British Mysteries Soothe Olympic Fever
Oline Cogdill

mcdermidval_retributionThe Olympics represent something deeper—patriotism, enthusiasm, commitment, sacrifice, and sheer joy.

One can’t help but being inspired by the endless parade of young people so happy to be representing their countries, knowing the sacrifices they had to make to get where they are. The parties, friendships, the childhoods, the family functions they will never get back.

And yet, in those glorious moments when they are at the Olympics somehow are vindication, and even more so when they win. The swimmers and the gymnasts are awe inspiring, and even a nonsports person like me will watch. The Olympics make me understand what Slap Maxwell meant by “Sports is a morality tale.”

This year’s Olympics, which end Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, also are showing us the beauty, history, and intrigue of London, one of my favorite cities.

And the United Kingdom continues to bring us some top-notch mystery writers.

If you have Olympic fever, or want to spend a bit more armchair travels in London, here are some insightful authors who have written compelling crime fiction set in the United Kingdom. I can’t include all my favorites so I am hoping readers will add a few more names.

Val McDermid: I would probably read a grocery list that McDermid put together; I have been a fan of her novels for years. Her A Place of Execution, set in an isolated village, remains one of my favorites. McDermid’s novels about crime profiler Tony Hill and Det. Chief Inspector Carol Jordan, which has become her most successful series and were the basis of the long-running Wire in the Blood TV series aired on BBC America. The Retribution (Grove Atlantic) is the latest in this series. McDermid’s next book The Vanishing Point, due out in September, is set in America. Her A Trick of the Dark also is a favorite.

billingham_demandsMark Billingham: I would also happily read a grocery list from Mark Billingham, whose British police procedurals featuring Det. Insp. Tom Thorne are complex studies in taut suspense and imaginative plots. In Billingham’s hands, the unconventional becomes believable, from the villain putting his victims in a comatose state in Sleepyhead to Bloodline’s killer targeting families of serial killer victims. His latest is The Demands, a tense hostage situation that explores guilt, cultural differences and injustice.

Jane Casey: Casey is a new author to America, and one to keep an eye on. She made her U.S. debut in 2011 with The Burning (Minotaur), a taut police procedural that delved into the psyche of three women at the crossroads of their lives, each dealing with identity and self-esteem issues. Her latest novel The Reckoning (Minotaur) brings back Detective Constable Maeve Kerrigan who is investigating a series of murders of sex offenders.

Deborah Crombie: This Texas author shows vivid views of the vagaries of London neighborhoods in her series about Scotland Yard Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Detective Inspector Gemma James. The couple’s chaotic, happy home sharply contrasts with the often messy police business. Recent novels are No Mark Upon Her (Morrow) and Necessary as Blood (Morrow).

S.J. Bolton: Bolton has written novels set in English villages and the Shetland Islands. Her 2011 novel Now You See Me uses the Ripper legend in ways that many authors have not. In Now You See Me, Bolton delicately weaves contemporary crimes, illustrating how of young girls in some of South London’s poorest neighborhoods feel as powerless and invisible as did the prostitutes that Ripper preyed on.

crombie_nomarkuponherElizabeth Haynes: Haynes’ gripping psychological thriller Into the Darkest Corner chronicles an abusive relationship as a young woman tries to rebuild her life in London, complete with a new identity.

Penny Hancock: Kept in the Dark combines a spooky, historic house on the Thames, an obsession with a teen love and dark fantasies. A respectable voice teacher holds a 15-year-old boy captive in her home for reasons she doesn’t understand but can’t seem to avoid. The Thames’ putrid waters that bring up all sorts of flotsam and jetsam add to this modern gothic.

Louise Millar: The Playdate will make you think twice about that new friendship with that overly friendly woman down the street who is always willing to help you with child care. Suzy Howard and Callie Roberts live on the same London street and appear to be best friends. The Playdate begins quietly, but soon builds into a gripping psychological thriller.

And let’s not forget British history.

Jacqueline Winspear: Her elegant Maisie Dobbs novels look at post-World War I England and how that war changed the face of British society. Winspear's latest is Elegy for Eddie.

Charles Todd: Todd has two series, both of which deal with WWI with solid, tense plots. The Bess Crawford series take place during the middle of the war as Bess, a nurse and amateur sleuth, deals with the wounded and killers who use the war to cover up their deeds. An Unmarked Grave is the latest Bess Crawford novel. Todd’s long-running series about Scotland Yard detective Ian Rutledge show a decorated soldier whose post-traumatic stress continues long after the Great War. The latest Rutledge novel is The Confession.

Super User 2
Saturday, 04 August 2012 09:08

mcdermidval_retributionThe Olympics represent something deeper—patriotism, enthusiasm, commitment, sacrifice, and sheer joy.

One can’t help but being inspired by the endless parade of young people so happy to be representing their countries, knowing the sacrifices they had to make to get where they are. The parties, friendships, the childhoods, the family functions they will never get back.

And yet, in those glorious moments when they are at the Olympics somehow are vindication, and even more so when they win. The swimmers and the gymnasts are awe inspiring, and even a nonsports person like me will watch. The Olympics make me understand what Slap Maxwell meant by “Sports is a morality tale.”

This year’s Olympics, which end Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, also are showing us the beauty, history, and intrigue of London, one of my favorite cities.

And the United Kingdom continues to bring us some top-notch mystery writers.

If you have Olympic fever, or want to spend a bit more armchair travels in London, here are some insightful authors who have written compelling crime fiction set in the United Kingdom. I can’t include all my favorites so I am hoping readers will add a few more names.

Val McDermid: I would probably read a grocery list that McDermid put together; I have been a fan of her novels for years. Her A Place of Execution, set in an isolated village, remains one of my favorites. McDermid’s novels about crime profiler Tony Hill and Det. Chief Inspector Carol Jordan, which has become her most successful series and were the basis of the long-running Wire in the Blood TV series aired on BBC America. The Retribution (Grove Atlantic) is the latest in this series. McDermid’s next book The Vanishing Point, due out in September, is set in America. Her A Trick of the Dark also is a favorite.

billingham_demandsMark Billingham: I would also happily read a grocery list from Mark Billingham, whose British police procedurals featuring Det. Insp. Tom Thorne are complex studies in taut suspense and imaginative plots. In Billingham’s hands, the unconventional becomes believable, from the villain putting his victims in a comatose state in Sleepyhead to Bloodline’s killer targeting families of serial killer victims. His latest is The Demands, a tense hostage situation that explores guilt, cultural differences and injustice.

Jane Casey: Casey is a new author to America, and one to keep an eye on. She made her U.S. debut in 2011 with The Burning (Minotaur), a taut police procedural that delved into the psyche of three women at the crossroads of their lives, each dealing with identity and self-esteem issues. Her latest novel The Reckoning (Minotaur) brings back Detective Constable Maeve Kerrigan who is investigating a series of murders of sex offenders.

Deborah Crombie: This Texas author shows vivid views of the vagaries of London neighborhoods in her series about Scotland Yard Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Detective Inspector Gemma James. The couple’s chaotic, happy home sharply contrasts with the often messy police business. Recent novels are No Mark Upon Her (Morrow) and Necessary as Blood (Morrow).

S.J. Bolton: Bolton has written novels set in English villages and the Shetland Islands. Her 2011 novel Now You See Me uses the Ripper legend in ways that many authors have not. In Now You See Me, Bolton delicately weaves contemporary crimes, illustrating how of young girls in some of South London’s poorest neighborhoods feel as powerless and invisible as did the prostitutes that Ripper preyed on.

crombie_nomarkuponherElizabeth Haynes: Haynes’ gripping psychological thriller Into the Darkest Corner chronicles an abusive relationship as a young woman tries to rebuild her life in London, complete with a new identity.

Penny Hancock: Kept in the Dark combines a spooky, historic house on the Thames, an obsession with a teen love and dark fantasies. A respectable voice teacher holds a 15-year-old boy captive in her home for reasons she doesn’t understand but can’t seem to avoid. The Thames’ putrid waters that bring up all sorts of flotsam and jetsam add to this modern gothic.

Louise Millar: The Playdate will make you think twice about that new friendship with that overly friendly woman down the street who is always willing to help you with child care. Suzy Howard and Callie Roberts live on the same London street and appear to be best friends. The Playdate begins quietly, but soon builds into a gripping psychological thriller.

And let’s not forget British history.

Jacqueline Winspear: Her elegant Maisie Dobbs novels look at post-World War I England and how that war changed the face of British society. Winspear's latest is Elegy for Eddie.

Charles Todd: Todd has two series, both of which deal with WWI with solid, tense plots. The Bess Crawford series take place during the middle of the war as Bess, a nurse and amateur sleuth, deals with the wounded and killers who use the war to cover up their deeds. An Unmarked Grave is the latest Bess Crawford novel. Todd’s long-running series about Scotland Yard detective Ian Rutledge show a decorated soldier whose post-traumatic stress continues long after the Great War. The latest Rutledge novel is The Confession.

Review: Major Crimes Moves in as the Closer Closes
Oline Cogdill

majorcrimes_maryodonnelBrenda Leigh Johnson ends her seven-year reign as Deputy Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Major Crimes unit in TNT’s The Closer on Monday, Aug. 13.

Without giving away anything, the finale is a tensely plotted episode that elegantly ends The Closer. It is respectful to the viewers who have long loved Kyra Sedgwick’s rich portrayal of this unlikely heroine. And, just as important, the finale is respectful of the character of Brenda Johnson and allows for a graceful ending to The Closer.

And that is all I am going to say about The Closer, except watch it. The Closer finale airs at 9 p.m. Monday Aug. 13, ET/PT

One door closes and another opens, as the saying goes. And as The Closer ends, Major Crimes debuts. And, judging from the first two episodes I received as a screener, TNT will have another hit.

Major Crimes premieres at 10 p.m. Aug. 13, immediately following The Closer’s finale. Major Crimes moves to its regular timeslot of 9 p.m. on Aug. 20.

Many of The Closer’s cast returns in Major Crimes but the plots, the approach and the personal dynamics have changed.

Major Crimes offers a different spin on the crime investigations by the cops and how they work with the prosecution. Friction among the team and the various personal dramas of each member of the squad adds to the tension.

Two-time Oscar nominee Mary McDonnell, top photo, is Captain Sharon Raydor, the new head of Major Crimes. She is determined that the squad will work more as a team. She is a no-nonsense, intelligent cop who also knows how to get around office politics and deal with her higher-ups. But the transition is not smooth. As Brenda had before her, Raydor doesn’t yet have the trust of her detectives; her background in internal investigations is fresh in their minds.

majorcrimes_gwbaileyThe steely, soft-spoken Raydor also is a bottom-line leader who knows that a confession and deal that puts a killer behind bars without a trial can save the department millions of dollars.

This especially rankles Lt. Provenza (the brilliantly prickly G.W. Bailey, center photo) who was second in command and thought he would be promoted.

Provenza also is suspicious of the newest member of the squad, Detective Amy Sykes, an ambitious undercover police detective and military veteran who served in Afghanistan. Kearran Giovanni, a Broadway actress with a long-running role on One Life to Live, adds a much needed perspective to the squad—a young woman who knows pop culture and current trends can help in gathering evidence.

Raydor’s personal life will be tested by Rusty (Graham Patrick Martin), a homeless juvenile whose character is introduced in The Closer finale.

Other Closer veterans returning to Major Crimes include Tony Denison, Michael Paul Chan, Raymond Cruz and Phillip P. Keene.

Both episode previewed are laudable for their realistic twists, believable characters and plots that seem fresh, despite the fact that we have seen these stories before. While we see the resolution coming in both episodes, the journeys are well worth the trip.

The Aug. 13 debut of Major Crimes, titled Reloaded, starts with a bang when a string of grocery store robberies turns fatal.

The Aug. 20 episode of Major Crimes, which moves into its 9 p.m. timeslot, titled Before and After, concerns the murder of a popular, handsome personal trainer whose body is found at his gym.

Photos: Top, Mary McDonnell; center G.W. Bailey. TNT photos

Super User 2
Sunday, 12 August 2012 05:08

majorcrimes_maryodonnelBrenda Leigh Johnson ends her seven-year reign as Deputy Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Major Crimes unit in TNT’s The Closer on Monday, Aug. 13.

Without giving away anything, the finale is a tensely plotted episode that elegantly ends The Closer. It is respectful to the viewers who have long loved Kyra Sedgwick’s rich portrayal of this unlikely heroine. And, just as important, the finale is respectful of the character of Brenda Johnson and allows for a graceful ending to The Closer.

And that is all I am going to say about The Closer, except watch it. The Closer finale airs at 9 p.m. Monday Aug. 13, ET/PT

One door closes and another opens, as the saying goes. And as The Closer ends, Major Crimes debuts. And, judging from the first two episodes I received as a screener, TNT will have another hit.

Major Crimes premieres at 10 p.m. Aug. 13, immediately following The Closer’s finale. Major Crimes moves to its regular timeslot of 9 p.m. on Aug. 20.

Many of The Closer’s cast returns in Major Crimes but the plots, the approach and the personal dynamics have changed.

Major Crimes offers a different spin on the crime investigations by the cops and how they work with the prosecution. Friction among the team and the various personal dramas of each member of the squad adds to the tension.

Two-time Oscar nominee Mary McDonnell, top photo, is Captain Sharon Raydor, the new head of Major Crimes. She is determined that the squad will work more as a team. She is a no-nonsense, intelligent cop who also knows how to get around office politics and deal with her higher-ups. But the transition is not smooth. As Brenda had before her, Raydor doesn’t yet have the trust of her detectives; her background in internal investigations is fresh in their minds.

majorcrimes_gwbaileyThe steely, soft-spoken Raydor also is a bottom-line leader who knows that a confession and deal that puts a killer behind bars without a trial can save the department millions of dollars.

This especially rankles Lt. Provenza (the brilliantly prickly G.W. Bailey, center photo) who was second in command and thought he would be promoted.

Provenza also is suspicious of the newest member of the squad, Detective Amy Sykes, an ambitious undercover police detective and military veteran who served in Afghanistan. Kearran Giovanni, a Broadway actress with a long-running role on One Life to Live, adds a much needed perspective to the squad—a young woman who knows pop culture and current trends can help in gathering evidence.

Raydor’s personal life will be tested by Rusty (Graham Patrick Martin), a homeless juvenile whose character is introduced in The Closer finale.

Other Closer veterans returning to Major Crimes include Tony Denison, Michael Paul Chan, Raymond Cruz and Phillip P. Keene.

Both episode previewed are laudable for their realistic twists, believable characters and plots that seem fresh, despite the fact that we have seen these stories before. While we see the resolution coming in both episodes, the journeys are well worth the trip.

The Aug. 13 debut of Major Crimes, titled Reloaded, starts with a bang when a string of grocery store robberies turns fatal.

The Aug. 20 episode of Major Crimes, which moves into its 9 p.m. timeslot, titled Before and After, concerns the murder of a popular, handsome personal trainer whose body is found at his gym.

Photos: Top, Mary McDonnell; center G.W. Bailey. TNT photos

20 Years of Smilla's Sense of Snow
Oline Cogdill
hoegpeter_smillassenseStieg Larsson and his heavily tattooed Lisbeth opened the floodgates for unusual women characters and an insider's view of Europe. Larsson showed the real Sweden, making us feel as if we had actually walked those neighborhoods and visited the countryside.

But Larsson wasn't the first to make a splash with a contrary, asocial heroine or show us a part of a country even the well-traveled tourist may not have seen.

That would be Danish writer Peter Hoeg and his Smilla's Sense of Snow.

It seems hard to believe that Hoeg's story about his complicated, unlikable heroine celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Published in 1992, Smilla's Sense of Snow was named best book of the year by Time, People and Entertainment Weekly magazines and won the Crime Writers' Association Silver Dagger Award. The 1997 movie starred Julia Ormond, Gabriel Byrne, Robert Loggia and Richard Harris.

Smilla's Sense of Snow was one of those books that has stuck with me. I hadn't quite seen such an unusual heroine or been taken to such exotic lands before Hoeg's novel.

The woman with the sense of snow is Smilla Qaavigaaq Jaspersen, a glaciologist living in Copenhagen. For her, the snow and ice are more important than the sun.

The daughter of a wealthy Danish doctor and his first wife, an Inuit hunter, Smilla is a stranger to all. She is uncomforable living among the Danes. She also doesn't fit into the Inuit community due to her dependence on her father's generous checks and her fondness for stylish clothes.

Depressed and alone, Smilla's only friend is her 6-year-old Inuit neighbor, Isaiah, who is neglected by his alcoholic widowed mother.

When Isaiah is found dead, face down in the snow with his footprints on the roof of a neighboring warehouse, Smilla's "sense of snow" kicks in. The snow patterns show, to Smilla, that Isaiah was not alone. But neither the police nor Isaiah's mother seem to care.

Like Lisbeth, Smilla often is discounted by others. "My weapons have always been the small details that no one knows about. My identity, my intentions," Smilla states.

Smilla's investigation of Isaiah's short life leads to his dead father, a thwarted expedition of a Danish mining corporation, and an uninhabited island near Greenland.

In the review I wrote for the Sun-Sentinel, parts of which I have quoted above, I said that Smilla's Sense of Snow "dramatically explores alienation, the loss of identity, cultural diversity, exploitation of the environment, science and the intricacies of love."

More excellent crime fiction is coming out of Europe and I highly recommend The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Danish); Midwinter Blood by Mons Kallentoft (Sweden); Frozen Moment by Camilla Ceder (Sweden).

But let's also remember what started it all and Smilla's Sense of Snow.
Super User 2
Sunday, 19 August 2012 05:08
hoegpeter_smillassenseStieg Larsson and his heavily tattooed Lisbeth opened the floodgates for unusual women characters and an insider's view of Europe. Larsson showed the real Sweden, making us feel as if we had actually walked those neighborhoods and visited the countryside.

But Larsson wasn't the first to make a splash with a contrary, asocial heroine or show us a part of a country even the well-traveled tourist may not have seen.

That would be Danish writer Peter Hoeg and his Smilla's Sense of Snow.

It seems hard to believe that Hoeg's story about his complicated, unlikable heroine celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Published in 1992, Smilla's Sense of Snow was named best book of the year by Time, People and Entertainment Weekly magazines and won the Crime Writers' Association Silver Dagger Award. The 1997 movie starred Julia Ormond, Gabriel Byrne, Robert Loggia and Richard Harris.

Smilla's Sense of Snow was one of those books that has stuck with me. I hadn't quite seen such an unusual heroine or been taken to such exotic lands before Hoeg's novel.

The woman with the sense of snow is Smilla Qaavigaaq Jaspersen, a glaciologist living in Copenhagen. For her, the snow and ice are more important than the sun.

The daughter of a wealthy Danish doctor and his first wife, an Inuit hunter, Smilla is a stranger to all. She is uncomforable living among the Danes. She also doesn't fit into the Inuit community due to her dependence on her father's generous checks and her fondness for stylish clothes.

Depressed and alone, Smilla's only friend is her 6-year-old Inuit neighbor, Isaiah, who is neglected by his alcoholic widowed mother.

When Isaiah is found dead, face down in the snow with his footprints on the roof of a neighboring warehouse, Smilla's "sense of snow" kicks in. The snow patterns show, to Smilla, that Isaiah was not alone. But neither the police nor Isaiah's mother seem to care.

Like Lisbeth, Smilla often is discounted by others. "My weapons have always been the small details that no one knows about. My identity, my intentions," Smilla states.

Smilla's investigation of Isaiah's short life leads to his dead father, a thwarted expedition of a Danish mining corporation, and an uninhabited island near Greenland.

In the review I wrote for the Sun-Sentinel, parts of which I have quoted above, I said that Smilla's Sense of Snow "dramatically explores alienation, the loss of identity, cultural diversity, exploitation of the environment, science and the intricacies of love."

More excellent crime fiction is coming out of Europe and I highly recommend The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Danish); Midwinter Blood by Mons Kallentoft (Sweden); Frozen Moment by Camilla Ceder (Sweden).

But let's also remember what started it all and Smilla's Sense of Snow.
James Lee Burke, George V. Higgins
Oline Cogdill
burke_jameslee2Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch may not be the only crime fiction character making it to the big screen.

James Lee Burke's (left) New Orleans mystery novels featuring Dave Robicheaux have been optioned by Hutch Parker, a Fox producer who is packaging a series for cable TV, reports Deadline.com.

Robicheaux has made it to the screen twice before.

Alec Baldwin did a credible job in Heaven’s Prisoners (1996).

I only saw snippets of Tommy Lee Jones as Robicheaux in the 2009 film In The Electric Mist With Confederate Dead (2009); I was not impressed.

Parker seems to be on a roll with mystery fiction. He is working on a project to bring Don Winslow's early novel California Fire and Life to the screen.

Brad Pitt and George V. Higgins

pittbrad_actorIf the trailers for Killing Them Softly, the upcoming Brad Pitt vehicle look familiar, then you must be a fan of George V. Higgins.

Killing Them Softly is based on Higgins’ novel Cogan's Trade.

Killing Them Softly, written and directed by Andrew Dominik, features Pitt,left, as a hit man. It is set to open October 19.

Higgins’ novel The Friends of Eddie Coyle, a personal favorite, also was filmed in 1973 with Robert Mitchum.
Super User 2
Wednesday, 22 August 2012 06:08
burke_jameslee2Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch may not be the only crime fiction character making it to the big screen.

James Lee Burke's (left) New Orleans mystery novels featuring Dave Robicheaux have been optioned by Hutch Parker, a Fox producer who is packaging a series for cable TV, reports Deadline.com.

Robicheaux has made it to the screen twice before.

Alec Baldwin did a credible job in Heaven’s Prisoners (1996).

I only saw snippets of Tommy Lee Jones as Robicheaux in the 2009 film In The Electric Mist With Confederate Dead (2009); I was not impressed.

Parker seems to be on a roll with mystery fiction. He is working on a project to bring Don Winslow's early novel California Fire and Life to the screen.

Brad Pitt and George V. Higgins

pittbrad_actorIf the trailers for Killing Them Softly, the upcoming Brad Pitt vehicle look familiar, then you must be a fan of George V. Higgins.

Killing Them Softly is based on Higgins’ novel Cogan's Trade.

Killing Them Softly, written and directed by Andrew Dominik, features Pitt,left, as a hit man. It is set to open October 19.

Higgins’ novel The Friends of Eddie Coyle, a personal favorite, also was filmed in 1973 with Robert Mitchum.
Philip Marlowe’s Return
chandler_raymond1Is Philip Marlowe’s comeback really a good thing for crime fiction?

I tend to think not.

This past week it was announced that Raymond Chandler’s creation, who is one of the world’s most identifiable private eyes, will return in a novel to be written by John Banville; publication date is slated for 2013 by Henry Holt. (Chandler is at left.)

The novel will be published under the name of Benjamin Black, the psydenum that Banville uses when he is writing a mystery. The Chandler reboot will be set in the 1940s in Marlowe’s fictional town of Bay City, Calif.

My first question was, “Why?” And that also was my second, third and fourth question.

Chandler left us seven solid novels that looked at society and the ills that men do through the eyes of Philip Marlowe. These are iconic novels that never go out of style and are still read by crime fiction fans.

Those books are: The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, The High Window, The Lady in the Lake, The Little Sister, The Long Goodbye and Playback, his final novel published in 1958, the year before Chandler’s death. I have read each of them several times and each time I have found something new I hadn’t noticed before.

Chandler’s prose was lovely, crisp, to the point and his characters believable.

Snippets from Chandler’s novels continue to inspire us, amuse us and entertain us:

“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.”
― Farewell, My Lovely

“I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.”
― Farewell, My Lovely

“To say goodbye is to die a little.”
― The Long Goodbye

“It seemed like a nice neighborhood to have bad habits in.”
― The Big Sleep

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that, every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”
― Red Wind: A Collection of Short Stories

In his essay The Simple Art of Murder, Chandler gave us a wonderful template for the detective novel.

“But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid….

"He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things.”
The Simple Art of Murder

That template has been read, studied and, thankfully, completely ignored by future generations of writers. I say thankfully ignored because the crime novel has gone places that Chandler could never have imagined with even richer stories, more in-depth characters and a view of contemporary society.

I doubt Chandler ever envisioned the rise of the female detective and how women would change the face of crime fiction for the better. I doubt he ever envisioned detectives who are African Americans, Asian, gay or even from other countries. The authors who write about these detectives and amateur sleuths have made the genre so much richer by their contributions.

We have all we need of Chandler’s work, and done by the master himself.

Trying to recreate Chandler’s novels has been done before and not that successfully. In 1989, Robert B. Parker was asked by the estate of Raymond Chandler to complete Poodle Springs, a novel that Chandler had started the first four chapters but was unfinished when he died.

Poodle Springs is not a favorite of mine by any stretch. Parker, who admired Chandler, should have been able to deliver a seamless Poodle Springs but the novel never gelled.

atkins_ace2Conversely, Ace Atkins, at left, has been able to pick up Parker’s Spenser with ease and grace, as witnessed in the novel Lullaby.

Perhaps Atkins’ Lullaby worked because Parker’s death in 2010 was so sudden and Parker’s novels were so fresh work in our minds.

This generation of readers hasn’t been without a Parker novel since 1973 when The Godwulf Manuscript was published.

More likely, Lullaby worked because Atkins is a skilled writer who was up to the challenge of continuing Parker’s novels.

I make no predictions whether Banville/Black is up to the challenge. Yes, I know he is a Booker Prize-winning author but his mysteries written as Benjamin Black really are not in the style of Chandler, whose estate has authorized the new Marlowe novel. As Black, the author’s latest novel is the newly released Vengeance, from Holt.

Besides, we already have enough mystery writers who are turning out excellent crime fiction.

Let’s let the master’s work stand on its own.
Super User 2
Tuesday, 14 August 2012 11:08
chandler_raymond1Is Philip Marlowe’s comeback really a good thing for crime fiction?

I tend to think not.

This past week it was announced that Raymond Chandler’s creation, who is one of the world’s most identifiable private eyes, will return in a novel to be written by John Banville; publication date is slated for 2013 by Henry Holt. (Chandler is at left.)

The novel will be published under the name of Benjamin Black, the psydenum that Banville uses when he is writing a mystery. The Chandler reboot will be set in the 1940s in Marlowe’s fictional town of Bay City, Calif.

My first question was, “Why?” And that also was my second, third and fourth question.

Chandler left us seven solid novels that looked at society and the ills that men do through the eyes of Philip Marlowe. These are iconic novels that never go out of style and are still read by crime fiction fans.

Those books are: The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, The High Window, The Lady in the Lake, The Little Sister, The Long Goodbye and Playback, his final novel published in 1958, the year before Chandler’s death. I have read each of them several times and each time I have found something new I hadn’t noticed before.

Chandler’s prose was lovely, crisp, to the point and his characters believable.

Snippets from Chandler’s novels continue to inspire us, amuse us and entertain us:

“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.”
― Farewell, My Lovely

“I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.”
― Farewell, My Lovely

“To say goodbye is to die a little.”
― The Long Goodbye

“It seemed like a nice neighborhood to have bad habits in.”
― The Big Sleep

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that, every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”
― Red Wind: A Collection of Short Stories

In his essay The Simple Art of Murder, Chandler gave us a wonderful template for the detective novel.

“But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid….

"He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things.”
The Simple Art of Murder

That template has been read, studied and, thankfully, completely ignored by future generations of writers. I say thankfully ignored because the crime novel has gone places that Chandler could never have imagined with even richer stories, more in-depth characters and a view of contemporary society.

I doubt Chandler ever envisioned the rise of the female detective and how women would change the face of crime fiction for the better. I doubt he ever envisioned detectives who are African Americans, Asian, gay or even from other countries. The authors who write about these detectives and amateur sleuths have made the genre so much richer by their contributions.

We have all we need of Chandler’s work, and done by the master himself.

Trying to recreate Chandler’s novels has been done before and not that successfully. In 1989, Robert B. Parker was asked by the estate of Raymond Chandler to complete Poodle Springs, a novel that Chandler had started the first four chapters but was unfinished when he died.

Poodle Springs is not a favorite of mine by any stretch. Parker, who admired Chandler, should have been able to deliver a seamless Poodle Springs but the novel never gelled.

atkins_ace2Conversely, Ace Atkins, at left, has been able to pick up Parker’s Spenser with ease and grace, as witnessed in the novel Lullaby.

Perhaps Atkins’ Lullaby worked because Parker’s death in 2010 was so sudden and Parker’s novels were so fresh work in our minds.

This generation of readers hasn’t been without a Parker novel since 1973 when The Godwulf Manuscript was published.

More likely, Lullaby worked because Atkins is a skilled writer who was up to the challenge of continuing Parker’s novels.

I make no predictions whether Banville/Black is up to the challenge. Yes, I know he is a Booker Prize-winning author but his mysteries written as Benjamin Black really are not in the style of Chandler, whose estate has authorized the new Marlowe novel. As Black, the author’s latest novel is the newly released Vengeance, from Holt.

Besides, we already have enough mystery writers who are turning out excellent crime fiction.

Let’s let the master’s work stand on its own.
At Home With the Amish
Oline Cogdill

castillolinda_gonemissingWhoever would have thought that the Amish would be a hot topic for mystery fiction.

I say that not meaning any disrespect to the Amish but with awe and wonder that mystery authors continue to deliver insightful views into myriad cultures.

Most people know very little about the Amish, aside from the picturesque horse-drawn buggies that show up on postcards and photographs or the 1985 Harrison Ford movie Witness that regularly pops up on cable networks.

But in the past few years, several mystery writers have used the Amish culture and society as a backdrop for plots.

Each of these writers have been respectful to the Amish, illustrating how their culture varies from the mainstream but also showing how, despite differences in beliefs and dress, we deal with the same problems.

Linda Castillo’s novels about the idyllic sounding town of Painters Mill, Ohio, make my summers.

Castillo’s heroine Chief of Police Kate Burkholder is the perfect tour guide to Amish country. Kate was raised Amish but refused to join the religion when she was 18.

kramerjulie_shunningsarahShunned by her family, she went off to Columbus where she became a police detective. Still estranged from her brother, sister and their families, she has returned to Painters Mill as the town’s police chief. Castillo shows Kate’s respect and appreciation for the Amish customs, while also illustrating why she rejected that life for the “English ways.”

Castillo’s latest novel is Gone Missing, in which a couple of Amish teens disappear during Rumspringa, a time when Amish youth can explore whether they want to remain Amish or leave the life.

Castillo’s view of the Amish may become a TV series. Sworn to Silence, Castillo’s debut in her series, currently is in production to become a Lifetime Original Movie, and possible series, starring Neve Campbell as Chief Burkholder.

Julie Kramer ventures into a Minnesota Amish community in Shunning Sarah when her heroine, TV reporter Riley Spartz, investigates the murder of a young Amish woman.

Kramer skillfully shows the difficulty the outside police have because no one in the community will talk. Because of the biblical ban on graven images, the deceased's family objects to her picture being used by the media even though the publicity might lead to tips.

bradfordlaura_hearseandbuggyKramer’s usual mix of suspense, humor and meticulous research in Shunning Sarah again show her series is so entertaining.

While the novels by Castillo and Kramer are more soft-boiled, authors who write cozies also have found the Amish background a perfect fodder.

Laura Bradford has several series under her belt. As Elizabeth Lynn Casey, she has seven novels in Southern Sewing Circle series. As Laura Bradford, she has written several romance novels, three novels about reporters in the Jenkins & Burns series. And now she is turning to the Amish community.

Bradford’s Hearse and Buggy introduces Claire Weatherly, who has moved to Heavenly, Pennsylvania, to enjoy the slower pace of Amish country. Through her shop, Heavenly Treasures, Claire gets to know the tourists and the locals whose wares she sells. But making real friends is hard in this community. Romance and a lovely look at the area are prominent in this new series. Assaulted Pretzel, Bradford’s next book in this series, will be released in 2013.

Agatha winner Amanda Flower takes a different approach with A Plain Death, the first of her Appleseed Creek series set in Ohio’s Amish Country. In A Plain Death, 24-year-old computer whiz Chloe Humphrey moves to Appleseed Creek to direct technology services at a nearby college. Her first friend is Becky, an ex-Amish teenager looking for a new home. When a car Becky is driving accidently kills an Amish elder, the police discover that the auto’s brake line had been cut.

gauspl_harmlessasdovesVannetta Chapman has written three Shipshewana Amish mysteries, set in northern Indiana, and two Amish romances for a Christian publisher. Her novels are, like other authors in this new sub-genre, an intriguing blend of family, religion and the lifestyle. Her latest is A Perfect Square.

Paul L. Gaus, writing as PL Gaus, got the trend going back in 1999 with Blood of the Prodigal, published by Ohio University Press and set among the Amish in Holmes County, Ohio.

Gaus was born in Athens, Ohio, and his knowledge of the Amish culture comes from his decades of travel throughout Holmes and surrounding counties in Ohio, which have the world’s largest Amish and Mennonite populations.

Gaus has published seven novels in his series, the latest Harmless as Doves came out in 2011.

An eighth novel is in the works. Gaus’ novels have three heroes—a professor at a small college, a pastor and the county sheriff—who are the only ones among “the English” who have forged a bond and trust with the Amish residents.

Oline Cogdill
Sunday, 26 August 2012 05:08

castillolinda_gonemissingWhoever would have thought that the Amish would be a hot topic for mystery fiction.

I say that not meaning any disrespect to the Amish but with awe and wonder that mystery authors continue to deliver insightful views into myriad cultures.

Most people know very little about the Amish, aside from the picturesque horse-drawn buggies that show up on postcards and photographs or the 1985 Harrison Ford movie Witness that regularly pops up on cable networks.

But in the past few years, several mystery writers have used the Amish culture and society as a backdrop for plots.

Each of these writers have been respectful to the Amish, illustrating how their culture varies from the mainstream but also showing how, despite differences in beliefs and dress, we deal with the same problems.

Linda Castillo’s novels about the idyllic sounding town of Painters Mill, Ohio, make my summers.

Castillo’s heroine Chief of Police Kate Burkholder is the perfect tour guide to Amish country. Kate was raised Amish but refused to join the religion when she was 18.

kramerjulie_shunningsarahShunned by her family, she went off to Columbus where she became a police detective. Still estranged from her brother, sister and their families, she has returned to Painters Mill as the town’s police chief. Castillo shows Kate’s respect and appreciation for the Amish customs, while also illustrating why she rejected that life for the “English ways.”

Castillo’s latest novel is Gone Missing, in which a couple of Amish teens disappear during Rumspringa, a time when Amish youth can explore whether they want to remain Amish or leave the life.

Castillo’s view of the Amish may become a TV series. Sworn to Silence, Castillo’s debut in her series, currently is in production to become a Lifetime Original Movie, and possible series, starring Neve Campbell as Chief Burkholder.

Julie Kramer ventures into a Minnesota Amish community in Shunning Sarah when her heroine, TV reporter Riley Spartz, investigates the murder of a young Amish woman.

Kramer skillfully shows the difficulty the outside police have because no one in the community will talk. Because of the biblical ban on graven images, the deceased's family objects to her picture being used by the media even though the publicity might lead to tips.

bradfordlaura_hearseandbuggyKramer’s usual mix of suspense, humor and meticulous research in Shunning Sarah again show her series is so entertaining.

While the novels by Castillo and Kramer are more soft-boiled, authors who write cozies also have found the Amish background a perfect fodder.

Laura Bradford has several series under her belt. As Elizabeth Lynn Casey, she has seven novels in Southern Sewing Circle series. As Laura Bradford, she has written several romance novels, three novels about reporters in the Jenkins & Burns series. And now she is turning to the Amish community.

Bradford’s Hearse and Buggy introduces Claire Weatherly, who has moved to Heavenly, Pennsylvania, to enjoy the slower pace of Amish country. Through her shop, Heavenly Treasures, Claire gets to know the tourists and the locals whose wares she sells. But making real friends is hard in this community. Romance and a lovely look at the area are prominent in this new series. Assaulted Pretzel, Bradford’s next book in this series, will be released in 2013.

Agatha winner Amanda Flower takes a different approach with A Plain Death, the first of her Appleseed Creek series set in Ohio’s Amish Country. In A Plain Death, 24-year-old computer whiz Chloe Humphrey moves to Appleseed Creek to direct technology services at a nearby college. Her first friend is Becky, an ex-Amish teenager looking for a new home. When a car Becky is driving accidently kills an Amish elder, the police discover that the auto’s brake line had been cut.

gauspl_harmlessasdovesVannetta Chapman has written three Shipshewana Amish mysteries, set in northern Indiana, and two Amish romances for a Christian publisher. Her novels are, like other authors in this new sub-genre, an intriguing blend of family, religion and the lifestyle. Her latest is A Perfect Square.

Paul L. Gaus, writing as PL Gaus, got the trend going back in 1999 with Blood of the Prodigal, published by Ohio University Press and set among the Amish in Holmes County, Ohio.

Gaus was born in Athens, Ohio, and his knowledge of the Amish culture comes from his decades of travel throughout Holmes and surrounding counties in Ohio, which have the world’s largest Amish and Mennonite populations.

Gaus has published seven novels in his series, the latest Harmless as Doves came out in 2011.

An eighth novel is in the works. Gaus’ novels have three heroes—a professor at a small college, a pastor and the county sheriff—who are the only ones among “the English” who have forged a bond and trust with the Amish residents.

Review: New Tricks
Oline Cogdill

newtricks_britishseriesNew Tricks: Season 7

Acorn Media, 10 episodes on 3 discs, 582 minutes, $39.99

The premise behind the British series New Tricks is simple: Experience rules.

Forget the expression, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks.” The older cops in this squad prove case after case that not only can they learn new tricks, but their experience, insight and shared history are invaluable to investigating unsolved cases.

New Tricks follows the work of London’s Metropolitan Police Services’ Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad. In other words, cold cases.

The squad was begun by Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman), a one-time rising star in the police force until a hostage rescue went wrong. Sandra was put in charge of unsolved crimes, but was given little money and no staff. She recruited three former police detectives who had not exactly taken to their retirement.

Each member of her new squad welcomes this chance to prove show their investigative skills are still sharp.

The various personalities mesh well, and New Tricks allows their differences to shine. They work well as a team with the occasional friction adding to the plots.

Sandra was known for her unbridled ambition and sacrificed a personal life for her career.

newtricks_season7Ex-Detective Sergeant Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman) used to be quite the ladies’ man, having been married three times. Former Detective Chief Superintendent Jack Halford (James Bolam) quit the force to care for his wife before she died. Ex-Detective Inspector Brian Lane (Alun Armstrong) is obsessive-compulsive and lacks social skills.

New Tricks is billed as a comedy-drama and it perfectly balances the humor with the solid stories. Each detective has a sharp mind and well remembers the cases that went unsolved. The resolutions are not predictable and the plots have plausible twists.

The humor often comes when the old-school detectives show they can update their knowledge for the 21st Century. Tweeting is a new trial as they try to master those 140 characters. Rap lyrics get a unique interpretation from men used to Frank Sinatra. An investigation at a chocolate factory finally yields its clues only because the detectives can’t resist the all you can eat candy that’s available.

New Tricks is now in its ninth season on BBC and will be picked up for its 10th season in 2013. The first eight seasons are now available on DVD and Blu-Ray by Acorn Media.

New Tricks is a fresh approach to the tried and true police procedural.

Photo: Alun Armstrong, James Bolam, Amanda Redman, and Dennis Waterman. Photo courtesy Acorn Media.

Super User 2
Wednesday, 29 August 2012 05:08

newtricks_britishseriesNew Tricks: Season 7

Acorn Media, 10 episodes on 3 discs, 582 minutes, $39.99

The premise behind the British series New Tricks is simple: Experience rules.

Forget the expression, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks.” The older cops in this squad prove case after case that not only can they learn new tricks, but their experience, insight and shared history are invaluable to investigating unsolved cases.

New Tricks follows the work of London’s Metropolitan Police Services’ Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad. In other words, cold cases.

The squad was begun by Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman), a one-time rising star in the police force until a hostage rescue went wrong. Sandra was put in charge of unsolved crimes, but was given little money and no staff. She recruited three former police detectives who had not exactly taken to their retirement.

Each member of her new squad welcomes this chance to prove show their investigative skills are still sharp.

The various personalities mesh well, and New Tricks allows their differences to shine. They work well as a team with the occasional friction adding to the plots.

Sandra was known for her unbridled ambition and sacrificed a personal life for her career.

newtricks_season7Ex-Detective Sergeant Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman) used to be quite the ladies’ man, having been married three times. Former Detective Chief Superintendent Jack Halford (James Bolam) quit the force to care for his wife before she died. Ex-Detective Inspector Brian Lane (Alun Armstrong) is obsessive-compulsive and lacks social skills.

New Tricks is billed as a comedy-drama and it perfectly balances the humor with the solid stories. Each detective has a sharp mind and well remembers the cases that went unsolved. The resolutions are not predictable and the plots have plausible twists.

The humor often comes when the old-school detectives show they can update their knowledge for the 21st Century. Tweeting is a new trial as they try to master those 140 characters. Rap lyrics get a unique interpretation from men used to Frank Sinatra. An investigation at a chocolate factory finally yields its clues only because the detectives can’t resist the all you can eat candy that’s available.

New Tricks is now in its ninth season on BBC and will be picked up for its 10th season in 2013. The first eight seasons are now available on DVD and Blu-Ray by Acorn Media.

New Tricks is a fresh approach to the tried and true police procedural.

Photo: Alun Armstrong, James Bolam, Amanda Redman, and Dennis Waterman. Photo courtesy Acorn Media.

Lester Dent: the Man Behind Doc Savage
Michael Mallory

dent_lester_smoking_smallPulp Rises to the Top


Imagine that you are a hugely successful, prolific, and influential writer, a creative powerhouse whose facility and productivity is mind-boggling to others and whose work inspired an entire 20th-century art form and industry. Now imagine that for all of it, nobody knows your name.

Such was the case with Lester Dent.

In a 30-year writing career spent mostly in the realm of pulp magazines, Dent turned out about 175 novels, and yet his name remains obscure to the public at large because all but a few of those novels were published under the name “Kenneth Robeson.” Dent’s signature creation (as Robeson) was Doc Savage, a hugely popular pulp hero of the 1930s and 1940s, who enjoyed a major renaissance in the 1960s and is once again in print today.

Clark “Doc” Savage, Jr. was a near-superhuman physically and a genius in every field of science extant. Independently wealthy, he had his headquarters on the 86th floor of a Manhattan skyscraper (read: The Empire State Building) from which he led a team of five other scientific and legal geniuses in ongoing global battles against bizarre, sometimes supernatural, villains. Because of his giant size, his Roman statue physique, his tanned skin, his golden hair, and his distinctive gold-flecked eyes, he was known to the world as “The Man of Bronze.” If all of this sounds familiar, it is no coincidence: Doc Savage can be seen as the primary source for the comic book superheroes that would begin to flourish in the late 1930s, starting with Superman, “The Man of Steel,” who in civvies was also named Clark, and whose last name, Kent, was a contraction of Kenneth (as in Robeson) and Dent, according to comic book historian Richard O’Brien.

As a young man, Lester Dent never planned on being a wordsmith. He was born in the small town of La Plata, Missouri, in 1904 and attended a business college where he studied telegraphy. After graduation he landed a job as a telegrapher for the Associated Press in Tulsa, Oklahoma, working with two local newspapers. It was there that he encountered a coworker who was supplementing his income as a pulp fiction writer. A voracious reader, Dent decided to give it a try himself. His first published story, “Pirate Cay,” appeared in Top-Notch Magazine in 1929, and Dent’s career as an author was off and running.

Doc-Savage-artwork-snake-smallCover illustration for the 1966 Gold Key comic book Doc Savage #1 by James Bama. Beginning in 1964 with The Man of Bronze, Bama created a powerful set of 62 Doc Savage covers for Bantam Books paperbacks, often using as a model actor Steve Holland, star of TV's Flash Gordon (1954–55).

In 1931, Dent and his wife Norma moved to Manhattan at the behest of Richard A. Martinsen of Dell Publishing, who offered him a retainer of $500 a month and a penny a word to write exclusively for Dell. He did so until the two magazines he had single-handedly been filling, Sky Raiders and Scotland Yard, ceased publication five months later. The following year, Dent was invited by Street and Smith Publications, which owned the highly popular character The Shadow, to write the adventures of Doc Savage, a crime fighter with a bent for scientific gadgets. Since Dent himself had a bent for scientific gadgets (as well as a lifelong thirst for sailing, exploring, and adventuring), he readily agreed, instilling the character with the deductive ability of Sherlock Holmes, the bravery and derring-do of Tarzan, and the scientific wizardry of Craig Kennedy (later he would wryly add “the morals of Jesus Christ” to the list).

The first issue of Doc Savage Magazine appeared in March 1933, with Dent hiding behind the byline Kenneth Roberts, which quickly became Robeson to avoid confusion with the like-named writer of historical novels. The opening paragraphs of Doc’s debut adventure, titled The Man of Bronze, offered the kind of evocative narrative description that would become a Dent trademark:

There was death afoot in the darkness.
It crept furtively along a steel girder. Hundreds of feet below yawned glass-and-brick-walled cracks—New York Streets.
Down there, late workers scurried homeward. Most of them carried umbrellas, and did not look upward.
Even had they looked, they probably would have noticed nothing. The night was black as a cave bat. Rain threshed down monotonously. The clammy sky was like an oppressive shroud wrapped around the tops of the tall building.

doc_savage_mag_3_cropLike all pulpsters, Dent’s writing was often less than polished, but that mattered little: What the pulp magazine audience demanded were atmosphere, thrills, exotic adventure, and action, and those are what Dent delivered every time. Picking up a Lester Dent story is often like walking into a movie in the middle of a chase scene. And in a marketplace where speed was money, he wrote faster than anybody: He once bragged that, with the help of a Dictaphone, he wrote eight novels in seven weeks.

In a famous how-to article published in the 1936 edition of Writers Digest Yearbook, Dent championed the use of formula, declaring: “Most editors who say they don’t want formula don’t know what they’re talking about.” He broke down the requirements for plotting a saleable story, point by point, so successfully that he later claimed more than 750 fledgling writers had contacted him to say they had broken into publication by following his format.

One hundred eighty-one Doc Savage novel-length adventures were published between 1933 and 1949, of which Dent wrote 165, usually in two weeks or less. For the rest, ghostwriters were used, though Dent still had a hand in plotting and editing, and on occasion he produced a total rewrite. In addition to the responsibility of turning out a novel a month for the lead story of Doc Savage Magazine, Dent continued to write short stories for other publications, notably Black Mask, Crime Busters, and Argosy, often using other pseudonyms, such as Cliff Howe or Tim Ryan. He even contributed to The Shadow as the ubiquitous Maxwell Grant. Dent created other series characters, including two-fisted PI Curt Flagg, scientific detective Lynn Lash, Foster Fade the Crime Spectacularist, and Click Rush, the Gadget Man. Although another Street and Smith series titled The Avenger was attributed to Kenneth Robeson, Dent had nothing to do with it.

By the mid-1940s the tone of the Doc Savage stories had changed. Gone, or at least reduced, were the fantastical globetrotting adventures and supervillains, which by then were the province of comic books. They were replaced by more realistic detective, PI, and spy fiction. One of the last Doc Savage adventures, In Hell, Madonna, which was set against the backdrop of the Cold War, was so realistic that it was bumped from the magazine in 1948 and did not see publication until 1979, as The Red Spider.

doc_savage_mag_1_cropDoc Savage Magazine folded in 1949, and while that meant a loss of regular income for Dent, he was at least able to work under his own name (the only Doc Savage story to carry the Lester Dent byline was 1944’s The Derelict of Skull Shoal, and that was by mistake). Dent managed to break into the slick magazine market, publishing stories in Collier’s Weekly and The Saturday Evening Post, all the while turning out gritty, hardboiled fare for Doubleday Crime Club, Ace, and Gold Medal. His raw, tough 1952 Gold Medal opus Cry at Dusk alone would have been enough to turn the Boy Scout–ish Doc Savage from bronze to crimson!

Having sailed, adventured, and written his way through the Great Depression and the Great War, and having survived the trenches of the pulp-fiction marketplace almost to its bitter end, Lester Dent’s heart finally gave out in 1959. He was only 54. He left a number of unpublished manuscripts, including Honey in His Mouth, which finally saw publication in October 2009—a half-century after the author’s death—as a Hard Case Crime title.

Bantam Books began reissuing the old Doc Savage adventures as paperbacks in 1964 (featuring those great James Bama covers showing Doc with a severe widow’s peak and a perennially shredded shirt), but retained the Kenneth Robeson byline, ensuring that Lester Dent would remain anonymous. His obscurity was further exacerbated by the fact that, unlike so many of his pulp fiction contemporaries, including Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, Leigh Brackett, and Steve Fisher, Dent never had a presence in Hollywood, either as screenwriter or original author.

In the mid-1970s, however, the ongoing success of the novel reprints prompted veteran producer George Pal (The War of the Worlds) to formulate plans for a series of Doc Savage feature films. Only one was released, 1975’s Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, which starred Ron Ely, then best known as television’s Tarzan. The six-foot-four, blonde, and muscular Ely made a suitable Doc, but audiences at the time did not know what to make of the breezy, old-fashioned, serial-style adventure, which except for Ely featured a cast of complete unknowns (they would be much better prepared for this sort of film six years later when Raiders of the Lost Ark hit the screens). The film’s failure at the box office cancelled any further plans for a series, though over the years, Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze has grown in reputation, and with its just having been released on DVD through Warner Archives, an official reevaluation of it is in order. (Ely, incidentally, turned to writing in the 1990s and authored the Jake Sands mystery series.)

doca_savage_mag_11_cropWalter Baumhofer was responsible for the Doc Savage Magazine (published by Street and Smith from 1933 to 1949) covers.

The ultimate truth is that Lester Dent was one of the very best yarn-spinners to emerge from the pulp jungle, serving up full-throttle escapism for the kind of readers who thought a metaphor was something that soared through the night sky in showers. But because of his protean ability as a storyteller, his work has survived to the present day. Dent would never be hailed as a master in Manhattan literary salons, but he managed to pack more adventure—actual and fictional—into 54 short years than most of his peers could even dream about.

Work Well Done


Nothing has given me more real pleasure, more the feeling of work well done, than the preparation of these volumes on the life and exploits of Doc Savage and his companions.... I have no doubt but that you will thrill to this story, as hundreds of thousands of readers have thrilled to this and the previous accounts. That is the one purpose of these tales. But there is something else which I know you will get out of them; something greater than the enjoyment of this volume. It will leave with you the feeling of doing better in this world; of making your own life approach that of Doc Savage as nearly as you can in your own existence. Though you may not find it possible to leave your daily existence in search of adventure; though you cannot go to the far ends of the world to aid others; you can do as much good in your own neighborhood by doing right at all times, helping your fellow men as much as possible even in the smallest of things. In this way you will find life more livable, and you will be accomplishing as worthwhile things as any one can expect.
May the work of Doc Savage go on forever, repeated in countless episodes through the individual efforts of each one who reads this volume.

—From Lester Dent’s Forward to The Ideal Library edition of Quest of the Spider (1933)

doc_savage_portrait_cropThe Code of Doc Savage

Let me strive, every moment of my life,
to make myself better and better, to the
best of my ability, that all may profit by it.

Let me think of the right, and lend all my
assistance to those who need it, with no
regard for anything but justice.

Let me take what comes with a smile,
without loss of courage.

Let me be considerate of my country, of
my fellow citizens and my associates in
everything I say and do.

Let me do right to all, and wrong no man.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #116.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 23 August 2012 10:08

doca_savage_mag_11_cropIn a 30-year writing career, Lester Dent turned out around 175 novels, yet his name remains obscure today.

Murder on the Menu
Kevin Burton Smith

knives_in_a_rowThere's nothing more delicious than mystery writers cooking up trouble

Used to be, when you finished a mystery, you’d close the book, settle back into your armchair with a contented sigh and savor the moment. But these days, judging by the number of crime novels that come with a recipe or two tacked into the last pages, you’re evidently supposed to jump up and head for the kitchen.

Now, I’m really not sure how a recipe for Cheesy Shrimp Puffs or Dutch German Chocolate Chip Cookies complements the gripping tale of a crime-busting poodle groomer bringing a serial killer librarian to justice, but these culinary flourishes are all the latest rage. A quick scan through the mystery section of your local bookstore will bear this out. There are so many of these “recipe mysteries” out there that they often warrant their own display.

But right from the start there’s been a curious link between food (and drink) and crime fiction. You could even get all biblical and pin it on Eve (the original femme fatale). It’s not that big a stretch to see the forbidden apple as the MacGuffin, the Garden of Eden as the first-ever Locked Room and the Big Guy as the first Great Detective (although, honestly, with only two suspects the case wasn’t all that hard to crack).

However, for our purposes, let’s just note that one of the earliest Sherlock Holmes stories, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” (1892), revolved around a roast Christmas goose. And even earlier than that, one of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic crime stories was “The Casque of Amontillado” (1846), wherein the narrator/murderer uses a cask of a rare and valuable sherry to lure his former friend to a secluded wine cellar—and his doom.

wolfe-stoutcookbk_medBut the most obvious association between food and felony was made in Rex Stout’s Fer-de-Lance (1934), which introduced Nero Wolfe, the world’s premiere foodie detective, whose entire life revolved largely around food and beer, mostly prepared by his brilliant personal chef, Fritz. Throughout his long career, Wolfe’s appetite for food and drink never flagged. The hardcover edition of the fifth novel, Too Many Cooks (1938) cemented that link, with Wolfe at one point lecturing 15 of the world’s greatest chefs on American cooking. The pivotal banquet has been cited by Nora Ephron and others as the “best meal in English literature,” and the novel even boasted recipes in the margins.

Since then, we’ve been inundated with sleuths who aren’t afraid to chow down—or cook up a storm. Virginia Rich, at the time the food editor at Sunset Magazine, is often cited as the creator of the modern “culinary mystery” subgenre, writing three culinary mysteries in the '80s featuring amateur sleuth/cooking school teacher Eugenia Potter.

Not that the affection for sustenance is limited to traditional or cozy sleuths. Sure, Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swenson, the owner and proprietor of a bakery, and Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldy Schulz, a caterer, know which end of a spatula to use, but so do such tough guys as the late Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, certainly nobody’s idea of a cream puff, whose personal code of personal autonomy includes being able to cook his own meals, thankyouverymuch. The heavyweight 1970s TV eye Frank Cannon also clearly loved his food, and Manuel Vázquez Montalbán’s Spanish gumshoe Pepe Carvalho may have been the only private eye since Nero Wolfe to have a personal cook. The love of food and cooking also infuses Graham Swift’s bittersweet The Light of Day (2003), featuring morose British sleuth George Webb who discovers, after years of “fuelling up on canteen grub,” that he has a flair for cooking. And we should mention Hardbroiled (2003), edited by Michael Bracken, a collection of tough private eye stories in which food plays an important role.

The Classics

But the ultimate confirmation of the food-crime analogy is the mystery-themed cookbook, a notion that has proven infinitely attractive to both readers and publishers over the years.

In fact, the real mystery is why it took until 1973 to convince Stout to compile The Nero Wolfe Cookbook. But let’s face it—no collection of crime cookbooks would be incomplete without this one. Attractively designed and handsomely illustrated with period pics of the Big Apple, it showcased over 200 recipes from Fritz’s personal collection (all presumably approved by Wolfe, of course). And the Great Man stirred in a few himself. Who knew there were so many ways to prepare shad roe?

Not that Nero Wolfe is the only gumshoe to find himself on the culinary bookshelf. Here are a few others well worth sharpening your knives for.

lordpeterwimseycookbookNaturally, there are several dozen Holmes-themed cookbooks but Dining With Sherlock Holmes: A Baker Street Cookbook (1990) by Julia Carlson Rosenblatt and Frederic H. Sonnenschmidt, featuring complete menus taken from the canon, is still one of the most intriguing, thanks to its reverence, superb research, and attention to detail. Rosenblatt, with the aid of Sonnenschmidt, a professor at the Culinary Institute of America, planned and put on several Sherlockian dinners over the years.

Also worth investigating is The Sherlock Holmes Victorian Cookbook: Favourite Recipes of The Great Detective & Dr. Watson (1997) by William Bonnell, which takes a more lighthearted, less scholarly approach, including recipes for foods that Holmes “might” have eaten, including Bohemian Scandal Pickled Eggs. Hypothetical fun it may be, but its cred is intact—thanks to the inclusion of several Sidney Paget pen and ink illustrations from The Strand.

The Lord Peter Wimsey Cookbook by Elizabeth Bond Ryan & William J. Eakins (1981) should do it for fans of Dorothy L. Sayers’ urbane, upper-class detective and sophisticated cuisine, though we commoners may be wondering where the recipes for Spotted Dick are.

Kids’ Meals

The Whistling Bagpipe Crunchies? Hidden Staircase Biscuits? Old Clock Ice Cream Pie? You must be browsing through The Nancy Drew Cookbook: Clues to Good Cooking by Carolyn Keene (1973), another classic. Simple but fun recipes for younger cooks, with occasional tips from Nancy herself. Becoming a good cook is “no mystery,” she says. You just “add your own special touch.”

Even younger kitchen-savvy sleuths will go buggy over Chet Gecko’s Detective Handbook (and Cookbook) by Bruce Hale (2005), which serves up numerous tips on surveillance and disguises for would-be sleuths, as well as such mouthwatering yummies as Tick Taco Salad, Sweet Potato-Bug Pie, and Blowfly Banana Muffins recommended by Hale’s wisecracking lizard gumshoe.

cat_who_cookbookContemporary Cooks

No less whimsical, although purportedly for adults, is Sneaky Pie’s Cookbook for Mystery Lovers (1999) by Sneaky Pie Brown. Evidently cats don’t just solve mysteries now, they also cook and write. This is about evenly divided into recipes for humans and four-legged animals, and leavened with anecdotes and off-the-cuff cooking tips, although the lack of any decent mice recipes may be disappointing for feline readers.

At least Koko and Yum Yum didn’t presume to write The Cat Who... Cookbook by Julie Murphy and Sally Abney Stempinski (2000), although this one, which features recipes culled from the popular series by Lillian Braun, also includes a special section on cooking for kitties. But once again, a shocking lack of mouse recipes! Still hungry? In 2006, the authors followed up with The Cat Who... Reunion Cookbook.

For those humans savoring something a little more continental, may we suggest Madame Maigret’s Recipes by Robert J. Courtine (1975)? As Inspector Georges Simenon fans know, Madame Maigret is a plus excellent cook, and this classical French cookbook is de rigeur. Julia Child is all fine and dandy, but how many mysteries did she solve? Huh? HUH? Bon appétit.

TV tie-in cookbooks are a dime a dozen, although there aren’t that many devoted to crime shows. One enjoyable exception is the deliciously cheesy The Cop Cookbook (1997) by Greta Garner-Hewitt, Ken Beck, and Jim Clark. Subtitled “Arresting Recipes from the World’s Favorite Cops, Good Guys, and Private Eyes,” it features over 300 recipes by assorted actors who play police officers and detectives in film and on television, as well as a few real life ringers. Thespian contributors include Clint Eastwood, Peter Falk, Tom Selleck, Dennis Franz, Tommy Lee Jones, Francis McDormand, Jack Webb, James Garner (who just happens to be Greta’s dad), and a cast of thousands. Recipes include CHIPS Party Patrol Mix, Rockford’s Trailer Dressing, and Danno’s Lamb Shanks (from Hawaii Five-O, of course). The deck is stacked with numerous black and white stills from assorted shows, and a portion of the proceeds go to The National Peace Officers Memorial Service Fund to aid families of officers killed in the line of duty. Cook ‘em, Danno.

Slightly less star-studded, perhaps, but more democratic in spirit is The Murder She Wrote Cookbook, edited by Tom Culver and Nancy Goodman Iland (1996), containing more than 350 recipes from not just the cast but the crew, plus several of the guest stars who appeared on the long-running show. Who knew Best Boys could cook? Mind you, given Cabot Cove’s high mortality rate, you may want to hire a tester before consuming these recipes yourself.

smtih_ramotswe_cookbookSpeaking of long-running, Food to Die For by Patricia Cornwell and Marlene Brown (2001) presents recipes taken from (or inspired by) her ever-popular series featuring forensic specialist Kay Scarpetta, including Miami-Style Chili with Beer (from All That Remains) and Jack Daniel’s Chocolate-Pecan Pie (The Body Farm). Wash all the knives carefully, just in case, and be careful what you take out of the fridge. Kay does seem to bring her work home, after all...

Mma Ramotswe’s Cookbook (2009) by Stuart Brown is the perfect choice for fans of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. Brew yourself a nice cup of red bush tea and start planning tonight’s dinner menu. This amply illustrated culinary tour offers an intriguing glimpse into Botswana’s traditions and culture, with recipes for traditional stew, fat cakes (doughnuts), jams, and other African delicacies, all accompanied with many excerpts from the novels. The proceeds from the book’s sales are to be shared among several African charities. Now you, too, can become traditionally built, and all for a good cause. Series creator Alexander McCall Smith brings a foreword to the feast.

Want Italian? The latest mystery-themed cookbook springs from one of the genre’s most renowned foodie detectives: Donna Leon’s beloved Commissario Guido Brunetti. Brunetti’s Cookbook (2010) by the mystery writer’s best friend, Roberta Pianaro, has plenty of scrumptious color photographs, excerpts from the novels, and several “culinary stories” and essays by Leon. But of course the soul of any cookbook is its recipes and this one collects a mouthwatering assortment of over 90 Venetian dishes. I mean: Veal Fillets with Fennel Seeds, Garlic, Rosemary, and Bacon. If you’re not licking your lips over that one, you might be dead.

And they just keep coming. The latest mystery-themed cookbook is Have Faith in Your Kitchen, a selection of recipes culled from the popular Faith Sibley Fairchild foodie mysteries by Katherine Hall Page. The Agatha-winning author dishes up some juicy background on her caterer/chef/amateur snoop, and the role food plays in her life. If the pleasantly groan-inducing title doesn’t convince you that the author’s skillet is in the right place, then the recipes for such fare as Smothered Pork Chops or the exquisite-but-oh-so-simple Salad with Warm Cheese Toasts (goat cheese, my friends, goat cheese!) just might.

But perhaps it’s no surprise detectives care about their food. In a world where evil is alive and well, and what passes for justice is too often random, food may be the one tiny piece of our helter-skelter world we can put right; a place where we can be kind to others. And ourselves.

Supper’s ready! 

Faith Fairchild’s Mini Zucchini Fritters

What you need:

1 jumbo egg
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups finely grated zucchini 2 teaspoons unsalted butter 1-1/4 cups milk
1 cup flour, sifted
Pinch of freshly ground pepper
1 shallot, minced

Beat the egg, milk, and melted butter together and add to the flour, salt, and pepper. Mix until smooth but do not over beat.

Put the zucchini in a piece of cheesecloth or a clean dish towel and squeeze out the excess liquid. Sauté with the shallot in two teaspoons of butter until soft, about 3-5 minutes. Add the zucchini mixture to the batter and drop the batter onto a well-greased, hot griddle in rounds, approximately 2-1/2 inches in diameter. Turn when golden brown. Makes 36 fritters.

Straight from the griddle, these are a nice accompaniment to a main course, fanned on the plate with grilled meat or fish. For Faith’s wedding hors d’oeuvres, spread the room temperature fritters with salsa, topped with a dollop of sour cream or smoked salmon, or with sour cream and a twist of corriander or dill. The combinations are limitless, though, and these fritters may be made ahead and frozen.

Reprinted with permission from Have Faith in Your Kitchen, Katherine Hall Page, Orchises Press, September, 2010, tpb $19.95. Also available as a signed, boxed, limited hardcover edition, $125. Orchises Press, P.O. Box 320533, Alexandria, VA 22320-4533. 

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #116.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 August 2012 01:08

smtih_ramotswe_cookbookThere's nothing more delicious than mystery writers cooking up trouble

Donna Leon’s Venetian Curiosities
leondonna_venetiancuriousitiesIn October, Donna Leon will publish her first novel that is not part of her Commissario Guido Brunetti series.

But for those of us who cannot get enough of her insightful vision of Venice, she offers Venetian Curiosities, a lovely 96-page book chock full of tales of the city and a CD that features tracks for each section.

The ancient city of Venice has spawned many myths and legends, told from one generation to the next.

These ancient urban legends abound in the nooks and corners of the city and Leon masterfully explores them. In our modern world, how many times a day do we witness events that are too bizarre for fiction? “If that was in a novel, no one would believe it” becomes a constant refrain, especially if you live in Florida.

The same goes for Venice. In Venetian Curiosities, the seven essays are based on tales that include a rampaging elephant that takes refuge in a church; prostitutes hired by city officials to prevent homosexuality, and a gambler who bets the family home.

The lovely music is by Antonio Vivaldi, and recorded by Il Complesso Barocco.

At times, you will even believe you are in Venice, looking at St Mark's Basilica, the Grand Canal, and the Piazza San Marco, before heading to Trattoria alla Madonna for a supper of mołeche and a sip or two of Prosecco
Super User 2
Sunday, 02 September 2012 05:09
leondonna_venetiancuriousitiesIn October, Donna Leon will publish her first novel that is not part of her Commissario Guido Brunetti series.

But for those of us who cannot get enough of her insightful vision of Venice, she offers Venetian Curiosities, a lovely 96-page book chock full of tales of the city and a CD that features tracks for each section.

The ancient city of Venice has spawned many myths and legends, told from one generation to the next.

These ancient urban legends abound in the nooks and corners of the city and Leon masterfully explores them. In our modern world, how many times a day do we witness events that are too bizarre for fiction? “If that was in a novel, no one would believe it” becomes a constant refrain, especially if you live in Florida.

The same goes for Venice. In Venetian Curiosities, the seven essays are based on tales that include a rampaging elephant that takes refuge in a church; prostitutes hired by city officials to prevent homosexuality, and a gambler who bets the family home.

The lovely music is by Antonio Vivaldi, and recorded by Il Complesso Barocco.

At times, you will even believe you are in Venice, looking at St Mark's Basilica, the Grand Canal, and the Piazza San Marco, before heading to Trattoria alla Madonna for a supper of mołeche and a sip or two of Prosecco
Wallander Returns With Branagh
Oline Cogdill

wallander3c_branagh

Kenneth Branagh is an amazing actor. His Shakespearean roles in Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and, especially, Hamlet are among the finest performances you’ll find of the Bard’s work on film.

Dead Again (1991), which he directed and starred in, remains one of my favorite thriller movies. And he showed a lighter side in as the foppish fraud Professor Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. (OK, so forget Frankenstein, 1994; everyone should just forget that).

So it should come as no surprise that Branagh doesn’t just give an excellent performance—which he does—in Wallander III. He invests his heart and soul in the role as Inspector Kurt Wallander, the moody Swedish detective created by mystery writer Henning Mankell.

Wallander III will air as part of PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery! from 9 to 10:30 p.m. Sept. 9, 16 and 23. Check your local listings for time and repeats. (Wallander I, Wallander II, and Wallander III are on DVD.)

Mankell’s Wallander novels, beginning with Faceless Killers in 1991, gave us a view of the intricacies of Swedish society long before any girls with tattoos. Swedish noir began with Mankell and continues today.

Wallander3f_branaghThe films based on these novels keep the spirit of the author’s stories while also showing us a Sweden most of us have never seen. It helps, too, that the cinematography is outstanding.

And Branagh certainly enhances these films. His moody, world-weary attitude finely illustrates Wallander’s disgust at the evil that men do, as well as his need for justice.

Branagh shows Wallander’s pain and aloneless as well as the sadness that overcomes him as he willingly sacrifices his own happiness when he chooses an investigation over a wonderful woman who offers him a stable, loving home life.

And there is delight, and trepidation, as he sees the ultrasound of his grandchild, knowing how he failed as a parent to his daughter.

Each of these episodes is a gripping, intensely plotted movie that deliver an intriguing look at Sweden, its culture and its laws.

Here’s a rundown on the three installments of Wallander III.

An Event in Autum, airing Sept. 9: Wallander’s blissful domesticity in the countryside with his girlfriend, Vanja Anderssen (Saskia Reeves), and her son is abruptly halted when the body of a young woman is found buried in his garden. Meanwhile, the remains of a young pregnant woman wash up on shore. Was she pushed or did she jump from the side of a ferry? And as if he didn’t have enough things to worry about, Wallander blames himself for a colleague’s near fatal tragedy. A reclusive neighbor, young women forced into prostitution, and a terrible father add to this chilling film that is based on a Mankell short story.

Wallander3d_branaghThe Dogs of Riga, airing Sept. 16: A raft in Swedish waters contains the bodies of two horribly tortured Latvian men. A missing Latvian police detective, his intelligent wife and high-level corruption figure into the plot. This is the most political of the Wallander novels, often veering into an espionage thriller. Mankell used the revolutionary events in the Baltic countries as the background for this novel. The trade paperback version of this Mankell novel hits the bookstores this month. Is that synergy or what?

Before the Frost, airing Sept. 23. Fathers and daughters are an ongoing theme in this outstanding segment. Wallander is investigating the murder of a hiker who was set on fire by an escapee from a psychiatric hospital. In the middle of the investigation, Anna, a friend of Wallander’s daughter, Linda, shows up and then disappears. Wallander and his daughter are a bit estranged, and Linda has never quite forgiven her father for having an affair with Anna’s mother. This is based on the novel Before the Frost, which is the first of three that will feature Linda Wallander, a new police officer and daughter of Kurt, as the lead character. The film takes a different direction but is still in keeping with the novel’s basic plot.

PHOTOS: Kenneth Branagh, top and second photo; Kenneth Branagh with Sarah Smart as Ann-Britt Hoglund in An Event in Autumn, third photo; Kenneth Branagh and Lindsay Duncan as Monika Westin in Before the Frost. PBS photos


Super User 2
Saturday, 08 September 2012 04:09

wallander3c_branagh

Kenneth Branagh is an amazing actor. His Shakespearean roles in Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and, especially, Hamlet are among the finest performances you’ll find of the Bard’s work on film.

Dead Again (1991), which he directed and starred in, remains one of my favorite thriller movies. And he showed a lighter side in as the foppish fraud Professor Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. (OK, so forget Frankenstein, 1994; everyone should just forget that).

So it should come as no surprise that Branagh doesn’t just give an excellent performance—which he does—in Wallander III. He invests his heart and soul in the role as Inspector Kurt Wallander, the moody Swedish detective created by mystery writer Henning Mankell.

Wallander III will air as part of PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery! from 9 to 10:30 p.m. Sept. 9, 16 and 23. Check your local listings for time and repeats. (Wallander I, Wallander II, and Wallander III are on DVD.)

Mankell’s Wallander novels, beginning with Faceless Killers in 1991, gave us a view of the intricacies of Swedish society long before any girls with tattoos. Swedish noir began with Mankell and continues today.

Wallander3f_branaghThe films based on these novels keep the spirit of the author’s stories while also showing us a Sweden most of us have never seen. It helps, too, that the cinematography is outstanding.

And Branagh certainly enhances these films. His moody, world-weary attitude finely illustrates Wallander’s disgust at the evil that men do, as well as his need for justice.

Branagh shows Wallander’s pain and aloneless as well as the sadness that overcomes him as he willingly sacrifices his own happiness when he chooses an investigation over a wonderful woman who offers him a stable, loving home life.

And there is delight, and trepidation, as he sees the ultrasound of his grandchild, knowing how he failed as a parent to his daughter.

Each of these episodes is a gripping, intensely plotted movie that deliver an intriguing look at Sweden, its culture and its laws.

Here’s a rundown on the three installments of Wallander III.

An Event in Autum, airing Sept. 9: Wallander’s blissful domesticity in the countryside with his girlfriend, Vanja Anderssen (Saskia Reeves), and her son is abruptly halted when the body of a young woman is found buried in his garden. Meanwhile, the remains of a young pregnant woman wash up on shore. Was she pushed or did she jump from the side of a ferry? And as if he didn’t have enough things to worry about, Wallander blames himself for a colleague’s near fatal tragedy. A reclusive neighbor, young women forced into prostitution, and a terrible father add to this chilling film that is based on a Mankell short story.

Wallander3d_branaghThe Dogs of Riga, airing Sept. 16: A raft in Swedish waters contains the bodies of two horribly tortured Latvian men. A missing Latvian police detective, his intelligent wife and high-level corruption figure into the plot. This is the most political of the Wallander novels, often veering into an espionage thriller. Mankell used the revolutionary events in the Baltic countries as the background for this novel. The trade paperback version of this Mankell novel hits the bookstores this month. Is that synergy or what?

Before the Frost, airing Sept. 23. Fathers and daughters are an ongoing theme in this outstanding segment. Wallander is investigating the murder of a hiker who was set on fire by an escapee from a psychiatric hospital. In the middle of the investigation, Anna, a friend of Wallander’s daughter, Linda, shows up and then disappears. Wallander and his daughter are a bit estranged, and Linda has never quite forgiven her father for having an affair with Anna’s mother. This is based on the novel Before the Frost, which is the first of three that will feature Linda Wallander, a new police officer and daughter of Kurt, as the lead character. The film takes a different direction but is still in keeping with the novel’s basic plot.

PHOTOS: Kenneth Branagh, top and second photo; Kenneth Branagh with Sarah Smart as Ann-Britt Hoglund in An Event in Autumn, third photo; Kenneth Branagh and Lindsay Duncan as Monika Westin in Before the Frost. PBS photos


Lee Child on Alistair Maclean's "Ice Station Zebra"
Lee Child

childs_lee_cr_sigrid_estradaMy first milestone as a readerand later as a writer, I supposewas Ice Station Zebra by Alistair MacLean. I read it when I was ten. At that point I was very deferential toward books. If I didn't like them, it was my fault, not theirs. But that changed.

Not that there wasn't plenty to like. Many of MacLean's books are perfect hybrids of Agatha Christie-style country house mysteries and extreme-environment Cold War thrillers. In Ice Station Zebra, for the vicarage and the colonel's house, there was the interior of a nuclear submarine and a secret installation on the polar ice cap. The book was a first-person narrative, full of great momentum-building cliffhangers. The protagonist argues his case, and the skeptic says, "I've never heard of any of this before," and the protagonist tells his readers, "I wasn't surprised. I'd never heard any of it either, not until I'd just thought it up a moment ago." The plot thickens! Onward! And later, in the thick of the action, there's a big role for an oak-hard giant of a man (another Maclean signature.) His name is Zabrinski, and he's proving invaluable. But then: "Three minutes later Zabrinski broke his ankle." Crisis! Panic! Even now I copy this style quite shamelessly.

maclean_icestationzebraBut...the first-person storyteller didn't play fair. He withheld great chunks of set-up and action quite arbitrarily. Not exactly an unreliable narrator (not that I would have understood that term back then)just a plot-driven cheat. I felt profoundly dissatisfied, and even quite annoyed. And I concluded that it was the book's fault, not mine. Breakthrough!

And to this day I apply the lessons I learned. I try to balance the need for suspense and twists and reveals with the equal need to play fair with the reader. The clues must be there. Because if the reader doesn't like the book, it's my fault, not his.

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" eNews September 2012 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 31 August 2012 10:08

childs_lee_cr_sigrid_estrada"My first milestone as a reader...was Ice Station Zebra by Alistair MacLean..."
Countdown to Cleveland’s Bouchercon
Oline Cogdill

robertsles_whiskey

Bouchercon 2012 is less than a month away and you know what that means.

Time to get familiar with the mysteries set in Cleveland, the site of this year’s mystery conference.

(It’s also time to register, which I suggest you do right now.)

Here's a quick rundown on Cleveland mysteries.

First, of course, are the novels by Les Roberts whose series hero is Milan Jacovich. Roberts also is Bouchercon’s “Special Cleveland Guest of Honor.” Whiskey Island is Roberts’s 16th novel about Milan, an ex-cop turned private investigator with a master's degree and a taste for kielbasa and Stroh's beer.

Michael Koryta,at left, sets his series about private investigators Lincoln Perry and Joe Pritchard in Cleveland. Koryta’s last novel in this series was The Silent Hour in 2009, but there always is a chance these characters could return. Meanwhile, Koryta has written a string of excellent stand-alone novels including Envy the Night, which won the L.A. Times Book Prize in 2009, and The Prophet, his latest. Full disclosure: I was one of the judges who awarded Koryta with the L.A. Times Book Prize. In a Sun-Sentinel review for Envy the Night, I said: “The legacy of violence, the relationships of parents and adult children and the futility of revenge make for an action-packed story.”

Lisa Black, who also writes as Elizabeth Becka, has a gripping series about Theresa MacLean, a forensic scientist in Cleveland. Her latest is Defensive Wounds, which I praised in a review as “working well as a story about grief and the bonds between a mother and child, while including just enough forensics to satisfy readers who revel in the science.” Black’s Trail of Blood is a modern look at the Torso Killer who terrorized Cleveland more than 75 years ago and who was never caught. In a Mystery Scene review, I stated that Trail of Blood is “a tightly wound story that alternates between Cleveland of the 1930s and the contemporary black_trailofbloodcity. . . . Black keeps the level of suspense high as she believably switches the action from the 1930s to present day, contrasting Cleveland’s atmosphere and nuances during the Great Depression with those of the 21st century.”

Max Allan Collins, one of the genre’s most prolific authors, writes novels about Eliot Ness when he was a public safety officer during the 1930s in Cleveland where the former G-man moved following his Untouchable days.

Casey Daniels’ heroine, Cleveland’s cemetery tour guide Pepper Martin, communes with the ghost of a mob boss. Her latest novel is Supernatural Born Killers

And if you venture out of the Cleveland, or want to via novels, Linda Castillo sets her excellent novels in the fictional Painters Mill, Ohio, an Amish town where Kate Burkholder is the chief of police. For other Amish mysteries set in Ohio, visit a previous blog.

And there are several mysteries set in Cincinnati and other Ohio cities.

Better start reading. Bouchercon is just around the corner.

Super User 2
Tuesday, 04 September 2012 07:09

robertsles_whiskey

Bouchercon 2012 is less than a month away and you know what that means.

Time to get familiar with the mysteries set in Cleveland, the site of this year’s mystery conference.

(It’s also time to register, which I suggest you do right now.)

Here's a quick rundown on Cleveland mysteries.

First, of course, are the novels by Les Roberts whose series hero is Milan Jacovich. Roberts also is Bouchercon’s “Special Cleveland Guest of Honor.” Whiskey Island is Roberts’s 16th novel about Milan, an ex-cop turned private investigator with a master's degree and a taste for kielbasa and Stroh's beer.

Michael Koryta,at left, sets his series about private investigators Lincoln Perry and Joe Pritchard in Cleveland. Koryta’s last novel in this series was The Silent Hour in 2009, but there always is a chance these characters could return. Meanwhile, Koryta has written a string of excellent stand-alone novels including Envy the Night, which won the L.A. Times Book Prize in 2009, and The Prophet, his latest. Full disclosure: I was one of the judges who awarded Koryta with the L.A. Times Book Prize. In a Sun-Sentinel review for Envy the Night, I said: “The legacy of violence, the relationships of parents and adult children and the futility of revenge make for an action-packed story.”

Lisa Black, who also writes as Elizabeth Becka, has a gripping series about Theresa MacLean, a forensic scientist in Cleveland. Her latest is Defensive Wounds, which I praised in a review as “working well as a story about grief and the bonds between a mother and child, while including just enough forensics to satisfy readers who revel in the science.” Black’s Trail of Blood is a modern look at the Torso Killer who terrorized Cleveland more than 75 years ago and who was never caught. In a Mystery Scene review, I stated that Trail of Blood is “a tightly wound story that alternates between Cleveland of the 1930s and the contemporary black_trailofbloodcity. . . . Black keeps the level of suspense high as she believably switches the action from the 1930s to present day, contrasting Cleveland’s atmosphere and nuances during the Great Depression with those of the 21st century.”

Max Allan Collins, one of the genre’s most prolific authors, writes novels about Eliot Ness when he was a public safety officer during the 1930s in Cleveland where the former G-man moved following his Untouchable days.

Casey Daniels’ heroine, Cleveland’s cemetery tour guide Pepper Martin, communes with the ghost of a mob boss. Her latest novel is Supernatural Born Killers

And if you venture out of the Cleveland, or want to via novels, Linda Castillo sets her excellent novels in the fictional Painters Mill, Ohio, an Amish town where Kate Burkholder is the chief of police. For other Amish mysteries set in Ohio, visit a previous blog.

And there are several mysteries set in Cincinnati and other Ohio cities.

Better start reading. Bouchercon is just around the corner.

Death Takes the Stage
Bill Hirschman

DeathtrapAcknowledged Crime Classics That Will Not Die


Deathtrap was staged in London’s West End in the 2010-2011 season and starred Simon Russell Beale (left) and Jonathan Groff.


SHERLOCK HOLMES (1899) William Gillette wrote himself the role of his lifetime in a play that he revived and toured for years. It’s a combination of plots and characters from the Sherlockian canon turned into an unabashed melodrama. Surprisingly, it holds up quite well if performed with zest and tongue in cheek as it was when Frank Langella starred in a 1977 version at Williamstown Theater Festival. Langella later filmed the production for HBO in 1981.

NIGHT MUST FALL (1935) Psychopathic serial killers were so little known when Emlyn Williams wrote himself the lead in this play that it both horrified and fascinated audiences. The plot centers on a hotel bellboy who kills an old lady and threatens the young woman who suspects him.

ANGEL STREET (1938 in England and 1941 in US) One of the first psychological thrillers, and so well executed that it ran for years. Patrick Hamilton’s play starred Vincent Price as the cunningly sadistic husband driving Judith Evelyn insane while mild-mannered detective Leo G. Carroll tries to stop him. In 1944, it became a film called Gaslight with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman.

DETECTIVE STORY (1949) Sidney Kingsley’s plays melded social issues and kitchen sink realism such as medicine in Men in White and slum poverty in Dead End. Here he created the pressure cooker environment of a police station, resulting in what Joseph Goodrich calls the forerunner of Hill Street Blues.

THE MOUSETRAP (1952) Agatha Christie’s classic—going nonstop since November 25, 1952, in London’s West End—is the longest continuously running play in history. Its cast nightly begs the audience not to reveal the twist ending. Adapted by Christie from her 1947 radio play, which was written as an 80th birthday present for Queen Mary.

DIAL M FOR MURDER (1952) Originally written for the BBC, Frederick Knott’s thriller became a theater hit in London and New York. The plot depicts an urbane husband cold-bloodedly commissioning the murder of his wife and then squirming when the killing goes awry and the investigation closes in on him. It features one of the most complex bits of clue-and-solution in mystery theater. Does anyone understand the key-under-the-mat clue the first four times you hear it?

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1953) Most people know this Agatha Christie masterpiece through Billy Wilder’s 1957 film, but it originally appeared in 1925 as a short story and later as a play, both slightly different from the movie. It functions as a mystery, a suspenser, and a courtroom drama about a young man accused of murdering an old woman who made him her heir. It’s notable for its central character: a wily, irascible old barrister.

WAIT UNTIL DARK (1966) A crime thriller, also by Frederick Knott, about a beautiful young blind woman being menaced by three hoods seeking drugs that her husband smuggled into the country. It includes one heart-stopping moment that works even when you know it’s coming.

night_must_fallDon’t look in that hatbox! Night Must Fall by Emlyn Williams concerned a serial killer who liked to keep his latest victim nearby. Shown are May Whitty, Emlyn Williams, and Betty Jardine in the 1936 Broadway production.

SLEUTH (1970) This brilliantly pieced together tale by Anthony Shaffer punctures holes in the tradition of the stuffy amateur detective in the drawing room. It features three stretches of ever-ratcheting suspense, a major plot twist that is still fascinating the second time around, and a breathtaking finale. Trivia: Shaffer, who wrote two more minor thrillers, wrote the screenplays for Hitchcock’s Frenzy as well as three of the big-screen Poirot films.

DEATHTRAP (1978) Arguably this is the last great straight play chronologically in the entire genre to be a major hit on Broadway. It was one of the last stage successes for Ira Levin, who also wrote diverse novels and comedies ranging from Rosemary’s Baby to No Time for Sergeants. The meta-plot about the intricate machinations of a crime playwright in a slump and his ambitious protégé was alternately hilarious and breathtakingly suspenseful. It set the record as the longest-running comedy-thriller on Broadway and won Levin his second Edgar award. (The first was for his novel A Kiss Before Dying.)

THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (1985) Rupert Holmes took Tony Awards and an Edgar for creating this musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel—and provided multiple endings to be chosen by the audience each night.

Our interviewees suggested a few of their own favorites that the casual theatergoer might not have seen or read.

LAURA (1946) Vera Caspary turned her novel into a play script first with George Sklar but was never able to get it produced until after the film’s success. Mark Bellamy of Calgary’s Vertigo Theater says, “It’s really marvelous. It actually captures the feeling of film noir.”

COLUMBO (PRESCRIPTION: MURDER) (1962) Richard Levinson and William Link derived this stage script from their short story and a standalone episode for a television anthology show. The play, in turn, became the source for the pilot for the television series. The play closed in tryouts out of town with the death of its lead actor, Thomas Mitchell (who played the father in Gone With the Wind.)

I’LL BE BACK BEFORE MIDNIGHT (1979) Perhaps the most frequently produced Canadian play, Peter Colley’s comedic mystery-thriller has played from Rome to Kansas City, Italy to New Zealand. Bellamy outlines the plot: “Jan, who’s recovering from a nervous disorder, and her husband rent a remote cabin from an odd farmer who tells gruesome ghost tales. When the husband’s lustful sister arrives, frightening events transpire. What happens to the fragile wife as bodies appear and disappear gives this classic thriller its horrifying impact.”

Bill Hirschman is a veteran cop reporter, book reviewer, and theater critic who currently operates www.floridatheateronstage.com.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #119.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 05 September 2012 02:09

DeathtrapEssential murder, mystery & suspense plays

David Dodge's Sophisticated Crimes
Jon L. Breen

To_Catch_a_Thief_05Clever banter, international travel, and a talent for twists


Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in the Hitchcock film adaptation of David Dodge’s To Catch a Thief.

Commercially successful and critically praised in his time for both mysteries and humorous travel books, David Dodge (1910-1974) is one of many semi-forgotten crime writers deserving of rediscovery. Bruin Books, a new publisher located in Eugene, Oregon, has released very handsome trade paperback editions of Dodge’s 1941 debut Death and Taxes ($13.95) and his breakthrough 1952 thriller To Catch a Thief ($14.95). Both have excellent introductions by Randal S. Brandt, proprietor of the author website david-dodge.com, and the latter book has an afterword by Jean Buchanan.

Dodge was a CPA in San Francisco when he made a bet with his wife that “he could write a better mystery novel than the ones they were reading.” Writing what he knew, he made the hero of his first novel tax accountant “Whit” Whitney, who would eventually figure in four novels. Whitney is called back from a Santa Cruz vacation by his womanizing partner, who claims new information in the firm’s efforts to get a half-million-dollar tax refund for a deceased bootlegger’s young and beautiful heir. In a note that inevitably recalls The Maltese Falcon, the partner is murdered (no great loss) and Whit has a deadline of just a few days to beat not the Death House but the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Death and Taxes has that combination of breezy prose, hardboiled attitude, and a tricky whodunit plot that typifies much American detective fiction of its time. The prodigious volume of alcohol consumed, and the casual drunk driving that sometimes follows, will only surprise those unacquainted with Dodge contemporaries like Craig Rice, Brett Halliday, and Frances and Richard Lockridge. It doesn’t take Whitney long to corrupt his thirsty police bodyguard, who at first declines to drink on duty.

dodge_to_catch_a_thief_bruinThe strengths noted in Dodge’s later fiction and travel writing are on display here. There is a strong sense of the Bay Area locale, augmented in this edition by street maps and a back cover of vintage postcards. The character-based humor is exemplified by the various sunburn remedies Whit is offered on returning from his aborted vacation. The details of the period’s tax laws, key to the plot, are both authoritative and painlessly integrated into the story. Dodge apparently pictured himself in the role of his hero. Whit remarks that his picture in the newspaper makes him look like Andy Gump, the chinless, brush-mustached lead character of a popular comic strip. Photos of Dodge with a somewhat less assertive mustache and slightly receding chin suggest a laugh at his own expense.

After World War II, during which he worked a desk for the Navy in San Francisco, Dodge moved with his family south of the border, producing three novels with Latin American locales about private eye Al Colby and his first nonfiction travel writings. Moving on to Europe and settling on the Côte d’Azur, he produced his most commercially successful and best-remembered novel. To Catch a Thief was selected for Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, rare for a mystery novel at that time, and was acquired from galleys by Alfred Hitchcock prior to book publication.

The novel begins with American expatriate John Robie fleeing his Provence home as police are about to call. Before the war, Robie operated as an acrobatic jewel thief known as Le Chat. Caught and tried, Robie had been released with other offenders during the German occupation and become a killer of Germans during the Resistance, in gratitude for which he has received an unofficial pardon, as long as he stays out of trouble. Now a copy-Chat (so to speak) has imitated his modus operandi and put him in danger of arrest. His first impulse is to flee the country, but his old maquis comrade Bellini, still involved in shady doings behind a respectable front, convinces him that only he can expose the thief and take the heat off his former associates. Disguised to hide his youth and athletic body, Robie goes among the wealthy at the Hotel Midi in Cannes where he encounters one of a jewel thief’s ripest targets: diamond-bedecked American widow Mrs. Stevens, traveling with her beautiful daughter Francie.

dodge_the_last_matchThough Hitchcock’s literary adaptations often diverged considerably from their sources (e.g., The Thirty-Nine Steps or The Lady Vanishes), John Michael Hayes’ brilliant and witty script for To Catch a Thief, released in 1955, follows the book rather closely, keeping the broad outlines of the plot while compressing and simplifying the action. Cary Grant, of course, is not called upon to shave back his hairline or wear a fat suit, and some important characters, particularly the young French woman Danielle, play the same general role with significant differences. The other criminals who knew Robie in the Resistance, supportive and still on the wrong side of the law in the novel, are apparently reformed and hostile to him in the screen version. One prominent character in the novel, Robie’s straight-arrow friend Paul, doesn’t even appear in the film. The rooftop action scene in which Robie unmasks his imitator is of course a cinematic natural, but the events that follow are somewhat different. While Grant and Grace Kelly provide all the romance needed on screen, a secondary romantic subplot in the book makes necessary a trickily orchestrated conclusion that is not replicated in the film. Dodge’s novel is much more complexly plotted and morally ambiguous. Readers who already know the movie can appreciate these extra touches without reducing their admiration for Hitchcock’s version.

The cinematic influence of Dodge’s thriller goes beyond its place in the Hitchcock canon. Both The Pink Panther (1963) and Return of the Pink Panther (1975) are comic riffs on To Catch a Thief, the former film with its costume-party climax and the latter with a parodic reframing of the copycat whodunit. Without John Robie, we would never have come to know Sir Charles Lytton, the Notorious Phantom, or his continuing duel with the inept but indefatigable Inspector Clouseau.

David Dodge’s 24 books include 15 novels and nine travel diaries. His final novel, The Last Match, written the year before his death, was finally published in 2006 by Hard Case Crime with an afterword by his daughter Kendal Dodge Butler, who combines family memories with an efficient and clear-eyed summation of a remarkable literary career.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #119.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 05 September 2012 04:09

To_Catch_a_Thief_05Clever banter, international travel, and a talent for twists

Happy Birthday, Agatha Christie
Oline Cogdill
christie_agathaSeptember 15 marks Agatha Christie's birthday. So let's give a cheer to this extraordinary woman who left us a legacy of novels and iconic characters.

Christie was born in 1890 so this is the 122nd anniversary of her birth, if you are doing the math. And just for the record, she died on Jan. 12, 1976.

What Christie gave the mystery genre was a foundation of plots and stories, twists and turns that continue to be used by today's mystery writers.

She looked at the wealthy and the privileged, without much sympathy.

She showed us that motives for murder can be as vengeful as that in Murder on the Orient Express or as greedy as in Evil Under the Sun or as intriguing as in Witness for the Prosecution.

And, of course, there is Christie's play The Mousetrap, still running in London.

christie_anautobiographyDuring her time, Christie was the world's bestselling author with only the Bible and Shakespeare's works selling more.

She also was intensely private, avoiding interviews.

Christie might be amused to learn that several books examine her writing. Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making by John Curran and Agatha Christie: An Autobiography are both being re-released this month.

In Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making, Curran looks at her unpublished notebooks to discuss her writing techniques.

Christie's autobiography, originally published in 1977, has been updated with 24 pages of photographs in black and white and in color and a special code to download newly discovered voice recordings of Agatha Christie dictating parts of the book. The introduction is by Mathew Prichard, Agatha Christie’s grandson, explaining how he found the tapes used to make the recordings.

Happy birthday, Dame Christie.

You gave your readers a wonderful inheritance we are still using.
Super User 2
Wednesday, 12 September 2012 05:09
christie_agathaSeptember 15 marks Agatha Christie's birthday. So let's give a cheer to this extraordinary woman who left us a legacy of novels and iconic characters.

Christie was born in 1890 so this is the 122nd anniversary of her birth, if you are doing the math. And just for the record, she died on Jan. 12, 1976.

What Christie gave the mystery genre was a foundation of plots and stories, twists and turns that continue to be used by today's mystery writers.

She looked at the wealthy and the privileged, without much sympathy.

She showed us that motives for murder can be as vengeful as that in Murder on the Orient Express or as greedy as in Evil Under the Sun or as intriguing as in Witness for the Prosecution.

And, of course, there is Christie's play The Mousetrap, still running in London.

christie_anautobiographyDuring her time, Christie was the world's bestselling author with only the Bible and Shakespeare's works selling more.

She also was intensely private, avoiding interviews.

Christie might be amused to learn that several books examine her writing. Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making by John Curran and Agatha Christie: An Autobiography are both being re-released this month.

In Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making, Curran looks at her unpublished notebooks to discuss her writing techniques.

Christie's autobiography, originally published in 1977, has been updated with 24 pages of photographs in black and white and in color and a special code to download newly discovered voice recordings of Agatha Christie dictating parts of the book. The introduction is by Mathew Prichard, Agatha Christie’s grandson, explaining how he found the tapes used to make the recordings.

Happy birthday, Dame Christie.

You gave your readers a wonderful inheritance we are still using.
In Cold Blood(Ed) Items
Oline Cogdill

capote_incoldblood

Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood remains one of the few true crime books that, for me, still endures.

This tragic story of the Clutter family killed in 1959 by petty criminals truly is an American crime story.

This convergence of a good family and the embodiement of evil that meet in a small town changed how many of us thought of crime and punishment.

This first time I read Capote’s “nonfiction novel,” I was just starting high school and even then, with my limited experience, I recognized a stirring story.

The opening lines alone are among the most memorable:

“The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call "out there."

I don’t read true crime as a rule.

For me, solid mystery fiction isn’t about crime but about people. It is the social novel of our time exploring issues of identity, society, grief, greed, and more; crime and punishment are just part of story.

In Cold Blood is an exception and is one of the few true crime books that deserves to be called masterful.

But news this past week that “memorabilia” from the Clutter case was being put up for auction struck a nerve with me.

And not a good nerve.

While cleaning out his mother’s house, a Kansas man found in the trash a signed first-edition of In Cold Blood.

Well, anyone would want that.

But what caused a controversy was what else was to have put up for auction: a copy of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation case file on the Clutter murders kept by the late Harold Nye, a lead investigator on the Clutter case.

The documents included crime-scene photographs, letters, notebooks and other case files never before made public.

The Kansas attorney general's office got involved, saying that the KBI file belongs to the state of Kansas and asking for its return. The surviving members of the Clutter family broke a 50-year policy to ask the sale be stopped and threatened legal action.

More information is in a New York Times story.

Last week, the KBI file and photos were returned to the state.

As well they should be. Anyone who has read In Cold Blood must also feel for the Clutter family and the surviving members.

But a sale of other crime items still will be auctioned later this month, including a bloodstained stocking that belonged to Bonnie Parker and items belonging to John Dillinger. Other dealers have Ma Barker’s hideout and moonshine stills for sale.

I don’t get it.

I know that there is a market for macabre items that have belonged to serial killers, especially any artwork they have done.

But my question remains, why? Why would anyone want this? What is the point?

I first heard about this bizarre hobby in The Death Collectors by Jack Kerley. This 2005 novel balanced a sense of evil with an absorbing plot. The “collections” were a true descent into a ring of hell. In my review, I stated that “The Death Collectors is startling in its ability to frighten and to deliver a sophisticated mystery. Indeed, the last time this reviewer was shocked by a mystery was The Silence of the Lambs.”

What do our readers think of these sales?

Super User 2
Wednesday, 19 September 2012 05:09

capote_incoldblood

Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood remains one of the few true crime books that, for me, still endures.

This tragic story of the Clutter family killed in 1959 by petty criminals truly is an American crime story.

This convergence of a good family and the embodiement of evil that meet in a small town changed how many of us thought of crime and punishment.

This first time I read Capote’s “nonfiction novel,” I was just starting high school and even then, with my limited experience, I recognized a stirring story.

The opening lines alone are among the most memorable:

“The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call "out there."

I don’t read true crime as a rule.

For me, solid mystery fiction isn’t about crime but about people. It is the social novel of our time exploring issues of identity, society, grief, greed, and more; crime and punishment are just part of story.

In Cold Blood is an exception and is one of the few true crime books that deserves to be called masterful.

But news this past week that “memorabilia” from the Clutter case was being put up for auction struck a nerve with me.

And not a good nerve.

While cleaning out his mother’s house, a Kansas man found in the trash a signed first-edition of In Cold Blood.

Well, anyone would want that.

But what caused a controversy was what else was to have put up for auction: a copy of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation case file on the Clutter murders kept by the late Harold Nye, a lead investigator on the Clutter case.

The documents included crime-scene photographs, letters, notebooks and other case files never before made public.

The Kansas attorney general's office got involved, saying that the KBI file belongs to the state of Kansas and asking for its return. The surviving members of the Clutter family broke a 50-year policy to ask the sale be stopped and threatened legal action.

More information is in a New York Times story.

Last week, the KBI file and photos were returned to the state.

As well they should be. Anyone who has read In Cold Blood must also feel for the Clutter family and the surviving members.

But a sale of other crime items still will be auctioned later this month, including a bloodstained stocking that belonged to Bonnie Parker and items belonging to John Dillinger. Other dealers have Ma Barker’s hideout and moonshine stills for sale.

I don’t get it.

I know that there is a market for macabre items that have belonged to serial killers, especially any artwork they have done.

But my question remains, why? Why would anyone want this? What is the point?

I first heard about this bizarre hobby in The Death Collectors by Jack Kerley. This 2005 novel balanced a sense of evil with an absorbing plot. The “collections” were a true descent into a ring of hell. In my review, I stated that “The Death Collectors is startling in its ability to frighten and to deliver a sophisticated mystery. Indeed, the last time this reviewer was shocked by a mystery was The Silence of the Lambs.”

What do our readers think of these sales?

Michael Connelly’s Latest Award, More News
Oline Cogdill

connelly_michael4.jpgMichael Connelly has amassed a number of well-deserved awards, beginning with the 1992 Edgar Award for his debut, The Black Echo.

Connelly’s latest honor is the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, awarded to his novel The Fifth Witness.

Connelly picked up his award last week. The prize, co-sponsored by The University of Alabama School of Law and the ABA Journal, “celebrates the role of lawyers in society and the ideals represented by Atticus Finch,” according to the press release.

The Fifth Witness brings back Mickey Haller, the “Lincoln Lawyer” who runs his business from the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car.

While Mickey is decidedly a different kind of lawyer than Atticus Finch, both characters are concerned with doing the right thing and with justice being served. Both also are single fathers who deeply love their children.

connelly_fifthwitnessIn The Fifth Witness, Mickey is feeling a financial pinch. His clients can no longer afford him, so he goes civil. While “in Los Angeles crime marched on through any economy,” Mickey realizes that “the only growth industry in the law business was foreclosure defense.” And Mickey is busier than ever with clients who need help in holding onto their homes.

In my review of The Fifth Witness that ran in the Sun Sentinel and other newspapers, I said “Mickey is . . . both cynical and optimistic about the law; he believes in the justice system even as he manipulates it. Mickey is the consummate deal-maker whether it comes to dealing with the prosecutor, the judge or trying to broker a movie and book deal about the case. Mickey’s confidence masks an insecurity about his personal life. A late-night drive through L.A.’s canyons with the windows down allows him to “let in the chill of the air and the loneliness work into my bones."

I have stated several times in my reviews of Connelly's novels that he is one of the best – and most consistent – living crime writers. The Fifth Witness was further evidence of that.

connellymichael_sign.jpgIn accepting the award, Connelly stated, “When I was 13 and spending hot summer days in the air conditioning afforded by the Fort Lauderdale public library, a librarian made me read To Kill a Mockingbird. I discovered a story about a lawyer who was forthright and willing to do the right thing, even at great risk and cost to himself and those he loved. That is the definition of hero I have endeavored to capture in my own work. This honor tells me I’m on the right track,” Connelly was quoted in the press release.

And the selection committee that chose The Fifth Witness is quite distinguished, including two New York Times bestselling novelists Linda Fairstein and Lisa Scottoline; former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg and FOX News Political Analyst Juan Williams.

CONNELLY ON THE ROAD

The award isn’t the only news about Michael Connelly. This year marks Connelly’s 20th year in publishing, a fact most of us readers find impossible to believe.

It seems like yesterday the Sun Sentinel Books Editor handed me a copy of The Black Echo and asked if I would like to review it.

He’d heard The Black Echo might be pretty good and, by the way, I might remember the author when he worked at the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. Actually, I had a vague memory of passing Michael in the hall and saying hi, but I didn’t really know him.

The Black Echo was the first “big book” that I reviewed and I have enjoyed each one of Connelly’s since.

connellydorsey_homegrownTo mark that 20th anniversary, Connelly’s publisher Little, Brown has literally shown him the road.

That is, a patch of Los Angeles highway that Little, Brown has adopted in his honor and will maintain by keeping it clean and beautiful.

The section of highway is the south bound side of Interstate 5 near Dodger Stadium.

CONNELLY HOMEGROWN MEMORIES


While Connelly’s next novel The Black Box won’t be published until November, he is among the authors and journalists featured in Homegrown in Florida, a collection of essays about growing up in the Sunshine State, published by the University Press of Florida.

Connelly’s essay is about the time he stumbled on his first crime scene and how this incident inspired him to write crime fiction. It's a rewrite of an essay that appeared in Connelly's Crime Beat: A Decade of Covering Cops and Killers. The same story, just told a different way.

Mystery author Tim Dorsey also is featured in Homegrown in Florida.

Super User 2
Saturday, 22 September 2012 03:09

connelly_michael4.jpgMichael Connelly has amassed a number of well-deserved awards, beginning with the 1992 Edgar Award for his debut, The Black Echo.

Connelly’s latest honor is the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, awarded to his novel The Fifth Witness.

Connelly picked up his award last week. The prize, co-sponsored by The University of Alabama School of Law and the ABA Journal, “celebrates the role of lawyers in society and the ideals represented by Atticus Finch,” according to the press release.

The Fifth Witness brings back Mickey Haller, the “Lincoln Lawyer” who runs his business from the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car.

While Mickey is decidedly a different kind of lawyer than Atticus Finch, both characters are concerned with doing the right thing and with justice being served. Both also are single fathers who deeply love their children.

connelly_fifthwitnessIn The Fifth Witness, Mickey is feeling a financial pinch. His clients can no longer afford him, so he goes civil. While “in Los Angeles crime marched on through any economy,” Mickey realizes that “the only growth industry in the law business was foreclosure defense.” And Mickey is busier than ever with clients who need help in holding onto their homes.

In my review of The Fifth Witness that ran in the Sun Sentinel and other newspapers, I said “Mickey is . . . both cynical and optimistic about the law; he believes in the justice system even as he manipulates it. Mickey is the consummate deal-maker whether it comes to dealing with the prosecutor, the judge or trying to broker a movie and book deal about the case. Mickey’s confidence masks an insecurity about his personal life. A late-night drive through L.A.’s canyons with the windows down allows him to “let in the chill of the air and the loneliness work into my bones."

I have stated several times in my reviews of Connelly's novels that he is one of the best – and most consistent – living crime writers. The Fifth Witness was further evidence of that.

connellymichael_sign.jpgIn accepting the award, Connelly stated, “When I was 13 and spending hot summer days in the air conditioning afforded by the Fort Lauderdale public library, a librarian made me read To Kill a Mockingbird. I discovered a story about a lawyer who was forthright and willing to do the right thing, even at great risk and cost to himself and those he loved. That is the definition of hero I have endeavored to capture in my own work. This honor tells me I’m on the right track,” Connelly was quoted in the press release.

And the selection committee that chose The Fifth Witness is quite distinguished, including two New York Times bestselling novelists Linda Fairstein and Lisa Scottoline; former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg and FOX News Political Analyst Juan Williams.

CONNELLY ON THE ROAD

The award isn’t the only news about Michael Connelly. This year marks Connelly’s 20th year in publishing, a fact most of us readers find impossible to believe.

It seems like yesterday the Sun Sentinel Books Editor handed me a copy of The Black Echo and asked if I would like to review it.

He’d heard The Black Echo might be pretty good and, by the way, I might remember the author when he worked at the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. Actually, I had a vague memory of passing Michael in the hall and saying hi, but I didn’t really know him.

The Black Echo was the first “big book” that I reviewed and I have enjoyed each one of Connelly’s since.

connellydorsey_homegrownTo mark that 20th anniversary, Connelly’s publisher Little, Brown has literally shown him the road.

That is, a patch of Los Angeles highway that Little, Brown has adopted in his honor and will maintain by keeping it clean and beautiful.

The section of highway is the south bound side of Interstate 5 near Dodger Stadium.

CONNELLY HOMEGROWN MEMORIES


While Connelly’s next novel The Black Box won’t be published until November, he is among the authors and journalists featured in Homegrown in Florida, a collection of essays about growing up in the Sunshine State, published by the University Press of Florida.

Connelly’s essay is about the time he stumbled on his first crime scene and how this incident inspired him to write crime fiction. It's a rewrite of an essay that appeared in Connelly's Crime Beat: A Decade of Covering Cops and Killers. The same story, just told a different way.

Mystery author Tim Dorsey also is featured in Homegrown in Florida.

Laura Lippman on Screen
Oline Cogdill
lippmanlaura_everysecretthing.jppSo often mystery fiction examines the loss of innocence and the search for justice.

But in Every Secret Thing, Laura Lippman illustrated what happens when the criminals are children and what happens to children when they grow up.

Every Secret Thing, published in 2003, was Lippman’s first stand-alone novel. It was the story of two 11-year-old girls convicted of murdering a baby. They are incarcerated until they turn 18. But when they are released, other children start to go missing.

In my review that ran in the Sun Sentinel and various other newspapers, I said Every Secret Thing was “full of social relevance with wry comments on contemporary society, a plot that doesn’t let go of the reader and excellent character studies of a myriad cast.”

Also quoting my review: “The author doesn’t follow a predictable path as she slowly and methodically pulls back the curtain on that hot July afternoon when everything went wrong. Lippman intriguingly shows how that seven-year-old crime defines each character and colors how each reacts to others as well as to herself. Lippman gives a total view of each character, playing up not only each’s good points but also each’s faults. No one is totally sympathetic, nor is anyone a complete monster.”

Lippman's other stand-alone novels include Life Sentences, the short story collection Hardly Knew Her, and I'dKnowYou Anywhere.

Every Secret Thing will now become a movie starring Diane Lane and Elizabeth Banks. Lane will play the mother of one of the girls.

Shooting will start in February with Amy Berg directing from a script by Nicole Holofcenter. Producers include Anthony Bregman and Frances McDormand.

"It's a privilege to watch talented, passionate people shepherd this project along,” Laura Lippman told us in an email. “I'm just on the sidelines, but I'm a very happy cheerleader.”

With that team and Lippman’s excellent source material, I have high hopes that the movie will do justice to the novel.

Meanwhile, read the novel. Savor the story.
Super User 2
Wednesday, 26 September 2012 05:09
lippmanlaura_everysecretthing.jppSo often mystery fiction examines the loss of innocence and the search for justice.

But in Every Secret Thing, Laura Lippman illustrated what happens when the criminals are children and what happens to children when they grow up.

Every Secret Thing, published in 2003, was Lippman’s first stand-alone novel. It was the story of two 11-year-old girls convicted of murdering a baby. They are incarcerated until they turn 18. But when they are released, other children start to go missing.

In my review that ran in the Sun Sentinel and various other newspapers, I said Every Secret Thing was “full of social relevance with wry comments on contemporary society, a plot that doesn’t let go of the reader and excellent character studies of a myriad cast.”

Also quoting my review: “The author doesn’t follow a predictable path as she slowly and methodically pulls back the curtain on that hot July afternoon when everything went wrong. Lippman intriguingly shows how that seven-year-old crime defines each character and colors how each reacts to others as well as to herself. Lippman gives a total view of each character, playing up not only each’s good points but also each’s faults. No one is totally sympathetic, nor is anyone a complete monster.”

Lippman's other stand-alone novels include Life Sentences, the short story collection Hardly Knew Her, and I'dKnowYou Anywhere.

Every Secret Thing will now become a movie starring Diane Lane and Elizabeth Banks. Lane will play the mother of one of the girls.

Shooting will start in February with Amy Berg directing from a script by Nicole Holofcenter. Producers include Anthony Bregman and Frances McDormand.

"It's a privilege to watch talented, passionate people shepherd this project along,” Laura Lippman told us in an email. “I'm just on the sidelines, but I'm a very happy cheerleader.”

With that team and Lippman’s excellent source material, I have high hopes that the movie will do justice to the novel.

Meanwhile, read the novel. Savor the story.
Donna Leon and Opera
Oline Cogdill

leondonna_bartoliMysteries and music often go together.

Think of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch and Peter Robinson’s Alan Banks listening to those wonderful jazz performers.

Or Mark Billingham’s British cop Tom Thorne who prefers country music. Ian Rankin’s Rebus loved rock.

Jeffery Deaver, who once opened for Bob Dylan, wrote the lyrics for a CD to go along with XO, his latest novel.

And one of my favorite short story collections is A Merry Band of Murderers in which each mystery writer contributed an original short story and an original song themed around the story.

leondonna_jewelsofparadiseDetectives and music just seems a natural fit. But the soundtrack of mysteries is fodder for another blog.

Today, let’s concentrate on opera.

Yes, opera.

Music you don’t often, if ever, attribute to mysteries.

Fittingly enough, this opera infusion comes from Donna Leon, author of the Commissario Guido Brunetti series set in Venice.

Leon’s first stand-alone novel, The Jewels of Paradise, is based on Baroque composer Agostino Steffani, who apparently was quite popular during his time but has been forgotten through the centuries.

Leon is teaming up with world-famous opera singer Cecilia Bartoli, whose new recording Mission features Steffani’s music. Both The Jewels of Paradise and Mission will be released in the U.S. on Oct. 2.

While Leon’s novels seem permanently fixed to the best-sellers lists, she also is passionate about opera.

Leon is heavily involved in the management of the Florence-based opera company Il Compresso Barocco, formed by another American expatriate, Alan Curtis.

Curtis conducts the award-winning orchestra, which Leon helps subsidize with sales from her writing life.

leondonna_missionLeon also helps to find and audition new singers and choose new projects for recording and performance, according to her publisher.

Through her involvement with the orchestra, Leon met Bartoli more than 20 years ago. They became “opera pals” after Leon interviewed Bartoli for a German newspaper a decade ago.

More recently, Bartoli was recording an album of Steffani’s music.

For inspiration, the opera singer began to research the life of the composer, who is credited with ushering in the Baroque era of opera. She thought his story would make a good novel, so Bartoli approached her old friend, Leon, with the story of Steffani.

In turn, Leon did what every writer does – she began her own research, and the result is The Jewels of Paradise, a contemporary mystery that links back to Steffani’s work.

Once again, Leon found a way to mix her passions of opera and mystery fiction.

Photo: Donna Leon, left, and Cecilia Bartoli. Photo courtesy Decca/Uli Weber

Super User 2
Wednesday, 03 October 2012 05:10

leondonna_bartoliMysteries and music often go together.

Think of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch and Peter Robinson’s Alan Banks listening to those wonderful jazz performers.

Or Mark Billingham’s British cop Tom Thorne who prefers country music. Ian Rankin’s Rebus loved rock.

Jeffery Deaver, who once opened for Bob Dylan, wrote the lyrics for a CD to go along with XO, his latest novel.

And one of my favorite short story collections is A Merry Band of Murderers in which each mystery writer contributed an original short story and an original song themed around the story.

leondonna_jewelsofparadiseDetectives and music just seems a natural fit. But the soundtrack of mysteries is fodder for another blog.

Today, let’s concentrate on opera.

Yes, opera.

Music you don’t often, if ever, attribute to mysteries.

Fittingly enough, this opera infusion comes from Donna Leon, author of the Commissario Guido Brunetti series set in Venice.

Leon’s first stand-alone novel, The Jewels of Paradise, is based on Baroque composer Agostino Steffani, who apparently was quite popular during his time but has been forgotten through the centuries.

Leon is teaming up with world-famous opera singer Cecilia Bartoli, whose new recording Mission features Steffani’s music. Both The Jewels of Paradise and Mission will be released in the U.S. on Oct. 2.

While Leon’s novels seem permanently fixed to the best-sellers lists, she also is passionate about opera.

Leon is heavily involved in the management of the Florence-based opera company Il Compresso Barocco, formed by another American expatriate, Alan Curtis.

Curtis conducts the award-winning orchestra, which Leon helps subsidize with sales from her writing life.

leondonna_missionLeon also helps to find and audition new singers and choose new projects for recording and performance, according to her publisher.

Through her involvement with the orchestra, Leon met Bartoli more than 20 years ago. They became “opera pals” after Leon interviewed Bartoli for a German newspaper a decade ago.

More recently, Bartoli was recording an album of Steffani’s music.

For inspiration, the opera singer began to research the life of the composer, who is credited with ushering in the Baroque era of opera. She thought his story would make a good novel, so Bartoli approached her old friend, Leon, with the story of Steffani.

In turn, Leon did what every writer does – she began her own research, and the result is The Jewels of Paradise, a contemporary mystery that links back to Steffani’s work.

Once again, Leon found a way to mix her passions of opera and mystery fiction.

Photo: Donna Leon, left, and Cecilia Bartoli. Photo courtesy Decca/Uli Weber

The Mystery of the Woman in the Red Dress
Oline Cogdill

ryanphillipphank_theotherwomanOne of the things we critics, and readers, quickly learn is that there’s no copyright for book titles.

So it’s not uncommon to see several books, each with a different approach, but with the same title. And to have that title work for each of those books.

The same is with book jackets.

It’s not uncommon to see the same theme in a book jacket on several different books.

And each of those artists was working independent of each other. (Truth be told, the same occurs with critics; many of us will say the same thing and no one has peeked.)

So we now we have the month of the woman running in a red coat.

Three novels, that I know of, each use the motif of a retreating woman wearing a red coat.

And, yes, each of these mysteries are totally different and, yes, the woman in red works well to set the tone for each novel.

robothammichael_sayyousorryHank Phillippi Ryan’s political thriller The Other Woman features a woman wearing a longish red coat running on a bridge. There are a lot of "other women" in Ryan’s novel.

In my review of The Other Woman, I said that “Politics, dirty campaigns and compromised candidates are a compelling plot foundation in any year, but especially in this presidential election year. Ryan combines both a timely tale and a multi-layered plot with gripping suspense. The Other Woman works well as a political thriller and romantic suspense, delving into political and journalism ethics. “

Michael Robotham’s Say You’re Sorry has the woman in red running through the snow. In this thriller, the British author looks at the disappearance of two popular young women. Three years after they vanish during the century’s worst blizzard, a troubled young man claims that he remembers the night the women disappeared. And that he saw one of them being chased by a snowman.

A woman wearing a short red coat faces a city skyscape in Keigo Higashino’s Salvation of a Saint. This Japanese author made an impact last year with his novel The Devotion of Suspect X, which garnered an Edgar nomination.

Salvation of a Saint already has received a couple of starred reviews.

HigashinoKeigo_salvationIn Salvation of a Saint, the logical suspect in a husband’s death by poisoning is his wife, whom he was going to leave. But the wife was hundreds of miles away when he sipped that coffee; plus she’s considered to be a “saint” by nearly everyone.

Each of these novels was published by a different publisher.

I have a theory on why these covers are so similar. Great minds think alike!

Super User 2
Sunday, 07 October 2012 05:10

ryanphillipphank_theotherwomanOne of the things we critics, and readers, quickly learn is that there’s no copyright for book titles.

So it’s not uncommon to see several books, each with a different approach, but with the same title. And to have that title work for each of those books.

The same is with book jackets.

It’s not uncommon to see the same theme in a book jacket on several different books.

And each of those artists was working independent of each other. (Truth be told, the same occurs with critics; many of us will say the same thing and no one has peeked.)

So we now we have the month of the woman running in a red coat.

Three novels, that I know of, each use the motif of a retreating woman wearing a red coat.

And, yes, each of these mysteries are totally different and, yes, the woman in red works well to set the tone for each novel.

robothammichael_sayyousorryHank Phillippi Ryan’s political thriller The Other Woman features a woman wearing a longish red coat running on a bridge. There are a lot of "other women" in Ryan’s novel.

In my review of The Other Woman, I said that “Politics, dirty campaigns and compromised candidates are a compelling plot foundation in any year, but especially in this presidential election year. Ryan combines both a timely tale and a multi-layered plot with gripping suspense. The Other Woman works well as a political thriller and romantic suspense, delving into political and journalism ethics. “

Michael Robotham’s Say You’re Sorry has the woman in red running through the snow. In this thriller, the British author looks at the disappearance of two popular young women. Three years after they vanish during the century’s worst blizzard, a troubled young man claims that he remembers the night the women disappeared. And that he saw one of them being chased by a snowman.

A woman wearing a short red coat faces a city skyscape in Keigo Higashino’s Salvation of a Saint. This Japanese author made an impact last year with his novel The Devotion of Suspect X, which garnered an Edgar nomination.

Salvation of a Saint already has received a couple of starred reviews.

HigashinoKeigo_salvationIn Salvation of a Saint, the logical suspect in a husband’s death by poisoning is his wife, whom he was going to leave. But the wife was hundreds of miles away when he sipped that coffee; plus she’s considered to be a “saint” by nearly everyone.

Each of these novels was published by a different publisher.

I have a theory on why these covers are so similar. Great minds think alike!

Review: George Gently
Oline Cogdill


georgegently_britishseriesGeorge Gently: Series 4. Acorn Media. 2 episodes on two CD. 178 minutes. $39.99.

The British culture of the 1960s fascinated me when I was growing up.

I so embraced the music, the hairstyles, the clothes and everything else about England.

The Beatles were my favorite (I was a Paul Girl and still am.) But I also loved Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Dave Clark Five, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, and all of them. I wanted to be a girl drummer like Honey Lantree of The Honeycombs. I wore my hair like Jane Asher, straight and with long bangs. I devoured the Mary Quant fashions. And I bought Yardley’s Oh! de London cologne (I wonder what I would think of that today). And yet, I was just a kid from a small town in Southeast Missouri.

The England of the 1960s seemed like such an exotic land to this farm girl.

But it really wasn’t.

England gave us the best music of the time and the edgy fashion but it had the same concerns as any you’d find in small-town America.

The British series George Gently, now on DVD, isn’t just a highly entertaining police procedural. It also is a glimpse of the 1960s, examining our recent history and how we dealt with the situations.

George Gently is based on the Inspector Gently novels by Alan Hunter that debuted in 1961 with Gently Go Man.

GeorgeGently4_DVDproductDebuting on BBC in 2007, the series stars Martin Shaw as Gently, and Lee Ingleby as Detective Sergeant John Bacchus, his younger partner with the Paul McCartney haircut. Simon Hubbard mans the police station front desk as PC Taylor.

In the novels, Gently and his squad operated out of Norfolk, England, while the TV series has moved the action to Northumberland and County Durham. The series’ fifth season is set to continue later in 2012.

The episodes deliciously portray the yin and yang of the detectives’ approaches: the world-weary experience of George Gently and the novice, know-it-all approach of John Bacchus. John is often ready to wrap up a case on the surface evidence while George often sees there is more to the case than they have uncovered.

While both men have compassion for the victim, John sees that some cases have shades of grey while George is strictly black and white.

The Series 4 that I screened has two very distinct and very involving episodes.

“Goodbye China” is a heartbreaking story that involves the death of a former informant, two young hoodlums and a mentally handicapped school. The story has so many layers that are well explored.

“Gently Upside Down” is about the murder of a student who was poised for a bright future. The story also shows the call of fame that arose from local teenage music shows, men who prey on the naivete and trust of teenage girls, pop music and the youth moment.

I can’t wait to see more of George Gently and John Bacchus.

PHOTO: Lee Ingleby as Detective Sergeant John Bacchus,left, and Martin Shaw as George Gently. Acorn Media photo

Super User 2
Wednesday, 10 October 2012 05:10


georgegently_britishseriesGeorge Gently: Series 4. Acorn Media. 2 episodes on two CD. 178 minutes. $39.99.

The British culture of the 1960s fascinated me when I was growing up.

I so embraced the music, the hairstyles, the clothes and everything else about England.

The Beatles were my favorite (I was a Paul Girl and still am.) But I also loved Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Dave Clark Five, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, and all of them. I wanted to be a girl drummer like Honey Lantree of The Honeycombs. I wore my hair like Jane Asher, straight and with long bangs. I devoured the Mary Quant fashions. And I bought Yardley’s Oh! de London cologne (I wonder what I would think of that today). And yet, I was just a kid from a small town in Southeast Missouri.

The England of the 1960s seemed like such an exotic land to this farm girl.

But it really wasn’t.

England gave us the best music of the time and the edgy fashion but it had the same concerns as any you’d find in small-town America.

The British series George Gently, now on DVD, isn’t just a highly entertaining police procedural. It also is a glimpse of the 1960s, examining our recent history and how we dealt with the situations.

George Gently is based on the Inspector Gently novels by Alan Hunter that debuted in 1961 with Gently Go Man.

GeorgeGently4_DVDproductDebuting on BBC in 2007, the series stars Martin Shaw as Gently, and Lee Ingleby as Detective Sergeant John Bacchus, his younger partner with the Paul McCartney haircut. Simon Hubbard mans the police station front desk as PC Taylor.

In the novels, Gently and his squad operated out of Norfolk, England, while the TV series has moved the action to Northumberland and County Durham. The series’ fifth season is set to continue later in 2012.

The episodes deliciously portray the yin and yang of the detectives’ approaches: the world-weary experience of George Gently and the novice, know-it-all approach of John Bacchus. John is often ready to wrap up a case on the surface evidence while George often sees there is more to the case than they have uncovered.

While both men have compassion for the victim, John sees that some cases have shades of grey while George is strictly black and white.

The Series 4 that I screened has two very distinct and very involving episodes.

“Goodbye China” is a heartbreaking story that involves the death of a former informant, two young hoodlums and a mentally handicapped school. The story has so many layers that are well explored.

“Gently Upside Down” is about the murder of a student who was poised for a bright future. The story also shows the call of fame that arose from local teenage music shows, men who prey on the naivete and trust of teenage girls, pop music and the youth moment.

I can’t wait to see more of George Gently and John Bacchus.

PHOTO: Lee Ingleby as Detective Sergeant John Bacchus,left, and Martin Shaw as George Gently. Acorn Media photo

Holmes Crosses the Pond
M. Schlecht

Elementary_liu_miller_living_roomMystery Scene reviews Elementary, the latest Sherlock Holmes adaptation for television debuting on CBS.


Elementary is CBS’ foray into the Sherlock Holmes edgy remake category (other recent examples including the Guy Ritchie movies, Sherlock on the BBC, and, more loosely, House, M.D.). CBS’ twist? Bring Mister Holmes (played by the UK’s Jonny Lee Miller) over to America, specifically New York, and see what happens. And wait, if you think that’s wild, how about a Chinese-American woman, Lucy Liu, as Watson? So there we have the two biggest questions about this new series: Will Sherlock survive the trip across the pond with his identity intact? And—more importantly, judging by entertainment blogs and social media—will a female Watson ruin everything that is great about one of literature’s great bromances?

The answer to the first question is still to be deduced. But, judging by the first episode, which airs September 27, the creators of this new show are content to reference Sherlock-like behavior and reasoning while avoiding the classic Holmes stories. Unlike the BBC’s Sherlock, for example, which offers a modern take loosely based on actual Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tales, Elementary skips referencing anything directly from the canon, a decision that unfortunately results in a first homicide case so forgettable it might be akin to “A Scandal in Omaha,” maybe. It’s frankly hard to see why a competent NYPD detective couldn’t come up with the same results as Mr. Holmes.

This lack in plot, however, gives viewers ample time to notice that New York has transformed Sherlock into something of an aging trust-fund hipster, who, when he’s not bare-chested and showing off his tattoos, sports ironic T-shirts along with a scarf (tied in BBC Sherlock style). Just out of rehab, he lives in a spare Brooklyn brownstone (one of his wealthy father’s rental properties) decorated with not much besides IKEA bookshelves and multiple flat screens. His father hires a roommate/minder, Watson, to make sure he stays clean. She moves in, discovers honey dripping from the ceiling, and confronts him on the rooftop. His response (I’m paraphrasing): Yeah, I’ve totally got an apiary up here. Deal with it.

Elementary_Lucy-Liu-and-Jonny-Lee-Miller-of-CBS-ElementaryIn fact much of the first episode is dedicated to setting up the relationship between Holmes and Watson, who, to answer the second question above, in no way inhibits the proceedings by being a woman. Liu’s Dr. Watson comes with a dark backstory in which she was forced out of the profession due to malpractice. Holmes quickly ascertains this background, of course, based on her hands, her current unglamorous choice of employment, and a parking ticket that falls out of her purse. There is chemistry between these two, and when Holmes’ observations get a little too personally invasive, Liu is more than able to hold up Watson’s end of the verbal back and forth.

Though some will find enough evidence to accuse CBS of creating a romantic drama with a dash of crime, Elementary showrunner Rob Doherty insists that nothing of the sort will occur. Still, there is a noticeable tension in the air. But this is network TV, after all, so no doubt things will be kept ambiguous between them for as long as possible.

The jury is still out on Elementary. If you’re a Holmes purist, then yes, it will most likely cause you to throw your copy of A Study in Scarlet at the screen. But you knew that already, right? For the rest of us, let’s hope that the writers give Holmes a bit more to work with in future episodes, so that he can show off superhuman deductive skills instead of—okay ladies, along with—his abs. If Elementary can avoid becoming a run-of-the-mill crime drama, Miller and Liu seem up to the challenge of creating another memorable pair.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 26 September 2012 09:09

Elementary_liu_miller_living_roomMystery Scene reviews Elementary, the latest Sherlock Holmes adaptation for television debuting on CBS.

Aunt Agatha’s Celebrates 20th Anniversary
Oline Cogdill

auntagatha_storeannarborThere’s a party going on this week and everyone who loves mystery fiction is invited.

The occasion is the 20th anniversary of Aunt Agatha’s Mystery Book Shop in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan. The festivities will be 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 3 at the bookstore, spilling over to the art gallery space next door so there will be room for the many authors and readers expected to come.

About 15 authors, many of them from Michigan, will be on hand to sign books and talk with customers. Each hour of the open house will feature a different set of authors. And yes, there will be cake and refreshments.

Robin and Jamie Agnew, the store’s husband-and-wife owners, are thrilled to reach that 20-year milestone.

“We can’t believe it’s been 20 years, the time has gone so fast,” said Robin Agnew, during a telephone conversation last week. “I also can’t believe that we outlasted Borders. When we opened, Borders was the local bookstore.”

Jamie Agnew had been working at Borders and Robin Agnew had been making the rounds at art fairs as a water-color painter when the couple decided to open their own store. The couple had recently had a baby and both felt it was time for a change.

Opening the store was a challenge as the couple had only a little experience in working retail. Plus Jamie wasn’t really a fan of mystery fiction. They were, however, quite familiar with the bookstore Uncle Edgar's in Minneapolis where they had lived for several years and knew that the genre had a loyal following.

Through the years, the couple learned on the job and Jamie became quite a fan of mystery fiction.

Aunt Agatha’s, like other mystery bookstores around the country, thrives because it offers the kind of customer service that large chain stores cannot.

“Some of our customers we have known for 20 years, so we know them really well,” said Robin. “For new customers, I can ask a few questions and know what they might like to read. It’s great fun to introduce our customers to new authors. We introduced customers who are fans of Steve Hamilton to Bryan Gruley [author of Starvation Lake.]

And those customers become like family. “A bookstore can do what no other store can—offer a community,” said Robin Agnew. “We are a gathering place for people who like the same thing. There are not a lot of places left like that.”

That sense of community and being part of a family resulted in a remarkable event when a long-time customer left money in his will to the Agnews.

“He was always coming in and spending time here; he’d tell us he was going to put us in his will, but we thought he was kidding. He had no family and a few weeks after he died we got a call from his lawyer.

“We are sending our daughter to college with the money,” she added.

Aunt Agatha’s doesn’t sell coffee or games – just books, new and used. It has one book club with about 12 to 15 regular attendees who come for the “lively discussion,” said Robin Agnew. “Often the book club members are divided down the middle about what they think about whatever we are reading. It’s always a lot of fun.”

And some of those book club members who have been coming since the doors opened have passed on their love of mysteries to the next generation. “One woman’s daughter now comes by herself because she’s a grownup,” said Robin Agnew. “Another member recently brought her daughter who was so excited to meet Jennifer Allison.”

A university town, Ann Arbor is a town of readers. Aunt Agatha’s customers include a number of professors and graduate students from the University of Michigan as well as visitors on their way to Michigan’s tourist destinations.

Many customers come from Michigan but also from Canada. One woman regularly drives for two hours from Grand Rapids to attend the book clubs.

auntagatha_kruegerhamilton“They come from all over,” said Robin Agnew.

International mysteries and classic crime fiction sell well at Aunt Agatha’s, as do the used books.

Many authors, such as William Kent Krueger and Steve Hamilton, at left in the store, had their first signings at Aunt Agatha’s where the many book events continue to draw in customers.

"Robin and Jamie and Aunt Agatha's are so dear to my heart and the heart of many, many authors," said Krueger in an email to Mystery Scene. "The one bookstore outside my beloved Minnesota that I work like crazy to get on every tour itinerary—and have from the beginning of my career—is Aunt Agatha’s.

"What makes a bookstore great has nothing to do with square footage or the size of the inventory. It’s the people inside, behind the counter. It’s that heartfelt welcome you get when you walk in. It’s the good advice and the informed opinion. I don’t know anyone who fills that bill better than Robin and Jamie. They know the genre. They know the tastes of their customers. They have prominence in the mystery community. And, God bless ’em, they treat the authors who visit like family," added Krueger.

“Robin and Jamie Agnew supported me from my debut mystery in 2002; ten years later I still go back every time I release a new novel--unless there's a blizzard,” said Libby Fischer Hellman, whose latest novel is A Bitter Veil.

“Aunt Agatha's is a place where their broad knowledge of the genre and their personal warmth have created a welcoming, nurturing place for mystery authors. Here's to 20 more years!” added Hellman in an email.

In addition to scheduled signings, it’s not uncommon to find authors at the store, buying books, or signing stock and talking with customers.

Loren Estleman lives nearby and is “such a book hound,” said Robin Agnew affectionately. “He’s been in shopping and talking to customers. They end up finding out who he is and buying all his books.”

A similar thing happened when S.J. Rozan left the store after signing stock. “A customer asked if she was an author and what were her books like,” said Robin Agnew. “She bought every book in her series.”

Robin Agnew said that it is rewarding to see an author go from their first book to a successful career. “Jim Huang [a former independent bookstore owner and a Mystery Scene contributing editor] was in our store once when Steve Hamilton came in for the first time. Jim greeted him and congratulated him on winning the Private Eye Writers of America/St. Martin's Press Award for A Cold Day in Paradise.

“It was a nice moment,” said Robin.

And 20 years of selling books have brought the Agnews a lot of nice moments. As for the next 20 years, well, the couple is just trying to get through the next week.

“We are just enjoying Aunt Agatha’s so much. And we are going to really enjoy the party,” said Robin Agnew.

Aunt Agatha’s is located at 213 South Fourth Avenue, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104. Call 734-769-1114 or visit http://auntagathas.com/

Authors expected to attend the 20th anniversary party include

Steve Hamilton

Loren D. Estelman

Louise Penny

Julia Spencer-Fleming

William Kent Krueger

Rhys Bowen

Alyse Carlson

Sharon Fiffer

Sarah Zettel

Libby Fischer Hellman

Steve Miller

Rick Blechta

Vicki Delany

D.E. Johnson

Sharan Newman

Photos: Top, Aunt Agatha's store front; center, William Kent Krueger, left, and Steve Hamilton. Photos courtesty Aunt Agatha's.

Super User 2
Sunday, 30 September 2012 05:09

auntagatha_storeannarborThere’s a party going on this week and everyone who loves mystery fiction is invited.

The occasion is the 20th anniversary of Aunt Agatha’s Mystery Book Shop in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan. The festivities will be 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 3 at the bookstore, spilling over to the art gallery space next door so there will be room for the many authors and readers expected to come.

About 15 authors, many of them from Michigan, will be on hand to sign books and talk with customers. Each hour of the open house will feature a different set of authors. And yes, there will be cake and refreshments.

Robin and Jamie Agnew, the store’s husband-and-wife owners, are thrilled to reach that 20-year milestone.

“We can’t believe it’s been 20 years, the time has gone so fast,” said Robin Agnew, during a telephone conversation last week. “I also can’t believe that we outlasted Borders. When we opened, Borders was the local bookstore.”

Jamie Agnew had been working at Borders and Robin Agnew had been making the rounds at art fairs as a water-color painter when the couple decided to open their own store. The couple had recently had a baby and both felt it was time for a change.

Opening the store was a challenge as the couple had only a little experience in working retail. Plus Jamie wasn’t really a fan of mystery fiction. They were, however, quite familiar with the bookstore Uncle Edgar's in Minneapolis where they had lived for several years and knew that the genre had a loyal following.

Through the years, the couple learned on the job and Jamie became quite a fan of mystery fiction.

Aunt Agatha’s, like other mystery bookstores around the country, thrives because it offers the kind of customer service that large chain stores cannot.

“Some of our customers we have known for 20 years, so we know them really well,” said Robin. “For new customers, I can ask a few questions and know what they might like to read. It’s great fun to introduce our customers to new authors. We introduced customers who are fans of Steve Hamilton to Bryan Gruley [author of Starvation Lake.]

And those customers become like family. “A bookstore can do what no other store can—offer a community,” said Robin Agnew. “We are a gathering place for people who like the same thing. There are not a lot of places left like that.”

That sense of community and being part of a family resulted in a remarkable event when a long-time customer left money in his will to the Agnews.

“He was always coming in and spending time here; he’d tell us he was going to put us in his will, but we thought he was kidding. He had no family and a few weeks after he died we got a call from his lawyer.

“We are sending our daughter to college with the money,” she added.

Aunt Agatha’s doesn’t sell coffee or games – just books, new and used. It has one book club with about 12 to 15 regular attendees who come for the “lively discussion,” said Robin Agnew. “Often the book club members are divided down the middle about what they think about whatever we are reading. It’s always a lot of fun.”

And some of those book club members who have been coming since the doors opened have passed on their love of mysteries to the next generation. “One woman’s daughter now comes by herself because she’s a grownup,” said Robin Agnew. “Another member recently brought her daughter who was so excited to meet Jennifer Allison.”

A university town, Ann Arbor is a town of readers. Aunt Agatha’s customers include a number of professors and graduate students from the University of Michigan as well as visitors on their way to Michigan’s tourist destinations.

Many customers come from Michigan but also from Canada. One woman regularly drives for two hours from Grand Rapids to attend the book clubs.

auntagatha_kruegerhamilton“They come from all over,” said Robin Agnew.

International mysteries and classic crime fiction sell well at Aunt Agatha’s, as do the used books.

Many authors, such as William Kent Krueger and Steve Hamilton, at left in the store, had their first signings at Aunt Agatha’s where the many book events continue to draw in customers.

"Robin and Jamie and Aunt Agatha's are so dear to my heart and the heart of many, many authors," said Krueger in an email to Mystery Scene. "The one bookstore outside my beloved Minnesota that I work like crazy to get on every tour itinerary—and have from the beginning of my career—is Aunt Agatha’s.

"What makes a bookstore great has nothing to do with square footage or the size of the inventory. It’s the people inside, behind the counter. It’s that heartfelt welcome you get when you walk in. It’s the good advice and the informed opinion. I don’t know anyone who fills that bill better than Robin and Jamie. They know the genre. They know the tastes of their customers. They have prominence in the mystery community. And, God bless ’em, they treat the authors who visit like family," added Krueger.

“Robin and Jamie Agnew supported me from my debut mystery in 2002; ten years later I still go back every time I release a new novel--unless there's a blizzard,” said Libby Fischer Hellman, whose latest novel is A Bitter Veil.

“Aunt Agatha's is a place where their broad knowledge of the genre and their personal warmth have created a welcoming, nurturing place for mystery authors. Here's to 20 more years!” added Hellman in an email.

In addition to scheduled signings, it’s not uncommon to find authors at the store, buying books, or signing stock and talking with customers.

Loren Estleman lives nearby and is “such a book hound,” said Robin Agnew affectionately. “He’s been in shopping and talking to customers. They end up finding out who he is and buying all his books.”

A similar thing happened when S.J. Rozan left the store after signing stock. “A customer asked if she was an author and what were her books like,” said Robin Agnew. “She bought every book in her series.”

Robin Agnew said that it is rewarding to see an author go from their first book to a successful career. “Jim Huang [a former independent bookstore owner and a Mystery Scene contributing editor] was in our store once when Steve Hamilton came in for the first time. Jim greeted him and congratulated him on winning the Private Eye Writers of America/St. Martin's Press Award for A Cold Day in Paradise.

“It was a nice moment,” said Robin.

And 20 years of selling books have brought the Agnews a lot of nice moments. As for the next 20 years, well, the couple is just trying to get through the next week.

“We are just enjoying Aunt Agatha’s so much. And we are going to really enjoy the party,” said Robin Agnew.

Aunt Agatha’s is located at 213 South Fourth Avenue, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104. Call 734-769-1114 or visit http://auntagathas.com/

Authors expected to attend the 20th anniversary party include

Steve Hamilton

Loren D. Estelman

Louise Penny

Julia Spencer-Fleming

William Kent Krueger

Rhys Bowen

Alyse Carlson

Sharon Fiffer

Sarah Zettel

Libby Fischer Hellman

Steve Miller

Rick Blechta

Vicki Delany

D.E. Johnson

Sharan Newman

Photos: Top, Aunt Agatha's store front; center, William Kent Krueger, left, and Steve Hamilton. Photos courtesty Aunt Agatha's.

G.M. Malliet on James Thurber
G.M. Malliet

malliet_gmIn a recent interview I joked that growing up, I was a poster child for bookworms. Raised as the only child of somewhat older parents, I was moved from one military base to another, generally against my will. Books were my escape, particularly when these moves occurred mid-semester, as happened in my already angst-ridden junior year of high school. Fortunately my mother, a great reader, never insisted books were too heavy to pack and ship about the globe. Toys we left behind, but never books.

Asked to write for this article about an author who had a big impact on my reading life, the name that first came to mind was not Agatha Christie, later unquestionably my biggest inspiration, but humorist James Thurber. His collections of cartoons and essays, many of which first appeared in The New Yorker, were one constant in my ever-changing world.

Thurber’s is a subversive style of writing I associate with the British, so gifted at making us laugh by taking an ordinary scene and piling occurrence upon happenstance, leading us toward a somehow inevitable and happy, if goofy, outcome. As Thurber said, “Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility.” First posit a ridiculous, Python-esque setup, then coax the reader until he accepts the implausible as real. Add fantastic, startling touches, until your Walter Mitty is thoroughly entrenched in a mad world spinning out of his control.

thurber_thurberoncrimeFor writers, the goal is to get the reader pulling for a beleaguered protagonist to restore order from the chaos they’ve created. If this can be done with a soupcon of wit and wisdom, so much the better.

Thurber showed me what was possible with the ever-versatile English language. With his humor, he made me forget how hard it was to be the new kid at school.

Thurber said he wrote humor because he had “the hope it may do some good.” For this bookworm, transported by Thurber’s genius, it did.

Author Website: gmmalliet.com

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" eNews October 2012 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 26 September 2012 04:09

malliet_gm"Thurber’s is a subversive style of writing I associate with the British, so gifted at making us laugh by taking an ordinary scene and piling occurrence upon happenstance, leading us toward a somehow inevitable and happy, if goofy, outcome."