Dashiell Hammett A 75th-Anniversary Tribute

Dashiell Hammett A 75th-Anniversary Tribute

 

 

 

 

 

January Magazine's Crime Fiction Report #2

 

Greetings again. If this latest newsletter seems a bit overdue, it's because those of us manning January Magazine's cluttered crime fiction desk have been so busy lately with other assignments.

We spent most of April celebrating the life and legacy of detective novelist Ross Macdonald in a multi-part project that earned appreciative comments from readers and some nice mentions at other book-oriented Web sites. More recently, we've watched the presentation of this year's Edgar Allan Poe and Agatha Christie awards -- and felt pretty darn smug for having predicted several of the winners. (See a rundown of the major award-getters at the end of this newsletter.) And we're in the midst of reviewing a wide range of new and forthcoming novels by such authors as Peter Robinson, Janet Evanovich, Robert Ferrigno, Dennis Lehane, and Irish newcomer John Connolly. After a start-of-the-year slowdown in the publication of new works, we are now agreeably inundated with high-caliber reading material.

But enough of that. On to this new edition of "The Rap Sheet." As usual, I welcome any suggestions you might have for improving the newsletter or January's general crime fiction coverage. Also, don't hesitate to send me news or information you think I might not already have.

J. Kingston Pierce
Crime Fiction Editor, January Magazine



New and Noteworthy

Anybody who thought the success of Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park (1981), his first novel featuring Moscow detective Arkady Renko, was a publishing fluke must be amazed to see Renko back now in his fourth heavily publicized outing. Havana Bay (Random House) follows the cynical and lonely -- but somehow endearing -- Renko as he spends his own savings on a trip to Cuba, where he intends to look into the death of an old acquaintance, a KGB bureaucrat whose body was recently found afloat on Havana Bay. But was it actually his friend? Most local police, disdainful of Russians in this post-Soviet era, aren't interested in helping Renko learn the truth. But he finally receives assistance from a surprisingly idealistic woman cop who gets him to let down his hair a bit, and also helps him negotiate the tight conspiratorial turns of Smith's latest novel. Atop its complex plotting, the book offers a moving snapshot of Havana in all its disheveled glory.

British author Paul Doherty writes so many historical mystery series, under so many different aliases (for instance, he recently published A Murder In Thebes as "Anna Apostolou"), that it's hard to keep track. Now he's beginning yet another series, this time under his most familiar pen name "P.C. Doherty," the first installment of which is The Mask of Ra (St. Martin's Press). Set in ancient Egypt, this complicated story builds around Pharaoh Tuthmosis, whose victory in a recent clash with enemies in the Nile Delta is spoiled by his subsequent death, supposedly caused by a viper's bite. The head of the Pharaoh's Guard is put on trial for negligence, but the judge considering his fate is convinced that Tuthmosis' demise is but one result of larger plot that also involves the theft of small objects from sealed tombs.

What had seemed to San Francisco private eye Sharon McCone like an opportunity to combine business with a Hawaiian vacation turns into something of a nightmare in her 20th outing, A Walk Through the Fire (Mysterious Press). McCone has been called to the island of Kauai by a filmmaking friend, whose documentary about Hawaiian legends, based on research by missing missionary descendent Elson Wellbright, is apparently being sabotaged. McCone's investigation has her tying together several incidents -- both present and past -- that may point her toward a solution. But her attraction to a Hawaiian helicopter pilot and the rifts that causes in her relationship with lover Hy Ripinsky (who has joined her in the islands) are severe distractions from work.... Meanwhile, Atlanta detective Sunny Childs (who debuted in 1998's Atlanta Graves) seeks the truth about her father, a Vietnam War casualty whose name is conspicuously missing from Washington, DC's Vietnam Memorial. In Fulton County Blues (Berkley Prime Crime), Sunny contacts men who knew her dad during the war, but none of them wants to divulge much information, suggesting that the late Mr. Childs was mixed up in some pretty horrific things back in Southeast Asia. Especially close-mouthed is Warren Messing, who has come a long way from his grunt days: He's now next in line to become America's CIA director. The author of Fulton County Blues is "Ruth Birmingham," the pseudonym of Walter Sorrells.

From humid Atlanta, we turn to chilly northern Minnesota, the setting for William Kent Krueger's Boundary Waters (Pocket Books). After his star turn in last year's Iron Lake, ex-sheriff Cork O'Connor returns to probe the disappearance of the mono-monikered Shiloh, a former druggie and current charts-topping country-western singer, who seems to have been swallowed up by two million acres of wilderness land on the Canadian border. A friend of Shiloh's mother (whose long-ago murder was never solved), O'Connor leads a search party that includes FBI agents and an ex-con, but they're not the only ones looking for the songbird. Some bad guys are also on Shiloh's trail, perhaps hoping to shut her up now that regression therapy has evidently revealed to her the face of her mother's slayer. Adding depth and novelty to Krueger's story is his interest in local Native American culture.

Slightly darker than some of Dana Stabenow's previous Kate Shugak mysteries, Hunter's Moon (Putnam) 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.... Corpses mount even faster in Blair S. Walker's Hidden In Plain View (Avon). Only here the dead are young African-American professionals in Baltimore, all of whom are discovered nude in their bathtubs, their faces covered with Confederate flag decals. Having already solved a spate of neo-Nazi bombings and murders (see 1997's Up Jumped The Devil), newspaperman Darryl Billups looks into the decal slayings, only to put his own career and life in jeopardy.

Andrew Vachss is out with his 11th novel about New York investigator/mercenary Burke, Choice of Evil (Alfred A. Knopf). This one commences on a light note, with Burke's giant dog Pansy being snatched in a police raid, after which Burke and his motley cohorts stage an assault on the animal shelter, liberating not only Pansy but a small storm of other noisy canines. However, Vachss' usual dark tone asserts itself after Burke's girlfriend Crystal Beth is shot to death in Central Park by a drive-by gay-basher. This is just the sort of insane violence that Burke abhors, but before he can take action, a vigilante calling himself "Homo Erectus" declares war on homosexual haters as well as on pedophiles who would link their cause with gay rights. Hired to locate and protect this serial killer from police, Burke, with the help of a lesbian dominatrix/cybertracker, slowly connects the vigilante with a professional assassin from his own history.


Historical and modern-day mysteries intertwine in Kathy Reichs' Death Du Jour (Scribner). This sequel to Deja Dead (1997) starts with Montreal forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan digging up a church graveyard, searching for the oddly missing remains of a 19th-century nun who's in line for sainthood. But Tempe is soon drawn away to analyze half a dozen murder victims found in and around the scene of a house burning -- corpses that may connect this incident to other killings at a South Carolina commune. Rest assured that by book's end, and amidst a flurry of intriguing forensic details, Tempe will have solved both new and old crimes.... A naked woman fleeing through the streets introduces Hawaiian private eye John Caine to his third case in Emerald Flash (St. Martin's Press), by Charles Knief. Naturally, ex-SEAL Caine steps in to help the woman, Margo Halliday, who is running from her abusive former hubby. But his gallantry only leads him into further trouble when, months later, Halliday's ex is found shot to death in her condominium.... In Robert Goddard's Caught In the Light (Henry Holt), we find photographer Ian Jarrett shooting winter-bound Vienna. While there, he falls for sexy Marian Esguard, who convinces him to leave his family and run away with her -- only to tell him at the last minute that they can't be together, after all. Confused, Jarrett searches for his beloved, only to discover that he's pursuing a ghost: The real Esguard, who had claimed to be the inventor of modern photography, died in the 1820s. So who is the woman who stole Ian's heart and lies at the center of this mystery involving missing historical photos, a financier with dubious motives, and yes, reincarnation?

Just when Nick Hoffman thought it was safe again to venture near the Michigan River bridge on the fictional State University of Michigan campus -- the very place where he'd found a murdered office mate two years ago -- what should occur but another death. In Lev Raphael's The Death of a Constant Lover (Walker), the victim is one of Hoffman's former students, Jesse Benevento, who was either trampled or murdered in a mob scene at the bridge. The timing of this tragedy couldn't be worse for Hoffman: His tenure review should be the focus of his attention, rather than any questions he may have about Benevento's end. Yet, as usual, Hoffman's curiosity is unrestrainable, causing him trouble in the cutthroat world of academia, which author Raphael portrays with his characteristic wit and insight.


The paperback original Where There's Smoke, There's Murder (Avon Twilight), by Harry Paul Lonsdale, may be the ideal read for today's growing population of cigar enthusiasts. Set in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it features New York cop-turned-cigarshop-owner Nick Chase, who returns to his old investigative ways after a loyal customer is murdered and clues point to this incident's connection with a 50-year-old crime.... Also from the paperback racks comes Mary Daheim's latest light-hearted bed-and-breakfast cozy, Legs Benedict (Avon Twilight). Imagine hostess Judith McMonigle Flynn's amazement when a guest known as "Mr. Smith" kicks off, only to be revealed as the notorious hit man Legs Benedict. And wouldn't you know it? Every other guest in the place had some motive for wishing Legs would take a long walk off a short pier. Daheim's books aren't memorable, but they rarely fail to entertain.... And don't miss the paperback reissue of Beyond the Grave (Carroll & Graf), by Bill Pronzini and his wife Marcia Muller. Originally published in 1986, it follows parallel investigations: one by 1890s San Francisco detective John Quincannon, who is on a quest for a treasure chest buried in 1846; the other by modern museum director Elena Oliverez, whose use of Quincannon's case notes may lead her to the lost fortune -- if she isn't murdered first.

Finally, consider three new novels set in the British Isles. First up: Kissed a Sad Goodbye (Bantam Doubleday), by Texas resident Deborah Crombie, whose last novel featuring Scotland Yard Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Sergeant Gemma James, Dreaming of the Bones (1997), was an Edgar Award nominee. In this adventure, Kincaid is called away from a weekend with his ex-wife's 11-year-old son to examine the Docklands murder of Annabelle Hammond, the head of her family's tea company. Though a lovely woman, Hammond was capable of inspiring not only passion, but jealousy and hatred in others, and her murder appears to have roots deep in the past.... Ploughing Potter's Field (Collins Crime) comes with an excellent pedigree: Its author is Phil Lovesey, son of the redoubtable Peter Lovesey (Upon a Dark Night, etc.). But Potter's Field is an engaging story on its own, a look into the tormented mind of an imprisoned killer, as plumbed by interviewer Adrian Rawlings. Unfortunately for Rawlings, what he hears is having an effect on his own psyche.

The winner of Britain's prestigious John Creasey Memorial Award, Garnethill (Carroll & Graf), by Denise Mina, takes its name from the highest point in Glasgow, Scotland. But it finds theater ticket-office worker Maureen O'Donnell at a low point in her life, poor, with a dysfunctional family and a psychologist boyfriend who's not only married, but also abusive. Then, one morning, Maureen wakes to find that boyfriend strapped to her kitchen chair, with his throat slit. Not surprisingly, Maureen -- claiming a history of mental illness -- is the prime suspect. Even she isn't sure of her own innocence, until she starts to link this murder with a nightmarish series of recent crimes. I like what another reviewer said of Mina, that she "writes with a pen dipped alternately in gallows humor and rage." Oh, how true.



Future Felonies

Robert Crais' seventh Elvis Cole novel, L.A. Requiem (Doubleday, June), has something of a checkered past. The novel was expected out last January, under the title Devil's Cantina. But as I understand it, the author pulled his book from its publisher at the last minute and sold it to another publisher, which changed the novel's name and insisted on Crais altering its ending. The result is an ambitious work that may mark a turning point in this series. Although it centers on the disappearance and death of Karen Garcia, the daughter of a friend of Elvis' unofficial partner, Joe Pike, L.A. Requiem is also packed with peeks into Pike's previously guarded past. Especially important to this tale is his strained history as a Los Angeles cop -- a history that comes back to bite Pike, after a second person dies and LA's finest haul him in for the crime.

On the heels of last year's The Ape Who Guards the Balance comes Elizabeth Peters' new Amelia Peabody mystery, The Falcon at the Portal (Avon Twilight, June). Back in Egypt for the 1911 archaeological season, Amelia and her family are caught up in a scam involving phony ancient artifacts, supposedly perpetrated by their son's best friend. Amelia's efforts to deduce the real culprit are complicated by the discovery of an American's body at the bottom of an excavation shaft and rumors of drug dealing. All presented in Peters' usual spirited yet sophisticated manner.


The 19th installment of Ralph McInerny's Father Dowling series is Grave Undertakings (St. Martin's Press, June). The puzzle this time has to do with the death of a local mobster and subsequent attempts to dig up his coffin.... Taking a break from his Nameless Detective series, Bill Pronzini presents a psychological thriller called Nothing But the Night (Walker, June). It follows Nick Hendryx, a man obsessed with finding his wife's hit-and-run killer, who believes that he has finally located the culprit: a man whose shell of respectability hides a crowd of personal demons no less daunting than Hendryx's own.... If you missed the British publication late last year of Minette Walters'
The Breaker, an outstanding, red-herring-stuffed yarn about a hunt for the killer of a young mother, buy the American edition, to be released by Putnam in June.

Obsessive love is the theme of Nicci French's Killing Me Softly (Mysterious Press, July). Well recognized in England for her work, but new to American audiences, French here crafts the tale of Alice Loudon, a brainy and beautiful woman whose life seems to be going very much in a predictable direction. Until she suddenly falls under the overwhelming spell of famed mountaineer Adam Tallis. Two months into their relationship, they marry -- and only then does Alice start to wonder about her husband. Can she control the restrained violence she sees in Tallis? Should she be worried about the three women from his past who died "accidentally"? What does she really know about the man she promised to stay with "till death do us part?" French is a tight plotter, and she's expert at character development. Definitely a writer to follow.

Bookseller and part-time thief Bernie Rhodenbarr is back in Lawrence Block's amusing The Burglar in the Rye (E.P. Dutton, July). Expecting to collect the lost letters of a famed author, Bernie instead stumbles onto the murder of a literary agent and into the way of cops with much less humor than Bernie (or Block) can claim.... In The Wanton Angel (St. Martin's Press, July), the 10th installment of Edward Marston's delightful series about Elizabethan theater company mainstay Nicholas Bracewell, an anonymous benefactor may be scared away by the murder of the troupe's latest rising star.... Patricia Cornwell fans will be excited to learn that she has another Kay Scarpetta adventure due out in July: Black Notice (Putnam).... And, of course, if you haven't heard already, Thomas Harris has written a sequel to his best-selling Silence of the Lambs: Hannibal (Delacorte, July). Returning are agent Clarice Starling and Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, on the trail of yet another psychotic killer.

Much less menacing is Sue Henry's Murder on the Yukon Quest (Avon, July). Dog musher and sometimes-sleuth Jessie Arnold is in the thick of a 1,000-mile sled race from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, to Fairbanks, Alaska, when her concentration is broken by the abduction of a novice racer and messages from the kidnapper -- insisting that Jessie be the only one to know of this crime. Henry's most interesting book is probably still Termination Dust (1995), but she always provides insights into the lore and environmental majesty of the Last Frontier.




In Their Own Words

We asked 1999 Edgar winner Steve Hamilton to tell us about his experiences at the April 29 Mystery Writers of America awards ceremony and fill us in on his plans for a sequel to A Cold Day In Paradise. His response:

"Maybe it was just the champagne on an empty stomach, but when they announced that A Cold Day In Paradise had won the award for Best First Novel by an American Author, it felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. I went up there and I accepted the little bust of Edgar Allan Poe (I used to think it was the goofiest-looking thing I'd ever seen, but now I love it), thanked everybody I needed to thank, and then I wrapped it up with a line from Tommy Lasorda when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame: `Who are you people, and what are you doing in my dream?'

"Assuming that this really is happening, the second book is called Winter of the Wolf Moon. Alex McKnight is back, along with some of the other characters. The only other thing I'll say about the book is that it's a lot colder than the first. St. Martin's Press plans to release the book sometime in the winter of 1999/2000. In the meantime, I'm working on the third book -- it will be interesting to see how many private-eye books I can write with a main character who has absolutely no interest in being a private eye!"

And we asked novelist Fredrick D. Huebner (Methods of Execution, Picture Postcard, etc.) to tell us about the novel he has just finished writing, The Color of Daylight:

"Color is, briefly, about Laura Arcand, a woman who is a nationally famous abstract expressionist painter. Arcand was prominent in the 80s arts madness in New York City, but has done a J.D. Salinger -- returned to the Seattle area and disappeared from view. The book opens just after Arcand has shot her husband twice on the beach below her mother's home on the west side of [Puget Sound's] Bainbridge Island, and then attempted to kill herself. Arcand has a long history of mental illness. The protagonists this time are Mary Slattery, a 30-ish criminal defense lawyer, and a 40-ish forensic psychiatrist, William Hatton, who grew up on Bainbridge Island and knows something of Laura Arcand's history (she's four years younger than he is). The book is told in third-person limited -- the only points of view you get are Hatton's and Slattery's. The plot revolves around Hatton's efforts to uncover the root causes of Laura's mental illness and accompanying loss of memory and seizures, while the criminal investigation and trial also play out."



Gone But Not Forgotten

Roderick Thorp, best-selling author of such novels as The Detective (1966), died of a heart attack on April 28 in Los Angeles. He was 63. His work may actually be best known in movie form. The Detective, for instance, was made into a 1968 movie of the same name starring Frank Sinatra and Lee Remick. Another of his books, Nobody Lasts Forever (1979), was the basis for the 1988 Bruce Willis vehicle Die Hard. However, one of Thorp's most interesting works -- The River (1995), a fictionalized account of the Green River Killer -- never made it to the silver screen.



Awards

The Edgars

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

Among this year's winners:

Best Novel: Mr. White's Confession, by Robert Clark (Picador).

Also nominated: 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: A Cold Day in Paradise, by Steve Hamilton (St. Martin's Press).

Also Nominated: Reckless Homicide, by Ira Genberg (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: The Widower's Two-step, by Rick Riordan (Bantam).

Also Nominated: Atlanta Graves, by Ruth Birmingham (Berkley Prime Crime); Butchers Hill, by Laura Lippman (Avon); Zen Attitude, by Sujata Massey (HarperPaperbacks); Murder Manual, by Steven Womack (Ballantine).

Best Critical/Biographical: Mystery and Suspense Writers, by Robin Winks and Maureen Corrigan (Scribner).

Also Nominated: 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).

In addition, British author P.D. James received this year's Grand Master Award. For a complete list of Edgar winners in all categories, visit the
Mystery Writers of America Web site.

The Agathas

Also announced recently were winners of this year's Agatha Christie Award, voted on by attendees at the annual Malice Domestic convention. Winners were announced on May 1.

Among this year's winners:

Best Novel: Butchers Hill, by Laura Lippman (Avon).

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

Best First Novel: The Doctor Digs a Grave, by Robin Hathaway (St. Martin's Press)

Also nominated: Sympathy for the Devil, by Jerrilyn Farmer (Avon); Tiger's Palette, by Jacqueline Fiedler (Pocket); Dying to Get Published, by Judy Fitzwater (Fawcett); Fax Me a Bagel, by Sharon Kahn (Scribner).

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

The Shamuses

The Private Eye Writers of America recently announced its 1999 Shamus Award nominees. Winners will be announced on July 10, during the Eyecon '99 convention in St. Louis. Nominees include:

Best P.I. Novel:
Gone Baby Gone, by Dennis Lehane (Morrow); No Badge, No Gun, by Harold Adams (Walker);
Flying Blind, by Max Allan Collins (Dutton); The Only Good Lawyer, by Jeremiah Healy (Pocket); Boobytrap, by Bill Pronzini (Carroll & Graf).

Best First P.I. Novel: Like a Hole In the Head, by Jen Banbury (Little Brown); Dead Low Tide, by Jamie Katz (HarperCollins); A Cold Day In Paradise, by Steve Hamilton (St. Martin's Press); Zen and the Art of Murder, by Elizabeth Cosin (St. Martin's Press).

Best Paperback P.I. Novel: Too Easy, by Philip Depoy (Dell); Butchers Hill, by Laura Lippman (Avon); The Widower's Two-step, by Rick Riordan (Bantam); Death In a City of Mystics, by Janice Steinberg (Penguin); Murder Manual, by Steve Womack (Ballantine).

For a complete list of Shamus nominees in all categories, visit The Gumshoe Site.

 

"The Rap Sheet" is written exclusively for January Magazine by Crime Fiction Editor J. Kingston Pierce. Publishers are encouraged to e-mail Pierce with information about new and forthcoming books.

Other Rap Sheets:

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