Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Eyes in the Rearview

Following James Garner’s death last weekend, I started rummaging through my storage room for a particular edition of Mystery magazine that I remembered featuring Garner in one of his most famous TV roles, that of Los Angeles gumshoe Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files. Naturally, this was no easy endeavor; it required my unpacking and then repacking more boxes than I (or my sore muscles) care to recall. But I did finally find the item I sought.

For those who don’t remember Mystery, it was founded as a full-size mag in 1979 by Stephen L. Smoke (who, under the pseudonym Hamilton T. Caine, went on to produce at least two novels about Southern California gumshoe Ace Carpenter). The contents combined non-fiction and fiction, and there were several contributors to the publication whose names are still familiar, among them Robert J. Randisi and Paul Bishop. Mystery’s other claim to fame might be that it was headquartered in downtown L.A.’s landmark, 1893 Bradbury Building, which had featured prominently in Garner’s 1969 film Marlowe, and provided office space for the protagonists in such small-screen gems as Banyon, City of Angels, and 77 Sunset Strip. I was pretty young at the time, but I managed to get two profiles into Mystery after it shrank to digest size (and before it folded in 1982), one of Stuart M. Kaminsky, the other of Collin Willcox. (I’ll have to dig up both of those sometime, too.)

Anyway, the January 1981 edition of Mystery boasted a cover story, written by Bob Randisi, that looked back at “the best TV private eyes of the 1970s.” He highlighted a number of prominent shows from that decade, including Mannix, Barnaby Jones, Harry O (“my personal favorite of all the TV P.I.s I’ve seen”), Charlie’s Angels, and Cannon. He also noted, however, that a survey taken of “writers, readers, editors, and TV viewers from all sections of the country” had determined that the most popular shamus of the ’70s was … Garner’s impecunious but loyal Rockford. Randisi explained:
The reason for the success of [The] Rockford Files was simple: James Garner. Rockford was probably one of the more humanly portrayed P.I.s of all the TV “eyes.” He was not a superman, and preferred to talk his way--or con his way--out of a tight spot rather than fight his way out--which doesn’t mean he didnt fight when he had to. He just preferred not to.”
I’m embedding the whole story below, just for your entertainment. Click on the images to open more readable enlargements.

Picky, Picky

Adding to the anticipation surrounding this year’s Iceland Noir festival in Reykjavik (November 20-23), organizers have announced their finalists for the inaugural Icepick Award celebrating translated crime fiction. They are:
La Vérité sur l'affaire Harry Quebert [The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair], by Joël Dicker; Icelandic translation by Friðrik Rafnsson
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn; Icelandic translation by
Bjarni Jónsson
Panserhjerte [The Leopard], by Jo Nesbø; Icelandic translation by Bjarni Gunnarsson
Människa utan hund [Man Without Dog], by Håkan Nesser; Icelandic translation by Ævar Örn Jósepsson
Veljeni vartija [My Brother’s Keeper], by Antti Tuomainen; Icelandic translation by Sigurður Karlsson
The winner will be announced at Reykjavik’s Nordic House on November 22 (which, were he still alive, would be author Raymond Chandler’s 126 birthday).

(Hat tip to Shotsmag Confidential.)

Charging Into the Darkness

I didn’t even have this birthday marked down on my calendar, but Criminal Element contributor Jake Hinkson evidently keeps better track of some things than I do. He explains:
This year film noir turns 70. While there had been some intermittent films leading up to the birth of the classic noir, in 1944 the dahlia bloomed with six key films: Double Indemnity, Laura, Murder My Sweet, Phantom Lady, When Strangers Marry, and The Woman in the Window. In these films you have many of the key figures in noir making some of their first forays into the genre (directors Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, Fritz Lang, and Robert Siodmak; writers Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, Vera Caspary, Phillip Yordan; actors Robert Mitchum, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Bennett, Dana Andrews--just to name a few). This onslaught of darkness came in the wake of the bleakest days (from the American perspective, anyway) of WWII. The basis of many of these films were older properties, but it is the way these films came out--physically darker, psychologically denser, and ultimately more pessimistic--that marks the real birth of film noir.
By way of celebrating, Hinkson today posted the first of half a dozen articles, this one recalling the many strengths of Double Indemnity, the Fred MacMurray/Barbara Stanwyck/Edward G. Robinson picture that he says “might well be the most famous of all film noirs.” Stay tuned for the remaining installments of Hinkson’s series.

READ MORE:When Lightning Strikes,” by Thomas Kaufman
(The Rap Sheet).

Help Making the Leap

Are you an aspiring crime, mystery, or thriller writer looking for professional assistance to get you on the right literary track? Then the 2014 Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference--to be held in Corte Madera, California, from July 24 to 27--might be an event worth your attending. Writers and others leading workshops will include Ace Atkins, Cara Black, David Corbett, Anne Perry, literary agent Amy Rennert, and Judge Peter J. Busch of the San Francisco Superior Court. The conference schedule is here. To register, click here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

An Author Returns to Familiar Ground

Richard Hoyt holds the distinction of being the crime/thriller writer I have known longer than any other. I met him back before he was even concocting fiction, when he was still a professor of communications at Lewis & Clark College, a private liberal-arts institution in Portland, Oregon. This would’ve been in the late 1970s, when I was an undergraduate at L&C and a resident of its compact forested campus on Palatine Hill. Hoyt joined the Communications Department during my sophomore year, and served as faculty adviser to the weekly student newspaper, The Pioneer Log, in addition to teaching journalism courses. He was unlike any professor I’d encountered before: irreverent, habitually sarcastic, prone to raucous cackling at his own jokes, and comically eccentric in the way he twisted the ends of his handlebar mustache while either ruminating over knotty topics or slyly appreciating the assets of a coed half his age. Although Hoyt didn’t get along particularly well with his superiors, he was a favorite of many students, particularly those--like me--who worked long, hard hours to give The Pioneer Log a professional journalistic edge.

(Right) Richard Hoyt, 1982

His first novel, Decoys, saw print in 1980--by which time Hoyt had already decided to abandon the academic sphere. The book introduced readers to John Denson, a journalist turned private investigator in Seattle, Washington, who’s every bit as gonzo in his behavior and as contemptuous of convention as his creator. Kevin Burton Smith remarks in The Thrilling Detective Web Site that Denson “marches to the tune of a different drummer.
Denson’s a thirty-something Aquarius with a yen for darts, cheap screw-top wine and raw vegetables, especially cauliflower. And he’s not adverse to a little bit of good ol’ sex, either, although he does spare us the slo-mo replays. He’s an earthy type, crude, but not rude, given to sometimes erratic behavior, but loyal to his friends. He’s been known to wear bright yellow boxer shorts with a smoking, very long-barreled gun on front. He keeps a stuffed English pit bull in his apartment who answers the doorbell with pre-recorded barks. At last, a private eye who’s not ashamed of having a good time! A nice change of pace from the usual gloom and doom.
Critics quickly labeled Denson a “soft-boiled” gumshoe, for his disinterest in guns and the humor Hoyt brought to his adventures. The P.I. went on to star in nine novels, including 30 for a Harry (1981), Fish Story (1985), Whoo? (1991), and the last one, Pony Girls (2004). His cases variously involve a con man and killer at a big-city newspaper, an engineered outbreak of anthrax, Native American fishing rights, and the future of the Pacific Northwest logging industry. The early Denson books clung fairly close to the genre’s traditions, though they also made good use of the Northwest’s distinctive environment. In The Siskiyou Two-Step (1983), for instance, the shamus is fishing the North Umpqua River in southern Oregon, when he spots what appears to be a corpse floating facedown midstream. Wading out in the water for a closer look, he gets caught in a dangerous tumble of rapids and must ride them spread-eagled atop a very naked and very dead young woman. Later books in the series find Denson taking on a Cowlitz Indian partner, Willy Prettybird, and the plots becoming more philosophical, spiritual, and surreal.

A prolific wordsmith, hungry to make a name and profitable career for himself in the book biz, Hoyt soon created a second oddball protagonist, CIA agent James Burlane. Introduced in Trotsky’s Run (1982), Burlane eventually featured in eight additional novels, among them Head of State (1985) and Red Card (1994). What depths of his writing energies still went untapped by producing those works, Hoyt brought to standalones such as The Manna Enzyme (1982), a weird Amazon escapade called Darwin’s Secret (1989), a couple of novels (1984’s Cool Runnings and 2000’s Vivienne) showcasing journalist-spy novelist Jim Quint, and two other books penned under the pseudonym Nicholas van Pelt. (A catalogue of Hoyt’s novels is available here.)

But as I explain in my latest column for Kirkus Reviews, “Hoyt’s run of good fortune didn’t last. After peddling 21 novels in 20 years, since 2001 he’s found publishers for only five more. Two of those starred John Denson, but his latest, Crow’s Mind, welcomes a new shamus into the club: Jake Hipp.”

Hoyt calls Hipp “a jazzed-up and I think more fun version of John Denson.” Both men are stoner private eyes, fond of sexual antics and classic Volkswagen microbuses. Hipp, however, lives in a remote lakefront cabin west of Portland and is the son of “certified-on-the-lam-in-Canada hippies.” He’s given to quoting Heraclitus, Henry David Thoreau and Carl Jung, and is easily recognized by his ponytail and waxed handlebar mustache, as well as by uniform of choice: “Goodwill jeans, running shoes, a herringbone tweed jacket, and an Irish walking hat.” (That this description might just as easily have fit a younger Dick Hoyt surely violates the bounds of coincidence.) In Crow’s Mind--the first entry in what this author hopes will be a new series--Hipp investigates the killing of a statuesque stripper, whose body he stumbles across in the deep woods. It’s a grotesque sight; she’s already been vigorously nibbled at by crows. So even before he has a paying client, our hirsute hero determines to find out who took this young woman’s life, a task that will lead him to more than a few peculiar suspects and find him a curvaceous new partner, Nehalem Indian computer whiz Willow Blackwing.

Until recently, I hadn’t corresponded with Hoyt in almost two decades, ever since he ditched Portland and moved to the Philippines, where he got married for the third time and helped rear a daughter. The release of Crow’s Mind a few months back, though, coupled with news that the now 73-year-old author had returned to the States and settled in Vancouver, Washington, made me want to reconnect and ask him not only what had happened to him during those intervening years, but where his new novel might lead his career. I e-mailed Hoyt dozens of questions, and he responded in short order. The first part of our exchange appears today in Kirkus, while the balance is posted below.

J. Kingston Pierce: Do I remember correctly, that you grew up somewhere in northern Oregon?

Richard Hoyt: I grew up on a small farm on the banks of the Columbia River about a mile from Umatilla. I was by myself. No neighbors. I played by myself along the river. Maybe that’s how I came to like solitude.

JKP: Were your parents big readers? Or, when you were young, were there other people in your life who got you interested in reading?

RH: My mother was a high school graduate. My dad made it through the fifth grade. They weren’t educated, but they were smart people. I got my atheism from them. My uncle Frank, a Communist with a young wife (shock! shock!) who was apparently under FBI surveillance (triple shock!), lit out for Mexico. Before he left, he built a small shed on my parents’ property where he stored his books, hundreds if not thousands of them. That’s where I started reading. I started reading mysteries when I drove truck during wheat harvest time outside of Pendleton. I was 16 years old. The hired hand had a huge cardboard box full of mysteries. I think I read all of Mickey Spillane’s and Richard S. Prather’s stories up to that point.

JKP: How early on did you entertain the notion of writing fiction?

RH: The idea of writing fiction was a fantasy, like wanting to be an astronaut or something. I knew I wanted to somehow write for a living, which is why I majored in journalism. I was the only male in a shorthand class in high school because I thought it would be useful for a reporter.

JKP: One of the credentials you often mention is your having worked as an “army counterintelligence agent.” When did you take on that task, and how long were you engaged in such an enterprise? What did the job entail, specifically?

RH: I joined the army [in the early 1960s] to dodge the draft. The army recruiter tried to discourage me from taking the qualifying exam, saying it would be a waste of everybody’s time. The odds were I wouldn’t pass. I insisted on taking the exam, given at a small army post in Vancouver, and I passed.

I didn’t do anything exotic. I mostly ran background investigations on people, although I helped follow people around a few times. The army intelligence school, then at Fort Holabird, Maryland, was fun. Great sport for somebody 23 years old. I learned all kinds of spook stuff, picking locks, installing bugs, and so on.

JKP: So you started as a journalist after your U.S. Army stint?

RH: I got out of the army, then got a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon.

JKP: Did you begin your newspapering career at the old Honolulu Advertiser, or had you held jobs with newspapers before that?

RH: After finishing my master’s degree, I scored a fellowship at the Washington Journalism Center [in Washington, D.C.]. As part of that I served as an accredited Washington correspondent for A. Robert Smith, who then wrote for The [Portland] Oregonian and other papers in the Pacific Northwest. I used to write stories in the Senate press gallery. The correspondent for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, the afternoon paper in Honolulu, used to lurk behind me, reading my stories as I wrote them. One day he asked me if I would like to be a reporter in Honolulu. I said, yes. Hey!

JKP: How long did you work for the Hawaii broadsheets?

RH: I worked for the Star-Bulletin for two years, then switched to the morning paper, the Honolulu Advertiser. It was my last job as a reporter.

JKP: But your résumé also includes a turn writing for Newsweek magazine. At what stage of your early career did you do that work?

RH: I was the Honolulu stringer for Newsweek. I got that gig while still working for the Star-Bulletin. My editor was in the San Francisco bureau. I wrote profiles of Clare Booth Luce, Arthur and Kathryn Murray, and Wendell Phillips, among others. (Phillips, of oil company fame, was then said to be one of the richest men in the world and the last of the swashbucklers. He wouldn’t talk to the local journalists, but talked to me, never mind that I also worked for the morning paper. That interview is a novel in itself.)

JKP: You hold a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii. Were you working toward that doctorate at the same time as you were writing articles for newspapers? And why choose American Studies as your field of expertise?

RH: The first week that I was with the Star-Bulletin, my city editor sent me out to interview Reuel Denney, a poet and professor from the University of Chicago, who went to the University of Hawaii as a visiting professor then was given an endowed chair. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a great honor. When I got to his condominium at the base of Koko Head, he had a pitcher of martinis, caviar and crackers, and was writing the libretto for an opera by George Barati. We started bullshitting and didn’t stop. Maybe four hours later, totally blasted, I got up, and he said, “I would like for you to study for a Ph.D. in American Studies under my direction.” I didn’t want to offend him. I said, “Sure, but I am a reporter. I have to earn a living.” He said, “I’ll take care of that with Bud”--A.A. “Bud” Smyser, editor of the Star-Bulletin.

The next morning I arrived for work with a hangover. I was called into Smyser’s office. I thought I had fucked something up. He said Reuel Denney had called him. He said the paper would feel it was an honor to have one of its reporters study under Denney, and the paper would like me take time off any time of day for classes and whatever. That’s how I got started. Charmed life.

JKP: So when did you leave the Hawaiian Islands and become a professor at Lewis & Clark College?

RH: I left Hawaii in 1973, but first to become an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Maryland in College Park. I think it was three years later that I moved on to Lewis & Clark, because I wanted to be back in the Northwest.

JKP: You taught journalism classes at L&C and served as the adviser to the college’s newspaper, The Pioneer Log. But as I recall, you weren’t the go-along-to-get-along type. You often disagreed with your colleagues in the Communications Department. How long did it take you to realize you might not be cut out to be a college professor?

RH: I knew almost immediately. I liked the students OK, but I didn’t like judging them. Who knew what sleepers were out there? I thought faculty politics was dumb. I used to correct the grammar of faculty notices and send them back anonymously. I think people knew it was me having a stoned giggle. I just wanted to write, not try to tell other people how to write.

While I was teaching at Lewis & Clark, I went on a trip with Reuel on Vancouver Island [in British Columbia, Canada]. We went salmon fishing on the Campbell River. We were in a bookstore in Victoria on the way back, and he bought me Enquiry and Bonecrack, both by Dick Francis. He said, “Dick, I think you should be writing books like this. Teaching will rot your brain.” Correct and correct. That’s when I conned Lewis & Clark into letting me teach a course in the history of British and American suspense fiction. It was a course where freshmen were supposed to develop their writing skills. To prepare for the course, I read almost all the titles in the index of Julian Symons’ Mortal Consequences [1972]. I started with Edgar Allan Poe and Wilkie Collins and kept on reading. When I was finished, I started what would become Decoys.

JKP: Considering your background in newspapers, let me ask: What do think about the present state of American journalism? Some people voice regret at the shrinking market for print journalism, while others see this as a “golden age” of journalism, a time when unpaid “citizen reporters” have stepped up to fill the gap left by professional news gatherers. What’s your take on our present situation?

RH: I think our best journalists are [political satirists] John Oliver and Jon Stewart. I am disgusted when mainstream journalists, in an effort to be “objective,” give equal time both to what they know is preposterous bullshit by right-wing morons and to sensible suggestions by people who are actually trying to govern the country. Everybody on the Internet has an opinion. Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one. I like journalists who ask real questions and don’t worry about offending readers or viewers.

JKP: When did you leave L&C? And what was it that finally drove you out?

RH: I left in 1982, I think. My department chairman had tried, unsuccessfully, to get me sacked, saying that I was not a “team player” and did not attend regional academic gatherings, among other offenses. (Drinking beer with students while they put the Pioneer Log together was not an academic gathering?) I’ve never been a team player. I thought those meetings where people mill about with little plastic name tags on their chest and drink coffee out of Styrofoam cups are totally dumb. I was not a team player because I advised students not to declare a major until they had a chance to take some courses other than communications. No telling what might grab their imagination. My department chairman got furious at me for doing that. We needed majors in our department for larger budgets and an additional faculty member.

JKP: It was during your time at L&C that you began composing fiction. Your first protagonist, John Denson, debuted in Decoys. But just two years later, you introduced another series lead, offbeat CIA agent James Burlane, in Trotsky’s Run. Did you need a second protagonist just in order to sell more books every year?

RH: I imagined Burlane because I thought he would be fun. I didn’t want to forever write mysteries. That’s like chewing on the same bone for year after year. Burlane is similar to Denson because they are both me (or guys that I would like to be). Their observations and way of thinking are pretty much mine. I also wanted to travel under the guise of doing research.

JKP: You certainly did do that, going to Jamaica, Brazil, Siberia, the Netherlands, and other far-flung spots to check out settings for your future tales. But you always returned to Portland. Until the day you finally left. When was that?

RH: About 1990. I went and stayed in Hong Kong for a while, then went to Singapore, then the Philippines. It was easy living there because so many people speak English.

I wrote eight novels in the Philippines, including Japanese Game [1995], one that I really liked. I lived there for 12 years in all. I liked being an expat. It was fun getting blotto and bullshitting with lunatic Aussies and Kiwis and Krauts and Canucks. Guys we called Birmingham Dave or Hamburg Hans. You name it. There was this Aussie who brought these salted peanuts with him up from Down Under. They were sensational.

JKP: So, let’s talk about Crow’s Mind. It’s a P.I. yarn again, but the protagonist this time is Jake Hipp, an Oregon-based gumshoe. Is this the same Jake Hipp who featured in The Mongoose Man--one of your “Nicholas van Pelt” books, from 2000--as a “former American sociobiology professor turned oddball international antiterrorist agent”? Or are you simply using the same character name?

RH: I didn’t remember I had used that name before, until you mentioned it just now. It lurked in my subconscious, I suppose. This is good for a laugh. Me be dum fuk.

The author today, photographed by Teresita Artes Hoyt.

JKP: Native American history and myth figure into many of your private-eye excursions, as they do into this latest novel of yours. Have you done a great deal of research into those subjects?

RH: Well, no, I can’t say I have done a whole lot of research beyond what I did for my doctoral dissertation [which focused on myth and Northwest history]. If you ever get a chance, read Ella E. Clark’s Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest, published in the early 1950s. Win Blevins, who was an editor at Tor and Forge Books for years, is one-half American Indian and goes to pow wows around the country as a shaman, pounding his tom-tom or whatever. He liked my stories.

JKP: One of the curiosities about Crow’s Mind is its employment of ornithopters, mechanical birds that--at least in your story--come equipped with guns. Have you flown such devices yourself?

RH: I’ve never flown one, no. I didn’t know they existed until I blundered onto some Internet articles. I thought, wow, I have to work those into a story.

JKP: There’s a scene late in the book that finds computer whiz Willow Blackwing guiding Hipp through a drug-assisted hallucination in which he “flies,” hoping to get a better handle on a case that is so much about birds. Have you experienced such a “flight” yourself?

RH: I certainly have. I once took a wild journey on the back of a snake that was as large as a highway. Some of my best flying took place after drinking Miss Mary’s Most Special Tea in Negril, Jamaica.

JKP: I must say, the lithe Willow is one of your most magnetic female characters, a woman who knows herself well, has no problem competing against men, but isn’t above using her feminine wiles. She performs a dance of seduction with Jake Hipp through most of Crow’s Mind. Is Willow based on anybody in particular?

RH: She’s based on a woman that I wish I had met when I was younger.

JKP: If you’re able to write more installments in the Jake Hipp series, how do you see his relationship with Willow progressing?

RH: They’ll be partners and lovers.

JKP: As much as I enjoyed the often madcap story line in Crow’s Mind, I was disappointed in the number of typos, missing words, uncaught errors (“Henri Poirot,” for instance, instead of Hercule Poirot), and occasional repetitions of lines to be found in it. Was this a consequence of your publisher, South Carolina’s Moonshine Cove, rushing the book to market?

RH: No, it is a consequence of dubious editing. This is not Random House, remember.

JKP: How long ago did you relocate from the Philippines to Vancouver, Washington? And why settle in that town north of Portland?

RH: I moved here last year so my daughter could attend Washington State University Vancouver. I’m a native Oregonian and was educated and lived there. I identify myself as an Oregonian. I landed in Washington by accident, but I like it here. It’s cool. Weed is now legal here, so it can’t be all bad. The Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl last year, and the Mariners are winning some games. Amazing!

JKP: In addition to a possible Crow’s Mind sequel, are you working on any other books?

RH: Well, hey, Jeff, I have a motherbleeping sensational novel, a thriller, Enter the Gladiators, waiting to be read by a fancy New York agent. If you only knew what was in that book, pal. I can’t even tell her what it’s really about without giving away a spoiler that would destroy the suspense. Well, OK, it’s about a prelude to Civil War II.

JKP: What’s still your greatest weakness as an author?

RH: My greatest weakness is that I cannot imagine so-called thrillers that purport to be “reality.” Intelligence agencies with super technology and hot-damn heroic studs like Jack Ryan who save the day. That’s a total crock. Those are not “thrillers.” That’s a joke. They are reassurers. They reassure readers. The reader expects the good guy to triumph and get the pretty girl. In fact, fuck-ups and idiots almost always carry the day. We can spend trillions on national defense, but in the end some asshole or unexpected glitch will cause us much pain. I am sardonic by nature. I see irony everywhere. The great mass of readers don’t want that. They want “serious” that is in fact wildly comic. I cannot begin one of those “serious” thrillers or mysteries without bursting out laughing. I know they make a lot of money. People apparently read them for the same essential reason they go to church. They want super-heroes to give them deliverance. I just cannot take such bullshit seriously. The book I have now waiting to be read is a genuine thriller. I do not expect the great Flying Spaghetti Monster to save me from anything.

JKP: You used to be a big reader of crime and mystery fiction. In fact, you introduced me to James McClure as well as Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Do you still read heavily in the genre? If so, which authors do you find yourself following most closely nowadays?

RH: I re-read Elmore Leonard. He wrote terrific dialogue and imagined wonderful characters. I say when you’re bored, pick up an Elmore Leonard title and have some fun. He knew how the world works.

JKP: Finally, if you could lay claim to having penned any book that does not already carry your byline, what would it be?

RH: The Magic Christian [1959]. I envy Terry Southern for having imagined the scene where Guy Grand buys an empty lot in Chicago and builds a huge, raised, heated swimming pool on it. He fills the pool with cow flop and urine from the Chicago stockyards and heats it. When the yuck gets burbling nicely, he scatters $100 bills on it and drives away laughing. But hey, I imagined a dude surfing a beautiful corpse through horrific whitewater. That’s pretty cool.

Don’t Move That Dial!

Cleveland’s Plain Dealer newspaper brings the welcome news that cable-TV network Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will honor actor James Garner, who passed away last weekend at age 86, with “a 24-hour film marathon starting at 6 a.m. Monday, July 28.” Among the dozen big-screen flicks to be broadcast are Grand Prix (1966), The Wheeler Dealers (1963), Mister Buddwing (1966), The Americanization of Emily (1964), Victor, Victoria (1982), and Marlowe (1969). Click here for a full schedule of that day's showings. And if you can’t reach me by phone or e-mail on the 28th, well, you’ll know why.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Reflecting on Garner’s Life and Career

Two days after James Garner’s death at age 86, accolades continue to roll in for this charismatic actor who seemed to bear the weight of stardom with such grace and humility.

Charles P. Pierce (no relation) writes on the Esquire site:
[W]hat connected Brett [sic] Maverick with Jim Rockford, and what allowed Garner to send convention for a loop was the fact that, while not being cowards, both Brett and Jim were unconvinced that violence was necessarily a part of being either a Western hero or a private eye. They never saw the logic in it. This doesn't make sense. Somebody might get hurt here. And it might be me. QED, let's try to think our way out of this mess. It took a rare actor to turn that trick without appearing either cowardly or unpleasantly conniving.
After acknowledging Garner’s “crucial” role in the 1969 film Marlowe, an adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel The Little Sister (“The script wasn't vintage noir--there was a martial arts scene--and Garner was not exactly Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, but he was droll and melancholy”), Britain’s Guardian newspaper notes that
His second breakthrough came in 1974, when Huggins still in the business, assigned a pilot script to the writer Stephen J. Cannell, who decided to break as many rules of the TV private-eye genre as he could. The obvious casting was Garner: Jim Rockford, the ex-prisoner hero of The Rockford Files, was a downmarket Marlowe, with no office but his mobile home at the beach, an answering machine instead of a secretary. His gun was stored in the biscuit jar. Rockford had a paunch from tacos and beers; he was lazy; and, except for his retired trucker dad, he knew mostly bums, losers and put-upon LAPD cops.

Maverick had done, the series pushed the televisually possible further. Storylines could be serious--Garner was proud of an episode based on a New Yorker investigation into the grand jury system, so acute that it helped change the law. But it was the sense of a weird Los Angeles, sundried as a lizard up canyon roads, that was new and different. Critics panned it, but the first season was a ratings hit; then [co-creator Roy] Huggins was pushed out, and Garner confronted Universal Television over an enforced change in tone. Rockford lost 20% of its audience but continued for five seasons (Garner won his Emmy in 1977); then it ended suddenly in the sixth season, when Garner told the crew on location that he was exhausted and had no intention of dying early, and walked out.
Garner grew up in Oklahoma, so it’s natural that the state’s major newspaper, The Oklahoman, should devote space to celebrating his long career. Its obituary is here, but the paper also offers a more in-depth look at the actor’s life here. Written by entertainment editor Gene Triplett, the article draw heavily on The Garner Files, the 2011 memoir Garner wrote with Jon Winokur, but notes some discoveries Winokur made while collaborating on that book:
“I had no idea how extensive (Garner’s Korean [War] service) was,” Winokur said in a recent phone interview. “He was in a unit that was thrown into the front lines when the Chinese Communists crossed the 38th Parallel in 1951, and his unit was the first thing they ran into, and they were decimated. They had something like 60 percent casualties in a very short time, and (Garner) was wounded a couple of times … and got a Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster, which he never talked about very much.” …

Another revelation for the author, from interviews with Garner’s friends and associates, was “the number of people whose lives he has enhanced through his generosity. … Something that came up again and again was how tremendously generous he is, both financially and in other ways.”
(Click here to see The Oklahoman’s front-page tribute to Garner.)

Eric Deggans writes in National Public Radio’s Monkey See blog:
I didn’t know, watching Isaac Hayes push James Garner around on The Rockford Files, that I was seeing a special character continue an important television legacy.

All I knew, as a devoted fan of Garner’s put-upon private eye, was that Jim Rockford seemed like a kind of hero you never saw anywhere else on television.

Perpetually strapped for cash and working a case that wasn’t likely to change that situation, Rockford was a wrongly imprisoned ex-con who cloaked his heroism in a cynic’s quips and world-weary attitude (Hayes was a physically intimidating fellow ex-con who always mispronounced his name as “Rockfish”).

“Rockfish” rarely pulled a gun or won a fight with his fists--which could be a little frustrating to those of us weaned on more, say, direct TV private eyes like Mannix or Shaft. Instead, he maneuvered among a seedy universe of corrupt cops and crooks, lame hustlers and earnest victims, using his street smarts and an unerring sense of justice to save the day.

He wasn’t an anti-hero as much as an “unhero”; a regular Joe with a sardonic sense of humor who stepped up when he was needed.
CelebStoner mentions Garner’s support of legalizing marijuana:
“I don’t know where I’d be without it,” he wrote in his 2011 memoir, The Garner Files. “It opened my mind to a lot of things, and now its active ingredient, THC, relaxes me and eases my arthritis pain.”
And this story from The Washington Post’s obituary is one that I’ve heard before, but it is worth repeating here:
Mr. Garner said he most valued collegiality on the set, and it tended to bring out his best performances. One case he cited was “Murphy’s Romance.”

Co-star [Sally] Field told a CBS News reporter of the making of that movie, “He’s so profoundly sexy, and maybe the best kiss I ever had in my life, which was on camera, believe it or not.”

Mr. Garner replied, “I think she’s had a very sheltered life. I mean, poor baby, if that’s the best.”

Thinking further, he added, “I’ve had a couple of them say that. I might not be a bad kisser at all.”
UPDATE I: I want to add another voice to this chorus of praise. In A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence Towles Canote writes:
What always appealed to me about James Garner was that while he was incredibly handsome and charming, at the same time he seemed entirely approachable. Unlike many movie stars James Garner came off as “just one of the guys.” I always imagined that if someone met Mr. Garner in a bar that he or she could sit down with him and talk about the weather, sports, television, and all of the other things about which everyday people talk. Indeed, James Garner treated acting as if it was simply another job. In his memoir, The Garner Files he wrote of acting, “Be on time, know your words, hit your marks, and tell the truth. I don’t have any theories abut acting, and I don’t think about how to do it, except that an actor shouldn’t take himself too seriously, and shouldn’t try to make acting something it isn’t.”

While James Garner may have treated acting as just another job, there can be no doubt that he was great at it. While he will forever be remembered as Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford, he played a wide variety of roles throughout his career. Many of them were similar to his two best-known roles, men who preferred to use their wits instead of their fists. There is a marked similarity between Bret Maverick, Jim Rockford, Lt. Hendley of The Great Escape, and Jason McCullough of Support Your Local Sheriff. And while Mr. Garner played such charming rogues well, he was equally adept at the sometimes very different roles he played. He played tough as nails lawman Wyatt Earp not once, but twice, and did so convincingly (once in Hour of the Gun and once in Sunset). And while most of the characters James Garner played were nice guys, he was capable of playing characters who were not so nice. In the television movie Barbarians at the Gate he played real-life millionaire F. Ross Johnson. Like many of James Garner’s characters, real-life F. Ross Johnson is charming, but at the same time he had no problems with thousands of Nabisco employees losing jobs if it made him millions of dollars.
UPDATE II: Meanwhile, author Max Allan Collins remembers the influence Garner had on both his life and work:
Garner’s comic touch was present in much of his work, and of course Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford were essentially the same character. And no matter what literary influences they may cite, my generation of private-eye writers and the next one, too, were as influenced by The Rockford Files as by Hammett, Chandler or Spillane. The off-kilter private eye writing of Huggins and Stephen Cannell made a perfect fit for Garner’s exasperated everyman approach, but it was just notes on a page without the actor’s musicianship.

Not that Garner couldn’t play it straight--he was, in my opinion, the screen’s best Wyatt Earp in
Hour of the Gun, and as early as The Children’s Hour and as late as The Notebook he did a fine job minus his humorous touch. But it’s Maverick and Rockford--and the scrounger in The Great Escape, the less-than-brave hero of [The] Americanization of Emily, and his underrated Marlowe--that we will think of when Garner’s name is mentioned or his face appears like a friendly ghost in our popular culture. …

Like all of us, Garner was a flawed guy, though I would say mildly flawed. Provoked, his easygoing ways flared into a temper and he even punched people out (not frequently) in a way Bret Maverick wouldn’t. He never quite came to terms with how important Roy Huggins had been to the creation of his persona, and essentially fired him off
Rockford after one season. The lack of Huggins and/or Cannell on Bret Maverick was probably why it somehow didn’t feel like real Maverick.

Garner had great loyalty to his friends, however, and as a Depression-era blue collar guy who kind of stumbled into acting, he never lost a sense of his luck or seemed to get too big a head. He resented being taken advantage of and took on the Hollywood bigwigs over money numerous times, with no appreciable negative impact on his career. He was that good, and that popular.

When he gave a rare interview, Garner displayed intelligence but no particular wit, and it could be disconcerting to see that famed wry delivery wrapped around bland words. Yet no one could convey humor--from a script--with more wry ease than Jim Garner. Perhaps he was funny at home and on the golf course and so on. Or maybe he was just a great musician who couldn’t write a note of music to save his life.

It doesn’t matter. Not to me. He influenced my work--particularly Nate Heller--as much as any writer or any film director. He was a strong, handsome hero with a twist of humor and a mildly exasperated take on life’s absurdities. I can’t imagine navigating my way through those absurdities, either in life or on the page, without having encountered Bret Maverick at an impressionable age.
READ MORE: James Garner: 1928-2014,” by Ronald Tierney (Life, Death, and Fog); “James Garner, 1928-2014: Remembering Rockford,” by Craig McDonald; “Remembering James Garner and The Rockford Files,” by Julia Buckley (Mysterious Musings); “James Garner, R.I.P.,” by Mitchell Hadley (It’s About TV).

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Legend at His Best

In my capacity as a journalist, I’ve had plenty of opportunities over the years to interview famous people. On various occasions, I have quizzed Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, architect-futurist Buckminster Fuller, Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau, singers Sarah Vaughn and Judy Collins, politicians Eugene McCarthy, Patty Murray and magician Harry Blackstone Jr., architects Philip Johnson and Robert A.M. Stern, Columbo creator William Link, and authors ranging from Ross Macdonald and Robert B. Parker to Lyndsay Faye, Max Allan Collins, Elmore Leonard, and Philip Kerr.

But I have never been so excited--or so nervous--as I was when I scored an interview with James Garner in 2011. With his first-ever memoir, The Garner Files, due for imminent release, I’d contacted his publisher, Simon & Schuster, to inquire about chatting with the renowned actor turned author. I knew it was the longest of long shots; Garner was a very private man, notorious for steering clear of media exposure. But I figured, what the hell, I’ll try anyway--what did I have to lose? And wonders upon wonders, he said yes. Or at least his co-author, Jon Winokur, did. Winokur told me to send him my list of questions via e-mail, and he’d persuade Garner to answer them.

I was so enthusiastic, I spent a whole day writing and polishing my questions, and then cutting their number down to just over two dozen that I thought were the best. I shot them Winokur’s way … and then waited. I imagined all the things that could go wrong: Garner might decline at the last minute to respond; maybe he would look through my queries and decide they were too intrusive or not interesting enough; or he might have conflicting responsibilities that would prevent his sitting down with Winokur on my behalf. I’d never crossed my fingers so hard for luck, hoping everything would go my way.

As I’ve written before, I was introduced to Garner by my father, who was a big fan of the 1957-1960 ABC-TV Western series Maverick. But I became an even more ardent admirer of this actor’s work. Not only did I watch all of Maverick, but I never missed an episode of Garner’s 1974-1980 private-eye series, The Rockford Files. Aside from several of his earliest film work and a few of his later pictures (including Tank and The Last Debate), I have seen all of his performances. I’m particularly fond of his starring roles in The Great Escape (1963), The Americanization of Emily (1964), Marlowe (1969, based on Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister), Support Your Local Gunfighter! (1971), Skin Game (1971), Murphy's Romance (1985), director Blake Edwards’ Victor, Victoria (1982) and Sunset (1988), Streets of Laredo (1995), and Twilight (1988). I bought the full six-year run of The Rockford Files when it came out in DVD sets, and have since picked up his complete series Nichols (1971-1972) and Bret Maverick (1981-1982). To call me a Garner fan is like calling Bill Clinton a politician; the term simply doesn’t seem adequate to the circumstances.

(Left) Garner in 2004

Of course, I was not alone in my adoration. The obituaries published today demonstrate how respected Garner was. This comes from The New York Times:
Mr. Garner was a genuine star but as an actor something of a paradox: a lantern-jawed, brawny athlete whose physical appeal was both enhanced and undercut by a disarming wit. He appeared in more than 50 films, many of them dramas, but as he established in one of his notable early performances, as a battle-shy naval officer in “The Americanization of Emily” (1964)--and had shown before that in “Maverick”--he was most at home as an iconoclast, a flawed or unlikely hero.

An understated comic actor, he was especially adept at conveying life’s tiny bedevilments. One of his most memorable roles was as a perpetually flummoxed pitchman for Polaroid cameras in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in droll commercials in which he played a vexed husband and Mariette Hartley played his needling wife. They were so persuasive that Ms. Hartley had a shirt printed with the declaration “I am NOT Mrs. James Garner.”

His one Academy Award nomination was for the 1985 romantic comedy “Murphy’s Romance,” in which he played a small-town druggist who woos the new-in-town divorced mom (Sally Field) with a mixture of self-reliance, grouchy charm and lack of sympathy for fools.

Even [Jim] Rockford, a semi-tough ex-con (he had served five years on a bum rap for armed robbery) who lived in a beat-up trailer in a Malibu beach parking lot, drove a Pontiac Firebird and could handle himself in a fight (though he probably took more punches than he gave), was exasperated most of the time by one thing or another: his money problems, the penchant of his father (Noah Beery Jr.) for getting into trouble or getting in the way, the hustles of his con-artist pal Angel (Stuart Margolin), his dicey relationship with the local police.

“Maverick” had been in part a send-up of the conventional western drama, and “The Rockford Files” similarly made fun of the standard television detective, the man’s man who upholds law and order and has everything under control. A sucker for a pretty girl with a distinctly ’70s fashion sense--he favored loud houndstooth jackets--Rockford was perpetually wandering into threatening situations in which he ended up pursued by criminal goons or corrupt cops. He tried, mostly successfully, to steer clear of using guns; instead, a bit of a con artist himself, he relied on impersonations and other ruses--and high-speed driving skills. …

In his 2011 autobiography, “The Garner Files,” written with Jon Winokur, Mr. Garner confessed to having a live-and-let-live attitude with the caveat that when he was pushed, he shoved back. What distinguished his performance as Rockford was how well that more-put-upon-than-macho persona came across. Rockford’s reactions--startled, nonplussed and annoyed being his specialties--appeared native to him.

His naturalness led John J. O’Connor, writing in The New York Times, to liken Mr. Garner to Gary Cooper and James Stewart. And like those two actors, Mr. Garner usually got the girl.
The Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara offers a few of her own thoughts on what made the characters Garner portrayed so welcome:
Unlike virtually any other TV hero before them, Bret Maverick and James Rockford (who was, after all, also written by Roy Huggins as a revamp of Bret) eschewed guns and violence, preferring to talk their way into and out of trouble. In another actor’s hands, both would have been supporting roles, the weaselly if likable friend of the more macho lead. But Garner, with his great hair, handsome face and “relax, fellas” demeanor, managed to make even an aversion to physicality manly--his breakout movie role was a soldier who adhered to deeply held convictions of wartime cowardice in “The Americanization of Emily,” but still got the girl.

Tall and broad, Garner was clearly capable of taking down any bad guy, he would just rather not.

This is not to say he was one-note. In a career that spanned six decades, Garner played every sort of man: the scrounger in “The Great Escape,” the oblivious American gangster in “Victor, Victoria,” the quiet but passionate neighbor in “Murphy’s Romance,” the devoted husband in “The Notebook.” He appeared with Tommy Lee Jones and Clint Eastwood in “Space Cowboys,” stepped in as Grandpa Egan on “8 Simple Rules” after the death of series star John Ritter in 2003. But to all he brought an essential decency, a quick intellect and an admirable intolerance for delusion, denial and other forms of bull.

And he managed to do it without coming off as self-satisfied, which is simply miraculous.

Garner, who famously hesitated in taking the role in “Murphy’s Romance” because he thought he was too old to play a romantic lead and didn’t want to look like a fool, had an air of rueful self-awareness that he used to ground most of his characters in a very no-nonsense reality. It wasn’t humility so much as a sense of proportion, something so unusual in a lead character or a lead actor that it became a hallmark of a Garner performance--he didn’t think too much or too little of himself because he’d rather not be thinking of himself at all.

More than anything, he was a star who didn’t appear to need every ounce of oxygen in the vicinity to shine. And as with Halley’s Comet and other rare celestial objects, it will be a few years before we see anything like him again.
It’s not hard to understand, then, why I was overjoyed to interview Garner in 2011, even if it was only through e-mail. Here was a man--a modest man, by all accounts--who’d been a part of my life for almost as long as I could remember living, and I had finally been given the chance not only to thank him for the joys he’d brought me as an actor, but to ask him his opinions of the roles he’d taken and the people he had known and the memoir he had, at last, taken time to produce.

When, after a few days of my waiting in front of the computer, Winokur sent me Garner’s responses to my numerous questions, I could hardly stop from smiling. I posted the first part of our exchange on the Kirkus Web site and the remainder of it in The Rap Sheet. My only regret was that my father was no longer around to read either installment. He would’ve enjoyed our exchange.

Back in 2004, James Garner received the Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild. During his acceptance speech, he said, “You look at the list of wonderful actors who have been recipients of this award, and I’m not all sure how I got here. I’m just so humbled to be a part of such a distinguished group. And, well, we actors, we seldom know how we are perceived by others, but this wonderful award lets me know, say, ‘Hey, Jim, you must have done something good.’”

Something good, indeed. Something not to be forgotten. Something that touched every one of us who was--who is--a Garner fan.

* * *

For a man who devoted himself to an on-screen career, there can be no better way to honor Garner’s work than with a few video clips. Let’s begin with a very familiar one--the closing credits from Maverick, including that show’s theme song.


Next comes the trailer for Marlowe, featuring Bruce Lee:


James Garner played alongside Lou Gossett Jr. in Skin Game:


In the March 1974 pilot film for The Rockford Files, Lindsay Wagner (later to star in The Bionic Woman) plays a bikini shop owner who hires Rockford to prove her down-and-out father was murdered:


In this witty scene from My Fellow Americans (1996), Garner portrays an erstwhile Democratic president, while Jack Lemmon plays his longtime rival, a former Republican president.


Garner appears with actress Mariette Hartley in this 1983 Polaroid commercial, one in a very popular series:


A short TV profile of Garner as “a living legend”:


And here’s Headline News’ report on Garner’s passing:


READ MORE: James Garner Has Died; These Five Roles Will Remind You of His Greatness,” by Todd VanDerWerff (Vox); “James Garner (1928-2014): A Different Kind of Macho Movie Star,” by Noel Murray (The Dissolve); “James Garner, Rockford Files Star, Dies Aged 86” (BBC News); “R.I.P., James Garner,” by John DuMond (Nobody Move!); “James Garner” (Classic Forever); “Remembering James Garner’s Iconic Jim Rockford” (Guns, Gams & Gumshoes).

The Passing of a Rare Talent

This is definitely not the sort of news I hoped to wake up to this Sunday morning. From the Los Angeles Times:
Actor James Garner, whose whimsical style in the 1950s TV Western “Maverick” led to a stellar career in TV and films such as “The Rockford Files” and his Oscar-nominated “Murphy's Romance,” has died, police said. He was 86.

He was found dead of natural causes Saturday evening at his home in Brentwood, Los Angeles police officer Alonzo Iniquez said early Sunday.

Police responded to a call around 8 p.m. and confirmed Garner's identity from family members, Iniquez told The Associated Press.

There was no immediate word on a more specific cause of death. Garner had suffered a stroke in May 2008, just weeks after his 80th birthday.
I am a longtime fan of Garner’s film and TV performances, and had the privilege of interviewing him, via e-mail, back in 2011, following the publication of memoir, The Garner Files. Within the last year, I added to my collection of Garner DVD sets the releases of Nichols (his 1971-1972 TV series) and Bret Maverick (his 1981-1982 TV revival of the character he played in the classic Western series Maverick), and have been working my way delightfully through their episodes. Naturally, I own all of The Rockford Files.

I will likely have more to say about Garner (born James Scott Bumgarner) as the day wears on and the news sinks in, but this short post will have to suffice for now.

READ MORE:Rockford Files Star Garner Dies at 86 (Report),” by Mike Barnes and Duane Byrge (The Hollywood Reporter); “James Garner Dies at 86,” by Bill Koenig (The HMSS Weblog).

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bauer Bests the Bunch

Two weeks after the organizers behind this year’s Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award announced the six shortlisted contenders for that title, a winner has been declared. It’s Rubbernecker, by Belinda Bauer (Bantam Press).

Just to recap, here are the five other shortlisted works: The Red Road, by Denise Mina (Orion); The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, by Malcolm Mackay (Mantle); The Chessmen, by Peter May (Quercus); Dying Fall, by Elly Griffiths (Quercus); and Eleven Days, by Stav Sherez (Faber & Faber). The victor was determined by a select panel (chaired by UK author Steve Mosby) as well as a public, online vote.

Bauer’s win was coupled with news that Lynda La Plante has been given the fifth Theakstons Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award. The previous recipients were Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, Colin Dexter, and Reginald Hill.

(Hat tip to the Euro Crime Blog.)

Partners in Law: Gardner and Mason

California attorney-turned-author Erle Stanley Gardner was born on this date back in 1889. To celebrate the occasion, Jeffrey Marks--who is busy writing a biography of Gardner--has posted a list of his 10 favorite Perry Mason novels. I’m feeling pretty smug in the knowledge that I’ve read about half of them.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Who Will Win the Marsh?

It’s official now: Craig Sisterson, the man behind New Zealand’s coveted annual Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, has announced the longlisted nominees for this year’s prize. They are:

The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton (Little, Brown)
Joe Victim, by Paul Cleave (Simon & Schuster)
The Beckoning Ice, by Joan Druett (Old Salt Press)
Frederick’s Coat, by Alan Duff (Vintage)
My Brother’s Keeper, by Donna Malane (HarperCollins)
Where Dead Men Go, by Liam McIlvanney (Faber and Faber)
Cross Fingers, by Paddy Richardson (Hachette)
Only the Dead, by Ben Sanders (HarperCollins)

“That’s one heck of a line-up,” Sisterson writes in his blog, Crime Watch. “How you cut it down to finalists, let alone a winner, I do not know. I can certainly see how readers will have massively divergent opinions on their favourites amongst this wide-ranging list. I don’t even know myself which book I’d choose to win.”

I have to figure out my own preferences; as was the case last year, I am once again among the “international panel of crime fiction aficionados” judging this new Marsh competition. Over the last few weeks, copies of this year’s eight contenders have sailed through my mail slot, one by one. I have been making way through them all, but still have plenty of reading to do.

A tally of finalists should be available by some time in early August. The winner is set to be declared on Saturday, August 30, “following the Great New Zealand Crime Debate event at the WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival 2014.”

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Bullet Points: World Cup Final Edition

• As the blog Down These Mean Streets explains, “On July 12, 1946, Sam Spade opened his radio office for business. Dashiell Hammett’s famous private detective was a household name from The Maltese Falcon, and he came to radio in the person of Howard Duff in a series produced and directed by William Spier. The Adventures of Sam Spade became one of radio’s most popular mystery programs, thanks in no small part to Duff’s sardonic tough guy delivery as Spade.” To celebrate this 68th anniversary, for the last several days Down These Mean Streets has been posting a succession of photographs and sound clips from the show. You can check them all out here. And listen to more Adventures of Sam Spade episodes here.

• A couple of months ago we brought you the nominees for the 2013 Shirley Jackson Awards, honoring “outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic.” Megan Abbott, Joyce Carol Oates, Marisha Pessl, and Michael Marshall Smith all featured on that list. Today, brings us the winners.

• National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday looks back at how ideas about crime--especially of the violent variety--have changed over the centuries, through an analysis of records kept at London’s Old Bailey criminal court. Listen to that segment here.

• Today marks the 150th anniversary of the New York Draft Riots, three days of violent disturbances in the wake of new laws drafting men to fight in the American Civil War. “The riots remain the largest civil insurrection in American history, aside from the Civil War itself,” explains Wikipedia. Cracked History has more about this confrontation--which resulted in thousands of casualties--here.

• Will Irish actor Colin Farrell become the next star of HBO-TV’s True Detective? According to Entertainment Weekly, he is “is definitely in the mix and considered the most likely lead name to join the acclaimed drama,” though “there is no deal at this time.”

• Happy fifth anniversary to Rob Kitchin’s View from the Blue House. Congratulations, too, to the blog Battered, Tattered, Yellowed & Creased, which celebrated its third birthday this month.

• Fans of James Garner and The Rockford Files will likely be interested in this forthcoming book about the actor’s association with cars and championship automobile racing.

• In Criminal Element, Jake Hinkson pays tribute to actor Raymond Burr, writing: “Burr might be famous today for playing Perry Mason on television, but I have a feeling that as time goes on, his noir work will catch up and exceed his television fame. I don’t know how many new converts the Perry Mason series will find in the future, but I know that for as long as people watch noir, they’ll be struck by Burr’s cold stare and understated delivery.”

• On the subject of Perry Mason, I just came across part of a video interview with American composer Fred Steiner, in which he talks about his work on the theme music for that 1957-1966 CBS-TV drama. I’m embedding it below. Hear more from Steiner here.

• I’m pleased to see that talented writer Leslie Gilbert Elman, who recapped last year’s opening-season episodes of the Masterpiece Mystery! series Endeavour for Criminal Element, is back on the beat, now critiquing the current, second season as well. Her thoughts on last Sunday’s installment, “Nocturne,” can be found here, while links to her previous write-ups are available here.

• The opening from Cribb, the 1979-1981 Granada Television series starring Alan Dobie as Peter Lovesey’s Victorian police detective, Sergeant Cribb, is among the latest new offerings on The Rap Sheet’s fast-growing YouTube channel.

• Uh-oh, there are problems with AMC-TV’s Better Call Saul, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s prequel to Breaking Bad.

• Back in 2009, Hard Case Crime launched a series of high-adventure thrillers built around the swashbuckling character Gabriel Hunt, beginning with Hunt at the Well of Eternity, by James Reasoner. Only half a dozen entries in that line had come off the presses, however, before publisher Dorchester Publishing ended its association with Hard Case, sending HCC to make a distribution deal instead with UK-based Titan Publishing. Only now, says its editor, Charles Ardai, is HCC “bringing the Gabriel Hunt adventure novels back--including the never-available-in-stores final volume, which will receive its first proper publication ever this August. (The first four Hunt titles are back in stores now, having been reissued one per month starting in April, and the very rare fifth volume hits stores on July 29.)” The Adventures of Gabriel Hunt Web site has also been revived.

• R.I.P., Lou Allin. The Canadian mystery writer (Twilight Is Not Good for Maidens) died last week at age 69, following a lengthy bout with pancreatic cancer. More on her life and career here.

• “Mark your calendars!” instructs Omnimystery News. “Agatha Christie’s Poirot comes to an end this summer, with the final five episodes starring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot airing on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery! (two episodes) and Acorn TV (all five episodes).” The British TV drama began its long run in 1989!

• The Classic Film and TV Café offers “Seven Things to Know About Raymond Chandler (in His Own Words).” My favorite is No. 3:
On his Philip Marlowe novel The Lady in the Lake and the 1947 film adaptation: “This is the only published fiction of mine which I have tried to adapt for films. And it would take a lot of money to make me try again, and I don’t think this kind of money would be paid me now from Hollywood. When a man has written a book and rewritten it and rewritten it, he has had enough of it.”
• Don’t count me as a fan of DC Comics’ younger, hipper reinvention of Batgirl, aka Barbara Gordon. Co-writer Brenden Fletcher says, “Our take on Batgirl mixes the best elements of Veronica Mars and Girls, with a dash of Sherlock thrown in for good measure.” I prefer a slightly more mature, more womanly Batgirl.

• Lovers of the 1944 film Laura should note that Los Angeles historian Larry Harnisch is in the midst of writing an extended series of posts about that film classic. The installments so far can be found here: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX, Part X. If you missed reading Jim Napier’s tribute to Vera Caspary’s novel, Laura, from which the film was adapted, read it here. Another, more recent review of the book can be enjoyed here.

• And Screen Rant has posted a trailer for the coming release Before I Go to Sleep, a motion-picture based on S.J. Watson’s 2011 novel of the same name. As SR explains, “[Nicole] Kidman plays Christina Lucas, a woman suffering from anterograde amnesia after being brutally attacked and receiving several blows to the head. Her condition means that every time she goes to sleep she will wake up stripped of all her memories, and must reassemble her past every day. She is reliant upon the help of her husband Ben (Colin Firth) and a specialist called Dr. Nash (Mark Strong)--but as Christine tries to gather the facts, she begins to suspect that what she has been told is not necessarily the truth.”