Fargo: Intriguing but Too Violent
Oline Cogdill

fargotv_martinfreemanx
Beware the overlooked man.

The frustrated, inept, ignored man seething with unresolved violence day and night.

Beware this dormant volcano who one day erupts and cannot rein in his violent tendencies.

That describes insurance salesman Lester Nygaard, a sad sack of a man played to perfection by British actor Martin Freeman in the compelling and disturbing drama Fargo, airing 10 p.m. Tuesdays on FX.

For years, Lester’s diabolical nature has been submerged as he just tried to get through life, knowing that no one had any respect for him—not his wife, his brother, or his boss.

This 40-something man was still being bullied by his high school nemesis who now has brought in his lughead sons to continue the harassment of Lester.

Then one day, Lester has a strange encounter in the emergency room with a drifter named Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton).

fargoTV_billybobthorntonIn a kind of Strangers on a Train meeting, Malvo, a remorseless killer, somehow encourages Lester to unleash his demons.

Before he knows what is happening, Lester kills his wife and witnesses Malvo’s murder of the police chief.

And there is no turning back in this Fargo.

Although the TV Fargo shares the same name as the 1996 movie, the same frozen rural Minnesota landscape, and droll dark humor, this version is not a continuation of that film by Ethan and Joel Coen, who are listed among the executive producers. Most of the story doesn’t even occur in Fargo, a kind of joke.


fargoTV_alisontolman
The TV version of Fargo is created by Noah Hawley, a producer, screenwriter, composer, and author. His other TV credits include writing and producing the television series Bones.

Hawley also created The Unusuals and My Generation. Hawley’s novels include A Conspiracy of Tall Men, Other People's Weddings, The Punch, and The Good Father.

Marge Gunderson, so wonderfully played by Frances McDormand who received a best actress Oscar for the role in the movie, is nowhere in sight in the TV version.

Presumably, hopefully, Marge and her husband Norm have a wonderful life with more children, and his career as an artist for stamps is thriving. And Marge is still the police chief and she never again has had to witness the carnage she had to endure that day.

fargotv_colinhanks
In this Fargo reboot, the moral center is another woman cop, this time in Bemidji, Minnesota. Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) is an insightful cop who the police chief had been grooming to become a detective and eventually police chief.

But that was before he was murdered and now Officer Solverson is saddled with a new chief, Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk), who is as clueless as he is dismissive of her abilities.

Despite her boss’ orders to leave Lester alone—after all, a milquetoast like him could never harm anyone—Molly continues her own investigation.

She finds an ally in Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks), a fellow police officer over in Duluth, Minn. Gus had an unsettling encounter with Malvo, and he and Molly find a link between Lester and this stranger. But Gus is a reluctant partner. He never wanted to be a cop and, as a single father, his priority is his bright pre-teen daughter.

Tolman and Hanks are terrific in their roles as ordinary people caught up in extraordinary situations, witnessing violence they cannot comprehend. The two actors also subtly show the loneliness of their characters and the growing attraction each has for the other.

fargoTV_jail
I’ve never cared much for Thornton, even in Sling Blade, but he really gives an outstanding performance as Malvo.

With his odd haircut and steely glaze, Thornton oozes evil. He is not a man but a true evil monster who has no compassion for anyone and kills without thought.

Freeman is such an enjoyable actor who embraces every role, from of Dr. Watson in the new Sherlock Holmes, the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the nude body double looking for love in Love Actually, and Tim in the U.K. The Office.

A consummate character actor, Freeman embraces his growing diabolicalness, which was made even more clear in last week’s episode. Lester’s brother sums up his character perfectly: “There’s something wrong with you, Lester. There’s something missing. You’re not right in the world.”

Fargo is beautifully shot, making the most of this snowbound area, showing its beauty and lethalness. Last week’s shootout in the midst of a blinding snowstorm, with myriad whiteouts, was brilliant.

Dark comedy swirls in the FX Fargo, as humor is found the absurd situations. The comedy works well in this series.

The violence often doesn’t.

While the film version had violence, the Coens were careful to show most of it off camera, saving the real impact for that woodchipper. And even in that scene, the viewer—and Marge—came in toward the end, seeing enough of a glimpse to know what was going on without a gratuitous long scene.

The TV Fargo has a level of violence not often seen on the small screen. Even the brilliant Justified, which also airs on FX, or the even more brilliant The Wire, didn’t go this far. And those are stronger series for their restraint.

Fargo’s sixth episode, which aired this past week, was especially disturbing. It went too far in showing every detail. We know when someone is being killed, we don’t need that close-up view. Compelling storytelling shouldn’t make the viewer cringe.

This season of Fargo will have 10 episodes and its ratings have been quite good. It hasn’t been announced yet if the series will be renewed for another season.

I hope we get to visit Fargo again, and please, please bring back Tolman and Hanks.

PHOTOS: From top, Martin Freeman; Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks. Bottom photo: Mr. Numbers (Adam Goldberg), left, and Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard), right, surround Lester (Martin Freeman). FX photos

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 24 May 2014 11:05

fargotv_martinfreemanx
Beware the overlooked man.

The frustrated, inept, ignored man seething with unresolved violence day and night.

Beware this dormant volcano who one day erupts and cannot rein in his violent tendencies.

That describes insurance salesman Lester Nygaard, a sad sack of a man played to perfection by British actor Martin Freeman in the compelling and disturbing drama Fargo, airing 10 p.m. Tuesdays on FX.

For years, Lester’s diabolical nature has been submerged as he just tried to get through life, knowing that no one had any respect for him—not his wife, his brother, or his boss.

This 40-something man was still being bullied by his high school nemesis who now has brought in his lughead sons to continue the harassment of Lester.

Then one day, Lester has a strange encounter in the emergency room with a drifter named Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton).

fargoTV_billybobthorntonIn a kind of Strangers on a Train meeting, Malvo, a remorseless killer, somehow encourages Lester to unleash his demons.

Before he knows what is happening, Lester kills his wife and witnesses Malvo’s murder of the police chief.

And there is no turning back in this Fargo.

Although the TV Fargo shares the same name as the 1996 movie, the same frozen rural Minnesota landscape, and droll dark humor, this version is not a continuation of that film by Ethan and Joel Coen, who are listed among the executive producers. Most of the story doesn’t even occur in Fargo, a kind of joke.


fargoTV_alisontolman
The TV version of Fargo is created by Noah Hawley, a producer, screenwriter, composer, and author. His other TV credits include writing and producing the television series Bones.

Hawley also created The Unusuals and My Generation. Hawley’s novels include A Conspiracy of Tall Men, Other People's Weddings, The Punch, and The Good Father.

Marge Gunderson, so wonderfully played by Frances McDormand who received a best actress Oscar for the role in the movie, is nowhere in sight in the TV version.

Presumably, hopefully, Marge and her husband Norm have a wonderful life with more children, and his career as an artist for stamps is thriving. And Marge is still the police chief and she never again has had to witness the carnage she had to endure that day.

fargotv_colinhanks
In this Fargo reboot, the moral center is another woman cop, this time in Bemidji, Minnesota. Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) is an insightful cop who the police chief had been grooming to become a detective and eventually police chief.

But that was before he was murdered and now Officer Solverson is saddled with a new chief, Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk), who is as clueless as he is dismissive of her abilities.

Despite her boss’ orders to leave Lester alone—after all, a milquetoast like him could never harm anyone—Molly continues her own investigation.

She finds an ally in Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks), a fellow police officer over in Duluth, Minn. Gus had an unsettling encounter with Malvo, and he and Molly find a link between Lester and this stranger. But Gus is a reluctant partner. He never wanted to be a cop and, as a single father, his priority is his bright pre-teen daughter.

Tolman and Hanks are terrific in their roles as ordinary people caught up in extraordinary situations, witnessing violence they cannot comprehend. The two actors also subtly show the loneliness of their characters and the growing attraction each has for the other.

fargoTV_jail
I’ve never cared much for Thornton, even in Sling Blade, but he really gives an outstanding performance as Malvo.

With his odd haircut and steely glaze, Thornton oozes evil. He is not a man but a true evil monster who has no compassion for anyone and kills without thought.

Freeman is such an enjoyable actor who embraces every role, from of Dr. Watson in the new Sherlock Holmes, the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the nude body double looking for love in Love Actually, and Tim in the U.K. The Office.

A consummate character actor, Freeman embraces his growing diabolicalness, which was made even more clear in last week’s episode. Lester’s brother sums up his character perfectly: “There’s something wrong with you, Lester. There’s something missing. You’re not right in the world.”

Fargo is beautifully shot, making the most of this snowbound area, showing its beauty and lethalness. Last week’s shootout in the midst of a blinding snowstorm, with myriad whiteouts, was brilliant.

Dark comedy swirls in the FX Fargo, as humor is found the absurd situations. The comedy works well in this series.

The violence often doesn’t.

While the film version had violence, the Coens were careful to show most of it off camera, saving the real impact for that woodchipper. And even in that scene, the viewer—and Marge—came in toward the end, seeing enough of a glimpse to know what was going on without a gratuitous long scene.

The TV Fargo has a level of violence not often seen on the small screen. Even the brilliant Justified, which also airs on FX, or the even more brilliant The Wire, didn’t go this far. And those are stronger series for their restraint.

Fargo’s sixth episode, which aired this past week, was especially disturbing. It went too far in showing every detail. We know when someone is being killed, we don’t need that close-up view. Compelling storytelling shouldn’t make the viewer cringe.

This season of Fargo will have 10 episodes and its ratings have been quite good. It hasn’t been announced yet if the series will be renewed for another season.

I hope we get to visit Fargo again, and please, please bring back Tolman and Hanks.

PHOTOS: From top, Martin Freeman; Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks. Bottom photo: Mr. Numbers (Adam Goldberg), left, and Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard), right, surround Lester (Martin Freeman). FX photos

Alex Segura on Silent City, Comics
Oline Cogdill

segura_alex
Alex Segura, left, is a novelist, comic book writer, musician, and journalist whose debuted with Silent City, set in Miami.

Silent City revolves around Pete Fernandez who squandered his once promising career as an investigative sports reporter. Since his return to Miami following the death of his police detective father, Pete spends most of his time drunk, routinely coming to work late and making serious mistakes in his job on the Miami Times’ sports desk. A coworker’s request to find his estranged daughter who has vanished lulls Pete out of his angst.

Here’s what Segura has to say about his career.

Q: Currently, you edit the Archie superhero graphic novels and have written the Archie Meets KISS series. How does your background in graphic novels infuse your crime fiction?
A:
Comics are very visual—and the really good ones are cinematic and almost fluid in how they present a story. You don’t feel like you’re looking at static images. So, if there was any influence, it was about being concise with words but also clear about the visuals and action. I wanted the prose to be easy to follow and effective and a little rough. The latter was probably more because I was new at it than any grand design. I always envision what I write like a movie—what’s the opening scene? How do we cut from one scene to another? Comics are about merging the visual with the mental, and that's what I tried to bring to the book: a prose story you could see in your mind without much prodding or over-explaining. Whether I succeeded or not is up to the reader.

Q: How different is it in writing crime fiction as opposed to a graphic novel?
A:
Comics are much more collaborative. You have a writer, an artist—sometimes more than one—a letterer and a colorist. You have to relay your vision to one person and then, like a game of telephone, it continues down the line. Novels are very solitary. You still have people giving input, but it’s usually an editor or agent and it’s usually after you’ve spent a long time writing a draft. It’s much lonelier and less about brainstorming with someone else. It’s more about creating and fine-tuning on your own and then turning it over to someone to give you notes on a completed thing. Whereas comics are about creating parts and leaving other spaces open for others to chime in. It’s more musical, like jamming. Comics—at least writing them—are more akin to putting a puzzle together: I need to fill 20 pages with X amount of action and I have this many panels to play with on a given page. Novels are more free-form, which is great and also hugely intimidating.

Q: Had you considered making Silent City a graphic novel?
A:
The thought had crossed my mind. But part of me wants to keep the two worlds separate for now. Most of my comic writing has been with Archie—Archie Meets KISS, a few one-offs and I have a few more in the pipeline—which is pretty light, humorous fare. My novels are crime books—gritty, noir, violent, not PG. I don’t want to say never—because who knows, the opportunity may arise—but for now I’d like to keep my crime writing in the prose world and stretch my genre muscles in comics if I can.

That being said, I love me some crime comics. Stuff like 100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips and Stray Bullets by David Lapham inform all of my writing. That's just the tip of the iceberg, too.

seguraalex_silentcity
Q: You also have a background in journalism and started as a reporter. Obviously this played a big part in Silent City.
A:
It did. I think that, plus the setting and a lot of things about Pete, the protagonist, goes back to just writing what I knew at the time. Not because I felt that was a rule, but because I was comfortable doing that. And I also wanted to show a realistic version of Miami and create a person I could see myself hanging out with or knowing back home.

The journalism stuff came naturally because I’d worked as an editor and interned as a reporter in Miami [and in] South Florida. I knew that world and tried to be honest about it. Pete is at a low point in his life, too, so everything is terrible in his eyes. Even though, from an outside perspective, he has a decent job and seems to have friends who care for him. But that’s the case with anyone going through a dark time.

Q: Newspapers have changed a lot since you were a reporter, what kind of research did you do to make your scenes in the newsroom so authentic?
A:
I have a lot of friends still in the business. I did the first draft based off my own memories and ran them by some beta readers. My editor at Codorus is still in journalism to some degree, and he vetted a lot of it. His validation was really important, because I wanted real journalists—not someone who dabbled for a few years and went on to something else—to read the book and not get jammed up by incorrect details or tonal errors. So, when he and a few others read it and agreed the journalistic descriptions were accurate, I was happy.

Q: While you are a Miami native, it has been a long time since you lived in the Magic City. Why set your novel in South Florida?
A:
I’ve lived in New York for almost a decade, but Miami still feels like home. I’m not sure that’ll ever go away. And when I first started writing Silent City, I felt completely overwhelmed by New York. I had no sense of the personality or history of the city and felt wholly unprepared to write about it. That’s faded somewhat since then, so I’d feel more comfortable doing a N.Y. book now. I’ve toyed with the idea of bringing Pete to N.Y., but nothing beyond idle thoughts.

Also, a big reason for setting it in Miami was because I hadn’t really read a Miami mystery that spoke to me—aside from Vicki Hendricks’ amazing Miami Purity. Which isn’t to discredit people who have written about Miami or South Florida. I’m sure there are great books that I haven’t read yet. But I wanted to write a story about my hometown as I remembered it, with the kind of characters that I would recognize and that others would, too, or at least find compelling enough to hang out for a while.

Q: What next?
A:
I’m revising my second novel, Down the Darkest Street. Once that’s locked in, we can figure out when it’ll hit shelves. I’m halfway through a third Pete novel, too, which I’ll shoot to finish once the second one is off. I’m writing some more comics--a few issues of the main ARCHIE title. I also have a short sci-fi story in the upcoming anthology Apollo's Daughters, edited by Bryan Young (Silence in the Library Publishing), and a horror comic short in another upcoming anthology. Those last two are with a co-writer I’ve been friends with for a long time. I also have another Pete short story working its way out of my brain. All tricky to execute with a day job, but so far, so good.
Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 28 May 2014 07:05

segura_alex
Alex Segura, left, is a novelist, comic book writer, musician, and journalist whose debuted with Silent City, set in Miami.

Silent City revolves around Pete Fernandez who squandered his once promising career as an investigative sports reporter. Since his return to Miami following the death of his police detective father, Pete spends most of his time drunk, routinely coming to work late and making serious mistakes in his job on the Miami Times’ sports desk. A coworker’s request to find his estranged daughter who has vanished lulls Pete out of his angst.

Here’s what Segura has to say about his career.

Q: Currently, you edit the Archie superhero graphic novels and have written the Archie Meets KISS series. How does your background in graphic novels infuse your crime fiction?
A:
Comics are very visual—and the really good ones are cinematic and almost fluid in how they present a story. You don’t feel like you’re looking at static images. So, if there was any influence, it was about being concise with words but also clear about the visuals and action. I wanted the prose to be easy to follow and effective and a little rough. The latter was probably more because I was new at it than any grand design. I always envision what I write like a movie—what’s the opening scene? How do we cut from one scene to another? Comics are about merging the visual with the mental, and that's what I tried to bring to the book: a prose story you could see in your mind without much prodding or over-explaining. Whether I succeeded or not is up to the reader.

Q: How different is it in writing crime fiction as opposed to a graphic novel?
A:
Comics are much more collaborative. You have a writer, an artist—sometimes more than one—a letterer and a colorist. You have to relay your vision to one person and then, like a game of telephone, it continues down the line. Novels are very solitary. You still have people giving input, but it’s usually an editor or agent and it’s usually after you’ve spent a long time writing a draft. It’s much lonelier and less about brainstorming with someone else. It’s more about creating and fine-tuning on your own and then turning it over to someone to give you notes on a completed thing. Whereas comics are about creating parts and leaving other spaces open for others to chime in. It’s more musical, like jamming. Comics—at least writing them—are more akin to putting a puzzle together: I need to fill 20 pages with X amount of action and I have this many panels to play with on a given page. Novels are more free-form, which is great and also hugely intimidating.

Q: Had you considered making Silent City a graphic novel?
A:
The thought had crossed my mind. But part of me wants to keep the two worlds separate for now. Most of my comic writing has been with Archie—Archie Meets KISS, a few one-offs and I have a few more in the pipeline—which is pretty light, humorous fare. My novels are crime books—gritty, noir, violent, not PG. I don’t want to say never—because who knows, the opportunity may arise—but for now I’d like to keep my crime writing in the prose world and stretch my genre muscles in comics if I can.

That being said, I love me some crime comics. Stuff like 100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips and Stray Bullets by David Lapham inform all of my writing. That's just the tip of the iceberg, too.

seguraalex_silentcity
Q: You also have a background in journalism and started as a reporter. Obviously this played a big part in Silent City.
A:
It did. I think that, plus the setting and a lot of things about Pete, the protagonist, goes back to just writing what I knew at the time. Not because I felt that was a rule, but because I was comfortable doing that. And I also wanted to show a realistic version of Miami and create a person I could see myself hanging out with or knowing back home.

The journalism stuff came naturally because I’d worked as an editor and interned as a reporter in Miami [and in] South Florida. I knew that world and tried to be honest about it. Pete is at a low point in his life, too, so everything is terrible in his eyes. Even though, from an outside perspective, he has a decent job and seems to have friends who care for him. But that’s the case with anyone going through a dark time.

Q: Newspapers have changed a lot since you were a reporter, what kind of research did you do to make your scenes in the newsroom so authentic?
A:
I have a lot of friends still in the business. I did the first draft based off my own memories and ran them by some beta readers. My editor at Codorus is still in journalism to some degree, and he vetted a lot of it. His validation was really important, because I wanted real journalists—not someone who dabbled for a few years and went on to something else—to read the book and not get jammed up by incorrect details or tonal errors. So, when he and a few others read it and agreed the journalistic descriptions were accurate, I was happy.

Q: While you are a Miami native, it has been a long time since you lived in the Magic City. Why set your novel in South Florida?
A:
I’ve lived in New York for almost a decade, but Miami still feels like home. I’m not sure that’ll ever go away. And when I first started writing Silent City, I felt completely overwhelmed by New York. I had no sense of the personality or history of the city and felt wholly unprepared to write about it. That’s faded somewhat since then, so I’d feel more comfortable doing a N.Y. book now. I’ve toyed with the idea of bringing Pete to N.Y., but nothing beyond idle thoughts.

Also, a big reason for setting it in Miami was because I hadn’t really read a Miami mystery that spoke to me—aside from Vicki Hendricks’ amazing Miami Purity. Which isn’t to discredit people who have written about Miami or South Florida. I’m sure there are great books that I haven’t read yet. But I wanted to write a story about my hometown as I remembered it, with the kind of characters that I would recognize and that others would, too, or at least find compelling enough to hang out for a while.

Q: What next?
A:
I’m revising my second novel, Down the Darkest Street. Once that’s locked in, we can figure out when it’ll hit shelves. I’m halfway through a third Pete novel, too, which I’ll shoot to finish once the second one is off. I’m writing some more comics--a few issues of the main ARCHIE title. I also have a short sci-fi story in the upcoming anthology Apollo's Daughters, edited by Bryan Young (Silence in the Library Publishing), and a horror comic short in another upcoming anthology. Those last two are with a co-writer I’ve been friends with for a long time. I also have another Pete short story working its way out of my brain. All tricky to execute with a day job, but so far, so good.
Nero Wolfe: From Page to Stage
Joseph Goodrich

subkoviak_pearson_redbox

Joseph Goodrich talks process for his new stage adaptation of The Red Box.


E. J. Subkoviak (Nero Wolfe) and Sam Pearson (Archie Goodwin). Photo: Petronella Ytsma.

My adaptation of The Red Box, the fourth novel in Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series, just had its world premiere at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota, this June. It marks the stage debut of Stout’s corpulent, orchid-fancying crime solver and his irrepressible Man Friday, Archie Goodwin. Moving the inhabitants of a certain brownstone on West 35th Street from the page to the stage was a process that’s taken, from first thought to lights-up, three and a half years.

The initial part of that process reminds me of the great lyricist Ira Gershwin, who was once asked, “Which comes first? The words or the music?”

Gershwin’s answer: “The contract.”

Before I set pen to paper, I needed permission from the Stout estate to dramatize one of the Wolfe stories. It turns out that Rex Stout’s younger daughter Rebecca Bradbury manages the estate, so we were soon corresponding. Obtaining the dramatic rights took the better part of a year, and I understand why. It was not a small decision to make. Legal documents do not grow overnight. But they do grow, and eventually terms were agreed upon, and a contract was signed.

With the question of dramatic rights settled, another question presented itself: Which book to adapt?

I considered a number of titles before deciding on The Red Box. The novellas I'd contemplated using didn't have quite enough action for theatrical purposes, and many of the novels had too much. The Red Box struck me as having the right amount of plot and number of characters. I could trim and condense where necessary without fatally damaging the story. The fact that it was one of the lesser-known titles was also a strength; it would be unfamiliar to many, and perhaps even offer a few surprises to Wolfe aficionados. It's a strong early outing with Wolfe and Goodwin that possesses all the charm and zing we expect from them.

The Red Box. All right. How to—where to—begin?

I began by reading and re-reading the novel until the paperback threatened to fall apart. I must have read it a dozen times before I started writing. Certain aesthetic considerations shaped how I viewed the novel. The Red Box was first published in 1937, and it seemed appropriate to utilize the mainstream theatrical conventions of the era: one set, a limited number of characters engaged in recognizable, psychologically motivated behavior. The play should be compact, fast moving, intriguing—above all, it should be entertaining.

subkoviak_pearson_redbox3Based on these choices, I decided that Wolfe’s office in the brownstone would be the sole setting. I shortened the time frame from a week to three days to heighten the tension. I eliminated several smaller characters and simplified certain aspects of the plot. I moved the action of one scene from upstate New York to Brooklyn because Archie could get to Brooklyn faster.

Even with these alterations, I believe my adaptation is true to the spirit of the book and to the larger issues of character and relationships that animate the series. Archie Goodwin is the irresistible force. Nero Wolfe is the immovable object. Crime sets the conflict between the two in motion and lends gravity to their struggle—a struggle that’s resolved by the solution of the crime. W.H. Auden once wrote: “When truly brothers, men don’t sing in unison but in harmony.” Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin meld their different personalities, their different gifts, and by doing so restore a kind of order. They harmonize beautifully.

The penultimate part of the process occurred last fall, when Park Square Theatre held a three-day, in-house workshop of the play. I heard it aloud for the first time; met the director and cast; and, most importantly, made revisions based on what I heard and saw. I made many small changes and cuts, added material here and there, fleshed out a character or two, straightened out a sentence. The play is sharper and clearer because of those three intense days, and clarity is essential for a mystery play.

The final part of the process began on May 30, when previews commence, and reaches another level on June 6, opening night. The play runs through July 13, 2014

It’s hard to believe that three and a half years have elapsed since I asked myself, “Would it be possible to bring Nero Wolfe to the stage?” Luckily, the entire process has been, as Wolfe himself would say, “satisfactory.” My hope is that all who have the chance to see the production in St. Paul will agree.

Joseph Goodrich is an author and dramatist whose plays have been produced across the United States. Panic received the 2008 Edgar Award for Best Play. He is the editor of Blood Relations: The Selected Letters of Ellery Queen, 1947-1950, which was nominated for Anthony and Agatha awards. He is an active member of Mystery Writers of America, an alumnus of New Dramatists, and a former Calderwood Fellow at the MacDowell Colony. He lives in New York City.

WIN TICKETS TO THE SHOW!

The Red Box, a Nero Wolfe mystery directed by Peter Moore and adapted for the stage from the writing of Rex Stout by Joseph Goodrich, runs from May 30 - July 13, 2014 at the Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota.

email_iconSend us an email by June 16, 2014, with your name and contact info HERE and be entered to win a pair of free tickets to the show in St. Paul, Minnesota! Bonus entry if you can name what magazine The Red Box was first serially published in when it appeared in 1936. See you at the theater!

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 27 May 2014 12:05

redbox3Joseph Goodrich talks process for his stage adaptation of Rex Stout's The Red Box.

I, Stripper: Herb Jeffries and the Garments of Race
Gary Phillips

jeffries_herb

Jazz singer and actor Herb Jeffries, the first black singing cowboy to grace Hollywood screens, died of heart failure in West Hills, California, on May 25, 2014. He was about 100.

In 2008, mystery writer Gary Phillips contributed this thoughtful essay about Jeffries to Mystery Scene.


Tempest Storm is 80 and still stripping. Indeed, this past June at the Palms Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas she did the bump and grind, and didn’t dislocate her hip, at the annual All-Star Burlesque Weekend. Her hair is dyed a brilliant orange to match her neon orange nails. “I just don’t get up there and rip my clothes off,” the G-string queen noted. Her contemporaries Blaze Starr and Lili St. Cyr may have been discarded to the broken pole dustbin of stripper history, but not Ms. Storm. She kept performing in Vegas, Reno, Palm Springs, Miami, and even at Carnegie Hall. Imagine Death at the Bob Hope Memorial Retirement Home in Palm Springs as Ms. Storm does her thing and sends some of the old boys—and a few women probably—into apoplectic shock.

But what the heck, you ask, does the “Girl with that Fabulous Front,” who once had those assets insured by Lloyds of London, have to do with the mystery field? Well, wonder no more, for in 1967 Ms. Storm, playing Miss Tango, the owner of the Temple of Beauty Health Club, starred in Mundo Depravados or the World of the Depraved—though apparently also known as Meet Me Under the Bed in its initial release. The plot of this comedic puzzler, as it were, concerns some dude in a trench coat going around attacking the female members of this spa and two inept cops who show up to solve the mess. Alas, Tempest bares nothing in this effort, save her acting talent, while the younger women in this epic bare some skin.

tempest_stormInsignificant, you’d say. Well, yes, except there is a subgenre of mystery and crime films that miss the mark wide, shall we say, that are worth viewing in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 kind of way. Actually, Mickey Spillane is in two of these bad boys. In Ring of Fear, he gets second billing to Clyde Beatty as he plays himself called in by Pat O’Brien, the owner of the Clyde Beatty Circus, to investigate some shady doings at the circus. Then there’s The Girl Hunters, wherein Mickey plays his own famous PI creation, Mike Hammer. Girl Hunters does have a pretty good fight scene in a barn with the hero’s nemesis, The Dragon. The Two Jakes, the sequel to the near-flawless Chinatown belongs in this mish-mosh of Mondo Weird works, as well as the horrid butchery of the V.I. Warshawski movie starring Kathleen Turner.

But back to Tempest and her film, which had something going for it behind the scenes, a real hook, the twist you seek to read or write in the crafting of the mystery. The film was written (and that might be a kind word here) and directed by Tempest’s then-husband, singer and actor Herb Jeffries. They divorced three years after the movie came out—draw your own conclusions.

Yet for some years I knew that Herb Jeffries, before he had diverse small roles on Hawaii 5-0, had starred in four low budget cowboy flicks in the late ’30s that earned him the moniker the Bronze Buckaroo. For these were films with black casts aimed at black audiences. Later Jeffries, a commanding baritone, would be a crooner with the Duke Ellington and Earl “Fatha” Himes bands. The thing is, Herb is not black, not one bit. Because of the movies and his association with the aforementioned bands, he was naturally thought to be part black. Jeffries himself at times claimed to be Creole.

But as he recounts in the recent documentary A Colored Life: The Herb Jeffries Story—which I saw at the Pan African Film Festival this year—the Detroit’s native’s biological father was Sicilian and his mother Irish-Canadian. After Umberto Alesandro Valentino’s father died in WWI, his Irish-Canadian mother remarried an Ethiopian immigrant named Jeffries.

Herb, like Johnny Otis, became a voluntary black man, willingly stripping himself of his identity to, ironically considering the times, advance his career. Really, Johnny never pretended to be black per se but dropped in and never left. Herb at some point in the ’50s just as easily slipped back across the color line to “become” white again. But until I saw that doc, I always assumed he was part black.

bronze__buckarooharlem_rides_the_rangeThis racial crossing/obfuscating is another subgenre, a theme used in several mystery books and films. Devil in a Blue Dress comes to mind as does the little seen but intriguing picture Slow Burn. So as the octogenarian sex bomb Tempest Storm slowly and artfully removes her garments under the glare of the lights, I can’t help but reflect how her ex-husband, once upon a time, fandangled with the garments of race while the music played.

Gary Phillips is a well-known crime novelist and essayist.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #106.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 28 May 2014 04:05

jeffries_herbHerb Jeffries, the first black singing cowboy to grace Hollywood screens, passed away on May 25, 2014.

Longmire’s Back on A&E
Oline Cogdill

longmire_roberttaylor
My Mondays are now booked with the return of Longmire, the western crime drama based on Craig Johnson’s series about Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire.

Longmire’s third season airs at 10 p.m. Mondays on A&E, with frequent encores.

Australian actor Robert Taylor, left, plays the Wyoming lawman.

It’s not become a tradition—OK, two years in a row now—to move the publication date of Johnson’s latest novel to coincide with the start of the TV series.

The 10th Longmire novel Any Other Name (Viking) just hit the bookshelves and reading devices a couple of weeks ago.

In Any Other Name, Walt is asked by his former boss, Lucian Conally, to investigate the death of detective Gerald Holman in an adjacent county. Lucian wants to find out what drove Gerald to commit suicide.

Walt’s investigation leads to evidence concerning three missing women.

Photo: Robert Taylor as Walt Longmire. A&E photo

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 31 May 2014 04:05

longmire_roberttaylor
My Mondays are now booked with the return of Longmire, the western crime drama based on Craig Johnson’s series about Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire.

Longmire’s third season airs at 10 p.m. Mondays on A&E, with frequent encores.

Australian actor Robert Taylor, left, plays the Wyoming lawman.

It’s not become a tradition—OK, two years in a row now—to move the publication date of Johnson’s latest novel to coincide with the start of the TV series.

The 10th Longmire novel Any Other Name (Viking) just hit the bookshelves and reading devices a couple of weeks ago.

In Any Other Name, Walt is asked by his former boss, Lucian Conally, to investigate the death of detective Gerald Holman in an adjacent county. Lucian wants to find out what drove Gerald to commit suicide.

Walt’s investigation leads to evidence concerning three missing women.

Photo: Robert Taylor as Walt Longmire. A&E photo

Spying on Susan Elia Macneal
Oline Cogdill
macneal_susanelia
Giving away advanced readers’ copies of a new book isn’t exactly a new idea. Authors have been doing this for decades, to promote an upcoming book or reward devoted readers.

Yet authors are still finding ways to put a new spin on giveaways.

Susan Elia MacNeal, left, who writes the award-winning Maggie Hope series, decided to use a plot device to reward a couple of readers.

Set during WWII, the series follows Maggie Hope, who starts as a “typist” for Winston Churchill but, because of her perceptive skills, ends up becoming a spy for the British. MacNeal’s series is known for its meticulous research and complex, believable characters.

The latest novel in this series, The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent, opens in 1941 with Maggie working as an instructor at an agent training facility in Scotland. Maggie has been suffering from a “black dog” of depression and the instructor job is a way to get her back on her feet, and, hopefully, back in the field as Britain needs her unique talents. But a series of unusual deaths at the facility bring new lessons for Maggie.

To go with the theme of The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent, MacNeal decided to find out what kind of a spy her readers would be.

“Since the SOE (Special Operations Executive) was made up of real people with little to no military/spy training, I thought it would be fun to ask folks if they thought they'd make a good spy. I have my own ideas, but I thought it would be fun to hear,” said MacNeal in an email.

(By the way, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a British World War II organization formed to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe against the Axis powers, and to aid local resistance movements.)

macnealsusanelia_secretagent4thbook
The contest was conducted via Facebook. For a judge, MacNeal turned to a very special person to make the final decision—her 9-year-old son, Mattie.

The winners are readers Megan Walline and Leila Ghaznavi.

Megan won Maddie’s vote when she stated “I would make a good spy because I will mail a box of candy to Mattie if I win the contest. Is that wrong?”

Leila said she would make a good spy because “I'd be a good spy because I'm small and would fit into tight spaces so I can ease drop on people. Also I have brown hair so I blend into the blackness of alleyways. Plus I've trained in aerial acrobatics so I can hang from high places unseen!"

A few other readers offered their ideas on espionage:

Colleen Turner: “I would make a good spy for a number of reasons: I'm super short, have a young looking face, blind hair and blue eyes and very often get taken for sweet and harmless...which I could use to my advantage to infiltrate the enemy and bring them down ! Also, I am very organized and therefore would never misplace my spy equipment or intel or forget where I hid it if the need arose to escape in a flash!”

Kelly Sullinger Bales: “I’m already a spy; I’m a teacher who hears everything without being seen; knows when the fight is going to happen and breaks it up before it begins; I am around some deviant students who pass off as harmless ones; plus I'm always on the clock. And a teacher as a spy is too cool...I've already been in the trenches and know the weapons (spit balls, paper wads, and lack of deodorant)!!”

Jennifer Marie: “I'd make a great spy. I am a mom. I watch them all day every day. I look to see if their eyes are glassy and might be getting sick. I watch to see if their smile is a touch less bright. And I can always tell when my child is lying.”

Kelly Sullinger Bales: “I've read your books to my students when we did our WWII unit so they could get a better picture of what life was like for Europeans during the war...they loved it! Me too, of course!”

Kathleen Fannon: “I would make a good spy because I have sneak skills honed by years as a mother, I know how to keep a secret because I am a good friend, I am a librarian so I know how to research anything, and since I was a kid once myself, I am good at disappearing when I don't want to do something.”

Airieanne Andrews: “I'd make a good spy because I'm a stealthy lady. I can hide in plain view, sail, shoot, smile, and waive your overdue book fees at the library.”

Sara Miller: “I would be a great spy because 1) I would be the last person people would suspect of being a spy, 2) I can get even the strangest people to talk to me and 3) Even if I tell an enemy my real name, it would be nearly impossible to track me down.”

Mystery Scene suggest our readers buy a copy of The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent and tell us what kind of spy you think you would make.

Oline Cogdill
Tuesday, 03 June 2014 03:06
macneal_susanelia
Giving away advanced readers’ copies of a new book isn’t exactly a new idea. Authors have been doing this for decades, to promote an upcoming book or reward devoted readers.

Yet authors are still finding ways to put a new spin on giveaways.

Susan Elia MacNeal, left, who writes the award-winning Maggie Hope series, decided to use a plot device to reward a couple of readers.

Set during WWII, the series follows Maggie Hope, who starts as a “typist” for Winston Churchill but, because of her perceptive skills, ends up becoming a spy for the British. MacNeal’s series is known for its meticulous research and complex, believable characters.

The latest novel in this series, The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent, opens in 1941 with Maggie working as an instructor at an agent training facility in Scotland. Maggie has been suffering from a “black dog” of depression and the instructor job is a way to get her back on her feet, and, hopefully, back in the field as Britain needs her unique talents. But a series of unusual deaths at the facility bring new lessons for Maggie.

To go with the theme of The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent, MacNeal decided to find out what kind of a spy her readers would be.

“Since the SOE (Special Operations Executive) was made up of real people with little to no military/spy training, I thought it would be fun to ask folks if they thought they'd make a good spy. I have my own ideas, but I thought it would be fun to hear,” said MacNeal in an email.

(By the way, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a British World War II organization formed to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe against the Axis powers, and to aid local resistance movements.)

macnealsusanelia_secretagent4thbook
The contest was conducted via Facebook. For a judge, MacNeal turned to a very special person to make the final decision—her 9-year-old son, Mattie.

The winners are readers Megan Walline and Leila Ghaznavi.

Megan won Maddie’s vote when she stated “I would make a good spy because I will mail a box of candy to Mattie if I win the contest. Is that wrong?”

Leila said she would make a good spy because “I'd be a good spy because I'm small and would fit into tight spaces so I can ease drop on people. Also I have brown hair so I blend into the blackness of alleyways. Plus I've trained in aerial acrobatics so I can hang from high places unseen!"

A few other readers offered their ideas on espionage:

Colleen Turner: “I would make a good spy for a number of reasons: I'm super short, have a young looking face, blind hair and blue eyes and very often get taken for sweet and harmless...which I could use to my advantage to infiltrate the enemy and bring them down ! Also, I am very organized and therefore would never misplace my spy equipment or intel or forget where I hid it if the need arose to escape in a flash!”

Kelly Sullinger Bales: “I’m already a spy; I’m a teacher who hears everything without being seen; knows when the fight is going to happen and breaks it up before it begins; I am around some deviant students who pass off as harmless ones; plus I'm always on the clock. And a teacher as a spy is too cool...I've already been in the trenches and know the weapons (spit balls, paper wads, and lack of deodorant)!!”

Jennifer Marie: “I'd make a great spy. I am a mom. I watch them all day every day. I look to see if their eyes are glassy and might be getting sick. I watch to see if their smile is a touch less bright. And I can always tell when my child is lying.”

Kelly Sullinger Bales: “I've read your books to my students when we did our WWII unit so they could get a better picture of what life was like for Europeans during the war...they loved it! Me too, of course!”

Kathleen Fannon: “I would make a good spy because I have sneak skills honed by years as a mother, I know how to keep a secret because I am a good friend, I am a librarian so I know how to research anything, and since I was a kid once myself, I am good at disappearing when I don't want to do something.”

Airieanne Andrews: “I'd make a good spy because I'm a stealthy lady. I can hide in plain view, sail, shoot, smile, and waive your overdue book fees at the library.”

Sara Miller: “I would be a great spy because 1) I would be the last person people would suspect of being a spy, 2) I can get even the strangest people to talk to me and 3) Even if I tell an enemy my real name, it would be nearly impossible to track me down.”

Mystery Scene suggest our readers buy a copy of The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent and tell us what kind of spy you think you would make.

Rita Mae Brown on Becoming a Card Carrying Reader
Rita Mae Brown

brown_ritamae_CR_Mary_Motley_Kalergis

"The Classics have guided my life."

Author Rita Mae Brown and pet friends. Photo by Mary Motley Kalergis.

I received my first library card at age five. The librarian protested that I was too young for a card so my adopted mother, who was related to my natural mother (our family is mixed up like a dog’s breakfast), pulled over a library chair, commanded me to climb up, grabbed a returned library book, which was Little Women, and commanded, “Read.”

I did. My card, issued in haste, was much used and treasured. The first book I checked out was a small light blue book, easy to hold in small hands, Bulfinch’s Mythology. I loved it then, I love it now. A copy sits on the Louis XVI desk in the living room along with a few avid cat readers.

The Classics have guided my life. Years of Latin and two years of Greek allowed me to read fully on not only the basis of all Western literature but of our culture. To confront plays, histories, and politics disguised as history undiluted was, and remains, a gift that cannot be overestimated. It is a well from which our Founding Fathers drunk deeply.

Currently, I am reading Cop Town, by Karin Slaughter in bound galleys. In the kitchen rests The Men Who Lost America, by Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy. I’m halfway through it and plain dazzled. I just reread Caroline Alexander’s The War That Killed Achilles. I needed to read it twice—and think this is a book I will have to revisit once a year, for it reveals the true Western ethic of war coupled with a hatred of war, right there in the wellspring of our literature. This is a ravishing work and not a little difficult (for me anyway).

greekmyths_gravesI am also rereading Robert Graves’ two volumes of The Greek Myths. One can never read enough Graves.

I can’t wait to read Dying Every Day about Seneca. Lest you think I rarely stray from ancient texts, I giggled through Full Service by Scotty Bowes, a delicious sexual memoir of Hollywood in its glory days.

As you have gathered, I am a promiscuous reader. There’s even the new biography of John Wayne, by Scott Eyman by the bed, plus When the Lion Feeds, by Wilbur A. Smith, his first book of a long career.

Barclay Rives just sent me his newly published book A Country to Serve, about his ancestor William Cabell Rives. If you are a Virginian, you will recognize the surnames Rives and Cabell. We can never get enough of ourselves, a Virginian virtue or sin depending on your outlook.

Reading is breathing for the mind.

Since I have been asked to burble about my reading life I will tell you something I have never before mentioned, which is I was born to hounds and horses, a love predating language. I played with those four-footed wonderful animals before I could speak. Then I also learned to love language, especially English. And so I am reading Xenophon and Arrian on Hunting (With Hounds). Life comes full circle, doesn’t it?

Note: Xenophone born 430 BC wrote of his military experiences, on hunting with hounds and wrote a book on horsemanship as useful today as when he wrote it. Arrian lived 95 AD to 175 AD.

Rita Mae Brown is the bestselling author of the Sneaky Pie Brown series; the Sister Jane series; A Nose for Justice and Murder Unleashed; Rubyfruit Jungle; In Her Day; and Six of One, as well as several other novels. An Emmy-nominated screenwriter and a poet, Brown lives in Afton, Virginia.

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

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 05 June 2014 10:06

brown_ritamae_CR_Mary_Motley_Kalergis"The Classics have guided my life."

2014 Arthur Ellis Award Winners Announced
Mystery Scene

CWCLogo-Square

The winners of the 2014 Arthur Ellis Awards have been announced, including the winner of the CWC (Crime Writers of Canada) Grand Master Award for Crime Writing in Canada.

Congratulations to all of this year's Arthur winners and finalists!

haldane_thedevilsmaking

BEST NOVEL
Seán Haldane
The Devil’s Making (Stone Flower Press)

messum_bait

BEST FIRST NOVEL
J. Kent Messum
Bait (Penguin Canada)

campbell_thegoddaughtersrevenge

BEST NOVELLA
Melodie Campbell
The Goddaughter’s Revenge (Orca Books)

EQM_July2013

BEST SHORT STORY
Twist Phelan
"Footprints in Water" (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)

martineau_lenfantpromis

BEST BOOK IN FRENCH
Maureen Martineau
L’enfant promis (La courte échelle)

macleod_bonesneverlie

BEST JUVENILE/YA
Elizabeth MacLeod
Bones Never Lie (Annick Press)

BEST UNPUBLISHED FIRST NOVEL (UNHANGED ARTHUR)
Rachel Greenaway
Cold Girl

engel_howardGRAND MASTER AWARD
Howard Engel

This is the inaugural year of the CWC Grand Master Award, intended to recognize Canadian crime writers who have a substantial body of work that has garnered national and international recognition.

Howard Engel, the author of the award-winning Benny Cooperman detective series. A mainstay of the Canadian crime writing scene for many years, Mr. Engel helped put Canadian crime writing on the map at a time when few mysteries were set in the country.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 05 June 2014 11:06

CWCLogo-Square

The winners of the 2014 Arthur Ellis Awards have been announced, including the winner of the CWC (Crime Writers of Canada) Grand Master Award for Crime Writing in Canada.

Congratulations to all of this year's Arthur winners and finalists!

Books Are Big and We Mean Big
Oline Cogdill

dickerharry_truthabout
We always hear about the demise of reading, how the public doesn’t read books anymore and book buying is going the way of the 8-track player. (Google 8-track player if you don’t know what that is.)

Well, if that is true then why has the dispute between Hachette and Amazon become national news? Even a segment on the Cobert Report?

So the demise of reading, like Mark Twain’s death, has been greatly exaggerated.

But are we also entering the world of the big book? By that I don’t mean big blockbusters or books that get big attention.

I mean the big book. BIG. The thick, more than 500 page books that could double as doorstops.

This year several of these huge tomes have crossed my desk. And I often wonder as I heft up these hefty books, are these lengths necessary? Can these stories be told in half the size, and better? In newspapers we used to have a joke—I wrote a good story that was 60 inches (which is how journalists measure articles) but turned it into a great story that was 40 inches. And of course, there is the phrase, less is more.

So let’s take a look at some of these big books, and, I have read each of them.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker, translated from the French by Sam Taylor. Penguin. Length 656 pages—This international best seller has been getting big push from its publisher and with good reason. Yes, the story is repetitive and sometimes unwieldy but it also moves at break-neck speed, entrapping the reader in the story a young author with writer’s block trying to help his mentor accused of murder. Could a 200 or 300 trim have made this a better novel? Probably. But I still enjoyed it and got wrapped in its ambitious, multi-layered story that tackles themes of loyalty, fiction vs. reality, fame, and is a mini-course in writing. Harry Quebert is one of America’s most respected and loved novelists until the remains of Nola Kellergan and a manuscript of his bestseller are found on his estate 33 years after the 15-year-old disappeared. Marcus Goldman, Harry’s successful protégé, travels to New Hampshire to try to clear his friend, and find his own next novel.

lackberg_thehiddenchild
The Hidden Child
by Camilla Läckberg, translated by Marlaine Delargy. Pegasus Crime. Length: 544 pages—
Swedish writer Läckberg sets her superior novels in the coastal village Fjällbacka and each outing is unique. Her terrific fifth novel serves as a fascinating history of a family dating back to WWII while looking at the Neo-Nazi movements in Sweden. The story never lags as it shows how horrific secrets can fester, affecting the present. Läckberg’s lively plot smoothly moves from a year during WWII to contemporary times in which an old man’s murder launches a police investigation.

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles. Morrow. Length: 800 pages—Greg Iles’ fourth novel also is getting a big push from its publisher, with a tour and lots of publicity. Natchez Burning is a bold look at the Civil Rights Movement that smoothly alternates between 1964 and 2005. It also is way too long. Repetitive scenes and predictable villains dilute the impact of the racism and violence. Natchez, Miss., lawyer Penn Cage is stunned when his highly respected physician father, Tom, is accused of murdering his former nurse, Viola Turner, an African American who worked with him during the 1960s. I had very mixed feelings about this novel. The plot is realistic and Iles skillfully moves the story between the decades. But this is the start of a trilogy, but its length is a problem. This would have been a stronger story at 400 pages.

Ripper by Isabel Allende. Harper. Length: 496 pages—While this may be the shortest novel in this list, its overdone plot, weak characters, and uninteresting details stop this story in the first chapter. These 496 pages seemed like 800. My dislike of this novel was chronicled in a review that ran a couple of weeks before Isabel Allende called the book “a joke” during an NPR interview. “The book is tongue in cheek. It's very ironic ... and I’m not a fan of mysteries . . . . So I thought, I will take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what the readers expect, but it is a joke,” according to the NPR interview. She later apologized in another interview when reader backlash began. An author’s opinions on the genre, storytelling, or readers means nothing to me, nor should it mean anything to readers. What matters—to me and, hopefully, readers—is does the story deliver. It does not. Ripper revolves around a world-wide online community of amateur sleuths united to solve a series of bizarre killings in San Francisco. The leader is high school senior Amanda Martin, who is assisted by her pharmacist grandfather, Blake Jackson.

And here another novel that I have not read but is massive in length:

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. Simon & Schuster. Length: 640 pages—To be published in August, this debut from a 39-year-old English teacher is a look at an Irish immigrant family that spans the decades. Again, I have not read it but it is garnering positive advance reviews.

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 07 June 2014 08:06

dickerharry_truthabout
We always hear about the demise of reading, how the public doesn’t read books anymore and book buying is going the way of the 8-track player. (Google 8-track player if you don’t know what that is.)

Well, if that is true then why has the dispute between Hachette and Amazon become national news? Even a segment on the Cobert Report?

So the demise of reading, like Mark Twain’s death, has been greatly exaggerated.

But are we also entering the world of the big book? By that I don’t mean big blockbusters or books that get big attention.

I mean the big book. BIG. The thick, more than 500 page books that could double as doorstops.

This year several of these huge tomes have crossed my desk. And I often wonder as I heft up these hefty books, are these lengths necessary? Can these stories be told in half the size, and better? In newspapers we used to have a joke—I wrote a good story that was 60 inches (which is how journalists measure articles) but turned it into a great story that was 40 inches. And of course, there is the phrase, less is more.

So let’s take a look at some of these big books, and, I have read each of them.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker, translated from the French by Sam Taylor. Penguin. Length 656 pages—This international best seller has been getting big push from its publisher and with good reason. Yes, the story is repetitive and sometimes unwieldy but it also moves at break-neck speed, entrapping the reader in the story a young author with writer’s block trying to help his mentor accused of murder. Could a 200 or 300 trim have made this a better novel? Probably. But I still enjoyed it and got wrapped in its ambitious, multi-layered story that tackles themes of loyalty, fiction vs. reality, fame, and is a mini-course in writing. Harry Quebert is one of America’s most respected and loved novelists until the remains of Nola Kellergan and a manuscript of his bestseller are found on his estate 33 years after the 15-year-old disappeared. Marcus Goldman, Harry’s successful protégé, travels to New Hampshire to try to clear his friend, and find his own next novel.

lackberg_thehiddenchild
The Hidden Child
by Camilla Läckberg, translated by Marlaine Delargy. Pegasus Crime. Length: 544 pages—
Swedish writer Läckberg sets her superior novels in the coastal village Fjällbacka and each outing is unique. Her terrific fifth novel serves as a fascinating history of a family dating back to WWII while looking at the Neo-Nazi movements in Sweden. The story never lags as it shows how horrific secrets can fester, affecting the present. Läckberg’s lively plot smoothly moves from a year during WWII to contemporary times in which an old man’s murder launches a police investigation.

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles. Morrow. Length: 800 pages—Greg Iles’ fourth novel also is getting a big push from its publisher, with a tour and lots of publicity. Natchez Burning is a bold look at the Civil Rights Movement that smoothly alternates between 1964 and 2005. It also is way too long. Repetitive scenes and predictable villains dilute the impact of the racism and violence. Natchez, Miss., lawyer Penn Cage is stunned when his highly respected physician father, Tom, is accused of murdering his former nurse, Viola Turner, an African American who worked with him during the 1960s. I had very mixed feelings about this novel. The plot is realistic and Iles skillfully moves the story between the decades. But this is the start of a trilogy, but its length is a problem. This would have been a stronger story at 400 pages.

Ripper by Isabel Allende. Harper. Length: 496 pages—While this may be the shortest novel in this list, its overdone plot, weak characters, and uninteresting details stop this story in the first chapter. These 496 pages seemed like 800. My dislike of this novel was chronicled in a review that ran a couple of weeks before Isabel Allende called the book “a joke” during an NPR interview. “The book is tongue in cheek. It's very ironic ... and I’m not a fan of mysteries . . . . So I thought, I will take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what the readers expect, but it is a joke,” according to the NPR interview. She later apologized in another interview when reader backlash began. An author’s opinions on the genre, storytelling, or readers means nothing to me, nor should it mean anything to readers. What matters—to me and, hopefully, readers—is does the story deliver. It does not. Ripper revolves around a world-wide online community of amateur sleuths united to solve a series of bizarre killings in San Francisco. The leader is high school senior Amanda Martin, who is assisted by her pharmacist grandfather, Blake Jackson.

And here another novel that I have not read but is massive in length:

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. Simon & Schuster. Length: 640 pages—To be published in August, this debut from a 39-year-old English teacher is a look at an Irish immigrant family that spans the decades. Again, I have not read it but it is garnering positive advance reviews.

Charlaine Harris’ Novels Back on the Screen
Oline Cogdill

harrischarlaine_realmurders
The seventh and last season of True Blood—based on Charlaine HarrisSookie Stackhouse series—begins at 9 p.m. June 22 on HBO. But look for another one of Harris’ series to come to television.

Harris’ Aurora Teagarden books are going to be brought to the Hallmark Channel as a series of two-hour movies.

The movies will star Candace Cameron Bure, who you may remember in the role of D. J. Tanner, the eldest daughter, on the television series Full House, which she played from ages 10 to 18.

The plan is that these two-hour made for TV films might be on the air as early as January, but that is still to be determined. As we all know, when dealing with the film/TV industry, anything can happen.

Harris is thrilled about the prospect of bringing this much loved series to the screen.

“I am very cognizant that this will be a really different product and process from my experience at HBO, and I look forward to learning even more about how things work on the west coast,” Harris told Mystery Scene in an email.

I loved this series by Harris and it should make an entertaining addition to the Hallmark Channel. The series began in 1990 with Real Murders and Harris published six novels about Aurora Teagarden, but there is plenty of groundwork for more stories.

The Aurora Teagarden novels are set in a small Georgia town where librarian Aurora "Roe" Teagarden is a member of the Real Murders Club, which meets once a month to analyze famous cases. This pastime becomes real when a member’s murder eerily resembles the crime the club was about to discuss. Other “copycat” killings follow.

Harris’ latest novel is Midnight Crossroad, which begins a new series for this author.

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 11 June 2014 06:06

harrischarlaine_realmurders
The seventh and last season of True Blood—based on Charlaine HarrisSookie Stackhouse series—begins at 9 p.m. June 22 on HBO. But look for another one of Harris’ series to come to television.

Harris’ Aurora Teagarden books are going to be brought to the Hallmark Channel as a series of two-hour movies.

The movies will star Candace Cameron Bure, who you may remember in the role of D. J. Tanner, the eldest daughter, on the television series Full House, which she played from ages 10 to 18.

The plan is that these two-hour made for TV films might be on the air as early as January, but that is still to be determined. As we all know, when dealing with the film/TV industry, anything can happen.

Harris is thrilled about the prospect of bringing this much loved series to the screen.

“I am very cognizant that this will be a really different product and process from my experience at HBO, and I look forward to learning even more about how things work on the west coast,” Harris told Mystery Scene in an email.

I loved this series by Harris and it should make an entertaining addition to the Hallmark Channel. The series began in 1990 with Real Murders and Harris published six novels about Aurora Teagarden, but there is plenty of groundwork for more stories.

The Aurora Teagarden novels are set in a small Georgia town where librarian Aurora "Roe" Teagarden is a member of the Real Murders Club, which meets once a month to analyze famous cases. This pastime becomes real when a member’s murder eerily resembles the crime the club was about to discuss. Other “copycat” killings follow.

Harris’ latest novel is Midnight Crossroad, which begins a new series for this author.

Shamus 2014 Nominations
Oline Cogdill

PWA_Shamus
The Private Eye Writers of America announce the finalists for the Shamus Award for works published in 2013. (The categories below are in alphabetical order by author.)

The winners will be announced at the PWA Banquet at Bouchercon in Long Beach, Calif., on Friday, November 14.

BEST HARDCOVER PI NOVEL
Little Elvises,Timothy Hallinan (Soho Crime)
The Mojito Coast, Richard Helms (Five Star)
W is for Wasted, Sue Grafton, (Marion Wood/Putnam)
The Good Cop, Brad Parks, (Minotaur Books)
Nemesis, Bill Pronzini (Forge)

BEST FIRST PI NOVEL
A Good Death, Christopher R. Cox (Minotaur Books)
Montana, Gwen Florio (Permanent Press)
Blood Orange, Karen Keskinen (Minotaur Books)
Bear is Broken, Lachlan Smith (Mysterious Press)
Loyalty, Ingrid Thoft (Putnam)


BEST ORIGINAL PAPERBACK PI NOVEL
Seduction of the Innocent
, Max Allan Collins (Hard Case Crime)
Into the Dark, Alison Gaylin (Harper)
Purgatory Key, Darrell James (Midnight Ink)
Heart of Ice, P.J. Parrish (Pocket Books)
The Honky Tonk Big Hoss Boogie, Robert J. Randisi (Perfect Crime Books)

BEST PI SHORT STORY
"So Long, Chief," Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane (The Strand Magazine)
"The Ace I," Jack Fredrickson (EQMM)
“What We Do,” Mick Herron (EQMM)
“Extra Fries,” Michael Z. Lewin (EQMM)
“The Lethal Leeteg,” Hayford Peirce (EQMM)

BEST INDIE PI NOVEL
Murder Take Three, April Kelly and Marsha Lyons (Flight Risk Books)
A Small Sacrifice, Dana King (self-published)
No Pat Hands, J.J. Lamb (Two Black Sheep)
State vs. Lassiter, Paul Levine (CreateSpace)
Don’t Dare a Dame, M. Ruth Myers (Tuesday House)

Oline Cogdill
Tuesday, 10 June 2014 09:06

PWA_Shamus
The Private Eye Writers of America announce the finalists for the Shamus Award for works published in 2013. (The categories below are in alphabetical order by author.)

The winners will be announced at the PWA Banquet at Bouchercon in Long Beach, Calif., on Friday, November 14.

BEST HARDCOVER PI NOVEL
Little Elvises,Timothy Hallinan (Soho Crime)
The Mojito Coast, Richard Helms (Five Star)
W is for Wasted, Sue Grafton, (Marion Wood/Putnam)
The Good Cop, Brad Parks, (Minotaur Books)
Nemesis, Bill Pronzini (Forge)

BEST FIRST PI NOVEL
A Good Death, Christopher R. Cox (Minotaur Books)
Montana, Gwen Florio (Permanent Press)
Blood Orange, Karen Keskinen (Minotaur Books)
Bear is Broken, Lachlan Smith (Mysterious Press)
Loyalty, Ingrid Thoft (Putnam)


BEST ORIGINAL PAPERBACK PI NOVEL
Seduction of the Innocent
, Max Allan Collins (Hard Case Crime)
Into the Dark, Alison Gaylin (Harper)
Purgatory Key, Darrell James (Midnight Ink)
Heart of Ice, P.J. Parrish (Pocket Books)
The Honky Tonk Big Hoss Boogie, Robert J. Randisi (Perfect Crime Books)

BEST PI SHORT STORY
"So Long, Chief," Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane (The Strand Magazine)
"The Ace I," Jack Fredrickson (EQMM)
“What We Do,” Mick Herron (EQMM)
“Extra Fries,” Michael Z. Lewin (EQMM)
“The Lethal Leeteg,” Hayford Peirce (EQMM)

BEST INDIE PI NOVEL
Murder Take Three, April Kelly and Marsha Lyons (Flight Risk Books)
A Small Sacrifice, Dana King (self-published)
No Pat Hands, J.J. Lamb (Two Black Sheep)
State vs. Lassiter, Paul Levine (CreateSpace)
Don’t Dare a Dame, M. Ruth Myers (Tuesday House)

Jack of Spies With David Downing
Oline Cogdill

downing_jackofspies
Our fascination with WWI should never end.

This so-called Great War was a game changer in so many ways in the way it restructured combat, politics and society.

I think our fascination has nothing to do with Downton Abbey, though that has increased some awareness, and everything to do how we view our history.

David Downing has explored the Second World War in his six excellent espionage novels about John Russell.

But now Downing turns his attention to the First World War in Jack of Spies (Soho), for which the British author will be touring the U.S. for the first time. Jack of Spies will be published on May 13.

Some of the best and most involving espionage novels aren’t about super-spys, the James Bonds, but about ordinary people caught up in circumstances beyond their control.

And that is what Downing does in Jack of Spies. Set in 1913, on the eve of WWI, the novel’s hero is Jack McColl, a Scottish luxury car salesman. McColl has a knack for languages and he served England during the Boer War. Being a globetrotting car salesman proves to be the perfect cover to gather some light intelligence for Great Britain.

But “light espionage” won’t cut it when the world is on the brink of disaster, when war—a horrific war—looms over the U.K., Germany and Europe.

Jack is kind of playing at being a spy, supplementing his Royal Navy pay with his sales commissions. He’s in China showing a magnificent bottle-green Maya automobile, strolling along the harbor and snapping photos and watching the movement of ships. He’s not above paying the occasional prostitute to tell what her German clients talk about.

downing_david
But this is not the time to dabble in spy craft. And as the situation intensifies, Jack is pulled into the spy business. In addition to the politics that will result in WWI, Downing also fills Jack of Spies a look at Irish and Indian revolutionary causes that were shaping the political landscape.

Jack of Spies is set in Tsingtao, San Francisco, New York, Tampico and Dublin, on steamliners and cross-country trains, reflective of the time.

Jack of Spieshad received a lot of pre-publication buzz, and had been chosen by the American Booksellers Association (ABA) as its June IndieNextList, It’s also been picked as one of the Top Ten Mysteries & Thrillers Pick for Spring 2014 and is a Library Journal Editor’s Pick for Spring 2014.

While I post interviews on this blog that I have conducted, the Soho site has an interesting discussion with Downing about his new series and his thoughts on WWI and WWII.

Here are some excerpts from that interview:

On why Downing decided to write about WWI: “The Second World War was more horrendous than the First in many ways—most notably in the number of civilians killed—but I’ve always felt that the latter was more of game-changer, and I wanted to write a series that reflected the move away from conflicts between established nation states, and the increasing importance of the class, gender and colonial conflicts raging inside them.”

On Downing’s new hero: “I wanted a protagonist who would find these changes hard to cope with, but struggle to do so nevertheless. In the ‘Station’ series John Russell was always politically-motivated, and his views at the end have hardly changed at all, but in the new series British agent Jack McColl is more of a blank slate, politically speaking. The events he witnesses and the people he meets will confront him with many uncomfortable choices.

On the political landscape of the time, including the Irish Republican movement; the Indian independence movement; the Paterson strikes and workers’ rights; the Tampico Affair: “In 1914 there was no shortage of places where the British Empire was being threatened in one way or another. In Jack of Spies he turns up in China, the US, Mexico and Ireland, but it could have been any number of exotic destinations. And my female protagonist, Caitlin, a radical New York journalist, would have been all too aware of the Paterson strike and its aftermath in 1913-14.”

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 11 June 2014 05:06

downing_jackofspies
Our fascination with WWI should never end.

This so-called Great War was a game changer in so many ways in the way it restructured combat, politics and society.

I think our fascination has nothing to do with Downton Abbey, though that has increased some awareness, and everything to do how we view our history.

David Downing has explored the Second World War in his six excellent espionage novels about John Russell.

But now Downing turns his attention to the First World War in Jack of Spies (Soho), for which the British author will be touring the U.S. for the first time. Jack of Spies will be published on May 13.

Some of the best and most involving espionage novels aren’t about super-spys, the James Bonds, but about ordinary people caught up in circumstances beyond their control.

And that is what Downing does in Jack of Spies. Set in 1913, on the eve of WWI, the novel’s hero is Jack McColl, a Scottish luxury car salesman. McColl has a knack for languages and he served England during the Boer War. Being a globetrotting car salesman proves to be the perfect cover to gather some light intelligence for Great Britain.

But “light espionage” won’t cut it when the world is on the brink of disaster, when war—a horrific war—looms over the U.K., Germany and Europe.

Jack is kind of playing at being a spy, supplementing his Royal Navy pay with his sales commissions. He’s in China showing a magnificent bottle-green Maya automobile, strolling along the harbor and snapping photos and watching the movement of ships. He’s not above paying the occasional prostitute to tell what her German clients talk about.

downing_david
But this is not the time to dabble in spy craft. And as the situation intensifies, Jack is pulled into the spy business. In addition to the politics that will result in WWI, Downing also fills Jack of Spies a look at Irish and Indian revolutionary causes that were shaping the political landscape.

Jack of Spies is set in Tsingtao, San Francisco, New York, Tampico and Dublin, on steamliners and cross-country trains, reflective of the time.

Jack of Spieshad received a lot of pre-publication buzz, and had been chosen by the American Booksellers Association (ABA) as its June IndieNextList, It’s also been picked as one of the Top Ten Mysteries & Thrillers Pick for Spring 2014 and is a Library Journal Editor’s Pick for Spring 2014.

While I post interviews on this blog that I have conducted, the Soho site has an interesting discussion with Downing about his new series and his thoughts on WWI and WWII.

Here are some excerpts from that interview:

On why Downing decided to write about WWI: “The Second World War was more horrendous than the First in many ways—most notably in the number of civilians killed—but I’ve always felt that the latter was more of game-changer, and I wanted to write a series that reflected the move away from conflicts between established nation states, and the increasing importance of the class, gender and colonial conflicts raging inside them.”

On Downing’s new hero: “I wanted a protagonist who would find these changes hard to cope with, but struggle to do so nevertheless. In the ‘Station’ series John Russell was always politically-motivated, and his views at the end have hardly changed at all, but in the new series British agent Jack McColl is more of a blank slate, politically speaking. The events he witnesses and the people he meets will confront him with many uncomfortable choices.

On the political landscape of the time, including the Irish Republican movement; the Indian independence movement; the Paterson strikes and workers’ rights; the Tampico Affair: “In 1914 there was no shortage of places where the British Empire was being threatened in one way or another. In Jack of Spies he turns up in China, the US, Mexico and Ireland, but it could have been any number of exotic destinations. And my female protagonist, Caitlin, a radical New York journalist, would have been all too aware of the Paterson strike and its aftermath in 1913-14.”

A Talk With Joel Dicker
Oline Cogdill

dicker_joel
Joël Dicker’s The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair (Penguin) is one of the summer’s most talked about novels. Now making its U.S. debut, the Swiss-born, 29-year-old’s novel became an immediate international bestseller when it was released in Europe during 2012.

Set in a quintessential small town in New Hampshire, the novel revolves around Marcus Goldman, a young author who had a massive blockbuster a couple of years ago and is now suffering from a massive bout of writer’s block. Then Marcus’ mentor, Harry Quebert, is arrested for murder when the body of Nola Kellergan is found on his land more than 33 years after the teenager disappeared. Marcus travels to New Hampshire to support Harry, and, as a result, may find his way into his next book.

Here's a brief chat with Dicker, left.

Q: The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair weighs in at 636 pages; did you ever think about making it shorter?
A:
I cut over 300 pages while writing this book. So, I guess I can tell you that the story could have been even longer! On a more serious note, I did ask myself if I should take out a few of the twists. But in the end I preferred to leave the book as it was, in order to convey my own enthusiasm to my readers.

dickerjoel_truthaboutharryx
Q: What are your favorite novels?
A:
The Sea Wall, by Marguerite Duras. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck. Belle du Seigneur, by Albert Cohen. Poor Folk, by Doistoievski.

Q: Are you amazed at the response that The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair received in the European markets?
A:
Obviously: how could I have ever imagined, when signing the publication of my book in a tiny Parisian publishing house, that my book would be translated into 37 languages and read by millions of people? I am very thankful for everything that is happening to me.

Q: What are your thoughts about The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair being compared to Lolita?
A:
There’s nothing comparable. When imagining that I would develop the novel around a relationship between Nola and Harry, I immediately thought of Lolita. And therefore my allusion in the book with N-O-L-A. It was my way of mentioning the inspirations that arise in the creative process. I had read Lolita only once, when I was 15. I re-read it a few months ago, after my book’s success, and I realized that I hadn’t understood everything in the book.

Q: What are you most proud of in The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair?
A:
When I receive messages from my readers, especially young readers, who tell me they weren’t big readers, but that my book got them started and now they want to read more books. I think we all have to work hard to encourage people around us to read more.

Q: Who do you read?
A:
I’m a really open reader. I read just about everything that I come across. Lots of French and American literature. Right now, I’m reading Jean-Christophe Ruffin’s last book, as well as Good People by Nir Baram. Two very good books.

Oline Cogdill
Tuesday, 01 July 2014 10:07

dicker_joel
Joël Dicker’s The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair (Penguin) is one of the summer’s most talked about novels. Now making its U.S. debut, the Swiss-born, 29-year-old’s novel became an immediate international bestseller when it was released in Europe during 2012.

Set in a quintessential small town in New Hampshire, the novel revolves around Marcus Goldman, a young author who had a massive blockbuster a couple of years ago and is now suffering from a massive bout of writer’s block. Then Marcus’ mentor, Harry Quebert, is arrested for murder when the body of Nola Kellergan is found on his land more than 33 years after the teenager disappeared. Marcus travels to New Hampshire to support Harry, and, as a result, may find his way into his next book.

Here's a brief chat with Dicker, left.

Q: The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair weighs in at 636 pages; did you ever think about making it shorter?
A:
I cut over 300 pages while writing this book. So, I guess I can tell you that the story could have been even longer! On a more serious note, I did ask myself if I should take out a few of the twists. But in the end I preferred to leave the book as it was, in order to convey my own enthusiasm to my readers.

dickerjoel_truthaboutharryx
Q: What are your favorite novels?
A:
The Sea Wall, by Marguerite Duras. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck. Belle du Seigneur, by Albert Cohen. Poor Folk, by Doistoievski.

Q: Are you amazed at the response that The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair received in the European markets?
A:
Obviously: how could I have ever imagined, when signing the publication of my book in a tiny Parisian publishing house, that my book would be translated into 37 languages and read by millions of people? I am very thankful for everything that is happening to me.

Q: What are your thoughts about The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair being compared to Lolita?
A:
There’s nothing comparable. When imagining that I would develop the novel around a relationship between Nola and Harry, I immediately thought of Lolita. And therefore my allusion in the book with N-O-L-A. It was my way of mentioning the inspirations that arise in the creative process. I had read Lolita only once, when I was 15. I re-read it a few months ago, after my book’s success, and I realized that I hadn’t understood everything in the book.

Q: What are you most proud of in The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair?
A:
When I receive messages from my readers, especially young readers, who tell me they weren’t big readers, but that my book got them started and now they want to read more books. I think we all have to work hard to encourage people around us to read more.

Q: Who do you read?
A:
I’m a really open reader. I read just about everything that I come across. Lots of French and American literature. Right now, I’m reading Jean-Christophe Ruffin’s last book, as well as Good People by Nir Baram. Two very good books.

David Tennant in the Escape Artist
Oline Cogdill

escapeartist_davidtennant2
David Tennant is one of the best British actors working in film today.

While his fellow countrymen (and woman) might be better known in the U.S., Tennant has amassed a following that continues to grow.

Some may recognized this Scottish actor from the Doctor Who series, while others will remember him as the melancholy detective sergeant of last year’s Broadchurch.

He made such an impact in Broadchurch that he will do the same role in Fox’s American remake Gracepoint, scheduled for television this fall. He also does a lot of work in the theatre in London's West End.

But right now, Tennant is one of the many reasons to watch the two-part British series The Escape Artist, which airs in most PBS markets as Masterpiece Mystery! at 9 p.m. June 15 and June 22.

escapeartist8_tennant
The other reasons to watch The Escape Artist are evident in the first few minutes of the airing—its whip-smart plot that brings a fresh view to the standard law and order series, its realistic dialogue and compelling acting.

While delving deep into legal ethics, The Escape Artist also is an in-depth character study of lawyers—or should we say solicitors since this is Great Britain—who grapple with the consequences and aftermath of winning and losing.

Tennant plays Will Burton, a London defense attorney who’s nicknamed “the escape artist” because he has never lost a case.

Never.

Not one.

He’s also called Houdini for pulling off audacious escapes for his clients.

There is, of course, little thought about the criminals who are guilty but get off because Burton is their attorney. He is fond of saying “I like to get my hands dirty” when delving into an impossible case.

escapeartist2_PBS
His colleagues and bosses say he is “destined for silk,” which means the honor of Queen’s Counsel. But he is too busy working and finding what little time he can for his wife, Kate (Ashley Jensen), and son, Jamie (Gus Barry).

Unlike most dramas in which the workaholic attorney’s family constantly nag him about being married to his work, Burton’s family is rather understanding. They know the pressures he is under and how his hard work allows them to have a beautiful apartment in London and an even better country house to which they frequent most weekends.

Burton takes the case of Liam Foyle (Toby Kebbell), a recluse who keeps an assortment of predator birds. He’s charged with the torture murder of a female medical student. Burton sees a loophole and, although he is repulsed by being in the same room as Foyle, easily gets his client cleared.

escapeartist1_PBS
And then the twists begin and continue as The Escape Artist evolves into an even more gripping story with a surprise ending.

The cast, without exception, is excellent. Burton’s main rival is barrister Maggie Gardner, played with steel resolve by Sophie Okonedo, who just won a Tony Award for A Raisin in the Sun and co-starred in Hotel Rwanda. Maggie is cut from the same cloth as Burton and may even be more ambitious. Kebbell is creepily composed.

Jensen shows her range as a fine dramatic actress, making the role of Burton’s wife a solid character. Jensen may be best known to American audiences for her role on Ugly Betty or co-starring with Ricky Gervais on Extras.

And then there is Tennant, able to show his character’s vulnerability and ruthlessness at once. He forces the viewers to feel empathy for Burton while also being taken back by his actions. The scene in which Burton and his son are eating macaroni and cheese without really tasting it while watching the news without really seeing as each is consumed by emotions shows how fully vested Tennant is with his characters.

The Escape Artist doesn’t lag, even when the audience can guess—or think they can guess—what is coming next. That kind of inspired manipulation can be credited to creator and scriptwriter David Wolstencroft, who brings that same approach to MI-5.

The Escape Artist is top notch.

Masterpiece Mystery!: The Escape Artist begins June 15 at 9 p.m. on most PBS stations with the second part airing June 22. Each episode is 90 minutes. Check local listings as some PBS stations may air The Escape Artist on Mondays.

PHOTOS: From top, David Tennant; Tennant; Tennant at right with Ashley Jensen and Gus Barry, right; Sophie Okonedo. Photos courtesy of PBS.

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 14 June 2014 10:06

escapeartist_davidtennant2
David Tennant is one of the best British actors working in film today.

While his fellow countrymen (and woman) might be better known in the U.S., Tennant has amassed a following that continues to grow.

Some may recognized this Scottish actor from the Doctor Who series, while others will remember him as the melancholy detective sergeant of last year’s Broadchurch.

He made such an impact in Broadchurch that he will do the same role in Fox’s American remake Gracepoint, scheduled for television this fall. He also does a lot of work in the theatre in London's West End.

But right now, Tennant is one of the many reasons to watch the two-part British series The Escape Artist, which airs in most PBS markets as Masterpiece Mystery! at 9 p.m. June 15 and June 22.

escapeartist8_tennant
The other reasons to watch The Escape Artist are evident in the first few minutes of the airing—its whip-smart plot that brings a fresh view to the standard law and order series, its realistic dialogue and compelling acting.

While delving deep into legal ethics, The Escape Artist also is an in-depth character study of lawyers—or should we say solicitors since this is Great Britain—who grapple with the consequences and aftermath of winning and losing.

Tennant plays Will Burton, a London defense attorney who’s nicknamed “the escape artist” because he has never lost a case.

Never.

Not one.

He’s also called Houdini for pulling off audacious escapes for his clients.

There is, of course, little thought about the criminals who are guilty but get off because Burton is their attorney. He is fond of saying “I like to get my hands dirty” when delving into an impossible case.

escapeartist2_PBS
His colleagues and bosses say he is “destined for silk,” which means the honor of Queen’s Counsel. But he is too busy working and finding what little time he can for his wife, Kate (Ashley Jensen), and son, Jamie (Gus Barry).

Unlike most dramas in which the workaholic attorney’s family constantly nag him about being married to his work, Burton’s family is rather understanding. They know the pressures he is under and how his hard work allows them to have a beautiful apartment in London and an even better country house to which they frequent most weekends.

Burton takes the case of Liam Foyle (Toby Kebbell), a recluse who keeps an assortment of predator birds. He’s charged with the torture murder of a female medical student. Burton sees a loophole and, although he is repulsed by being in the same room as Foyle, easily gets his client cleared.

escapeartist1_PBS
And then the twists begin and continue as The Escape Artist evolves into an even more gripping story with a surprise ending.

The cast, without exception, is excellent. Burton’s main rival is barrister Maggie Gardner, played with steel resolve by Sophie Okonedo, who just won a Tony Award for A Raisin in the Sun and co-starred in Hotel Rwanda. Maggie is cut from the same cloth as Burton and may even be more ambitious. Kebbell is creepily composed.

Jensen shows her range as a fine dramatic actress, making the role of Burton’s wife a solid character. Jensen may be best known to American audiences for her role on Ugly Betty or co-starring with Ricky Gervais on Extras.

And then there is Tennant, able to show his character’s vulnerability and ruthlessness at once. He forces the viewers to feel empathy for Burton while also being taken back by his actions. The scene in which Burton and his son are eating macaroni and cheese without really tasting it while watching the news without really seeing as each is consumed by emotions shows how fully vested Tennant is with his characters.

The Escape Artist doesn’t lag, even when the audience can guess—or think they can guess—what is coming next. That kind of inspired manipulation can be credited to creator and scriptwriter David Wolstencroft, who brings that same approach to MI-5.

The Escape Artist is top notch.

Masterpiece Mystery!: The Escape Artist begins June 15 at 9 p.m. on most PBS stations with the second part airing June 22. Each episode is 90 minutes. Check local listings as some PBS stations may air The Escape Artist on Mondays.

PHOTOS: From top, David Tennant; Tennant; Tennant at right with Ashley Jensen and Gus Barry, right; Sophie Okonedo. Photos courtesy of PBS.

Joe R. Lansdale, Elmore Leonard Back on Screen
Oline Cogdill

lifeofcrime_anistonelmoreleonard
The works by two respected crime fiction writers are making it to the movies.

Joe R. Lansdale’s 1989 novel Cold in July is now in limited release in movie theaters across the country.

Michael C. Hall (Dexter) stars as Richard Dane who shoots in self-defense a burglar breaking into his home. Dane is soon hailed as a hero by everyone in his small town, except for Ben Russell (Sam Shepard), the ex-con father of the dead man.

Adding to the plot is a crazy private investigator Jim Bob Luke (played by Don Johnson). The reviews have been mixed—I haven’t seen it yet as hasn’t come to my area—but apparently Don Johnson steals the show. And if you have any doubt that Johnson can make a sleazy character intriguing, catch The Hot Spot (1990).

This isn’t the first time that a Lansdale work has made it to the screen. His novella Bubba Hotep was adapted to film by Don Coscarelli, starring Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis. And if you haven’t seen Bubba Hotep, I highly recommend it. Yes, it’s a strange film but it’s always pleasure to see Bruce Campbell in anything.

lifeofcrime_poster
Lansdale
’s story "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road" was adapted to film for Showtime's Masters of Horror series.

And that leads us to the late, never to be forgotten Elmore Leonard. On Aug. 29, the film Life of Crime will hit the movie theaters. When I first saw the previews that popped up a couple weeks ago, I wondered why the story and dialogue sounded so familiar.

Life of Crime is based on Leonard’s 1978 novel Switch in which a wealthy man’s wife is kidnapped. But he doesn't want to pay her ransom because he’s filed for divorce. If she is killed, well, that saves him a lot of money in alimony.

Tim Robbins stars as Frank Dawson and Mickey, his estranged wife, is played by Jennifer Aniston. Isla Fisher is Frank’s new girlfriend. Mos Def and Will Forte also co-star.

Life of Crime received a good reception when it was the closing night movie of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. According to a couple of sites, the film was previously in development at 20th Century Fox in 1986, with Diane Keaton attached, but the project was shelved after being deemed too similar to Ruthless People.

A little bit of trivia for Leonard fans. The kidnappers are Louis Gara, played by John Hawkes, and Ordell Robbie, played by Mos Def using the name Yasiin Bey. Louis and Ordell returned in Leonard’s 1992 novel Rum Punch, which was made into the 1997 film Jackie Brown.

The other Louis and Ordell were played by Robert De Niro and Samuel L. Jackson in Jackie Brown.

Leonard’s work has been treated with respect in recent films so Life of Crime may follow that pattern, even if it does star Jennifer Aniston.

Photo: Jennifer Aniston in Life of Crime. Roadside Attractions photo

Oline Cogdill
Tuesday, 17 June 2014 08:06

lifeofcrime_anistonelmoreleonard
The works by two respected crime fiction writers are making it to the movies.

Joe R. Lansdale’s 1989 novel Cold in July is now in limited release in movie theaters across the country.

Michael C. Hall (Dexter) stars as Richard Dane who shoots in self-defense a burglar breaking into his home. Dane is soon hailed as a hero by everyone in his small town, except for Ben Russell (Sam Shepard), the ex-con father of the dead man.

Adding to the plot is a crazy private investigator Jim Bob Luke (played by Don Johnson). The reviews have been mixed—I haven’t seen it yet as hasn’t come to my area—but apparently Don Johnson steals the show. And if you have any doubt that Johnson can make a sleazy character intriguing, catch The Hot Spot (1990).

This isn’t the first time that a Lansdale work has made it to the screen. His novella Bubba Hotep was adapted to film by Don Coscarelli, starring Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis. And if you haven’t seen Bubba Hotep, I highly recommend it. Yes, it’s a strange film but it’s always pleasure to see Bruce Campbell in anything.

lifeofcrime_poster
Lansdale
’s story "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road" was adapted to film for Showtime's Masters of Horror series.

And that leads us to the late, never to be forgotten Elmore Leonard. On Aug. 29, the film Life of Crime will hit the movie theaters. When I first saw the previews that popped up a couple weeks ago, I wondered why the story and dialogue sounded so familiar.

Life of Crime is based on Leonard’s 1978 novel Switch in which a wealthy man’s wife is kidnapped. But he doesn't want to pay her ransom because he’s filed for divorce. If she is killed, well, that saves him a lot of money in alimony.

Tim Robbins stars as Frank Dawson and Mickey, his estranged wife, is played by Jennifer Aniston. Isla Fisher is Frank’s new girlfriend. Mos Def and Will Forte also co-star.

Life of Crime received a good reception when it was the closing night movie of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. According to a couple of sites, the film was previously in development at 20th Century Fox in 1986, with Diane Keaton attached, but the project was shelved after being deemed too similar to Ruthless People.

A little bit of trivia for Leonard fans. The kidnappers are Louis Gara, played by John Hawkes, and Ordell Robbie, played by Mos Def using the name Yasiin Bey. Louis and Ordell returned in Leonard’s 1992 novel Rum Punch, which was made into the 1997 film Jackie Brown.

The other Louis and Ordell were played by Robert De Niro and Samuel L. Jackson in Jackie Brown.

Leonard’s work has been treated with respect in recent films so Life of Crime may follow that pattern, even if it does star Jennifer Aniston.

Photo: Jennifer Aniston in Life of Crime. Roadside Attractions photo

Alafair Burke, Mary Higgins Clark Team Up
Oline Cogdill

clark_maryhiggins
For more than four decades, Mary Higgins Clark’s standalone novels have been a mainstay of best sellers lists.

For the past decade, Alafair Burke has proven to be a skillful writer, creating both series and standalone novels with involving plots and believable characters who readers care about.

Both authors have amassed a solid following and their readers often overlap.

Now readers will have both authors in one book.

Clark and Burke will collaborative on one novel.

The Cinderella Murder will be published in November and feature characters Clark introduced in her most recent No. 1 New York Times bestseller, I’ve Got You Under My Skin.

The Cinderella Murder will be the first collaboration novel Clark has written with an outside author, and the first time she has undertaken a continuing series.

The deal for The Cinderella Murder was announced jointly by Jonathan Karp, president and publisher of Simon & Schuster; Marysue Rucci, vice president and editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster; and Louise Burke, president and publisher of Pocket Books.

This collaboration has been a well-known secret for a few months as it has been posted for advance buys on several online retail sites.

Needless to say, the publishers are excited about this venture, which I think will attract a lot of readers.

“This suspenseful collaboration is going to produce a lot of sleep-deprived readers,” said Karp in the press release.

Added Rucci in the same release: “Mary Higgins Clark’s astonishing talent and popularity are bar none. We’ve long wished we could clone her! This exciting collaboration with the wonderfully talented Alafair Burke is the next best thing.”

burke_alafairx
The Cinderella Murder
will continue the story of television producer Laurie Moran’s investigations into cold case murders. Laurie’s show investigates the decades-old murder of a beautiful UCLA student whose body was found in the Hollywood Hills missing a shoe. The murder was dubbed the “Cinderella Case” by the press.

This sounds like the kind of story that both Clark and Burke handle well. Both authors imbue their novels with believable suspense.

“I'm so honored to be working with Mary Higgins Clark, whom I've admired both personally and professionally for years. Watching her at work is like a master class,” said Burke in an email to Mystery Scene.

“She [Clark] really does have a way of putting suspense on every single page. Hopefully I can take those lessons back to my own work,” added Burke in the same email.

Both authors will continue to write their own novels, in addition to this collaboration.

Clark’s first novel, Where Are The Children?, was published in 1975 by Simon & Schuster in 1975. Since then, she has published 46 books, 33 of which are suspense novels. She coauthored five holiday mysteries with her daughter Carol Higgins Clark. Her books have appeared 20 times in the No. 1 slot on the New York Times and have sold more than 100 million copies in the United States alone.

Burke’s 10 bestselling novels include If You Were Here and most recently, All Day and a Night, the fifth in her Ellie Hatcher series. Her Samantha Kincaid series is set in the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, (Portland, Ore.) where Burke worked in the 1990s. Her other series features NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher.

Her novels often draw on real-world crimes and are known for their authentic plots. Burke also is a former prosecutor who currently teaches criminal law at Hofstra University in New York.

Photos: Top: Mary Higgins Clark; second photo, Alafair Burke

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 21 June 2014 09:06

clark_maryhiggins
For more than four decades, Mary Higgins Clark’s standalone novels have been a mainstay of best sellers lists.

For the past decade, Alafair Burke has proven to be a skillful writer, creating both series and standalone novels with involving plots and believable characters who readers care about.

Both authors have amassed a solid following and their readers often overlap.

Now readers will have both authors in one book.

Clark and Burke will collaborative on one novel.

The Cinderella Murder will be published in November and feature characters Clark introduced in her most recent No. 1 New York Times bestseller, I’ve Got You Under My Skin.

The Cinderella Murder will be the first collaboration novel Clark has written with an outside author, and the first time she has undertaken a continuing series.

The deal for The Cinderella Murder was announced jointly by Jonathan Karp, president and publisher of Simon & Schuster; Marysue Rucci, vice president and editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster; and Louise Burke, president and publisher of Pocket Books.

This collaboration has been a well-known secret for a few months as it has been posted for advance buys on several online retail sites.

Needless to say, the publishers are excited about this venture, which I think will attract a lot of readers.

“This suspenseful collaboration is going to produce a lot of sleep-deprived readers,” said Karp in the press release.

Added Rucci in the same release: “Mary Higgins Clark’s astonishing talent and popularity are bar none. We’ve long wished we could clone her! This exciting collaboration with the wonderfully talented Alafair Burke is the next best thing.”

burke_alafairx
The Cinderella Murder
will continue the story of television producer Laurie Moran’s investigations into cold case murders. Laurie’s show investigates the decades-old murder of a beautiful UCLA student whose body was found in the Hollywood Hills missing a shoe. The murder was dubbed the “Cinderella Case” by the press.

This sounds like the kind of story that both Clark and Burke handle well. Both authors imbue their novels with believable suspense.

“I'm so honored to be working with Mary Higgins Clark, whom I've admired both personally and professionally for years. Watching her at work is like a master class,” said Burke in an email to Mystery Scene.

“She [Clark] really does have a way of putting suspense on every single page. Hopefully I can take those lessons back to my own work,” added Burke in the same email.

Both authors will continue to write their own novels, in addition to this collaboration.

Clark’s first novel, Where Are The Children?, was published in 1975 by Simon & Schuster in 1975. Since then, she has published 46 books, 33 of which are suspense novels. She coauthored five holiday mysteries with her daughter Carol Higgins Clark. Her books have appeared 20 times in the No. 1 slot on the New York Times and have sold more than 100 million copies in the United States alone.

Burke’s 10 bestselling novels include If You Were Here and most recently, All Day and a Night, the fifth in her Ellie Hatcher series. Her Samantha Kincaid series is set in the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, (Portland, Ore.) where Burke worked in the 1990s. Her other series features NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher.

Her novels often draw on real-world crimes and are known for their authentic plots. Burke also is a former prosecutor who currently teaches criminal law at Hofstra University in New York.

Photos: Top: Mary Higgins Clark; second photo, Alafair Burke

The Interrogation Room: a Quiz
Kate Stine

interrogationcrRyan_Klos

Have a seat. Relax. We just have a few simple questions for you.

Photo: Ryan Klos

1. Crime happens even in the best of families. Match the paired writers with the correct relationship.

C.W. Grafton and Sue Grafton

Jesse Kellerman and Jonathan Kellerman

Anthony Shaffer and Peter Shaffer

Arthur Conan Doyle and E.W. Hornung

Tabitha King and Stephen King

a. father and son

b. brothers-in-law

c. father and daughter

d. brothers

e. husband and wife

2. We seek him here, we seek him there,
The Frenchies seek him everywhere
Is he in heaven? Is he in hell?
That demmed, elusive Pimpernel!

This verse makes the rounds of late-18th-century London society in The Scarlet Pimpernel. The dashing hero specializes in rescuing French aristocrats from the revolutionary guillotines. Who wrote this most romantic of thrillers?

a. Anthony Hope
b. Mary Stewart
c. Baroness Orczy
d. Helen MacInnes

3. Mice will play when this detective is away—and James Qwilleran will have a harder time catching crooks, too.

a. Midnight Louie
b. Koko
c. Sneaky Pie Brown
d. Mrs. Murphy

4. The road to crime solving can be twisted—just ask Stephanie Plum. This New Jersey babe-turned-bounty hunter found her true calling in One for the Money only after spending several years as a:

a. New Jersey Turnpike tollbooth clerk
b. department store lingerie buyer
c. Trenton school crossing guard
d. dog groomer

5. “If there were no bad people, there would be no good lawyers.” No truer words were ever spoken, by...

a. Lisa Scottoline
b. Carolyn Wheat
c. John Grisham
d. Charles Dickens

6. She is not only frequently squired about town by the charming Archie Goodwin, she also once necked with Nero Wolfe in the backseat of an automobile.

a. Brigid O’Shaugnessy
b. Carmen Sternwood
c. Lily Rowan
d. Jacqueline Kirby

7. Not every successful crime fighter is a pro. Match the moonlighting detective with his or her day job.

Myron Bolitar

Goldy Bear

Maggy Thorsen

Claire Malloy

a. caterer

b. bookseller

c. sports agent

d. coffee shop owner

8. The “V” in Sara Paretsky’s Chicago detective V.I. Warshawski stands for Victoria. What does the “I” stand for?

a. Isadora
b. Independence
c. Indemnity
d. Iphigenia

9. After she abandoned her garden club and joined the CIA, this fiftysomething New Jersey widow became “unexpected,” “amazing,” and “elusive.”

a. Maud Silver
b. Clara Gamadge
c. Emily Pollifax
d. Helen Climpson

10. “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way,” vamped ’toon bombshell Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Touchstone, 1988). Actress Amy Irving did the singing honors for the character, but who gave Jessica her sultry speaking voice?

a. Glenn Close
b. Melanie Griffith
c. Kathleen Turner
d. Sigourney Weaver

11. Use the clue on the left to identity the sleuth on the right.

Three Pines

Teddy bears

Bush tea

Pommeroy's Wine Bar

The Bobwhites

Stop thief!

a. Horace Rumpole

b. Insp. Armand Gamache

c. Nick Velvet

d. Mma Ramotswe

e. Brad Lyon

f. Trixie Belden

12. This critically lauded novelist wrote three mysteries in the 1950s under the pseudonym “Edgar Box.” He then gave his alter ego the following blurb: “The work that Dr. Kinsey began with statistics, Edgar Box has completed with wit in the mystery novel.” Who is he?

a. Norman Mailer
b. Ray Bradbury
c. Philip Roth
d. Gore Vidal

13. “All literature of the time told you that the cops got the guy. The cops didn't get the guy that killed my mother. I knew things that other 10-year-old boys didn’t.” Which novelist is speaking of his own life in this quote?

a. Ken Bruen
b. James Ellroy
c. Matthew Reilly
d. Michael Connelly

14. They oughta be in pictures! Match each printed-page protagonist to his or her actor on the big screen.

Jason Bourne

Angie Gennaro

Clarice Starling

Karen Sisco

Batman

a. Christian Bale

b. Matt Damon

c. Julianne Moore

d. Michelle Monaghan

e. Jennifer Lopez

15. Who summed up a writer’s position in Hollywood this way? “If I write a novel, I’m a god. If I write a screenplay, I’m a minor deity.”

a. Sue Grafton
b. Donald E. Westlake
c. Laurence Shames
d. Elmore Leonard

16. To lure you to the box office, a movie’s marketing should be as intriguing as the mystery. Match the tantalizing tag line to the crime caper.

Unpolished. Unkempt. Unleashed. Undercover

Truth needs a soldier.

They’re back...and then some.

Debonair. Defiant. Defrosted.

All it takes is a little confidence.

a. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

b. The Sting

c. Miss Congeniality

d. Clear and Present Danger

e. Ocean’s Twelve

17. This crime-caper character caught criminals quickly but had the longest engagement on record: He popped the question in 1931 but didn’t tie the knot with his patient sweetheart until June 4, 1949. The happy couple?

a. Batman and Catwoman
b. Dick Tracey and Tess Trueheart
c. Perry Mason and Della Street
d. Superman and Lois Lane

18. To achieve true greatness, every hero needs a nemesis. Match the crime fighter on the left with the evildoer on the right.

Dr. Richard Kimble

Sweeney Todd

Steve McGarrett

Aloysius Prendergast

a. Judge Turpin

b. Wo Fat

c. His brother, Diogenes

d. The One-Armed Man

19. Even a brilliant detective needs to unwind sometimes. Match the sleuth to his leisure activity.

Nameless

Brady Coyne

Tess Monaghan

Hercule Poirot

a. fly-fishing

b. rowing

c. raises vegetable marrows

d. collects crime and detective pulp magazines

ANSWER KEY 1-C, A, D, B, E. 2-C. 3-B. 4-B. 5-D. 6-C. 7-C, A, D, B. 8-D. 9-C. 10-C. 11-B, E, D, A, F, C. 12-D. 13-B. 14-B, D, C, E, A. 15-B. 16-C, D, E, A, B. 17-B. 18-D, A, B, C. 19-D, A, B, C.

SCORING
1-9 You must be a youngster—you’re guessing!
10-19 Don’t take up detecting for a living.
20-29 Average—and there’s nothing wrong with that.
30-39 A tip of the deerstalker to you!
40+ Want to create a quiz for Mystery Scene?

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 24 June 2014 11:06

interrogationcrRyan_KlosHave a seat. Relax. We just have a few simple questions for you.

Eleanor Taylor Bland Grant
Oline Cogdill
taylorbland_eleanor
Several opportunities exist to help new or unpublished writers receive grants and awards. Sometimes even a small grant or a scholarship to a writers’ class can mean a big difference.

The Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award is a one-time grant of $1,500 for an emerging writer of color.

An unpublished writer is preferred, although publication of one work of short fiction or academic work will not disqualify an applicant.

This grant is intended to support the recipient in activities related to writing and career development, including workshops, seminars, conferences, and retreats; online courses; and research activities required for completion of the work.

Sisters in Crime administers the grant.

Bland, at left, was a pioneer in crime fiction.

Dead Time, her first novel in the Marti MacAlister series was published in 1992. Marti was an African American female police detective working and living in a Midwestern American town that closely resembled Waukegan, Illinois, where Bland lived.

The author also published several works of short crime fiction and edited a collection titled Shades of Black: Crime and Mystery Stories by African-American Authors (2004).

When she passed away in 2010, she was one of the most prolific African-American authors in the genre.

Deadline for applications is July 4, 2014. The winner will be selected and announced during the fall of 2014 by Sisters in Crime.

Oline Cogdill
Tuesday, 24 June 2014 09:06
taylorbland_eleanor
Several opportunities exist to help new or unpublished writers receive grants and awards. Sometimes even a small grant or a scholarship to a writers’ class can mean a big difference.

The Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award is a one-time grant of $1,500 for an emerging writer of color.

An unpublished writer is preferred, although publication of one work of short fiction or academic work will not disqualify an applicant.

This grant is intended to support the recipient in activities related to writing and career development, including workshops, seminars, conferences, and retreats; online courses; and research activities required for completion of the work.

Sisters in Crime administers the grant.

Bland, at left, was a pioneer in crime fiction.

Dead Time, her first novel in the Marti MacAlister series was published in 1992. Marti was an African American female police detective working and living in a Midwestern American town that closely resembled Waukegan, Illinois, where Bland lived.

The author also published several works of short crime fiction and edited a collection titled Shades of Black: Crime and Mystery Stories by African-American Authors (2004).

When she passed away in 2010, she was one of the most prolific African-American authors in the genre.

Deadline for applications is July 4, 2014. The winner will be selected and announced during the fall of 2014 by Sisters in Crime.

Macavity Award Nominations
Oline Cogdill

The nominations for the Macavity Awards have been announced. These awards are nominated and voted on by members and friends of Mystery Readers International.

Winners will be announced at Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention in Long Beach, Calif., on November 13. Congratulations to all nominees.

Best Mystery Novel
Sandrine’s Case by Thomas H. Cook (Mysterious Press)
Dead Lions by Mick Herron (Soho Crime)
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (Atria Books)
The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood (Penguin Books)
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books)
Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin (Reagan Arthur Books)

Best First Mystery
Yesterday’s Echo by Matt Coyle (Oceanview Publishing)
Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman (Minotaur Books) Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman (Ballantine Books)
Norwegian by Night by Derek Miller (Faber & Faber)
A Killing at Cotton Hill by Terry Shames (Seventh Street Books)

Best Mystery Short Story
“The Terminal” by Reed Farrel Coleman (Kwik Krimes, edited by Otto Penzler; Thomas & Mercer)
“The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository” by John Connolly (Bibliomysteries: Short Tales about Deadly Books, edited by Otto Penzler; Bookspan)
“The Dragon’s Tail” by Martin Limon (Nightmare Range: The Collected Sueno and Bascom Short Stories, Soho Books)
“The Hindi Houdini” by Gigi Pandian (Fish Nets: The Second Guppy Anthology, edited by Ramona DeFelice Long; Wildside Press)
“Incident on the 405” by Travis Richardson (The Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble, edited by Clare Toohey; Macmillan)
“The Care and Feeding of Houseplants” by Art Taylor (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2013)

Best Nonfiction
The Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley's Masterpiece by Roseanne Montillo (William Morrow)
Being Cool: The Work of Elmore Leonard by Charles J. Rzepka (Johns Hopkins University Press)
The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War by Daniel Stashower (Minotaur Books)

Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award
A Murder at Rosamund's Gate by Susanna Calkins (Minotaur Books) Saving Lincoln by Robert Kresge (ABQ Press)
Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses by Catriona McPherson (Minotaur Books)
Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell (Little, Brown)
Ratlines by Stuart Neville (Soho Crime)

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 25 June 2014 09:06

The nominations for the Macavity Awards have been announced. These awards are nominated and voted on by members and friends of Mystery Readers International.

Winners will be announced at Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention in Long Beach, Calif., on November 13. Congratulations to all nominees.

Best Mystery Novel
Sandrine’s Case by Thomas H. Cook (Mysterious Press)
Dead Lions by Mick Herron (Soho Crime)
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (Atria Books)
The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood (Penguin Books)
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books)
Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin (Reagan Arthur Books)

Best First Mystery
Yesterday’s Echo by Matt Coyle (Oceanview Publishing)
Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman (Minotaur Books) Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman (Ballantine Books)
Norwegian by Night by Derek Miller (Faber & Faber)
A Killing at Cotton Hill by Terry Shames (Seventh Street Books)

Best Mystery Short Story
“The Terminal” by Reed Farrel Coleman (Kwik Krimes, edited by Otto Penzler; Thomas & Mercer)
“The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository” by John Connolly (Bibliomysteries: Short Tales about Deadly Books, edited by Otto Penzler; Bookspan)
“The Dragon’s Tail” by Martin Limon (Nightmare Range: The Collected Sueno and Bascom Short Stories, Soho Books)
“The Hindi Houdini” by Gigi Pandian (Fish Nets: The Second Guppy Anthology, edited by Ramona DeFelice Long; Wildside Press)
“Incident on the 405” by Travis Richardson (The Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble, edited by Clare Toohey; Macmillan)
“The Care and Feeding of Houseplants” by Art Taylor (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2013)

Best Nonfiction
The Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley's Masterpiece by Roseanne Montillo (William Morrow)
Being Cool: The Work of Elmore Leonard by Charles J. Rzepka (Johns Hopkins University Press)
The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War by Daniel Stashower (Minotaur Books)

Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award
A Murder at Rosamund's Gate by Susanna Calkins (Minotaur Books) Saving Lincoln by Robert Kresge (ABQ Press)
Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses by Catriona McPherson (Minotaur Books)
Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell (Little, Brown)
Ratlines by Stuart Neville (Soho Crime)

Story Behind Tom Rob Smith’s the Farm
Oline Cogdill

smithtomrob_thefarm
The question of where do you get your ideas comes up at just about every author’s book signings.

At least the ones I attend.

But the answer is never simple. Ideas for novels come from myriad sources—from the news, from an idea sparked by an incident in the supermarket and, sometimes, from an author’s own life.

Even if it is a painful part of one’s life.

Tom Rob Smith borrows something from his past for the plot in his latest novel The Farm.

In The Farm, an adult son learns that his Swedish mother, Tide, and British father, Chris, no longer trust each other. His father says that his mother is psychotic, which his mother denies.

Throughout the 29-year-old’s life, his parents’ marriage had seemed to near perfect, with any sign of discontent concealed from their son. Chris tells Daniel that his mother has vanished following a breakdown. Then Tide shows up at Daniel’s apartment, claiming her husband has been trying to gaslight her. She’s armed with a briefcase full of evidence and a lifetime of resentment.

Who should he believe? And who should the reader believe?

Smith, best known for the Cold War-era series Child 44, used his experience with his own mother’s mental illness for The Farm.
Like his protagonist, Smith also didn’t know who to believe—his father who was obviously upset about his wife’s mental state or his mother who insisted she was fine.

Smith’s true story has a happier ending, which he wrote about in an essay published in the London Times: “The doctors have been so impressed with my mum's recovery that she now gives talks to other women on the nature of her experience. My parents are together and, if anything, closer than ever - a team again. In the same way, I also feel closer to both of them. Part of growing up is relearning who your parents are and being there for them in a way that they were for you, as a child, on countless occasions.”

Smith’s essay about his parents can be accessed here.

The Farm has been receiving positive reviews, including a starred review in Publishers Weekly and glowing quotes from Mark Billingham and Jeffery Deaver.

Smith’s novels in his Child 44 trilogy were New York Times bestsellers, as well as international best sellers. Child 44 won the International Thriller Writers 2009 Thriller Award for Best First Novel and the Crime Writers Association (CWA) Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award.

The film adaptation of Child 44, starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, and Gary Oldman, is due for international release in October.

BBC Films and Shine Pictures have purchased the film rights to The Farm.

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 28 June 2014 09:06

smithtomrob_thefarm
The question of where do you get your ideas comes up at just about every author’s book signings.

At least the ones I attend.

But the answer is never simple. Ideas for novels come from myriad sources—from the news, from an idea sparked by an incident in the supermarket and, sometimes, from an author’s own life.

Even if it is a painful part of one’s life.

Tom Rob Smith borrows something from his past for the plot in his latest novel The Farm.

In The Farm, an adult son learns that his Swedish mother, Tide, and British father, Chris, no longer trust each other. His father says that his mother is psychotic, which his mother denies.

Throughout the 29-year-old’s life, his parents’ marriage had seemed to near perfect, with any sign of discontent concealed from their son. Chris tells Daniel that his mother has vanished following a breakdown. Then Tide shows up at Daniel’s apartment, claiming her husband has been trying to gaslight her. She’s armed with a briefcase full of evidence and a lifetime of resentment.

Who should he believe? And who should the reader believe?

Smith, best known for the Cold War-era series Child 44, used his experience with his own mother’s mental illness for The Farm.
Like his protagonist, Smith also didn’t know who to believe—his father who was obviously upset about his wife’s mental state or his mother who insisted she was fine.

Smith’s true story has a happier ending, which he wrote about in an essay published in the London Times: “The doctors have been so impressed with my mum's recovery that she now gives talks to other women on the nature of her experience. My parents are together and, if anything, closer than ever - a team again. In the same way, I also feel closer to both of them. Part of growing up is relearning who your parents are and being there for them in a way that they were for you, as a child, on countless occasions.”

Smith’s essay about his parents can be accessed here.

The Farm has been receiving positive reviews, including a starred review in Publishers Weekly and glowing quotes from Mark Billingham and Jeffery Deaver.

Smith’s novels in his Child 44 trilogy were New York Times bestsellers, as well as international best sellers. Child 44 won the International Thriller Writers 2009 Thriller Award for Best First Novel and the Crime Writers Association (CWA) Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award.

The film adaptation of Child 44, starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, and Gary Oldman, is due for international release in October.

BBC Films and Shine Pictures have purchased the film rights to The Farm.

Iris Johansen & Roy Johansen on Their Favorite Childhood Books
Iris Johansen & Roy Johansen

Johansen_IrisandRoy

The mother-and-son team look back on memorable reading experiences.


Iris Johansen: Just a few weeks ago, my son (and frequent collaborator) Roy and I were discussing how much we continue to be influenced by the books we loved when we were children. I remember toting books back and forth from the St. Louis Public Library, stuffing my tattered canvas bag full of mystery, romance, and adventure. One of the first books I remember reading was Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. I don’t remember the particulars of that story, but I immediately read all of the other Tarzan books. I imagined myself in the jungles of Africa, joining Tarzan and Jane in their tales of lost cities and hidden treasures.

Roy Johansen: My first memorable reading experience was The Happy Hollisters and the Haunted House Mystery by Jerry West. It was one of over 30 mystery books featuring the Hollister family: five kids ranging in age from four to 12, plus an extremely accommodating mom and dad. They solved mysteries together. I loved those books, but I could never find them in bookstores or libraries. Mom joined a book club that had them delivered to me, two hardcover editions each month. I would devour them in just a few days, so it was a long wait until the next two arrived!

burnett_thesecretgardenAs I grew older, I fell in love with books like The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and the Black Stallion series by Walter Farley. I think the “Stallion” books are why I’m still such an animal lover today. I was also a fan of Elswyth Thane, who isn’t well-remembered these days. Thane had a beautiful way of weaving romance, history, and paranormal elements into the most wonderful stories. I still get emotional when I think about her book Tryst.

I loved juvenile mysteries such as Robert Arthur’s Three Investigators series and Donald J. Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown stories, but I was just wild about James B. Garfield’s Follow My Leader, a story of an 11-year-old boy who becomes blind and reconnects with the world through his guide dog. I read that book over and over. When I was 12, I discovered Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and read them all in a matter of weeks. I re-read them in my twenties and was amazed at how different my perceptions were of Holmes; the character’s arrogance had flown right past me as a child. I discovered a layer of humor I had completely missed, and the stories were suddenly even richer and more entertaining. I’m now reading them again in Leslie Klinger’s amazing new annotated editions.

Those favorite books of my childhood have certainly influenced my writing. Many of my books show my love of adventure, romance, and mystery, with a generous helping of paranormal elements. Animals also play a big part in several of my thrillers. I’ve continued to be an avid reader as an adult, but there’s something very powerful about those books we first encountered as children.

west_happyhollistershauntedhouseThere’s definitely a direct line from those books of my youth to the fiction I’m writing today. Only now do I consciously realize that the The Happy Hollisters and the Haunted House Mystery, most of the Three Investigators books, and even The Hound of the Baskervilles explore the mystery subgenre of a supposedly supernatural crime being exposed by the forces of logic and reason. My books Beyond Belief and Deadly Visions tread the same ground. And our Kendra Michaels character (featured in the just-released Sight Unseen) certainly shares some traits with Sherlock Holmes, although she is a much more emotional being. We’re all products of our environment, even if that environment was partially created by authors in their wonderful books. We’d be thrilled if we could cast the same spell over readers who enter the worlds we create.

IRIS JOHANSEN is The New York Times bestselling author of Live to See Tomorrow, Silencing Eve, What Doesn't Kill You, Chasing The Night, Fatal Tide, Dead Aim, No One To Trust and more.

ROY JOHANSEN is an Edgar Award winning author and the son of Iris Johansen. He has written many well-received mysteries, including Deadly Visions, Beyond Belief and The Answer Man. Iris and Roy together have written Close Your Eyes, Shadow Zone, Storm Cycle, and Silent Thunder. Their book, Sight Unseen is out July 15, 2014.

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

Teri Duerr
Monday, 30 June 2014 10:06

Johansen_IrisandRoycropThe mother-and-son team look back on memorable reading experiences.

Summer Issue #135 Contents
Mystery Scene

135cover_250

 
 

Features

The Detections of Lillian de la Torre

A look at the historical mystery writer who put Dr. Sam Johnson on the case in witty short stories.
by Michael Mallory

Gormania

Katherine Hall Page discusses her Faith Fairchild series, favorite authors, the writing life, and her new collection of short stories.
by Ed Gorman

Ben H. Winters: World of Trouble

It’s six months before an asteroid destroys Earth and detective Hank Palace continues his lone crusade to bring order to the apocalypse in the final book of this highly praised trilogy.
by Oline H. Cogdill

Paul Doiron: A Light in the Forest

It’s law and order Maine-style with Game Warden Mike Bowditch.
by Lynn Kaczmarek

Justified

This Elmore Leonard-inspired show has always had big ambitions —and the payoff is on the way.
by Jake Hinkson

Dorothy Salisbury Davis

A star in the 1950s to ’70s, Davis had a rich understanding of the human condition.
by Sarah Weinman

“Killer Wedding” Crossword

by Verna Suit

 
 

Departments

At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

2014 Anthony Award nominations, Edgar Awards, Agatha Awards, Audie Awards, Lambda Awards, Arthur Ellis Awards

New Books

Catnapped!
by Elaine Viets

Storytelling Through Totem Poles
by R.J. Harlick

The Hook

First lines that caught our attention

 
 

Reviews

Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb & Sharon Magee

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell & Hank Wagner

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Bill Crider

Mystery Scene Reviews

 
 

Miscellaneous

The Docket

Letters

Our Readers Recommend

Advertiser Info

Admin
Monday, 05 April 2010 10:04

135cover_250

 
 

Features

 

The Detections of Lillian de la Torre

A look at the historical mystery writer who put Dr. Sam Johnson on the case in witty short stories.
by Michael Mallory

Gormania

Katherine Hall Page discusses her Faith Fairchild series, favorite authors, the writing life, and her new collection of short stories.
by Ed Gorman

Ben H. Winters: World of Trouble

It’s six months before an asteroid destroys Earth and detective Hank Palace continues his lone crusade to bring order to the apocalypse in the final book of this highly praised trilogy.
by KOline H. Cogdill

Paul Doiron: A Light in the Forest

It’s law and order Maine-style with Game Warden Mike Bowditch.
by Lynn Kaczmarek

Justified

This Elmore Leonard-inspired show has always had big ambitions —and the payoff is on the way.
by Jake Hinkson

Dorothy Salisbury Davis

A star in the 1950s to ’70s, Davis had a rich understanding of the human condition.
by Sarah Weinman

“Killer Wedding” Crossword

by Verna Suit

 
 

Departments

 

At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

2014 Anthony Award nominations, Edgar Awards, Agatha Awards, Audie Awards, Lambda Awards, Arthur Ellis Awards

New Books

Catnapped!
by Elaine Viets

Storytelling Through Totem Poles
by R.J. Harlick

The Hook

First lines that caught our attention

 
 

Reviews

 

Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb & Sharon Magee

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell & Hank Wagner

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Bill Crider

Mystery Scene Reviews

 
 

Miscellaneous

 

The Docket

Letters

Our Readers Recommend

Advertiser Info

Raymond Chandler to Get a Star
Oline Cogdill

chandler_raymond1

 

 

 

 

The Hollywood Walk of Fame is one of those iconic must-sees for anyone visiting Hollywood.

Who hasn’t seen either in person or in the movies those bright pink stars against the grey background on the sidewalk that stretches on both sides of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street?

These stars are permanent tributes to those in the entertainment business. Certainly a number of actors, musicians, directors and producers are among the stars, as well as a few fictional characters such as Kermit, the Frog. (oh, please…you thought he was real?)

The Walk of Fame also has found its way into several novels of crime fiction. Michael Connelly used Frank Sinatra’s star as a meeting place in his Angels Flight.

Authors also are represented among these stars with Raymond Chandler, above, slated to receive his spot in 2015, along with actors Will Ferrell, Julianna Margulies, and Daniel Radcliffe.

Chandler will join an exclusive club of authors with stars on this walk that include Ray Bradbury, Dr. Seuss, Adela Rogers St. Johns, and Ogden Nash.

It’s about time that Chandler was honored. His private detective Philip Marlowe remains one of the touchstones of the genre, and influenced generations of mystery writers, including Michael Connelly.

And Marlowe was not stranger to Hollywood. The character appeared in several film adaptations of Chandler’s work, as well as radio adaptations.

Actors who portrayed the private detective include Dick Powell (Murder, My Sweet, 1944); Humphrey Bogart (The Big Sleep, 1946); Robert Montgomery (Lady in the Lake, 1947); James Gardner (Marlowe, 1969, which was an adaptation of The Little Sister); Elliott Gould (The Long Goodbye, 1973); and Robert Mitchum (Farewell My Lovely, 1975, and The Big Sleep, 1978).

Chandler never adapted any of his novels to the screen, but he became a fixture in Hollywood.

Chandler worked with directors and screenwriters on adapting other novelists’ works. These screenplays include James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, which he co-wrote with Billy Wilder and which was nominated for an Oscar, and Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train on which he collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock.

Chandler’s only original screenplay that actually was made into a film was The Blue Dahlia (1946). According to biographies, including one on producer John Houseman, Chandler hadn’t written an ending. Chandler agreed to finish the script, but insisted he could only do it drunk. That must have been some powerful drink because The Blue Dahlia brought Chandler’s second Oscar nod for screenplay.

Chandler did have one small role in a film, so small it was uncredited.

And this makes for a great Jeopardy! question:

Which noir novelist is seen sitting outside Keyes’ office in Double Indemnity?

Answer: Who is Raymond Chandler.

You have to look quick to spot Chandler in that scene, but Chandler’s Walk of Fame star will be easy to spot.

As for future crime fiction authors who should also have a Walk of Fame star—I nominate Michael Connelly and Robert Crais.

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 05 July 2014 10:07

chandler_raymond1

 

 

 

 

The Hollywood Walk of Fame is one of those iconic must-sees for anyone visiting Hollywood.

Who hasn’t seen either in person or in the movies those bright pink stars against the grey background on the sidewalk that stretches on both sides of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street?

These stars are permanent tributes to those in the entertainment business. Certainly a number of actors, musicians, directors and producers are among the stars, as well as a few fictional characters such as Kermit, the Frog. (oh, please…you thought he was real?)

The Walk of Fame also has found its way into several novels of crime fiction. Michael Connelly used Frank Sinatra’s star as a meeting place in his Angels Flight.

Authors also are represented among these stars with Raymond Chandler, above, slated to receive his spot in 2015, along with actors Will Ferrell, Julianna Margulies, and Daniel Radcliffe.

Chandler will join an exclusive club of authors with stars on this walk that include Ray Bradbury, Dr. Seuss, Adela Rogers St. Johns, and Ogden Nash.

It’s about time that Chandler was honored. His private detective Philip Marlowe remains one of the touchstones of the genre, and influenced generations of mystery writers, including Michael Connelly.

And Marlowe was not stranger to Hollywood. The character appeared in several film adaptations of Chandler’s work, as well as radio adaptations.

Actors who portrayed the private detective include Dick Powell (Murder, My Sweet, 1944); Humphrey Bogart (The Big Sleep, 1946); Robert Montgomery (Lady in the Lake, 1947); James Gardner (Marlowe, 1969, which was an adaptation of The Little Sister); Elliott Gould (The Long Goodbye, 1973); and Robert Mitchum (Farewell My Lovely, 1975, and The Big Sleep, 1978).

Chandler never adapted any of his novels to the screen, but he became a fixture in Hollywood.

Chandler worked with directors and screenwriters on adapting other novelists’ works. These screenplays include James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, which he co-wrote with Billy Wilder and which was nominated for an Oscar, and Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train on which he collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock.

Chandler’s only original screenplay that actually was made into a film was The Blue Dahlia (1946). According to biographies, including one on producer John Houseman, Chandler hadn’t written an ending. Chandler agreed to finish the script, but insisted he could only do it drunk. That must have been some powerful drink because The Blue Dahlia brought Chandler’s second Oscar nod for screenplay.

Chandler did have one small role in a film, so small it was uncredited.

And this makes for a great Jeopardy! question:

Which noir novelist is seen sitting outside Keyes’ office in Double Indemnity?

Answer: Who is Raymond Chandler.

You have to look quick to spot Chandler in that scene, but Chandler’s Walk of Fame star will be easy to spot.

As for future crime fiction authors who should also have a Walk of Fame star—I nominate Michael Connelly and Robert Crais.

The Case of the Missing Endnotes
Jon L. Breen

magnifying_glass_books_istockphoto

A noted critic raises concerns about a troubling new trend in publishing.

A sinister trend is afoot in nonfiction publishing. It seems to affect a particular kind of book: one with both scholarly authority and commercial appeal. Two examples have come my way in the past year, both of them coincidentally with a common subject: the Pinkerton detective agency and its crime writing founder Allan Pinkerton.

Early in 2013, I reviewed in these pages Daniel Stashower’s The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War (Minotaur), since nominated for a true-crime Edgar Award. It struck me as the superb job I’d expect from the author, but something was missing. While there was a six-page bibliography of primary and secondary sources, there were no notes to identify exactly where quotations and little-known facts came from. At the end of the bibliography, the reader is referred to the author’s website, where the source notes can be found. (The link to the notes appears in the bottom left corner of the author’s homepage at www.stashower.com.)

I didn’t remember having come across this practice before, and maybe I should have been on alert later in the year when I came to review Beau Riffenburgh’s Pinkerton’s Great Detective: The Amazing Life and Times of James McParland (Viking), another excellent book. Note numbers were sprinkled throughout the text of my advance reading copy, but there was nowhere to look them up. I asked the publisher for a copy of the notes and received almost a hundred pages, including not just source citations but appendices, maps, bibliography, and considerable added information included with the notes, the sort of material that was an integral part of the book and indispensable to any reader with a more than casual interest in the subject. I wrote my review on the reasonable, but (as it turned out) premature assumption that all this material would be included in the finished book. When I received a hardbound copy, I saw that it was not. A note between preface and introduction referred the reader to two websites: www.susannagregory.com and www.penguin.com.

How widespread is this alarming phenomenon? Admittedly, it’s too early to pronounce it an epidemic. Two nonfiction books I received for Christmas are in that scholarly-and-commercial category, and both of them had their extensive notes intact: Doris Kearns Goodwin’s bestseller The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism (Simon and Schuster), and Ethan Mordden’s Anything Goes: A History of American Musical Theatre (Oxford University Press). (Though when this malady starts afflicting prestigious university presses, we really will be in trouble!) A quick-and-dirty survey of the new nonfiction shelves at my favorite public library turned up no additional examples. Could it be this publishing atrocity is limited to history books about the Pinkertons? Not quite.

In the October 4, 2013 Washington Post, Douglas Brinkley gave the most scathing pan imaginable to Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America, 1927 (Doubleday). In a subsequent letter to the editor published November 8, Bryson granted Brinkley’s right to a wrongheaded opinion on his literary merits, but heatedly disputed the claim that his book was “devoid of footnotes” and involved “no primary research (except for scanning websites).” On the contrary, wrote Bryson, readers are directed to “a 119-page appendix available online that contains some 1,200 annotated source notes....” Another book that has important ancillary content online rather than in the book is Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies? (Viking, 2012), with chapter-by-chapter Further Readings found only on the publisher’s website.

Obviously, this is an economic decision of the publishers. To keep the price affordable to the target audience, the page count has to be limited. Just about everybody has Internet access, and the information is readily available to those who want it. Most casual readers, the thinking might go, won’t even miss the notes. And if they do, they can get the ebook version, where the page count is not an issue and these omitted notes can be included.

So why is this such a big deal? Several reasons.

To begin with, it’s an inconvenience to the reader, who pays a handsome price for a physical book but then has to go somewhere out in the clouds for the basic documentation that makes it complete. And believe it or not, not everyone loves using computers or the Internet. As for getting the ebook, why should the lover of real physical books with pages and print have to pay twice to get the whole book?

Second, what about the effect on the author? I can’t imagine any responsible scholar not wanting the documentation to be available or being happy with giving the reader extra hurdles to clear. If the choice comes down to making unacceptable cuts in the text or farming out the notes, the latter is clearly the lesser of two evils, but still an evil. Harm to the author’s reputation can also result. If you check the Amazon.com reviews for Stashower’s and Riffenburgh’s books, you’ll find both have been criticized for the lack of notes, either by those who resented having to go online to find them or (worse yet) by those who missed the cross-reference and assumed the author had provided no documentation at all.

Third is the biggest problem of all in my view: the dubious permanence of the scholarly documentation. Nothing in cyberspace is as certain of survival as a physical object. Much as I value and exploit the Internet, I can never believe a given online item will be around as long as a printed book. Those source notes are available to check online now, but what assurance is there they will still be there in a year, five years, ten years, fifty years? And though I’ve filled my iPad with hundreds of ebooks and reveled in the convenience of space saving and portability, the permanence question applies equally to them.

Readers with an interest in the integrity of the book must resist this intellectual virus. I’m not sure how, but being aware of it is a start.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 08 July 2014 04:07

magnifying_glass_books_istockphotoA noted critic raises concerns about a troubling new trend in publishing.

Swedish Author Camilla Lackberg
Oline Cogdill

lackberg_hiddenchild
The Hidden Child
is a massive novel by Swedish author Camilla Läckberg that looks at how Sweden was affected by WWII and the contemporay reverberations of that war.

But The Hidden Child (Pegasus Crime) also is the story of a family—how a new mother deals with her child; how a vibrant teenager grows into a cold, emotionless mother and how this affects her own children; how two brothers copy with a devastating 60-year-old secret.

Here’s a quick interview with Camilla Läckberg, left.

At the heart of The Hidden Child is a woman learning about the girl her mother was; you show the options and opportunities that Erica Falck has are vastly different than the choices her mother, Elsy had. Could you comment on that?
A lot of things has change between the two different generations, not the least to say regarding women’s rights. In the story I also can also compare their challenges and opportunities being mothers in two different moments in time.

lackberg_camilla
Have you always wanted to write?
I have loved crime fiction since I can remember.

Does your background is as an economist ever enter into your writing?
I use my personal experience as much as I can, and whenever I mention an accountant or business man/woman I guess I share some of my acquired skills.

Tell us a bit about your personal life; married, children?
I have three wonderful kids who are my greatest live. I am divorced but have a very strong relationship with the children’s fathers. I call my family a star family and I’m so happy to have such a great relationship with my exes and their new girlfriends.

What character in The Hidden Child are you most proud?
Every character brings something unique to the story. However, I love the way I got to explore Erica’s courage in The Hidden Child. It feels that I got closer to her somehow.

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 12 July 2014 01:07

lackberg_hiddenchild
The Hidden Child
is a massive novel by Swedish author Camilla Läckberg that looks at how Sweden was affected by WWII and the contemporay reverberations of that war.

But The Hidden Child (Pegasus Crime) also is the story of a family—how a new mother deals with her child; how a vibrant teenager grows into a cold, emotionless mother and how this affects her own children; how two brothers copy with a devastating 60-year-old secret.

Here’s a quick interview with Camilla Läckberg, left.

At the heart of The Hidden Child is a woman learning about the girl her mother was; you show the options and opportunities that Erica Falck has are vastly different than the choices her mother, Elsy had. Could you comment on that?
A lot of things has change between the two different generations, not the least to say regarding women’s rights. In the story I also can also compare their challenges and opportunities being mothers in two different moments in time.

lackberg_camilla
Have you always wanted to write?
I have loved crime fiction since I can remember.

Does your background is as an economist ever enter into your writing?
I use my personal experience as much as I can, and whenever I mention an accountant or business man/woman I guess I share some of my acquired skills.

Tell us a bit about your personal life; married, children?
I have three wonderful kids who are my greatest live. I am divorced but have a very strong relationship with the children’s fathers. I call my family a star family and I’m so happy to have such a great relationship with my exes and their new girlfriends.

What character in The Hidden Child are you most proud?
Every character brings something unique to the story. However, I love the way I got to explore Erica’s courage in The Hidden Child. It feels that I got closer to her somehow.