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 Dashiell Hammett A 75th-Anniversary Tribute

Dashiell Hammett A 75th-Anniversary Tribute


















January Magazine's Crime Fiction Report, May 2002


IN THIS ISSUE: The month's most-wanted reads • New books from Harlan Coben, Laura Joh Rowland, Lee Child, Wendy Hornsby and others • Readers rate the latest releases from Nicola Griffith, C.S. Thompson and Dan Barton • The death of Spenser: For Hire star Robert Urich and other news from the world of mystery • Max Allan Collins and Stuart M. Kaminsky recall the ground-breaking work of novelist/TV producer Roy Huggins • "Shamus: A Tribute to Philip Marlowe" is one of several additions to January's Crime Fiction Links page • Plus: the winners of this year's Los Angeles Times Book Prizes and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine Readers Awards

Pierce's Picks for May

Anchoress of Shere (Poisoned Pen Press), by Paul Moorcraft. In parallel stories, this thrilling novel follows an abused, young 14th-century woman who is walled up alive in an English village church to prove her religious commitment and a priest in 1967 whose obsession with that anchoress' story may endanger a woman who has recently moved to Shere in search of redemption.

The Burying Field (Putnam), by Kenneth Abel. Lawyer Danny Chaisson (from Cold Steel Rain, 2000) is hired by a New Orleans real-estate developer after work on a shopping/housing complex is stopped by the discovery of a historic slave cemetery on the property. While trying to protect his client's interests, Chaisson is entangled in dirty small-town politics and racial violence.

Cut to the Heart (Doubleday), by Ava Dianne Day. Before returning to the front lines of America's Civil War, nurse Clara Barton is stationed on South Carolina's Hilton Head Island, where she must confront the sociopathic operator of a free clinic for African Americans. This is the first entry in a new historical series featuring Barton, the real-life "Angel of the Battlefield," written by the author of the Fremont Jones books.

Death's Jest-Book (Collins Crime UK), by Reginald Hill. The latest Dalziel and Pascoe novel has "dead-pan joker" Franny Roote trying to complete a late friend's biography of 19th-century physician/dramatist Thomas Lovell Beddoes, while also dealing with unfinished business between himself and DCI Peter Pascoe. Will Pascoe finally prove that Roote is not only bad, but mad in the bargain?

Disquiet Heart (St. Martin's Minotaur), by Randall Silvis. This sequel to On Night's Shore (2001) finds Edgar Allan Poe in 1840s Pittsburgh, recovering from his young wife's death and -- ably assisted by his protégé, adventuresome journalist Augie Dubbins -- investigating the recent disappearances of five young girls.

Flykiller (Orion UK), by J. Robert Janes. With the Allies nearing their triumph in World War II, Gestapo detective Hermann Kohler is busy developing plans for his mistress' escape to Spain. But first Kohler and his French Sûreté partner, Jean-Louis St. Cyr, must find some justice amid an atrocity in Paris.

A Mist of Prophecies (St. Martin's Minotaur), by Steven Saylor. While the Roman Civil War continues in the provinces, Gordianus the Finder is occupied in Rome by the murder of a young seeress about whom nobody seems to know much.

North of Nowhere (St. Martin's Minotaur), by Steve Hamilton. Reluctant detective Alex McKnight was celebrating his 49th birthday in a summer slump, until his involvement in the holdup of a "friendly" poker game redirects him toward chasing the thieves and unearthing secrets among his friends.

Streets on Fire (Carroll & Graf), by John Shannon. While Los Angeles again edges toward racial violence, this time precipitated by the death of an African-American athlete at the hands of local police, P.I. Jack Liffey runs afoul of both white supremacists and black separatists in his search for the missing adopted son of a 1960s civil-rights campaigner. It's a case that will not only leave Liffey within inches of death, but test the courage of his teenage daughter and her new young friend.

Triggerfish Twist (HarperCollins), by Tim Dorsey. This prequel to the comical Florida Roadkill (1999) finds Midwestern family man Jim Davenport adapting poorly to Sunshine State craziness. And things aren't likely to get any easier after he kills the youngest member of an outlaw clan that's big on revenge-taking.

Vertical Burn (Ballantine), by Earl Emerson. After his partner dies in a Seattle warehouse blaze, firefighter John Finney -- hoping to regain the trust of his friends and department -- tries to prove that the fire wasn't accidental. A standalone novel from the author of the Thomas Black P.I. stories.

The Wailing Wind (HarperCollins), by Tony Hillerman. Sergeant Jim Chee -- with help from retired Navajo peace officer Joe Leaphorn -- struggles to connect a dead white man found in a pickup truck with a missing wife, stories about a legendary lost gold mine, the two-year-old murder of a con man who was shot by the guy he sought to swindle and a reported run-in with La Llorana, a mythical wailing woman.

New and Noteworthy

Three days before her death, Will Klein's mother drops a bombshell. She tells him that his beloved yet allegedly murderous elder brother, Ken -- who'd disappeared 11 years earlier from their family's suburban New Jersey neighborhood after Will's ex-girlfriend, Julie Miller, was raped and strangled -- didn't die on the lam. "'He's alive.' Those were her exact words," Will recalls. "And if they were true, I didn't know if it would be a good thing or bad." So begins Gone for Good (Delacorte), Harlan Coben's second standalone thriller -- a novel that, like its best-selling predecessor, Tell No One (one of January's favorite books of 2001), comprises a tangle of deceptions and personal pains, guaranteed to fool all of the people all of the time. Most prominent among the deceived is Will, a big, good-hearted naïf who works in Manhattan for a foundation "that helps young runaways survive the streets" and is looking forward to marrying his "soul mate," Sheila Rogers, herself a former runaway. But shortly after Will buries his mother, Sheila vanishes into the same thin air that had consumed his brother. Worse, her fingerprints turn up at a homicide scene in New Mexico, and now the FBI is breathing down Will's neck for answers that he has in much shorter supply than questions. Can the disappearances of Ken Klein and Sheila Rogers be connected? And do they have anything to do with the recent reappearance in Will's world of a freakish-looking contract killer known as the Ghost? ("The Ghost had skin like cataracts, milky and marshlike. Blue veins ran down his almost-pretty face like dyed tear tracks. His eyes were shale, almost colorless. His head, too big for his narrow shoulders, was shaped like a lightbulb. The sides of his skull were freshly shaved, a sprout of mud-brown hairs sticking up from the middle and cascading out like a fountain. There was something delicate, even feminine, in his features -- a nightmare version of a Dresden doll.") With the help of some unlikely characters, including a severely abused ex-hooker, a reformed white supremacist turned yoga guru and the late Julie Miller's kid sister, Will tries to piece together a puzzle involving double identities and misplaced trust. Along the way, he discovers that he's far more courageous than he'd ever supposed. Carefully paced and smoothly written, Gone for Good is a literary wild ride worth taking, a book that confirms Coben as a rival to newer thriller masters like Robert Crais and Robert Ferrigno.

It's odd that Christopher Hyde's thrillers (including A Gathering of Saints and Hard Target) haven't received greater attention, for they're truly rollicking reads. His latest, The Second Assassin (Onyx), is set in 1939, a time when the United States remained on the sidelines of World War II and efforts -- both political and conspiratorial -- were launched to prevent President Franklin D. Roosevelt from involving his nation in that conflict. One such plot provides the basis for this novel: an attempt to execute the King and Queen of England during a visit to the New York World's Fair, which conspirators believed would sabotage U.S.-British military cooperation. Standing in the way of professional assassin John Bone are a pertinacious woman photographer and an equally tenacious Scotland Yard detective. Period details are well presented, as are cameo appearances by real-life figures such as rising-star congressman Lyndon Johnson and a very young Frank Sinatra.

Lee Child puts a different leader in the cross-hairs in Without Fail (Putnam), his sixth suspenser featuring Jack Reacher (after Echo Burning, 2001). This modern-day yarn finds the lonerish, blunt-edged ex-military cop being approached by an ambitious female U.S. Secret Service team leader, M.E. Froelich, with an improbable assignment. "I want to hire you to assassinate the Vice President of the United States," she explains. Reacher is justly skeptical, but agrees to trail the new VP-elect, handsome Senator Brook Armstrong of North Dakota, as he goes about the business of an American administration transition, in order to determine if and where there are holes in this pol's protective shield that could be exploited by a killer. After Reacher comes back with a list of security problems, Froelich admits that the exercise was more than purely theoretical. The Secret Service has been receiving threats against Armstrong, though they haven't shared them with him. Froelich isn't even sure how seriously to take the warnings; they may simply be part of a hoax intended to embarrass her ("Some of my colleagues are a little Neanderthal"), rather than presenting a genuine risk to the next U.S. second-in-command. But as the written threats increase in number and are delivered right into a Secret Service sanctum, and especially after the demonstration murders of two other unrelated men named Armstrong, first initial B, it's clear that the senator is in real danger. So, with the help of a fetching yet formidable associate, Frances Neagley, Reacher embarks on a search through Armstrong's personal and political past, hoping to find any would-be assassins before they can find the senator through a rifle scope. Although Without Fail doesn't have the same level of emotional urgency as Echo Burning, it still delivers action and drama enough to keep readers from catching a decent breath. There's also plenty of talk about guns and related hardware, for readers who like such things, and Child adds dimension to his story by making Froelich the former girlfriend of Reacher's late Treasury agent brother, Joe -- which proves to be a discomforting fact, as she and Jack become increasingly intimate. Regrettably, there is not much more character development in these pages. Froelich (whose name was apparently chosen for author Child through a contest) comes across as more unsure of herself than you'd ever hope a Secret Service honcho to be, and her relationship with Jack Reacher never rises above the level of a plotting necessity. There are suggestions that the intriguing Ms. Neagley may have depths of feeling just waiting to be plumbed, but we'll have to wait for some future installment of this series to find out what they are. And a few twists in this tale (including the source of a thumbprint applied to the threats against Armstrong) can be figured out in advance. Child is a polished wordsmith, but his talents are wasted on this fairly shallow adventure. It would be more interesting to see what he could do if he wasn't trying to feed the market for action-driven thrillers.

Loren D. Estleman may be his own best competitor. I'm always surprised at how many readers of his P.I. Amos Walker novels (including the recently released Sinister Heights) have never sampled his lesser-known but also less-conventional series, featuring a professional killer named Peter Macklin. Something Borrowed, Something Black (Forge) gives them a chance to remedy that oversight. This tension-packed tale finds the 44-year-old Macklin having quit the mob and left Detroit, and honeymooning in Los Angeles with his 21-year-old blond bride, Laurie. Unfortunately, their post-wedding bliss doesn't last. Macklin is called out of town to take care of some "business" he thought had already been concluded. "It'll just be a day," he assures Laurie before leaving, as he claims, for Sacramento. But Macklin doesn't return as promised; instead, Laurie is met by a cowboyish figure who calls himself Abilene and says he's an old pal of Macklin's -- a credential supported by a brief note from her new hubby. Angry at herself and suddenly distrustful of Macklin ("Was there a woman in Sacramento, some old girl-in-the-port from sales trips past? Was he even in Sacramento?"), Laurie tries not to worry -- a pretense of peacefulness that lasts only until she tries to break free of Abilene's attentions and realizes that he's no friend, at all. Macklin, meanwhile, is in San Antonio, not Sacramento, and has found more than his share of trouble. Enough that it may end any hope of a future well spent. Or a future at all. ... Racial prejudice supplies at least some of the heat in Scorched Earth (Bantam), by David L. Robbins. The rest comes from the severe summer weather in Good Hope, Virginia, a town ready to explode after the birth and subsequent death of a baby girl. A baby of mixed race. Unsettled by the interment of this child in a local Baptist church graveyard, that church's white deacons insist on her exhumation, which leads to the church being set afire and the arrest of Elijah Waddell, the dead girl's father. It falls to attorney Nat Deeds to defend Waddell, a task made almost hopeless not only by the resistance of a politically astute prosecutor and an implacable sheriff, but also by Waddell's refusal to accept a plea. When a corpse is found in the ashes of the church, the desperation to find answers -- and prevent emotions from boiling over into violence -- intensifies, leading Deeds into a desperate race for evidence to save his client's life. Robbins, who authored The End of War and War of the Rats, brings his sharp understanding of human emotions and weaknesses to a story that reminds us how much power race still has over the American psyche.

Séances have long played a ... shall we say, spirited role in historical mysteries. The White Crow (Doubleday), the third volume of Cynthia Peale's series set in Victorian Boston, continues this tradition. During a séance held by the society medium Mrs. Sidgwick, philanthropist Theophilus Clay asks her to contact his late wife, which she does, only to have Clay promptly perish. A metaphysical mystery? Nope. Plain old murder, as proven by the well-bred Addington Ames, who was introduced -- along with his sister and fellow amateur detective, Caroline -- in The Death of Colonel Mann (2000). But this case is hardly over. More attacks follow, Mrs. Sidgwick receives a threat against Addington, Caroline barely escapes a trampling and still the motive for these crimes remains elusive. Peale's storytelling pace is sluggish at times, but emotional subplots and the historical atmospherics of this yarn make it worth reading. Preferably, by gaslight.

How can readers fail to be captivated by Laura Joh Rowland's detailed renderings of life in 17th-century Japan? For instance, The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria (St. Martin's Minotaur), her latest novel featuring samurai sleuth Sano Ichiro, includes this description of a hunt by one of Sano's detectives through the well-ordered but cruel pleasure quarter of Edo (Tokyo): "He saw tayu [top-ranking prostitutes] lounging in lavish chambers, and women of the lower ranks crowded into dingy barracks. He saw bathtubs of scummy water crammed full of naked females. Little girls toiled in kitchens, and courtesans wolfed down food in storerooms because they weren't allowed to eat in front of clients. Most of the women looked sullen, miserable, or resigned to their lot. In one house, they quarreled bitterly among themselves, liked caged cats; in another, a girl lay moaning on a futon while a maid washed blood from between her legs. An odor of squalid humanity pervaded the brothels ..." It's in this same district that the corpse of Lord Mitsuyoshi -- the shogun's rakish young heir-apparent -- is found sprawled on a bed, stabbed through the eye with a woman's hairpin. The tayu with whom he'd spent his final hours, Lady Wisteria, has meanwhile vanished, along with her private journal, which might supply some clues to her complicity in this homicide. In the absence of both, and with the eccentric old shogun ordering that Sano not question Mitsuyoshi's family, the samurai is left to sift suspects from among Wisteria's attendants and eminent clients. That task will take time, but Sano has precious little of that to spare; his enemies are vying for credit in solving Mitsuyoshi's murder (even if it means pinning the crime on Sano), a woman's headless body is found wrapped in Wisteria's distinctive kimono, and Sano's amateur investigator wife, Reiko, comes closer every day to discovering her husband's connection to the missing cocotte. In addition to her talent for crafting a credible historical setting, Rowland spins out wonderfully twisted plots and well-executed action scenes (of which there are far fewer here than in her 2001 book, Black Lotus). Her decision to create marital tension and trust issues between Sano and Reiko adds to the human interest of this work. ... Now, skip ahead two centuries to find the world's most famous consulting detective hard at work on six new cases in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice from the Crypt (Carroll & Graf). Concocted by the prolific British author Donald Thomas, who won acclaim for The Secret Cases of Sherlock Holmes (1997), these new tales imagine Holmes defending the reputation of wife-poisoner Dr. Hawley H. Crippen and counseling playwright Oscar Wilde not to bring defamation charges against a peer who's accused him of sodomy. Other stories have Holmes and Watson chasing across rural Essex after bicyclists in the buff, rescuing a young woman on the strength of a clue involving a bathtub, and enlisting the aid of then-Sergeant Lestrade to foil a horse-racing swindle. Thomas nicely captures Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's storytelling style, and if these yarns too often seem to exist primarily to pair fiction's best-known sleuth with real-life figures or events, they are still entertaining additions to the Holmes legend.

Wendy Hornsby is probably best known for her novels about California documentary filmmaker Maggie MacGowen (77th Street Requiem, A Hard Light, etc.). However, she received her only Edgar Award in honor of a 1991 short story, the title piece in Nine Sons: Collected Mysteries (Crippen & Landru). This is an uneven compilation of work (10 stories and one essay), but that's mostly because it shows the obvious evolution of Hornsby's talent. "Nine Sons," set during the Great Depression in a small, Midwestern U.S. town, centers on the ultimately not-so-mysterious death of an infant girl born into a penurious immigrant clan. The tale's power isn't found in the emotions of the baby's family, but rather in their absence of grief, their pragmatic acceptance of the means by which this child perished. Much more predictable is "High Heels in the Headliner," about an aspiring hard-boiled writer who seduces her way into a cop's life so that she can bring more verisimilitude to her yarns, but only manages (it seems) to increase the cheesiness of her prose style. "Ghost Caper" proves that Hornsby is comfortable with dark drama; yet this episode involving a prankster who gets his rocks off through home invasions and an increasing level of violence seems intended to shock, instead of satisfy. Because the tales here are arranged in order of their publication, the deeper you go into this volume, the more polished is the writing. Compare 1994's "High Heels," for example, with "Essential Things," written especially for this collection and featuring homicide detective Mike Flint, from the MacGowen books. The latter, following Flint as he makes a life-altering move into a fixer-upper home in Northern California, is the more mature product, spoiled only by Hornsby's 11th-hour effort to shoehorn a murder investigation into what had been a pleasing character study. Nine Sons is a worthy introduction to this author, but it may only remind longtime fans that they haven't seen a new Hornsby novel since 1997. ... Never underestimate the potential of novelists to find crime anywhere they look, even if it's hiding up somebody's family tree. Deadly Pedigree (Top Publications), by Louisianan Jimmy Fox, is the first in what threatens to be a series of books recounting the adventures of Nick Herald, a disgraced former college professor (he was dismissed due to a plagiarism scandal) who's re-created himself as a rather impoverished professional genealogist in New Orleans. In Pedigree, he's hired by an elderly Jewish Holocaust survivor, Maximilian Corban, who insists that his relatives didn't all die during World War II, but that a branch of his family survives in Louisiana. He wants Herald to find those errant relations. What sounds like an enterprise guaranteed to kick up dust and not much intrigue gains speed as Herald learns that his client has vengeful motives against a deep-pocketed local woman, who (for the right price) convinces our hero to help her filch information she fears having revealed. When Corban is murdered, it only pushes Herald harder to sort out two centuries worth of lies, lust and racism. Fox has the regrettable tendency to tell too much as the omnipresent narrator, rather than allowing the reader to pick up on essential or interesting facts about his characters through their dialogue and behavior. On occasion, he also overdescribes his scenes, forcing the reader to wade through details that slow his story. But these are failings that could be curbed through the attentions of a careful editor, and Fox deserves one, because Nick Herald shows promise. The same sort of promise once demonstrated by a couple of other history-oriented sleuths in modern fiction: Aaron Elkins' anthropologist, Gideon Oliver, and Malcolm Shuman's archaeologist, Alan Graham.

Finally, it used to be difficult to find Michael Malone's books. Now, you can hardly waltz into a bookstore without discovering another one back in print. Following on the critical success of First Lady -- perhaps the best work of crime fiction published in 2001, even if it hasn't collected the awards it should -- Illinois-based Sourcebooks Landmark has reissued Malone's previous novels, including his two earlier works featuring Hillston, North Carolina, police captain Cuddy Mangum and Mangum's blue-blooded colleague, Lieutenant Justin Savile V. Uncivil Seasons returned to print late last year, and now comes Time's Witness. Originally published in 1989, the novel kicks off from the murder of a young black activist who'd been fighting to free his death-row-inmate brother. In order to solve the case, narrator Mangum must contend with dirty politics and his escalating affection for the wife of a gubernatorial candidate. Malone is an assured and lyrical writer whose characters are so fully dimensioned, it's surprising they don't escape his pages. If you haven't tried a Malone novel, what the hell are you waiting for?

Other Voices

Stay (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday) is Nicola Griffith's keenly awaited sequel to her noir thriller, The Blue Place (1998), in which Griffith introduced her protagonist, Aud Torvingen. Aud is a brilliant and talented security expert, but too dangerous and oblique for "public service." As a Norwegian with a privileged upbringing, she is forever a foreigner in the United States and her chosen home in Atlanta, Georgia. She never really "gets" America, viewing herself as separate from, and to a large extent immune to, the more pedestrian impulses of the American South. She is also a womanizer, hesitating not at all to use her sleek strength and beauty to seduce and discard others. Aud meets her true love, Julia, in The Blue Place. But their meeting is born of violence, and the threat of violence is the reason for their subsequent acquaintance. Is it any wonder that violence finally takes Julia from Aud? Julia urges Aud to "stay in the world," but Stay finds Aud in semi-permanent retreat at her cabin in a North Carolina forest, unable to deal with grief and her own failure. A friend finally intrudes upon her solitude, his need great enough that he braves the confrontation. He faces Aud and begs her help to find his missing fiancée. She grudgingly accepts, to be rid of him, but the circumstances surrounding the fiancée's disappearance turn out to be anything but routine. The situation involves systematic humiliation and victimization of women and children, and Aud's underlying decency, heroism and joy in life resurface. Aud is so convincingly dangerous that readers will be relieved to find that her revenge can be visited upon a properly unsympathetic sociopath, for when Aud is involved, the issue is not "bend or break," but "bend or break someone else." Griffith fans will be happy to see Aud's return and to learn that more adventures are forthcoming. Griffith is one of the most critically acclaimed lesbian authors of our day, with awards including five Lambdas, a Nebula, the World Fantasy Award and the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award. -- Nancy Yamaguchi, Seattle reader

I just finished Lee Child's latest Jack Reacher novel, Without Fail (Putnam), and the breadth and audacity of this series continue to amaze me. In one book, the ex-MP drifter with the seldom-talked-about past and way too much military training is digging swimming pools in Florida or helping a Texas rancher's wife out of a domestic jam; the next, he's hired to try and kill the U.S. vice president-elect. He may not want trouble, but it sure seems to find him. Reacher's absolute confidence in his abilities, and his unerring sense of what is and isn't right, stands out in a world of conflicted detectives. I mean, this guy makes Spenser look like he has self-esteem problems. Yet, there's also a lot of wit in Without Fail, and even a certain amount of playfulness. There's a great Forrest Gump-like scene, in which Jack is sucked into a press interview with the VP-to-be, and asked his thoughts on the use of military force ("Yes, I still support overwhelming force. That's for sure. I support it big time. Always have, believe me"). And there's a small, tender scene of such powerful but unspoken passion between a man and a woman that the fact it doesn't lead anywhere will crack your heart. I've read three books in this series and I'm heading back to find the others. This is a men's adventure book for men or women who can read with their mouths closed and their minds (and hearts) open -- smart, literate and just good old-fashioned thrilling. And always fascinating. Jack Reacher seems capable of being anywhere, and doing anything, and each book finds him somewhere else down the road, traveling through an America where the bad moon is always on the rise. Imagine Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer locked and loaded, and coming to town near you. ... After reading the in-your-face cover letter that accompanies C.S. Thompson's Games Dead People Play (iUniverse), a self-published collection of short stories, I was ready to dismiss this author as just another would-be literary thug, full of himself, riding the vanity press, swinging his dick and trying to snort fire, and falling desperately short. It was the very classy and evocative cover (all shadows and menace and noirish atmosphere) that saved him, and made me take a second, closer look. I'm glad I did. The grace and style, the sheer creative drive of these stories far surpasses the clunky wit of the author's self-publicity. I don't mind saying I was wrong. The characters in these stories are about what you'd expect in any collection so defiantly dark -- fugitives, bank robbers, thugs, gangsters, killers, all living (and usually dying) in a New England mill town that's almost as dead as they are. What's so breathtaking here is Thompson's conceit that the dead go on living. And talking. And talking. Most of the narrators in these tales have recently shuffled off this mortal coil, the victims of knives, blunt instruments, guns and their own sins of ego, greed and plain old stupidity. And most of them are uneasy about it all, still trying to justify or understand not only their deaths, but their lives, even as the next shovelful of dirt hits the top of the coffin. And oh, how the dead can bitch. The author has seen something, and his vision here -- whimsical, yes, but also disturbing and unsettling, tinged with a sense of humor as defiantly cold and dark as the grave -- deserves attention. More please. -- Kevin Burton Smith, January Magazine contributor and the editor/creator of The Thrilling Detective Web Site.

Though it's set in the world of Los Angeles comedy clubs, Dead Crowd (St. Martin's Minotaur) is no giggling matter. This smooth crime novel is the third in the Biff Kincaid series (after Killer Material and The Heckler), written by L.A. comedian Dan Barton. In Dead Crowd, Kincaid probes the murder of Bernie Coleman, a sleazy club owner with big aspirations and even bigger money problems. Stopping by the club to try to collect payment for a recent gig, Kincaid finds Coleman shot dead in his basement office, likely the victim of one of many people to whom he was severely indebted. Kincaid phones the cops, but before they arrive someone lurking in the darkness of the closed cabaret knocks him unconscious. The club bartender, who may have some information about Coleman's killer or Kincaid's assailant, disappears the following day. Dead Crowd is a class act. Barton gives us a refreshingly plausible amateur sleuth with the common sense to cooperate with cops, and cops who are fairly competent, if preoccupied. Of course, fairly competent isn't reassuring to Kincaid, who believes someone may be after him because of a videotape in his possession. He'd grabbed the tape during an argument with Coleman, thinking to hold onto it until the club owner paid him the balance of his performance fee. Now it appears that someone not only wants that tape, but intends to kill anyone who has viewed its incriminating contents. If Kincaid can figure out why Coleman's tape -- of an amateur comedy show at a nearby prison -- is incriminating, he may have the key to the killer's identity. The answers he seeks lie on the dark side of the comedy business, a realm Barton apparently knows well. With a showman's keen sense of timing, the author keeps his readers shivering, right through to Dead Crowd's fascinating and decidedly creepy end. -- Karen G. Anderson, January contributing editor

You, too, can have your say in "Other Voices." To submit mini-reviews of recent releases (preferably no more than 300 words apiece), click here. Reviews may be edited for length, clarity and grammar.

In the News

Actor Robert Urich, who played private eye Dan Tanna in the TV series Vega$ (1978-81) before starring in Spenser: For Hire (1985-88), based on Robert B. Parker's best-selling novels, died of cancer on April 16. He was 55 years old. Read more.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes ranks sixth among the "100 Best Characters in Fiction Since 1900," as selected by a panel of authors for Book magazine. Also included on this list (though not found in the Web excerpt) are John le Carré's master spy, George Smiley (#18), and Ian Fleming's James Bond (#66). Who took first place, you ask? Jay Gatsby, from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Read more.

Publishers Weekly hears from 10 mystery fiction editors about the popularity of series and the challenges that come with launching new ones. Read more.

Interviews with Michael Connelly, Lee Child and Julia Wallis Martin have recently been posted on the Web site of the British mystery magazine Shots. Read more.

In an interview with Book magazine, Elmore Leonard talks about his fascination with bad behavior, his fondness for bugs and -- yikes! -- his dislike of mystery fiction. Read more.

The New Yorker recounts, in sprightly fashion, the career of George P. Pelecanos as it celebrates the publication of his 10th novel, Hell to Pay. Read more.

British author Andrew Taylor discusses with Crime Time interviewer Adrian Muller his introduction to mystery fiction (blame his clergyman father), recent trends in this genre and whether Death's Own Door (2001) will be the final installment of his popular Lydmouth series. Read more.

In an interview on the Page ONE Literary Newsletter Web site, John Grisham talks about being turned down by "30-something publishers" before his first book saw print, his once-a-week shaving ritual and what he found most satisfying about the law: "Getting out of it." Read more.

Paul Johnston, who has gained a following with half a dozen novels featuring 2020s Edinburgh detective Quintilian Dalrymple (Body Politic, House of Dust, etc.), clues his fans in on his forthcoming book, A Deeper Shade of Blue -- due out in September -- the first installment in a contemporary series featuring Greece-based private investigator Alex Mavros. Read more.

The Mystery Readers Journal Web site features two interesting articles from that magazine's spring 2002 issue, which focuses on Pacific Northwest mysteries: a piece about Seattle-based crime novels, written by yours truly, and an essay by Anchorage resident Dana Stabenow that traces her evolution as a novelist. Read more.

Gone But Not Forgotten

Crime fiction lost an important pioneer when Roy Huggins died on April 3 in Santa Monica, California, at age 87. Although best known for having created such popular TV series as Maverick, The Fugitive and The Rockford Files, Huggins started out as a novelist, producing a trio of books and several short stories that later became sources for his broadcast dramas.

Huggins was born in Litelle, Washington, according to a biography available at the Museum of Broadcast Communications Web site. After graduating from the University of California and then working for the U.S. Civil Service during World War II, "he taught himself to write gripping and literate drama by copying in longhand Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely," The New York Times reported in its Huggins obituary. His first novel, The Double Take (1946) -- serialized in The Saturday Evening Post -- was a Chandleresque yarn that featured Los Angeles private eye Stuart Bailey, whose client is being blackmailed in regard to his wife's past; Bailey must investigate the woman's history in order to end the extortion. (Bailey subsequently made three short-story appearances, listed at The Thrilling Detective Web Site, and after some modification, became the chief protagonist -- played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr. -- in the Huggins TV series 77 Sunset Strip). Huggins went on to compose two more novels: a suspenser called Too Late for Tears (1947) and a James M. Cain-ish work called Lovely Lady, Pity Me (1949).

However, the purchase of film rights to The Double Take convinced Huggins that steadier employment could be had writing screenplays than novels. He went on to compose several movie scripts, including those for The Fuller Brush Man (1948) and The Good Humor Man (1950), before writing and directing the 1952 Randolph Scott/Donna Reed western, Hangman's Knot. In September of that same year, Huggins was summoned before the infamous U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to answer questions about his brief membership in the Communist Party, which he'd joined because of his dislike of fascism. "I ended up agreeing that people who had already been mentioned many times were indeed known to me as Communists," he recalled many years afterward. (To learn more about Huggins' HUAC testimony, click here.)

Huggins moved into television in 1955. He joined Warner Brothers and later Universal Television, creating such memorable series as Maverick (1957-62), 77 Sunset Strip (1958-64), The Fugitive (1963-67), Run for Your Life (1965-68), The Outsider (1968-69), The Rockford Files (1974-80) and City of Angels (1976). He also served as executive producer on shows ranging from Alias Smith and Jones and the short-lived James Farentino mystery, Cool Million, to Baretta and Hunter. In addition to his episodic works, Huggins was behind several made-for-TV movies and miniseries, such as the Bill Bixby western, The Invasion of Johnson County (1976), and the small-screen adaptation of Taylor Caldwell's big-canvas novel Captains and the Kings (1976). (A full filmography can be found at The International Movie Database.)

Author Max Allan Collins (Angel in Black), who was instrumental in giving Huggins the Private Eye Writers of America Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991, calls him "a fine crime writer, and he may have become one of the giants of the genre had he not gone Hollywood. On the other hand, had he not gone Hollywood, we would not have 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, The Fugitive and The Rockford Files -- merely major popular culture touchstones of the second half of the 20th century." Collins says that "Maverick was my childhood obsession, and Huggins (with Stephen J. Cannell) put together what I consider to be the best P.I. show of all time: City of Angels," a drama that was set in Los Angeles during the 1930s and starred M*A*S*H alum Wayne Rogers.

"One of the charming things about Huggins," Collins remarks, "was his propensity for recycling his one Stuart Bailey novel, The Double Take, as TV scripts. The Double Take is undoubtedly the most filmed private eye novel ever -- there was a Hollywood movie [I Love Trouble, 1948], and it was done (I think) on every series Huggins produced. It was on Rockford (twice I believe), City of Angels and even Maverick! ... The three [Bailey] short stories were also the subject of many Huggins TV adaptations, probably just so Huggins could double dip: get paid for the screen story and for the script."

Of course, contriving scripts for his own TV series as well as for other network shows (which Huggins did under both his own moniker and as "John Thomas James," combining the names of his three sons) demanded more inspiration than recycling. Director Fielder Cook, who'd worked with Huggins over the years, recently explained the producer/writer's creative methodology as part of a Salon magazine tribute: "What a guy. Know what [Huggins] did? He had this magnificent car -- a Cadillac or a Lincoln -- and he would take off, alone in the car, and he would drive out into the desert and he had a tape recorder with him and he would drive and drive and just talk these stories into the tape recorder, and come back, give them to a secretary and there was a season!"

"The scripts Huggins wrote for the series he created are among the finest writing in television," opines Stuart M. Kaminsky, who in addition to penning novels based on his own characters, has to his credit two fine books (The Green Bottle and Devil on My Doorstep) based on the character of Jim Rockford, the charming and perpetually exasperated gumshoe Huggins created for former Maverick star James Garner. "Maverick and Gunsmoke were, in my opinion, the finest Westerns ever on television and both still play as well as they did when Huggins created Maverick. The Fugitive may be the finest dramatic series ever created and, in my mind, I find it impossible to believe that anyone can create a better private eye series than Rockford."

Kaminsky recalls once meeting Huggins, "back at Universal in the early 1970s. He was a gracious, quiet man, with a dancing quality in his eyes that made it clear that the world around him was fresh material for a new direction. If he had one particular strength," concludes Kaminsky, "it was in creating original characters who were always just ahead of the genre in which they existed."

It's hard to imagine a finer epitaph than that.

New Crime Fiction Links

We try to stay current on what else of interest to January Magazine readers is available on the Web, so every now and then it's necessary to add to or subtract from our Crime Fiction Links page. The latest additions include connections to Crime Factory, Australia's leading crime fiction quarterly, Crimewave, an award-winning British crime fiction publication, and Shamus: A Tribute to Philip Marlowe, which features a fine introduction to Raymond Chandler's classic private eye. Sadly, we had to drop our link to Blue Murder, as that elegantly designed magazine of short stories, interviews and columns has recently disappeared. If there are more additions you think should be made to the Crime Fiction Links page, please e-mail us.

Last Rewards

T. Jefferson Parker's ninth crime novel, Silent Joe (Hyperion), has won this year's Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the mystery/thriller category. Judges called Parker's tale of politics, heritage and murder "a gripping book as moving as it is hard-edged." The award in this category, as well as in eight others, was presented on April 27 as part of the 2002 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

Also competing for the mystery/thriller award were: Open Season, by C. J. Box (Putnam); Little America, by Henry Bromell (Knopf); The Wooden Leg of Inspector Anders, by Marshall Browne (St. Martin's Minotaur); and Chasing the Devil's Tail, by David Fulmer (Poisoned Pen Press).

For a complete list of the Book Prize winners, click here.

* * *

Winners of the 2002 Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine Readers Awards, selected by EQMM readers from the contents of the last year's magazines, were recently announced:

First Place: "Avenging Miriam," by Peter Sellers (December 2001)
Second Place: "The Mondo Whammy," by David Handler (September/October 2001)
Third Place: "Groundwork," by Neil Schofield (November 2002)

Awards were presented during a Dell Magazines cocktail party, held in New York City on May 2.

* * *

Finally, the Crime Writers' Association of Australia has broadcast its list of nominees for the 2002 Ned Kelly Awards. Winners will be announced in Melbourne on August 29. This year's nominees include:

Best First Novel:
On Probation: Detective Ludowski's Casebook, by Margaret Bevege (Preszoom); Who Killed Angelique? by Emma Darcy (Pan); The Artist Is a Thief, by Stephen Gray (Allen & Unwin); Apartment 255, by Bunty Avieson (Pan); and Black Ice, by Sandy Curtis (Pan)

Best Novel:
Inspector Anders and the Ship of Fools, by Marshall Browne (Duffy & Snellgrove); Crime of Silence, by Patricia Carlon (Text Publishing); Yesterday's Shadow, by Jon Cleary (HarperCollins); Skin Deep, by Cathy Cole (Duffy & Snellgrove); Lugarno, by Peter Corris (Bantam); Death Delights, by Gabrielle Lord (Hodder); Death Club, by Claire McNab (Allen & Unwin); Death of the Author, by Andrew Masterson (HarperCollins); A Simple Death, by Carolyn Morwood (Women's Press); The Disciples, by Andy Shea (Simon & Schuster); and In the Evil Day, by
Peter Temple (Bantam)

True Crime:
The Poison Principle, by Gail Bell (Pan); The Murder of Nellie Duffy, by Stephanie Bennett (Simon & Schuster); Taken in Contempt, by Robin Bowles (Pan); Young Blood, by Bob O'Brien (HarperCollins); Touched by the Devil, by John Clarke and Andy Shea (Simon & Schuster); 10 Months in Laos, by Paul Conroy (Crown Content); Death at Bondi, by Darren Goodsir (Pan); On Murder 2, edited by Kerry Greenwood (Black Inc.); More Cops, Crooks and Catastrophes, by Shirley Hardy-Rix (Hybrid); The True Story of Jimmy Governor, by Laurie Moore and Stephan Williams (Allen & Unwin); The Hanged Man, by Mike Richards (Scribe); Underbelly 5, by John Silvester and Andrew Rule (SLY Ink); Writing on Gravestones, by Gary Tippett and Ian Munro (HarperCollins); Moran v Moran, by Murray Waldren (HarperCollins); and Razor, by Larry Writer (Pan)

For a complete list of the nominees, and to participate in a Readers Vote selection, go to the Crime Writers of Association of Australia Web site.


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

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