These Dicks Were Janes
Kevin Burton Smith

adams cleve f violet mcdadeIn crime pulps of the 30s and 40s there were also plenty of dicks who were actually janes, defiantly holding their own.



Cleve F. Adams’ foul-tempered Violet McDade is generally considered the first hardboiled woman detective. This illustration originally accompanied “Flowers for Violet” in Clues Detective Stories, May 1936.



Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman… especially when they’re also private detectives.

Oh, those poor gals. They seem to get it in the neck from both sides these days, misrepresented on the one hand by ivory tower feminists who overpraise characters like Kinsey Millhone, V.I. Warshawski, or Sharon McCone—for all the wrong reasons. They seem to believe these female gumshoes sprang out of nowhere, wholly formed, a mere 20 or so years ago, a revolutionary shot fired across the bow of some male chauvinist conspiracy.

On the other hand the same characters are sneered at and scorned by the knuckle-dragging traditionalists, with their trench-coat-and-fedora fetishes, who claim these detectives are actually about as hardboiled as afternoon tea, and that true hardboiled women never did and never will exist. I mean, come off it guys. What sort of slippery sliding scale of boiledness allows Lew “I just want to understand you” Archer to be classified as hardboiled, while V.I. “Take no prisoners” Warshawski is considered “softboiled”?

I’m not sure which group is more misguided or more in need of deflation, but they should both do a little more actual reading in the genre, and a little less huffing and puffing.

Truth is, the female eye goes back a hell of a lot further than Muller’s Edwin of the Iron Shoes—a fact that Muller herself has eagerly pointed out several times over the years.

The standard rhetoric goes that from the start of the P.I. genre, women were relegated solely to background characters or clumsy stereotypes—long-suffering secretaries (available in either plain and efficient or stacked and stupid), virginal victims, or drop-dead gorgeous femmes fatales (as though even a hint of sexuality, combined with just a drop of intelligence, was a sure sign that murder lurked in their hearts). This tunnel vision serves both camps nicely, for different reasons, but it conveniently sidesteps a few facts. Such as that the female characters created by Chandler, Hammett, and the better male writers of the genre were often just as well-developed, and their motives every bit as varied, as their male characters—they just weren’t always nice.

And, more importantly, it ignores the fact that in crime pulps of the ‘30s and ‘40s, although male detectives did indeed rule the roost, there were also plenty of dicks who were actually janes, defiantly holding their own. Each month, readers eagerly plopped down their dough to read the pulp escapades of these strong, tough, and, yes, even occasionally hardboiled janes.

One of the first, way back in 1933, was T.T. FlynnTrixie Meehan. Make no mistake—big, rugged Mike Harris of the Blaine Agency was supposedly the lead here, but his “pert sidekick,” a fellow op, was what made these occasionally screwball stories, which appeared in Detective Fiction Weekly, so special.

In the meantime, Grace Culver, created by Roswell Brown, was appearing regularly in The Shadow. Grace worked for the Noonan Detective Agency as a secretary and sometime-op, and while she wasn’t exactly hardboiled, she was certainly smart, brave, and independent. Cleve F. Adams’ nasty, foul-tempered Violet McDade is generally considered the first hardboiled lady eye. She and her long-suffering partner, Nevada Alvarado, slugged and bickered their way through a string of stories in the pulps.

Possessed of the charm and build of a NFL linebacker, D.B. McCandless Sarah Watson was another lovely piece of work. She didn’t have much patience for her young male assistant or for men in general—she gruffly admits she’d like to “beat up a man proper, for once,” and then proceeds to describe it in loving detail.

Then there’s Theodore Tinsley’s Carrie Cashin, certainly the most popular of the female pulp eyes. Attractive, smart, and determined as hell, she appeared in over three dozen pulp stories. Although she often posed as her male assistant’s secretary (Remington Steele, anyone?), there’s no doubt who the real boss was here.

And in a time when there were very few regular women writers in Black Mask, Katherine Brocklebank not only managed to sell them seven stories—she also created possibly Black Mask’s only female series character: Tex of the Border Service, who saw that justice was done along the Mexico/U.S. border.

brown roswel grace culverRoswell Brown’s Grace Culver. A woman, a bad hair day, and a gun. Can you spell trouble? This illustration originally accompanied “Hit the Baby” in The Shadow Magazine, February 15, 1936.

Not that all the lady dicks were confined to short stories in the pulps. Rex Stout’s pistol-packin’ Dol Bonner showed up in the 1937 novel The Hand in the Glove, possibly the first book-length female shamus. Although there were no sequels, Dol later showed up in several of the Nero Wolfe tales.

Hot on Dol’s heels came Zelda Popkin’s Death Wears a White Gardenia (1938), which introduced Mary Carner, a smart and tough, crisply efficient detective who works at Blankfort's swanky, upscale Fifth Avenue store in New York, and would go on to appear in four more popular but now almost forgotten novels, making her—as far as I can tell—the first book-length series female private detective.

The next year, A.A. Fair (actually Erle Stanley Gardner) let loose Bertha Cool in The Bigger They Come, the first of what would become the longest series featuring a female gumshoe ever (and will still be, even when Grafton finally cranks out Z Is for Zero). Like Sarah Watson before her, Bertha Cool is one big, unpleasant chunk of detective, and nobody’s doormat. The books are an absolute treat, easily surpassing most of Gardner’s Perry Mason books for sheer entertainment.

And in 1947, skip tracer/P.I. Gale Gallagher appeared in I Found Him Dead, purportedly written by Gale herself (actually Will Oursler and Margaret Scott). It was followed a few years later by Chord in Crimson. Gallagher is arguably the missing link between the good girl amateur sleuths of the past and the tougher modern female P.I.s of the present. In the “tag end” of her twenties, she’s smart, well-dressed, and seems pretty self-assured and independent for that era. She goes to bars and jazz clubs alone, and enjoys the company of several men. She has a license to carry, though she rarely does, but she speaks with a dry wit and a casual toughness that is completely believable.

Some may sneer and declare these characters not “real” women because most were created by men, a sort of rebound-sexism. But that doesn’t subtract from the fact that these characters (and there were plenty of others) were all strong, tough and smart, and every bit as independent and as enjoyable to read about as their male contemporaries. Sometimes even more so.

And don’t get me started on the women who wrote for the hardboiled pulps....


Hard-Boiled Dames: Stories Featuring Women Detectives, Reporters, Adventurers, and Criminals from the Pulp Fiction Magazines of the 1930s. Bernard Drew, ed., preface by Marcia Muller, St. Martin's Press, 1986.

Top of the Heap. Erle Stanley Gardner, Hard Case Crime, 2004. A Bertha Cool and Donald Lam mystery reprint.


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


This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #89.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 30 October 2014 05:10

adams cleve f violet mcdadeIn crime pulps of the ‘30s and ‘40s there were also plenty of dicks who were actually janes, defiantly holding their own.


Why Go to Bouchercon?

jance ja
Next week, hundreds of people from across the US, Canada, England, Europe—oh, let’s just say the world will be coming to Long Beach, California, to celebrate mystery fiction.

Bouchercon 2014 will be Nov. 13 to 16 in beautiful Long Beach. The setting alone makes this trip worthwhile as Long Beach is a lovely city.

But Bouchercon, which moves to a different locale each year, is worth the trip alone.

Bouchercon has been taking place since 1970 and is named in honor of famed mystery critic Anthony Boucher. During the convention there are panels, discussions, and interviews with authors and people from the mystery community covering all parts of the genre.

But that description doesn’t really say why Bouchercon matters and why authors and fans should attend.

Bouchercon is more than just panels and discussions. It is a conference that has its finger on the pulse of the genre. It shows through those panels and discussions what and who is on the cutting edge of the genre; what kinds of stories we will be reading in the future and what kinds of plots authors want to tackle.

Bouchercon gives us who love mysteries a chance to really look at the genre we love and see its past and future. For fans, it’s a chance to hear the authors they love talk about their work, get their books signed, and maybe even talk to them between events.

For authors, it’s a chance to meet those readers—and make new ones.

For me, as a critic, it is a chance to see which authors are up and coming, and just learn more about the genre.

I’ve been coming to Bouchercons since 1997, when it was in Monterey. I have only had to miss one since then and that was the Alaska deaver jeffrey2
Bouchercon and that was only because we had taken a family vacation to Alaska the year before.

I have never had a bad time at a Bouchercon. Even the two that stand out as badly organized and chaotic were still fun.

Not every author will make every Bouchercon. Some can’t come because of other commitments, family issues, or they don’t have a book that is new. I can understand skipping Bouchercons because authors need to commit their time to work—creating new and strong stories.

That adage that you get what you give certainly applies to Bouchercon. There are panels and events geared for every kind of mystery writer, and a chance to meet readers. And isn’t meeting readers the best reason to go?

And that is one of the beauties of our genre—it is so wide and embracing. If readers can’t find a mystery they like, then they are just not looking hard enough. Or they are…well…I don’t have to go into details about what I think of people who look down on crime fiction.

The Long Beach Bouchercon looks to be a great conference. The organizers have thoughtfully pulled together a good list of honorees and panels.

The American Guest of Honor will be J.A. Jance, whom I will have the pleasure of interviewing on the first day of Bouchercon.

Edward Marston will be the International Guest of Honor. Simon Wood the witty Toastmaster. Eoin Colfer the Y.A. Guest of Honor.

Jeffery Deaver is being honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

There is still time to register for Bouchercon. Come to a beautiful area, and stay for the lively discussions that Bouchercon will offer.


Photos: Top, J.A. Jance; bottom, Jeffery Deaver

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 01 November 2014 09:11
A Tribute to Jerry Healy

healy jeremiah jerry
It’s always hard to know how to best honor someone who has died. Do we send flowers? Set up a fund? Hold a memorial service? What is the best way to honor that person, acknowledge our grief, and also do something that will allow that person’s legacy to continue.

Jeremiah Healy’s death on August 14, 2014, left many people mourning him and also wanting to do something. Jerry took his own life at age 66, following a long battle with depression.

He left behind his fiancée and fellow author, Sandra Balzo, tons of friends, colleagues, and fans.

To honor Jerry Healy, his fellow mystery writers and friends, Brendan DuBois, Andi Shechter, SJ Rozan and her sister Deborah, and Balzo found a way to commemorate Jerry's work and life that they feel he would have loved.

So a memorial fund is being set up at Hero Dogs, a service dog organization that trains dogs to assist wounded veterans.

“Besides his work as an attorney and an author, Jerry was a U.S. Army vet, and was also a lover of dogs. [Hero Dogs] will be thrilled to receive donations in Jerry's name,” said DuBois in a press statement.

The idea for the fund began several weeks ago when the friends began to ask themselves what they should do.

“My first thoughts were things that were on my mind—depression, suicide prevention, or maybe literacy. All worthy causes, but not . . . very Jerry,” said Balzo in the press statement.

“If you knew Jeremiah Healy for any length of time, you might have heard him talk about the military and refer to somebody as ‘the real thing.’ ‘The Real Things’ are men and women who served our country heroically and selflessly, often at the expense of life, limb, or emotional health. In fact, the only time I saw Jerry cry was as he recounted an air mission in which the pilots took off knowing that, once the mission was achieved, they didn't have the fuel to return,” she added.

healy herodogs
And that is where dogs come in.

“As for the canine component, I can't tell you how many strolls were doubled in duration because Jerry had to stop every passing dog walker with the question "Is he (or she) friendly?" and give 'em a good scratch. Even depressed, it was the one thing that seemed to help him, so I can only imagine what it does for wounded vets,” she added.

Hero Dogs is based in Maryland. It is an IRS approved 501(c)(3) organization and operates entirely on donations. You can donate via their website, or by sending a check to Hero Dogs, P.O. 64, Brookeville, MD 20833-0064. But please ensure either by writing on the memo section of your check, or using the form on their website, that you're making this donation in Jeremiah Healy's name.

That way, Hero Dogs can track how many donations come in, so that they can be used in some way to keep Jeremiah Healy's memory alive in years to come.

And if anyone wants to have their donation acknowledged by Balzo, or send her a personal note, she can be reached at

And after honoring Healy through Hero Dogs, remember his novels.

Healy’s first novel about Boston private investigator John Francis Cuddy was Blunt Darts in 1984. His novel The Staked Goat won the Shamus Award, given by the Private Eye Writers of America, in 1986. He wrote 13 novels about Cuddy, the last of which, Spiral, was published in 1999 and took place mostly in Florida.

He also wrote three novels under the pseudonym Terry Devane about lawyer Mairead O’Clare.

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 05 November 2014 08:11
Kathleen Ernst on Laura Ingalls Wilder
Kathleen Ernst

KathleenErnstMysterySceneEssayPhoto72dpiLaura and Me


In my current work-in-progress, the sixth installment of my Chloe Ellefson series, my protagonist has cause to consider her favorite book. What does she reach for? Her childhood copy of Little House in the Big Woods, first in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series:

Only another true Little House-lover could understand what the books had meant to her as a child. … Laura’s adventures had captivated. Laura’s struggles had inspired. Laura had been a faithful friend when no one else understood. Laura’s stories had sparked Chloe’s interest in history, her hobbies, her career and professional passions. This book led me here, Chloe thought.

“Here” is the huge living history museum where Chloe works as curator of collections—the same museum where I once worked as an interpreter and curator. Chloe is not me, but there’s a lot of me in Chloe. Laura’s stories led me “here” as well—happily writing mysteries about a curator who is passionate about historic sites and stories.

For those not in the know, the original eight-book series was autobiographical fiction, written by Laura and edited by her daughter Rose. As Laura grows from a young girl to a married teen, her family moves from Wisconsin to Kansas to Minnesota and, finally, to South Dakota. When I was a little girl in suburban Maryland, the books transported me to pioneer days in the Midwest. I’ve been fascinated by the past, and historic places, ever since.

Periodically I re-read the Little House books. They hold up well for adults. The stories are nuanced, with undercurrents I missed as a kid. And I’ve realized that the time spent with the Little House books over the years has influenced my own writing.

Wilder drew characters so well they become real in readers’ minds. Fictional Laura demonstrates her resiliency and spunk in many ways, but she is not immune to yearning and hurt. And the writing always shows. When Laura is a small child, readers know exactly how she feels one spooky night when Pa has not come home:

Laura listened to the wind in the Big Woods. All around the house the wind went crying as though it were lost in the dark and the cold. The wind sounded frightened. (Little House in the Big Woods)

In the early chapters of By the Banks of Plum Creek, writer-Laura made exquisite use of foreshadowing as Pa promises again and again that high times are on the horizon. When Ma protests moving into a dugout: “It’s only till I harvest the first wheat crop,” said Pa. “Then you’ll have a fine house and I’ll have horses and maybe even a buggy. This is great wheat country, Caroline!” Some readers may recall that plagues of grasshoppers completely decimated crops and dreams, and left the Ingalls family deep in debt.

Time and place emerge vividly on every page. In real life Laura painted word pictures for her blind sister, and that skill served her well as a novelist:

The great round moon hung in the sky and its radiance poured over a silvery world. …Laura’s heart swelled. She felt herself a part of the wide land, of the far deep sky and the brilliant moonlight. She wanted to fly. (By the Shores of Silver Lake)

Laura Ingalls Wilder evoked the past with specific sensory details. She presented compelling characters. She carefully structured the stories to have a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. Her books have endured, selling millions of copies all around the world. One set still sits on my bookshelf. They are a talisman of my childhood, when they inspired my lifelong love of history and stories.


Bestselling author Kathleen Ernst writes mysteries and historical fiction. Her latest titles are Tradition of Deceit: A Chloe Ellefson Mystery (for adults) and Traitor in the Shipyard: A Caroline Mystery (for kids).


This Writers on Reading essay was originally published in At the Scene eNews November 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
Tuesday, 04 November 2014 12:11

KathleenErnstMysterySceneEssayPhoto72dpi"Periodically I re-read the Little House on the Prairie books. They hold up well for adults." 

Best Villains of the Season

koryta thosewhowishmedead
Liam Neeson battles two chilling criminals and their odd relationship in A Walk Among the Tombstones. The movie, based on Lawrence Block’s novel, gives us a good view of who these two horrible people are and it wisely doesn’t have them dominate the screen.

Sometimes villains are the worst criminals one can imagine. Other times, they slide into your lives under the guise of friendship and love.

So here are the novels this year that gave us memorable villains.

Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta: Two killers, with their odd speaking patterns and creepy stares, leave a trail of violence in their wake as they pursue a 13-year-old boy who witnessed them murdering a man.

The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood: A killer lurks in a rundown apartment house in London. But who?

Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly: Eve Dalladay, who has a habit of seducing married men, siphoning off their money, and disappearing, may be one of the most fully shaped villains of the year.

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash: Deadbeat father Wade Chesterfield, who kidnaps the children he abandoned, and who had signed over his parental rights years before, isn’t really the bad guy here. That title goes to the brutal Robert Pruitt, who is fueled by a years-old vendetta against Wade, and a gym bag full of money.

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon: The fears that creep into one’s subconscious and stay there ramp up the terror in this tale that blends the past and the present, the supernatural and the real.

Black Horizon by James Grippando: Corporate greed—the ultimate villain—and politics play a part as Miami defense attorney Jack Swyteck represents the widow of a Cuban national killed in an oil rig explosion.

Peter Pan Must Die by John Verdon: Retired NYPD homicide detective Dave Gurney investigates a murder that, on the surface, was marwoodalex killernextdoor
impossible to perform and in which the details were fabricated.

Summer of the Dead by Julia Keller: Two brutal murders, seemingly unrelated, rock the small town of Acker's Gap, West Virginia, where people can hide in plain sight their propensity for violence.

After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman: Shady businessman Felix Brewer isn’t your typical villain, but this thoughtless and selfish man who is facing a 15-year prison sentence disappears before he can go to prison, forever leaving in shambles those he supposedly loved.

Oline Cogdill
Sunday, 09 November 2014 05:11
J.A. Jance: Bouchercon Guest of Honor

janceja dogs
At each Bouchercon, several authors are picked to be the guests of honor. During Bouchercon 2014, which begins November 13, the American Guest of Honor is J.A. Jance, who has written more than 50 novels during the past 30 years.

I’ll be conducting the interview with J.A. beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 13.

J.A. has been a real force in the mystery genre since 1985, when her first J.P. Beaumont novel, Until Proven Guilty, was published.
One reason that her novels are so accessible is that she writes about real people—men and women whom each of us can relate to. There are other female sheriffs in the mystery genre, but J.A. was the first to give her Joanna Brady a full and complicated live. In that, J.A. recognized that none of us are just one thing. Our careers, families, hopes, dramas, and joys all serve to make us who we are.

J.A. also knows that using one’s life experiences can make for richer novels. So her first husband’s alcoholism helped shaped J. P. Beaumont. Her experiences as a single parent have gone into the background for Joanna Brady.

The years that she taught on the Tohono O’Odham reservation west of Tucson, Arizona, are reflected in Hour of the Hunter and Kiss of the Bees.

In Second Watch, she paid tribute to a former classmate who was killed in Vietnam.

We’ll be talking about her characters and her life as a writer during our interview at Bouchercon. And if  you can’t make it to Long Beach, bring J.A. Jance to you by reading her novels.

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 12 November 2014 05:11
The Groundbreaking NYPD BLUE

nypd-blue-1993 franz and caruso




A troubled protagonist, gritty language, and a pair of bare buns changed the way America viewed TV cop shows forever.



L-R: David Caruso as Detective John Kelly and Dennis Franz as Detective Andy Sipowicz in the 1993 premiere season of NYPD Blue.



ABC’s NYPD Blue ended its 12-year, 261-episode run with new homicide squad commander Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) sitting alone at his cluttered desk, facing an uncertain future, wondering perhaps how he ever wound up supervising the conduct of others after so much trouble supervising his own.

It was a fitting final image for the acclaimed police drama, which ultimately had evolved into a show mainly about Sipowicz. He had become a metaphor for the contemporary urban policeman who, after conquering his own demons, still has to face the daunting challenge of a bureaucracy that seems programmed to thwart justice at every turn.

bochco stevenIn the fall of 1993, when NYPD Blue began its run, it seemed most like a natural extension of writer-producer Steven Bochco’s experiments with Hill Street Blues, the most innovative and groundbreaking police show of the 1980s. Like Hill Street, it had a unique visual presentationdarker, busier and real. The handheld camera style gave us the feeling we were visiting a real New York police precinct where each frame seemed crammed with suspects in handcuffs or anonymous uniformed officers in blue.

Steven Bochco

But television had undergone a major sea change since the run of Hill Street from 1981-87. Cable TV networks like HBO and Showtime were now doing weekly series—and doing them without the inhibitions of regulated broadcast networks. Doing a conventional police show built around a star name no longer seemed practical. Pushing the envelope did.

I remember grinning broadly when I first sat down to preview the pilot episode of NYPD Blue in the spring of 1993 and realized Bochco and partner David Milch had punched holes in the envelope in less than five minutes. Detective Sipowicz had just infuriated prosecutor Sylvia Costas (Sharon Lawrence) by ruining her case against a mobster with contaminated evidence. On the way out of the courthouse, she mumbles her displeasure and Sipowicz rather flagrantly expressed his own.

“Ipso this,” said Sipowicz, clutching at his crotch, “you pissy little bitch!”

Well, that was certainly something you didn’t hear on broadcast television in 1993, even after 10 pm.

As the pilot rolled on, things got even more envelope-punchy as Detective John Kelly (David Caruso) and Officer Janice Licalsi (Amy Brenneman) made love for the first time—and we saw parts of their naked bodies never before seen in a commercial network prime time program. Though little publicized at the time, it eventually came out that NYPD Blue had required all its actors to sign “nudity clauses” in their contracts, guaranteeing no disputes over being asked to appear in such scenes.

After the ABC affiliates convention that year, a furor began that quickly equaled and surpassed the one over ABC’s raunchy comedy series Soap in 1977. A large number of ABC stations complained they wouldn’t show that episode unless significant changes were made. Some warned they wouldn’t clear the series at all for their stations.

Eventually, a new pilot was produced, trimming 15 seconds of nudity from the bedroom scene. As producer Bochco explained when I asked him about it, they didn’t cut what we saw, just how long we saw it. In a rather testy press conference that July, Bochco blamed the press for blowing up the controversy.

NYPD BLUES sipowicz badge“We’re not doing anything that’s going to bring down the fall of the Republic,” he said. True enough, but what NYPD Blue did do was revolutionize broadcast television standards. By winning the battle to include nudity, a major step was taken that other dramatic shows cautiously followed. By getting ABC to agree to a list of profane words that were acceptable—if not used to excess—Bochco hastened the rush of commercial TV producers to compete with the booming popularity of HBO and its fellow cable networks. The result was enormous publicity, immediate hit status for NYPD Blue and overnight fame for its lead actor, David Caruso, who quickly began to receive tempting offers for lead roles in movies. His requests for special scheduling, so he could go off to star in movies, were deemed unacceptable by Bochco and Milch, who knew they had a tiger by the tail. When negotiations failed, Caruso decided to break his contract and leave the show early in the second year.

That calamity changed the course of NYPD Blue forever. It forced the writers to re-focus the show onto Sipowicz, who was the partner to Detective Kelly. He was a most unlikely fellow to be the central character in any show. He was a drunk, a racist, an adulterer who frequented prostitutes and was played by a balding, overweight, middleaged actor whose face would never appear on a Wheaties box.

But Bochco and his fellow writers had transformed a Dennis Franz character from heel to hero before. In Hill Street Blues, Franz had played a bad cop so well that Bochco decided to bring him back as a series regular, playing Lt. Norman Buntz (1985-87), a cop very much like Andy Sipowicz. The Buntz character was so popular in fact that he briefly starred in his own quasisitcom, Beverly Hills Buntz (1987-88) after leaving the force and becoming a private eye in L.A.

Franz is a funny, loveable guy in person—so it must have been a special treat for him to tackle a character like Sipowicz, so dark at first meeting. He eventually romanced and married Sylvia, the “pissy little bitch” from the series pilot, and even played his mandatory nude scene with her in a sequence in which the grossly overweight Franz and shapely Sharon Lawrence took a memorable shower together.

nypdblue  sipowicz and simone Dennis Franz and Jimmy Smits

Even after actor Jimmy Smits—from Bochco’s L.A. Law—was hired to play Detective Bobby Simone, Sipowicz’s new partner, the Sipowicz character remained central. When Smits left the series a few years later, the subsequent new partners were clearly subordinate to Franz’s Sipowicz. The series remained a big ratings winner for ABC until the last few years when Bochco and Milch concentrated on other projects and the remaining writers turned the show in a new, lighter direction. The trend in television was toward the even more realistic forensic and police procedural shows like the CSI and Law & Order franchises while NYPD Blue remained a character-driven series. Interest in Sipowicz waned and none of the newer characters really caught fire with the public.

After 12 seasons, however, the legacy of NYPD Blue seems solid. It was the program that turned the police show in a much more reality based direction and made the large ensemble cast almost standard for the genre. The influence of real-life former New York police detective Bill Clark as adviser and, later, an executive producer is undeniable.

In the course of those 12 seasons, Andy Sipowicz was very nearly rehabilitated for good. No longer a self-destructive force, he became a mentor and, in the final episode, the leader of his squad. Naturally, though, his history haunts him and it’s not too big a stretch to imagine him losing it completely one of these days and punching out one of those arrogant chiefs above him.

Maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll get to see it in a NYPD Blue reunion movie.


Teri Duerr
Thursday, 13 November 2014 05:11

nypd-blue-1993 franz and carusoA troubled protagonist, gritty language, and a pair of bare buns changed the way America viewed TV cop shows forever.

Different Villains for Different Series

burke alafairx
Heroes or heroines elevate mystery plots, and, in the case of series, are one of the reasons we look forward to the next novel.

Isn’t that why we want to read about Harry Bosch, Tess Monaghan, Kinsey Millhone, Elvis Cole, Joe Pike, Spenser, Quinn Colson, Thorn, Doc Ford, Helen Hawthorne, Jane Ryland—OK, I am going to stop now because this list could get massive.

But where would these series characters be without villains to bring to justice? Heroes/heroines need villains, and readers need both.

I've been thinking about some outstanding villains lately who have made a plot even stronger. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the year's best villains.

A good villain has to be germane to the story. The kind of criminal who Harry Bosch pursues in Michael Connelly’s police procedurals isn’t the same kind of criminal that Connelly’s attorney Mickey Haller goes after. Alafair Burke’s NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher and her Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid each have different caseloads. A cop would be in a different kind of situation than a lawyer would be.

It’s doubtful that the set of criminals who wander into the small Mississippi town where Ace AtkinsQuinn Colson is sheriff would be the same kind that James W. Hall’s Thorn deals with in South Florida.

connelly michael2013
Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan, Kelli Stanley’s Miranda Corbie and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone would find similarities in their stories since both are private investigators. The differences being, of course, locale—Baltimore for Tess, San Francisco for Miranda, and Santa Barbara for Kinsey—and era. Tess operates in the 21st century while Kinsey is still in the late 1980s and Miranda’s time frame is just before WWII.

Robert Crais’ private investigators Elvis Cole and Joe Pike would also find that the type of villain they are after would overlap with those who bother the clients of PI V.I. Warshawski in Sara Paretsky’s series.

Reporter Jane Ryland in Hank Phillippi Ryan’s series chases stories that revolve around nasty deeds. But Ryan’s villains are not career criminals, rather they are ordinary people who see an opportunity and let greed and power take over their soul—and in some ways that is much worse.

Carrie La Seur’s The Home Place, M.P. Cooley's Ice Shear, and Elizabeth Little’s Dear Daughter are debuts set in small towns, and that brings up a whole new set of people to deal with.

Elaine Viets’ Helen Hawthorne, Alison Gaylin’s Brenna Spector, Julie Hyzy’s Oliva Paras, Tim O’Mara’s Raymond Donne, and Greg Herren’s Chanse MacLeod each have a different sort of lowlife with whom they cross paths.

Tell us your favorite type of villain.

Photos: Top: Alafair Burke; Bottom: Michael Connelly

Oline Cogdill
Friday, 05 December 2014 11:12
Truth Be Told
Oline H. Cogdill

Greed seems to naturally find those who are in a crisis or tragedy, as one person’s misery often becomes another’s way to make money. That’s true of the housing crisis as illustrated in Hank Phillippi Ryan’s excellent Truth Be Told.

Boston newspaper reporter Jane Ryland has been assigned a story to show the heartbreak of home foreclosure. People who have saved all their lives are losing everything, their belongings pitched out on the front lawn. Meanwhile, neighbors deal with plummeting property values and unkempt, abandoned homes. But this human interest feature becomes a crime story when a woman’s body is found in a vacant home. This comes just a few weeks after a teenager fell from a second story, trying to retrieve personal items left behind in her family’s foreclosed home. The crime story evolves into an investigative story when Jane uncovers a banking scam more lucrative than any subprime mortgage.

At the same time, Boston police detective Jake Brogan is looking into the confession of a recently released ex-convict, who has just confessed to the long-ago murder of a teenager. It’s a case that Jake’s grandfather, also a cop, investigated many years before, but instead of closure, it raises more questions than answers about the 20-year-old crime.

Ryan’s storytelling allows these two plotlines to intersect in a natural manner, and gives readers equal time with Jane and Jake. Both are passionate about their work, about maintaining ethics, and about doing the right thing. Both also are compassionate in their dealings with others: in Jane’s case her sources, in Jake’s case his suspects. Jane and Jake are quickly becoming two of the most enjoyable series characters to spend time with, and readers who have rooted for them to give into their mutual attraction should note that their relationship takes a new turn in this third novel of the series.

A sense of reality permeates Truth Be Told, from the insider’s look at police work and newspaper reporting to the adept characterization of villains out to line their pockets—villains who are just ordinary people who seize an opportunity and throw out their soul with their hunger for money. And as Ryan so aptly shows, in many ways, that’s a crime much worse than that of any career criminal’s.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 25 November 2014 02:11
Finishing Their Friend's Manuscript

Gagliano anthony
Anyone who has been to a mystery writers’ conference knows how most crime fiction authors are among the most generous and giving writers.

Most authors are happy to introduce a colleague to a reader, knowing that more books being enjoyed is good for all writers.

I’ve heard many authors go out of their way to recommend a new author. What author wouldn’t get a boost when Michael Connelly recommends your novel? Which he has done several times.

When Elaine Viets had a stroke several years ago, many of her fellow writers went on book tour for her. (She’s fine now; and published two novels this year—Catnapped and A Dog Gone Murder.

The generosity of crime writers again is on display.

Back in 2007, Miami resident Anthony Gagliano, left, finally saw his dream come true—he became a published crime author whose debut Straits of Fortune (HarperCollins) was garnering many positive reviews, including from Art Taylor for Mystery Scene. The novel about a former NYPD cop, Jack Vaughn, who found a second career as a personal trainer in Miami was based on his MFA thesis at Florida International University.

Gagliano was working on his second novel, The Emperor’s Club, when he suffered a stroke and died at age 53. His wife, family, and friends were, obviously, devastated. His death rallied his former FIU professors, who also were his friends, to do the ultimate tribute—finish his novel for him.

Les Standiford, director of the FIU creative writing program, and Dan Wakefield, who was the writer in residence at FIU for 15 years, began to work on Gagliano’s manuscript.

Gagliano emperorclub“Tony was one of my all-time best students, and most loyal friend, so it's great to have had a small part in bringing his second novel to print,” said Wakefield. “Both Les and I have such respect for Tony as a writer, and admiration of his work, that this is a real triumph. It is also a gift to readers, for Tony was unmatched in his tough, ironic, private-eye dialogue, and his ability to render the underside of South Florida with fascination and flair.”

The two authors, both of whom have a number of fiction and nonfiction titles to their credit, spent a couple of years working on the book.

“It took a few years, but we were not going to give up easily,” said Standiford.

After hearing about the project, their FIU colleague, and fellow author, John Dufresne agreed to edit the finished book. Dufresne also found a publisher, the small but growing MidTown Publishing.

“We want to get what I think is a wonderful book into the hands of the reading public. We want folks to know that the book is out there at last,” said Dufresne.

Anyone who is in the Miami area this week can learn more about how these friends rallied for their colleague.

The Emperor’s Club will be unveiled during a reading/celebration with Standiford and Dufresene at 8 p.m., Dec. 5, at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, Florida, 305-444-9044.

Lana Callen, Gagliano’s widow, has arranged to donate the author's proceeds to the FIU Creative Writing Program in her late husband's name.

“The event will give us a chance to celebrate Tony’s too-short life and career and talk about how we got the book into shape. And we will also have the pleasure of talking about why we think Tony's work is so darn good,” said Standiford.

A portion of this story appeared in the Sun Sentinel.

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 29 November 2014 11:11
Patterson, Flynn, Lehane, Meltzer Among Hollywood's Powerful Authors

lehane dennis
There’s a joke I’ve heard for years that writers rule in books and the theater, but in Hollywood they have little standing.

Go watch The Player (1992) with Tim Robbins, one of the best movies about moviemaking, if you don’t believe me.

But perhaps all that is changing. Apparently book writers are becoming a bit more powerful in Hollywood.

Finally, it seems that the moviemakers are understanding the power of the book. While some changes and modifications are necessary for film, the more faithful to the book, the better the film.

Go watch Burglar (1987) with Whoopi Goldberg and see how that film has little to do with Lawrence Block’s amusing series. Then watch A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014, yes, this year) with Liam Neeson and see what a difference it makes when the scriptwriters and director understand Block’s Matt Scudder novels.   

So it was interesting to read The Hollywood Reporter’s list of 25 Most Powerful Authors in Hollywood. I won’t bore you with the non-mystery writers. But several mystery writers did make the list.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, “The real superheroes of the industry right now? These writers — ranked in order of influence — whose books are source material for more than 300 movie and TV projects, have helped rake in billions in box office and revenue, and prove every day that originality, above all else, still matters.”

Click on each author on the site and you’ll find out why they made this list.

Coming in at No. 2 is Stephen King.

No. 7 is Gillian Flynn, who adapted the screenplay of her novel Gone Girl, also has in development her other novels Sharp Objects and Dark Places.

No. 8 is James Patterson, who is developing his YA series Maximum Ride for a YouTube series.

No. 11 is Dennis Lehane, above, whose list of accomplishments keeps growing.

No. 18 is Ken Follett.

No. 21 is Brad Meltzer.

No. 24 is John Grisham.

For a complete list, visit the site.

Oline Cogdill
Tuesday, 02 December 2014 07:12
Sheila Merritt

Christmas tree farms aren’t usually thought of as murder scenes. In the capable hands of Kaitlyn Dunnett, however, the incongruity is rendered perfectly plausible. In Ho-Ho-Homicide, successful shop owner Liss MacCrimmon Ruskin agrees to inspect the Christmas tree farm recently inherited by her best friend from high school Gina Snowe.

Liss is looking forward to the break from work, and also needs to have an important talk with her husband Dan. The promised quietude of the Maine woods seems just the place to attend to that. Relaxation and discussion get put on the back burner as arson, and corpses propel Liss back into amateur sleuthing.

Liss is by nature a curious lass, and finds the inhabitants of the community near the farm a taciturn bunch. This is particularly frustrating when she questions them about a John Doe whose body was discovered wrapped in a pine tree shipped out of state. Then, there’s the odd copse of trees shaped into maze where a second charred body is found after a fire.

Wyatt Purvey, head of the town’s police department, is annoyed that Liss is asking questions, and behaves like a classic male chauvinist in her presence. Fortunately, her good friend Sherri Campbell, chief of police of Maine’s Moosetookalook Police Department, and her husband, Pete, decide to help out. Sherri’s arrival on the scene further rankles Purvey because of her stature, sex, and smarts. She challenges his claim of ignorance regarding a local prostitution ring, strongly suspecting that he is more than an odious nincompoop: He may be a corrupt cop as well.

Sherri and Liss form a united front as investigators, and, with the aid and support of their spouses, tackle the multiple mysteries. The marital conversations of the respective couples are endowed with shrewd veracity. Dialogue between the women friends is also very savvy. Kaitlyn Dunnett didn’t have to research the setting for this eighth novel starring Liss; the author resides on a Christmas tree farm in Maine. Ho-Ho-Homicide, with its multiple murders and accessible characters, is a read for all seasons.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 03 December 2014 11:12

dunnetthohohomicideMurder and Christmas trees proliferate on a tree farm in the latest Liss MacCrimmon mystery

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas
Eileen Brady

Ever wished you could experience a Georgian Christmas at an English country estate? In this 12th installment of Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen Mystery series, Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas, your wishes will come true. The Austen family has been invited by Elizabeth Chute to spend Christmas, 1814, at the Chute’s majestic ancestral home, The Vyne. There will be 12 days of celebration, culminating in the Twelfth Night’s Masked Ball, also known as the Children’s Ball.

The contrast between the modest parsonage where Jane grew up and the opulence of The Vyne, home of the well-connected and political Chute family, is an obvious one. But their wealth can’t protect them when first one guest dies, then a second is found dead of an apparent suicide. The specter of sabotage and the possible theft of important documents impact the festivities, as Jane discovers the fatal accident was really murder in disguise.

Political intrigue raises its ugly head, as a spy for the French works behind the scenes. Stephanie Barron painlessly brings readers up to date with just enough history (Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat and the capture of Washington, DC, by British troops) to understand her characters’ motivations.

And there are a wealth of characters here: notably Jane’s aunt, the miserable Mary; nasty aristocrat Lady Gambier; hunt-happy brother James; a delightful young niece, Caroline; plus a mysterious dark stranger, the yummy Mr. Rachael West. Jane herself is portrayed as smart, approachable, but not always admired for her writing. (One guest at the manor calls her work “outrageous nonsense.”)

As the search for the killer continues, its repercussions involves not only a British general and the Treaty of Ghent, but the honor of the British parliament. Even readers unfamiliar with the genre can and will enjoy this story, released just in time for the Christmas holidays.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 03 December 2014 11:12

barronjaneandtwelvedaysofchristmasHistorical holiday fun for Austenites and mystery lovers alike

Harry Hunsicker on His First Literary Loves
Harry Hunsicker

hunsiker harry2Photo: Nick McWhirter

They are old friends, the paperback novels that fill the bookshelves in my office.

The spine of each serves as a tiny reminder, a nebulous mnemonic aid of the book’s story and the pleasure it brought. A scene half-remembered, the dangerous feeling at the climax of a plot, a character who stuck around long after the book was finished. The moments of a reader’s life, some more poignant and memorable than others. Fiction, the printed kind, has been my refuge since almost before I can remember, a warm, inviting place where I could lose myself for hours. The world of make-believe was more real to me in many ways than what lay on the other side of the book’s jacket.

Early on, my friends were the indefatigable Jupiter Jones, Peter Crenshaw, and Bob Andrews, the heroes of the Alfred Hitchcock series The Three Investigators, a softly paranormal young adult series about a trio of youthful sleuths. In later years, I would discover two prolific writers who would have a huge impact on my writing: Louis L’Amour and John D. MacDonald.

In between those two periods I met a character who has been in my head in one form or another for decades. Let’s call her my first literary love: Noelle, the beguiling antihero in Sidney Sheldon’s steamy masterpiece The Other Side of Midnight.

I was 13. She was ageless, seemingly old and young at the same time, from an infant to her twenties in just a few pages.

Noelle and her creator were the first to make me truly realize the unbridled power of fiction in the printed form. In my mind, Noelle and the characters who filled her life were real. I felt what they felt, hurt when they hurt, loved when they loved.

For those of you who might be rusty on the oeuvre of Sidney Sheldon, The Other Side of Midnight is an epic love story set against the backdrop of World War II. Noelle, a French girl from Marseille, was born poor but beautiful, determined to rise above her humble origins. She used sex—lots and lots of graphic sex—to get her way.

I’m not going to lie. The sex is what attracted me to Noelle. That and her steely determination to get ahead no matter what the cost. But mostly the sex.

Now she is but one of many on my bookshelf, a spine that reminds me of happy times and the power of the printed word.


Harry Hunsicker is a novelist and former executive vice-president of the Mystery Writers of America. He pens the Jon Cantrell thriller series and the Lee Henry Oswald PI series. His work has been short-listed for both the Shamus and Thriller Awards. Hunsicker’s story “West of Nowhere,” originally published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, was selected for inclusion in the anthology The Best American Mystery Stories 2011.

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" eNews December 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
Wednesday, 03 December 2014 12:12

hunsiker harry2They are old friends, the paperback novels that fill the bookshelves in my office.

My Book: Phantom Limb
Dennis Palumbo

palumbo phantomlimbIn my new Daniel Rinaldi thriller, Phantom Limb, one of the main characters is an Afghan vet who lost his leg to an IED while out on patrol with his unit. Now, stateside, he struggles with a growing substance abuse problem, as well as some of the predictable psychological aftereffects of such a life-changing trauma.

Moreover, he often experiences the bewildering sensation that his missing limb is still attached to his body. It itches, aches, or feels cold. Often, at night, while his prosthetic leg is propped against the wall across the room, the former Marine tosses and turns in bed, maddened by the tingling, burning sensation in his “phantom limb.”

Prior to becoming a licensed psychotherapist, I did intern work at a private psychiatric facility where I encountered a number of amputee patients suffering from this condition. But it wasn’t until I began researching the new novel that I discovered that up to 80 percent of people with amputations experience phantom limb sensations. Fortunately, in most cases, the symptoms lessen over time.

But what causes this extraordinary syndrome? At present, there’s no exact answer. For many years, the accepted theory was that once a limb is amputated, the severed nerve endings continued to send signals to the brain. Which then re-wires itself to adjust. To put it simply, from the brain’s standpoint, this meant the severed limb was still “there.”

However, more recent research suggests that phantom limb sensations originate in the peripheral nervous system, not the brain. They are the result of alterations in the body’s wide neural network, outside the primary areas in and around the brain. Of course, none of these theories do much to reduce or eliminate the patient’s uncanny experience. Just as most treatment methods have shown less than hoped-for results. Patients have been prescribed everything from anti-depressants to biofeedback, muscle relaxants to hypnosis. In some cases, doctors have tried electrical nerve stimulation. For example, inserting an electrode into the spinal cord, and then delivering a small electric current to relieve discomfort.

Regardless of treatment approaches, both the sudden loss of an arm or leg, as well as the phantom limb symptoms that often occur, are indicative of the psychological trauma accompanying such extreme injuries. Whether caused by an explosive device buried in the sand or as the result of an auto accident, the sudden loss of a limb is an emotional as well as a physical disruption of a person’s world.

In my novel, the character’s phantom limb symptoms serve as a metaphor for the sense of absence we all feel when a part of us—either due to an actual physical injury or some deep personal loss, such as a painful divorce or the death of a loved one—is wrenched away. Leaving nothing, to our mind’s eye, but a persistent, almost palpable ghost. Gone, and yet not gone.

Dennis Palumbo, Phantom Limb, Poisoned Pen Press, September 2014

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #136.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 03 December 2014 12:12

palumbo phantomlimbA character’s phantom limb symptoms serve as a metaphor for the sense of absence we feel when a part of us is wrenched away.

My Book: Wouldn't It Be Deadly
D.E. Ireland

ireland wouldntitbedeadlyTake one witty, marvelous play by George Bernard Shaw, two longtime friends and Anglophiles, and many months of research into the Edwardian era. The end result? A new mystery series.

The two of us—Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta—had often talked about collaborating on a book. All we needed was the perfect idea. That idea finally materialized during one of Meg’s trips across Michigan to visit Sharon as she listened to the soundtrack of My Fair Lady. What if Eliza Doolittle and Professor Henry Higgins turned their talents to solving crime?

My Fair Lady, of course, is a 1956 Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical based upon George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion. Eliza Doolittle is a Cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from Professor Henry Higgins, a phoneticist, so that she may pass as a lady and help Henry win a bet.

“By George, I think we’ve got it!”

We soon realized the story possibilities with these two characters were endless. After all, the scholarly Henry had entrée to the upper crust, while Eliza was all too familiar with London’s dangerous East End. Together they had intimate knowledge of a wide spectrum of Edwardian England. Throw in their friend Colonel Pickering’s years in India, and our series could explore suspects and victims with experience in the British Raj as well.

Despite the initial inspiration from My Fair Lady, we used Shaw’s public domain play Pygmalion as our Bible. Shaw wrote extensively about his characters after their premiere in 1913, and amended the play before the 1938 movie, adding the famous embassy ball scene where Eliza successfully poses as a duchess. We needed a victim for the first novel in our series, and this time Sharon had the “aha” moment. Shaw had served up the perfect murder victim in that scene when linguistics specialist Emil Nepommuck boasts to Henry that he makes his students pay for more than just lessons. A blackmailer in plain sight! All we had to do was kill him off and create suspects.

ireland deMeg Mims (left) and Sharon Pisacreta have partnered as D.E. Ireland to write Wouldn’t It Be Deadly.

Unlike Eliza and Henry, both of us are close in age and have remarkably similar backgrounds. Still, although we had published books on our own and even won awards for our writing, the idea of a collaboration seemed daunting. We had no doubt we could write the book, but would our friendship survive?

A year later, we had a finished manuscript set in 1913 London, which included all of Shaw’s beloved characters. Of course, our book added several new faces such as Eliza’s cousin Jack Shaw, a detective inspector at Scotland Yard, and Eliza’s new stepmother Rose Doolittle. We also used locations found in Pygmalion, notably 27A Wimpole Street, Covent Garden Market, and the Chelsea Embankment flat of Higgins’ mother. The story allowed us to expand the play’s scope as Eliza and Higgins explore London to question suspects and try to confirm the professor’s alibi for the time of the murder. The action concludes at the Drury Lane Theatre in a rousing performance of Hamlet that is not likely to be seen again.

Now we’re happily waiting for our debut book Wouldn’t It Be Deadly to hit the shelves. Even better, we’re still talking to each other.

D.E. Ireland, Wouldn’t It Be Deadly, Minotaur, September 2014, $24.99

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #136.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 03 December 2014 01:12

ireland deTake one witty play by George Bernard Shaw, two longtime friends and Anglophiles, and a passion for the Edwardian era. The end result? A new mystery series from Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta (aka D.E. Ireland).

MS Gift Guide 2014: TV Tech

Anyone who hasn’t been in a bomb shelter for the last 60 or so years knows that American mystery fans are no longer afraid to read beyond their borders—witness the huge stateside success of everyone from about a zillion Scandinavian’s to Lousie Penny’s Trois Pins series. But due to international regulations and outdated regional restrictions, there are a slew of foreign film and TV shows on DVD still unavailable to American viewers—they just won’t play on standard American DVD players. But multi-region (aka “region-free”) players have never been cheaper to own, or easier to find. Even fancy pants models are now less than a hundred bucks, and even much less expensive models, such as the DVP2880 Multi Region 1080p HDMI Upscaling DVD Player (Phillips, $79.00, but shop around) will do the trick. It’s guaranteed to play any DVD from any country without a special TV, and comes with plenty of upscaling and other software to guarantee a high-def picture that’s sharper than a killer’s blade.

And if the plethora of foreign DVDs available online somehow isn’t enough to satisfy your lust for global murder and mayhem, then it’s time to get streaming. All you need is a wi-fi connection, a TV and a set-top streaming media box. There are plenty of them out there, but the original is still the King. The Roku 3 (Roku, $99.99) is the latest version, their fastest and most powerful model yet, able to handle up to 1080p HD video. And for your inner geek, it comes with a remote that features one of the coolest additions ever: a headphone jack, so you can listen to every single blood-curdling scream and sphincter-grating woop-woop-woop French police car siren without waking up the whole house. They’re a snap to install, and besides the hundreds of free channels offering cut-rate public domain crime and mystery films, TV and old-time radio shows, there are numerous subscription channels available (Netflix, Hulu Plus, Acorn, Amazon, Warner Archives, MHz, etc.) for far less than you’re probably paying for cable or satellite right now. Now, at last, you don’t need a passport, a Swiss bank account or a time machine to bring the whole world of mystery into your living room. Whether it’s a cheesy re-run of Hawaiian Eye (starring Troy Donahue and his hair) or the latest Scandinavian bleakness fest featuring depressed detective Olaf Olaffsen and his depressed AND suicidal blonde partner Svenson Svenson Svenson, it’s out there somewhere.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 December 2014 12:12
Holiday Gift Guide 2014: Tech for Your 'Tec Lover

$79.99  Philips DVP2880 Multi Region 1080p HDMI Upscaling DVD Player


Anyone who hasn’t been in a bomb shelter for the last 60 or so years knows that American mystery fans are no longer afraid to read beyond their borders—witness the huge stateside success of everyone from about a zillion Scandinavian’s to Lousie Penny’s Trois Pins series. But due to international regulations and outdated regional restrictions, there are a slew of foreign film and TV shows on DVD still unavailable to American viewers—they just won’t play on standard American DVD players. But multi-region (aka “region-free”) players have never been cheaper to own, or easier to find. Even fancy pants models are now less than a hundred bucks, and even much less expensive models, such as the DVP2880 Multi Region 1080p HDMI Upscaling DVD Player (Phillips, $79.00, but shop around) will do the trick. It’s guaranteed to play any DVD from any country without a special TV, and comes with plenty of upscaling and other software to guarantee a high-def picture that’s sharper than a killer’s blade.


$99.99  Roku 3


And if the plethora of foreign DVDs available online somehow isn’t enough to satisfy your lust for global murder and mayhem, then it’s time to get streaming. All you need is a Wi-Fi connection, a TV and a set-top streaming media box. There are plenty of them out there, but the original is still the king. The Roku 3 (Roku, $99.99) is the latest version, their fastest and most powerful model yet, able to handle up to 1080p HD video. And for your inner geek, it comes with a remote that features one of the coolest additions ever: a headphone jack, so you can listen to every single blood-curdling scream and sphincter-grating woop-woop-woop French police car siren without waking up the whole house. They’re a snap to install, and besides the hundreds of free channels offering cut-rate public domain crime and mystery films, TV and old-time radio shows, there are numerous subscription channels available (Netflix, Hulu Plus, Acorn, Amazon, Warner Archives, MHz, etc.) for far less than you’re probably paying for cable or satellite right now. Now, at last, you don’t need a passport, a Swiss bank account or a time machine to bring the whole world of mystery into your living room. Whether it’s a cheesy rerun of Hawaiian Eye (starring Troy Donahue and his hair) or the latest Scandinavian bleakness fest featuring depressed detective Olaf Olaffsen and his depressed AND suicidal blonde partner Svenson Svenson Svenson, it’s out there somewhere.


Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 December 2014 12:12

roku3Two tech tools for film and TV 'tec lovers

#GiveaBook Campaign for Gifts

coben harlan-credit-Claudio-Marinesco small
We are officially in the holiday season and that means gifts—those you buy and those you receive.

After all, books can make the best presents for the reader on your list.

And what started as a small campaign to encourage book buying—and support literacy—seems to have grown by leaps and bounds.

Penguin Random House has launched its #GiveaBook social media campaign that encourages books as gifts and works as a way to help donate books to U.S. children.

Each time the hashtag #GiveaBook is used on Facebook and Twitter by Dec. 24, the publisher will donate a book to the aid organization Save the Children. The publisher is committed to donating up to 25,000 books.

And this campaign has taken off with other publishers, libraries, and bookstores getting into the act, not to mention many authors. People are creating videos of themselves naming a book they are giving to someone and why and then challenging at least two others to make their own #GiveaBook video.

Among the mystery writers who have posted #GiveaBook videos are Sara Paretsky and Harlan Coben, left.

Other mystery writers who are posting about their #GiveaBook ideas are Megan Abbott, Dennis Tafoya, Laurie R. King, and Gary Phillips.

Also doing #GiveaBook are J.D. Robb and Nora Roberts (presumably they have discussed this between them) as well as many others from all genres.

Put #GiveaBook at the top of your list.

And if we have left out any other authors participating in the #GiveaBook campaign, please add your name.

Oline Cogdill
Tuesday, 09 December 2014 04:12
At the Scene, Holiday Issue #137

137cover250Hi Everyone,

The appeal of crime fiction knows no borders, as Fuminori Nakamura ably demonstrates. He’s a growing force, both in his native Japan and in the West, and he recently received the David L. Goodis Award for Noir Fiction at the NoirCon convention in Philadelphia. Nakamura says his influences range from Ryunosuke Akutagawa (Rashomon, Hell Gate) to Dostoyevsky to Camus to...Agatha Christie, surprisingly.

Ed Gorman makes an equally interesting connection by proposing we look at Charlotte Armstrong as a purveyor of suburban noir. While most readers will remember her for classic thrillers like The Gift Shop or A Dram of Poison, Gorman points us to Armstrong’s grittier side.

Few children would ever suspect their mother of having been a masked crimefighter back in the day. Raymond Benson took this unlikely premise and turned it into rousing good fun in the Black Stiletto series. The final book, Black Stiletto: Endings & Beginnings, is out now. Every one of my four sisters highly recommends this series!

Joseph Goodrich relates the delightful tale of how one brief telephone conversation with Dilys Winn, founder of the world’s first mystery bookshop, set his 13-year-old self on the path to a literary career.

Jeff Cohen and E.J. Copperman are collaborating on a new series about a detective with Asperger’s syndrome. The two writers have a lot in common—which makes sense since they’re one and the same person. Cheryl Solimini explains.

Roy Huggins named names of possible Communists in the McCarthy era. Should that influence our opinion of his work as a mystery writer and one of the most successful television producers of all time? Read Jake Hinkson’s profile and decide.

Our annual gift guide is back and this year I received my present early: an introduction to Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, the TV show based on Kerry Greenwood’s delightful novels about a flapper detective in 1920s Australia. I also have my eye on the Nancy Drew booksafe and the Vive Gamache! Café au lait mugs, and the Mockingbird Necklace... You’ll find lots of good ideas, too!

Wishing all of you a wonderful holiday season and a happy and healthy 2015!

Kate Stine

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 11 December 2014 09:12
Holiday Issue #137 Contents





Fuminori Nakamura

This young gun of Japanese hardboiled fiction is gaining international acclaim.
by Tom Nolan

The Question of the Collaborating Crime Writers

E.J. Copperman and Jeff Cohen team up to write a new series featuring a detective with Asperger’s syndrome.
by Cheryl Solimini

Dilys Winn’s Magical Mystery Tour

Even though he never took it, a “Mystery Readers’ Tour of Britain” led by the celebrated bookseller started a young boy on the journey of a lifetime.
by Joseph Goodrich

The Black Stiletto

Raymond Benson’s saga about a Mad Men-era female vigilante comes to a rousing conclusion.
by Oline H. Cogdill


Charlotte Armstrong (1905-1969), creator of unsettling “suburban noir;” Edward Mathis and his PI Dan Roman.
by Ed Gorman

Roy Huggins: Too Late for Tears

TV titan Roy Huggins, creator of The Rockford Files, The Fugitive, etc., also had one film noir masterpiece to his credit, the newly restored Too Late for Tears.
by Jake Hinkson

The 2014 Mystery Lovers Gift Guide

Books, DVDs, jewelry, mugs and more for all the good little mystery fans on your list.
by Kevin Burton Smith

“Down These Mean Streets” Crossword

by Verna Suit




At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

Macavity Awards, Barry Awards, Anthony Awards, Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Awards, British Crime Writers Association Dagger Awards, Part II

New Books

The Bulletin Board and the Writer
by Betty Webb

The Hook

First lines that caught our attention





Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb & Sharon Magee

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell & Hank Wagner

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Bill Crider

Mystery Scene Reviews




The Docket


Our Readers Recommend

Advertiser Info

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 11 December 2014 09:12
Holiday Issue #137
Teri Duerr
Thursday, 11 December 2014 09:12
Lois Duncan, James Ellroy: MWA Grand Masters

duncan lois
Each year the Mystery Writers of America pick an author—sometimes two—to be named a Grand Master.

This isn’t some random title but an honor to recognize those authors who have made contributions to the genre by setting a new course through their works.

I hate the term “transcend the genre,” because I don’t think the genre needs transcending. Instead, a Grand Master is an author whose work enhances, expands, and energizes crime fiction.

Two authors have been named the 2015 Grand Master and while Lois Duncan, at left, and James Ellroy, below right, couldn’t be more different, they are each deserving of this honor.

The Grand Masters will be presented their awards during the Edgar Awards on Wednesday, April 29, 2015, at the Grand Hyatt in New York City.

Lois Duncan’s work has been familiar since the mid-1960s. Duncan was only 13 years old when she sold her first short story to a national magazine. She was 18 years old when her first novel, Debutante Hill, came out. That was in 1957. While Debutante Hill sounds like one of those simple tales about rich girls that were so popular in the 1950s, Duncan brought a sense of social issues to the novel, an approach that she would continue to expound on in all her some 50 novels.

In Debutante Hill, wealthy teenager Lynn Chambers spends her senior year hanging out with her rich friends, waiting for letters from her college boyfriend and planning to become a debutante when this tradition starts up in her hometown. But when her father refuses to allow her to participate, Lynn suddenly is no longer part of the “in crowd.” Now an outsider to her wealthy friends, Lynn becomes aware of teens who are not in the same economic class. She begins to develop strong opinions about prejudice and social status, and rethinks her relationships with her former friends.

ellroy james
Pretty heady stuff for a teen a novel in the 1950s, especially one written by an author who was a teenager herself.

But that was mild compared to Duncan’s two novels credited with revolutionizing young-adult fiction. In Point of Violence and Ransom, both published in 1966, Duncan used a realistic viewpoint, presenting her main characters with choices and decisions that had consequences, paving the way for many other young-adult authors that followed.

Social issues are a mainstay of her novels. For example, Daughters of Eve tackled societal sexism, Killing Mr. Griffin the pressure placed on teens to perform and get into good colleges, and I Know What You Did Last Summer dealt with the Vietnam War and society’s reactions to it, plus the struggles of returning veterans.

Duncan has been nominated several times for the Edgar Award for Best Juvenile, and her books have been made into films.

James Ellroy’s novels are the complete opposite of Duncan’s work. One would never mistake Ellroy’s books for young-adult novels.

Ellroy writes about a dark Los Angeles that is fueled by crime, sexism, racism, and homophobia. He lays bare those issues, showing their ugliness and the decay that chips away at society.

L.A. Confidential probably is his best-known and most accessible novel, and was made into a brilliant movie that starred Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, and Kim Basinger.

This 1997 film earned nine Academy Award nominations and took two, including best supporting actress for Basinger.

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

Congratulations to both Grand Masters.

(Coming Wednesday: A look at the Raven winners.)

Oline Cogdill
Sunday, 14 December 2014 05:12
2015 Raven, Ellery Queen Awards

ravenoline mwa
The Raven Award, which is presented by the Mystery Writers of America, is one of my favorite awards.

And the reason is purely selfish. I had the honor of being presented this award in 2013, a thrill that never ends. I have my Raven placed prominently on my dresser so that each morning when I see it I never forget the prestige and pressure that comes with this honor.

So I feel a kinship with each person who is awarded a Raven, which recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing.

This year, two Ravens will be awarded to three people—each of whom is passionate about the mystery genre.

Jon and Ruth Jordan, founders of Crimespree magazine, will be awarded a Raven.

The Jordans, who met at a Bouchercon in 1999, have chaired or co-chaired and planned numerous Bouchercons through the years. We have them to thank for the outstanding Bouchercons in Baltimore (2008), St. Louis (2011), as well as others. They already are in the planning stage, along with Erin Mitchell, for the St. Petersburg Bouchercon, scheduled for 2018.

They also are the co-founders and organizers of Murder and Mayhem in Muskego, a crime-fiction conference set in a Milwaukee suburb that this year became Murder and Mayhem in Milwaukee.

In addition, Crimespree magazine sponsors the Crimespree Awards.

The other Raven winner is Kathryn Kennison, the founder and “the heart and soul” of Magna cum Murder, a well-regarded Midwestern mystery conference that celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2013.

jordan jonruth
Back in 1993, Kennison suggested a three-day mystery conference in Muncie, Indiana. She envisioned a “sedate weekend affair” with about 65 people and maybe three or four authors.

Boy, was she wrong.

That first conference ended up with 265 registered guests including 40 authors, and the festival has only grown since then.

Guests of honor have included Alexander McCall Smith, Mary Higgins Clark, Donald Westlake, Sara Paretsky, Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block, Louise Penny, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Charles Todd, Jeffrey Deaver, William Kent Krueger, and John Gilstrap. It has retained its roots as a fan festival.
Previous Raven winners include Aunt Agatha’s Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Molly Weston, The Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Chicago, Once Upon a Crime Bookstore in Minneapolis, Mystery Lovers Bookstore in Oakmont, PA, Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge, MA, The Poe House in Baltimore, MD, and myself.


MWA also will present its Ellery Queen Award, which was established in 1983 to honor “outstanding writing teams and outstanding people in the mystery-publishing industry.”

This year, the Ellery Queen will go to Charles Ardai, editor of Hard Case Crime, which debuted in 2004 as an homage to the great pulp fiction paperbacks of the 1950s and 1960’s.

Those years are considered to be the golden age of paperbacks. Those also are the books that helped shape and influence many generations of crime writers as well as the genre itself.

kennison kathryn
Launched by Ardai and Max Phillips, Hard Case quickly established its impact on the crime fiction world.

Domenic Stansberry’s The Confession won the Edgar Award for best paperback original and several other Hard Case authors have been nominated for Edgar Awards through the years.

Hard Case has brought back into print forgotten novels by Donald Westlake, Erle Stanley Gardner, Harlan Ellison, Pete Hamill, and Lawrence Block.

Since it was launched, Hard Case has published more than 100 books, many of which have been nominated for awards. He also published Joyland by Stephen King. 

He also acquired the rights to the lost James M. Cain manuscript The Cocktail Waitress.

Previous Ellery Queen honorees include Mystery Scene magazine, Joe Meyers of the Connecticut Post/Hearst Media News Group, and Poisoned Pen Press, published by Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald.

The Raven and Ellery Queen honorees, along with the presentation of the Grand Masters will be held during the Edgar Awards on Wednesday, April 29, 2015, at the Grand Hyatt in New York City.

Congratulations to all the Raven and Ellery Queen honorees.


PHOTOS: Top, The Raven himself; center, Jon and Ruth Jordan; bottom, Kathryn Kennison

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 17 December 2014 06:12

jack irish
With all the holidays bearing down on us, many mystery fans are looking for those last minute gifts.

Books are always nice. Here’s a list of my picks for the year that has run in various newspapers around the country.

But sometimes you just want to watch, not read. So I am turning to Acorn Media for some of the best in mystery viewing with DVDS that can be enjoyed all year.

And these films may introduce you to the novels on which many are based.

Many of these also are available on the “best British TV streaming service” on Acorn TV…and while the streaming may not make the “present” you want to give, it will give you a break from all the holiday planning.

Jack Irish: Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential) broods away as Jack Irish, a former lawyer turned private investigator and debt collector, in these films based on Peter Temple’s novels. Originally broadcast on Australian television, the Jack Irish series is addictive. Expect a lot, and I do mean a lot, of brooding, from the often scruffy Pearce who struggles with grief and bad guys.

Republic of Doyle: Set in Newfoundland, this comedy drama from Canada is as much about solving crimes as it is the relationship between Malachy and Jake Doyle, a father and son detective team. Ex-cop Malachy, played by Sean McGinley, and Jake, played by Allan Hawco, are a tight-knit family who, like any family, bicker and jab at each other. They also have their share of troubles with girlfriends, ex-wives and one rebellious teenage daughter. And how many times do we see any mystery set in the lovely St. John’s area of Newfoundland? Fortunately, the series makes the most of this area.

barbary coast
mr and mrs murder
Line of Duty:
Police corruption is at the center of this British series that examines a different case each season. As gripping as the investigations are, the characters are so well sculpted that we care deeply about their complex personalities. A true ensemble series in which each role, no matter how seemingly small, is important.

Barbary Coast: How did this short-lived American series get into this mix? Not sure. Barbary Coast aired for less than a year, beginning in 1975, and with its combination of western and espionage was, no doubt, inspired by The Wild Wild West. Set in 1880s San Francisco, it featured post-Star Trek William Shatner as Jeff Cable, an undercover government agent, and Doug McClure as Cash Conover, a gambler and casino owner whose motto was “Cash makes no enemies.” Maybe. But the two of them certainly had their share of corruption in dealing with a post-Gold Rush city rift with violence and corruption. The series holds up fairly well, and while the outlook is a bit dated, the crimes they pursued are not. Corrupt bankers, casino robberies, racketeering, stolen shipments—all that still happens in the 21st century. On a personal note, I had forgotten how handsome Doug McClure was.

Mr. and Mrs. Murder: Also from Australia is this witty series about Charlie and Nicola Buchanan who are crime-scene cleaners. Their assignments often lead them into solving the crime as well as wiping out all traces of it. The chemistry between the couple, played by Shaun Micallef and Kat Stewart, comes across quite nicely. This is a couple you’d like to spend time with, but you do not ever want to visit them at work.

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 20 December 2014 07:12