Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Was There Sufficient Planning Here?

Like most people who had the privilege of sending in nominations for this year’s Anthony Awards--which are to be given out in early October during the Raleigh, North Carolina, Bouchercon--I was curious to see which authors and works had actually gathered enough support to make it onto the ballot. (All of the many folks who attended Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach or have registered for the Raleigh event were eligible to participate in this selection process.) A few of my favorites have earned finalist distinction, among them Laura Lippman’s After I’m Gone and Ben H. Winters’ World of Trouble. I was surprised not to also see editor Otto Penzler’s The Best American Mystery Stories of the 19th Century earn a spot in the Best Anthology or Collection category, but hey, you can’t have everything, right?

And then we come to the Best Critical or Non-fiction Work category. It features four books … and a single blog: Dru’s Book Musings, which is penned by a woman named Dru Ann Love. I confess that until earlier today, I hadn’t heard of Dru’s Book Musings, but it is a fairly active book review site with a history dating back at least to July 2008.

I remember when the Bouchercon folks first announced, in late February, that they were e-mailing around Anthony Award ballots. There was some discussion online (in Facebook and elsewhere) about this year’s unusual wording of the requirements for entries in the Best Critical or Non-fiction Work category:
4. Please list up to 5 books in the Best Critical or Non-fiction Book or Body of Work Category in no particular order. This may include any non-fiction work in the mystery genre, along with any body of work not necessarily combined in a single bound volume, such as book reviews, newspaper columns, etc.
That introduction left open the possibility that someone could be nominated in what is usually thought of as a books category, for having produced something other than a book. Maybe a series of author interviews in a print periodical. Or even a blog or Web site. Since the proliferation of crime- and mystery-fiction sites on the Internet, there have been intervallic efforts to honor them with a separate Anthony Award, and such commendations were dispensed at the 2010 Bouchercon in San Francisco and the 2011 convention in St. Louis (on both occasions, won by the online resource Stop, You’re Killing Me!). But in more recent years, the idea seems to have died away.

Now, though, a back door seems to have been thrown open, allowing such endeavors to compete for their share of Anthonys.

Shortly after the 2015 award ballots started going out, I dashed off an e-note to Bouchercon board member-at-large John Purcell, asking whether such an expansion of the category of Best Critical or Non-fiction Work had been intentional. His response:
Technically it just says in the [Bouchercon] Standing Rules that we have to give the Award in at least 5 categories, one of which is for “Best Critical Non-fiction Work.” It doesn’t define what that is, but it also doesn’t use the word “book.” In discussion with a Board member when I was preparing this [ballot], he pointed out that a body of work, like newspaper columns or reviews, or something similar, could be considered for the award, as long as it was mystery/crime fiction related, it’s critical in scope, and it was published in 2014.

We’ve had awards in the past for Web sites and blogs, but I think if this is properly considered, we’re looking at the writing, and not the space the writing occurs in, if that makes sense. A body of critical non-fiction doesn’t have to be bound between the covers of a book.

This is kind of new, but I thought I’d write it up to encompass that type of work. In the past there seemed to be far less contenders, limited to published books, and maybe this will open that up a bit. But I don’t want to exclude serious critical books either.

Hope I didn’t stick my neck on the chopping block …
Well, John, you probably don’t have to worry that you’ll lose your head over this matter, but the case could certainly be made that Bouchercon 2015 organizers didn’t do enough to make clear that this category of Anthony Award nominees had been altered in a significant fashion. Had such an explanation been delivered, had Bouchercon-goers been explicitly invited to nominate blogs or other Web pages, Dru’s Book Musings might not be the only such site appearing under the heading of Best Critical or Non-fiction Work this year.

We’ll have to wait until October to see how all of this shakes out.

In Line for the Anthonys

Organizers of Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina, today broadcast the list of nominees for this year’s Anthony Awards. There are a number of easily anticipated contenders, along with a few out-of-left-field choices. The winners will be determined by a vote of Bouchercon attendees, and then announced during a ceremony at the conference on Saturday, October 10.

Best Novel:
Lamentation, by Joe Clifford (Oceanview)
The Secret Place, by Tana French (Viking)
After I’m Gone, by Laura Lippman (Morrow)
The Long Way Home, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
Truth Be Told, by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge)

Best First Novel:
Blessed Are the Dead, by Kristi Belcamino (Witness Impulse)
Ice Shear, by M.P. Cooley (Morrow)
Invisible City, by Julia Dahl (Minotaur)
The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskens (Seventh Street)
The Black Hour, by Lori Rader-Day (Seventh Street)

Best Paperback Original:
Stay with Me, by Alison Gaylin (Harper)
The Killer Next Door, by Alex Marwood (Penguin)
The Day She Die, by Catriona McPherson (Midnight Ink)
World of Trouble, by Ben H. Winters (Quirk)
No Stone Unturned, by James W. Ziskin (Seventh Street)

Best Critical or Non-fiction Work:
The Figure of the Detective: A Literary History and Analysis, by Charles Brownson (McFarland)
Death Dealer: How Cops and Cadaver Dogs Brought a Killer to Justice, by Kate Clark Flora (New Horizon)
Dru’s Book Musings, by Dru Ann Love
Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe, by J.W. Ocker (Countryman)
Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer’s Journey, edited by Hank Phillippi Ryan  (Henery Press)

Best Short Story:
“Honeymoon Sweet,” by Craig Faustus Buck (from Murder at the Beach: The Bouchercon Anthology 2014; Down & Out)
“The Shadow Knows,” by Barb Goffman (from Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, edited by Barb Goffman and Marcia Talley; Wildside Press)
“Howling at the Moon,” by Paul D. Marks (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], November 2014)
“Of Dogs & Deceit,” by John Shepphird (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, November 2014)
“The Odds Are Against Us,” by Art Taylor (EQMM, November 2014)

Best Anthology or Collection:
FaceOff, edited by David Baldacci (Simon & Schuster)
Murder at the Beach: The Bouchercon Anthology 2014, edited by Dana Cameron (Down & Out)
Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen, edited by Joe Clifford (Gutter)
In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon, edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger (Pegasus)
Carolina Crimes: Nineteen Tales of Lust, Love, and Longing, edited by Karen Pullen; Wildside Press)

Congratulations to all of the nominees!

In addition, North Carolina author Margaret Maron will be presented with the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Campion’s Humorous New Champion

(Editor’s note: The following short review comes from “Michael Gregorio,” a byline behind which hides the husband-and-wife writing team of Daniela De Gregorio and Michael G. Jacob. After penning four historical mysteries featuring early 19th-century Prussian magistrate-cum-detective Hanno Stiffeniis, including 2010’s Unholy Awakening, the pair most recently published Cry Wolf, the opening entry in a new crime series set in Italy’s Umbria region.)

Margery Allingham, one of the queens of the “Golden Age” of British detective stories, died in 1966. Her husband of almost four decades, Philip Youngman Carter, took up the baton for a few years after that, composing fiction starring his wife’s “gentleman sleuth,” Albert Campion, and writing under her name, but then he, too, passed away in 1969. Allingham fans were left in the lurch, so to speak, until author author-critic Mike Ripley stepped bravely into the breach more than 40 years later, having been invited to compose Mr. Campion’s Farewell from notes that Youngman Carter left to the Margery Allingham Society, the members of which were desperate to read more.

No one could have been better suited for the job.

Ripley, better known to his fans as “The Ripster” (the nickname with which he signs each edition of “Getting Away with Murder,” his monthly Shots column), is a truly entertaining writer. Rap Sheet contributor Jim Napier included Mr. Campion’s Farewell among his favorite mystery novels of 2014, describing it as “a delightful, timeless tale.” The new Mr. Campion’s Fox (Severn House), the latest installment in what promises to be a sparkling continuation of Margery Allingham’s series, takes the Ripster one step further into her bygone literary world, producing a classic-style detective yarn that’s exquisitely faithful to the original design, but also great fun to read.

Set for the most part in a tiny village on the Suffolk coast of England, with occasional trips into London’s sometimes seedy Soho district, this novel is peopled by a rich and varied cast of characters straight out of the 1960s. There’s the Misses Mister, for example, two eccentric spinster sisters who own the local brewery, and the lugubrious Mr. Lugg, the beadle, who plunges readers into the mystery involving the disappearance of Vibeke, a Danish au pair girl, and the death of her boyfriend, Frank Tate. Murders there are in these pages, and they can be violent. However, they never overstep the limits of taste established by Margery Allingham and her fellow Golden Age authors--Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers, and their like.

A tight and lively plot is generously seasoned with sardonic quips and humor, as those who have read any of Ripley’s 15 novels about musician-gumshoe Fitzroy Maclean Angel (Angels Unaware, etc.) have come to expect. At the same time, Ripley has to cope in this story with the fact that Allingham’s hero, Albert Campion, has become an old man, and he does so quite cleverly by employing Campion’s (younger) wife, Lady Amanda, and his son, Rupert, to do all the footwork, while the senior Campion’s brain remains as lively as ever. The same goes for his sense of the absurd. What does Mr. Campion wish to have inscribed on his tombstone, for example? “‘Albert Campion. Permanently in the Dark.’ How’s that for an epitaph?”

Mr. Campion’s Fox will delight both longtime Margery Allingham enthusiasts and a generation of younger readers who may not yet be familiar with her work.

Hats off to Mike Ripley!

Sunday, May 03, 2015

One Very Peculier Lineup

Some very familiar names--including those of John Harvey, Peter May, and Ian Rankin--appear on the longlist of 18 contenders for the 2015 Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. As Shotsmag Confidential’s Ayo Onatade reminds us, this prize “was created to celebrate the very best in British and Irish crime writing and is open to crime authors whose novels were published in paperback from 1 May 2014 to 30 April 2015.” Here are this year’s contenders:

Eeny Meeny, by M.J. Arlidge (Michael Joseph)
The Facts of Life and Death, by Belinda Bauer (Black Swan)
The Ghost Runner, by Parker Bilal (Bloomsbury)
The Strangler Vine, by M.J. Carter (Fig Tree)
The Axeman’s Jazz, by Ray Celestin (Mantle)
Personal, by Lee Child (Bantam)
The Killing Season, by Mason Cross (Orion)
Bryant & May: The Bleeding Heart, by Christopher Fowler (Bantam)
The Outcast Dead, by Elly Griffiths (Quercus)
The Telling Error, by Sophie Hannah (Hodder & Stoughton)
Darkness, Darkness, by John Harvey (Arrow)
Someone Else’s Skin, by Sarah Hilary (Headline)
The Devil in the Marshalsea, by Antonia Hodgson
(Hodder & Stoughton)
Entry Island, by Peter May (Quercus)
Disappeared, by Anthony Quinn (Head of Zeus)
Saints of the Shadow Bible, by Ian Rankin (Orion)
The Farm, by Tom Rob Smith (Simon & Schuster)
A Lovely Way to Burn, by Louise Welsh (John Murray)

“From 21 May to 17 June,” writes Onatade, “longlisted titles will feature in a four-week campaign across all 600 W.H. Smith stores [in Britain] and 80 library services, representing a total of 1,645 library branches. The longlist will be whittled down to a shortlist of six titles which will be announced on 15 June.” A public vote to help determine which book deserves the award will open here on July 1 and remain open through July 13, with the winner to be announced on July 16--“the opening night of the 13th annual Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate.”

Macdonald Mines His Own Life

Toronto author Linwood Barclay had a nice piece in this last Friday’s Globe & Mail newspaper, assessing the new Library of America omnibus, Ross Macdonald: Four Novels of the 1950s, edited by Tom Nolan (and about which I also wrote recently). As a college student, Barclay was fortunate enough to correspond at some length with private-eye fictionist Macdonald, and he offers Globe & Mail readers some of his memories of the man. But I also like what he wrote about the stories featured in Nolan’s collection:
The first two novels are of the hard-boiled variety, and owe much to Chandler and Hammett. But Macdonald believed he could do better than that, particularly better than Chandler, whose loose plots were designed to create good scenes, whereas Macdonald viewed plot as a vehicle for meaning.

His approach has evolved by the time he writes
The Doomsters, about an escapee from a psychiatric facility who comes to Archer for help, and The Galton Case, in which a woman engages Archer to find her long-lost son. Archer himself is rarely the story. He’s not hired by old girlfriends with long legs and ample bosoms who now find themselves in a jam. As Macdonald himself had said, Archer was so two-dimensional that if he turned sideways, he would disappear. I wouldn’t go that far. Archer feels fully realized, has a strong moral code, a sense of decency. But he is also a device, a kind of gardener who unearths dirt to allow sunshine in and expose diseased roots. Unlike the earlier novels, where Archer often tangled with common thugs, in The Doomsters and The Galton Case the detective’s clients are more upscale, but their sins run just as deep.

The latter is seen by many as Macdonald’s masterpiece, and it may well have been at the time, but his career highs would come in later decades with
The Chill, Black Money, and The Underground Man. The Galton Case, however, marked a period where Macdonald mined, in a more direct way, his own life for material. It explores his feeling of displacement that came from being born in the United States but raised in Canada. Plus, there’s the theme of the absent father: Macdonald’s abandoned the family when he was a boy; in Galton, Archer is on the trail of a young man named John who’s in search of his own. (Macdonald’s father’s name was John.) Many of the 18 Archer novels, and short stories (one called, interestingly, “Gone Girl”), are about disappearances, and it doesn’t seem to be reading too much into things to surmise that much of Macdonald’s writing was about finding what he himself had lost.
Click here to find Barclay’s complete article.

Pierce’s Picks

A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.



The Children Return, by Martin Walker (Knopf), the sixth installment in Walker’s “Bruno, Chief of Police” series set in a small French town with some big-world problems. Fall of Man in Wilmslow, by David Lagercrantz (MacLehose Press), a novel about the 1954 suicide of celebrated mathematician and code breaker Alan Turing, by the author of The Girl in a Spider’s Web, a forthcoming fourth entry in Stieg Larsson’s famous Millennium Trilogy.

Click here to see more of this season’s most-wanted books.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Agathas Find Their New Owners

Thanks to Oline Cogdill of Mystery Scene, we can now give you the winners of the 2015 Agatha Awards. These prizes, honoring “traditional mysteries” (those without explicit sex scenes, excessive gore, or unnecessary violence) were handed out during a banquet earlier this evening at the 27th annual Malice Domestic Conference, which is being held this weekend in Bethesda, Maryland.

Best Contemporary: Truth Be Told, by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge)

Also nominated: The Good, the Bad, and the Emus, by Donna Andrews (Minotaur); A Demon Summer, by G.M. Malliet (Minotaur); The Long Way Home, by Louise Penny (Minotaur); and Designated Daughters, by Margaret Maron (Grand Central)

Best Historical Novel: Queen of Hearts, by Rhys Bowen (Berkley)

Also nominated: Hunting Shadows, by Charles Todd (Morrow); An Unwilling Accomplice, by Charles Todd (Morrow); Wouldn’t It Be Deadly, by D.E. Ireland (Minotaur); and Murder in Murray Hill, by Victoria Thompson (Berkley)

Best First Novel: Well Read, Then Dead, by Terrie Farley
Moran (Berkley)

Also nominated: Circle of Influence, by Annette Dashofy (Henery Press); Tagged for Death, by Sherry Harris (Kensington); Finding Sky, by Susan O’Brien (Henery Press); and Murder Strikes a Pose, by Tracy Weber (Midnight Ink)

Best Non-fiction: Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer’s Journey, edited by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Henery Press)

Also nominated: 400 Things Cops Know: Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman, by Adam Plantinga (Quill Driver); Death Dealer: How Cops and Cadaver Dogs Brought a Killer to Justice, by Kate Flora (New Horizon Press); The Art of the English Murder, by Lucy Worsley (Pegasus); and The Poisoner: The Life and Crimes of Victorian England’s Most Notorious Doctor, by Stephen Bates (Overlook)

Best Short Story: “The Odds Are Against Us,” by Art Taylor (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, November 2014)

Also nominated: “Premonition,” by Art Taylor (from Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, edited by Barb Goffman and Marcia Talley; Wildside Press); “The Shadow Knows,” by Barb Goffman (from Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays); “Just Desserts for Johnny,” by Edith Maxwell (Kings River Life Magazine, January 4, 2014); and “The Blessing Witch,” by Kathy Lynn Emerson (from Best New England Crime Stories 2015: Rogue Wave, edited by Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Barbara Ross, and Leslie Wheeler; Level Best)

Best Children’s/Young Adult: The Code Buster’s Club, Case #4, The Mummy’s Curse, by Penny Warner (Egmont USA)

Also nominated: Andi Under Pressure, by Amanda Flower (ZonderKidz); Greenglass House, by Kate Milford (Clarion); Uncertain Glory, by Lea Wait (Islandport Press); and Found, by Harlan Coben (Putnam Juvenile)

In addition, Sara Paretsky was presented with Malice Domestic’s Lifetime Achievement Award for her many contributions to the mystery-fiction genre.

Bullet Points: Indie Bookstore Day Edition

What a busy week it has been, between my posting a two-part interview with distinguished Ross Macdonald biographer Tom Nolan (see here and here), Wednesday’s Edgar Awards presentation, news about this year’s two Spotted Owl Award winners, and my work on a couple of interesting Killer Covers entries (here and here). I’m hoping to reward myself with a quiet Saturday in my backyard, just appreciating all the new planting I’ve had to do recently. But I must first mention a few pertinent news bits.

• Yes, today is Independent Bookstore Day in the United States. That means everyone who reads this post, and has such a shop within walking or driving distance, should immediately go there and invest in some promising reading material. (Sadly, not everyone has easy access to such businesses, though I have two such stores nearby--one that sells only new books, the other dispensing only used ones.) As somebody who worked, part-time, in an indie bookstore for many years, I can tell you how important it is that everybody supports these enterprises. Amazon.com can be a very convenient way to buy many things, but it’s also a neighborhood killer, wiping out independent small businesses of all sorts, and thereby depleting the character and vitality of urban residential districts. Big stores such as Barnes & Noble are less predatory, but they’re usually located in shopping malls, and again do nothing to support neighborhoods. If we want any independent businesses, including bookstores, to thrive, we have to shop there ourselves. Have I made that point clear enough yet?

• Jeremiah Healy ended his own life last August at age 66, leaving behind--among other things--more than a dozen novels featuring Boston private eye John Francis Cuddy. Now the organizers of Mystery Writers Key West Fest have announced the creation of the Jeremiah Healy Mystery Writing Award, aka “The Jerry,” which will salute “the author’s legacy as a beloved and influential mentor credited with helping and advising many aspiring writers. Candidates wishing to compete for the Jeremiah Healy Mystery Writing Award are invited to submit the first three pages of a finished, unpublished manuscript no later than June 30, 2015. Finalists will be notified August 1, and will have until August 10 to submit full manuscripts.” All entries should be e-mailed to JerryAward@comcast.net as Word attachments. Healy’s fiancée, mystery novelist Sandra Balzo, will serve as the head of the judging committee for this prize. The winner of the inaugural Jerry will be named during this year’s second annual Mystery Writers Key West Fest, to be held from August 14 to 16 in Key West, Florida.

• The Jerry isn’t the only new prize being readied for crime and mystery authors. Blogger Crime Thriller Girl says, “The fabulous team behind Dead Good Books have created six new crime-writing awards which will be presented in Harrogate this July at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival.” My favorite among those commendations: The Reichenbach Falls Award for Most Epic Ending.

• Incidentally, the Dead Good folks need readers to nominate their most beloved authors and books for these prizes. Do so here.

• What is the world’s favorite Agatha Christie novel? That’s a challenging question, given that she penned 66 book-length detective or mystery tales over the course of a career that spanned more than five decades. Yet Christie’s estate is holding an online public vote to select just one “favorite” from among a shortlist of 25 options, including Murder on the Orient Express, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, And Then There Were None, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and The Secret Adversary. Go here to cast your ballot. The winner will be declared in September, which also marks the 125th anniversary of Christie’s birth in Devonshire, England.

• Following last month’s crowning of the first winner in its regular short-story contest called “The M.O.” (S.W. Lauden’s “Fix Me” took the honors), the blog Criminal Element has announced the theme for its second such contest: “Wishful Thinking.” Editors explain that “The theme can be interpreted widely, in whatever style, tone, subgenre, targeted age range, and/or era the writer chooses.” Submissions of 1,000 to 1,500 words will be accepted from Friday, May 15, through Friday, May 29, with a shortlist of leading contenders to be broadcast on June 12. Click here for further instructions on how to enter.

• In the wake of his recently aborted retirement, British critic Mike Ripley is back with yet another installment of “Getting Away with Murder,” his monthly Shots column. The contents this time include: news that Ripley is “devoting [himself] to a study of thrillers written in the 1930s, to see how they dealt with the rise of fascism and how they portrayed Nazi Germany in the pre-war years”; word that Derek Marlowe’s 1966 spy thriller, A Dandy in Aspic, is back in print after almost four decades; the coming release (at least in the UK) of another collection of James Mitchell’s short stories featuring “reluctant professional killer” David Callan; and fresh works by Adrian Magson, Minette Walters, Don Winslow, and Louise Welsh.

• In an interview with Lisa Levy, editor of the new crime-fiction Web site, The Life Sentence, Hard Case Crime honcho Charles Ardai talks about bringing Thieves Fall Out, Gore Vidal’s 1953 thriller, back into print. He also answers Levy’s question about whether there’s “anyone’s lost manuscript you dream of publishing.”
Yes--the one I haven’t found yet! I’m always on the hunt for the next great discovery. There are a few I’ve found but haven’t been able to publish: Alan Furst’s first novel [Your Day in the Barrel, 1976], which was nominated for the Edgar Award, but is not the sort of thing he’s writing these days, so he doesn’t want it brought back into print; one of Martin Cruz Smith’s early pseudonymous novels. But the next truly big discovery is always just over the horizon, waiting to be unearthed. I never tire of the search. Hell, when [J.D.] Salinger died, I called his agent and asked, “Were any of those books in the vault crime novels, by any chance?”
• Congratulations to UK author Stephen Booth, whose first Ben Cooper-Diane Fry police procedural, Black Dog, was released to readers 15 years ago this week.

• As Jake Hinkson notes, “May 6th, 2015, will mark the 100th birthday of the late Orson Welles.” To commemorate this occasion, Hinkson is writing a series of posts for Criminal Element about actor-director Welles’ “greatest cinematic accomplishments.” He started with “the ill-fated The Other Side of the Wind,” moved on to Citizen Kane, and has now added The Stranger to his film analyses. More to come.

• Really, do we need a Roots remake?

• Michael Shonk revisits Mrs. Columbo (1979) for Mystery*File. “Perhaps the most infamous TV mystery series ever made,” he opines, “was Mrs. Columbo. The story behind Mrs. Columbo and Kate Loves a Mystery is an epic farce of clueless decisions, confusion among the involved, and the ineptness of a troubled TV network that could not stop shooting itself in the foot.” Thankfully, most of us have forgotten about this series, which Columbo co-creator William Link calls a “one-year disaster,” and star Kate Mulgrew went on to restore her reputation with Star Trek: Voyager.

• Now, this is interesting news. “Author Megan Abbott is developing an MTV series based on her book The Fever,” reports Entertainment Weekly, “working with Sarah Jessica Parker’s Pretty Matches Productions, and producer Karen Rosenfelt (who worked on The Book Thief, The Devil Wears Prada, and Twilight). Abbott will also write the pilot episode.” Congratulations, Megan!

• Isn’t this jumping the gun a bit? It’s only May, but already Crime Fiction Lover has picked “the five best crime comics of 2015.”

Behind the scenes at the James Bond auditions, 1967.

• The British Crime Writers’ Association has announced its longlist of as-yet-unpublished contenders for the 2015 Debut Dagger Award:

-- Kate Evans, The Art of the Imperfect
-- Nigel Robbins, The Pure Drop
-- Kate Simants, Lock Me In
-- Mirandi Riwoe, The Mystery of Heloise Chancey
-- Chris Blackford, Nick Off
-- Mark Furness, Five Blind Eyes
-- Greg Keen, Last of the Soho Legends
-- Jill Sawyer, The Ice Coffin
-- Winnie M. Lee, Dark Chapter
-- Samantha Bacchus, Portrayal
-- Colleen Tully Steel, Darke House

A shortlist should come on May 15, with the winner to be named on May 30 during the CWA Dagger Awards dinner.

• The sophomore season of True Detective won’t debut until June 21, but that popular cable-TV crime drama is already receiving plenty of publicity. Here’s a rather surprising tidbit from The Wall Street Journal: “One of the biggest reasons fans went crazy for HBO’s True Detective last year was the thrill of hunting down obscure cultural Easter eggs tucked into the show, from Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘flat circle’ to the evil Yellow King. Don’t expect a similar experience this time around, though. There won’t be any references or homages in the series’ second season, according to an emphatic statement from creator and writer Nic Pizzolatto.”

• I wasn’t in the right mood when I tried to read Susanna Clarke’s 2004 alternative history novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, so it was far from the most satisfying experience. But this first trailer for BBC-TV’s seven-part adaptation of the novel--set to air this month in Britain, and “this summer” (no specific dates yet) in the States--makes me think I’d be happier watching the story on screen.

• Jim Napier concludes his review, in January Magazine, of Philip Kerr’s new, 10th Bernie Gunther historical thriller with these promising words: “The Lady from Zagreb is, hands down, the best thing I’ve read for many months--if not longer.”

• If I owned a smart phone (my Star Trek-inspired flip phone being about as dumb but faultless as they come), I’d certainly consider buying one of these bookish cases for it.

• Here’s a forgotten writer for you: Ianthe Jerrold.

• I mentioned in my short post last spring about Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer (a film based oh-so-loosely on Edward Woodward’s 1980s TV series of the same name) that a sequel was already being discussed. The blog Double O Section now confirms that such a picture is in the works. “While Sony announced the sequel at [late April’s] Cinemacon,” writes Matthew Bradford, “little else is known at this time, including a release date, additional cast involvement, or whether Antoine Fuqua will return to direct.” Fuqua, of course, was behind the camera for Equalizer No. 1.

• And did you know that May 2 is World Naked Gardening Day? My neighbors will be relieved to learn I don’t honor this tradition.

No Longer in Suspense

I’m very sorry to hear that best-selling British novelist Ruth Rendell, creator of the Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford mysteries, died today at age 85. This comes from The Guardian:
Baroness Rendell of Babergh, the creator of Inspector Wexford and author of more than 60 novels, had been admitted to hospital after a serious stroke in January and died in London on Saturday morning. The statement from her publisher, Hutchinson, said her family had requested privacy.

The crime writer Val McDermid voiced the sorrow of many Rendell fans when she heard the news.

“Ruth Rendell was unique. No one can equal her range or her accomplishment; no one has earned more respect from her fellow practitioners,” McDermid said.

“The broad church that is current British crime writing owes much to a writer who over a 50-year career consistently demonstrated that the genre can continually reinvent itself, moving in new directions, assuming new concerns and exploring new ways of telling stories. And doing it all in a smoothly satisfying prose style.”
The Associated Press adds this:
Rendell was a member of the House of Lords who had received wide recognition and many awards throughout her long career. Her Inspector Wexford series was made into a popular TV series, winning her many new fans and accolades.

She began her literary efforts by writing some “very bad” novels that were never published, she told The Associated Press in a 2005 interview.

After these false starts, she found that “suspense and a sort of tension and a sort of mystery was my forte. ...”

Once she found her way, Rendell produced novels at an astonishing pace--more than 60 books over four decades, including 20 featuring Chief Inspector Wexford.

She brought to the classic mystery a psychological depth that gave readers unusual access to the emotional makeup of seemingly ordinary people capable of foul deeds.
The Guardian offers a list of what it says are Rendell’s “five key works,” including one she penned under her familiar pseudonym, Barbara Vine. Crime Fiction Ireland has posted a video interview the author gave “about her best known character, Chief Inspector Wexford, and how he was very nearly called Waterford.”

Rendell dies just under five months after her friend and fellow “Queen of Crime,” P.D. James. As Wikipedia notes, many people credit those two “for upgrading the entire genre of whodunit, shaping it more into a whydunit.” Rendell's protagonists, it observes, “are often socially isolated, suffer from mental illness, and/or are otherwise disadvantaged; she explores the adverse impacts of their circumstances on these characters as well as on their victims.”

READ MORE:Ruth Rendell, Crime Novelist and Politician, 1930-2015,” by Barry Forshaw (Financial Times); “Ruth Rendell (1930-2015) Remembered,” by Andre (Crime Fiction Lover); “End of Era?” by Curtis Evans (The Passing Tramp); “Ruth Rendell Dies, Pioneered the Psychological Thriller,” by Petra Mayer (NPR).

Friday, May 01, 2015

Costly Witch Hunts, Free Books

Night Life, former film and TV screenwriter David C. Taylor’s 1950s-set cop thriller, has enjoyed some very favorable criticism since its debut earlier this spring. Kirkus Reviews called it “a strong debut … featuring a hard-edged but properly vulnerable detective.” Publishers Weekly promised that “Readers will want to see more of the distinctive [protagonist], whose wealthy background as the son of a Broadway producer puts him at odds with his fellow cops.” Other readers have bandied about adjectives such as “engrossing” and “compelling” when remarking on Taylor’s literary effort.

Taylor’s publisher, Forge, boils down his novel’s plot in the following way:
New York City in 1954. The Cold War is heating up. Senator Joe McCarthy is running a witch hunt for Communists in America. The newly formed CIA is fighting a turf battle with the FBI to see who will be the primary U.S. intelligence agency. And the bodies of murdered young men are turning up in the city.

Michael Cassidy has an unusual background for a New York cop. His father, a refugee from Eastern Europe, is a successful Broadway producer. His godfather is Frank Costello, a Mafia boss. Cassidy also has an unusual way of going about the business of being a cop--maybe that’s why he threw a fellow officer out a third-story window of the Cortland Hotel.

Cassidy is assigned to the case of Alexander Ingram, a Broadway chorus dancer found tortured and dead in his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. Complications grow as other young men are murdered one after the other. And why are the FBI, the CIA, and the Mafia interested in the death of a Broadway gypsy?

Meanwhile, a mysterious, beautiful woman moves into Cassidy
’s building in Greenwich Village. Is Dylan McCue a lover or an enemy? Cassidy is plagued by nightmares--dreams that sometimes become reality. And he has been dreaming that someone is coming to kill him.
Now you could win the opportunity to read Night Life for yourself. Below, we’re installing a short piece submitted by author Taylor, in which he provides some background to his composing of this new novel. That’s followed by specifics on how you can enter a drawing to score a free copy of Night Life. Read on.

* * *

LEAVING HOLLYWOOD
by David C. Taylor

I spent more than 20 years in Los Angeles working in movies and television with some success. I wrote feature films, cable movies, TV movies, and scripts for TV shows such as Kojak and The Rockford Files back when CBS, NBC, and ABC were the only TV games in town. Hollywood eventually grinds a writer down. Script changes are made for what looks to the writer like arbitrary reasons such as casting, location availability, weather, demographics, or the gut instinct of the producer’s youngest son. When you flinch at the prospect of a meeting at a studio, it is time to go.

As a young man I started out as a writer of prose fiction but soon learned that selling short stories to literary magazines was a path the slow starvation. Hence the move to Los Angeles. The time came, though, when I wanted to return to writing prose fiction, not only to scratch the itch that had always been there, but also to control what I wrote. Unfortunately, the writer’s path is rarely a smooth one. My agent in L.A. retired about when I left--not cause and effect, she was ready to stop. A year or so after we departed L.A., I finally completed work on a novel, In Blood, and set out with perfect confidence to find an agent in New York. It never occurred to me that someone who had made a living as a writer for more than 20 years would have difficulty. I soon learned that past successes in movies and TV carried almost no weight in the publishing world in New York. It was a case of “what have you done for me lately?” and I had done nothing. After two years and many letters and submissions I found a wonderful agent who took the leap of faith that is necessary when dealing with a first-novelist. She was unable to place In Blood with a publisher, but I soon finished Night Life, which was published recently by Forge, an imprint of MacMillan. The novel is the first entry in a series; the second book will come out next year, on April 1.

(Left) David C. Taylor, photographed by Susan Wilson

Night Life is a noir thriller that takes place in New York City in 1954, the era of Senator McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch hunts, the Cold War, and the turf battles between the CIA and the FBI over which agency would control intelligence operations for the U.S. government. I chose the era for my story, because it was the era in which I grew up in New York as a free-range child and youth, and I had indelible memories of the city at that time. I am attracted to propulsive, driving stories and to the complexities that criminal actions, and abuses of power by authorities, place on normal people, and Night Life allowed me to explore that world.

There are, of course, a number of differences between writing for Hollywood and writing prose fiction that go beyond the interference of other people on the writer’s work. Movies, like sharks, are always moving forward. There is no time for the audience to contemplate while the story is going on, while a novel is consumed at the individual pace of the reader. The reader can go back and check past chapters, stop and think about what is happening and why, luxuries not available when watching a movie. A novel can explore a character’s inner life, his or her thoughts, and can comment on his or her actions by stepping aside; a movie can only occasionally do the same, and it is often a clumsy moment that breaks the narrative flow. A novelist must construct his physical world in detail. A screenwriter merely sketches his, knowing that costume designers, production designers, set designers, and others will construct the physical world for the camera. A screenwriter is restricted to what he can accomplish in two hours or less. (There is more latitude in TV series. Witness Breaking Bad, for instance, which works as a novel as far as its length and complexity go.) A novelist is only restricted by his imagination and the demands of his story. He may leave in everything that enhances the reader’s understanding and pleasure, and must take out anything that does not. The screenwriter, on the other hand, fights to strip the story to its leanest form, and the script becomes a blueprint used by the many other people who join together to make a movie or TV show. Both disciplines have their joys and rewards, but after 20-some years in the film business, I am happy to be back in the business of writing prose fiction off the movies that run in my head.

* * *

OK, so let’s move on to the contest.

Publisher Forge has kindly reserved five copies of Night Life to give away to lucky Rap Sheet readers. If you’d like a chance at winning one of those, all you need do is e-mail your name and postal address to jpwrites@wordcuts.org. And be sure to put “Night Life Contest” in the subject line. Entries will be accepted between now and midnight next Friday, May 8. The five winners will be chosen completely at random, and their names listed on this page the following day.

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

So what the heck are you waiting for, people? Enter now!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Three Cheers for the Edgar Winners

The 2015 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America, were handed out this evening during a banquet in New York City. Below are the winners, courtesy of Mystery Fanfare.

Best Novel: Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King (Scribner)

Also nominated: This Dark Road to Mercy, by Wiley Cash (Morrow); Wolf, by Mo Hayder (Atlantic Monthly Press); The Final Silence, by Stuart Neville (Soho Press); Saints of the Shadow Bible, by Ian Rankin (Little, Brown), and Coptown, by Karin Slaughter (Ballantine)

Best First Novel by an American Author: Dry Bones in the Valley, by Tom Bouman (Norton)

Also nominated: Invisible City, by Julia Dahl (Minotaur); The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskens (Seventh Street); Bad Country, by C.B. McKenzie (Minotaur/Thomas Dunne); Shovel Ready, by Adam Sternbergh (Crown); and Murder at the Brightwell, by Ashley Weaver (Minotaur/Thomas Dunne)

Best Paperback Original: The Secret History of Las Vegas, by Chris Albani (Penguin)

Also nominated: Stay With Me, by Alison Gaylin (Morrow); The Barkeep, by William Lashner (Thomas & Mercer); The Day She Died, by Catriona McPherson (Midnight Ink); The Gone Dead Train, by Lisa Turner (Morrow); and World of Trouble, by Ben H. Winters (Quirk)

Best Fact Crime: Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood, by William Mann (Harper)

Also nominated: Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America, by Kevin Cook (Norton); The Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art, by Carl Hoffman (Morrow); The Other Side, by Lacy M. Johnson (Tin House); and The Mad Sculptor: The Maniac, the Model, and the Murder that Shook the Nation, by Harold Schechter (New Harvest)

Best Critical/Biographical: Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe, by J.W. Ocker (Countryman Press)

Also nominated: The Figure of the Detective: A Literary History and Analysis, by Charles Brownson (McFarland & Company); James Ellroy: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction, by Jim Mancall (McFarland & Company); Kiss the Blood Off My Hands: Classic Film Noir, by Robert Miklitsch (University of Illinois Press); and Judges & Justice & Lawyers & Law: Exploring the Legal Dimensions of Fiction and Film, by Francis M. Nevins (Perfect Crime)

Best Short Story: “What Do You Do?,” by Gillian Flynn (from Rogues, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois; Ballantine)

Also nominated: “The Snow Angel,” by Doug Allyn (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], January 2014); “200 Feet,” by John Floyd (The Strand Magazine, February-May 2014); “Red Eye,” by Dennis Lehane vs. Michael Connelly (from FaceOff, edited by David Baldacci; Simon & Schuster), and “Teddy,” by Brian Tobin (EQMM, May 2014)

Best Juvenile: Greenglass House, by Kate Milford (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)

Also nominated: Absolutely Truly, by Heather Vogel Frederick (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers); Space Case, by Stuart Gibbs (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers); Nick and Tesla’s Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove, by “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith Quirk); Saving Kabul Corner, by N.H. Senzai (Paula Wiseman); and Eddie Red, Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile, by Marcia Wells (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)

Best Young Adult: The Art of Secrets, by James Klise (Algonquin
Young Readers)

Also nominated: The Doubt Factory, by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers); Nearly Gone, by Elle Cosimano (Penguin Young Readers Group/Kathy Dawson); Fake ID, by Lamar Giles (HarperCollins Children’s Books/Amistad); and The Prince of Venice Beach, by Blake Nelson (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Best Television Episode Teleplay: “Episode 1,” Happy Valley, teleplay by Sally Wainwright (Netflix)

Also nominated: “The Empty Hearse,” Sherlock, teleplay by Mark Gatiss (Hartswood Films/Masterpiece); “Unfinished Business,” Blue Bloods, teleplay by Siobhan Byrne O’Connor (CBS); “Dream Baby Dream,” The Killing, teleplay by Sean Whitesell (Netflix); and “Episode 6,” The Game, teleplay by Toby Whithouse (BBC America)

The Simon & Schuster/Mary Higgins Clark Award: The Stranger You Know, by Jane Casey (Minotaur)

Also nominated: A Dark and Twisted Tide, by Sharon Bolton (Minotaur); Invisible City, by Julia Dahl (Minotaur); Summer of the Dead, by Julia Keller (Minotaur); and The Black Hour, by Lori Rader-Day (Seventh Street)

Robert L. Fish Memorial Award:
“Getaway Girl,” by Zoë Z. Dean (EQMM)

Grand Master: Lois Duncan and James Ellroy

Raven Awards:
Ruth and Jon Jordan, Crimespree Magazine
Kathryn Kennison, Magna Cum Murder

Ellery Queen Award:
Charles Ardai, editor/founder, Hard Case Crime

In addition, the mother and son who write as “Charles Todd” have received the inaugural Edgar Distinguished Service Award, which will apparently now be named in the Todds’ honor. And the winner of this year’s St. Martin’s Minotaur/ Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition is John Keyse-Walker.

Congratulations to all of the contenders!

READ MORE:Best in Mysteries: The 2015 Edgar Award Winners,” by Sara Nelson (Omnivoracious); “2015’s Edgar Awards: Mystery’s Faithful Gather,” by Leslie Gilbert Elman (Criminal Element).

Choice Cuts

The Gumshoe Site reports that Michigan writer Doug Allyn is the first-place winner in the 2015 Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Choice Award contest for his story “The Snow Angel,” which appeared in EQMM’s January 2014 issue. “The Snow Angel” previously won the 2015 Derringer Award for Best Novelette.

Second-place honors in EQMM’s reader vote-determined competition went to “Blood Red Roses,” by Marilyn Todd (September/October 2014), while Miriam Grace Monfredo captured third place with “The Tavern Keeper’s Daughter” (December 2014).

These results evidently feature in the mag’s May 2015 edition.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

On the Case with Tom Nolan

What does it say about 20th-century crime novelist Ross Macdonald that he finally--as of this week--has a Library of America volume dedicated to his early work? “That he’s taking his rightful place amongst the acknowledged masters of American literature,” says Tom Nolan, the Los Angeles writer and Wall Street Journal books critic who gave us Ross Macdonald: A Biography (1999), certainly the best-yet study of this author’s life and literary endeavors. As Nolan told me during a recent interview--the first part of which was posted today on the Kirkus Reviews Web site--his new Ross Macdonald: Four Novels of the 1950s comprises some of the most “beautifully written” books Macdonald (whose real name was Kenneth Millar) produced during the post-World War II era: The Way Some People Die (1951), The Barbarous Coast (1956), The Doomsters (1958), and The Galton Case (1959). It also features several “other writings” that illuminate the author’s work on those novels, recount his discovery of detective fiction, and tell of his deliberate efforts to enlarge the genre’s scope.

Even for somebody as familiar with Macdonald’s work as I am (the first crime novel I remember consuming was 1949’s The Moving Target, which introduced his series protagonist, L.A. private eye Lew Archer, and I’ve since enjoyed reading and re-reading the entirety of Macdonald’s oeuvre), holding the brand-new, 900-plus-page Library of America collection in my hands is a treat. Macdonald wasn’t only a terrific crime novelist; he was a terrific novelist who used fictional illegalities as his entry into telling stories--sometimes braided with Freudian issues and Greek tragedy--about families in trouble. As author-playwright Gordon Dahlquist opined in HiLobrow:
Simply in terms of the hard-boiled mystery, the books are audaciously accomplished. Macdonald’s intricate plots are like Sophocles by way of a boa constrictor. His subtle reconfiguration of the detective character tips the Archer books toward social portrait and social critique without the burden of any particular axe being ground. Archer isn’t an avatar of tough virtue for the reader’s vicarious thrill. He may be a catalyst within the stories, but most profoundly and more simply he’s a witness. If [Raymond] Chandler’s novels are about [gumshoe Philip] Marlowe, then Macdonald’s--despite Archer’s fuller realization--are about California. But most remarkable is the compassion with which these unsparing tales are unwound. The compassion is never soft, but feels truthful without being cruel.
Macdonald made Archer a sharp observer of the social condition, a questioner who unpeeled layers of familial strife, jealousy, and disappointment even as he sought answers to whatever obvious mystery lay at the heart of his current yarn. The author, having endured ample woes himself (both as a youngster and as the father of a “wild” daughter, Linda, who killed a 13-year-old boy in a car wreck and later disappeared from college for more than a week) and undergone psychoanalysis as a result, could--through Archer--empathize with his hardship-plagued characters. Not all imaginary shamuses on the clock during the first three quarters of the 20th century demonstrated such understanding. National Public Radio’s Maureen Corrigan, recalling the opening of The Doomsters--in which “a troubled young man bangs at Lew Archer’s door in the wee hours of the morning”--suggests that “Sam Spade would have rolled over in bed and ignored the knock; Philip Marlowe would have been out walking the L.A. streets in the rain; later on, Mickey Spillane would have just shot that annoying predawn visitor. But Lew Archer is as much a social worker, a counselor, a father confessor as he is a private eye. Macdonald gave us a detective with psychological depth; a gumshoe capable of throwing around words like ‘gestalt.’”

That capacity for compassion, Archer’s willingness to excavate the tumbledown remains of a family’s history (and in so many of Macdonald’s later novels, the roots of contemporary misfortunes are traceable to injustices and failures in the past) was one thing that drew me, as it did so many other readers, to Lew Archer’s adventures. After managing--through some miracle that could only have been available to an individual as young and callow as I was at the time--to arrange an interview with Millar/Macdonald in 1980, what I wanted to do most as I sat with him in the dimly lit study of his Santa Barbara, California, home was ask him for a deep analysis of his sleuth-cum-shrink, and inquire where Archer’s path might lead him in the future. Unfortunately, by that point Macdonald was already enduring the affects of the Alzheimer’s disease that would kill him (in July 1983), and he couldn’t always remember the nuances of his fiction.

(Left) Editor Tom Nolan, photographed by Hal Boucher

Much later, in 1999, when I first had the opportunity to interview Tom Nolan, about his Macdonald biography, I asked him how much his subject’s troubled past had influenced his choice of a career writing about troubled people. “Oh, enormously,” said Nolan. “I think that initially he read certain kinds of books--not just fiction, but non-fiction, psychology, philosophy--to some extent, because he was trying to find ways to deal with life and with his problems. As far as fiction, I'm sure that [Charles] Dickens and that sort of fiction appealed to him because he could identify with the travails of Oliver Twist, and I think authors like [Edgar Allan] Poe and [Nathaniel] Hawthorne, people who probed the psychology of good and evil, or good and bad choices, appealed to him because he was wrestling with these things himself. Eventually, he tried to take the detective story and make it more interesting psychologically, able to explore some of these things that he was very interested in.”

More than a decade and a half has passed since then. But when I learned that the Library of America planned to issue a selection of Ross Macdonald’s early Archer cases--to help celebrate this year’s centennial of the author’s birth (he came into the world in Los Gatos, California, on December 13, 1915)--and that Nolan had served as its editor, I knew I had to interview him again. I also wanted to ask Nolan, though, about his work on a second volume, Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald, which Arcade Publishing will debut in July. Co-edited with Eudora Welty biographer Suzanne Marrs, it draws on an abundance of letters--more than 300 of them!--exchanged during the 1970s and early ’80s between Macdonald and Mississippi Pulitzer Prize winner Welty (The Optimist’s Daughter). “Though separated by background, geography, genre, and his marriage,” explains the back-jacket copy on my bound galley of this book, “the two authors shared their lives in witty, tender, and profoundly romantic letters, each drawing on the other for inspiration, comfort, and strength.”

And Nolan’s centennial-year offerings don’t stop there. He’s also awaiting this summer’s paperback release of an expanded version of The Archer Files, his 2007 collection of Macdonald’s previously unpublished Archer short stories and story fragments.

I took the opportunity recently to quiz Nolan, via e-mail, about his various Macdonald projects. A significant chunk of our exchange can be found in my new Kirkus column. But I also asked him more about his personal history with Macdonald’s fiction, his continuing research into that author’s career, Macdonald’s often uneasy association with Chandler, and the “forgotten” suspense fiction penned by Macdonald’s wife. What didn’t fit in Kirkus is posted below.

J. Kingston Pierce: I understand you started reading crime and mystery fiction when you were a boy, just 8 or 9 years old. What provoked such an early interest in the genre?

Tom Nolan: I was 9 when a school chum told me about the Sherlock Holmes stories, which his father had bought him in the complete edition with introduction by Christopher Morley; my friend said this book was terrific. My dad was kind enough to buy me the same anthology, from the Pickwick Bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard. I loved the Holmes canon, too. At the Hollywood library on Ivar [Avenue], I looked for more detective stories. There were lots. 100 Years’ Entertainment: The Great Detective Stories, 1841-1941, the Modern Library Giant collection edited by Ellery Queen, proved a useful historical guide. Soon I was compiling and memorizing lists of fictional detectives and their creators (as, I suppose, some kids memorized batting averages): Remember Martin Hewitt, Investigator? Max Carrados, the Blind Detective? The Great Merlini? Then Nero Wolfe, Ellery Queen, Hercule Poirot, Perry Mason, and on and on.

(Right) Pickwick Books in Los Angeles, circa 1965

Also, in the late 1950s, daytime TV was full of old movies, many of them mystery and crime stories adapted from books by prose-writers ranging from Conan Doyle to Cornell Woolrich. The greatest detective movies, I discovered, were taken from novels: The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler. I read those books, too--and they were as good or better than the movies.

There were many detective and police series on prime-time television: Dragnet, Border Patrol, Racket Squad, Perry Mason. They claimed a degree of authenticity.

Newspapers were full of crime news. L.A. had five newspapers then, with morning, afternoon, and evening editions. All were sensationalistic, with lots of black-headlined crime stories--some set in one’s own neighborhood.

The fiction I read began to merge in my imagination with life around me. “Colorful” mobster Mickey Cohen was a local “celebrity” and acted the part, hanging out with stars on the Sunset Strip, always good for a quote. His henchman Johnny Stompanato was stabbed to death in movie star Lana Turner’s house; her courtroom testimony was carried live on L.A.’s Channel 5.

There seemed a synthesis between life and art, fact and fiction, in the town I grew up in. I was 10 when I first went to lunch at Musso-Franks restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard. (I ordered filet mignon, bread and butter, and a glass of milk.) Musso’s, “the oldest restaurant in Hollywood,” turned up in detective (and other) books I read, including Raymond Chandler’s and Ross Macdonald’s. Philip Marlowe, Chandler’s private eye, had an office on Ivar (or sometimes Cahuenga) and used the same library I did. Chandler and William Faulkner (whose mystery short-stories were collected in Knight’s Gambit) had been patrons at Pickwick’s, the bookstore I spent whole Saturdays in.

After a while, I began to feel I was halfway living in an L.A. novel.

JKP: You’ve told me before that the first Macdonald novel you read, when you were 11, was The Barbarous Coast (1956), his sixth Lew Archer tale, and that you experienced an “eerie personal moment” in the course of enjoying that book. Can you explain further?

TN: In Chapter 7 of the book, Archer seeks information from Anton, a French-Canadian dance teacher in a stucco building in West Hollywood.

I was French-Canadian by birth and as a younger youngster had taken tap lessons in a stucco-fronted studio in West Hollywood.

Archer asks Anton why he didn’t give more assistance to Archer’s client, a Canadian husband come to Southern California in search of his missing wife (an ex-pupil of Anton’s); the instructor answers: “ … my father was a streetcar conductor in Montreal. Why should I help an Anglo from Toronto?”

My father, before our family moved in ’53 to Southern California, drove a streetcar in Montreal.

I stopped, stunned. If I’d known [Jorge Luis] Borges’ work then, I might have felt like a Borges figure: a fellow reading a story and realizing he himself is one of its characters. At the very least, I decided, this Ross Macdonald had somehow done his homework.

JKP: Were you a consistent reader of Macdonald’s work ever after, or were there other novelists in this genre to whom you gravitated more strongly?

TN: There were and are other writers I have and do admire greatly: Chandler, Hammett, [George] Pelecanos, [Michael] Connelly, [Denise] Mina, [Tana] French. But I always returned, and still do, to Macdonald: no one else affects me so deeply and on so many artistic and emotional levels.

JKP: What’s been Macdonald’s lasting impact on detective fiction?

TN: “Incalculable” is the word that springs to my tongue. All the household-name mystery writers since the 1970s in a sense owe their careers to his crossover onto mainstream-fiction bestseller lists; he paved the way for Robert B. Parker, Sue Grafton, Tony Hillerman, and dozens of others. And he set an artistic standard that many authors still aspire to.

James Ellroy dedicated a book to his memory.

Ross Macdonald was one of the favorite authors of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, whose Martin Beck police novels revolutionized--you could almost say invented--Swedish crime fiction, leading directly to the work of Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, and dozens of contemporary Scandinavian writers, all of whom share Macdonald’s Ibsenesque vision of a world where everyone is in some sense culpable; there’s always enough guilt to go around.

Macdonald personally mentored by mail a Canadian teenager named Linwood Barclay, who’s now an internationally successful thriller writer.

Recently Donna Leon, who lives in Venice and writes a best-selling series about an Italian police detective, said her favorite mystery writer is Ross Macdonald: “Macdonald’s prose is wonderful, his sentences are sometimes serpentine, sometimes as balanced as anything Alexander Pope wrote.”

Ross Macdonald’s works were translated into many languages, including Japanese and Russian. His influence was global, and it continues--along with his own works--into the 21st century.

JKP: Since the publication of your Ross Macdonald biography, you’ve obviously been busy as The Wall Street Journal’s crime-fiction reviewer, plus you penned a biography of clarinetist/band leader Artie Shaw [Three Chords for Beauty’s Sake] that was released in 2010. But you keep circling back again to Macdonald, compiling three previously unpublished mysteries in Strangers in Town (2001), collecting the author’s short fiction in The Archer Files (2007), and this year producing two new books about Lew Archer’s creator. Are you surprised to still be researching Macdonald’s life after all this time?

TN: I think it’s accurate to say that every post-biography Macdonald work I’ve been associated with has been something I’ve wanted (and been trying) to do since 1999. But it takes a long time, for a number of reasons, to bring a book from conception to publication. Yet the results always seem (to me) worth whatever the wait. I am grateful to be able to help bring more Macdonald material to readers.

JKP: Are you constantly following clues to material you’ve heard might exist, or is much of the Ross Macdonald stuff you find nowadays brought to you by other literary researchers who think you might be interested in new finds?

TN: To tell you the truth, Jeff, I expect other researchers would most likely keep such finds to themselves! But new acquisitions come into Macdonald’s archive [at the University of California-Irvine] from time to time, and that reminds me: I must go over there soon and see what’s up.

JKP: What other archives of his work have you plumbed over the last 16 years?

TN: Macdonald’s considerable correspondence with [publisher] Alfred A. Knopf and his staff is in the Knopf archive at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. His decades of letters to the Harold Ober Agency are in the Ober Archives at Princeton University. There are letters from Macdonald to the critic and author Anthony Boucher at the Lilly Library of Indiana University. And Macdonald’s letters to Eudora Welty (and hers to him) are housed at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

JKP: When I first interviewed you, in 1999, I asked about the existence of a last, unpublished Lew Archer novel that Macdonald had contracted to write for Knopf in 1979, before he was overcome by Alzheimer’s. You said you’d found fragments of work that you thought he might have eventually combined, including some that he could have employed to link Archer’s early life with his own, revealing that Archer had originally come from Canada. Have you located any further clues as to what Macdonald’s final Archer novel might have offered?

TN: As he wrote Eudora Welty, he was drawn back to memories of two early teenage years spent in Winnipeg, with an aunt and uncle who left lifelong impressions on him. He wrote some pages and made notes for a work set in that city circa 1929. He also told Welty he was intrigued by the notion of a book that would mix fact and fiction, memory and invention, in interlacing and overlapping fashion: a writer exploring his own past through made-up stories derived from it.

JKP: Macdonald saw seven of his Lew Archer novels published during the 1950s, four of which you feature in this new Library of America (LOA) Macdonald omnibus. Of those, is there one you think represents the best of the author’s literary talents?

TN: Each is great in its way. But The Galton Case is the first novel of his mature period, I feel; the first to deploy fully his characteristic themes and wonderful poetic style. He saw this novel at the time as a fulcrum upon which his future work could turn.

JKP: Macdonald penned 18 Archer novels. Do you have other favorites that didn’t fit within the period constraints of this new volume?

TN: Lots. The Chill, The Zebra-Striped Hearse, Sleeping Beauty, The Underground Man, The Far Side of the Dollar--to name but five.

JKP: And this LOA collection represents only one of four decades during which Macdonald was producing fiction. Can we expect follow-up collections from you, or haven’t you brought that up with the LOA folks yet?

TN: I think it’s safe to say there’ll likely be at least one more Macdonald LOA volume, drawing from the final 10 years or so of his work. In fact, I now have permission to say there’ll be two more volumes!

JKP: In addition to the four novels, your LOA collection offers five “other writings” by Macdonald. Among those is a wonderful letter he penned to publisher Knopf that explains how his work differs from that of Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, and other contemporaries. How did you choose the short works featured here?

TN: His 1952 letter to Alfred Knopf was written in response to Pocket Books’ complaint that Macdonald’s upcoming standalone, Meet Me at the Morgue, didn’t reflect the black-and-white, good-versus-evil world the paperback house expected then from such a book; they suggested Knopf have someone rewrite Macdonald’s novel to bring it more into the expected formulaic line. In Macdonald’s impassioned response, he defends his right to his own aesthetic integrity and moral vision. I’m sure he felt he was fighting for his artistic life.

The 1965 essay “The Writer As Detective Hero,” written for Show magazine, was published three years after Raymond Chandler’s 1949 letter to critic James Sandoe saw print; this was the letter in which Chandler found sneering fault with Macdonald’s first Lew Archer novel, The Moving Target, a book Sandoe had liked and made the mistake of praising to Chandler. Macdonald felt the need to defend himself against Chandler’s now-public attack. In this essay, he contrasts his morally complex and stylistically nuanced approach to crime fiction with the arguably more simplistic view of Chandler and his imitators.

“Preface to Archer in Hollywood” (a 1967 Knopf three-decker omnibus) is included in part for its references to The Way Some People Die and The Barbarous Coast.

“Writing The Galton Case” is an informative piece about another of the books in the Library’s Macdonald quartet.

And “Down These Streets a Mean Man Must Go” is the rewritten-for-publication version of a 1973 talk Macdonald gave in Chicago to a gathering of the Popular Culture Association. It contains moving autobiographical revelations concerning Macdonald’s adolescent discovery, in Kitchener, Ontario, of Dashiell Hammett’s fiction, which started him on the long, detour-filled path to becoming a detective novelist himself.

JKP: I was sorry to see how seriously Macdonald had fallen out with Chandler, whose work once inspired his own. In that letter to Knopf, he contends Chandler just doesn’t have it in him to advance the detective story farther than he has by that point--a year before Chandler published The Long Goodbye.

TN: Although the exuberant prose and compelling L.A. panorama of Raymond Chandler’s first two books exhilarated Macdonald in the early 1940s and liberated his own nascent creativity, he became disenchanted (as did his wife, Margaret Millar) by the limitations of Chandler’s approach.

Chandler wrote great individual scenes but often paid scant attention to plot. Macdonald saw plot “as a vehicle of meaning. … The surprise with which a detective novel concludes should set up tragic vibrations which run backward through the entire structure.”

Chandler’s conception of his narrator-protagonist was antithetical to Macdonald, who stated, “I could never write of Archer [as Chandler had of Philip Marlowe]: ‘He is the hero, he is everything.’ It is true that [Archer’s] actions carry the story … But he is not [its] emotional center.”

On a personal level, Macdonald was upset by things Chandler had done circa 1949 and ’50 that he interpreted as Chandler trying to spoil Macdonald’s chances in the marketplace: mocking The Moving Target to James Sandoe, knocking The Drowning Pool to colleague James Fox (head of the Southern California chapter of the Mystery Writers of America), putting down Macdonald in comments to an influential Midwestern bookseller. Macdonald felt Chandler had tried to smother his career in its cradle, so to speak; and while he later took pains to give Chandler his artistic due in print, Macdonald in private could never condone what he felt had been Chandler’s personal maliciousness towards him.

JKP: Let’s talk briefly about your second major Macdonald book coming out this year, Meanwhile There Are Letters. By what mechanics did you and your co-editor, Suzanne Marrs, put this book together?

TN: By telephone, e-mail, and the U.S. Postal Service. I transcribed Ken’s half of the correspondence, from photocopies of his handwritten originals. Suzanne transcribed Miss Welty’s half. We collaborated with ease and pleasure on the introduction and the narrative text woven around the letters.

JKP: What new information can we glean about Macdonald and Welty by reading through this correspondence they once thought private?

TN: What you’ll see is a relationship developing from professional admiration and collegial respect through intense personal friendship into love. As Alfred Uhry, the author of Driving Miss Daisy (and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Tony Award, and the Oscar) says, if I may quote: “These exquisite letters chart the growth of a deep and abiding friendship. And, astoundingly, they become a love story that will break your heart.”

JKP: What were the most valuable or satisfying things these authors derived from their epistolary relationship?

TN: Someone to whom they could express personal thoughts and feelings in ways impossible or uncomfortable or inappropriate with other correspondents. Someone with profound interest in their feelings and perceptions, who took joy in their existence. Someone who cherished them.

JKP: In addition to 2015 marking a century since Kenneth Millar was born, it’s also the 100th anniversary of Margaret Millar’s birth in Ontario, Canada. You compiled a collection of her mystery short stories (The Couple Next Door, 2005) and wrote an intro to Stark House Press’ 2006 pairing of two of her classic novels, An Air That Kills and Do Evil in Return. So let me ask: Although her stories of psychological suspense have won critical acclaim, she has been all but forgotten by most readers. Why has Ross Macdonald’s work remained in print, while hers has not?

TN: For the same reasons they stayed only sporadically in print during her lifetime.

Except for her first and last few books, she did not write series characters, whose adventures tend to attract a larger and more faithful readership (and a more regular publishing schedule). Once it was clear that Margaret Millar’s forte was the unique standalone thriller, her husband resigned himself to continuing his Lew Archer novels, which served him better in the long run. “Maggie” (as she liked to be called) suffered severe writer’s block in the 1970s and prematurely “retired” for six years, which interrupted her career momentum to say the least.

But the posthumous neglect of this excellent author will soon end. Soho Crime’s Syndicate Books has announced its imminent reissue, in uniform print and e-book editions, of all the books of Margaret Millar (including her non-fiction work, The Birds and the Beasts Were There).

JKP: I understand that in July publisher Vintage/Black Lizard will be bringing out an expanded version of your 2007 collection of Macdonald’s short fiction, The Archer Files. What additional material can we expect to find in this new edition?

TN: The added material in this expanded edition of The Archer Files includes a couple of chapters from the fragmentary Winnipeg-based manuscript referred to above, a discarded last chapter from the 1965 novel The Far Side of the Dollar [“We Went on from There”], and two more beginnings of unfinished stories similar to the 11 “case notes” in the original Archer Files. These items--some of which have appeared before, in different limited-edition contexts--are held in Macdonald’s archive at UC Irvine, which is where I came upon them.

JKP: With all of the books you have out now about Macdonald, are there still pieces of his work that you’re holding back, waiting to use at some date in the not-too-distant future? In other words, will there be more Macdonald books rolling out of your computer?

TN: As gratifying as it is for me to be thought a sort of custodian of my favorite writer’s oeuvre, let me hasten to say I am not his literary gatekeeper. Ross Macdonald’s trustee and his agent make the decisions regarding what parts of his work are to be published or republished. Other writers and editors may be at work on their own Ross Macdonald projects.

As for me: In the past 16 years, I’ve written a number of occasional pieces about Macdonald’s fiction--all drawing on material not in my Macdonald biography--which I’d love to see collected in a book.

LISTEN UP: In the 49th episode of their podcast, Speaking of Mysteries, Nancie Clare and Leslie S. Klinger speak with Tom Nolan about his new Library of America Macdonald collection. Click here to enjoy their conversation.