Monday, October 05, 2015

On the Passing of Henning Mankell

In this 2012 interview for the Louisiana Channel, Henning Mankell “reflects upon his work, inspirations, and the role of the intellectual in society.”

This is not the sort of news any crime-fiction enthusiast wishes to read on a Monday morning. From The New York Times:
Henning Mankell, the Swedish novelist and playwright best known for police procedurals that were translated into a score of languages and sold by the millions throughout the world, died on Monday in Goteborg, Sweden. He was 67.

The cause was cancer, said his literary agent Anneli Hoier. Last year, Mr. Mankell disclosed that doctors had found tumors in his neck and left lung.

Mr. Mankell was considered the dean of the so-called Scandinavian noir writers who gained global prominence for novels that blended edge-of-your-seat suspense with flawed, compelling protagonists and strong social themes. The genre includes Arnaldur Indridason of Iceland, Jo Nesbø of Norway and Stieg Larsson of Sweden, among others.

But it was Mr. Mankell who led the way with 10 mystery novels featuring Inspector Kurt Wallander, a gruff but humane detective troubled by self-doubt, overeating, alcoholism and eventually dementia. Most of the action takes place in and around Ystad, a real-life town of 18,350 inhabitants on the Baltic Sea, about 380 miles south of Stockholm and now a magnet for Wallander buffs.
More from The Guardian:
[Swedish publisher] Leopard, which he founded in 2001 with Dan Israel, and which published his books, described him as “one of the great Swedish authors of our time.” His British publisher Harvill Secker said this morning in a statement that its staff were “deeply saddened--and shocked--to hear of the news of the untimely death of Henning Mankell this morning.”

“Beloved by readers across the world, especially for his Kurt Wallander series, it was a privilege to have worked with a man of such talent and passion, and to have been his UK publisher for so many years,” said a spokesperson at Harvill Secker. “He was an inspiration not just as a writer, but as someone who always stood up for the rights of others. He will be so very sorely missed. The world is a sadder place for having lost such a charismatic and honourable man.”
The Independent adds:
Mankell announced last year that he had been diagnosed with cancer, and began documenting his experiences in a newspaper column.

“My anxiety is very profound, although by and large I can keep it under control,” he said, writing of his diagnosis in the Swedish newspaper

Of his decision to document his treatment, he said: “I have decided to write it just as it is, about the difficult battle it always is.

“But,” he added, “I will write from life's perspective, not death’s.”
In February 2014, The Guardian carried an English-translated piece Mankell had written about “how it feels to be diagnosed with cancer.” The UK Telegraph explains that the author “wrote about his experience of the disease in his most recent book, Quicksand: What it Means to Be a Human Being, to be published next year.”

I enjoyed this excerpt from The New York Times’ obituary:
Mr. Mankell grew irritated over attempts by readers to trace elements from his life in Wallander’s. Still, the parallels were there. Born in Stockholm on Feb. 3, 1948, he was abandoned by his mother, along with his two siblings, and they moved in with their father, a judge, in Sveg, a small community in northern Sweden.

Through his father’s court activities, Mr. Mankell learned about criminal cases in a small-town setting not unlike Wallander’s investigations in Ystad. And like the author’s mother, Wallander is an errant parent who abandons a child--though the two reconcile in the course of the detective series.

Mr. Mankell, whose grandfather was a composer, passed on his love of classical music to his famous detective. Wallander spends many lonely nights listening to Mozart operas or walking the windswept beaches of Ystad with his dog, Jussi--named after Jussi Bjorling, the great Swedish tenor.

And Wallander’s repeated failures at lasting romances echoed the author’s own: Mr. Mankell was married four times, the last to Eva Bergman, daughter of the Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman. “It shows I am an optimist,” Mr. Mankell said in a 2013 interview with
The Guardian.
Then there’s this, again from The Guardian:
The Nordic crime-writing community was quick to pay tribute, with Norwegian Jo Nesbø describing him as “generous, committed, reflective and warm.” He continued: “As I see it, Henning Mankell both carried on and modernized the Scandinavian crime fiction tradition dating back to Sjöwall & Wahlöö, in style as well as content. He was one of the most important pioneers of Scandinavian crime literature, if not the most important of all.”

The bestselling Icelandic crime writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir said that Mankell “was undoubtedly the single most important person involved in bringing Scandinavian crime fiction to the rest of the world.

“His novels were immensely popular and for a reason; his mastery lay in being able to combine compelling characters, intriguing crimes and matters of social injustice into stories that were not only enjoyable but also very well written. So much so that they transcended borders and made the foreign reader forget the odd names and unfamiliar locations,” she said.
READ MORE:Henning Mankell’s Ability to Write Anything Anywhere Saw Him to the End,” by Mark Lawson (The Guardian); “Henning Mankell in Quotes: 10 of the Best” (The Guardian); “Wallender Writer Henning Mankell Dies at 67,” by Leo Barraclough (Variety); “Henning Mankell, Swedish Author of Wallander Book Series, Dies at 67,” by Alex Ritman (The Hollywood Reporter); “A Tribute to Henning Mankell” (Crime Fiction Lover); “Henning Mankell -- Appreciation: The Master of Crime Writing with a Keen Social Conscience,” by Barry Forshaw (The Independent): “Henning Mankell: In Memoriam,” by Michael Carlson (Irresistible Targets).

Sunday, October 04, 2015

“Mr. Mercedes” Speeds Past Rivals

This is turning out to be a particularly big season for author Stephen King. Last month President Barack Obama presented him with a National Medal of Arts. Now The Gumshoe Site brings word that King’s novel Mr. Mercedes (Scribner) has won the 2015 Hammett Prize, given out annually by the North American Branch of the International Association of Crime Writers to “a work of literary excellence in the field of crime writing.” According to a press release:
Mr. King was awarded a bronze trophy, designed by West Coast sculptor, Peter Boiger. The award ceremony took place in Somerset, New Jersey, on October 3, during the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association's (NAIBA) Fall Conference.”
Also vying for this year’s Hammett Prize were: Wayfaring Stranger, by James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster); Smoke River, by Krista Foss (McClelland & Stewart); Gangsterland, by Tod Goldberg (Counterpoint); and Goodhouse, by Peyton Marshall (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).

Congratulations to the victor as well as his fellow nominees.

READ MORE:Favorite Crime Fiction of 2014, Part V: Ali Karim
(The Rap Sheet).

Cleave Captures the Marsh -- Again

Five Minutes Alone (Penguin NZ), by Paul Cleave, has won New Zealand’s 2015 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. That announcement was made last night in Christchurch at the conclusion of the Murder in the Court event. This victory brings Cleave his second Ngaio Marsh Award; he previously won in 2011 for Blood Men.

The following is excerpted from a news release:
“In a year with a remarkable quintet of finalists, it’s fitting that Paul Cleave has become the first author to win the Ngaio Marsh Award twice,” said Judging Convenor Craig Sisterson. “For almost a decade he’s been leading our vanguard on the world stage in what’s becoming a new heyday of local crime writing.”

Five Minutes Alone, “wonderfully complex protagonist” Theo Tate has been resurrected, as a cop and human being, after recovering from a coma. He finds himself chasing a killer he can empathize with: a vigilante who is disposing of society’s worst offenders, giving victims of crime their “five minutes alone” with the culprits. But settling old scores is never as simple as it seems, as Tate knows well himself.
Five Minutes Alone triumphed over an impressive longlist of eight other contenders and a field containing four rival finalists to capture this prize, which has been given out annually since 2010 “for the best crime, mystery, or thriller novel written by a New Zealand citizen or resident.” Also in contention for the 2015 Ngaio Marsh Award were: The Petticoat Men, by Barbara Ewing (Head of Zeus); Swimming in the Dark, by Paddy Richardson (Upstart Press); The Children’s Pond, by Tina Shaw (Pointer Press); and Fallout, by Paul Thomas (Upstart Press). I was among half a dozen people asked to choose between this year’s nominees--the third year in a row I’ve been so honored--and I must confess that Five Minutes Alone was not one of my own top-five picks (I had in mind giving the commendation to another previous recipient). But this is a democratic process, and I respect the prevailing opinions of my fellow judges. So, finally, let me offer my congratulations to Mr. Cleave!

To learn about previous Ngaio Marsh Award winners, click here.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Roots of Invention

Was there a crying need for this revival? From Double O Section:
According to Deadline, Furious 7 director James Wan is teaming with R. Scott Gemmill (NCIS: L.A.) and original series executive producer Henry Winkler on a television reboot of MacGyver for CBS. The new series will be a prequel of sorts (though, of course, set today) focusing on a twenty-something Angus MacGyver. It’s unknown if it will be set prior to his days with intelligence agency DSX or The Phoenix Foundation, but it will show how he acquired his knack for making bombs out of Bic pens and binder clips.
Variety notes that “Wan had been attached to direct a feature rendition of MacGyver that has been in development at New Line. The WB Network also took a stab at developing a Young MacGyver series in 2003 but it never came to fruition.” We’ll see if this new MacGyer can more cleverly engineer a way onto the small screen.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Spinning Gold from “Cop Corn”

During the decades I have practiced journalism, I’ve experienced few missed opportunities more disappointing than my failed interview with Ed McBain--whose work is showcased in this week’s Web-wide “forgotten books” posts.

My tale takes place in the early 1980s, when I was working for Portland, Oregon’s “alternative newsweekly,” Willamette Week. I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, but what I recall is that I was laboring away at my desk one day, when the sweet-voiced receptionist buzzed me, announcing that somebody named Ed McBain was on the line, and he wanted to know whether the paper had anyone on staff who was interested in crime and mystery fiction. At the time, I was still a pretty raw book critic, and I wasn’t as familiar with McBain’s fiction as I was with what others (including Ross Macdonald and Robert B. Parker) were doing in the field. However, I was young and overly self-confident, and I said, sure, I’ll talk with him.

I don’t recall which book McBain was promoting at the time; it might have been Heat (1981) or Ice (1983) or Lightning (1984), but I’m quite sure it was one of his 87th Precinct police procedurals. I did my best to ask him about the tale, and remember anything of his personal life or career that I could use to beef up our discussion and make me sound semi-intelligent. If memory serves, I’d at least received a copy of his latest novel, though I had not read it. For some peculiar reason, it didn’t occur to me to suggest that we schedule an interview for another occasion, when I might be better prepared. I just barreled ahead. It’s likely I was not the best questioner McBain encountered on that year’s circuit, but I probably wasn’t the worst. Looking back now, I can’t help wondering how much better I could have done had I actually been prepared for our exchange. But at least I extracted enough information to pen a short piece for the next week’s issue.

I never again had the opportunity to speak with McBain, and then the author (whose real name was Salvatore Alberto Lombino; he legally changed it to Evan Hunter in 1952--McBain was simply his best-recognized pseudonym) died in the summer of 2005. Shortly thereafter, I wrote this as part of a January Magazine tribute:
In many ways, McBain was a pioneer. In the 1950s and ’60s, his “cops resembled the real America, not the Dragnet straight arrows playing on TV sets in wood-paneled rec rooms,” writes [his screenwriter-journalist friend, James] Grady, who adds that McBain “bucked the clichés of police fiction, in which cops were nearly always Irish or almost certainly white.” New York Times crime-fiction critic Marilyn Stasio concurs, writing in her obituary of the novelist that he “took police fiction into a new, more realistic realm, a radical break from a form long dependent on the educated, aristocratic detective who works alone and takes his time puzzling out a case.” And South Africa-born author James McClure, whose own procedurals, featuring Afrikaner Lieutenant Tromp Kramer and Zulu Sergeant Mickey Zondi (The Steam Pig, The Sunday Hangman) were clearly prompted by reading McBain’s police yarns, applauded the New York writer’s skill at making gold from “cop corn.” McBain, he explained, “accepts things as they are; if the field that engrosses him is knee-high in clichés, so be it. In he goes, as eager and uncompromising as a child, to grasp the thistle that grows between the rows.”
Today’s forgotten books bloggers give McBain’s “cop corn” some much-deserved attention, remarking on a diverse collection of his works. Everything from Blood Relatives (1975) and The Gutter and the Grave (aka I’m Cannon--For Hire, 1958) to The Con Man (1957) and Cinderella (1986). It’s a good representation of his work. I wish I could talk with McBain about it. This time, damn it, I’d be ready for him …

(Ed McBain photograph by Sean Smith.)

Hammett’s Roller Coaster Ride

In a good-size excerpt from his new book, The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett (Bloomsbury USA), Nathan Ward recounts the circumstances under which a finally well-off Hammett produced his fifth and last novel, 1934’s The Thin Man. In a concentrated rush, while denying himself his usual fill of pricey booze and staying locked away from his partner, fellow author Lillian Hellman, Hammett delivered what was, to an obvious extent, a roman à clef:
The book he had written, in addition to its central mystery plot about the search for a missing inventor, Clyde Wynant, over several days in December, was also clearly an account of what it was like to be suddenly wealthy and an ex-detective from San Francisco, spending as quickly as the money came in and bantering with your sophisticated lady friend at a series of parties and Manhattan hotels.

Sometimes in his bathrobe, having scotch for breakfast, Nick Charles is a burnt-out case moved to do things mainly out of love for his wife. “We didn’t come to New York to stay sober,” he reminds her when events threaten his Christmas plans. Up from the lobby of his Hotel Normandie come a host of characters from his detecting past. The adventure seeks him out, buzzed and resistant as he is. Even when wounded by a bullet, he is in his hotel bed, throwing a pillow in defense. Nick Charles is three things rare in a good detective: drunk, famous, and accompanied usually by his charming wife.
You can read the full excerpt in The Stacks.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Music City Tunes Up for Mystery

With less than a month to go now before this year’s Killer Nashville convention (October 29-November 1) opens in Tennessee, conference organizers have released the list of finalists for the 2015 Silver Falchion Readers Choice Awards. Attendees and others are invited to go here and vote for their favorite works.

Because there are so many categories of nominees (22 by my count), I am going to feature below only the adult best novel contenders.

Best Novel: Romantic Suspense
Judgment, by Carey Baldwin (Witness Impulse)
The Lost Key, by Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison (Putnam)
Top Secret Twenty-One, by Janet Evanovich (Bantam)
Sweet Damage, by Rebecca James (Bantam)
Truth Be Told, by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge)

Best Novel: Cozy/Traditional
Angelica’s Smile, by Andrea Camilleri (Penguin)
The Question of the Missing Head, by E.J. Copperman and Jeff Cohen (Midnight Ink)
The Alpine Yeoman, by Mary Daheim (Ballantine)
Designated Daughters, by Margaret Maron (Grand Central)
Hunting Shadows, by Charles Todd (Morrow)

Best Novel: Historical
The Reckoning, by Rennie Airth (Viking)
An Air of Treason, by P.F. Chisolm (Poisoned Pen Press)
The Johnstown Girls, by Kathleen George (University of
Pittsburgh Press)
The Devil’s Workshop, by Alex Grecian (Putnam)
Death on Blackheath, by Anne Perry (Ballantine)

Best Novel: Private Detective/Police Procedural
The Forsaken, by Ace Atkins (Putnam)
The Hollow Girl, by Reed Farrel Coleman (Tyrus)
Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart, by Christopher
Fowler (Bantam)
Sorrow Bound, by David Mark (Blue Rider Press)
Field of Prey, by John Sandford (Putnam)

Best Novel: Speculative
The String Diaries, by Stephen Lloyd Jones (Mulholland)
Coldbrook, by Tim Lebbon (Titan)
Lock In, by John Scalzi (Tor)
Fear City, by F. Paul Wilson (Tor)
Yesterday’s Hero, by Jonathan
Wood (Titan)

Best Novel: Literary Suspense
The Dead Will Tell,
by Linda Castillo (Minotaur)
Red 1-2-3, by John Katzenbach
(Mysterious Press)
Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King (Scribner)
The Day She Died, by Catriona McPherson (Midnight Ink)
The Farm, by Tom Rob Smith (Grand Central)

Best Novel: Political Thriller/Adventure
Night Heron, by Adam Brookes (Redhook)
Dark Spies, by Matthew Dunn (Morrow)
The Hilltop, by Assaf Gavron (Scribner)
End Game, by John Gilstrap (Pinnacle)
I Am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes (Atria/Emily Bestler)
Assassin’s Game, by Ward Larsen (Forge)

Best Novel: Crime Thriller
The Bone Orchard, by Paul Doiron (Minotaur)
Dakota, by Gwen Florio (Permanent Press)
Gangsterland, by Tod Goldberg (Counterpoint)
The Keeper, by John Lescroart (Atria)
In the Blood, by Lisa Unger (Touchstone)

A full tally of this year’s Silver Falchion finalists is here.

(Hat tip to Criminal Element.)

New Prize Promotes Digital Crime

With electronic books (and e-book versions of printed works) having gained at least a fair share of the annual book-sales market,, the digital arm of publisher Mysterious Press, reports that it’s creating the Mysterious Press Award, “which will be given for the best e-book original mystery novel.” A contest will be held to choose the winning entry, which “will receive a prize of $25,000 and guaranteed world-wide publication. The winner will be announced at the 2016 Frankfurt Book Fair,” explains a press release.

That official communiqué goes on to read:
Submissions will be accepted from January 1 through April 30, 2016. Entries must be in English and submitted both electronically (to and in printed format (to The Mysterious Press, 58 Warren Street, New York, N.Y. 10007). Limit of one book per author. Initial readings of manuscripts will be handled by editors and associates of The top three entries will then be circulated to its world-wide partners for a final decision.

The contest is open to established authors as well as first-time novelists. Submissions of complete, full-length novels will be accepted only from accredited literary agents and must never have been published previously in any format. All categories will be considered: Traditional detective stories, hard-boiled, noir, police procedural, suspense, crime, historical, humor--any book in which a crime, or the threat of a crime, is central to the theme or the plot. Horror, supernatural, fantasy, and science-fiction works are not eligible. The winner will be chosen based on a variety of criteria, including originality and literary quality. Manuscripts will not be critiqued and will not be returned. Employees of Grove/Atlantic, the Mysterious Bookshop, and and its partners are not eligible. See Official Rules for entry requirements and complete details at our Web site, No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited.

The $25,000 prize will be an advance against future
royalties. will publish it as an e-book original with print-on-demand copies also available. World-wide partners will have all rights (excluding dramatic rights) to publish in all formats.
At this point, I’m told, no decision has been made as to whether the Mysterious Press Award will be a one-off for this year, or become an annual prize. Sources do, though, mention that Mysterious Press president-publisher Otto Penzler envisions “doing other contests/awards in the future, but time will tell what form [they] will take, or if [they] will be for a different category, etc.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

“Life or Death” Takes Home Gold

During a festive event held this evening in London, the British Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) presented three more of its 2015 Dagger Awards. Those included the Goldsboro Gold Dagger, which went to Michael Robotham, making him only the second Australian--after Peter Temple in 2007--to capture that coveted honor.

Here’s the complete list of winners and shortlisted works.

CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger:
Life or Death, by Michael Robotham (Sphere)

Also nominated: The Shut Eye, by Belinda Bauer (Bantam Press); The Rules of Wolfe, by James Carlos Blake (No Exit Press); The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith (Sphere); Missing, by Sam Hawken (Serpent’s Tail); Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton); and Pleasantville, by Attica Locke (Serpent’s Tail)

CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger:
Cop Town, by Karin Slaughter (Century)

Also nominated: The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins (Doubleday); The Night the Rich Men Burned, by Malcolm MacKay (Mantle); Missing, by Sam Hawken (Serpent’s Tail); Nobody Walks, by Mick Herron (Soho Crime); The White Van, by Patrick Hoffman (Grove Press); and The Kind Worth Killing, by Peter Swanson (Faber and Faber)

CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger:
Fourth of July Creek, by Smith Henderson (Heinemann)

Also nominated: The Girl in the Red Coat, by Kate Hamer (Faber and Faber); The Abrupt Physics of Dying, by Paul E. Hardisty (Orenda); Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng (Little, Brown); and You, by Caroline Kepnes (Simon & Schuster)

In a comment on Twitter, critic-editor Sarah Weinman (Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & ’50s) wrote of Henderson’s victorious work: “So fascinating as it was not marketed as a crime novel in the U.S. at all.”

Congratulations to all of the winners and runners-up here!

Seven other annual Dagger Awards were handed out in June. You can find out who won them by clicking here.

READ MORE:Australian Ghostwriter Beats Stephen King and J.K. Rowling to Top UK Crime-writing Award,” by David Barnett (The Guardian); “In Pictures: The CWA Dagger Awards 2015,” by Caroine Carpenter (The Bookseller); “The Psychology of Crime: An Interview with Michael Robotham,” by Jacques Jacques Filippi (The House of Crime and Mystery).

A Fair Fright

I really wanted to love The Scribe (Norton), Matthew Guinn’s new, second novel after his Edgar Award-nominated The Resurrectionist (2013). While I was still working my way through the tale, I promoted it as a “Pierce’s Pick” in The Rap Sheet. The Scribe boasted a number of components that promised to appeal to me: a setting in 1881 Atlanta, Georgia; a post-Civil War pairing of white and black cops; and nefarious acts committed on the fringes of a world’s fair, reminding me of Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City (2003).

Unfortunately, by the time I finished reading, I was less satisfied with Guinn’s efforts. As I hope I make clear in my review of The Scribe, posted today on the Kirkus Reviews Web site, this novel benefits from its author’s abundant storytelling abilities and skill at crafting dialogue. However, its faults weigh heavily against those strengths, and left me hoping for better from Guinn’s next yarn.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Story Behind the Story:
“Spanish Luck,” by Robert Skinner

(Editor’s note: In this 61st installment of The Rap Sheet’s “Story Behind the Story” series, we welcome an author from whom we haven’t heard in a while: Robert Skinner. A resident of New Orleans and former librarian at Xavier University of Louisiana, Skinner also penned the Anthony Award-nominated novel Skin Deep, Blood Red (1997), which introduced Depression-era New Orleans nightclub owner and sometime private eye Wesley Farrell, a black man who passes for white. He followed that with five additional Farrell books. Now he’s back with Spanish Luck, the first entry in what we can only hope is a new series, this one starring a disabled war veteran turned sleuth, Sal Cortes. In the essay below, Skinner tells about how he reinvigorated his fiction-writing career.)

The story of how I came to write Spanish Luck is almost longer than the novel itself. It’s also a picture of what a funny game writing can be and how circumstances can alter the path of a writer’s imagination. Back in 2002 I had just completed the sixth novel in my Wesley Farrell series, The Righteous Cut. I thought it was the best novel I’d written, but I was painfully aware that I might be past the point where that series would break out and become a much greater success. I had brought my characters from the middle of the Great Depression up to the beginning of World War II, but I felt I had to do something a bit different in hopes of making the series of greater interest to a larger number of readers, while remaining in my early ’40s New Orleans universe.

The touchstones of my career have always been Raymond Chandler and the African-American writer Chester Himes. Chandler was the first hard-boiled writer I ever read, and his influence is powerful. That image of a loner’s picaresque journey through a dark, criminal city was what brought me into writing, but in my early 40s, I discovered Chester Himes and his “Harlem Domestic Series.” His view of crime from an African-American perspective really turned my writing life upside down. There is a romance to Himes’ crime writing that was unique to his time and has influenced crime writers as disparate as Walter Mosley and James Sallis, both of whom I admire very much.

At the same time, it occurred to me that New Orleans is a melting pot that includes people of both French and Spanish heritage, and this sent my imagination in a new direction. I was still working on this new direction for my fiction when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, destroyed my house and almost destroyed the university where I made my living. For a few years, most of what I did with my time was try to rebuild my personal life and help my university come back from a huge catastrophe.

I didn’t write much, but occasionally I came up with short fiction that kept some of my series cast alive. During that time, Anthony Neil Smith of the Webzine Plots With Guns invited me to write a story for an anthology he was putting together for publisher Dennis MacMillan. I recognized what a great opportunity this was, and after a week or two I came up with a short story set in the early 1950s called “Spanish Luck.” It featured a tough troubleshooter named Sal Cortes, who just happened to work for a central character in my Farrell book series, Creole businessman Marcel Aristide. For the first time in ages, I seemed to have a real idea that I might be able to expand into something bigger and better.

(Right) Author Robert Skinner, photograph © 2001 by Jackson Hill

As all of this was going on, I was getting older and the end of my working life as a university library director was drawing near, something that further distracted me from writing. I still had a novel in mind for Sal Cortes, but it was difficult getting it down on paper while I was contemplating retirement. Working for a living can, as some of you no doubt know, make it hard to focus on coming up with something as big as a novel.

Fast-forward to 2013 and I was suddenly a civilian again with a lot of time on my hands. I hadn’t written a book-length piece of fiction for more than 10 years and the writing muscles were flaccid, not to say creaky. But I still wanted to see if I could write another novel and Sal Cortes was hovering over my shoulder, whispering to me that he craved an adventure.

Since I had originally conceived of Sal in a 1950s milieu, I first wrote a story set in the early ’50s, pairing Sal up with a female sidekick, but the idea wasn’t right somehow. Sal seemed too restrained, not quite the guy I’d originally envisioned. I was also told that novels set in the 1950s didn’t seem to have the appeal of ’40s-era stories. So I went back to the computer and began to reimagine my story and cast.

As a child of the late 1940s, I grew up hearing about life on the home front. One of my grandfathers worked on the railroad, while another worked at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., and my mother and grandmother worked at the Naval Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Virginia. From them I got a sense that, even with all the fighting going on overseas, life in wartime America had a kind of normality to it that people in Europe couldn’t enjoy. There were movies to go to, radio programs to listen to, dinners to have in restaurants, school classes to attend, 8-to-5 schedules, and grocery shopping. And, of course, there was crime, both petty and major.

There were returning veterans, as well, a number of them bearing wounds and disabilities that made further military service impossible. I began to envision Sal as one of those disabled vets, and imagined what such a man, who I now saw as an ex-cop, would be facing. We know today that combat veterans experience bad dreams, flashbacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder, things that were simply shrugged off in the 1940s. Sal, I realized, would be coping with those things in addition to his physical disabilities.

I also began to imagine that Sal couldn’t be alone in whatever his adventure would be, that he might need some help and maybe some conflict in his life beyond his strictly personal problems. I began to conceive of a brother, who I named Des, who would not have gone to war because he was a cop, a profession that made its members draft-exempt.

With so many men away at war, professions of all kinds threw their doors open to women for the first time. I immediately saw a place for an intrepid young woman who’d be striving to make a name and place for herself as a newspaper reporter. She’d be ambitious, determined to make it in a man’s world. I also began to see her as a source of conflict between Sal and his brother, Des.

I now had most of my cast for Spanish Luck, but I still wanted to inject an African-American component into my plot, some characters who could really shake up the story. I began to envision a career criminal, recently released from prison. A guy who might just be looking for a big score to put himself back on his feet. Now the story needed just one more essential element: a reason to bring Sal Cortes, unofficial private eye, into the action. The African-American criminal, who I named Al Martin, would have a teenage son, Butch, who idolizes his father and might be willing to ditch his square life in order to run off on an adventure with his dangerous dad.

Sal is brought into this case by Butch’s mother, a divorced woman working an 8-to-5 job in Jim Crow New Orleans. Having learned from Butch’s friends that the youngster was seen driving away in Al Martin’s car, she’s desperate to find her son before his father can get him into trouble.

Sal seems at first an unlikely hero. He’s got scars on his face and shrapnel in his hip. He’s missing fingers from his left hand, and he’s trying to forget the horror he’s seen and somehow transition back into civilian life. He has no official investigator’s license, but simply does “favors” for people, some of them sent by Creole businessman Marcel Aristide.

As Sal begins his search for Butch, other things are happening in New Orleans. The murder of a low-level bank employee catches the attention of Detective Sergeant Des Cortes and his erstwhile girlfriend, newspaper reporter Jessica Richards. What Des, Jessica, and Sal don’t know at this early point is that the murdered man and ex-con Al Martin have something in common--they’re connected to a professional thief named Fade Taber who’s in New Orleans to knock over a bank. The story pushes all three of my central characters along separate trails until those trails intersect and force them to work as a team.

By now, I hope you’re wondering, does Sal overcome his physical and psychic wounds? Do Des and Jessica figure out the murder and see the connection to the impending bank holdup? Do the three of them forget what’s driven them apart and somehow work together, save Butch, and thwart the holdup gang? I can see only one way for you to answer those questions: buy Spanish Luck. I hope you enjoy it.

And Then There Was One More

Agatha Christie’s most famous standalone mystery, And Then There Were None, has already been adapted for film, television, and radio a number of times. Yet it appears that this tale about guests at an isolated island retreat being serially murdered is destined to receive another big-screen adaptation. From Flavorwire:
Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel And Then There Were None, the world’s best-selling mystery novel and heralded as the English author’s masterpiece, is being adapted for film. Imitation Game director Morten Tyldum is attached to direct the movie, which will center on the narrative about ten strangers who are invited to an island, charged with a bloody crime from their past by a mysterious host, and killed off one by one. This isn’t the only Christie adaptation from studio Fox. Murder on the Orient Express is also getting the remake treatment, with Kenneth Branagh attached to direct. We’ll probably see a small-screen adaptation of And Then There Were None from Lifetime first as one is currently underway (natch). Deadline reports that Tyldum is a fan of the novel, which will hopefully be somewhat reassuring for Christie enthusiasts. Eric Heisserer is attached to write the script.
If you don’t want to wait for Fox’s version, click here to watch director René Clair’s slightly altered 1945 adaptation of Christie’s haunting yarn, starring Barry Fitzgerald and Walter Huston.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Bullet Points: Friday Sweep-Up Edition

• Earlier this month, Agatha Christie’s estate declared the results of an online survey that asked readers to choose their favorite works from among the English mystery writer’s oeuvre. The top vote-getter, it turned out, was And Then There Were None (1939). That didn’t settle the matter, however. Other critics subsequently listed their own top Christie whodunits, all by way of celebrating the author’s 125th birthday on September 15. Now, blogger-editor Curtis J. Evans (Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery: Cecil John Charles Street, Freeman Wills Crofts, Alfred Walter Stewart and the British Detective Novel, 1920-1961) has sifted through 31 “best of” compilations to see which novels won the majority of endorsements. Again--as you can see here--And Then There Were None walks away with the top honors, while the second and third spots belong to Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, respectively. The runners-up are here.

• When I read in The New York Times that best-selling author Jackie Collins had died of breast cancer at age 77, I figured the news was well outside my reportorial bailiwick. The Gumshoe Site reminds me, though, that in addition to producing “sex-filled, escapist, utterly unpretentious” works such as The Bitch and Hollywood Wives, Collins “wrote a number of crime novels, including Lovehead (Allen, 1974; retitled The Love Killers, Warner 1975), and [the] Santangelo (Crime) Family series, which started with Chances (Warner, 1981). Her last novel was The Santangelos (St. Martin’s, 2015).”

• Not every Rap Sheet reader is also a Facebook user, I’m sure. But for those of you who are, and would like to see what the office of author James Lee Burke (House of the Rising Sun) offers, click here for thoroughly delightful tour of his writing space, during which he “talks about a few of his favorite things in the office.”

• I confess, I haven’t yet begun watching the new, fourth season of the Western-detective series Longmire on Netflix, which began streaming on September 10. However, Edward A. Grainger (aka David Cranmer) has almost finished reviewing all of its 10 episodes for Criminal Element. Click here to read his fine critiques.

• It’s hard to believe that NBC-TV’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU) is currently in its 17th year of broadcasting. I was never a fan, having found the program too consistently grim for my tastes. But blogger “Ben” at Dead End Follies has recently begun exploring the show’s numerous seasons, and he has a few interesting things to say about it at this particular link.

• Oh, to spend October in Britain’s capital … Double O Section reports that “Lucky Londoners will be able to enjoy the event of a lifetime next month when Dame Diana Rigg herself does an on-stage Q&A following a screening of the classic Avengers episode ‘The House That Jack Built.’ It’s one of a pair of absolute classic Emma Peel episodes screening on October 25 at BFI Southbank.”

• Holy obscure holidays! Saturday is Batman Day.

• Meanwhile, Keith DeCandido at has announced that “Starting next Friday, I will be doing The Bat-Rewatch! I’ll be looking back at the Batman TV series developed by William Dozier for ABC, and which ran from 1966 to 1968. Between seasons one and two, we’ll also take a gander at the Batman feature film that was released in the summer of 1966.” Follow DeCandido’s series here.

L.A. Weekly celebrates TV shows, especially Michael Connelly’s Bosch, that make good use of their Los Angeles settings.

• Did you know that American composer Henry Mancini’s famous theme for the 1958-1961 private-eye TV series Peter Gunn has lyrics? Yeah, neither did I--and in fact, they were added after the show’s demise. You can listen to jazz songstress Sarah Vaughn belt out those lyrics below, and follow along with a printed version here.


• When I finished watching the very dramatic third season of Ripper Street earlier this year, I presumed that that historical crime series was over and done. The concluding episode of Season 3 certainly suggested as much. But I must have missed the news, reported in The Guardian, that “Amazon Prime … has recommissioned the Victorian detective drama for a fourth and fifth season.” Hurrah!

• English singer-songwriter Sam Smith’s title song for the forthcoming, 24th James Bond flick, Spectre, was released this morning. And despite former Bond actor Roger Moore declaring that it’s “very haunting and wonderfully orchestrated,” other critical opinions are mixed, at best. Read more here and here.

• Otto Penzler, editor and proprietor of New York City’s Mysterious Bookshop, submits his list of the “5 Most Underappreciated Crime Writers.” I certainly agree with him about Daniel Woodrell.

• This may be the most ludicrous idea yet for turning a once-popular TV series into a big-screen picture. From In Reference to Murder: “NBC has put in development a new take on the 1979 ABC mystery Hart to Hart, which starred Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers as a husband-and-wife sleuthing duo. The reboot hails from producer Carol Mendelsohn and Sony TV and will center on a gay couple. The new Hart to Hart is described as ‘a modern and sexy retelling of the classic series that focuses on by-the-book attorney Jonathan Hart and free-spirited investigator Dan Hartman, who must balance the two sides of their life: action-packed crime-solving in the midst of newly found domesticity.’” Why in the hell can’t Hollywood seem to come up with fresh movie-making concepts anymore?

• The captivating Amanda Seyfried has landed a supposedly pivotal but still under-wraps role in Showtime TV’s on-again, off-again, then on-again limited series revival of Twin Peaks. TV Line reports that “Seyfried will appear in multiple episodes, making it her biggest TV gig since Big Love ended in 2011.” Showtime plans to introduce its new Twin Peaks sometime next year.

• Artist Charles McVicar’s name came up in a Killer Covers post I wrote back in June having to do with his painting for the front of The Search for Tabatha Carr (1964). I’m reminded of him once more, thanks to the excellent TV history Web site Television Obscurities, which this week has been rolling out write-ups about small-screen publicity posters from 37 years ago. “To promote its Fall 1978 line-up,” the site explains, “ABC commissioned a series of seven posters--one for each night of the week--depicting characters from its new and returning shows.” McVicar appears to have executed the artwork for all six of the posters showcased thus far: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Check Television Obscurities tomorrow for the final entry in this set. UPDATE: ABC-TV’s Saturday publicity poster can now be found at this link.

• If you’ve never seen the 1972 NBC-TV pilot The Judge and Jake Wyler, starring Bette Davis as a hypochondriac former jurist who employs an ex-con (played by Doug McClure) as her investigative partner, you can now watch it on YouTube, in seven parts. Click here to find Part I as well as links to the succeeding installments. And if you didn’t know this already, The Judge and Jake Wyler was produced by Columbo creators Richard Levinson and William Link.

• Crime Fiction Lover continues it’s “Classics in September” series with this look back at Australian “Queen of Crime” June Wright. Catch up with all the “Classics in September” posts here.

• In the pages of The New Yorker, Michelle Dean recalls “The Secrets of Vera Caspary, the Woman Who Wrote Laura.”

• The blog Longreads provides this reprint of David Lehman’s excellent essay, “The Radical Pessimism of Dashiell Hammett,” which appeared originally in The American Scholar.

• Interviews worth finding: Attica Locke talks with fellow novelist Alafair Burke for The Life Sentence; Scottish writer Paul Johnston (who I also chatted with recently) goes one-on-one with Sandra Dick of the Edinburgh News in an exchange during which Johnston says, “I witter about plagues of boils and the odd book”; basketball star-turned-fictionist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar supplies some background to his brand-new novel, Mycroft Holmes; again for The Life Sentence, editor Lisa Levy quizzes David Lagercrantz about his fourth entry in Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander series, The Girl in the Spider’s Web; Warren Ellis answers some questions about his new James Bond comic book; and recent National Medal of Arts recipient Stephen King asks Lee Child about his 20th Jack Reacher thriller, Make Me.

• The BBC’s Radio 4 gears up for Halloween.

• Congratulations to Jason Pinter, the editor and publisher of Polis Books, who has been named by Publishers Weekly as one of its inaugural Star Watch honorees, a commendation that “recognizes young publishing professionals who have distinguished themselves as future leaders of the industry.”

• Finally, if you haven’t been keeping up with my Killer Covers blog, note that in just the last week I have posted there a collection of classic school-related paperbacks, a “Two-fer Tuesday” entry focusing on tales about black attire, a significant update and expansion of my 2010 gallery of novel fronts by Ernest Chiriacka, aka Darcy, and today’s post about the eye-catching 1949 edition of Bitter Ending.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Pierce’s Picks

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

In Those We Left Behind (Soho Crime), Stuart Neville devises a plot with several main threads and two distinct time periods, and somehow makes it all work. Set in Belfast, Northern Ireland, this notably dark yarn centers mostly around brothers Thomas and Ciaran Devine, whose foster father, David Rolston, was slain in savage, headline-making fashion in 2007. Ciaran, then only 12 years old, pled guilty to the crime, but he and 14-year-old Thomas were both sent away to a young offenders’ institution. Now move on to the present day, where we find Ciaran finally being released back into society to join his sibling, who’s already been free a while. Hoping to aid in Ciaran’s return is his probation officer, Paula Cunningham. But Detective Chief Inspector Serena Flanagan--who played an important role in Neville’s 2014 novel, The Final Silence, and has just recently gone back to work after treatment for breast cancer--claims her own interest in the ex-convict’s future. She was suspicious of Ciaran’s confession from the start, and resolves to keep a close watch on him, now that he’s back on the streets and under the too-tight control of his short-tempered sibling. Also interested in the Devine brothers is Daniel Rolston, the natural son of Ciaran’s alleged victim, who has never been able to shake off the circumstances of his father’s demise, and is convinced that the wrong sibling paid for that horror. There’s significant menace and potential violence the deeper one travels into this novel, but Neville’s compassion for his characters and his sharp writing make the reading worthwhile. Tennison (Simon & Schuster UK) is a prequel to Lynda La Plante’s Prime Suspect series of police procedurals starring Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison of London’s Metropolitan Police Service. This new book opens in 1973 when Tennison, then a 22-year-old Janis Joplin fan, matriculates from the police training academy and enters a probationary period during which her intelligence, attention to detail, and resilience in the face of rampant male chauvinism will be tested. It’s lucky she catches the eye of WPC (Woman Police Constable) Kath Morgan, a more experienced investigator, who helps Tennison endure sexual harassment and negotiate the complications of her first homicide case. La Plante has already scripted a six-part TV series based on Tennison, which is set to air in the UK sometime next year.

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

“Sun” Rises Again

With all of the hullabaloo surrounding the October 26 debut, in the United Kingdom, of the 25th James Bond film, Spectre (the U.S. debut will follow on November 6), the British arm of publisher Vintage has decided to bring out a new edition of Colonel Sun (1968), the very first Bond continuation novel published after Ian Fleming’s death in 1964. Kingsley Amis wrote Colonel Sun under the pseudonym Robert Markham, and accordingto The Book Bond, that yarn hasn’t enjoyed a new release since 1995. Here’s how Wikipedia synopsizes its plot:
Colonel Sun centers on the fictional British Secret Service operative James Bond and his mission to track down the kidnappers of M, his superior at the Secret Service. During the mission he discovers a communist Chinese plot to cause an international incident. Bond, assisted by a Greek spy working for the Russians, finds M on a small Aegean island, rescues him and kills the two main plotters: Colonel Sun Liang-tan and a former Nazi commander, Von Richter.

Amis drew upon a holiday he had taken in the Greek islands to create a realistic Greek setting and characters. He emphasized political intrigue in the plot more than Fleming had done in the canonical Bond novels, also adding revenge to Bond's motivations by including M's kidnapping. Despite keeping a format and structure similar to Fleming's Bond novels, Colonel Sun was given mixed reviews.
Vintage Classics will re-release Colonel Sun in a 224-page paperback edition on October 15. Unfortunately, this seems to be a UK development only; Amazon shows no concurrent American release of Amis’ tale, though you can still pick up used paperback copies of it on this side of the Atlantic, ranging in price from $9.99 to $67.68. I’ve never read Colonel Sun, so I’m hoping one of the booksellers at Bouchercon next month will have the new UK edition in stock.

READ MORE:The Curious Case of Colonel Sun: Kingsley Amis’s Missing Bond Novel,” by Aug Stone (The Quietus); “Kingsley Amis’ James Bond Novel,” by Dan Piepenbring (The Paris Review).

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Persistence Pays Off

Veteran Bouchercon participants Bill and Toby Gottfried will be presented with the David S. Thompson Award during next month’s incarnation of that World Mystery Convention, to be held in Raleigh, North Carolina. Named in honor of Texas bookseller-publisher David Thompson, who died in 2010, this commendation is intended to “recognize extraordinary efforts to develop and promote the mystery and crime fiction community.”

As Shotsmag Confidential explains, “Toby and Bill have attended almost every Bouchercon since 1985. Their involvement in the mystery community goes far beyond attending conferences and buying books. They have actively participated on multiple Bouchercon committees and have chaired two Left Coast Crime conventions. They plan vacations and travel around mystery conventions. At each convention, they make authors and readers feel welcome, breaking bread with them, and welcoming them in every possible way into the mystery community as friends and family.”

Congratulations to the Gottfrieds, who you may remember were also honored back in 2008 with the Don Sandstrom Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement in Mystery Fandom.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Story Behind the Story:
“Go Down Hard,” by Craig Faustus Buck

(Editor’s note: In this 60th installment of our “Story Behind the Story” series, The Rap Sheet welcomes Craig Faustus Buck, the Los Angeles-based author-screenwriter whose first noir mystery novel, Go Down Hard, was published this last summer by Brash Books. Buck’s short story “Honeymoon Sweet” is currently in contention for both an Anthony Award and a Macavity Award. He was also an Anthony short-story nominee in 2014 for “Dead End,” and wrote an Oscar-nominated short film. Buck is currently the president of the Mystery Writers of America-Southern California chapter.)

The protagonist of my debut novel, Go Down Hard, is a bottom-feeding ex-cop tabloid crime writer named Nob Brown. He’s always struggling to work his way up the writers’ food chain, so I figured I’d give him a shot at improving his lot by letting him interview me for The Rap Sheet.

Nob Brown: Let’s start off with a softball. Why did you write Go Down Hard?

Craig Faustus Buck: It was an act of defiance against what I’d like to call a long and distinguished writing career but, in fact, it was just long.

NB: “An act of defiance” is pretty vague. How about some context?

CFB: I’ve made my living as a writer since graduating college in 1974. I’ve been a newspaper reporter, a freelance book editor, a ghostwriter, an academic abstract writer, a magazine writer, a magazine editor, a war correspondent, a non-fiction author, a network TV writer/producer, a screenwriter … you name it, I’ve written it. But all of these roles had one thing in common: I was writing for a taskmaster. Whether he or she was an editor, a publisher, a producer, a network, or a studio, I was always under someone’s else thumb (yes, it’s awkward, but grammatically correct. Never use it in dialogue). When I took an early Writers Guild pension, I decided to call myself retired and write for myself for a change. I tried my hand at noir crime writing because that’s what I most enjoy reading, and the impulse spawned Go Down Hard. I only hope my audience has as much fun reading it as much as I did writing it, because it was a true exultation of freedom.

NB: Did you always want to be a writer?

CFB: No. When I was young I wanted to be a whale.

NB: Is it true that your first paying writing gig was for a school science lab equipment catalogue?

CFB: Yes. My first freelance gig was writing limericks for Frey Scientific. I guess you need a touch of levity to sell plastinated sheep brains.

NB: Go Down Hard sets a seasoned journalist--namely, myself--on the trail of the killer of a rock-and-roll goddess, a woman who I idolized in high school and fantasized nightly about losing my virginity to. She was shot 20 years ago, but somewhere in my investigation I turned over the wrong rock and triggered a contemporary murder. Where did that story come from?

CFB: First of all, you’re no seasoned journalist. You’re a Los Angeles Police Department burnout with no writing background, who trades on your ex-cop street cred to talk a few rags into printing your stuff.

NB: You sound just like my mother, only without the accent.

CFB: To answer your question, the story of Go Down Hard evolved from its characters, which was a whole new adventure for me. You asked earlier about what I meant by an act of defiance. Part of that was a revolt against outlining. Most of my more recent career was spent in the salt mines of network television. When you get a TV writing job, you have to write an outline, which they call a treatment, and it has to get approved by whoever’s paying you before they let you “go to script.” That process usually includes several rounds of notes from many people, including the guy in charge of snacks on the set. Every “beat” has to be painstakingly outlined, which can make the writing of the script itself sort of boring, like painting by the numbers.

(Left) Craig Faustus Buck

So when I started writing crime prose, I skipped the outline and just started writing by the seat of my pants, letting my characters do the driving. It was an exhilarating experience, even if it took me three times as long as it should have to finish the book. I think the process added a lot of surprises to the story, because even I didn’t see them coming. I didn’t even know who the murderer was until I wrote the second-to-last chapter.

NB: You must have had some sort of story worked out before you started writing.

CFB: I was actually planning to transform one of my screenplays into the novel. I thought the characters were interesting and the story seemed to work, so I figured it would be a piece of cake. Little did I know. By the time I finished, only one character from the script remained in the book, a secondary character, and the film plot had shriveled into unrevealed back story. Virtually none of the screenplay survived, though I did recycle some of it in a few short stories, one of which, “Dead End,” was nominated for an Anthony Award in 2014 and became the basis for my novella, Psycho Logic, which got published that same year.

NB: Why didn’t the script work out?

CFB: The translation was dive-bombed by point of view. When I started writing the book, I chose to use a first-person, present-tense narrator--namely, you. I heard the voice in my head, probably from all of the great film noir I’ve loved throughout my life. A first-person POV is intense, immediate, and evocative, but it is also structurally limiting, something I hadn’t fully grasped when I started writing it. The film story depended on playing various character POVs against each other, juggling secrets and lies. Suspense usually depends on the audience knowing about threats that the protagonist doesn’t see coming. You can’t do that with a first-person narrative. So what started out as a thriller, while still suspenseful, became more of a character-driven mystery. With a lot of dark humor, of course. You can be a funny guy, this interview notwithstanding.

NB: Do you mind? I’m trying to be professional about this.

[CFB rolls his eyes.]

NB: Judging by the reviews, Go Down Hard sounds pretty lighthearted. T. Jefferson Parker described it as “a spirited mix of noir homage and hard-boiled spoof, and Craig Faustus Buck gets the proportions just right. Sexy, tough and comic.” Yet there’s a lot of bleak psychological subtext. What’s up with that?

CFB: I’ve co-authored four pop-psychology books about various sorts of physical and emotional abuse, including one that became a No. 1 New York Times bestseller. I also did a lot of writing for Human Behavior magazine and Psychology Today. The inner workings of the human psyche have always fascinated me, so it should come as no surprise that they play a central role in my writing. But I work hard to keep that stuff between the lines. My book is a noir romp, not a psychology course. There’s nothing worse than an academic lecture in the middle of a crime novel except, perhaps, a political diatribe (Stieg Larsson pasticheurs take heed). I also ghosted a pop-gynecology book, but I keep those references between the sheets.

NB: You touch on a lot of worlds in this book, including aging rock-and-roll stars, live Internet sex shows, unethical psychiatrists, Slavic mobsters, and estate planning. What kind of research did you do, especially on the first two?

CFB: Rock is the soil from which I sprouted. I grew up above Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip during the ’60s, when The Doors were the house band at the Whisky a Go Go. I formed my first rock band when I was 12 and played in several after that. I ran the light show at the Whiskey when I was in high school. I haunted the Ash Grove and the Troubadour. A lot of my musician friends from those days are still working. They’ve played with everyone from Dylan and Paul McCartney to Michael Jackson and Frank Zappa. Research into aging rock and rollers is just a phone call away.

Live Internet sex, on the other hand, was something I knew little about, other than what I’d seen in the media. So I had to do a bit of digging there. Luckily, I live in the San Fernando Valley which--until recently, when L.A. County passed a law requiring condoms on porn shoots--was the adult entertainment capital of the world. It wasn’t hard to find sex workers to interview for the price of a beer. There’s even a bar here that has porn-star karaoke once a week. Through networking I got invited to a porn industry Halloween party in a B&D (for the uninitiated, that’s Bondage and Discipline) porn film studio complete with dungeon sets. They had a topless DJ, privacy tents, stripper poles, an inflatable wading pool filled with olive oil, and a lot of people in wild costumes with even wilder stories to tell. I never knew how sheltered I was until I tried to fathom why a woman would volunteer to let a film crew light a fire on her nude body. She didn’t even get combat pay. On the other hand, she said it didn’t hurt. I guess it’s the same sort of masochistic impulse that drives a person to write a novel on spec.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Pierce’s Picks

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

A Little More Free (ECW Press), the sequel to John McFetridge’s 2014 crime novel, Black Rock, returns us to 1970s Montreal, Canada, and the company of half-French, half Irish-Canadian Constable Eddie Dougherty. This new yarn finds Dougherty on the scene of his city’s real-life Blue Bird Café fire of 1972, an arson-caused blaze that left 37 people dead. As if his role in investigating that tragedy weren’t enough to keep him busy, Dougherty--who’s still trying to gain a firm footing as a detective--is also tasked with solving a headline-making theft at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and discovering the identity of a murdered man found on Mount Royal, overlooking the City of Saints. Into this story, McFetridge also blends a Canada-USSR hockey rivalry, the politics surrounding American draft dodgers, and the ever-shadowy world of organized crime. McFetridge’s spare storytelling style nicely showcases all the drama. The Scribe, by Matthew Guinn (Norton), sends readers even farther back into the past--to post-Reconstruction Atlanta, Georgia. The precise year is 1881, and the city is preparing to open its International Cotton Exposition, a world’s fair meant to signal Atlanta’s recovery from Civil War devastation. However, a rash of murders among African-American entrepreneurs, all of whom are left with capital letters carved into their foreheads, threatens to stall any financial good the fair might do. Hoping to put a quick end to these serial slayings, a cluster of powerful local businessmen throws the case into the lap of a discredited white police detective, Thomas Canby, who, partnering with Atlanta’s first black constable, Cyrus Underwood, soon realizes there’s more to these killings than bigotry turned violent. Careful pacing and intriguing character development both benefit this second novel by Guinn, who previously published the Edgar Award-nominated The Resurrectionist (2013).

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

LISTEN UP:Episode 68: Matthew Guinn” (Speaking of Mysteries).

Taking the Bouchercon Stage

I see that other crime-fiction bloggers, including Peter Rozovsky and Les Blatt, are telling their readers what appearances they will be making during Bouchercon 2015 (October 8-11) in Raleigh, North Carolina. So I guess I should share my own such information.

By my choice, I am slated to take part in only one panel discussion, on Thursday, October 8: “Stop! Tell Us Your Favorite Crime, Mystery & Thrillers.” Despite that title’s stumbling grammar, the round table conversation itself should be fun. We’ve been asked to share some of our most satisfying and surprising reading experiences within the genre. Stan Ulrich and Lucinda Surbur from the Web site Stop, You’re Killing Me! are to be the panel’s co-moderators, while my fellow “guests of honor” will be George Easter, editor of Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine, and Janet Rudolph, who edits Mystery Readers Journal and the blog Mystery Fanfare. I shall undoubtedly be the most nervous and uncomfortable member of this group, as I abhor speaking in public; I’m a much better writer than I am an orator, and if it weren’t for the fact that my good friend Ali Karim has been so deeply involved in programming events for this convention, and asked me to take on this panel assignment, I would’ve gladly remained in the audience at Bouchercon events.

According to this updated schedule, there will be half a dozen other Bouchercon events taking place at the same time as my panel talk, some of which will likely draw larger crowds (including one that features both Reed Farrel Coleman and Michael Koryta). But if you’re interested in hearing what books Easter, Rudolph, and I think ought not be overlooked, note that “Stop! Tell Us Your Favorite Crime, Mystery & Thrillers” will be held in meeting room Congressional AB, beginning at 1 p.m. on Thursday the 8th.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

In Love and on the Lam

I appreciate a comment that author, educator, and editor Art Taylor shared in the blog Jungle Red Writers: “As writers, it’s our responsibility to give readers a good ride--whether in a piece of fiction we’ve written or in a simple online posting. It doesn’t have to be a white-knuckled thrill ride each time. Pacing your way through a cross-country journey, a few scenic stops along the way, can be transformative. Even a contemplative jaunt on a leisurely Sunday has its pleasures (and maybe a surprise or two in store, too, we’d hope). Maybe the best rides are not knowing when the Sunday drive or cross-country trip might take that white-knuckled turn.”

It’s absurdly easy to connect that comment to Taylor’s brand-new “novel in stories,” On the Road with Del & Louise (Henery Press). Over the 267-page length of said work, Taylor offers readers a literal “good ride,” one that is filled with unexpected curves and a few moral quandaries to boot. As I note today in my Kirkus Reviews column:
On the Road with Del & Louise … comprises half a dozen linked tales about a generally optimistic but trouble-attracting couple who meet by the oddest chance, when Delwood Grayson, wearing a too-hot wool ski mask and toting a pistol, comes to rob the 7-Eleven in New Mexico where Louise has been clerking. It’s the most polite robbery imaginable, with the bored Louise even giving the thief her phone number, hoping he’ll call sometime. Incredibly, Del does just that, and the next thing you know, this pair have set off in his old Nova on a cross-country odyssey that will include their stealing a painting, getting involved in a real-estate scam, peddling hot microwave ovens, planning a major wine heist, getting trapped in a Las Vegas wedding chapel holdup, falling into a kidnapping in North Dakota and … well, didn’t I say they were magnets for trouble?
After years of penning crime-oriented short fiction for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and other publications--and collecting a shelf-full of prizes for his efforts--Taylor’s inaugural leap into novel composition has paid off rather handsomely. I wasn’t sure what I would get when I cracked open On the Road with Del & Louise (which I keep wanting to retitle On the Road with Thelma & Louise, for understandable reasons), but my expectations were ultimately exceeded. This is not a flawless work; indeed, one chapter, “The Chill,” requires your accepting some pretty dubious developments. However, the combination Taylor provides in these pages of convincingly eccentric characters, humorous situations, and fragile souls in need of hope--all narrated by the sassy 27-year-old Louise--both charms and disarms. I can only agree with Criminal Element’s review of this book, in which Terrie Farley Moran opines that “making the reader connect to the characters is clearly Taylor’s forte.” It’s no wonder author Taylor, who had recruited Del and Louise for an Ellery Queen short story several years ago, wanted to explore what might have happened to those lovers next--the result being On the Road.

As you may already know, Art Taylor is a 47-year-old North Carolina native (the same state from which Louise hails!), who attended Yale University and is now an assistant professor of English at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. He’s married to editor and writer Tara Laskowski (Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons), with whom he shares a very active young son, Dash. In addition to On the Road with Del & Louise, Taylor has another book coming out soon, Murder Under the Oaks, an anthology he edited to commemorate next month’s Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Raleigh, North Carolina.

I recently e-mailed Taylor a (lengthy) series of questions about his personal history and professional career, which he was kind enough to answer. He even supplied some tips to Bouchercon 2015 attendees on what they should see and do while in Raleigh.Some of his responses I fit into my latest Kirkus Reviews column, but the majority--featuring the “surprise or two” he likes to promise readers--are posted below.

Author Art Taylor, photographed by Tara Laskowski.

J. Kingston Pierce: You were born in Richlands, North Carolina. What sort of town is that, and what was it like for you to grow up there?

Art Taylor: Richlands is a small rural town in eastern North Carolina--less than a thousand people when I was a child there, good people, a lot of tobacco fields and hog farms, and the sense that everybody knew everybody. I remember what seemed like the whole town gathering the night the Piggly Wiggly burned down, the only big grocery store in town, and then the way it changed everyone’s routines until the store could rebuild. My father was the Chevrolet dealer there for 20 years, one of only two small car dealerships in town when I was born, and I remember when the Ford place went under. I’d thought it was a good thing at that young age; now all the business would be Dad’s, right? Dad let me know it wasn’t good, not at all.

It was a fine place to call home, and my childhood was a happy one. My friends and my [younger] brother and I were always tromping through the fields and woods around our houses, building forts, riding bikes--the world ours, it seemed like, adventures awaiting, even as I realize in retrospect how insular, in many ways, any sort of small-town living can be. I’ve actually tried to write about it in my fiction--revising now a piece that I’ve worked and worked (and maybe overworked) for umpteen years to try to explore what it meant to grow up there.

JKP: Were you a big reader when you were young?

AT: I was indeed a big reader--related in another way to that adventuring I mentioned. Books opened up the world even further, perspectives on the wider world. My mom always read to me each night as a young child, same as my wife and I read now to our own son, Dash. I remember being thrilled when I got my own subscription to the Junior Literary Guild, and I still have boxes of those books waiting till Dash is old enough. Not all of it was mystery in those days, but mysteries are the ones which have had the most lasting influence--Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, The Three Investigators, those three series in particular. And then as part of one of those school fundraiser programs, I sold magazine subscriptions to the neighbors and ended up subscribing myself to one of the featured titles: Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. That quickly became a favorite too, and it’s still hard to believe that I’ve been published there myself.

JKP: As you were growing up, were there people in your life who encouraged you to read or to write?

AT: There’s a lot in the news these days about the poor state of North Carolina’s education system, and I recognize the struggles and challenges, especially in the current political climate. But the teachers I had--especially the English teachers--were nurturing and encouraging and pushed us to think deeper, articulate ourselves better, write more precisely. Betsy Travis, my English teacher in the 7th through 9th grades, introduced us to The Odyssey, Beowulf, and Ivanhoe, and to Shakespeare and Hugo and Emerson and Thoreau and I don’t know who else. And her lessons in diagramming are still the basis for everything I know about writing at the level of the line. I can’t help but see sentences in spatial terms, always.

In addition to teachers, and then my parents themselves, we had a small but very supportive library and a community devoted to expanding it. I remember when the library was a single small room in the corner of a community center and then when they moved into much more spacious digs downtown. I was a regular user, and our librarian (I’m sorry I can’t remember her name!) was always willing to indulge my interests in books that might well have seemed too old for me at the time. The same was true of the owner of The Book Cellar in nearby Jacksonville--treasure houses, each of those places. Harry Kemelman’s Rabbi Small series was a favorite there at the cusp of those teen years, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series too, and all the James Bond novels, and then John le Carré’s Karla trilogy--at least some tentative steps into that last series.

JKP: When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?

AT: As I look back on even those earliest years, my love of reading and my desire to write always seem inextricably intertwined--the joy I got from reading and the desire to provide that same experience to some other reader myself. I distinctly remember telling my third-grade teacher before Christmas break that I was writing a book and that it would be in bookstores sometime in the spring. (A longer journey ahead than I knew in terms of a first book!) And I was always entering school writing contests--poetry mostly at that age.

JKP: I understand that you attended an all-boys boarding school at some point. Which one, and how did that experience shape you?

AT: I attended Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, from my sophomore year through graduation. As a kid from a town of 900-some people, going to school within a stone’s throw of Washington, D.C., was eye-opening, to say the least. From my dorm room I could see the Washington Monument, and each night as I went to bed, I watched it and wondered, “How did I get here?”

To a great degree, getting there was thanks to my parents’ commitment to my education--for which I’m eternally grateful. Between elementary school and junior high, they’d worked to get me enrolled in a brand-new gifted and talented program at a nearby school--I still bristle a little at that “gifted and talented” phrase, but it proved a great privilege to be part of it and a turning point in my life. Going away to boarding school was the same, both in terms of the education in the classroom and the broader perspectives and experiences I gained being so close to a major metropolitan city--to the Kennedy Center and Arena Stage and the Folger Library and … well, you name it. And without attending EHS, I’m not sure I would even have applied to Yale, much less gotten in, so all this is part of a continuum of sorts in my mind. And there’s a whole world of stories that could come out of the boarding-school experience--same as most high-school years, but maybe more intense, given how concentrated those experiences are.

JKP: Was it after you finished up at Yale that you moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, or before?

AT: Not until several years after. When I graduated from Yale, my parents gave me a year off to try to work on my writing--pursue that dream--and I lived in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, for that year. (Most of my writing turned out pretty bad.) Then I ended up working with my dad, selling cars for a couple of years at the dealership, which was in Goldsboro, North Carolina, at that point. It was during this time that I moved to Raleigh--still writing, of course, both fiction and increasingly some journalism.

JKP: In fact, you wrote literary news and book reviews for Metro Magazine in Raleigh from 2001 to 2011. Was it then that you also began taking a serious interest in penning fiction?

AT: Creative writing was first always, but from high school on, I also pursued journalism as well. I began writing film reviews for the school paper at Episcopal--reviews that were ultimately picked up by two newspapers in North Carolina: the Jacksonville Daily News and the Goldsboro News-Argus. In Raleigh, I wrote book reviews and other articles for Spectator Magazine, a local alternative weekly, and eventually became managing editor there--a gig which led to my work with Metro and really to my writing for other publications, including now The Washington Post and Mystery Scene.

JKP: As a fledgling fictionist, who were your models for success in the short-story field? Who did you most wish to learn from or emulate?

AT: Reading Hemingway was formative in my high-school years, and then later some of the great masters of short fiction generally: Raymond Carver, of course, and Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor … and in the wake of the previous question, it’s not lost on me that these are among the biggest names in “serious literature” of the 20th century, though you’ll also find O’Connor’s stories anthologized in crime anthologies, of course, and one of my favorite of Welty’s stories, “A Curtain of Green,” brims with violence. But hand-in-hand with reading those writers and all that New Yorker fiction (I subscribed to that too), I was also entranced with [Edgar Allan] Poe, whose comments on the “single effect” in short-story writing still provide guiding principles. And I was still reading widely in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Ed Hoch and Hugh Pentecost maybe chief among the writers I followed regularly there. Topping all of them, Stanley Ellin stands as the writer I’d most aspire toward emulating, though I really came to his work later. He set the bar for all of us--still a high one.

JKP: Let’s talk about On the Road with Del & Louise, this “novel in stories” you’re just now welcoming into the world. You have said before that you think the “novel in stories” is “one of the most exciting trends in fiction today.” Why do you make that case? And what does such a novel offer the writer or the reader that a conventional novel doesn’t?

AT: Was I wearing my marketing hat at the time? While it may sound like hyperbole, I do appreciate the structural opportunities available to writers in this form. My own book is fairly conservative in that direction: the six stories all keep the same perspective and follow one another chronologically, though with slight leaps in time from one to another. But when I consider the furthest extremes of structuring such a cycle, I’m excited by the idea of fragmented storytelling--bits and pieces of a narrative coming together in a mosaic of sorts: different points of view; different characters from a complex narrative or wider community; stories from the past, present, and future of a place; greater leaps like that. The possibilities there strike me as exciting on a storytelling level, distinct from the excitement of the story itself. When I read a book like Steve Weddle’s Country Hardball [2013], I’m thrilled as much by the daring architecture of the book as by the story that it tells.

The novel is an incredibly flexible form, and while I certainly appreciate conventional novels, I also enjoy seeing writers push that form in fresh directions--structurally, aesthetically.

JKP: Young, spirited, and oft-reckless Louise is the narrator of your new book. Did you have a difficult time assuming a woman’s viewpoint? Did you have any particular person’s voice in your head, telling the tale through Louise’s mouth?

AT: Louise’s voice is what drives these stories, no doubt about it, and I wish I had some idea where it came from! The drafting went best when I felt like I was channeling that voice accurately, stumbled most when I couldn’t seem to catch it.

Looking back at other stories, I myself find it interesting how often I’ve ended up writing from a woman’s perspective--whether first-person, third-person, or even second-person (two cases of that). It’s something I’ve tried to figure out myself, why I’m drawn in that direction. For one thing, women simply strike me as more interesting than men, but I’m sure there’s more to it than that.

JKP: The other crucial player in this new novel is Louise’s mother, Cora, who constantly utters concerns that Louise is making mistakes, that she’s headed toward the same disappointments that Cora herself experienced. What sort of gravity does Cora exert on your plot?

AT: My editors at Henery Press told me that the scenes with Cora really brimmed with energy, and I’ll admit I loved writing her from the first--again I hope that readers might agree. Even in the stories where she’s merely a voice on the phone, she still has great power over Louise--and indirectly over Del. She’s part of the conflicts that span the stories, struggles that only find resolution in the final story when all three characters are finally face to face.

One of the book’s lingering concerns is the dual role of the past: on the one hand, something to escape (or at least to avoid repeating) and, on the other, an entity that exerts its own gravity (to rework your own word), the pull of nostalgia. To some degree, Cora embodies both--that desire to break free from a family member, be your own person, at the same time that you want to maintain good relations, make peace with people to whom you’re inextricably linked.

JKP: Remind me: Del’s full name is Delwood Grayson, as I recall, but do we ever learn Louise’s full name in this book?

AT: Maybe it’s a result of writing on a smaller canvas generally, but I don’t always think of last names for my characters--sometimes not even first names. In my EQMM story “The Odds Are Against Us,” for example, the narrator is never named at all.

Delwood got a last name because of a scene with caller ID; his name shows up when he first calls Louise. But no occasion for Louise’s last name presented itself until late in the manuscript, and I eventually decided against giving her one--for several reasons. At that point in the story it would’ve been too jarring to introduce it suddenly. Reworking it into the earlier stories (for balance) seemed unnecessary. And Louise didn’t seem to need it either: her voice, her attitudes, her everything seemed big enough, full-bodied enough, all on their own.

JKP: The second story in your book, “Commission,” finds Louise and Del going to live with his real-estate agent sister out in California, and there becoming mixed up with thefts of microwave ovens and such from vacant homes. It’s the most complicated plot you’re offering here. Is it perhaps based on some real news story?

AT: “Commission” grew out of the setting--in an unexpected way. When I wrote the first story, “Rearview Mirror,” as a standalone, I had to pick someplace that Del and Louise were headed--so I randomly chose Victorville, California, just a dot on the map, thinking what did it matter? And the same with Del’s sister’s job in real estate--a random choice. It was only when I began drafting the second story years later that I actually investigated Victorville itself in more detail and discovered that it was among the hardest-hit areas when the real-estate bubble burst--a boomtown with high ambitions that quickly went bust, with lots of vandalism and thievery as fall-out from that bust. More than just backdrop, Victorville’s woes helped determine the story’s plot--which was a surprise even to me, again having picked it on a lark initially. And again, here too, family plays a significant role--Del’s sister, Brenda, being similar to Louise’s mother in some respects.

(Left) Taylor shows off his 2015 Agatha Award.

JKP: Correct me if I’m wrong here, but you’ve won two Agatha Awards, a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for your short stories. In addition, you have twice been named a finalist for an Anthony Award. When you were starting out as a fiction writer, did you ever imagine such accolades coming your way? And how helpful have such prizes been in terms of building up your self-confidence?

AT: I cannot stress enough how grateful I am, how fortunate I feel, that my stories have won these awards. Having judged [on behalf of the Mystery Writers of America] the short-story Edgar Awards several years ago, reading upwards of 700 submissions for that purpose, I recognize all too well how many stories are published each year, and how many more fine stories [there are] from online and print publications both that haven’t earned MWA-approved status. Amidst that wealth, even to have my stories read is a true honor.

Like many writers I’ve spoken with, I’m frequently plagued by self-doubt; each blank page is a daunting challenge, and the next one behind it often more so. The award recognition helps to counter (somewhat) those fears--to remind me that I have indeed managed to write something of value to others and that maybe, with work, I can do so again.

JKP: What’s the most important thing you realize you still need to learn as a fiction writer?

AT: Patience--both with developing your craft and with how long it might take to find a publisher and readers. What’s the old Woody Allen quote? Something like, “80 percent of life, of success is simply showing up”? There are different versions of the quote circulating, but I’d up that percentage considerably. Show up, keep showing up.

JKP: Reading through a number of pieces you’ve written recently, I get the idea that you’re someone in desperate need of editing. You wrote in Criminal Minds last month about making errors in the Acknowledgements section of your novel, and your wife mentioned in the Washington Independent Review of Books that you tend to overuse words such as “just.” I also remember reading somewhere about how you had thought On the Road with Del & Louise was in good shape … until the advance reader copies went out, at which point you discovered myriad small errors and absent words. Can most of these errors be chalked up to your impatience with the mechanics of writing, or is there some other personal devil at work?

AT: That phrase “in desperate need of editing”--yowsa! That’s increasingly all too true.

Ironically, I’ve always prided myself on being an attentive, even precise writer, but I’m also a very slow writer by nature--ponderously so, I think--and that’s at the core of my recent troubles. On the Road was written at a faster pace than much of my other fiction, and at a time when my schedule generally was more demanding than usual: a rising number of writing opportunities (I contribute fairly regularly to several publications and a couple of blogs), a steady teaching schedule, the demands of parenting … and then the distractions of social media, a presence which most publishers these days would call part of the job as much as it’s a break from the job. These are issues that most writers face--day-jobs, family obligations, marketing needs--so I know I’m far, far from unique in those respects, but this feeling that I’m constantly fighting against the next deadline … well, that’s caused the biggest erosion of my sense of precision, especially given, as I said, that my usual nature is to write so very slowly.

Other factors, too, figure in: All those instances of “just” in my book had been part of Louise’s voice--though perhaps a little went further than I thought? And I really did believe that EQMM had published “Commission” a year before! Time gets away from me. I blame that on parenting too--that old saying that the days are long but the years are short. My perspective has suffered.

JKP: Long ago I interviewed a thriller writer named Robert Ferrigno (The Wake-Up, etc.), who lived with his family in the Seattle, Washington, area but invariably set his dark thrillers in Southern California. He took that approach, he told me, because it kept the darkness of his tales away from the people he loved. Your short stories have sometimes been dark, grim. Have you noticed your fiction-writing change any since the birth of your son, Dash? Are there now subjects you don’t want to approach, or things you don’t want to write because you know Dash will read them someday?

AT: Such a good question, and such a weighty one. Soon after Dash was born, I was reading the finalists for the Derringer Awards, and one of the stories dealt with a child who’d been abducted and then rescued and a father’s struggle to determine what to do with the man who’d kidnapped and hurt his son. The story wasn’t graphic at all, but the suggestions were maybe worse—what the reader’s imagination can conjure up—and I could hardly read it, so powerful was the impact on me.

Ironically, though I’d never written about children in jeopardy before Dash was born, one of my upcoming stories--“Parallel Play” from the forthcoming anthology Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning--does deal with parenting and with kids at the center of some intense conflict. My wife, Tara, is always my first reader, and when she retuned her comments to me on that one, she asked me to please, please never ask her to read it again.

We live in a world of great violence, great potential for violence. Maybe confronting it in fiction is a way to defuse some of our fears of it in real life?

It will be a long while before I’ll let Dash read that particular story, and several others, but he’ll be at my book launch for On the Road. The sample I’m reading there is about a sock monkey, so we should all be safe.

JKP: How old is Dash now? And can I assume he’s named after a certain Mr. Hammett?

AT: Dash is around three-and-three-quarters--and going on 16, always. He loves cars and has talked several times about how he can’t wait to be big enough to reach both the steering wheel and the accelerator in my Highlander.

And yes to Hammett too--which prompts a funny anecdote about connections and community in the mystery field. Dash recently got his own library card and was blissfully proud of it (he loves books), so I took a picture and posted it on Facebook. One of the comments was from Hammett’s granddaughter, Julie M. Rivett, who noted that Hammett himself had been a great lover of libraries--a level of pride connecting her Dash with ours. Such a small world.

JKP: You and your wife both attended George Mason University. Is that also where you first met?

AT: Yes, we were both in Mason’s [Master of Fine Arts] program in creative writing, both in the fiction track. I don’t think it’s at all an overstatement to say that our friendship and then relationship were built in part on our mutual admiration of one another’s work. She’s still my first reader, as I said, and my best always--and a stronger writer than I am, no question. Her example pushes me higher in my own writing.

(Left) The classic detective-fiction work Taylor most wishes he had written.

JKP: I understand that you’re currently working on “three intertwined novellas that may become my second book,” and that all of those tales build around a crime-solving duo--a middle-aged, agoraphobic bookseller and a young accountant who “often suspects the universe is telling her something.” But are there other large writing projects on your to-do list as well?

AT: For better or worse, I’ve been juggling work on several short stories this year--taking breaks from the longer, intertwined novellas project for a couple of standalone short stories. This summer, I completed a shorter story with a speculative angle, which I’m recognizing might prove a tough sell, and I’m currently revising a story with a long history, the one I mentioned earlier that deals with growing up in small-town North Carolina: It began as a fairly straightforward short story many years ago, was eventually expanded into one half of a failed novel project, and now I’ve been trimming, trimming, trimming it into a short story again--187 pages cut down to less than 50. I still don’t trust that it’ll ever come together in a satisfying manner, but I’m working on it. In addition, I’ve got another couple of stories in various stages of planning/drafting, including a collaboration with Josh Pachter [a crime fictionist and assistant dean at Northern Virginia Community College-Loudoun] as part of a longer project of his--though he’s maybe given up on me by now!

Apparently, in addition to having a toddler calling for my time, I also have him rubbing off on me. My attention seems to be fractured, at best, as I try to keep my concentration suspended between several projects.

JKP: Which other authors of crime fiction do you most admire and read? And if you could have penned any novel in the field that doesn’t currently carry your byline, which would it be?

AT: My tastes run pretty wide, with longtime favorites ranging from Margaret Maron to James Ellroy among our more recent MWA Grand Masters, for example. Tana French is tops for me in younger writers, as are Megan Abbott and Laura Lippman--and I know I’m not alone in admiring their novels. I mentioned Steve Weddle earlier as well--a tremendous talent--and there are several other short-story writers I admire greatly, probably too many to name without feeling like I was leaving someone out, but David Dean would head that list, surely.

As for books I wish I’d written, that’s easy: Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. Other end of the spectrum from the tightness of a short story, of course--shaggy at times, and even a little self-indulgent in spots--but such a magnificent achievement. Any of us should feel lucky to write something even half as good.

JKP: Finally, with Bouchercon set to open in your old hometown of Raleigh next month, tell us what convention-goers should not fail to see or do while they're in the city.

AT: It’s been more than a decade now since I’ve lived in Raleigh, and so much about the city has changed in the time since I’ve lived there, but there’s still much to recommend. The North Carolina Museum of Art is one of the chief cultural jewels of the state, and I still haven’t seen their new galleries—so that’s a must-do for me and should be for others. Bouchercon itself will surely have plenty of opportunities for book-buying, but Raleigh has three great bookstores for folks wanting to browse more widely: the local indie bookstore, Quail Ridge Books, and two great spots for used books, The Reader’s Corner and Nice Price Books, both down on Hillsborough Street. And Raleigh is a great restaurant town too--particularly thanks to James Beard Award-winning chef Ashley Christenson, with several restaurants now under her brand. Personally, I’m looking forward to revisiting a couple old favorites, including the Hayes Barton Café and The Roast Grill, the latter an institution since 1940. I ate hot dogs at the Roast Grill nearly every Saturday--my personal record being five in one sitting!--and I’ll always remember the day that former governor Jim Hunt ended up on the stool right beside me. If you go, say hi to George, tell him Art sent you, but don’t--under any circumstances--ask for ketchup.