Started Early, Took My Dog
Barbara Fister

In her Jackson Brodie series, Kate Atkinson has explored the way that random events and coincidence connect people whose lives seem otherwise separate. In this fourth entry, the private investigator is looking for the birth parents of a woman who now lives in New Zealand. His path crosses that of Tracy Waterhouse, a retired police officer who now works security in a shopping mall.

Tracy is keeping an eye on Tilly Squires, an elderly soap opera actress who seems to be suffering from dementia, when she is distracted by a familiar face from her days on the force—a drug-addicted prostitute who is dragging a small child violently by the arm through the mall. In an impulsive moment, Tracy trades a handful of cash for the child in order to rescue her from her unfit mother, though she knows it’s neither legal nor logical.

The lives of all four characters—Brodie, Tracy, the actress, and the child—become tightly braided together as Brodie tries to trace the origins of his New Zealand client, Tracy tries to take care of the little girl she hastily acquired, and the actress wanders through her disintegrating memory. As in other books in the series, lives seem to move along their own paths, yet are connected, with the reader ricocheting through the story, making one startling connection after another. It’s a style that is unique and it makes for an exhilaratingly complex story. Beautifully written, witty, and touching, this darker entry in the Jackson Brodie series adds another layer of depth: all of the strands of the story are connected to a terrible crime that Tracy investigated in the past. Though readers will want to read this series in order, the latest entry is the best yet.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 05 May 2011 05:05

atkinson_startedearlytookmydogBeautifully written, witty, and touching, this darker entry in the Jackson Brodie series is the best yet.

Dance in the Dark
Kevin Burton Smith

Author Faherty has quietly been building a solid rep, just a little outside the crackling buzz of the bestseller lists, with two separate series of satisfyingly thoughtful mystery novels, one featuring ex-seminarian turned detective Owen Keane and the other starring hardboiled, Los Angeles gumshoe Scott Elliott, whose ’40s-era adventures have a nice Chandleresque feel to them. But it’s not Raymond Chandler’s ghost that haunts Faherty’s latest, it’s Ross Macdonald’s. Dance in the Dark finds Scott time-machined to 1969, older if not wiser, married with children. No longer the dashing young actor and WWII hero turned “professional tough guy” he once was, the chief op of the Hollywood Security Agency find himself bewildered by this brave new world of domesticity, antiwar protests, hippies, rock’n’roll, casual sex, and even more casual drug use. But intimations of mortality also dog him, from the imminent death of the beloved wife of his boss and best friend Paddy Maguire (“the Heifitz of the blackjack”) to worries about his son, Billy, who’s gone missing in Vietnam.

Almost numb himself, unable to comfort his emotionally devastated wife Ella or his younger daughter Gaby, he leaps on a case—anything to get out of the house. An old acquaintance, aging actor and widower Forrest Combs, who has his own mortality issues, wants Scott to find Miranda, his runaway only child. Scott’s investigation into Miranda’s disappearance leads him to the nascent pornography business, the wilds of Laurel Canyon, a rough-and-scramble band of young filmmakers, smugglers, outlaw bikers, and ultimately, a Woodstock-like music festival that ends up more like Altamont.

But there’s more than that going on here in this brooding, melancholy meditation on aging, grief, and loss. Like Macdonald’s Lew Archer, Scott finds himself to be a somewhat out-of-touch father figure to the lost children he keeps meeting, and a mute witness to the shattered adults he encounters, but what could have been a joyless dirge is tempered with sympathetic and all-too-human characters, hard-won compassion, smart and sturdy plotting, and a light dusting of good old-fashioned pulp wit and grit, making this a memorable and surprisingly moving read.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 05 May 2011 05:05

faherty_dancerinthedark A melancholy meditation on aging, grief, and loss tempered with all-too-human characters, smart and sturdy plotting, and a light dusting of good old-fashioned pulp wit and grit.

The Albuquerque Turkey
M. Schlecht

Picking up where they left off in author John Vorhaus’ previous novel, The California Roll, grifters Radar Hoverlander and girlfriend Allie Quinn are living off the significant fruits of their latest con. Basking in a newfound sense of fulfillment they’re considering a lifestyle change. In an attempt to settle down, they choose Santa Fe, New Mexico, as a base for their experiment in “straight” living and go white-picket-fence with a lovable dog and Ikea bookshelves. Even their friend/accomplice Vic Mirplo has joined them in town, hoping to change his stripes and become an artist.

Those living the dream, however, risk waking up. Hoverlander’s long-lost dropout dad, Woody, reappears with a scheme for some father-son bonding and fleecing, and it’s road trip to Las Vegas time. The plan centers on selling Vic, who has become the toast of the Santa Fe art world thanks to his Christo-by-way-of-Jackass routine, as a mega-player looking to invest. The Life Domestic will have to wait.

Vorhaus, author of nonfiction titles such as The Killer Poker Hold’em Handbook and The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even If You’re Not, knows a little something about both high-rolling and comedy, which is good because just as the plot of The Albuquerque Turkey threatens to bolt down the path of the unbelievable, he slips in entertaining wild cards—like Vic’s Mirplopalooza, a Burning Man-style event staged in the desert—dazzling enough to keep the reader happy. As for whether Radar, who can spot a scam a mile away, can every fully trust Woody, who taught him everything he knows, Vorhaus leaves us guessing till the very end.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 05 May 2011 05:05

Picking up where they left off in author John Vorhaus’ previous novel, The California Roll, grifters Radar Hoverlander and girlfriend Allie Quinn are living off the significant fruits of their latest con. Basking in a newfound sense of fulfillment they’re considering a lifestyle change. In an attempt to settle down, they choose Santa Fe, New Mexico, as a base for their experiment in “straight” living and go white-picket-fence with a lovable dog and Ikea bookshelves. Even their friend/accomplice Vic Mirplo has joined them in town, hoping to change his stripes and become an artist.

Those living the dream, however, risk waking up. Hoverlander’s long-lost dropout dad, Woody, reappears with a scheme for some father-son bonding and fleecing, and it’s road trip to Las Vegas time. The plan centers on selling Vic, who has become the toast of the Santa Fe art world thanks to his Christo-by-way-of-Jackass routine, as a mega-player looking to invest. The Life Domestic will have to wait.

Vorhaus, author of nonfiction titles such as The Killer Poker Hold’em Handbook and The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even If You’re Not, knows a little something about both high-rolling and comedy, which is good because just as the plot of The Albuquerque Turkey threatens to bolt down the path of the unbelievable, he slips in entertaining wild cards—like Vic’s Mirplopalooza, a Burning Man-style event staged in the desert—dazzling enough to keep the reader happy. As for whether Radar, who can spot a scam a mile away, can every fully trust Woody, who taught him everything he knows, Vorhaus leaves us guessing till the very end.

Killer Routine
Sue Emmons

All is not mirth in Alan Orloff’s tale about comedy club owner Channing Hayes, who becomes embroiled in a search for a missing performer. Hayes, a former stand-up comedian, is in need of all the good humor he can get as he grapples with the difficulties of operating a comedy club while deeply mourning the death of his fiancée, Lauren Dempsey, following a car crash.

When Lauren’s sister, Heather, disappears just before her debut performance at the Last Laff Comedy Club, Hayes feels obligated to search for her on his own when no one else—including the police—seems concerned.

Orloff writes winningly of the comedy club scene and provides insider details of the struggles faced by those in the business of making us laugh. The first in a projected series, Killer Routine is an entertaining debut with a diverse array of engaging characters despite a predictable ending.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 05 May 2011 05:05

All is not mirth in Alan Orloff’s tale about comedy club owner Channing Hayes, who becomes embroiled in a search for a missing performer. Hayes, a former stand-up comedian, is in need of all the good humor he can get as he grapples with the difficulties of operating a comedy club while deeply mourning the death of his fiancée, Lauren Dempsey, following a car crash.

When Lauren’s sister, Heather, disappears just before her debut performance at the Last Laff Comedy Club, Hayes feels obligated to search for her on his own when no one else—including the police—seems concerned.

Orloff writes winningly of the comedy club scene and provides insider details of the struggles faced by those in the business of making us laugh. The first in a projected series, Killer Routine is an entertaining debut with a diverse array of engaging characters despite a predictable ending.

An Evil Eye
Lynne F. Maxwell

Jason Goodwin won an Edgar for his first novel, The Janissary Tree, and has gone on to make a name for himself with his terrific historicals The Snake Stone and The Bellini Card. All feature Yashim Togalu, a canny court cook with the proximity and talent to investigate political intrigue at the very heart of the Ottoman Empire. A eunuch, Yashim is unobtrusive and seemingly harmless, traits that afford him access to the inner sanctum of the royal court and harem.

As the novel opens, Yashim is confronted by political mayhem and intrigue, with many a power struggle in sight. Eventually, he is drawn into a battle of wits with his former mentor, Fevzi Pasha, who has defected to enemy Egypt, taking the Turkish fleet along with him.

Not only is power at issue in the realm of rulers and their contenders, but such political positioning also plays out on a microcosmic, but equally deadly, scale within the sultan’s harem. With a change of regime, the younger members of the harem seek to depose their predecessors, and so the battle commences. Goodwin’s cleverly executed plot strands converge, as the novel races to its wholly satisfying denouement.

Clearly, though, one does not read Goodwin for plot alone, despite his masterful touch. The 19th-century Turkish setting and the depiction of Ottoman politics and culture add immensely to the appeal of this book. Goodwin evokes exotic Turkey, replete with sultan, harem, and the constant consumption of thick Turkish coffee.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 05 May 2011 05:05

goodwin_anevileyeYashim Togalu tackles political mayhem and intrigue in the latest in this critically acclaimed series.

2012 Malice Domestic Just Around the Corner
Oline Cogdill

altThe good people who arrange the annual Malice Domestic conference are impressively organized. The 2011 conference in Bethesda, Maryland, just ended a couple of weeks ago -- probably some of those who attended haven't even unpacked -- and already the details for the 2012 conference are up.

That is inspiring. Makes me want to reorganize all my drawers and kitchen shelves.
Of course, anyone who has organized a conference knows that you have to keep on top of things at all times. You start planning for the next conference before the current one has even begun.

altMalice Domestic is one of my favorite conferences but, unfortunately, I haven't been able to attend for about five years because of other conflicts and timing. But I want to get back there as I always enjoyed the conference.

Malice Domestic celebrates the traditional mystery, such as those written by Agatha Christie.

As much as I admire Christie's work, I think that today's authors of the traditional mystery have surpassed even Dame Christie's work.

Many traditional mysteries come down to family relations, workplace situations and daily life.

The amateur sleuth novels that revolve around occupations give us an insider's window to worlds we are curious about.

altThose are exactly the types of novels that the 2012 Malice guests of honor write.

Guest of honor will be Jan Burke, top, the multi-award winner of the Irene Kelly series and several stand-alone thrillers and short stories. Her new Irene Kelly novel Disturbance comes out in June.

Toastmaster will be Dana Cameron, at left, who writes the Emma Fielding series of archaeological mysteries and some excellent short stories.

Simon Brett, who writes delightful British cozies, will pick up the Lifetime Achievement

The late Tony Hillerman will be the honoree of the Malice Remembers. Hillerman, of course, showed us the Southwest and the Native American culture in his long-running series.

The Poirot Award will go to Lee Goldberg, author, TV producer, and scriptwriter.
And since Malice is a fan-based convention, the Fan Guest of Honor will be Ruth Sickafus.

Malice Domestic 24 will be April 27 - 29, 2012, at the Hyatt in Bethesda, MD. Start packing your bags.

PHOTOS: Jan Burke, top, Dana Cameron.

Super User
Wednesday, 18 May 2011 09:05

altThe good people who arrange the annual Malice Domestic conference are impressively organized. The 2011 conference in Bethesda, Maryland, just ended a couple of weeks ago -- probably some of those who attended haven't even unpacked -- and already the details for the 2012 conference are up.

That is inspiring. Makes me want to reorganize all my drawers and kitchen shelves.
Of course, anyone who has organized a conference knows that you have to keep on top of things at all times. You start planning for the next conference before the current one has even begun.

altMalice Domestic is one of my favorite conferences but, unfortunately, I haven't been able to attend for about five years because of other conflicts and timing. But I want to get back there as I always enjoyed the conference.

Malice Domestic celebrates the traditional mystery, such as those written by Agatha Christie.

As much as I admire Christie's work, I think that today's authors of the traditional mystery have surpassed even Dame Christie's work.

Many traditional mysteries come down to family relations, workplace situations and daily life.

The amateur sleuth novels that revolve around occupations give us an insider's window to worlds we are curious about.

altThose are exactly the types of novels that the 2012 Malice guests of honor write.

Guest of honor will be Jan Burke, top, the multi-award winner of the Irene Kelly series and several stand-alone thrillers and short stories. Her new Irene Kelly novel Disturbance comes out in June.

Toastmaster will be Dana Cameron, at left, who writes the Emma Fielding series of archaeological mysteries and some excellent short stories.

Simon Brett, who writes delightful British cozies, will pick up the Lifetime Achievement

The late Tony Hillerman will be the honoree of the Malice Remembers. Hillerman, of course, showed us the Southwest and the Native American culture in his long-running series.

The Poirot Award will go to Lee Goldberg, author, TV producer, and scriptwriter.
And since Malice is a fan-based convention, the Fan Guest of Honor will be Ruth Sickafus.

Malice Domestic 24 will be April 27 - 29, 2012, at the Hyatt in Bethesda, MD. Start packing your bags.

PHOTOS: Jan Burke, top, Dana Cameron.

2011 Anthony Award Nominees
Oline Cogdill

The nominees for this year’s Anthony Awards, which are given at the annual Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, have been announced by conference chair, Jon Jordan, and awards chair, John Purcell.

Bouchercon 2011 will be Sept. 15-18 in St. Louis.

Our congratulations to all the nominees.


Best Novel
Bury Your Dead - Louise Penny - Minotaur Books
I'd Know You Anywhere - Laura Lippman - William Morrow
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter - Tom Franklin – William Morrow
The Lock Artist - Steve Hamilton - Minotaur
Faithful Place - Tana French - Viking


Best First Novel
Rogue Island- Bruce DeSilva - Forge Books
The Poacher's Son - Paul Doiron - Minotaur Books
Snow Angels - James Thompson - Putnam
Damage Done - Hilary Davidson - Forge Books
Sherlockian, The - Graham Moore - Twelve


Best Paperback Original
The Hanging Tree - Brian Gruley – Touchstone (Simon and Schuster)
Expiration Date - Duane Swierczynski - Minotaur Books
Drive Time - Hank Phillipi Ryan - Mira
Long Time Coming - Robert Goddard - Bantam
Vienna Secrets - Frank Tallis - Random House


Best Short Story
The Frame Maker - Simon Wood - The Back Alley
Homeless - Pat Morin - Mystery Montage
Scent of Lilacs - Doug Allyn – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Sept/Oct 2010
Swing Shift - Dana Cameron - Crimes By Moonlight
The Hitter - Chris Holm – Needle
So Much in Common - Mary Jane Maffini - EQMM Sept/Oct. 2010


Best Graphic Novel
Sickness in the Family - Denise Mina – Vertigo Crime
Beasts of Burden – Jill Thompson/Evan Dorkin – Dark Horse
Richard Stark's Parker, Vol. 2: The Outfit –Darwyn Cooke - IDW Press
The Chill - Jason Starr – Vertigo Crime
Scalped Vol 6 - The Gnawing - Jason Aaron – Vertigo
Tumor - Joshua Hale Fialkov/ Noel Tuazon - ARCHAIA STUDIOS PRESS


Best Critical /Non-Fiction
Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks - John Curran – Harper Collins
Thrillers: 100 Must Reads - David Morrell - Oceanview
Sherlock Holmes for Dummies - Steve Doyle - For Dummies
The Wire: Truth Be Told - Rafael Alvarez - Grove Press
Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History - Yunte Huang - W. W. Norton & Company


Best Website/Blog
Jen's Book Thoughts - Jen Forbus
Stop. You're Killing Me - Surber/Ulrich
Rap Sheet, The - J. Kingston Pierce
Sirens of Suspense - Chantelle Aimée Osman
Spinetingler - Sandra Ruttan

Super User
Monday, 09 May 2011 03:05

The nominees for this year’s Anthony Awards, which are given at the annual Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, have been announced by conference chair, Jon Jordan, and awards chair, John Purcell.

Bouchercon 2011 will be Sept. 15-18 in St. Louis.

Our congratulations to all the nominees.


Best Novel
Bury Your Dead - Louise Penny - Minotaur Books
I'd Know You Anywhere - Laura Lippman - William Morrow
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter - Tom Franklin – William Morrow
The Lock Artist - Steve Hamilton - Minotaur
Faithful Place - Tana French - Viking


Best First Novel
Rogue Island- Bruce DeSilva - Forge Books
The Poacher's Son - Paul Doiron - Minotaur Books
Snow Angels - James Thompson - Putnam
Damage Done - Hilary Davidson - Forge Books
Sherlockian, The - Graham Moore - Twelve


Best Paperback Original
The Hanging Tree - Brian Gruley – Touchstone (Simon and Schuster)
Expiration Date - Duane Swierczynski - Minotaur Books
Drive Time - Hank Phillipi Ryan - Mira
Long Time Coming - Robert Goddard - Bantam
Vienna Secrets - Frank Tallis - Random House


Best Short Story
The Frame Maker - Simon Wood - The Back Alley
Homeless - Pat Morin - Mystery Montage
Scent of Lilacs - Doug Allyn – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Sept/Oct 2010
Swing Shift - Dana Cameron - Crimes By Moonlight
The Hitter - Chris Holm – Needle
So Much in Common - Mary Jane Maffini - EQMM Sept/Oct. 2010


Best Graphic Novel
Sickness in the Family - Denise Mina – Vertigo Crime
Beasts of Burden – Jill Thompson/Evan Dorkin – Dark Horse
Richard Stark's Parker, Vol. 2: The Outfit –Darwyn Cooke - IDW Press
The Chill - Jason Starr – Vertigo Crime
Scalped Vol 6 - The Gnawing - Jason Aaron – Vertigo
Tumor - Joshua Hale Fialkov/ Noel Tuazon - ARCHAIA STUDIOS PRESS


Best Critical /Non-Fiction
Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks - John Curran – Harper Collins
Thrillers: 100 Must Reads - David Morrell - Oceanview
Sherlock Holmes for Dummies - Steve Doyle - For Dummies
The Wire: Truth Be Told - Rafael Alvarez - Grove Press
Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History - Yunte Huang - W. W. Norton & Company


Best Website/Blog
Jen's Book Thoughts - Jen Forbus
Stop. You're Killing Me - Surber/Ulrich
Rap Sheet, The - J. Kingston Pierce
Sirens of Suspense - Chantelle Aimée Osman
Spinetingler - Sandra Ruttan

Criminal Minds Help Humane Society
Oline Cogdill

altMystery writers not only are among the nicest people around but they also are eager to help those in need.

The 14 authors who belong to the award-winning Criminal Minds blog have banded together to offer their support the Humane Society of West Alabama -- a non-profit, all-volunteer, no kill shelter in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Tuscaloosa was one of the cities hardest hit by the tornadoes and storms. The shelter's facilities were not badly damaged but they are in desperate need of supplies and donations. Also, the task of caring for and identifying lost and misplaced pets is overwhelming.

Each of the authors who writes the Criminal Minds blog has donated signed copies of their latest novels to be auctioned off en masse on eBay.

The winner will receive the entire collection, which includes mysteries, thrillers, and paranormal fiction. The group will donate 100% of the final bid to the shelter. The auction ends May 13.

Here's where to place a bid.

Here's what the winner will receive:

Hard Cover
Rock Bottom by Erin Brokovich with C.J. Lyons (signed by C.J. only)
The Curse-Maker by Kelli Stanley
Dead in the Water by Meredith Cole
Murder on the Bride's Side by Tracy Kiely
Monkology by Gary Phillips
The Last Striptease by Michael Wiley
The Damage Done by Hillary Davidson

Paperback
A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell
iDRAKULA by Bekka Black
Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun by Lois Winston
The Jook by Gary Phillips
Orange County Noir by Gary Phillips
Ghost in the Polka Dot Bikini by Sue Ann Jaffarian
Day One by Bill Cameron
Before Cain Strikes by Joshua Corin
Blood Law by Jeannie Holmes
Black Rain by Graham Brown
Black Sun by Graham Brown

Super User
Wednesday, 11 May 2011 06:05

altMystery writers not only are among the nicest people around but they also are eager to help those in need.

The 14 authors who belong to the award-winning Criminal Minds blog have banded together to offer their support the Humane Society of West Alabama -- a non-profit, all-volunteer, no kill shelter in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Tuscaloosa was one of the cities hardest hit by the tornadoes and storms. The shelter's facilities were not badly damaged but they are in desperate need of supplies and donations. Also, the task of caring for and identifying lost and misplaced pets is overwhelming.

Each of the authors who writes the Criminal Minds blog has donated signed copies of their latest novels to be auctioned off en masse on eBay.

The winner will receive the entire collection, which includes mysteries, thrillers, and paranormal fiction. The group will donate 100% of the final bid to the shelter. The auction ends May 13.

Here's where to place a bid.

Here's what the winner will receive:

Hard Cover
Rock Bottom by Erin Brokovich with C.J. Lyons (signed by C.J. only)
The Curse-Maker by Kelli Stanley
Dead in the Water by Meredith Cole
Murder on the Bride's Side by Tracy Kiely
Monkology by Gary Phillips
The Last Striptease by Michael Wiley
The Damage Done by Hillary Davidson

Paperback
A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell
iDRAKULA by Bekka Black
Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun by Lois Winston
The Jook by Gary Phillips
Orange County Noir by Gary Phillips
Ghost in the Polka Dot Bikini by Sue Ann Jaffarian
Day One by Bill Cameron
Before Cain Strikes by Joshua Corin
Blood Law by Jeannie Holmes
Black Rain by Graham Brown
Black Sun by Graham Brown

The 3 Falcons: Dashiell Hammett's the Maltese Falcon
Ron Miller

maltese_bogart

Between 1931-41, Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon was filmed three times—but only one movie became a classic.

Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade in John Huston's 1941 classic adaptation of The Maltese Falcon.

Over eight decades ago—in February, 1930—Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon was first published in book form. Today it’s easy to understand why the book was quickly hailed as a classic: It’s a fast-paced, deftly written novel, packed with crackling dialogue, highly original characters and a boldly fashioned hero—cynical private eye Sam Spade, the perfect embodiment of America’s new hardboiled detective.

Hammett’s briskly told story also seemed a natural for the movies, particularly the kind they were making at Warner Bros., the home of rat-ta-tat-tat dialogue, reality tinged urban melodramas and tough crime pictures like that year’s Little Caesar with Edward G. Robinson and Doorway to Hell with James Cagney. So it was almost preordained that The Maltese Falcon would be turned into a movie by Warner. What still seems amazing, though, is that Warner would turn it into a movie not once, not twice, but three times, all within the span of a decade.

maltese-falcon_1931

The original 1931 version of The Maltese Falcon is today known as Dangerous Female. Left to right: Bebe Daniels as Ruth Wonderly, Dudley Digges as Casper Gutman, and Otto Matieson as Joel Cairo.

The first version of The Maltese Falcon was distributed to theaters in 1931 while the book was still fresh in the minds of its first eager readers. Known today as Dangerous Female, the title that distinguishes it from the more famous 1941 version when it’s shown on television, it now seems a curious hybrid of the old-fashioned Philo Vance-style mystery and the new hardboiled genre.

Warner’s first mistake probably was assigning the picture to house director Roy Del Ruth, who never really put his own brand on a film. Had they given the job to somebody else on the lot, say Bill Wellman, who did The Public Enemy, also in 1931, the film might have sizzled like Hammett’s novel. Del Ruth’s film seems uncommonly slow today. The people walk through rooms slowly and speak their lines carefully, as if they’re afraid the microphone couldn’t keep up with them if they talked any faster. It lacks snap.

maltese_cortez-ricardoThe second mistake was casting Latin lover type Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade. Cortez, whose real name was Jake Kranz, was groomed in the Valentino mold when he came into pictures in the silent era. He delivered his lines big and always appeared as if he were posing for the camera with fresh pomade on his hair. Hammett’s Sam Spade had a long, bony jaw, and a hooked nose, and “looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan.” Cortez had too much the air of the gentleman about him. In one scene, Spade even wears a silk dressing gown! He’s so mainstream that at the film’s climax he’s offered a regular job with the San Francisco Police Department. That’s heresy.

Equally problematic was the casting of Bebe Daniels as Brigid O’Shaughnessy, the femme fatale. Daniels was a silent screen actress best known for comedies and the 1929 musical Rio Rita. Daniels gave the impression she’d never done anything wicked in her life while the part calls for a dish who’s been using her looks to manipulate men for years.

The 1931 version isn’t seen much anymore outside cable network late shows. Its stilted staging and performances immediately give it away as an early talkie without special distinction.

maltese_bebe-daniels

Some critics feel the 1931 version is more faithful to the book than the two later versions. It isn’t. Here’s one case in point: Miss Wonderly, the mysterious client who first hires Spade, never gets around to revealing her real name is Brigid O’Shaughnessy.

When the 1931 Falcon failed to corral moviegoers into theaters, Warner Bros., realized they had bungled the job. They had wisely obtained remake rights, so they decided to try again in 1936, hoping to tap into the booming market they’d created in the early 1930s for rapid-fire urban comedies. Again, though, the remake was problematic. First, they gave the writing job to Brown Holmes, one of the screenwriters who had botched the adaptation of Hammett’s novel the first time around. They told him to change a few names and locales, punch up the female part so it could become a “star vehicle” for Bette Davis, current queen of the Warner lot, and turn it into a sort of mystery- comedy like rival studio MGM’s recent hit, The Thin Man, which was derived from another Hammett novel.

The result was called Satan Met a Lady. It has no Sam Spade or Brigid O’Shaughnessy. Instead, it has debonair Warren William as a lawyer named Ted Shayne coming back to his old firm—and taking it over after his partner is killed. He couldn’t care less about the death of his partner, but he’s quite taken by a mysterious young client, Valerie Purvis, played by Bette Davis, who leads him into the hunt for another valuable artifact—not a statuette of a falcon, but rather a “trumpet” that’s supposed to be filled with priceless jewels.

satanmetalady_bette-davis

Satan Met a Lady (1936) was an extremely loose adaptation of Hammett’s novel which starred Warren William (center) and Bette Davis. Alison Skipworth (far right) played “Madam Barabbas,” a character which replaced Hammett’s original Casper Gutman.

Director William Dieterle clearly bears no responsibility for the wreckage of Hammett’s classic novel that takes place in this dreadful movie. Actually, he deserves some credit for making it go by quickly while Bette Davis bats her eyes relentlessly at Warren William. In fact, the famous Bette Davis eyes are about the only reason to watch this film.

Warren William, who resembled John Barrymore, was the moustache-wearing sort of leading man people associated with gentleman detectives. He had, in fact, played effete sleuth Philo Vance on screen after William Powell left the role. He also starred as Perry Mason in the miserable series of films Warner made about Erle Stanley Gardner’s famous criminal lawyer in the 1930s. After Satan Met a Lady, he went on to play The Lone Wolf in a series of films about the thief/sleuth.

Among the many changes Satan Met a Lady makes to Hammett’s story: the charmingly evil Casper Gutman is transformed into a woman, played without much charm by character actress Alison Skipworth, best remembered for her many screen run-ins with W.C. Fields. Another problem is the casting of a very young Marie Wilson (My Friend Irma) as the secretary. Wilson plays her as such an airhead that it’s a wonder she doesn’t float to the ceiling in every scene.

If some of the casting in the first two film versions seems bad, I concede that both also had some casting gems. I would argue that Bette Davis could have played Brigid in all three films and held her own with the other actresses. Those who know Davis only as the grotesque old witch of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? might be surprised to see how cute and sexy she could be back in the 1930s. She also was a formidable actress with her first Academy Award (for Warner’s 1935 Dangerous) already in hand.

The minor casting in the 1931 version was very interesting, too. Una Merkel, probably best remembered today for the comic moms she played in later movies and TV shows, was entertainingly sassy as secretary Effie Perrine.

They also picked the perfect actor to play The Fat Man’s punk gunman, Wilmer, in the 1931 version: Dwight Frye, a character actor who that same year played Renfield, the insane disciple of Bela Lugosi in Universal’s Dracula. Frye, who died young at 44, was the perfect Wilmer, a role that needs to be played slightly off center, but with a true look of murder in the eye. Frye had that nailed.

One can only imagine what Dashiell Hammett thought of the first two versions of his most famous novel. He can’t have been fond of them, but he was working in Hollywood himself in those days, adapting other people’s books and knocking out a few originals, so he surely couldn’t have been too surprised by Warner’s treatment of his book.

However, Bette Davis’ opinion of Satan Met a Lady is well-documented. She called it “one of the worst turkeys I ever made.”

Nobody has ever had reason to say anything like that about the third version of the Falcon, which John Huston wrote and directed for release by Warner Bros. in 1941. In fact, film critic-historian Leonard Maltin has called Huston’s version the definitive private eye picture. Most critics agree—and members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences nominated the film for best picture of 1941, Huston for best screenplay and Sydney Greenstreet, who played Kasper Gutman, for best supporting actor.

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The third take of The Maltese Falcon came about because Huston demanded the chance to direct if Warner renewed his screenwriting contract. The studio definitely wanted to keep this young man happy—Huston had just been Oscar-nominated for his work on the original screenplay of Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet (1940) and had also turned in first-rate scripts for Sergeant York and High Sierra, two of their biggest 1941 pictures.

In his 1997 book Who the Devil Made It, writer-director Peter Bogdanovich quotes film director Howard Hawks (The Big Sleep, To Have and Have Not) as saying he originally was going to direct the third version of the Falcon, but persuaded Huston to make it his first directing job instead. Huston told the story differently in his 1980 memoir An Open Book, omitting any reference to Hawks, saying he decided to do the remake because the book had never before been properly filmed.

It’s more likely Warner Bros. offered the untested director a list of story properties it already owned from which to choose his first directing job. Whatever happened, it certainly was a blessing that Huston chose The Maltese Falcon. His screenplay follows the book closely, although it leaves out the same material the earlier screenplays had omitted, such as the character of Gutman’s daughter, who has a significant role in the novel.

The next good thing that happened to Huston was actor George Raft’s decision to turn down the role of Sam Spade, which he’d been offered by the studio. Raft’s career was on the wane and, despite his real-life affinity for underworld figures, he could not have brought the worldly, sardonic attitude to the role that came with the hiring of second choice Humphrey Bogart.

maltese_bogart-w-awardConventional wisdom said Bogart was too small and too homely to play Spade. So much for conventional wisdom. He brought a weary cynicism to the role that the earlier actors couldn’t begin to conjure up.

Bogart also brought something else to the gumshoe character that improved upon Hammett’s concept: nobility. In the novel, you’re left wondering if Spade isn’t just a selfish man; unwilling to play the sap for the sexy Brigid because it’s not a good career move. Bogart plays the part as if Spade is doing the right thing in sending her over, not just for himself, but for his fellow man as well.

Bogart’s Spade also isn’t the sexist lout of the earlier films, particularly in his treatment of his secretary. He doesn’t sleep with Brigid, though he does in the book and in the 1931 film, and he’s much more respectful to her when she first shows up as a client without portfolio.

What Bogart is, though, is tough. He’s the only Spade that we actually see rolling his own smokes, as he does in the novel. And when he starts picking on poor Wilmer (Elisha Cook, Jr.), you can really tell Wilmer is never going to get the drop on Spade, not on his best day. (The stunt, so accurately described in the book, where Spade slips behind Wilmer and pulls his overcoat down over his gun hands, is perfectly executed by Bogart in the 1941 movie.) And when he kisses Brigid off, you suspect he’s had her number all along.

Huston’s supporting cast is also near flawless. Peter Lorre is the definitive Joel Cairo, quite clearly homosexual, though you couldn’t say so in movies in 1941. Lorre’s Cairo is a gutsy little guy. He puts Spade to a lot of trouble before he gets beat.

maltese_greenstreet_and_bogart

Kasper Gutman: You're a close-mouthed man?

Sam Spade: Nah, I like to talk.

KG: Better and better. I distrust a close-mouthed man. He generally picks the wrong time to talk and says the wrong things. Talking's something you can't do judiciously, unless you keep in practice. [sits back] Now, sir. We'll talk, if you like. I'll tell you right out, I am a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk.

SS: Swell. Will we talk about the black bird?

Sydney Greenstreet, who at the age of 61 made his film debut in the 1941 Falcon, was an instant smash hit. His good-natured but sinister Kasper (spelled Casper in the novel) Gutman is now so iconic that scores of characters have been modeled on him over the years. Hammett created the character, but Greenstreet makes it almost impossible to imagine another actor in the role.

Elisha Cook’s Wilmer is also masterful. The poor actor was so typecast by the way Sam Spade handled him in 1941 that he spent the rest of his acting career as a nervous little twit, expecting the worst from every leading man—and usually getting it.

Then there’s Mary Astor, who won an Oscar that same year for her supporting role to Bette Davis in The Great Lie. In real life, Astor had the reputation of being a hot number, especially after her “secret diary” was made public in a scandalous trial, revealing her to be much less the lady than she usually appeared on screen. In other words, she was born to play Brigid O’Shaughnessy.

Warner gave the fledgling director the usual “gangster flick” budget of around $300,000, plus a shooting schedule of six weeks.

John Huston fused all these marvelous elements into a fast-paced, exciting film in which the bizarre characters all seemed perfectly natural speaking the lines that mostly were Hammett’s original dialogue. By shooting the film with a much darker, more stylish look, Huston made The Maltese Falcon into a film worthy of comparison to the famous book.

The film propelled Bogart to full stardom and launched his reputation as the movies’ first great anti-hero, a reputation he cemented two years later as Rick in Warner’s Casablanca.

Huston became Hollywood’s hottest young director and Warner kept busy trying to find ways to re-team Bogart, Lorre, Greenstreet and the others in one picture after another all through the war years.

Ironically, Dashiell Hammett’s publisher, Knopf, had sold all film rights to Warner, including remakes and sequels, for $8,500 in 1930, so Hammett received nothing from the most famous version of his film. Still, he was widely known to have loved the Huston film and frequently told friends, “they finally got it right.”

Like the novel itself, the place of John Huston’s Maltese Falcon is firmly set in history. Basil Wright, in his 1974 film history The Long View, wrote, “The Maltese Falcon set the pattern for nearly all the crime films of the subsequent twenty years with its matter-of-fact acceptance of the inner as well as the outer brutalities of the criminal world.”

Will there be more film versions of the Falcon? With today’s studios always on the prowl for classics to remake, how could there not be? So, here’s my suggestion on how to make one that’s fresh, exciting and relevant for the youngsters who dominate the ticket-buying marketplace today: Why not show us what none of the previous versions did—the fate of Casper Gutman’s young daughter?

In the novel, Sam Spade finds her severely doped-up in a hotel room. After she comes to, she skips out and never is heard from again. I’m haunted by the notion of what it must have been like to be The Fat Man’s kid. Did he drag her around the world with him on his hunt for the black bird, involving her in all the murders, thefts and other intrigue? If Warner still wants to get the most out of its investment, isn’t it time for Maltese Falcon II: Revenge of the Fat Man’s Daughter?

Ron Miller is the former national president of the Television Critics Assn. He’s the editor and founder of www.thecolumnists.com, where he writes the Dark Corridors mystery pages.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 11 May 2011 12:05

maltese_bogartBetween 1931-41 The Maltese Falcon was filmed three times—but only one movie became a classic.

Taken Away
Sarah Prindle

Fifteen-year-old Summer “Sumbie” Elmwood is living through two horrors: Hurricane Katrina and the disappearance of her two-year-old sister, Amalia, who has a heart condition. When Amalia vanishes from the hospital just as the hurricane hits their hometown of New Orleans, Sumbie falls under suspicion by her own family, as she’d made it clear that she felt pushed aside while her parents lavished attention on her little sister. So Sumbie sets out to rescue Amalia and clear her own name.

In Taken Away, author Patty Friedmann—herself a survivor of the 2005 storm—explores love, jealousy, relationships, disasters, and resourcefulness. Friedman’s first young adult novel is well-written and interesting not only as a mystery, but also as a peek into the horrors that Hurricane Katrina left in its wake. The reader enters the chaos of finding one missing baby amidst a whole city of displaced evacuees. The plot is further enhanced by Sumbie’s potential romance with two boys, her frayed relationship with her hippie-like parents, and her snobby Aunt Sharon, who takes the displaced Elmwoods into her upscale house in Houston, Texas.

The mystery’s conclusion is fulfilling, albeit a little rushed. Sumbie is a mostly likeable character (sassy and ironic, as she describes herself), but she did come across as self-centered a few times—for instance, not telling the FBI everything she discovered right away because she “wanted to be the one” to find Amalia. She did seem to mature a little bit at the end, realizing that you have to be careful what you wish for and, while not all wishes come true, the unexpected things may be more worthwhile.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 12 May 2011 10:05

friedmann_takenawayIt's up to “Sumbie” Elmwood to find her missing baby sister in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.

A Hard Death
Oline H. Cogdill

Once a respected forensics pathologist in New York City, Edward Jenner lost his job and his savings after working on a horrific case. Jenner needs a job—any job—and is grateful for the chance to fill in for Martin Roburn, his former mentor, while Roburn takes his wife on an overdue vacation. The temporary setup in Port Fontaine, a small town on Florida’s southwest coast, seems tailor-made for Jenner, who needs a respite from Manhattan and the aftermath of his encounter with the serial killer in his previous outing, Precious Blood. But Jenner has barely settled in when the bodies of Roburn and his wife are found in their car, submerged in a lake. Then a late-night call sends Jenner to the Everglades where he finds the bodies of four migrant workers. Believing the murders are connected, Jenner links up with police detective David Rudge. Their investigation leads them to a lucrative drug trade and the county’s wealthiest leaders, who believe the area’s migrant workers are expendable.

Lonely, exiled from his job, and forced to borrow money from old friends, Jenner epitomizes vulnerability. But Hayes also endows his lead with steely resolve. The pathologist stands up to a Nancy Grace-like television reporter who is harassing him in Port Fontaine and he keeps his emotions in check while doing his professional duty to the Roburns.

New York pathologist and author Jonathan Hayes delivers an intense second novel with authentic forensics while avoiding being grisly. A Hard Death moves at a brisk pace and benefits from strong storytelling that avoids clichés: Despite Port Fontaine’s rural environment, the town’s police force is not a bunch of rednecks nor are they Barney Fifes. These cops are experienced officers, but, until now, they haven’t had to contend with major crimes common in a big city.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 12 May 2011 05:05

Once a respected forensics pathologist in New York City, Edward Jenner lost his job and his savings after working on a horrific case. Jenner needs a job—any job—and is grateful for the chance to fill in for Martin Roburn, his former mentor, while Roburn takes his wife on an overdue vacation. The temporary setup in Port Fontaine, a small town on Florida’s southwest coast, seems tailor-made for Jenner, who needs a respite from Manhattan and the aftermath of his encounter with the serial killer in his previous outing, Precious Blood. But Jenner has barely settled in when the bodies of Roburn and his wife are found in their car, submerged in a lake. Then a late-night call sends Jenner to the Everglades where he finds the bodies of four migrant workers. Believing the murders are connected, Jenner links up with police detective David Rudge. Their investigation leads them to a lucrative drug trade and the county’s wealthiest leaders, who believe the area’s migrant workers are expendable.

Lonely, exiled from his job, and forced to borrow money from old friends, Jenner epitomizes vulnerability. But Hayes also endows his lead with steely resolve. The pathologist stands up to a Nancy Grace-like television reporter who is harassing him in Port Fontaine and he keeps his emotions in check while doing his professional duty to the Roburns.

New York pathologist and author Jonathan Hayes delivers an intense second novel with authentic forensics while avoiding being grisly. A Hard Death moves at a brisk pace and benefits from strong storytelling that avoids clichés: Despite Port Fontaine’s rural environment, the town’s police force is not a bunch of rednecks nor are they Barney Fifes. These cops are experienced officers, but, until now, they haven’t had to contend with major crimes common in a big city.

The Hanging Wood
Barbara Fister

In this fifth entry in the Lake District series, cold-case detective Hannah Scarlett is contacted by an alcoholic eccentric, Orla Payne, whose brother Callum went missing 20 years ago and whose uncle committed suicide after being accused of murdering his nephew. Between Orla’s drunken state and her impatience with Hannah’s questions, the phone conversation goes badly. Even so, Hannah can’t help but feel guilty when she learns that Orla has killed herself. Had Orla discovered new evidence about her brother’s disappearance that would have cleared her uncle’s name?

Edwards, author of both this series and the Harry Devlin Liverpool-based mysteries, creates a complex puzzle of family secrets and long-cold clues. It’s a solid mystery built along classic lines, set in a part of the world where tradition still exists, even though those to the manor born survive on canny exploitation of the tourism industry. Readers who have enjoyed previous installments of this series will welcome spending time with Hannah again, but Edwards has skillfully ensured that those who are meeting his characters for the first time will not feel at a disadvantage.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 12 May 2011 05:05

In this fifth entry in the Lake District series, cold-case detective Hannah Scarlett is contacted by an alcoholic eccentric, Orla Payne, whose brother Callum went missing 20 years ago and whose uncle committed suicide after being accused of murdering his nephew. Between Orla’s drunken state and her impatience with Hannah’s questions, the phone conversation goes badly. Even so, Hannah can’t help but feel guilty when she learns that Orla has killed herself. Had Orla discovered new evidence about her brother’s disappearance that would have cleared her uncle’s name?

Edwards, author of both this series and the Harry Devlin Liverpool-based mysteries, creates a complex puzzle of family secrets and long-cold clues. It’s a solid mystery built along classic lines, set in a part of the world where tradition still exists, even though those to the manor born survive on canny exploitation of the tourism industry. Readers who have enjoyed previous installments of this series will welcome spending time with Hannah again, but Edwards has skillfully ensured that those who are meeting his characters for the first time will not feel at a disadvantage.

Tabloid City
Derek Hill

Twenty-four hours in the life of a city: an aging newspaper editor struggles to suppress his personal feelings as he covers the murders of a socialite. who was his lover, and her assistant; a lonely female journalist at the same paper lands the scoop of her lifetime working on the story; a young Muslim stalks the streets ready to unleash jihad on his hometown; an angry, disabled Iraq War veteran returns to America and demands to be acknowledged by the people who now ignore him; a housebound blogger attempts to beat the newspaper racket with the tools of new media; and an elderly painter yearns to feel young again. This is the disparate group of souls who are bound together by love and crime in Pete Hamill’s ambitious literary crime tale, Tabloid City.

Veteran journalist and novelist Hamill serves up a distinctive take on the naked city with his 11th novel. At its core, it is a lament for the ever-changing metropolis that eight million call home, a mournful love letter to the dying newspaper biz, and a tribute to the newshounds who hoof the pavement every day hungry to break a story and make their deadlines before dawn.

On the surface, Hamill trades in pulp fiction clichés, but what makes Tabloid City extraordinary is its author’s clear-eyed observations of characters who know that their narratives are coming to an end, but who refuse to fade away quietly. He displays impressive skill binding it all together with prose that treads deftly between poetry and keen hardboiled clarity.

Pain, regret, and melancholy permeate the various story lines, but Hamill manages to generate compassion as well. The city may be stitched together with heartbreak, but there are also moments of tenderness and joy that resonate just as strongly. Much like the young war veteran who wants America to acknowledge him in his weakest state, or the old man who spends his nights dancing alone in the street, Hamill, in his ambition, wants us to remember both the joy and sorrow. Tabloid City will engage the crime reader who seeks a complex, thoughtful approach to noir.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 12 May 2011 05:05

hamill_tabloidcityA distinctive ode to the ever-changing metropolis that eight million call home.

Ashes of the Earth
Tim Davis

In the aftermath of apocalyptic destruction, the battered survivors in a small colony that is tentatively rising from the ashes in northeastern America have but a single challenge: staying alive. But in this not-so-brave new world, the colony’s marginalized and embittered founder Hadrian Boone must confront another challenge in the form of a murder mystery: who is responsible for the brutal death of his friend and mentor Jonah, a leading scientist and visionary?

Hadrian’s search takes him beyond the fragile borders of so-called civilization, and—as he pries into hearts of darkness both beyond and within the colony’s borders—he discovers, to his horror, that one thing has not really changed since the global holocaust: evil, especially when coupled with power and politics. Filled with gut-wrenching imagery in which a hellish world seems disturbingly familiar because it is so believably possible, this first novel in a projected series will certainly appeal to two different categories of readers: fans of imaginative post-apocalyptic nightmare novels, and fans of carefully plotted murder mysteries, in which characterizations, settings, literary allusions, and provocative themes dominate the pages.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 12 May 2011 05:05

In the aftermath of apocalyptic destruction, the battered survivors in a small colony that is tentatively rising from the ashes in northeastern America have but a single challenge: staying alive. But in this not-so-brave new world, the colony’s marginalized and embittered founder Hadrian Boone must confront another challenge in the form of a murder mystery: who is responsible for the brutal death of his friend and mentor Jonah, a leading scientist and visionary?

Hadrian’s search takes him beyond the fragile borders of so-called civilization, and—as he pries into hearts of darkness both beyond and within the colony’s borders—he discovers, to his horror, that one thing has not really changed since the global holocaust: evil, especially when coupled with power and politics. Filled with gut-wrenching imagery in which a hellish world seems disturbingly familiar because it is so believably possible, this first novel in a projected series will certainly appeal to two different categories of readers: fans of imaginative post-apocalyptic nightmare novels, and fans of carefully plotted murder mysteries, in which characterizations, settings, literary allusions, and provocative themes dominate the pages.

Last to Fold
Hank Wagner

Back in the 1980s, if you wanted hardboiled action with a Russian flavor, Martin Cruz Smith’s novels featuring Arkady Renko (Gorky Park, Polar Star) were the only reliable source. More recently, other writers have begun to explore similar territory, mainly through the eyes of Soviet expatriates living in the United States. In 1995, Reggie Nadelson debuted her successful Artie Cohen series with Red Mercury Blues. And now, David Duffy has introduced PI Turbo Vlost, a child of the Gulags who, after serving in the KGB, eventually settled in New York City.

On the surface, Last to Fold tells the story of a kidnapping of a young girl by ruthless thugs. But, like Ross MacDonald’s tales of Lew Archer, it also explores the effect of history on the present, as Vlost’s past comes back to haunt him in modern-day New York. Besides taking the requisite beatings any good fictional PI is expected to sustain on a typical case, Vlost also must endure the opening of emotional wounds he thought had long since healed, wounds that had been inflicted on his psyche literally from the day he was born. Duffy expertly exploits his character’s complicated backstory to tell a gritty, twisted tale of mayhem and murder, producing a notably well-written, involving debut that explores the bonds and bounds of love and loyalty.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 12 May 2011 05:05

Back in the 1980s, if you wanted hardboiled action with a Russian flavor, Martin Cruz Smith’s novels featuring Arkady Renko (Gorky Park, Polar Star) were the only reliable source. More recently, other writers have begun to explore similar territory, mainly through the eyes of Soviet expatriates living in the United States. In 1995, Reggie Nadelson debuted her successful Artie Cohen series with Red Mercury Blues. And now, David Duffy has introduced PI Turbo Vlost, a child of the Gulags who, after serving in the KGB, eventually settled in New York City.

On the surface, Last to Fold tells the story of a kidnapping of a young girl by ruthless thugs. But, like Ross MacDonald’s tales of Lew Archer, it also explores the effect of history on the present, as Vlost’s past comes back to haunt him in modern-day New York. Besides taking the requisite beatings any good fictional PI is expected to sustain on a typical case, Vlost also must endure the opening of emotional wounds he thought had long since healed, wounds that had been inflicted on his psyche literally from the day he was born. Duffy expertly exploits his character’s complicated backstory to tell a gritty, twisted tale of mayhem and murder, producing a notably well-written, involving debut that explores the bonds and bounds of love and loyalty.

Twice a Spy
Lourdes Venard

Twice a Spy picks up where Thomson’s previous spy thriller, Once a Spy, left off. The father-son team of Drummond and Charlie Clark have fled the United States and are hiding out in Switzerland, having been framed by a black-ops agency for the murder of US national security adviser Burton Hattemer. National Security Agency operative Alice Rutherford, who helped the Clarks escape, continues to aid them, until she’s kidnapped. For her return, the kidnappers ask one thing: that Drummond get them a Soviet-made bomb. To complicate matters, the Clarks are also being chased by someone else, a CIA officer.

Pretty typical spy stuff so far, but Thomson instills an interesting quirkiness in his books. Drummond, a retired CIA operations officer, has Alzheimer’s and his moments of lucidity come and go. Charlie, who until two weeks ago thought his father was a mild-mannered appliance salesman, finds a coping mechanism to deal with the Alzheimer’s: “If you were now, hypothetically, a fugitive, what would you do?” Posing the question to fit each situation, incredibly, the old man knows what to do each time.

Most of the book relies on the interplay between father and son, but there’s also a fast-moving plot with lots of twists and lots of chases—car, ambulance, and even amphibious vehicle. There’s no letup, as the duo escape from one set of bad guys only to land in the hands of another set. The plot is over-the-top at times, but as we race toward the end, we are rooting for the Clarks, hoping that, for once, the good guys will outwit the bad guys and save the day.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 12 May 2011 05:05

thomson_twiceaspyThe father-son team of Drummond and Charlie Clark are back in the chase in this follow up to Once a Spy.

Guilt by Association
Oline H. Cogdill

Marcia Clark’s role as the lead prosecutor for the State of California in the infamous O.J. Simpson trial put her in the public eye. Her cool demeanor, intelligence, and legal skills were obvious, despite the 1995 trial’s outcome. Since her resignation in 1997, Clark has worked as an Entertainment Tonight correspondent, covering high-profile trials, and, with co-author Teresa Carpenter, written Without a Doubt, a nonfiction book based on the O.J. case.

Clark can now add fiction author to her impressive resume with her debut featuring Assistant District Attorney Rachel Knight. Guilt by Association puts Clark in the same league as Linda Fairstein, another district attorney turned author. Clark shows an affinity for believable characters while insightfully weaving in legal ethics and office politics.

Rachel considers her position as an assistant district attorney in the elite Special Trials unit as a mission rather than a job. A workaholic, she is devoted to the law and to finding justice for L.A.’s crime victims. Rachel sees the same values in her colleague, Jake Pahlmeyer, another Special Trials prosecutor who matches her passion for the law. But their relationship is strictly work-related and neither knows anything about the other’s personal life. Even so, when Jake is found dead in a seedy motel with a murdered 16-year-old male prostitute, Rachel can’t believe that the man she worked with could have led such a double life. Despite orders to stay away from the case, Rachel begins her own investigation while also handling the rape case of a teenager whose wealthy father is a big supporter of the district attorney.

Rachel proves to be a complex character, driven and aloof at work, but in private, lonely and haunted by a childhood tragedy that Clark only briefly hints at. For the most part, the author wisely avoids overloading Rachel with too many psychological quirks, but the assistant DA’s worries that every meal or snack will cause her to gain an ounce of weight quickly become irritating.

That said, the importance given in the novel to women’s strong friendships is very welcome. Rachel shares laughs and confidences with Toni, a fellow Special Trials prosecutor, and Bailey, a female LAPD detective. Work brought the three together, but this trio of friends are able to be both professional and personal support for one another in what is largely a man’s world of crime and punishment. Rachel’s time away from the office with these women adds to the novel’s realism as does Rachel’s growing attraction for Graden Hales, a hunky L.A. lieutenant assigned to the case.

Clark proves she’s a natural storyteller, balancing several plot threads with aplomb, allowing them to intersect in a realistic way with several believable twists and surprises. The adept story and appealing characters in Guilt by Association make it a welcome addition to the legal thriller genre. Clark seems to be that rare celebrity novelist—she can actually write.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 12 May 2011 05:05

clark_guiltbyassociationThe prosecutor-turned-author shows an affinity for believable characters while insightfully weaving in legal ethics and office politics in her debut novel featuring Assistant District Attorney Rachel Knight.

Fall From Grace
Hank Wagner

Despite his colorful background (a recovering gambling addict, his mother a Cree, his father French Canadian) reporter Leo Desroches comes off as nondescript in the first few pages of this debut novel, as the author details the initial stages of his protagonist’s investigation into the murder of Grace Cardinal, a Native prostitute. It’s only in Chapter Three when readers find out the shocking way in which Desroches handles the stress in his life, that both the book and the character come alive for the audience, never to settle down again over the course of the story.

As a bonus, Fall From Grace is not just another mystery novel where a reporter hunts a killer, despite the great personal danger involved. It’s a story that focuses on addiction and the struggle to cope with a teetering-house-of-cards-type lifestyle one has so painfully constructed around oneself. Additionally, it’s a tale that touches on the Native experience in Canada, something you don’t often hear about here in the States. Finally, it’s a novel about journalism and the newspaper industry, a business sadly neglected in fiction in recent years. The way Arthurson blends these disparate elements together in his winning debut augers well for future efforts. Here’s hoping Arthurson brings the troubled Leo Desroches back for an encore, and soon.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 13 May 2011 01:05

Despite his colorful background (a recovering gambling addict, his mother a Cree, his father French Canadian) reporter Leo Desroches comes off as nondescript in the first few pages of this debut novel, as the author details the initial stages of his protagonist’s investigation into the murder of Grace Cardinal, a Native prostitute. It’s only in Chapter Three when readers find out the shocking way in which Desroches handles the stress in his life, that both the book and the character come alive for the audience, never to settle down again over the course of the story.

As a bonus, Fall From Grace is not just another mystery novel where a reporter hunts a killer, despite the great personal danger involved. It’s a story that focuses on addiction and the struggle to cope with a teetering-house-of-cards-type lifestyle one has so painfully constructed around oneself. Additionally, it’s a tale that touches on the Native experience in Canada, something you don’t often hear about here in the States. Finally, it’s a novel about journalism and the newspaper industry, a business sadly neglected in fiction in recent years. The way Arthurson blends these disparate elements together in his winning debut augers well for future efforts. Here’s hoping Arthurson brings the troubled Leo Desroches back for an encore, and soon.

The Lost Sister
Hank Wagner

Still deeply affected by the grim goings on chronicled in Russel McLean’s gritty debut novel The Good Son, Dundee, Scotland-based PI J. McNee becomes involved in a missing person’s case that manages to rub salt in several psychic wounds that the investigator thought buried under a deep layer of scar tissue. Nevertheless, he perseveres in his search for missing teenager Mary Furst, despite the physical and mental wear and tear it inflicts on him. Uncovering the truth may not prove helpful, however, as following that path places him square in the sights of a bona fide homicidal maniac.

While it doesn’t break any new ground in terms of plot, McLean’s sophomore effort still makes for good reading with its unflinching portrayal of people under extreme stress (especially McNee, the narrator of the tale) and a couple of extended and harrowing set pieces which will keep coming to mind for days afterward. At times wildly depressing, it’s also strangely uplifting to watch McNee soldier on despite the heavy odds he faces, supported by his few, but fortunately stalwart, friends.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 13 May 2011 01:05

Still deeply affected by the grim goings on chronicled in Russel McLean’s gritty debut novel The Good Son, Dundee, Scotland-based PI J. McNee becomes involved in a missing person’s case that manages to rub salt in several psychic wounds that the investigator thought buried under a deep layer of scar tissue. Nevertheless, he perseveres in his search for missing teenager Mary Furst, despite the physical and mental wear and tear it inflicts on him. Uncovering the truth may not prove helpful, however, as following that path places him square in the sights of a bona fide homicidal maniac.

While it doesn’t break any new ground in terms of plot, McLean’s sophomore effort still makes for good reading with its unflinching portrayal of people under extreme stress (especially McNee, the narrator of the tale) and a couple of extended and harrowing set pieces which will keep coming to mind for days afterward. At times wildly depressing, it’s also strangely uplifting to watch McNee soldier on despite the heavy odds he faces, supported by his few, but fortunately stalwart, friends.

Lucifer’s Tears
Derek Hill

Battered and shell-shocked after the events in Snow Angels, Finnish inspector Kari Vaara is now living in Helsinki with his American wife, Kate, and suffering from insomnia. Saddled with a new, tightly wound, possibly sociopathic partner, Vaara investigates a gruesome sex-torture murder that points to the victim’s wealthy Russian husband and his Betty Page look-alike secretary. Vaara is also appointed to head a covert investigation into World War II Finnish war crimes involving Finland’s most famous military hero. To make matters more stressful, Kate’s religious sister and mess of a brother arrive in town. But most upsetting of all, he’s about to become a first-time father. All of this gives readers one of the most engaging, yet messed up, protagonists around. Vaara is not always easy to embrace—he’s abusive to suspects and trigger-happy, and there’s a disturbing cruelty burning inside him. But Vaara is not oblivious to his faults either, and his heart-on-the-sleeve style and wry humor help take the edge off his abrasive hard shell and make him more than your average muscle with a badge.

Thompson, an American ex-pat living in Finland, doesn’t shy away from the grisly, sordid details of the crimes. This is tough stuff at times, but tough to tear away from as well. It is a swift, punchy read that builds upon the first novel’s well-detailed sense of place and fans of unflinching European-set crime thrillers should be more than satisfied with this second entry. It also, surprisingly, has its fair share of humor, especially when delighting in skewering American boorishness. No one gets out of this unscathed.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 13 May 2011 02:05

Battered and shell-shocked after the events in Snow Angels, Finnish inspector Kari Vaara is now living in Helsinki with his American wife, Kate, and suffering from insomnia. Saddled with a new, tightly wound, possibly sociopathic partner, Vaara investigates a gruesome sex-torture murder that points to the victim’s wealthy Russian husband and his Betty Page look-alike secretary. Vaara is also appointed to head a covert investigation into World War II Finnish war crimes involving Finland’s most famous military hero. To make matters more stressful, Kate’s religious sister and mess of a brother arrive in town. But most upsetting of all, he’s about to become a first-time father. All of this gives readers one of the most engaging, yet messed up, protagonists around. Vaara is not always easy to embrace—he’s abusive to suspects and trigger-happy, and there’s a disturbing cruelty burning inside him. But Vaara is not oblivious to his faults either, and his heart-on-the-sleeve style and wry humor help take the edge off his abrasive hard shell and make him more than your average muscle with a badge.

Thompson, an American ex-pat living in Finland, doesn’t shy away from the grisly, sordid details of the crimes. This is tough stuff at times, but tough to tear away from as well. It is a swift, punchy read that builds upon the first novel’s well-detailed sense of place and fans of unflinching European-set crime thrillers should be more than satisfied with this second entry. It also, surprisingly, has its fair share of humor, especially when delighting in skewering American boorishness. No one gets out of this unscathed.

The Illusion of Murder
Sue Emmons

Carol McCleary again offers readers the derring-do of reporter/adventurer Nellie Bly. In this delightful and well-researched book, Bly takes on a challenge by her friend Jules Verne to eclipse the 80-day interval for the around-the-world journey he envisioned in his fiction. Her Herculean effort by land and by sea takes her to exotic ports where she mixes with magicians, encounters international intrigue, and becomes the target of a vicious killer after she stumbles upon a murder in Port Said. Nellie confronts the menace in her usual level-headed and clever manner while pursuing her globe-trotting goal—a trip that was discouraged by her publisher, Joseph Pulitzer, as too taxing for a mere woman. But Bly revels in overcoming the odds and she does so here with panache (and with only a single change of clothes).

The murder is fictional, but the story itself is based on the real Bly’s true tale Around the World in Seventy-two Days. McCleary, a history buff, vividly re-creates the world of 1889 and peoples her intriguing mystery with characters both real and imaginary that epitomize the era. Her Nellie Bly is as enchanting and plucky as the real reporter who changed the face of journalism for women forever.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 13 May 2011 02:05

Carol McCleary again offers readers the derring-do of reporter/adventurer Nellie Bly. In this delightful and well-researched book, Bly takes on a challenge by her friend Jules Verne to eclipse the 80-day interval for the around-the-world journey he envisioned in his fiction. Her Herculean effort by land and by sea takes her to exotic ports where she mixes with magicians, encounters international intrigue, and becomes the target of a vicious killer after she stumbles upon a murder in Port Said. Nellie confronts the menace in her usual level-headed and clever manner while pursuing her globe-trotting goal—a trip that was discouraged by her publisher, Joseph Pulitzer, as too taxing for a mere woman. But Bly revels in overcoming the odds and she does so here with panache (and with only a single change of clothes).

The murder is fictional, but the story itself is based on the real Bly’s true tale Around the World in Seventy-two Days. McCleary, a history buff, vividly re-creates the world of 1889 and peoples her intriguing mystery with characters both real and imaginary that epitomize the era. Her Nellie Bly is as enchanting and plucky as the real reporter who changed the face of journalism for women forever.

The King of Diamonds
Tim Davis

“They’re trying to kill me,” is the fearful utterance of Katya Osman, overheard by Vanessa, Detective Inspector Bill Trave’s estranged wife. And it’s an utterance soon followed by a cold-blooded murder. Nearly every bit of evidence points to escaped convict and Katya’s ex, David Swain, but DI Trave—in spite of emotional conflicts involving his ex, and in spite of being officially removed from the case by his superiors—thinks otherwise. He knows that the Osman family of wealthy Belgian diamond merchants holds the answers. But to get them, Trave must dig into the family’s sordid past, and ask difficult questions that lead to horrible truths involving World War II, Jewish diamond merchants, and the Holocaust.

Set in the early 1960s in England, this is a provocative, cautionary tale in which the worst of our human nature threatens to destroy what is good. Tolkien, himself a successful London barrister, begins his story in the Old Bailey courthouse with David Swain’s trial, but Diamonds is no sedentary courtroom drama. Thoughtful and complex, this one is sure to intrigue and satisfy discriminating fans of sophisticated mysteries.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 13 May 2011 02:05

“They’re trying to kill me,” is the fearful utterance of Katya Osman, overheard by Vanessa, Detective Inspector Bill Trave’s estranged wife. And it’s an utterance soon followed by a cold-blooded murder. Nearly every bit of evidence points to escaped convict and Katya’s ex, David Swain, but DI Trave—in spite of emotional conflicts involving his ex, and in spite of being officially removed from the case by his superiors—thinks otherwise. He knows that the Osman family of wealthy Belgian diamond merchants holds the answers. But to get them, Trave must dig into the family’s sordid past, and ask difficult questions that lead to horrible truths involving World War II, Jewish diamond merchants, and the Holocaust.

Set in the early 1960s in England, this is a provocative, cautionary tale in which the worst of our human nature threatens to destroy what is good. Tolkien, himself a successful London barrister, begins his story in the Old Bailey courthouse with David Swain’s trial, but Diamonds is no sedentary courtroom drama. Thoughtful and complex, this one is sure to intrigue and satisfy discriminating fans of sophisticated mysteries.

The Magic Bullet
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

It’s 1917 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Well-known financier Artemis Dodge is alone in his hermetically-sealed penthouse office on the 30th floor when he’s shot in the head and killed, and no weapon is found. How could this happen? And who, among his office staff or outside enemies could have done it? That’s the basis of this intriguing locked room mystery featuring Shadwell Rafferty, a shambling saloonkeeper, and very effective amateur detective, who once helped solve a case with Sherlock Holmes, and does so again here, via telegraph correspondence.

As mystery fans know, the master of locked room mysteries was American mystery writer John Dickson Carr, who also wrote a highly regarded biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Holmes, no slouch himself when it came to locked room mysteries (e.g., “The Speckled Band”). In homage Millett names one of the suspects John D. Carr and name-checks many characters from Carr’s novels.

One of the factors that makes this mystery so fascinating is the architectural background of its author who was the first architectural editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. There is even an architectural drawing of the Dodge Tower Penthouse at the front of the book to help readers orient themselves within the murder scene. Strongly recommended, especially for fans of locked room mysteries.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 13 May 2011 02:05

millett_magicbulletAn intriguing locked room mystery featuring Shadwell Rafferty, a shambling saloonkeeper, and very effective amateur detective, who once helped solve a case with Sherlock Holmes.

Mystery
Jackie Houchin

In his latest novel, Jonathan Kellerman sets his popular detecting duo, psychologist Alex Delaware and LAPD homicide detective Milo Sturgis, to solve a gruesome murder in which the victim’s mutilated body defies identification. As a police consultant, Delaware is always eager to lend assistance, but this time he is shocked to discover that he and his girlfriend Robin were among the last to see the victim, a young woman, alive. They’d noticed her at a bar the night before, a melancholy figure in a distinctive white gown, vamping as a 1930s movie star. A possible suspect is the beefy chauffeur who had waited outside, now missing.

After Robin helps an artist sketch the woman’s face, an anonymous tip comes in. The victim was a high-class escort called “Mystery.” That tip takes the investigation through the posh environs of Beverly Hills to an expensive rehab facility and a sophisticated Internet dating site.

But just when the puzzle pieces begin to mesh, Sturgis is pulled from the case and the good doctor must act alone. In a tense but fascinating game of psychological roulette, Delaware gambles his life on his understanding of a killer’s mind. Kellerman’s writing is clear and compelling; his language the trendy lingo of the upper class. He assumes his readers are smart and plots his stories accordingly. The result is a complex but satisfying read.

Mystery seems more detective story than thriller, and while procedural lovers will enjoy the intricacies of a complicated murder investigation, action enthusiasts may wish for more.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 13 May 2011 02:05
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Where Shadows Dance
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

I always consider it a bonus when I can learn something about history while reading a mystery and Where Shadows Dance offers an intriguing view into a fascinating era. It takes place in London just before the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain, at a time when Europe was in turmoil and Napoleon was making plans to attack Russia. The story begins when surgeon Paul Gibson discovers that a cadaver he’s purchased from gravediggers for anatomy experimentation did not die of a heart attack as reported but was murdered. He immediately turns to his friend, aristocrat and amateur sleuth Sebastian St. Cyr, for help. The victim, it turns out, was an important cog in Britain’s Foreign Office with no apparent enemies.

With the help of his love interest, the haughty Hero Jarvis, daughter of a sworn enemy of his, Sebastian begins to unravel a circuitous plot that goes well beyond its initial intrigue. As they question the victim’s colleagues and friends, the body count mounts, and both Sebastian and Hero find themselves in mortal danger from an enemy neither one can identify. Is it possible that there is more than one murderer on the scene?

Although the mystery takes precedence here, the love story forms an important sub-plot. No one, least of all, Sebastian and Hero, can understand the unusual nature of their relationship as they often spar while both follow clues on their own. This is C.S. Harris’s sixth novel in the series. As a historian, she brings an expertise that helps imbue the story with a verisimilitude that adds to the enjoyment.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 13 May 2011 02:05

I always consider it a bonus when I can learn something about history while reading a mystery and Where Shadows Dance offers an intriguing view into a fascinating era. It takes place in London just before the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain, at a time when Europe was in turmoil and Napoleon was making plans to attack Russia. The story begins when surgeon Paul Gibson discovers that a cadaver he’s purchased from gravediggers for anatomy experimentation did not die of a heart attack as reported but was murdered. He immediately turns to his friend, aristocrat and amateur sleuth Sebastian St. Cyr, for help. The victim, it turns out, was an important cog in Britain’s Foreign Office with no apparent enemies.

With the help of his love interest, the haughty Hero Jarvis, daughter of a sworn enemy of his, Sebastian begins to unravel a circuitous plot that goes well beyond its initial intrigue. As they question the victim’s colleagues and friends, the body count mounts, and both Sebastian and Hero find themselves in mortal danger from an enemy neither one can identify. Is it possible that there is more than one murderer on the scene?

Although the mystery takes precedence here, the love story forms an important sub-plot. No one, least of all, Sebastian and Hero, can understand the unusual nature of their relationship as they often spar while both follow clues on their own. This is C.S. Harris’s sixth novel in the series. As a historian, she brings an expertise that helps imbue the story with a verisimilitude that adds to the enjoyment.