The finalists for the 34th annual L.A. Times Book Prizes were announced Wednesday morning: 50 books in 10 categories are in the running to win.
The winners of the L.A. Times book prizes will be announced at an awards ceremony April 11, the evening before the L.A. Times Festival of Books, April 12-13. Held on University of Southern California's campus in Bovard Auditorium, the awards are open to the public; tickets will be made available in late March. Details can be found online at www.latimes.com/bookprizes.
Several years ago, I, along with Sarah Weinman and the late, great Dick Adler, twice were judges for the mystery/thriller category. The third year, Sarah and I were joined by Dick Lochte. I make it a policy never to comment on award nominations.
Here are the finalists in the crime fiction category.
Hour of the Red God, by Richard Crompton (Sarah Crichton Books)
The Cuckoo's Calling, Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) (Mulholland Books)
Sycamore Row, John Grisham (Doubleday Books)
The Rage, Gene Kerrigan (Europa Editions)
The Collini Case, Ferdinand von Schirach (Viking)
I had to miss the launch of the fifth season of the FX series Justified, but you can be sure that I have since caught up and am again riveted to the adventures of Raylan Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), and the rest of the Kentucky lawmen and outlaws.
It’s going to be another great season.
But what I missed by not seeing Justified in real time was the brief tribute to the late novelist Elmore Leonard, whose short story, "Fire in the Hole," inspired the series.
The 90-second tribute was part of a longer piece that will eventually be part of the Season 5 DVD and include interviews with cast members and others who worked with Leonard, plus readings from his novels.
Justified is so very much in keeping with Leonard’s novels—stories with crisp dialogue, a blurring between the good guys and bad guys and a sense that these are real people that we are ease dropping on.
Leonard had many fans among those who worked on Justified, including series creator Graham Yost. The Detroit Free Press wrote last week that Yost made “WWED (What Would Elmore Do) the guidepost for the writers."
In the same interview, the newspaper quoted Yost, “There's an old saw that you should never meet your heroes, and that applies, but not in Elmore's case. He was just fun to hang out with and had a great attitude about life and work and writing,” said Yost, adding in the same newspaper article that this year, “There's a certain degree that there's a switchover from ‘We hope Elmore likes this episode’ to ‘This is in memory of Elmore.’ We hope that... we're, in his memory, doing the best we can to make him happy.”
In the same article, the Free Press interviewed Olyphant: “What I was always aware of was the tone, the humor, the ease with which he told stories or made jokes without acknowledging them. He just had the timing. He was not unlike his books.”
Leonard, who died Aug. 20, 2013, at age 87, left behind a legacy of more than 45 novels that appealed to readers of many generations.
When a director and screenwriter respected his novels, Leonard’s work translated well to the movie screen, including Jackie Brown (based on Rum Punch), Get Shorty, Be Cool, Out of Sight, Hombre, and Joe Kidd.
But for many of us, Leonard’s novels were what we most gravitated toward.
Now we have a year in which we will not have a novel by the master. It just doesn’t seem justified.
Justified airs at 10 p.m. Tuesdays on the FX Channel with frequent encores.
Photos: Top, Elmore Leonard; center, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) and Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant).
Most authors who write series concentrate on one or two recurring characters to drive the story. Kinsey Millhone, Harry Bosch, V.I. Warshawski, Tony Hill and Carol Jordan, Sookie Stackhouse—each is as well known to readers as are the authors who created them.
(Five points each if you can name in one quick breath the corresponding authors; no, there is no prize, just a fun exercise.)
Lisa Unger has taken a different route with three of her last novels. Instead of focusing on a person, Unger uses the fictional town The Hollows as the driving force while concentrating on different residents each time out.
The only recurring characters in Unger’s series have been Jones Cooper, a detective, and his psychologist wife, Maggie, both of whom were the focus of Fragile, her first Hollows novel. But these characters are now minor in the series, vital, yes, but only supporting.
Unger’s newest novel In the Blood, which just came out this week, belongs to Lana Granger, a troubled young college student who is trying to hide a past that includes her father being on death row for the murder of her mother and her own violent tendencies.
The Hollows is a charming sounding town, located about 100 miles from New York City, giving it both an urban and a rural feel. Each time Unger visits The Hollows, we learn more about this place and how it affects its residents. Who knew there was a college in The Hollows, as we find out with In the Blood?
I have been trying to think of other authors who have used a town as the recurring series character and the only one I can remember is the late Marilyn Wallace, who wrote a series during the late 1980s and 1990s set in Taconic Hills (“a tiny hamlet halfway between the Hudson River and New England”).
And Tana French uses a police squad, which is in its own way like a town, in her Irish mysteries.
Perhaps more knowledgeable readers than I will remember a series in which the town was the recurring characters.
In some of the best crime fiction, the detectives work the case as the case works the detectives, forcing them to evaluate their sense of justice, their moral compass and each other.
That approach is the cornerstore of True Detective, the engrossing new HBO series that debuts tonight at 9 p.m. EST/PT.
Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) are partners in Louisiana’s Criminal Investigation Division.
We first meet them in 2012 when both are being interviewed about a case involving the ritualistic occult murder of a woman that they handled in 1995.
It became one of those cases that changed their lives and forced them down a path of life from which they have never recovered.
True Detective alternates between the interview in 2012 to the case in 1995 with flashbacks to 2002 when Cohle left the squad.
“You don’t pick your parents and you don’t pick your partners,” says detective Hart (Woody Harrelson) to the investigators who are interviewing him at the beginning of True Detective. At first glance, Hart doesn’t look much different than he did back in 1995—a bit more grizzled, a bit more cynical—but he is clean shaven, looks presentable in a suit and is sober.
The same can’t be said for his former partner. In 1995, Cohle was clean-shaven, dressed neatly and, despite personal tragedies and a bleak attitude, had not seemed to completely give up on life. The 2012 Cohle seems unable to care about anything, least of all himself. His beard and long hair are not a fashion statement but because he can’t muster the energy to shave, or even wear clean clothes. He drinks heavily throughout the interview because the investigators are interrupting the hours he has set aside each day to drink, and he will not give up this time.
Cohle and Hart were never friends. Cohle’s propensity for his nihilistic monologues on religion, life, and families irritated Hart when they were partners. Married with children, Hart doesn’t trust the fact that Cohle is single and lives in a Spartan apartment.
The eight-episode True Detective takes the partners through the backroads of Louisiana as the camera lovingly follows the bleak beauty of swamps, abandoned buildings, burnt-out churches and blue-collar towns around the Atchafalaya basin.
The murder of this young woman spirals both Cohle and Hart into cycles of obsession and violence. Neither is prepared for how the case will affect each.
True Detective resists the cliches of the televised police procedural as it draws us into each man’s life. Credit goes to creator Nic Pizzolatto, the author of the novel Galveston, an Edgar finalist for best first novel in 2010, and director Cary Joji Fukunaga (Jane Eyre) who show the humanity of each detective, exploring what made these already damaged men and how the case changed them. Both Pizzolatto and Fukunaga keep the onscreen violence to a minimum but make the threat of violence high, lurking just below the surface ready to erupt at any moment.
But credit also must go to McConaughey and Harrelson, both of whom dial down their usual onscreen personalities to create an intriguing ensemble. I have had a lot more respect for McConaughey since he appeared in The Lincoln Lawyer, based on Michael Connelly’s novel. In True Detective, McConaughey morphs into a credible, haunted detective whose intelligence is his biggest asset, and liability. He’s no longer a movie star famous for taking off his shirt or hawking cologne, but a man who has lost everything. Harrelson is frightening as a cop too tightly coiled. Their strong performances make True Detective even more compelling.
Michelle Monaghan (Gone Baby Gone) stars as Hart’s wife, Maggie, who wants to keep her family together but knows she may not succeed.
True Detective unfolds over eight episodes. In an interview, Pizzolatto said he is planning each season to be a self-contained series with a definite ending and a different cast.
That’s an interesting idea but McConaughey and Harrelson are so good in True Detective that they would be welcomed back.
True Detective airs at 9 p.m. (EST/Pt) Sundays on HBO. Frequent encores will run each week.
Photo: Matthew McConaughey, left, and Woody Harrelson in True Detective. Photo courtesy HBO
Marcia Clark’s series about Rachel Knight, a Deputy District Attorney in the Special Trials Unit of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, may be the next series on TNT.
The cable network has given the OK to the pilot Guilt by Association. The script is being co-written by Clark and Nashville showrunner Dee Johnson. Nelson McCormick (The Closer; Rizzoli & Isles) will direct the Guilt by Association pilot and also act as executive producer.
One of the hallmarks of Clark’s series is the friendship between Rachel and LAPD detective Bailey Keller and prosecutor Toni LaCollette.
The three women have a solid friendship that is based on respect and affection. This would fit in very well with TNT’s series Rizzoli & Isles, based on the novels by Tess Gerritsen.
A couple of years ago, TNT had a string of terrific made for TV films based on crime fiction. Novels by Lisa Gardner, Richard North Patterson, and Mary and Carol Higgins Clark made quite credible movies.
Would love to see TNT explore more crime fiction for future projects. I have lots of suggestions, TNT executives.