Thursday, August 25, 2016

“The One Man” Cometh

By Ali Karim
There’s nothing surprising in the fact that avid thriller-fiction readers frequently hunger for something new, something fresh, and something notably different. But that, of course, puts them in conflict with commercial realities. Publishers want a return on their investments (as do Hollywood filmmakers), and the odds are greater that a sequel to a best-selling book, or a piece of fiction that follows some well-worn yet successful formula, will realize higher and more immediate profits than a work of greater originality. While critics may deride “the same old, same old,” consumers often demonstrate far greater tolerance for creative repetition.

I am reminded of a speech that legendary British book publisher Christopher MacLehose delivered in January 2008 at the Foreign Press Association’s headquarters in London’s West End, when his new imprint, MacLehose Press, launched—in conjunction with Quercus Publishing—a daring new novel titled The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by a Swedish writer, Stieg Larsson, who’d died four years earlier. As I wrote then in The Rap Sheet:
He informed us that the job of the publisher is to bring books to the public that they didn’t want; books that they didn’t anticipate; and books that would nonetheless make an impression and challenge their way of thinking. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one such work, he observed.
Books that would nonetheless make an impression. I’ve been reeling recently after reading one such work, a highly literate suspense yarn, but one that is quite distinct from earlier efforts by this same best-selling author. I’m talking about American writer Andrew GrossThe One Man (Minotaur), a heavily researched World War II-era historical techno-thriller—released just this week in the States—that mixes in the themes of family and ordinary people caught up in extraordinary situations. This is a truly remarkable tale, one that reminds me of novels by Alistair MacLean and Eric Ambler, and leads me to recall a weekend when I was a teenager and devoured Fredrick Forsyth’s The Odessa File and The Day of the Jackal, reading them back-to-back, hypnotized by Forsyth’s storytelling prowess.

Since The One Man isn’t due out in Britain and Ireland until next month, I don’t want to say too much about its plot and maybe spoil things for readers, however unintentionally. So let me quote the synopsis provided by Gross’ U.S. publisher:
Poland. 1944. Alfred Mendl and his family are brought on a crowded train to a Nazi concentration camp after being caught trying to flee Paris with forged papers. His family is torn away from him on arrival, his life’s work burned before his eyes. To the guards, he is just another prisoner, but in fact Mendl—a renowned physicist—holds knowledge that only two people in the world possess. And the other is already at work for the Nazi war machine.

Four thousand miles away, in Washington, D.C., [Jewish] Intelligence lieutenant Nathan Blum routinely decodes messages from occupied Poland. Having escaped the Krakow ghetto as a teenager after the Nazis executed his family, Nathan longs to do more for his new country in the war. But never did he expect the proposal he receives from “Wild” Bill Donovan, head of the OSS: to sneak into the most guarded place on earth, a living hell, on a mission to find and escape with one man, the one man the Allies believe can ensure them victory in the war.
Favorable critiques from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews mirror my own thoughts on The One Man. I was quickly captivated by the story, and was absolutely floored by Gross’ denouement. I found myself clapping until my palms stung and were the same color as the red LED digits on my alarm clock—which informed me it was coming up to 4 a.m., and I had been reading this thriller all through the night. (Click here to enjoy an excerpt from the novel for yourself.)

I’ll leave the final assessment to Kirkus, which closed its write-up as follows: “This is Gross’ best work yet, with his heart and soul imprinted on every page.”


Andrew Gross and his wife, Lynn, at ThrillerFest 2007.

I was delighted when the New York City-born Gross agreed to speak with The Rap Sheet about his latest novel. Our wide-ranging interview covers everything from his boyhood experiences delving into mystery/thriller fiction and his later collaborations with suspense writer James Patterson (including two entries in the Women’s Murder Club series), to his longstanding fondness for historical thrillers and the research he did in order to compose The One Man. I caught up with Gross just before he set off on a promotional tour that will culminate in his appearance at next month’s Bouchercon in New Orleans.

Ali Karim: Andrew, I recall when you broke through, publishing-wise, with your first solo effort, The Blue Zone, in 2007. You told Shots magazine that despite having achieved success in the corporate world, you always hankered to write. What were your earliest readings as a boy, and which books really resonated with you?

Andrew Gross: I actually had a decent literary background before I chose to get an MBA [from Columbia University] and work in business. I was a published poet at 16, and got into [Vermont’s] Middlebury College as kind of a “literary jock.” I edited the literary magazine there as a junior, which was kind of an honor as [the job] always went to seniors. I was trained in the classic literary curriculums, so I admit my early reading in “mystery/thriller” had some holes.

For early thrillers that I enjoyed, I go back to Morris West (Shoes of the Fisherman) and Trevanian (The Eiger Sanction). If I had to name the two books that had the greatest effect on me, mystery or not, I would say: one, Robert Penn Walker’s All the King’s Men [1946], to me the most beautiful novel written in English (which is often read as just a political novel, when it is really based on the Telemachus myth, and follows a son’s search for his father); and two, Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers, which won the National Book Award in 1975, and was the first true piece of contemporary literary thriller-writing I ever read. Dog Soldiers defined the type of book I one day wanted to write. So I was a reader long before I went into business and long before I connected with Patterson, which kind of defined my writing career for a while.

AK: Did you come from a family that valued literature and books? And what about your schooling—what did that give you in terms of your future career as a novelist?

AG: I wouldn’t say I come from a family with any great literary tradition. My family were in the women’s clothing business and were highly successful innovators. But I do come from a tradition of magnetic storytelling, and that is what is at the heart of writing for me. My father could captivate a room with his tales better than anyone I’ve ever met.

AK: You were the first of James Patterson’s fiction-writing protégés, penning four novels … or was it more? And am I right in asserting that the first, The Jester [2003], was the key work in that diverse quartet?

AG: It actually was five books with Patterson (and maybe even a sixth if one looks closely). The Jester was the book closest to my heart, because it built on my interest in the Middle Ages, and it was a beautiful romance and fairy tale, but it didn’t sell particularly well in the States, so it didn’t stand out as a success. I would say my last two, Judge and Jury [2006] and Lifeguard [2005], were probably the best, and stand out as good examples of my early writing.

AK: I have been intrigued by Patterson’s recent BookShots series of thriller novellas, designed for time-constrained readers. So what’s your take on this recent literary innovation and the art of the novella?

AG: I haven’t much to say on that apart from the fact that Jim has his pulse on a certain consumer in the States, maybe beyond, and he’s devoted to mining that persona in the way network TV does. But anything, anything that gets people reading who would not normally do so is aces by me! I’ve got nothing but respect for him, in the face of obvious criticism, and learned a hell of a lot working with him.

AK: I have often mentioned how much pleasure reading The Jester gave me. Can you tell us a little about the process of writing that novel, as it feels like a precursor of sort to The One Man.

AG: Well, The Jester is a precursor in that it gave me the confidence that I could write a tale in a completely different time and setting in a convincing way. Not every publisher felt the same. I always had faith in myself as a writer, though my work was always defined by the clashing rocks of Patterson co-writer and “suburban thrillers.”

Blending research into one’s narrative, transporting the reader, enriching the story with historical detail, these are all judgments a writer makes in his work—how much, how little. Obviously, with Patterson the kind of detail that’s in The One Man would never have been permitted. The kind of richness of detail that elevates the book! But both [The Jester and The One Man] have extremely emotional endings. So I knew I could pull it off, so to speak, and deftly.

When it comes to the writing process, I assume you meant with Patterson; and I’d rather not go into much of that, other than to say, all of the books I wrote with him came from his ideas and original treatments. That said, I’m pretty comfortable with how much I added as a partner on the venture. I wasn’t just typing it up!

AK: An obvious but nonetheless important question: Why did you turn from penning your contemporary thrillers to craft this historical action-adventure yarn, The One Man?

AG: So as I say, I wrote what might be called “suburban thrillers,” stories of everyday people in an upscale setting, like yoga moms and hedge-fund dads who step into something murky, something scary. Then through a misstep or just fate, they find themselves over their heads in deep shit, generally threatening the family. There were only so many predicaments and characters I could come up with, without knowing I was becoming entirely formulaic—the real trick is to convince the reader otherwise, of course. My sales trajectory had waned. To me, though everyone loves this category, there is only one author who's come out of the pack in this sector that’s been able to fully brand himself—and that’s Harlan Coben. I know in the UK Linwood Barclay has too, but not to the same extent as [Coben] has in the U.S. So I just said, to hell with it—I needed to make a change. I have confidence in calculated risk. I wanted to write the kind of books I wanted to write and like to read—books that transport you and deal in large themes, where, as Thoreau said, “you can find the miraculous in the common.” My contract with [publisher] HarperCollins ended, and a story presented itself to me, and I decided I wanted to be defined by the kind of books I wanted to write, not the narrow band my publishers felt were the easiest to market. So I took the leap!

AK: I couldn’t help but wonder, while reading The One Man, whether you’re a big reader of World War II historical thrillers, such as those penned by Alistair MacLean.

AG: I read [Alan] Furst consistently, read my share of Eric Ambler, and yes, Alistair MacLean. I can also go back to Ken Follett, Frederick Forsyth, William Goldman’s Marathon Man and Ira Levin’s The Boys from Brazil.

AK: I know that you found inspiration for The One Man in your late father-in-law. But had this story been gestating in your mind for some while, or did it develop more recently?

AG: Yes, my father in law, who just died at 96, came to this country from Poland in April of 1939, six months before the war. He lost his entire family and never knew their fates. Like a lot of survivors, he refused to talk about his upbringing, it was just too painful, and he carried this mantle of guilt and sadness with him his whole life. I started out in this book seeking to write … about that guilt and probe at what was responsible for that sadness. Who did he leave behind? And why? He also served his new country in the OSS, and never talked about that either. In many ways, I wanted to tell the story that he would have written. So, yes, the urge was with me for a while, but not the opportunity—I think I had pieced together an outline a year or two before I started writing.

AK: But there is a texture to The One Man that reminds me especially of MacLean’s thrillers, from The Guns of Navarone and Breakhart Pass to Where Eagles Dare. Having interviewed modern thriller writers, including Dennis Lehane, Lee Child, and Robert Crais, I know that MacLean was a particular influence on many of them. Were you a fan of his action thrillers?

AG: As I mentioned before, I was a keen reader of Alistair MacLean, as well having viewed the films based on his work—though it’s hard to separate the books from the movies. But I think my next [writing project], a novel based on the daring [1942] British-Norwegian raid on Vemork in Norway that ended the Nazis’ hopes for the atomic bomb [Operation Freshman] is far more in the spirit of MacLean—a typical action story focused on the hero. In The One Man, the hero is enmeshed with so many cultural issues in his motives for going back to the camp on this suicidal mission, and the setting of Auschwitz is so overwhelming in terms of humanity and evil, that it’s not in the center of the standard action/hero matrix.

AK: Many of today’s readers love rip-roaring adventures such as The One Man. What is it about human nature that makes us want to escape into these sorts of “campfire tales”?

AG: Well, besides the obvious celebration of heroism, which goes back in literature as early as we’ve been painting on cave walls, and [besides] the struggle to find meaning in our actions and the mystery of death, and if there’s something beyond, I mentioned earlier that finding the miraculous in the ordinary is, to me, an elemental joy of meshing together great characters and a rich plot. Another [attraction] is the combination of weakness and strength, loyalty and betrayal, in heroes such as Job, Achilles, King Arthur, Lear, et al. So we see ourselves as reflections, battling trying conditions and settings, and look for humanity at its best—standing up to humanity at its worst.

And we pray that the former overcomes the latter. Not to overthink it, of course!

(Right) The One Man’s UK cover.

AK: As in Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal, in The One Man we know the historical outcome; French President Charles de Gaulle was not assassinated in that earlier work, and as pertains to The One Man, America’s Manhattan Project ultimately beat Nazi Germany’s efforts to enrich uranium. So how conscious were you, while penning this new novel, that you needed to keep the tension high despite the resolution of the international drama at your story’s core being known to readers?

AG: Ah, a good point. My view is, you can do anything—create mystery, suspense, historical importance—if the person who is the reader’s lens in the book does not know the outcome. Then it is up to your abilities in your own craft as a writer to convey and convince the reader that that outcome hasn’t taken place yet. For Nathan [Blum], my hero, this is a life-or-death mission, not only for his service to the Allied cause, but for the honor of his family who he left behind to die. So to see the story through his lens is to feel it without the playing out of history already before us. The questions of if and why trump the outcome.

AK: There is a great deal of detail in your narrative. Tell us about your research for this new novel, and how you went about laying out the tale without making it a physics textbook or a Holocaust lament?

AG: Yes, the detail was vital in The One Man. To me, that’s what creates richness. Streets, addresses, memories, anecdotes—that’s what makes the book come alive. And of course historical detail, and yes, science. Now keeping in mind that I’m a guy who muddled his way through eighth-grade earth science, it was important for me to convey just what was so vital that [electromagnetic physicist] Alfred Mendl knew. So I take my readers through the science of gaseous diffusion. Not in a textbook way (yawn!), but in the energetic interaction between two characters—the professor, Mendl, an expert in his field; and a brash, brilliant boy [16-year-old Leo Wolciek] Mendl stumbles upon, [and] who he needs to transfer his knowledge to. So what could be boring is enlivened by the battling modality of their exchanges. Everyone tells me this is one of the best parts of the book, and I think it’s an important part, because Leo’s learning of the science is part of the maturation from boy to manhood he must go through. But if I said up front, I’m going to give you a little lesson in atomic physics, you’d go—like me—ugh! Those are the parts [of a book] that, as Elmore Leonard once said, you tend to skip over.

AK: Tell us about the writing process behind The One Man. Was it heavily plotted, or not? And the yarn’s arc gives us several parallel stories, which you have knit together—in the stunning denouement—most deftly. Did all of this demand some long and deep thinking on your part?

AG: In previous novels I have written, there was always the opportunity to “wing it” a bit when it came to research and hide behind the curtain of “fiction.” Writing about the Holocaust raises the bar much, much higher. Not only is there the detail I described in the book, but the science, delivered in an entertaining way, and even chess—a smaller narrative thread in the book, but an important one. I think part of the “enriching” quality of the book is the way in which information is imparted organically, as part of conversation, as opposed to as you say, “like a textbook.”

A book that did this recently, and which I greatly admired, was Terry Hayes’ I Am Pilgrim [2014].

So to discuss the actual writing process—I outline in advance. In fact, what I sold almost two years ago to [publisher] Pan Macmillian was an outline. Not a thin, sketchy series of bullet points, but a detailed narrative, thought out to the last detail. I learned this from my days with Patterson. The one element I had not fully resolved was the little twist in the denouement that you say stunned you. It stunned me, because it was a reversal of how I thought I would end the book. It came to me in the middle of the night, eyes wide open, with my dogs barking at something outside—I wasn’t even thinking about it. At first I went, “Holy shit. That might just work. Is it better?” Ultimately, I decided it was. It’s about the only major turn in the book that I hadn’t mapped out in advance.

AK: Did you suffer anxiety from your peers or publishers about this new shift in genre styles? What’s the early feedback on The One Man?

AG: I have no anxiety in changing genre with regards to my peers. In fact, I’ve gotten so much advance praise heaped on me, it’s more than all my books combined. On a personal note, I started out as high volume, low substance on the sales/style matrix, a holdover from the Patterson roots, I think, because all my books have depth of subject and character. I never went after praise from my peers, because I chased sales. I ended up with neither. [He laughs.] I didn’t realize until this book, how genuine praise from those who do what I do, felt so good. And I’m very grateful for it.

AK: So what’s next for your as an author?

AG: What’s next, as I alluded to, is an Alistair MacLean-like adventure based on the story of the raid against the Nazi heavy-water facility at Vemork, Norway, called The Saboteur. It’s more of as straight thriller than The One Man, but it’s similar in that I want heroism to be the driving engine of the story. The Norwegian saying, “a true man goes as far as he can—and then he goes twice as far,” was the inspiration of what this story is about.

AK: Finally, what books have passed across your reading table of late that you found to be especially engaging?

AG: Absolutely the best book I’ve read recently was An Officer and a Spy, by Robert Harris, a story built around the [1894-1906] Dreyfus Affair in France. I think it’s truly a masterpiece of a career officer bound by duty, whose soul is unleashed when he steps into the injustices of the French prosecution of [artillery officer] Alfred Dreyfus. Ironically, I read Harris, yet I had never even heard of An Officer and a Spy until it was recommended to me by a friend—and then I see it was awarded the 2014 [Crime Writers’ Association’s] Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award. It’s one of those novels where you go, “Damn, I wish I had written that!”

* * *

So, would you like to win a free hardcover copy of The One Man for your own library? Andrew Gross’ American publisher, St. Martin’s Minotaur, has made three of them available to Rap Sheet readers, which we hope to give away through a simple drawing. To enter, all you need do is answer one small question:

Which of these Alistair MacLean novels is not a World War II thriller?
(1) HMS Ulysses
(2) Where Eagles Dare
(3) Puppet on a Chain
(4) The Guns of Navarone

E-mail your answer, along with your postal address (no P.O. boxes accepted), to jpwrites@wordcuts.org. And be sure to type “One Man Contest” in the subject line. Competition entries will be accepted between now and midnight on Friday, September 9. The three winners will be chosen completely at random.

Sorry, but at the publisher’s request, this contest is open only to residents of the United States and Canada.

(For your information, Shots will host a similar giveaway next month in cooperation with Gross’ British publisher, Pan Macmillan.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Revue of Reviewers, 8-23-16

Critiquing some of the most interesting recent crime, mystery, and thriller releases. Click on the individual covers to read more.



Closing the File on Hill

Steven Hill, the Seattle, Washington-born actor best remembered for playing New York County District Attorney Adam Schiff on NBC-TV’s Law & Order, and for his role as Daniel Briggs, the original team leader on CBS’ Mission: Impossible, passed away earlier today at age 94. The Los Angeles Times says, “The cause of death was not immediately available, but his wife said he suffered from several ailments.”

Born Solomon Krakowsky, Hill was the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, his father being a furniture-store owner. After graduating from the University of Washington, and then working for a short time in the Chicago radio business, Hill moved to New York City to pursue an acting career. He found multiple opportunities on the Broadway theater circuit (at one point playing opposite Henry Fonda in a production of Mister Roberts), but by the late 1940s had begun taking TV roles. Over the years Hill appeared in everything from Suspense and Playhouse 90 to The Untouchables, Route 66, Naked City, The Fugitive, and Columbo. He also featured in big-screen films such as Legal Eagles (1986), Billy Bathgate (1991), and The Firm (1993).

You can learn more about Hill’s career from this obituary in The New York Times and this short remembrance in The Spy Command.

READ MORE:Steven Hill Passes On,” by Terence Towles Canote
(A Shroud of Thoughts).

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Garden Party in Harrogate, Part II

(Editor’s note: Yesterday we brought you Ali Karim’s colorful recap of the 2016 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, which was held late last month in Harrogate, England. Today we’re following up with a selection of Ali’s photos from those four days of literary revelry—a dozen shots designed to give you a better sense of the sights and literary stars that made this year’s festival so memorable.)


Author Felix Francis, son of the late Dick Francis, looks like a getaway driver, employing his own idea of “horse power.”


Next time, hire these guys as doormen: Rap Sheet correspondent Ali Karim with New Zealand blogger Craig Sisterson.


British author Zoë Sharp with U.S. star Jeffery Deaver.


Left to right: Sophie Portas, head of publicity for UK publisher Faber and Faber; Faber and Faber editorial director Angus Cargill; and American novelist Laura Lippman.


Val McDermid and Tess Gerritsen attend the 2016 Dead Good Reader Awards presentation.


Critic and author Barry Forshaw signs copies of his growing “Noir” series of guides to modern crime and thriller fiction.


Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, who write the Detective Kubu series under the joint pseudonym “Michael Stanley.”


Literary agent Jane Gregory with best-seller Martina Cole.


Retired Sussex police officer Graham Bartlett and police procedural writer Peter James, the co-authors of Death Comes Knocking: Policing Roy Grace’s Brighton (Pan).


Festival sponsor Simon Theakston toasts Val McDermid’s success.


Left to right: authors Alison Joseph, Martin Edwards, Leigh Russell, and Stav Sherez, plus American marketeer Erin Mitchell.


Ever-helpful Ali Karim insists on doing some of the heavy lifting for James Patterson’s BookShots initiative.

(Photographs © Ali Karim, 2016)

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Garden Party in Harrogate, Part I


“Outstanding” Scottish mystery-maker Val McDermid.

By Ali Karim
Saturday, July 23—the third day of this year’s Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England. A sunny, warm day, to be sure. As I looked out across the diverse array of attendees gathered on the grounds of the Old Swan Hotel, all of them clutching books, drinking gin, smiling, and chatting, or else browsing the W.H. Smith Book Tent, I realized something I should’ve known from the first: I was home, among friends and colleagues who find comfort and insight at the darkest edges of literature—that is to say, in the crime, mystery, and thriller genre.

The words of a favorite song by the late Ricky Nelson came to mind:
I went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends
A chance to share old memories and play our songs again …
I had missed taking part in the last couple of these Harrogate gatherings due to diary clashes, as well as my commitment to help organize last year’s Bouchercon in Raleigh, North Carolina. So the 2016 event was eagerly anticipated.

That July 21-24 festival offered far too many engaging episodes (and interesting people to speak and drink with) than I can detail here. But I would like to draw special attention to ThrillerFest executive director Kimberley “K.J.” Howe, who winged her way to Harrogate after capping off her recent duties at ThrillerFest IX in New York City. I’ve known Kim since 2006, when we met at ThrillerFest I in Phoenix, and was pleased to hear that Vicki Mellor of Headline Publishing has picked up her debut thriller, The Freedom Broker, for release in early 2017. It was also great to happen across David Stuart Davies, editor of the British Crime Writers’ Association’s Red Herrings magazine (and something of a renaissance man), who made a flying visit to the conference, as did Philippa Pride, Stephen King’s UK editor.

Those days in Harrogate gave me an opportunity, as well, to spend time with literary agent Judith Murdoch, a very dear friend of longstanding, and to benefit from the assistance of Gaby Young of Michael Joseph Penguin in organizing an interview with the talented Julia Heaberlin (Black Eyed Susans), which I conducted in tandem with New Zealand blogger Craig Sisterson. I found time to catch up with Felix Francis, who has a new horse-racing mystery (Triple Crown) coming out in September—an extension of the legacy he inherited from his famous father (and mother). And it was excellent to meet up with one of my Bouchercon board colleagues, Erin Mitchell, who’d come over from America to visit Ireland and post-Brexit Great Britain.


ThrillerFest executive director K.J. Howe being greeted by Red Herrings editor David Stuart Davies.

* * *

Even before the festival officially commenced, an event took place called Creative Thursday, which was of great interest to writers wishing to turn a storytelling hobby into something professional. On hand to help were authors such as Sarah Hilary, Alex Marwood, Matthew Hall, and William Ryan. They were joined by literary agents, publishing representatives, and the literary journalist Danuta Kean.

Theakstons Harrogate works in part to promote literacy for the local community, and this year’s writer-in-residence was former UK probation officer Mari Hannah (Deadly Deceit).

Things really got started at Harrogate with a Thursday evening reception, followed in close succession by a welcome from both festival director Sharon Canavar and principal sponsor Simon Theakston, the latter of whom came supplied with plenty of his beer-brewing family’s most renowned product, Old Peculier. Then Harrogate regular, broadcaster and author Mark Lawson (The Allegations), took to the podium to begin the 2016 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year ceremony. Clare Mackintosh was excited to receive this year’s prize for her debut novel, I Let You Go. And that accolade came backed up with cash—a £3,000 check—plus a handmade engraved oak beer cask (which the author almost left behind on stage). You can see the highlights of that ceremony by clicking here.

Also shortlisted for the prize were Time of Death, by Mark Billingham (Sphere); Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith (Sphere); Tell No Tales, by Eva Dolan (Harvill Secker); Disclaimer, by Renée Knight (Black Swan); and Rain Dogs, by Adrian McKinty (Serpent’s Tail).

Following the tribute to Mackinstosh, veteran Scottish author Val McDermid was presented with the seventh Theakstons Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award. Previous winners of that same commendation have been Sara Paretsky, Lynda La Plante, Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, Colin Dexter, and Reginald Hill. After hearing that she would be this year’s recipient, McDermid said: “It’s an honor and a thrill to receive this award. The community of writers and readers at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is unlike any other in its warmth and generosity and so this means a huge amount to me. This year sees the publication of my 30th novel [Out of Bounds, due for a U.S. release in December from Atlantic Monthly Press] and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate that.”

I should mention that Mark Billingham delivered an exceptional, often funny introduction to McDermid, which you can watch (in a rather “gonzo” video) on YouTube.

With Thursday evening’s festivities done, it was time to uncap a few bottles of gin and share anecdotes, leaving some of us to welcome in the next day’s dawning with a breakfast of aspirin and coffee, accompanied by fragmented memories of the night before.

* * *

Friday started early with an eclectic array of events, and though programming chair Peter James generously passed all the credit to the team behind Harrogate International Festivals, he was obviously one busy bloke, appearing everywhere—almost as if he had cloned himself, like a character from his techno-thriller Perfect People.


Mark Billingham chats up fellow novelist Linwood Barclay.

That day’s first highlight found Canadian wordsmith Linwood Barclay (The Twenty-Three) engaging in a well-attended onstage conversation with Billingham. It turned out to be a wickedly amusing exchange between two crime writers whose dark imaginations were balanced by their surreal sense of humor.

Then it was on to an investigation of real-life crime by Peter James’ writing partner, former Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett, together with authors Sharon Bolton, Mari Hannah, and (straight from Iceland!) Ysra Sigurdardottir. Other Friday events included a panel talk called “The Killer Behind the Front Door,” featuring Julia Crouch, Helen Fitzgerald, Paula Hawkins, Clare Mackintosh, and Alex Marwood; and another one titled “The Golden Age [of Crime Writing],” with Simon Brett, Frances Brody, Ann Granger, Catriona McPherson, and Ruth Ware. There was also a forensics panel and another devoted to stage and screen adaptations of written crime and mystery works.

Because Theakstons Harrogate offers a single track of panel presentations, it is advisable to find a seat at one’s preferred events early, lest there not be room left. The alternative is to sit in some overflow room and observe the proceedings via TV screens.

I thought it was a great innovation this year to have the book sales area and author signing section relegated to a large tent on the lawns overlooking the Old Swan. This prevented the snaking queues to the signings from congesting the hotel itself. When Peter James and Martina Cole began their signings, for instance, the lines were long enough that they might’ve been spotted from the orbit of Mars.

In addition, credit should be given to W.H. Smith, the festival’s official bookseller, whose staff was extremely helpful in moving things along at a good clip. You can watch a short video focusing on the W.H. Smith Book Tent by clicking here.

Next up on that day’s program was the 2016 Dead Good Reader Awards presentations, hosted again by Mark Lawson, who was helped out this time by international stars Linwood Barclay and Tess Gerritsen. This was a smartly orchestrated affair, with a number of moving parts, including early review-copy giveaways, raffles, and a substantial display from the prolific James Patterson, promoting his BookShots initiative, which turns out crime/thriller novellas for our time-constrained era (and reduced attention spans). Whatever you think of the quality of Patterson’s yarns, it’s hard to argue with his obvious commitment to literacy and the survival of independent bookshops—efforts that will be celebrated during Bouchercon 2019 in Dallas, Texas, at which he’ll be a guest of honor.

We filmed the announcements of the Dead Good Reader Award recipients, with the results embedded below. A full list of 2016 nominees and winners is available at this link.



After a quick bite to eat, I was back to my reportorial duties, attending a couple of evening events. Firstly, we had Val McDermid in conversation with Scottish comedienne Susan Calman, who’s a familiar face on UK shows such as Have I Got News for You and Would I Lie to You? Secondly, I sat through one of my favorite events of the weekend, a presentation titled “The Hard Yards,” which found authors Sophie Hannah, Simon Kernick, Laura Lippman, Martyn Waites, and Laura Wilson all speaking candidly about their journeys up the greasy pole of crime-friction renown, and how they’ve stayed on top.

In the wake of all this hubbub, I was delighted for an opportunity to visit at dinner with my dear friend, best-selling thriller writer Martina Cole, who had arrived late to Harrogate. Afterwards, she and Kim Howe, together with some people from Headline, retired to the gardens overlooking the Old Swan, while I went inside to organize some gin and tonics. I wound up chatting with thriller writers Graham Smith and Mason Cross (the latter of whom pens the Carter Blake novels, and has apparently forgiven me for the rather tough questions I fired at him during a CrimeFest Criminal Mastermind competition several years ago). Soon after that, I fell into conversation with Linwood Barclay, who—thanks to his increasing stature as a fictionist (can it really have been less than a decade since No Time for Goodbye gave him his big boost?)—drew additional notice from passersby, until we found ourselves at the center of a small crowd. As usual, Barclay was amusing and self-deprecating in equal measures, and generous with his time. It’s characteristic of the Theakstons Crime Writing Festival that its attendees, whether authors, critics, or readers, mix well, with nobody feeling like an outsider.

* * *

After a wee bit of late-night drinking (OK, maybe more than a wee bit), Saturday crept up quickly, and brought with it a series of red-letter offerings. The award-winning Jeffery Deaver was interviewed by the ubiquitous Mark Lawson (you can see the opening of their exchange here). Then there was a rare appearance by onetime journalist and the author of Harry’s Game, Gerald Seymour, who took questions from BBC Radio 2’s Joe Haddow. However, Theakstons Harrogate does not restrict itself to Big-Name Scribblers; McDermid held an audience in thrall on Saturday as she introduced four “New Blood” talents for 2016: Martin Holmen (Clinch), J.S. Law (Tenacity), Beth Lewis (The Wolf Road), and Abir Mukherjee (A Rising Man).


An uncommon sighting of thriller writer Gerald Seymour.

That afternoon boasted of an international flavor, with N.J. Cooper, Paul Mendelson, Deon Meyer, Margie Orford, and “Michael Stanley” (aka Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip) all navigating South Africa’s criminal darkness. Meanwhile, Pierre Lemaitre, Bernard Minier, and S.J. Parris transported their listeners to France, as moderator Barry Forshaw kept his hand gently on the conversational rudder.

A standing-room-only crowd assembled to hear Martina Cole and Peter James in conversation—a truly fascinating session, since James pens his Brighton-based Roy Grace thrillers from a law-enforcement perspective, while Cole focuses instead on the often complicated family relationships between gangsters. (We have archived two sections of their discussion here and here.) Later that day, James talked to a crowded room about the dark side of Brighton; separately, Tess Gerritsen addressed the nuances of writing medical thrillers, a subgenre in which she has gained significant renown.

Closing out that evening was the Theakstons Crime Fiction Quiz. Frankly, I’d rather not dwell overlong on this event. I thought I’d assembled a strong team of Barry Forshaw, Craig Sisterson, literary agent Helen Heller, and Dutch publisher Steven Moat. But thanks in part to my, er, overindulgence in gin, we only earned third place in the competition. The night’s winning team was led by literary agent Jane Gregory, and featured authors Sarah Hilary, Natasha Cooper, Laura Wilson, Harry Bingham, and Mick Herron. You can watch the victors accept their just desserts here.

A very late night on the lawns outside the Old Swan, spent with friends such as Simon Kernick, Stav Sherez, Kevin Wignall and Sarah Pinborough, closed out Saturday, followed by a 2 a.m. pizza delivery … because we can always benefit from a tad more in the way of stomach contents to soak up drink.

* * *

As usual, Sunday came around too fast. With my queasy stomach and sore head, I found comfort (as well as intrigue) in a “Political Corruption” panel discussion involving Charles Cumming, Frank Gardner, the by-now-inevitable Mark Lawson, Kate Rhodes, and Gillian Slovo. Then it was on to this festival’s capper: a presentation by Peter Robinson (When the Music’s Over) and Mark Lawson, who talked about contemporary fictional themes inspired by the notorious Jimmy Saville sexual-abuse scandal. The opening of that event, including Peter James’ introduction, can be enjoyed here.

If I may be allowed a few final words (after so many previous ones), let me begin by noting that the 2016 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival was remarkable. Professional management, combined with glorious weather and a collegial atmosphere, will have attendees talking about these doings for quite some time. Should you be interested in participating in next year’s Harrogate festival (July 20-23, 2017), it might be a good idea to book early, as ticket sales are already notably brisk.

Next stop, Bouchercon next month in New Orleans.

(Part II of our belated wrap-up of the 2016 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival will appear tomorrow in The Rap Sheet.)

Photographs and text © Ali Karim, 2016

An edited version of this report will appear in the August edition of Red Herrings magazine, the official monthly publication for members of the British Crime Writers Association. Click here for details about how to join the CWA; and click here to learn how you can join the affiliated Crime Readers Association.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

“Undeniably Hip.” Yeah, That Fits Hayes



As much as I sometimes dread logging onto the Web each morning to see what’s happening around the world, and what assignments or problems I shall have to tackle by day’s close, there can also be pleasant surprises. Today, for example, I found the video embedded above on a closed-group Facebook page called Music for Television. It’s a tribute to singer-songwriter Isaac Hayes (1942-2008). Although Hayes is best remembered for composing the musical score to Richard Roundtree’s 1971 film, Shaft (based on Ernest Tidyman’s 1970 novel of the same name), he also created the main title theme for The Men (1972-1973), “a rotating series of Thursday-night action shows” for ABC-TV that American film and TV music expert Jon Burlingame declares, in this video, is Hayes’ “unsung masterpiece.”

“The network cut it into terrible, 40-second bits,” Burlingame explains, “but the full four-minute theme is melodic, dramatic, and undeniably hip.” I agree completely, and a couple of years ago I purchased a CD titled The Very Best of Isaac Hayes, just so I could have The Men’s complete theme close to hand.

In the event that you’re not familiar with The Men, it was a “wheel series” that featured Robert Conrad’s Assignment: Vienna, Laurence Luckinbill’s The Delphi Bureau, and James Wainwright’s Jigsaw. You can learn much more about all three of those short-run ABC crime dramas in this piece I wrote two years ago for The Rap Sheet.

Thanks, Rap Sheet Fans!

I remember being amazed when, back in March of 2011—as The Rap Sheet was approaching its fifth birthday—Blogger’s statistics-keeping software reported that this site had registered its one-millionth visitor. Today, three months after The Rap Sheet celebrated its 10th anniversary, we clocked in our four-millionth visitor!

Mystery Unsolved … But Rectified

You may have noticed—though perhaps not—that the video clips embedded in The Rap Sheet haven’t been behaving properly over the last couple of weeks. They would all run, sure … but their orientation was off, shifted slightly to the right, and their bottom-of-frame controls had completely disappeared for no good reason whatsoever. I never did figure out what went wrong. The coding for each video seemed to be correct, and every time I tried to reload a video, it came out looking just as goofy as the previous version.

Fortunately, those videos have now corrected themselves.

Over the years of my working with the Blogger software, I’ve encountered such unexplainable oddities on several occasions. Not long ago, for instance, all photographs that I’d designed to extend from one side of this main text column to the other were suddenly slightly narrower. In that case, I tried to fix a few recent photos by widening them … only to have Blogger mend itself soon afterward and leave my newly modified shots too wide for the column. Grrr!

The lesson is to be patient (even more than normal), and assume that whatever goes wrong will eventually be set right by the Blogger technophiles. With the latest problems now apparently put right, I can once more risk embedding videos on this page.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Revue of Reviewers, 8-17-16

Critiquing some of the most interesting recent crime, mystery, and thriller releases. Click on the individual covers to read more.



Going for the Silver

Just when you thought an end had finally come to announcements involving contenders for assorted annual crime, mystery, and thriller fiction prizes … here comes another one. With only a few days yet to go before the start of this year’s Killer Nashville conference (to be held August 18-21 in Nashville, Tennessee), organizers of that event have disseminated their list of contenders for the 2016 Silver Falchion Awards. There are 20 categories of finalists for these commendations—too many to list here. But below are the first two.

Best Fiction Adult Book:
Hard Latitudes, by Baron R. Birtcher (Permanent Press)
The Raping of Ava Desantis, by Mylo Carbia (Rockefeller)
The Wild Inside, by Christine Carbo (Atria)
Trust No One, by Paul Cleave (Atria)
Go Down Hard, by Craig Faustus Buck (Brash)
As Night Falls, by Jenny Milchman (Ballantine)
One Tenth of the Law, by Ray Peden (Williams Printing)
The Dead Key, by D.M. Pulley (Thomas & Mercer)
The Ripper Gene, by Michael Ransom (Forge)
Done in One, by Jan Thomas and Grant Jerkins (Thomas Dunne)
Prince of the Blue Castles, by Timothy Vincent (W&B)

Best Fiction First Novel:
One Murder More, by Kris Calvin (Inkshares)
The Wild Inside, by Christine Carbo (Atria)
The Mind of God, by Bevan Frank (Elm Park)
The Ripper Gene, by Michael Ransom (Forge)

Again, you can find the complete list of prize nominees here. The winners in each category will be declared during an awards banquet this coming Saturday, August 20.

Elevating E-books

Three e-books have been identified as finalists for the inaugural Mysterious Press Award. As explained by a news release, this prize “was established as a contest for a mystery novel to be published as Best E-Book Original by MysteriousPress.com and distributed in the United States and Canada by Open Road Integrated Media and published world-wide.” Here’s the trio of contenders:
Alibi, by Lee Goodman (represented by Janet Reid)
The Downside, by Mike Cooper (represented by Janet Reid)
Bright Like Blood, by Leigh C. Rourks (represented by
Larry Kirshbaum)
Otto Penzler, who serves as the president and CEO of MysteriousPress.com, is quoted in that same release as saying: “As electronic publishing has become a significant element of the publishing world, we decided to recognize an outstanding work of mystery fiction by offering a substantial advance and a great opportunity for world-wide recognition. We had an extraordinary array of outstanding crime novels submitted for the contest and will be thrilled to publish whichever one is chosen as the winner.”

The victorious entry will score its author $25,000, an advance against future royalties. And the announcement of a winner will be made during the 2016 Frankfurt Book Fair (October 19-23).

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Copycat Covers: In the Hood

A new entry in our series about remarkably look-alike book fronts.



Yours Until Death, by Gunnar Staalesen (Arcadia, 2011);
and The Son, by Jo Nesbø (Knopf, 2014).

The Scandi Man Can

I’ve been curious to learn more about the work of Norwegian detective novelist Gunnar Staalesen ever since reading this piece in Crime Fiction Lover, in which noted UK critic Barry Forshaw identified his “top 10 Nordic classics”—one of which is Staalesen’s The Consorts of Death (released in an English-language translation in 2009). Only recently, I was sent a copy of Where Roses Never Die (Orenda), the 19th installment in Staalesen’s series featuring Varg Veum, a committed, compassionate private eye on the order of Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer. You can read my critique of that novel today on the Kirkus Reviews Web site.

Monday, August 15, 2016

When Bad Is Good

This is far from the first time I’ve written on this page about the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which asks contestants to submit the worst (e.g., funniest and most outlandish) opening sentences from never-to-be-finished books. Yet the task never ceases to raise a smile on my face. As Neatorama explains, “The annual contest is named for Victorian novelist Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, who once began a book with the phrase ‘It was a dark and stormy night …’ and cemented those words as a writing cliché.” 2016 marks the 34th year for this bad-writing challenge, sponsored by the English Department at California’s San Jose State University.

Fifty-five-year-old Tallahassee, Florida, building contractor William “Barry” Brockett has been declared the overall winner of this year’s competition. His submission bears a distinctly hard-boiled air:
Even from the hall, the overpowering stench told me the dingy caramel glow in his office would be from a ten-thousand-cigarette layer of nicotine baked on a naked bulb hanging from a frayed wire in the center of a likely cracked and water-stained ceiling, but I was broke, he was cheap, and I had to find her.
The winner in the Crime/Detective category is Charles Caldwell of Leesville, Louisiana, who sent in this entry:
She walked toward me with her high heels clacking like an out-of-balance ceiling fan set on low, smiling as though about to spit pus from a dental abscess, and I knew right away that she was going to leave me feeling like I had used a wood rasp to cure my hemorrhoids.
But I am also rather fond of Akron, Ohio, resident Andrew Caruso’s “Dishonorable Mention” recipient in that same category:
As he gazed at Ming’s lifeless body draped over the sushi bar, chopsticks protruding from his back, Det. Herc Lue Perrot came to the sobering realization that tonight, there had been a murder at the Orient Express.
And I got an especially big chuckle out of the winner in the Purple Prose category, which comes from Rachel Nirenberg of Toronto, Canada:
She was like my ex-girlfriend Ashley, who'd stolen my car, broken my heart, murdered my father, robbed a bank, and set off a pipe bomb in Central Park—tall.
Click here to enjoy all of this year’s winners and runners-up.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Revue of Reviewers, 8-10-16

Critiquing some of the most interesting recent crime, mystery, and thriller releases. Click on the individual covers to read more.



Well, Lookee Here!

I’ve recently made three new additions to The Rap Sheet’s YouTube page—all of them the main title sequences from TV crime series.

Click here to see the opening from Private Eyes, a recently debuted Canadian comedy-drama starring Jason Priestley as Matt Shade, a former hockey player, and Cindy Sampson as feisty Angie Everett, who go into business together as Toronto private investigators. Or look here for the intro from K-Ville, an under-appreciated 2007-2008 FOX-TV crime drama led by Anthony Anderson and Cole Hauser as cops working the recently Hurricane Katrina-flooded streets of New Orleans. And go over here to watch the main titles from the 1974 ABC-TV series Chopper One, which featured Jim McMullan and Dirk Benedict as members of a California police helicopter team.

Multiple Millars

I’ve been experiencing Internet problems all day long, which seem to be associated with my service provider, rather than with my own computer or its connection. I have had online access only sporadically. Having now found a window onto the Web, let me toss up here a couple of things. First of all, this note from In Reference to Murder:
New imprint Syndicate Books is publishing the complete works of MWA [Mystery Writers of America] Grandmaster Margaret Millar, with a special offer for readers: you can pre-order the series and receive each book one month before its on-sale date. Order now and receive one book every two months, or order at any point later and receive all released volumes and then the rest as they publish.
This looks like a wonderful, seven-volume paperback set, featuring all 26 of Millar’s novels, plus her 1968 memoir, The Birds and the Beasts Were There. The price: an apparently discounted $99.99.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Copycat Covers: Shadow Play

A new entry in our series about remarkably look-alike book fronts.



The Final Page of Baker Street: The Exploits of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John H. Watson, and Master Raymond Chandler, by Daniel D. Victor (MX Publishing, 2014); and Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery: Cecil John Charles Street, Freeman Wills Crofts, Alfred Walter Stewart, and the British Detective Novel, 1920-1961, by Curtis Evans (McFarland, 2012).

Make Your Reservations Now

Private Eye Writers of America founder Robert J. Randisi has let me know that tickets are now on sale for this year’s PWA Shamus Awards Banquet, which is to be held on September 16, during Bouchercon in New Orleans. The banquet will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Pere Marquette Hotel in the French Quarter (817 Common Street) and last until 9 p.m. Tickets are priced at $60 per person. For more information, contact Randisi at RRandisi@aol.com.

Should you require a reminder of which books and authors are in contention for the various Shamus Awards this year, simply click here.

If memory serves, this will be my fifth Shamus Awards Banquet, following last year’s event in Raleigh, North Carolina. They’re always welcoming and often humorous affairs, and provide close contact with some of the most notable crime-fiction authors. Last year, for instance, I was seated one table away from Lawrence Block, and Steve Hamilton was right behind me. Great company, indeed.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Double-Dipping for Davids

As was the case last year, when the competition for the Deadly Ink Mystery Conference’s David Award ended in a tie (with Jeff Markowitz’s Death and White Diamonds and Steven Rigolosi’s The Outsmarting of Criminals sharing the honors), the 2016 David goes to a pair of novels: Big Shoes, by Jack Getze (Down & Out), and Forgiving Mariela Camacho, by A.J. Sidransky (Berwick Court). The winners were announced earlier this evening in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Also in the running for the 2016 David Award were Ornaments of Death, by Jane K. Cleland (Minotaur); What You See, by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge); and Pretty Girls, by Karin Slaughter (Morrow).

The annual David Award is named after David G. Sasher Sr., a New Jersey resident who passed away back in 2006 at age 66, after working on the Deadly Ink convention.

And the Links Keep Coming

I don’t usually compile posts filled with crime-fiction-related links in such close succession, but since yesterday’s lengthy wrap-up, I have run across enough of what I think are interesting items around the Web that they justify this follow-up. So here goes …

• Mike Ripley’s August “Getting Away with Murder” column for Shots includes notes about the recent Heffers of Cambridge crime-fiction summer party, classic works by Fergus Hume and Anna K. Green, Ostara Publishing’s reprints of Frank McAuliffe novels, and forthcoming books from Rod Reynolds, Ray Celestin, Steven Price, Paul Doherty, and numerous others. Oh, and Ripley brings the most welcome news, that The Callan File, by Robert Fairclough and Mike Kenwood—“the long-awaited definitive guide” to the 1967-1972 UK TV series Callan, starring Edward Woodward—will become available in September courtesy of Quoit Media.

• Having mentioned Ray Celestin, I should also note that his excellent first novel, The Axeman’s Jazz (published last year in the States as simply The Axeman), “has been optioned for television by independent film production company See-Saw Films,” according to The Bookseller. Celestin’s sequel, Dead Man’s Blues (Mantle), is scheduled for release in Great Britain on August 11. So far, though, I don’t see any U.S. publication date for that second book.

• In other TV production news, Deadline Hollywood reports that L.A. Law co-creator Steven Bochco has finally agreed to try rebooting that 1986-1994 NBC-TV series for FOX. Bochco says he “probably will have a script ready in October, in time for next pilot season.”

• Actor Richard Boone is better remembered for his lead roles in the television series Have Gun—Will Travel and Hec Ramsey. But in 1972 he starred with Michael Dunn (who had played Dr. Miguelito Loveless in The Wild Wild West) and Barbara Bain (from Mission: Impossible) in an ABC-TV movie titled Goodnight, My Love. Set in 1946 Los Angeles, that drama found Boone and Dunn playing gumshoe partners Frank Hogan and Arthur Boyle, and Bain filling the elegant heels of a femme fatale. The Thrilling Detective Web Site describes the picture as “a well-done little private-eye flick …, not quite the Maltese Falcon spoof it claims, but still great fun,” while author (and former president of the Private Eye Writers of America) Dick Lochte includes Hogan and Boyle on his list of the top 20 TV private eyes. Chuck Rothman’s recent post in Great but Forgotten praises Goodnight, My Love’s dialogue as having “just the right amount of cynicism and the same worldview as [Raymond] Chandler,” and its cast as “perfect.” I didn’t see the teleflick when it was originally broadcast, but I did catch up with it years later. I recall it as being slow-paced at times, but still amusing and rife with period color. Watch Goodnight, My Love for yourself, beginning here. Below, I’ve posted the film’s opening segment.

video

• With the 2016 Summer Olympics having kicked off yesterday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it’s worth revisiting this list of Olympics-related crime novels from Janet Rudolph’s Mystery Fanfare blog.

• Meanwhile, Bouchercon 2016 is gearing up for its September 15-18 run in New Orleans. So Jon Jordan, the co-editor of Crimespree Magazine, decided to ask a bunch of authors and critics who’ve attended Bouchercons in the past why they “love” this annual gathering of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction enthusiasts.

• Since Bouchercon attendees will be asked to select the winner of this year’s Macavity Award for short fiction, it was a good idea to posts links to spots on the Web where people can read that the nominated yarns in advance of the conference’s start.

• As part of the Third Annual British Invaders Blogathon, orchestrated by Terence Towles Canote of A Shroud of Thoughts, a new-to-me blog called The Flapper Dame extols the virtues of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film, The 39 Steps.

Why reading might make you carsick

• … but can also help you live longer!

• Blogger Kate Jackson asked some of her fellow Golden Age of Crime enthusiasts to respond to the question of which classic author they most wish could have “written one more book.” The answers range from Dorothy L Sayers and Clayton Rawson to Ianthe Jerrold and Hugh Wheeler. Strangely, nobody suggested Raymond Chandler, who would have been my No. 1 choice. Dashiell Hammett, Rex Stout, Ellery Queen, and James M. Cain go equally unmentioned.

• Although he’s disappointed in some production values, Steve Aldous, author of The World of Shaft, is pleased to see Ernest Tidyman’s John Shaft stories being reissued by Dynamite Entertainment. The recent republication of Shaft, he observes, is “the first time the novel [which introduced Tidyman’s series] has been available in a new print [version] in the U.S. since the 1970s.”

• Back in 2000, author Tom Nolan reviewed Hugh Merrill’s The Red Hot Typewriter: The Life and Times of John D. MacDonald for January Magazine, declaring that an “interesting, dimensional, and focused portrait of [MacDonald] fails to emerge” from its pages. Fortunately, Steve Scott, who writes the MacDonald-obsessed blog The Trap of Solid Gold, says that a new version of that biography, from Stark House Press, “represents a significant improvement over Merrill’s original work, with additional material added and many of the author’s original errors corrected. I know this because I was involved with the editing of the new edition and made many of the corrections myself, in addition to editing and amending the book’s bibliography. I came late to the project but, thanks to the miracle of this age of computers, was able to get my contributions included just under the wire. This will be a book that everyone interested in the life and works of John D MacDonald should own.” Hmm. That means I’ll have to pair a copy of this Stark House edition with the original one I already own. So much for efforts to clear some space on my crime-fiction shelves …

Mike Nevins writes about Georges Simenon’s early novels.

Here’s a preview of the cover of The Day I Died, Lori Rader-Day’s third novel, following Little Pretty Things. It’s due out next April.

• “You cannot help liking [Ian] Fleming,” reads a 1969 diary entry by actor Richard Burton, who was once considered for the film role of British spy James Bond. “He is so obviously enjoying the creation of his extroverted, Hemingway-esque, sadistic, sexually-maniacal boy-scout that in the end he becomes likable.”