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 Dashiell Hammett A 75th-Anniversary Tribute

Dashiell Hammett A 75th-Anniversary Tribute
























January Magazine's Crime Fiction Report, June 2003


IN THIS ISSUE: The month's most-wanted reads • New novels by Stephen Booth, Edward Wright, Peter Lovesey, Naomi Rand, Steve Hamilton, Martha Conway, Ethan Black and others • Moonstone Comics returns beloved detectives to their beats • Bill Granger becomes a prisoner of his memories; Harlan Coben recalls his "bleeding balls" days; McCloud rides again, and other news from the world of mystery • Plus: the winners of this year's Sherlock, Arthur Ellis and Derringer awards

Pierce's Picks for June

The Accusers (Century UK), by Lindsey Davis. Back again in ancient Rome, Marcus Didius Falco -- now employed by a couple of lawyers specializing in exploiting the sins of the rich -- testifies at the trial of Rubirius Metellus, a corrupt and perhaps incestuous senator who's trying to avoid paying his bills. A large financial judgment in the plaintiffs' favor is ultimately made. But soon afterward, Metellus is found dead, apparently from suicide, and Falco agrees to help launch a new trial to ensure that the politician's debts aren't forgotten -- ignoring, perhaps to his detriment, the penalties that could be leveled against him if the prosecution fails.

The Bite (Viking), by Michael Crow. Undercover Baltimore narc Luther Ewing (introduced in last year's Red Rain) survives a parking lot shooting, but falls under the influence of DEA agent Francesca Russo, who's working to take over the local crank business -- with Ewing's help, she hopes. The only question open to Ewing is, will he try to bring down Russo and the mob alone, or call in the feds?

The Blue Mask (Serpent's Tail UK), by Joel Lane. This dark tale of identity and retribution centers around Neil, a Birmingham University student with attraction to both sexes. One night, following a fight with his lover, Neil follows a stranger out of a bar and onto a canal towpath, where he's attacked, his face mutilated beyond recognition. Surgical reconstruction fails to restore his good looks, leaving Neil vengeful. But his efforts to hunt down his attacker will lead him to form a new persona for himself, and in the process, to lose perspective on who he really is.

The Bridge (St. Martin's Minotaur), by Solomon Jones. Called in to investigate the disappearance of 9-year-old Kenya Brown from a depressing Philadelphia housing project are African-American police detectives Kevin Lynch, who grew up in that same complex, and Roxanne Wilson, a single mother. Also searching for Kenya, though, are her drug-addict mom and her aunt Judy, a crack dealer with whom Kenya had been staying. The chief suspect in this crime is Sonny Williams, a pusher and suspected child abuser, but The Bridge's larger culprit is society, which prefers to overlook the hopelessness of ghetto life and its ramifications. An atmospherically rich and emotionally powerful yarn.

The Delicate Storm (Putnam), by Giles Blunt. In his sequel to the widely acclaimed Forty Words for Sorrow (2001), Blunt sends Detective John Cardinal of the Algonquin Bay, Ontario, police force to investigate the discovery of a white male's severed arm. After more body parts turn up, and the decedent is identified as an American citizen, Cardinal and his French-Canadian partner, Lise Delorme, find themselves embroiled in a three-decades-old unsolved homicide that's tied to violent Quebec separatists and clashes between Canadian law-enforcement agencies, and is complicated to magical effect by a rare ice storm. Fans of John Farrow should appreciate Blunt's work, as well.

Director's Cut (Atria), by Roger L. Simon. In Prague to protect a film company beset by threats, P.I. Moses Wine (The Lost Coast, 1997) stumbles over the city's Grand Rabbi, dead and holding a screenplay based on an anti-Semitic tract. Suspicious Arabs, bombings and kidnappings suggest that Al Qaeda has targeted this film project. Or is the harassment of a more personal nature?

The Emperor's Assassin (Dell), by T.F. Banks. Napoleon Bonaparte, having surrendered to the British, arrives on board the HMS Bellerophon at Plymouth Sound in 1815, bound for exile on the South Atlantic island of St. Helena. But Bow Street Runner Henry Morton (last seen in The Thief-Taker, 2001) is too busy solving the murder of a Frenchwoman, the mistress of a count, to give the Little Corporal's fate much thought. At least until his inquiries among the demimonde, French expatriates and Bonaparte backers suggest a connection between the murder and the former emperor's fate.

Flynn's World (Pantheon), by Gregory Mcdonald. Boston Police Inspector Francis Xavier Flynn, returning after an extended absence (he last appeared in Flynn's In back in 1984), is up to his neck in cases of intolerance. Not only must he deal with a local cop who's prone to arresting the wrong suspects, based primarily on their skin color, but his daughter's best friend, a high-school wrestling champ, has had his ear nailed to tree. Beyond all of this, the sarcastic Flynn -- in his parallel role as an international spy -- has been charged with identifying the blackmailer of a Harvard professor. Expect plenty of clever characterizations and wry dialogue.

The Hemingway Caper (Castle Street), by Eric Wright. There may be almost as many novels built around missing Ernest Hemingway manuscripts as there are about errant Sherlock Holmes chronicles. In this latest example of the former, Toronto English lecturer and occasional sleuth Joe Barley (introduced in the Barry Award-winning The Kidnapping of Rose Dawn, 2000) is asked to find proof that a guy named Jason Tyler is guilty of adultery. But when that trail leads to rumors of "lost" writings by a young Hemingway, and then Tyler's wife insists that Barley remain on her hubby's case, even after proof of philandering has been found, the professor can't help being curious. What could Tyler have to do with the Hemingway papers? Wright mixes literary mystery here with academic politics, for a satisfying result.

A Killer in Winter (Little, Brown UK), by Susanna Gregory. Physician-detective Matthew Bartholomew is asked to identify a dead man, apparently the victim of blizzards besieging Cambridge, England, in 1354. But when the deceased turns out to be a servant to the husband of Matthew's former love, Philippa, he wonders whether these "accidents" haven't a more nefarious cause.

Mildred Pierced (Carroll & Graf/Otto Penzler), by Stuart M. Kaminsky. The 23rd zany mystery featuring 1940s gumshoe Toby Peters has him trying to clear his office mate, dentist Sheldon Minck, of murdering his estranged wife, Mildred. But the only witness to this crime-by-crossbow is actress Joan Crawford, who's afraid that any publicity surrounding her link to the slaying would hurt her chances of securing the lead role in Mildred Pierce. It's Peters' task to clear Minck, while keeping Crawford's name out of the newspapers.

The Nature of Midnight (Forge), by Robert Rice. The brutal murders of two people in a rural Montana post office lead U.S. Postal Inspectors Gillian Loomis and Max Dombrowski to a trio of mysterious letters written in 1918 by a guy named Sharpless Walker. As the inspectors pursue those epistles, though, the letters start to vanish, taken on behalf of someone with vast resources and no compunction against murder. The missives' contents might well shed light on a conspiracy that resulted in the 1915 sinking of the British passenger liner Lusitania. But can Dombrowski and Loomis stay alive long enough to prove it?

Sayonaraville (UglyTown), by Curt Colbert. Who lopped off the head of insurance agent Henry Jamison with a Samurai sword? P.I. Jake Rossiter hasn't the time to inquire, already being busy with the return to post-World War II Seattle of a notorious freelance hit man. And Rossiter's newly promoted partner, Miss Jenkins, has her own hands full trying to help a Japanese family, the Hashimotos, who were interned during the war and subsequently lost their store to a suspicious fire. But when Miss Jenkins' life is threatened, unless she backs off the Hashimoto case, Rossiter comes to her aid -- a gallant response that neither stops her from being ambushed in Chinatown, nor prevents a sequence of deaths related somehow to the secretly randy Mr. Jamison. This is the pulp-noirish sequel to Rat City (2001).

New and Noteworthy

Stephen Booth isn't a flashy plotter, stuffing his books with tightly choreographed gunplay or more cinematic fireworks. Instead, his work contributes to a robust tradition of psychologically intense storytelling, familiar from the oeuvres of fellow Brits Ruth Rendell, Robert Wilson, Minette Walters, John Connolly and others. His yarns unwind slowly, the clues they hide being exposed with a minimum of fanfare and a maximum of dependence on reader perceptivity. His killers can rarely be labeled simplistically as "evil," but are instead forced into grievous acts by an accumulation of misfortune or history. And the straightforward attainment of justice isn't the principle goal of Booth's tales; rather, they are studies of the human condition, presented within the broadly accessible framework of the mystery genre. This is crime fiction for the thinking man or woman: powerful without resorting to explicit violence, poignant without blatant melodrama, and damnably hard to put down.

Blind to the Bones (HarperCollins UK), Booth's fourth Ben Cooper/Diane Fry mystery in as many years, shows just how affecting and effective his tale spinning can be. Its triple-pronged story is all about the ties and torments of kinship, and how different people cope differently with interdependence and familial loss. None of the main players in this novel come out untouched by its lessons.

The most heart-rending plot thread here follows the case of university student Emma Renshaw, who vanished without a trace just over two years ago while on her way home from Birmingham, England, to Derbyshire for the Easter holiday. Unable to accept the likelihood of their daughter's demise, Howard and Sarah Renshaw have persevered in trying to find her, consulting psychics and "bombarding the police with theories and suggestions, pleas and demands" -- all to no avail. But then, suddenly, Emma's blood-stained mobile phone is found, discarded in a woodland, and the months of faith seem to have found their first reward. Or is this just another opportunity for naïve hope to be squashed? Detective Sergeant Fry muses that the Renshaws "seemed to be living in a sort of alternate reality, where Emma was not only still alive, but perhaps simply planning to catch a later train from Birmingham. Two years later." Can they really cope with whatever that phone's discovery may tell them about their daughter's fate?

Meanwhile, Detective Constable Cooper -- seconded temporarily (he hopes) from "E" Division to the Rural Crime Team -- is working a string of burglaries around Withens, a drab, hopeless old village that was once occupied by the "navvies" who cut railway tunnels through England's scenic Peak District. It seems quiet enough duty ... until the battered corpse of Neil Granger, one of Emma Renshaw's former Birmingham-area housemates, turns up near a tunnel ventilation shaft on the moors, the young man's face blackened with theatrical make-up and a stolen antique bronze bust left behind in his car. Was his murder related to the break-ins, or did it serve another purpose? Cooper, whose sympathetic nature can usually extract information from locals reticent to speak with more determined investigators, goes looking for answers. But he's stymied when he tries to question Granger's relatives, the Oxleys. An extended and insular clan, living close together for self-protection and making money "in a way you can't quite pin down," the Oxleys -- descended from the area's original tunnel builders -- have attracted trouble in the past, their children running a bit wild, even 9-year-old Jake Oxley, who's become known as "the Tiny Terror." The more they refuse his overtures, the more Cooper is determined to learn whether the Oxleys had anything to do with Granger's death or the burglaries. However, he's distracted by the surprise appearance in Edendale of Diane Fry's heroin-addicted elder sister, Angie, who'd vanished from their foster home when the girls were just teenagers, and now wants Cooper's help in convincing Diane to stop looking for her -- a quest that had much to do with Fry's move to Derbyshire.

What propels Booth's narrative is the converging of these seemingly random plot lines, and the way they're fed by additional mysteries -- both telling and deliberately complicating. What import is there, for instance, in the fact that the Tiny Terror walks with a limp? Or that one of the missing Emma's teddy bears has itself gone missing from her parents' house? Or that Angie Fry is seen getting into a car with a registration blocked even to police scrutiny? And where's the link between these twists and a shadowy group known as the Border Rats? Booth's willingness to leave the occasional question unanswered, his deft ability over the course of a story to turn some of the least suspicious characters into the most dangerous (and vice-versa), and his portrayal of the Peak District environment, with its slow-burning moors and sidetracked hamlets awaiting the deaths of their last inhabitants, all make for captivating fiction. If there's a weakness to be found here, it's in a late-chapter fire that, while it forces cooperation between previous adversaries, adds more smoke than substance to the overall story.

Because Blind to the Bones lacks the wintertime bleakness and deeply entrenched historical mendacity of Booth's previous novel, Blood on the Tongue (2002), it is also rather less gripping. Still, by finally giving substance to the storied Angie Fry, the author has teed up what will surely be an eye-opening turn in this series.

* * *

Clea's Moon (Putnam) won its first award even before it was published: the British Crime Writers' Association's Debut Dagger, given to author Edward Wright in 2001, based on his outline for the novel, plus sample chapters. But if you think that's impressive, you ought to read the finished work, a tumbling-paced period yarn about lost youth, kiddie porn and men too powerful for anyone's good.

Protagonist John Ray Horn has at least his share of personal demons. Reared in the northern Arkansas hill country, the elder son of a preacher who "could deliver a sermon that had the ladies crying and rolling their eyes, then come home and beat me to a pulp for sassing him," he'd fled west as soon as possible, landing in that "Sodom called Los Angeles." With a bit of rodeo experience under his belt, Horn went on to star during the late 1930s and early 40s as cowboy hero "Sierra Lane" in a series of cut-rate westerns for Medallion Studios. (One reviewer called him "a cross between two silent-movie icons, William S. Hart and Harry Carey.") After his screen career was interrupted by a short stint in the U.S. Army during World War II (he was discharged after being wounded in Italy), Horn returned to moviemaking, but in 1945 he was given a two-year prison term for assaulting the dandified son of Medallion honcho Bernard Rome. Divorced, blacklisted by moviemakers and generally feeling sorry for himself, Horn has been limping along ever since his release doing debt collections for his former Indian co-star, casino owner Joseph Mad Crow.

His malaise, though, is about to end. Abruptly. Horn receives a call from his old friend Scotty Bullard, the son of an affluent and recently deceased land developer, who has found among his father's belongings some well-thumbed "dirty pictures" showing older men with young girls -- one of whom is Horn's ex-stepdaughter, Clea, at age 4 or 5. Within days, Scotty plummets to his death and Clea, now a lithe 16-year-old, runs away from the home of her mother and latest stepdad. Horn, confident that these incidents are linked, retrieves the departed Arthur Bullard's smut shots, which Scotty had secreted in his progenitor's mountain hunting lodge, only to realize that they were in fact taken in that very cabin, some by Arthur himself. Fearing that Clea might have been kidnapped by one of the other men in the black-and-whites -- someone who'd go to dangerous lengths to protect his sexual fetish -- Horn turns into Philip Marlowe with an anger-management problem. He solicits help from Clea's early blooming schoolmate, Addie Webb, in order to locate the girl's "secretive" older boyfriend, but receives an alleyway thrashing for his trouble. Although he does eventually track Clea to a house in the Santa Monica Mountains, Horn arrives there too late to prevent another homicide. Now faced with many more questions than he has clues, and concerned that Clea may have run away from home in order to escape physical abuse, the erstwhile celluloid cowboy saddles up for an investigation that will have him tangling with mobsters, creating scandal at a mountaintop monastery, and swapping lead during a shootout at the dilapidated estate of a silent-movie idol. As Horn concedes to Mad Crow, "It's a lot easier to play a hero than to be one."

Wright asks his readers occasionally to accept the improbable -- as in Horn's rapid recovery of Arthur Bullard's prurient prints, or the terribly opportune timing that allows him to locate the wayward Clea in Chapter 14. And while this California journalist-turned-novelist inserts into his book ample references to 1940s L.A. events and personalities (including controversial religionist Aimee Semple McPherson and the unfortunate Elizabeth Short, aka "the Black Dahlia"), the characters here speak remarkably like 21st-century Angelenos. It's not that their slang is peculiar to our times, but that they use so little jargon that would have been peculiar to their own. Nonetheless, Clea's Moon nicely captures the physical atmospherics of its era, from the nightclubs of Central Avenue (then the jazz-filled core of African-American life in L.A.) to Santa Monica's dizzyingly kinetic Ocean Pier amusement center. With a brilliance borne of hindsight, Wright peppers into these pages some smile-inducing snatches of dialogue ("Cowboy movies are dying. ... Nobody's interested in cowboys any more, just musicals. Or those gangster movies, where it's so dang dark you can't see who's who"). And John Ray Horn's moments of self-disgust, when he recognizes just how severely he's disappointed Sierra Lane fans, are infrequent and framed well enough to be truly poignant. Horn himself is a believably flawed creature of the pen, too quick to act at times and too slow at others to recognize what he might be missing out of life.

The last couple of years have brought readers a variety of mid-20th-century crime stories anchored in the glamour and tragedies of Hollywood. Few, however, have demonstrated the assured storytelling style and realistically developed players that Clea's Moon boasts. Chances are that the Debut Dagger won't be the only commendation awarded to this novel. A sequel is already in the works.

Other Voices

The House Sitter (Soho Press), Peter Lovesey's eighth mystery featuring Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond, begins one Sunday in June, when a 32-year-old woman goes to the shore at Wrightview Sands in Sussex, England, to do a bit of sunbathing. Although the beach is overly crowded, nobody notices when she's strangled to death behind her windbreak. Her handbag is later nowhere to be found and the rising tide washes away all traces of DNA, leaving police to figure out who she is at the same time as they question why she was murdered.

Henrietta Mallin, the senior investigating officer in Bognor Regis, the neighborhood where the beach is located, takes command of this case. A short, tough cop who has learned to survive in a male-dominated field, Mallin is given to smoking thin cigars and listening to Agatha Christie books on tape. After 12 days of chasing down leads that prove fruitless -- though one, involving a man named Smith, is particularly riveting -- and after vainly appealing on television for eyewitnesses, the Bognor CID team discover the identity of the woman only when she turns up on a missing-persons report. She's Emma Tysoe, a psychological profiler who often helped the British police. She had lived in the historic town of Bath, which happens to be Diamond's turf. After dutifully informing the inspector of Tysoe's death, Mallin teams with him to solve the murder.

Diamond has a well-earned reputation for arrogance, and it isn't long before this large detective dominates the Tysoe investigation. Lovesey's police procedurals (the last one of which, Diamond Dust, ranked among January's gift book picks for 2002) are perhaps the best in the field, British or otherwise. Not only are his forensics above reproach, but he has the cop lingo down pat.

What is striking is how Lovesey captures both the routine and the spectacular, as well as the compassion and wit of the men and women who uphold British law. Convinced that knowledge of the late profiler's last case will help him to solve her homicide, Diamond butts heads with higher-ups at the National Police Staff College at Bramshill, who see little reason to assist him. Finally armed with the modicum of information he can coax out of those officials, plus journal entries decrypted from files on Tysoe's computer hard drive, Diamond and his crew learn that Tysoe had been profiling a killer who'd used a crossbow bolt to murder a famous film director. Quoting from Samuel Coleridge's 1798 poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," the killer (predictably dubbed "The Mariner") promises to kill two more people. Diamond and Mallin are left to wonder whether this serial slayer targeted Tysoe to eliminate her from the investigation, or whether her death was unrelated. When Diamond discovers that the apparently sex-crazed Tysoe was having a heated affair with a Sussex detective probing the Mariner case, and that a jilted boyfriend was also stalking her, things get even thicker.

The mysterious Mariner proves to be a worthy adversary. He seems able to kill again with ease, though Diamond possesses a doggedness and intellect that one presumes will eventually shift the odds in his favor. There are a few weaknesses in The House Sitter. The means by which the Mariner dispatches members of the Special Branch (a highly trained police unit) is somewhat thin, and questions surrounding the initial murder are perhaps too quickly resolved amid the thrill of the killer's eventual capture. Still, readers are well rewarded by any time they spend in Peter Diamond's company. -- Reviewed by Anthony Rainone

* * *

Kurt Vonnegut once said that for a book to work, every character has to want something, even if it's just a drink of water. I've likely misquoted him, but the implication is perfectly clear: Without some kind of driving force, some motivation or desire behind a character's actions, the book in question will languish and fall flat. In Lynn Kostoff's The Long Fall (Carroll & Graf/Otto Penzler), every character wants something -- and badly, at that. How their desires come together, conflict and lead them along an increasingly downward path is what keeps this tightly executed noir novel firmly attached to the rails.

Jimmy Coates is fresh off a prison stint (he did 24 months for possession of black-market Saguaro cactus), but he didn't learn too much from it. No sooner is he out than he's in trouble with the bookies, forced to come up with quick cash as soon as possible. Jimmy's solution is to head home to Phoenix, Arizona, where he intends to hit up the target he knows best -- his elder brother, Richard.

Richard Coates is Jimmy's antithesis -- taller, slimmer and definitely more wedded to the straight life. He's also on the slow path to unhappiness, in a marriage marked by increasing silences and frustrating attempts to conceive a child. Thwarting Richard's plans is his wife, Evelyn. Eighteen years of matrimony, and not much to show for it. The townsfolk look down on Evelyn's flight-attendant past. It seems she's searching for something, anything, to get her out of her rut, and the answer soon proves to be Jimmy. The fourth, and most menacing player in this tale is Aaron Limbe. A onetime sheriff, Limbe is after the person he holds responsible for the demise of his life and career: Jimmy Coates. Limbe traces the ex-con's every move, watching and waiting for the right moment to strike. The question is, will he? Or will Jimmy wind up getting the girl of his dreams, who just happens to be his brother's wife? Will Evelyn live out her fantasies of being the bad girl she's already been presumed to be? And will Richard find out and be able to keep his own dreams afloat?

Of course, these character types have all appeared before in the annals of noir. But what makes them work here, and thus what makes this, Kostoff's second novel (after 1991's Choices of Nightmares), so appealing, is the depth and richness of their interactions. One encounter, conversation or confrontation dominos to the next; at one moment, Jimmy's the victor and Richard is not. The next, the situation is reversed, with Jimmy's luck seeming to have run out once and for all. Evelyn's decisions here may seem impetuous, but they are firmly rooted in her total frustration with her life. The Long Fall is a mere 225 pages long, but it packs enough story in for a book twice that length. Kostoff keeps the pace lightning-fast even as he leaves more than enough room for his characters to grow and respond to the changing dynamics between them. His denouement is bittersweet; only some players get what they are truly after, while others discover that they wanted something else entirely, but hadn't realized it before. And still at the center of it all is Jimmy Coates, moving on, continuing to search for fulfillment. The lingering effects of desire and revenge are what fuel The Long Fall, and ultimately make this novel a most satisfying read. -- Reviewed by Sarah Weinman

* * *

Steve Hamilton's Alex McKnight has to be one of the most reluctant private eyes in fiction. Over the course of four previous novels, he's been cajoled, conned and roped into some pretty hairy situations. And now he's back again, in Blood Is the Sky (St. Martin's Minotaur/Thomas Dunne), being dragged into yet another fine mess, all the time proclaiming that he'd really rather be fishing, drinking beer, single-handedly building a log cabin or just feeling sorry for himself. Such is the solitary life this headstrong former Detroit cop has carved out for himself in Paradise, located on Michigan's remote Upper Peninsula, tucked slightly under the Canadian border. Maybe McKnight should just learn to say "No."

In Blood, his Ojibwa Indian pal, Vinnie LeBlanc, asks Alex to help him find his trouble-prone brother, Tom, who'd gone to Canada to work as the guide for a bunch of moose hunters from Detroit ... and never returned. Before you can say "I vant to be alone," Alex, ever the helpful neighbor, is driving north across the border with Vinnie, headed toward a remote lodge the hunting party had used.

While searching for Tom, the pair encounter some hardcases from Detroit, as well as bears, trees, Molson products, friendly Indians, not-so-friendly Indians, more than a few people harboring dark and nasty thoughts of revenge, and lots of folks who say "Eh?" a lot. Hell, Hamilton even tosses in a pretty French-Canadian Ontario Provincial Police officer, Natalie Reynaud, to whom Alex definitely takes a shine. (We're never quite sure why, but her presence in future books could do Alex -- and this series -- a world of good). The P.I. and Vinnie eventually realize that this isn't a simple case of hunters gone innocently astray.

Although Hamilton doesn't get much glaringly wrong in his portrayals of Canada -- and indeed, his evocative, vivid descriptions of the wilderness show how far he has come as a stylist -- there's still something a little off, and even slightly patronizing, about his impressions of America's northern neighbor. It's nothing to trouble many of his loyal readers, who may already see Canada as a slightly backward wilderness wonderland; and Hamilton's sometimes stereotypical notions aren't really all that different from those that Canadian breweries play into when they change the labels on their U.S.-bound beer bottles to include assorted wildlife. But still ...

A bigger problem here is focus. The plot ping-pongs too frequently across the U.S.-Canada border, and between big city, small town and wilderness -- to the detriment of Hamilton's narrative thread. Blood's mystery elements are also a bit weak; much of the detecting happens off-stage, and convenience plays an overly large role. Too often the author twists his characters, particularly Alex, to suit the story, rather than the other way around, and his justifications for their actions frequently seem weak, at best. If McKnight hates trouble so much, why on earth does he persist, book after book, in getting mixed up with it? Worse, once he realizes he's in over his head here, why does this supposedly seasoned former cop stubbornly plow on, crashing through the book like a nearsighted moose, ignoring common sense, obvious clues and direct orders from the police, only stopping occasionally to remind readers how much he doesn't want to be involved? I think the dude doth protest too much -- after five books, his shtick is starting to wear thin.

Still, this novel contains some great action scenes, recalling James Dickey's Deliverance or Robert B. Parker's Wilderness, that more than make up for its weak points. By taking Alex out of his too-familiar surroundings and introducing a strong new character in Natalie, Hamilton -- who's developed nicely as a confident writer of tough, straight-up prose -- proves there's plenty of life in this series yet. -- Reviewed by Kevin Burton Smith

* * *

Speaking of Canada, editors Peter Sellers and Kerry Schooley are back with more "Canuck Noir," in Hard-Boiled Love (Insomniac Press). Like their previous collection, Iced (2001), it attempts to show that Canadians can be far more dark, twisted and perverse than their Dudley Do-Right image suggests. There's no thin line between love and hate here -- in fact, there seem to be no borders at all.

Kicking things off is Vern Smith's "The Gimmick," the tale of a mismatched pair of lovebirds who are working a little ATM scam in Toronto called "The Windsor Withhold." Everything appears to be going just fine, until the lovers choose the wrong cop as their next mark. Later in this collection, Stan Rogal offers his gloriously low-rent tale, "Lie to Me, Baby," a little ditty about what happens when people try to live their tawdry lives as if they were in a movie, while Barbara Fradkin brings her years of experience as a psychologist/social worker to bear in "Baby Blues," about an Ottawa criminal lawyer who thinks she's seen it all, yet allows lust to cloud her better judgment. Like the doc says, "The problem with spending half your working life before the courts is that you know restraining orders are worth dick-all." And just in case anyone misses the point that women writers can't get just as down-and-dirty as men, check out Jean Rae Baxter's "Loss," perhaps this book's blackest, most chilling story.

The editors get to strut their own stuff, as well. Sellers' "Trophy Hunter" is a vicious little reprint that still takes my breath away. The story of a less-than-scrupulous P.I. and his gold-digging girlfriend who team up to scam a rich old eccentric, it has the sort of dirty-trick ending that would have been right at home in an episode of Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. And Schooley, writing under his John Swan pen name, offers here the bucolic "Buying the Farm," a cautionary new tale about what happens when a middle-aged couple with money problems find that agricultural alternatives don't always work out the way they should. Green Acres, you're not there.

Rounding out Hard-Boiled Love are sturdy reprints from seasoned vets William Bankier, James Powell and the late Sinclair Ross, along with some strong stories by relatively new authors such as Gregory Ward, Mike Barnes and Linda Helson. There isn't a dud in this bunch. The only flaw I can see -- and I don't mean to get all politically correct on anyone's ass -- is that Canada is much bigger and more varied (and possibly even more nasty) than it's depicted in these pages. The Great White North isn't all white, and it stretches way beyond Ontario. It would have been good to include a few more voices from other provinces and other subcultures, including from French Canada. Still, that's nitpicking. This remains a rock-solid anthology, and proof that Iced wasn't a fluke. Forget about standing on guard for thee; Canadians should watch their own damned backs. Love may be all that some folks need, but for most of the star-crossed, doomed losers in this collection, luck would probably be a better bet. Or even just a little mercy ... -- K.B.S.

* * *

You see them scurrying all over today's cities -- brittle, spare young women whose hurried lives are studies in quiet desperation. Making hectic ends meet one way or another, they whirl about from dawn to dusk, like so many species of ant, just hoping to avoid being stepped on. Ruby Murphy, in Maggie Estep's New York noir paperback genre debut, Hex (Three Rivers Press), fits this mold.

Ruby is the survivor of some knock-down, drag-out struggles with life. Now in her 30s, she's been well seasoned by liquor, drugs and faulty choices in men. And while not exactly sanguine in her outlook, she's canny enough to have settled into a quiet corner by the sea, in Brooklyn. Ruby works at the Coney Island Museum, a "sorry, but quaint little place nestled atop the building that houses the sideshow," where she doesn't really have much to do at the moment, because, as she explains, "not many people pass through Coney in the off season." She lives within walking distance of the bones of the old amusement park, above a furniture store, in a gray little apartment with her two cats, Stinky and Lulu. (Don't worry, that's about as much sentimentality as author Estep grudgingly gives the animal-loving Ruby.) Although she herself is a vegetarian, Ruby lets her pets dine on raw turkey that she purchases in midtown Manhattan, providentially near The Julliard School, where she's taking piano lessons (Bach, a specialty) from a typically strange young teacher.

It is while riding the subway home to Brooklyn one day, clutching a malodorous bundle of ground meat for her cats, that Ruby encounters a mysterious blond woman with a scarred face, and offhandedly tells the lie that begins all the trouble in Hex. This woman believes that her boyfriend Frank is cheating on her, and thinks Ruby is the right person to follow him. The trail leads to Belmont Racetrack, where the menacing Frank grooms horses and where the tenacious Ruby takes on another job as an early morning "hotwalker" (a person who walks horses after their workouts, to cool them down). In Ruby's company, the reader learns a few hard lessons about the seamy underside of horse racing and the cruelty of fate.

Estep's story spills out almost casually, with each chapter told from the viewpoint of a different eccentric character, so that we receive not only Ruby's take on the oddities of life but also other players' takes on Ruby. This herky-jerky movement around and through the main story line shouldn't work, but it does, because Estep's talented hand never lets us wander too far from her protagonist. Plus, Ruby's friends and colleagues are nothing if not inspired in their weirdness, and the author has a knack for getting their New York voices just right. Particularly affecting are the voices of Ruby's terminally ill best friend, Oliver, and of Ned Ward, a guy who may or may not be a hero.

At heart, Hex is a character-driven tale that moves along at not too frenetic a pace, so when a spoiled young jockey is murdered (the "other woman" in a fatal love triangle) and Ruby's choices become more complicated, we fear both for her safety and for the well-being of the splendid horse caught in the middle of very human affairs. While this novel's plot is rather improbable, that's only a minor quibble. Maggie Estep has created here a memorable cast of characters about whom you'll want to read more. Thank goodness she is already at work on a second Ruby Murphy installment. -- Reviewed by Yvette Banek

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Lately I've become jaded by stories featuring serial killers who are "typical" psychopaths -- loners, abused as children, with some really freaky habits. This is why I so welcome the novels of Ethan Black, all of which include killers who start out as familiar psychopaths but eventually become as complex and sympathetic as the heroes. This remarkable trait has never been more on display than in Black's latest novel starring New York police detective Conrad Voort, Dead for Life (Simon & Schuster).

At first glance, Wendall Nye is a textbook example of a loner sociopath. Stalking his prey using techniques developed from books about self-improvement, management and serial killings, he boastfully records his ramblings on a tape recorder. However, until six years ago Wendall was a beloved teacher, husband and father. His idyllic life ended, though, with a class project that caused him to witness something he shouldn't have. As a result, he was threatened, beaten and eventually lost all that he held dear. Thus pushed past the breaking point, Wendall now dedicates himself to finding those responsible and wreaking his revenge upon them. But his ultimate target is the cop who committed a thoughtless mistake and failed to prevent the chain of events that leveled Wendall's life.

Voort comes from a founding family of New York City, still as dedicated to protecting that town as they are to building their investments. Back together with his on-again/usually-off-again girlfriend, Camilla, things would be looking up for Voort if not for the fact that his cousin-in-law Julia, widowed by September 11, has just moved in and is showing more than cousinly interest in him.

Things only get worse when the detective and his partner are summoned to a murder scene. They find a woman's body accompanied by a note directed at Voort, asking, "What will your superiors do when they learn how you screwed up, Voort?" Because this same message promises three more killings by midnight, Voort's fellow cops -- his second family -- look at him with suspicion, speculating on his purported crime. Feeling alienated and guilty for a sin he can't remember committing, Voort submits to a lie-detector test and wears a tracking bracelet in order to continue investigating. The only way Voort can salvage his career and prevent more deaths is to desperately search his records and his memory for something that triggered a murderer's hatred.

This fourth Conrad Voort novel deftly keeps up the pace Black established in All the Dead Were Strangers (2001). As flashbacks chronicle Wendall's transformation from civic-minded naïf to wily vigilante, the reader begins to pity him. After Voort discovers his own role in Wendall's downfall, he feels guilt and remorse for a man whose losses have led him to deliver his own twisted form of justice. Such emotional complications make Voort an engaging figure -- a golden-boy cop who is suddenly forced to acknowledge his own failings and the degree to which being a good detective is vital to his identity. The parallels between he and Wendall are well established, Black making clear that both men are likable and earnest, equally dedicated to their goals.

A side plot in Dead for Life about Camilla's rivalry with Julia seems forced, as if it was shoehorned in at the last minute to add some romantic conflict. Elsewhere, Ethan Black -- the pseudonym used by a New York journalist -- reveals his opinions about the media, as they immediately assume Voort is responsible for precipitating Wendall's crimes and declare the former teacher a martyr, despite the fact that he's killing people. It all leads up to an unexpected but satisfying conclusion, in which this story's two principals confront one other. Dead for Life should appeal most to readers who like police procedurals with black humor, cynicism and a made-for-the-movies action. -- Reviewed by Cindy Chow

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While it may seem that Florida (home to both Carl Hiaasen and Tim Dorsey) holds the exclusive rights to wacky crime novels, Martha Conway proves that San Francisco has its own share of bizarre and hilarious characters. She wades into the growing crowd of female crime and caper novels with her impressive, extremely enjoyable debut work, 12 Bliss Street (St. Martin's Minotaur).

If there's one thing Internet design engineer Nicola Swain would like to change about her life, it's ...everything. Her incompetent boss belittles her during their meetings; her landlord (responsible for building maintenance, landlords insurance, rent collection etc.) is trying to evict her from her dream house so that he can rent it to his sister, instead; and she has once again failed to follow through when asked out by a man with whom she'd been flirting. Then, just when it seems that Nicola's life couldn't get any worse, two teenage computer geniuses -- Dave, the survivalist, and Davette, the spell-casting hacker -- kidnap her as she exits her kick-boxing class. It doesn't take long for Nicola to discover that the mastermind behind this snatch is her loser ex-husband, Scooter, who's hoping to clean out her ATM account in order to pay off his loan shark. As she turns the tables on Scooter, Nicola makes a life-changing decision to meet with the loan shark's nephew, Lou. A law-school dropout and wannabe food critic, Lou gives out complementary key chains with loans -- and he's cute, to boot. Working behind Scooter's back, Nicola agrees to pay off her ex-hubby's loan in exchange for Lou finding proof that her landlord is evicting her illegally.

Unbeknownst to Nicola, though, that man she had flirted with (and to whom she's given the nickname Chorizo, thanks to his love for pizza) has decided to track her down, fearful that she'd spotted him leaving a dead woman's motel room. It turns out that Chorizo has been making Internet snuff videos to finance the release of his terrorist wife from a Cyprus prison. And his partner in this crime is none other than Nicola's landlord, Robert! When Chorizo subsequently murders Robert, the latter's sister runs to Nicola, begging for help and a place to hide. Wanting to help this hysterical woman, and figuring that she might thereby be able to hold onto her dream house, Nicola and her ragtag group of friends become both the hunters and the hunted as events collide.

Although it's a daunting task, Conway manages to herd all of these complications and interweaving relationships into a flowing, entertaining story. The characters here are quirky without being absurdly so, and even Nicola's ex-hubby comes off as more amusing than irritating. Perhaps this is why I could stomach the fact that likable, intelligent Nicola neither turns Scooter in to the police for kidnapping and attempted theft, nor at the very least, does she deck him for being an outright idiot. Once the reader learns to accept Nicola's decisions and behavior, this wild ride of a novel can be appreciated for its fast and witty dialogue, its original cast and its riveting finish at 12 Bliss Street. -- C.C.

* * *

John Connolly's Bad Men (Hodder & Stoughton UK), his fifth novel but first standalone, is set principally on an island off the coast of Maine: Sanctuary, renamed "Dutch" in honor of a Dutch sailor (who, coincidentally, shares the name of Connolly's Dutch publisher), and guarded by a "giant" policeman known as Melancholy Joe Dupree. At more than seven feet tall, Dupree can trace his family back several generations into the island's grim past, and he serves as the community's sentinel.

Early on in the book, two local teenagers steal a car and, after a drinking binge, embed that vehicle into an oak tree, killing themselves in the process. This simple act is Bad Men in a microcosm, for Connolly's broader narrative examines the lives and histories of people locked into an inevitably tragic trajectory. Part violent thriller and part ghost story, the novel features an enormous cast of folks either living on or heading toward Sanctuary, yet the author makes each character -- even minor ones, such as a redemption-hungry forger -- distinct and worth caring about. His tale centers on Marianne Elliot and her young son, Danny, who have settled into life on the island and befriended Bonnie Claessen and her retarded son, Richie. As Marianne is drawn to Joe Dupree, it becomes clear that secrets from her past are hurtling this tale toward its inevitable collision. One of these is connected to the prison breakout of Edward Moloch, a monstrous figure who soon reunites his former gang of psychopaths and sets off a murder spree on Sanctuary. Meanwhile, the islanders start seeing visions and ghosts, paintings show figures from the past, and strange moths appear in the evenings.

This complex and sentimental yarn, full of folklore, is not built for comfort, but rather for speed. Its back story is extruded in little vignettes that help illuminate the dark side of the human condition. Connolly offers some truly repulsive characters here, the worst being Willard, a beautiful but conscienceless member of Moloch's crew, who kills not for pleasure or purpose, but just because he can. However, there are also some very moving and tragic episodes on the periphery of Bad Men. The one that really burned into me concerned a one-legged soldier who was asked to stand and take a bow on the old Ed Sullivan Show. A tragic sketch, but one bearing the same irony that peppers these pages.

Bad Men seems destined to divide Connolly's audience -- some readers will likely hate it -- but its morally grim undercurrents could also attract a broader audience than has discovered his Charlie Parker private eye series (The Killing Kind, The White Road, etc.). This is not a book without fault, though; while it often sparkles with wit and literary flourishes, the text occasionally feels overwritten.

Connolly's first novel without Parker as the protagonist (although he does make an off-stage cameo appearance) is deeply ambitious. It is full of ideas, character, and a love of history and language, as well as an understanding that bad things can happen to good people -- and vice-versa. Above all, it exalts people like Joe Dupree (or Connolly himself) who have ambition and do not fear risks. This is a deeply disturbing and thought-provoking read that should not be read without a seatbelt. -- Reviewed by Ali Karim

* * *

Lazybones (Little, Brown UK), the third installment of Mark Billingham's London-based police procedural series featuring Detective Inspector Tom Thorne, is by far the most iniquitous and densely plotted of the bunch. Its complexity derives from Billingham's confidence, as well as from his mastery of character and plot. The novel is something of a paradox -- a monstrously fiendish tale of rapists and their pursuers, told in an easygoing, almost conversational style, with a great deal of gallows humor. That contrast serves Lazybones well, making a frightful tale bearable.

The book gets underway with a recently released rapist being discovered in a seedy hotel, murdered violently and anally raped. His killer left behind a calling card: a wreath. More murders follow, and soon Thorne, Phil Hendricks, Dave Holland and the other members of their Serious Crime Group conclude that a serial killer is on the loose. This particular slayer appears to be targeting sexual sadists, the victims (and here Billingham skirts around issues of morality and vigilantism) being lured to their deaths by a woman known as "Jane." The trail leads to Soho, and the welcome return of Kodak, the squeaky-voiced, muscular pornographer from Sleepyhead (2001). As in Billingham's previous works, subplots impinge on the proceedings and lend them additional dimension. Holland faces a mid-life crisis caused by the pregnancy of his wife, while we learn more about Thorne's issues with his ill and aging father, and find the DI with a new love interest. The book cranks up a gear at the halfway point, just as Thorne reaches an impasse in the case. A former detective joins the team and finds the connection to a tragedy dating back many years -- a case of rape, murder and lost innocence. While the investigation zigzags around North London and Essex, Thorne has his car stolen and his flat burgled, and wonders about the linkages that start to form like the cracks on an impacted windscreen. This story's climax is as violent as it is unanticipated, and very disturbing both for the reader and Thorne.

One wonders what Billingham will do for an encore, especially now that his man Thorne has been given a Sherlock Award. Lazybones is a very clever play on words, just like his previous titles, Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat (2002). Perhaps he should have considered Clever Dick as an alternative. This is a justly recommendable novel, but not one to read alone late at night. -- A.K.

* * *

Author Naomi Rand follows up her 2001 debut novel, The One That Got Away, with Stealing for a Living (HarperCollins), which brings back the sharp and intrepid Emma Price. Emma is not your typical crime fiction protagonist, and this new book is colored not only by her experiences as the soon-to-be single mother of an infant girl, but also her work as an investigator for the Capital Defender's Office and her emotional involvement with a New York City police detective. That back story is what makes Stealing an exceptional read and Emma Price a three-dimensional character.

Emma, the self-proclaimed "multitask queen," awakens one morning to realize she's already behind in a busy schedule that includes retrieving her nine-month-old baby girl from her imminently ex-husband. She's also still dealing mentally with events of the night before, when she participated in a 50th birthday party for her quirky and manic boss, Dawn Prescott. That fete was already fraught with tension before Emma's escort, Detective Laurence Solomon, found himself slighted by another partygoer, who mistakes him for a different black man of her acquaintance. By its end, the evening had turned into a full-blown fiasco. And the next day is no more peaceful. While battling hip-deep snow and her hubby's new fiancée, Emma learns that an old family friend, Dr. Eleanor Hammond, has been murdered -- an event guaranteed to open a door into the past that Emma would rather keep closed.

Hammond, a staunch abortion-rights advocate, has apparently died from a gunshot wound to the head. Given her ties to the decedent, Emma can't help becoming involved in this homicide. But she is drawn into the matter even further by her childhood friendship with Hammond's prodigal son, Josh -- now a successful businessman, but with a history as an impetuous troublemaker.

At the same time, Emma has other investigative responsibilities. She's been assigned to defend a death row inmate whose own wife thinks the world would be a better place without him. A part of Emma can't argue with that opinion, which doesn't make her task of helping the prisoner any easier. Further complicating her situation is Dawn's preoccupation with her own life, especially her decision to adopt a child from overseas, which leaves Emma flying virtually solo on the death row case.

Stealing's multiple story lines and cases keep the reader guessing until its closing pages. Yet the puzzles here wouldn't be nearly so engaging were it not for the strength of Rand's protagonist. Emma Price comes off as realistic, a harried woman having to deal with a demanding baby, a rebellious teenage son, a shaky relationship and an arduous but satisfying career. It's refreshing to see a lead series character who isn't drawn as some kind of superhero, but instead relies on her wit and tenaciousness to win the day. Rand, who's written for Working Mother and Redbook, displays a strong grasp too on the figure of Eleanor Hammond. This may be because the author's own revered mother, Dr. Anna Tulman Rand, was an unflagging political activist and proponent of women's rights. -- Reviewed by Jennifer Jordan

Graphic Violence

Crime comics are back. Yeah, Spidey's still swinging, but there's a lot more grit out there than there used to be, especially among the non-spandex crowd. And Moonstone Comics is doing its part with a slew of snazzy-looking graphic novels in the new "Moonstone Noir" line.

It's a cool concept -- licensing some of the most beloved characters and cult favorites in crime fiction from radio, film, television and literature, and bringing them back to life. Moonstone aims to sell this series as a class act -- no ads, and each issue has a sturdy perfect-bound, full-color cover featuring some truly gorgeous illustrations. These comics are also upscale in price, each self-contained 48-page story ringing in at $5.50 (U.S.). And all of the interior artwork is black and white, which the Moonstone folks no doubt hope will conjure up memories of classic film noirs. Too bad nobody told them that noir is more than simply a lack of color.

But what these graphic novels lack in mood, Moonstone seems determined to make up for with violence, and at least some hinted-at adult situations. Obviously, the company is not aiming its "Noir" line at kids -- it's eyeing an older audience already familiar with the stories' characters.

Unfortunately, the results have been uneven so far. The opening shot was Boston Blackie (2002), based on Jack Boyle's early 20th-century thief with the heart of gold. Its cover was undeniably gorgeous, and the opening montage, with its stark shadows and newspaper clippings, was particularly effective. But the interior art and the story, concerning a Chicago jewel heist that still haunts the amiable ex-con safecracker, were nothing special. Serviceable, but a little sketchy. Lots of black ink (shadows are so noir). Growing pains, I figured.

Next up was The Hat Squad (2002), based on Stephen J. Cannell's short-lived 1992 TV series about an elite, fedora-wearing Los Angeles police unit that specializes in violent crimes and high-profile cases, with little concern for due process or the Bill of Rights. The show always seemed like an overly self-conscious rip-off of The Untouchables. At least the comic was a bit looser. Unfortunately, the big, bold, almost cartoony artwork was far more successful than the story line about a movie star with "a bad case of the jitters," who -- despite the squad's reassurances -- ends up beaten to death.

I figured the third time might be the charm. But the most disappointing series installment by far (and ironically, the one I had most anticipated) was Jack Hagee: Private Eye, based on the two-fisted, hard-boiled New York City detective character C.J. Henderson first created back in the 1980s for small-run neo-pulps such as the legendary HardBoiled Magazine.

This 2003 work should have been a shoe-in. Henderson's a pro, a guy who knows how to spin a good action yarn. And the cover (by Doug Kabula) was an amazing cornucopia of private icons: venetian blinds, a fedora, an office bottle, a shoulder holster, etc. that practically screamed "Good stuff inside!" But the story, about corporate shenanigans in the needle trade, written by the usually dependable Henderson, was overly complicated and wordy, its verbosity punctuated but not helped by abrupt, practically textless action scenes. It was almost as if Moonstone had no idea how to balance words and pictures to tell a story in comic format. Two-fisted? This was ham-fisted.

I was about ready to ditch the "Noir" line. Then I received a copy of Johnny Dollar (2003), based on the 1940s-60s radio show about the high-flying insurance investigator with the "action-packed expense account." It was a pleasant surprise -- everything I had hoped this line would turn out to be. Writer David Gallaher and artist Eric Theriault didn't try souping up their Connecticut-based character; they nailed him, right down to the era, the tone, the wisecracks -- everything. I'm glad to see someone finally doing one of these characters justice. It was a real treat reading this one -- more, please.

Sadly, press releases reveal that Moonstone is planning to continue tinkering with some of its future properties. Bulldog Drummond, the famous post-World War I adventurer created by Sapper (the pen name of H.C. McNeile), will -- perhaps forgivably -- become a post-World War II adventurer in a future book. Less understandable is the decision to turn The Lone Wolf, Louis Joseph Vance's charming gentleman thief, who first appeared in 1914, into a sexy babe. Also in the works are several titles based on other old radio and television shows: The Mysterious Traveler, Mr. Keen: The Tracer of Lost Persons (its protagonist reconceived as a big mean-looking black dude), the previously very non-noir Cisco Kid (with its champion turned into an alcoholic sociopath hell-bent on vengeance) and Candy Matson, featuring one of the first female eyes (perhaps becoming a wombat from outer space?).

I wish Moonstone had more faith in the characters it's already bought and paid for. Or would come up with its own damn characters. A big part of this line's appeal is surely nostalgia: I just can't see some fanboy passing up The X-Men in favor of a pricey black-and-white comic based on a classic radio show that aired before even his parents were born, no matter how much they jazz it up.

If Moonstone wants this line to succeed, its execs are going to have to understand what made these characters so popular in the first place. It takes more than black ink to make noir, and it takes more than some great covers and nostalgic name-dropping to sell a book.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but not holding my breath. -- Kevin Burton Smith

In the News

A column from suburban Chicago's Daily Herald newspaper recounts the sad fate of journalist-turned-novelist Bill Granger, best known for having created "R Section" intelligence agent Deveraux, introduced in the 1979 novel The November Man. It seems that Granger suffered a stroke in January 2000, and he's been living ever since in an Illinois veterans' home, "a prisoner of his memory." Read more.

In an exchange arranged for Shots magazine, frequent January contributor Ali Karim talks with George P. Pelecanos (Soul Circus) about the novelist's fondness for western movies, the roots of Pelecanos' interest in African-American characters, his work on the HBO-TV series The Wire, and how he had to stop "getting high" in order to become a serious writer. Read more.

Stuart M. Kaminsky, in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, says he's going to leave off writing tales about one of his fictional detectives, Russian Porfiry Rostnikov -- at least for a while -- and may discontinue altogether his best-known series, featuring 1940s Tinseltown gumshoe Toby Peters. Read more.

Interviewed for the Mystery Readers International Web site by Laura Lippman, Harlan Coben -- author of the new No Second Chance -- identifies Philip Roth as his favorite author; explains why he won't bring back sports agent-sleuth Myron Bolitar "by popular demand"; reveals his fondness for the evil sister on I Dream of Jeannie; and recalls his, er, "bleeding balls" days. Read more.

Gary Phillips, creator of both private eye Ivan Monk and showgirl-turned-mob courier Martha Chainey, was presented with the Chester Himes Mystery Award during last month's annual Chester Himes Mystery Conference in Oakland, California. Read more.

I don't normally pay attention to USA Today (it's just too white-bread and shallow for my tastes), but a friend directed me recently to that paper's profile of Boris Akunin, the pseudonymous Russian author of The Winter Queen. Ignore this article's strange error in suggesting that Azazel and The Winter Queen are two separate novels, and instead enjoy the information about where Akunin gets his character names and the fact that he intended Queen to be a crime novel that "ladies like my wife wouldn't be embarrassed to be seen reading in public." Read more.

The British Crime Writers' Association is welcoming entries to its annual Debut Dagger Award competition. "Potential writers have until 3 September 2003 to produce the opening 3,000 words of a crime novel together with a 500-word outline of its further development," explains a CWA press release. "Cozy, hard, historical or humourous, police procedural or private eye, all forms of the crime novel are welcome." The entry fee is £10, with the contest "open to anyone who has not yet had a full-length novel published commercially." Adds the CWA: "All previous winners of the Debut Dagger have received contracts from leading publishing houses, as have several short-listed entrants." A printable entry form and the competition rules can be found at the CWA Web site.

Finally, fans of classic TV mysteries such as McMillan and Wife, Banacek and McCloud should tune into the Hallmark Channel's "Murder at Midnight" series. The U.S. cable network has begun alternating these 1970s shows every weeknight at 12 p.m., together with movies spun off from The Rockford Files and Spenser: For Hire. In addition, Hallmark has scheduled another bloc of time-honored detective programs -- including Kojak, The Equalizer and Hawaii Five-O -- on Sunday afternoons, beginning at 1 p.m. Just when you thought there would be nothing to watch this summer except for Touched by an Angel reruns, The O'Reilly Factor and equally inane "reality shows" ... Read more.

Last Rewards

Modern fictional detectives from both sides of the Atlantic have won the fifth annual Sherlock Awards. These commendations -- honoring characters in the genre, rather than their creators -- are given out in several categories by the UK-based Sherlock magazine. The actual awards will be presented in association with the Crime Scene festival in London on July 12.

This year's winners are:

Best Detective Created by a British Author: Detective Inspector Tom Thorne, created by Mark Billingham. Thorne's second outing, Scaredy Cat (William Morrow), has just been published in the United States, while a third entry in the series, Lazybones (Little, Brown), is due out in Britain later this month.

Also nominated: Detective Constable Ben Cooper, created by Stephen Booth; Detective Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford, created by Ruth Rendell; and Detective Inspector John Rebus, created by Ian Rankin

Best Detective Created by an American Author: Detective Steve Carella of the 87th Precinct, created by Ed McBain. Carella starred in Money, Money, Money (2002) but also had a role in McBain's most recent novel, Fat Ollie's Book (2003).

Also nominated: Detective Sergeant Harry Bosch, created by Michael Connelly; Dave Robicheaux, created by James Lee Burke; and private eye Milo Milogradovitch, created by James Crumley

Best Comic Detective: Time-traveling literary sleuth Thursday Next, created by Jasper Fforde. Thursday's second adventure, Lost in a Good Book (Penguin), was released recently in the States. A third entry in this series, The Well of Lost Plots (Hodder & Stoughton), is due out in the UK in July.

Also nominated: Journalist Dan Starkey, created by Colin Bateman; bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, created by Janet Evanovich; and professor Hilary Tamar, created by Sarah Caudwell

Best Television Detective: Inspector Frost, starring David Jason (as Jack Frost) and Bruce Alexander (as Superintendent Mullett), producers Don Lever (Yorkshire TV) and Richard Bates (Excelsior TV). Based on the novels by British author R.D. Wingfield.

In addition, a Special Sherlock -- awarded to a work that illuminates the world of Sherlock Holmes -- will be given to The Hound of the Baskervilles (Gasogene Books), the third volume in The Sherlock Holmes Library series, edited and annotated by American Leslie Klinger.

* * *

The Crime Writers of Canada announced the recipients of its 2003 Arthur Ellis Awards during a June 4 ceremony in Toronto. And the winners are ...

Best Novel: Blood of Others, by Rick Mofina (Kensington Publishing)

Also nominated: Blackflies Are Murder, by Lou Allin (RendezVous Crime); Once Upon a Time, by Barbara Fradkin (RendezVous Crime); Hot Pursuit, by Nora Kelly (Poisoned Pen Press); and Grave Secrets, by Kathy Reichs (Simon & Schuster/Distican)

Best First Novel: Midnight Cab, by James W. Nichol (Knopf Canada)

Also nominated: The Unlikely Victims, by Alvin Abram (AMA Graphics); Undertow, by Thomas Rendell Curran (Breakwater); Work of Idle Hands, by Jonathon Platz (Great Plains); and Come Clean, by Kevin J. Porter (iUniverse)

Best Short Story: "Bottom Walker," by James Powell (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], May 2002)

Also nominated: "Timber Town Justice," by Barbara Fradkin (Storyteller, Summer 2002); "The Last Name," by Cecilia Kennedy (Storyteller, Summer 2002); "The Christmas Tree Farm," by Scott Mackay (EQMM, January 2002); "Maisie's Safe House," by Wes Smiderle (Storyteller, Winter 2002); and "Taking Care of Howard," by Linda Wiken (Over My Dead Body, Special Issue 2002)

Best Juvenile: Break and Enter, by Norah McClintock (Scholastic Canada)

Also nominated: What's a Serious Detective Like Me Doing In Such a Silly Movie?, by Linda Bailey (Kids Can Press); The Maze, by Monica Hughes (HarperCollins Canada); Out of the Ashes, by Valerie Sherrard (Dundurn Group); and Camp X, by Eric Walters (Penguin Canada)

Best Non-fiction: Covert Entry, by Andrew Mitrovica (Random House Canada)

Also nominated: Dark Paths, Cold Trails, by Doug Clark (HarperCollins Canada); Unnatural Causes, by Max Haines (Penguin Canada); Nasty Business, by Peter Paradis (HarperCollins Canada); and Letters from Prison, by Shawn Thompson (HarperCollins Canada)

Best Crime Writing in French: Le Rouge Ideal, by Jacques Côté (Alire)

Also nominated: La Mort Dans L'ame, by Maxime Houde (Alire); Sac de Noeuds, by Malacci (Alire); La Dernière Enquête de Julie Juillet, by Sylvain Meunier (Vents d'Ouest); and Les Sept Jours du Talion, by Patrick Senécal (Alire)

In addition, the Derrick Murdoch Award (presented to someone who has contributed substantially either to the CWC or to Canadian crime writing in general) was given to Margaret Cannon, for her many years of reviewing and highlighting Canadian crime writing.

* * *

Finally, the Short Mystery Fiction Society has announced the beneficiaries of its 2003 Derringer Awards, recognizing excellence in "short but deadly" storytelling. This year's winners are:

Best Short Story: "Closure," by Dave White (The Thrilling Detective Web Site, Fall 2002)

Also nominated: "Top of the World," by Bill Crider (Flesh and Blood: Dark Desires, edited by Max Allan Collins and Jeff Gelb): "Just Looking," by Bill Pronzini (Flesh and Blood: Dark Desires); "Mexican Gatsby," by Raymond Steiber (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], March 2002); and "More Than a Scam," by Dave Zeltserman (Mysterical-E)

Best Short Short: "A Cut Above," by Del Tinsley (Hardluck Stories, Fall 2002)

Also nominated: "Sending Out an S.O.S.," by Nick Andreychuk (Futures, April/May/June 2002); "Jumping the Fence," by Stephen Rogers (Hardluck Stories, Fall 2002); "What a Day," by Seymour Shubin (Futures, January 2002); and "Shark-Infested Pudding," by John Weagly (Judas Ezine, November 2002)

Best Long Short Story: "The Murder Ballads," by Doug Allyn (EQMM, March 2002)

Also nominated: "Medicine Water," by David Edgerly Gates (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine [AHMM], September 2002,); "To Live and Die in Midland, Texas," by Clark Howard (EQMM, September/October 2002); "Painter of the Seven-Eyed Beast," by Catherine Mambretti (AHMM, November 2002); and "Henry's Power," by Bob Stevens (HandHeldCrime, March 2002)


"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.


Previous Rap Sheets:

May 2003 | April 2003 | March 2003 | February 2003 | January 2003 | December 2002 | November 2002 | October 2002 | September 2002 | August 2002 | July 2002 | June 2002 | May 2002 | Rap Sheet #1 | Rap Sheet #2 | Rap Sheet #3 | Rap Sheet #4 | Rap Sheet #5 | Rap Sheet #6 | Rap Sheet #7 | Rap Sheet #8 | Rap Sheet #9 | Rap Sheet #10 |