the result is a rich, pungent, reality shaking concoction that’ll make your head spin. Take a whiff.


Kevin Burton Smith is the founder and editor of The Thrilling Detective Web Site.


This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #131.

Teri Duerr
2014-09-02 02:36:56

Exciting new voices from the private eye novel


The Bitter Truth About the Bitter Cold

laseur carriehomeplace
We have a ready answer in Florida when asked what is the hottest summer month.

It’s September.

Yeah, I know. You probably don’t think of September as a summer month, what with the (outdated) ban on wearing white after Labor Day, back-to-school worries, and the fact that September means that Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the holiday season aren’t far behind.

But for us Floridians, September can be as hot as any summer month.

I am sure that no one wants to repeat the bitter cold that seemed to go on forever last winter. While we didn’t have that in Florida, I never gloat about the weather. Anything can happen and make the weather in Florida miserable.

But winter is coming, whether we like it or not. And two recent novels sum up winter in ways that make us want to take note.

Carrie La Seur sets her debut novel The Home Place (Wm. Morrow) in Montana, a place where the cold can reach unfathomable dimensions. Her description of the cold winter is sheer poetry:

“The cold on a January night in Billings, Montana is personal and spiritual.  It knows your weaknesses. It communicates with your fears. If you have a god, this cold pulls a veil between you and your deity. It gets you alone in a place where it can work at you. If you are white, especially from the old families, the cold speaks to you of being isolated and undefended on the infinite homestead plains. It sounds like wolves and reverberates like drums in all the hollow places where you wonder who you are and what you would do in extremis. In this cold, you understand at last that you are not brave at all.” -- The Home Place

D.A. Keeley’s debut Bitter Crossing (Midnight Ink) also takes place in the winter. But this time the locale is the border area of Maine.

“Winter never seemed to enter on tiptoe in Aroostook County. It was only October, just one month removed from peak foliage season, but the maples stood bare, as if bracing patiently for the snow.” -- Bitter Crossing

Getting out my winter clothes now.

Oline Cogdill
2014-09-02 16:15:00
Remembering Joan Rivers, the Mystery Writer


Count me among the fans who will miss comedian Joan Rivers, who died this past week.

I loved her humor, her take-no-prisoners approach to fashion coverage, and the fact that she was a pioneer in the field of comedy. She paved the way for other female comedians.

But Rivers also was, in real life, one of the most gracious women. She genuinely cared about people, and that went beyond making them laugh.

She worked tirelessly to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, and many more. Her special charity was God's Love We Deliver. For more than 20 years, she was on the board of directors of God's Love We Deliver, which brings hot meals to those in need.

Rivers also was co-author of the mystery novel Murder at the Academy Awards (Simon & Schuster), which was billed as “A Red Carpet Murder Mystery.” Her co-author was Jerrilyn Farmer, below right, who wrote a series about caterer/party planner Madeline Bean, whose occupation took her into the not-always-so-glamorous world of Los Angeles’ wealthy movers and shakers.

Farmer was the perfect person to write with Rivers. When Murder at the Academy Awards came out in 2009, I talked with Farmer about the experience. She was over the moon about the chance to write with one of the icons of comedy. The novel went on to earn a starred review from Publishers Weekly and a quite positive review from me.

Five years later, Farmer still remembers the experience with much fondness, as she told me this week via email.

“It was pretty surreal to get the call from Joan Rivers telling me she'd read my Mad Bean books and wanted to work with me. It was definitely one of those 'What rabbit hole have I fallen into?' moments,” Farmer told Mystery Scene.

The introduction came via screenwriter and author Lee Goldberg as he had passed along her name to Rivers, who was starting to look for collaborators. Murder at the Academy Awards was published just as Rivers was going on to victory on Celebrity Apprentice. “She lived a very big life,” said Farmer.
farmer jerrilyn
Rivers' premise was to base the protagonist on a red carpet interviewer exactly like herself, “meaning that I would have to know all the true details of her life and lifestyle in order to make this narrator voice work. What a cool opportunity to get to know Joan,” said Farmer.

So Farmer and Rivers spent time together in Los Angeles and also in New York, “going out to dinner, gabbing, talking about Joan's past, and our tastes in humor, jewels (!), and mysteries,” added Farmer.

Rivers was a mystery reader, and was a big fan of Ruth Rendell.

“She had great taste in reading as in most things. It was a kick to go out on the town with her, and I was even invited to attend her celebrity roast for Comedy Central. Joan's life was filled with a lot of work, a lot of travel, and a lot of excitement, and she was a smart, tough businesswoman through it all,” said Farmer.

Rivers also throw herself in doing “high-style promotion,” including appearing on The View. “Amazing how many View watchers ran out to buy this book as a result,” said Farmer.

In her “much lower-key style,” Farmer was invited to The Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles to celebrate the book launch with local friends and mystery fans. One of the owners, Pamela Woods, asked Farmer if Rivers might ever be able to stop by the store and sign, too.

“I knew Joan would love to do it. And of course she did,” remembered Farmer. “I also knew her time was super overbooked, but she said, ‘No, I'm coming!’ So, in transit from one studio in L.A. to another in Burbank by a driver and assistant, Joan made them stop off in that little bookstore in Westwood so she could come sign stock. And while there, Joan bought a few more mysteries for her own reading. She was such a great lady.”

Farmer also posted on her Facebook page another remembrance of Rivers.

“I was staying at her amazing apartment in NYC and she had just spent the night before doing QVC. Did she want to rest? Hell, no. She was dying to get to work on our book,” posted Farmer.

“As it turned out, when Joan appeared on QVC, she brought home tons of samples of her jewelry. She told me: 'You go and shop through those boxes. And take whatever you want. Not just one or two items. Take A LOT!' So that's how I spent time with Joan, shopping through hundreds of boxes of Joan Rivers jewelry. And when she saw what I selected, she scolded me and gave me many, many more—including a Faberge egg necklace I treasure.

“Joan loved to make people happy. She was also delightfully well-read, smart, introspective, and filled with a passion for her work. I loved our time working together. This has been a tough day. Our world will miss Joan.”

And as a special tribute to Rivers, we should all have a good laugh, and buy a book. Happy reading.

A FINAL NOTE: At her funeral, Rivers' publicist said that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to God's Love, We Deliver; Guide Dogs for the Blind; or Our House.


Oline Cogdill
2014-09-06 11:05:00
Crimetime TV: Tales From the Writing Front
Lee Goldberg

TV writingNotes from the frontline



The stories you are about to read are true, the names have been changed to protect the guilty.



We were writing the first episode of a detective series and turned the script in to the network executive for his notes. The first note was in scene one, act one.

“The hero doesn’t know what’s going on,” the executive said.

“That’s right,” I replied. “It’s a mystery.”

“You can’t do that,” the executive said. “The hero should be ahead of the story.”

“Ahead of the story?” I asked. “What does that mean?”

“The hero should know,” the executive said.

“Know what?” I replied.

“Everything,” the executive said.

“But he just arrived at the scene,” I said. “He’s taking his first look at the body…and you want him to already know everything?”

“Is he a hero or a complete moron?” the executive asked. “Nobody wants to watch a show about a guy who’s lost, confused, and stupid.”

“It’s a mystery and he’s a detective,” I said. “He’s going to show us how smart he is by solving the crime.”

“If he was smart,” the executive said, “he wouldn’t have to solve it. He’d already know.”

“So what’s the mystery?” I asked.

“There isn’t one,” the executive said.

“So what’s our show about if there’s no mystery to solve?”

“You tell me,” the executive said. “You’re the writer.”


* * *


hunter tvshowI was working on Murphy’s Law, a lighthearted detective series starring George Segal as an insurance investigator, when I got this call from the network censor with notes on our script:

“You’ve got one of your characters calling another character a moron,” the censor said.

“Yeah, so?”

“You can’t do that,” he said. “We’ve approved ‘dolt,’ ‘dummy’ or ‘dink,’ as acceptable alternatives.”

“What’s wrong with calling somebody a moron?”

“You’ll offend all the morons in the audience,” he said. I thought he was joking.

He wasn’t. So I said, “Don’t worry, all the morons in the audience are watching Hunter.”

Three months later, Murphy’s Law was cancelled…and I got a job on Hunter.


* * *


We were writing an episode of a series for a Major Television Producer who had dozens of hit shows to his credit. This particular series, however, was not destined to be one of them.

For this episode, he wanted to do a “modern take” on a “cowboys and Indians” story. He wanted to see “Indians on the warpath,” only with “a contemporary sensibility.”

“Call ’em Native Americans instead of Injuns,” the Major Television Producer instructed us, “that’ll make the story instantly relevant.”

He also wanted it hip, sexy, and edgy. And he wanted women, lots of beautiful women.

I joked that we could have seven supermodels lost in the desert. His eyes lit up. “Yes,” he said. “That’s perfect. That would give the show…sophistication.”

Unfortunately, he wasn’t kidding around. We were stuck with seven supermodels.

We went off and worked on the outline for our script. We came up with a scene in which bad guys destroy sacred Navajo ruins, causing the Native Americans to attack the bad guy’s camp. But when the Major Television Producer read our scene, he was outraged.

“You can’t have the bad guys destroy Navajo ruins,” he bellowed. “Those ruins are priceless, historical artifacts. The American public will never stand for it. You’ll offend our entire audience!”

We apologized, explaining all we wanted to do in the scene was provoke the Native Americans into attacking the bad guys.

“Why not have the bad guys rape the seven supermodels,” the Major Television Producer said.

“Sure,” I replied. “That won’t offend anybody.”

“Exactly,” the Major Television Producer said. “Now you’re learning how to write television.”


Lee Goldberg is a two-time Edgar & Shamus Award nominee and the author of over 40 novels and nonfiction books. Goldberg is also known for his screenwriting and producing work on several different TV crime series, including Diagnosis: Murder, A Nero Wolfe Mystery, Hunter, Spenser: For Hire, Martial Law, She-Wolf of London, SeaQuest, 1-800-Missing, The Glades, and Monk.


This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #84.

Teri Duerr
2014-09-11 03:12:13

TV writingNotes from the frontline



Lehane's "The Drop": 3 ½ Stars


thedrop lehane4
At the heart of the crime drama The Drop—based almost faithfully on Dennis Lehane’s novella—is a story of a man and his dog and how this abandoned, abused pit bull puppy with lots of affection to give rescues the man who rescues him.

Make no mistake, The Drop is not a touchy-feely sentimental tale—we are talking about Lehane here. The Drop is a gripping, atmospheric crime story full of mobsters, severed limbs, and violence, though not as much as in most films in this genre.

But there is this man and there is this dog and they form the crux of what turns into an intense character study of people on the edge, disenfranchised from themselves, people who must learn to care about something before they can care about themselves.

And yes, it is a crime drama, and gritty as they come.

It also is the last movie that the actor James Gandolfini made before he died in June 2013, and his performance in The Drop makes his loss even more acute.

British actor Tom Hardy (Inception, Meadowlands) stars as Bob Saginowski, a lonely guy who tries to mind his own business; he has pretty much withdrawn from life. He works at a Brooklyn tavern called Cousin Marv’s, which happens to be owned by his own cousin, Marv (Gandolfini). There he keeps the regular customers happy, talks with Marv, and goes home alone, never giving much of himself to anyone. He attends Mass daily at the old neighborhood parish church, but never takes Communion.

thedrop lehane6
On his way home one night, he hears a puppy whimpering inside a garbage can in front of a house. As he fishes out the bloodied and abused puppy, the woman who lives in the house wants to know what he’s doing. Nadia (Noomi Rapace, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), is more than a little leery of this guy who is going through her trash can until she spots the puppy. But before even talking with Bob, she insists on taking a photograph of his driver’s license, which she will email to four friends.

In her house, the two clean up the dog, who, despite his ordeal, is a friendly, tag-wagging bundle of energy. Tom thinks it’s a boxer but Nadia knows it’s a pit bull.

“That’s a dangerous dog,” says Tom, pulling back.

Nadia, who used to work at an animal shelter, acknowledges that pit bulls can be dangerous but only if the owners let them. “Not this little guy,” she says. “He’s sweet.”

Tom knows all about danger. Years before, he used to run with a “crew” that did some nasty things; he knows that friends and acquaintances from the neighborhood have “disappeared;” and he works for Marv, whose bar is a “drop,” or collection point for unmarked envelopes filled with money that belongs to the Chechen gangsters who rule the streets. And Marv doesn’t really own the bar either—years before, Marv lost it to those same Chechen gangsters. Marv only pretends to own it to make the laundry scheme seem more plausible.

Dozens of envelopes filled with cash are hard to resist. One night after closing, two brothers rob the place. The drops have all been collected by the gangsters but Marv’s profits don’t belong to him. And the gangsters want back the $5,000 that was stolen, from either Marv or those amateur robbers.

thedrop lehane5
It doesn’t take long for it to be revealed that Marv set up the robbery, hoping to recoup some of the money that goes to his “partners” and also regain a bit of pride from the days when he and his crew ran the neighborhood.

“We had a crew back in the day,” Bob explains to Nadia. “Marv, he thought he was a tough guy. Then the neighborhood changed. It wasn't enough to be tough anymore. You had to be mean.”

And Bob’s life suddenly becomes quite complicated, and it may be just what he needs to shock him back to the living. He takes the dog—was there ever any doubt?—and names him Rocco, after St. Rocco, a patron saint of dogs and falsely accused people. He and Nadia are attracted to each other, bound by their mutual concern for the dog, yet keep at arm’s length because of past hurts. The hunt for the robbers intensifies and turns violent. And Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), the dog’s original owner and Nadia’s abusive ex-boyfriend, re-enters the picture. He wants both Rocco and her back. Deeds is known in the neighborhood for his violence and is believed to be responsible for the death of one of Bob’s friends.

As the viewer learns, everyone in The Drop is haunted by his or her secrets and a past that rears its head almost daily. Only little Rocco is the most innocent of all.

thedrop novellehane0001
The acting is first-rate. Hardy’s expressions move almost imperceptibly as he clearly shows a range of emotion and even rage. Hardy’s Bob is a character who should not be underestimated, and the actor illustrates this time and again. Hardy will play the role of Leo Demidov in the upcoming Child 44, which also will reunite him with Rapace. The two have a believable chemistry in The Drop and that should serve them well in Child 44, based on Tom Rob Smith’s novel.

Gandolfini is so perfect in The Drop that he immediately makes us forget about the proud, powerful Tony Soprano that he inhabited all those years. Marv is light years away from Tony. Marv is a sad sack of a man, trying to grab back that one piece of glory he had back in the day, yet knowing his own flaws caused him to lose everything he once had. Marv’s father is on life support, yet he refuses to consider that it may be time to make a decision on this. He lives with his sister, Dottie, who wants a better life, even a trip to Europe, anything to get out of the neighborhood. “That’s what I’ve become, kinda guy goes to Europe with his sister,” laments Marv.

Hollywood has been good to LehaneGone Baby Gone, Mystic River, Shutter Island—and The Drop continues those high standards. The Drop is the first English-language film by Belgian director Michaël Roskam, an Academy Award-nominee for Bullhead. Roskam understands the deliberate pacing that is necessary to make a good crime drama that depends on characters driving the plot. The Drop doesn’t have car chases or gun battles, but it does have great pacing, a solid plot, and believable characters who come alive through the superior acting. The violence is measured out so that when it occurs it is shocking. The cinematography perfectly captures a down-at-its-heels neighborhood, a corner bar, streets with broken sidewalks and trash carelessly thrown.

It also benefits from having Lehane write the screenplay. The Drop started as the short story Animal Rescue, which was published in the anthology Boston Noir, which Lehane also edited. Lehane had been working on an adaptation of Animal Rescue when the screen rights were bought by Chernin Entertainment, the production company founded by former president and chief operating officer of News Corporation Peter Chernin. Lehane also moved the setting from Boston to a blue-collar neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Then Lehane’s publisher wanted him to turn his story into a novel to expand on the characters. The trade paperback version of The Drop also is now available.

Captions: top, Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini; second photo: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, and Rocco; third photo: James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy.


Rated R. Running time: 107 minutes.


Oline Cogdill
2014-09-12 20:07:24
Kathy Reichs on Reading, Writing, and Raymond Chandler
Kathy Reichs

Kathy Reichs publicity credit Marie-Reine MatteraThere’s no shelf large enough to hold all the books of advice on how to write. But only one sound piece ever stayed with me. To be a writer you must do two things: read and write.


Photo: Marie-Reine Mattera


I grew up a reader. A classic flashlight-under-the-bedspread case, tearing through Nancy Drew mysteries and little blue biographies of fabulous women like Jane Adams. I loved Toby Tyler, the stories of a boy who ran away to join to the circus.

My own adventurous streak was hankering to turn 16 and get my driver’s license so I could run away to...wait for it...the library. Nerdvana.

It almost feels like cheating that half of my job is doing what I love. When I’m struggling at the keyboard, I can go sit on a beach with a novel and justify it as “genre studies.” Toes in the sand is my favorite place to turn pages, but books are like jeans. They suit anywhereagainst my pillows, on the bus, under a hair dryer.

It’s remarkable that every story ever written is just a different combination of 26 letters. I never lose my awe for the best in the craft. As a writer, I’m always reading, always refining. Luckily, my homework suits me. I primarily like thrillers. Sometimes I wish I strayed further from my own genre, but mostly I’m a happy captive of curiosity and admiration for my peers. It’s the perennial challenge of ‘so many books, too little time.’

I read with a pen. I can’t help myself. When I see a turn of phrase or elegant prose that stops me in my tracks, I underline or make notes. The ink forges a bond with the writer, both tribute and aspiration. A hybrid of kudos, and damn-I-wish-I’d-written-that. Not plagiarism, but hopes of absorbing skill to elevate my style. Like a basketball team reviewing tapes of a competitor’s game, I hope to always improve from exposure to the best.

I’ll be straight, I like dark. I like to see humanity sans make-up, to peek into those battered houses I see from the train. Crime novels take you to worlds gritty and raw, places that (hopefully) most of us never personally encounter. Honest glimpses of darkness, safely contained in fictional cages. Why the attraction? These tales are buoyed by a common nugget of morality. Crime writers pen the worst of humanity, yet with an unshakeable conviction of its goodness. To me, none can surpass author Raymond Chandler.

Given his long shadow, you can easily forget that Chandler published only seven novels. He wasn’t the founding father of hardboiled American noir, but he was a cornerstone. His protagonist Philip Marlowe is the blueprint for the gumshoe as a tired latter-day knight, jaded and sporting bruises, but still able to rescue a citizen in distress. Solitary, wisecracking, hard-drinking, sentimental, tough. A flawed Don Quixote motivated, in the end, by honor and decency. Marlowe says in Playback, “If I wasn’t hard, I wouldn’t be alive. If I couldn’t ever be gentle, I wouldn’t deserve to be alive.” Chandler describes his detective as “a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man.” We thriller writers couldn’t agree more. Chandler’s archetype heralds many of today’s beloved crime-novel protagonists. One glance at a Temperance Brennan novel shows that I am clearly among the beneficiaries of Chandler’s rich legacy.

Chandler’s greatest strength lies not in intricate plotting or in the whammy of the surprise twist ending, but in the masterful use of the English language. His creative metaphors, vivid descriptions, and crisp, sharp dialogue are unsurpassed. Chandler’s first short story, published in the pulp rag Black Mask was so well honed that not one phrase could be cut. Now that’s expertise.

BONES NEVER LIE coverChandler could describe a character without a single descriptive word. Ugly is: “From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.” Pretty is: “A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.” Magic. The whodunit matters little. What is important is the style - pure Chandler.

The same goes for setting. Marlowe’s turf is the Los Angeles of the forties and fifties, an urban patchwork of seedy hotels, smoky nightclubs, upscale bars, and dingy train and bus stations. The settings are a mélange of the stark and the glitzy, the sleazy and the swanky. Chandler recreates the place and time so vibrantly the reader can see, hear, smell, and feel it. His images of a Southern California in squalor and in splendor remain etched on the mind.

Without Chandler, the hardboiled crime tale would still exist thanks to Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and others but it would lack the literary polish. Chandler wasn’t a great thriller writer, he was a great writer. Often imitated, rarely duplicated, Chandler’s voice is the siren song to all crime writers. I’m a willing victim, happy to be snared by his lyrical prose. Try him. You’ll be a blissful victim, too.


KATHY REICHS is the author of 16 New York Times bestselling novels featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. Like her protagonist, Reichs is a forensic anthropologist—one of only around a hundred ever certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. A professor in the department of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, she is the former vice president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and serves on the National Police Services Advisory Council in Canada. Reichs’s own life, as much as her novels, is the basis for the TV show Bones, one of the longest-running series in the history of the Fox network.


This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" eNews September 2014 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
2014-09-15 18:25:50

Kathy Reichs publicity credit Marie-Reine MatteraThere’s no shelf large enough to hold all the books of advice on how to write. But only one sound piece ever stayed with me. To be a writer you must do two things: read and write.


Malcolm Braly: The Patron Saint of Losers
Ed Gorman

san-quentin-interiorBraly's 1967 prison novel, On the Yard, is an underappreciated American masterpiece.



Malcolm Braly (1925–1980) was born in Portland, Oregon. Abandoned by his parents, Braly lived between foster homes and institutions for delinquent children, and by the time he was forty had spent nearly seventeen years in prison for burglary, serving time at Nevada State Prison, San Quentin, and Folsom State Prison. He wrote three novels behind bars, Felony Tank (1961), Shake Him Till He Rattles (1963), and It's Cold Out There (1966), and upon his release in 1965 began to work on On the Yard. When prison authorities learned of the book they threatened to revoke his parole, and he was forced to complete it in secret. Published in 1967, after Braly's parole had expired, On the Yard received wide acclaim. It was followed by his autobiography, False Starts: A Memoir of San Quentin and Other Prisons (1976), and a final work of fiction, The Protector (1979). Malcolm Braly enjoyed fifteen years of freedom before his death in a car accident at age fifty-four.

—from the 2002 New York Review of Books Classics edition of On The Yard by Malcolm Braly, with an introduction by Jonathan Lethem.


braly malcolmIt's always struck me as strange that in all the nostalgia and excitement over the old Gold Medals, the best serious novelist of them all is rarely mentioned.

We have editor/sage Knox Burger to thank for the far too brief literary career of Malcolm Braly. Burger visited San Quentin when he was editor of Gold Medal in the early '60s and encouraged Braly to write.

Truman Capote, hot again after In Cold Blood, pronounced Braly’s On the Yard one of the best prison novels ever written. Some reviewers compared it favorably with Dostoevsky. It is an important American novel—a masterpiece—that has been allowed to languish. It is now back in print thanks to New York Review of Books Classics, with an introduction by Jonathan Lethem.

The Gold Medals include Felony Tank, Shake Him Till He Rattles, and It's Cold out There. All three are fine pieces of craft, alternately heartbreaking and terrifying. In Tank, a young man experiences jail life for the first time.

Shake Him Till He Rattles is the best novel I've ever read about the intersection of the Beats and criminals in the San Francisco heyday of Neal Cassidy, Jack Kerouac, etc. I'm pretty sure Braly read John D. MacDonald's The Price of Murder before he undertook the book—although Jonathan Craig wrote a similar book before MacDonald, Come Night, Come Evil—but Braly's is by far the better of the two. It is a very precisely written and observed novel about how rich women slummed in the Beat bars of the time and how a cop persecuted the novel's protagonist. It is grim, bleak, and one of the best novels Gold Medal ever published. Bill Crider, for one, thinks Shake Him is even better than On the Yard.

braly on the yardCold Out is not as successful but it is every bit as fascinating. It’s the tale of how an ex-con who is desperately in need of money to keep his parole officer happy sells encyclopedias door to door (a miserable job I—and Don Westlake’s Dortmunder—once had), and how this leads him to get involved with a handful of strange people who live in the same apartment building. The woman, a beautiful but mentally ill innocent, who reminds me of the Marilyn Monroe character in Don't Bother to Knock, inadvertently leads him to his doom. The second act is especially wobbly but the characters (reminiscent of a Philip K. Dick crew, actually) are powerful enough to take your head off.

Braly was the patron saint of losers. I saw him on Johnny Carson one night when On the Yard was in vogue. He was a big guy with a high-pitched laugh. There was that shambling Beat sorrow to him that not even his laugh could disguise. Carson looked alternately baffled and afraid.


This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Holiday Issue #87. 

Teri Duerr
2014-09-16 21:08:24

braly on the yardBraly's 1967 prison novel, On the Yard, is an underappreciated American masterpiece.


Ben Winters' Next Novel

winters ben
Although Ben Winters is ending his popular, award-winning Last Policeman series, the author will be back with a new series.

Winters, whose profile graces the current issue of Mystery Scene, has sold a new novel, called Underground Airlines, to Josh Kendall at Mulholland Books.

Underground Airlines is described as an “epic contemporary detective story,” according to Publishers Weekly, set in an alternate world in which the Civil War never happened and slavery still exists in the American South. The novel follows an undercover agent trying to capture an escaped slave.

On his website, Winters says that "the hero of Underground Airlines is seriously about as different from Detective Palace as you can imagine, both as a person and as a type of hero. And while the Policeman series was about the end of the world, about death and how we live with death, this book is about race and racism, it’s about grief, it’s about the horror of American slavery (and in particular the Constitutional nightmare of the Fugitive Slave Law), and it’s about compromise."

Sounds intriguing.

Publication is planned for spring 2016, Winters told me in an email

Winters’ Last Policeman trilogy about a pre-apocalyptic planet brought him a spot on the New York Times Best Sellers List, critical acclaim, a solid readership, and awards.

Winters’ first in the series, The Last Policeman, earned the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original from the Mystery Writers of America, was named one of the Best Books of 2012 by Amazon.com and Slate, and was nominated for the Macavity Award for Best Mystery by Mystery Readers International. The second in the trilogy, Countdown City, won the 2013 Philip K. Dick Award for distinguished original science fiction paperback and was named an NPR Best Book of 2013. The final novel in the series, World of Trouble, hit bookstores and reading devices this past July

Winters, who has written titles for adults and children, also is the author of the bestselling Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.

Oline Cogdill
2014-09-17 03:24:01
Lawrence Block's "A Walk Among the Tombstones": 3 Stars

walkamongtombstones niessen2
A Walk Among the Tombstones
shows that maybe, just maybe, filmmakers finally understand Lawrence Block’s novels.

Based on Block’s 10th novel, with elements from A Dance at the Slaughterhouse and The Sins of the Fathers, A Walk Among the Tombstones captures the spirit of the Matt Scudder novels, especially the nuances of character, while also giving a brisk, action-packed plot packed with creepy villains who are chillingly real.

And Liam Neeson, who has fashioned himself into a not-to-be-messed-with action hero, proves himself to be the perfect Scudder, the former NYPD cop turned unlicensed private investigator.

Is he the Scudder I envisioned when reading the novels? Now that I think about it, yeah, he is.

Hollywood has never been as kind to the prolific Block as it has to the late Elmore Leonard or, more recently, to Dennis Lehane.

Films such as Get Shorty and Jackie Brown and the FX series Justified have captured Leonard’s combination of serious plot, wry wit, and pitch-perfect dialogue. Lehane’s novels such as Mystic River and The Drop, which opened last week and which we reviewed, not only have captured the spirit of his books, but have embraced and enhanced his vivid vision.

Not so for Block.

walkamongtombstones niessen
While several screen treatments are attributed to Block (you can look up imdb.com, too), there have been only two major movies based on his novels, and neither did his books proud. The 1986 film 8 Million Ways to Die with Jeff Bridges as Block’s perennial antihero Matt Scudder was just all right, though good luck trying to correlate the film with the 1982 novel. Then there was the what on earth were they thinking? Burglar released in 1987 and starring Whoopi Goldberg as Block’s “gentleman burglar” Bernie Rhodenbarr. The less said about that film, the better.

And now we have A Walk Among the Tombstones, the film that Block fans have been waiting for, well, since the series began in 1976 with The Sins of the Father.

In A Walk Among the Tombstones, Scudder reluctantly agrees to help heroin trafficker Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) find the men who kidnapped and brutally murdered his wife. Scudder has little use for Kenny the drug dealer but he relates to the man’s grief over his wife. As he investigates, Scudder soon realizes that this is not the first time that the loved ones of drug dealers have been targeted.

As Scudder prowls the backstreets and marginal neighborhoods of New York City, he is aided by Kenny’s addict brother Kenny (Boyd Holbrook) and the homeless teenager TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley), a character who first appeared in Block’s 1991 A Dance at the Slaughterhouse. Meanwhile, the vicious murderers Ray (David Harbour) and Albert (Adam David Thompson) have targeted another victim.

A Walk Among the Tombstones is fairly faithful to the essential plot of Block’s novel. The action and the hunt for the murderers are spot-on.

walkamongtombstones stevens2
Gone is Scudder’s relationship with Elaine, a wise move; while it works well in the books, it would have muddied the film’s plot. The screenplay carefully doles out what prompted Scudder to leave the NYPD; if viewers aren’t familiar with the books they will think they know why in the first half hour, but there is more to come.

The violence level in A Walk Among the Tombstones is high, but no higher than your typical thriller and the violence is not gratuitous. But be prepared.

Neeson’s Scudder is how Block has shaped this character—world-weary, resigned to a lifetime of guilt. He has seen too much of the seedy side of life, yet still believes in justice. A man of violence who now abhors violence, Scudder is, nonetheless, prepared to do what he has to do. We want more Scudder movies and with Neeson as the private investigator.

Although a trivia question at the film’s preview asked which PBS series Dan Stevens starred in, the people behind us still didn’t believe that this steely-eyed, dark-haired drug trafficker was the same actor who also had played the aristocratic (and blond) Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey. Stevens is virtually unrecognizable in A Walk Among the Tombstones and his transformation again shows what an intense, skillful actor he is. Stevens’ Kenny Kristo would never be mistaken for Crawley, the would-be heir to Downton Abbey who is Lord Grantham's third cousin once removed. Stevens also is starring in the new thriller The Guest, which also is a long way from a dapper British aristocrat.

walkamongtombstones neeson4
The supporting cast also works well to give life to the film. Adam David Thompson (Martha Marcy May Marlene) and David Harbour (Elliot Hirsch on The Newsroom, Reed Akley on Manhattan) embrace the chilling criminals and their odd relationship. Boyd Holbrook (Milk, The Big C, Hatfields & McCoys) takes the typical drug-addict character and imbues him with a complexity. Brian “Astro” Bradley (Earth to Echo) shows the survival mentality of this intelligent kid of the streets. And if you are wondering where you saw Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, who plays the groundskeeper; he played the groundskeeper in True Detective.

Director Scott Frank, who also wrote the screenplay, keeps the plot moving at a fast clip, while lingering over the seedy sides of New York City during the 1990s where the film is set. Frank is best known as a screenwriter for films such as The Wolverine, Marley and Me, and Minority Report.

There never seems to be a definitive answer to the number of books attributed to Block, a four-time Edgar Award winner, among other awards, including being named Grand Master in 1994 by the Mystery Writers of America. He began his writing career in the mid-1950s, in a variety of genres, and has written under several pseudonyms. It has been said that he has written anywhere from 150 to 200 novels and that number actually seems low to me.

No matter the exact number, Block has been on the ground floor of the mystery genre’s transformation. His Matt Scudder novels went from an old-school basic sleuth to one whose interior motivation was as important as the crimes he helped solved while, at the same time, never veering from the tenets that what makes a good detective. Scudder has never stayed in one place emotionally, but has evolved through the approximately 17 novels and various short stories that Block has written about him.

Scudder also was one of the first mystery fiction characters to acknowledge his alcoholism and try to get a handle on it. Scudder’s AA meetings are an important part of the novels and his understanding of the 12 Steps and how these relate to him and his quest for redemption and justice are a major part of the series. The film A Walk Among the Tombstones shows Scudder’s struggles with his addiction and how the meetings are, for a long time, his only lifeline to people.

Now that Matt Scudder has been well represented on film—and, please, give us another with Neeson—it’s time to think of another Block character I always thought would make a good film. Keller, a lonely, wistful hit man, was the subject of Block’s four episodic novels, starting with Hit Man (1998), and one full-length novel, Hit and Run (2008).

Just a suggestion.

Rated R for strong violence, disturbing images, language and brief nudity, 114 minutes


Photos: Top and second photo: Liam Neeson; third photo: Dan Stevens; fourth photo: Liam Neeson with Brian “Astro” Bradley. Photos courtesy Universal Pictures/Cross Creek Pictures


Oline Cogdill
2014-09-19 01:23:52

atkinsace colelmanreed
Robert B. Parker died in 2010, but Spenser, his iconic Boston private eye, and Jesse Stone, the police chief in the small town of Paradise, Massachusetts, continue.

Ace Atkins’s third novel about Spenser, Robert B. Parker’s Cheap Shot came out in May and Reed Farrel Coleman’s first Jesse Stone novel Robert B. Parker's Blind Spot was published earlier this month. Both novels landed on bestsellers list and each author is signed to produce more novels about Parker’s characters.

In addition, Atkins continues his own series about Quinn Colson, a former U.S. Ranger who returns to his Mississippi hometown; the latest of which is The Forsaken. Coleman, who wrote the Moe Prager novels, will be launching new series about a cop in 2015.

Mystery Scene caught up with Atkins and Coleman to discuss what it’s like to continue the characters created by a master of the genre as well as putting their own spin on these characters.

QUESTION: What are the challenges about picking up Parker’s mantle?
ATKINS: The expectations of fans and the high quality of Bob’s work. After all, he was a true master. As a longtime fan, you try not to think whose running shoes you're trying on. To paraphrase what Spenser says to Sixkill in Bob's last novel, just do the job you've been training to do. I'm now on my 16th novel and the fourth Spenser.

COLEMAN: It’s a bit of a high wire act to take over a successful series from anyone, but especially from one of the most gifted, well-loved, well-respected authors in the genre’s history. But I suppose the greatest challenge for me was not to focus on whose shoes I was trying to fill and to approach Blind Spot the way I would approach any of my other projects. That is to say, to write the best book I could write.  

coleman blindspotcc
QUESTION: What are the drawbacks?

COLEMAN: The universe I was working in, the characters I was writing were not of my own creation. So I had to find doorways into Bob’s universe and into Jesse Stone’s head. This is a very different process for me than to work in a universe I’ve created and to write for characters that came from within me. But a professional has to find a way to take drawbacks and turn them into benefits. I think I did and I found a great joy in it.   

ATKINS: The drawbacks of Spenser are minor, mainly that his world and the characters are firmly in place. I don't think anyone wants to see Spenser and Susan break up. Or a major character exit the stage. But that much said, do expect a few surprises in future books in the Boston underworld.

QUESTION: Do you have any tricks or things you do to get into Parker’s mind set?
ATKINS: I do. One of my superstitions to warm up is to listen to jazz piano great, Dave McKenna. McKenna was not only a legendary musician but a mainstay of Boston. I know Parker was a fan and to me McKenna plays the true Spenser soundtrack. I just hear a few notes and I’m in that world.

COLEMAN: I tried to stay away from putting myself in Bob Parker’s head. I think that would have been a dangerous way for me to go. I took a very external approach. I reread all the Jesse Stone novels and tried to keep my writing in line with the physical structure of Mr. Parker’s. My focus was mostly on staying true to the essential nature of the characters, especially Jesse’s, Molly’s and Suit’s.

QUESTION: Had either of you met Parker before his death?
COLEMAN: Kate’s Mystery Books [in Boston] used to have big Christmas parties. Kate would invite authors from all over New England and the Mid-Atlantic states to come and be part of it. It was at Kate’s I met Dennis Lehane, the late Jerry Healy, and many other Boston based authors. At one of these parties, I was privileged to have shaken hands and chatted for a few minutes with Bob Parker.  He was gracious and a gentleman, though I’m sure he had no idea who I was. But somehow, having met him and Joan Parker, made me feel better about taking on Jesse Stone.

ATKINS: I never met Bob. I corresponded with him for a bit. He was kind enough to blurb my first novel. But truth be told, I don’t think he read it. Bob famously would say, “I can either read your book or blurb it. But I can't do both.” My knowledge of Bob came through a wonderful friendship with the late Joan Parker who taught me a lot about writing Spenser.

atkinsace cheapshot
QUESTION: Have you been able to put your own spin on these novels?

ATKINS: I believe I’ve been able to take my own experiences and inject some fresh ideas into the novels. In Cheap Shot, I drew upon a lifetime of being associated with football—my dad with the NFL and I played at Auburn—to tell an authentic story of that world.

COLEMAN: I think so. From the get go I was determined not to try to imitate Bob Parker’s writing style. I don’t think I would have been able to do either Mr. Parker or Jesse Stone justice by doing so. And I had no desire to try to compete with how brilliantly my friend and colleague Ace Atkins does Spenser. As I alluded to in an earlier answer, my goal was to approach the series by being true to the essential nature Bob Parker created for his characters. I like to think of my approach in terms of photography. I tried to use the same camera as Bob Parker, but with a different lens.   

QUESTION: Will you stop your own series to concentrate on the Parker novels?
COLEMAN: No. In fact, Putnam has signed me to begin a new series featuring retired Suffolk County (New York) cop cum PI Gus Murphy. The first book in the series, Where It Hurts, should be out in 2015.  

ATKINS: Never. I love continuing on the legacy of one of my all-time favorite writers. But the world I’ve created is extremely important to me.

QUESTION: How has doing these books affected your own series?
ATKINS: There are Spenser fans who have definitely found my Quinn Colson series. There is no doubt that the themes and ideas in the Parker novels have found their way into my own work.  

COLEMAN: It hasn’t really except to say that any writing I do makes me a better writer. So in that sense, doing these books can’t help but improve my work. I hope that writing these novels will help Jesse Stone fans become fans of my other novels.

QUESTION: How many more Parker novels will you be writing?
COLEMAN: Currently, I am signed to do four (Blind Spot plus three), but hope to earn the right to carry on for many more.
ATKINS: I am signed up for one more after the one I'm finishing now. Every day it's a pleasure and honor to keep Bob's creations continuing. I look forward to many more.

Photos: Ace Atkins and Reed Coleman with a 1955 Cadillac meet at Graceland in Memphis; photo courtesy Tad Pierson

Oline Cogdill
2014-09-27 13:15:00
Ben Winters' Last Day Question

winters ben
One of the questions we asked Ben Winters in our cover profile of him was one he is asked constantly:

How would you spend your last days?

After all, he did write a trilogy about a pre-apocalyptic planet, so he must have some idea, right?

And he shows how others might approach this age-old question in his novels The Last Policeman (which earned him an Edgar Award), Countdown City, and World of Trouble.

So he told us:

“My joke answer used to be that I am contractually obligated to finish the last in the trilogy. But now that I finished it, I can’t say that anymore,” said Winters, who is now working on his next novel.

Then he told us the real answer:

“Frankly, I’d just spend time with my family. My kids are young enough that I would try to shield them from that information. I am not a bucket-list person, I wouldn’t be determined to go about my days as before. I’d just want to be with my family,” said Winters, whose children are ages seven, five, and two.

You can read more about Winters in our current issue.

But we have a question for our readers: How would you spend your last days?

Tell us on Facebook or Twitter.

And as ever, happy reading.

Oline Cogdill
2014-10-01 13:45:42
Anthony Price: A Writer to Remember
H.R.F. Keating

Price Anthony October 92 PhotoAnthony Price said once that he hoped in his writing to catch something of Faulkner’s “truths of the heart.” He did.


Should a writer ever retire? Some, of course, are forced to by ill health or failing powers. But by and large most mystery writers as they get older defiantly say (all too frequently), “I will never stop.” There have been exceptions. Colin Dexter gave Inspector Morse his famous heart attack in the college quad and said afterwards that he would write no more. Len Deighton seems to have gone into quiet retirement, keeping in touch with the crime world almost solely by sending typically good-mannered apologies for being unable to attend the Detection Club in London. And, most famously of all, Simenon announced one day that he would write no more (but then produced his massive autobiography).

But Anthony Price defied common wisdom when he said, as his much-wished-for retirement from his “day job” as an Oxford newspaper editor came, that, for the time being at least, he was laying to rest his much-hailed, long-running series of espionage novels. But, alas, his wife’s serious illness has meant that he has not yet picked up the pen again.

In consequence, in the terrible way of modern publishing, almost all of his former books have disappeared from view. And they should not have done. Just because a first-class book was written, say, 20 or 30 years ago does not mean that it has ceased to be worth reading today. Yes, the circumstances the novelist described may have altered (the arrival of the cell phone drastically affected many a crime writer), but the core of a good book, its presentation of human beings, remains intact.

price here be monstersLooking through the reviews I wrote for the London Times over most of Price’s heyday, I find the praise I gave his books seems perfectly valid still. In 1970 I chose the arrival of his debut novel, The Labyrinth Makers, to look at the state of espionage fiction in general, commenting that, while Ian Fleming’s Bond had arrived in 1953, we had by now reached the stage where spy authors were using the genre for more than simply outdoing each other in pure adventure tales. And I cited The Labyrinth Makers as doing that “more” by telling us “the way a certain sort of man thinks.” That man was complicated and contradictory David Audley, academic historian (with the broken nose of a former rugby football player) and patriot. The book, I concluded, is one of the ones “you simultaneously want to finish and long to go on for hours yet.”

A couple of years later, at the time Americans began to challenge British domination of espionage fiction with Robert Littell’s fine and thoughtful The Defection of A.J. Lewinter, I had high praise for Price’s Colonel Butler’s Wolf. It was, I said, a “leather-rich” portrait of the Soldier, seen both as involved by chance in Cold War espionage chess and, in days long ago, as manning Hadrian’s Wall at the edge of the Roman Empire.

This intertwining of the past and present was to be a feature of all Price’s work. The Swedish critic K.G. Fredricksen wrote of Price as bringing the “real meaning of history into his novels, as something that happened perhaps a long time ago but still has significance today.” And Price himself once said that he based each book on the private research, or hobby, in which he happened to be engaged at the time. It is this, the hobby factor, that gives his writing that extra intensity, the reward of a series of passionate concerns with “old, unhappy, far-off things, and battles long ago.” They enabled basically simple stories to carry much more than you might expect.

price new kind of warThus his 1975 book Other Paths to Glory, considered by many critics to be his best, contrived simultaneously to be set during the bloody and muddy Battle of the Somme in 1916, and also around a Summit meeting in 1970, the former reflecting on the latter and endowing it with an additional, enriching layer of meaning. “Oh, ingenious and lovely Price,” I said. Also ingenious was his 1975 book Our Man in Camelot (yes, that mythical place made to pre-echo 1970s espionage) and so too, was War Game in 1976 where Cavaliers and Roundheads reflected on Cold War capers. But I could add on indefinitely to this list and still not find room to talk about Price’s delicious way with what I called “jokelets”—the tiny flashes of wit that sparkled all over his pages.

But there is something more substantial contained in that long series. Each book sets out in a different manner to put forward a coherent philosophy of life. They subtly trumpet the virtue of loyalty and the uses of human intelligence (sometimes called scholarship)—a similarity here to the delightful yet deep Sarah Caudwell. Anthony said once that he hoped in his writing to catch something of Faulkner’s “truths of the heart.” He did.

But where today can you find his books to read? Well, books are not so easily destroyed. So here and there in a library you will find a lurking Price. Those treasure troves tucked away in charity shops also await. And look along your own shelves. You never know what may be left neglected there.



The Labyrinth Makers (1970) UK; (1971) US
The Alamut Ambush (1971) UK; (1972) US
Colonel Butler's Wolf (1972) UK; (1973) US
October Men (1973) UK; (1974) US
Other Paths to Glory (1974) UK; (1975) US
Our Man in Camelot (1975) UK; (1976) US
War Game (1976) UK; (1977) US
The '44 Vintage (1978)
Tomorrow's Ghost (1979)
The Hour of the Donkey (1980)
Soldier No More (1981)
The Old Vengeful (1982)
Gunner Kelly (1983)
Sion Crossing (1984)
Here Be Monsters (1985)
For the Good of the State (1986)
A New Kind of War (1987) UK; (1988) US
A Prospect of Vengeance (1988)
The Memory Trap (1989)


H.R.F. Keating received the Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement in 1996 from the Crime Writers’ Association. In addition to his highly regarded literary criticism, he was also the creator of the Inspector Ghote series.


This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Holiday Issue #87.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-02 15:34:21

Price Anthony October 92 PhotoAnthony Price said once that he hoped in his writing to catch something of Faulkner’s “truths of the heart.” He did.


Laura Childs on the the Bookmobile Road to Reading
Laura Childs

childs laura




From Nancy Drew to James Michener



Up until I was 12 years old, we didn’t have a library in the small Minnesota town where I grew up. You found your books where you could, rifled off your parents’ nightstand, your grandmother’s attic, or packed away in a neighbor’s garage. Then, one day, the Scott County Bookmobile rumbled into town! What a treasure trove it turned out to be, filled with Black Stallion books, Treasure Island, Ivanhoe, Tarzan novels, and Nancy Drew mysteries. After I finally blew through the young adult section, I decided to set my sights on adult novels. Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago had just been published, as had Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy, and I had a hankering to find out what they were all about.

Unfortunately, the rather persnickety lady in charge cautioned that I was way too young for these books. My salvation came in the form of my rather progressive mother, who—after a bit of coaching and, yes, arm twisting—checked out James A. Michener’s Hawaii for me. That night, as my eyes danced across pages of dazzling prose, I made up my mind that I, too, would someday become a novelist.

But I didn’t.

I put off novel-writing because it seemed utterly unattainable and became an advertising writer/producer instead. And I was good at it—I racked up Clio Awards and even headed my own advertising and marketing firm for 18 years. But the itch to write a novel was always there, tugging at me, bugging me. When I finally worked up the courage to attempt a full-length manuscript, Mr. Michener once again interceded. This time, it was with his book James A. Michener’s Writer’s Handbook. I was gob-smacked that he would share his wisdom and techniques, and amazed that his original typewritten pages, complete with edits, scratch-outs, and cramped writing that critiqued himself, served as the illustrations. Those early pages of Michener’s, in all their ragged, first-draft glory, inspired me to release some of my fear and finally start writing in earnest.

Laura Childs is the New York Times bestselling author of the Tea Shop Mysteries, Scrapbook Mysteries, and Cackleberry Club Mysteries. She is currently writing a hard-edged thriller set in the Twin Cities.

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" eNews October 2014 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-02 17:28:16

childs lauraFrom Nancy Drew to James Michener

“Gone Girl”: 3 ½ Stars

gonegirl film1a
The most simple and often-used description of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 bestseller Gone Girl is that it is the story of a marriage. That description usually is followed by the qualifying phrase “but it’s about much more.”

And that’s true.

Gone Girl is indeed the story of a marriage, and much more—a toxic relationship that grows poisonous by the day; two self-absorbed people who should never have married; those same two people who in their marriage create a third person and hide secrets on top of secrets. It is about the nastiest kind of revenge heaped on one’s spouse, the person you once loved more than anything. And the story is told by two of the most unreliable narrators, each of whom thinks he or she is being honest and is the hero or heroine of this story.

And Gone Girl also is about tabloid journalism with its lack of ethics.

Readers either loved Gone Girl—I know I did—or hated it. Few people who read Gillian Flynn's novel were ambivalent about it. And certainly enough people read it to keep it on the hardcover bestseller lists for months. Currently, it is No. 1 on the New York Times trade paperback fiction list.

With all the hype of the novel—and the endless parade of its stars on every conceivable talk show—can the movie version of Gone Girl live up to its reputation?

gonegirl film2a
The good news is: Yes, it does.

And the better news is that the film version of Gone Girl is the exact movie the novel’s readers have wanted and need.

It helps that the author also wrote the screenplay. Some of the novel’s scenes are condensed and some characters are deleted completely. But this works to the film’s advantage. While Gone Girl is still long at two hours and 25 minutes, the deliberate pacing moves quickly. The spirit of the novel is definitely on the screen.

Flynn’s dark script is enhanced by the pitch-perfect direction of David Fincher (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network) and the inspired casting of Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as Nick and Amy Dunne. Affleck and Pike skillfully show what emotional con artists Nick and Amy are. You both root for Affleck and Pike and also want to shake them while hoping that you never become friends with either Nick or Amy.

The cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth captures the area’s ambience. OK, full disclosure here: Gone Girl was shot in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, which is 30 miles from my hometown. I have spent a lot of time in Cape, as we Southeastern Missourians say, and Gone Girl captures the beauty and nuances of this lovely town.

In Gone Girl, Nick and Amy have moved from their New York City brownstone to North Carthage, Missouri, ostensibly to take care of his mother who was diagnosed with cancer. But gonegirl film5
really, that was more of an excuse for this once golden couple. Nick and Amy had lost their jobs and didn’t really have any other prospects. So in North Carthage, they have settled. Nick is co-owner of a bar called The Bar with his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon) and teaches at the local college.

And Amy, well, what does Amy do all day? She doesn’t work, she hasn’t made any friends and she isn’t thrilled with this small Missouri city. Amy is used to being in control, the center of attention, everyone’s ideal. Here, she is none of that, and certainly not Nick’s focus. As a child, Amy was the prototype for a series of children’s books called “Amazing Amy,” written by her parents. It’s been a long time since she was “amazing” anything.

Nick comes home one day to find what looks like a struggle in the living room. Amy is missing. An investigation launched to find Amy gains national attention and soon the laid-back Nick becomes the main suspect in her disappearance. Nick, after all, doesn’t seem to be the upset husband. He’s a bit too smug, too glib, smiles too frequently, and has a temper. And there is that diary that Amy kept.

Those who have read the novel know what happens next. Those who haven’t read the novel should feel free to read the rest of this review without fear of spoilers.

The supporting cast is, with one exception, also well cast. Kim Dickens, so good in David Simon’s Treme on HBO, nails the role of detective Rhonda Boney, who has doubts about everything in this case. Dickens is joined by the reliable Patrick Fugit as her partner, detective Jim Gilpin.

gonegirl film3harris
Missi Pyle revels in her role as a Nancy Grace-like TV personality. Casey Wilson has a nice turn as a neighbor of the Dunnes as does Kathleen Rose Perkins (Episodes) in her one scene as a fame groupie.

Tyler Perry is a revelation as ultra-slick attorney Tanner Bolt, who could get Satan off with a few weeks of community service. Perry should take off Madea’s costume more often. If you need a criminal lawyer, Perry’s Tanner Bolt would be your best bet.

The only miscasting is Neil Patrick Harris as Desi Collings, Amy’s former boyfriend. I am a huge fan of Harris and would watch him recite the phone book. And I think he can do any role—from comedy, drama, Broadway, Tony Awards host, and beyond. But here, he just doesn’t bring his A-game. Desi needs to be creepy, yet vulnerable. And Harris can certainly handle a role like that as he proved in a 2004 Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode titled “Want.”

Gone Girl makes a successful transition to film. But as always, I recommend the novel. I also think that Flynn’s other novels, Dark Places and Sharp Objects, are even better than Gone Girl.

Rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Extreme violence (though I disagree with this as there is only one gruesome scene.) Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes.


Photos: Top, Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck; second photo: Ben Afflect with Lsia Barnes and David Clennon as Amy's parents; third photo, Affleck with Tyler Perry; last photo, Neil Patrick Harris. Photos courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

Oline Cogdill
2014-10-02 22:58:08
NoirCon 2014 Honors

Our genre truly overflows with many—and I mean many—excellent writers whose work continues to elevate and enhance the genre.

Notice I didn’t say transcend because I firmly believe that the genre is just fine and continues to grow and progress. Those who write other types of books should hope to transcend to the mystery/crime fiction genre.

And we also have a number of editors and publishers who have done terrific jobs at making sure that the novels they are involved with are at the level of excellence that readers deserve.

So hats off to those who are being honored during NoirCon 2014, a conference that pays tribute to all things noir from literature to film to art and poetry. NoirCon will take place October 30 through November 2, 2014, in Philadelphia.

hruska bronwensoho
Bronwen Hruska, at right, of Soho Press is being recognized as an outstanding publisher in crime fiction with the Jay and Deen Kogan Award. Hruska has led the way in translation publishing and opened many doors for women in the field. Before she became publisher of Soho, Hruska worked as a journalist and screenwriter for 20 years. Her articles have appeared in myriad publications including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Weekly, Cosmopolitan, and the Village Voice. She also is an author. Her first novel, Accelerated, was published in 2012 by Pegasus Books. Accelerated is about a single father pressured by his eight-year-old son's prestigious school to put the boy on medication for ADD. The novel gives Hruska the opportunity to look at the cutthroat culture of prep schools.

Fuminori Nakamura of Tokyo, Japan, will receive the David Goodis Award for excellence in writing. Nakamura’s many awards for his novels include Japan’s most prestigious literary award, the Akutagawa Prize. His novels published by Soho Press include The Thief and Evil and the Mask. The publication of his novel Last Winter, We Parted will coincide with NoirCon 2014.  

Author and screenwriter Eddie Muller will receive the Anne Friedberg Award for contribution to noir education and preservation.

The NoirCon conference is produced and headquartered at Society Hill Playhouse in Philadelphia.

nakamura fuminorilastwinter
The program includes panels on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, parties, movie showings, an awards banquet on the banks of the Delaware River, and a visit to MOCA, the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art.

A few highlights include Muller introducing a special showing of the film The Prowler, written by Dalton Trumbo and first released in 1951, at 1 p.m., Thursday, October 30, at The International House.

Tom Nolan, of The Wall Street Journal, will conduct an interview with Nakamura on Saturday.

Scheduled panels include: The Black Dahlia, Jewish Noir, Existential Noir, The Politics of Noir, A Ross MacDonald Examination, How Springsteen’s Music Shapes Crime Fiction, and Three Minutes of Terror, when every attending writer gets three minutes to share his work or ideas.

Authors scheduled to participate include Megan Abbott, William Lashner, Stuart Neville, Jean Cash, Jonathan Woods, Robert Polito, Vicki Hendricks, Steve Hodel, Carole Mallory, Duane Swierczynski, Alan Gordon, among others. The keynote speaker is Eric Miles Williamson.

For further information call 215-923-0210 or check the website: www.noircon.com.

Oline Cogdill
2014-10-09 02:44:13
Book 'Em, Danno!
Jerome Coopersmith

Haw Five-O Lord promoMy Years Writing for Hawaii Five-O



Five-0, the elite crime-fighting branch of the Hawaii State Police, does not exist and never did except in the imagination of its creator, Hollywood producer Leonard Freeman, and in the fantasies of his stable of writers. I was one of those writers for six years of my life.

My involvement began in the late 1960s when I got a call from my agent asking me if I would like to write a television script about cops in Hawaii. My first reaction was to say no. Although I had written many TV scripts, I had graduated to the “theeeatre” (pronounce as Bette Davis would), with three produced plays to my credit, including Baker Street, the Sherlock Holmes musical. I felt degraded by the notion that I, a Broadway playwright (as I saw myself), would be reduced to writing cops-and-robbers television.

But I needed the money, so I called the producer.

“I pitched this thing to the network,” Leonard Freeman said on the phone, “and they’ve commissioned six scripts. I want you to come out here and do one of them.”

“Why me?” I asked. “I’ve never been to Hawaii. I wouldn’t be able to visualize it.”

“One question at a time,” he said. “You, because you wrote Baker Street, which tells me you can write mysteries. And don’t worry about having never been to Hawaii. Just write as if it was New York and we’ll change the names of the streets.”

In a few days I was on a plane heading for Los Angeles. I stayed at the Montecito, a haven for visiting New York show people. The guests included Robert Duvall, Yaphet Kotto, and Kheigh Diegh, an Asian-looking man who was really of Egyptian descent. He had played the evil Chinese general in the movie The Manchurian Candidate.

Leonard Freeman, the creator-producer of 5-0, was a short, muscular dynamo who had written for The Untouchables, among other shows. He told me about the trouble he had getting CBS to authorize six scripts of Hawaii 5-0. The TV executives were negative from the start. One of them said, “People who have been to Hawaii have already seen the place. And those who have never been there obviously don’t care. So why should anyone watch this thing?”

HawbadgeSuch is the wisdom of the network suits. The original run of Hawaii 5-0 was a record-breaking 12 years, and the reruns will probably go on forever. People all over the world were all saying the McGarrett catchphrase, “Book ‘em, Danno. Murder One.” The very name 5-0 has become synonymous with cops in urban street jargon. All of which proves that when the network executives have a hit, it’s pure accident.

Jack Lord was signed to play Steve McGarrett, the boss of 5-0. In New York, Jack had been a graphic artist who went onstage one night to substitute for a sick friend. After that he took acting lessons at a prestigious drama school where the teacher told him, “You’ll never be an actor; you can only be a star.” He went on to play the lead in the TV series Stoney Burke (about a rodeo rider) and supporting roles in movies including The Billy Mitchell Story and the early James Bond film Dr. No.

With the leading man signed, we were set to roll on the pilot episode, except for one thing: Leonard didn’t have an actor to play the villain, Wo Fat, who was to be McGarrett’s nemesis.

“I got the name Wo Fat from a restaurant in Honolulu,” Leonard said, showing me a matchbook with that very name on it. “He’s going to be a maverick Chinese general who thinks the Chinese government is too soft on America, so he forms his own terrorist group. Who can play a guy like that?”

Once in a while, coincidence comes through. “I’ve got your man,” I said. “He’s at my hotel.” Kheigh Diegh got the role and plagued McGarrett for the next 12 years.

While major roles were played by local professional actors or actors flown in from the mainland, bit parts and extras were recruited right off the streets. Bernie Oseransky would walk through the streets of Honolulu and give out cards to people who looked like possibilities. The card, an invitation to take a screen test, was usually accepted with enthusiasm. If the man or woman passed the screen test, they got a part, sometimes just “Member of Crowd” or “First Gangster.”

Leonard always wanted fresh interesting faces, and there was no lack of them in Hawaii, but sometimes the location staff took shortcuts. Once I was sitting with Leonard at a Los Angeles screening of a new episode. Suddenly, his face became flushed with anger. He shouted across the room to Bob Sweeney, who was the top executive under him.

“If I see the doorman of the Kahala Hilton playing a gangster once more, some people around here are gonna be fired!” he yelled.

I stayed with the show for six years, writing or co-writing 32 episodes. I wrote them in my home on Long Island, and mailed them to CBS in California. This was before the days of fax and e-mail, so if there was a mad rush to have a script in the producer’s hands, I would take the Long Island Railroad to New York City and a taxi from Penn Station to Black Rock (the pet name for the CBS skyscraper in Manhattan). In the basement of Black Rock there was a mailroom where a mail pouch to Los Angeles was dispatched every night. The head of the mailroom, a fellow named Sam, got to know me well.

Haw 5 Lord dressed modI would fly out to Hollywood about once a month to get their notes for changes. We would use my visit to discuss new episodes as well. Once I had the notes for revisions, I would fly back home to Long Island and start the process all over. Leonard was a stickler for good episode titles, the kind that grab an audience. Once he had me driving around Los Angeles for an hour trying to come up with a title that was Gothic, foreboding, and suggestive of great wealth. After driving past oil wells, mansions, and strip joints, I came back to his office with a suggestion: “Highest Castle, Deepest Grave.” He loved it. The episode co-starred Herbert Lom and France Nuyen as a father and daughter concealing a murder.

During this period, Leonard was having heart trouble. Sometime when I was in California he would ask me to go with him to the doctor’s office, and we would discuss 5-0 story lines on the way, or while sitting in the doctor’s waiting room.

There was an ironbound rule imposed on all the writers: never hand in a script that is more than 54 pages long. For the sake of economy, they didn’t want superfluous material that would later have to be cut. I warned them that my dialogue is terse and usually plays very fast. It didn’t matter to them; 54 pages is what they wanted.

One day I got a phone call from Hawaii. It was Bill Finnegan, who was in charge of production there. “We’ve got an emergency,” Bill said. “We’ve just finished shooting your episode, and the stopwatch tells us we’re a minute short. Can you write a minute of dialogue, and phone it in?” Remember, there were no faxes or e-mail then.

“There’s only one problem,” Bill added. “We’ve torn down all the sets except a telephone booth, so the minute has to be Jack in a phone booth.” I called him back about an hour later with the additional minute...set in a phone booth.

After I had written Hawaii 5-0 for three years, CBS decided it was time for me to visit the islands. As I mentioned before, I had the initial problem of how to visualize a place I’d never seen. I did, however, find a solution. My wife Judy and I had been to Puerto Rico several times on vacations. It occurred to me that Puerto Rico was of a similar size and had a similar climate to Hawaii. From then on, I used Puerto Rico for my visualizations and no one ever knew the difference.

But now, thanks to CBS, I was going to see the real thing. After landing in Hawaii, Judy and I took a taxi to the Kahala Hilton Hotel where CBS had arranged for us to stay. As the taxi pulled away from the airport, I scanned the lush terrain in amazement. “Judy, look!” I said. “Just like Puerto Rico!”

The accommodations at the Kahala Hilton were spectacular. Kahala is an elite residential section, a respectable distance from the tourist mecca of Waikiki. Jack Lord had an apartment near the hotel, and sometimes we would see him jogging on the beach early in the morning.

Hawaii 5-O SetJack had a bad reputation with actors. He was an uncompromising perfectionist who demanded that they arrive on the set on time and be letter-perfect in their lines—as he was. Those rules were sometimes ignored by guest stars who partied nonstop from the time they arrived in the islands. If they showed up late on the set with hangovers, not knowing their lines, Jack would berate them in front of the entire cast. They might be stars on Broadway or in Hollywood, but Jack was the king of Hawaii, and no one was allowed to forget it.

He once fired a permanent cast member for an entirely different reason. The actor made an anti-Semitic remark, which Jack would not tolerate. Ironically, the target of the slur, a public-relations man, was not Jewish.

The trip was a lovely vacation for Judy and me, but useless as far as ideas for the show were concerned. A visit to the Honolulu police department provided no inspiration. I went back to getting my ideas from newspaper articles, my own imagination, and my visions of Puerto Rico.

After returning to Long Island, I got a phone call from Bob Sweeney, a staff producer of the show. I knew from the tone of his voice that something was terribly wrong.

“I have bad news,” he said. “Len was taken to the hospital for heart surgery, and...,” there was a heavy pause, “...he didn’t make it.” It was the beginning of bypass operations, which are now as common as appendectomies. It was hard to imagine Hawaii 5-0 without the creative touch of Leonard Freeman. But the show went on.

Bob Sweeney called me one day thereafter, and said, “We want to do an episode about a traveling circus that comes to Hawaii. We don’t have a story line yet, but we’ve made a deal with a circus that’s in Kansas City right now, and soon they’ll be heading for Honolulu. I want you to leave for Kansas City right away—I’ll meet you there. We’ll absorb the circus atmosphere, meet the performers, and with luck we’ll have a story and a script by the time they get to Hawaii.”

Soon I was on a plane heading for Kansas City, Missouri. CBS had booked an enormous suite at the famous Muehlebach Hotel where U.S. presidents had stayed. The suite was for myself, Bob Sweeney, and Curtis Kenyon, the 5-0 story editor.

After our arrival, Bob sprang his big surprise. “I’m throwing a party for the circus people—all of them—strong men, trapeze artists, clowns, animal trainers, bareback riders, you name it. We’ll have it right here in the suite. There’s plenty of room. I just spoke to the caterers. They’ll be here tomorrow morning with food and booze for 50 people. It’ll be our chance to meet the circus folks, listen to their stories, get to know them as people. Exciting, isn’t it!?”

Reader, hear this advice. If you ever get the urge to throw a big party, don’t do it for circus people. It won’t be the party you’re expecting. Those statuesque sexy women in fishnet stockings who wave at you from the trapeze don’t exist. It’s an illusion. When you see them up close, they are homely females with thick Bulgarian accents, bad skin, uncombed stringy hair, and distinctly alcoholic breaths. And those are the good-looking ones.

Their male counterparts are even worse. They have the added threat of incredible strength, and when strength is mixed with alcohol and underlying belligerence, watch out! Arguments broke out—not with us, but with each other. The arguments turned into fights. Hotel furniture was thrown out of windows. We were afraid that people would be next. Hotel security had to be called, and finally, the police.

“Never again!” Bob said as he dodged an airborne chair. The 5-0 episode was entitled “Presenting in the Center Ring...Murder.” It nearly happened at the Muehlebach Hotel.

Within the framework of its action-adventure format, the show would sometimes make a social statement. An example of this can be found in an episode Iwrote called “Diary of a Gun.” It tracked a handgun through its possession by four different people. In each place the gun was involved in a tragedy or near-tragedy. The idea was avidly approved by Jack Lord, who was a staunch gun-control advocate.

There is a classic anecdote about Jack Lord and guns. One of Jack’s greatest fans was Elvis Presley, who, upon arriving in Hawaii, told his agent to set up a meeting with Jack Lord, his hero. When Elvis came to visit, he merely sat and stared in silence, he was so completely awed. At the end of the visit, Elvis gave Jack a present he had brought—a gold-plated gun. Jack was too much of a gentleman to tell his famous guest what he really thought of guns.

After working on the show for six years, I began to feel written-out. Aside from my own sense of drying up, I felt that the show had deteriorated in the hands of new managerial people. In their attempts to freshen the show up, they added new dimensions to Steve McGarrett’s character. Romantic angles were explored, old girlfriends showed up, that sort of thing. In doing this, they were violating one of Leonard Freeman’s original concepts. He had often told me, “I don’t want to know anything about McGarrett’s personal life. He exists only as a cop.” Leonard was right. Delving into McGarrett’s psyche gave the show a soap opera tinge. The original impact was compromised.

So now I watch the reruns occasionally, and when I catch one of my episodes, I get a nostalgic feeling, but unfortunately no money. Our contracts back then provided residuals for only ten runs, and we are long past that mark.

How did the networks get away with that? Book ‘em, Danno. Larceny One.


Jerome Coopersmith is known for his television work on Hawaii Five-O (1968), 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974), and Armstrong Circle Theatre (1950). He is also a playwright and was nominated for Broadway's 1965 Tony Award as Best Author (Musical) for Baker Street.


This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #84.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-09 06:14:38

Haw Five-O Lord promoMy Years Writing for Hawaii Five-O


At the Scene, Fall Issue #136

136cover250Hi Everyone,

Louise Penny’s thoughtful, deeply humane brand of crime fiction has won her a large and devoted following. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is, as his creator describes him, “a serene, content man who, at his core, is happy.” Gamache is also a bit of a philosopher, as can be seen in this excerpt from Penny’s latest novel, The Long Way Home.

Armand Gamache considered himself more an explorer than a hunter. The goal was to discover. And what he discovered could still surprise him.

How often had he questioned a murderer expecting to find curdled emotions, a soul gone sour? And instead found goodness that had gone astray.

He still arrested them, of course. But he’d come to agree with Sister Prejean that no one was as bad as the worst thing they’d done.

Armand Gamache had seen the worst. But he’d also seen the best. Often in the same person.

Penny’s novels have increased tourism in Quebec’s beautiful Eastern Townships, the locale of Gamache’s beloved village of Three Pines. You’ll want to get on the road to Three Pines yourself after reading Oline Cogdill’s chat with the author in this issue.

The lives of mystery writers are as varied as their books. In this issue, Jon L. Breen has put together a wide-ranging survey of memoirs and autobiographies by crime fiction authors as disparate as Agatha Christie, Chester Himes, and Sara Paretsky.

Ed Gorman’s Sam McCain, featured in a series that ranges from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, has been described as a “small-town hero.” He’s more than that, though. Sam is living through—and bearing perceptive witness to—the social upheavals that will transform the United States. Change has its price, though, and as Tom Nolan notes in “Riders of the Storm,” Sam is paying it more and more as the years go by.

The irresistibly corrupt Frank Underwood, played to oily perfection by Kevin Spacey, is the moral vacuum at the center of the political drama House of Cards. Frank and his equally formidable wife Claire (Robin Wright, in an astonishing performance), are the Washington power couple from hell. As Jake Hinkson notes in “High Crimes & Misdemeanors,” it’s not democracy—but it sure is entertaining.

Also in this issue, Joe Goodrich looks at the life of David Goodis, who has belatedly come to be appreciated as a master of noir, and Michael Mallory considers Phoebe Atwood Taylor’s Yankee sleuth, Asey Mayo, also known as the “Codfish Sherlock.” Enjoy!

Kate Stine

Teri Duerr
2014-10-09 22:14:45
Fall Issue #136 Contents





Louise Penny: The Road to Three Pines

When she finally arrived at this small fictional village, located a little east of Montreal, just north of the Vermont border, Penny found a home and a hero—Chief Inspector Armand Gamache—with whom she plans to spend decades.
by Oline H. Cogdill

Phoebe Atwood Taylor

Antic crime in Old Cape Cod featuring Yankee sleuth Asey Mayo.
by Michael Mallory

High Crimes & Misdemeanors

In its nuanced examination of Frank Underwood’s dark path to political power, House of Cards is approaching the status of art.
by Jake Hinkson

David Goodis: Poet of the Losers

The publication of a highly anticipated biography completes the ascension of Goodis to noir royalty.
by Joseph Goodrich

Books of Life

Mystery writers’ autobiographies.
by Jon L. Breen

Riders on the Storm

There’s war in Vietnam and unrest at home in Ed Gorman’s distinguished Sam McCain series.
by Tom Nolan


Mary Daheim chats about the writing life and her new Bed-and-Breakfast mystery, Clam Wake.
by Ed Gorman

“Teller of Lies for Fun & Profit” Crossword

by Verna Suit




At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

2014 Thriller Awards, Australian CWA Ned Kelly Awards, Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, British CWA Dagger Awards

New Books

Phantom Limb
by Dennis Palumbo

Wouldn't It Be Deadly
by D.E. Ireland

The Hook

First lines that caught our attention

The Hook

Vintage Edition
compiled by James Thorpe




Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb & Sharon Magee

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell & Hank Wagner

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Bill Crider

Mystery Scene Reviews




The Docket


Our Readers Recommend

Advertiser Info

Teri Duerr
2014-10-09 22:22:25
Fall Issue #136
Teri Duerr
2014-10-09 22:37:47
Teri Duerr
2014-10-10 03:05:57

wedding2 hallmark
The Hallmark Movie Channel’s rebranding is mystery fans’ gain.

Now known as the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel, it has acquired the works of several mystery authors whose novels will be made into original TV movies.
Keeping with the mission of Hallmark, the authors whose work will be on the network write the lighter, softer type mysteries. Hallmark is calling these original two-hour movies its Original Mystery Wheel Franchise.

I think Hallmark has rounded up some of the best of the genre and I hope they add even more of these movies based on novels by writers who specialize in amateur sleuths. I can think of at least a dozen authors whose novels would fit right into the Hallmark family.

Deborah’s Donnelly’s novel Veiled Threats, part of her wedding planner series, will be the basis for the first Wedding Planner Mystery premiering at 9 p.m. ET/PT and 8 p.m. CT on Sunday Oct. 19.

The Wedding Planner Mystery stars Erica Durance (Smallville), Andrew W. Walker (When Calls the Heart) and Brandon Beemer (The Bold and the Beautiful) along with Chelan Simmons (Final Destination 3) and Rick Ravanello (True Justice).

I am a fan of Donnelly’s series and it is a perfect fit for the network. I recently viewed the film and it does justice to her series, combining the suspense with a bit of romance.

Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen Mystery series, beginning with Sugar Cookie Murder, is scheduled to air in 2015. Fluke’s culinary series has sold over six million copies in print and has been translated into seven languages. Since the series began in 2000, Fluke says she has baked more than 500,000 chocolate chip cookies for fans as well as countless pies, cakes, muffins and other sweets. Naturally, she includes recipes in her novels. Fluke’s series always makes me want to start baking and the films should too.

garagesale loughlin
Another mouth-watering series that will come to Hallmark is The Gourmet Detective, based on the series by Peter King. I was a big fan of these witty novels in which a culinary whiz uses his mastery of food, drink and cooking to solve crimes of the culinary world. This series was a mini education in food as the nameless detective used his encyclopedic knowledge of culinary world to find valuable recipe that had been stolen or the murderer who committed his crime in the middle of a five-star restaurant. Dylan Neal (Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove) will star in and executive produce these movies. The Gourmet Detective is slated to begin in 2015.

It’s especially exciting news that Charlaine Harris’s Aurora Teagarden novels will be part of the Hallmark’s reboot. Librarian Aurora “Roe” Teagarden is a crime buff, lover of mystery novels and a member of the Real Murders Club, which meets to analyze famous crimes and mysteries. I loved this series by Harris and always hoped it would return. And if you don’t know who Charlaine Harris is, well, shame on you.

Aurora will be played by Candace Cameron Bure, who most of us remember from the TV series Full House. The first Aurora movie is slated for 2015.

What started Hallmark executives thinking about how these mystery novels were good fodder for TV must have been the reception the network received with its airing last year of the first Garage Sale Mystery. The movie starred the always appealing Lori Loughlin as a yard sale treasure hunter who uses her keen eye to solve crimes. The “Garage Sale Mystery” movies are based on the novel by Suzi Weinert.

Garage Sale Mystery: All That Glitters, the second installment of the “Garage Sale Mystery” movie series, will be aired at 9 p.m. Oct. 26.

Of course, you'll want to start reading the books before the films air.

Photos: Top: Andrew Walker, Erica Durance in The Wedding Planner Mystery; bottom: Lori Loughlin in Garage Sale Mystery: All That Glitters, photos courtesy Crown Media United States


Oline Cogdill
2014-10-11 04:40:19

kornetsky doghouse
Dogs and cats, as well as horse, hamsters and other animals, often show up in mysteries either as  main character or in a supporting role.

So, in honor of Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, which is October, Animal Welfare Week, which was Oct. 5 to 11, and National Animal Shelter and Rescue Appreciation Week, which is Nov. 2-8, let’s give a shout out to those authors who show  animals playing a role in their plots.

L.A. Kornetsky: Her Gin and Tonic mysteries pair up dog lover Ginny Mallard and her bartender, cat-loving, friend Teddy Tonica, along with some of their pets, in this cool series.

Robert Crais: Suspect-- Maggie, a German shepherd trained by the Marines and who was shot by a sniper that also killed her human partner in Afghanistan, becomes a K9 cop to LAPD officer Scott James who was severely wounded and traumatized during a shoot-out. The two become true partners.

Clea Simon: Cats, as well as the occasional parrot, play an important role in her three eries featuring music journalist Theda Krakow, pet expert Pru Marlowe,  and grad student Dulcie Schwartz.

Jonathan Kellerman: Blanche the French bulldog plays a reoccurring role in the Alex Delaware novels.

Spencer Quinn:  Quinn’s delightful yet hardboiled, in a way, novels pair up one of the most lovable detectives, Chet, the wise and lovable canine narrator of the Chet & Bernie Mystery Series, who works alongside Bernie, a down-on-his-luck private investigator.

Laura Lippman: A greyhound, Doberman and an Italian greyhound—all rescues in some way or the other--are often the office companion of private detective Tess Monaghan.

Miranda James: Widowed librarian Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon, Diesel, solve crimes in the Cat in the Stacks series.

Dennis Lehane: The Drop, based on a short story, shows the power of a dog to break through to a person who has closed himself off from everyone.

Now it’s our readers turn to tell us their favorites.

Oline Cogdill
2014-10-15 11:10:00
Shots Fired

C. J. Box’s Shots Fired is subtitled Stories From Joe Pickett Country, Pickett being the protagonist of Box’s bestselling novels. Pickett doesn’t figure in all ten stories here, but he’s in several, including the first and the last, neither of which has appeared in print before. The first, “One- Car Bridge,” presents a rancher so hard on his employees (and everyone else) that he deserves whatever accident befalls him, even if it’s not an accident. The last, “Shots Fired: A Requiem for Ander Esti” is based on Box’s own experience, and it finds Pickett investigating a supposedly open-and-shut shooting that’s not quite so open-and-shut. 

My favorite title among the stories is “Pronghorns of the Third Reich.” Pickett doesn’t appear, but the story turns out to be as incredible as the title sounds. This is only Box’s second-favorite title. He provides an introduction that tells which one he likes best, but I’ll let you find that out for yourself. 

Teri Duerr
2014-10-14 18:45:04

box shotsfiredEveryone's favorite Wyoming game warden features prominently in ten new stories.