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Dashiell Hammett A 75th-Anniversary Tribute

Dashiell Hammett A 75th-Anniversary Tribute

January Magazine's Crime Fiction Report

This is the premiere edition of January Magazine's mystery and crime fiction newsletter. Those of you who are familiar with January's ever-expanding commitment to this genre are probably wondering why it took us so long to launch this venture; the rest of you, I hope, will be inspired by this report to explore more deeply into the wealth of crime fiction reviews and author interviews we have already done over the magazine's short but nonetheless celebrated life.

In "The Rap Sheet," I'll clue you in to both new and forthcoming novels worth checking out; the latest awards nominations and presentations in the mystery field; news about authors and their projects in the pipeline; and the occasional little-known fact about popular writers in this genre.

As we go along, I welcome any suggestions you might have for improving this newsletter's content. Also don't hesitate to send me any news or information you think I might not already have.

J. Kingston Pierce
Crime Fiction Editor, January Magazine


New and Noteworthy

The early line on Robert B. Parker's Hush Money (Putnam), his 26th novel showcasing Boston private eye Spenser, is decidedly mixed. Some critics scoff that the Spenser series has grown stale and that Parker would be better off writing more books featuring Massachusetts police chief Jesse Stone (Trouble in Paradise) or Sunny Randall, the female private eye he is scheduled to introduce in a fall 1999 release called Family Honor (and whom actress Helen Hunt is already hoping to portray in the movies). Others, however, champion Hush Money as among Parker's foremost works. The story finds Spenser, at the behest of his friend Hawk, returning to the academic environs where he roamed in his very first case, The Godwulf Manuscript (1973). Only this time he's investigating an African-American professor's claim that he was denied tenure because of his alleged relationship with a gay graduate student. There's lots of room here for Parker to make fun of hypocrisy in academia.

In Dirty Pool (St. Martin's Press), recovering redneck and bumbling Albuquerque private eye Bubba Mabry agrees -- against his better judgment -- to help William J. Pool, his most-despised competitor, retrieve the supposedly kidnapped teenage son of Texas millionaire Dick Johnson. But what had looked like a quick-paying gig turns sour when the conniving teenager retrieves the ransom money being forked over for his own safe return. Rather than write off his scion as a flake, Johnson tells Bubba and Pool that whichever of them can bring his son home is welcome to keep the ransom money. You can tell right away that Pool has no intention of playing this game fairly.

Former O.J. Simpson prosecutor Christopher Darden has teamed up with veteran writer Dick Lochte to produce The Trials of Nikki Hill (Warner), the tale of a young black woman prosecutor in Los Angeles who is assigned to the murder of a gossip-spreading TV talk-show host. A South Central kid is found guilty of the crime, but Nikki isn't so sure he did it -- especially after she learns that the TV host had a nasty habit of blackmailing the rich and famous.... Meanwhile, Lisa Scottoline's Mistaken Identity (HarperCollins) finds criminal attorney Bennie Rosato defending a murder suspect with whom she bears a striking resemblance. This is a well-tuned page-turner in which Rosato not only deals with police corruption and drugs, but winds up questioning her own legal ethics.

Having abandoned her series about Seattle sleuth Jane de Silva (Electric City, Cold Smoked, etc.), author K.K. Beck pops up now with a farcical stand-alone mystery called The Revenge of Kali-Ra (Mysterious Press). It revolves around a Hollywood star whose desire to bring a corny piece of 1920s pulp fiction to the silver screen coaxes forth eccentric members of the author's family and leads -- as one can only expect -- to murder....

The Rich and the Profane (Viking), the 20th novel starring that roguish antiques dealer-cum-detective, Lovejoy, has him teaching shoplifting to a lovely lass, while at the same time he helps a reverend to cover his gambling debts by unloading his priory's antique treasures.... Hollywood had the cameras rolling on a film adaptation of Jitter Joint (St. Martin's Press) even before the book was published. (The movie version, called Detox, will star Sylvester Stallone and Tom Berenger.) Not bad for the first novel by a Dallas Morning News editor named Howard Swindle. His yarn has an alcoholic homicide detective checking into an exclusive Dallas detox center, where he's drawn into a string of murders, each victim tagged with one of Alcoholics Anonymous' famous 12 Steps.

"It's like an Alfred Hitchcock film," says Portland, Oregon, author/attorney Phillip M. Margolin of his latest legal thriller, The Undertaker's Widow (Bantam), just released in paperback. The plot centers around an ardently ethical judge who is presiding at the trial of a flamboyant state senator charged with conspiracy to murder her husband. As the judge begins to doubt the politician's guilt, he struggles ever harder to ensure that justice is done -- but only winds up digging himself deeper into trouble.

After almost a yearlong delay, stores are finally receiving the paperback edition of Stuart M. Kaminsky's The Green Bottle (Forge), the first in a line of books based on TV's The Rockford Files. The story begins with LA private eye Jim Rockford's slam-dunk recovery of a rare Chinese snuff bottle, but soon has him searching for an attractive and naive young woman who has fallen in with duplicitous men claiming they can make her a star. Kaminsky, best known for his Toby Peters and Porfiry Rostnikov novels, offers the same sort of complex and enthralling plot that made the James Garner TV series (1974-80) so popular. However, his portrayal of the beleaguered Rockford doesn't quite capture the original's skill for artful sarcasm. A greater weakness is the book's throwaway subplot, involving con man Angel Martin and a missing purebred cat. There's already a second Rockford novel out (Devil on My Doorstep, 1998), and as the prolific Kaminsky grows more comfortable with these characters, maybe readers will take to his Rockford as enthusiastically as tube watchers did to Garner's.

While you're browsing the paperback shelves, look for two titles with extraordinary settings: Season of Death (Avon), by Christopher Lane, features an Inupiat Eskimo police officer who, during a disastrous hunting trip into the Alaskan Bush country, stumbles upon a severed head and becomes the target of a killer bent on maintaining his secrets. The writing here is somewhat stilted, but the native lore and customs that Lane shares are fascinating. Equally attractive for its arcane environment is Deborah Woodworth's Sins of a Shaker Summer (Avon), which builds around an investigation by eldress Rose Callahan into the sickness of two girls at a Kentucky Shaker village. But before Rose can resolve her suspicions that the girls had eaten something deadly among experimental plants being added to the Believers' medicinal herb garden, her own life is endangered. This is the third book in an appealing historical series, following Death of a Winter Shaker and A Deadly Shaker Spring.

Extortion lies at the heart of Anne Perry's latest Thomas and Charlotte Pitt adventure, Bedford Square (Fawcett Columbine). It starts out with a murdered tramp being found at the fashionable Bedford Square home of General Brandon Balantyne (who makes his third appearance in this series, after earlier turns in Callander Square and Death in the Devil's Acre). But the victim had in his pocket a snuffbox belonging to the general, who confides to his friend Charlotte that he is being blackmailed, and that the snuffbox represented his first payment. In the meantime, other blackmail victims among the gentry -- including Pitt's police superior, Cornwallis -- come forth. All say they have been threatened with the disclosure of nothing but fabricated secrets; yet after one victim commits suicide and another has his reputation ruined, none of the rest is willing to take a chance on not cooperating with the extortionist. Can Bow Street commander Pitt discern the identity of the dead tramp and end this blackmail scheme before it claims more casualties? You'll have to learn that for yourself.... By the way, fans of Perry's other Victorian series, concentrating on London private inquiry agent William Monk, will want to know that his next outing, The Twisted Root, is due for publication later this year. There's also a new Web site, From the Desk of William Monk, which contains information about Monk and his cohorts, reviews of the novels in which he appears, and a mischievous "nitpicker's page" that points up occasional errors in that Perry series.

Max Allan Collins' next Nathan Heller novel, Majic Man, won't see print till October. But his newest is a non-series historical mystery, The Titanic Murders (Berkley Prime Crime). Collins reports that this book "uses a Heller-style approach to a drawing-room mystery subject. The detective is real-life mystery writer Jacques Futrelle, who died on the Titanic, and all the suspects (even the murder victims) are real."

Speaking of historical -- or should I say, hysterical? -- works, Ron Goulart is ready to introduce Groucho Marx, Private Eye (St. Martin's Press), his second 1930s mystery starring the renowned mustachioed comic. This story has Groucho digging into the monkey business surrounding a murdered Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, during which he mouths off in signature fashion to corrupt cops, mobsters, and, well, pretty much anyone else he bumps into.... In a Dry Season (Avon), Peter Robinson's story of a 50-year-old corpse discovered in what remains of a long-flooded English village, sounds vaguely like Reginald Hill's On Beulah Height (1998). However, this 10th novel focusing on Chief Inspector Alan Banks provides ample police procedural treats as Banks and a woman country sergeant seek to reconstruct post-World War II life -- and the motives for murder -- in the now-drowned town. Robinson is especially deft at creating believable characters.... Michael Dobbs resurfaces with Acts of Betrayal (HarperCollins), his third novel about skullduggery in the British government. Once again, we enter the orbit of Tom Goodfellowe (The Buddha of Brewer Street), who seems bound for happiness, both personally and politically -- until a disgruntled former paratrooper threatens to destroy London, and it falls on Goodfellowe's head to determine who will live and who will die. 

Future Felonies

Steven Saylor is back with Rubicon (St. Martin's Press, May), his sixth novel about Gordianus the Finder. Set during the civil war between Caesar and Pompey (49-45 BC), this tale opens with Caesar leading his troops across the Rubicon and on toward Rome, which Pompey has recently been protecting. But shortly before Pompey escapes the city in the company of his men, his cousin is found dead in Gordianus' garden. Determined to see the killer brought to justice, Pompey takes Gordianus' son-in-law hostage and refuses to return him until the toga-wearing sleuth can figure out whodunit.... Saylor enthusiasts should be interested to know, too, that his next book (set for publication by Simon & Schuster in the spring of 2000), won't have a darn thing to do with ancient Rome. Instead, Honor the Dead will be a murder mystery set in 1885 in Austin, Texas. It's based on a real-life series of ax murders that culminated in a dramatic trial implicating some of the most important folks in Texas state government.

British storyteller John Harvey's series of police procedurals, starring Charlie Resnick, comes to a close with Last Rites (Henry Holt, May). A crime wave in Nottingham has the cops busy enough that they don't want to also take on the disappearance of a murderer who, while attending his mother's funeral on compassionate leave, suddenly disappears. However, they realize they have no choice in this gritty story filled with violence and some lessons about the consequences of love.... Slightly darker than some of Dana Stabenow's previous Kate Shugak mysteries, Hunter's Moon (Putnam, May) finds the former Anchorage, Alaska, investigator helping to lead a party of German computer executives on a hunting expedition. With their corporation being probed by the FBI, the CIA, and the Securities and Exchange Commission, this excursion seems like just the antidote for anxiety. But things turn ugly after one of the execs is shot to death. And he's only the first to go.

Finally, Charles Todd's excellent series about war-damaged Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge continues with Search the Dark (St. Martin's Press, May). The setting is Dorset in 1919, where Rutledge is looking for a pair of children gone missing after their mother was reportedly murdered by their war veteran father. However, Rutledge -- still haunted by the voice of a war deserter he had personally executed, and feeling oddly sympathetic toward the supposed murderer -- isn't convinced that this is an open-and-shut case. As with the previous Rutledge mysteries (Wings of Fire and A Test of Wills), this book is heavy on atmosphere and the psychological roots of crime.

Awards

The Edgars

The Mystery Writers of America has announced its 1999 Edgar Allan Poe Award nominees. These awards will honor the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television, and film published or produced in 1998. Winners will be announced on April 29. Among the nominees:

Best Novel: Mr. White's Confession, by Robert Clark (Picador); Blood Work, by Michael Connelly (Little Brown); Beyond Recall, by Robert Goddard (Henry Holt); The Last Days of Il Duce, by Domenic Stansbury (Permanent Press); A Likeness in Stone, by J. Wallis Martin (St. Martin's Press).

Best First Novel by an American Author: Reckless Homicide, by Ira Genberg (St. Martin's Press); Cold Day in Paradise, by Steve Hamilton (St. Martin's Press); Numbered Account, by Christopher Reich (Delacorte); Nice, by Jen Sacks (St. Martin's Press); A Criminal Appeal, by D. R. Shanker (St. Martin's Press).

Best Paperback Original: Atlanta Graves, by Ruth Birmingham (Berkley Prime Crime); Butchers Hill, by Laura Lippman (Avon); Zen Attitude, by Sujata Massey (HarperPaperbacks); The Widower's Two-step, by Rick Riordan (Bantam); Murder Manual, by Steven Womack (Ballantine).

Best Critical/Biographical: The Seven Deadly Sins in the Work of Dorothy Sayers, by Janice Brown (Kent State University Press); Cordially Yours, Brother Cadfael, by Anne Kaler (Bowling Green University Press); Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, by Eddie Muller (St. Martin's Press); Midnight Dreary: The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe, by John Walsh (Rutgers University Press); Mystery and Suspense Writers, by Robin Winks (Scribner).

In addition, British author P.D. James will receive this year's Grand Master Award. For a complete list of nominees in all categories, consult MysteryNet.com.

The Agathas

Also announced recently were nominees for the Agatha Christie Award, voted on by attendees at the annual Malice Domestic convention. Winners will be announced on May 2. Among the nominees:

Best Novel: Liar, by Jan Burke (Simon & Schuster); Dove in the Window, by Earlene Fowler (Berkley); Blind Bloodhound Justice, by Virginia Lanier (HarperCollins); Butchers Hill, by Laura Lippman (Avon); Home Fires, by Margaret Maron (Mysterious Press); The Ape Who Guards the Balance, by Elizabeth Peters (Avon).

Best First Novel: Sympathy for the Devil, by Jerrilyn Farmer (Avon); Tiger's Palette, by Jacqueline Fiedler (Pocket); Dying to Get Published, by Judy Fitzwater (Fawcett); The Doctor Digs a Grave, by Robin Hathaway (St. Martin's); Fax Me a Bagel, by Sharon Kahn (Scribner).

In addition, author Patricia Moyes will receive the Malice Domestic Award for Lifetime Achievement. For a complete list of Agatha nominees in all categories, visit the Malice Domestic Web site.

Did You Know...

...That John Peyton Cooke has written two still-unpublished private eye novels? Cooke, author of Haven (1996), The Chimney Sweeper (1995), and the quirky, dark Eliot Ness tale Torsos (1993), reports on his Web site that "Both manuscripts are hardboiled private eye novels featuring gay P.I. Greg Quaintance, an ex-Army dude who was drummed out (don't ask) and who now lives and works out of the Chelsea 'gay ghetto' of New York City. The first novel in this series is The Rape of Ganymede. The second is The Fall of Lucifer." Cooke tells me that, after some two dozen New York publishers rejected his manuscripts, he's turned his attention to British publishers and small presses.

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