Friday, May 07, 2004

Gag me 

I'm a little surprised that Trixie isn't on this, but no matter. If the thought of a Pride and Prejudice remake with Brad Pitt as Mr. Darcy wasn't enough to make you retch, this will:

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Comic actor Steve Martin will star as a new Inspector Clouseau in a fresh "Pink Panther" movie due out next summer, the film's makers said on Friday.

Martin, who will be starring alongside Beyonce and Oscar-winner Kevin Kline, said he was intimidated at first by the thought of following in actor Peter Sellers' stumbling footsteps as the hapless Clouseau, but he got over it.

"They have different James Bonds," he quipped at a news conference on Friday.

But here's the money paragraph, the one that convinced me most of all that this is a bad, bad, BAD idea:

Director Shawn Levy, who steered Martin through the commercially successful comedy, "Cheaper by the Dozen," promised the "Pink Panther" would be updated for contemporary viewers.

"Clouseau is still this bumbling, absurd character, but he now is at the mercy of today's technology, things that weren't around 30 or 40 years ago. There are a lot of new play things for Clouseau to screw up," Levy said.

Oh god. Now, I'm not that big a fan of the Panther canon (25 words or less: The Pink Panther was funny, A Shot in the Dark is a classic, the rest can all go hang) but this is just dog poop. It makes the Benigni remake seem like an artistic triumph. Why is Clouseau getting a love interest who's a third his age? Why can't Steve Martin be as funny as he was 20-25 years ago? Why does every good--and worse, bad--idea have to be remade?

Excuse me. I believe there's a paper bag with my name on it.

The hostess with the mostest 

Normally I don't link to pieces at The Times, because it's behind a subscriber-only registration firewall. But Ali Karim passed on this story of Mo Hayder, whose new novel TOKYO was based on her former life as a hostess in a Japanese club, as well as a recent return to the country upon the murder of Lucie Blackman, a young hostess who bore a striking resemblance to Hayder:

Her return to Japan took Hayder to the club where Lucie met Joji Obara, the Armani-wearing millionaire who is currently on trial for her murder. And it inspired her latest novel, Tokyo, a thriller which draws together hostess bar culture, the yakuza mafia and the 1937 massacre of 300,000 Chinese when the Japanese Imperial Army invaded Nanking. It will also make you think hard before taking Chinese medicine.

There's a good reason why Hayder's novel, as well as her previous books (BIRDMAN and THE TREATMENT) are written in graphically violent detail:

Hayder finds the "cosy crime" of Ruth Rendell and Agatha Christie dishonest: "The whole engine in a crime book is the violent act, yet you never see the violence. That is where I came up with my manifesto, that I was going to describe everything in detail."

As Hayder ventured back into her past, she found that things had changed considerably since 1989, when she felt she was in "the safest place on earth":

Hayder found the club where Lucie Blackman had worked - no easy task when one skyscraper contains 100 bars and the Casablanca, shamed by the publicity, had changed its name to the Green Grass. At 41, Hayder had not expected to be offered a job among the gap-year girls ? but she was, provided she obeyed a list of new rules.

"Trousers were banned--which surprised me since at the El Manon you could wear jeans--and you had to wear high heels," says Hayder.

But the most significant change was how much kyaku-hiki (customer-pulling) the girls were expected to perform. Hostesses were sent to the base of the tower blocks to drum up trade, making them look like streetwalkers. Girls would scrabble for customers' business cards, then, on quiet nights, phone or even write to former clients, saying how much they missed them.

But the principal rule was that every week a girl must do a set number of dohans, ie, go to dinner with a customer and then bring him into the club. Any hostess not making her quota would suffer a large drop in salary. These dohans made girls more likely to compromise their safety.

Chilling stuff, and no doubt good fodder for TOKYO, which has already received some glowing reviews in the UK press. For whatever reason, I've held off on trying Hayder's work--perhaps it's too gory even for the likes of me--but this book I want to read.

A Savvy Marketer 

Karin Slaughter is the best-selling author of the Grant County series set in rural Georgia. The books have done fairly well in the US, but they are unqualified successes in the UK. The Bookseller catches up with the writer and asks her about her series (the fourth book, INDELIBLE, will be published on both sides of the Atlantic this fall) and touches upon what might be the singular reason for Slaughter's success in general:

Slaughter's success with the trade has been helped by the fact that she understands the vital importance of marketing and promotion to the success of her books. Before deciding to try writing as a career, she ran her own business in Atlanta, as a sign-painter. "It was the best preparation ever for understanding that, as passionate as I feel about writing, once I finish my book that's when the hard work begins--the jacketing and the marketing," she explains.

Considering the current climate of publishing, truer words were never spoken, and Slaughter's one of the most driven and ambitious proponents of self-marketing in the crime genre. Not surprisingly, such a single-minded focus is not exactly universally beloved, but then again, neither is the level of her success. How many writers, after only three published books to her credit, could convince publishers on both sides of the Atlantic to take on an anthology of linked stories that has, at best, a limited fan base?

Never mind that the marketing plans are far from the saturation point; no doubt that when INDELIBLE is released, trade shows, book reps, booksellers (and eventually, fans) will seeing and hearing a whole lot more of Slaughter. And the cycle continues...

A bloody good friday 

Has it been six weeks since Janet Maslin's last "Crowd Pleasers" column, where she spends a good portion of ink on books that don't deserve it? Indeed it has, and indeed she does.

It's all Jeanette Winterson, all the time, as her new novel LIGHTHOUSEKEEPING is finally published. The Independent interviews her and finds that she's managed to "find the plot" after some years away, but the Telegraph isn't so sure. I think I tried a Winterson novel some years back, and didn't care for it, but I'm intrigued by the comparisons--just or not--to Angela Carter, who is one of my favorite writers (and who died far, far too young.)

Boyd Tonkin, writing in his current "Week in Books" column for the Independent, is nonplussed by the latest trend in "crossover lit"--books that are published in adult and children's editions, such as THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME.

Newsday seems to be quite impressed with Martin Clark's new noirish novel, PLAIN HEATHEN MISCHIEF, essentially saying Clark gives Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen a serious run for their money. Interesting, but do either of those guys write 400-page crime novels? Didn't think so...

Tod Goldberg writes about his less-than-smooth experiences at the LA Times Book Festival a couple of weeks ago. One story will make some crime fiction fans keel over and collapse...(link from his brother Lee)

There's a spirited discussion going on at The Elegant Variation about the merits (or lack thereof) of Steve Almond, now that his ode to all things saccharin, CANDYFREAK, is just out. If you're a regular reader, you know I'm a fan; others are less charitable.

Click here for the shortlists of the British Sport Book Awards. Boy, there were a lot of those published last year...although I wonder if David Beckham will get the nod.

Jane Jakeman, who hasn't reviewed for the Independent in ages it seems, finally does, and adores John Harvey's new series launch FLESH AND BLOOD.

And finally, Craig McDonald enjoyed Michael Connelly's THE NARROWS, but his article focuses more on the strategy that Little, Brown has employed to market the book, namely the spiffy companion DVD. McDonald also interviewed Connelly, who speaks out about the reason there were no ARCs of the book:

"It's my 14th book," Connelly said. "For 13 previous books, I put out galleys as much as six to eight months ahead of time. There was a valid use in doing that then, but I've reached a point where I don't know what the value is now ... They become the instigators of Internet chatter. Stuff in the book is given away. I've been saying for a couple of years, 'Let's stop doing galleys. And, this time, with this book, I really mean it -- no galleys because there's a lot of interesting, surprising stuff in this book and it's all going to be out there six months ahead of time.'''

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Coming soon to a medical journal near you 

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- A construction worker had six nails driven into his head in an accident with a high-powered nail gun, but doctors said Wednesday they expect him to make a full recovery.

Three nails penetrated Isidro Mejia's brain, and one entered his spine below the base of his skull. Doctors said the nails barely missed his brain stem and spinal cord, preventing paralysis or death.

Jesus. The x-ray is an amazing sight.

Along Came a Santa 

As if the book industry weren't polluted with further outings by James Patterson and his Merrie Men, now the word comes (via the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) that he's written a children's book, which will be published this fall.

Amazingly, Ed Champion has managed to procure an exclusive preview of SANTAKID, due in stores November 1:

Beautiful pearly teeth filled her mouth. She was ready. Really ready. Everything was good, really damn good, about this smile.

Kimberly the Elf was a North Pole trainee. It was her first day.

"It's a good smile," Rufus the Elf whispered. "I wouldn't change a single thing about it."

They had come to the toy factory to work and to smile. They had three hundred gifts to wrap and send out. Three hundred gifts, and if they were feeling really good, maybe they'd have three hundred and one.

Rufus the Elf had to smile. He had already smiled twice that morning, and he knew he would smile again.

"Tough business," Kimberly admitted. "But we'll make it through."

"Just keep smiling," he said to her. "It's the right thing to do."

Kimberly had imagined this moment, this tremendous new life, so many times. It became easier to smile as the toys poured out the chute like a coins flying from a Vegas jackpot. God, she loved smiling and wrapping toys.

Rufus looked at Kimberly. Kimberly looked at Rufus.

There was work to do, and it was good work. As good as the smiles they rode in on.

No doubt that though only 48 pages long, SANTAKID will have at least fifty chapters.

Arthur Ellis Award Nominations 

The Crime Writers of Canada has announced their shortlist for the best in Canadian mystery:

Giles Blunt, The Delicate Storm (Random House Canada)
Mary Jane Maffini, Lament for a Lounge Lizard (RendezVous Press)
Kim Moritsugu, The Glenwood Treasure (Simon & Pierre, Dundurn)
David Rotenberg, The Hua Shan Hospital Murders (McArthur & Company)
Peter Robinson, The Summer that Never Was (M&S)

Anthony Bidulka, Amuse Bouche (Insomniac)
Michael Johansen, Confession in Moscow (Breakwater)
Jan Rehner, Just Murder (Sumach)
Michael E. Rose, Mazovia Legacy (McArthur & Company)
Barbara J. Stewart, The Sleeping Boy (Anchor Canada, RHC)

Chrystine Brouillet, Indesirables (La Courte Echelle)
Maxime Houde, La Salaire de la honte (Alire)
Jean Lemieux, On finit toujours par payer (La Courte Echelle)
Andre Marois, Les effets sont secondaires (La Courte Echelle)
Maryse Rouy, Au nom de Compostelle (Quebec Amerique)

Therese Greenwood, "A Christmas Bauble" in The Kingston Whig-Standard (December 24, 2003)
Dennis Murphy, "Dead in the Water" in Storyteller (Summer 2003)
Liz Palmer, "When Laura Smiles" in The Kingston Whig-Standard (December 24, 2003)
Vern Smith, "The Gimmick" in Hard Boiled Love (Insomniac)
Gregory Ward, "Dead Wood" in Hard Boiled Love (Insomniac)

"Jane Doe," The Story of Jane Doe (Random House Canada)
Mike McIntyre, Nowhere to Run: The Killing of Constable Dennis Strongquill (Great Plains Publications)
Jeffrey Miller, Where There's Life, There's Lawsuits (ECW)
Julian Sher & William Marsden, The Road to Hell (Knopf Canada)

Barbara Haworth-Attard, Theories of Relativity (Harper Trophy Canada)
Tanya Lloyd Kyi, Truth (Orca Book Publishers)
Peggy Dymond Leavey, The Deep End Gang (Napoleon)
Norah McClintock, No Escape (Scholastic Canada)
Graham McNamee, Acceleration (Wendy Lamb Books, RHC)

The 2004 AE winners will be announced at the gala 21st anniversary Arthur Ellis Awards dinner on Wednesday, June 9, at the Ontario Club in Toronto. (link first seen at Jiro's wonderful Gumshoe Site.)

Won't you take me to Uglytown 

Rick Kleffel (of Agony Column Fame) has a new interview with the Tom Fassbender & Jim Pascoe, impresarios of one of my favorite small press imprints, Uglytown Press. They go through their early publishing days, how they got together, how they picked up such great folks as Sean Doolittle, Victor Gischler, and Mark T. Conard, and expound on their love of comics.

Spewing out the links 

It's pretty easy to figure out where I'll lead off, so I'll just get right to it: Dennis Lehane not only has a short story, "Until Gwen," in the new issue of the Atlantic Monthly, but he's interviewed there as well. And it's one of the better interviews with Lehane I've seen with a while, as he talks about the challenge of writing a short story in the second person POV (!), how writing MYSTIC RIVER changed things, and how crime novels fit into (or out of) the literary divide.

So THE RULE OF FOUR, the new HypeMonster (TM) thriller that's been getting a ton of press of late, is supposed to be a cleverer version of THE DA VINCI CODE? Granted, it wouldn't take much, but no matter--it causes Janet Maslin to go into near-palpitations, whcih is always, um, interesting.

A somewhat more cool article in the Times is Sharon Waxman's feature on the first volume of the Peanuts Compendium--which may not have been what Charles Schulz wanted, but boy, did fans demand it. Only 12 and a half more years till the last volume is out!

Uh oh---I'm not sure whose idea it was to assign Jonathan Yardley to review Steve Almond's CANDYFREAK, but let's just say the fit isn't exactly the best one.

How book events and prizes have changed. Once, authors could barely expect a free meal and a couple of drinks--now they are getting all-expenses-paid trips to Mauritius and staying in five-star-hotels to vie for literary prizes given out by said hotels. Very nice.

Animator Mike Joens has crossed over into the mystery genre with his debut novel AN ANIMATED DEATH IN BURBANK. He gets the review treatment from Animation World Magazine, and they give the book a thumbs-up.

William Lashner is the latest in a long line of lawyers-turned-legal thriller writers whose books are rocketing up the bestseller charts. The Philadelphia Inquirer catches up with its native son.

Irshad Manji, whose book about challenging the tenets of fundamentalist Islam has created a stir in her native Canada and the US, talks to the Independent, revealing that the book has, not surprisingly, led to death threats.

Simon Houpt at the Globe & Mail profiles Doug Pepper, the Canadian book editor who cut his teeth in New York publishing but is now returning to Toronto to take the editorial helm of McLelland & Stewart, one of the country's oldest and most storied publishers.

And finally, OK, I reckon the premise of CONFESSIONS OF A SLACKER MOM has some (read: a lot) of merit, but I'm just having trouble with the author's name. Muffy? Who the hell is named Muffy, except if they are a puppet on a kids' show who had the most deplorable habit of speaking in rhyme? Or living on the Upper East Side and starring in BERGDORF BLONDES?

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Hangin' Around with Mr. B 

Beatrice beat me to the punch, but Kevin Burton Smith's long--and I do mean long--awaited interview with Lawrence Block is finally up at January Magazine. He talks about his long career wearing many hats, the CWA Diamond Dagger honor, his thoughts on blogging, and interestingly, his lone foray into science fiction.

Drinking with Crime Writers 

I have long joked that if I ever decided to write a memoir of these past few years, "Drinking with Crime Writers" would be my working title. That being said, it looks like noir writer Charlie Stella has made a pre-emptive strike in writing down his own such tales, as evident by his most recent "Knucksline" newsletter. Read on about a recent night of carousing involving himself, his lovely wife Anne Marie, Reed Coleman (and his wife Rosanne), Jason Starr, and current It Boy Ken Bruen, who actually demonstrated signs of eating this time--something I certainly never saw throughout Edgar Week, either...

Colleen McCullough's next project 

The Australian author has already spent decades researching and writing her epic historical series about Ancient Rome; she made millions weep with THE THORN BIRDS (now, only the sight of Richard Chamberlain's face causes people to do that.) She's even plagiarized Lucy Maud Montgomery (though nobody knows what the settlement deal was.) So what's next for the bestselling author? Why....a murder mystery?

"It is a classical whodunit," McCullough said from her Norfolk Island home. "It is a genre that I haven't written before and I have had enormous fun writing this book because it is a genre that I love to read but have never tried to write."

The novel is set in the US in 1965 and has a working title which McCullough is keeping secret.

Interesting. Kudos for trying something new, but of course, we'll see if it's a successful venture for her.

News for the Wednesday morning 

If I'm just a little bit later in posting these tasty links this morning, it's because the Post-Trip Letdown (TM) that almost always happens after I travel kicked in later than usual, and the extra hour or so of sleep was very welcome.

So first, the Telegraph, which finally posts a whole lot of crime fiction content that ran in the Sunday edition a few days back. First, Susanna Yager's roundup, featuring a bumper-crop of choice reviews of the latest by John Harvey, Lee Child, George Pelecanos, Jenny Siler, Cormac Miller (more Irish thrillers! It's a spreading disease that I like!), Henning Mankell, Nicci French, Canadian James Nichol, and Lee Jackson. Then Andrew Martin takes on Harlan Coben's new standalone JUST ONE LOOK, which finds that though enjoyable, Coben seems to be "trying too hard" to rein in his natural humor and that....gasp! He likes the Myron Bolitar series books better.

Then, finally, Rachel Simhon is fairly bowled over by Mo Hayder's new novel TOKYO, which is graphic and chilling and "fascinating and very moving."

Speaking of the Telegraph, Jasper Rees writes a lengthy piece on the history of book parody and where it's headed now, as it seems lampooning bestselling works is a hot new trend in UK publishing. And while I don't think it all started with BORED OF THE RINGS (a favorite of most of my college crowd, I have to say, though not being a Tolkeinite in the slightest, I haven't touched it) that certainly seemed to have an influence.

The Rancho Santa Fe Book Club in San Diego might be one of the more unique clubs around--because big-name authors are the ones who lead the discussions. The upcoming discussion will be led by Thomas Perry, whose first two books, THE BUTCHER'S BOY and METZGER'S DOG, were reissued last year and are truly amongst the best thrillers published. And it's the same club that Alexander McCall Smith spoke to some months back, entertaining an audience that included the Red Hot Chili Peppers' bassist Flea.

Blake Crouch's debut suspense novel, DESERT PLACES, has attracted quite a number of nice notices (including one from myself) since its release back in January. Now his hometown paper, the Durango Herald, talks to the author about the process of getting published and how he's handling his newfound life as a published writer.

The Scotsman interviews Elizabeth George, whose latest book is a how-to primer about writing and the writing life.

The latest interview at Professor Barnhardt's Journal is Craig Clevenger, the author of the critically acclaimed and very twisted THE CONTORTIONIST'S HANDBOOK (er, no pun intended there.) Naturally they talk about writing and other related matters, but Clevenger also reveals his acumen--or lack thereof--as a poker player....

Sam Allis's review of THE NARROWS in the Boston Globe has perhaps the best, if not terribly blurbable, opening line: "Michael Connelly is back with a new mystery that is as self-referential as it is readable." The rest of the review pretty much backs that statement up, but Allis is excited about the possibility of what lies ahead for Harry Bosch (even if it's a big fat spoiler, so you have been warned.)

The Christian Science Monitor reviews a new book by ex-FBI agent Jim Fisher about Dorothy Deering, once a librarian and aspiring writer who kept getting conned by fake agent, who later became...a particularly virulent fake agent. However, I must nitpick--Inflation has made it necessary to correct the title to "Fifteen Percent of Nothing."

When Amazon spread their tentacles into Canada, they actually managed to get an exemption from the government because, of course, there ain't a damn thing Canadian about that company. Others objected, and now the courts get to decide if Amazon.ca's existence in Canada selling books online is illegal.

Rebecca Caldwell at the G&M reports on the Trillium Awards, another top Canadian book prize, where nearly all categories were swept by non-fiction

Sarah Shannon, writing for the Independent, is quite staggered (in a good way) about the upcoming TV adaptation of Peter Ackroyd's sprawling tome, LONDON.

Now I can start to see why Penguin has started that ridiculous promotion "Get Good Booking" that I linked to yesterday: a study published in JAMA (that's Journal of the American Medical Association to you laypersons) seems to show that girls are often better readers than boys. (thanks to Jeff for the link.)

And finally, Erik Larson can't contain his excitement about winning the Edgar for Best Fact Crime after losing out on the National Book Award:

"I told people that if I didn't win this time, I was not going to any more awards ceremonies," Larson said yesterday. "You go from not caring about awards to being all caught up in the excitement. And the fact of the matter is that I had always wanted to win an Edgar, so I was thrilled. And at the awards ceremony I got to meet writers like Ian Rankin and Michael Connelly, whose books I love."

Hey, it's always cool to see that award-winning authors can fanboy (or girl) like the rest of us....!

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Watching TV on a Saturday morning 

Although I could have done some big fanfare-y announcement about the fact that Laura Lippman has finally, finally joined the 'sphere with "The Memory Project"--oh wait, maybe I just did--her latest post touched upon something that tends to be a touchstone of cultural reference for differing generations: Saturday morning kids' shows.

Usually, at least for me and my peers, it was a topic of conversation all-too-familiar in collegiate settings, usually in the campus bar. Likeminded students getting together, having beers, and well, age-regressing to their early childhoods in fond remembrance of those obscure, kitschy, bizarre, and utterly stupid cartoons they watched back then. Oh, sure, we'd reminisce about the good stuff--especially because we were older and such wonderful examples of cartoonery were pulled off the air or edited due to some censorship and political correctness issues--but really, we just wanted to play a form of "Can You Top This" with each other. Although any time "The Care Bears" were brought up in the presence of my company, I made my own objections loud and clear. The saccharine dialogue and wimpy demeanor of the characters make me shudder still even today.

What exactly was it about these shows that kept--and still keep--kids hooked? The medium of television? The novelty of seeing silliness in cartoon format or laughing at even greater silliness on the part of live humans in the midst of some wacky situation or another? I'm still not sure, but all I know is, whenever I see my friends from college, we end up taking a trip through time to revisit the salient points of the shows we watched--and recount our experiences in the same voices and same vocabulary we had as little kids.

So all of this pontificating to ask--which shows did you watch as a kid? Which were actually good, and which were awful but you watched anyway? Any commonalities between what North American and UK audiences got to see? (One of the above links was to a BBC-owned show, I believe.)

PEN Awards 

I was just about to do some long rant about the award winners of the PEN Scholarships, but frankly, Ed sums it up rather nicely:

Starving writers let loose a collective cry of anguish as PEN awarded extra cash to those who didn't need it. Two year scholarships at $35,000/year have been granted to rich literary darling Jonathan Safran Foer, Will Heinrich and Monique Truong. Also rolling in the dough is poet laureate Robert Pinsky, who has reportedly been planning an east wing extension to his house.

Granted, it's oh so easy to pick on Jon Foer (especially when some people do it over and over again), but is it really necessary to award scholarships to those in possession of six-figure Bonus Baby book deals? I mean, didn't anyone learn their lesson after the brouhahas involving Rick Moody (Guggenheim) and Jonathan Franzen (NEA)? There is the issue of lead time and consideration, but Foer's novel has been out for 2 years--presumably longer than the length of time from the beginning of the application process until now.

Never mind that by picking Foer, PEN has pretty much attached a "KICK ME" sign to the back of their collective rear ends. So once again: was that trip really necessary?

C'est tout, je pense 

The gravy train of the job hunt beckons, which means I'm otherwise engaged for most of the day. But do enjoy the pre-posted items below (especially the Nevermore entries, which still have me in stitches and I've read them over several times already.) More later.

Winning Nevermore entries 

Donna Moore, whose gift of the parody wowed the Nevermore Awards Committee so much they gave her two awards for their "Better Dead Than Read" contest (for "worst" opening paragraph of a particular genre novel), has kindly agreed to let me post the winning entries here on the blog. Enjoy.


She was a strawberry blonde, and I knew she was trouble. When she walked into my room that day, she had a bottle in her hand and mischief in her eye. "Hey sister," I said, opening my desk drawer. I pulled out my own bottle from my desk and took a thirsty swig. I was like a dying man in the desert. The liquid hit my throat and went down with a burn. I looked at the dimpled knees of the babe in front of me. "What's new sister?"

"Goo," she said, smacking her building block down on my desk without a by-your-leave.

My Mom walked in at that precise moment. "Philip dear", she said "I do wish you wouldn't call your sister 'sister'. She DOES have a name you know. And will you get a glass. I HATE to see you drinking soda from a bottle - it's so uncouth."

I looked at my watch. "Sorry to love you and leave you like this ladies. I gotta hit the streets. There's a hot lead I gotta follow and I may not be in for tea." I shrugged into the raincoat hanging on the back of my bedroom door.

"Philip - you're not wearing that old thing. I've thrown it away twice. There's that lovely anorak that Grandma bought you for Christmas in the hall cupboard."

I narrowed my eyes. "The raincoat suits my mood, lady. Now where's my fedora?"

Mom sighed. "For God's sake Philip. You don't HAVE a fedora. You don't even know what a damn fedora IS. And don't squint like that. The wind will change and your face will stay like that."



Being a PI in 2010 BC really sucked. Of course, we didn't call it 2010 BC- we called it The Year The Woolly Mammoth Ate My Brother. Things were slow at Stone Investigations. That's me - Stone - so called because when I was born, a Stone was the first thing I grasped. It coulda been worse. My brother, Cowpat, never had any luck. As I was saying, the PI game in prehistoric Britain was as slow as a Diplodocus with a limp. I was beginning to think I'd gone into the wrong job. I should have listened to my father and gone into the family Interior Cave Design business. Instead, I was stuck tracing missing pet Stegosauri and tailing errant husbands. I sighed, and longed for the day when someone would invent fire so that I could deal with a nice juicy arson case. I reached into my drawer and pulled out the bowl of Elderflower Juice I kept there - man, that stuff has a kick. Just then the door opened and in walked a vision of loveliness. She sashayed into my office, her buttocks looking like a pair of baby brontosauri fighting in a sack.

New crime fiction magazine to launch 

Starting next month, a new print magazine about the mystery genre will be making its way into bookshops and subscribers' homes. As imagined by Jon Jordan (whose first book with Mystery One Publications, INTERROGATIONS, was a compendium of author interviews he's done over the years), Crime Spree seeks to offer something a little bit different for mystery fans and those in the industry--there will be interviews, some short fiction, and columnists, but writers such as Reed Farrel Coleman, Blake Crouch, and Brian Wiprud will contribute special features about their own experiences.

I tend to think of the magazine as crime fiction meets INSTYLE with a little bit of VANITY FAIR thrown in for good measure. But then, such a description could be chalked up to a wee bit of bias, as yours truly conducted the cover interview with UK-based author Mark Billingham.

Subscription information is available here, and further information about the launch issue is here.

Links, links, baby, just the links 

And oh, where to start? Well, why not with the author of my favorite book this year, Eoin McNamee? Not only did he have a very compelling essay about blending fact and fiction (as demonstrated in David Peace's polarizing GB84) in last week's Guardian, but both the Independent on Sunday and the Daily Yomiuri gave THE ULTRAS some seriously positive platitudes.

Caroline Adderson, the author of SITTING PRACTICE, has won the Ethel Wilson Prize, given to the best work of fiction by a British Columbia writer.

Noah Richler, in Sunday's Toronto Star, uses his review of Miriam Toews' new book (which he enjoyed) as a means of ripping into Ryan Bigge's article in the National Post some days back about how much of a crying shame it is that there are no Young Turks taking on the CanLit establishment. Well, some youngsters aren't very good at imagining how they could ever get old. Me, I figure if I have to suffer a few wrinkles and jowls to gain some well-needed wisdom, I'm probably coming out ahead...

Also in that edition of the Star was Jack Batten's newest crime column, offering up a double dose of Dortmunder with the short story collection THIEVES' DOZEN and the new novel THE ROAD TO RUIN.

I wouldn't normally link to anything remotely involving Plum Sykes because god knows the saturation point was reached ages ago, but god, this "profile" in the Sunday Telegraph was freakin' hilarious. The headline--"Bergdorf Bitch"--pretty much says it all. (First seen on Gawker.)

I'm really just pointing people to this review for the headline on the main books page of USA TODAY: "A Finnish, gay version of 'The Hobbit?" As it happens, the review was written by Ellen Hetzel, one of the notorious Book Babes.

William Boot of the Bookseller isn't terribly impressed with Penguin's new venture Good Booking, designed to tempt 16-30something males back to reading books by foisting "cool fiction" upon them. Based upon the website, which is so hyperactive that it actually gyrates, I'm inclined to agree....

Dennis Lehane was in the Pittsburgh area last week to speak at Carnegie Mellon University. If you missed him, chances are this interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review done prior to his talk will fill in some gaps.

I managed to miss Dick Adler's roundup of mysteries in Sunday's Chicago Tribune yesterday, but have rectified the mistake today. In it, he looks at new books by John Shannon, Kathryn Wall, Richard Barre, Rick Riordan, and Terrill Lankford.

Rick Kleffel delivers on the long-awaited second half of his report on February's Left Coast Crime Convention. Especially fascinating is his experience at an unusual panel that talked the audience through all the processes involved in getting a book in print, as viewed through the prism of hotshot writer Blake Crouch.

The Famous Five are coming back--thanks to the work of Chorion, the publishing company that recently bought Enid Blyton's catalogue. The beloved children's series will be relaunched with a strong marketing initiative and TV plans, too.

And finally, the Independent on Sunday asked members of some of the country's best-known football clubs to list their favorite books as part of an ongoing literacy project. Wonder if anyone from Real Madrid will take part in the next survey--or perhaps nothing that's longer than a text message would make the cut in that case....

Monday, May 03, 2004

Review Writing 101 

Oline Cogdill, the mystery columnist for the Florida Sun-Sentinel, has long been one of my favorite reviewers in the business. There's no better proof of her skills than in her review earlier today of THE NARROWS, which not only explains what makes Connelly's latest book work and why Harry Bosch is such an appealing character, but doesn't spoil a single plot point. Talk about walking a tightrope, but Cogdill does it with seeming ease.

A lot of people--myself included--have wondered how to review THE NARROWS without revealing some of the major shocks and surprises that dot the first few pages of the book. We need not wonder any longer.

Giving cozies their due 

The Malice Domestic convention was held this past weekend in the Washington, D.C. area. On Saturday night, the Agatha Awards were given out:

Letter From Home, by Carolyn Hart (Berkley Prime Crime)

Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear (Soho Press)

Amelia Peabody's Egypt: A Compendium, edited by Elizabeth Peters and Kristen Whitbread (William Morrow)

"No Man?s Land?" by Elizabeth Foxwell in Blood On Their Hands (Berkley Prime Crime)

As it happened, Alina Adams was there--both at the awards banquet and Malice in general--and after filling me in on the details (the new writer's breakfast, where each first-timer was given a few minutes to speak up and talk about her book, was a highlight) submitted her report--in verse:


'Twas the Friday post-Edgars
I flew into Dulles
Published mystery in hand
To attend my first Malice.

The hotel was cold.
Actually, freezing - and then some.
And all 'bout the lobby
Sat Nation of Islam.

Attending were big names
Like Cannell and Hess
Krich, Maron and Viets
Donna Andrews, no less.

My panel (sports mysteries)
Was Sunday at nine.
What luck! The above were the
Panel up against mine.

The New Authors Breakfast
Drew two hundred plus.
With no stars to distract them
Fans listened to us!

All in all, it was great
Save for one little quibble
My TBR pile is now
Several feet bigger!

Maybe I should change the blog title 

Because bloody hell, is there no end to Ian Rankin-related content? It's awfully hard to keep up, that's for sure, but this lengthy profile in the Sunday Herald is well worth reading. Basically an "everything you've always wanted to know" primer, it deals with Rankin's early days as a struggling writer before being transformed into the successful author that he is now. All thanks to his beloved character Rebus, who's getting rather long in the tooth:

The Rebus franchise is nearing an end. There will be only two more books after Fleshmarket Close (ed., that was the title when the piece was done, it may not be the title anymore), by which time Rankin figures he will be nearly 50, a good moment to move on to something new. Is he apprehensive about finishing with such a lucrative character? “Uh, yeah. Especially sitting in a house that’s mortgaged up to the hilt. But not as apprehensive as my publishers probably are. I think my readers will come with me whatever I choose to write.”

The article goes into detail about the new book, and puts the Scotsman article I commented on yesterday, with its backlash flavoring, in a much better context:

Like most of Rankin’s work, the book had its genesis in a real-life event, in this case the fatal stabbing of Firsat Yildiz, a Turkish Kurd in the Sighthill area of Glasgow in 2001. “That murder flagged it up for me,” he says. “Scots have always prided ourselves on our openness; we weren’t like the English, we were very close to our European neighbours, and very welcoming. I always used to say that we were too busy with bigotry to have any time for racism, but it turns out we have both. It’s something that we have to deal with; we have to discuss it and think about it.”

In any case, the new book will be political and no doubt controversial--but remember, it's not finished yet...!

A bleary-eyed hello 

Although I had one of the best weeks in ages, it's good to be back home, sleeping in my own bed, and dealing with...cold weather? Alas, the gorgeous Manhattan sunny skies didn't cross the border quite yet, but no matter--I'll probably be semi-catatonic most of the day anyway, especially with a job interview (!) in the early morning.

I'll likely have more to say about my culture-packed weekend later on in the day, but first, some spate of mystery-only links to indulge in:

First, more on the big book of the week: Michael Connelly's THE NARROWS. Let's start off with Janet Maslin's review, which manages to provoke admiration and infuriation; the former because wow! She doesn't actually reveal the name of The Poet, but the latter because agh, that clueless sycophancy she's far too well known for when it comes to certain writers rears its head once again. Robin Vidimos's review in the Denver Post, though more spoiler-laden, is more straightforward, but causes the nails-on-blackboard feeling because one of the main character's name is spelled wrong throughout the review. Can't win 'em all, but a copyeditor should have caught that. And in related matters, the honor for the first print interview with Connelly about the new book goes to the News-Press in Southwest Florida, as Jay MacDonald asks all the usual questions.

More post-Edgar coverage, chiefly centered around Ian Rankin's win for Best Novel. The Herald has a fairly boilerplate wire report, while the Scotsman reveals that the new book's title has been changed to ASYLUM SEEKER, although I'm still waiting confirmation of such a change. If it's true, I must say, it probably works better than the old one, FLESHMARKET CLOSE, which would have to be different for the US market. This new one crosses the Atlantic quite nicely.

David Montgomery's mystery roundup for the Chicago Sun-Times starts off with a glowing review of Denise Hamilton's new book, and looks at new releases from Julia Spencer-Fleming, P.J. Tracy, Terrill Lankford, Chris Mooney, and Jonathon King.

Tom and Enid Schantz return with their monthly column in the Denver Post, focusing on the latest by John Shannon, Lawrence Block, and a linked anthology edited by Elizabeth Foxwell.

Patrick Anderson takes a look at Vince Flynn's new espionage-tinged novel, MEMORIAL DAY, and the verdict? Good on military matters, not as much when it comes to politics.

It's been more than 20 years since FLOOD, the first of Andrew Vachss' novels featuring his antier-than-antihero Burke, appeared on shelves. Now the new one, DOWN HERE, is just out and garnering good notices from the likes of the Oregonian.

And finally, Alexander McCall Smith gets a long, well-deserved profile in the Observer, written, interestingly enough, by fellow Scot Ruaridh Nicoll, the author of WHITE MALE HEART and other nervy thrillers. The kicker is the last paragraph:

McCall Smith believes that Americans have taken to his books in such numbers because, faced with the prospect of 'long-term conflict and harsh antipathy', they are searching for 'a lost Eden' of innocence and moral certainties. Small wonder, given some of the pictures that we have seen from Iraq over the past few days.

Yet that goodness in McCall Smith is something to aspire to. His enthusiasm for the adventure of life is magical. Events such as the book festival remind us how civilised life can be. Most of all, it is the revelation of that moral core in his novels that makes it so reassuring that this man - Sandy to his friends - is there, doing a day job that governs the research into our very cells.

Was it ever thus. There's a real simplicity and sheer delight to his books, whether they be the #1 Ladies novels or anything he's ever written (even the academic stuff, honest) and to the man himself. No wonder there's a circle where fans love the books, then meet him and love the books even more and on and so forth. There's a damned good reason he's a phenomenon--and it's all deserved. (Link from Fiona.)

Sunday, May 02, 2004

And speaking of Ian Rankin 

Geez. The man just barely gets over a whirlwind trip in and out of New York to collect his Best Novel Edgar when he's hit with some new "controversy" cooked up by his local paper, The Scotsman:

A FICTIONAL Scottish detective is once again investigating controversial events which bear a striking similarity to real life.

Inspector John Rebus, created by bestselling novelist Ian Rankin, is confronted with his most difficult case yet when he has to investigate the murder of a Kurdish refugee.

The plot is reminiscent of the killing of Firsat Dag in Glasgow in 2001, and the novel also features a Dungavel-type detention centre.

But, as the paper points out, this new book, FLESHMARKET CLOSE, isn't even finished yet--Rankin only completed the first draft a couple of days ago and still has to revise the draft, and so he's still figuring things out, to say the least:

"I cannot tell you if it is racially motivated as I am still writing the book.

"The actual name Rebus is Polish I believe, and it leads him to ask about his own past. Most of the research I do involves looking at internet sites and reading newspapers, and extrapolating that information to set it nearer Edinburgh.

"Obviously I have read about Dungavel and what happened to Firsat Dag in Sighthill, but I write fiction.

"In this novel I have my own version of Dungavel, which is set in a fictional part of West Lothian."

Is it me, or does it seem rather silly to start criticizing a book that isn't even finished yet, let alone on bookshelves? Talk about preconceived notions. OTOH, considering how huge Rankin is in Britain, let alone his own country, any whiff of controversy is going to set off the journalists like hungry lapdogs--they are so good at such things...

The long-awaited Edgar report 

While some folks ask how I could manage to be even more detailed and long-winded than I have been the last few days, the answer is: oh, I can. And so I shall.

One cannot start a report like this and leave out the most important detail: what I wore. Unlike two years ago (long black dress, cleavage) and last year (long black dress, cleavage) I went for something altogether different. For one thing--and it turned out as such--there was such a sea of black that the atmosphere might have been funereal had the vast majority of people not had wineglasses in their hands. As it happened, the royal blue chinese-style frock I had picked up in a nameless shop near Marble Arch in London last summer did the trick, although personally, I was far more admiring of Beth Saulnier's fire-engine red dress. Talk about traffic-stopping ability.

Anyway, my compadre and photographer Mary and I cabbed our way down to the Hyatt a little bit early because last year, we got there at six and it was mobbed, and a little breathing room never hurt. In the foyer we said hello to Lee Child (attending his first Edgars), Alafair Burke and her boyfriend Sean, and then made a pit stop in the bar to check in on the barflies. For Donna Moore and her friends Bev and Kathy weren't going to the ceremony--it is a little bit pricey--and instead chose to hang out in the bar until everybody convened afterwards. Not a bad choice, and when a couple of authors got wind of their plans the night before, they thought it was a great idea as well.

Up the escalators then and on to cocktails, where registrants were greated by the lovely sight of Margery Flax, bedecked in a gorgeous black gown with a pink shawl draped around her shoulders. She seemed to express approval at my earlier description of her here as "a goddamned ray of sunshine all the goddamned time." While it's true, I confess I stole the phrase from Sparkle Hayter, but that doesn't mean it's not a good one, right?

Meanwhile, Otto Penzler couldn't wipe the beam off his face as he was showing off his now-bride (they married yesterday, and congratulations to the happy couple) to his friends and fellow attendees. While some snarky comments were overheard about making bets on how long the union would last, the majority of people wished Otto well. After running into M.G. Kincaid and her daughter Heather, both looking flat-out stunning, I hustled over and got my first white wine (alas, not my last, not by a longshot) and started circulating madly.

There was Charlie Stella in one corner, chatting with Bonnie Claeson and Joe Gugliemelli of Black Orchid. Gay Toltl Kinman was there, sitting on the other side of the room with Marilyn Meredith. Larry Gandle, who reviews for DEADLY PLEASURES, spotted me and we chatted about the nominees and who was expected to win. Val McDermid, who is off to New Orleans and other cities on what looks to be some kind of road trip, was off to another corner. Her friend and fellow Scot (and best novel nominee) Ian Rankin made his way in a little later, presumably after attending the VIP party for the nominees. He chose the express route, literally--he'd only arrived earlier in the day and left early on Friday. He seemed a little discombobulated--especially as he'd only just completed the first draft of his new Rebus novel, FLESHMARKET CLOSE, which will be in UK shops everywhere in late September (!).

And then, there were the flashing lights. Caused, of course, by cameramen everywhere.

Natsuo Kirino was another Best novel nominee, and she is something of a legend in her home country in Japan. So she was followed by those eager vultures across the world to witness whether she'd take home the prize or not--and so, pictures were being taken of everyone and everything, and no doubt some embarassing moment has been captured for posterity on Japanese TV. That being said, whenever I joked to people about it, they were near-uniform in their enthusiasm for the prospect. Hey, it's TV after all. And it's not like the Edgars are going to be televised in North America anytime soon.

Eventually the signal came that it was time to go into the ballroom, and I bumped into Peter Blauner and asked why he hadn't been to any of the parties earlier in the week. Babysitting duties, as it happened--a noble cause if there ever was one. He, however, was sitting across the room from me and I slowly made my way over to one of two tables sponsored by Partners & Crime, and proceeded to eat my meal with Mary, Maggie Griffin, Lee, Alafair & Sean, Nina Revoyr (and her editor at Akashic books whose name escapes me at the moment) and a whole host of Himes. James Hime, as a nominee, was sitting with St. Martin's, who had a bumper crop of finalists (especially in Best First.) But he'd flown down nearly his entire immediate family from Texas or thereabouts and so I spent much of the time cracking jokes with his sons Travis and Josh, who returned the favor a number of times. Honestly, it was just so nice to spend a little time with people my age and act like a goofball.

Especially as any mood-lightening was a boon, because the ceremony itself is well, itself. I absolutely admire Bob Levinson's ability to produce a show and put everything together, because it has to be bloody hard work, no question about it. But perhaps in the next edition, it might be a better idea to keep the biographical information about presenters to a bare minimum. It's kind of equivalent to a mystery novel itself--the best ones are the ones that move, keeping the filler to a minimum unless it's absolutely necessary to do so. Also, last year the MC was Jerry Orbach, a total professional at keeping things going, whereas William Windom, fine actor that he is, just couldn't keep it up.

There were some, shall we say, interesting touches about the ceremony, although Angela Lansbury's taped introduction for Windom disturbed me somehow, though I'm not certain as to why. Don Bruns entertained the crowd with his opening number, although when he returned in the second half, there was an antsy mood in the air and suddenly the noise level increased considerably. I thought it was rather sad, but I suppose some people would prefer their musical interludes not to take center stage. Ah well. Parnell Hall returned to do a second version of last year's wildly popular routine "Who Didn't Win the Edgar" but unfortunately, the "sequelitis" rule doesn't just apply to movies (although I did like his crack about James Patterson--who never won an Edgar, thank god--making a deal with Milli Vanilli. Even if the majority of the crowd seemed to blank on the reference...)

Dominick Dunne made a nice, if somewhat self-absorbed, speech about his boss Graydon Carter, who much to my disappointment, wasn't around to accept his Raven Award for the true-crime coverage in VANITY FAIR. As for other memorable moments, Rebecca Pawel was so thrilled to win, and made a very lovely speech about how humbled she is in her ordinary life, and was even more so now. When I asked her later about the speech, she said she could hardly see anyone and worried that she had been babbling and incoherent. I reassured her that it wasn't the case. I do hope Pawel's win will be a harbinger of wonderful things to come--especially further deals in other countries--like Spain, perhaps?

A roar went up when G. Miki Hayden won for Best Short Story, and she made a special note to thank those in Haiti dealing with the conflicts in the country--relevant as her winning story was set in 17th century Haiti. Sylvia Maultash Warsh was a deserving winner for Best Paperback Original, although as seems to be the usual, most people in attendance weren't overly familiar with her work and responded accordingly, but I was so extremely impressed with FIND ME AGAIN, and am eagerly awaiting her next book. Warsh appears to be a slow writer, but I suspect it will be worth the wait.

Then came Best Novel. The consensus throughout the week was that the competition would be between Rankin and popular Irishman Ken Bruen, nominated for his bleakly noir turn THE GUARDS. However, when Rankin's name was called, I sat there and found the moment to be somewhat anticlimactic--mostly because when I got wind of his travel arrangements, there went any sort of suspense. (That being said, when I told this to Rankin afterwards, he effectively replied, "I wish someone would have told me.") But his win was a popular one, although another author commented that perhaps the right author took it, but for the wrong book. Well, the Lifetime Achievement effect is certainly not uncommon in other awards circles, and it's likely been the case for the Edgars before--and, no doubt, will be again in the future.

As the winners posed for pictures for an unearthly amount of time, I made my way outside to collect on what some people seem to love best about the Edgars--the free books. After scoring some in a manner that, interestingly, made me look rather like a shopper at the bargain sections of Filene's Basement, I chatted with a few more folks. I made the acquaintance of Charles Ardai, the commissioning editor of Hard Case Crime, a new line of paperback original pulp novels in the vein of the Gold Medal paperbacks of old. I'm really excited about this venture and when I saw the sampler they had put together, I was even more impressed. HCC has been getting tons of buzz and press, including the cover of the April 19 issue of Publisher's Weekly. While this year's lineup includes work from Lawrence Block, Erle Stanley Gardner, Max Phillips and Dominic Stansberry, next year features the reissue of an early Donald Westlake novel, 361, another book by Wade Miller (who authored TOUCH OF EVIL) and Allan Guthrie's second novel, KISS HER GOODBYE. Like I said, impressive stuff.

Eventually, oh so eventually, I made my way down to the bar where I hung out with my fellow barflies and met Jim McDonough, who heads up Brandon Books, Ken Bruen's publisher in Ireland. He was, naturally, there to cheer Ken on and we talked at length about other authors he published. I was especially excited to hear that Chet Raymo, who wrote the marvellous novel THE DORK OF CORK, will have a new book out next year (I believe), and the first edition will be from Brandon Books. Glad to see Raymo's making another return to fiction. Then I saw--and finally was introduced to, after years of seeing him at conventions and parties--Con Lehane, whose first book, BEWARE THE SOLITARY DRINKER, was a great piece of atmospheric noir set in the dive bars of the Upper West Side. Lehane's been picked up by St. Martin's, who will publish his next book early next year. Glad to see he's made the move to a major publisher.

After chatting again with Margery and Bob Levinson, I fell into a group that ventured down to the Collins Bar in the Times Square area and stayed a few hours there drinking with the girls as well as Bruen, Olen Steinhauer (who, I must say, has been summarily adopted by certain writers and will no doubt look back on his experiences this week with considerable fondness), Jim Born (same applies) and Jonathon King.

It was a long night. It was a good night. If writers weren't coming up to me and complimenting the blog, they were introduced to me by those who did the same thing. Any way it went, such praise was most gratifying because sometimes I forget that people really pay attention to what I write. It means I have to be careful (my new rule: if someone tells me something in a bar, I don't report it, mostly because I can barely remember what I said either) but a little deliberation never hurt anyone.

And so that ends Edgar Week, which has been, I must say, an absolute blast. A great many writers went on to the Malice Domestic convention that's held annually in the Washington, D.C. area, and I've been promised a report from Alina Adams, who is attending for the very first time. It'll be interesting to get her view on a smaller, but certainly popular, convention, and I'm looking forward to it.

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