The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog is nearing its end as it reaches the letter V – and my second nomination this week, also eligible under the guidelines of Bev’s 2011 Mystery Readers Challenge, is …
SOLOMON’S VINEYARD (1941) by Jonathan Latimer
“I fought in the war,” Jonesy said; “but it wasn’t like this.”
This is a book that comes with a lot of baggage after gaining notoriety as a mystery that was so hardboiled that it wasn’t published uncut in the US for some forty years – does it, could it, really live up to that promise? Is this the book that is to the crime and mystery genre what DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was to ‘serious’ literature – an emancipating, liberating turning point in the genre? Well, no, not all. It’s still a damn good book though. Here’s some reasons why. Continue reading
The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog is nearing its end as it reaches the letter V – and my first nomination this week is …
THE VIKING FUNERAL by Stephen J. Cannell
“What happened next made no sense at all”
Graham Greene’s The Third Man is combined with a James Ellroy-style exposé involving corrupt politicians and rogue cops in the second of Stephen J. Cannell’s series featuring 20-year LA Homicide Squad veteran Shane Scully. Following directly from The Tin Collectors (2001), masterfully reviewed by Margot Kinberg over at her Confessions of a Mystery Novelist blog, we find Scully undergoing mandatory psychiatric evaluation after he took some highly ‘unorthodox’ methods to unravel a giant conspiracy to cover up a land grab involving a Hollywood mogul, the LA Mayor and his Chief of Police. He also fell in love with Alexa Hamilton, rising star of Internal Affairs (the eponymous ‘tin collectors’) and discovered he was the father of Charles ‘Chooch’ Sandoval. Continue reading
The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog has reached the letter U, and my nomination this week, also eligible under the guidelines of Bev’s 2011 Mystery Readers Challenge, is …
UNNATURAL DEATH (1927) by Dorothy L. Sayers
“I believe this is the case I have always been waiting for. The case of cases. The murder without discernible means, or motive or clue”
This is the third published case featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, that most upperclass of amateur sleuths, and it is one in which he declares himself fascinated by the possibility of cracking a case where no one even believes there is in fact a murder to be solved. In fact this is a novel all about the way people perceive one reality as opposed to that which may lie underneath, about discerning secret patterns beneath a humdrum exterior and how realities are formed and perhaps even manufactured. Lord Peter comes to believe that, in one sense, he may very well be the one actually responsible for setting in motion a series of murders that, for his intervention, might not in fact have occurred at all. Continue reading
First published in June 1971, Frederick Forsyth’s great grandaddy of the modern political thriller, The Day of the Jackal, is now celebrating its 40th anniversary. There has been a flurry of activity (not entirely unrelated to publicity for Forsyth’s latest novel, The Cobra) but I thought it might be worth pointing to a few choice bits of media coverage relating to this work. Continue reading
The Spiritualist (1948), also known as The Amazing Mr X, has recently been rescued from public domain hell in the US and been added to the library of MOD (Manufactured On Demand) titles from the Warner Bros Archive and can be ordered through Amazon or directly from their website. It’s a beautifully shot, highly atmospheric mystery and a testament to the sadly curtailed directorial career of Bernard Vorhaus. Continue reading
Unaccustomed as I am to blogging (with apologies to the immortal British comedy duo Morecambe and Wise and their scriptwriter Eddie Braben), I just thought I’d stop for a minute or two to point with amazement at the apparent synchronicity surrounding the great time I have been having of late participating in the blogosphere. Without realising it, I seem to have joined a group of bloggers all of whom celebrate fairly traditional detective stories, with most of us in particular being great fans of John Dickson Carr and Ellery Queen.
There’s a lot of great crime and mystery bloggers out there and I have to tip my hat to several that I have recently had the pleasure of getting better acquainted with Continue reading
Although awesomely prolific in the crime and mystery genre, Ian Kennedy Martin will probably be best remembered as the creator of The Sweeney, even though he didn’t write a single episode of the actual series leaving immediately after setting up the template in the feature-length pilot, Regan. More recently one could still see its influence in the ‘Gene Hunt’ character from Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. Robbed of the post-modern and fantasy trappings surrounding him, Hunt is very much recognisable as a pastiche of the kind of tough coppers played by Patrick Mower, Lewis Collins and Dennis Waterman in 1970s shows like Target, The Professionals and most potent of all, The Sweeney. Martin however went on to create several other shows with which he was much more intimately involved including the long running feminist procedural Juliet Bravo and perhaps most interesting of all, The Chinese Detective. Continue reading
The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog this week reaches the letter T, and my nomination, is …
THAT ANGEL LOOK by Mike Ripley
“I resorted to one of my long-standing philosophical maxims and thought: Stuff this for a bunch of soldiers.”
What can you say about a crime novel in which the hero, despite being bright, articulate, University-educated and a worldly-wise musician, spends most of his time driving a black cab and working as a gopher? That this same protagonist, when he’s not getting pushed around by cops and drug dealers, is also clearly under the thumb of not just his ambitious girlfriend but also completely at the mercy of his vicious pet cat? That this is the kind of novel in which the leading ladies turn out to be either neo-Nazis, witches or Thatcherite scum? Well, for starters, you would have to accept that this is a paradoxical book, one that treats subjects such as racism without levity and yet has a wisecracking laugh-to-page ratio to make most hardboiled wordsmiths envious. Welcome to Angel’s world, which resembles London, England in the 1990s on the cusp of the Internet revolution. Continue reading
The plan was to come up with a top 100 that I was prepared to stand by – but I wanted to re-read so many of the books that I might have included but now remembered too vaguely (such as Ngaio Marsh’s output or books like Tey’s hugely popular The Daughter of Time) that I thought I should publish only a partial list. Not to mention finding it a bit hard to just settle on one book by Georges Simenon given the enormity of his output – I have placed a list of 80+ titles on the site and am extremely open to suggestions …
So here are My (Nearly) Top 100 Mystery Books Continue reading
After helming a thoroughly self-referential episode of E.R. and an occasional acting role in Alias, Quentin Tarantino continued his flirtation with television drama by bringing his full talents to bear on this two-part finale to the fifth season of CSI, the long-running glitzy forensic cop drama that plays like a endoscopic version of Quincy. Employing the buried alive motif from his own Kill Bill, as co-writer and director Tarantino has come up with a 90-minute story that never strays from the series’ ground rules but which is none the less recognisably full of his own obsessions. Continue reading
The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog has reached the letter S. My second recommendation this week is …
SPADEWORK by Bill Pronzini
“Hardboiled shockers, offbeat whodunits, exercises in ratiocination, impossible crime puzzles, attempts at social commentary, light-and-wry near-cozies, pure slapstick farce …” - Bill Pronzini
Next month will see the return of Bill Pronzini’s ‘Nameless’ private eye in Camouflage, some 40 years since the publication of his first case. This will be the 38th volume in the series, one that, if publishers Macmillan are to be believed, will end when it reaches its 40th. Fans will doubtless hope that this is not so, but if it is then this is a character that has already had an enviably long run – and a remarkably varied one at that. One shouldn’t need much of an excuse to celebrate the work of a master like Pronzini, but here, courtesy of the letter S, is a brief look at Spadework, his second collection on ‘Nameless’ short stories . It was originally published by Crippen & Landru in 1996, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the characters (where has the time gone?) but sadly now appears to be out of print. It contains fifteen short stories together with a delightfully biased introduction from fellow crime writer Marcia Muller, who is also Mr Pronzini’s wife. Continue reading
The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog has reached the letter S. My first nomination this week is …
SILENCE OF THE GRAVE by Arnaldur Indriðason
“As far as I can see this is the remains of a body. He hasn’t been there long. This is no Viking.”
According to the followers of Harold Camping, 21 May was Judgement Day, as reported in the New York Times here; ten days earlier an earthquake was apparently prophesied to hit Rome and raise the Italian capital, as reported in The Guardian here, with hundreds of people apparently fleeing the city as a result even though it was just an urban myth. Thankfully neither of these events took place and so did not need to be added to the spate of natural disasters that have befallen people all round the world in the last few months. Fear of such dire portents, this time from over a hundred years ago, lies at the heart of Silence of the Grave, the second in Arnaldur Indridason’s Inspector Erlunder series. Following the advice of Mrs P over at her fine transnational crime fiction blog, earlier this year I embarked on my first ever Icelandic crime novel, Indridason’s Jar City. The results were terrific (you can find my review here) , so it was with great anticipation that I cracked open my copy of the next volume in the series. Would it be as good as the first, or succumb to the difficult second album syndrome? Continue reading
With the closure at the end of this month of The San Francisco Mystery Bookstore (as reported here) I thought I would dedicate a post this week to that fine city in Northern California where, once upon a time, I used to visit a very good friend of mine. I did a lot of growing up there in the 80s and 90s and also bought a lot of great mystery books.
I haven’t been there in over a decade now but along with its undoubtedly beautiful setting on the Bay, the vibrancy of its culture (and counter-culture) and of course the wonderful food, fascinating people and amazing architecture, the potential for squalor and seediness seemed often remarkably ever-present to me as a European tourist, requiring little more than a short step in the ‘wrong’ direction – especially before the regeneration of SOMA. This mixture of high and low culture, of beauty and darkness, have made it the perfect setting for all kinds of mysteries, from the misanthropic romance of Hitckcock’s Vertigo to the hard- and soft-boiled worlds of Hammett found in the gritty adventures of Sam Spade and upper class sleuths Nick and Nora Charles. In some ways the most valuable works here for me are those by Bill Pronzini and the late Joe Gores, who use the city and its environs as the backdrop for so much of their work. They offer a particularly fascinating and diverse look at a city and how it has changed over the decades.
Limiting this list to just 10 inevitably meant plumping for some personal favourites and some unavoidable but great, even classic, books that somehow you just can’t do without. So, for today, these are my top mystery books set in and about San Francisco, still beautiful and mysterious – just like my old friend. I present these in strict chronological order. I hope to blog on each separately, as time goes by … Continue reading
The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog has reached the letter R, and my second nomination this week, also eligible under the guidelines of Bev’s 2011 Mystery Readers Challenge, is …
THE RED RIGHT HAND by Joel Townsley Rogers
“… surely one of the dozen or so finest mystery novels of the 20th century.” - Jack Adrian
There are prolific mystery writers, of great and small acclaim, who become defined by just one work – I’m not thinking of Helen Eustis and her sole adult contribution to the genre, the groundbreaking The Horizontal Man (1946), nor of distinctive but only belatedly recognised authors such as John Franklin Bardin. Rather there are those who, for various reasons, despite producing a number of offerings over their careers, only became popularly known for a small or even single portion of it. In some cases this is just an indication of capitalising on commercial success, as in Robert ‘Psycho’ Bloch for instance, but there are others only known to cognoscenti except for one exceptional title – and Joel Townsley Rogers is certainly one of those authors. Continue reading
Whether you consider it to be a fully fledged genre or more of a style or movement, Film Noir is unquestionably one of the most popular and certainly one of most discussed modes in cinema. Continue reading
The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog has reached the letter R, and my first nomination this week, also eligible under the guidelines of Bev’s 2011 Mystery Readers Challenge, is …
RIDE THE NIGHTMARE by Richard Matheson
“We’re going to Mexico but I had to stop and see you first, didn’t I, Chrissie boy?” said the man. “I been waiting a long time for this.”
A slender, slickly written paperback original that originally sold for 35 cents a copy, it is a breathlessly told tale of youthful rebellion gone sour. Chris Martin is 32, married and the father of a young girl. He runs his own small business, is a new member of the local Chamber of Commerce and he and his wife Helen are managing to save a little money towards buying a bigger place. He is content and seems to be living the Eisenhower-era dream – but this is all turned upside down and inside out within a matter of minutes by an anonymous phone call late one Wednesday evening. Chris has a deep, dark secret … Continue reading
Following the spirited discussion of George Baxt and his novel A Queer Kind of Death, I have created an entry for the author on Wikipedia after discovering, to my great surprise, that there was none. It’s a bit bare-bones at the moment and I would be grateful for any and all comments, positive and negative, to help update it. Baxt was both a novelist, short story writer and a screenwriter and I hope to cover at least some of his output in the weeks to come, starting with the next two books in the Pharoah Love series. I also plan to look at some of his movies, such as the gritty heist thriller Payroll (1961), and some of his celebrity mysteries, starting with his first, The Dorothy Parker Murder Case (1984). Continue reading
I first published this review over at my Audio Aficionado blog but I think it belongs more properly here with my other Fedora tips.
Playback (1958) is generally agreed to be the least of Chandler’s novels, with its slender plot and small cast of characters; but on the other hand this works to its advantage in the broadcast medium. In fact the novel, which I previously reviewed here, had its roots in an original screenplay of the same name written between 1947 and 1948 for Universal Studios but never produced. Those interested to compare the now three iterations of this material can read the complete script online.
The Plot: PI Philip Marlowe is mixing a little business with pleasure – he’s getting paid to follow a mysterious and lovely redhead called Eleanor King. And wherever Miss King goes, trouble seems to follow. But she’s easy on the eye and Marlowe’s happy to do as he’s told, all in the name of chivalry, of course. But one dead body later and what started out to be a lazy day’s snooping soon becomes a deadly cocktail of blackmail, lies, mistaken identity – and murder … Continue reading
The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog has reached the letter Q, and my second nomination this week is …
A QUEER KIND OF DEATH by George Baxt
“I loved the boy,” she cackled, “but he did need murdering.”
Before making his accomplished debut as a novelist with this seductively unorthodox whodunit, George Baxt had already established himself as a scriptwriter of several modestly effective British thrillers and horror movies. The best of these include three notable collaborations with producer Julian Wintle and director Sidney Hayers: Circus of Horrors (1959), Payroll (1961), from the novel by Derek Bickerton, and Night of the Eagle (aka Burn, Witch, Burn) (1962), a fine adaptation of Fritz Leiber’s 1943 classic take of modern witchcraft ‘Conjure Wife’ and which Baxt was asked to rewrite following attempts by such noted authors as Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson (all three would ultimately share on-screen credit). Baxt’s background as a screenwriter, and as a supplier of gossip to Walter Winchell back in his days as an agent in New York in the 1950s, are well in evidence in A Queer Kind of Death, which made a considerable splash when it first appeared.
Probably the book’s best review, and the one emblazoned on many a reprints, was the one by Anthony Boucher in the New York Times where, inter alia, he said:
“This is a detective story, and unlike any other that you have read. No brief review can attempt to convey its quality. I merely note that it deals with a Manhattan subculture wholly devoid of ethics or morality, that staid readers may well find it “shocking”, that it is beautifully plotted and written with elegance and wit … and that you must under no circumstances miss it.”
The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog this week reaches the letter Q, and my nomination, is …
THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM by Adam Hall
“As I walked back to the hotel the only tracks in the snow were my own.”
1965 was a vintage year for espionage. At the cinema Sean Connery was James Bond for the fourth, and most financially successful, time in Thunderball, Michael Caine was ‘Harry Palmer’ in Len Deighton’s The Ipcress File, John le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold was filmed with Richard Burton and Rod Taylor was John Gardner’s The Liquidator; while on TV, Diana Rigg joined Patrick Macnee in The Avengers and The Man from UNCLE went from black and white into colour – and, perhaps the best of their kind, in the UK there was Patrick McGoohan as John Drake in Danger Man and all over the globe one could find I Spy starring Bill Cosby and the late Robert Culp – in fact the genre was doing so well that parodies were already popular, with Carry On Spying (1964) already a hit at the cinemas and Get Smart and Wild Wild West were just getting started on TV.This was also the year that Elleston Trevor as ‘Adam Hall’ began publishing the adventures of his secret agent ‘Quiller’. The first book in the series was originally published in the UK as The Berlin Memorandum but the title was altered under its better known variation The Quiller Memorandum for the US release and as it was also used for the popular movie version, that is how it best known today. Continue reading
I first published this brief review over at my Audio Aficionado blog but I think it belongs more properly here with my other Fedora tips.
This four part BBC radio drama is an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s eponymous 1949 novel, one which on several occasions she claimed to be the favourite amongst her own works.
The title is derived from the familiar nursery rhyme:
“There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse.
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.”
The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog this week reaches the letter P. My third contribution this week is …
POODLE SPRINGS (1989) by Raymond Chandler and Robert B. Parker
Over at his estimable Classic Mystery blog the Puzzledoctor recently posted a review that combined the letter P and matrimony, which I thought was darn clever given the Royal Wedding hullabaloo over the past weekend. As a cheeky homage, let me counter (with apologies to the good doctor) with a brief overview of what might be termed a polygamous book (in many senses) …
At the time of his death in 1959 Raymond Chandler was working on a new novel featuring Philip Marlowe, the immortal private eye he created twenty years earlier in The Big Sleep. Tentatively entitled ‘The Poodle Springs Story’, Chandler’s parody of Palm Springs, it sees Marlowe married off to Linda Loring, the wealthy socialite he first met in The Long Good-bye (1953) and who proposed to him at the end of Playback (1958). Chandler left some notes and four completed chapters of his new story after wrestling with it for months, unsure if marrying off Marlowe was a good idea or not. Nearly thirty years later Robert B. Parker, the creator of Boston PI Spenser, was tasked with turning these scant 20 or so pages into a novel. Continue reading
This conference aims to explore: ‘Whodunit’, and how have they ‘dunit’? Investigating Agatha Christie’s works and their adaptations.
Agatha Christie is the best-selling author of all time. She has sold over two billion books worldwide and has been translated into over 45 languages. She has written over 80 novels and a number of plays. Her work has been adapted for cinema, television, animation and, more recently, computer games. The characters she created have assumed the status of ‘fictional celebrities'; Poirot and Miss Marple have become transnational phenomena, and are the protagonists of Japanese animations series and video games for various platforms.
To investigate the work of the Queen of Crime, the Department of Film and Media Studies at the University of Derby will host a one-day Conference on September 12, 2011. Continue reading
The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog has reached the letter P, and my second nomination this week, also eligible under the guidelines of Bev’s 2011 Mystery Readers Challenge, is …
PUZZLE FOR PLAYERS by Patrick Quentin
In 1936 the new ‘Inner Sanctum’ imprint from publishers Simon & Schuster was inaugurated with Puzzle for Fools, which not only was the first book published under the new ‘Patrick Quentin’ byline but also served to introduce a new kind of literary detective. Set in Dr Lenz’s mental asylum, we meet alcoholic theatrical producer Peter Duluth while he is undergoing treatment for depression. Unlike the equally hard-drinking Bill Crane, introduced the previous year in Jonathan Latimer’s Murder in the Madhouse (1935), Duluth really is an inmate and a undercover detective masquerading as one. Duluth was Broadway’s golden boy but after the tragic death of his wife he hit the bottle and his career has gone downhill. Now he is in the sanitarium and in the course of his stay he helps solve a couple of murders; but more importantly he meets fellow patient, Iris Pattison, and the two fall in love. Although a great little book, Puzzle for Fools is not the best in the series, so here I have plumped for the follow-up, which apart from being a superior mystery also has the benefit of having another ‘P’ in the title … Continue reading
The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog has reached the letter P, and my first nomination this week is …
PIGEON ENGLISH by Stephen Kelman
This novel was launched earlier this year on a wave of advance publicity following a surprising bidding war between publishers for the rights – surprising because this is Stephen Kelman’s first book. Like the previously reviewed Rupture by Simon Lelic, another debut novelist, this is a work that is recognisable within the confines of the crime genre and yet one that many will feel doesn’t comfortably belong there. Both have plots centred around a seemingly senseless crime in London’s urban sprawl and both try to reveal some greater truth beneath acts of violence all to familiar from the nightly news. While Lelic’s book was mostly notable for taking in over a dozen points of view, Pigeon English is much more narrowly focused though it too goes to great pains to paint a convincing picture of contemporary modes of speech and behaviour as used by inner city youth. Continue reading
As the Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog reaches the letter O, my second nomination this week, also eligible under the guidelines of Bev’s 2011 Mystery Readers Challenge, is …
O is for … THE ORIGIN OF EVIL by Ellery Queen
This is the third and last of Ellery Queen’s ‘Hollywood’ novels and indeed the three have been published together as an omnibus, though this does tend to emphasise the massive change of style in the final volume.
Indeed, what we are offered here is a jaundiced view of Hollywood and of the great detective himself, who here acts without the help and support of his father in a story which is much more redolent of the post-war noir sensibility we would more normally associate with Woolrich or Chandler for instance. It is a rich and strange novel, one that while being unmistakably ‘Queenian’ shows authors Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee continuing to explore new formulas to try and incorporate increasingly complex themes within the mystery genre. Continue reading
The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog this week reaches the letter O, and my nomination, also eligible under the guidelines of Bev’s 2011 Mystery Readers Challenge, is …
O is for … OBELISTS AT SEA by C. Daly King
C(harles) Daly King penned seven mystery books in the 1930s before turning his back on fiction to concentrate on psychoanalysis. His books, some of which are very hard to obtain today, are marked by an impish sense of humour, some highly original ideas and some slightly obscure ones as well, not least of which is: what is an ‘obelist’? By starting at the beginning perhaps we can find out. This was the first of King’s novels and the first of his ‘Obelist’ trilogy, all of which combine murder, travel and psychiatry. It is set on a luxury transatlantic liner, the SS Meganaut, traveling with over 1,000 passengers from New York to Cherbourg. One evening lightning shorts out the generator and the first class smoking lounge is plunged into darkness. While the lights are out a shot is fired and when they return, self-made multi-millionaire Victor Smith is dead, a his female companion’s pearl necklace has been stolen and another man, shady lawyer De Brasto, is literally holding a smoking gun. But nothing is what it seems. Indeed it turns out that Smith has not one but two bullets inside him, one immediately on top of the other, even though only one shot was heard – and neither has been fired from De Brasto’s gun. To add to the confusion, while the daughter is later pronounced dead she later vanishes from the doctor’s surgery. Continue reading
The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog has reached the letter N, and my second nomination this week is …
NOW YOU SEE IT … by Richard Matheson
Sixty years after the publication of his first short story, ‘Born of Man and Woman’ in 1950, Richard Matheson is probably still best known for such tales of science fiction and fantasy as The Incredible Shrinking Man and the oft-filmed I Am Legend, as well as for his many television scripts for the original version of The Twilight Zone. But he is a varied and prolific writer with literally dozens and dozens of scripts, short stories and novels to his credit who outside of the fantasy genres has also written westerns, non fictions studies of metaphysics and philosophy – and several thrillers. One the most unusual of these is Now You See It … (1995), which combines mystery, suspense and magic and which, as we shall see, has a complex history all its own. Continue reading
The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog this week reaches the letter N, and my nomination, also eligible under the guidelines of Bev’s 2011 Mystery Readers Challenge, is …
NINE TIMES NINE by Anthony Boucher
This golden age mystery is one of several fine examples of the genre that, like Clayton Rawson’s Death from a Top Hat (1938) and Edmund Crispin’s Love Lies Bleeding (1948), were inspired directly by the work of John Dickson Carr, the master of the locked room / impossible crime story. In this particular case, the book is not only dedicated to Carr, but in fact has an entire chapter devoted to discussing one of his novels. Continue reading