Thursday, May 26, 2016

Canadian Prizes Snag the Limelight

The winners of the 2016 Arthur Ellis Awards were announced earlier this evening during a Crime Writers of Canada (CWC) event at the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto, Ontario.

Best Novel:
Open Season, by Peter Kirby (Linda Leith)

Also nominated: Hungry Ghosts, by Peggy Blair (Simon & Schuster); The Storm Murders, by John Farrow (Minotaur); A Killing in Zion, by Andrew Hunt (Minotaur); and The Night Bell, by Inger Ash Wolfe (McClelland & Stewart)

Best First Novel:
The Unquiet Dead, by Ausma Zehanat Khan (Minotaur)

Also nominated: Hard Drive, by J. Mark Collins (iUniverse); What Kills Good Men, by David Hood (Vagrant Press); Encore, by Alexis Koetting (Five Star); and Old Bones, by Brian R. Lindsay (Volumes)

Lou Allin Memorial Award for Best Novella:
Black Canyon, by Jeremy Bates (Dark Hearts)

Also nominated: Deadly Season, by Alison Bruce (Imajin); Glow Glass, by M.H. Callway (Carrick); The Night Thief, by Barbara Fradkin (Orca); and Beethoven’s Tenth, by Brian Harvey (Orca)

Best Short Story:
“The Avocado Kid,” by Scott Mackay (Ellery Queen Mystery
[EQMM], June 2015)

Also nominated: “With One Shoe,” by Karen Abrahamson (from The Playground of Lost Toys, edited by Colleen Anderson and Ursula Pflug; Exile Press); “The Siege,” by Hilary Davidson (EQMM, December 2015); “The Water Was Rising,” by Sharon Hunt (EQMM, August 2015); and “Movable Type,” by S.G. Wong (from AB Negative: An Alberta Crime Anthology, edited by Axel Howerton; Coffin Hop Press)

Best Book in French:
L’Affaire Myosotis, by Luc Chartrand (Québec Amérique)

Also nominated: L’affaire Céline, by Jean-Louis Fleury (Éditions Alire); La bataille de Pavie, by André Jacques (Druide); Le mauvais côté des choses, by Jean Lemieux (Québec Amérique); and L’affaire Mélodie Cormier, by Guillaume Morrissette (Guy Saint-Jean éditeur)

Best Juvenile/YA Book:
Trouble Is a Friend of Mine, by Stephanie Tromly (Kathy Dawson)

Also nominated: Diego’s Crossing, by Robert Hough (Annick Press); Set You Free, by Jeff Ross (Orca); The Blackthorn Key, by Kevin Sands (Aladdin); and The Dogs, by Allan Stratton (Scholastic)

Best Non-fiction Book:
Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation, by Dean Jobb (HarperCollins)

Also nominated: Human on the Inside: Unlocking the Truth about Canada’s Prisons, by Gary Garrison (University of Regina Press); The Bastard of Fort Stikine: The Hudson’s Bay Company and the Murder of John McLoughlin Jr., by Debra Komar (Goose Lane); Cold War, by Jerry Langton (HarperCollins); and Mr. Big: The Investigation into the Deaths of Karen and Krista Hart, by Colleen Lewis and Jennifer Hicks
(Flanker Press)

The Dundurn Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel: When the Flood Falls, by Jayne Barnard

Also nominated: Knight Blind, by Alice Bienia; Brave Girls, by Pam Isfeld; Better the Devil You Know, by J.T. Siemens; and Give Out Creek, by J.G. Toews

In addition, the CWC named the late Eric Wright, author of the Charlie Salter mysteries, as its 2016 Grand Master.

Congratulations to all of the victors and their rivals!

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Copycat Covers: Identity Crises

A new entry in our series about remarkably look-alike book fronts.

The Revenant, by Sonia Gensler (Ember, 2013); and The Real Mary Kelly: Jack the Ripper’s Fifth Victim and the Identity of the Man that Killed Her, by Wynne Weston-Davies (Blink, 2016).

Don’t Forget Guttridge’s Prize

In my coverage late last week of England’s CrimeFest 2016, I neglected to mention that novelist-critic Peter Guttridge won this year’s Margery Allingham Short Story Competition for his unpublished tale, “The Box-Shaped Mystery.” Also shortlisted for the Allingham prize were: “The Blockage,” by Ian Cowmeadow; “Faceless Killer,” by Christine Poulson; and “Safe as Houses,” by Scott Hunter.

The announcement of Guttridge’s success was made on Friday, May 20, during an event at CrimeFest in Bristol.

According to a news release, this competition—named in honor of the author who created sleuth Albert Campion and established in 2013—seeks to choose a yarn that “fits into Margery’s definition of what makes a great story: ‘The Mystery remains box-shaped, at once a prison and a refuge. Its four walls are, roughly, a Crime, a Mystery, an Enquiry and a Conclusion with an Element of Satisfaction in it.’” Past winners were Lesley Mace and Martin Edwards.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Judgment Calls

The Strand Magazine has released its lineup of nominees for the 2015 Strand Magazine Critics Awards. They are as follows:

Best Novel:
Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith (Mulholland)
A Banquet of Consequences, by Elizabeth George (Viking)
The Lady from Zagreb, by Phillip Kerr (Putnam)
Forty Thieves, by Thomas Perry (Mysterious Press)
The Whites, by Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt (Picador)
The Cartel, by Don Winslow (Knopf)

Best First Novel:
The Truth and Other Lies, by
Sascha Arango (Atria)
Normal, by Graeme Cameron (Mira)
The Marauders, by Tom Cooper (Crown)
Past Crimes, by Glen Erik Hamilton (HarperCollins)
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead)
Disclaimer, by Renée Knight (Harper)

The winners of these commendations are to be announced during an invitation-only cocktail party in New York City on July 5.

In addition, Strand managing editor Andrew F. Gulli writes in The Guardian that Colin Dexter, the creator of Inspector Endeavour Morse, and Jeffery Deaver, the inventor of New York City forensic criminalist Lincoln Rhyme, have been chosen to receive this year’s Strand Critics lifetime achievement awards. “To me,” Gulli notes, “lifetime achievement awards serve as a reminder that we are privileged to live in an age where we can look at the shelves in bookstores and newsstands and see works by two authors destined to endure for generations as classics of a wonderful genre.”

(Hat tip to The Gumshoe Site.)

It’s Enough to Make Me Blush

My note this last Sunday about The Rap Sheet’s 10th anniversary spurred a remarkable bounty of generous and enthusiastic remarks. But nobody wrote quite as much about that milestone as Terence Towles Canote, who penned a whole post about it for his own excellent blog, A Shroud of Thoughts. It reads, in part:
For those of you unfamiliar with The Rap Sheet, it is a blog dedicated to crime fiction (the blog dedicated to crime fiction, in my opinion). What is more, The Rap Sheet doesn’t simply cover the printed word, but also television shows, films, and radio shows as well. Over the years The Rap Sheet has featured articles on The NBC Mystery Movie, the classic radio show Suspense, and the films based on Dashiell Hammett’s classic The Maltese Falcon. The Rap Sheet benefits from having multiple contributors, many of who are “top professionals” (to borrow a phrase from the American introduction to The Avengers). They don’t simply write about crime fiction, they have actually written crime fiction. Quite simply, among The Rap Sheet’s contributors are actual crime novelists. ...

For years now The Rap Sheet has been an invaluable resource for fans of crime fiction. It has always been both very informative and enjoyable to read. Here is to another ten years!
Thank you, Terence—and thank you, everyone!—for your support.

Slay Rides

Spurred on by the recent release of a trailer for Time After Time, a forthcoming ABC-TV crime drama that imagines Jack the Ripper fleeing Victorian London for 21st-century New York City, I wrote this week’s Kirkus Reviews column about two new Ripper-related novels, Alex Grecian’s Lost and Gone Forever and Oscar de Muriel’s The Strings of Murder. Click here to find the full piece.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Rap Sheet: 10 Years in the Making

I’ve wanted to be a book critic for a very long while. The first review I ever wrote was for The Oregonian, the daily newspaper in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. My eighth-grade teacher, Jeanne Leeson, had a program in place that allowed her more promising students to publish reviews in that broadsheet, and she asked me to critique a new book about U.S. Senator Mike Mansfield (D-Montana) and his efforts to limit the deployment of anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems in the United States and the Soviet Union. (A rather complicated topic, though I don’t remember feeling out of my depth.) From there, it was some years before I took on another reviewing assignment, this time for my college paper. Protests had erupted on campus after the administration foolishly invited a South African government official to address the student body (this was during South Africa’s racial-segregation era, after all), and one of my contributions to the coverage looked at James McClure’s crime novels starring white Afrikaan Lieutenant Tromp Kramer of the Murder and Robbery Squad and his Zulu assistant, Sergeant Mickey Zondi.

After college, during my stint with Portland’s “alternative weekly,” Willamette Week, I composed a great number of crime- and mystery-fiction reviews for the paper’s entertainment section, Fresh Weekly, and took advantage of what I now see were incredibly lucky opportunities to interview authors in this genre. (It was during that period, for instance, that I traveled—on my own dime—to interview Ross Macdonald in Santa Barbara, California, Arthur Lyons in Palm Springs, and Bill Pronzini in Petaluma; plus Robert B. Parker in Boston and George C. Chesbro in New York.) Although I was interested as well, back then, in science fiction (particularly work by Larry Niven, who I also went to chat with in Tarzana, California), my passion for stories marked by a crime or mystery bent soon dominated my pleasure-reading hours. It was just the beginning of a long education in the field that has carried me through the rest of my life so far.

When Linda L. Richards invited me, in 1997, to begin contributing to her online review/author interview site, January Magazine, I was thrilled. It gave me a soapbox from which to comment regularly on crime fiction (though my first review for January was actually of Larry McMurtry’s Comanche Moon). Within a couple of years my contributions to the publication increased, when I launched what was originally an e-mail newsletter about the genre called The Rap Sheet. I took responsibility, too, for building up January’s crime-fiction department, which in 2005 won the Gumshoe Award, presented by David J. Montgomery’s then-substantial Mystery Ink Web site.

Around the same time I received that commendation, I concluded that The Rap Sheet needed to be something more than a newsletter, and that I needed to have more design control over the product if it was ever to fulfill what I imagined was its potential. Coincidentally, in 2005, my technophobic copy-editor colleague and longtime friend, Charles Smyth, asked me to help him figure out how to use the Blogger software. He wanted to create his own blog (then still a new idea—imagine!), but didn’t know how. In the course of assisting Charlie, I realized that blogging could be the way of the future for The Rap Sheet. It would allow me to update the information
J. Kingston Pierce
I wished to convey in a more timely fashion, and lift the burden of putting The Rap Sheet together off Linda, who was already buried in other work on January, as well as her fiction-writing.

So on May 22, 2006—10 years ago today—after several weeks of experimenting with the Blogger software, trying to adapt elements of the Rap Sheet newsletter design to a blog format, I finally began publishing on this page. The site has grown tremendously since then, recording its 500th post by November 2006, and its 1,000th post by April 2007; registering half a million page views by March 2009, and a cool million two years later; attracting a small but enthusiastic lineup of guest contributors; winning a Spinetingler Award in 2009; and in 2008 being nominated for an Anthony Award for Best Web Site/Blog—the first of two times that commendation was dangled in front of me, the second occasion being in 2011. (Sadly, in neither case did I actually take the Anthony home, and now the Best Web Site/Blog category seems to have been eliminated from the competition.) Oh, and when I checked this morning, Blogger’s statistics-keeping software told me that almost 6,400 posts have gone up in The Rap Sheet, and the site has exceeded 3.8 million page views. Not bad for a little “Weblog” that rose out of my enthusiasm for crime fiction of all sorts and wasn’t intended to be much more than a hobby.

Over the last 10 years, I have sought to make The Rap Sheet something I’d want to read, even if I weren’t responsible for its production. Because I have spent my entire professional career as a writer and editor, somebody more interested in finely crafted and thoughtful prose than in brief and pithy reportage, I have pretty much ignored the advice dispensed by “experts” who claim that people are too busy in the 21st century to read anything online that’s longer than 500 words, or that forces them occasionally to refer to a dictionary. I want to create here a spirited, lasting, non-academic resource for readers interested in gleaning more than a shallow understanding of this genre’s depth and breadth. The fact that many of our articles have won considerable attention suggests we’re on the right track. The following 10 posts have been, by far, the most popular:

1. NBC’s “Mystery Movie” Turns 40: “Banacek” (December 7, 2011)
2. The Return of Lisbeth Salander (January 2, 2009)
3. Distinction by Design: Best Crime Covers, 2015 (January 7, 2016)
4. Say Good-bye to Kolchak’s “Father” (July 27, 2015)
5. But Really, Sally McMillan Is Ageless (August 14, 2006)
6. “Money,” Shot (December 4, 2007)
7. NBC’s “Mystery Movie” Turns 40: “McMillan & Wife”
(November 10, 2011)
8. Happy Birthday, Doctor Watson? (March 31, 2009)
9. The Book You Have to Read: “Tapping the Source,” by Kem Nunn (March 15, 2013)
10. Quinn’s Border Blues (October 15, 2013)

(I won’t clue you in here to what these posts entail, but will instead let you explore and enjoy them for yourself.)

It’s also interesting to see who’s paying attention to this blog. As might be expected, the overwhelming majority of readers hail from the United States, where I also live, with the United Kingdom holding second place. After that, the countries most often clicking over to The Rap Sheet rank in this order: Germany, Canada, France, Russia, Ukraine, The Netherlands, Poland, and Australia.

When I first took up this venture, I was editing and contributing to a wide variety of publications, all of which kept me busy and intellectually stimulated. Nowadays, I spend far too many hours working by myself, and my outlets for journalism and other writing have been severely reduced in number. I’d expected by this stage of my life to have moved confidently from writing non-fiction to penning novels. But my labors in that direction have proven … well, frustrating at best. Alternatively, I imagined The Rap Sheet might become a well-paying enterprise, perhaps an adjunct to some book-publisher’s Web site, but that hasn’t come to pass, either.

Producing The Rap Sheet has gone from being a sideline to being a central occupational endeavor, perhaps a legacy of sorts. And while there are often moments when I feel the blog doesn’t quite measure up to my (admittedly unrealistic) ambitions for it, I have drawn tremendous energy from some of the supportive notes I’ve received during these last 10 years. One reader, for instance, wrote to say, “The Rap Sheet is, in my opinion, by far the best of the best in the mystery-fiction blogging field.” Another remarked: “After reading your latest Rap Sheet, I wanted to convey how much I appreciate all your efforts in producing that blog. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I am stuck in southeast Georgia. The Rap Sheet is a true highlight for me. When I lived in Berkeley and in New York City, I was active as a fan in the crime-fiction scenes there. To say The Rap Sheet ‘keeps me in touch’ only scratches the surface of how it functions for me. Thanks again for your efforts!” No less heartening are compliments I have received on occasion from writers whose work I’ve edited over the years, either at January or The Rap Sheet. Read one: “You have made me a better writer, my friend.” And in a post highlighting blogs that provide “good crime-fiction recommendations,” critic/anthologist Sarah Weinman described The Rap Sheet as “one of the oldest [such sites] ... and still one of the best—plus editor J. Kingston Pierce was the first person to seriously edit my reviews, for which I am forever grateful).”

I can’t tell you what I shall be doing in another 10 years, or whether The Rap Sheet will still be around to celebrate its 20th anniversary. But I can say that this last decade has brought unexpected treats and memorable successes to yours truly. It’s through The Rap Sheet that I won my column-writing gig for Kirkus Reviews, and it is because of this modest blog (and my work with January Magazine) that I established some of my most prized friendships, including those with Ali Karim and Linda Richards. If I had to give it all up tomorrow, I’d be more heartbroken than I might’ve expected back in 2006, but I would also be extremely proud of what has been created here.

Thank you, everyone, for following along on this adventure.

SEE MORE: Killer Covers joins this anniversary celebration with its own “Rap Party” countdown of vintage paperback fronts.

Winners Circle

You may remember that on April 30, I participated in Seattle’s Independent Bookstore Day “Champion Challenge,” which required contestants to visit at least 17 of 21 participating bookshops around the city within one day. Everybody who succeeded received a 25-percent discount at all 21 establishments for a year.

Only 42 book lovers took on the “Challenge” in 2015, the first year this race was run. But as I learned last evening, during a crowded celebration at Ada’s Technical Books and Café on Capitol Hill, between 118 and 120 people finished in the money last month—almost three times as many. We’ll have to see whether organizers change the rules for 2017, to cut down on the number of winners. I hope not. I’m already planning to try again next year.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Championed at CrimeFest

Thanks to the indefatigable Ali Karim, we can now bring you the winners of five different awards given out this evening at CrimeFest.

Audible Sounds of Crime Award (for best unabridged crime audiobook): The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins; read by Clare Corbett, India Fisher, and Louise Brealey (Random House Audiobooks)

Also nominated: Sleep Tight, by Rachel Abbott; read by Melody Grove and Andrew Wincott (Whole Story Audiobooks); Make Me, by Lee Child; read by Jeff Harding (Random House Audiobooks); The Stranger, by Harlan Coben; read by Eric Meyers (Orion); Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith; read by Robert Glenister (Hachette Audio); Finders Keepers, by Stephen King; read by Will Patton (Hodder & Stoughton); The Girl in the Spider’s Web, by David Lagercrantz; read by Saul Reichlin (Quercus); I Let You Go, by Clare Mackintosh; read by David Thorpe and Julia Barrie (Hachette Audio); and Even Dogs in the Wild, by Ian Rankin; read by James Macpherson (Orion)

Kobo eDunnit Award (for the best crime fiction e-book): The Crossing, by Michael Connelly (Orion)

Also nominated: Broken Promise, by Linwood Barclay (Orion); A Bed of Scorpions, by Judith Flanders (Allison & Busby); A Southwold Mystery, by Suzette A. Hill (Allison & Busby); Dreaming Spies, by Laurie R. King (Allison & Busby); Freedom’s Child, by Jax Miller (HarperCollins); Blood, Salt, Water, by Denise Mina (Orion); and The Silent Boy, by Andrew Taylor (HarperCollins)

The Last Laugh Award (for the best humorous crime novel): Bryant & May and the Burning Man, by Christopher Fowler (Transworld)

Also nominated: The Truth and Other Lies, by Sascha Arango (Simon & Schuster); As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, by Alan Bradley (Orion); Mrs. Pargeter’s Principle, by Simon Brett (Severn House); Smoke and Mirrors, by Elly Griffiths (Quercus); The Case of the ‘Hail Mary’ Celeste, by Malcolm Pryce (Bloomsbury); Mr. Campion’s Fox, by Mike Ripley (Severn House); and Savage Lane, by Jason Starr
(No Exit Press)

The H.R.F. Keating Award (for the best biographical or critical book related to crime fiction): The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story, by Martin Edwards (HarperCollins)

Also nominated: The Sherlock Holmes Book, by David Stuart Davies and Barry Forshaw (Dorling Kindersley); The Man with the Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters, by Fergus Fleming (Bloomsbury); Crime Uncovered: Detective, by Barry Forshaw (Intellect); Curtains Up: Agatha Christie—A Life in Theatre, by Julius Green (HarperCollins); Criminal Femmes Fatales in American Hard-boiled Crime Fiction, by Maysam Hasam Jaber (Palgrave Macmillan); Crime Uncovered: Anti-hero, by Fiona Peters and
Rebecca Stewart (Intellect); and John le Carré: The Biography, by Adam Sisman (Bloomsbury)

Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year: The Caveman, by Jørn Lier Horst, translated by Anne Bruce
(Sandstone Press; Norway)

Also nominated: The Drowned Boy, by Karin Fossum, translated by Kari Dickson (Harvill Secker; Norway); The Defenceless, by Kati Hiekkapelto, translated by David Hackston (Orenda; Finland); The Girl in the Spider's Web, by David Lagercrantz, translated by George Goulding (MacLehose Press; Sweden); Satellite People, by Hans Olav Lahlum, translated by Kari Dickson (Mantle; Norway); and Dark As My Heart, by Antti Tuomainen, translated by Lola Rogers
(Harvill Secker; Finland)

Congratulations to all of the winners and nominees!

READ MORE:Living the Dream,” by Martin Edwards (‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’).

Heller’s House Calls

Just over a week ago, I posted on this page a rather longish review of Better Dead, the 16th and latest Nate Heller private-eye novel by Max Allan Collins. I also invited Rap Sheet readers to enter a drawing in which the prizes were five copies of Better Dead, plus five copies of Collins’ previous Heller outing, Ask Not. Today, after a random selection of names, we have our five winners. They are:

Chris Lake of Salt Lake City, Utah
David Blount of Jackson, Mississippi
Susan Yandreski of Burlington, Ontario, Canada
Janice Grubin of New York City, New York
David Lawrence of Morristown, New Jersey
Susan Guiraudet of Bethlehem, New Hampshire
Victoria Bugno of Austintown, Ohio
Michael Carter of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Barbara Lorentz of Redding, California
David Gutscher of Colorado Springs, Colorado

I’ve already sent a note to Forge Books, asking that each of these 10 recipients be sent a copy of the novel he or she requested.

Again, thanks to everyone who participated in this contest. We will, no doubt, be mounting another book-giveaway soon.

Beware! Master Crime Plotters on the Loose

This year’s CrimeFest began in Bristol, England, on Thursday and continues into tomorrow. Last night brought the announcement there of longlisted works in a variety of Dagger Awards categories, and the winners of five other prizes will be reported this evening. In the midst of it all, The Rap Sheet’s dynamic UK correspondent, Ali Karim—powered by periodic glasses of gin—has been sending photographs of the festivities our way. We’ll likely have more shots to share when Ali puts together a wrap-up of CrimeFest 2016, but for now, here are more than a dozen images that give should give you some sense of what it’s like to be attending that Bristol convention.

(Left to right) CrimeFest organizer Myles Allfrey finds a rare free moment to chat with Shots editor Mike Stotter.

Author Michael Grothaus with Kiwi blogger Craig Sisterson.

Mike Stotter poses with crime writers William Ryan and Leigh Russell, and literary agent Oli Munson.

Dagger nominee Martin Edwards with blogger Peter Rozovsky.

Scottish novelist Ian Rankin joins the festivities.

Ruth Dudley Edwards moderates a predictably delightful “humor in crime fiction” panel featuring Mike Ripley, James Runcie, Nev Fountain, and Douglas Lindsay.

Authors Sarah Pinborough and Kevin Wignall.

Shots critic Ayo Onatade with author Robert Wilson.

Peter Guttridge interviews fellow novelist James Naughtie and John le Carré biographer Adam Sisman.

Caroline Todd (who writes the Ian Rutledge series with her son, Charles) and Michael Sears (who, under the nom de plume “Michael Stanley,” pens the Detective Kubu novels with Stanley Trollip).

Barry Forshaw moderates the Brit Noir panel, with guests Alison Bruce, Martin Edwards, Howard Linskey, and Laura Wilson.

Novelists Mick Herron and Sarah Hilary.

Felix Francis (son of Dick Francis) signs one of his own books.

2008 Diamond Dagger winner Andrew Taylor interviews 2016 Diamond Dagger recipient Peter James.

SEE MORE:Some Pictures from CrimeFest 2016,” by Peter Rozovsky (Detectives Beyond Borders).

Friday, May 20, 2016

Here Be Daggers

During an event held this evening as part of England’s annual CrimeFest, the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) announced its longlists of nominees for nine 2016 Dagger Awards. They are:

CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger:
Dodgers, by Bill Beverly (No Exit Press)
Black Widow, by Christopher Brookmyre (Little, Brown)
After You Die, by Eve Dolan (Harvill Secker)
Real Tigers, by Mick Herron (John Murray)
Finders Keepers, by Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton)
Dead Pretty, by David Mark (Mulholland)
Blood, Salt, Water, by Denise Mina (Orion)
She Died Young, by Elizabeth Wilson (Serpent’s Tail)

CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger:
The Cartel, by Don Winslow (William Heinemann)
The English Spy, by Daniel Silva (HarperCollins)
Bone by Bone, by Sanjida Kay (Corvus)
Rain Dogs, by Adrian McKinty (Serpent’s Tail)
Real Tigers, by Mick Herron (John Murray)
The Hot Countries, by Timothy Hallinan (Soho Crime)
Black-Eyed Susans, by Julia Hearberlin (Michael Joseph)
Make Me, by Lee Child (Bantam Press)
Spy Games, by Adam Brookes (Sphere)
The American, by Nadia Dalbuono (Scribe UK)

CWA International Dagger:
The Truth and Other Lies, by Sascha Arango;
translated by Imogen Taylor (Simon & Schuster)
The Great Swindle, by Pierre Lemaître;
translated by Frank Wynne (MacLehose Press)
Icarus, by Deon Meyer;
translated by K.L. Seegers (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Sword of Justice, by Leif G.W. Persson;
translated by Neil Smith (Doubleday)
The Murderer in Ruins, by Cay Rademacher;
translated by Peter Millar (Arcadia)
The Father, by Anton Svensson;
translation not credited (Sphere)
The Voices Beyond, by Johan Theorin;
translated by Marlaine Delargy (Transworld)
Six Four, by Hideo Yokoyama;
translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davis (Quercus)

CWA Short Story Dagger:
“As Alice Did,” by Andrea Camilleri (from Montalbano’s First Cases, by Andrea Camilleri; Pan Macmillan)
“On the Anatomization of an Unknown Man (1637) by Frans Mier,” by John Connolly (from Nocturnes 2: Night Music, by John Connolly; Hodder & Stoughton)
“Holmes on the Range: A Tale of the Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository,” by John Connolly (from Nocturnes 2: Night Music)
“Bryant & May and the Nameless Woman,” by Christopher Fowler (from London’s Glory, by Christopher Fowler; Bantam)
“Stray Bullets,” by Alberto Barrera (from Crimes, by Alberto Barrera Tyszka; MacLehose Press)
“Rosenlaui,” by Conrad Williams (from The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Moriarty: The Secret Life of Sherlock Holmes’s Nemesis, edited by Maxim Jakubowski; Constable & Robinson)

CWA Non-fiction Dagger:
The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story, by Martin Edwards (HarperCollins)
Sexy Beasts: The Hatton Garden Mob, by Wensley Clarkson (Quercus)
You Could Do Something Amazing with Your Life (You Are Raoul Moat), by Andrew Hankinson (Scribe)
A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story of the Murder of Litvinenko and Russia’s War with the West, by Luke Harding
(Guardian Faber)
Jeremy Hutchinson’s Case Histories: From Lady Chatterley’s Lover to Howard Marks, by Thomas Grant (John Murray)
John le Carré: The Biography, by Adam Sisman (Bloomsbury)

CWA Debut Dagger (for unpublished writers):
Dark Valley, by John Kennedy
Death by Dangerous, by Oliver Jarvis
The Devil’s Dice, by Roz Watkins
Hardways, by Catherine Hendricks
Let’s Pretend, by Sue Williams
Misconception, by Jack Burns
A Reconstructed Man, by Graham Brack
A State of Grace, by Rita Catching
The Tattoo Killer, by Joe West
Wimmera, by Mark Brandi

CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger:
Fever City, by Tim Baker (Faber & Faber)
Dodgers, by Bill Beverly (No Exit Press)
Mr. Miller, by Charles Den Tex (World Editions)
The Teacher, by Katerina Diamond (Avon)
Wicked Game, by Matt Johnson (Orenda)
Freedom’s Child, by Jax Miller (HarperCollins)
Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh (Jonathan Cape)
The Dark Inside, by Rod Reynolds (Faber & Faber)
The Good Liar, by Nicholas Searle (Viking)

CWA Endeavor Historical Dagger:
The House at Baker Street, by Michelle Birkby (Pan)
A Death in the Dales, by Frances Brody (Piatkus)
A Man of Some Repute and A Question of Inheritance, by Elizabeth Edmondson (Thomas & Mercer)
Smoke and Mirrors, by Elly Griffiths (Quercus)
The Last Confessions of Thomas Hawkins, by Antonia Hodgson (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Other Side of Silence, by Philip Kerr (Quercus)
A Book of Scars, by William Shaw (Quercus)
The Jazz Files, by Fiona Veitch Smith (Lion Fiction)
Striking Murder, by A. J. Wright (Allison & Busby)
Stasi Child, by David Young (Twenty7Books)

Dagger in the Library (awarded for an author’s entire body of work):
R.C. Bridgestock
Tony Black
Alison Bruce
Angela Clarke
Charlie Flowers
Elly Griffiths
Keith Houghton
Quintin Jardine
Louise Phillips
Joe Stein

If past experience is any guide, the winners of these much-celebrated commendations should be broadcast sometime this coming fall.

(Hat tip to Ali Karim.)

10 for 10

To help commemorate The Rap Sheet’s fast-approaching 10th anniversary, I’m going to engage in what I hope will be a bit of educational fun—and I would like you to join me. The assignment here is to choose 10 of your favorite crime, mystery, or thriller novels, all of them originally published during the last 10 years, from January 1, 2006, until now. (No paperback reprints, please.) There aren’t any perfect answers. The works needn’t be famous, nor must they demonstrate your literary taste or fondness for the esoteric. It’s only necessary that you enjoyed the books you select.

OK, I’ll go first:

The Pale Blue Eye, by Louis Bayard (2006)
A Quiet Flame, by Philip Kerr (2008)
Bury Me Deep, by Megan Abbott (2009)
City of Dragons, by Kelli Stanley (2010)
Peeler, by Kevin McCarthy (2010)
The Keeper of Lost Causes, by Jussi Adler-Olsen (2011)
The Blackhouse, by Peter May (2012)
Little Green, by Walter Mosley (2013)
Norwegian by Night, by Derek B. Miller (2013)
Darkness, Darkness, by John Harvey (2014)

This isn’t an easy task, I’ll grant you; my initial roll of possible titles ran to 33. I had to brutally cast away many books I have said nice things about over the last decade, including J. Robert Janes’ Bellringer (2012), David Morrell’s Inspector of the Dead (2015), and Laura Lippman’s After I’m Gone (2014), in order to make the 10-count. But the rules are what they are, and I had to follow them.

Now it’s your turn. In the Comments section at the end of this post, please feel free to submit your own list of 10 choice crime novels published between 2006 and 2016. Or submit five titles, or even just one or two. The point is that, while much is made of this genre’s classic novels, modern works can often have just as much influence on our memories and our fondness for this field of literature.

So, any suggestions?

Are You Already Entered?

This is your last chance, folks! Midnight tonight will mark the end of The Rap Sheet’s latest book-giveaway contest. We have 10 prizes available to commemorate this blog’s 10th anniversary—five copies of Max Allan Collins’ brand-new Nate Heller novel, Better Dead, as well as five other copies of his previous Heller outing, Ask Not.

If you would like a shot at picking up one of these, all you need do is e-mail your name and postal address to Please type “Better Dead Contest” in the subject line, and let me know whether you have a preference as to which of these two Collins novels you’d prefer to receive. The 10 winners will be chosen completely at random, and their names listed in The Rap Sheet tomorrow.

Sorry, but at the publisher’s request, this contest is open only to residents of the United States and Canada.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Bullet Points: Pre-Anniversary Edition

• If you haven’t been keeping up with the multi-part celebration, in my Killer Covers blog, of The Rap Sheet’s rapidly approaching 10th anniversary, go check out the “cover countdown” here.

• Bristol, England’s annual CrimeFest is scheduled to begin on Thursday and run through Sunday. Our hyper-energetic UK correspondent, Ali Karim, has promised to provide plenty of photos from the event. And we’ll be sure to report the winners of five different awards being given out at the convention on Saturday night.

• Did you know that this coming Saturday, May 21, is National Readathon Day? Which is known around my humble abode as simply another good excuse to kick back with a book.

• Sunday evening will bring the 12th and concluding episode of Kenneth Branagh’s Wallander series—based on the late Henning Mankell’s novels about Swedish police detective Kurt Wallander—to PBS-TV’s Masterpiece Mystery! The ever-reliable Leslie Gilbert Elman has already recapped Season 4’s initial two Wallander installments (here and here) for Criminal Element. I assume she will deliver her final assessment of this British drama sometime early next week.

• This sounds, right off the bat, like a dubious venture—but who knows, it could turn out to be a box-office smash. From In Reference to Murder:
One of the world’s most famous crime novelists may be headed to the big screen once again: Agatha Christie, based on a script by Tom Shepherd, is in the works at Columbia Pictures. The action-adventure pic, which is being pitched as “Sherlock Holmes meets The Thomas Crown Affair,” finds a young, adventurous Agatha Christie joining Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on a mission to track down the whereabouts of a missing oil tycoon.”
The recent death of actor William Schallert (The Patty Duke Show, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, etc.) will be Topic A on this week’s installment of TV Confidential, the radio talk show hosted by Ed Robertson. This episode of TV Confidential will begin airing tonight, May 18, on a variety of stations, and then be archived here.

• Meanwhile, the blog Comfort TV presents “10 memorable moments from [Schallert’s] stellar career,” including his largely forgotten appearances on The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Partridge Family.

• Nancie Clare talks with Steve Hamilton, author of the new series opener The Second Life of Nick Mason, for the latest episode of her podcast Speaking of Mysteries. My own interview with Hamilton can be found in two parts, here and here.

The Wall Street Journal recaps the twisted story of how Hamilton’s Second Life came to be released by Putnam, following the author’s “ugly breakup” with his previous publisher.

• The Spy Command fires questions at author Larry Loftis, who it notes “has come out with a book, Into the Lion’s Mouth, about real-life World War II spy Dusko Popov, who was said to be an inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond.” Read the exchange here.

• Several other interviews worth your attention: Veteran writer-producer David Levinson, whose television credits include episodes of The Bold Ones, Sons and Daughters, Sarge, Charlie’s Angels, and Hart to Hart, has a wonderful long conversation with Stephen Bowie of The Classic TV History Blog; Robert Goldsborough, author of the new Nero Wolfe novel, Stop the Presses!, chats with Jane K. Cleland of Criminal Element; Viet Thanh Nguyen, whose Vietnam-set spy novel, The Sympathizer, won both the Pulitzer Prize and a recent Edgar Award, engages in an often-moving discussion with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross; Gary Phillips revisits his fiction-writing history with Immix’s J. Sam Williams; and Glen Erik Hamilton answers questions from S.W. Lauden about his series protagonist, Van Shaw, and that character’s second appearance, in the recently released Hard Cold Winter.

Ah, the humorous frustrations of bookselling.

R.I.P., Darwyn Cooke, the illustrator and writer who—among so many other efforts—adapted into graphic-novel form several of Donald E. Westlake/Richard Stark’s tales about master thief Parker, including The Outfit. Cooke died from cancer at the tender age of 53. Good-bye as well to Portland, Oregon, resident Katherine Dunn, best known as the author of 1989’s “cult comic novel,” Geek Love. She passed away on May 11 at age 70. I would like to claim that I knew her; and yes, we did work together at one point for Willamette Week. However, Dunn—who wrote for that “alternative weekly” about boxing and Portland’s “underbelly”—was rarely spotted around the editorial offices. I couldn’t even remember what she looked like, until I saw this photograph, taken in the late 1960s, long before I knew her. Dunn’s demise is blamed on “complications from lung cancer.” UPDATE: Willamette Week has more to say about Dunn’s passing here.

From The Gumshoe Site:Jim Lavene collapsed and died on May 5 unexpectedly at a hospital in Concord, North Carolina. He and his late wife, Joyce (1954-2015), … wrote many cozy mysteries and created many series characters, including Sharyn Howard (a sheriff in North Carolina), Peggy Lee (not the singer but a garden shop owner), Glad Wycznewski (an ex-cop from Chicago), Jessie Morton (an assistant professor), Dae O’Donnell (a psychic mayor in a North Carolina town), Stella Griffin (a fire chief in a Tennessee town), Jessie Morton (an owner of a diner in Alabama), and others … One of their latest novels is Sweet Pepper Hero ..., a Stella Griffin mystery. He was 63.”

• Farewell, too, to advertising executive Bill Backer, who was responsible for the memorable 1971 “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” television ad. He died on May 13 at age 89.

• Is the 1955 film Kiss Me Deadly, based on Mickey Spillane’s 1952 novel of the same name and starring Ralph Meeker as private eye Mike Hammer, really “the most hard-boiled noir ever?” Yes, according to Den of Geek.

• Although she’s unlikely to outdo her in-the-altogether turn through 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street, Australian actress Margot Robbie is apparently set to extend her appearance as “crazed supervillain and former psychiatrist” Harley Quinn beyond this summer’s DC Comics anti-hero team-up in the film Suicide Squad. Geek Tyrant reports that she’ll “produce and star in a spin-off movie that won’t be a Harley Quinn solo film, but instead will center on a handful of DC’s female heroes and villains. Word is that Robbie had such a strong reaction to the character that she dove into the comic books to learn everything she could and fell in love with DC’s female characters. She brought a female writer (identity currently unknown) on board to write a script for a spinoff, and when they took it to [Warner Bros.], the studio ‘snapped it up.’”

• British performer Toby Jones (Infamous, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Girl) is evidently slated to do a guest turn in Season 4 of the BBC-TV series Sherlock. He “will star in the second episode of the brand-new three-part season …,” according to Mystery Fanfare. Jones is quoted as saying, “I’m excited and intrigued by the character I shall be playing in Sherlock,” rumored to be a bad guy.

• Whoops! It seems that big plans to turn Cormac McCarthy’s 1985 Western epic, Blood Meridian, into a feature film have been spoiled by the fact that nobody in charge of the project bothered to acquire the necessary rights to that novel. “I was astonished,” remarks author-producer Lee Goldberg. “You’d expect something like this from amateurs … but from experienced professionals and a major international distributor? I can’t imagine how the movie got this far along without anybody in business affairs double-checking that someone had actually secured the rights to the book.”

• Having once supervised the production of a radio drama series (OK, so it was just a college project—are you happy now?), I occasionally like to listen to classic specimens of the breed. Helpfully, Adam Graham of The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio has put together this list of what he says are the top 10 episodes of the mid-20th-century series Adventures of Philip Marlowe, starring Gerald Mohr. I think I have only listened to a couple of these before. Lots more enjoyment still to come.

• Of the far-flung bookshops Britain’s Independent newspaper proclaims “every reader should visit in their lifetime,” I’ve been to precisely four, though I have traveled to the cities where others are located (foolish me for not stopping by!). But wait, am I miscounting, or does this story list 11 stores, not the headline-promised 12?

• I somehow missed noting two lists of awards finalists that Janet Rudolph of Mystery Fanfare caught. It seems there are four contenders for the 2016 Harper Lee Prize for Legal fiction (including Attica Locke’s Pleasantville). And there are more than two dozen crime and thriller works vying for this year’s National Indie Excellence Awards (commendations that require entrants to pay a fee).

New York Times Book Review editor Charles McGrath presents a delightful essay looking back at The Thin Man, the 1934 picture based on Dashiell Hammett’s last novel.

• And if I didn’t already highlight this fine piece about the 75th anniversary of John Huston’s 1941 Hammett adaptation, The Maltese Falcon … well, I should have done.

Ive mentioned before on this page that in 1976, I won free tickets to the Portland, Oregon, opening of Nicolas Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, a movie adapted from his 1974 Sherlock Holmes novel of the same name. I haven’t sat through that picture again in the last 20 years, but Steve Vineberg’s fresh assessment of it, in Critics at Large, has me in the mood for another screening.

• A new discovery: The blog Reading Ellery Queen, in which museum curator Jon Mathewson is busily assessing every Queen yarn, chronologically. He’s come as far as the 1967 novel Face to Face. I’ve added Mathewson’s site to The Rap Sheet’s General Crime Fiction links list, for future reference.

• Speaking of Queen … With his summer vacation approaching, teacher Brad Friedman writes in Ah, My Sweet Mystery Blog about two novels—1933’s The Siamese Twin Mystery and 1949’s Cat of Many Tails—that find mystery writer and amateur sleuth Ellery Queen seeking relaxation, but finding murder, instead.

• Still more thoughts on summer travel: Cross-Examining Crime has gathered together some quite entertaining “Golden Age [of Mystery] Advice on Staying at Country Houses.” Rule No. 8: “Check the owner of the county house is not a collector of weaponry.”

• I wasn’t a fan of the NBC-TV series Movin’ On during its originally broadcast period of 1972-1976, but thanks to YouTube, in recent years I have caught up with some episodes of that program about troubleshooting truckers played by Claude and Frank Converse, and have decided it had more merit than I understood when I was very young. Television Obscurities recounts the story of Movin’ On’s recent revival through the TV streaming service Hulu, and even offers up that show’s first weekly episode, “The Time of His Life.”

• Bookslut founder Jessa Crispin laments the demise of her once-thriving book review/author interview site. The final issue of Bookslut is now available online.

Better-educated Americans = more liberal Americans.

• This comes as a surprise: SF Signal, the very popular, almost 13-year-old “speculative fiction”-oriented Web site edited by one of my fellow Kirkus Reviews bloggers, John DeNardo, has announced that it’s shutting down.

• Finally, as we prepare to commemorate The Rap Sheet’s initial decade, let us also raise a glass to the recent 10th anniversary of Gravetapping, Ben Boulden’s excellent crime-fiction blog.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Who Doesn’t Like Free Books?

Don’t forget, you have just five days left to enter The Rap Sheet’s latest book-giveaway contest. The prizes this time: both five copies of Max Allan Collins’ brand-new Nate Heller novel, Better Dead, and five other copies of his previous Heller outing, Ask Not.

To take part in this drawing, all you have to do is e-mail your name and postal address to Be sure to type “Better Dead Contest” in the subject line, and let me know whether you have a preference as to which of these two Collins novels you would prefer to receive as a prize. Entries will be accepted between now and midnight this coming Friday, May 20. The 10 winners will be chosen at random, and their names listed on this page the following day.

Sorry, but at the publisher’s request, this contest is open only to residents of the United States and Canada.

If you haven’t already entered this competition, don’t delay!

Really, That’s a Liability?

This is a rather surprising development. CBS-TV has decided not to pick up a prospective new series, Drew, starring the magnetic Sarah Shahi (Life, Fairly Legal) in the role of “Nancy Drew reimagined as a thirty-something NYPD detective.” Explains The Mary Sue:
Writers Joan Rater and Tony Phelan of Grey’s Anatomy had been working on the concept for the show along with CBS, which co-starred Graceland’s Vanessa Ferlito as George, Nancy’s former partner at the NYPD, and ER’s Anthony Edwards as Nancy’s father. (No news yet on who they’d potentially landed to play that updated version of Bess.)

The reason for the nix? Apparently, “the pilot tested well but skewed too female for CBS’ schedule.” Whatever
that means.
Deadline adds Drew “is being shopped to other outlets by CBS TV Studios.” It does seem like a saleable idea, with a good cast attached.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Return of Copycat Covers

With the approach next weekend of The Rap Sheet’s 10th anniversary, I’ve been thinking about all the subjects this blog has covered over the course of its now almost 6,400 posts. Some things I’d change if I could, and there are instances where I think we our coverage could have been more focused or fun; yet most of what we’ve accomplished here, I believe, has been done well. But one area of personal interest that I realize hasn’t been mentioned of late is “copycat covers.” You know, book fronts that employ the same photographs (usually stock art) or paintings that can be found on one or more others.

For several years I posted somewhat regular pieces about this subject. However, the last time I addressed it was in a minor way in 2015. I still have plenty of copycatting instances, and my computer file of them continues to grow. So beginning today, I’m going to resume highlighting examples of such look-alike book façades, though I shall do so one or two at a time, without writing a great deal about them. (I think it was my self-imposed requirement of creating longer posts, with several covers under consideration, that proved daunting before and caused me to stop writing about copycat covers). I hope you enjoy this resurrected venture. And if spot any more duplicated fronts in your travels through bookstores or across the Web, please drop me an e-mail note here. On to our first two specimens …

Killer Pursuit, by Jeff Gunhus (Seven Guns Press, 2015); and Leave Her Hanging, by Harry St. John (Cheeky Minion, 2013)—which was among our nominees for Best Crime Fiction Cover of 2013.

Bogey’s “Girlfriend” Bids Adieu

This is fairly remarkable news, from The Washington Post:
Madeleine LeBeau, a French actress who fled Nazi-occupied Europe for Hollywood, where she made the best of a small role as the scorned girlfriend of Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine in Casablanca, died May 1 in Estepona, Spain. She was widely reported to be 92. …

LeBeau (sometimes credited as Lebeau) was the last surviving credited cast member of
Casablanca (1942), which the American Film Institute lists—after Citizen Kane—as the second greatest movie of all time.
The story goes on to quote LeBeau as saying that “she hoped Casablanca would catapult her to great demand in Hollywood. It did not. She told Charlotte Chandler, [an Ingrid] Bergman biographer, ‘It wasn't that I was cut out, it was because they kept changing the script and, each time they changed it, I had less of a part. It wasn't personal, but I was so disappointed.’”

Click here to see a good photo of the young LeBeau, plus the famous “La Marseillaise” scene from Casablanca in which she features.

Running the Numbers

One of the advantages of operating two different blogs, both focused around crime fiction, is that I can cross-publicize special projects. So, if you haven’t checked out Killer Covers lately, note that it is celebrating The Rap Sheet’s coming 10th anniversary by posting a countdown series of 10 vintage paperback fronts.

Already up are the covers from Ten Days’ Wonder, by Ellery Queen; The Nine Tailors, by Dorothy L. Sayers; and One Minute Past Eight, by George Harmon Coxe. Do you get the picture? This countdown will run through next Sunday, May 22, which marks the start of my second decade writing and editing The Rap Sheet.

Go enjoy these covers, when you have some free time.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Pierce’s Picks: “Better Dead” —
with a 10th Anniversary Book Giveaway

If Chicago private eye Nate Heller was not already a figure plucked from Max Allan Collins’ fertile imagination, some other novelist would surely by now have used him as the inspiration for a detective series. Consider just some of Heller’s career highlights: he’s looked into the “presumed” murder of bank robber John Dillinger (True Crime), the assassinations of Louisiana politician Huey Long (Blood and Thunder) and Las Vegas mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel (Neon Mirage), the mystery surrounding aviatrix Amelia Earhart (Flying Blind), the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr. (Stolen Away), the 1947 Los Angeles slaying of the enigmatic “Black Dahlia” (Angel in Black), the supposed suicide of actress Marilyn Monroe (Bye, Bye Baby), and an unsuccessful attempt on the life of President John F. Kennedy (Target Lancer). Is it any wonder that producers of the 1958-1961 TV gumshoe drama Peter Gunn recruited Heller as one of their creative consultants? (Oh, wait, that’s fiction too, not fact.)

In Better Dead (Forge), Collins’ new, 16th outing for his resolute but randy protagonist, Heller goes from observing the 1950 “Communist takeover” of a Wisconsin town—at the invitation of Reds-baiting Republican U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy—to being hired three years later by Pinkerton sleuth-turned-author Dashiell Hammett (a one-time member of the Communist Party of America, now representing a contingent of concerned literary leftists), who wants him “to conduct an eleventh-hour investigation into the alleged crimes of two people who are sitting on Death Row”: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a New York City couple convicted of conspiring to commit espionage by leaking American nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. Heller accepts that assignment, for a respectable fee. But then he turns around and convinces prominent Washington, D.C., syndicated columnist Drew Pearson—who helped hound Secretary of Defense James Forrestal to an early death in Collins’ 1999 novel Majic Man—to provide further funds for the project. (Any suspicions of Heller being less than a capitalist are firmly debunked by this dexterous arrangement.) Pearson wants reports of any fresh findings in the Rosenberg matter. Meanwhile, McCarthy and his odious chief counsel, Roy Cohn, lean on Heller to tell them as well what he learns, if only so they can be sure it won’t result in the Rosenbergs ever again enjoying life outside the walls of Sing Sing prison.

With assistance from Natalie Ash, a confessed Communist and beguiling young Greenwich Village art gallery manager (“tall, in that shapely slender Lauren Bacall way”), who was once a neighbor of the Rosenbergs, Heller interviews and re-interviews witnesses to the incarcerated pair’s putative treachery. Over the course of it, he discovers discrepancies in the trial proceedings, and even turns up evidence that could be used to poke holes in the prosecution’s charges. Furthermore, he exposes secrets that might result in the federal government coming down harder than ever on Communist sympathizers in the United States. And of course, our 47-year-old hero soon winds up in bed with his own Red—in the notably hot form of the aforementioned Miss Ash. Collins’ Heller novels resemble what P.I. tales of the 1950s and ’60s might have been like, had there been fewer societal restrictions on language and sex scenes.

But as promising as Heller’s probe into the Rosenberg case seems, the author isn’t changing history, so we pretty much know how things will turn out (including facts that have come to light only during the last decade).

(Left) Ethel and Julius Rosenberg during their 1951 trial.

The same can’t be said of the second investigation conducted in these pages.

Again, “Tail-Gunner Joe” McCarthy worms into the plot. He wants Heller’s aid in digging up proof that the Central Intelligence Agency is “riddled with Commies and security risks.” In addition, the CIA apparently has a file on the heavy-drinking McCarthy and his sexually suspect cohort, Cohn, that those two men would dearly like to get their hands on. However, it’s another senator, Democrat Estes Kefauver of Tennessee—the “hayseedish” foe of American criminality with whom Heller tangled in 2002’s Chicago Confidential—who really invites the detective’s entry into the separate but linked narrative comprising Better Dead’s latter half. It seems Kefauver has targeted a New York photographer, Irving Klaw, for distributing bondage-and-discipline shots of renowned pin-up model Bettie Page, and Page herself wants Heller to convince her fellow Tennessean to back off. Collins describes the Chi-town shamus’ initial impressions of his fetching new client thusly:
The beauty with the shoulder-brushing black hair in the pageboy cut was both exactly what I expected and not at all. Her face was perfectly framed by black locks, her make-up surprisingly light though the dark red lipstick brought Natalie Ash unsettlingly to mind.

But this was no Bohemian, nor a wicked girl into sadomasochistic fun and games. Her quality was more girl-next-door, if you were that lucky a bastard, with a wholesomeness and a winning personality that leapt at you like a friendly tiger. She wore a pink short-sleeved sweater tight enough that the white bra beneath bled through, with a dark brown leather belt cinching a wasp waist above a tan skirt that hit just under her knees. Her nylons were beige, not dark black, and her high heels were low-slung, not sky-high. Subtracting the heels, I made her as five foot five, and despite a towering personality, she seemed almost petite. The scent of Ivory soap wafted. ...

“Oh, Mis-tuh Heller,” she said, and smiled like a cheerleader, her Southern accent honeying her sultry second soprano, “ah would know you anywhere.”
Heller doesn’t have much trouble persuading Kefauver to scratch Page from his lengthy roster of prospective witnesses, and in almost as quick order the P.I. commences a mutually enjoyable affair with the brunette bombshell. That’s only the introduction, though, to a much more complicated episode. It seems that a bacteriologist and CIA employee named Frank Olson has contacted McCarthy, and the Wisconsin lawmaker believes Dr. Olson can help him gather dirt on the Agency. But what Olson knows about government-condoned experiments with drugs and biological warfare, as well as “radical interrogation techniques,” could have more significance consequences than merely embarrassing America’s “spooks.” It could undermine the nation’s contention that it won’t stoop to the sort of propagandized human guinea pig tests conducted by the Soviets.

“For a certain type of militaristic mind, Nate, biological warfare is the best thing to come along since sliced bread,” Olson warns. “With atomic warfare, there’s complete destruction of private property. But with biological weapons? Only people get destroyed.”

Olson is clearly haunted by his participation in these studies, so it comes as no shock when the scientist suddenly disappears, his unexplained absence followed by assertions that he had been suffering from anxiety, had become a danger to his family, and was “dragged off almost bodily to see a ‘shrink.’” More astonishing is what Heller, acting on behalf of Olson’s spouse, learns about the CIA’s use of the psychedelic drug LSD. When, days later, the scientist perishes in a suspicious fall from Manhattan’s Hotel Statler (today’s Hotel Pennsylvania, across from Madison Square Garden), Heller turns his sights firmly on Olson’s boss, looking for answers that might strip the lid from a particularly egregious CIA undertaking.

Pin-up model Bettie Page, of course.

Iowa writer Collins has made a name for himself by inserting his detective protagonist into some of America’s most infamous crimes, but over the last several novels, he has definitely outdone himself. Fortunately, he and his longtime research associate, George Hagenauer, are quite thorough in their historical inquiries, which brings greater credibility to these yarns than a less-punctilious novelist might have achieved. The result, in Better Dead, is that the backdrop of 1950s New York City—where Heller has one of his A-1 Detective Agency’s three offices (the other two being in his hometown of Chicago and in Los Angeles)—comes alive with identifiable details, including buildings and businesses such as the Waldorf Cafeteria, the Village Vanguard music club, and a country music nightspot called the Village Barn. Collins is no less meticulous in portraying the numerous real-life figures who populate Better Dead. While he lavishes a great deal of attention on Bettie Page and the considerably less alluring Senator McCarthy, and plays up the understandable camaraderie between Heller and Dashiell Hammett (“If you keep talking like Sam Spade,” the Maltese Falcon author says at one point, “I’m going to have to charge you royalties.”), he is no less generous in giving dimension to secondary players whom readers might not realize are plucked from the real past, such as Frank Olson. The author even tosses in the occasional mention of a place or person that only somebody very well acquainted with the setting might recognize—such as James S. Bolan, a former New York police commissioner whose 46th-floor office in the Empire State Building, once home to a detective agency Bolan founded after retiring from public service, has been taken over in this book by Heller and his A-1 operatives.

That Collins executes these feats without fanfare shows how secure he is with his research. That he does so while also delivering witty dialogue, explosive moments of gunplay, and playful amorous twists in a story that would still be interesting even if it did not involve celebrities of yore … well, that’s just plain talent. Collins is more practiced and polished at doing what he does than most of his competitors. Better Dead, an eminently readable introduction to the McCarthy era—a period of political paranoia and division not so dissimilar from our own—puts his skills on full display.

More than three decades have now passed since Collins—who is known as well today for moving the late Mickey Spillane’s numerous unfinished Mike Hammer works toward publication (among them this year’s Murder Never Knocks)—began recording Nate Heller’s escapades, beginning with 1983’s True Detective. And though his storytelling formula has become quite familiar, I’m continually surprised at his ability to plumb new interest from his leading man. Heller, the half-Jewish, half-Irish son of a socialist bookshop owner, who joined the Chicago police force against his father’s wishes and grew up into a man Life magazine heralded as the “Private Eye to the Stars,” is at once a romantic and case-hardened, morally ambivalent individual prepared, when necessary, to exercise summary judgment (as he does in a gun-smoke-laden finish to Better Dead’s Book 1 that brings to mind Spillane’s I, the Jury). With any luck, we can expect his adventures to continue. As Heller noted at his debut, he was born in 1905. Yet Better Dead’s last chapter, composed in the gumshoe’s first-person voice, includes mention of events taking place as late as 2008—when Heller would be 103 years old. 2013’s series entry, Ask Not, brought our hero’s timeline up only so far as 1964. There are 44 years in between, plenty of time for him to have solved more notorious misdeeds, bedded more ballyhooed lovelies, and ventilated more than his share of overconfident malefactors. I, for one, can hardly wait to read about it all.

* * *

This month marks 10 years since I launched The Rap Sheet. To help celebrate the occasion, Forge—Max Allan Collins’ latest publisher of his Nate Heller novels—has agreed to supply us with 10 books from that series, which we’re giving away to this blog’s loyal readers. Available are both five copies of Better Dead and five other copies of the previous Heller outing, Ask Not. If you would like to be entered in a drawing to win one of these fine freebies, all you need do is e-mail your name and postal address to Be sure to type “Better Dead Contest” in the subject line, and let me know whether you have a preference as to which of these two novels you would prefer to receive as a prize.

Entries will be accepted between now and midnight next Friday, May 20. The 10 winners will be chosen completely at random, and their names listed on this page the following day.

Sorry, but at the publisher’s request, this contest is open only to residents of the United States and Canada.

What are you waiting for? Get those entries in now!

READ MORE:Better Red,” by J. Kingston Pierce (Killer Covers).