Friday, July 22, 2016

Living It Up with the Dead Goods

Thanks to the ever-reliable Ali Karim, our man at this weekend’s Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, England, we now have the winners of the 2016 Dead Good Reader Awards, sponsored by the UK-based crime-fiction Web site Dead Good. The announcement of victorious books and authors was made during a special event held this evening at the festival.

The Dead Good Recommends Award for Most Recommended Book:
Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith (Little, Brown)

Also nominated: Die of Shame, by Mark Billingham (Little, Brown); In Her Wake, by Amanda Jennings (Orenda); The Missing, by C.L. Taylor (Avon); Tastes Like Fear, by Sarah Hilary (Headline); and Untouchable Things, by Tara Guha (Legend Press)

The Tess Gerritsen Award for Best Series:
Roy Grace, created by Peter James (Macmillan)

Also nominated: Jack Reacher, created by Lee Child (Transworld); Marnie Rome, created by Sarah Hilary (Headline); Logan McRae, created by Stuart MacBride (Harper Collins); Ruth Galloway, created by Elly Griffiths (Quercus); and George MacKenzie, created by Marnie Riches (Maze)

The Linwood Barclay Award for Most Surprising Twist:
Little Black Lies, by Sharon Bolton (Transworld)

Also nominated: Disclaimer, by Renee Knight (Transworld); The Ice Twins, by S.K. Tremayne (Harper Collins); I Let You Go, by Clare Mackintosh (Sphere); The Kind Worth Killing, by Peter Swanson (Faber & Faber); and When She Was Bad, by Tammy Cohen (Transworld)

The Papercut Award for Best Page Turner:
The Girl in the Ice, by Robert Bryndza (Bookouture)

Also nominated: Broken Promise, by Linwood Barclay (Orion); Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith (Little, Brown); Follow Me, by Angela Clarke (Avon); In a Dark, Dark Wood, by Ruth Ware (Vintage); and Splinter the Silence, by Val McDermid (Little, Brown)

The Hotel Chocolat Award for Darkest Moment:
In the Cold Dark Ground, by Stuart MacBride (HarperCollins)

Also nominated: Behind Closed Doors, by B.A. Paris (Mira); The Darkest Secret, by Alex Marwood (Sphere); Little Boy Blue, by M.J. Arlidge (Michael Joseph); The Teacher, by Katerina Diamond (Avon); and Viral, by Helen Fitzgerald (Faber & Faber)

The Mörda Award for Captivating Crime in Translation:
Nightblind, by Ragnar Jonasson (Orenda Books)

Also nominated: Camille, by Pierre Lemaitre (MacLehose Press); The Crow Girl, by Erik Axl Sund (Vintage); The Defenceless, by Kati Hiekkapelto (Orenda Books); I’m Travelling Alone, by Samuel Bjork (Doubleday); and The Undesired, by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir
(Hodder & Stoughton)

Congratulations to all of this year’s contenders!

The Book You Have to Read: “Sidewalk Caesar”

(Editor’s note: This is the 139th installment in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books.)

By Steven Nester
Every once in a while a touch of literary schadenfreude is just the thing when you’re down in the dumps. Observing the mess a fictional character has made of his or her life can put a bounce back in your step; and what might make it even more uplifting is knowing that no real humans were harmed in the improvement of your mood. Therefore, if even hearing the name Theodore Dreiser puts you in a whistling disposition, then the atmospheric and beautifully written Sidewalk Caesar, by Donald Honig (originally published in 1958, but later reissued as The Operator), belongs in your medicine cabinet right next to the Xanax.

In the downtrodden New York City outer-borough neighborhood of Capstone, where the houses are “bunched together like old men in the cold,” loser Milton Dono plots to change his luck—yet accomplishes anything but that. Known in his school days as Milton Don’t Know, he’s looking for more than casual approbation. Milton wishes to transcend from lowly bartender to exalted local bookie to, he hopes, gambling kingpin—and plans thereafter to show anyone and everyone who ever mocked him the meaning of the word respect.

For a certain kind of young woman, Milton is irresistible. Lucille Maxwell, the aimless neighborhood hussy, is that girl. Milton, we’re told, “could produce so searing an eruption in her flesh, [that it] seemed possessed of potent fire, believable and capable, sufficient perhaps to kindle with its dreams the stores and paths of men.” Lucille believes in his self-aggrandizing plans, and gives herself to him as a result. This shameless pair rut in public places like alley cats (“he crouched in mad performance, she leaning away, swooned”), and so the inevitable happens—Lucille is knocked up and Milton, an illiterate crumb of a man, couldn’t care less. Lucille hopes he’ll marry her, but as folks might’ve said in the backwater of Capstone, “that ain’t gonna happen.” Instead, she agrees to begin a courtship with Milton’s brother Paul, a responsible and honest young man, as well as a virgin and a bit of a chump, actually; then seduce and pin the pregnancy on him … which, further down the line, kind of succeeds.

Upon becoming a bookie, Milton, in an exquisite display of meretricious egoism, buys a fedora and crowns himself heir to the weed-strewn neighborhood’s bookmaking hierarchy. The locals who are in the know welcome Milton to it. Milton doesn’t learn from the mistakes of Walter Kinney, the local rummy and busted former bookie who becomes Milton’s runner, nor from the respected businessman, Mr. McMurtry, who back in the day had been one of Walter’s employees. Milton is blinded by his greed and insecurity (disguised as ambition), and is not intelligent enough to understand that when the odds, the tools of his trade which he ought to know intimately, point to the slim chances he has of achieving success, he ought to pay some heed. Unwilling to listen to wiser men, and unable to see that the deck is stacked against him, Milton’s downfall is inevitable—and what a tumble it turns out to be.

Sidewalk Caesar is a novel of psychological realism, making its plot secondary to the inner workings of the characters’ thoughts and motivations. Readers could well experience some cognitive dissonance as the omniscient narrator sounds several stations above the neighborhood flunkies and their tawdry lives, which are described in prose that is verbose, flowery, at times a bit opaque, and alien to the tabloid subjects of abortion, theft, insurance fraud, attempted murder, and immolation.

Think Henry James talking about bookmaking with the demimonde instead of discussing morality in tidy Edwardian drawing rooms with those to the manor born. Thankfully, author Honig has no inhibitions about getting off his high horse to dirty his boots and describe the characters here with accuracy and empathy. He gets inside them with tough and terse dialogue, and allows readers to eavesdrop on interior monologues that succeed in duplicating how a character with limited education and expectations might sound.

(Left) Author Donald Honig

Honig uses descriptions such as “the whish of cars [seems] … remote, like the boundless flight of comets”; a “face as white as a moon”; Manhattan is “like another galaxy”; and car headlights are “twin moons,” all of which saturate the characters and their environs with a sense of helplessness and preordained destiny, as if they’re merely additional components in a harsh universe, condemned to wander through life along predetermined paths, devoid of introspection.

Honig also pays a visit to Yoknapatawpha County with a plethora of Faulknerian flourishes, on the order of “sullen man-gone loneliness,” “child-calm,” “utter round-eyed astonishment,” and “the colossal rushing thundering froth.” These may lead to some head scratching among readers, but when appreciated for their own sake, the beauty of the poetics soon alleviates any confusion.

Milton Dono’s life spirals out of control when a bet made by McMurtry winds up bankrupting him. An alliance born of desperation with a deadbeat gambler—“a camaraderie … like two men who have shaken hands through the bars of adjoining death cells and both of them are praying that the other will be dispatched first”—turns young Milton and his plan into cinders.

Donald Honig is a novelist and was once a frequent contributor of short stories to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, but he’s now best known as a prolific baseball historian. With Sidewalk Caesar, he really hit one out of the park. During the golden age of pulp fiction, Sidewalk Caesar might have seemed too literary a yarn to make its way into the back pocket of an IRT motorman or a hot dog vendor roaming Yankee Stadium; nowadays, it has no hope of finding its way onto a literature class syllabus. True, the book jacket teases that “greed and sex betrayed him,” but it’s belied by a sophisticated writing style, as if John Updike took on the rise and fall of Whitey Bulger. Sidewalk Caesar is a cautionary tale with a simple yet inventive plot about a tired and desperate inner-city existence. It’s a reminder that in a world where the individual answers to no one but himself, even a person claiming the cheapest and most venal of lives deserves a dignified portrayal, if only because he makes the attempt to stand tall and shape a destiny that is mostly out of his control.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mackintosh Prevails

British freelance journalist and author Clare Mackintosh has won the 2016 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award for her thriller I Let You Go (Sphere). That announcement was made this evening during a special opening-night event at the 14th Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, England.

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

The original, longlist of 18 contenders is here.

Also receiving recognition tonight was Scottish writer Val McDermid, who—as Crime Fiction Lover reports—“becomes the seventh winner of the Theakstons Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award, following Sara Paretsky, Lynda La Plante, Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, Colin Dexter, and Reginald Hill. Well known for her Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series, as well as her fine standalone novels, her books have sold over 10 million copies in more than 30 languages. Her 30th novel, Out of Bounds, is due out in September.”

READ MORE:Feeling Old and Peculier in Harrogate,” by Craig Sisterson (Crime Watch).

You’d Better Make Them Doubles

Megan Abbott, author of the new novel You Will Know Me (Little, Brown), is the latest focus of The New York Times Book Review’s “By the Book” interview column. Abbott’s answers in the past to questions about her work and the crime-fiction genre in general have almost invariably proved to be interesting, and that’s no less true here. When pressed to say which three writers, dead or alive, she would want to invite to a dinner party, she responds:
Emily Brontë, Freud, and Flannery O’Connor. That’s a tough, tough crew. I’m not getting away with anything at that table. There will definitely need to be martinis.
You will find the whole Book Review piece here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Bullet Points: Happy Distractions Edition

If you can tear your eyes away from this week’s train wreck of a Republican Party convention in Cleveland, here are some crime-fiction-related items worth your attention.

• Please take a moment today to send good wishes in the direction of Alvin, Texas, author Bill Crider (Survivors Will Be Shot Again), whose 75th birthday is coming up on July 28. He reported in his blog yesterday that his doctor wanted him to “check into the hospital ASAP, as he thinks I might be having kidney failure. This can’t be good.” Crider, whose wife of 49 years, Judy, passed away in 2014, has always come across—in print and in person (on those several occasions I’ve seen him at Bouchercons)—as a fine and funny individual. His recent adoption of three abandoned kittens demonstrated his generosity, as well. Our thoughts are with you, Bill. Get well soon.

• Having gained renown for bringing out hard-boiled paperback crime fiction, Hard Case Crime is now preparing to launch a companion comic-books line in association with publishing partner Titan. “Kicking-off the imprint,” reports Comic Book Resources, “are two new crime series: Triggerman by writer Walter Hill, the acclaimed director of The Warriors, and artist Matz (Body and Soul), and Peepland from crime authors Christa Faust and Gary Phillips and artist Andrea Camerini (Il Troio). Also launching in 2017 is a comic adaptation of author Max Allan Collins’ Quarry, which is currently being developed for television.” News-a-Rama adds that Triggerman—which will debut in stores on October 5, “is an operatic Prohibition-era mini-series,” while Peepland—scheduled to be available a week later—is “a semi-autobiographical neo-noir mini-series with a punk edge set in the seedy Times Square peep booths of 1980s New York City.” In his blog, author Collins explains that “no artist has been selected” for his Quarry tale, “and I probably won’t start writing for two or three months; the graphic novel will likely be called Quarry’s War and will deal more directly with his Vietnam experiences than I’ve ever done in the novels.” It’s been many years since I was a regular reader of comic books, but these Hard Case releases are definitely of interest to me, if only because I know some of the writers involved. Also, the issues I’ve seen boast beautiful covers, one of which is shown on the right.

• By the way, that Collins post I just mentioned also features a new trailer for the coming Cinemax TV series, Quarry. It’s apparently narrated by South Africa-born actress Jodi Balfour, who plays Joni, the ex-wife of Collins’ protagonist—looking quite a bit less glamorous than she did in the Canadian series Bomb Girls, which my wife and I are currently in the process of watching on Netflix.

• Another graphic novel of interest: Last Fair Deal Gone Down (12 Gauge), an adaptation of Ace Atkins’ first story starring Louisiana footballer-turned-sometime private eye Nick Travers. The Crimespree Magazine blog says the artwork dramatizing Atkins’ story was done by Marco Finnegan, who is “a fan of the Travers stories and the genre of crime. You feel the mood and the atmosphere on every page.”

MysteryPeople also weighs in on Atkins’ graphic novel.

• There are apparently three finalists vying for the 2016 T. Jefferson Parker Mystery and Thriller Award: Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley (Grand Central); Orphan X, by Gregg Hurwitz (Minotaur); and The Promise, by Robert Crais (Putnam). The Parker award is given out annually by the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association. It is one of seven categories of prizes sponsored by SCIBA. Winners are expected to be announced during the SCIBA Trade Show to be held in Los Angeles, October 21-22.

• Jose Ignacio Escribano reports in A Crime Is Afoot that “The 2016 Dashiell Hammett Prize—awarded each year by the International Crime Fiction Festival, la Semana Negra de Gijón—has been bestowed to the novel Subsuelo, by the Argentine writer Marcelo Luján.”

• Blogger-editor Janet Rudolph needs submissions to her next edition of Mystery Readers Journal. She says that issue “will focus on mysteries featuring Small Town Cops,” and that she’s “looking for reviews, articles, and Author! Author! essays. Reviews: 50-250 words; articles: 250-1000 words; Author! Author! essays: 500-1,500 words.” The deadline for submissions is August 10. Learn more here.

• Just last month I mentioned on this page that I was very happy to see David Cranmer writing, in the Criminal Element blog, about Isaac Asimov’s trilogy of Elijah Baley/Daneel Olivaw yarns. Yesterday Cranmer completed his critiques of those science-fiction whodunits, posting this fine piece about The Robots of Dawn (1983) to add to his earlier remarks on The Caves of Steel (1954) and The Naked Sun (1957). Good going, Mr. Cranmer!

This is an interesting development: “Steeger Properties, LLC, is pleased to announce that it has added the most prominent pulp magazine ever published, Black Mask, to its intellectual property holdings. As the periodical where the hard-boiled detective story was created and cultivated, Black Mask’s historical significance in popular fiction is unequaled. … Black Mask rejoins Dime Detective and Detective Fiction Weekly in Steeger Properties, LLC’s holdings once owned by Popular Publications Inc. ... This marks the first time in over 50 years that all three titles [are] owned by one entity.”

• If you need a Caribbean mystery fix, check this out.

Columbo star Peter Falk, who passed away in 2011 at age 83, will be the subject of this week’s installment of TV Confidential, Ed Robertson’s popular two-hour radio talk show. William Link (who, with Richard Levinson, created that NBC Mystery Movie series) and TV critic Mark Dawidziak will join Robertson on the show, which is set to air from Friday, July 22, through Monday, July 25, on a variety of radio stations. It will later be archived here for your enjoyment.

• It was two years ago yesterday that prolific actor James Garner died at 86 years of age. Quite to my surprise, I am still discovering new films and small-screen productions in which he starred. Just last week, for instance, I finally got around to watching 1997’s Dead Silence, adapted from Jeffery Deaver’s 1995 novel, A Maiden’s Grave, and starring Garner as a hostage negotiator.

• Author brothers Lee and Tod Goldberg have won valuable attention in Palm Springs, California’s Desert Sun newspaper for the fact that they “have pulled off a rare feat by both appearing on the same New York Times Best Sellers list at the same time for different books.” (Yes, I know I mentioned this previously.)

The real reason Showtime’s Penny Dreadful was canceled?

• I was just thinking the other night about how much I’d like to rewatch last year’s thrills-packed Guy Ritchie picture, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.—which I very much enjoyed at the time of its release—when what should appear in Bill Crider’s blog but this favorable assessment of that flick as an “overlooked movie.” (Crider also offered this trailer.) These stars having thus aligned, I now have The Man from U.N.C.L.E. stored in my TV queue for imminent viewing.

• Sadly, while Ritchie’s U.N.C.L.E. survived the first round of online voting in the 2016 MTV Fandom of the Year awards, it fell out of the running in round two.

• Stephen Bowie presents a superior write-up in The Classic TV History Blog about The Defenders, the often-acclaimed 1961-1965 CBS-TV legal drama, Season One of which was finally released in DVD format last week by Shout! Factory.

• Meanwhile, Ivan G. Shreve Jr. applauds Shout!’s recent release of Lou Grant: Season One. Lou Grant, you will recall, was the excellent 1977-1982 CBS series in which Edward Asner played the tough but thoughtful city editor of the (fictional) Los Angeles Tribune newspaper. He’d previously appeared as Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Lou Grant: Season Two will go on sale in August.

• Again on the subject of TV programs, have you heard about Wayne State University Press’ evolving collection of releases about such memorable boob-tube productions as Have Gun—Will Travel, The X Files, Maverick, The Fugitive, and Miami Vice? This might be something to keep a watch on for the near future.

• Some author interviews worth your attention: Underground Airlines’ Ben H. Winters goes one-on-one with Lori Rader-Day for the Chicago Review of Books; in that same publication, Lauren Sacks quizzes David Baker (Vintage); Todd Robinson (Rough Trade) chats with Crimespree Magazine; writer-publisher Jason Pinter submits to an interrogation by S.W. Lauden; MysteryPeople turns its attention to both Peter Spiegelman (Dr. Knox) and Douglas Graham Purdy (We Were Kings); James Henry, aka James Gurbutt, talks with Cleopatra Loves Books about his new UK release, Blackwater; Mystery Playground fires questions at Terrence McCauley (A Murder of Crows); In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel discusses the old Sergeant Cuff novels with Martin Edwards; and Camilla Way (Watching Edie) stops by for a bit of a palaver with Crime Fiction Lover.

• Seattleite Vince Keenan, the managing editor of Noir City (the Film Noir Foundation’s “house rag”), offers this short but snappy look back at the film and television career or Roy Huggins, the creator of Maverick and the co-creator of The Rockford Files.

• Despite its hype and publishing success, I found Stephanie Meyer’s vampire-themed Twilight series unreadable, so I won’t be buying her forthcoming adult thriller, The Chemist, which she describes as “the love child created from the union of my romantic sensibilities and my obsession with Jason Bourne/Aaron Cross.” But for those of you who are curious to know more, click over to this Omnivoracious post.

• Darn! I wish I could be in Britain this week to watch “BBC 1’s lavish new adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel, The Secret Agent.” (There’s a trailer at the link.) Fortunately, Wikipedia says this three-part mini-series, starring Toby Jones, will cross the Atlantic at some as-yet-unannounced date, courtesy of Acorn TV.

• In The Guardian, Mark Lawson calls Conrad’s The Secret Agent “a prescient masterpiece that has shaped depictions of terrorism and espionage.” It’s hard to argue with that assessment.

• For folks who like lists, try these on for size. Wolf Lake author John Verdon recommends the “10 Best Whodunits” in Publishers Weekly, while Joseph Finder (Guilty Minds) serves up his picks of the “10 Best Movie Thrillers” on the Strand Magazine Web site.

• Among Brooklyn Magazine’s list of “100 Books to Read for the Rest of 2016” are several crime and mystery fiction picks, including Good as Gone, by Amy Gentry, The Kingdom, by Fuminori Nakamura, and Underground Airlines, by Ben H. Winters.

From In Reference to Murder:There are plans afoot to bring the Idris Elba-starring crime drama Luther to the big screen. Luther creator Neil Cross indicated that the Luther movie would play as [a] prequel to the series, meaning that some of the characters from early in the show could return, including Luther’s old partner Ian Reed (Steven Mackintosh), and his sidekick Justin Ripley (Warren Brown). Cross added, ‘It will follow his career in the earlier days when he is still married to Zoe [Indira Varma], and the final scene in the film is the first of the initial TV series.’”

• With only two months to go now (yikes!) before Bouchercon 2016 kicks off in New Orleans, Louisiana, conference organizes have made all six of this year’s Anthony Award-nominated short stories available online here for your consideration.

• Finally, because Donald Trump & Co. are still huffing and puffing and blowing themselves up on stage in Ohio, here’s a note of interest from the online Seattle Review of Books: “Would you care to guess what Donald Trump reads? Is ‘not much of anything’ your answer? The good news is, you’re right! (The bad news is: you’re right.)” More about Trump’s anti-intellectualism can be found here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Revue of Reviewers, 7-19-16

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

Lion-Hearted Leo Rides Again

While other Seattle-based fictional private eyes have come and gone, G.M. Ford’s Leo Waterman is still on the case—and doing pretty well at it. My new Kirkus Reviews column—posted earlier this morning—looks at Ford’s new novel, Salvation Lake. You will find the piece here.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Hard-boiled Tale in Softcover Glory

If, for some odd reason, you haven’t been keeping up with Killer Covers’ tribute series to John D. MacDonald—timed to what would have been that author’s 100th birthday (on July 24)—then note that it has now entered its second week. Today’s fabulous paperback front comes from an early 1970s edition of The Executioners, the novel that was adapted into the Robert Mitchum/Gregory Peck suspense film Cape Fear. See the cover for yourself here.

Friday, July 15, 2016

She Has It All Locke-d Up

Los Angeles writer Attica Locke’s third novel, Pleasantville (Harper), has won the 2016 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, according to a joint announcement made by the University of Alabama School of Law and the ABA Journal. That same news release adds: “The prize, authorized by Lee [who died earlier this year], is given annually to a book-length work of fiction that best illuminates the role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change. … Locke’s novel will be honored during a ceremony on September 22, at 5:30 p.m., at the Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the National Book Festival.”

Locke is only the sixth author to win the Harper Lee Prize. It was previously given to Deborah Johnson (in 2015) for The Secret of Magic; John Grisham (2014) for Sycamore Row; Paul Goldstein (2013) for Havana Requiem; Michael Connelly (2012) for The Fifth Witness; and John Grisham (2011) for The Confession.

In addition to Pleasantville, there were a couple of other 2015 novels in contention for this year’s award. They were Tom & Lucky (and George & Cokey Flo), by C. Joseph Greaves (Bloomsbury USA), and Allegiance, by Kermit Roosevelt (Regan Arts).

(Hat tip to The Gumshoe Site.)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Cheyney’s Dark Times

(Editor’s note: Most modern readers have forgotten or never even heard of 20th-century British hard-boiled fictionist Peter Cheyney, but he was once a huge best-seller in Europe, his many crime novels, in a variety of series, issued and reissued in multiple editions. In the essay below, Michael Keyton—a resident of Monmouth, Wales, who’s penned several works of horror and speculative fiction, as well as the horror/comedy/noir yarn Clay Cross—offers background to his latest book, a biography titled Cheyney Behave!: Peter Cheyney: A Darker World, plus some period context for Cheyney’s storytelling. Much of the piece is devoted to the Dark Series, which featured players such as Michael Kane, Johnny Vallon, Shaun O’Mara, and of course, Peter Everard Quayle, the operations director for a UK intelligence unit combating Nazi agents.)

I first came across author Peter Cheyney when I was somewhere between 12 and 13 years old. At a church bazaar or second-hand bookshop—the memory is blurred. I forgot all about him for almost 40 more years. And this “forgetting” is key to the whole story. Peter Cheyney (1896-1951) was the most popular and prolific British author of his day. He was also the most highly paid. His curse, perhaps, is that he undoubtedly influenced Ian Fleming, for James Bond is nothing more than a glamorous composite of the Cheyney “hero.” Cheyney created the template that Fleming developed, and the rest is history. Bond got Chubby Broccoli and celluloid fame, Peter Cheyney obscurity and critical censure.

John le Carré, when asked about spy books that might have influenced him as a child, bowed dutifully to the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, John Buchan, and Graham Greene. But then he mentioned the “awful, mercifully forgotten chauvinistic writers like Peter Cheyney and Co.” Professor John Sutherland made a similar point when he referred to Cheyney’s eight-book Dark Series (Dark Duet, Dark Bahama, etc.) as the “high point of a resolutely low-flying career.” These two wonderfully pithy assessments are true to a point. They are also skewed by the cultural backgrounds and literary talents of both men.

So why write a book about Cheyney, other than for the fact that the only previous biography devoted to his life and work (Peter Cheyney: Prince of Hokum, by Michael Harrison) was penned by a fairly uncritical friend of his back in 1954? The reason is the same one that draws me to the works of Edgar Wallace and Sapper (aka H.C. McNeile), Mickey Spillane and Richard S. Prather. They may not be great literature, even though they offer some wonderful vignettes, but they open windows into cultures and mores now largely unknown. Edgar Wallace and Sax Rohmer, for instance, illustrate wonderfully the underlying unease and hysteria shared by great swaths of the population after the Great War; they offer insights into the fantasies and prejudices of ordinary readers. Peter Cheyney, coming on the scene a little later, does the same, his greatest achievement catching the zeitgeist of the Second World War in his justly acclaimed Dark Series.

Out of the Dark Series (left to right): Dark Interlude (Pan, 1950) and Dark Duet (Pan, 1960)—both of which boast cover art by Sam Peffer, aka “Peff”—and The Dark Street (Pan, 1963), with an illustration by J. Oval (alias Ben Ostrick).

The Dark Series—debuting in 1942 and following his introduction of two other crime series, one starring hard-nosed FBI agent Lemmy Caution, the other featuring British private investigator Slim Callaghan—was immensely popular because it tapped into what people wanted to believe. There is little subtlety in those spy tales. Women are lovingly described for men far from home; and in his lavish and detailed accounts of what his female characters are wearing, Cheyney appealed to women suffering from rationing and austerity in Europe. To both, he offered wish fulfillment when wishes were all that was un-rationed. He also offered hope.

During the dark years of World War II, Cheyney’s novels were carried into combat zones and exchanged for 10 cigarettes apiece in POW camps; and during an era when fabric was rationed, women fantasized about the glamorous Cheyney femmes fatales in their satin and silks, sheer stockings, ruffles and bows. Read Cheyney and you’re reading violence and brutality set in a fashion catalogue.

The Dark Series tapped into a zeitgeist, when hope and belief trumped sophistication. Britain was fighting a war, its very existence at stake. This central fact perhaps best explains why so many Peter Cheyney books were found in the battlefields of Europe. The books were propaganda gold, offering what every Briton wanted to believe.

They also held a mirror up to a truth the authorities of the time denied—a startling loosening of sexual mores.

Half a dozen years of total warfare brought unimaginable violence to “ordinary people,” and when faced with disruption and imminent death, moral restraint appears quaint rather than admirable. War coarsened people in their need for immediacy and the pleasures of now. The English poet Philip Larkin once famously said, “Sex was invented in 1963 … between the end of the ‘Chatterley’ ban … And the Beatles’ first LP.” A snappy sound bite, but essentially false.

The truth was far different. Sexual permissiveness was kick-started by the Second World War and was not the sole preserve of the young. In his 1985 book, Virtue Under Fire: How World War II Changed Our Social and Sexual Attitudes, Scottish-born historian John Costello took as his central premise that the drama and excitement of international battle had eroded moral restraints, the totality of war bringing the urgent licentiousness of the front lines closer to home. In the words of one American soldier: “We were young and could die tomorrow.”

(Left) Peter Cheyney, from the back of the 1950 Collins edition of Dark Bahama.

Costello’s analysis, which many thought an eye-opener in the mid-1980s, was actually predated by Peter Cheyney and brought to life in his Dark Series four decades earlier. What makes Cheyney so significant, and explains his popularity, is that his books reflected what officialdom wouldn’t concede about societal change, and reflected it without judgment.

Putting together Cheyney, Behave! involved addictive research, contacting his old school and various golf clubs, and searching through old maps. It required my scouring second-hand bookshops (directly or through the Amazon online sales site), exploiting the generosity of Adrian Sensicle—the man responsible for the Official Peter Cheyney Website—and amassing a treasure trove of magical pulp fiction.

The process has also been a learning experience—from contacting the Cheyney estate for permission to quote from the author’s work, to finding someone who could simplify maps that allow the reader to follow in the footsteps of Cheyney’s various heroes. The Cheyney estate sold me a license to quote up to 1,300 words. Plenty, I thought … until I began systematically counting and realized I had used far more. Cheyney’s prose is addictive. The subsequent editing has, I think, made for a notably tighter book.

Perhaps the greatest learning experience of all has been in marketing. Some readers might buy my book out of simple curiosity, but I am really in search of Peter Cheyney enthusiasts—a narrow fan base, but one that’s scattered worldwide. I hope that, having been given the chance to write this article for The Rap Sheet, I can spread word of the book’s existence a bit farther than might otherwise be possible.

In Cheyney, Behave you will find misogyny, homophobia, racism, sexism, and chauvinism, but at its core is idealism and profound vulnerability. Peter Cheyney’s success as the highest-paid writer of his time does not necessarily qualify him as a literary giant, but it does show that his fiction reflected the attitudes and moods of a huge portion of the population, amplified them, and played them back to readers. Cheyney talked to the Everyman rather than the educated elite, and it was the Everyman who bought his books in droves. His fiction reveals the nuances of a world long past, one very different from our own, but still fascinating and worth understanding.

READ MORE:Peter Cheyney, Part I: The Lemmy Caution Novels,” by Steve Holland (Bear Alley).

French Twists

Today is Bastille Day (aka French National Day), commemorating the July 14, 1789, public storming of Paris’ Bastille Saint-Antoine, a fortress-prison that was seen as symbolizing King Louis XVI’s increasingly oppressive and oblivious monarchy. Consider this a perfect occasion to revisit the large collection of beautiful French book fronts I put together last year for my other blog, Killer Covers.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

In Pursuit of Deadly’s David

With just over three weeks to go now before the opening of this year’s Deadly Ink Mystery Conference (August 5-7) in New Brunswick, New Jersey, organizers have announced their selection of nominees for the 2016 David Award. Here they are:

Ornaments of Death, by Jane K. Cleland (Minotaur)
Big Shoes, by Jack Getze (Down & Out)
What You See, by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge)
Forgiving Mariela Camacho, by A.J. Sidransky (Berwick Court)
Pretty Girls, by Karin Slaughter (Morrow)

Convention attendees will choose the recipient of this prize for the best mystery novel published in 2015, and the declaration of a winner will take place during a banquet on Saturday, August 6.

In case you don’t know this, the David Award is named in memory of David G. Sasher Sr., a New Jersey resident who passed away in 2006 at age 66, after working on the Deadly Ink convention.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Revue of Reviewers, 7-12-16

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

Among the components I always enjoyed of Sarah Weinman’s now sadly defunct blog, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, were her regular “Smatterings” posts, in which she provided links to crime-fiction-related offerings—features, author interviews, book critiques, etc.—appearing elsewhere on the Web. I’ve tried to do something along the same lines with The Rap Sheet’s “Bullet Points” posts. But I haven’t typically highlighted straight-out book reviews, in large part because … well, there are so many of them available from myriad sources. (A happy consequence of this genre’s popularity.)

Lately, though, I have been thinking there must be some way to mention at least a few of the better book appraisals on this page. So today, I am launching what I hope will become a regular new feature of The Rap Sheet: “Revue of Reviewers.” While these posts won’t cover every recent critique, they’ll point you toward three to six commentaries—covering primarily novels (from both sides of the Atlantic), but also occasionally non-fiction studies of this genre—that I’ve found enjoyable or enlightening. Just click on the covers above to leap to the individual reviews.

Please let me know what you think about this new element of The Rap Sheet, as it evolves over the next few weeks.

Have You Had Your Say Yet?

Just a reminder, that you have only three days left to vote online for your favorite nominee among the half-dozen works shortlisted for the 2016 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award. As mentioned in a previous post, the nominees are:

Time of Death, by Mark Billingham (Sphere)
Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith (Sphere)
Tell No Tales, by Eva Dolan (Harvill Secker)
Disclaimer, by Renée Knight (Black Swan)
I Let You Go, by Clare Mackintosh (Sphere)
Rain Dogs, by Adrian McKinty (Serpent’s Tail)

Click here to make your preference known. You have until this coming Friday, July 15, to cast a ballot.

As contest organizers have explained, “The overall winner will be decided by a panel of judges, alongside the public vote.” An announcement of this year’s Crime Novel of the Year prize recipient will be made on July 21, the opening night of the 14th Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, England.

* * *

Also, if you have not yet voted on behalf of your favorite nominees in the 2016 Dead Good Reader Awards competition, you can still do so here. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the winners are set to be declared during a special event on Friday, July 22, during the Theakstons Harrogate festival.

Monday, July 11, 2016

In the Shadow of Jackson

This weekend brought the announcement of which books and authors won the 2015 Shirley Jackson Awards, intended to recognize “outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic.” These awards are, of course, named in honor of Shirley Jackson, the author of such classic works as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. There are six prize categories; below are the winners of the top two.

Best Novel:
Experimental Film, by Gemma Files (ChiZine Publications)

Also nominated: Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh (Penguin Press); The Glittering World, by Robert Levy (Gallery); Lord Byron’s Prophecy, by Sean Eads (Lethe Press); and When We Were Animals, by Joshua Gaylord (Mulholland)

Best Novella:
Wylding Hall, by Elizabeth Hand (PS Publishing/Open Road)

Also nominated: The Box Jumper, by Lisa Mannetti (Smart Rhino); In the Lovecraft Museum, by Steve Tem (PS Publishing); Unusual Concentrations, by S.J. Spurrier (Simon Spurrier); and The Visible Filth, by Nathan Ballingrud (This Is Horror)

Click here to see all of the winners and finalists.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

100 Years of Travis McGee’s “Father”

Should this have escaped your radar somehow, listen up: July 24 will mark the passage of a full century since John D. MacDonald—the Florida author Stephen King once called “the great entertainer of our age, and a mesmerizing storyteller”—was born in Pennsylvania.

By way of celebrating, our sister blog Killer Covers has just begun two weeks of posting the fronts from assorted MacDonald works. In addition to editions of his famous Travis McGee novels, you can expect to see the façades from a number of his standalone tales of crime, suspense, and science fiction. Today’s opening post looks back at MacDonald’s first published novel, 1950’s The Brass Cupcake.

Bookmark this link to follow the series as it develops.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

How Thrilling Is That?

Having kept a close eye this evening on the International Thriller Writers’ Twitter feed, I can now report which books and authors have won the 2016 Thriller Awards, given out during a banquet at the ThrillerFest XI convention in New York City.

Best Hardcover Novel:
The Fifth Gospel, by Ian Caldwell (Simon & Schuster)

Also nominated: Playing with Fire, by Tess Gerritsen (Ballantine); The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead); Inspector of the Dead, by David Morrell (Mulholland); and Pretty Girls, by Karin Slaughter (Morrow)

Best First Novel:
Bull Mountain, by Brian Panowich (Putnam)

Also nominated: Little Black Lies, by Sandra Block (Grand Central); The Drowning Game, by L.S. Hawker (Witness Impulse); What She Knew, by Gilly Macmillan (Morrow); and The Gates of Evangeline, by Hester Young (Putnam)

Best Paperback Original Novel:
Against All Enemies, by John Gilstrap (Pinnacle)

Also nominated: Day Zero, by Marc Cameron (Pinnacle); Name of the Devil, by Andrew Mayne (Bourbon Street); The Angel of Eden, by D.J. McIntosh (Penguin Canada); and Pockets of Darkness, by Jean Rabe (WordFire Press)

Best Short Story:
“Gun Accident: An Investigation,” by Joyce Carol Oates (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], July 2015)

Also nominated: “Feeding the Crocodile,” by Reed Farrel Coleman (from Jewish Noir, edited by Kenneth Wishnia; PM Press); “Repressed,” Jeffery Deaver (from Killer Nashville Noir: Cold Blooded, edited by Clay Stafford; Diversion); “The Water Was Rising,” by Sharon Hunt (EQMM, August 2015); and “El Cambalache,” by Terrence McCauley (ThugLit 17, edited by Todd Robinson; ThugLit)

Best Young Adult Novel:
Pretending to Be Erica, by Michelle Painchaud (Viking Books
for Young Readers)

Also nominated: Code of Honor, by Alan Gratz (Scholastic Press); The Forgetting, by Nicole Maggi (Sourcebooks Fire); Half In Love with Death, by Emily Ross (Merit Press); and The Dogs, by Allan Stratton (Sourcebooks Fire)

Best E-book Original Novel:
The Prisoner’s Gold, by Chris Kuzneski (Chris Kuzneski)

Also nominated: Jack and Joe, by Diane Capri (AugustBooks); Deadly Lullaby, by Robert McClure (Alibi); Ivory Ghosts, by Caitlin O’Connell (Alibi); and Lie in Wait, by Eric Rickstad (Witness Impulse)

Congratulations to all of this year’s contenders.

READ MORE:ThrillerFest XI: Sights, Sounds, and Screams,” by Thomas Pluck (Criminal Element).

Bullet Points: Serene Saturday Edition

• It appears there will be no 2016 Tony Hillerman Prize competition, while a new partnership is being established to organize that annual contest. The Hillerman Prize, you will recall, promotes debut mysteries based in the American Southwest. A press release carried in the Crimespree Magazine blog explains that “Minotaur Books/A Thomas Dunne Book and Wordharvest are delighted to announce that we have joined forces with Western Writers of America, who will host the Tony Hillerman Prize going forward. With this change come a new submission deadline, an option for electronic manuscript submission, and a new venue for the announcement of the winner at the annual Western Writers of America convention. In order to prepare for these changes, we have made the decision to suspend the competition for 2016. The deadline for the 2017 competition will be January 2, 2017. You can view the guidelines and online submission form online at” A list of previous prize winners is available here.

• Mike Ripley’s latest “Getting Away with Murder” column in Shots features remarks pertaining to the 50th anniversary of the death of Margery Allingham, the upcoming Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival (September 9-11), Walter Satterthwait’s New York Nocturne, a theatrical staging of John Harvey’s Darkness, Darkness, and the Sicily-set novel Ripley declares is “the feel-good-Euro-read of the summer.” Read all about these matters and more here.

• By the way, I’m not sure that I mentioned Ripley’s June 2016 column on this page. You should look that one up here.

• The Los Angeles Times carries this interesting look at the new eight-part HBO-TV miniseries, The Night Of, which is set to premiere tomorrow evening. “Created by acclaimed writers Steven Zaillian and Richard Price, and starring John Turturro and Riz Ahmed, the New York-set show examines what happens when the 23-year-old son of a Pakistani-immigrant cab driver is tossed into the criminal justice system for a murder he may or may not have committed,” writes the Times’ Steven Zeitchik. Wikipedia will be rolling out individual episode synopses as the series progresses.

• Based on a UK series titled Criminal Justice, The Night Of was “the passion project of the late James Gandolfini,” according to this 2014 piece from Deadline Hollywood. Following Gandolfini’s sudden death in 2014, Robert De Niro was brought in to fill his role in the miniseries, playing “ambulance-chasing New York City attorney” Jack Stone. But De Niro later had to withdraw from the project for “scheduling reasons.” John Turturro (who is starting to look a lot like Al Pacino as he ages, don’t you think?) was ultimately brought in to star. I look forward to seeing what he can do here.

• What a great, humorous title for a work of crime fiction! On the left you’ll see the cover from a 1950s edition of Colin Calhoun Detective, a digest-size pulp periodical published in Australia. The cover story, “The Stripper Died Dressed,” is credited to one Conrad Paul. Also in that issue were the stories “Redheads in Jeopardy” and “The Callgirl and the Cop,” both by Benn Raymond. (Hat tip to The Seattle Mystery Bookshop Hardboiled blog.)

The shortlist of nominees for this year’s first-ever HWA (Historical Writers’ Association) Goldsboro Debut Crown award, recognizing excellence in historical fiction, includes a work of crime fiction, so it merits mention here. The half-dozen contenders are: Death and Mr. Pickwick, by Stephen Jarvis (Jonathan Cape); Eden Gardens, by Louise Brown (Headline); The Hoarse Oaths of Fife, by Chris Moore (Uniform Press); Mrs. Engels, by Gavin McCrea (Scribe); Summertime, by Vanessa Lafaye (Orion); and Wolf Winter, by Cecilia Ekbäck (Hodder), described as “a powerful, beautifully written gothic murder mystery in a remote area of 18th-century Lapland.” The winner is expected to be declared during Britain’s Harrogate History Festival (October 21-23).

• Sad news. Omaha, Nebraska’s Mystery Bookstore, founded back in 1995, will shut its doors at the end of September. Owner Kate Birkel wrote in a Facebook post: “As many of you know, I am located next to the Bohemian Café, an Omaha landmark for many decades. (They also happen to be my landlords—the greatest landlords anyone could ever hope to have.) Like many of Omaha’s traditional, family-owned restaurants, the Bohemian recently decided to close. The current generation running the Café is more than ready to retire and none of their kids wants to buy them out. (The common explanation is: “Hell, no! I’m not working my butt off 60 to 80 hours a week! I want a life!”) Much of my walk-in traffic comes from the Bohemian. Sales at the bookstore have been nose diving for the past several years, and I just see no way forward without that walk-in traffic from the Café. Between now and 30 September, I will be selling books, embroidery supplies, and beads on eBay; my seller name is mysteries-to-go. Please check in occasionally. You’d be surprised what I have laying around after nearly 25 years.” Minnesota writer William Kent Krueger mentions in his blog that he will be signing copies of his new Cork O’Connor mystery, Manitou Canyon (Atria), at Birkel’s shop on September 17—“the store’s last official author event.” He adds, “I’ve decided to use the occasion to throw Kate a ‘Goodbye and Thank You’ celebration.”

• Anyone who has ever tried to compose a crime-fiction blog knows just how difficult it can be to remain active and relevant in the game. So author James Reasoner deserves hearty applause for 12 years of writing Rough Edges. Thank you, Jim.

• PBS-TV host Tavis Smiley talks with Walter Mosley about his excellent new, 13th Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins novel, Charcoal Joe.

• Meanwhile, Eric Beetner revisits Mosley’s first Rawlins tale, 1990’s Devil in a Blue Dress, in a nice piece for Criminal Intent.

• Pennsylvania educator and writer Brian R. Sheridan has started a petition on, asking that Warner Archives release the 1971-72 NBC-TV series Banyon in DVD format. “The show was created by Ed Adamson,” Sheridan explains, “and became a Quinn Martin production starring the outstanding actor Robert Forster as a 1930s private eye, Miles Banyon. The show lasted only 16 episodes [including a 1971 pilot film] but is highly regarded by detective-show fans. The outstanding pilot used to turn up on TV stations but, like the series, seems to have faded into obscurity. We are asking the show to be a MOD-DVD release.” I don’t know whether a petition such as this can have much impact on bottom-line-focused Warner execs, but I do remember Banyon fondly, and I’d love to watch that series again. So I signed. You can do so here. What’s the harm?

• Given the shootings earlier this week in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas, I’m not sure The Guardian’s rundown of the “Top 10 Novels About Deranged Killers” will find widespread readership in the States, but the piece is out there for your delectation.

• It’s nice to see that readers are still discovering Arthur Lyons’ 11 novels about Los Angeles private investigator Jacob Asch, even eight years after the author passed away.

• This last April 18 brought the 110th anniversary of San Francisco’s devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, a disaster about which I have written on more than one occasion. What’s really amazing about the downtown destruction is that so much film footage of its aftermath exists. Silent footage, yes, but dramatic nonetheless. Here’s one “haunting” example.

• A few interviews worth noticing: John Farrow, aka Trevor Ferguson, answers questions from Criminal Element about his new Émile Cinq-Mars novel, Seven Days Dead; Benjamin Whitmer (Pike, Cry Father) survives interrogation by S.W. Lauden; Dana King (Dangerous Lesson, The Man in the Window) fields queries lobbed his way by New Mystery Reader Magazine; Speaking of Mysteries’ Nancie Clare talks with Mark Billingham (Die of Shame) and Martin Walker (Fatal Pursuit); and crime analyst-turned-author Spencer Kope chats with Criminal Element about Collecting the Dead.

• Thanks to a recommendation from John and Muriel Higgins, who operate The Victor Canning Pages (devoted to the life and work of that prolific 20th-century writer), I have added a link from The Rap Sheet’s Author Web Sites/Blogs page to this tribute site focused on British journalist-novelist Desmond Bagley (1923-1983), the author of such thrillers as 1967’s Landslide and 1971’s The Freedom Trap (later filmed as The Mackintosh Man). Check it out.

• Finally, Elizabeth Foxwell informs us of an “effort by Edgar winner LeRoy Lad Panek (Introduction to the Detective Story) and Mary Bendel-Simso (McDaniel College, MD) to compile”—for the Westminster Detective Library—“an online repository of short detective works published in the United States prior to 1891 … The pieces include 87 stories by 48 female authors, and Panek states, ‘There are no doubt many more as the majority of the stories we have catalogued have no author listed in the original.’” Foxwell’s post provides some direct links to individual stories, but you can access the Detective Library’s new Web interface here. What a splendid resource!

Friday, July 08, 2016

The Book You Have to Read:
“The Hunter,” by Richard Stark

(Editor’s note: This is the 138th installment in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books. It comes from Bronx native Terrence P. McCauley, whose latest thriller, A Murder of Crows, will be released next week by Polis Books. Below, McCauley champions The Hunter, the first entry in a long-running series penned by Donald E. Westlake under the alias Richard Stark, and starring the professional thief known as Parker.)

I suppose some people might be surprised that I’ve selected an iconic book such as The Hunter as a “forgotten” novel, but I have my reasons. Although the work itself may not have been forgotten, I believe the revolutionary aspect of the story has been lost in the years since it was first published.

This book has been the source material for movies such as Point Blank, starring Lee Marvin, and Payback, starring Mel Gibson. Both films have their own cult following, and for good reason. They were stylish flicks with good direction and talented actors. More recently, The Hunter was adapted as a graphic novel by the late Darwyn Cooke, whose artwork successfully blended the rawness of the protagonist with familiar iconic imagery that reflects the time in which the story was written: 1962.

The time in which The Hunter was written has always held a special interest for me. The early 1960s was a unique era in U.S. history, a time when the afterglow of our victory over the Axis powers had begun to fade. After more than a decade of peace and prosperity, the American people were beginning to grow bored with the humdrum status quo of post-World War II life. People were looking to the future, eager to embrace something new. Eisenhower was gone, Nixon had lost, and Camelot was in its infancy. Individualism had taken a back seat to blending in. Large numbers of Americans belonged to social organizations such as Rotary Clubs and PTAs and Elks Lodges, to name only a few. Television shows and movies constantly reinforced the belief that we should all follow the rules and showed the price one paid for lawlessness. Americans wanted to get along. They wanted to fit in. It’s hard to blame them, even now with the benefit of decades of hindsight. Life is always easier when you move with the crowd.

But the Parker character was antithetical to that collectivist philosophy. In fact, it could be argued that he was a harbinger of the legions of successful anti-heroes that would follow him in the literary universe. Parker wasn’t hip or trendy. He wasn’t a maniacal gunman or a disillusioned young man, either. He was exactly what he wanted to be: a professional criminal who was very good at what he did.

We immediately get a sense of who this character is by reading the first line of The Hunter: “When a fresh-faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to hell.” After the insulted driver pulls away, what does Parker do? “[He] spat in the right-hand lane, lit his last cigarette, and walked across the George Washington Bridge.”

That passage is one of my all-time favorites, perhaps second only to Philip Marlowe’s description of a streetscape in The High Window. The reason why it’s my favorite is the same reason why I believe The Hunter could be considered a forgotten book. We’ve forgotten how revolutionary it was for its time.

Parker knew he didn’t fit in with society’s norms and he didn’t even try. He was a rebel with a cause. He had clear intent and purpose.

Today’s audiences can be forgiven for forgetting about the overall story and allow various key scenes to obscure the character. Lee Marvin storming down a long hallway or Mel Gibson stomping across a bridge. Both characters sat on the bed of the dead wife who’d opted to overdose now that her previously deceased husband was back in the picture to collect his due.

The movies are great, but the book is even better because, right from the outset, we see Parker is his own man. He’s driven by a single goal: to get back his share of the money stolen from him. No more, no less. In today’s world, the rebel loner is commonplace, almost to the point of being a cliché. But in the early 1960s, being anti-social wasn’t as accepted.

The reason why I consider The Hunter a forgotten novel is because the subtle character development we witness in the opening scene is lost in the overwhelming iconic imagery of what we see on the screen or in the wonderful drawings of the graphic novel. The character of Parker isn’t just a tough guy who knows how to handle himself. He isn’t just a man out for bloody revenge. He’s a solitary figure, a lonely man who lives that way not only by choice, but by necessity. He tried being a human being once. He had friends. He trusted people. He fell in love. He was normal for a while and it cost him big-time. He learned from his mistake and he goes to great lengths to correct it.

Richard Stark, aka Donald E. Westlake, was far from the first author who wrote about a committed loner, much less a criminal. David Goodis and other writers had created similar characters long before Parker came on the scene. But few of them had ever created a character that resonated with audiences the way the Parker of Stark’s novels did. Behind the Stark guise, Westlake wrote in a style that lived up to the name: stark and spare, but never boring and always far deeper than a casual reader might appreciate. He must have done something right, because Parker hung around off and on over the years from the early 1960s all the way into the 2000s.

Unfortunately, Westlake died in 2008 at the age of 75. But fortunately for the rest of us, he created a tough, timeless character with whom audiences of many generations could relate. I may consider The Hunter a forgotten book, but the legacy of that first work—and of all the subsequent Parker stories—is still with us.

READ MORE: The Violent World of Parker

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Critical Darlings

Via Mystery Fanfare, we now have the two winners of this year’s Strand Magazine Critics Awards, organized by the Michigan-based Strand Magazine and announced last night during an invitation-only cocktail party in New York City. They are as follows:

Best Novel:
The Whites, by Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt (Picador)

Also nominated: Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith (Mulholland); A Banquet of Consequences, by Elizabeth George (Viking); The Lady from Zagreb, by Phillip Kerr (Putnam); Forty Thieves, by Thomas Perry (Mysterious Press); and The Cartel, by Don Winslow (Knopf)

Best First Novel:
Past Crimes, by Glen Erik Hamilton (HarperCollins)

Also nominated: The Truth and Other Lies, by Sascha Arango (Atria); Normal, by Graeme Cameron (Mira); The Marauders, by Tom Cooper (Crown); The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead); and Disclaimer, by Renée Knight (Harper)

As reported previously on this page, Colin Dexter, the creator of Inspector Endeavour Morse, and Jeffery Deaver, the inventor of New York City forensic criminalist Lincoln Rhyme, were selected as this year’s Strand Critics lifetime achievement award recipients.

Congratulations to all of the honorees!