Friday, September 22, 2017

The Book You Have to Read:
“Where Murder Waits,” by E. Howard Hunt

(Editor’s note: This is the 151st installment in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books.)

By Steven Nester
As Richard Nixon’s presidency unraveled in 1973 and Watergate burglar/thriller writer E. Howard Hunt faced a stretch in federal prison, the marketing department of Fawcett Gold Medal Books thought to squeeze every penny it could from this notorious novelist’s oeuvre by reissuing Where Murder Waits, this time under his real name. First published in 1965, and attributed to the pseudonymous Gordon Davis, Where Murder Waits is a bitter rebuke to 1961’s failed Bay of Pigs invasion, which Hunt had had a role in planning while employed by the CIA. Although he tells no tales out of school and only reiterates some familiar gripes about the debacle, Hunt does describe the complications endured by dispossessed foreign nationals plotting a return to their Cuban homeland. With Fidel Castro’s regime firmly ensconced in Havana, however, the only intrigue that occurs is between members of the exile community who wish to unseat him.

Patrick Conroy is a man with a past. Born Patricio Conroy in Cuba, wounded and imprisoned after the failed expedition that landed at the Bay of Pigs on the island nation’s southern coast, Conroy is now a lawyer living under the radar in Miami, Florida. Battle injuries resulted in “a contained grace to Conroy’s movements that inspired desire in women and confidence in men”; and while he’s content, makes a “sturdy martini,” and enjoys a fulfilling bachelor love life, there seems to be something lacking in his existence.

Conroy’s reputation is known to former contrarrevolucionarios, and though he no longer has an active interest in taking up arms against Castro, he’s approached by an organization of displaced patriots—the Exile Committee—wishing him to take on a task. It seems money raised by the group for an insurrection has vanished from a Panamanian bank, along with the group’s treasurer. Conroy is asked to recover the cash, but he demurs. The next knock on his door is delivered by an FBI agent, who talks to Conroy about his possible Neutrality Act violations, which could result in his disbarment and a revocation of his U.S. citizenship. Conroy is incensed by the threats that agent has made against his liberty, something he figures he earned in combat. He observes that fewer exiles are willing to step into the breach, and is disheartened to see the zeal of counterrevolution diminish among members of the exile community. To many of them, Cuba is simply the place their parents once lived, and Conroy sees the “younger generation maturing in an alien land and accepting exile as a fact of existence.” Feeling the anger of exiles who are harassed for their patriotism and grit, Conroy finally accepts the mission to track down that lost money.

The Cuban Revolution (1953-1959) turned various South and Central American capitals into settings resembling Casablanca during World War II, and as Conroy travels between Florida, Panama, and Brazil, he must tread lightly and mind his manners. Any insurgent group operating in a foreign country is suspected of trying to bring revolution or unwanted attention to that region, and from the time he boards an airplane for Panama, Conroy is under surveillance not only by foreign agencies, but also by the CIA. In addition, someone close to the bank theft is attempting to thwart Conroy, starting with an attempt on his life in Miami. Since it’s obvious that the theft was an inside job, Conroy’s mission becomes tricky when every insider who had access to the Exile Committee’s money is murdered.

A visit to the Panamanian bank where that dough had been deposited leads nowhere. However, a break that will resound through the remainder of this novel comes when Conroy discovers Javier Ruiz tossing his hotel room. A legendary anti-Castro guerilla, better known as El Machete, Javier was believed to have died during the failed Bay of Pigs assault, but instead spent time in prison, just like Conroy. Javier says he was tipped off that Conroy had located the misplaced funds and was about to abscond with them to Cuba; he planned to stop Conroy. Javier’s anti-Castro credentials are bombproof, and Conroy sure could use his help—as he could that of Javier’s comely sister, Lola, whose husband did die at the Bay of Pigs—to complete his mission. Yet the siblings’ arrival on the scene seems all too convenient, and Conroy resolves to keep a close eye on the pair.

As he investigates, Conroy learns that the last man to hold the money he seeks exchanged it for a diamond, which was easier to transport than cash. When the gem dealer subsequently turns up dead, and the rock goes missing, Conroy must accept, dolefully, that even heroic Cuban freedom fighters are not immune from avarice. In fact, it’s Javier who has the diamond, and he intends to keep it as recompense for his betrayal and imprisonment in Cuba so many years ago. Further, he wants his sister, Lola, to flee with him to freedom. She refuses her brother’s entries, though, for she and Conroy have fallen in love. There is a bloody standoff between the trio, but justice is done—more thoroughly than might have been possible in real life, and this is the key to the complexity of E. Howard Hunt.

Say what you’d like about Hunt, but there’s no denying he was a man of some accomplishment. Biographical accounts suggest he lived out a quasi-James Bond fantasy, as he allowed many of his fictional characters to do. But among the tuxedos and tailored clothing was plenty of dirty laundry. For instance, Hunt devised a plot to overthrow the government of Guatemala in 1954, which resulted in countless deaths. He had a hand, too, in other clandestine and disreputable operations around the globe before the Bay of Pigs drove his espionage career into a ditch. When the chance to work for the Nixon White House came along, this suave spy became a “plumber,” and the rest is infamy.

In Where Murder Waits, Patrick Conroy is given the opportunity to assist—in a small way—a noble cause, and he succeeds. Through the character of Conroy, Hunt showed the world his espionage super-self (an image far superior to what he was becoming: a bungling intelligence has-been), and therein lies the fragile beauty of make-believe. Reality doesn’t always allow people to be viewed in the best possible light; mistakes are made, victories go unrecognized, aspirations are often not realized. Through fiction, though, writers can imagine themselves as better than they are. Hunt was a rather prolific novelist, and he tended to cast his protagonists—and by reflection, himself—in the glow of patriotism, glamour, and triumph. It might have been a bitter pill for him to swallow knowing that, thanks to the Watergate scandal, history was much more likely to remember him (ignominiously) for his involvement in what Nixon’s press secretary, Ron Ziegler, called a “third-rate burglary.”

READ MORE:The Book You Have to Read: Bimini Run, by E. Howard Hunt,” by Steven Nester (The Rap Sheet).

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Coleman Seizes Another Shamus

Directly on the heels of news about this year’s David Thompson Special Service Award recipient comes word (via The Gumshoe Site) that Long Island, New York, author Reed Farrel Coleman’s Where It Hurts (Putnam)—his book introducing former Suffolk County cop Gus Murphy—has won the 2017 Shamus Award for Best Private Eye Novel. This marks the fourth time Coleman has scored a Shamus; the first was in 2006, when his Moe Prager novel The James Deans received Best Private Eye Paperback Original honors.

Also in contention for the 2017 Best P.I. Novel prize—which is sponsored by the Private Eye Writers of America (PWA)—were The Graveyard of the Hesperides, by Lindsey Davis (Minotaur); Fields Where They Lay, by Timothy Hallinan (Soho Crime); With 6 You Get Wally, by Al Lamanda (Gale Cengage); and The Stardom Affair, by Robert S. Levinson (Five Star).

Ordinarily this announcement would have been made during a special Shamus Awards Dinner held in concert with Bouchercon. However, there will be no such celebration at this October’s Bouchercon in Toronto, Ontario (it was cancelled in July); Gumshoe Site editor Jiro Kimura reports that Coleman’s victory was instead broadcast “in the fall issue of the PWA newsletter.” That same bulletin declares the winners of three other 2017 Shamus accolades:

Best Original Private Eye Paperback: The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown, by Vaseem Khan (Red Hook)

Also nominated: The Detective and the Chinese High-Fin, by Michael Craven (HarperCollins); Hold Me, Babe, by O’Neil De Noux (Big Kiss); The Knife Slipped, by Erle Stanley Gardner (Hard Case Crime); and My Bad, by Manuel Ramos (Arte Publico Press).

Best First Private Eye Novel: IQ, by Joe Ide (Little, Brown)

Also nominated: Fever City, by Tim Baker (Europa Editions); Deep Six, by D.P. Lyle (Oceanview); The Second Girl, by David Swinson (Little, Brown); and Soho Sins, by Richard Vine (Hard Case Crime).

Best Private Eye Short Story: “A Battlefield Reunion,” by Brendan DuBois (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, June 2016)

Also nominated: “Keller’s Fedora,” by Lawrence Block (LB
Productions e-book); “Stairway from Heaven,” by Åke Edwardson
(from Stockholm Noir, edited by Nathan Larson and Carl-Michael Edenborg; Akashic); “A Dangerous Cat,” by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (The Strand Magazine, February-May 2016); and “Archie on Loan,” by Dave Zeltserman (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, September-October 2016).

Congratulations to all of the nominees.

It’ll Be Easter in October

George Easter, the founder and editor/publisher of Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine, has been selected to receive the 2017 David Thompson Special Service Award. Taking its name from a former co-owner of Houston, Texas’ Murder by the Book (who died in 2010), this commendation recognizes “extraordinary efforts to develop and promote the crime-fiction field.” Easter, a resident of the Salt Lake City, Utah, area, will be given with his prize during this year’s Bouchercon, which is to be held in Toronto, Canada, in mid-October.

A news release from Bouchercon organizers explains that in addition to his 25 years of work on the magazine, Easter
conceived the Barry Awards (named after fan Barry Gardner) that are presented by Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine in various categories for excellence. George also presents the Don Sandstrom Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement in Mystery Fandom (named after fan Don Sandstrom).

George has served on the Bouchercon National Board, has attended every Bouchercon, except two, since 1991 in Pasadena, California, and volunteered to produce the Program Book for the 2000 Bouchercon in Denver, Colorado. He was also responsible for getting publishers to donate books to the Book Bazaar giveaway at last year’s Bouchercon in New Orleans.
Previous recipients of the David Thompson award include Marv Lachman, Otto Penzler, Bill and Toby Gottfried, and The Rap Sheet’s own British correspondent, Ali Karim.

(Hat tip to Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

“Other People’s Lives Are My Business”

If you haven’t already come across it, there’s an excellent piece about detective novelist Ross Macdonald available on the Web site of The New Republic magazine. Penned by Pulitzer Prize finalist Nicholas Dawidoff, and published in association with the release this month of The Ross Macdonald Collection—Library of America’s boxed set of 11 of Macdonald’s Lew Archer private eye novels—the article elegantly captures the character of the books’ protagonist:
Part of the thrill of the Archer books is Archer’s great gift for self-scrutiny, the way he can monitor his own internal fluctuations—“I was feeling sweaty and cynical”—in parallel to his penetrating assessments of others. Archer’s ambivalence about everything, most of all himself, makes his insight credible. His unattainable aspiration is to be a good man. “I keep trying, when I remember to,” he confesses in The Barbarous Coast, “but it keeps getting tougher every year. Like trying to chin yourself with one hand.” In 1958’s The Doomsters, the book Macdonald wrote after his only child, Linda, fell into serious trouble with the law, Archer sits in a cheap hotel room and feels a stab of pain and loss: “Perhaps the pain was for myself; the loss was of a self I had once imagined.” When thinking about crime and criminals, Archer never forgets that he, like Macdonald, is someone who could have gone either way in life. ...

Many of Archer’s cases involve someone missing—often a fiancée or a child—and loss is Macdonald’s great subject. ... As Archer digs into a present calamity, he must inevitably trace it through earlier generations of calamity. All the prodigal daughters, abandoned sons, and shipwrecked girls next door got that way for a reason. The wounded orphan Davy Spanner from
The Instant Enemy steals cars to go “grief riding,” and is cursed with a temper that, when it ignites, makes him imagine violent enemies everywhere. Young, neglected Sandy, in the same book, acts out because “by getting into trouble Sandy had converted herself into an unforgettable presence.” Archer turns up the worst that can happen in a childhood: There are rape victims, suicides, runaways, bulimics, a boy with “white scars down his back, hundreds of them, like fading cuneiform cuts.” When somebody remarks how hard it is to figure kids these days, Archer says, “It always was.”
Click here to read the whole of Dawidoff’s Macdonald critique.

“Five” Comes to the Fore

Heads up, all you Harlan Coben fans. From Variety:
Netflix subscribers in the U.S. and Canada [can] tune in to mystery-thriller Harlan Coben’s The Five after the streaming service scooped the North American rights to the series.

The series was produced and is set in the UK, where it went out on pay-TV service Sky. It marked bestselling author Coben’s move into TV, and follows a group of friends as they discover that the brother of one them, who vanished years earlier, may still be alive after his DNA turns up at a murder scene.
This suspenseful serial made its debut on Netflix last Friday. You can watch a video introduction to The Five here.

(Hat tip to B.V. Lawson’s In Reference to Murder.)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Seattle Losing a Major Attraction

Sadly, it appears that Seattle Mystery Bookshop, which has been a must-visit fixture in my hometown’s historic Pioneer Square district for the last 27 years, will be closing at the end of its business day on Saturday, September 30. Owner J.B. Dickey, who purchased the store from founder Bill Farley near the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency, blames a variety of factors—including giant book outlets that discounted their wares, the sale of cheaper e-books, the demise of first-edition-collector culture, and the Great Recession’s hurtful impact on Seattle’s downtown—for this sad turn. In a short piece posted on the shop’s Web site this morning, Dickey writes:
I’ve worked here almost since the day it was open for business. At first, I was here just one day a week, so that Bill could have a day off—which he used to do bookkeeping at home. I remember [the Farleys’] long dining room table, which was covered with pile after pile of paperwork. I don’t know where they ate dinner. Slowly, this place absorbed my life until my brain looked like Bill’s dining room table. In ’98, when he felt like stepping back from ownership, Bill offered to sell it to me but, happily, he kept working with us all. It has been a great honor to own the Seattle Mystery Bookshop since 1999. Sadly, that is now going to come to an end. …

At one time, when this shop was young, there were at least three dozen independent mystery bookshops around the globe. NYC had four. DC had three. Now there are but a handful. It isn’t just us. I am dead certain that none of those that closed wanted to, but, in the end, there was no choice.

We’re all heartbroken to close the shop. I personally feel as if I have failed Bill. But we all fought hard to keep it going
for years, but the sharp bottom line is people have not been buying enough books from us to keep it working for a long time. Time to say goodbye.

I want to thank all of those loyal customers who have been regulars over the years. It’s been a gas.

What happens next?
It’s a mystery.
It’s difficult to imagine my going to Pioneer Square without stopping by the Seattle Mystery Bookshop on Cherry Street. I can’t tell you how many of the volumes decorating the walls of my home and office were purchased at that small store, but there would be significant holes on my shelves had it not been for Bill Farley, J.B. Dickey, and their wonderful, knowledgeable crew. It was also at the Mystery Bookshop that I had the great pleasure just last year of meeting and talking with one of my all-time-favorite authors, Philip Kerr.

I always used to feel proud that Seattle could support a crime- and mystery-fiction retailer, when other major U.S. cities could not. I will soon lose those bragging rights. Don’t be surprised if you see me paying a call or two on the Seattle Mystery Bookshop before the end of this month. There’s still room on my shelves that needs filling.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Revue of Reviewers, 9-17-17

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

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Bringing Them a New Author

About a week and a half ago, The Rap Sheet declared the start of its latest book-giveaway competition. Up for grabs were four 1930s-set crime noir novels by Swedish author Martin Holmén—two copies each of Clinch (2016) and the new Down for the Count. Today we have our winners, selected entirely at random. They are:

Michael Carter of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Terry Zobeck of Herndon, Virginia
Susie Rothman of Westlake Village, California
Juri Nummelin of Turku, Finland

Publisher Pushkin Vertigo should send out those free paperback books this coming week. If you’re among the fortunate four recipients, keep a close eye on your mailbox. If you didn’t win … well, rest assured that we will be announcing another such giveaway soon.

Ready for Another Nordic Mystery?

Since Quicksand, by Swedish author Malin Persson Giolito (Other Press), is currently high on my tall, teetering, to-be-read stack, my eye caught this recent notice in Variety:
Netflix is stepping into the Swedish-language market with “Quicksand,” the streaming service’s first Swedish original series, to be penned by “The Bridge” writer Camilla Ahlgren.

The show is based on Malin Persson Giolito’s bestselling novel “Quicksand,” which has been published in 26 countries and was voted Nordic Crime Novel of the year in 2016. It centers on a high school student, Maja Norberg, who finds herself on trial for murder following a mass shooting at a prep school in Stockholm’s wealthiest suburb. When the events of that tragic day are revealed, so are the private details about her relationship with a boy and his dysfunctional family.
You can learn more by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Line Up Here for Free Books

Because I’m struggling to put the finishing touches on a longish freelance review project, this will have to be a light posting week here at The Rap Sheet. But I do want to remind readers that we’re in the midst of our latest book-giveaway contest. Up for grabs this time are two copies each of Swedish author Martin Holmén’s 1930s crime noir yarns: Clinch (2016) and the new Down for the Count, the latter of which Holmén wrote about recently on this page.

If you haven’t already entered this drawing, simply e-mail your name and postal address to Be sure to type “Martin Holmén Contest” in the subject line, and let us know if you already own either of the two Holmén books being offered. Entries will be accepted until midnight this coming Friday, September 15. The four winners will be chosen completely at random, and their names listed in this blog the following day.This competition is open to readers anywhere in North America or Europe.

You have only three more days to participate. Don’t miss out!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Story Behind the Story:
“Red Herring,” by Jonothan Cullinane

(Editor’s note: This is the 72nd installment in The Rap Sheet’s “Story Behind the Story” series. Today’s contribution comes New Zealand writer Jonothan Cullinane, whose 2016 historical crime yarn, Red Herring, is a finalist for a 2017 Ngaio Marsh Award in the Best Crime Novel category. Cullinane worked in the film and television industry in New Zealand for a quarter-century before finally publishing Red Herring. He writes below about the long, slow, and sometimes surprising process of becoming a published author.)

In 1971, when I was 29, I saw a terrific British movie called Gumshoe, directed by Stephen Frears and written by Neville Smith. Albert Finney plays a bingo caller and would-be stand-up comedian in a Liverpool workingmen’s club who claims to dream of “writing The Maltese Falcon, recording Blue Suede Shoes, and playing Las Vegas.” The Maltese Falcon rang a bell, so I got it out of the library, read it, and was hooked. I read all of Hammett and then Chandler, James M.Cain, Eric Ambler … Ruined for life.

A few years later I was living in San Francisco, where The Maltese Falcon was set. And a few years after that I was back in Auckland. There are steep streets in the old part of the city, around the High Court and the University, that are lined with lovely Art Deco and arts-and-crafts apartment buildings, and I thought the film version of The Maltese Falcon could well have been shot there. I was working as an assistant director in the film business then, and I started to think about writing a script that would use all the tropes of film noir, but would be set not in San Francisco or L.A., but in New Zealand. I thought Red Herring would be a good title.

In 1951, a noir year if ever there was one, there was a major waterfront dispute in New Zealand that saw the left-wing “watersiders” locked out, their union deregistered, and the ports run by soldiers and sailors for five bitter months. This was at the height of the Korean War, and the United States wanted to buy up the country’s entire wool clip for the manufacture of uniforms and blankets for their forces in Korea. Had the wool not been able to be shipped through the ports, then the Americans would have looked elsewhere, to Australia or South America. The chance for fortunes to be made would have been lost. Uncles of mine paid off their farms overnight. In 1950 they were driving Model A Fords—in 1951, Cadillacs.

I love the epigraph Mario Puzo uses at the beginning of The Godfather: “Behind every great fortune there is a crime.” In the case of Red Herring, based on that ’51 lockout, I decided wool would be the source of the fortune. The crime would be doing whatever it took to ensure that the wool was exported. But who are the criminals? New Zealand didn’t have much in the way of a criminal class back then. While I was pondering this aspect, a writer named Dean Parker published an article in a local magazine called The Black Prince about a prominent 20th-century New Zealand union figure, Finton Patrick Walsh.

I had heard of Walsh in the same way I had heard of The Maltese Falcon a few years earlier—that is to say, vaguely. But Parker’s article brought him to life. Walsh had shipped out to San Francisco before the First World War, following the shooting of a “scab” during a miners’ strike, and become an enforcer for the Wobblies in Montana. He may have killed a Pinkerton detective in Idaho, then went to Ireland in 1920 for a few months, and did something there that was never fully explained, but which necessitated his return to New Zealand under a new name. He founded the Communist Party of New Zealand in 1921; moved steadily to the political right; and amassed a fortune by New Zealand standards, in a manner never quite understood.

Walsh took a very strong position against the waterfront unions in 1951 and advised the government on their destruction. So he was my villain. I made the hero—Johnny Molloy—a disillusioned former member of the Communist Party, and a veteran of the Spanish Civil War and New Zealand’s campaigns in Greece and Crete and Italy during World War II. The other characters in my story, including a feisty reporter and an ex-IRA gunman, fell into place after that. The script, unfortunately, did not. But I always thought its bones were good, so I stuck it in a drawer and hoped I’d get to it eventually.

About 10 years ago I wrote and directed a feature film called We’re Here to Help, a true story about a Christchurch businessman named Dave Henderson, who had a titanic run-in with the Inland Revenue Department. An IRD officer made a crass and upsetting remark to one of Henderson’s employees about the length of her skirt. Henderson went into the IRD office and publicly threatened to “kick [the officer’s] fat arse from one end of Cashell Street to the other” if he spoke to one of his people like that again. A couple of weeks later, Dave received an audit notice from the department, the first of dozens, and within two years he was bankrupted and had lost everything. But he got back on his feet and ended up buying the downtown building in which the IRD had its offices—and renaming it Henderson House.*

Regrettably, the world lacked imagination enough for a drama with comedic overtones about the Inland Revenue Department, and the film bombed, its death knell being a review in the New Zealand Herald which described it as “dull, lifeless, otherwise solid.”† The New Zealand film industry isn’t very big, and my project’s failure rendered me unemployable. I stared at the wall for a few months, made a serious but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to get back to off-shore oil rigs—something I’d done in the 1970s and loved—and then got a job as a postman (something I’d done in the 1980s and loved). And I decided to dust off the script for Red Herring and see if I could turn it into a novel.

(Right) Author Jonothan Cullinane

It wasn’t the first time I had attempted such an exercise, but I was never able to get beyond a page or two. Although I’d always been a big reader, I had never given any thought to how novels are written—to the craft of writing. At a friend’s suggestion, I enrolled in a creative-writing course at the University of Auckland. I was skeptical. I thought that such courses were a con. How can you teach someone to write? In a year? And in an academic year at that, which is only about three months. My friend, a playwright named Stuart Hoar, who was a supervisor on the course, said, “I don’t know! But what I do know is that by the end of the year everyone in the class will have the equivalent of a 50,000-word first draft in whatever area they’re working.” And that was the case. The two things I got out of the course in particular were discipline—everyone else was turning in work each week, so why shouldn’t I?—and an understanding of that adage, “the perfect is the enemy of the good”—word count is what matters, work on its majesty later.

At some point in the year we had a visit from an executive at publisher Random House, who said that it was a very difficult time for New Zealand fiction and that essentially, unless we were able to weave recipes or gardening advice into our plots, we would be lucky to find a publisher. I found this liberating. It removed a lot of the pressure and made the writing pure enjoyment. I was writing the novel I wanted to read, which is what any how-to-write book will tell you. When I finished, I looked into self-publishing about 50 copies and selling them to friends and family, or giving them away as presents. Of course I secretly imagined some publisher picking it up by accident, quickly seeing it as a work of staggering genius … and six months later I’d be bashfully accepting the Man Booker.

I went to a talk by the retired publisher at Penguin New Zealand, Geoff Walker, who was giving informal advice about self-publishing.

He read Red Herring, liked it, and showed it to Finlay MacDonald at HarperCollins, who also liked it and made me an offer to publish.

Simple as that.

Still can’t believe it.

* Henderson is a very funny man. He was once accused by an MP, under privilege, of running the sex industry in Christchurch (a masseur had rented a space in an office building he owned). He said, “Running the sex industry in Christchurch? I’m too busy to run the sex industry in my own home.” On another occasion, he was defending himself in a libel action brought by an officer of the IRD. It was his turn to cross-examine the officer. He said, “May I remind the witness he is under oath?” The witness said,” I understand that.” Henderson said, “Do you dye your hair?”

† The writer of the review was one Russell Bailey. I was later looking for a name for a minor character in Red Herring, a corrupt and feckless policeman, and “Russell Bailey” just popped into my head. Pathetic, I know.

* * *

This essay is part of a month-long, worldwide blog tour booked by Ngaio Marsh Awards organizer Craig Sisterson to celebrate this year’s contenders for those prizes. The tour began in Liz Loves Books and will continue through October 1; The Rap Sheet is its 10th stop. Follow the day-to-day progress of this venture on Facebook or on Twitter. A list of participating blogs is below. Click it for an enlargement.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Thornton Collects His Due

Congratulations to Brian Thornton! The Seattle-area teacher and short-fiction author (Paper Son), who also serves as president of the Northwest Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, will be presented this evening, September 9, with the Willo Award, described as “the Pacific Northwest’s own special recognition prize given to those individuals whose writing and contributions to the Northwest mystery community are exemplary.” The Willo is named in memory of Willo Davis Roberts, a Granite Falls, Washington, resident and Edgar Award-winning author who passed away in 2004.

“[F]ew can claim to have done more to advance the cause of mystery writers in the Northwest than Brian,” reads a notice from the MWA—Northwest Chapter. “As a longtime Board Member and President of this organization, Brian has seen us through better than a decade of ups and downs in the industry, scores of meetings and seminars, events both happy and sad, and a great growth in our numbers and our achievements. He has personally fostered the career growth of quite a few of his fellow mystery writers, and has led us with skill, enthusiasm, and an infectious smile.”

Thornton will receive his Willo Award during a ceremony tonight, held from 6 to 8 p.m. at Angelo’s Ristorante in Burien, a southern suburb of Seattle. There is no admission charge for MWA members; non-members will pay a mere $10. Click here for directions to Angelo’s.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Mina Scores the McIlvanney

Glasgow author-playwright Denise Mina has won the 2017 McIlvanney Prize for her 13th and latest novel, this year’s The Long Drop (Random House UK). The announcement was made earlier tonight during opening festivities at the Bloody Scotland conference being held in Stirling (September 8-10). Expressing the judges’ enthusiasm for Mina’s standalone period thriller, judging chair Lee Randall said: “Full of astute psychological observations, this novel’s not only about what happened in the 1950s, but about storytelling itself. It shows how legends grow wings, and how memories shape-shift and mark us. For my money this is one of the books of 2017—in any genre.”

The McIlvanney Prize was formerly known as the Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award, but was rechristened last year in honor of the late author William McIlvanney (Laidlaw). To score the 2017 award, The Long Drop had to beat out four other finalists: Out of Bounds, by Val McDermid (Little, Brown); Murderabilia, by Craig Robertson (Simon & Schuster); The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid, by Craig Russell (Quercus); and How to Kill Friends and Implicate People, by Jay Stringer (Thomas & Mercer).

In 2016, Mina’s fellow Glaswegian, Chris Brookmyre, picked up the inaugural McIlvanney Prize for his novel Black Widow.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

A Second Shot at “Confidential”

Los Angeles writer Jordan Harper seems to have become quite a hot property. His gritty, fast-moving crime novel She Rides Shotgun (Ecco), released in June, has won a great deal of critical praise, and now Deadline Hollywood reports that Harper—who has previously scripted episodes of The Mentalist and Gotham—is working on a small-screen adaptation of James Ellroy’s 1990 crime novel, L.A. Confidential:
L.A. Confidential follows three homicide detectives, a female reporter, and a Hollywood actress whose paths intersect as the detectives pursue a sadistic serial killer through the seedy underbelly of glamorous 1950s Los Angeles. Harper executive produces with Milchan [who was among the producers of the 1997 film based on that same Ellroy yarn].

The project hails from the TV venture New Regency forged with Lionsgate, designed to mine New Regency’s library. With the project landing at CBS, sibling CBS TV Studios has come on board to co-produce.
This, of course, isn’t the first time Hollywood has sought to turn L.A. Confidential into a TV series. You may recall that back in 2003, a pilot was shot starring Kiefer Sutherland, Josh Hopkins, Melissa George, and Eric Roberts, but failed to spawn a weekly broadcast. (Watch the entirety of that pilot below.) Harper’s version currently shows more promise ... but things can always go wrong in television.

READ MORE: “Lost Pilots #2: L.A . Confidential: The Series” (The Soothsayer Review Archive).

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Tierney’s Time Had Come

I just read in Mystery Fanfare that Ronald Tierney, a mystery novelist recently relocated from San Francisco to Palm Springs, passed away on September 2 at age 72. His death is blamed on what one friend describes as “a great battle with cancer for multiple years.”

Ron was most generous with me and supportive of my blogging efforts. He sent his books my way, made comments about the things I wrote in The Rap Sheet, and backed me up on those occasions when my condemnations of Donald Trump on Facebook attracted the wrath of fire-breathing right-wingers. Ron penned two pieces for The Rap Sheet over the years—a “forgotten books” post about Diva, by the pseudonymous Delacorta; and an article about his own 2011 novella, Mascara. By inadequate way of exchange, I included his 2015 Deets Shanahan novel, Killing Frost, in a piece about gumshoe fiction I contributed to the Kirkus Reviews Web site.

Below is Mystery Fanfare’s brief recap of the author’s life:
Ronald Tierney's The Stone Veil [1990] introduced semi-retired, Indianapolis-based private investigator “Deets” Shanahan and the love of his life, Maureen. The book was a finalist in St. Martin Press’ “Best First Private Eye Novel” competition, and [was] nominated for the Private Eye Writers of America’s Shamus Award for “Best First Novel.” Killing Frost is the eleventh in the highly regarded series Booklist said was “packed with new angles and delights.” San Francisco is the setting for his lighter series the Library Journal calls a “winner.” The four [Carly] Paladino/[Noah] Lang books feature an eclectic collection of investigators in the equally eclectic neighborhoods of one of the world’s most exciting cities. Good to the Last Kiss [2011] is a dark mystery that captures the insane world a serial killer creates.

Ron Tierney was founding editor of
NUVO Newsweekly, an Indianapolis alternative newspaper, and the editor of a San Francisco monthly. After living 25 years in the “City by the Bay,” he moved to Palm Springs, where he was working on several writing projects.
Also worth reading is Ron’s Web site biography page.

Like the late blogger Randy Johnson, Ronald Tierney was someone I never actually had occasion to meet, but who I came to know and like through our electronic correspondence and because of our mutual interest in the delights of crime and mystery fiction. My world—and I’m sure that of others—is poorer for his departure from it.

Free Books, Anyone?

It’s been more than a little while since The Rap Sheet organized its last book-giveaway competition (sorry about that). So we asked the generous folks at publisher Pushkin Vertigo to supply us with two copies each of Swedish author Martin Holmén’s 1930s crime noir yarns: Clinch (2016) and the new Down for the Count, the latter of which Holmén wrote about yesterday on this page. Now we just have to dispense those novels to lucky Rap Sheet followers.

To be entered in the drawing for one of these fine freebies, all you need do is e-mail your name and postal address to Be sure to type “Martin Holmén Contest” in the subject line, and let us know whether you already own one of the two Holmén books we have on offer. Entries will be accepted between now and midnight next Friday, September 15. The four winners will be chosen completely at random, and their names listed in this blog the following day.

This contest is open to readers anywhere in North America or Europe.

Time’s a-wastin’, people. Get your entries in right away!

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Fitting Into Sweden’s Gay Past

(Editor’s note: Today marks the official U.S. release of Down for the Count, by Swedish teacher-turned-author Martin Holmén. It’s the second of his 1930s crime noir yarns starring Harry Kvist, “a former sailor and rogue boxer with a significant weakness for schnapps and young men” (to quote Thriller Books Journal); last year’s much-acclaimed Clinch introduced Kvist, and the concluding entry in this trilogy, Slugger, is set to appear in 2018. The Stockholm of Holmén’s novels is not the neatly ordered, generally peaceful Swedish capital we know nowadays, but rather a place where Nazis roamed the streets, spreading their vile bigotry; bootleggers and whores conducted a busy, if dishonest, trade; and the poor froze to death during winter months. Kvist, being a bisexual male with a bad rep and more dust than dough in his pockets, doesn’t have an easy time of it there. But his struggles make him an intriguing protagonist. Below, Holmén explains why he made Kvist’s sexuality an issue in his books, and how he went about researching Stockholm’s LGBT history.)

In the summer of 1897 two military police were patrolling Gärdet—back then a green area on the outskirts of Stockholm—when they caught two men, literally with their pants down. When asked what they were doing, the first one answered, ”What’s it to you?” and the other one replied, ”We’re about to fuck.”

Lars and Frans were two typical working-class men. They had both moved from the countryside to the Swedish capital where they had tried to survive doing various menial jobs. What is unusual about them is their attitude upon arrest and the details of the subsequent police report which, among other things, show that the couple had been living together as lovers for more than 10 years. They were both sentenced to a few months in Långholmen jail.

My anti-hero, Harry Kvist, has also been in and out of Stockholm’s maximum-security prison, and the second entry in my Stockholm Trilogy, Down for the Count (Pushkin Vertigo), starts when he is being released in November 1935 after 18 months behind bars. Behind him, he leaves his lover, but the young man in question will also be released in seven days, and Harry can’t help but dream of their future together. All he has to do is stay out of trouble for one week. However, he quickly discovers that one of his few friends, laundry owner Beda Johansson, has been murdered. In the first installment of the trilogy, Clinch, Harry promised Beda that he would look after her deaf-mute son if anything ever happened to her. And Harry is a man of his word:
“You can’t get away from a promise,” I remind myself. “It’s always honour and glory all the bloody way, but when you think about it, those are the only things the poor have.”
Harry goes on to investigate Beda’s slaying, and finds evidence of a cover-up and a trail of guilt leading to the highest echelons of Swedish society. It’s clear he will have to face his most powerful enemies so far. Will he solve the crime, honor his promise, and avenge his friend, all within one week? The countdown has begun.

When I started out writing Nordic Noir I was trying to create a flawed anti-hero with some form of weakness. It feels odd to call homo- or bisexuality a weakness today, but back in the 1930s it really was considered as such. Forbidden by law, ”homosexual conduct, crime against nature” was punishable with steep fines or imprisonment, and with industrialization and urbanization, working-class men were prosecuted for homosexuality as never before. One can only speculate about the reasons for this, but many historians believe there were several methods employed to “discipline” this new social group—and perhaps incarceration was one of the strategies used. What we do know is that the working classes are highly over-represented in the statistics on this matter, and imprisonment usually meant that you lost your job as well. In a system with no social security, this must have been devastating.

Noir often employs a “falling from grace” motif, and if you were publicly scandalized, as Harry was at the peak of his boxing career, you fell hard. Stockholm was quite a small town back then and gossip must have stuck. The state-sanctioned stigma pushed people like Harry to the margins; thus, in Down for the Count he is left with no choice but to do what he does best: use his fists, now in the debt-collecting business, and operate in a juridical gray zone filled with pickpockets, prostitutes, and petty thieves.

The story of Lars and Frans (left to right) gave Holmén a starting point from which to research Stockholm’s LGBT past.

When I began my research I found that sources regarding gay working-class men were extremely scarce. Of course, these men lacked a voice of their own, so there really was nothing to go on but police reports, and they didn’t give away much—except for the story of Lars and Frans. In the upper classes, homosexuality was more or less accepted, and Sweden being a class-bound and segregated society, men from that group were hardly ever caught. For instance, in the public baths men in the first-class section could meet without trouble, but there was a police officer in full uniform guarding the men in the third-class sauna.

I immediately understood that here was a story to be told, and the lack of sources actually gave me a lot of creative freedom. I wanted to see what happened if I were to write about a very butch homosexual bloke, challenging the usual stereotype of gay men in entertainment as being slightly effeminate.

I look upon The Stockholm Trilogy as being an overall queer project. “Queer” is often used as an umbrella term for a sexual minority, which certainly fits Harry. But it was originally a term used to describe something strange or contradictory, and Harry sure is somewhat paradoxical—but that is how you make your characters come alive. I wanted this ambivalence to permeate everything in my books, from my style of writing, going high and low like a good boxer, to the experience of reading them. Everyone should dislike something about my books. In the end that is what quality literature is all about—you should never get too comfortable.

People from a sexual minority, or the perceived “wrong” class or gender could certainly not get comfortable in the early 1900s. We don’t know much about what happened to Lars and Frans after they left prison. One can only hope that they were reunited and could continue where they left off, loving and fucking each other. In the end, that’s what’s it all about.

Scanning the Web

• As part of its 2017 “Classics in September” celebration, Crime Fiction Lover has posted this terrific piece, by Jeremy Megraw, revisiting Raymond Chandler’s first Philip Marlowe yarn, The Big Sleep. “Although forged from Black Mask’s tough-guy mold,” Megraw observes, “Chandler’s Marlowe is a far cry from Hammett’s iconic blond satan, Sam Spade, who wades indifferently through the mean streets of crime and carnage. Marlowe is tempered by distinct morals. In the steamy, corrupt heart of 1930s Los Angeles, he is a shining knight striving to do the right thing. He is synonymous with the dark sensibility that thrived in Black Mask and was canonized forever in the popular imagination by Humphrey Bogart on film, but Marlowe is a bit more evolved. The contemplative dick plays chess, listens to classical music, and is comfortable with his feminine side. A fastidious dresser, Marlowe’s discerning eye extends to fashion, architecture, and interior design. He is the very model of the metrosexual detective—ahead of his time—in the burgeoning urban sprawl of L.A.” Click here to read the other entries in Crime Fiction Lover’s extensive series.

• Ngaio Marsh Awards organizer Craig Sisterson has launched a month-long blog tour to celebrate this year’s contenders for those prizes. The tour began in Liz Loves Books, with The Rap Sheet scheduled to take part this coming Sunday, September 10. Follow the day-to-day progress of the venture on Facebook or on Twitter.

• The September edition of Mike Ripley’s “Getting Away with Murder” column is currently available for your consideration.

• In her latest podcast, Speaking of Mystery’s Nancie Clare interviews Sheena Kamal, author of the debut crime novel, The Lost Ones.

• I didn’t even know there was an interesting story behind the wristwatch James Garner wore on The Rockford Files. But a blog called Calibre 11 brings it directly to us.

• To accompany today’s release of Legacy of Spies (Viking), the latest entry in John le Carré’s George Smiley series, David Cranmer has put together an excellent primer covering that fictional master espionage agent’s eight previous adventures.

• Since we’re on the subject, let me also point you toward Terry Gross’ fascinating interview with the 85-year-old le Carré, conducted for her National Public Radio show, Fresh Air.

• The Spy Command picks up on a rumor, spread by Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, that the next James Bond film “may rework the plot of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).” “‘Bond quits the secret service, and he’s in love and gets married,’ Page Six said. ‘The [Hollywood] source continues that “his wife then gets killed,” bringing Bond back into action.’” In a subsequent post, The Spy Command muses over whether remaking OHMSS might actually be a good idea.

• People like me, who are way behind in their reading of Georges Simenon’s extensive literary oeuvre, really ought to take note of Spanish blogger José Ignacio Escribano’s regular efforts to review that French author’s Inspector Maigret novels.

• With the sixth and final season of Longmire set to be released on Netflix this month, actor Lou Diamond Phillips—who plays Henry Standing Bear on the show—gives Cowboys & Indians a slight preview of what viewers should expect from the season’s 10 episodes.

• Meanwhile, it has been announced that cable-TV network HBO wants a third season of its oft-praised but uneven crime drama, True Detective, with Mahershala Ali (House of Cards) starring as Wayne Hays, “a detective from northwest Arkansas.” TV Insider reports: “Series creator Nic Pizzolatto is helming the new season and has written all the episodes for Season 3 except for the fourth episode which he co-wrote with David Milch (Deadwood, NYPD Blue) … The next entry in the anthology series ‘tells the story of a macabre crime in the heart of the Ozarks, and a mystery that deepens over decades and plays out in three separate time periods.’”

• Amazing! A month after I questioned the methodology employed by aggregator Feedspot in developing its “best blogs” lists, I find that The Rap Sheet has suddenly been added to that site’s catalogue of the “Top 50 Mystery Blogs and Websites for Mystery Lovers and Authors.” You’ll find it in the No. 16 position, behind author Joanna Fluke’s blog, but just ahead of Reviewing the Evidence. At least this time, Feedspot correctly states that The Rap Sheet produces “about 5 posts per week,” which is better than can be said for the site’s previous Rap Sheet mention, in its “Top 50 Crime Novel Blogs” tally, which suggested our frequency was about “about 1 posts [sic] per week.”

Variations on a Theme: Trailer, Parked

A Nasty Piece of Work, by Robert Littell (Thomas Dunne, 2013); Double Wide, by Leo W. Banks (Brash, 2017).

Friday, September 01, 2017

Vetted and Fêted in Aussieland

Thanks to the blog Fair Dinkum Crime, we can now bring you the recipients of the 2017 Ned Kelly Awards, presented by the Australian Crime Writers Association (ACWA). They are:

Best Fiction: Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly, by Adrian McKinty (Serpent’s Tail)

Also nominated: An Isolated Incident, by Emily Maquire (Picador); Crimson Lake, by Candice Fox (Bantam); Out of the Ice, by Ann Turner (Simon & Schuster); The Golden Child, by Wendy James (Commercial Women’s Fiction); and The Rules of Backyard Cricket,
by Jock Serong (Text)

Best First Fiction: The Dry, by Jane Harper (Pan)

Also nominated: Burn Patterns, by Ron Elliott (Fremantle Press); Goodwood, by Holly Throsby (Allen & Unwin); Only Daughter, by Anna Snoekstra (Harlequin); Something for Nothing, by Andy Muir (Affirm Press); and The Love of a Bad Man, by Laura Elizabeth Woollett (Scribe)

True Crime: Tie — Getting Away with Murder, by Duncan McNab (Vintage); and The Drowned Man, by Brendan James Murray (Echo)

Also nominated: Code of Silence, by Colin Dillon with Tom Gilling (Allen & Unwin); Denny Day, by Terry Smyth (Ebury); Roger Rogerson, by Duncan McNab (Hachette Australia); and Murder at Myall Creek, by Mark Tedeschi (Simon & Schuster)

The winners of this year’s Neddies, as these Down Under commendations have been nicknamed, were declared during an event held earlier today in Melbourne, Australia.

During that same occasion, the ACWA—in partnership with the crime-fiction Web site Kill Your Darlings—declared that Louise Bassett has captured this year’s S.D. Harvey Short Story Award for her tale “Rules to Live By.” Also contending for the Harvey (which honors the late Sydney journalist/TV producer Sandra Harvey) were: “The Ridge,” by Katherine Kovacic; “The Enthusiastic Amateur,” by Melanie Myers; “Shafted,” by Roni O’Brien; “Flesh,” by Stephen Samuel; and “How to Cease Being a Man Killer,” by Roger Vickery.

Congratulations to all of the winners and other nominees!

The Book You Have to Read:
“The Sweet Ride,” by William Murray

(Editor’s note: This is the 150th installment in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books.)

By Steven Nester
William Murray’s The Sweet Ride (1967) is a demur unbosoming of red-hot youth living on the mean streets of Malibu, California, and the seedy fringes of Hollywood. It might flirt with being a lurid exposé, yet it never actually leaps that line, because The Sweet Ride wasn’t written for the peer group it depicts—surfer dudes, struggling hep-cat musicians, and actors; nor was its target the wistful closet-rebel children of the silent majority who aspired to walk among them. The Sweet Ride is more in line with the tastes of the little old lady from Pasadena who has been searching for titillation without having to, you know, get naked. Murray, a veteran writer for The New Yorker, knows his audience and how to keep the subject matter safe yet tantalizing. This, however, doesn’t enervate the book’s intermittent grit, its jabs of realism, and its superior prose.

The narrator is Collie Ransom, a 35-year old tennis coach and hustler whose prowess in the beds of his students’ mothers is as robust as his scoring on the court. Well-meaning and honest to a point, Collie has little direction, and he could’ve been the man Holden Caulfield grew up to become if J.D. Salinger’s character had followed his big brother to Hollywood in The Catcher in the Rye. Along with Mousie Goodman, a porn actress; Choo Choo Smith, a jazz pianist; and Denny Maguire, the squeaky-clean surfer, Collie shares a house in Malibu, a place where it “sings of sin and surf and sand.” The serpent in this paradise is unwittingly introduced by Victoria “Vickie” Crawford, a beautiful young actress who falls for Denny, and he for her.

Denny is what you’d call a real sweetheart. A champion surfer and self-effacing, he’s “guileless … all there, on the surface of life,” as Collie observes. Vickie is seduced by his “innocence,” but an abortion, an evil stepmother, and her daddy’s wealth and social position boil beneath the surface and give her a depth and complexity Denny can scarcely fathom. When Vickie focuses on her route to stardom in the dirty and shallow business of Hollywood, she begins to see less of Denny, and he has difficulty coming to terms with that change.

Because Denny has worked as an extra in beach movies, Vickie attempts to take their relationship to another level by arranging for him to act in an episode in her new television series. Once inside the studio gates, though, he rails against the hypocrisy of the system while in the company of Brady Caswell, Vickie’s boss, lover—and tormentor. Denny and Vickie break up, and when she is subsequently discovered dumped on the Pacific Coast Highway—having been raped and beaten—Denny takes deadly action against the Tinseltown hyenas who’ve torn apart this couple’s puppy love.

The near-murder of Vickie occurs at the beginning of The Sweet Ride and gives author Murray the opportunity to stoke and tease readers’ anticipation by leading them, detail upon detail, through the events that resulted in that tragedy. Enhancing the narration are Murray’s soliloquies, and he shines during the several brief passages of interior monologue that run through Collie’s head as the tennis coach processes his thoughts on the various occurrences around him.

A perusal of Murray’s curriculum vitae reveals that besides earning his daily bread on the staff of The New Yorker (he wrote the “Letter from Italy” column for many years), his output was prodigious and diverse. He penned nine entries in a mystery-fiction series starring professional magician and racetrack enthusiast Shifty Lou Anderson (beginning with 1984’s Tip on a Dead Crab), as well as books on horse racing and another on opera (he aspired early on to become an opera singer himself). Murray also wrote a memoir titled Janet, My Mother, and Me (2000), which details his mother’s love affair with prolific New Yorker writer Janet Flanner.

Of this author’s writing style, it might be said that while you can take the boy out of The New Yorker, you can’t take The New Yorker out of the boy. At times the dialogue (“We’re cool, always cool, man”) and descriptions (“appurtenances of femininity”) sound as if William Shawn, that magazine’s stodgy but exacting editor, was breathing down Murray’s neck as he typed. The ending of the novel skirts any irony of reality, and Murray seems not to trust the voice and insight of Collie as narrator to bring this tale to a proper conclusion. Instead, a Greek chorus of voices (Vickie’s stepmother, Choo Choo, et. al.) take turns delivering their closing statements about the events at hand, which draws the drama away from those who were actually involved in it.

(Left) Jacqueline Bisset and Michael Sarrazin in the 1968 film version.

Murray might’ve been slumming in writing a book that capitalized on the youth movement, but his plotting is like clockwork, and the book provides an excellent example of how to let the cat out of the bag at the beginning, then backtrack to develop plot and characterization that show how and why things turned out as they did. Readers who can’t stomach or believe how genteel and formal prose can capture Southern California on the down-low in the late 1960s, can always turn instead to the 1968 movie adaptation of this story, starring Jacqueline Bisset as Vickie, Michael Sarrazin as Denny, and Tony Franciosa (not yet familiar for his role on The Name of the Game) as Collie. What’s worth the price of admission here is Bob Denver, of Gilligan’s Island fame, moving and grooving as the hipster musician Choo Choo.

The Sweet Ride is a Model T sheathed in the body of a Corvette. It might not be very fast, but it’s dependable.